At the beginning of 2023 Mattias Fenske contacted me by mail. He had read an article about my website in the Wetterauer Zeitung and had responded to my call to share stories about contacts with Americans. Attached to Mattias' mail were already a bunch of photos, newspaper articles and videos in which I recognized him and other Wetterauer of his generation.
Mattias was an active member of the Wetterau music scene from the late eighties to the mid nineties around Juz, Taf and the rustic performance venues that made musician life in the Wetterau so special back then: Barns, barbecue areas, clubhouses. In his first band Alienation, which he had founded with his best friends, Guido, Lars and Ralf, a US soldier would have played at times. Moses was the name of the guitarist he wanted to tell me about. I was so excited, because I had been looking for such a story about weathermen playing music with Americans for more than a year, and had been unsuccessful so far.
A few months later, I finally meet Mattias for an interview in Frankfurt's Osthafen, where he works as an editor in video production. Just back from vacation, with his first day of work behind him, Mattias puts his feet up and begins to talk.
Born in Butzbach in 1972, Fenske grew up first in Bad Nauheim and then, from the age of 9, in Friedberg, in the immediate vicinity of the barracks. Early musical education was provided at home by his parents. Unlike most families, the Fenskes did not listen to pop songs or classical music, but to the Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks and, of course, the well-known left-wing German singer-songwriters. Both parents had been young socialists, the house was liberal and cosmopolitan, they sympathized and were involved in the peace movement. Through his older brother, who was also one of the initiators of the legendary first Friedberg JUZ, Mattias got to know bands like Pink Floyd and Marillion, and the classic rock movies were shown at the JUZ movie nights: Tommy, The Wall, Spinal Tab. But then there was a completely different movie that was to lead Mattias to his second great passion besides music: skateboard fever. And somehow that belonged together very quickly: Listening to music and skating brought the ultimate feeling of freedom, which could only be increased by one thing - cold beer.
Together with his friends Ralf and Sven, Mattias, always with his skateboard under his arm, visited German-American friendship festivals, where musicians from the surrounding barracks always performed, covered rock songs and thus provided the first conscious live music experiences. If new records came out, one ran in the large break fast to the Breitenfelder, and heard the new disk after school together. Over the years, the music got harder and harder. Iron Maiden and Metallica soon sounded from the speakers in the children's room. The hair became longer, the jeans tighter. Mattias and his friends, who all played instruments, soon knew: we'll start our own heavy metal band. Together with school friend Guido, who played drums in the trombone choir since his early youth, they quickly converted the Fenskes' garage into a rehearsal room - the birth of Alienation. Soon the first gigs came and the young musicians developed into self-confident members of the Friedberg music scene. Sven and Lars became true virtuosos on guitar and bass. Mattias, who also tried his hand at the electric guitar in the beginning, put the instrument back in the corner and concentrated fully on singing.
On the 1st of May, like many other musicians from Friedberg, they joined the Open Stage of the Musikhaus Velten. Here bands of all styles could enter the stage and give short sets to the best.
Many spectators came to the dynamic event and wanted to be surprised, including some American GI's, including Moses Burell. Mattias doesn't remember exactly how they got into the conversation.He says his English was so bad at the time that he couldn't possibly have been the one to address Moses.However, the four young heavy metal musicians and the black American from the southern states hit it off right away.Ralf and Mattias raved together with Moses about bands like Fishbone and Living Colour, which combined heavy metal with blues, jazz and reggae elements.Almost forgotten today, these bands influenced the great crossover acts of the nineties.
Moses was quickly invited to the next band rehearsal.The American had just bought his first electric guitar and his first Marshall amplifier from his saved wages and immediately agreed.And indeed, the next Tuesday Moses was standing in the Fenskes' garage and a new chapter began for Alienation.
