Author: Michael Amon
Translator: Edward Larkin, Thomas Ahrens


Please allow me to introduce myself

I park my newly acquired Ferrari Testarossa in one of the parking spots reserved for members of the board of directors. Well, speaking of the devil! The chief financial officer, my immediate supervisor, swooshes in at the same moment in a luxury sedan. Of course, he isn’t driving. He is being chauffeured, seated in the rear. I get out and act as if I don’t notice him. The chauffeur pulls up right behind my Ferrari and motions for me to move. I give him the finger – first assuring myself that the CFO has also seen my gesture – and leave the parking garage in an upbeat mood. I just love living clichés to the fullest, with grandezza.

I am not an impolite or vulgar person. Not at all irascible or hotheaded. But I get a great deal of pleasure out of defying the rules of a venerable banking institution, all the while knowing that they can’t do anything about it. They hate me. They despise me. They would terminate me immediately, without notice. But, unfortunately for them, I am one of those people who bring in the big bucks, the really big bucks, that pay not only for my Ferrari but also for the many other, less fabulous limousines available to the board of directors. So while they curse me in private, they let me park where I want. They ignore my extreme hand gestures and do not dare set foot in my department. We are wild guys through and through – we who work here. And I am the wildest. To be precise: the coolest. And I’m not the only one who says so. Everybody does.

My immediate boss has not been an active trader for some time; nowadays he only supervises the traders. But even he can’t tell if I am about to make a killing or take a bath on a contract. I always maintain the same calm demeanor when I’m looking at my computer screen, no matter how the supposed markets around the globe are behaving and no matter how volatile the graphs reflecting those events become. Even when the graph lines are horizontal, which only rarely occurs, no one is able to detect my boredom. A horizontal performance line (I’m talking about a line that looks like it’s been drawn with a ruler) offers very little opportunity for speculation – unless you can find some greedy bastard who is willing to make a deal that is just ridiculous – one that only the eggheads in our math department can understand. What they cook up is great. For the bank, that is, not for the client. They generate mathematical formulas to ensure that we always come out on top. It can get wacky when two banks are involved, but we avoid that. What do we have clients for! The more the markets heat up and the more eagerly people drool over profits, the more we can spread this mathematical manure among our profit-craving clients. And some days we are up to our eyeballs in drool, figuratively speaking. But that is not really my area.

I live on variances and timing. I keep an attentive eye on the screens, and as soon as Tokyo advances and Chicago retreats a little, I buy the shares in Chicago with the phone on my left and, even before I have the contract in hand, I sell it in Tokyo with the phone on my right. That’s all there is to it. Nothing more than that. But I do it a hundred times a day. Sometimes in seconds. Profits and losses. The trick is: you have to win more than you lose, at least once more. As long as I do that, I can drive the Ferrari, take the boss’s parking spot (which is tolerated even if amid expletives), and nonchalantly flip him the bird when he insists on parking in his reserved spot.

To be a trader, you really need to have excellent powers of concentration and a first-class memory. A one-day-memory. Contracts do not stay open overnight, at least not under normal circumstances. So you need to have all of the day’s open contracts in your head, and you are always afraid that you might forget one. That can cost the bank millions. Then the Ferrari is gone. And you can quickly become someone’s slave in an irrelevant trading department, pushing a couple of boring government bonds back and forth, and strictly avoiding the boss’s parking spot. Fortunately, my concentration is exceptional, and my memory is outstanding. I can hardly imagine having Alzheimer’s. I don’t even want to think about it. I love my invulnerability. In the trading room I am immortal. At least while I’m the better gambler.
No one in the trading room is as calm as I am. No one can tell when I am engaged in combat. That is my strength. That makes me invulnerable in the war of the marketplace, a marketplace that in truth doesn’t really exist, that in our business is only a fiction, nothing more. I really don’t care whether wheat is too expensive or too cheap. I am only interested in what I believe is happening: is the price rising or falling?

That determines whether I will buy or sell the contracts. In the end, I don’t have to eat the wheat. And I couldn’t anyway, given the amount that I speculate with. Neither the wheat nor the pork bellies. Even the currency that I push around the world is something that I don’t need. I don’t give a hoot about the value of the stuff that I trade. I am only interested in the difference between what the price is now and what it will be a second or a month from now. In a real market you have to understand true value. But for me it is only a question of guessing the difference between two prices at two different points in time. It is a guessing game, or at best a wager. What we are playing is “Old Maid;” it has nothing at all to do with a marketplace. We tell people about the “marketplace” just so that they will have something to believe in – because God is long gone. He is a fugitive on the road to nowhere, where He can tinker with a different, perhaps better universe, in the hope that He might get it right this time. Every day we create the market anew, as our God, just so that we can then point to something that is responsible for all the money that we lose for our investors. It is the market that punishes and rewards. The market, my ass! People believe this nonsense because we constantly pound it into them. But these markets don’t really exist. I am the market. I determine the price. I look for the price differential. A telephone on my left, a telephone on my right, and between them is my head, and that’s where the market is. That’s the simple truth. The market is in my head, going in one ear and coming out the other.

I don’t believe in anything anymore. And certainly not in markets! I might as well believe in this ephemeral God. For me it is enough to know that I won. I only need to keep my eyes on the screen, pick up the right telephone – I am repeating myself here – and get the better of whoever is on the other end of the line. I love the instability of the short-term graphs as compared to the smug calmness and serenity of the two-hundred-day moving average, which carries the performance of the share prices like a good bass player carries a walking blues tune, like Bill Wyman for the Stones. Just as Charlie Watts carries the Stones today. Maybe I’ll join the Stones when I have fifty winners and fifty-one losers, that is, if the Stones are still able to get on stage by themselves, or at least be rolled onto the stage in wheelchairs. And if the Stones are still alive at that point. And if they need a bass player for the moving average line. Keith Richards, with his piercing riffs, better represents instantaneous trading, the fluctuating ups and downs of nervous markets. Richards is second to none when he plays his riffs. I can only get that feeling when I’m out on the trading floor. He gets it on the guitar. Charlie Watts would be a good trader, but Bill Wyman would be better. In the old films of their concerts, Wyman is always seen playing off to the side, as if he’s not part of the group. That is exactly how I feel when I’m sitting in the trading room. I’m the Bill Wyman of traders. As if I didn’t belong with the rest of them.

Nothing bad can happen to me here. Whatever happens out there in these imaginary markets has no effect on me. I’m like a fish in a stream: I take whatever I can get. To be a trader is to keep your mouth wide open and swim into a school of fish. Perhaps I’m even the Mick Jagger of traders. Just one more time. That’s all I live for.

               I am a man of wealth and taste

Truth be told, I’m well off, even rich. I would never tell anyone that, but I am. Getting richer by the day. Effortlessly. Unintentionally. But purposefully. Sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. It can certainly be debated whether I have good taste. That doesn’t bother me. The tie tack crowd on the top floor with their own dining room and their own chef think that my Ferrari is tasteless and nouveau riche; I think the same of their tie tacks. They think it’s disgusting that I’m moving ahead of them: on the freeway, with my salary, in life. I’m just faster. What’s zipping by, my friend, that is life. The guys upstairs taking the slow train will never get that. You can’t make money taking the slow train. True living only begins at 250 kilometers per hour. Anything slower than that is just standing still. They despise me, but they are happy to take the profits that I earn for them with our clients’ money. And before the clients get their money back, we all take a piece of it. In acting out their greed, the guys upstairs are almost as fast as we are. Almost. Although, I’m not greedy. I just take what I can get my hands on. And I certainly make a point to grab as much as I can. Taking, too, is a talent. Perhaps an even a greater talent than giving. In fact, it definitely is. Much greater.

I’m perfectly healthy. Fit as a fiddle, as they say here. You can’t be any healthier than I am. My heartbeat remains calm and steady as the share prices flicker across my computer screen. As the graph lines jump fitfully about, they create sharp peaks formed by the nervously fluctuating price variations and by the rapid alternation of highs and lows. I hold the phone calmly, and I place my orders dispassionately. No one can see whether I’m agitated or relaxed. There is nothing to be seen. I am unemotional, just a cool dude. The coolest dude in the trading room. In my mind’s eye I imagine the floor of the stock exchange in earlier times. The chaotic shouts, the traders’ spastic movements, and the feverish atmosphere. A seething mass of activity. But here and now everything is calm, in the room of the cool dudes. Grab what you can, and let the devil take the hindmost. Fortunately, I’m always first. The best. Perfectly healthy. And get even healthier the worse the trades unfold. Don’t even know what cholesterol is, spread it on my sandwich. A liver? I don’t have one. My brain functions precisely and is unaffected by external circumstances. Like a well-oiled machine. One cog turns another, no bucks or jams. No doctor could make a living off of me. People like me will be the downfall of medicine, the death of the pharmaceutical corporations (whose stock shares bore me to death). Can someone like me even die? How might that happen? Given my overall health? Cool dudes live forever. Forever and a day. Death is not worth the money that the insurance companies pay out. But I’m not so stupid as to bet on my death, though I bet on everything else, all the time. But betting on my death? No way! I’m not an idiot. As healthy as I am. I avoid bad deals. And that would be one. Count me out. I’ve got better things to do, namely, make money. You have to be out front. The truth is everywhere and nowhere, because it has no price. So it can’t be traded; it has no value to someone like me. I avoid getting too close to a so-called truth. Who likes staring into the abyss! An abyss is not tradable. Every once in a while, if we get too wild or carry on for too long, we fall into an abyss. But we pull ourselves out of trouble by skillful trades; I’m very good at that sort of thing. I have ice water in my veins. Nothing can unsettle me. I’m the master of the universe. It is my universe. God is sitting in a universe near ours, botching up the one beyond that. But I’m no God; people just think I am. I won’t fall into that trap. When the gods make love, they create devils. All of us here, the traders, we are gods. Immortal. Eternally healthy. There is no afterlife. No trade remains open. That is what I call eternity. After us – closed markets.

