You Worry Too Much

Author: Michael Lentz
Translator: Steven Rendall

You Worry Too Much

Do ideology and politics concern nature as well? Brecht wants to test this out by means of an example. When he’s invited to plant a tree on the edge of the hill in Paseo Miramar, only a few meters from the ocean, he immediately accepts. Plant a tree. Planting trees is at least a step taken against the self-Americanization that is taking hold among the exiles, the mild climate is probably corrupting the German emigrants, planting a tree is a useful thing, a way of putting down a substitute root, unlike the overeager German emigrants who would prefer to be Americans today rather than tomorrow, who try very seriously to put down roots in the language here too, but those are aerial roots that can never breathe, here the air doesn’t contain anything one could absorb, so Brecht plants a tree, and as he is standing in front of his tree, Randy comes up to him, Randy the millionaire who grills such fantastic steaks, who drives a splendid car, Americans come into the world as drivers, Brecht says, so Randy comes up to him, looks at the tree that Brecht has planted with great care, really looks at Brecht himself for the first time, it seems, looks at the tree again, while all the other people whom Randy has invited to plant trees on this sunny day gather around the two tree-observers, and Brecht is the only German among all these Americans with whom he has hardly spoken during the tree planting. “Typically German,” Randy says, and Brecht doesn’t understand what he means, but is pleasantly surprised that something here is typically German, he wouldn’t have expected an American to be able to identify it, then Randy leads the group to the edge of the area on which Randy has had a hundred trees planted over the past few years, from there you can best see what he means by typically German: Brecht’s tree stands straight as an arrow, the only one. The tree planting remains a lonely highpoint of this thoroughly boring time in California, which is tasteless, the food is tasteless too, the boredom is eating him up, making him physically ill, he can’t even think about working every day, here in America he has to pretend inwardly not to be in America, he tries to transport himself into a European condition, so that he can go to his desk as usual in the early morning and get going, but he succeeds in forgetting the cheap prettiness all around him for only a short time, then he is suddenly Francis of Assisi in the Aquarium again, Lenin in the Prater, a chrysanthemum in a mineshaft, as he wrote in his Work Journal on March 23, 1942. There is nothing he can do about it, the European condition he has conjured up doesn’t last long, and in fact it is typically American, that is, artificial, to want to pretend something, the front yards here are also just pretend, if the homeowners can no longer pay for the water the yard dries up overnight and the desert takes over again, the truth. Another truth is, admittedly, that Randy makes the best steaks in the world, and for that Brecht almost reveres him, anyway he returns again and again to Randy’s steak, with pleasure, and tells him so, too. What is the secret of your steaks, Brecht asks him. You see it and you like it, Randy says. Brecht decides to write a poem about Randy’s steak. However, he quickly realizes that no poem about these steaks will ever suffice, no poem will even come close to embodying the goodness of Randy’s steak. His steak is poem, Brecht forbids himself ever to announce such corrupt nonsense, that’s the worst and most disgusting capitalist talk there is.
In Randy’s company Brecht keeps coming back to the foreign language problem. It’s already hard enough to conduct a conversation in German in such a way that one doesn’t have to ask questions every other sentence, Brecht stumbles in English, in American, over every other word. Talking with Randy, Brecht finds this embarrassing, shameful, but doesn’t let on. Moreover, he can tell Randy about this problem only in English. Then Randy listens in a very friendly way, nods now and then, dismisses him and says “don’t worry” again, and lays his hand on Brecht’s shoulder, not to mention that it seems that Randy neither takes an interest in this nor sees it as a serious problem. Relax, Bert, Randy says, and Brecht is greatly annoyed that this steak-griller calls him Bert, everyone else is supposed to call him Brecht. However, Randy has a trump up his sleeve with his steaks . . . Brecht stops. A steak up his sleeve? How do you say that in American? Can’t imagine. That’s where it starts, the problem begins already with Randy’s steaks, so just eat and keep your mouth shut. The steaks are thicker than usual. They are nonetheless uncommonly tender. Your teeth go through this meat as if it were butter. So it must be meat from special steers or the secret of its tenderness must lie in the way it’s prepared. The preparation: the already marinated steaks are . . . Brecht can’t figure it out. He detects a special something in the taste, Kirsch, maybe? In any case you have to get used to it at first, Brecht concedes, it activates massive prejudices in relation to America, against which we Europeans find it so hard to defend ourselves, perhaps not Kirsch, but something in the spirits line, anyway, in short, they’re the best steaks I’ve ever eaten, Brecht says, if only all Americans understood my plays and screenplays as well as I do Randy’s steaks, because these are definitely American steaks, Brecht thinks, completely excessive, mouth-filling, and too much of everything, exhibition pieces without a museum. The blood runs into Brecht’s mouth and he likes it. He can’t say, I like it, he