Siegfried Mauser harassed Maria Collien in his office three times. Her testimony as joint plaintiff ensured that the former president of the Munich University of Music was convicted of sexual assault. We met her in Berlin and talked about her, her life and what really happened in the president’s office at the time.
When naming the parties involved in reports on court judgements, one must always weigh personal rights against the public’s interest in information. We decided to include the names of those involved in this article because we believe that there is high public interest in the case. We justify this as follows:
We are quite tired and also a bit hung over when we enter the small café in Berlin-Schöneberg on Monday morning at around 9:30 am. The milonga on Saturday lasted until 1 am, and after the concert on Sunday we celebrated a little.
Maria Collien is waiting for us in the café. We saw her briefly after the concert, but because, as always, many people from the audience had questions about our music and especially about the instruments, we only said a quick hello and put her off until the next morning. We had planned to meet her for many months, but the court case was too exhausting for her. Only now, after the appeal to the Federal Court of Justice has been successful and Siegfried Mauser has been sentenced to 2 years and 9 months in prison, was she able to arrange a meeting. And then she comes straight from Munich to Berlin! Just to hear our concert and meet us!
And now there she sits. The woman who has taken on a gruelling court case against one of Germany’s most influential musicians. She seems inconspicuous at first glance, but when she looks at us, we immediately notice the power she radiates. She laughs and points to the newspaper lying open next to her. ‘With Sigi into the underworld’ (‘Mit Sigi in die Unterwelt’, the ZEIT newspaper article about Mauser and the Academy of Fine Arts. “That brings us straight to the topic,” she says.
We hug each other. Is that too much, too intimate? After all, this is what the whole thing is about: too much and above all unwanted intimacy. But our concern is obviously unfounded. And actually, it would be stupid: a warm welcome is not a sexual assault, even if some unteachables try to discredit the #metoo movement in this way. Of course, men and women can deal with each other in a normal, respectful – and yes, intimate – way!
Maria Collien is a person with whom one quickly gets into conversation. We talk about our concert, about the excessive Berlin traffic, about this and that. We order coffee and breakfast and immediately have the feeling that we are on the same wavelength. “But that’s not really what we’re here for,” she says. And then she starts telling her story.
After only a few sentences the two of us realize that we have grown up in a sheltered parallel world. The little and big annoyances that happened to us during our studies at the university and later in our professional life suddenly seem insignificant when she talks about her early years as a violin teacher at the Regensburger Domspatzen: “Many children were bed-wetters. When you entered the rooms, the smell of urine immediately hit you. Whenever I came to the boarding school, the children would stand by the fence and wait anxiously. They waved at me from afar because they were so happy to finally meet a friendly and benevolent person. Mind you, at that time I was the only female teacher in the pre-school class of the Domspatzen.” She had even considered coming forward as a witness in the investigation of this particular scandal*. But then came the Mauser trial.
*Note: The Regensburger Domspatzen is a famous German boys’ choir. In 2010 rumors emerged about long lasting abuse in the choir and its associated boarding schools. In 2017 a report about more than 500 mostly underage victims was released. Weblink for more information: https://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/catholic-scandal-spreads-former-regensburg-choirboys-talk-of-naked-beatings-a-682344.html
But first she tells us about her debut on the opera stage, or rather her non-debut: “I was supposed to sing the leading role in an opera production. The last rehearsal went great and the ensemble wanted to go out for a meal together. The conductor also came along. On the way he said that the others should go ahead, he still had something to discuss with me. When we were out of sight, he grabbed me, dragged me into the bushes and pressed his tongue into my mouth. I pushed him away and punched him in the face.” Nevertheless, she went to dinner with her colleagues afterwards. “I can’t remember what it was like. It must have been a somewhat strange atmosphere.”