               I’ve been around for a long, long year

My year has forty months, or fifty, or one. Whatever is needed. Everything is one big gently flowing stream. My brain flattens out the spikes on the computer screen; they become signals to buy or to sell, or to do nothing. The charts – that’s what we call the graphs – are our bible. We see things in them that no one else sees, that no one else can see. Our whole life is one long, long year. It moves along. Always forward, never backward. I tell you: life truly begins at 250 kilometers per hour, as does true peace. I don’t need a rear view mirror, or even a headlight. What’s ahead of me is of no more interest than what’s behind me. Truth is only what is found on the right and left. Einstein knows that. Does he know that? Does his brain know that? What we call his brain today are those 240 ashlar-shaped blocks, each one only a cubic centimeter in size, world travelers smelling of formalin, kept in countless laboratories all around the world. Is it possible that 240 individual parts know more than a whole brain? Are they interconnected, like those quanta that Einstein’s brain even today does not believe in? That is, his brain no longer can believe in them because it is only senseless tissue now. No more thoughts circulate there. Neither interconnected, nor disparate. Forget Einstein! Energy equals mass times velocity squared. Time is an illusion. We have all the time in the world. I have all the time in the world. But traders don’t. An individual transaction. There’s only a few seconds for it, if that. The trader’s world is a world of seconds. Just short seconds, independent of one another. The smallest unit of the endless year. Assimilating all the isolated seconds, the brain constructs the film we call life, which flows so easily by us. All the years look the same. One year is just like another. The graphs point up and then come crashing down again.
I leave my apartment and drive to the office. There are still a few places to park. None of the bosses is in sight. They’re still asleep, or already at work. It doesn’t matter to me. Today I’ll take the spot that belongs to the board member who oversees retail banking. A particularly unlikable and arrogant guy in a department that only incurs losses. One floor below us. We earn the big bucks, one floor above them. Among the piles of big bucks, mine is the biggest. Retail banking? I never even think about it. It’s like being buried alive. You are not alive, ever. Dead. Dead. Dead. Oh, Death, here is your sting! Dickering about overdraft conditions. Begging for credit. Painstakingly adding up the points on a loan application and then turning it down. Retail banking. It’s peanuts, if that. It isn’t true that a penny saved is a penny earned, that even small cattle make manure. They create shit. And I have to clean it up with my profits, which I piss down to the floor below us, so that the shit there doesn’t stink to high heaven. So that the stench doesn’t drift up to me.

I’ve got good reason to park my Ferrari here today. The spot is not mine, but I’m entitled to it. I cheerfully raise my middle finger, but no one sees it. You can’t have fun anymore. They don’t want you to. As if I could live from their bonuses. Money isn’t everything. It’s more than everything. Too much money and a little fun, that’s the ticket, throughout the whole eternally long year, this interminable year, for as long as we are alive. A lifetime is a sentence. A couple of pleasures, and a car in the parking spot, which is not mine. Computer screens and graphs. And so it goes.

               Stole many a man’s soul and faith

You can feel sorry for them. Or, you could feel sorry for them. But you don’t. I don’t. None of us does. Our customers, our clients. Passing through the expansive atrium, I take the glass elevator up to our floor. Everything is transparent with us: the elevator, the atrium, the conference rooms. But not the trades, or the algorithms of our math rats, or the virtually unreadable small print of the contracts. Don’t speak evil of rats. Intelligent animals. Can you understand a rat? See! Neither can I. But I have absolute faith in them. They develop their models in such a way that from the very beginning everyone knows who will win and who will lose, except the losers. These are clever rats, with far-reaching tails. Stepping out of the elevator, which runs silently through the ridiculously tall atrium, I look down at all the hopeful customers, a restlessly seething mass; some of them (one can call them people, but we refer to them as our customer base) approach the information desks, while others, the well-heeled clients, hurry off to the elevators; still others look nervously about, craving guidance – clueless and hesitant, they steel themselves against the bustling throng, standing in place, in apparent shock. They call that banking. Enticing new customers. Attention: “Platform Euro-Bank, the train to one-hundred-per-cent profit is pulling in.” Great slogan. My girlfriend created it. Her desk is five floors above me in the marketing department. Minimalist design. Three marble slabs, two for the side tables and the third serves as a workspace. Too cold for work.

The ridiculously high atrium. One can debate the use of the word “ridiculously.” Let’s just call it a cathedral of money. What is the purpose of the cupola at St. Peter’s? The glorification of God and the display of His earthly splendor, a symbol of the power of those who are the administrators of God’s legacy on earth. Nowadays baroque splendor has given way to the more austere simplicity of expensive marble walls, smooth and unadorned, yet still intimidating. Capitalism is not baroque; it is goal-oriented. Ornamentation is foreign to it. Its only curves are those of the performance of the share prices on the 200-day moving average. It knows only the coolness of the cubically remodeled room, its cold columns dominant like the increasing assets of the wealthy. It avoids the illusion of transcendence and knows only that everyone can become rich – the glorification of money and the display of pecuniary splendor, a symbol of the arrogance of power. It has no legacy to manage here on earth other than our money, which it dearly embraces in order to create its own. The battle for an investor’s capital is the modern equivalent of the collection basket, which unburdens the believers of their charitable donations, so that they might enter heaven more easily. The discreet consultations in rooms with soundproofed floors are the present-day equivalent of the sale of indulgences. Every payment puts capital in a favorable mood and brings it closer to its own downfall. A god still reigns in these cathedrals of madness, a madness that craves rational explanations; a god who has forgotten about Abraham, who has not founded a religion that emerged from the desert, but rather one that leads into the desert. Nowadays you are not only allowed to make an image of your god, it is absolutely required. But it has to be depicted small on numbered bills: five, ten, a hundred, a thousand, whatever. Bank statements, too, represent God’s presence and accurately demonstrate His greatness: a hundred thousand, millions, billions. Stock options are our purgatory. While the soul may continue to suffer in the eternal hell of losses, it can still feel anxiety in the mere seven heavens of profit. For nothing is certain, nothing persists, everything is in motion. Like the elevators here. They are always in motion. They stop only briefly to spit out people going up and coming down, or to suck in new riders. Everything is transparent here. Except for the balance sheets. And the algorithms. And everything that is behind the atrium, the ridiculously high atrium, which is eight or ten stories tall. I’m not sure.

The atrium reaches ever higher. That’s not the case with the Vatican. You can’t take an elevator to the cupola of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Its cupola is just a cupola, nothing more. By contrast, the interior of our cupola is ringed with offices for our rats and traders, those on the way up and those on the way down, the board members, and all the others who move through the building and thus represent its pulse. The constant, ceaseless pulsing of the flow of people and money. And I am in the middle of it all. As the elevator races upward, my thoughts seem to come to a halt: the cupola of St. Peter’s Cathedral unwittingly gives birth to the Reformation. But what is to be born in our cupola? Capitalism knows nothing of reformation. It does fine without one. But perhaps capitalism is in fact on its last legs. Or it is moving toward its demise. Maybe the Reformation is hiding from it, standing outside on the street looking up in wonder at the façade of the towers of money, where the masters of that money reside. The masters of the universe. The Reformation turns around, disappears into the tumult, and breaks down because it does not know where to nail its smart theses. No posting. Donations welcome. Make an image of your god.

Excerpted from Michael Amon,  Panikroman. Klever Verlag, Vienna, 2014.

Displaced Persons

Author: Natascha Wodin
Translator: Mandy Wight

Translator’s Note: Natascha Wodin was born at the end of the war in 1944, when her family was living for a few years in a shed on the premises of a factory owner near Nuremberg. Sie kam aus Mariupol, based on Wodin’s memories of her early childhood, is a memoir of the author’s mother, a Ukrainian born in 1920 in Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, and deported with her Russian husband in 1943 to Nazi Germany to work as a slave labourer in a Flick factory in Leipzig.


The Zyganenkos, who live with us, have the sense to realise they’ve got no chance of a visa for America. They put in an immigration application for Brazil and receive their visa shortly afterwards. I remember feeling overwhelmed with a wild, uncontrollable grief when the rattling Goliath leaves the factory yard with the Zyganenkos and their possessions, and I have to face up to the fact that what I’ve been thinking of as a game has become serious. Someone who belongs to me, someone who’s been part of my familiar and unchangeable world can go, can leave me forever, whether I want it or not. I want to die, and I squeeze myself into the dark gap between our shed and the factory where the rats are, where I can feel everything vibrating, though it’s just the pounding of the machines. For hours my mother runs around the yard looking for me. It’s only in the evening, by which time she’s thinking of calling the German police, that she shines a torch into the gap and finds me. Though she’s thin, she’s not thin enough to force herself into the gap. There’s just enough room for a child’s body. She has to beg me, to implore me, to come out by myself. And I’ve hardly been out for a minute, dirty, smeared with tears and stiff with cold, when the blows from my father start raining down on me. My mother tears at his jacket and shouts at him to stop, but he hits me till I’m lying on the ground with warm blood dripping from my nose. My mother throws herself on top of me and screams. She’s still screaming when my father’s sitting back in the shed drinking. He’s doing that more and more these days.

The Zyganenkos have promised to write to us, but we never hear from them again. This seems to confirm all my mother’s premonitions of disaster: the ship, which was to bring them, her fellow sufferers, to Brazil, must have sunk. Later we hear from somewhere that they died in an even more dreadful manner – that Brazilian cannibals killed them and devoured their flesh. This was probably a product of the violent fantasies, induced by fear, which the Russians dreamed up and which I was to come across so often later.

My mother stays behind, alone with her husband and child in the shed. She’s lost the only people who were a refuge for her in this foreign country, her little Ukraine in Germany. Perhaps there was a moment of dreadful awakening for her when she suddenly grasped, deep down inside her, that she really was forever separated from Ukraine; that the only place in the world for her now was this shed, and she only had this thanks to the kindness of the German factory owner; that she was forever damned to live in a country where she’d always be a foreigner, always be ostracised and at the mercy of a husband who seemed to hate her. I was probably aware even then that she couldn’t take much more, that she was hovering on the verge of leaving me, of slipping away from me. By then we’d probably already swapped roles. I was probably carrying her on my shoulders even as a four-year-old, in the constant fear that I’d lose her, a fear I’d had since birth.

I spend most of my time outside in the factory yard. I play with scrap iron or sit on the step of our hut and watch the trains go by, trying to imagine where they’ve come from and where they’re going. My mother suffers from homesickness and I’m sick with longing for the world out there. The whole time I’m thinking about what the world is like beyond the factory yard, which I’m not allowed to leave because the dangerous main road, the Leyher Straße, begins right behind it. Whenever someone walks across the yard, I take the opportunity to show off a few of the German words I know. I say, “Grüß Gott” and “auf Wiedersehen,” one straight after the other: “Grüß Gott” to greet people, “auf Wiedersehen” to say goodbye, and I don’t understand why the Germans laugh.

Sometimes I can’t stand it any longer and I run out onto the main highway, which I reach via a narrow, unpaved road. I stand there and I look. I look at the German houses: proper, big houses made of stone, marvelling at them as if they were palaces. The Germans have white curtains at the windows and behind the window panes there are leathery green plants in plant pots. I look longingly at the sugary foreign cakes in the window of the baker’s, where my mother buys dark German bread when we’ve got the money, bread that tastes quite different from the airy white American bread. I look at the German faces, their glasses, their hair, their bags, their umbrellas, their hats. What most surprises me is the fact there are also German children. They draw squares with chalk on the pavement and jump from square to square. Greedily I listen in to the foreign language, to the different, incomprehensible sounds that I guess are the key to the German world – the world of taps and electricity.

