Read The Eternal Philistine Online
Authors: Odon Von Horvath
“What’s that, you trying to talk down Bavaria?” roared Thimoteus. “Who’s dependent on who? What’s dependent on what? Those lousy Prussians can all take a hike to Switzerland! What the heck do I need tourism for? Tourists don’t buy nothing from me. Got me a brick factory, used to be a butcher!”
“Ho-ho!” the hotelier flared up. “Ho-ho, my dear sir! If it weren’t for tourism, Bavaria’s sovereignty would be in dire straits. We need the Northern-German spa guests; we need the foreign spa guests, especially the Anglo-Saxon spa guests; but what we are sadly still frequently lacking is a more accommodating approach to the influx of foreigners. We have to adapt ourselves even more keenly to the foreign psyche. Though of course, when the dear Minister of Finance declares …”
And here is where Thimoteus exploded.
“Those ain’t ministers—just a bunch of Prussians!” he raged. “Scoundrels, the whole lot of ’em, no exceptions. Who’s sucking wind here? The middle-class! And who’s making a killing? The workers! The workers are smoking cigarettes at six pfennigs a pop … My dear sirs, like I always say: Berlin!”
“Bravo!” said the hotelier, and continued memorizing the sentence about the asphalt-German.
The gentleman in the corner stood up and hastily left the compartment. He stood at the window, gazing out sadly at the beautiful Bavarian countryside. He felt sincerely sorry for that countryside.
“He’s outside now. I guess I gave him the boot,” Thimoteus was pleased to declare.
“I follow the homestead movement with great interest,” answered the hotelier.
“You blockheads!” thought Kobler, and turned towards his window.
There were people working in the fields, cattle at pasture and deer standing at the edge of the forest. If it were not for the apostolic patriarchal crosses of the overhead power cables, you might forget it was the twentieth century. The sky was blue and the clouds were white and molded in Bavarian-baroque.
Meanwhile, the express train was approaching the southern border of the German Republic. At first it rolled past huge lakes where the mountains still appeared small on the horizon, but now the mountains kept getting larger and larger, the lakes smaller and smaller, and the horizon closer and closer. And then the lakes disappeared altogether; all around there were just more mountains. This was the Werdenfelser Land.
The hotelier got off at Partenkirchen and did not even deign to look at Kobler. Herr Bschorr likewise got off and tripped over a four-year-old child in the process. “Jarghh!” he said. The child let out a terrible squeal because it had nearly been trampled by Herr Bschorr.
The express train resumed its journey.
The gentleman who had been sitting in the corner returned to the compartment because Kobler was now alone. He sat down across from him and said, “And there you can see the Zugspitze!”
As is generally known, the Zugspitze is Germany’s tallest mountain, though sadly a third of it happens to belong to Austria. And so a few years ago they built a suspension railway up to the Zugspitze, even though for the last twenty years the Bavarians had been wanting to do just that. This, of course, really angered the Bavarians, as a consequence of which they finally managed to build a second train up to the Zugspitze, and a purely Bavarian one at that—not some aerial suspension railway, but a solid rack-and-pinion railway. Both trains up to the Zugspitze are undeniably grandiose achievements at the pinnacle of modern mountain railway structural engineering, and by mid-September 1929, the project had already claimed the lives of around four dozen workers. However, until the Bavarian train up to Zugspitze was operational, numerous workers would sadly just have to keep believing in the project, the management reassured.
“I once told a lady this,” the gentleman said to Kobler, “but the lady said that the story had been concocted by the esteemed workers in order to extort a higher wage.”
The gentleman was smiling so strangely that Kobler no longer knew what to make of him.
“This lady,” continued the gentleman, “is the daughter of a man from Dusseldorf who sits on a supervisory board. She married somebody in Cuba as far back as 1913, so she spent the World War there.”
And the gentleman once again smiled so strangely that it nearly confounded Kobler.
“The war must’ve been more pleasant in Cuba,” he said, and this pleased the gentleman.
“You’re going to see a nice little piece of the world,” he said, and gave him a friendly nod.
“A little piece is fine,” thought Kobler, piqued, and then asked, “Are you also a businessman?”
