AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS
NEW YORK CITY, USA
NEW YORK CITY, USA
RE-Magazine - Claudia Editorial
Photography by Inez van Lamsweerde/Vinoodh Matadin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Terry Richardson, Anuschka Blommers/Niels Schumm, Viviane Sassen and others.
ARTISTIC DIRECTION HAIR & MAKEUP
Ich bin tall.
Claudia resides in a spacious apartment in Berlin. It’s a beautiful home with seven rooms en suite situated in Charlottenburg, an old upper-class part of the city. From the moment she opens the door for me is like a tilt-up in a film. I see two feet in Moroccan slippers. Slowly my gaze glides upwards. An elegant white dress interrupted by a thin, white belt smoothly follows the contours of a perfect body. At eye level, I see a simple gold chain around a neck that supports a gorgeous face with penetrating eyes. Eyes that, with a hint amusement, emphasise the first words from Claudia’s mouth: a cordial Herzlich Willkommen. I feel at home immediately. The house smells of freshly-baked bread and coffee. Claudia leads me along a long corridor to a spacious kitchen. In passing, I see four gracious living rooms, rooms filled with good vibes. Orchids everywhere. In the kitchen, a simple but carefully prepared breakfast awaits us. We talk about being Claudia.
I've never seen such big orchids.
They're my favourites. They've been looking this good for a month, and they should bloom like this for another month. I like to think of orchids as not only an expression of beauty, but as an expression of intelligence as well.
You mean they can read and write?
Sounds foolish, but yes. In a flowery way. I mean, if flowers ruled the world, orchids would definitely be ranked high in society, no?
I never thought about it. Let me double check the memo recorder. It’s always such a hassle, recording a conversation.
Is it on?
Yes it's on.
Let’s put the recorder here, with a newspaper under it. It much better for the sound quaslity. You should just check to see if it’s really working.
It wouldn’t be the first time I end up with nothing on tape.
We could also put the chairs closer together if you like. Then we’ll be even more certain that we're properly recorded. If you just shift your chair forward a little, make sure the plastic caps stay under the legs otherwise I’ll get scratches on the parquet. The caps aren’t fixed.
Fine, that’s it then. Are you comfy?
Oh yes, I'm fine.
Milk and sugar?
Ach so, Milchkaffee, just like me. They say milk stimulates bonding. That's why macrobiotics don't drink milk. They claim it makes you into one of the herd. It’s all a question of how you interpret it, of course.
You have such an amazing house.
Absolutely. It was love at first sight. Max Reinhardt used to live here.
How many rooms do you have?
Seven. And they can be converted into one big space. If I open all the doors, I could easily host a dinner party for a hundred people. When these houses were built, home entertainment was a fashionable thing to do for the upperclasses. Imagine Thomas Mann sitting on my toilet. He writes about it in his diary. Bertolt Brecht, Sonja Sekula, Marlene Dietrich, Von Sternberg, you name it and they've all been inside this house. I'm a big fan of Dietrich, you know, especially because of her relation to Von Sternberg. Both in their films and in their private life they showed such a visual and psychological complexity. Like this mother figure embodied in Dietrich when she dressed in men's clothes. Very hardcore, if you're into it. I can talk for hours on that subject if you don't stop me. (laughs)
Does it affect you, knowing the history of the house?
Absolutely. I feel connected with the past. The rich history of the house was one of the reasons why I bought it.
You live here on your own?
Me and my two cats. I'm a cat person.
What strikes me is that you haven't made any modifications to the house.
Certainly not. Why should I? I’m not handicapped. I only made the kitchen counter higher, but I had it redesigned in the old style. I stand in the kitchen for hours, and it’s important that I don’t get a back ache. I just love cooking. A good Haltung is very important. Because of their height, many tall people suffer from poor posture complaining all the time about the lack of good clothes, about furniture and houses that are too small. I think restrictions only make me more creative, more inventive. The one thing I always have with me when I’m travelling is a shower extension set. In hotels the showers are always too low, especially in Mediterranean countries. But once you know that, you can do one of two things. You can cry, “Get me the manager!” and get all stressed out, Or you bring along your own shower extension set, have a nice shower and spend your time doing more interesting things.
I've never seen a woman as tall as you.
Me neither! (laughs) Except once in a Fellini movie. You're not the first one to notice, of course. Basically, I grew up with two questions: Is it cold up there? and Do you play basketball?
Does that annoy you? I mean, can we talk about it? Is there something more to being tall than just being tall?
There is definitely more to it. It's a state of being. You know that joke about a Jew and a black man being introduced to each other? The negro asks the Jew: “You're Jewish, right?” And the Jew answers: “You're black, right?” My tallness is like being black. It's always there. My appearance is always the exception to the rule. You can’t imagine what that’s like if you’ve never been in that position yourself. Just the fact that people have to look up at me has an enormous psychological effect. Also, people remember me much more quickly than I remember them.