Usually I pay a high price for my outings. When my mother catches me on one of my adventures, which she usually does, I get ten strokes of the strap on my bare bottom. It’s a deal between her and me. I’ve got the choice between pain and abstinence. My mother doesn’t tell me off, she’s not angry, she’s just carrying out her part of the deal. I’ve opted for the pain and I get it. The strokes of the strap burn like fire, but even though I may have screamed the place down as a baby, I’ve learned in the meantime to play dead. I never give as much as one twitch or gasp of pain. I never show my mother that her punishment has got to me, that she can hurt me.

One day I discover a little girl behind the green bushes in front of the factory owner’s house –the first living being my age in the factory yard. I’ve been strictly forbidden to go near the German factory owner’s house, but the stranger standing behind the garden gate, waving to me to come over, exerts a powerful pull on me which I can’t resist. We stand facing one another, each scrutinizing the other. The girl is wearing a brightly coloured dress with cap sleeves and has a mop of curly brown hair. She smiles and opens the garden gate for me. For the first time I walk into the terra incognita behind the fence, the realm belonging to our lord and master on whom our very existence depends. The girl shows me a doll, a living doll, one that can open and close her eyes and say ‘Mama’ too. When she lets me take the doll and hold it, I get dizzy with excitement. The girl also has a scooter. She shows me how to ride it and asks if I want to try that out as well. But I don’t get as far as that. My mother grabs me by the collar and pulls me out of the garden. I can’t keep pace with her. I fall over and am dragged right across the factory yard, over scrap iron and glass shards. My knees oozed pus for weeks after. I never see that other girl from behind the fence again, however much I look out for her, but I do have a scar on my right knee which reminds me of her to this day.

Finally the day comes which we’d anticipated, the day my mother has dreaded from the start. We don’t know how it’s come about, but the German authorities order us to be transferred to the Valka camp. The factory owner can’t do anything for us. He’s tried every avenue. As a farewell present he gives my mother a valuable antique brooch: a golden salamander with tiny emeralds flashing green on its back.

For some reason or other my parents never converted this piece of jewellery into cash, despite the very hard times we went through, and I wore it myself for a long time after the death of my mother, until at some point I lost it. But even today I still wonder who that brave German factory owner was, who broke the law by letting us live on his premises for almost five years. It was as if the precious brooch he gave my mother represented the compensation which should have been given by Friedrich Flick to the forced labourers who’d slaved away in his factories. I’ve forgotten the name of our mysterious benefactor if I ever knew it. When I set off on one occasion to search for clues and went to the place on the city boundary between Nuremberg and Fürth where our shed must once have stood, I found nothing left. The factory had disappeared. I saw only wholesale markets and dual carriageways, though the railway embankment from those days was still there, with trains rushing over it as they’d done back then.

The Valka camp was situated in the Nuremberg suburb of Langwasser and its barracks were used until 1938 as accommodation for participants at the Nazi party rallies with their great parades and flag consecration ceremonies. Later on, Soviet prisoners of war were also temporarily housed there. When we move in, the huts make up a small town with four thousand Displaced Persons, or DP’s, from thirty nations packed into it. Most of them have been there since the end of the war – four thousand people who don’t know what to do with their lives now that they’ve been saved. A few dozen languages are buzzing around, all mixed up together, and hardly anyone can speak German. There’s only one thing which everyone has in common here: their experience of forced labour in Hitler’s empire. The slave labourers, who’d been once so in demand, are now unemployed, the tiresome remnants of a war that’s been lost.

The American camp is named after Valka, the town on the border between Latvia and Estonia, but the Russians put an ‘S’ in front of the name and called it Svalka; in German: Müllhalde, rubbish tip. Like the Baltic Valka, the camp was divided in two until shortly before we arrived: up to 1949 important officials of the NSDAP, the Nazi Party, were interned in the eastern half, while the western half was used for DP’s. Victims and perpetrators lived almost next door to each other, in the shadow of the Nazi party rally grounds, now falling into disrepair, and like us, no longer needed. In the stone wasteland, beneath the gigantic tribune where Hitler had once held his speeches, American GI’s play rugby.

The Allies expected the freed slave labourers to be grateful and obedient, but that turned out to be a mistake. The work camp has robbed the DP’s of any belief in law and order in Germany, so they’re demoralised and still seen as aggressive and hard to control. The Valka camp is widely known and feared for its levels of anarchy and crime. It’s a melting pot of allied and enemy nations, a Sodom and Gomorrah, and has probably the worst reputation in the world. Everyone is on the hunt for a job, for some earnings, for a living. Every business you can think of, and some you may not want to think of, goes on there. Some comb through rubbish tips looking for scrap iron and other usable waste material, others smuggle duty free cigarettes, deal in pornographic pictures, in insulin or other medicines, break into sales kiosks at night, earn money as card sharps, make a living from theft and deception. There are constant arguments and fights, there are stabbings, murders, and suicides. All the German prejudices about the Slavs as savages are confirmed. The Nazi propaganda machine represented them as dangerous wild animals, sometimes with horns and tails. The Germans still fear that they’ll take revenge, though such acts rarely happen. The camp dwellers keep themselves to themselves in their own world, cut off from the Germans, apart from the police who are on 24-hour standby and carry out raids on an almost daily basis. Even my father is involved in some murky business which we’re not allowed to talk about. My mother lives in permanent fear of the police coming for us.

The DP’s receive three meals a day, which are served up in individual bowls and have to be collected from one of the distribution points. On top of that they receive a monthly sum of 12.50 DM as camp pocket money. They have electricity every two days, alternating between the wooden and stone huts. Each hut houses approximately thirty people and is fitted out with one toilet and one tap.

We live in one of the wooden huts together with mice and bedbugs, which torment us all night long. Whenever it rains, the water comes in through the leaking roof and we have to rush to find all the containers we can lay our hands on and put them beneath the leak. The window frame is warped so the window won’t shut properly, the oven doesn’t draw and gives off clouds of smoke. We’re cold and we cough all winter. I come down with most of my childhood illnesses during this time, from measles to mumps, chicken pox, and whooping cough.

One image I have from the spotlight shining onto those days is that of my mother, pregnant. She’s not much more than thirty, but in my memory she seems old, faded and ill, with her hair parted in the middle and scraped back into a bun. She wears a green and white patterned dress, its uneven hem rising up in the front, raised up by her domed belly which looks like an outsized ball stuck on to her thin body. When I ask why she’s got such a big belly, I see her exchange a tiny conspiratorial smile with my father – a moment of intimacy between my parents and just about the only one that’s stayed in my memory. I’m not aware of ever having seen them put their arms round each other or exchange a kiss or any other show of affection. Since I slept in the same room with them throughout my childhood, I must usually have been there when they made what can hardly be called love in their case. But either they did it in such a way that I saw and heard nothing, or I found the goings on in the darkness of my parents’ bed so unnerving that my child’s brain immediately repressed it.

The noise in the Valka Camp is a daily torture for my mother. She can’t get used to it. In the work camp where my parents first lived on their arrival in Germany, the acoustics were probably kinder since everyone fell onto their bunks after an exhausting day’s work and went to sleep. In our Valka huts the people whose noisy lives we hear are those who have nothing to do all day and for the most part are suffering from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: insomnia, nightmares, anxiety attacks, irritability, depression, delusions, uncontrolled aggression, and many other things including all kinds of physical ailments, which quite a few DP’s died from even after the liberation. The small rooms in the huts hum with tension. There’s no such thing as speaking quietly: everyone has to shout in order to be heard above the pervasive, crashing waves of noise. There are constant arguments, loud wailing gives way to raucous laughter, you hear every word, every sneeze and sigh from your neighbour, the noises merge together into one huge, never-ending cacophony. Especially in winter and bad weather the long dark corridor is a children’s playground. They’re always being shooed away by someone on their way to the toilet or someone who has to fight their way through with their bucket to the only tap at the end of the corridor.

The noise makes my mother feel the lack of home even more deeply than she already does. She puts her hands over her ears, jumps up and runs out of the hut, where on top of the tortuous noise she’s assaulted by a constant stream of superstitious insults in Russian from a paranoid neighbour, an old Estonian woman shouting through the thin partition wall. For some reason this confused woman has projected all her images of the enemy on to my mother of all people, calling her a Communist, a Jewish whore, an American spy, a Nazi tart. My mother can’t stand up for herself, sometimes she cries all day, in fact she’s always crying. Her most serious illness is homesickness. It’s a constant torment, it seems to be like a thirst which never lets up but gets worse and worse, until one day you die of it.

For me the Valka camp is, above all, the place where I start German school. A photo of the first day at school marks the occasion: twenty–nine children standing in three rows with the shabby huts in the background. Two rows of girls, a row of boys in front, sitting cross legged in front of the girls. The children each have a Schultüte, a large card cone filled with sweets and given to German children on their first day at school – except for four of us, that is. One of them is me. The blondest of all, beaming in spite of the missing Schultüte.

It’s a camp school for camp children whose very first priority is to learn German. Because I was taught by my mother in the shed in the factory yard, I can read and write Russian when I start German school. I know the fables of Iwan Krylow and Samuil Marshak’s enchanting stories for children. I can recite at least a dozen poems by Alexander Pushkin and Alexei Tolstoy, but German is still a kind of background noise for me. That changes overnight when I start German school. The German words start lighting up for me, like sheet lightning – as if all these words had been slumbering somewhere inside me just waiting for the moment of awakening. The German language becomes a strong rope, which I grasp straightaway in order to swing myself onto the other side, into the German world. It’s out of my reach for the moment, but I know that it’s waiting for me, that one day I’ll be a part of it.

A language war breaks out between me and my parents. They refuse to understand my German. My father really doesn’t understand it, he’ll spend the rest of his days not understanding it, and my mother, who speaks German better than anyone else around me, doesn’t want to understand it. And I don’t want to understand her Russian, I want to have nothing more to do with her. There are constant arguments, she tries to hit me, but I get away and anyway her hands are much too feeble to hurt me. She has no power over me because I’m not afraid of her, I’m only afraid of my father’s hands. He rarely hits me and only does so as a last resort, when my mother hands me over to him. It’s the only weapon she’s got, the one threat which puts fear into me: I’ll tell your father. Sometimes she grants me a reprieve, if I ask in Russian, weeping, for my bad behaviour and lies to be pardoned, but usually the sentence is carried out in the evening when my father comes home – drunk as usual, after his clandestine activities. He’s a person who gets aggressive after drinking alcohol, so he’s happy to act on my mother’s grievance. He calls me cholera, parasitka, kretinka, and holds me fast with one hand while the other comes down on me like an axe. My mother is the judge and he is the executioner, the enforcer of the law.

Excerpted from Natasha Wodin,  Sie kam aus Mariupol.   Reinbek Verlag, Reinbek/Hamburg/Berlin, 2017.