The dress rehearsal took place the next day – without Maria Collien. Allegedly, she did not master the role. “That was only noticed in the penultimate rehearsal before the premiere?” she asks sarcastically. And so it was decided that the dress rehearsal and all performances would be performed by the understudy. “She had hardly ever rehearsed because the conductor didn’t like her and she was only supposed to sing the last two performances.” Maria Collien didn’t want to accept this and informed her agency immediately. They were not at all surprised by the incident; she was told in confidence that the conductor had probably played the same game with another singer. They advised her to take legal action to claim her expenses for the rehearsal period, as a termination for artistic reasons was only permissible within the first week of rehearsal. However, they advised her not to report the sexual assault; this would not be ’expedient’. The artistic director offered a settlement very quickly, probably to avoid a scandal. However, Maria Collien only received a payment to cover her expenses during the three-week rehearsal period – and no fee for her work. She refrained from reporting the assault to the police in order to avoid making even more ’noise’. Yet this was enough to damage her career: “’If you do that, you’ll never set foot on a German opera stage again,’ my friends said. Sadly, they were right.” Because even the solidarity initially promised by the agency finally came to nothing. “As employment agencies they don’t like to have problems with the theatres. Those who do not act submissively, but rather burden the climate of the theatre business, are eliminated!” Her opera career then began shortly afterwards, in Italy, at the Spoleto Festival.
We haven’t reached the topic Siegfried Mauser by far when we order the second coffee. We are not tired anymore, not only because of caffeine. What Maria Collien tells us is stirring, disturbing – and very exciting. As if in passing, she keeps dropping big names both inside and outside the music world. Names that we cannot name here because in our society the victims who raise their voices are socially still treated like criminals, while the perpetrators can continue almost unhinderedly. The term ‘victim’ fits nobody as badly as this strong and self-assured woman sitting opposite us. She herself avoids the term ‘victim’ because she wants to decide about her life and her role in it herself.
This was also the case when another conductor wanted to take her on a concert tour. “There was talk about him, of course. I once had to witness how he and a very famous director spent an entire evening telling the dirtiest jokes about women. Really the lowest of the low!” But he did not do anything wrong with her: “I guess I wasn’t his type. But who knows what would have happened if I had been at his mercy on this trip!” After all, assaults are rarely about sex and an actual or imagined erotic attraction, but about power. She did not accept the offer of engagement, even though it would have been an important step for her career. Probably the right choice: this man’s name also made headlines in the #metoo debate.
The assaults that Maria Collien has experienced in her career are so numerous that our heads are soon spinning. Was it the artistic director who kissed her at the premiere party – in the presence of his own wife? He, who every time Maria Collien was about to enter the stage during the performance, waited in the dark to hold her and grope her quickly? Or was it the star tenor who was buried with highest honour years later? “No, at the premiere party it was a journalist! At the performances it was the tenor,” she corrects us.
What we notice is that while we may get confused, she never forgets anything. Her descriptions are clear and concise; she remembers every detail, every name, every opera production. All events are stored in her memory, nothing seems forgotten. It is this accuracy she impressed the court with in the Mauser trial. “What corruption!”, we gasp in horror at some point. Maria Collien just nods.
It all comes together in this dense environment: power-hungry people who see young singers and musicians as fair game, stars who can no longer distinguish between admiration for their art and their personality, but also all the others who at best just look away and at worst look to see if there is something in it for them. This also includes the many agents and managers who throw their protégés into this shark tank. “I have seen many cases of corruption,” says Maria Collien.
“I was engaged to sing Fricka in ‘Rheingold’. Wotan, the male lead, came from an agency, but was unable to manage his part. The people in charge decided to ask the agency for another singer. The agency said: ‘Yes, we have another one, but only if you take our Fricka too.’ They had no choice but to accept and exchange me for the new singer. I got a smaller role in the same production. ‘Next time you’ll get a big role,’ I was promised. Deals like that happen more often than you think.” When she later asked the director for the bigger part, he just put her off. An acquaintance from the theatre told her that she should have offered him money. She did not – and the promise was never kept.
