New Year’s Eve 1999, Berlin. At a party to kick off the twenty-first century, Frank Reichert meets Julia, his lost love. Since their separation in the fall of 1989, he’s drifted through life like an exile, remaining apathetic toward the copy-shop business he started even as it flourishes apace. Nothing has the power to move him now: his whole life lies under the shadow of Julia, of the idea that things could have worked out differently. But as night draws on to day, the promised end becomes an unexpected new beginning.
Ingo Schulze introduces us to characters as they stray outside the confines of East Germany into other, newer lives—into Egypt, where the betrayal of a lover turns an innocent vacation into a nightmare; into Vienna, where life starts to mimic art; into Estonia, where we meet a retired circus bear in an absurd (and absurdly hilarious) dilemma—or as they simply stay put, struggling to maintain their sense of themselves as the world around them changes.
Mixed in with these tragicomic tales are some of the most beautiful love stories ever to feature cell phones. And throughout, Schulze’s masterfully controlled style conceals an understated, but finally breathtaking, intricacy.
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One More Story
By Ingo Schulze
KnopfCopyright © 2010 Ingo Schulze
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEstonia, Out in the Country
During that week of September 2000 that Tanya and I spent in Tallinn and Tartu, I was called upon several times to write something about Estonia. In every case I explained that while I was honored by such requests, writing a short story is not a matter of choosing a country and a topic and simply taking off from there. I knew nothing about Estonia, and our experiences of regime change were scarcely comparable. But I was talking to a brick wall. After all, I had written thirty-three stories about St. Petersburg, so surely I could come up with one about Estonia.
For a story set in a foreign country, I said, one needs to sense a certain affinity, a kinship of soul with how things developed there. But the more emphatic my arguments, the more I rubbed my hosts the wrong way. They were too polite to tell me straight-out that they regarded such arguments as mere evasion.
I was a guest of the Writers Union and had been invited to Käsmu, where the union has a guesthouse on the Baltic. Käsmu, as my hosts never wearied of assuring me, was a very special place. It was not only a spot for total relaxation, but it also inspired one to work as never before. What we needed was a trip to Käsmu.
I hope this introduction has not left the impression that we were treated inhospitably. On the contrary, ours was a royal reception. Never before had one of my readings been moderated by the chairman of a writers' union. He greeted us like old friends and invited us to a café where we could make plans for the reading. On our way there, every few steps someone would block our path to shake the chairman's hand, a steady stream of people rapped on the café window or stepped inside, until we could hardly exchange two connected sentences. When I inquired about the profession of a tall, handsome man who gave me a most cordial handshake and apologized for having to miss the reading that evening, the chairman said: That was the minister of culture. The minister's wife-beautiful, young, clever, amiable-interviewed me for television. It was just that they had all studied in Tartu, she said, and were now all working in Tallinn. They couldn't help knowing one another, right?
Tanya and I took our lunch and dinner in restaurants that were both upscale and empty, and despite a good number of beers we seldom paid more than twenty marks.
When we and a small group went looking for a restaurant after the reading, it was Tanya and I who could offer suggestions. My translator, on the other hand-who told us how she and the people of Tallinn, of the entire Baltic, had for so many years gathered to sing anthems in hope of independence-couldn't recall the last time she'd been in a restaurant. She couldn't imagine buying a book as expensive as mine-which converted at just short of seventeen marks.
Before I tell about our days in Käsmu I want to mention another episode that has nothing to do with my story, really. Between a reading for students in the German Department of Tartu University and the public reading that same evening of the translated version of my book, some students invited Tanya and me for a walk through town. Toward the end of our little tour we passed a kiosk that offered the same beverages we have at home. There were two wooden benches out in front, and we invited the students to join us for a drink. Tanya said she was amazed at how everyone here roundly cursed the Russians but almost revered the Germans. Was that simply a matter of hospitality?
That had nothing to do with hospitality, it was simply how they felt, after all they were German majors. I was about to ask a question myself, when the youngest and loveliest of the female students, who until this point had only listened, exclaimed, "Why are you amazed? Germans have never harmed Estonians."