has only the distinct feeling of pleasure, no that’s not quite it, a feeling of satisfaction. A thoroughly petit-bourgeois word. A word that could out-smug smugness itself. When have I ever been satisfied with my plays? Never. Why am I constantly rewriting my plays, telling friends and editors, agents and directors, that the play is finally finished, the letter is sent off, I immediately sit down to work on a new one, I was hasty, the play is not at all finished yet, I’m just now starting to work on it, it has to be rewritten from the ground up, and then I ask Reyer, Auden, Bentley, Laughton, to help me prepare a new translation, the opening night and subsequent performances will all be catastrophes because the American theater is unusable. “Fear and Trembling” will be the result of all these evenings in the theater with his plays, and most of all for himself. He knew that from the outset, and so he must have control over everything from the ground up, he mustn’t let anything go out before everything is clarified, light has to be shed on the whole thing.
Satisfaction looks different. When you speak about satisfaction you imagine leaning back in your chair, pausing and enjoying. That’s perhaps the fundamental difference between literature and food. The latter can satisfy. How does good old Albert-Birot put it? “Sit down and don’t talk so much about things you can’t eat.” German exiles, ladies and gentlemen both, should have that engraved on their brains, Brecht thinks, and Randy asks him,
“What are you thinking about, Bert?”
“I was just thinking that the Germans here and their literature, it’s all merely provisional, something directed toward a later time, and later no one will need it any more, but I’m writing for postwar Germany, there people will need my plays, they’ll be recognized.”
“The best thing for you to do, then, would be to stay here,” Randy says.
“Stay here? Here there’s only development, but nothing that develops,” Brecht replies.
“The only thing that will really help you in your postwar Germany won’t be your plays, but my steaks. But you can get those only here, Bert.”
“There’s Kirsch in them, isn’t there?”
“Red wine.”
“Red wine?”
“Only a little squirt.”
“Red wine, no Kirsch?”
“Excuse me, but they don’t taste like Kirsch.”
“I haven’t drunk any for a long time, I can only compare the taste with my memory, and it made me think of Kirsch.”
“But think about it. Red wine is the same color as blood, red wine leaves a mark, the color leaves a mark, you won’t find anything better for a steak than red wine.”
“Yes I will, Calvados.”
“Not here.”
“In France, however.”
“There, yes, but these steaks have something very subtle about them. I love the softness, the tenderness, and that’s produced only by a soft but hearty red wine.”
“Do you know what ‘faire le trou normand‘ means?”
“No idea, something to do with truth.”
“Clear out the stomach.”
“That’s a good truth.”
“Literally, it means ‘make the Norman hole’.”
“Ah, so it has something to do with war.”
“If you tell me your recipe, Randy, I’ll tell you the recipe for the Three Penny Opera.”
“Not good enough.”
“Then I’ll tell you something about the film Hangmen Also Die.”
“Have you made a film?”
“Yes, here, with Fritz Lang.”
“What’s it about?”
“The murder of Heydrich in Prague.”
“And who is Heydrich?”
“The Reichsprotektor for Bohemia and Moravia.”
“Never heard of him.”
“What about Fritz Lang?”
“I’ve heard of him, he lives right around the corner here, Summitridge Drive, Beverly Hills.”
“If I tell you a funny story about Lang, will you tell me your recipe?”
“Let’s hear it!”
“Since as a director he ‘d lost a few projects, Lang asked his manager to give him back the $80,000 that he was supposed to put away for him. The manager confessed that over the years he’d spent the money himself, and tried to commit suicide. Thereupon Lang went to an ophthalmologist, who did what an ophthalmologist always does, he covered one of Lang’s eyes and asked him to read a couple of numbers. Gladly, Lang says to him, only you’ll have to turn the light on. The lamp, however, had been burning all the time. He was in danger of going completely blind.”
“That’s it?” Randy asks.
“That’s it,” Brecht says.
“But that’s not funny at all!”
“I think it is, in a certain way.”
“I find it absolutely not funny.”
“So fork over the recipe, Randy!”
“The steaks are especially thick. Before they go on the grill, they are marinated. It’s very important that while they are being cooked you take them off the grill from time to time and put them back in the marinade. The sauce has the following ingredients: 1/3 cup soy sauce, five garlic cloves, two ounces of balsamic vinegar, and the red wine, but just a squirt. Sometimes I also put teriyaki sauce in it, but not often.”
“Are the garlic cloves pressed?”
“The garlic is pressed. You have to like that. But if it stays in the sauce too long, it loses its bite.”
“A great recipe,” Brecht says. “From now on I’m going to eat only steaks, with the exception of pork cutlets, red cabbage, and potato dumplings at the Feuchtwangers’, wear a leather jacket, smoke cigars, and drive through the Hollywood Hills in a fabulous car, and then I’ll drive to New York, all the way across America, and I’ll plant trees everywhere. And I’m going to revolutionize the Hollywood film.”
Randy, wide-eyed, stares at him.
The contemporary Hollywood film is not at all contemporary, Brecht goes on, it’s opium for the people and it’s in large measure what makes them so stupid.
“Do you know that Hollywood films are part of the global drug trade, that Hollywood is the center of the world drug trade, and that every single Hollywood film makes people stupid?”
No, Randy says, that had never occurred to him. But Brecht himself wanted to be part of this trade, didn’t he?
