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Authors: Irmgard Keun

After Midnight

BOOK: After Midnight
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PRAISE FOR
AFTER MIDNIGHT
“Brief, important and haunting.”
—PENELOPE LIVELY
“Haunting … an ideal vehicle for demonstrating the lunacy of Hitlerism.”

CAMBRIDGE EVENING NEWS
“Sprightly wit and a sharp focus on the details of numbered everydays make this a far more telling account of the psychological effects of Fascism than graphic depictions of atrocity.”

HAMPSTEAD AND HIGHGATE EXPRESS
“Acerbically observed by this youthful, clever, undeceived eye … this miniature portrait, rightly republished, is distinguished not only for its unfamiliar slant but for its style which is of a remarkable simplicity and purity, crystalline yet acid; a glass of spring water laced with bitter lemon.”

JEWISH CHRONICLE
“You can feel the creeping evil slowly infiltrate everyday existence. But this is also a love story. And amid the horror there is gentleness, charm and even humour.”

MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS
“Images of abrasive melodrama haunt pre-war German literature with the relentlessness of belated prophesy. But in
After Midnight
, first published in 1937, we hear a young and lonely voice that speaks in a different key.”

CITY LIMITS
“Keun effectively conveys a sense of the inevitable helplessness of the individual … it feels truthful.”

SUNDAY TIMES
AFTER MIDNIGHT
IRMGARD KEUN
(1905–1982) was born in Berlin and raised in Cologne, where she studied to be an actress. However, reputedly inspired by a meeting with Alfred Döblin, author of
Berlin Alexanderplatz
, she turned to writing, and became an instant sensation with her first novel,
Gigli: One of Us
, published in 1931 when she was just twenty-six. A year later, her second novel,
The Artificial Silk Girl
, was an even bigger bestseller. The rising Nazi party censured Keun, however, and her books were included in the infamous “burning of the books” in 1933. After being arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo, Keun left her husband and escaped Germany. While wandering in exile, Keun conducted an eighteen-month affair with the writer Joseph Roth and finished
After Midnight
, published in 1937. In 1940 Keun staged her suicide and, under a false identity, re-entered Germany, where she lived in hiding until the end of the war. Her work was rediscovered in the late seventies, reviving her reputation in Germany. She died in 1982.
ANTHEA BELL
has translated numerous works from French, German, Danish, and Polish. She is best known for her translations of the French
Asterix
comics with co-translator Derek Hockridge; and for her translation of W. G. Sebald’s
Austerlitz
, for which she was awarded the 2002 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize.
GEOFF WILKES,
a Lecturer in German Studies at the University of Queensland, has written extensively on the literature and society of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Reich, with special attention to Irmgard Keun and Hans Fallada. He is the author of
Hans Fallada’s Crisis Novels 1931–1947
.
THE NEVERSINK LIBRARY
I was by no means the only reader of books on board the
Neversink.
Several other sailors were diligent readers, though their studies did not lie in the way of belles-lettres. Their favourite authors were such as you may find at the book-stalls around Fulton Market; they were slightly physiological in their nature. My book experiences on board of the frigate proved an example of a fact which every book-lover must have experienced before me, namely, that though public libraries have an imposing air, and doubtless contain invaluable volumes, yet, somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much
. —HERMAN MELVILLE,
WHITE JACKET

AFTER MIDNIGHT

Originally published in German,
as
Nacht Mitternacht
, in 1937

Copyright © by Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH, Berlin.
Published in 1980 by Claassen Verlag

Translated by Anthea Bell
Translation first published in the UK by Victor Gollancz Ltd in 1985
Copyright © Orion Publishing Group

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

www.mhpbooks.com

The Library of Congress has cataloged the paperback edition as follows:

Keun, Irmgard, 1905-1982.
[Nach Mitternacht. English]
After midnight / Irmgard Keun ; translated by Anthea Bell.
    p. cm. – (The neversink library)
eISBN: 978-1-935554-71-4
I. Bell, Anthea. II. Title.
PT2621.E92N313 2011
833′.912–dc22

2011006714

v3.1

Contents

Cover

About the Author

Epigraph

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Afterword: By Geoff Wilkes

1

YOU CAN OPEN AN ENVELOPE AND TAKE OUT something which bites or stings, though it isn’t a living creature. I had a letter like that from Franz today. “Dear Sanna,” he writes, “I want to see you again, so I may be coming to Frankfurt. I haven’t been able to write for some time, but I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I’m sure you knew that, I’m sure you could feel it. All my love, dear Sanna, from Franz.”

What’s happened to Franz? Is he ill? Maybe I should have got straight on a train and gone to him in Cologne. But I didn’t. I folded the letter up very small and put it down the neck of my dress, where it still is, scratchy in between my breasts.

I feel tired. Today was so eventful, and such a strain. Life generally is, these days. I don’t want to do any more thinking. In fact I
can’t
do any more thinking. My brain’s all full of spots of light and darkness, circling in confusion.