"Well maybe not Estonians-" Tanya said.
"I know what you're getting at," the student interrupted.
"But surely you know that we Estonians had our own SS, and you only have to consider how many Estonians, how many people from the Baltic in general, the Russians killed and deported even after the war. Only bad things have come from Russia, and mostly good things from the Germans-people can't help noticing that."
Tanya said that one cannot limit memory to a particular span of years or to a single nationality, and that after all it had been the Hitler-Stalin pact that had robbed them of their sovereignty.
"That's true, of course it's true," the student said. "But why are you amazed?"
"Why aren't you amazed!" Tanya blurted out. After that we returned to the university and exchanged addresses.
On the drive to Käsmu in our rental car, Tanya asked me if she had come off as self-righteous. No, I said, just the opposite, but unfortunately I hadn't been able to come up with anything better to say. Tanya said she couldn't help being reminded of certain turns of phrase in those Estonian fairy tales we had been reading aloud to each other of an evening. Certain idioms kept popping up, like "She adorned herself in beautiful raiment, as if she were the proudest German child," or "as happy as a pampered German child."
We were looking forward to Käsmu. We had read in our guidebook that Lahemaa, Land of Bays, lies about twenty-five miles to the east of Tallinn, is bounded by the Gulf of Finland and the Tallinn-Narva highway, encompasses an area of 250 square miles, and was declared a national park in 1971. The guidebook also noted several endangered species to be found there: brown bears, lynx, mink, sea eagles, cranes, Arctic loons, mute swans, and even black storks.
We reported in to Arne, a gangly man with medium long hair and a beret, who runs a kind of marine museum. He greeted Tanya and me with a handshake: a signal, he said, to his two dogs-setters-that we now belonged to the village. Before handing over the keys, he gave a brief lecture about the especially favorable magnetic field of Käsmu. On the way to the guesthouse, however, Arne fell silent, as if to allow us to take in the view of tidy frame houses without any distraction and appreciate the peaceful setting to the full. The two setters bounded ahead of us, came back, circled us, and nudged against our knees.
When I think back on that week now, six years later, the first thing that comes to mind-quite apart from the incredible events I am about to recount-is the way the light turned every color brighter and paler at the same time.
The house had once belonged to Captain Christian Steen, who had been deported to Siberia in 1947 and has since been listed as missing. The entryway opened on a large, centrally located dining room, where, with one exception, we took all our meals alone at the huge table. At opposite ends of this space were the two guest rooms, and a third door led to the kitchen, which adjoined a winter garden. The dining room's high windows looked directly out onto the sauna cabin and a mosscovered erratic deposited by the last ice age.
The finest quarters, the Epos Room, had been reserved for Tanya and me. The smaller Novel Room was unoccupied at first, while the two Novella Chambers under the roof were home to a married couple, both lyric poets. We, however, caught sight only of the wife, who, no sooner had she announced in English, "Käsmu is good for work and good for holiday," scurried off again as if not to waste one second of her precious Käsmu sojourn.
Käsmu has a narrow beach. You walk through the woods, and suddenly there is the sea. Or you stroll out on the pier in the little harbor to watch children fishing and let your fantasy run free as you gaze at derelict cutters scraping garlands of car tires strung along on the sides of the pier. The town is nothing spectacular, but lovely for that very reason. Somewhere there must be a depot for wooden pallets, because pallets lie about everywhere, and once they have been chopped into firewood by the villagers, are stacked along the sides of their houses. The one thing we had a knack for in Käsmu was sleeping.
Käsmu is worth a trip simply for its silence. As we sat in the winter garden in the evening-sipping tea, eating the wildberry marmalade we'd bought from an old local woman, listening to the sea and the birds-time seemed to stand still.
Käsmu's peace and quiet were only disrupted of a morning, by two or three buses that came lumbering down the village street to deposit school classes at Arne's museum. The children stood staring in amazement at whalebones, shark teeth, ships in bottles, fishhooks, and postcards of lighthouses around the world. They would picnic on the lawn in front of the building, run out on the pier, and then be driven away again.
