by Caterina Raggi of Aragon
Thatchild rdiologist, luthier and musician. Philipp Bonhoeffer has already had two lives. The first, which began in ’62 in Germany, in Dubinga, took place between Italy (degree in Milan, specialization in Pavia), Africa (where, in the absence of technologies and resources for the care of children, revolutionary innovations for world cardiology), Paris and London. Philipp Bonhoeffer’s second life is in Tuscany, in Montecastelli Pisano, a medieval village at risk of depopulation, which he has transformed into a meeting place for musicians and scientists.
Science and music coexist in his DNA. Can you tell us your family history?
“Papa Friedrich was a neuroscientist and played the cello. Mother Dorothee, the flute. My grandfather Karl, chemist, my father and now my brother Tobias have taken over as director of the Max Planck Institute (in Göttingen). The great-grandfather was a well-known psychiatry. And we also had great musicians, such as Ernst von Dohnányi, pianist and composer, and Christoph von Dohnányi, life director of the Philharmonia Orchestra ».
A family that went down in history with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian who wanted to kill Hitler …
«My grandfather’s younger brother, he was the protagonist of the (failed) conspiracy against Hitler together with my grandmother’s brother, Hans von Dohnanyi, a very young judge of the Supreme Court who collected the evidence of the crimes of Nazism. Reading the letters sent to Dietrich in prison by his father, I discovered many familiar aspects: principles, human characteristics, even the ironic and cutting jokes ».
What impact has this had on your growth?
“Dad didn’t tell us about it. At school they often asked me if he was my ancestor. One day I asked Dad. He replied: “Yes, but you have nothing to do with it.” It was his attitude. When I asked him about his research as a medical student he said to me: “You have more important things to learn.”
Why did he move to Italy at 20?
“I was a poorly disciplined student. I only studied what interested me. I had two dreams: violin making and medicine. But after a bad school career I had no hope of entering the German faculties. I chose to enroll in Italy, where there was no limited number. When I arrived in Bergamo, I met by chance the person who has influenced my whole life: the heart surgeon Lucio Parenzan. Which immediately put me in front of stimulating challenges ».
How did you experience the early days in Italy?
“I liked Italy more than Germany, because people are happier here on average. I have this theory: in Italy there are more problems, people find solutions, they are satisfied; the Germans, on the other hand, create problems that they cannot solve, and are unhappy ».
Immediately after graduation, in 1989, the MultiTrack system, which allows mitral dilation through two catheters, gave her international visibility …
“I got the job at the Necker hospital in Paris for that very discovery. A simple solution for a very common pathology in Kenya, where I worked with Professor Parenzan. So I came into contact with an American company that has always developed my ideas. Ten years later, I made the most important discovery of my life: the possibility of inserting a heart valve through a catheter, without opening the chest. Another simple idea, which sparked frenzied competition among the major medical device industries. Trapped in a vortex, on the threshold of 50 years, I began to wonder what to do “when I grow up” ».
Was it because of the scandal in Kenya that he then left his profession?
“I gave back to Africa the earnings from African activities by financing the studies of a group of young people, with whom I am still in contact. A young man from whom I had withdrawn the funding (because he was not studying) and a lady whose advances I refused they accused me of abusing 8 minors. No one has ever confirmed. I didn’t go to court. However, the English Medical Association has disbarred me. I am a member of the Italian Order, but I have not practiced anymore. The frustration was enormous. Still it hurts. However, if I hadn’t derailed, I wouldn’t have had a second life ».
Why did you choose to be reborn in Tuscany?
«When I was twenty I started taking holidays in my uncle’s house, 10 km from Montecastelli Pisano. I then bought that house, where I always gathered my musician friends. The move to Tuscany was smooth. In the meantime, I had learned to make violins from a luthier from Bonn: an activity that gives me great satisfaction ».
What prompted you to transform Montecastelli into a music center?
“I used to do an outdoor concert every summer. Then the mayor suggested I play more often, and I decided to restore an old concert hall. Then the theme of the accommodation of the musicians arose. And I did a folly: to restore the large medieval complex adjacent to the hall. It has become a place of welcome, meeting and exchange for musicians and scientists. In fact, I believe that some need each other: musicians should at least know how the ear and the brain work; scientists should be more imaginative ».
From «Music around the Harp» (Sunday, with the virtuoso of the Berlin Philharmonic Noelia Cotuna) to the «Montecastelli Chamber Music Festival» (from 5 to 15 August); from the «Chamber Lab», with the patronage of the European Parliament (Wednesday 18) to the neuroscience masterclass (Monday 30): many personalities involved in the summer events of the Poggio di Montecastelli. The attractiveness of the location plays its part. What do you love about Tuscany?
“All. I have traveled practically all over the world and have not seen more beautiful places in Tuscany and Kenya. Here it is not that people are without defects, but they have a good character, they welcomed me, they wanted Montescastelli to revive. He takes the time to enjoy the finer things in life. The Science and Music project was born here. I would like him to become a model ».
0If you could make a proposal, what would you ask of the Tuscan institutions?
«Safeguarding, among its many cultural assets, nature and the landscape, known all over the world».
July 30, 2021 | 16:18