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Part 1 Chapter 11

N OT THAT Hanna and I weren’t happy again after the first day of Easter vacation. We were never happier than in those weeks of April. As sham as our first fight and indeed all our fights were, everything that enlarged our ritual of reading, showering, making love, and lying beside each other did us good. Besides which, she had trumped herself with her accusation that I hadn’t wanted to know her. When I wanted to be seen with her, she couldn’t raise any fundamental objections. “So it was you who didn’t want to be seen with me”—she didn’t want to have to listen to that. So the week after Easter we set off by bike on a four-day trip to Wimpfen, Amorbach, and Miltenberg.

I don’t remember what I told my parents. That I was doing the trip with my friend Matthias? With a group? That I was going to visit a former classmate? My mother was probably worried, as usual, and my father probably found, as usual, that she should stop worrying. Hadn’t I just passed the class, when nobody thought I could do it?

While I was sick, I hadn’t spent any of my pocket money. But that wouldn’t be enough if I wanted to pay for Hanna as well. So I offered to sell my stamp collection to the stamp dealer next to the Church of the Holy Spirit. It was the only shop that said on the door that it purchased collections. The salesman looked through my album and offered me sixty marks. I made him look at my showpiece, a straight-edged Egyptian stamp with a pyramid that was listed in the catalog for four hundred marks. He shrugged. If I cared that much about my collection, maybe I should hang on to it. Was I even allowed to be selling it? What did my parents say about it? I tried to bargain. If the stamp with the pyramid wasn’t that valuable, I would just keep it. Then he could only give me thirty marks. So the stamp with the pyramid was valuable after all? In the end I got seventy marks. I felt cheated, but I didn’t care.

I was not the only one with itchy feet. To my amazement, Hanna started getting restless days before we left. She went this way and that over what to take, and packed and repacked the saddlebag and rucksack I had got hold of for her. When I wanted to show her the route I had worked out on the map, she didn’t want to look, or even hear about it. “I’m too excited already. You’ll have worked it out right anyway, kid.”

We set off on Easter Monday. The sun was shining and went on shining for four days. The mornings were cool and then the days warmed up, not too warm for cycling, but warm enough to have picnics. The woods were carpets of green, with yellow green, bright green, bottle green, blue green, and black green daubs, flecks, and patches. In the flatlands along the Rhine, the first fruit trees were already in bloom. In Odenwald the first forsythias were out.

Often we could ride side by side. Then we pointed out to each other the things we saw: the castle, the fisherman, the boat on the river, the tent, the family walking single file along the bank, the enormous American convertible with the top down. When we changed directions or roads, I had to ride ahead; she didn’t want to have to bother with such things. Otherwise, when the traffic was too heavy, she sometimes rode behind me and sometimes vice versa. Her bike had covered spokes, pedals, and gears, and she wore a blue dress with a big skirt that fluttered in her wake. It took me some time to stop worrying that the skirt would get caught in the spokes or the gears and she would fall off. After that, I liked watching her ride ahead of me.

How I had looked forward to the nights. I had imagined that we would make love, go to sleep, wake up, make love again, go to sleep again, wake up again and so on, night after night. But the only time I woke up again was the first night. She lay with her back to me, I leaned over her and kissed her, and she turned on her back, took me into her and held me in her arms. “Kid, kid.” Then I fell asleep on top of her. The other nights we slept right through, worn out by the cycling, the sun, and the wind. We made love in the mornings.

Hanna didn’t just let me be in charge of choosing our direction and the roads to take. I was the one who picked out the inns where we spent the nights, registered us as mother and son while she just signed her name, and selected our food from the menu for both of us. “I like not having to worry about a thing for a change.”

The only fight we had took place in Amorbach. I had woken up early, dressed quietly, and crept out of the room. I wanted to bring up breakfast and also see if I could find a flower shop open where I could get a rose for Hanna. I had left a note on the night table. “Good morning! Bringing breakfast, be right back,” or words to that effect. When I returned, she was standing in the room, trembling with rage and white-faced.

“How could you go just like that?”

I put down the breakfast tray with the rose on it and wanted to take her in my arms. “Hanna.”

“Don’t touch me.” She was holding the narrow leather belt that she wore around her dress; she took a step backwards and hit me across the face with it. My lip split and I tasted blood. It didn’t hurt. I was horrorstruck. She swung again.

But she didn’t hit me. She let her arm fall, dropped the belt, and burst into tears. I had never seen her cry. Her face lost all its shape. Wide-open eyes, wide-open mouth, eyelids swollen after the first tears, red blotches on her cheeks and neck. Her mouth was making croaking, throaty sounds like the toneless cry when we made love. She stood there looking at me through her tears.

I should have taken her in my arms. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do. At home none of us cried like that. We didn’t hit, not even with our hands, let alone a leather belt. We talked. But what was I supposed to say now?

She took two steps towards me, beat her fists against me, then clung to me. Now I could hold her. Her shoulders trembled, she knocked her forehead against my chest. Then she gave a deep sigh and snuggled into my arms.

“Shall we have breakfast?” She let go of me. “My God, kid, look at you.” She fetched a wet towel and cleaned my mouth and chin. “And your shirt is covered with blood.” She took off the shirt and my pants, and we made love.

“What was the matter? Why did you get so angry?” We were lying side by side, so satiated and content that I thought everything would be cleared up now.

“What was the matter, what was the matter—you always ask such silly questions. You can’t just leave like that.”

“But I left you a note . . .”


I sat up. The note was no longer on the night table where I had left it. I got to my feet, and searched next to the night table, and underneath, and under the bed and in it. I couldn’t find it. “I don’t understand. I wrote you a note saying I was going to get breakfast and I’d be right back.”

“You did? I don’t see any note.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“I’d love to believe you. But I don’t see any note.”

We didn’t go on fighting. Had a gust of wind come and taken the note and carried it away to God knows where? Had it all been a misunderstanding, her fury, my split lip, her wounded face, my helplessness?

Should I have gone on searching, for the note, for the cause of Hanna’s fury, for the source of my helplessness? “Read me something, kid!” She cuddled up to me and I picked up Eichendorff’s Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing and continued from where I had left off. Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing was easy to read aloud, easier than Emilia Galotti and Intrigues and Love. Again, Hanna followed everything eagerly. She liked the scattering of poems. She liked the disguises, the mix-ups, the complications and pursuits which the hero gets tangled up in in Italy. At the same time, she held it against him that he’s a good-for-nothing who doesn’t achieve anything, can’t do anything, and doesn’t want to besides. She was torn in all directions; hours after I stopped reading, she was still coming up with questions. “Customs collector—wasn’t much of a job?”

Once again the report on our fight has become so detailed that I would like to report on our happiness. The fight made our relationship more intimate. I had seen her crying. The Hanna who could cry was closer to me than the Hanna who was only strong. She began to show a soft side that I had never seen before. She kept looking at my split lip, until it healed, and stroking it gently.

We made love a different way. For a long time I had abandoned myself to her and her power of possession. Then I had also learned to take possession of her. On this trip and afterwards, we no longer merely took possession of each other.

I have a poem that I wrote back them. As poetry, it’s worthless. At the time I was in love with Rilke and Benn, and I can see that I wanted to imitate them both. But I can also see how close we were at the time. Here is the poem:

When we open ourselves

you yourself to me and I myself to you,

when we submerge

you into me and I into you

when we vanish

into me you and into you I


am I me

and you are you








































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