Tanya and I had tried to engage Arne in conversation and intended to invite him to dinner, but Arne resisted all contact with us. Even when we paid a second visit to his museum, he simply greeted us with a brief nod and then shuffled away.
On the third day-it had been drizzling since early morning-we watched from the window of our Epos Room as schoolchildren got off their buses, jiggled at Arne's front door, circled the building, peered in from the veranda, until finally their teachers, equally perplexed and upset, rounded them up and herded them back onto the buses, where we could see them eating their picnic lunch. That evening when we returned from our excursion to the high marshy moorland, the note we had left for Arne asking him to heat the sauna was still wedged in his door. The sky was clear and promised a beautiful sunset.
The fourth day was cold and so gusty we could hear the sea even with the windows shut, and we stayed indoors. Tanya made tea and crawled back into bed with Gustav Herling's A World Apart. Resolved at last to make use of Käsmu's favorable aura and do some work, I turned on my laptop and was staring at the file icons on my screen-when savage barking called us to the window.
A green Barkas van was standing beside the museum. Arne's setters were going crazy. I don't know where they had suddenly come from, but their baying didn't sound exactly welcoming. Although the day before yesterday these same dogs had obeyed Arne's every word, he now had to grab each by the nape of its neck and drag it into the house. But once inside they still didn't calm down and kept leaping up at the windows to the veranda, yelping their hearts out.
Arne on the other hand looked somehow younger-his beret cocked back on his head.
"If you can keep a secret," he called over, "I have something to show you." With a wide swing of his arm, he directed us to take our place behind him, inserted the key in the rear door of the Barkas, and opened it a crack. He peered into the van and then with a clownish pantomime urged us to do the same. I assumed Arne's daily encounters with schoolchildren were to blame for his exaggerated performance.
It was dark inside the van, and I recoiled from the foul odor. Tanya took more time. Then she glanced at me and said in a voice that sounded as if I had just asked her the time, "A bear, there's a dead bear lying in there."
Arne had dragged over one of those wooden pallets. Tanya opened the door till it caught in place, and Arne and I propped up the pallet to make a ramp. Arne took up his post beside it, Tanya and I retreated behind the opened door.
The bear didn't stir.
We watched as Arne pulled a can from his jacket pocket and, after opening it with his fingernails, plunged a stick into it. He handed me the stick, nodded as if to thank me or as if we had agreed on some signal, clapped his hands three times, and cried, "Seryosha! Seryosha!" He clapped three more times, took back the stick, and held it out in front of him like a fishing pole.
I'm really not all that much of a wimp, but when, at no more than an arm's length, the bear's head emerged from the darkness, I had a sense of the aptness of the idiom "so scared I almost shit my pants." "Let's get out of here," Tanya whispered. Arne, however, armed with just a honey-smeared stick, showed no sign of the jitters. He waited in front of the pallet with his legs astraddle, bending farther and farther forward-and given his height, it looked like some sort of gymnastics. The bear stretched its head out even farther but still refused to crawl down the pallet. Arne held the stick so close to Seryosha's mouth that he could take a lick and bite off a piece. He crunched the stick as he dined, and growled. From childhood on we learn that bears growl. But when you actually hear that ursine rumble, without the protection of a moat or a fence, it leaves a lasting impression.
Strangely enough my confidence was boosted less by Arne's honey-stick gambit than by the bear's behavior. When you know how this story ends, that seems a facile observation, but from the start I had the impression that this bear had himself under control, that he knew what he was allowed and not allowed to do. He stuck out a paw and pushed the pallet away from the van, measured the distance between the edge of the van's bed and the pallet lying below it, shifted his weight from one paw to the other, reached down farther with his right paw, and leaped out so quickly that Arne would have been knocked over if he hadn't performed a reverse buckjump. At the same moment the Barkas bounced with a metallic squeak.