Banishment from Hell

Author: Robert Menasse
Translator: Fiona Graham

Translator’s Note:   Banishment from Hell weaves together two stories: that of Rabbi Samuel Manasseh ben Israel, born Manoel (Mané) Dias Soeiro in early sixteenth-century Portugal, and that of Viktor Abravanel, son of an Austrian Jew sent to Britain in 1938 with a Kindertransport. The first two excerpts are set in the Portugal of the Inquisition, when forcibly converted Jews known as ‘New Christians’ were mercilessly hounded. The third excerpt is set in 1990s Vienna, at a reunion of Viktor’s grammar school class twenty-five years after the Matura school-leaving examination.


They’re going to set the house on fire. We’ll be burned. If we run out, they’ll beat us to death.

He saw the torches flaming up beyond the shutters, he heard the din people were making outside: singing, shrieking, yelling.

It was a funeral procession. The biggest funeral procession ever seen in Vila dos Começos – and the strangest – was making its way through the streets of the little town. A mourning procession in which no-one was mourning.

Two black horses adorned with purple fabric rosettes drew the hearse, which bore a coffin so tiny that it looked tailor-made for an infant. Behind it, holding a crucifix aloft in both hands, walked Cardinal João d’Almeida from Evora in a blood-red cassock and a red biretta, with the ermine-trimmed cappa magna draped over his shoulders, its train carried by four canons in purple cassocks. They were followed by the priests of Começos and the surrounding parishes, dressed in black cassocks, with white surplices and violet stoles. The nobles, in purple velvet with broad leather belts, bore their daggers drawn and pointing downwards. The representatives of the town council and the burghers, in black suits and large black hats, carried torches whose plumes of smoke traced a mourning band around the sun.

All this pomp, better suited to a state funeral, could not disguise the fact that the mood was heavy with fury, hatred and bloodlust. Nearly all of Começos had come out to join this procession, the purpose of which was to inter a cat. They murmured not prayers, but curses; did not fold their hands, but shook their fists. Their faces were reddened not by the sun, but by bagaço firewater, and were marked not by grief, but by the lust to kill, burn and pillage.

Now the clergy were intoning the Martyrium Christi, but it was drowned out by people yelling to the torchbearers at the front, whenever they passed certain houses: ‘Put your torches to this roof!’

The funeral procession turned into the Rua da Consolação, the tiny coffin containing a cat that hadn’t lived beyond eight or nine months, a little black cat with mask-like white patches around its eyes. ‘Come on! Torch the roof!’ It was the Soeiros’ house.

Antonia Soeira was one of the few not out in the street. Standing at the window with her children Estrela and Manoel, she peeped out cautiously through the cracks in the closed shutters and pulled the children back into the middle of the room as the noise outside rose to an increasingly threatening pitch, saying, ‘These madmen will yet declare that cat to be God. Let it eat the Dove in the Catholics’ heaven!’

The reason for the great commotion that had seized Começos and its surroundings was that this cat had been crucified. It had been found pinned with heavy iron nails to a wooden cross in front of the Casa da Misericordia. To the men of the Church it was instantly clear that by holding a funeral on a magnificent scale, designed to reinstate the sacred dignity of crucifixion, they could channel the local populace into united, fanatical combat against heretics and unbelievers; the Inquisition had entered Começos just a fortnight before.

The singing and shouting outside faded into the distance, and the boy stood in the middle of the darkened room, with the urge to run away, as fast and as far as ever he could, but he was stock-still. Just before being pulled back from the window, he had spotted the coffin on the hearse, that tiny coffin, and it occurred to him in that instant, for the first time, that he would probably never see his father again. His father had been among the first to be arrested by the Holy Office.

Drawn by the pitch-black horses, the coffin in a reddish light, as if the sun were setting and the cardinal’s scarlet vestments were aflame. A last sunset, the end of the world.

Manoel had always had to be home by sunset in the days when he used to go out to meet his friends. His father had been a real stickler about that – home by sunset. Woe betide him if he returned any later. Why? There had been no explanations, and by the time he understood, it was too late.

His father was a corpulent man, inelegant, and always very proper but never distinguished in his dress. On his cheek was a large crescent-shaped scar that repelled and intimidated Manoel. He was forever drawing himself up to discipline his children. He spoke quietly, almost hoarsely, and indistinctly. In the evenings he would read silently, mouldering over his book. Though Manoel had been instructed to address him as ‘Senhor’, he was no Senhor to the boy, who thought he played the role poorly. Manoel lowered his gaze before him out of fear, but also in disdain; he could not look up at him.

But now it was the idea of never seeing his father again that frightened him immeasurably. The din of the funeral procession was still audible far off, and Manoel felt his heart thudding even in his head, its rhythm as insistent as if it were straining desperately to match the drumming and the rhythmic chanting outside. But that was impossible now. They’re going to kill us all.

*                                        *                                        *
There was work in Vila dos Começos. The time when men used to loiter in the streets, waiting and watching, was over. No-one had to wait for casual labour, a handout or better times. Anyone who could work was put to work. And it was best not to watch too closely any more, or at least people didn’t let on that they were. The Casa da Misericordia, which was both the seat of the Holy Office’s bureaucracy in the Começos district and its prison, set off an unprecedented boom in the little town. Joiners and cabinet-makers delivered racks and other items to the Casa, works of art that combined, in the most labour-intensive fashion, workmanlike precision, mechanical inventiveness and the human desire for beauty and ornamentation. Just building the balustrades for the Casa’s great courtroom resulted in written records of seventeen new woodturning techniques. Written records – clerking quickly became a promising trade. Começos’ school was reformed and a teacher training institute was even added. Pupils like Fernando were driven back to their fathers’ workbenches by the cane. Or into the fallow fields and groves around Começos, where they learned how to plant vines and then, according to precise instructions, to produce the wine called ‘Lagrima do Nosso Senhor’, sought after by the lords of the Casa and now preferred by all self-respecting burghers of Começos. After endlessly long lean years, the domains of the landed gentry now bore fruit once more. The aristocrats, reduced until recently to mere parasites living off the vanity of their prosperous Jewish, New Christian sons-in-law, no longer pawned their silver tableware and brocade robes, but leased out land; no longer sold their daughters, but lists of names; no longer hid from debt-collectors, but waited impatiently for the tailors they had summoned. The tailors needed seamstresses, coachmen and teams of horses to keep pace with demand.

The self-indulgence of the lords of the Holy Office, aped by the flourishing tradesmen and craftsmen, transformed the face of the town; cramped craftsmen’s booths where men sat hunched over cheap repair jobs – when not quaffing spirits on the Praça do Mercado – became specialised workshops constantly in search of apprentices and assistants. They were building as if the town were being founded anew. Masons and carpenters, booked up for months in advance, sought out second- and third-born peasants’ sons from the Alentejo who had been tramping around Portugal without any prospect of employment and brought them to Começos, where they found work and bread. Silk, velvet and brocade became as commonplace as coarse linen had been. Cobblers learned how to cut leather with the same skill as the best cordwainers of Florence. The gold- and silversmiths rivalled those of Cordoba and Venice. The lords of the Casa in their fine boots had the town council pave the square and, eventually, all the streets in town. Stonemasons and pavers established themselves as new trades in Começos. There was money in abundance for the Holy Office. Money from the Crown, but also wealth seized from those who fell into the hands of the Inquisition. Commercial links, long since established and carefully maintained by merchants now languishing in the dungeons of the Casa da Misericordia, fell into the hands of men who had once been their clerks or, quite often, merely their coachmen. They showered coins and gold onto the market as if scooping them out of the wells of their new houses. Houses that had been seized, then plundered and ruined, had to be repaired and refurbished – by families who were ready to pay any price for brazilwood. These were golden times. The emblem of the Inquisition, the ‘standard’, in solid gold, was affixed to the façade of the Casa da Misericordia: a sword, a cross, a severed branch. Below were the letters M e J.

When the golden sword in this coat of arms came loose from the building’s still damp new plaster and crashed to the ground one night, it vanished without trace within minutes. People who had come out of their houses, alerted by the noise, now saw only the absence of those prized four pounds of gold. They laughed and laughed. Their howls reached the dungeons of the Casa. For the people in the square it was if a nickel coin had gone missing. The sword’s doing its work at night, haha, bottles of bagaço were passed around, haha, where was the sword? With the Oliveiras? With the Soeiros? The sword of God at work, haha!

Four days later the emblem’s sword had been replaced. A surfeit of gold flowed into Começos. In their new houses, Old Christians were already contemplating paving their yards with gold. And on this very day, when the sword returned to the façade of the Casa, barely a year after the cat’s burial, Antonia Soeira was arrested. Gaspar Rodrigues, the second time he was put to the question, had accused his wife of having incited him to judaizing. On the rack he had uttered a single word that might have been a screamed Yes, but might also have been just an inarticulate scream. But the records noted:

‘…indicated, on the second occasion that he was put to the question, that his spouse, Antonia Soeira…’

Suddenly there were men in the house wearing patched shifts and armbands, red, with a cross sewn on, men too rough and too unskilled for any trade in need of hands, who earned their living by hauling people away, for a bowl of soup during the day and for bagaço in the Mercado, for which the tavern-keepers dared not charge these men with their armbands. Not forgetting the body searches. Those brought in a pretty penny. There was bread for all in Começos.
And then there was also a man in a cassock and a red skull-cap, who would constantly rub his hands together, interlocking his fingers whenever he spoke. His hands were red and scaly; they even rustled when he rubbed them, and flakes of skin floated to the floor. Later, Mané would often regret that he had been so mesmerised by this that he’d seen nothing else. He didn’t see the expression on his mother’s face, didn’t see whether she betrayed fear or stayed cold and contemptuous; the latter, at any rate, was what he would later claim: ‘Her reaction seemed cold and contemptuous; the only concern she showed was about the fate of us children.’

‘The children are to be delivered up for Christian education on the morrow,’ said the man with the hands.
That was the last night in this house:
‘I know what you’re thinking!’ (Estrela)
‘No, Estrela, you don’t, because I don’t know myself.’
‘Don’t call me Estrela any more. I’m Esther!’
‘Esther.’ He realised that it was too late. ‘What am I thinking?’
‘You want to run, run away, as fast as you can.’
‘I can’t run.’
‘Then we won’t get very far.’
‘We won’t even get out of this house!’
‘Then let’s pack our bags for tomorrow.’


*                                        *                                        *

Like students, they all rapped the table with their knuckles by way of applause. The former headmaster, Mr. Preuß, raised his hands in thanks, requesting another moment’s quiet, as he had something to add.

