October 11, 1967
From Uwe Johnson's Anniversaries
October 11, 1967
How it rained last night! The windowpanes were crackling all afternoon yesterday, and at the end of the workday water was pouring down thick and heavy onto Third Avenue, onto the newspapers and handbags the pedestrians were holding over their heads. Our way to the subway entrance on 42nd Street was blocked by a big black lake in the gutter and an interminable red light, thanks to the rain and the police, respectively. Around ten o’clock, the park suddenly fell silent—not another drop to be heard. But between the scarred trunks of the plane trees the streetlamp light was caught in blurry haloes: the air was not clear.
This morning, The New York Times brings us the photo of the dead rebel Ernesto Che Guevara. His eyes are open, making him look awake. But his features are sickly and his head is supported by a hand, which shows: Now we can do this to him. He can no longer defend himself.
The secretary of defense has stated that the bombing of North Vietnam has not affected that country’s ability to wage war.
“So why don’t we stop all the bombings up North and just continue to lose American lives in the South?” asked a senator (D-Missouri).
The letters Cresspahl received from Jerichow, that November 1932, were from the people in Peter Wulff’s back room: sarcastic comments about their beer and his marital bliss; stories that emerged sentence by sentence from the passing mention of people’s first names; and newspapers clippings. The letter writers wrote not about themselves but about the Communists from Gneez and Gadebusch paying nightly visits and having meetings to try to get back into their good graces. And yet these Social Democrats, now out of office, could not forget last August when the Communists had voted with the Nazis against the Prussian government. Back then, they’d talked about the “fat-cat economy” of the Socialists in power, and now here they were proposing a coalition against the Nazis. Not the Social
Democrats’ idea of dignity, you know.
They’re going down hard, Cresspahl. We should get involved with that?
What brought about this political struggle in Jerichow were cigarettes made by a company in Dresden: Drummers. The manufacturer had made a deal with the Nazis to include a picture of a National Socialist politician in every pack. Böhnhase, the tobacconist on Town Street across from Papenbrock’s warehouse, had put nice big piles of them next to the lighters. So the Communists asked the Social Democrats to support their own brand, from Berlin, but in vain. Someone came up with the idea of asking Böhnhase in person. Böhnhase refused to carry Collectives, he didn’t
understand the name, but he did put in a trial order for another Communist brand, Reds, and since Böhnhase was DNVP, the German National People’s Party, he wasn’t about to let the Social Democrats tell him what to do. The Reds became popular with farmers and farmworkers—the name sounded like something to do with potatoes and beets.
Nor was it the Social Democrats who had freed the monument for the First World War dead from the pretentious memorial wreath Hitler’s SA had placed on it. There was talk about that in the Lübeck Court. – I am not aware of these snot-nosed SA brats having shed any of their blood in the war!: an estate holder named Kleineschulte is said to have shouted, arguably drunk and in any case late at night but still to great applause. This in the presence of a young von Plessen. Kleineschulte went on to stick the remains of the wreath on his dung heap. Horst Papenbrock couldn’t understand it, this Kleineschulte, owner of some two hundred acres on the Baltic, had earlier contributed money to the Nazi Party. He had recently started squinting one eye at young Papenbrock whenever he rode past in his carriage, which made him look even drowsier and more spiteful than usual, and that was when he was sober.
On the road to Rande, a young shoemaker, a registered member of the Hitler Youth, was beaten so badly it took him three hours to crawl back to the hospital in Jerichow. The country gendarme was on vacation; the city police were busy. The aristocracy didn’t object. – You bed em you wed em, Kleineschulte apparently said, and this time not in a back room of the Lübeck Court but at a city council meeting, on the record. The young man, still lying in the hospital with a broken arm, didn’t feel comfortable with the hue and cry about his martyrdom from the local Jerichow branch of the NSDAP, and one night, after seeing his picture in the Gneez paper for the second time, he tied two sheets together, climbed down to the street, and skipped town. If you believed Frieda Klütz, he was now in Hamburg,
because a telegram had been sent to his parents from there, admittedly unsigned. Frieda Klütz was prepared to say what was in the telegram too, to anyone who would listen, but Peter Wulff knew already and left the old maid hanging, ready to burst with her untold secret. Erich Schulz was the young man’s name, one of the Schulzes from Outer Jerichow, the little hamlet east of the Rande country road.
– We have them here too: Cresspahl wrote. – Here they call themselves Fascists. Their headquarters is in Chelsea, with guards at the door and troop transport trucks in the yard. Playing Freikorps. But I don’t think they’re allowed to kill anyone yet. Do you know someone named Elisabeth Lieplow, from Kröpelin? Drop me a line, stay in touch.
The New York Times has asked around in Manhattan’s East Village on our behalf. What do the people who live there have to say about hippies?
– The love thing is dead. The flower thing is dead. (A tall young man with wire-rimmed glasses.)
– The hippies really bug us, because we know they can come down here and play their games for a while and then split. And we can’t, man. (A young Negro.)
– They’re saying drop out of society. That’s not where it’s at for our young men—they want in! (A young Negro former gang leader, who now works with local youths.)
– Groovy Hutchinson would have been dead in four years anyway. He was on meth, and you know what they say, “speed kills.” But he didn’t care. He was beautiful. (A girl called Ghost.)
From Anniversaries. Courtesy of New York Review Books. Copyright by Uwe Johnson. English translation copyright 2018 by Damion Searls.