“The Hollywood film, my dear Randy, is a mental laxative, and when people no longer have a mind they get stupid.”
“You worry too much, Bert,” Randy says.
Now I really have to forbid him to call me Bert all the time, this Bert business is itself part of lulling the masses to sleep. Brecht already sees himself as a leather jacket-wearing, cigar-smoking, car-driving comic figure.
“Randy,” Brecht says, “you know that Hollywood is doubtless the cultural center of four-fifths of the world, and here we can have everything except dollars. I’m making a Hollywood film to end all Hollywood films, I’ve always got that in mind. No one wants it. Because it’s not suitable. Not suitable for whom? For the past. Here everything is defined by the past. If something is appropriate, it’s not appropriate for the past. I don’t have Hollywood taste, only Brecht taste. I try one storyline after another, one screenplay after another, and slam straight into the Hollywood wall, but I keep going, the point is to educate not only theater audiences but also movie audiences, and that’s it.”
“Sure, Bert,” Randy says, “I’m relieved that you’ve got something to keep you busy for the rest of your life.”
“However, I’ve had bad luck,” Brecht says, “Feuchtwanger managed . . . ”
“Unfortunately, I don’t know him, either.”
“A colleague. We worked on a drama together, Feuchtwanger made a novel out of it, but for me the thing was done once the play was finished. Feuchtwanger gave the play and his novel to Goldwyn, that Hollywood movie mogul whose name says it all. Anyway, no one ever understood our drama, but people liked Feuchtwanger’s novel, Goldwyn bought the film rights. Naturally, nothing came of it. But we signed a contract and I got $20,000. I found out when I was in New York. What did I immediately do? To celebrate, I bought myself a new pair of pants.”
“You can live on that, Bert. Now all at once you’re a big earner, Hollywood will be on your side.”
Great, the new steaks are ready. Eating steak is an opportunity for Brecht to go into a little more detail.
Although Brecht finds current Hollywood films unbearable, he loves crime novels. He wants to read English novels only in English, as if one were unthinkable without the other. They impel him through the pages. The hunt for the murderer excites him, he wants to finally find out, and he does find out, but he wants the book to tell him, and that’s what’s really marvelous, to know right from the start that Harry is the murderer, and to know it for the next two hundred pages, during which this knowledge is constantly present, and then on page two hundred and one Harry can finally be convicted of murder, and it occurs to Brecht how the crime novel pulls that off, it isn’t written in literary English, in polished English, but rather in a wonderful, colloquial, graphic underworld English.
Reading crime novels has made him realize that in discussions he doesn’t say what he wants to say, but only what he can say, and this is far too little, even when writing poems he’s not one to swear by metaphors, not one who needs showy metaphors, but he himself isn’t in complete control of German, and that sometimes stops him in his tracks, he’d like to tell Randy that, but he can’t, he just gives him a look that says, you know what I mean, and Randy puts his hand on Bert’s shoulder again, “You’re a nice fellow,” and that’s what Brecht finds hardest to bear.
He can’t stop thinking about it. Brecht tries to think his way into the foreign language, to feign his way into it. He decides that henceforth he will speak only American to himself, which seems to him to be perhaps the insuperable hurdle for his work. Maybe he no longer wants to ruminate on the painful suspicion that in America he won’t achieve anything because he is after all exclusively German, an exclusively German writer far from home, suffering from homesickness and nothing else.
“To be wise is to be productive, that’s my motto,” Brecht says, after he’s eaten a second steak. “The best medicine is work. Even when I was running from the Gestapo, I never failed to do my daily work.”
Germans! Randy can only shake his head. “Like with the tree, Bert, everything straight and according to plan.”
“When you mentioned the tree again it reminded me of something,” Brecht says, “the second house that we had in Santa Monica had a little garden. I could never stand the house, I couldn’t work there, there wasn’t enough room for a big table. Practically every day I thought about moving out again. We stayed in the house for a year. As I said, I couldn’t work there, and so when it wasn’t too cold I often went into the little garden. However, I couldn’t stand it in the garden either until one day I discovered a spot that had a decent view. What did you see? Only greenery, bushes and big-leaved fig trees. I was especially taken with the fig trees. I could look at them for hours without getting bored. A very strong tree, an athlete among trees. Moreover, if you placed the stool right there, you were spared the view of the slutty petty bourgeois houses with their depressing cuteness. A real gift, I thought. You saw only a tiny garden shed, maybe a square meter and a half on the ground. This little shed was the culmination, it was falling down, and its decay ennobled it, reminded me of the decay of European houses that had withstood time in just the same way. This view made me reflect that maybe we should stay in the house. Work comes before nature.”
Brecht is tired. Delightful steaks. He’d gladly come again, very gladly. If only America were like the steaks . . . Then America would be completely impossible to resist . . . But the opposite is the case . . .