The only imponderable in Viktor’s plan had been how he could engineer the situation he needed to put it into practice. He intended to wait for a while, then, once they’d had a few drinks, to tap his glass with his knife and ask them all to give him their attention, as if he were about to raise a toast. But the idea Preuß was now proposing would – unexpectedly – make it all easier and speed things up. The Headmaster proposed that his former pupils take turns to describe ‘in broad words, I mean in broad terms’ the course their lives had taken since their final Matura exams. This would mean everyone would have at least a general overview of what everyone else had done, not just the people who happened to be next to them at table. This procedure, he thought, would satisfy the basic curiosity of everyone here and it might well ease further communication. He looked around, and as a number of teachers raised their voices in support, he proposed that they start at the end of the table and continue around it, and so he would like to call on Dr. Horak – yes, please, Dr. Horak – to set the ball rolling.

Turek, said the man who had just been addressed, Eduard Turek, and he was in business, he’d taken a degree in commerce – at the other end of the table they called out, ‘Louder! Louder!’ and Eduard got to his feet, repeated, ‘I took a degree in commerce and…’ Viktor froze instantly. Where he was sitting, he’d be third in line, or, if he ‘naturally’ allowed Maria, who was seated opposite him, to go first, he’d be fourth. He hadn’t expected that the opportunity to spring his attack would arise so quickly; now he was nervously scrabbling in his jacket pockets after the paper he had prepared, first in the right one, then in the left one – had he forgotten it? Eduard’s speech rattled on past him, so bumptious as to be excruciating, phrases like ‘Now I’ve got two hundred employees working under me’ nearly made him groan out loud, then it was Wolfgang’s turn, of course he’d become a lawyer, of course he’d taken over his father’s legal practice, but, at the same time – of course – he still played ‘an active part in the student fraternity, though now, being a graduate, as one of the “old guard” ’; yes, he was active ‘in “Bajuvaria” ’ and not – as was so trendy among the lefties these days, ‘in Tuscany’. Laughter.

Now all eyes were on Viktor, who gestured courteously towards Maria, and, as she whispered, ‘No, no, no, you go first!’ suddenly found the sheet of paper in his breast pocket. Viktor stood up, he felt an instant coldness towards them, suddenly he relished standing there and allowing his gaze to wander slowly from one to the other, contemplating the faces of these familiar strangers, who were looking at him so good-humouredly, expectantly, even though they certainly didn’t expect him to have as impressive a career to recount as most of the others.

‘After school I studied history,’ he finally said, ‘history and philosophy.’ All that everyone wanted to know now, he sensed, was whether he’d got a master’s or a doctorate, whether he’d become a teacher or an academic, whether he was married and how many children he had. ‘The study of history,’ he continued, ‘is nothing other than an examination of the conditions determining the genesis of our own lives.’ This sentence was too stiff, he realised at once; he paused briefly and took the piece of paper out of his breast pocket, saying, as he unfolded it, ‘We’ve just been asked to sketch out our lives, but we’ve never been told anything about the lives of the people who were our teachers, the people who educated us and who, surely, formed us one way or another, I mean …’

Viktor was sweating, and his glasses slipped down his nose slightly; he pushed them back with his middle finger. How he’d enjoyed playing football. Would have enjoyed. But since he wore glasses … ‘To understand what a person has become, I think it may also be very rewarding, very enlightening, to ask: who were his teachers? Who – “in broad words,”, as Mr. Preuß has just put it – were our teachers?’ He looked up the long table to the old teachers; they were grinning, were they seriously expecting something funny now? The lame jokes of the final year’s school magazine which no-one had wanted to write at the time, served up cold twenty-five years later? Viktor swallowed, lowered his gaze to his papers and read out, ‘Josef Berger, a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, membership number 7 081 217. Eugen Buzek, NSDAP member No 1 010 912. Alfred Daim, NSDAP member No 5 210 619. Adelheid Fischer, a high-ranking leader in the League of German Girls, from 1939 leader of a Girls’ Circle, the Girls’ Circle was made up of five Girls’ Groups, each one comprised four Girls’ Troops, and each Girls’ Troop was made up of three Girls’ Units with fifteen members each. So she was in charge of almost a thousand girls in Vienna and …’ The shocked silence was so profound that he managed to list two more names and NSDAP membership numbers without anyone moving or saying anything. Finally he got to ‘Karl Neidhardt, a particularly interesting case, by the way. After the war had started he studied English, the language of the enemy – why did a fervent Nazi and would-be German study English? Well, for that very reason. Because his convictions were so strong. The Nazis needed particularly reliable people to listen in to the enemy, and Mr. Neidhardt was assigned to this task at the Reich Security Headquarters, in the rank of a senior lieutenant. Maybe some of you remember how our English teacher came into the classroom one day in 1965 to read out an obituary of Winston Churchill, who had just died. All the English teachers in Austria were obliged to do that at the time. It was an order from the Ministry of Education. So he read out this text, which praised Churchill for the part he had played in the liberation of Austria, but I can recall his expression even now; you could see he could barely restrain himself from shouting: ‘The swine is dead!’

Suddenly there was a bang. A shot? A thunderclap? Viktor saw that Mr. Preuß must have leapt to his feet so abruptly that his chair had fallen over; Mr. Spazierer and Miss Rehak were standing too. ‘The swine is dead!’ said Viktor. ‘That was what he really wanted to yell…’ He had got an astoundingly long way, but now he clearly had only seconds left. So he followed up quickly with ‘Otto Preuß, NSDAP member number…’

‘Get out! That’s enough!’ yelled the Headmaster at a volume that blanked out every sound in this inner room, every further word from Viktor, the scraping of chairs, the former teachers and pupils’ first outraged utterances, the clearing of throats, even breathing itself. And now, into this dense silence, he yelled again, ‘That’s enough! Have you gone mad?’ He snorted, standing rigidly erect, his arms at his sides, rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, groped for words, and finally got out: ‘You can’t expect me to stay any longer.’ Kicking aside the chair that had toppled over, he stormed out, followed by the teachers, red-faced, their expressions frozen, looking neither right nor left.

Excerpted from Robert Menasse, Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle.  Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin,  2003 and 2017.

Exit stage left

Author: Sibylle Berg
Translator: Kate Roy

It is a moment so perfect it makes your head ache, because it’s forcing you to do more with this fleeting perfection than just look at it and breathe it. The road is the breadth of a car and hugs the lake. A heavy, golden autumn, the sun fights the mist, the smell of wood fire hangs in the air. You don’t need sunglasses any more, and that’s a shame, because he feels more at ease with sunglasses. It’s like gliding on moss, past old villas, past the lake, to Bellagio.

The camera shows a man in his mid-thirties – styled like a young lord, side parting, dapper, his Burberry coat too warm, cords, sports jacket, a Reclam paperback (Flaubert) in one pocket – in the back seat of a taxi. He puts on his Gucci glasses and takes them off again, plays with the ends of his Hermès scarf (a fake), has fine beads of sweat on his face and the helpless look of someone who has lost his focus. Maybe he never had one in the first place.

Small birds in the oleander hedges. A tired old lido. A small, broken doll in a puddle.

Tracking shot: past a palazzo, standing empty, through the small town of Bellagio, about the most perfect it can be for a small town, whose every millimetre has been caressed by the feet of princes, kings or film stars, into a driveway, not gravel alas, it makes too much noise. The taxi stops in front of the entrance to the Hotel Villa Serbelloni. The villa, its largest structure dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, looks like a treasure chest with a lid, floating on endless waves. This one building is the size of several comprehensive schools.

Liveried men saunter about wanting to carry suitcases, there are no suitcases. He carries only a doctor’s bag, the one he was gifted by a Karen freedom fighter, to the reception, dumped like a car crash in the old palazzo. A bit of an Eighties feel, defiantly battling too much beauty, metaphorical shoulder pads and leggings. Beauty wins, thinks the young man, as he follows a bellboy up to the second floor. Of course, it had to be a Superior Double. The room as big as a football field, without the players, thank God, that would be all he needed, eleven sweaty men with the IQ’s of gorillas. The room beats him down, it is bigger than him in every way.

The camera shows Murano chandeliers, frescos, decorative work in lapis lazuli, the lake through the window, a boat disappears over the horizon, the young man sits on the bed and looks at his feet, paralysed: they sit like two unbaked bread rolls on the Persian carpet, in front of him.

He can’t die yet. How would that work? Here, in the afternoon, in the golden sun? And what if he wants to come back in those final seconds? He had imagined himself nonchalantly swanning his way around the hotel, chatting with oil barons, smoking cigars, celebrating his exit in style. But now: a blond, insecure boy in surroundings that are much too grand, floundering. In the last few years he had always managed to console himself by retreating more and more into defiance mode: I can go any time, he had thought. He can’t even do that, he realises now.

He stands up, this feeling of not wanting to move, of wanting to fall. His friends are coming any moment; he’s promised them a party. He’ll embrace them all. They’ll be surprised and they’ll cry. After that, he’ll do it: the injection, the saline solution, it will go quickly. So, down the steps, into the park. Finally, gravel.

Tracking shot: jetties, seagulls on piles in the water, summer houses grown over with grapes, on garden chairs, white metal of course, widows of millionaires from overseas with short silvery-blue curls.

He trudges through the park; his square-built body is prone to perspiration, beads of sweat under his straw hat. Aschenbach from Death in Venice? What could have gone so wrong? He had thought his life would never end. Thought he would be world famous and rich, that he would have an exceptional life, because he was exceptional. He was a child supported to excel, spoke four languages, by his mid-twenties he had his own newspaper, soon after, his own radio programme, he made films, rubbed shoulders with DJ’s, read about himself every day in the papers. A media Wunderkind. Everyone idolised him as the inventor of Med Art, a mainstream-appropriate fusion of media, art and wanderlust. He reported live from a hotel in Rwanda; while the locals were splitting open each other’s skulls, he took artistic photos. He was a guest of the Karen (the bag!), smoked weed with the rebel leaders. The old creative artist-types loved him, he earned lots of money, he met Heike Makatsch from Love Actually.

His downfall came, he didn’t see it for a long time, like Germany’s own decline, a murky process. The newspaper folded, the radio programme was discontinued, the financiers withdrew, and at a certain point he had to speak to receptionists. It took years for our hero to understand that his time had well and truly passed. The pinnacle of his life at 30, that was the Nineties, that was the time pop became art and split people into three camps: the ones who watched talk shows, the group in the grey area who considered Alain de Botton a philosopher and Coelho a poet, and the ones who ate Conceptual Art for breakfast. Now everything he could still have done would require inglorious effort. And that, of course, was not an option.

Cutback: the office space in an old colonial building in Bangladesh, staff, our leading man in a Bauhaus Barcelona chair, his friends around him; on the wall, a photo of Gilbert & George. A young actress wafts into the room and sings a song that Noel Gallagher has written for her. Our hero is busy putting the finishing touches on a lifestyle internet portal. Everything runs in parallel. Everything is a Project. A luxury goods fair, a talk show, a film, all up to the minute, hip, dashing and modern. So Bret Easton Ellis. The hero goes to the window, looks out over the slums. It’s important to him that he doesn’t lose touch with reality. In this moment, he is eternal.

