When less becomes more
Always on the go: Almut Quittenbaum was always active and involved, professionally, privately, and in the Church. Then she had a breakdown. She learned that less can be more. The congregation and the arts helped her.
From the outside, you wouldn’t know there was anything special about this apartment building in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, Germany. A one-bedroom ground-floor apartment, directly accessible from the courtyard. This is where Almut Quittenbaum has her studio. “My husband and I had moved into this apartment in 2016,” our sister in faith explains. “In the meantime, we have moved into another apartment in the same neighbourhood and I use this as my studio.”
When the family moved from a small town to the German capital, however, Almut started to feel overwhelmed. There came a point when she had to scale back, something that did not come easily to her: “Especially when I had to give up my choir work, which was what I loved the most.”
Full of energy
Almut Quittenbaum is a music teacher, psychologist, kindergarten teacher, and a special needs teacher. With the knowledge she had acquired, she helped along in the congregation: choir work and teaching the children were the things she loved most. For many years, she was also active as a member of the Project Group Children and Music.
In the late 1990s, the Quittenbaum family also became involved in missionary work in Russia. “My husband, a civil engineer by profession, was asked to oversee the construction of the churches in St Petersburg and Primorsk, among other things,” reports Sister Quittenbaum. So the couple and their three children spent three years in north-western Russia, where they also helped to establish congregations. It was a very formative time. Thanks to the Russian lessons at school, which were common in former Eastern Germany (GDR), as well as intensive independent studying, the couple had the necessary language skills and were happy to help along in the congregations. He as an Evangelist and she as a choir director.
Taking a step back
With all the family, professional, and church demands over the years, Almut somehow did not notice that everything was getting too much. Until the family moved to Berlin and things came to a head. “I was in bed for days, racked with pain, unable to think straight. I couldn’t sing any more. I was crying uncontrollably. I missed my choir and my garden at home in Niesky.” Then she managed to pick herself up and seek professional help. In addition to physical ailments, such as a rheumatic disease which was diagnosed and treated, the doctors also found mental factors to be the cause of her fatigue.
“Art was the only activity I could still do,” Almut says. Once a week, she went to an artist’s workshop to brush up on her skills in graphic reproduction. “This was the place where I started to get better.”
In the meantime, she is starting to participate in exhibitions. Customers are beginning to be interested in her works of art and want to buy them. Her favourite subjects are abstract representations that leave scope for interpretation. “It’s no different in choral work. You prepare songs and pieces of music so you can communicate certain messages to people.”
“I feel I have achieved something when people contemplate and discover my art, interpret it, try to understand the intention, or just spontaneously express their thoughts. This creates a kind of social interaction, just as in music.”
“One day I was in a flower shop and the owner asked me to keep an eye on the shop for five minutes while she quickly took her dog out for a walk. The first thought that came to my mind was: okay, so that’s what I am good for now: keeping an eye on a flower shop. I managed to laugh at myself and before I knew it I felt really good about myself. But I realised that I could handle this job and that someone actually trusted me to do it,” Almut says. It made her feel good and it was one of the key experiences during this difficult time.
Today she is grateful that she has come through this phase of her life stronger than before. She is grateful for her family, her congregation, her brothers and sisters in faith, and her rector who are all open and accept her situation and include her in everything. Almut is also grateful for her art, which inspires and fills her life with meaning.
Some of her art is religiously motivated. One of her works was about the theme of sacrifice. In another piece she allowed herself to be inspired by sacred spaces, altars, and resting places for the soul. The artist singles out one more picture: “This silkscreen, which I call ‘A Song of Heaven and Earth’, was created in another studio, not where I normally work,” she says. “The walls were plastered with really colourful pictures from the 1970s through which people literally shouted out their feelings at that time. This piece of art is based on a song from my childhood, ‘With a golden staff in hand’ and the three terms love, faith, and hope that guide me through life,” says Almut.