“Du machst dir zu viele Gedanken,” from Michael Lentz, Pazifik Exil, pp. 319-329, © S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2007. All rights reserved by S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main.
Translation © Steven Rendall


Author: Werner Bräunig
Translator: Steven Rendall

The night of October 12 was silent in the German forests; a weary wind crept over the fields, shuffled through the darkened cities of year four after Hitler, crawled eastward past the Elbe in the early dawn, climbed over the crest of the Ore Mountains, plucked at the banners that hung limply in the ruins of Magdeburg, made its way discreetly down through the Etterberg beech woods to the statue of the two great thinkers and the houses of the still greater forgetters, stirred up the dust of lignite mines, billowed for a moment the huge flag in front of Berlin University on Unter den Linden, trickled over the sandy plains of Brandenburg and finally disappeared into the lowlands east of the Oder.
It was a cool night, and people shivered in their poorly heated apartments. The autumn chill stole into their embraces and their loneliness, their hopes and their indifference, their dreams and their doubts.
Now speeches had died away, demonstrations were over, proclamations rotated between the cylinders of the newspapers’ printing presses. Streets and squares steamed in the morning sun. The first shift was heading for the factories. Posters faded in the wind.

On this morning, October 13, Hermann Fischer awoke earlier than usual. At first he thought he’d been awakened by the cold. But then he heard the laborious growl of the SIS buses grinding up the mountain in second gear, and suddenly he was wide awake, thinking: the new ones are coming. The thirty or forty men without whom they might barely manage to keep the mine going for another two or three days, maybe another week, if nothing out of the ordinary happened–no gallery collapse, no washed-out roads, no conveyor breakdown. For two weeks the mine officials had been screaming, writing, telephoning; Fischer had almost given up hope. Yesterday, however, the team leader had suddenly called him. And Fischer now knew it was not just the cold that made him so exhausted; it was also not knowing whether at the last moment someone would snatch the new workers away from him.
Fischer got up. As he did every morning, he turned the radio on without looking. He went into the washroom, quickly poured a pitcher of water over his neck, rubbed himself dry with the linen hand towel. When he came back into the bedroom, the loudspeaker was droning the morning news through the barracks. As we work today, someone had said, so we will live tomorrow. Next door somebody knocked on the wall. Fischer turned the radio a little lower.
The rubber boots were still damp, though he’d stuffed them with old newspapers the night before. And the heavy leather jacket still smelled of musty, brackish water. As he went by, he looked at himself in the old shaving mirror next to the door, the sunken, stubbly cheeks, the tired eyes. Then he went out.
The camp manager was already standing by the door; he was surly, as usual, and replied to Fischer’s greetings with an indifferent nod. The air was less damp than it had been the day before. Fischer heard the rumbling of the blasting, which had been muffled by the rain the past few days. Over in Devil’s Gorge they were opening new shafts. It was already so light that he could see down into the valley. He made out the silhouette of the paper mill’s chimney, over which light gray clouds drifted very slowly from Bohemia. It was one of the largest paper mills in Europe, but up here hardly anyone noticed it. People had lost a clear sense of scale since this immense mining operation had been thrust into the mountains almost overnight, reaching from Saxony to Thuringia: Wismut AG.
During these rainy days the last few kilometers of the temporary road they’d built through the forest two years earlier had been flooded. The SIS buses stopped a thousand meters down the mountain.
From the edge of the barracks camp Fischer watched the column of new workers creeping up the mountain. They plodded along bent over, sometimes stumbling under the weight of their trunks and backpacks. Many wore low shoes; occasionally, when they got off the narrow clinker path that was what remained of the road, they sank into the mire. Their coats were creased and gray. Gray like this October morning, with its cold sky, its motionless fir trees, and the moldy smell of rotting stumps. Fischer tried to count them, but their heads bobbed up and down, constantly changing positions, and he finally gave up.