Arne made a few quick jabs at the can. The crunching sound resumed. And then it happened. At first I thought the bear was turning toward us. But then he kept going, spun around once in place, and then a second time, because Arne was applauding him. He turned and turned, swinging the rope around his neck with him. When we joined the applause, he suddenly stopped, lurched forward and backward as if dizzy, and ended with a somersault that was a little off kilter but still counted as a somersault. For his finale, the bear plopped down on his rear end and raised his paws, begging.
Whether Arne's stick was now too short or whether he was following instructions, at any rate he pulled out a handkerchief, dipped it in the can of honey, and tossed it to Seryosha, who simultaneously tore it to shreds and stuffed it in his mouth. Smacking his lips and grunting, he lowered himself onto all fours and set off on a stroll across the lawn. Arne had removed a basket of fruit from the passenger seat. He now tossed Seryosha a couple of apples and strewed the rest over the bed of the van. Seryosha actually turned around and jumped up into the Barkas, which settled onto its rear axle with a squeak.
It wasn't until weeks later, after we had told the story of Seryosha many times, that it struck me just how curious this little interlude outside Arne's house actually was. Why, after all, had Arne enticed the bear out of the van? Had he wanted to play wild-animal trainer for us? Had his vanity gotten the better of him? Was that the reason he had risked discovery?
Arne invited us to accompany him. And so, for the first time since our hitchhiking days, Tanya and I found ourselves squeezing into a Barkas-but unlike back then, Tanya climbed in first.
What I ask myself now is: Why didn't I jot down a single note while we were in Käsmu? Driving through the woods were an Estonian and a German writer, along with his one and only love, plus a bear in the back of their van-and it never once dawned on me that all I had to do to provide my hosts with the story they wanted was to write down what I was experiencing at that moment.
It would of course be an improvement if I could reproduce Arne's speech in the original. His German was tinged with the now-defunct East Prussian dialect, but I'm simply unable to replicate its odd syntax and broad vowels. Chugging out of the village in second gear, we at first said nothing. Arne was apparently enjoying keeping us in suspense and pretended that his slalom course to avoid potholes demanded his full attention.
"What kind of bear is it?" Tanya finally asked. In her attempt to look Arne in the eye, she bent so far forward that her forehead almost touched the windshield. "What are you doing with a bear?"
Arne smiled-a pothole sent us lurching forward. Arne cursed.
"Did you hear that?" Tanya exclaimed. "He growled, he's growling."
A couple of slalom maneuvers later, Arne began to speak, but what he had to say apparently had nothing to do with Tanya's question. He explained that the Writers Union was poor because its writers were poor. Except for one member, not a single writer in Estonia was able to live from his books, although of course the union also received a government subsidy. And for the quartermaster-that was in fact the term he used-for the quartermaster of a writers' retreat there was really not much left over, and he couldn't depend on the standard practice of tipping in their case either. Once in a while he let a few villagers use the sauna, but they paid, if at all, in produce. As far as his museum work went, all he got out of it was what he squeezed out of it himself. Even ten buses a day wouldn't do the job. "So, chto delat?" he asked in Russian. What was Arne to do?
But why was he taking a trained bear for a joyride through the woods?
Arne was looking for a turnoff. We drove at a snail's pace along the rutted path. Arne talked about the revolution, as he called it. They had achieved everything they had wanted: independence, democracy, a market economy, and soon the European Union. Except that by now all the islands and coastal properties had been sold to Finns and Swedes, some to Russians and Germans too, plus the finest houses in Tallinn. There was truly nothing left that hadn't been privatized and incorporated into the market economy. So what now?
Whenever we drove over a root or through a deep puddle, we could hear Seryosha's growls.
The only difference from the old days, Arne said, was that from time to time some Westerner might get lost and end up in Käsmu. And that there was nobody to tell him how to run his museum anymore.
Arne turned on his headlights because the fir trees had closed in over the path, so that it was like driving through a tunnel. After an eternity of two or three kilometers, a heathercovered clearing opened up before us. Arne stopped, turned off his lights, pulled the key out of the ignition, and leaned back with arms folded.
Excerpted from One More Story by Ingo Schulze Copyright © 2010 by Ingo Schulze. Excerpted by permission.
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