Canicule was recently published by Equus Press.
They’ll kill us all. You know what kind of pigs we’re up against. This’s the Auschwitz generation. You can’t argue with people who made Auschwitz.
– Gudrun Ensslin
Death fascinated Wolf, even as a child. Radicals from the 70s, like the Red Army Faction, obsessed him. He kept a scrap book with old newspaper clippings and all sorts of things. Mogadishu. The Baader-Meinhof suicide prison photos. And he owned a copy of Meinhof’s Urban Guerrilla Concept, red star and Heckler-and-Koch on the front cover, scrounged from a junkshop…
Wolf was always plotting some sort of make-believe insurgency. He had an entire programme worked out, patched together from scraps of Mao and Ho Chi Minh, which he’d spout from his proverbial soapbox while we lounged about on Ascher’s beachchairs egging him on, a central committee of three. Like good little revolutionaries we inflated ourselves with a righteous sense of urgency and singularity of vision. Instead of parables and proverbs we fired ourselves up with slogans, proscriptions, all sorts of dialectical nonsense.
We parroted: No region of the world can today achieve the transition to stability and democracy through peaceful means. The crisis is lurching towards its climax. To be cut off in parochialism or to postpone the struggle means being caught up in a vicious circle of ever-worsening decline… What crisis? Which struggle? It didn’t matter. Any crisis would do. The struggle was all. Struggle for the sake of struggle!
During our periodical raids on the boatsheds near the marina, Wolf found a rusty bayonet from a Mauser-98 carbine, some cardboard shooting targets and a brown leather shoulder-holster discoloured by sweat and hardened by the salt air. There were boxes of shell casings and an old starter’s gun. We stashed everything behind Ascher’s house, under a trapdoor hidden by tall grass. The cell’s secret cache. There were jars of potassium and ammonium nitrate, and coils of magnesium Wolf planned to use for a bomb, to blow up the US naval base at Kiel.
Wolf’s brilliant idea was to stage a bank robbery to raise cash, the way they did in films. Bonny and Clyde. We all pitched in. It was an elaborate business. As a political concept, bank robbery, like hostage-taking and hijacking, needed a certain amount of finesse. We pitted criminality against necessity and argued capitalist greed (it was the eighties). As usual, Wolf arbitrated by quoting the beloved Meinhof: Legality, he sang out, is about power. The position of legality in relation to illegality is determined by the contradiction between reformist and fascist tendencies in government…
A manifesto appeared on Ascher’s toolshed wall:
Legality, it said, is the ideology of parliamentarianism, the social partnership, the plural society. Many of those attempting to challenge the system ignore the fact that telephones are being legally bugged. That the post’s being scrutinised. That neighbours are being legally questioned. That informers are being paid. And that all this State activity’s legal. The organisation of political work and activism – if you want to keep away from the eyes of State scrutiny – has to take place on an illegal level, as well as the legal one…
Our cell was supposed to have a name and insignia, which Ascher designed, and uniforms. He drew page after page of these sinister Harlequins, like mad Picassos with submachine guns. We’d just seen Fassbinder’s Third Generation the week before and Ascher decided we should wage class war dressed like Hana Schygulla, with clown wigs and face paint. No-one, he said, would ever suspect us. Besides, clowns did crazy stuff all the time. People’d think it was some kind of gag. Wolf contributed a defiant-sounding slogan borrowed from one of his pamphlets: amnesty equals pacification. Whatever the hell that was supposed to mean.
The idea was hot for about a month before it ran out of steam and got put on ice. On TV one night there was a newsflash about a Vietnam vet strafing a prefab burger joint with an M16, in Poughkeepsie, NJ. The presenters didn’t say anything about politics or multinational corporate conspiracy. They just said the vet was deranged.
The highpoint of our terrorist careers came when we pulled off one of those idiotic stunts only kids are dumb enough to dream up. It centred on an old-timer who lived alone in a cottage on a plot of land abutting the north end of the beach. His name was Joost and he stammered. Even in summer he wore a cloth cap, long-sleeved shirts with the cuffs buttoned and collar turned up. And trousers, with canvas tennis shoes that’d once been white but had long since turned a pale green. On account of his spending half of every day keeping his lawn down with a clanking push mower. Auntie Freude said he’d been a stevedore during the War. Said he’d been unfit for military service. Autistic, she said.
We’d regularly see Old Joost carting buckets of cut flowers to Frau Wenzel. Chrysanthemums, carnations, tulips. Frau Wenzel displayed them in her concession, on a counter beside jars of candy, eucalyptus, liquorice and chocolate drops. The flowers never smelt of anything, except fertiliser. They grew in three squat glasshouses at the back of Joost’s cottage. There were fruit and nut trees along one side which somehow defied the salt air and thin soil. And rose bushes, too, weirdly out of place. A field of yellow-flowered rape adjoined the eastern side of his plot and stretched across to a channel with embankments that ran in a straight line to the sea.
Wolf proposed we sneak into Old Joost’s cottage and see what was inside. Willing to believe just about anything for a lark, it didn’t take much to convince us the old man was hiding a sinister past. We settled on the theory that Joost had been assistant gimp to some concentration camp psychopath like Mengele. Playing the Marty Feldman character to Gene Wilder’s Frankenstein. The fiendish Doktor had conducted experiments in Auschwitz, using Jews and Siamese twins to manufacture a zombie doomsday race. Abby Normals. Test-tube Untermenschen. Slaves to the Doktor’s mind-control machine, programmed to rise up from the crematoria like golems and destroy the enemies of the Reich. But when the Yanks captured Auschwitz, the quack Doktor slipped the cordon with pockets full of gold teeth, headed to South America. Fausto, he called himself on his passport. He was still alive and kicking four years before our little plot was hatched. 1979. They never caught him, though. Drowned in the Atlantic. It didn’t hit the news till ’85, when they dug up his grave and figured who he really was.