The famous nepotism – widespread in the music world. We have ourselves experienced competitions in which certain participants surprised with high scores and first prizes because, by chance, their professor was on the jury or they were friends with the competition management. Maria Collien can probably only laugh at such stories. Do those who are the best in their field get the most out of it? “It’s more likely to be those who act most submissively. And of course, there’s a lot of luck involved.”
It is almost midday already, but we cannot stop now. After all, we have another appointment. In the afternoon we have to leave. Laura to Cologne; her pupils are waiting. Daniel by a car full of harps and luggage to Weimar, where some office work is waiting. This is what life as a freelancer looks like. A high degree of discipline and self-management is necessary if you want to make a living from our profession – outside the elite of course! Maria Collien understands this very well. “When the pleadings in the trial were over, Mauser requested to be allowed to ask me one more question. He said: ‘You are telling me here that I ruined your life. But you can’t live on the 800 € for the teaching position!’” However, for the majority of the musicians, 800 € is the difference between being able to pay their rent and not being able to pay it. “800 € don’t make you rich, but they make you poor,” says Maria Collien. Can a person with a lifestyle like Siegfried Mauser perhaps no longer understand this? Against this background, it seems cynical to us that Mauser himself said that he was financially ruined by the court cases. “I have earned good money in my active career,” says Maria Collien. But no musician can remain active forever – especially not in singing! And so, she finally came back from Italy to Munich.
Maria Collien applied several times for positions at the Munich University of Music and was not picky. Professorship, teaching position, lecturer – she loves teaching and was looking for a financial livelihood. She met Siegfried Mauser, then president of the university, for an interview three times. Three times he assaulted her. The exact course of events is described in the German Federal Court of Justice’s (Bundesgerichtshof) reasons given for the judgement. The judgement with case number 1 StR 39/19 can now be viewed online. We translate* an excerpt here:
*Note: These reasons given for the judgement are only available in German. There is no official translation, so we had to translate them ourselves. For this reason some terms may not be the correct legal phrases in English speaking countries. To avoid problems with the translation, you should only quote them with a reference to the original German text.
In 2007 she applied again for a position at the University of Music. When she was informed, upon request, that the application documents she had submitted were not available, she arranged, through the secretary, an appointment with the defendant in his office to ask him to ensure a proper conduct of the application procedure. At that meeting in autumn 2007, the defendant asked her to take a seat on the sofa. When she was about to get up at the end of the interview, the defendant approached her, grabbed her, pushed her onto the sofa so that she lay flat on her back; he lay down on her and fixed her with his body weight. The injured could feel the erect penis of the defendant. She defended herself fiercely and tried in vain to push the defendant off herself. The defendant tried to kiss her. She turned her head away and screamed: “Stop it, leave me alone!” Now the accused tightly grabbed the injured’s chest over her clothes, unbuttoned her trousers and tried to rip the belt of his trousers open. The aggrieved woman defended herself fiercely and especially tried to push the defendant away. She feared that the accused would rape her. Finally, the accused let go of her and said: “I am so sorry, just do it, we absolutely have to sleep together.” The injured fled from the office. Her applications remained unsuccessful.
On 19 February 2009 at noon, the aggrieved party therefore visited the defendant again, after making an appointment, to ask him once more to make an effort to ensure a proper application procedure.
