Wasserturm (Water tower)

Friday, October 02, 2015
M. S. O'Shaughnessy

extract, Lakeland 

(click to read on)

This water tower in Berlin was the first recorded concentration camp in Germany, (1933)


Police Statement: response to Vorladung no: 378651.4

Polizeipräsidium Alexanderplatz, Berlin 15.11.1934

ON THAT SATURDAY in September,

we were happy to leave the city

but just as glad to get back.

In this story it’s possible

to make a beginning and an end;

it should be understood, though,

the lines

are arbitrary.

What do you want to know?

There are always reasons

why things happen

Willy Ziffen, our choirmaster,

likes to repeat

and is what he said

to us as usual

in the Romanische Café

the next day. Perhaps, it was his idea

of  a joke.

Who can tell.

Marilee laughed

and her brother Hans, and my sister-in-law


which is a rare enough occasion.

At any rate, we left the Schlachtensee

with the lake and woods

whispering violently

in our hearts,

a whispering, shall we say,

that seemed forged

from syllables of truth

and syllables of promise.

And on the train

Willy asked

whether it bothered us

what happened

with Buchrucker and von Schleicher

talking about revolution

in soft hushed words

with the landscape running

across the window

as we headed into Berlin,

talking about revolution as if a song

had gurgled

like a stream from the bullet

in Schleicher’s neck.

Yes, Rip off their tongues and

let them all bleed,

Erich said. And I recalled

how earlier that morning at the lake

we’d been singing from the old

Zupfgeigenhansl book,

One quiet night before the light,

and, All those knives in the night,

Erich had said, already drunk,

though he played his mandolin

with real feeling,

and Otto had his fiddle and Ulf

his guitar.

And the railroad car filled

with passengers from

Onkel and Thielplatz:

we couldn’t breathe

through all the cigarette smoke

and smells of

sweat and lavender and

So what do you

think, my friends? said Willy.

The future is belief.

For we’re in the ashes –

von Scheilcher,

who was trying to re-build

our defences, dead,

and his wife too –

such loss,

such ruin, Willy said, 

from the corner of his seat;

I could barely see, but hung from him

on a rope of sound

until we arrived

at Prenzlauer Allee

and went out on to the street

which streamed with people

making their way home

from some Kraft durch Freude activity

of one kind

or another.

They looked sturdy

and energetic,

though occasionally you might see

a straggler, standing

in a doorway

like a straw ghost

aimlessly contemplating

the neighbourhood.

And after a draught of metropolitan life

in a couple of the bars,

where pleasure is worked

with sociability and delight,

worked by the girls too, done up

into little temptresses, a diversion

like dancing and cocaine that’s to be found

everywhere these days,

we rolled

back out onto the pavement

where Ulf was sick,

which was unusual for him, in fact,

unusual in the sense

that as a professor of economics

at the Universität Unter den Linden,

he rarely miscalculates

on any front.

And with the rattling

of the trams

echoing in our ears,

we slid round into


where the strolling figures

shimmered under the lamplight,

and the damp air

produced by the light rain

fuzzed the avenue, making us

turn up our collars,

everything smelling

of stone

and felt.

And Willy, a government official

of higher standing

than me,

(I’m an accountant,

still making my way)

and someone better acquainted with

injustices and traitors

looked down the street,

which ran

narrow and flat

through the buildings

like the gap in a curtain,

and asked what we thought

of the thin young man

sticking a poster up

on the wall in front of us;

then went over

and shook the man by the scruff of the neck.

Repulsive communists, he said,

as he joined us again,

and we crossed into the park.

You could see the water tower

jutting out

above the trees,

very high, round,

and through some half bare branches

the dimly-lit windows

glowing pale

and ghostly;

and Willy, smoking a cigarette,

was quiet suddenly,

pushing us past

the Schutzstaffel

guarding that tower camp

and along the path until we came out

onto Diedenhofer Strasse,

the expression,

tormented and washed-out,

of a drowned man

on his face.

How can we explain the despair?

The constant flow of it.

The despair that hungrily slurps

from your bowl,

that eats at your insides

and converts everything there to wind.