How do you deal with that?
I’ve always seen being so tall as an advantage. It’s fantastic, actually. But I have to say it’s a choice I made. I'm tall, and I think it's toll. (laughs) And you know saying it's true, make it true. I see my body as the best genetic present that my parents could have given me.
Is it a genetic thing?
Yes and no. I'm the tallest in my family, but we're all tall. My mother is 1m83 and my father is 1m93. My sister is only 1m81. She's a stewardess for Lufthansa. But besides my DNA, because of better nutrition and health care, the average Germans is growing taller by a centimetre per decade. So my tallness is the result of cultural and genetic factors.
We have this story in our family about how my mother, when she was young, came home one day and my grandmother asked her: “Was ist loss? You look taller!” She answered that she had met somebody and that somebody was my father. They'd met at the dance school and his tallness made her stretch herself up. 1m83 was very tall for a woman at the time, so she was used to hide her tallness by bending over. It wasn't just physical, she grew mentally as well. When you're happy, you stretch.
That’s a nice theory, but is it really true?
Yes, of course. Your attitude claims a certain amount of space around you. Whe you stretch, you show yourself in a confident way. I look good, no?
And I feel good too! People only like you when you like yourself. It's that simple. Do you like the jam?
Hausgemacht. It's my mother's recipe. Just prunes, sugar, a bit of lemon rind and lots of love. I believe in dealing in a loving way with the things and people around me. Life’s beauty is revealed in simple and everyday things. Breathing for example. Deep breathing is incredibly healthy and it’s something I love to do. I sometimes joke that because of my height, I breath cleaner air. Oxygen is so important. It so much determines who we are. I mean, in prehistoric times, there was 10% more oxygen than there is now, which is why you had all those enormous dinosaurs. Today there are sea spiders in the polar regions that are 30 times bigger and a thousand times heavier than the ones that live elsewhere. The water is colder and less salty there so it contains more oxygen. I think my blood is able to absorb a lot of oxygen. I’ve got fantastic blood. I have it checked every six months.
Just because. Curiosity.
Do you have fantasies about what it would be like to be smaller?
No. Quite the opposite. I mean, I’m 1m98, but inside I often feel 2m12. That’s how tall I would have been if I hadn’t had the hormone treatment when I was twelve.
You mean you would have been even taller?
Yes. I always feel when I stretch that I connect myself with the other me, the Claudia that could have been 2m12. It feels like a phantom length, if there’s such a thing. My inner self is taller than myself and I treat her as my best friend. After all, at the end of the day, she's the one giving me lots of energy and self-confidence. In one way or another, my life is often about that extra 10%. Just that little bit extra. It's something I learned that from my basketball coach when I was young. He was like a father to me. He kept pushing me by saying: “Strecke dich! Jump higher! It's not high enough! Reach out!” And I did what he said. It's wonderful for a tall person like me if someone encourages you to jump higher.
Why did you have the hormone treatment?
My parents as well as the doctor persuaded me to have hormone treatment. I had the first consultation when I was twelve, three weeks before my thirteenth birthday. My parents took me to a doctor. He took X-rays of my hand bones and he estimated that I would grow to 2m12. I couldn't believe it! (laughs) I was really looking forward to growing so tall. I thought the pills would make me grow faster instead of stopping me grow. (laughs) It was a complete misunderstanding.
So they forced you into the treatment?
No. They were right to do so. It was just that I liked the feeling of growing so much. I used to dream about growing endlessly. At times, I really didn't know where my body began and where it ended. Do you know Barbapappa?
That was my nickname, Barbaclaudia. I always struggled with furniture, because my limbs were so ungainly. I often bumped into things. I was growing so fast that I couldn't stand up in the morning. If I rushed out of bed, I would fall down. So I had to sit on the edge of the bed for ten minutes and wait for my body to start functioning. It was a blood circulation thing
You didn’t see that as a problem?
No, I loved it! But like I told you before, it has always been a personal choice to not problematise my tallness. My body was developing, so of course I could feel a certain itch in my Gelänke, but it wasn’t really painful. Not at all. In fact, this itch was quiet sensational and I even became sort of addicted to it. Getting up in the morning was an adventure in slow-motion. I could feel my body slowly waking up. I had to hold my own hands, otherwise I had the feeling that they would fall off. I have always loved science-fiction and I often felt like a machine or an alien myself. Bit by bit, I could coordinate my limbs, sit up, stretch my arms and hands, then read a bit and eventually I could stand up. If you call this process just painful, you exclude the gift of awareness that you get from it. It was just such a nice way to start the day. Tell me, do you like science fiction?
Some of it, yes.
I think science fiction is very interesting, I mean, as a playground for ideologies. Living in the present makes no sense if you don't concentrate on what the future might be. Could we talk about that too? We have no idea of how many things will change in the next decade. Being two metres tall will be the average somewhere in the next century. I connect my inner Claudia with the future, you know. How tall are you?