In order to prevent an assault, she did not sit on the sofa in his office, but on the chair just one and a half to two metres from the door to have a direct escape route. Then she presented her request. The defendant assured her – as he had done in autumn 2007 – that he would take care of it. When the aggrieved woman turned to the door at the end of the conversation, the defendant grabbed her by the arms with both hands, pulled her towards him and pressed his tongue so violently into her mouth that it caused a pharyngeal reflex. The assault came so quickly that the aggrieved woman could neither dodge nor clench her teeth to prevent his tongue from entering her mouth. Since the accused was pressing her, she could not move her arms. However, she tried to escape his grip and avoid the kiss by pressing her upper body backwards. Now the accused let go of her with his left hand, grabbed her right breast and pressed firmly. The aggrieved woman felt extreme pain, so she screamed and shouted: “Stop it, let go of me.” She had had her breasts surgically reduced in December 2008. Due to complications, the surgical sutures had not yet healed. She had developed suppurating inflammations, which were being treated with drains. The defendant grabbed her hand and pulled it towards his trousers onto his erect penis. Now the injured woman screamed: “Stop it, stop it, I have just had an operation!” The defendant let go of the victim and replied: “What, your beautiful bosom? Well, but there’s still enough left.” He absolutely had to sleep with her, Mauser said. The victim left the office, hurried to a toilet and threw up there.
For the winter semester 2013/2014, the university had advertised a teaching position. The aggrieved party submitted her application and made an appointment with the defendant for 24 June 2013. She deliberately chose a “distanced seating arrangement”. She took a seat on the chair near the door. Between her and the defendant there was another chair. Then she told the defendant that 30 years ago she had been dragged into the bushes and kissed against her will by a conductor, whereupon she slapped him and reported him.*
After the conversation was over and the injured party turned towards the door, the accused said: “It’s different with us”, grabbed her with both hands, pulled her close and pressed his tongue deep into her mouth. He then grabbed the victim’s chest over her clothes with one hand, strengthening his grip with the other, and reached into her trousers. The injured resisted. The accused grabbed her hand and guided it towards his trousers onto his erect penis. The victim kept trying to pull her hand away. This failed because the defendant held her hand, and he rubbed his penis with her hand. The injured shouted that he should let go, that she was only here for a job interview. But the defendant did not let go. Eventually, she managed to evade his grip with all her strength. The accused then pushed her out of his office and closed the door.
*Note: This formulation presents the events in a simplified way. In fact, there was no report of a sexual assault to the police, but – as described above – to Maria Collien’s agency and the theatre director.
These unsavoury details are noted in the court records, and the court has deemed Maria Collien’s testimony to be credible. She had to repeat it over and over again in the witness stand. Mauser’s lawyers used sophisticated questioning tactics in an attempt to expose contradictions and undermine the credibility of the witness. But there were no contradictions. This, of course, did not stop Mauser and his entourage from telling a completely different version of the story: the physical contacts with Maria Collien had been consensual, just like the countless other affairs in his life. Anyone reading the above accounts can see for themselves how credible this version is. Maria Collien shakes her head: “That was a stupid defence strategy. If only he had acted a little wiser in court, he would never have been sentenced to prison!”
How can we explain Mauser‘s defence strategy? We are not the only ones who have asked themselves this question. Our theory: probably the possibility that the court could find him guilty was never up for debate with the people around him. Early on, his “friends” had written letters and published statements to save his reputation and defame the women who made the accusations. Enzensberger’s “Tellerminen” quotation has now become a familiar quotation. It was never a question if the accusations were perhaps true; it was presumably clear in these circles that the women had lied even before the trial began. We can imagine how it went: the notorious old white men (and a few women, too) sitting in their ivory tower, basking in their role as supreme guardians of culture, amusing themselves about the amorous conquests of the members of their circle, even if sometimes the boundaries of ‘bienséance‘ (decency) were crossed, as the preface of the Festschrift for Mauser’s 65th birthday states.
We are wondering if Mauser really believes his version of the story. “When he saw me standing in front of the court during the Schornsheim trial, he turned white as a sheet”, she says. “There were cameras and journalists there, so he waved at me in a friendly way. But he probably already suspected that my presence didn’t bode well.”
We are already in the middle of discussing the trial against Mauser. The third coffee is on the table in front of us, actually you could already order lunch. But now Maria Collien has gotten herself really warmed up. When she describes her experiences in Mauser’s office, you notice that she fights with all her might to retain the right to interpret the events. Silence is no longer an option for her, even though she has told the story dozens of times at the police station and at the trial.