He thought: That’s how I once arrived here. He looked at the colorless, silent figures trudging toward him, and all at once he felt the weariness of his half a century creeping up on him. He could sing a song about these marches into uncertainty. These dawns that did not know what evening would bring. Yesterday, as he marched alongside Zacharias in the demonstration, for a moment he’d felt free and full of strength. For a few hours he was young again and unbent by the burden of the trials he’d gotten through and not gotten through. But today was an ordinary day again. Today he was a foreman again, responsible for production, which was already down to 92 percent. He was party secretary again and responsible for these new workers; hopefully at least one or two of them were party members. In these first post-war years the fate of the world depended for one eternal-seeming moment on the production of the German uranium mines, and Fischer was one of the few who knew that. Atomic energy—that was a matter of life or death. The world had already seen Hiroshima. Fischer watched tomorrow’s Sunday sinking under a mountain of little tasks; he was tired, very tired, in the past week he’d hardly taken off his boots.
From the camp came the clatter of coffee pots, the shuffle of rubber boots on the wooden steps in front of the barracks; the mates on the first shift were getting their coffee from the kitchen. Fischer looked over the new men again; he could now distinguish their faces, and he thought for a moment: what could be in these heads, behind the downcast foreheads, under these shocks of hair? Then he turned around and went back to the camp. Smoke trickled from the chimneys, a few fellows had opened windows and let the morning air into the bedrooms. He walked along the green picket fence that separated the mine area from the camp, greeted the Soviet sentry looking down from his hatch in the watchtower; a young fellow, maybe nineteen or twenty, obviously dying of boredom in his wooden perch. Finally he went into the admission barracks, the most boring of these thirty wooden buildings.
The camp manager was sitting in the office, sharpening a pencil. He hardly looked up when Fischer came in. He pushed his notebook into position and asked: “How many?”
“About forty,” Fischer said.
Then he went to the telephone and had the operator connect him with the Soviet mine director. You could call Polotnikov at any time of the day or night; in some mysterious way he always managed to be reachable. He had been a tank officer during the war, had driven from Moscow to Berlin in his T-34, over the Volga, over the Vistula, over the Oder. He maintained a reserved, almost distrustful attitude toward his German fellow workers, and even toward German party comrades. Polotnikov’s office always smelled a little of vodka, and the shaft director said: “Polotnikov drinks like a cavalryman and can handle even nitric acid.” In any case, he was able to work twenty hours a day.
Fischer told him about the new workers’ arrival.
“Forty?” Polotnikov said. “I can tell you exactly how many: thirty-eight. Pick out fifteen for the middle shift.”
As they talked, the new workers assembled in front of the barracks. Fischer could see them through the window. They were setting down their trunks and bundles, a few rolled cigarettes, and several stood in small groups. Most of them sat on their trunks and stared straight ahead. Many were still very young.
Fischer saw squatting on a bundle close to the window a skinny guy who was eighteen at most, and he thought: God’s sake, the new Germany is off to a brilliant start! Looked like he was about to keel over. And he will, too, Fischer thought. Thirty times down the shaft, thirty times back up, a hundred and eighty meters, every day, boring holes without a brace, working double shifts, and filling bottomless ore wagons . . . He looked at them standing there, with their army backpacks and gray wooden trunks from the P.O.W. camps, he saw twenty-two-three-four-year-olds with the restless, distrustful, watchful eyes of homeless refugees, and only here and there a confident look. Many of them had grown up without ever having had a chance to be young.
The camp manager had gone out to explain to them, in his grumpy way, what was going to happen in the coming minutes and hours.