“No!” said the gentleman curtly as if he no longer wished to speak another word with him.
“What could he be, then?” thought Kobler.
“I used to be a teacher,” the gentleman said abruptly. “I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Weimar Constitution, but if you advocate your political convictions with the commitment of your entire person, with every fiber of your being, then its constitutional grounded civil rights and liberties will do you shit-all good. For instance, I married a Protestant woman and lost my job for it. I can thank the Bavarian Concordat for that. Now I’m a sales representative for a brand of toothpaste that nobody buys because it’s atrocious. My family has got to live with my in-laws in Mittenwald. The old lady reproaches the children for every little thing they eat—And there’s Mittenwald! Sure is a cozy spot, huh?
MITTENWALD IS A GERMAN-AUSTRIAN BORDER station with passport inspection and customs control.
This was the first border that Kobler had ever crossed in his entire life, and the official ceremonies tied up with crossing it touched him in a strangely solemn way. It was
with an almost tremulous veneration that he watched as the gendarmes stood indolently around the platform.
He was already holding his passport expectantly in his hand before he even reached Mittenwald. Now his suitcase, too, was lying wide-open on the bench. “Please don’t shoot—I’m an honest boy,” was the message here.
Kobler really cringed when the Austrian customs officer appeared in his car. “Anybody got anything to declare?” yelled out the customs officer unsuspectingly.
“Over here,” yelled Kobler, pointing to his honest suitcase. But the customs officer did not even look over at him.
“Anybody got anything to declare!?” he called out in horror, and then dashed headlong out of the car. He was afraid that somebody would, by way of exception, really have something to declare, which would mean that he would, by way of exception, have something to do.
The passport inspection, on the other hand, was conducted a little more rigorously because it was a better piece of business. That is, there was usually at least one person on every train whose passport had just expired. They could then be sold a border-crossing permit for a few marks or schillings, respectively. One such person once said to the passport official, “Excuse me, but I really am in favor of the Anschluss!” But the passport official vehemently refused to tolerate any insults directed at an official.
The express train slowly left the German Republic, driving past two signs:
|KINGDOM OF BAVARIA: KEEP TO THE RIGHT!||FEDERAL STATE OF AUSTRIA: KEEP TO THE LEFT!|
“So we keep to the left?” Kobler asked the Austrian conductor. “We’re all on the same track,” yawned the conductor. Kobler could not help but think of Greater Germany.
They were now heading through the northern Limestone Alps, specifically alongside the old Roman road between the Wetterstein and Karwendel mountain ranges.
The express train needed to climb 1,160 meters in order to reach the Inn Valley, which was situated around 600 meters lower. It was a complicated region for express trains.
The Karwendel is one mighty massif. Its magnificent high valleys undoubtedly number among the most barren stretches in the Alps. Starting at the brittle ridges, magnificent heaps of scree often extend all the way down to the bottom of the valley and then converge with the debris from the other side. At the same time, there is almost no water anywhere and hence hardly any life. In 1928 it was declared a nature reserve so that it could remain unspoiled.
And so the express train rolled past tremendous abysses and through many, many tunnels and over boldly constructed viaducts. Kobler now caught sight of a filthy cloud of haze hanging over the Inn Valley. Underneath this cloud of haze was Innsbruck, the capital of the holy land of Tyrol.
Kobler did not know anything about the city except that it had a famous golden roof, reasonably priced Tyrolean wine, and that travelers approaching the city from the west could see several large brothels on the left-hand side. Count Blanquez had once explained this to him.
He had to change trains in Innsbruck, switching to the express train bound for Bologna. The express train was coming from Kufstein and was late. “The Austrians are just a very cozy people,” thought Kobler. The express train finally arrived.
Until Steinach am Brenner—that is, almost right up to the new Italian border, that is, for scarcely fifteen minutes—Kobler shared a compartment with a Hofrat, a privy councilor from the Old Austrian empire, and a so-called man on the street, who really sucked up to him because he was seeking his patronage. This man was an unprincipled foreman who had joined the
, an Austrian variant of the Italian fascist organization, so that he could cheat his colleagues more efficiently. His managing engineer was, you see, a
The Hofrat wore an old-fashioned golden pince-nez and had a deceitful look about him. He had a very smart appearance—and, indeed, he seemed to be an altogether very vain man because he chattered incessantly just so he could hear the other man’s approval.