Quickly learned the new band member, the already existing repertoire, brought their own ideas and together they worked on new songs. Sometimes even in the barracks.This was not freely accessible at the time, but in the company of an American soldier who took responsibility, visits were possible.Mattias vividly remembers a joint visit to Bowling Alley and the restaurant of the fast food chain Burger King located there.The Friedberger remembers the evening in the Barracks as if it were a short trip to America.When the Americans left Friedberg, Mattias dreamed of buying Bowling Alley and turning it into an adventure restaurant:"With bowling, burgers and waiters:inside on roller skates," says the likeable Fenske not without smiling a little at himself.I wonder how many other plans the sluggish sales process will have on its conscience?
Moses usually stayed away from Friedberg's nightlife. He joined the army to support his parents and four siblings.
Drinking away his pay didn't occur to him, who didn't think too much of drugs and alcohol anyway.Besides, Moses had been promoted to instructor shortly after Mattias had met him.Keeping the necessary distance from his subordinates was of enormous importance to him.The social and economic reality of his family, who as blacks in the us South were still severely disadvantaged and exposed to everyday and institutional racism, which Moses tells his new friends about, makes them understand that the guitarist joined the army. It was his only chance at a solid career and secure existence."Because actually we were absolute pacifists, and against the military."
The Americans whose presence Mattias grew up with, however, rarely gave the impression of belligerent aggressors. Rather, in peacetime, one had the impression that they were mainly busy spending money, partying, and killing time.
There was also some resentment in Mattia's family against the U.S. Army and its dependents. However, these had to do mainly with the deployment of nuclear weapons and the insanity of the Cold War. Whether an American was white or black didn't matter, at least to Mattia's parents. Even when Moses played music in the Fenskes' garage, the parents did not resist.
Mattias developed a deep friendship with Moses, whom he describes as a level-headed and wonderful person.
"You are my little brother," Moses has said to him more than once.
However, Alienation has only given three concerts with a German-American lineup. One at Piano Palme in Ockstadt, one at JUZ Bad Nauheim and a third especially in Behringen, which at that time was still in the territory of the GDR.
The Stadtjugendring had organized an exchange of Bad Nauheim and Behringen bands. Alienation, with a real American GI in their luggage, traveled to the GDR in a VW flatbed truck, accompanied by a whole coach of Wetterau metal fans.
A unique experience, where Mattias eyes start to shine.
The shock was all the more severe when the first Gulf War broke out a short time later and Moses received marching orders.Nothing would happen to him, his friends should not worry, he would come home safely.A promise that Moses keeps.But unfortunately Alienation is already gone when he returns to Friedberg. Why, why? We don't talk about that. Having played in bands myself, I know how hard it is to keep a group together, and also how messy a breakup can be in this case.
Soon, besides the lack of common activity, the physical distance made it even more difficult to continue the friendship: Moses was transferred to another location of the US Army in Germany. While the American made a career in the army, Mattias and his other bandmates had new music projects in mind, made high school graduation, civil service, got involved in the city youth ring and traveled around the world.
And so Mattias saw Moses for the last time when, shortly before returning to the USA, he stopped by in the Wetterau to say goodbye to his old friends. He had met a German woman, married her and now wanted to return to the USA with her.
They stayed in touch, once a year or sometimes only once every two years the friends talked on the phone. Mattias, who is often in the U.S. on business, made the attempt to visit his old bandmate from time to time, but somehow it just never worked out. Last year Mattias got a sad phone call from Moses' wife.He was on vacation in Greece when he was told that Moses had died of pancreatic cancer a year earlier.Mattias was stunned, back home he searched out all the audio recordings, photos , videos and sent them to Moses wife and son.As a thank you he received the video of the funeral, but it upset him more than it led to Mattias being able to say goodbye in peace. Moses had let his hair grow after his honorable discharge from the army and devoted himself completely to building guitars from old cigar boxes, was again completely with himself.
None of this was mentioned at his funeral. Nothing about Moses the man, his passions, his nature.
This made Mattias sad and angry. Only the recapitulation of his military career seemed significant in the context of the funeral. This article is a small, modest attempt to tell something about the person Moses Burell, who was just not only a soldier, but also used the language of music to communicate with the world, reached out to people and enriched their lives. Someone who worked on a different level than a soldier is usually given credit for.
A true friend.