I don't know exactly, 1m82 or 1m84.
Imagine another you that is 15 centimetres taller. Wouldn't you want to confide in him?
Maybe, I never thought about it
He could be your buddy, your confidant, your inner parent. Whatever you want to call it. I believe in a certain degree of humility, which shows itself in looking up to something or someone. Asking for advice. Relating to a higher level of ambition. Not like in religion, but as a form of therapy or consulting. As long as you recognise that it has some value.
We’ve got you to look up to.
It’s funny you say that, but it’s true. Last week a total stranger came up to me and said, “You can do it! Go out there and do it! I know you can.” It wasn’t clear why he said it to me of all people, but I often have these sorts of experiences. People come up to me and ask to touch me. It seems that looking up to someone as tall as I am has some value for them. That’s why the idea of a 2m12 Claudia is so important for me.
What sort of value is that?
I think it enables them to stand back from their own problems, and have a different perspective. Maybe it has to do with this inner tallness again.
In what way?
Everyday you make choices. You choose your friends. You choose the degree to which you allow your work and your private life to be bound up with each other. It’s a constant responsibility. Wrong friends? You chose them yourself. Wrong surroundings? The same thing. If you blame the circumstances then you let the solution slip. But if, instead, you get the opportunity to address a larger version of yourself, to look up to someone and ask advice and not have to decide everything on your own. I think it's a great concept, it works for me and I'm living proof that it works.
Did the hormones stop the itching?
Not immediately. I can’t remember exactly. I do remember the cure and that the medicine was called Astormine. It is the same medicine that women get when they are in the menopause. Every morning I had to take four pills before breakfast. The effect of was that my body had the impression that I was already 21 or 22, instead of being only 13. My Hormonhaushalt was completely regulated by the treatment. Normally a girl starts menstruating very irregularly, but in my case, the hormones started my first menstruation much earlier, but also totally regulated my monthly Menstruationszyklus. I jumped from childhood into adulthood almost overnight.
At age 13? I mean you're supposed to be a child at that age.
Of course, I still played outdoors and did the sort of things most kids do at that age, but because of the hormones I matured mentally much more quickly than my peers. I’m glad I had the hormone treatment for no other reason than that. The whole transformation from girl to woman was actually one big party for me.
In what way?
Well, with an adult consciousness I was able to recognise and value the burgeoning beauty of my own body. Because I was able to look at myself with the eyes of an adult, I quickly learned who I was. And my tallness is of course a large part of my identity. Just the fact that people always look at me when I pass by. When I walk down the street I often feel like I’m on television. People look at me and make comments as if I can’t hear them, like they’re sitting on the couch watching TV and eating crisps and drinking beer. Like in Café Einstein recently, I was drinking a cup of coffee and I heard someone at the next table say, “...and now she’s drinking coffee.” It’s become second nature for me to see myself from a distance. But, come to think of it, that consciousness only really began with the hormone treatment. There’s something cruel about the concepts of puberty and adolescence. Most people waste the best years of your life with doubt and low self-esteem, but I was able to skip that whole degrading process. So there was room to discover the beauty of my body in a different way. Beauty needs to be maintained, but if you start early with minor maintenance then you can postpone the major maintenance. I know it sounds cliché, but the awareness of aging only comes when you get older. My advantage was that at a young age I could already look with an adult’s eye at that romping Barbaclaudia body I had. (laughs)
But how exactly did you perceive your body then at, let’s say, age 14?
I've always loved my body and how it connected to my personality. When I look at my old school pictures there's always a head of difference between me and the second tallest. One time the photographer even asked me to lie down in front of the rest, because otherwise I would not fit in the frame. I remember girlfriends complaining about almost everything. No boobs, too much ass where am I going with this? Despite being exceptionally tall, whenever I looked in the mirror, I felt complete. And basically, that hasn't changed. I enjoy living with and in my body. I enjoy looking at my body and I enjoy how other people enjoy looking at my body as well. After my Arbitur, I lived in London for a while, just for something different to do. I had rented a modest room in Brixton and there was this street going downhill. For me it was like a catwalk. Every night I’d walk down that street and everybody would notice me. Men, mostly black cabdrivers, waiting down the road, saw me coming a mile away and reacted in a strong way, giving me high fives and such. I enjoyed that so much.
How's your relationship with men?
Very healthy, I'd say. (laughs)
Is there any truth in the cliché that men prefer small women?
Keine blasse ahnung! I don’t have any experience with that of course. (laughs) I mean, the opposite is true as well. It happens quiet often that a smaller man comes up to me to express his admiration. Once, I was at a party talking with a small guy and he was drunk. He was standing in front of me and then he bit my tit. It was right in front of his face, so for him it was a logical thing to do.
Didn't you feel harassed?
No, in that context I thought it was a really good joke. (laughs)