Originally, she had no intention of taking legal action against Mauser’s assaults. “I was upset, but not traumatised,” she says today. She had simply experienced too much in her career to make a big deal out of what happened. Only one thing worried her: she felt that she was better suited for the jobs than many other applicants because of her qualifications and international experience. “I am really glad for all of them getting these jobs, but I became more careful.” At some point she gave up on applying any further. She concentrated on private teaching and choir conducting. A few days before the Schornsheim trial, she accidentally read about it in the newspaper.* “Of course, everything resurfaced. I immediately knew: I had to go there as a witness!” By this time, the pro Mauser campaign had long since begun; the other women were threatened with medial destruction. “That morning I tried to concentrate on the choir rehearsal. After the rehearsal a friend came up to me and wanted to discuss something with me. I told her: ‘I can’t right now, I’m feeling very bad.‘ She looked at me and asked: ‘Is this about the newspaper article?’ She knew right away.” Some members of the choir had already read the article and immediately saw the connection to Maria Collien’s descriptions of her application attempts at the university.
*Note: Munich harpsichord professor Christine Schornsheim reported Siegfried Mauser for sexual assault. He was sentenced to nine months suspended after an appeal in 2017.
She wrote to the court to offer herself as a witness, but received no reply. So she just went to the trial. Without a lawyer, without a concrete plan. She wanted to testify as a witness, wanted to tell her story to help the other women. They were not to be branded as liars because Maria Collien was sure: their stories were true, just like her own. “I stood before the court and knew that if I wanted to testify as a witness, I could not simply go into the courtroom. But I had to find someone to talk to. At some point, all those present were invited to come in. I stood around undecidedly until a court assistant addressed me: ‘Do you want to come in or not?’ So, I went in. In the courtroom, the judge asked if there were any witnesses among those present. These were asked to leave the courtroom. I got up – clearly visible to all, of course – and went out again.”
Does it really have to be so difficult for victims in our legal system? Of course, Maria Collien could have hired a lawyer right from the start, who could have explained the exact procedure to her. But lawyers cost money – money that very few affected people have. “But he was the perpetrator! I didn’t want to pay a cent for it!” At least this back and forth had the effect that she was called by the criminal investigation department an hour later and summoned to give evidence.
What began as a testimony developed into a completely new case within the next few hours. Without her intending it, Maria Collien was in so deep that she couldn’t get out. The interrogation lasted several hours.
That she stuck to her story from the beginning was fortunate because Mauser’s lawyers did their best to find contradictions in her testimony. “Five or six times I had to answer each question in the witness stand. Mauser sat just a few metres away, the proceedings dragged on for hours.” An enormous strain, even if the judge had been very sensitive: “I asked her: ‘I have answered this question so many times now, do I really have to say it again?’ The judge replied: ‘Yes, if you would be so kind to answer the question again.’ Then she turned to Mauser’s lawyers and said, ‘That’s enough, then!’” The judge pointed this out in her reasons given for the judgement: Maria Collien had answered all the questions in the same way again and again, not only with yes or no, but in her own words.
In the end there were only two alleged inconsistencies between her first police interrogation and her testimony in court, which the defence thought it could “uncover”: firstly, how long exactly this interrogation had lasted and secondly, whether it was at the second or third meeting with Mauser that he had tried to pull down her pants. To outsiders and to any common sense, these are insignificant questions, but Mauser’s lawyers saw it differently: based on these details, they doubted not only Maria Collien’s credibility but also her state of mind. They suggested that her “unclear” statements were the result of mental confusion. The court naturally questioned this assessment, but the lawyers based their appeal on it.
