Finding Inner Peace
A bit of a renaissance man, Adrian Kobbe took the long route to get to Anguilla. Equal parts philosopher and culture connoisseur, the German-born conservation architect talks about why Anguilla is special, his love of cars and the guest list of his fantasy dinner party.
How did you end up here?
My first time here, I came from Tortola in 1983 to do sales at Merrywing Bay, which is now part of the CuisinArt Golf Resort and Spa. Those units didn’t sell very well, so I left. When I came back I start importing orange juice, beer, cement and steel from Venezuela, where I was living before.
Long before that I ran fashion boutiques in Paris and Munich while studying philosophy. I got a lot more out of fashion than I possibly ever gave to it.
Some years later I moved to New York to be an art director with Condé Nast; then to California to be an art director at Paramount Studios. I ran out of money in California [laughs]. I moved to Mexico City after that, working for Paymex. I didn’t like Mexico too much, so I moved to Venezuela.
I came to Anguilla for the great air quality, social harmony, nice water quality and personal safety. Today, Anguilla still provides that. I’m not concerned about the things Anguilla doesn’t have. I didn’t come here for that. I had enough of those things earlier in my life – fast cars, girlfriends, rock and roll.
You trained as a Conservation Architect, have you done many restorations in Anguilla?
There’s not much restoration work available in Anguilla. I would love to do more, but it’s usually more expensive to restore than to flatten it and rebuild. It’s always great to get a client who is willing and committed to preserving and restoring an old building. I was able to do that with Alan Gumbs and the restoration of Koal Keel.
Do you think you’ve reinvented yourself?
I think I progressed a lot. I was much less close to nature when I was younger. I’m a product of the Marshal Plan in post-WWII Germany. I was fortunate to get the opportunities I did. Growing up in West Germany allowed me the freedom to lean and travel.
I think what Anguilla can offer in a starry sky, in a beautiful sunset or sunrise can give you a lot of inner peace. Anguilla, for the right person, has a therapeutic treatment; it helps you to get out of the rat race. We’re so educated on a consumption level. Society has material things as a carrot in front of your face. I was much more involved in that in other places, like Paris, Mexico, Los Angeles.
It helped to have such a coloured background, to help other people to find something unique in this area [the Caribbean]. We can talk about art, cars, theatre…about culture in general. I can point out what you can’t find here; more importantly, I can point out what you can find here: a nice, peaceful, starry night, which you might not be able to find in a place like Philadelphia.
Did studying Philosophy help with getting a better understanding of the world and yourself?
Yes. I’ve used philosophy in my personal life a lot more than architecture. I learned that no matter what I learned, and no matter what I was good in, there was always someone who was much better than I was. I can only strive each day to learn, to get better, it never ends. Even things in my field that I know, there are still things that I don’t about. I don’t have a zen-like feeling or anything like that.
I’m very much a child of the 19th century. I’m definitely a baby-boomer, but my appreciation for art and culture is much of the 18th and 19th centuries. I try to know as much as I can, but there’s an enormous amount of things I simply don’t know, and I’m OK with that.
You’re into cars…?
Yes, I have two Mustangs.
Did you ever restore any?
Yes, but it is hard to do in the Caribbean. The beauty I find in cars is when they are in the same state as when manufactured. That’s when they have the most beauty.
In Colombia, I used to cover Formula 1 races for television and magazines. I would travel on the circuit all over the world. I still follow it, but the sport has changed. It used to be a lifestyle sport, like tennis used to be, and how polo still is. Now, F1 drivers are fit, they’re athletic. Racing is a profession now.
What do you do in your free time?
Look at the starts and sea, read my books. My library at home has thousands of books. I love listening to classical music – Wagner, Mozart. One of the things I’m most disappointed about is the dying of classical music.
Thoughts on religion?
I admire enormously, the preservation and the opportunity that the Catholic Church afforded the artist to flourish. If you go back centuries, it was the Catholic Church who was the main provider of work for extraordinary artists. Bernini, Leonardo, etc. There’s a pool of art that would not have existed without the Church. Their contribution to art is unique. Not only in architecture and sculpture and paintings, but even in music. The greatest works of the classical composers, are at least half religious work. Mozart’s best work is the Requiem. Did he write it because he was very religious? I don’t think so. But it couldn’t have been sold otherwise.
Not really. My only regret is not learning to play piano, or being a better swimmer. Being a good swimmer allows you to be more macho and being able to play piano makes you more interesting at dinner parties.
Speaking of dinner parties, if you could have some people over for a dinner party, living or dead, who’d you invite?
I’d invite Christopher Wren, the British architect. Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s art director. Iman, model, and wife of David Bowie – one of the most graceful and gorgeous people on earth. Napoleon Bonaparte; Greta Garbo, the actress. Garbo and Iman could surely talk together. I’m not sure if Napoleon and Wren would be able to talk. We need another politician, because Napoleon would only want to talk about his conquests.
We could invite T. E. Lawrence [Laurence of Arabia]. He and Napoleon are only one generation apart, so they’d be able to talk to each other. I want a musician, too…maybe Mozart. He could entertain, play the piano. It would be a great dinner; wouldn’t you and your wife like to join us?
Certainly! What’s on the menu?
Fresh Caribbean fish…Anguillian fish, not the imported stuff. I’d bring some venison; a lot of champagne and wine; plenty of fruit flown in from Dominica or Jamaica. We’d have the party down on Rendezvous [Bay]; we’d make a big tent, like Gaddafi did with his fancy Bedouin tents. If we have the money to invite these people back from the dead, then surely we can do a nice tent!