Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How I Met Ingo and His Guitar

Schluter's "pop star license." East German musicians needed government permission to perform.
David Malakoff, NPR
Schluter's "pop star license." East German musicians needed government permission to perform.

The seed for my story about Ingo Schluter's Ibanez guitar museum was planted more than 20 years ago.

Ronald Reagan was in the White House, East German border guards were shooting people trying to flee the country — and my girlfriend, Amy Young, was studying German at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

One of her professors had engineered an unusual exchange program with an East German university. Intrigued by the idea of studying in the "other" Germany, Amy applied.

She soon found herself living in a spare apartment tower in Rostock, a port city on the Baltic Sea. The students were amazed to find an American among them, and eager to learn more about the United States — a country they knew best from reruns of the soap opera Dallas on West German TV.

One new friend was Ingo Schluter, a gangly guitar player. In Amy's letters home, Ingo stood out. He was captivated by British and American rock groups, including The Band, which Ingo called "Zee Bant!" in his accented English. She spent hours helping him translate and understand the lyrics.

When the exchange ended, Amy assumed she would never again see Ingo and her other friends behind the Wall. Much to her surprise, however, she returned several times over the next few years as a teacher in an annual summer course.

Then, in 1986, shortly after we were married, we both were invited to spend a year in Rostock teaching and studying. I got to meet Ingo for myself. By then, he was the father of two little boys, struggling to balance his state-directed studies in agricultural engineering with his real love — playing in a folk-rock band called Cangaru.

None of us foresaw what happened next. In 1989, the country ceased to exist. Ingo and his wife, Eike, struggled to adapt to capitalism.

Meanwhile, Amy and I were raising three children. One day, we said, we'll take them to meet our friends in the country that's no longer there.

That day came last summer, when we arrived in eastern Germany for the first time since the Wall fell. To say the least, things had changed. Buildings were repaired and painted. Cars, once rare, were everywhere. Our university hall was now a Marriott hotel — with a Pizza Hut!

And Ingo? He was as irrepressible as ever. And his love affair with music is still alive.

But one thing had changed. The musician who once yearned to own just one well-made guitar now has more than 60 of them, hung neatly in a bedroom of his house.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

David Malakoff
Nicknamed "Scoop" in high school, David Malakoff joined NPR in December of 2004 as the technology and science correspondent for NPR’s science desk. His stories about how science and technology impact people’s daily lives can be heard on all NPR news programs.