Luiza Puiu took this photo of Caspar Einem at the European Forum Alpbach just a fortnight ago. For more than a decade, I have been drawn to the small mountain village in summer and it always feels a bit like "homecoming" when I turn the last corner before the flowery decorated balconies open up in front of me. Alpbach hosts many rituals, traditions, and encounters for me - some more beloved than others. This year, however, after a year's break, in the pouring rain and with many faces missing, it was a little different, and somewhere the feeling of arrival didn't quite want to come.
One loving ritual that I was able to keep up though, was sitting together with Caspar at the Alpbacherhof. I had the privilege of working closely with him many years ago in my work for the Forum, and although I was only one of several project managers at the time, in the years that followed we were both keen to keep in touch.
The last time we met, we were sitting in the farthest corner of the Alpbacherhof as the guests were slowly arriving for the reception that followed. He had just shown me his draft strategy paper for the Forum, in which he had described what the actual aim, the purpose of such an event should be. I - myself always preoccupied with this very question - was curious about what outcomes he had in mind and almost a little irritated that the wording was rather vague. But then he explained: The heart of the Forum has always been the seminar week for him. The time when students and lecturers discussed at eye level in classrooms, on alpine pastures and in inns. "Yes, talks are good, but what comes out of them?", I asked, and he continued: "If this exchange leads to the participants growing a bit, developing further and emerge from it changed, then it has achieved something."
Almost a little ashamed, I - who earn my living by facilitating conversations - had to agree with him. The result of what exchange makes possible is not always tangible or visible, but at best it is moving and transforming. As long as it is accompanied by what Caspar also demands of and for politics in his current book: curiosity and empathy.
We still had an upbeat evening with many nice conversations at this reception and at the end he said goodbye with a long hug.
Only a few days later, the news came that Caspar Einem had passed away. And suddenly I look back differently on those last hours at the Alpbacherhof. Sadness mingles with the memories. But suddenly I am also very happy that three days later he thanked me again for the lovely evening - and I wrote him back that I thanked him too. For the fact that it was the encounter with him that, after three days of Alpbach hustle and bustle and on the eve of my departure, gave me what I had almost wistfully missed before - a feeling of arrival.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the exchange, dear Caspar - from which I emerge a little changed.
Rest in peace.