Christian Kleinschmidt thought: So this is Wismut. Barracks, dirt, wooden shaftheads that didn’t inspire much confidence, more dirt, and this wrinkled little man who hardly moved his lips when he spoke. The little man was mumbling something about registration, meal tickets, wool blankets, and kitchen hours. He stood there solemnly like Mark the evangelist at the feeding of the five thousand. But he, Christian Kleinschmidt, didn’t give a damn about the Gospels. And especially about the Gospel of good and sufficient food—if you worked hard enough, of course. He thought: Here you are, with your high school diploma in your pocket, and this letter indefinitely postponing your enrollment at the university, but recommending, as a consolation, that in the interim you devote yourself to practical work. Ore mining is in urgent need of workers. Here you stand, you can do no other, and don’t expect God to help you, amen. Unfortunately, he’d chosen a father wholly unfit for these times, he should have been more careful eighteen years ago, when he was brought into this world.
The little man was saying: damage to the linens received will be deducted from your salary, losses will be deducted, stopping work early will result in deductions, wanton destruction… Christian nudged his neighbor, but he just looked dully in front of him.
Very talented, his teacher had said, very talented. At any rate, “former Herr Private First Class” Buttgereit was allowed to go back to teaching. Back then he’d done faithfully and dutifully what he was ordered to do; now, once again, he knew exactly how things were: crooked, straight, right, wrong. When he had time, he’d studied the “Communist Manifesto.” Had not been a Nazi. Now he trotted out the proletarians of all countries as he once had Hans Fritzsche and the Völkischer Beobachter.
But he, Christian Kleinschmidt, was allowed to carry stones and break his skull in this mine. Of course, there was no collective guilt; the great Stalin had expressly said that in the article they’d chewed their way through twice. And what the great Stalin said was simply the truth, unanimous, period.
They hadn’t exactly made it fun for him. Buttgereit hadn’t, and certainly Göring, the Russian teacher, hadn’t. Göring had the whole school against him. It was too much to have a Russian teacher named Göring, of all things, they all agreed about that. The students had taken a red pencil to homework that had been corrected and handed back, underlining words that were correct to make it look as though Herr Göring had marked them wrong, and then gone to the head’s office to complain about his incompetence. The head believed them, and for three days Göring crept sheepishly around the school building; he thought he knew all the tricks, but he hadn’t heard of this one, and hadn’t even been able to hang anything on them. Christian had once managed to write a large, bright “PG” for Nazi party member on the back of Buttgereit’s blue double-breasted coat. Buttgereit strutted around the schoolyard during the whole ten o’clock recess like that. The other teachers pretended not to see anything; he wasn’t very popular with them, either. Christian had been the school hero for a week, and Buttgereit had never found out who’d played this prank on him. But he had avenged himself in his own way on everyone he suspected. Little Pinselstein, for instance, whom he had slowly but surely worn down by constantly putting black marks on his class record and sending notes home to his parents for the smallest offenses. Buttgereit knew that Pinselstein’s father, a prominent attorney, would punish his son.
In the meantime, the camp manager had been given the roster by the man accompanying the recruits, and began to call out their names: Ahnert, Bertram, Billing, Buchmeier… After every fourth name he gave a barracks and room number, and the men called picked up their trunks and bundles and went slowly into the camp. Daumann, Dombrowski, Drescher, Eilitz …
It’s not the worst thing in the world, his father had said. Work isn’t dishonorable. He had a proverb ready for every situation, his quotation, his way of talking. Sometimes it helped, too. Erhardt, Feller, Fichtner, Fuhlgrabe … And he’d said: Just keep your nose to the wind, that can’t hurt. There were also times when the wind didn’t blow, God knows. And then they took the Theodor Körner statue off its pedestal, because Körner was a war propagandist, and Buttgereit was very emphatic about it. However, it was put back a little while later, an oversight, so to speak. The fact that with the best score in class 12b he was not allowed to go on to the university, whereas others, who got through by the skin of their teeth, were gladly admitted because their fathers happened to be metal workers or had joined the right party at the right time, that was surely also an oversight… Hunger, Illgen, Irrgang, Kaufmann … Truly times when the wind was not blowing. Not that he was afraid of the mine, not at all. And even if he was, he wouldn’t show it. Kleinschmidt, Loose, Mehlhorn, Müller…