But it was no secret to anyone that most of the Nazis had stayed put, simply swapped their armbands for veterans’ benefits. Twenty-five years after the War, the GDR was still being run by a gang of war criminals, evil masterminds straight out of a Marvel comic strip. Federal Judges, Leaders of State Assemblies, Ministers and Secretaries of State, Heads of the Confederation of Industry, Federal Chancellors. No fewer than three of the six Presidents of the Federal Republic, all ex-NDSAP and SS. Proof, if proof was required, of conspiracy on a vast scale. Everywhere you looked, there they were. GSG9, CIA, Stasi, KGB, Mossad even. It was enough to make you puke.
“They don’t waste talent like that,” Frau Wenzel tutted, pointing out something in the newspaper about a chief engineer at I.G. Farben.
It wasn’t the sort of thing they taught in school. Everything we knew about the Nazis came from movies. Salon Kitty, Die Verdammten, The Serpent’s Egg, The Night Porter. Mid-winter, when Laboe was a ghosttown, Rolf would sit all night in the projection booth rolling joints, digging through suitcases of whatever reels were doing the rounds and run through them till he found something that took his fancy. Dubbed kitchen sink, psychedelic, hard-boil. Anything at all. These would turn into private screening for whichever out-of-town chick he was balling at the time. He’d leave us to keep an eye on the reels and retire backstage with crosseyed Helga or Mausi or Christina with the big arse. Rolf didn’t give a toss about politics.
It was Wolf, with his reckless enthusiasm, who brought awareness of the collective guilt which underlay the frustration, shame and anger of our parents’ generation. He spouted agitprop non-stop. Rearmament. Reparation. Redemption. The Conspiracy of Silence and all that. Something about the fervour of it shot us full of pure adrenaline. The maniac kill-all-the-fuckers look on his face whenever he denounced The System.
The System: a cosmic neo-Nazi plot to enslave humanity, transmitting its malevolent designs through TV and mass psychology fascist consumerism. Cue Bela Lugosi with swastika and doomsday box. We swore death to fascists and bawled slogans. A clear dividing line, we decided, must be drawn between ourselves and the enemy! The nuclear family. Christian Democrats. Pigs in suits. Wolf laid out the plan. We’d unmask the conspiracy from the ground up. Out the collaborators. Expose the filth among us.
Joost the gardener was a simp. The ideal kind of mindwash proxy to stooge for The System. Wolf made the call. We’d ransack the old man’s cottage for evidence, then mete out justice. At dusk, the three of us in our regimental clown suits, snuck through the pine grove at the back of Joost’s cottage. Wolf with bayonet stuffed into his shorts, Ascher with his starter’s gun. In the warm evening air, the smell of pine needles mingled with the faint distant scent of the estuary and the smell of canola and cut grass. We waited till dark, then crept up between the fruit trees. Three grim little clowns stalking the shadows.
The sound of crickets died off as we advanced, signalling our approach. In the cottage, nothing stirred. Headlights swept across the fields illuminating the glasshouses. We skirted the back of the cottage and took up positions on the side furthest from the road. The bathroom window had been left half-open. Ascher boosted Wolf up so that he could climb in. It was a heavy wood-framed sash window, the sort that slide up. As soon as Wolf began squeezing through, he dislodged a piece of curtain rod that was keeping it propped open. With a thunk the window clamped down on the his shorts, backside sticking out and legs, bug-like, writhing in the air.
The more we pushed, the worse it got. Wolf’s shorts snagged on the window latch while the rest of him slid headfirst into Joost-the-gardener’s toilet. There was a loud clatter and the sound of flushing water. We looked up to see Wolf’s feet gone but his torn shorts still dangling from the sill. A moment later the back door of the cottage opened and there stood a snarling, sodden, bare-arsed clown wielding an antique bayonet. It couldn’t’ve been a more auspicious beginning.
The cottage was pitch dark inside with a stink of kerosene. We stumbled around till our eyes adjusted. Wolf led the way through the interior gloom, stalking on tiptoes. There was nothing to hear except an old wall clock ticking and our breathing. Precisely ordered junk littered every available space. We crept around with no set purpose, running into things and each other at regular intervals. Wolf riffled through the junk, looking for proof of the great conspiracy. Then we froze. We’d wandered into a room with no windows. Something damp brushed against my hand, or else my hand brushed against it. Ascher felt it too.
Then it moved, groaned. Wolf shouted RUN! and Ascher’s gun went off with a deafening clap. We careened pell-mell through the labyrinth trying to find a way out, pursued by a crazed cannibal. The back door flew open and three little clowns tumbled down the steps, face first in a patch of freshly turned manure, a tangle of arms and legs, tripping over each other getting up. A light went on inside and we fled, holding onto our clown wigs, Wolf’s bare white arse leading the way. Behind us, the sound of breaking glass rang out through the night. The starter’s gun had landed on one of the glasshouse roofs, flung from Ascher’s hand in panic as we sprinted towards the cover of the pine trees, high on each other’s fear.
published: 22. 9. 2013