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About the Book

About the Author

Also by Günter Grass


Title Page

Book One: Morning Shifts

First Morning Shift

Second Morning Shift

Third Morning Shift

Fourth Morning Shift

Fifth Morning Shift

Sixth Morning Shift

Seventh Morning Shift

Eighth Morning Shift

Ninth Morning Shift

Tenth Morning Shift

Eleventh Morning Shift

Twelfth Morning Shift

Thirteenth Morning Shift

Fourteenth Morning Shift

Fifteenth Morning Shift

Sixteenth Morning Shift

Seventeenth Morning Shift

Eighteenth Morning Shift

Nineteenth Morning Shift

Twentieth Morning Shift

Twenty-first Morning Shift

Twenty-second Morning Shift

Twenty-third Morning Shift

Twenty-fourth Morning Shift

Twenty-fifth Morning Shift

Twenty-sixth Morning Shift

Twenty-seventh Morning Shift

Twenty-eighth Morning Shift

Twenty-ninth Morning Shift

Thirtieth Morning Shift

Thirty-first Morning Shift

Thirty-second Morning Shift

Last Morning Shift

Book Two: Love Letters

Book Three: Materniads

First Materniad

Second Materniad

Third to Eighty-fourth Materniad

The Philosophical Eighty-fifth and the Confessed Eighty-sixth Materniad

The Eighty-seventh Worm-eaten Materniad

The Eighty-eighth Sterile Materniad

The Eighty-ninth Athletic and the Ninetieth Stale Beer Materniad

The Ninety-first, Halfway Sensible Materniad

The Hundredth Publicly Discussed Materniad

An Open Forum

The Hundred and First Fugitive Materniad

The Hundred and Second Fireproof Materniad

The Hundred and Third and Bottommost Materniad



About the Author

Günter Grass (1927–2015) was Germany’s most celebrated post-war writer. He was a creative artist of remarkable versatility: novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, graphic artist. Grass’s first novel, The Tin Drum, is widely regarded as one of the finest novels of the twentieth century, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

About the Book

In an explosive fusion of myth and reality, magic and romance, Dog Years charts forty years of German history, starting with 1917, to expose the madness of a society that bred and nurtured the horrors of the Third Reich before anaesthetising itself with the chaos of disintegration.

Also by Günter Grass

The Tin Drum

Cat and Mouse

The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising

Four Plays

Speak Out!

Local Anaesthetic

Max: A Play

From the Diary of a Snail


In the Egg and Other Poems

The Flounder

The Call of the Toad

The Meeting at Telgte


Drawings and Words 1954–1977

On Writing and Politics 1967–1983

Etchings and Words 1972–1982

The Rat

Show Your Tongue

Two States – One Nation?

My Century

Walter Henn   in memoriam

Dog Years

Günter Grass

Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim

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Book One: Morning Shifts

First Morning Shift

YOU TELL. NO, you. Or you. Should the actor begin? Or the scarecrows, all at cross purposes? Or should we wait until the eight planets have collected in the sign of Aquarius? You begin, please. After all it was your dog. But before my dog, your dog and the dog descended from the dog. One of us has to begin: You or he or you or I … Many many sunsets ago, long before we existed, the Vistula flowed day in day out without reflecting us, and emptied forever and ever.

The present writer bears the name of Brauxel at the moment and runs a mine which produces neither potash, iron, nor coal, yet employs, from one shift to the next, a hundred and thirty-four workers and office help in galleries and drifts, in stalls and crosscuts, in the payroll office and packing house.

In former days the Vistula flowed dangerously, without regulation. And so a thousand day labourers were taken on, and in the year 1895 they dug the so-called cut, running northward from Einlage between Schiewenhorst and Nickelswalde, the two villages on the delta bar. By giving the Vistula a new estuary, straight as a die, this diminished the danger of floods.

The present writer usually writes Brauksel in the form of Castrop-Rauxel and occasionally of Häksel. When he’s in the mood, Brauxel writes his name as Weichsel, the river which the Romans called the Vistula. There is no contradiction between playfulness and pedantry; the one brings on the other.

The Vistula dikes ran from horizon to horizon; under the supervision of the Dike Commission in Marienwerder, it was their business to withstand the spring floods, not to mention the St Dominic’s Day floods. And woe betide if there were mice in the dikes.