It is 6 o’clock. The first guests are arriving: friends who aren’t friends anymore, who backed away from our hero when they saw him fall. The fear of being carried along with him is too great, their own precipice too close. But now, it’s party time. A former MTV VJ hops out of a hydrofoil, followed by a former editor-in-chief, followed by a former hit band, followed by a consultant for something.

Former MTV VJ: “Are there any stars here?”
Former hit band: “Whoah, is it overdressed here. Totally retro.”
Former MTV VJ: “Is there Wi-Fi?”

Cut: ten people at a table at the poolside Restaurant Mistral. One Michelin Star, famous for chef Ettore Bocchia, like the Italian version of the “Naked Chef” but fully clothed. Inventor of Cucina moleculare – fat-free mayonnaise, pasta you can’t overcook and Nouvelle Cuisine that doesn’t make you fat. Simply brilliant. Perfect staging, a view out over the lake. Lights on the opposite shore, an evening haze. The hero sits surrounded by his former friends, the seven courses of the tasting menu are spun out over three hours. They laugh and talk excitedly about Projects.

here’s something on the go with 3-D and DJ’s, playing at the Ritze, the boxing club and bar in Hamburg. And right now, the consultant is doing autotests for Tyler Brûlé’s former magazine, and they’re all making a racket and enjoying the seemingly choreographed movements of the wait staff. He sits there and is quieter and quieter and thinks: It’s as if I had already gone. This final defeat gives him strength and he jumps up and cries: Let’s try one more thing together, something great, a web blog with Japanese robots. A brief silence at the table, then someone orders a coffee.

Tracking shot: The last ferry sets off for Menaggio.

One of the band members checks his emails. The consultant is loading songs onto his phone, for a moment the hotel seems overcome with disgust (how do you show that?). The hero leaves. No one notices. That’s the worst. In his room, that mocks him with its “I’ll still be here when you’re a distant memory,” he checks his bank balance. The cash he has on him will last for one night in the hotel, his overdraft would last him a little longer if he found something cheaper. Here, in the town.

The hero thinks about all the princes and kings who’ve been here in the last 200 years. Arriving with their hordes of servants, whole corridors rented, and rooms just to spread out the clothes on the beds. Romy was here, and the hotel staff had to sit with her late into the night because she couldn’t bear to be alone. The hero thinks about what it might be like to have two embarrassed waiters sitting by his bedside. He feels very close to Romy.

Cut: Restaurant Mistral. The tables being cleared. The staff retiring to their rooms. The lights going out. Crickets dying.

The morning after a sleepless night the hero discovers the minibar. A small cognac doesn’t make anything better or easier, but it makes the focus less sharp. Accompanied by the slight nausea that a drink in the morning brings, the hero adjourns to the breakfast room. He takes a quick look at the enormous Murano lights, at the frescos on the ceiling and at the couples at the tables, older for the most part. No socks and sandals here, only immaculate hair, faces relaxed by wealth and cashmere throws. Sickened by all this bourgeoisie, he goes into the park, sinks down on a leafy wall, looks out at the lake and senses that he won’t find the courage to die today either. A gardener walks up to him. With the wisdom of experience, he addresses the unhappy hero, a gentle conversation begins, during which it turns out that one of the gardener’s relatives has a house for rent. They could go there right now and take a look at it.

Tracking shot: A pick-up truck heads inland, the hero fights his nausea. A tall, run-down house stands in a shady hollow, some of its windows are cracked. The gardener and the hero enter. In the house it’s damp and cold; in every room, old mattresses, old beds, broken chairs.

My cousin will be here any minute, the gardener said. Our hero sits on a damp mattress and stares at a tin bucket. Why is it there? An hour later an old man comes in, obviously drunk. He talks unintelligibly, pulls a schnapps bottle out of the pocket of his sports jacket, offers it for a sip, takes one himself, shakes hands and collects what is almost the last of the young man’s cash. He leaves the bottle behind.

Cut: Evening falls, dark, cold, our hero has been sitting on the mattress for hours, incapable of moving. At sunset, the landlord comes back; they drink together in silence.

The hero wakes early, at five, with a headache and a bad taste in his mouth. The landlord is gone, the hero looks around for a sink, a basin, finds one in the kitchen, brushes his teeth and makes himself a coffee with vodka. Afterwards, he walks into the town, which takes a long time because he keeps stopping, standing, groping for a thought that refuses to come. In the town, he goes into the one and only shop, buys a croissant, steals schnapps, and takes himself to the gate of the Hotel Villa Serbelloni. He stands there, silently, staring at the entrance, then turns away, goes back to his house, where he spends the rest of the day drinking and holding monologues that distress him so much that he speaks too quietly and can’t really understand himself.

Tracking shot: The trees have lost their leaves. Three weeks have gone by. Our hero staggers through Bellagio; he looks bloated. He pauses and looks through the iron gate at the Villa Serbelloni.

The hero no longer knows what has been. He doesn’t know what will come. When he gazes at the Villa Serbelloni something reminds him of dreams past.

The most perfect hotel manager in the world, Signor Spinelli, is just welcoming an old Cuban widow, Louis Vuitton luggage is being unloaded. Age doesn’t have to be a burden when it’s tied to money. He has no more money. He breathes in the November air; it already carries a little frost. He has no friends, not even a last copy of his old newspaper. Nothing to remember him by. He’ll disappear without leaving a trace. But there’s still time before he goes. There’s another bottle waiting for him in the old house, now ice cold, not that he feels it.

Cut: In the lounge of the Villa Serbelloni a trio plays “Ave Maria,” in the old wicker chairs sit smiling older people with good taste and refined knitwear. At the pool, there’s a woman in a chic suit; barman Mauro, fluent in six languages, is conversing with an old factory owner, the sun has gone behind a chintz curtain, life stands still in its best moment. For the next 200 years.


SIbylle Berg, “Der Abgang.”   First published in DIE ZEIT 45 (3.11.2005)
(    © Sibylle Berg

What became of us

Author: André Herzberg
Translator: Johanna McCalmont

What became of us traces the lives of six narrators –  Richard, Eike, Anton, Michaela, Peter and Jakob – all children of Jewish parents who grew up in the former East Germany.  When the Berlin Wall falls and their plans crumble, each of the characters must find their own answers to the questions history has forced them to face.   This translated excerpt opens with the author’s own reflections, followed by those of Eike as he attends an event at which the GDR Dictator meets a rich American guest.


DO NOT SAY THAT WORD. Above all, never say you are one of them. There are films about them, radio programmes, there are experts, politicians who talk about them, there is the nation, there are countless jokes, there are theories. There are theologians, philosophers, and yes, there is their country now, but never, ever, say you are one of them.

And that’s not who you are anyway, you never go where they go. You never do what they do. It’s better you know nothing about them at all. Who dripped their poison into your ear, who made you doubt? Don’t dig any deeper, doubt, that’s what they work on. If you get involved, even once, your life will take a different course, and you can’t take that risk, you don’t want to, do you? You heard about them from your parents when you were a child. That must have been what happened, but you can’t remember when it was exactly. Yet it has pursued you ever since. Once you are certain, you will be excluded from society.

When they all get together for carefree merriment, for football, on a Saturday evening, after work, to relax, you are shut out of the crowd, you are no longer allowed to laugh when they laugh, rejoice when they rejoice, nor are you allowed to weep when they weep, you are no longer one of them. Everything that once was light is now infinitely heavy. But what is it that’s so dreadful?

No one likes them, no one loves them, they may be pitied occasionally, some people are careful, you aren’t allowed to say a bad word about them now, so they just raise an eyebrow in a way that says it all, you can sense the contempt, the scorn, yes, the disgust even, this disgust is genuine, and genuine feelings are what you want, just not that kind. No one wants that, no one can bear that.

So it’s best you deny it, but it’s not that easy, you become a liar, if only because you have to assume someone will still suspect you’re one of them. It drives you mad because when you admit it not only to yourself, but also to others – yes, I am one of them – then you cross the line for good, you wind up alone, and now there’s no point thinking, or hoping you’ll receive support, love or warmth, they despise you even more now because you’ve exposed what they don’t want to talk about. If you had been murdered, then you might have had their sympathy, but since you’re alive, they know you know what they’re thinking but no longer say to your face.

When they talk about it, about dirty politics, about the special role, the chosenness, they mean you, even though they no longer kill, cull, eradicate, exterminate, gas you by law, they hate you until you are out of sight, they still hate you when you are no more than a shadow, a ghost, they blame you for all their misfortunes. Or else they admire you, but this admiration is so unattainable you can never live up to it because you too are only human. You remain the other.

This sense of otherness has been with me for as long as I can remember. I feel like a cat in dog territory. A cat, but one that pretends it’s a dog like all the rest, precisely because it doesn’t say or show it’s a cat. I’m now at the point where I no longer conform to such images. I say the word cat just like I say the word human.

I say: I am not a cat, I am a person. But then my uncertainty consumes me once more. How well do I even know myself? I know about my fear, I’m afraid of God too, of his wrath because I’ve never done all my homework, haven’t obeyed his Commandments, or, above all, haven’t respected his prohibitions, I don’t even know them all. They say he punishes sins, and I am a sinner. I am afraid of myself, my weaknesses, my gluttony, my wayward sexuality, my lack of love for others. I am afraid I cannot give any more than I’m giving, that I don’t want to give any more.

In the lyrics I wrote, I prayed to God. Help me, I sang.

The poison of doubt is what torments me, I’m gone forever as far as everyone else is concerned, I can never laugh again, never freely love anyone again. The older I get, the clearer it becomes that my parents, and their forefathers, determined this for me, handed it down. Being an aware person – at least on occasion – I’m becoming ever more conscious of my absurdity, because in refusing to reveal my identity I’m behaving like a child, covering my ears, eyes and mouth, singing lalala, simply to avoid thinking about it. I fill the void in my head with life’s endless, wonderful vanities, or I focus on the world, I must save the world, not just my little life, I have a higher purpose. Yet even in founding a new family, producing offspring, I burden them with this cursed doubt of mine. They carry it forward.

There is only one option, but it is the most dangerous one: I must change, I must face it head-on, accept who I am, learn how to separate what my parents told me, what teachers told me, all the ignorance, all those half-truths, from my own opinions. It’s as though I’m constantly treading new, unknown terrain where I do not know what dangers await me or when I may have to face them. Reconciling myself with God, persisting, sensing his love, constantly discovering new commandments I still don’t keep, forever relying on his goodness anew.
I keep hoping I’ll encounter kindred spirits, similar fates, but that’s just beyond reach, no two experiences are alike. The older I get, the easier the loneliness is to bear. Only once I have the strength to embrace my fate shall I find happiness again, like the happiness I know only from my long-gone childhood, my earliest memories.