They started out to find barrack no. 24 The group of men waiting had shrunk; there might have been fifteen or sixteen. It was now full daylight, the sky shimmered very blue under the light gray clouds, and sometimes the sun threw a bundle of rays over the land. But it still smelled putrid, the streets between the barracks were ankle-deep in mud, the earth steamed.
Christian walked behind the three others. The fat guy in front of him was Mehlhorn. Christian had been standing close to him just now, when Mehlhorn roared out his staunch “Here!” Mehlhorn carried a military knapsack filled with stuff; under the straps a piece of newspaper peeped out. Christian could decipher a headline: Margarine is healthier. Whenever butter was in short supply in Germany, the chemists started talking about how digestible margarine was.
The red numbers on the barracks walls were faded, of some of them only a few bits of color remained. Fat Mehlhorn asked a fellow who was washing off his rubber boots with a garden hose where building no. 24 was. They ‘d already gone too far, missed the turn, the house was a little outside the camp, on a hill. They turned around.
They shuffled over the slippery ground between the tree stumps, between the colorless clumps of grass, between the monotone barracks, all of them cold and bleak, avoided the puddles, sometimes slipped, pulled their feet out of the mud and shuffled on. Christian was exhausted after his sleepless night down below, in the yard of the mine management office, in the crowded, badly sprung bus; the straps of his rucksack cut into his shoulders, his trunk hung like a lump of lead from his numb arm. He straightened his back, stood up and shifted the rucksack higher, but immediately lapsed back into a hunched-over posture that made it hard to breathe and compressed his ribs. He could no longer say which way they’d gone, one corner looked just like the rest, one bricked-up window like all the others, the damp rising from the ground shimmered before his eyes, the buildings moved toward him, swaying as if they were about to collapse. The panes will crack, the roofs sink in, all that was lacking was the flames, detonations, the red sky and the cries, driven mad by fear and heat and fire, but the earth moved beneath him as it did then. His father walked in front of him, stumbling, his rucksack weighed him down, that enormous chunk of canvas, margarine is better for your health, but he sensed that his mother was no longer behind him, Mother, wait. They didn’t wait. They kept on stumbling forward. Right behind him a wall fell down with a rushing sound, a stone hit him on the shoulder, knocked him to the ground, he struggled back to his feet, just keep going farther, farther, the people in front of him weren’t waiting, the city was going under, the world was going under, farther. But he couldn’t go any farther. He threw himself down on the smoking pile of rubble, where just now there had been streets, he scraped his hands bloody, he screamed. A burning beam had pinned down the man next to him. He did not feel the monstrous wave that lifted him up and let him down again, he clung to the base of a bent-over street lamp; iron girders, window-sills, people whirled over his head, but the bomb had fallen where there was no longer a building, it could only hurl the already buried bodies back into the air again. They were dropping high-explosive bombs on the burning city, high-explosive bombs after the firebombs, and more and more phosphorous canisters. The burning phosphorous ate into the stones, crept nearer, streetcar rails twisted out of the pavement, the air rushed into the lungs like glowing lava, the deafened eardrums no longer heard the cries, then he suddenly saw the dog, the little black dog with the singed fur that pressed itself up against him, trembling and panting, shoved its head under his arm in order not to have hear and see. And he stood up again, a screaming shadow. Something swept overhead, a burning plane that tore off the little chimneys and exploded against the burning tower of a burning church a kilometer farther on. He staggered on, in the smoke, between the bursting walls, past a woman, a torch that ran headlong into an advertising pillar, and the singed black dog trotted around his legs, whining. He came into a street that sloped down before him, the asphalt hot and sticky; he didn’t know where he was. But he had a goal. He was looking for the pond with the little island and a narrow walk along the bank, the green heart beneath the stony breast of the city. He walked and staggered under the red sky, criss-crossed by the yellow fingers of the searchlights, under the white light of the target flares that slowly floated down. With rattling lungs he gasped for breath as he went along the row of pale yellow streetcars, barracks, streetcars, barracks, further, further …