The months that the trial lasted were a living hell for Maria Collien. “At some point I couldn’t do anything anymore. I went to a party and turned around at the doorstep and left. I wanted to write something for your blog, but as soon as I picked up the pen, my hands started shaking.” Because some of her friends also had to testify at the trial, she was advised not to contact them during this time. “I was unable to talk to anyone about the matter for weeks and I only did my work with a last ounce of strength and discipline. That was the worst part of it. As a result, I developed shingles and intestinal colics.”
It is appalling that victims of abuse have to suffer like this in court. In public, Siegfried Mauser may dismiss the incidents as “misunderstandings”, as events that could be interpreted this way or another. But even if he actually believes himself to be innocent: what he and his lawyers did to the women during the trials is deeply reprehensible. Of course, everyone has the right to defend themselves in court, but there is also a social judgement, in addition to the legal one. And this judgement is devastating for us after the trials. When you hear Maria Collien’s story, the reactions of many members of the “cultural elite” seem abstruse. In our opinion, they have disqualified themselves for all public offices and functions.
By the way, Maria Collien has been awarded neither damages nor compensation. Mauser did not provide any financial compensation; she would have to sue for damages in civil court. But does she really want to take herself to court again? She even had had to pay for the initial consultation with her lawyer herself. Not a large sum – Mauser paid a multiple for his lawyers – but a small sting: why should someone who has been the victim of sexual assault pay extra money to get justice?
Of course, the question arises as to why she did this to herself in the first place. But she doesn’t even allow herself to think this way: “I would do it again today. Maybe it was my destiny.” Now that she is free again, she also wants to continue. “Now I will do anything! I like to give interviews and those affected can also contact me.” It’s incredible that she still has the strength for this. “Again!”, she says and smiles. “With the Federal Court of Justice’s ruling, a great burden has been lifted from me. I am a new person!”*
*Note: This statement was made in November 2019. This is not intended to embellish the fact that Mauser’s victims are still subjected to great suffering, e.g. by the publication of the Festschrift on his 65th birthday, his announcement that he would be taking his case to the Federal Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice, his refusal to serve his prison sentence and his declaration that for health reasons he is allegedly unfit to be held liable.
With this sentence we have reached the end of our conversation. We are totally exhausted; our heads are bursting from the cruel stories we could not all put down here. It will take us a few days to process everything. Difficult enough, since our daily work routine is waiting. What it must have been like for her during the last few months?
After we have said goodbye, we look after her receding figure and try to put our thoughts in order. Musicians are not good at distinguishing between the artistic and the personal in the assessment of a person. Whoever is a great artist is also admired personally, whoever merely teaches at a music school or just plays some gigs is often also despised as a human being. “I have never belonged to the crème de la crème,” Maria Collien had said earlier. What an astonishing statement! After all, her biography includes renowned opera houses, large orchestras and famous conductors. But does that really matter? The greatest achievement in her life had nothing to do with music. Together with the other plaintiffs, she managed to do something that is rare in the #metoo debate: to bring a perpetrator to court and obtain a conviction. We are therefore certain: we have just met one of the greatest of the music scene. Greater than us, greater than all those who looked away, and above all: greater than Siegfried Mauser.
„Singers of the Regensburger Domspatzen at a church service 2011“: Source, author: Michaelvogl, license: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany
„The Spoleto-Festival 2008“: Source, author: ElettroDevice, license: public domain
„Scene from ‘Rheingold’, illustration by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) from 1910“: Source, author: Arthur Rackham, license: public domain
„In 2016 the famous German author Hans Magnus Enzensberger – amongst others – wrote a letter in defence of Mauser to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, stating rejected women to be “treacherous land-mines” (“tückische Tellerminen”).“: Sorce, author: Felix König, license: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
„The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe where the judgement against Siegfried Mauser was confirmed.“: Source, author: ComQuat, license: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
„The northern atrium of the Munich University of Music; Mauser’s assaults took place in this building.“: Source, author: Wolfgang Rieger, license: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported