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Editorial: Issue 8

Table of Contentsfor Issue 8

keyboardWhile sifting through the stacks of submissions for this year’s no man’s land, one of the editors commented on the dominance of Big Subjects: Death, War, Politics, the Sea, the Mountains. Indeed, no man’s land # 8 is rich with narrative, grand themes and landscapes, from the Alpine churchyard of Christoph Ransmayr’s “The First Years of Eternity” to the uncannily encroaching sea of Dehe and Engstler’s “Incoming Tide” and Margarita Iov’s “The Drift”. Iov’s portrayal of a brother-sister relationship overshadowed by depression is echoed in Mirko Bonné’s “Night No More”, an excerpt from his German Book Prize-shortlisted novel. Madness takes a grotesque turn in Francis Nenik’s “How Hunter Mayhem Traveled” to Uruguay, and the mosquito speaks for herself in Carmen Stephan’s “Mal Aria”. Ralf Rothmann’s “The Stars Below” takes us to the morgue, exquisitely mingling innocence with the macabre. Glimpses of Cold War Germany come from the West, with Michael Buselmeier’s spirited reflection on the student movement, and from the East, with Franz Fühmann’s subversively political Säiens Fikschen. And the darkest era of German history is reflected in Jörg Bernig’s “No Man’s Time”, a sensitive look at the aftermath of World War Two in Czechoslovakia, and Liane Dirk’s “Krystyna”, about the unlikely romance between a Holocaust survivor and the son of a Nazi filmmaker.

In the poetry section, we’re pleased to welcome award-winning young Berlin poet Steffen Popp to our pages, along with Martin Jankowski and Utz Rachowski, writers from two generations of the heady East German underground literary scene. Helwig Brunner, also new to no man’s land, is a prominent voice in Austrian poetry. And we welcome back Tom Schulz and Volker Sielaff with compelling new work.

Isabel Cole,  Katy Derbyshire, Catherine Hales:  Editors, no man’s land

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial: Issue 8


Clouds
I wanted



New Songs


Five poems from “Dickicht mit Reden und Augen”


My Pennsylvania Yard


Waste, the day
Ben Nevis, Glasgow
Belle de Jour



Everyday Spiritual Practices
Transit
Ventilator
Morning in the City



No Man’s Time


Night No More


The Fall of Heidelberg


Incoming Tide


Krystyna: And What about Love? I asked Her


The Duel


The Drift


How Hunter Mayhem Traveled to Uruguay


The First Years of Eternity: The Gravedigger of Hallstatt


The Stars Below

Clouds
I wanted

Author: Helwig Brunner
Translator: Monika Zobel

Clouds
Claude Debussy: Sonata for cello and pianoThe body of your voice is heavy
like clouds piled high over the Alps.
Peaks, fictitious and fickle,
wear down the mountains until they rest
flat like a map of themselves.

The thick strings, clamped down
and fastened on the tips of spruces,
can only be plucked, not bowed,
and then only at precise moments.

But what the bow touches is fleeting
as falling rocks or the memory
of how the side of my body facing
yours instantly grew warm, as though
we were an early morning in summer.

I wanted to live among more eloquent tongues,
below skies that didn’t collapse mercilessly into emptiness.
One morning on the sidewalk a lens from a pair of glasses—
out of its frame—glared up at me, brought me into sharp
focus for the optic nerve of an absent person and passed
the image on towards the center of the earth. “But whosoever
shall zoom in into my interior shall fall through pixilated
clouds of an unredeemable I.” I continued on, entered
a house, remained here for a while, pressed my fingers
on square keys with strange symbols. Could be, I wrote,
we’ll meet in the wrong eon in the blue of a false planet,
could be that what we’re looking for with our eyes closed
is not here. Later I googled the bony world of positivism
and assured myself of your unproven love.

Originals © Helwig Brunner
Translations © Monika Zobel

New Songs

Author: Martin Jankowski
Translator: Martin Jankowski, Rebecca Jany

released
from the duty of revolution
we enjoy the morning
and the grumbling of the ageing
joggers that in former times
everything used to be bad
in better ways and the youth
did not smile so mildly

we enjoy the special reports
on the daily apocalypses of course
we are worried and a little bit indignant
well-behaved rebels
we go and take a shower

we are accused
of accepting everything
and of not being discontented enough
we nod assent
and switch off the magnificent music
coming out of the radio we whistle
a little tune
not new but who cares

we are offered revolutionary
soft-drinks exciting
creations and hand-selected
pro-biotic world-cultures
we are amazed but
we say thank you

granted, a glass of water
is not new
but still
quite good

Original © Martin Jankowski
Translation © Martin Jankowski and Rebecca Jany

Five poems from “Dickicht mit Reden und Augen”

Author: Steffen Popp
Translator: Bradley Schmidt

Stepping out of the concrete, entirely rabbit fur.
Touching the rough glove, turning it inside out.
Moving something like pebbles slowly in your mouth.The head, the buried cloud form.
The heart, the doubled, enormous sack form.Concrete was thinking, a school
massive. A bell’s inside enveloped in sleep. Sleep
however, was another.

With milky white feet, eyes rolled back like
with conjunctivitis, under down.

We lay, I believe, in both
and sometimes in both at once.

Did I ever meet you, besides in sleep, hours before the crack of dawn
that we, crazy for depth, kissed from stones?
The heart was these stones, you say.
Still, and against them: I don’t think so.

Collection points for secondary raw materials were primal
arcane locations, hidden terminals like black markets, the Party
here quantity counted, weight, here, close to waste, what counted
was the price. Capitalism in the fall of the system’s folds

economy trading in newspapers, washed bottles.
People dragged rags, cable, waste oil for small change
despite all insignificance tangible, free of ideology: profit.
For what dropped out of the first cycle into the second

nothing could not be utilized, long before ecology.
Stone-faced like index fossil handlers adjusted the scales
– we were a collecting team, you cable, I glass, and

a balloon team: you were saving for helium, I for sand
you for silk and ropes, I for pressure compensation, time.
None of that was to be had. So we grew rich.

The We reappeared again and again, a paper tiger
no one wanted to pet. Our tiger consisted of
two pronouns (you, I) and a miniature rat,
what you called a guinea pig, on your hand

gnawed cross-eyed on kohlrabi. A representative
of the myriad tired, crippled pets in their owners’ tow
making the area uncertain – for the eyes.
Sure, we despised art. But that was no reason

to fatten up this squalor, if only to hold a mirror to ourselves.
Between being caressed and trampled dozens croaked
each month, and were buried, tossed into  dumpsters

with their cardboard homes, on the way to the next
furry, feathered, scaled short-term companion. The same
time would, we sensed, also dispose of us, and it did.

The moldy retainer on the breaker box
almost a bridge to life. Behind the appliance shed
we later found teeth with crowns, no idea
how they got there, to whom they belonged.

Cat’s teeth too, jawbones of rabbits –
passion of an disturbed janitor, apparently
a teeth fetishist in our midst. But there
I only saw average heads with hair and glasses

there I only saw us, alarmingly enough. At night
the apartment buildings were sets of teeth, black
with a few gaps illuminated till morning: a hobby lab

a forgotten kitchen light and the desk lamp
you slept in front of, under futuristic headphones
Russian III or hits ripped off from America.

Stepping out of the concrete, entirely rabbit fur.
Moving something like pebbles slowly in your mouth.

Grasping the material, a groping in foam
that coagulates, iridescently coating the furry body.
Kneading the material, dough
skin of a living creature.

Feeling the ground, sealed
the heart above. Below, buried in clouds
the head, its growth against time
metaphysical as stone.

Unlimited headspace, sky, in cone form.
Unlimited stone, in ore form.
Location of these motions that have long determined
reading the segments of the buildings, ancient frieze.

Finding the rough glove on the edge of the complex.
Touching the rough glove, turning it inside out.

From Dickicht mit Augen und Reden by Steffen Popp © kookbooks, 2013
Translations: © Bradley Schmidt 2013

My Pennsylvania Yard

Author: Utz Rachowski
Translator: Lyz Pfister

The mocking bird
was not wrong

high up
in your yard

the brick red
cardinal couple

sat there

on the wooden
unpainted fence

nesting robins
survived the storm

rocking
in the swaying pine

by the window
we watched

Philly the black cat
waiting down below

an ashen squirrel
tickling the trunk

fortune or misfortune
this is your world

and it was mine

the bird’s twitter
is a trick

fortune or misfortune

whatever his destiny
and our purpose

never lying
he was always up high

in your yard

though for a while
we forgot him in the game

he never lied to us

we never heard
his nevermore

that in the evenings
of those fortunate days

echoed in the voice
of the raven

Pulsnitz April 24, 2013

Original © Utz Rachowski
Translation © Lyz Pfister

Waste, the day
Ben Nevis, Glasgow
Belle de Jour

Author: Tom Schulz
Translator: Donna Stonecipher

Waste, the Day

Whatever you do, do it
to cheerful forgetfulness:
it all blossoms with no memory at all

(behold the wild thyme
in the lumbar regions of a pre-Provençal night)

There is no haven in the haven
only the dew and the dewlaps

there is no longer no longer

There is no longer
the “sell by” sticker on a swordfish
in a seaman’s supply store

how deep is the ocean
(at an unclear spot
where the text has a screw loose
and the poet shit for brain-
sausage)

I cheat loss just as I cheated with
losses in the roadstead, where the rocking
made me nicker like a rapt taxi-nag

What you don’t let go of, let it go
into cheerful raptures

The forgetfulness of a street corner
which I was

like you in front of the ice cream parlor:
a jumbo shrimp with mint chocolate chip

The gnostic worm, the glow
-ing filaments of a streetlamp colony

Count me among the berries
Count me among the quinces

Make me flitter
against the flapping blackbird habit

Ben Nevis, Glasgow

You pointed at the whisky wall
with two fingers, Missy MacCallan

I was a squall from Islay
I came over from Lewis as a field of rain

In the glasses stood the holy
ghost, it lit up twice

my evil twin
caused Highland Park to quake
(but I’m an untraditional boy with no pipe)

Leave the salt-drunk sea its bliss
till the Bruichladdich lays the bar low

Pull the Bratentweed out of the Kelvingrove
and dance with me in Westend’s foolish bars

And the Kunst won’t talk to you

Doff your hat for the drinkers from the pier
my dear! They made a memorial

of our bench in the gardens of rampant
hemlock

Ivy, posthumously        don’t kilt me

We are two
minus two
martinis

Belle de Jour

She came on a day when the violets
pounced, the windows cast off
their crosses, God was once again
a moving violation

Toward heaven meant:
a black Friday, all the way down
to your underpants, the collapse
of all banks, people were burgling
their own homes, they vanquished
the threshold, it went from me to euphony
150 million or more

With the tip of the tongue
money was obliterated!

She came on a day when the roses
flew over the pond, when the legislature
went out the window, in bad
German she straightened out two stock marketeers

She went to town
the cypresses were cracking

And this was written to the dream:
God was once again
a supersonic machine

The first poem appears in Nick Grindell’s translation in no man’s land # 1
Originals © Tom Schulz
Translations © Donna Stonecipher

Everyday Spiritual Practices
Transit
Ventilator
Morning in the City

Author: Volker Sielaff
Translator: Mark Terrill

Everyday Spiritual Practices

The whole day I was busy with
waiting for a woman, I hadn’t waited
for anyone for a long time, so that
now the waiting seemed like a mercy

an indefinable act, postponing
its own redemption. That was life:
someone—just born—stretched out his hand,
what he wanted to grasp, we couldn’t exactly discern

but the gesture was clear—and more than that.
We’re talking about a kind of swinging door.
The woman walks in and everything could already be over,
if it wasn’t just now—the beginning.

Transit

Life needs to spread its wings, leave its
script in the hair of one without a name.
DNA written on black volcanic ash.

The island rises and sinks; ribcage, heart,
another uninhabitable island. Uncharted
only the grass, the almond trees, the orchid.

Here is the beginning, encapsulated in an
unwieldy seed, that sails sprightly over the sea
in the unseasonable feathers of a bird.

The wind as matchmaker, on which the spider
hangs by its silky threads, Nephila maculata
out of the wind she weaves her web among the boulders.

Ventilator

Some things are only there in my
head
in order to combine with “something”
and together
produce a memory, which never allows me
to forget these things,

as though you’d laid your hand on it,
and thus extending it by a decisive
possibility, this

circling, swirling air of the ventilator
above us, I wish it had
another chance.

Morning in the City

In the window lay
the silky-gold cat
like his own emblem,
and I stood before the bookshelf
and dreamed.

Whether the things are present
in an indisputable way?
All I knew was, he’d picked out
the sunniest corner there was
in the window,
all four stretched out in front of him
and now he slept there, lying
as though in his own shadow,
ecstatic.

In the kitchen in the cupboard
a glass vibrated. It was
time. At the window
a car rolled by.

Just don’t let yourself be separated
from that which you are doing.
Do it
in an incalculable way,
and with infinite composure
in the heart.

I said: a silky-gold cat,
undeceivable, a little indifferent.

(for Musashi)

from selbstportrait mit zwerg by Volker Sielaff
© Christian Lux Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2012
Translations © Mark Terrill

No Man’s Time

Author: Jörg Bernig
Translator: Steven Lawrie

One

The Hunter was approaching the last place on earth. All hope of still finding Theres had drained from him after a search which had lasted over a year. As he came closer and closer to the village in the evening haze, traversing an area which could only be described as no man’s land, what he did not know was that less than twenty-four hours separated him from her, what he did not know was that on the evening of the third of September nineteen forty-six he would briefly encounter Theres once more and that, contrary to his intention, he would kill her.

He had roamed through the whole of Bohemia and Moravia, had felt himself driven onwards ever since that day in May nineteen forty-five when he had come tumbling out of a mine shaft and into the daylight where he was greeted by a soldier wearing a wholly unfamiliar uniform. The soldier gave him something to eat but was prudent enough to restrict him to a small portion. The soldier had once caused the death of a man already half dead with hunger by giving him too much to eat. But how could he have known, he who before becoming a soldier in a world war had done nothing other than man a workbench and on the way home in the afternoon make eyes at the girl behind the counter in the greengrocer’s, how could he have known that in cases of malnutrition a sudden diet of rich food could be fatal? Why should a man of little more than twenty years of age be expected to know that?

The soldier met him and would not have been able to state the age of the man stepping out towards him from within the earth. And yet the Hunter was the same age as him.

Since leaving the mine shaft the Hunter had been on the move throughout the whole country in his search for Theres, who had constantly occupied his thoughts throughout the time which now lay behind him and which he wished had never existed. And now, two summers later, the Hunter was approaching the village and was uncertain how he had made his way there and why he had allowed himself to be driven off course towards this little nook near the border with its village, whose existence was no longer known to anyone. The only thing he was clear about was that he would use this excursion to abscond from the unit of the Revolutionary Guards to which he had belonged since the end of the war.

That was what he planned to do: to abscond, vanish, detach himself after he had failed to find Theres and all hope of ever finding her had ceased to exist. During the previous years he had repeatedly imagined what would follow his disappearance—in the Revolutionary Guard they would call it desertion. Yet his speculation about life after his disappearance had always included Theres. Without her there was no ‘afterwards’. He had not sketched out any plan for an afterwards which was restricted to his own person. As a result, at that moment only one thing was certain and only one thing had to be done: to abscond from the Revolutionary Guard.

The Hunter would have to be quick, as he knew, for if he himself had found his way here then it was probable that the unit of Revolutionary Guards would likewise find its way to this spot, even if he had left no tracks and had drawn a map for the unit which was no real map.
The Hunter belonged to them—used to belong to them, he thought—that made him a Hunter. He did not hunt game. He hunted people. He acted as the unit’s scout and therefore almost always reached the scene of impending events a day ahead of the others. The Hunter had appointed himself scout—that had been in May nineteen forty-five and even a few days with the Revolutionary Guards had provided him with enough experience—and this role allowed him to be constantly ahead of the others. He wanted to reach Theres before them, if only by an hour, wherever she might be. Wherever she was. He wanted to spare her from what would happen to her and to those who were living in the same place when the Revolutionary Guards appeared.

It was a matter of absconding. He would have to be fast.

Carefully, the Hunter made his laborious way through the evening hours.

He did not have much time until darkness fell completely. His compass provided orientation as did the routes along watercourses, hills and crumbling cliffs.

For over a year he had searched for Theres and had wholeheartedly believed that he would be able to find her. Now, however, as the Indian summer of the year nineteen forty-six began, that belief had deserted him. The reason was that scarcely any of that group of people to whom Theres belonged were still in the country. When long columns of them were still being sent on foot to the border he had not connected that with his search. However, when thousands were taken to the border by train and subsequently only small or tiny groups of those remaining, or even just individuals, were driven away, it had seemed certain to him that the woman he was looking for had long since gone, that along with the others she had vanished from this country and from the life which was now progressing without them. Deportation, expulsion, the country cleansed of them: they had been driven across the border. Presumably, that was basically the way they had wanted it. Otherwise they would have behaved differently. But what concern was that of his? Let them explain it to their children. And with that he ended his fruitless brooding.

He had looked for Theres. On many a day fear had gripped him that she might no longer be alive.

The landscape stood empty. It stood empty as a result of the emptied villages. It was the task of the Revolutionary Guard to cleanse the villages and towns. The inhabitants deserved nothing better. Even if they were not all criminals individually, had not crimes been committed by members of their families? How was one to start differentiating? There was no avoiding the deeds which had been committed in the past. And that applied to those people, too, who had had nothing to do with those deeds. The experience of fear, of being both defenceless and at the mercy of others—that was what they should take with them across the border and pass on to later generations. Even their children and their children’s children should feel that melancholy only ever experienced by someone who is aware he is not at home.

The Hunter had searched for Theres in one village after another. Whenever one of the columns of people passed him on the road he had surveyed it quietly for he knew that Theres’s bright hair would be visible from a distance. Or he had made enquiries about her whereabouts, had described her appearance while sketching out her image in his mind again and again. More than a year had passed in the meantime.

In his mind the Hunter had mapped out his plan with great care. Just as careful was his plan to act as a scout in the Revolutionary Guard and consequently always be first on the scene, ahead of the others. He would need the precious time which lay between himself and the others. His hope had been that once he discovered Theres he would disappear with her, leave at once and go off somewhere where they could settle without being asked about their origins. Australia, he had thought from time to time, would be just such a country. He knew he would succeed in escaping with her without being seen by any of the units. He was a scout for a good reason. These had been his hopes.

And now the Hunter was approaching a settlement whose existence was nothing more than conjecture on his part, for the settlement did not appear on any of their maps. And yet: he was a scout and was led by his instinct. He felt that, once this night had passed, stepping out of the overgrown meadows and the rank growth of the forest, he would be faced with the contours of a village. As if from out of nowhere and put there only for his benefit, the houses would rise up before him.

He would have been happy had he known that only this one single walk through this one single night separated him from Theres.

As the Hunter approached the last place on earth he was unaware that this was the very place where more than a year earlier the deserter Antonín Mrha had been washed up as if shipwrecked.

In the capital city the President worked until late in the early hours of the third of September nineteen forty-six. There was so much to do since returning from exile and he had great plans. He wanted to place his country at the heart of Europe. He wanted to belong to neither one side nor the other. He wanted to employ them for his own ends, the allies of yesterday who, to the west and to the east of his republic, now faced one another in hostility. The hour had struck in which nation, state and people would be identical. He had learnt that from the first president of the republic, had learnt that this had to be the highest political goal to which to aspire in the muddled world which was the creation and legacy of the Austrian monarchy.

That’s what they’ll get, a clear-cut separation! These were the President’s thoughts even when still in wartime Britain.

The President worked late into the small hours that night and perhaps he believed that he was recording his name in the annals of history. Bold strokes! That was the only way. Even if that meant driving three million people out of the country. The country’s borders, indeed the borders of all countries, should correspond to the distribution of peoples, of languages and to different ways of living. This was a unique opportunity. Bold strokes! It had already started, and even before he returned, the hunt was on in the streets of Prague: Hunt them out! Find them! Kill them!

The President had achieved what he had wished. He had travelled around the country and proclaimed that soon, very soon, no foreign people would inhabit the reinstated republic. He had issued decrees which legalized what needed to be done. He had appended his signature to laws so that no one would ever be called to account for his actions in the period of the expulsions, of the cleansing.

A country at the centre of Europe. Those on one side had watched and approved of all that happened. Those on the other side had only raised weak objections and then turned their backs on events. They had turned their backs on events, too, when news arrived of the cleansing in Brno and from the Pohořelice internment camp.

The President had not achieved what he had wished. The country had not become the centre of Europe. It had become the property of the East.

He had returned from exile and had set to work. In the early hours of the third of September nineteen forty-six he granted himself little rest.

Antonín Mrha slept badly that night, woke up often. He rose and walked to the window. The street down which he could look during the day had gone. A blackness cloaked the window pane which was as black as the blackness which cloaked his blind eye. By holding a hand over his seeing eye he could establish whether a night was dark or whether it was what he simply called ‘black’. If someone said to him that it was so dark that you could not see your own hand in front of your face, Mrha rocked his head gently from side to side. The gesture matched the authority which the inhabitants of the village had less offered him than offloaded on him. He was the first to have made his way to this village. That had been shortly after the end of the war and the former inhabitants of the village had gone off into the four winds. Or been driven off. By those such as the Revolutionary Guards who roamed around in squads in the border areas.

Antonín Mrha stood at the window and looked sullen. If he had slept so badly then there had to be a reason, something had to be afoot, he thought. He was on the verge of getting dressed and going to see his friend Lípa, but the utter blackness at the window prevented him from doing so. Lípa did not live far from Mrha’s house, but Mrha was not inclined to struggle through the pitch darkness, given that he had sight in only one eye. Additionally he could scarcely have told Lípa he had dragged him out of bed in the middle of the night because he had a peculiar feeling, as if they were all soon to be faced with something that they could well have done without.

Antonín Mrha sat down on the chair he kept positioned by the window and waited for the day to break. From time to time he enjoyed just sitting on this chair and looking out of the window. Most of all he enjoyed the evening hours at the end of warm summer days when he could sit in the twilight with the shutters open before falling asleep, could listen to the calls of the swallows and sniff the scents of the growing night. Now he sat and waited for it to become light enough to go to see Lípa.

Bohuslav Lípa slept as soundly in the midst of his ever recurring nightmares as if he had been felled by a blow or as if he had taken a sleeping tablet. Every night as his eyes grew heavy he hoped he would be able to dream of the Invisible Woman, of her gentle voice, her walk, her hair, her eyes, her touch. He never succeeded. In the early summer of nineteen forty-five, as soon as he, the Invisible Woman and Mrha had recovered from the events which had tossed them by chance into this village and which had nearly cost them their lives, it was already starting: the affection which gained the upper hand between him and the Invisible Woman and against all else. They spoke with one another, they looked at one another and their glances showed their pleasure, they touched each other’s arms, stroked each other’s hair. He loved her and she loved him. That provided them with a sense of security which caused them to treat time carelessly. They thought they had all eternity in front of them.

‘The preacher tells us that there is a time for everything,’ Mrha often heard his friend Lípa say when Mrha broached the subject of the Invisible Woman. Whereupon Antonín Mrha usually declared that they were situated in a place which was not located in time, which was outside time or which was in a completely different time and certainly not in the time from which they had all fled to the village, from which they had stumbled or been cast out. And he explained to Lípa his concerns that the absence of time would presumably not be permanent and could not last eternally, if such a thing existed: eternity! At the very latest this was the point when Lípa would scratch the back of his head like a schoolboy who could no longer follow the words of his teacher.

Gabriele Mohaupt sat by her son Frieder’s bed in the early hours of the third of September nineteen forty-six. In his dreams Frieder had to undergo a visit to the doctor again and he was unable to wake up. It was as it always was when he dreamed about the doctor.

Come along now lad hey come on nothing to be scared of and you madam would be best waiting outside hey nothing to be scared of wee fellow we just want the best for everyone yes just wait outside if you keep hold of the boy then he’ll never calm down what do you mean he’s scared of strangers I’m a doctor but, mum, when you leave he always shakes his head like this always always like like like this this this makes me stand in the middle of the room until I start to shiver because my clothes the nurse takes them away throws them across the chair as if they were dirty you always dress me in my best clothes when the doctor expects us and we have to go, mum, the nurse handles them as if they were filthy stand still lad the doctor is strict yes the doctor is strict and he measures my head with a piece of cold iron and he walks around me and he studies me, mum, it’s freezing walk to the door says the doctor until I say stop and he makes me walk and doesn’t say stop but I stop at the door because I don’t want to bash my head in I’m not daft or what does he think I am and he curses he curses did you hear anything he says did you hear anything—
Frieder, wake up!

—it’s freezing I’m cold why don’t they give me my clothes those are the best and smartest clothes I have and mum dresses me in them when we have to go to the doctor and he’s never said but what nice clothes you have lad never once said it and neither has the nurse keep going go on do this and do this and he holds up a picture it’s full of coloured circles look for the number there he says well you don’t seem to see it but I’m so cold, doctor, can I put my clothes on they’re the best ones I have mum gave me them this morning but he looks at the nurse and she always nods that way when he looks at her she nods like that what do you see in the picture he asks and I tell him what I see and that the colours turn into a meadow—

Frieder, wake up!

—I’m about to show him the meadow by pointing when he pulls away the picture with the coloured circles ah he says ah well nurse what do you say to that deardear she says deardear she says again and nods again like this lad count for us you can do that can’t you eh come along don’t be scared we want the best for you well count for us I can do that, doctor, oh yes I can do that I always practise that with dad and mum they can count right up to the end of all numbers go on then lad count I’m so cold may I get dressed, doctor, and help me with the first number I always forget it but then it’s like automatic I like counting most when no one’s listening help me won’t you, doctor, with the first number!—

Frieder, wake up, we’ll count together, and it all starts with one, Frieder, wake up!

—now I’ve got it, doctor, one one one that’s how it goes may I at least put on my shirt enough lad now be quiet I’ve stopped speaking, doctor, he says here look nurse interesting these rings already blue red even though it’s not that cold here and look the feet that’s a convincing corpse-white the nurse nods again like this she nods like a horse and her teeth point outwards squint like this wonder if I should tell her should I tell her—
Wake up, Frieder, wake up!
—may I get dressed I want to leave the room, doctor, doctor, I need to go be quiet lad how many times do I have to doctor now he’s peeing here in the room screeches the horse see nurse the doctor says and it would only go on like this—
Frieder, wake up!
—mum, where were you the doctor was here again and the nurse, mum, you should’ve heard what they said you should’ve heard what they said—

The Invisible Woman lay flat on her back, as she did every night, and the plaits of her red hair surrounded her head as if with light. Ever since she had wakened from the pain on that occasion only a few hours after the end of the war when a bloodthirsty crowd had almost kicked her to death because she was her father’s daughter–her father whom as time progressed she had understood less and less, who had increasingly puzzled her–ever since then her dreams had stopped, she had not experienced a single restless night, and instead each night she lay as lifeless as all the objects in her house. She slept without making the slightest movement, her hair spread loosely around her, and the only thing that appeared to move in the house was the pendulum of the wall clock.

All of them lay in bed and were asleep or were not asleep because they were battling with their dreams, because like the unpublished writer who had also ended up in the village they were writing, only to collapse afterwards with exhaustion; or like Antonia Mende they hoped to decipher some language from the noises made by the animals in the stable; or because they lay unconscious in sleep like Prochaska who had arrived in the village from Croatia and then given himself the name Prochaska.

If the old woman Palacková could not sleep then it was likely that this was as a result of her painful limbs which frequently caused her a lot of trouble. Then she would sit on the edge of the bed and massage her legs with alcoholic liniment and wrap them in woollen scarves.

Old Bernat slept a sound, restful sleep in the early hours of the third of September nineteen forty-six, for he had read until midnight, just as had Ulrich, the teacher, whose wire-rimmed glasses lay, as always, within reach on the bedside table.

The infant in the Nádvornik family, a family who had not come to the village until they were forced to flee at the beginning of the year, head over heels and without any clear notion of their destination—who were forced to flee from that part of the government which was becoming increasingly influential, beginning to reach for exclusive power and which decried people like the Nádvorniks as members of the bourgeoisie and threatened them with the work camp—the infant in the Nádvornik family, as it transpired the last child to be born in the village, was at last able to sleep free from the stomach pains which had tormented it in the first months of its life, and the exhausted parents were able to sleep too.

Josef Kirsch, the joiner and master craftsman, was sound asleep, having undertaken his customary evening walk through the workshop and established to his satisfaction that everything was in its proper place so as to allow work to recommence immediately the following morning.

And Siegfried Thielemann, who had no idea that this would be his last night in the village, slept and drew in breath with a regularity which seemed to follow the beat of a metronome.

The village. Remote. Forgotten. Stuck in the small northern border area. The foothills of mountains, coming from all the directions of the compass, ran into one another here as if this was a meeting place that had been agreed upon. Or as if their common starting point lay somewhere in this landscape, a landscape which reached away into the distance in the form of hills, whole chains of hills which became far-off mountain ranges which came to an abrupt end after a few perilously steep basalt peaks which stood haphazardly on the landward side and preceded the plain which lay beyond. There the village. As if laid out by mistake, a mixture of farmyards, small houses, some larger ones too, such as could be encountered elsewhere in the rural suburbs on the edges of cities. The village was strung out along a road which curved at the centre of the settlement. Besides this central road, smaller paths, generally cobbled, crossing one another and zig-zagging behind the houses, running between them and the walls and fences. Bulges pressed through the roof tiles of some of the buildings, the roofs grown thin like an old skin. The ridges of the roofs protruded and in the slanting evening light they seemed like the spinal columns on the emaciated bodies of strange animals.

Since the end of the war no road had led to this village. Everything seemed to come to an end before the village. It was a place on the border situated in the wilderness, and beyond the wilderness lay another country. The road which had once existed had sunk into a crater just after the end of the war when the newly appointed District Chief Constable ordered that the ammunition which had been stored in a nearby quarry be detonated. Presumably to speed their escape, retreating soldiers had left behind case upon case of cartridges, bullets and mines. The Chief Constable, who enjoyed a good explosion, did not let the opportunity pass him by and he prepared for the detonation. He ordered that the surrounding area be cordoned off and he observed the explosion from a safe distance and from within a likewise abandoned armoured vehicle. Once the dust had settled and the quarry came back into view the Chief Constable realized that the edge of the quarry had collapsed, dragging down with it the road above.

The Chief Constable knew the village to have been abandoned weeks ago. There was no one there to drive off across the border only a few kilometres away. He therefore noted in his report on the explosion that damage to a road had occurred but that this was of no import as the road came to an end anyway not far from the quarry. He repeatedly emphasized having neutralized a dangerous situation.

In his district the world henceforth ended at the crater of the quarry, and the nettles which shot up rapidly, the golden rod and the ferns which grew from all sides soon concealed the fact that the road had once continued beyond the crater.

As if he had appeared from nowhere, at dawn on the third of September nineteen forty-six the Hunter looked upon the houses in the last place on earth.

He turned his inner clock to zero. He set off swiftly.

From Niemandszeit (Munich: DTV, 2002) © Jörg Bernig
Translation © Steven Lawrie

Night No More

Author: Mirko Bonné
Translator: Sheridan Marshall

There was nothing different about the night compared to the day. Just that everything’s colour was missing, we told each other.
“The bed is the bed, the room’s the room. The hall is the hall and the stairs are the white stairs.”
The door was the door, and it was shut.
The garden outside is still the garden at night, we told each other. And Ira knew, just as I knew, that each of us would have to learn how to be alone, even at night. After the countless nights in our shared bed, there followed the long years where we each slept in our own rooms. Then we each lived in our own flats, had our own cupboards for our own things, thought our own thoughts and endured – as best as we could – our fears alone.
Looking back, it seemed that I must have resisted being alone for longer than I’d thought. Since leaving home at nineteen I’d lived alone for a total of less than three months. I’d moved into a shared house, and then another, and from there into a third. Housemates came and went. I’d lived with three friends for a time, later with two, and then just one. When he moved in with his girlfriend, I also looked around for a girl to live with.
Meanwhile Ira was travelling. For over ten years, until she turned thirty, my sister travelled the world, learned languages and had boyfriends in different places. For a while she lived with Hector in Rio, then with Dave in Brooklyn, before she moved on to St. Petersburg or Netanya like some big, grey migratory bird. She would describe her lover in return for me telling her about whichever girl I was idolising at the time. At first they were fellow students, later colleagues – a painter, a video artist, a young Slovenian girl with a flower shop that was scarcely bigger than the basket of a hot air balloon. Sometimes I lived with someone, sometimes a girlfriend moved in with me. I never got a place jointly with anyone. My mother called it a “nest-building aversion.”
Ira travelled to Israel to learn Hebrew and got pregnant. I married my neighbour in Hamburg. Ira came back from Netanya and gave birth to a son. I got divorced. But my former wife wasn’t far away, Saskia and I remained friends. Then, fearful for each other, we became neighbours again.
With hindsight it looks as though, unlike me, my sister really tried to arm herself against her fear. Or had her travels been an escape? From what? From whom? It seems that we either carried whatever tormented us inside us, or we were ourselves that thing. Both of us took it around with us everywhere, knowing that neither one of us could escape it.
At some point she lived in her own house. It wasn’t a pretty house; there was nothing special about it, except that in the years before her death it was the centre of her world. In her house, Ira said, everything was hanging in the balance, at every second of the day and night.
Alone with the child, she felt as though she was trapped in the house. In all weathers – always! – the local children came out of school and rode their bikes through the estate shortly after half past one, just as twenty years ago she herself had ridden through Schnelsen, less than six miles away.
The garden was overgrown with moss, and the mosquitoes arrived as early as March. From mid-June the little dog from next door barked at the patio awning as soon as it was rolled out. In high summer she pushed the buggy with the boy in it to cheerless playgrounds. In autumn she stood at the patio door and stared through the pouring rain at a mossy pergola and the conifers. Two bats fluttered through the dusk. Sometimes she wanted to dig up the grass, to cast light on the black earth, but she didn’t. It grew cold and the heating oil dripped in the tank in the cellar, in the child’s room, in the front garden, in the garage, wherever you stood and listened, you could hear it everywhere.
Once she asked me to draw her house. We were standing in the garden on a winter’s day and she described how she imagined the picture: with the house flying away. It should consist entirely of big, grey migratory birds which all looked like her and were streaming away.
Ira called her house her state of fossilisation.
The house wasn’t big. But her fear was, and unlike mine it grew bigger. While she was travelling her anxiety had dissolved or turned to dust; the old night fear sometimes seemed to have been blown away in all directions. In each foreign land the black things tried to gather again in the dark, to join together and to force their way into her, just as they had always done. But somehow it had been different from at home. The new impressions, the foreign language, the people, had deflected them, and she had gradually forgotten that there was something that made her afraid. In Rio she was no longer afraid of the dark. At some point she began to talk to herself in Portuguese, in Netanya it was the same but in Hebrew, and already she dreamed in the new language. And soon she wasn’t alone anymore. There was always someone staying overnight when she was abroad, someone like Dave or Hector, who lay next to her and talked or listened or snored in the dark.
It was different in Wellingsbüttel. She was alone in her house, even when the child was there. She thought about the oil, brooded over it. In her imagination it overflowed the tank, then the cellar, and finally rose up through the house. Inky, it crept up the steps, lapped over the floor and carpets, sometimes at night it flowed into the child’s room and the walls were immediately grey from it. A grey colour everywhere which reminded me of the pictures that Degas had painted on his greyest days. And we were all this grey – without lives of our own, Degas had said.
Ira told me she sometimes saw an old, mouse-grey woman in the evenings, going backwards and forwards on the pavement in front of the house. Perhaps it was somebody who was confused, I said to her, after all there was a large old people’s home not far away by the river. She didn’t believe it.
“My own life is disappearing,” she said. “I am the woman.”
And I said, into the telephone: “Fantasy. Shall I come round? Have you eaten? I’ll bring something. We could talk, or watch a film.”
She didn’t want to eat anything, or see a film. Perhaps we could listen to music and chat.
“I’ll come now. You have a bath. How’s Jesse? Is he asleep?”
Yes, the little boy was in her bed, he was sleeping.
“Calm down, please, promise me.”
“Since this morning I’ve been trying to make myself understand that the walls are just walls,” she said. “But the more I try, the less I believe my own thoughts. Markus, my thoughts, they’re not mine at all.”

How to perceive the moment when the page turns? Was it even possible to perceive a moment? It was a matter of preparing yourself for the time when nothing was how it used to be.
When I thought of my sister I thought of the questions that Ira and I had gone over and over in vain during the nights at her house. There were no answers to them. They were questions which excluded answers and increasingly I had the feeling that Ira only asked them for that reason.
“When you see that you’re in a corner, when absolutely everything seems to be against you and you think you can’t stand a minute more backed against the wall, where do you find the strength to see that it’s all an illusion?”
I didn’t know how to reply. I couldn’t follow Ira and nor did I want to follow her up to the grey wall.
“Stop putting yourself through it. Take your tablets, take them regularly. Go to the doctor’s. Go to that group you used to go to, that was always a good thing. Don’t let yourself be eaten up and ripped apart by all the negative stuff.”
For the most part I just churned out phrases.
“I know,” was her usual answer, as soon as she had tired herself out with talking, “yes, I know,” – which sounded just as mechanical, but was honest. And then she would sigh, which turned me inside out, or even worse the sad smile with which she stood at the patio door, blowing cigarette smoke into the night air.
“You have to phone the Lewandowskis,” she said. “Please do it. Phone them and ask whether he can stay with them for the next two weeks.”
She was talking about Jesse before I’d even thought about him. She saw her misery through his eyes, from his perspective. “How can you, as a mother, make your child understand that in every room, even his, you see a gaping hole in the ground?”
Her riddling questions only further alienated her from me. It was so long since I’d said anything to her that had actually sunk in.
“Try breathing in slowly, Ira, in and out, in and out, and once more in …,” said her doctor very calmly, and for a time she calmly did as she was told.
I could only think of platitudes or, when I was reading Hemingway, of Hemingway quotes, and at best Ira would ask how old the translation was.
Shrug. “Probably older than us, no idea. One thing’s for certain, that no horse named ‘Morbid’ ever won a race.” That’s what the terminally ill colonel says in Across the River and into the Trees.
She smiled. She stroked my arm as she walked past.
“Please phone the Lewandowskis. The number’s saved.”
I made the call. Jesse’s stand-by foster parents would be there for the next two weeks, the boy was welcome to come to them. The Lewandowskis had never said no.
When Ira talked about Jesse her old smile from our childhood flitted across her face. I saw it, even though it was so gloomy in the house, and loved it precisely because it had become so difficult to love her instead of just feeling sorry for her. When Ira smiled it seemed as though the many nights we’d spent together were not lost, perhaps because – as so often when we were children – we were thinking the same thing.
It gradually dawned on me what Ira had long known: the page which would change everything was too heavy for her. Jesse would have to lift it up, he would have to hold up the page that had become too heavy for his mother and turn it over. With her son, a new chapter began.
At the beginning she was perhaps not aware of the consequences of the idea that was forming inside her. I was seized by a tremendous fear as soon as I grasped just how ready she was to give herself up.
For her, on the other hand, it had long been a certainty: entrusting her own life’s mission to her son meant that there was nothing left that merited her effort. Consequences had not even been a factor for her for a long time.
With thoughts of Ira turning over and over in my mind, I sat in front of the wall that was the last thing she’d seen. They were thoughts to make you weep, dismal visions full of self-reproach which I’d had often enough, but couldn’t banish from my mind. You sit there in your loaded-up car, staring at a garage wall. Looking through the window, at the bull’s eye. Outside in the October light flying insects gleam, while here in the half-dark you are haunted by the only person you’ve ever loved. How will you ever get out of this mess?
After Ira’s death my parents gave up their house in Schnelsen. To make the transition as easy as possible for Jesse, they moved in with him in Wellingsbüttel and opposed the unhappiness with what they did best, their proficiency in coping with everyday life. Only the garage was beyond their pragmatism. It was a crime scene and a monument, the gate to the underworld and a stigma, an incomprehensible place. So it stood empty and became a mausoleum reeking of petrol into which no one besides me ever set foot.
When I visited the three of them I put my car in the garage for the weekend. Before I went into the house I stayed sitting in the car until the grey stone with its circular window lost its tomb-like qualities. After dinner I stepped outside, smoked a cigarette and unlocked the garage again. I heaved the door up, sat at the wheel, put the cigarette out in the ashtray and waited for the thoughts to arrive: my thoughts in Ira’s garage were always the same. Sometimes it was instantaneous, I saw her in front of me, the way she’d stand smoking at the patio door, saw her smiling, her childhood smile, her long thin legs in the gym at a sporting event or how she cycled home with a friend balanced on the back of her bike. I heard her voice, which was dark and ill-suited to her small figure. My sister’s voice sounded inexplicably slow to me when she said things in that particular way of hers.
“Is there anyone at all who is capable of perceiving a decisive moment?”
When the weekend was over I got in the car on Sunday evening or Monday morning and drove out. The door was scarcely closed and all thoughts and questions disappeared, just so, as though they’d stayed with my dead sister in the garage.
For a long time my father had been planning to have the garage demolished and to build a new one. It would be in the same place and on the plans it looked just like the old one, except it wasn’t. It would have a connecting door into the house. And there would be safety ventilation. My father drew detailed plans, like before, and even purchased a technical pen for the purpose, having given his old draughtsman’s set to me years ago.
He had been putting off the project since March. Even though my parents found their son’s garage devotions macabre, though they preferred to walk to Ohlsdorf to the cemetery and thought they should forbid Jesse from entering the garage or from playing basketball in front of it with his friend Niels, they saw in time that nothing comforted me as much as sitting in front of Ira’s wall.
When my mother asked me why I didn’t stop going to the garage, I replied that I let it alone as soon as I went away. But that wasn’t true. I did not believe for a minute that I’d ever be able to get over Ira’s death, and neither did I want to.

From Nie mehr Nacht by Mirko Bonné, © 2013 Schöffling & Co.
Translation © Sheridan Marshall

The Fall of Heidelberg

Author: Michael Buselmeier
Translator: Henry Holland

Michael Buselmeier’s novella, first published 1981, is an explicitly autobiographical work, an intense, stream-of-consciousness procession through a day in the life of the first person narrator. This storyteller – a university lecturer in his late thirties, working in the German department of a south German university – is an ageing left-wing radical, a man forced by the passing of time into taking stock, yet still tenaciously non-conformist in his ruthless self-criticism, and intellectual independence. The outer defeat of the left-wing student movement, whose strength had peaked already by the early 1970s, is the historical frame of a book, and violent police repossessions of student-occupied property are a recurring theme throughout. Simultaneously the story is deeply personal, and one which refuses the sleep-inducing stereotype normally forced upon the German left. In the scene directly preceding the start of the excerpt below, a younger acquaintance is trying to persuade the narrator that the latest Roxy Music LP (circa 1979) is ‘hot shit’. Our narrator replies, cooly, that Richard Wagner is hotter.

A young guy about twenty with feverish eyes has taken a seat at our table, and slides his chair nearer us, subversively. Any idea where I can stow some stuff away for a bit? Yeah right, get real man. A study-group student of mine? If that lot still notice me at all, they see me as an arse-licking veteran, one of those know-it-all smart alecs always ready with a heroic yarn from the past, perfect for laming any current guerilla activity. Go tell that shite to the old dearies at the Greens, grandpa! — you might get them to listen to you in the garden in the mornings, while you’re watering your flowers together. We’re going to torch this whole place, the whole thing! He stares at me, gesticulating wildly, then gets up and goes towards the exit, without clearing away his dishes. So that’s what they look like: the liberators of humanity, the avant-garde. He probably babbles on so much about burning things cause he’s too chicken to actually do it. Supposedly once threw a Molotov cocktail against the wall of the loony-bin. Let off a little smoke, then fizzled out. He works away at his DIY bombs every day, bolted up in his room behind blackened windows. So watch it! Am I any different? A bit wiser, that’s all. No longer brave enough to die. Can I see my own uncensored wishes shining in his eyes? Act your age not your shoe size, wee boy, you wouldn’t be the first crazy who the pigs snapped up, just because you have to daydream out loud. And you also wouldn’t be the first, who, spun round by events, walks into our editorial office one day, a thin, wee guy with wispy, red beard, charity-shop clothes, and, sniffing around, asks casually where we’ve put the alternative papers, and if we’ve got The Revolutionary Fury, he’d like to have a read of that. Aye right, we throw that tat in the bin as soon as it gets here. Well keep a copy of The Fury back for me next time he says, leaving.
Johannes has disappeared into a record shop, and I’m back standing in the uni canteen courtyard, with the plastic bag full of newspapers in my hand. Straggly, rusty stains on the concrete bottom of the fountain, like menstrual blood slowly seeping into the bathtub. Two Sinalco bottles are bobbing upright in the water. While I’m studying the news-sheets plastered onto the wall, a man in a light summer suit takes up a pose next to me, also reading the wall news-sheets. He takes a step back, pulls a notebook out of his jacket pocket, and scribbles something down. Pale, greasy skin. This is Detective Chief Inspector Mobby Klick, from the Department of Internal Security. Arrested me at the town hall for breach of the peace and insulting a police officer. I’m not letting any old pig touch me, I screamed, ya bloody arse-wiper! That cost me 2000 deutschmark, plus a 200 mark fine cause I couldn’t resist reciting all possible collocations and etymological derivations of the word ‘arse’ in court, using The Complete Duden Dictionary of the German Language, Volume 1, p. 191. As I questioned Klick as a witness, asking whether he’d possibly heard me use another word instead of ‘arse-wiper’ — a word which, according to Duden, doesn’t even exist  — arse-fucker, or arse-licker, or up-into-the-arse-crawler, perhaps? — the judge screamed at me in a trembling voice: refrain from using faecal words in court! Then he got up off his arse and clapped a fine upon me, because of my ‘continued use of faecal terminology.’ Since the time he’d taken my fingerprints and mug-shots — number 565; portrait photos from all angles, 99 finger prints onto forms — Mobby Klick has always greeted me whenever we saw each other. I’ve read some of your poems, he said to me, confidentially. Since when did muck like that read poems? I recognised you in a documentary film about the German Lecturers Strike, hid away in a corner. A-ha. He looks at me proudly. A reader of my poems. The very thing that poets dream of. About my age. Numb-skulled and right-wing at school already, unable to observe his opponents without prejudice, so overly keen that he hasn’t got a clue about what he’s dealing with, and therefore harms the machine he’s meant to be serving more than he helps it. Dropped out of his law degree to opt for a career in the police. Got stuck half-way. I could tutor him in studying the left, qualify him in his spare time, but he can’t see his opportunity. He turned down my friendly offer to do a recorded interview with him in a stiff, almost shocked way. I’ve not got a gun on me today: grinning insecurely, he folds open his jacket, so that the inside pockets can be inspected. No harness either: he pats his hands over his jacket, and turns round so I can see his back; his white polyester shirt is sticking to his skin. So what if it is. I leave him with his side-kick, who’s always trailing behind us dressed up in a student costume, so they can read the wall news-sheets alone in peace.
My ritual route for the past ten years or more: through the canteen, past the Uphill Gardeners shop, past the political bookshop, then into the lecture-hall through the canteen, or into the Collegium Academicum to a study-group, or to meet somebody, walking along beside painted walls and staircases, over the creaking, cracked floor-boards underneath the roof. And now? The lecture-hall was closed two or three years ago after a fire, apparently no longer needed, even though it had become a kind of warm cubby-hole for many lost souls in the university machine over the past thirty years, including myself. Here, loners continued surviving, after dropping out of their degree courses, or while stretching out those degrees to infinite lengths. These seekers after truth and God sat on the same hard seats day after day — after having fought over the pair of soft leather armchairs underneath the window — and made minute notes with the one hand — behind the cover of the other — on the back of pamphlets; secret poets, hard cases, who tried to cover up their own, dead lives with voluminous perusal of international newspapers, getting steadily greyer in the stuffy air and canteen smells which seeped into their clothes, and warmed them. Most of these carefully dressed, old-fashioned talking gents wore oversleeves and white gloves even in summer, with which they leaved-through newspapers, encyclopaedias and atlases. Where did they drive you out to, my brothers, to the park-benches down by the water? You hobble along, your brief-cases full of books and papers you’ve read every word of, your way of tricking your landladies into thinking you’re still going places academically. Coming home in the evenings to your garrets, you can’t get the door open, it jams. Empty schnapps bottles underneath the iron bedstead, shoe boxes full of letters. Sliding, shakily out of this world, what happens inside your heads?
The Colleigum Academicum, the CA, last self-governing student residence in town, also no longer exists. On 6th March 1978, at six in the morning, 1500 police officers in helmets stormed the old college building. The regional elite units among them used siege-ladders, axes and chainsaws, and forced 150 tired students out into the cold. They set straight to work smashing up the rooms, grabbing any booty they happened to come across. I stood in the police floodlights behind the crowd-control tape, let myself be photographed by smirking secret-service agents, and saw the furniture that we’d used for living and working on, desks, sofas, the lot, being tipped out the windows. Then they nailed up the windows with boards. The spirit of our times.
The CA had been the centre of our understanding of ourselves, our critique, our opposition. This was more than just cheap student accommodation, rooms for drama and music groups, cabaret, orchestra, academic groups, parties. At the time of the revolts real teach-ins took place here, discussions lasting the whole night through with Ernest Mandel and Peter Brückner, during which I started, slowly, to think politically. But the students who came after us defined themselves less and less through the university as an institution, or through critical academia, or taking an active political role. Which left the CA more and more isolated, just another subculture. After the collapse of the student movement, the CA — by this time already labelled a ‘left-wing fascist stronghold’ by the local press — became the first port of call, and place of refuge, for all the victims of society who could find no other place to live in a city thoroughly cleansed: tramps, whose hostel by the river the town council had bricked up, beaten-up women, runaway teenagers, junkies, gays — they all crawled down into the former Jesuit college, filling the long corridors with noise and song, and letting it all hang out. The earlier inhabitants felt overwhelmed and could not relate to the new visitors.
A poetry reading in the overfilled hall was the last event to take place at the CA. Unable to defend this place, a place where we could be ourselves in public, and where we could relate to a wider public, we sat on the floor on the evening before the clearance, smoking as if paralysed, smiling wearily about the last few agitators, who still kept on getting up on chairs, to call for militant resistance. Some people sang, some listened in on the police’s short-wave radio, others still walked hectically through the neglected rooms. Towards morning someone flew into the room shouting: the pigs are coming up from the south, I can feel the floors shaking. And we heard, as he spoke no more, how looters tore the shelves off the walls, while the police net around the building tightened, the police extending the siege-ladders from their vehicles. Together we cleared the space behind the doors and then stepped out, blinded, into the spotlights. Sieg Heil! — shouted someone, running over the cobbled courtyard through the iron gateway, which was half-blocked by a yellow Volkswagen, towards the line of police. As I looked back one last time, I saw policemen squinting down through the lit-up windows, tearing our banners from the walls.
The political bookshop beside the canteen is still going, an old garage with a wide, glass front at the end of the gateway, that’s covered with publisher’s posters, subversive pamphlets, wall news-sheets about our political prisoners’ living conditions — and with private calls for help. But I sometimes get the impression that the owner’s been running the shop for a long time now just out of habit, or out of economic necessity, rather than as a political strategy, or at least out of a love of books. The door’s wide open, the air-conditioning’s whirring, and the place is empty, as it normally is at this hour. Nobody greets me as I enter. The owner’s mother raises herself up from behind the counter and scurries along the shelves, order-slip in hand, not looking at me. I walk, as I do everyday, alongside the tables where the new publications are laid out, and open up a book or a paper here and there, without buying anything. I normally know whether I like a book or not after just a few lines. I’d have to read a lot of tedious stuff in order to have a voice, academically speaking. And how much stuff is there that I’ve not read, and never will do. That thought used to make me feel helpless, and so I slammed the books shut again, especially the theoretical ones, in a fit of disgust. What am I actually looking for here? The owner’s mother is back behind the counter again, and is leaving through a card index while peering at me distrustfully through her thick glasses over stacks of newspapers. She carries a book past me, and as I step to the side to make space for her, she looks at me with a knowing smile as if to say: so what have you nicked this time? Got a job to go to, scrounger? My son’s a bookseller, a poet, actually, and one of the best as it happens. Is he such a layabout, that he has to stand leaning on bookshelves so he doesn’t fall over in his laziness? Should I be at home at my desk, ‘wrestling with my angel’, I ask myself, uncertainly? Isn’t poetry as a profession suspect in the first place. I mean, God, each and every human has poetry in their body, but haven’t those who try and earn cash with that lost the plot, rather — aren’t they plying a dishonest trade? ‘Anyone who doesn’t earn their bread through the sweat of their brow should feel ashamed, at least to a certain extent’ — as Clemens Bretano, our bad conscience, put it. Some take that conscience into their parties and sects, others beat their breasts with furrowed brows. Our family problems, which leave us looking as poor as mice. Who, apart from intellectuals, cares about intellectuals’ bad consciences?

From Der Untergang von Heidelberg by Michael Buselmeier, © Suhrkamp Verlag.
With friendly permission by Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin.

Translation © Henry Holland