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Haiti-Hamburg, 1904-1923. Growing up

On the arm of mother Elsa, with father Hans-Carl and brother Gustave, in Haiti Hans-Joachim Staude was born in 1904 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It was a colonial world of exotic beauty as depicted in the novels of Pierre Loti. His father, Hans-Carl, came from an established German family of academics from Halle and had been lured to the island by his romantic dream of life in the tropics. There he lived as a businessman. His wife, Elsa Tippenhauer, had a German father and a Franco-Haitian mother and was herself born in Port-au-Prince.
Hans-Jo, as he was called, spent his childhood in Haiti. While his father traded in the Caribbean, his mother read and played the piano with the ladies from the capital. The strong colours of flowers and fruits, the French chit-chat of his
aunts, and the distant view of mountains covered in dark jungle, resounding with the mysterious tom-tom of the Voodoo drums, remained forever engraved in Staude's memory.
In 1909, when Hans-Jo was five, Elsa moved with him and his elder brother to Hamburg to send them to school. Those were the last years of the German empire and the official culture was heavy with nationalist rhetoric. But the seeds of the ideas that would change the world had already been sown: Nietzsche's philosophy, Freud's psychoanalysis, Strindberg's theatre, Schoenberg's music, and the paintings of the young German expressionists.
The family bought a house in the Koernerstrasse, close to the Alster, the melancholy lake in the inner city, and settled into a bourgeois existence. Elsa, however, who herself had been educated in Hamburg and was therefore nicknamed by her brothers "la petite allemande", soon ventured out to read some of the first "forbidden" volumes, joining the intellectual and artistic circles of the avantgarde.
The mother at home in Port-au-PrinceWhen the First World War broke out, her husband was unable for several years to leaveHaiti and spend the summers with his family, leaving Hans-Jo to grow up under the exclusive influence of this woman so passionately drawn to culture.
At thirteen, Staude jotted down the text of his life's commitment in a notebook dedicated to "philosophical thoughts", where this one remained the only entry: 'Any human being must have a conception of the world: or at least anyone who has started to think a little! My conception of the world is the following […]: As much as I can, I want to contribute to the construction of the mighty edifice that the minds of earlier times have built and those of the present keep building; and I shall be satisfied to depart from life only if, looking back, I can honestly tell myself: "You have placed your spirit entirely at the service of the grand endeavour"' (1917).
A year later, after seeing the first big Edvard Munch exhibition in Hamburg, he began to draw. Fascinated by German expressionism, which by representing the 'inner universe' opened up entirely new horizons for painting, Staude joined Schmidt-Rottluff and his group that belonged to the expressionist movement "Die Bruecke," and was swept away On the balcony of their home in the Körnerstrasse, Hamburgby that feeling of a 'departure towards new shores' that gripped Germany after the lost war.
For the young Staude these were the times of his 'mystical conversations at Bellevue,' a fashionable part of Hamburg where some of his family and friends lived. There, together with friends such as Fritz Rougemont, Heino Elkan, Adolf Schneider, Kostek Gutschow and his cousin Olaf Oloffson, he pledged his life to the renewal of art and culture. Together with a class mate, Karl Broecker, he even produced a small magazine, "DieWerdenden" (Those who are becoming), in which they published their expressionist poems and wood-cuts.
At school he delved into the German classics. He wrote his Abitur (graduation) essay into which he introduced Friedrich Hoelderlin, complaining that this poet, one of Germany's greatest, was not being studied in the classroom. Reflecting upon Hoelderlin's life that had ended in madness, Staude wrote: 'In him, the consistently recurring tragedy of the artist unfolds: the tragedy of the artist as he is perceived within our civilization after the Renaissance, i.e. after he seems to have lost his significance for society […]. Ever since then, we have grown accustomed to equating the great artists with the great sufferers.'
At the piano, Hamburg Staude also played the piano so well that it was generally assumed he would become a pianist.In 1920, at sixteen, Staude decided to become a painter.
In the following two years, he travelled widely to look at the great works of art of the past; and excursions to the lands along the River Elbe and to the Alps confronted him with nature, whose beauty and significance impressed him so much that in 1921, at Praxmar, a valley in the Austrian mountains, he promised himself that 'as long as I shall see a tree, I will paint.'
Gradually, he distanced himself from Expressionism. 'Before Expressionism the artist's task was to represent nature," he wrote to Adolf Schneider. "Ruysdael, Caspar David Friedrich and Manet sincerely painted the world as it was, or rather, as they sincerely saw it. Expressionism, on the contrary, does violence to the shapes of nature, preferring those 'contemplated by the soul'; it emphasises what should remain unconscious, boasts about feelings.'
In 1922 Staude turned his back on Expressionism and began to observe nature. He wrote to his friend Gutschow, 'To paint in front of nature is everything to me now.'