The present writer, who runs a mine and writes his name in various ways, has mapped out the course of the Vistula before and after regulation on an empty desk top: tobacco crumbs and powdery ashes indicate the river and its three mouths; burnt matches are the dikes that hold it on its course.

Many many sunsets ago; here comes the Dike Commissioner on his way from the district of Kulm, where the dike burst in ’55 near Kokotzko, not far from the Mennonite cemetery – weeks later the coffins were still hanging in the trees – but he, on foot, on horseback, or in a boat, in his morning coat and never without his bottle of arrack in his wide pocket, he, Wilhelm Ehrenthal, who in classical yet humorous verses had written that ‘Epistle on the Contemplation of Dikes’, a copy of which, soon after publication, was sent with an amiable dedication to all dike keepers, village mayors, and Mennonite preachers, he, here named never to be named again, inspects the dike tops, the enrockment and the groins, and drives off the pigs, because according to the Rural Police Regulations of November 1848, Clause 8, all animals, furred and feathered, are forbidden to graze and burrow on the dike.

The sun goes down on the left. Brauxel breaks a match into pieces: the second mouth of the Vistula came into being without the help of diggers on February 2, 1840, when in consequence of an ice jam the river broke through the delta bar below Plehnendorf, swept away two villages, and made it possible to establish two new fishing villages, East Neufähr and West Neufähr. Yet rich as the two Neufährs may be in tales, gossip, and startling events, we are concerned chiefly with the villages to the east and west of the first, though most recent, mouth: Schiewenhorst and Nickelswalde were, or are, the last villages with ferry service to the right and left of the Vistula cut; for five hundred yards downstream the sea still mingles its 1.8 per cent saline solution with the often ash-grey, usually mud-yellow excretion of the far-flung republic of Poland.

Brauxel mutters conjuring words: ‘The Vistula is a broad stream, growing constantly broader in memory, navigable in spite of its many sandbanks …’ – moves a piece of eraser in guise of a ferry back and forth across his desk top, which has been transformed into a graphic Vistula delta, and, now that the morning shift has been lowered, now that the sparrow-strident day has begun, puts the nine-year-old Walter Matern – accent on the last syllable – down on top of the Nickelswalde dike across from the setting sun; he is grinding his teeth.

What happens when the nine-year-old son of a miller stands on a dike, watching the river, exposed to the setting sun, grinding his teeth against the wind? He has inherited that from his grandmother, who sat riveted to her chair for nine years, able to move only her eyeballs.

All sorts of things rush by in the river and Walter Matern sees them. Flood from Montau to Käsemark. Here, just before the mouth, the sea helps. They say there were mice in the dike. Whenever a dike bursts, there’s talk of mice in the dike. The Mennonites say that Catholics from the Polish country put mice in the dike during the night. Others claim to have seen the dike keeper on his white horse. But the insurance company refuses to believe either in burrowing mice or in the dike keeper from Güttland. When the mice made the dike burst, the white horse, so the legend has it, leapt into the rising waters with the dike keeper, but it didn’t help much: for the Vistula took all the dike keepers. And the Vistula took the Catholic mice from the Polish country. And it took the rough Mennonites with hooks and eyes but without pockets, took the more refined Mennonites with buttons, buttonholes, and diabolical pockets, it also took Güttland’s three Protestants and the teacher, the Socialist. It took Güttland’s lowing cattle and Güttland’s carved cradles, it took all Güttland: Güttland’s beds and Güttland’s cupboard’s, Güttland’s clocks and Güttland’s canaries, it took Güttland’s preacher – he was a rough man with hooks and eyes; it also took the preacher’s daughter, and she is said to have been beautiful.

