Read The Eternal Philistine Online
Authors: Odon Von Horvath
Even Herr Dünzl walked past him. “You’re going to Barcelona?” asked Dünzl caustically. “My dear boy, at serious times like these—”
“Hush,” Kobler cut him off, disgruntled. The Count Blanquez also walked by.
“I’m going to Barcelona,” said Kobler.
“Since when, then?” inquired the count.
“Since today,” said Kobler.
“Well, then, that means you’ve got a whole day to pester me,” said the count. Herr Schaal also walked by.
“I’m going to Barcelona,” said Kobler.
“Bon voyage,” said the good old Herr Schaal, and then sat down at another table.
Kobler was shaken. After all, he wanted to impress people and it was not working at all. He skulked into the bathroom with his head ducked down.
“Do you want ten or fifteen?” asked the attentive old Rosa.
“I’m going to Barcelona,” he muttered.
“What’s wrong with you?!” blurted out the good old lady, aghast. Kobler remained firmly silent, leaving the old lady to her suspicions. When he had returned to his seat, she peered out at him through the crack in the door with her haggard eyes, wondering whether he had ordered another beer. Yes, he had indeed already ordered his second beer because, having been unable to impress anybody, he had gulped the first down hastily. “It’s like everything’s been bewitched!” he said to himself.
And there she was, Fräulein Anna Pollinger.
“I’m going to Barcelona,” he greeted her.
“Why?” she asked, eyeing him with horror. He basked in her gaze.
“There’s an international World’s Fair going on there right now.” He gave her a cruel smile. And it made him feel good, even though he had otherwise always been respectful to her.
He was exceedingly considerate in helping her to remove her coat, neatly draping it over a chair, albeit with a rather snide expression on his face. She sat down next to him and
began fiddling with a loose button on her sleeve. The button was only there for decoration. She ripped it off.
Just then Anna started looking around the restaurant. Deep in thought, she nodded to Herr Schaal, who did not even know her.
“To Barcelona.” she said, “I’d sure like to go there too.”
“And so why don’t you?” asked Kobler snobbishly.
“Don’t ask such dumb questions,” she said.
Have you all heard the fairy tale of Fräulein Pollinger? Perhaps there’s still somebody out there who hasn’t, and it might be worthwhile for everybody to hear it one more time. Well …
Once upon a time there was a young lady who was never really able to catch the attention of the more well-to-do gentlemen because she only earned 110 marks a month, had just an average figure and an average face—it being neither unpleasant nor especially pretty, just decent. She worked in the office of a rental car agency, but at best could afford a bicycle on an installment plan. She was permitted to ride on the back of a motorcycle every once in a while, but something was often expected of her in return. Despite everything, she was quite sweet-tempered and did not shut herself off to men. But she would only ever go out with one guy at a time—experience had taught her that much. Often she did not exactly love this one particular guy, but she took comfort in being able to sit next to him in the Schellingsalon or elsewhere. She did not want to yearn for anything, but if she ended up doing it anyway, everything seemed insipid to her. She would rarely speak; she only ever listened to what the gentlemen were saying amongst each other. Then she secretly made fun of them because, after all, the gentlemen did
not actually have anything to say. These gentlemen would rarely speak to her, and if they did it was usually only when they felt the urge to do it. During the first few sentences she would often be spiteful and malicious, but then she soon let herself go again. She was indifferent to practically everything in her life, and it had to be like that, otherwise she would not have been able to bear it. It was only when she was feeling ill that she would think about herself more intensely.
At one point she went out with a gentleman by the name of Fritz for well over a year. Toward the end of October she said, “If I got pregnant right now it’d be the biggest disaster.” She was shocked by her words.
“Why are you crying?” asked Fritz. “I don’t like it when you cry. All Saints’ Day falls on a Saturday this year, so there’s an extra day off and we can take a hike in the mountains.” And then he explained to her that all the physical stress during the climb down would, as is generally known, see to it that she didn’t get pregnant.