I’d like to sit and drink my beer in peace, but when I hear the words
World Outlook
I know there’s trouble ahead. Gerti ought not to go provoking an SA man like that, saying the soldiers of the Regular Army, the
Reichswehr
, have nicer uniforms and are better-looking too, and that if she absolutely had to pick a military man of some kind she’d
rather a Reichswehr soldier than a Stormtrooper. Naturally, such remarks act on Kurt Pielmann like a swarm of angry hornets, stinging him badly—and though the wounds may not be mortal, he’ll still turn nasty. I can tell.

Yes, Kurt Pielmann is suddenly looking very sick, and he was so cheerful just now you could almost feel sorry for him. After all, he got another pip three days ago, and he came from Wurzburg to Frankfurt today specially to see Gerti, and the Führer. Because the Führer, no less, was in Frankfurt today, to gaze gravely down on the people from the Opera House, and attend a tattoo put on by men who’ve recently joined up again. I’m going to stand us all another round of beer, by way of a distraction. I hope I’ve got enough money.

“Waiter!” The place is frantically busy this evening. “Waiter! Oh, Herr Kulmbach, would
you
call him, please? You can make yourself heard better. And do drink up—yes, four more export beers, please, waiter, and—” But he’s off again already.

“Could you by any chance spare another cigarette, Herr Kulmbach?” I don’t want Herr Kulmbach to hear Gerti talking to Kurt Pielmann in such a dangerous way, so I keep chattering away at him, anything that comes into my head, just to keep his mind off them. I listen to my own babbling with one ear, while with the other I hear the row brewing up between Gerti and Pielmann.

If I stop talking for just a moment, there’s such a roar of voices around me that I feel tired enough to drop.

We’re sitting in the Henninger Bar. There’s a smell of beer and cigarette smoke, and a lot of loud laughter. You can see the lights of the Opera House Square through the window. They look a little dim and weary, like gaudy yellow
flowers which finally feel like folding up and going to sleep.

Gerti and I have been out and about since three this afternoon. I’ve been friends with Gerti ever since I came to live in Frankfurt. I’ve been here a year now.

Gerti looks lovely, sitting there with her breasts all blue. Well, not actually her breasts, of course, only the dress over them, but she always looks as if she doesn’t have anything on. In Gerti, however, that doesn’t seem at all indecent, because she carries herself and talks in such a bright, lively way, she doesn’t act at all mysterious. Her thick, fair hair shines, her bright blue eyes shine, her face shines with a rosy glow.

I don’t shine at all. I expect that’s why Gerti likes me so much. Even though she says I could look very good, I just don’t know how to make the best of myself. Gerti and Liska both go on at me about it, and I’m sure they honestly
would
like me to make the best of myself. I would too, but I can never quite manage it.

When I look in the mirror before I go to bed at night, I sometimes do think I look very pretty. I like my skin, because it’s so smooth and white. And my eyes seem large and grey and mysterious, and I don’t believe there can be a film star in the world with such long, black lashes. At times like this I feel like opening the window and calling out to all the men in the street to come and admire my beauty. I could never really do such a thing, of course. Still, it’s a shame if someone’s so often at her prettiest when she’s alone. Or perhaps I’m only imagining it. At any rate, when I’m with Gerti I feel small and pale and peaky. Even my hair doesn’t shine. It’s a kind of dull blonde colour.

I shouldn’t have ordered those beers—now Herr Kulmbach is following them up with a round of kirsch. Herr
Kulmbach is a waiter in the Squirrel, and when waiters go out to other bars and restaurants they almost always order lavishly.

“Here’s to you, Herr Kulmbach!” “And the Führer!” Today is a wonderful day, says Kulmbach; today has been a very special experience for the people of Frankfurt.

A couple of SS men at the next table glance across at us and raise their glasses, whether to Gerti or the Führer I’m not sure. Perhaps they’re drunk and are raising their glasses to everyone in the world, except, of course, Jews, Social Democrats, Russians, Communists, the French, and suchlike people.

I am busy telling Kulmbach I’ve been in Frankfurt for a year. I was born in Lappesheim, on the Mosel. “That’s my home, and of course you never forget your home, do you, Herr Kulmbach?” I’m nineteen now; Gerti is a little older. I got to know her through Liska, because Liska works with handicrafts, and Gerti’s mother and father have a handicrafts shop in the best part of Frankfurt. Gerti helps in the shop. My father has a public house in Lappesheim, and three vineyards, though they’re not in the very best position. In summer, when the vines are in flower and there’s a gentle breeze, and the warm sun is shining, the whole world smells of honey. The Mosel is a happy, sparkling snake of a river, with little white boats on it letting the sunbeams pull them downstream. “And the mountains on the opposite bank, Herr Kulmbach—well, you have to cross on the ferry and get quite close before you realize they
are
mountains. Seen from our pub, they look like great green curly heads, all warm and friendly, so you want to stroke them. But when you get near them you don’t find any soft green curls, you find tough trees covered with leaves. And if you
climb the mountain you come to the Hunsrück range. It’s colder up there than down by the Mosel, and the people are poorer. The children look pale and hungry. The flowers aren’t so brightly coloured up in the mountains, and they’re much smaller—it’s the same with the apples and pears, and there are no vines at all.”

BOOK: After Midnight
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