WE WOULD LIKE you and your son to attend. So, put on your suit, Harry tells Eike. Harry stands in front of the mirror, tries on the shiny new medal he received only yesterday, but then hesitates, and takes it off again. He decides they should both be smartly yet modestly turned out, so no medal. It was a real blitz, an outpouring of medals for Jews. Harry was proud, he’d been Chairman of the community for many years, always got on well with the authorities, never a word of thanks from his people. Presumably the dictator had ordered a change of course: well, Harry too had had one of his scraps of tin pinned on his chest at any rate.

I need to tell you something, Eike. Harry’s voice trembled, he had never started off that way before, how Father was groping for words, it wasn’t like him. Eike expected a lecture on Jewish history, the kind he’d patiently let wash over him his entire life, but what followed was nothing of the kind. Eike also stands in front of the mirror, watching his father fuss around him, straightening his suit, lengthening his tie because he thinks it’s too short, even checking his flies, Eike is no longer a baby, he holds his breath, he can’t stand it any longer.

Harry beats about the bush, you and your mother, along with the community, have always been the most important part of my life, it’s for you two I’ve made such an effort, then there’s a tremor in his voice, the word successor comes out, could Eike become Harry’s successor one day. Why was the old man talking like this, why was Father so agitated, Eike wondered. Mother is already by the door, signalling to Eike with her eyes. Harry stands up close to Eike again and something strange happens. Eike can still hear Father’s words, but they are slower and deeper, he can no longer understand what Father is saying. When he looks at Father’s mouth in the mirror, it has disappeared, he scans the space between Father’s chin and nose, sees nothing, the gap is perfectly smooth apart from a hint of stubble already reappearing despite a recent shave. Just a deep, muffled mumbling sound – where is his mouth, where are his lips, where are the words coming from wonders Eike desperately, searching for them.

Harry is pleased, he has finally been open with his son, said everything, he wanted to do it today before they both met The Almighty, the Dictator, in person. It is the first time Eike will him accompany his father into the presence of The Almighty. It seems as if his distant dream, his life’s work, will be fulfilled. His son has become a doctor too, just like him – but the community, no, more than that, the entire Jewish Question, survival – the boy knows too little about all that. It has not always been this easy. Getting a hearing for our cause, being awarded a medal, a Jew receiving a medal. Who could know better than I? Who had done his duty? Who had saved the community from all manner of attacks? Who had held firm in stormy seas?

They hadn’t built the road through the cemetery, the great synagogue is being rebuilt, golden dome included, as our place, as they promised him, and if Eike accompanies him today, this dream too will become reality. Eike shall be my successor, thinks Harry.

Harry and Eike’s destination is a large hotel. The city centre streets seem desolate on a Sunday morning, deserted. Men in black suits check them at the entrance. They don’t want to let them enter, he spells out his name, they finally nod in agreement. Inside, the silence is eerie too. No guests here either. Endless corridors, empty. They’re to go to the first floor, to the Room of Dreams, those are the directions they were given in the entrance hall. A spread has been prepared, Meissen porcelain, cups and saucers.

But Harry is unsure about the cake. I don’t know if the gentleman from the World Jewish Congress keeps kosher, he says to another man in black. But we brought a van over from West Berlin especially, everything is kosher, says the man, smiling. Only the coffee is from the East, he smirks. There are place cards of course. They walk around the table reading the names. Two other gentlemen from the community have also been invited, they nod at each other discreetly. The visiting guests, the rich American and his secretary for whom the event had been arranged, were already seated, should we say Guten Morgen, Shalom or Boker Tov, wonders Harry. They simply nod. May I introduce my son, Eike.

They had met for the first time the previous day at the Party’s headquarters – the Big House – he and the rich American: a medal for each of them, a strange atmosphere, everyone there was a Jew, right in the lion’s den so to speak, like a dream. And the dream continues. They all rise.

The dictator enters, accompanied by his entourage. He smiles, walks round the table, no need to stand, have you tried the cake yet? How do you like our weather today? Did you try the cake already, how do you like the weather a voice interprets from behind him, until the American interrupts, But Mr Chairman, I do speak German, my parents came from Germany. Really, all the better, Mr … all the better. It is so wonderful to speak to a representative of the World … er … Jewry in person, he said, as though Harry were not there. Then he sat down in the centre.

I am sure you would like to know why I invited you to be a guest of the government of our Republic. We are in the same boat, as it were, when it comes to fighting fascism and war, fighting racism, I am certain of it. I therefore wanted to ask you if we could reach an agreement on a loan. The American crooks his head, I’m not sure I understand. That is the sign for the interpreter, who hasn’t said anything for a while. He springs into action, translates the dictator’s proposal whilst the dictator is left smiling at his interlocutor.

The American crooks his head even further and says: I had actually hoped we were meeting to reach an agreement on reparations, Mr Chairman. The guest hesitates at this point because the dictator’s face has reddened, he interrupts the American. Our Republic is not, and never has been, the successor to the fascist regime: the torrent of words surges out over everyone now, waiting, heads bowed, as the coffee cools and the cake dries out.

The interpreter initially attempts to convey the flow of words in English, but the way in which the American shakes his head indicates he understands enough of what the dictator means. Harry gazes out the window uncomfortably, it is all so embarrassing. He had hoped for good relations for so long, there had been positive developments after so many years, and now? We’ll get the fallout, it’ll hit us hard. The rich American will go home, but we’ll be left in a right mess here, he thinks. It’ll all take a turn for the worse for us again.

A normal Jewish family is what they want, that’s what the director says on the phone, the way he says it, with a long ‘iii’. A Yiiiiiiiddish family, completely normal, do you understand, normal, a family visiting a relative’s grave, a rustling sound down the line, are you still there? They agreed to meet at the entrance.

Such a horde of men with all their equipment. The director talks at Harry relentlessly. Harry interrupts, could the men cover their heads please. But it’s summer and no one has brought a cap. Harry shrugs his shoulders in disgust, and now they’re all stumbling over the graves. Please walk this way, no, not that way, says the director from beside the camera. They all hold hands, the three of them, Mother, Father and Eike, as if they were fleeing, then they finally stand at the grave as requested, they glance furtively at the director’s gestures.

Action! Harry’s expression is frosty, Mother smiles, Eike breathes and smiles too. You need to look sadder, don’t pay any attention to us says the man, one more time. So they go back, Father, Mother and Eike, arm in arm, until they reach the grave again, followed by the camera at all times, surrounded by the hurried footsteps again, a swarm of busy technicians, such as the woman patting a brown paste onto their faces with a damp sponge.

It is fear that Harry feels, nothing has happened in their area yet, but the closer they get to the city, the nearer they get to the centre, the louder it becomes. They turn back, they can’t get any further than Schönhauser Allee, those large vehicles with screens over the driver’s window are everywhere, lined up, no one can get through, and then there are the police officers and people running in all directions. Where are they all going, Harry asks in the car, but neither his wife nor his son reply, nothing but a heavy silence, they try another street and it’s the same thing, no way through to the synagogue. They will have to make an exception this time, they turn around and drive home, they won’t make it to the service.

They see the images on television that evening, there must have been an uprising one channel reports. Harry’s mood dims, what will this mean for us, we’re always the first ones they want to see hanged, we’ll have to stay at home for the next few days, he orders, until things have calmed down. But things don’t calm down. Harry’s mood becomes even gloomier.


Excerpted from André Herzberg, Was aus uns geworden ist. Ullstein Buchverlag, 2018.

Above the Curie Temperature
God’s Picture Book
Power Drills Sing

Author: Karin Fellner
Translator: Zane Johnson

Above the Curie Temperature

With a lightning rod from your hair,
you go on ahead,
measure by measure over the field
beside your Parallel
through the elm forest. With
each of your steps the country
is laid bare before you, violet.

The coils on the horizon are
humming up to your mark.
Rings rustle the grasses in the
Tesla wind, the bundled charge
weighing steadily
on your shoulders. Maybe

the switchboard is there.
Maybe someone just inches
the regulator up. As
your line fades,
you pause at the turn
and go cross country.


God’s Picture Book

Only a blink from the fern forest to the stilt house to the labyrinth
within the church wall: the spiral system faded, or rather
put aside for later, nooses of hope and fear.
The monks are supporting beams in the emperor’s hall.
Their goosequills arrange water and sky.
They banish the abyss in minium, in thorny ink,
and the serpents squint and flee.
Carolingian miniscule flutters out of the leaves.
“We, too,” proclaimed the dove, “are only messengers
of our misunderstanding.”
An aeon passes over. Who has kept the prayer?
Midday demons, glutted, turn over the page
to seaquakes, stilt houses, fern.


Power drills sing

from the swelling of new blisters
in dim hands, and as
in the general twisting
and trembling, occasionally
a breach of the controls succeeds
Their rotations partner is
catacombic silence:
The coil thrusts to
a higher casing through
fetishes and bulging:
Let us create the sound base,
let us be the slipping-through!



To the Previously Most Common Bird in the World
The Extinct
Second Creation

Author: Silke Scheuermann
Translator: Robert Lemon


To the Previously Most Common Bird in the World

To be the last of one’s kind
what a strange mission
When you once had different notions
of confinement and wide open spaces Very different
from the senior suite at the Cincinnati Zoo
Martha the last passenger pigeon in the world
what a dilemma that you were all so tasty
A single deli-wholesaler
sold in 1855 eighteen thousand
of you to hungry New Yorkers
When in your aviary
you miss real flying
remember your flocks
thousands of meters wide
or the breeding colonies
measuring fifty by six kilometers How you
darkened the sky as the first
European immigrants came to America How you
made them stand for hours
in the dark and make astounded calculations
Remember the time before
the extermination methods and railroad network
You were endangered
by a few wild animals


The Extinct

They are the plants in the headlines, not those in the meadows,
the forests and swamps, gardens and parks.
They are the plants that have been drawn into the subjunctive,
because we repotted them in imaginary parks,
a chapter in Earth history. Those that made way
for new developments, beltways, and power plants,
in the parallel universe they smell wonderful,
but in this one they just smell of paper and lists,
a bad conscience, and high profits.
We find ourselves deep in the thicket of guilt,
which grows up over lost jewelry, discarded rings,
ankle bracelets made of tarnished silver. In vain we trade
old feelings, search for images that move in dreams.
In my rib cage my heart glints like a hidden seed
of cress, a little leaf of dandelion.
Dim light falls on something drawn on the wall,
and I see they are pictures of the extinct plants.
For one moment all their names whisper at the same time,
And their colors shine forth again,
shine and shine, and together add up to a spring
like hardly any before,
like hardy any that ever existed in oil or on glossy paper,
like nothing ever produced in factories or industrial parks,
built on a pocket of land that was once theirs,
now so wildly overgrown with something new.