So she climbed with Fritz up the west side of the Wasserkarspitze, which stands 2,037 meters above yonder sea. It was already night when they reached the summit, but up above there were stars in the sky. There was a fog in the valley below; it slowly wafted up toward them. Everything in the world was very quiet, and then Anna said, “The fog looks like it has all the unborn souls flying around in it.” But Fritz did not respond to this tone.
Ever since this hike in the mountains she had had a sickly pallor. She never really fully recovered and every so often her womb area hurt her like crazy. But she did not hold it against any of the gentlemen; she just had a strong constitution. There are people out there that you just can’t kill. And so she lived happily ever after.
So in mid-September she was sitting next to Kobler in the Schellingsalon. She ordered just a small glass of dark beer. She had already eaten her supper, two little rolls of bread and butter, at the rental car company because that night, by way of exception, she had to work until nine o’clock. On average, she would have to do this, by way of exception, four times a week. Of course she was not paid for working overtime because after all, if she wanted to be jobless, she had the right to quit on the first of every month.
“Give me a bit of your potato salad,” she said suddenly because, suddenly, she just had to eat something else.
“Sure,” said Kobler, at once feeling as though he should be ashamed of himself for going to Barcelona.
“It’s going to be very exhausting,” he said.
“So I guess that means there’s nothing doing tonight,” she said.
“Right,” he said.
THE EXPRESS TRAIN THAT WAS TO TAKE KOBLER across the German border departed punctually because the gentleman with the red uniform cap raised his baton punctually. “Now that’s German punctuality for you,” he heard somebody say in a Hanoverian accent.
The young wife of a businessman was standing on the platform among others. She was excitedly waving goodbye to her husband, who was in the front car, traveling abroad in order to cheat another businessman.
Kobler nudged his way into the scene. He leaned out of
the window and gave the young lady a condescending nod, but she merely grimaced and made a dismissive gesture with her hands. “Now she’s upset,” rejoiced Kobler, and thought of Fräulein Pollinger. “Anna’s probably also upset right now,” he continued this line of thought. “Right now it’s precisely eight and this is when her office opens up. I’d be upset too if my office opened up at this time. Nothing beats self-employment. What a disaster it’d be if everybody were an employee, like Marxism envisions it. As an employee, I would never have gone the extra mile to cheat Portschinger. If the convertible had been state property, I’d just have had it melted down as scrap metal, which would have been the right and proper thing to do anyway. But so many potentially exploitable objects of value would lie idle as a result of this menacing socialization. And that’s just how it’d be because the personal incentive would be eliminated.”
He sat down mischievously at his window seat, riding proudly through the dismal suburban train stations and past the suburban travelers who stood motionlessly waiting for their suburban trains. And then the city gradually came to an end. The landscape became increasingly dreary; Kobler languidly observed the person sitting across from him, a gentleman with a vigorous demeanor who was absorbed in his newspaper. It was written underneath the newspaper’s headline,
NOW MORE THAN EVER!
, that any German who said he was proud to be a German because, were he not proud of being a German, he would still be a German all the same and would, therefore, naturally be proud to be a German—“such a German,” read the newspaper, “is no German, but rather an asphalt-German.”
Kobler had also equipped himself with some reading material for the trip, namely a magazine. In it there were a
dozen young girls who, in the shadow of mounted photographs of skyscrapers, were shouldering their legs as if they were rifles. The caption read
THE MAGIC OF MILITARISM
, and said that it actually came across as spooky that pin-up girls have heads as well. Then Kobler also saw a whole pack of feminine beauties, one of whom was smiling sensuously as she stood atop an enormous tortoise that had been tamed. Apart from that he had no other reading material with him.
Just a number of dictionaries, each containing around twelve thousand words printed in an exceedingly tiny font: German-Italian,
, etc. He had also got himself a booklet with useful phrases for traveling in Spain (with the pronunciation clearly spelled out). It had been edited by a secondary-school teacher in Erfurt whose daughter still hoped to marry the rich German-Argentinian who had given her his promise during the period of hyperinflation. In the preface, the secondary-school teacher lamented the deeply distressing fact that Spanish was rarely learned in the German-speaking lands, even though the Spanish world supplied us Germans with myriad natural products while itself lacking in industry. These facts had not yet been adequately appreciated by the young world of commerce, not by a long shot. And then the secondary-school teacher enumerated the countries in which Spanish was spoken, for instance Spain and Latin America, minus Brazil.