The express train had turned away from Innsbruck and was already heading through the Bergisel Tunnel.
“It’s dark now,” said the Hofrat.
“Very dark,” said the man.
“It’s gotten so dark because we’re driving through the tunnel,” said the Hofrat.
“Maybe it’ll get even darker,” said the man.
“Gadzooks, it sure is dark!” yelled the Hofrat.
“Gadzooks!” yelled the man.
The Austrians are a very cozy people.
“Hopefully the Lord will let me live to see the day when all the pinkos are hanged,” said the Hofrat.
“Just put your faith in the man upstairs,” said the man.
“Bergisel is right over us now,” said the Hofrat.
“Andreas Hofer,” said the man, and then added, “The Jews are getting too uppity.”
The Hofrat’s dentures were chattering.
“They’ve simply got to toss that Halsmann into a cell—nothing but bread and water for him!” he squawked. “Who gives a crap whether or not that Jew bastard slayed his Jew-daddy! The prestige of the Austrian judiciary is at stake here—you can’t just let the Jews get away with everything!”
“Just recently we roughed up a Jew,” said the man.
“Ahh, is that right?” asked the Hofrat gleefully.
“The Jew was by himself,” said the man, “and there were ten of us. Fists were flying—
The Hofrat sniggered.
!” he said.
shouted the man.
“And Sieg!” said the Hofrat.
“And death!” shouted the man.
Kobler stepped out into the corridor just as the express train was leaving the Bergisel Tunnel. He could not bear to stay in there any longer; the nonstop blathering prevented him from thinking.
And he needed to do some thinking—this being a need of sorts, such as if he urgently needed to relieve himself. You see, the Egyptian woman, the true aim of his trip, had suddenly popped into his head. He was shocked that it had been several hours now since he had thought about the pyramids.
He was once again distracted now that he was standing at the window, only this time by God’s magisterial mountain world, which is what Kitsch calls the Earth’s crust that broke asunder long ago.
“What is man next to a mountain?” it suddenly occurred to him. And this thought really took hold of him. “Next to a mountain man is one big nothing. You see, that’s why I
wouldn’t want to live in the mountains all the time. I’d rather live in the lowlands, at most maybe among some hills.”
EVER SINCE THE TREATY OF SAINT-GERMAIN-EN-LAYE, the Austrian-Italian border had run along the top of the Brenner Pass between North and South Tyrol. The Italians, you see, helped deliver their brethren in Trento from the Habsburgs’ yoke. And any decent fellow can only openly salute a thing like that.
After all, the Italians had not entered the World War with the goal of subjugating foreign nations. They were no more bent on annexing territories than Count Berchtold, the ex-Emperor Wilhelm II, or Ludendorff were. But, alas, the Italians were simply forced to annex the entire German South Tyrol for military-strategic reasons, just like, say, Ludendorff would have been forced to annex Poland, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Belgium, etc., for purely strategic reasons. “The Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a downright crime,” a university professor from Innsbruck once said. And had he not been a chauvinist, he really would have been quite right.
As is generally known, Mussolini now wants to Italianize German South Tyrol to its core, just as ruthlessly as Prussia had once wanted to Germanize the Polish city of Poznan.
And so Mussolini, among other things, ordered that wherever possible all German names—place names,
surnames, etc.—be rendered into Italian such that they could only be pronounced in Italian. And rendered according to their literal sense, at that. Should, however, a name lack a literally translatable sense, Mussolini would merely stick an “o” on the end of it. Such, for instance, as in “Merano.”
Brennero as well.
As Kobler caught sight of the Brennero, it immediately struck him that there was a great deal of construction going on up there, and of nothing but barracks.
The fascist officials were already expecting the express train at the Brennero train station. There were approximately thirty men standing around, and nearly every one of them had on a different type of uniform.