JUST WATCHING THE stars from the middle of nowhere was one of the magical things that Benjamin Keuffel, an arts publicist associated with the Goethe-Institut, listed among the best things he’d done in his life. And it was a life rich with context and people, with arts and possibilities. Tragically, on April 19 2019, he succumbed to cancer. He was 32.
With a wondering spirit with a heart open to new experiences, Benjamin was schooled in his hometown of Tuttlingen and by the age of 24, had travelled the world to seek out its unexpected beauty spots. Armed with a degree in media studies from Mannheim University, he’d been in Croatia and Cuba, Guatemala and the Netherlands, Jamaica and the United States, to name but a few places.
A visit to Lesotho, and a semester at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town during the course of his degree, which he completed in 2009, carved out a little place in his heart for South Africa, and he returned in the capacity of public relations officer for the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg in 2013. He’d earned his stripes in the institution, having moved through its ranks in Mexico City between 2010 and 2013, after he’d sharpened his teeth in the arts media as a volunteer on the Berlin Short Film Festival, before then.
“I like the sound of a double bass, the smell of newspapers and eating cheese with apple slices,” he described himself on social media, commenting that his crossing of the Sani Pass in Lesotho – which, constructed in 1950 is fondly known as the mother of all South African mountain passes – topped his list of fantastic adventures.
Fluent in multiple languages, Keuffel loved sport and the arts and everything from soccer to snowboarding, opera to jazz could set him on fire with its sense of adventure, audience development and magic. Benjamin is remembered for his sense of vibrancy and humour, his understanding of the unique problems faced by the South African art industry, his energy and his enthusiasm to make the industry sing with information, communication and wisdom. Above all, he was a young man with a fresh and frank outlook, clear eyes and a distinctive birthmark, who exuded ultimate decency in his every conversation with the world, from the way in which he looked at the stars to his professional emails and tweets with the most difficult of arts stake holders.
Born on July 3 1986 in Wurmlingen, a quaint municipality strewn with medieval redolent architecture in the district of Tuttlingen in Germany, Keuffel returned home shortly after his diagnosis. He leaves his parents, Roland and Elsbeth Keuffel, his older brother Oliver and his South African girlfriend, Zama Madondo, as well as thousands of friends, colleagues and associates in the arts industry.