Kobler read further: I’m hungry, thirsty.
Tengo hambre, sed
. Pronunciation: tango ambray, said. How do you say that in Spanish?
Como se llama eso en Castellano
? Pronunciation: como say yama ay-so en casteyano. Could you please speak more slowly?
Tenga ustay la bondahd day ablar mas despassio?
Please repeat that word. You have to speak a little louder.
He commands a proud language, but he expresses himself well. Porter, bring me my luggage. I have a large suitcase, valise, travel blanket, and a bunch of socks and umbrellas. Is that the train to Figueras? Give me dry bed linen. Onions, please. Now it is right. We have been missing your orders for some time now. What do I owe? Very good, my dear sir, I remain indebted to you for everything. What did you do? Nothing. Would you like the check? No. It appears that you have understood me correctly. Well, goodbye! Send your dear wife (dear husband) my regards! Thanks a million. Bon voyage! Godspeed!
“What are you reading there?” he suddenly heard his neighbor ask. He looked like Herr Portschinger. He had been peering distrustfully into the secondary-school teacher’s work for some time now. His name was Thimoteus Bschorr.
“I’m going to Barcelona,” replied Kobler laconically, eagerly awaiting the effect of his words. The person sitting opposite him with the vigorous demeanor looked up with a jerk and, seething with hatred, glared at him, only then to continue reading the definition of an asphalt-German for the twentieth time.
A third gentleman was also sitting in the corner, though Kobler’s travel plans did not seem to have made the slightest impression on him. He merely gave a weary smile, as though he had already traveled around the world several times. His collar was too loose for his neck.
“So, then, Italy it is,” stated Herr Bschorr phlegmatically.
“Barcelona is, as you well know, situated in Spain,” said Kobler superciliously.
“That ain’t so well known.” Bschorr got worked up. “As you well know, I could’ve sworn that Barcelona was, as you well know, in Italy!”
“I am merely solely passing through Italy,” said Kobler, making an effort to speak very properly so as to provoke Thimoteus Bschorr. Only he would not let himself be provoked.
“Barcelona sure is a ways away,” he said dully. “A real ways away. I don’t envy you one bit. Spain—the whole place has got to be real filthy. And a torrid zone. What you going to do in Madrid?”
“I shall ignore it altogether,” explained Kobler. “I’m merely interested in seeing the world abroad just once.”
The person sitting across from him winced visibly at these words and butted into the conversation, speaking clearly and concisely: “Under no circumstances should a German send his honestly earned money abroad in these economically depressed times.” All the while he had a censorious gaze fixed on Kobler. He owned a hotel in Partenkirchen that was generally avoided because of its insanely high prices and so was always vacant.
“But Spain was neutral during the war!” said the third gentleman in the corner, coming to Kobler’s aid. He was still smiling.
“Whatever!” snapped the hotelier.
“As a matter of fact, Spain is even well disposed towards us,” said the guy in the corner, refusing to let up.
“Nobody out there is well disposed towards us!” countered Thimoteus excitedly. “It’d be a real miracle if somebody was. It’d be a real miracle, huh, folks?!”
The hotelier nodded. “I repeat: a German should keep his honestly earned money in the fatherland!”
Kobler gradually became furious. “What business is Portschinger’s convertible of yours, you bastard!” he thought and then put the hotelier in his place: “You are mistaken! We, the young German tradespeople, must establish even
more meaningfully intimate connections with the part of the world abroad that is well disposed to us. Last but not least, we must of course uphold our national honor.”
“All that stuff about upholding honor is just empty talk,” the hotelier interrupted him in a surly manner. “We Germans are just simply not capable of establishing commercial relations abroad in an honest way!”
“But what about the nations?” said the third man, suddenly no longer smiling. “Nations all depend on each other, just like Prussia depends on Bavaria and Bavaria on Prussia.”