You could say, that evening in Prenzlauer Berg,

the old traces of despair rose

like vinegar from our stomachs,

like a faint aftertaste,

thin, but pointed in our mouths –

the lingering flavour of indignity

and injustice.

And when Erich talked

in a wheel of spiked frivolity

on what holds true and necessary,

the violations and procedures

of the immense enterprise,

and said weren’t we pleased

with Germany’s new style?

Willy was trying

to perk himself up

by nodding, mouth pulled

into a smile, but his eyes remained small,

watery blue: a sense of being

at the beginning of becoming human

made us think

we had to come through this heaviness,

this fogged up world, and this

suggestion that to understand anything

you had to proceed through life

as desperation demanded.

Weren’t the sculptures of Arno Breker

infinitely more accomplished

than Barlach? Erich was saying.

And books uplifting,

purged of the dramatic effects

of treachery?

And after agreeing

we went on towards

Otto’s apartment building

with rooks, starlings,

fluttering in nooks and alcoves:

the night around us

murmured with suppressed spirits,

alive and coming at you

like an invisible crowd:

we felt them walking with us,

Ulf and Erich discussing what is history,

Willy smoking,

Otto humming quietly to himself.

And I was thinking of Rosa –

I am in love, but not

with my wife,

of course – the fine young piece on the corner

had reminded me of a white bed,

bony ankles, a little balcony


to the light.

A woman whose nails

are painted like raspberries,

who reads books

on Brazil and America,

and has pubic hair that spreads in tender curls.

And when she is asleep I am allowed

to stroke her feet.

More than anything I love

watching her put her housecoat back on;

and later, when I am home,

I wonder at how what looks so lovely

so ageless, like a gift

on her

can look so dowdy

on someone else.

And the clouds

over the rooflines

and the street

cast deeper shadows,

and the wind wrapped around our coats

and hair, and Erich

started to prod me

with his mandolin case and point,

and so we stopped

and read the newest bill

with regards to the reprisals

on Jewish businesses and betrayals.

We read, Insolent Jews have been arrested!

National Socialist Germany

demonstrates against World Jewry and its allies!

What goes around, comes around, we said.

And Otto wished us goodnight,

and we made our way slowly

along the pavement

to the corner.

And Ulf was perfectly

relieved again.

He wooed us with a gentle song.

And, Should we perform in the Winter Festival? asked Willy,

which Erich had raised,

picking at the strings of his instrument

with his enormous hands

on the lake

that morning.

And our heads turned on matters

of music,

and dreams

swimming up

like trout from the deep,

where stealth is tipped and tumbled

in slips

of lucent bronze: radiant glimpses


amid the fathomless dark.

Art, said Erich.


Though I’m not much for

that talk.

Everything is largely calculation, I find.

And then we saw Willy,

approach the man

putting up a poster on the wall.

And we realised

it was the same man

we’d seen earlier.

He was pasting

indecent placards,

interfering with

the peace and quiet,

observing his work

with his head tilted at an angle.

So our little bit of suspect action, you see,

sprang from one; the shameful,

two; the incomprehensible,

and the groan

of a city disemboweled

over and again for years.

We watched Willy,

silhouetted against the gloom,

stick his revolver into the man’s neck

and shoot him. Because

too often we’re scrapped, Herr Officer,

not used or included,

carried by the wash

of this sweeping tide,

floating and being buffeted,

forbidden and no longer forbidding,

bystanders in your organisation,

Herr Officer,

your organisation that has admirable enough aims

and which we’ve longed to be part of

each day then

and each day

still long to be part of,

like fishermen without their oars

carried into the mudflats and shallows,

drifting towards the shingle,

feeling weather

come in from the west

but not yet able to see it,

like calves at the mercy of an early frost,

like puppets in the dark

behind the curtains,

Herr Officer,

carried by the ignominy

of external forces,

carried by the winds

of reproaches and inexpressible melancholias,

pulled-apart pilgrims

on relentless waves

of crap,

of lies,

the spectres of your republic.

For a moment Willy

looked down

with unchanged expression.

And then someone shouted, SS!

and they came forward

and saw our victory for order and for the dead

still among us.

And we began singing, Gute Nacht Mutter.

And our hands were raised.


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