Second Creation

How we do it is not important.
Since last summer our research had been close
to its goal. Only the last step was missing.
I trembled as I said: A miniature mammoth
will carry our son around, Siberian tigers will
protect our daughters. One day will be like the other,
when we crack open the brains of large mammals:
ecstatic, dreamy, full of loss. Two hundred billion
nerve cells, dispersed, tied up in each other like
boats on the open sea. Brain, soul, and senses
set sail together, a fleet in formation.
Call it war, call it madness: this is
the freedom of love: to create new beings,
to set them aside for ourselves. This is the freedom
of our species, to create other species.
God gave us the gift of a construction kit.



It is true, you can be too dreamy
to survive. There were always several
heavens strolling beside you. All the other
species were friendly. Well, until we came.
God gave us rage, that strong feeling
without direction or utility, and an appetite. You, Dodo,
then vanished quickly into that other world,
in which Alice is forever trying to learn Wonderland games
from you. But that’s not enough for us, we want
you back. Cute, naïve, with your trusting, dumb nests
on the ground. We think of you as a harmless companion
for our children. Believe me: we’re almost there.
Dodo, you will be reborn like the sunlight
at the break of day. I promise you:
You will be among the first that we make.


From: Silke Scheuermann, A Sketch of Grass. Poems. © Schöffling and Co., Frankfurt am Main, 2014.
Aus: Silke Scheuermann, Skizze vom Gras. Gedichte    © Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2014

The Heart-Lung Machine Answers
Le petit garcon, platonique
Semana Santa

Author: Nora Gomringer
Translator: Annie Rutherford



I am the virus which like every virus
teaches you. Understand me well: 

I am obeisance, open doors, hold
them open for all kinds of visitors.
The informer is the guest
who with tender interlocking
makes you blush until you leave,
caught out by our night.
The stains then bear a name,
as I bore many, when I was still
just noise and made of smoke
which drifted upwards out of bars.
I kiss the man who kisses men.
I come in the false blood that saves.
I am in every drop, am two-faced,
split-tongued, you have my word.
So I kiss Dallas cowboys, lovely angels
and the smallest, youngest from the sleep
hich they dreamt nine moons long.
And you dose acronyms
into the veins of my beloveds,
poison them in quite another way.
I am the virus which like every virus
teaches you. See the other, the other,
the always other as your wolf.
See clearly. Hear me. What I say
does not stem from me.

Place your finger
upon this mouth
when you have heard me out. 


The heart-lung-machine answers 

Since I can think
love has been my motor.
Of course I know an Off,
which is followed by an Over,
but when you ask like that, 

then I am love no matter who the person.

 I am so real that I am
beyond doubt.
Should your heart no longer love,
my motor then will love you.
And if no kisses breathe anymore
then I will kiss you without pause.

I am love from demi-gods in white.

 But I digress. You asked
if I could allow death. And I say: 

I am that great automated loveenforcementmachine.
And I smile, and I duplicate like Brecht must,
as laconic as he was just.
And my smiles are never seen.


Le petit garçon, platonique

This little boy,
we would have wanted to brood him longer
in the four motherwalls, the stomachyurt,
una volta mas.
When he came, the sun was dark,
the brain eclipsed and half in shadow
the comprehension of all involved.
ho was involved?
This little boy
is an alwaysaway,
The simultaneity person of the world.
Through him is clear how unbearable
this world for those who feel.
Searching hard we also found a word
in the thicket, under leaves and shrubs:
written savant, meaning sauvage.

The little boy,
he speaks no French. To him
the Eiffel tower is mere steel and construction.
He’s helped by keyboards
and screaming, screaming, stroke
for stroke. It is as if
someone recognised us
by that cave fire, the arching inside wall:
a shadow.
Lines ago did I not write eclipse?

 For Birger Sellin, language giant


Semana Santa

 When the girl vanished,
she vanished completely.
Day 1 and everybody asked someone:
Where is she? they asked, and
Where did she so completely go?
Day 2 and a few crept
awkwardly in and out of the houses.
Day 3 and cats sat in the windows.
This was no sign.
Everyone knows the Felidae
hate humans.
Day 4 and in the distance a relation
said a prayer, whispered behind her hand.
Very quietly, at night, in the bathroom
under a very harsh light.
Day 5 and two or three cases harboured
things of the disappeared. Who was she again?
Day 6 and a replacement stood,
so suddenly it shocked, in the garden under a tree.
Day 7 and it was a woman.
And as is common for women she wore a skirt.
And as is common for women she wore her hair long.
And as is common for women she wore a ring.
eneath her veil
– as is common for women –
she became invisible.



a boat moors
Böcklin paints a boat which moors
a boatman nameless
all too willing to give himself away
Hitler possessed one version
Utoya became one
a boat moors
on board a death
an advocate for the crossover
öcklin paints a boat which moors
a boatman nameless
versions of Breivik
on board a death
an island



you too a wee pelt
you too a wee dog
ou too a wee murderer
you too a wee claw
you too a wee tooth
you too a good eater
you too a wee spring
you too a wee bullet

you too a silverling 

you too a wolf



“Versions,” Lycanthropy”: Monster Poems, Voland & Quist and Co., Berlin, 2014.
“The Heart-Lung Machine Answers,” “Le petit garcon, platonique,” “Educator”: Morbus, Voland & Quist and Co., Berlin, 2016.
“Semana Santa”: Moden, Voland & Quist and Co. Berlin, 2018.

“Variationen,” Lycanthropie”: Monster Poems, Verlag Voland & Quist GmbH, Berlin..
“Die Herz-Lungen-Maschine antwortet,” “Le petit garcon, platonique,” “Erzieher”: Morbus, Verlag Voland & Quist GmbH, Berlin, 2016.
“Semana Santa”: Moden, Verlag Voland & Quist GmbH, Berlin, 2018.


… but
On the big wheel
Five lines

Author: Kurt Drawert
Translator: Steph Morris



I understand my friends
in the East
less and less. Here between
the Hamme and Weser rivers

I know no-one.
Sometimes the deaf-mute
farmer from over the way
greets me, or an official

arrives as decreed
to deliver just what
I’d feared
with a casual gesture.

I was settled
nowhere and nowhere
was I at home, I confirm
without sadness. So what

should I seek out
if I stay.
What should stay
where it is?

The smell of wet
mildewed wood,
of rotten floorboards
clings in my memory,

the night-time discussions
were worthless
and have been sold
to the four

winds. Voyeurs
who knew better,
with the safe stasis
of the long winter

for support, with fine lines
broken apart
on a desk
in some sorry office.

Their silence
on that score,
my friends from yesterday,
is deafening, gone today

because yet again
it’s about missing
the wrong word
at the right moment, the kickoff,

the next stop down the hill.
I’ll get to the point now:
You lied to me. I
was someone else

at the heart of those soiled years.
But when, for a second,
I forget my name,
I totally understand

that foxhole of language
and feel regret
and view the rot
of conscience in its entirety

with leniency,
just as the autumn light
melts into the meadows
at dusk

and it all sinks
into the mist like tired
maltreated animals. But
I don’t understand it.

Yet my muscles
have relaxed and
the ostracised farmer
greets me.

Kurt Drawert, 1992



there must be some legacy
with which the history of the body
– which, as silence will win
over remembrance,
I sometimes draw on too,
like an album of snapped sensations –
as well history itself
– given that the country within will crumble
like a ruined fortress
its name lost,
which you enter as a stranger
speaking another language –
can be elucidated.

Kurt Drawert, 1993



Those were the days,
when there was a thing
you had to shift.

A mission bound
to fail at that gradient,
each time knocked back

and sent plummeting,
a punishment
only in an underworld

run by charlatans
with no feeling for the joys
of repetition

at least while matter
was part of the equation,
with no laws

to concern you unduly.
Since your acquittal
you’ve been drifting around

gazing at the void
in your hands,

Kurt Drawert, 1996



I’d forgotten how we would meet
then, in those towns now full of
orphaned anthems

in search of a fatherland. In the ruins
of the last war a peaceful,
fatherless calm could be found.

I came here as a child, disturbed.
Here we had it good. Here language
stayed out of the body.

Later, at a tricky stage in life,
just as some of our voices
broke, with others it was

the spine, you recall.
I was gifted with
silence, there.

There, the grass is shooting up
already. The dip in the ground,
surely the place I dreamt of love,
is filled with grit, puddled algae
and oil, squashed tin cans,

a scorched patch. Even the earth here seeks
to deny its past. It had long gone dark
but I stood there still. Everything I heard
was alien. What I thought.
And it was day.


On the big wheel

When the axis of the turning wheel
links the rising cars
and the falling cars
along an even plane
there is a neutral instant
in which each are at
eye level.
Then the inevitable happens.
Pride is pride again, and a fall, a fall.


Five lines

I want to be like that again,
in love with a sense of love,
like a ship darting into the ocean,
blindly proud. And hearts are hearts
and stone will be stone, until the sails rip.



From:  Poetry of the German Democratic Republic.  S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.

Aus:  “Ortswechsel,” “… doch,” “Wo es war,” “Im Riesenrad,” “Fünf Zeilen,” “Sisyphos.”  Lyrik der DDR.  S. Fisher Verlage, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.

Earth Sciences
White Poem
Chinese Proverb
My Contribution to World Cultural Heritage
Outside the ethnology museum
There is no silence

Author: Jürg Halter
Translator: Sheridan Marshall



Earth Sciences

She sinks into her seat
like a stone in water;
goes under like a
question asked too quietly.
Everything is a descent
to the centre of the Earth and
back in millions
of years and …
in all religions there is
really only one God,
that of gravity.
Why else would the
faithful throw themselves to the floor
instead of jumping into the air?


White Poem

You are not reading these lines,
it’s written white-on-white
that this is not a poem.
I walk in the first snow
dressed in white through a country
that doesn’t actually exist.
No-one here speaks.
White in white I forget –
Oh, please, disappoint me soon,
so that I can finally show you
who I really am.


Chinese Proverb

‘When the winds of change blow…’
I linger in a street café,
an empty sugar sachet in front of me,
that I will blow any moment
at the feet of a sad passer-by,
‘…some build walls, others windmills.’


My Contribution to World Cultural Heritage

I would like this poem to have millions of readers
in all possible languages.
I would like this poem to live on
into the far-reaching future;
for the poem to go on being recited here
at least as long as there are people.
I think that not to hope for this
is scarcely less presumptuous
than publishing a poem at all.


Outside the ethnology museum

Man emerged in the Holocene
and is still emerging.
Let’s go for a drink,
it’s not possible
to reverse things anyway.


There is no silence

The worst crime against one person
by another is imaginable.

Not being able to say it is still better
than staying silent about it – darkly glowing.

There are many words, but no one can
tell us who were not involved, how it really was.

A moment is history in the moment.
The already said is the still speaking.


From: Jürg Halter, We Dread the End of the Music. © Wallstein and Co., Göttingen, 2014.

Aus: Jürg Halter, Wir fürchten das Ende der Musik © Wallstein Verlag GmbH, Göttingen, 2014