From Rummelplatz by Werner Bräunig
© Aufbau Verlag, Berlin 2007
Translation © Steven Rendall

Say Shibboleth
The Marketplace in Machu Picchu

Author: Harald Weinrich
Translator: Steven Rendall

Say Shibboleth

Stumble stutter stammer slur
twist the tongue in knots and
become incapable of speaking
today is another day
a day to snap my fingers
when everything so easily
slips smoothly from my tongue
I felt it first thing this morning
when my tongue fresh and free
with a healthy red color
and no trace of white coating
awoke amid my tired teeth
and immediately slithered
through all the articulation points
effortlessly reaching just to test
even the hard interdental ones
(usually I can do them only late in the day
and sometimes not at all)
oh what pleasure to articulate today
even the difficult diphthongs and triphthongs
Words with heaps of consonants like
Shortribs Sheepshank Muttoncalf
or maybe Rumpelstiltskin
and then the lovely words with l
no need to fear a lapsus linguae
not today, certainly not today
I have my tongue I tell you
how good to have it today
especially today
since yesterday the Gileadites
seized the fords over Jordan
and cut off our escape
they won’t catch me today
even if their phonetically-trained guards
make me say Shibboleth Shibboleth
and again Shibboleth
whether as a single word or
in a harmless context
I know they won’t catch me that way
today I’ve got my tongue
I shall certainly
not misspeak
I shall certainly
pass over Jordan
I shall be saved
In fact I am
already saved

The Marketplace in Machu Picchu

For Friedhelm Kemp
the writer

Here I stand now on the ruins of Machu Picchu
and my shadow is a collar round my feet
So here Machu Picchu was founded
Here it crept long ago from its enormous egg
Here the she-wolf suckled the twins
From here the last Incan king was driven out and then
only the word ruled over the Forum
From that outcropping the Inca Cicero probably uttered
his famous Quousque
Somewhat farther up died the great Inca Caesar
struck down by the Inca sons Brutus and Cassius
but avenged by Octavian the noblest Inca
and reborn in the schoolbooks of very young
Inca pupils all over the world
because his writing is so perfectly clear and marvelously simple
a model of style for me still today on the
marketplace of Machu Picchu

When I lie about your classical art of writing
You men and women of Machu Picchu
quid ergo vos?
Hasn’t any of you ever had an itchy hand?
The right hand I mean that leads the llama and that
you hold out to a friend
the hand that is made for writing
about the gods over the Forum Romanum and about
the good and even the evil gods
Why haven’t you written anything down?
Why have you kept to yourselves everything that
moved your hearts?
All Inca thoughts locked up in the miserly breast
graves made out of your mouths
ex oribus ossa

Stones yes stones that’s how you understood yourselves
Stones you broke smoothed and marvelously laid up
without mortar
You had stones in your hands and stones in your minds
and you put stones in our ears
marvelously without joints
So our ears are now deaf to your long-since
silent lips
to simple everyday words on the marketplace
of Machu Picchu
and the hushed balm of the nightwords

Were you on the whole satisfied with your world?
Did the gods benevolently accept your sacrifices?
Even the white gods who came up from the sea
on your unprotected flanks?
You had just founded the empire the Inca empire
more powerful than any other
and strategic roads linked all parts of the empire
roads as straight as the mountain ranges or
watercourses allowed
roads like the ones the hands of Roman pioneers built
who does not see that
you had a sense for order like your
Roman brothers
a sense for order and a sense for empire

Oh we gaze intently at the hands we moderns
at your diligent hands or rather those of your
diligent slaves
for the Inca empire arose hand in hand
and none of these hands in Machu Picchu in Cuzco or
elsewhere in the empire
from Chimborazo to the saltpeter desert in the south
no victorious hand no vanquished hand
reached for the graver stylus quill or other
writing instrument
among thousands and thousands of Inca hands
no writing hand
only hunting hands weaving hands flaying hands warring hands
and probably loving hands
Then why no writing hands?
The hands of love are also writing hands they
inscribe love on the flesh
Haven’t you noticed how transitory flesh is?
Paper lasts longer parchment endures almost
Writers of the Incas where are you?
Ignoti quasi non nati

Or was it all quite different?
Were you more literate than is good for writing?
Were you already tired of writing before you began to write?
Did you write yourselves on the wind?
On the indifferent Pacific wind that sweeps
over the Andes to die in the interior?
Ventis verba ut vela dedistis

From Sag Schibboleth by Harald Weinrich
© Officin Albis, Garching 1997
All rights reserved
Translations © Steven Rendall