All that and more rushed by. What does a river like the Vistula carry away with it? Everything that goes to pieces: wood, glass, pencils, pacts between Brauxel and Brauchsel, chairs, bones, and sunsets too. What had long been forgotten rose to memory, floating on its back or stomach, with the help of the Vistula: Pomeranian princes. Adalbert1 came. Adalbert comes on foot and dies by the axe. But Duke Swantopolk allowed himself to be baptized. What will become of Mestwin’s daughters? Is one of them running away barefoot? Who will carry her off? The giant Miligedo with his lead club? Or one of the ancient gods? The fiery-red Perkunos? The pale Pikollos, who is always looking up from below? The boy Potrimpos laughs and chews at his ear of wheat. Sacred oaks are felled. Grinding teeth – And Duke Kynstute’s young daughter, who entered a convent: twelve headless knights and twelve headless nuns are dancing in the mill: the mill turns slow, the mill turns faster, it grinds the little souls to plaster; the mill turns slow, the mill speeds up, she has drunk with twelve knights from the selfsame cup; the mill turns slow, the mill speeds up, twelve knights twelve nuns in the cellar sup; the mill turns slow, the mill turns faster, they’re feasting Candlemas with farting and laughter: the mill turns slow, the mill turns faster … but when the mill was burning inside and out and coaches for headless knights and headless nuns drove up, when much later – sunsets – St Bruno passed through the fire and Bobrowski the robber with his crony Materna, with whom it all began, set fires in houses that had been previously notched – sunsets, sunsets – Napoleon before and after: then the city was ingeniously besieged, for several times they tried out Congreve rockets, with varying success: but in the city and on the walls, on Wolf, Bear, and Bay Horse Bastions, on Renegade, Maiden-hole, and Rabbit Bastions, the French under Rapp coughed, the Poles under their Prince Radziwil spat, the corps of the one-armed Capitaine de Chambure hawked. But on the fifth of August came the St Dominic’s Flood, climbed Bay Horse, Rabbit, and Renegade Bastions without a ladder, wet the powder, made the Congreve rockets fizzle out, and carried a good deal of fish, mostly pike, into the streets and kitchens: everyone was miraculously replenished, although the granaries along Hopfengasse had long since burned down – sunsets. Amazing how many things are becoming to the Vistula, how many things colour a river like the Vistula: sunsets, blood, mud, and ashes. Actually the wind ought to have them. Orders are not always carried out; rivers that set out for heaven empty into the Vistula.

Second Morning Shift

HERE, ON BRAUXEL’S desk top and over the Schiewenhorst dike, she rolls, day after day. And on Nickelswalde dike stands Walter Matern with grinding teeth; for the sun is setting. Swept bare, the dikes taper away in the distance. Only the sails of the windmills, blunt steeples, and poplars – Napoleon had those planted for his artillery – stick to the tops of the dikes. He alone is standing. Except maybe for the dog. But he’s gone off, now here now there. Behind him, vanishing in the shadow and below the surface of the river, lies the Island, smelling of butter, curds, dairies, a wholesome, nauseatingly milky smell. Nine years old, legs apart, with red and blue March knees, stands Walter Matern, spreads his ten fingers, narrows his eyes to slits, lets the scars of his close-cropped head – bearing witness to falls, fights, and barbed wire – swell, take on profile, grinds his teeth from left to right – he has that from his grandmother – and looks for a stone.

There aren’t any stones on the dike. But he looks. He finds dry sticks. But you can’t throw a dry stick against the wind. And he wants to got to wants to throw something. He could whistle for Senta, here one second gone the next, but he does no such thing, all he does is grind – that blunts the wind – and feel like throwing something. He could catch Amsel’s eye at the foot of the dike with a hey and a ho, but his mouth is full of grinding and not of hey and ho – nevertheless he wants to got to wants to, but there’s no stone in his pockets either; usually he has a couple in one pocket or the other.

In these parts stones are called zellacken. The Protestants say zellacken, the few Catholics zellacken. The rough Mennonites say zellacken, he refined ones zellacken. Even Amsel, who likes to be different, says zellack when he means a stone; and Senta goes for a stone when someone says: Senta, go get a zellack. Kriwe says zellacken, Kornelius Kabrun, Beister, Folchert, August Sponagel, and Frau von Ankum, the major’s wife, all say zellacken; and Pastor Daniel Kliewer from Pasewark says to his congregation, rough and refined alike: ‘Then little David picked up a zellack and flung it at the giant Goliath …’ For a zellack is a handy little stone, the size of a pigeon’s egg.

But Walter Matern couldn’t find one in either pocket. In the right pocket there was nothing but crumbs and sunflower seeds, in the left pocket, in among pieces of string and the crackling remains of grasshoppers – while up above it grinds, while the sun has gone, while the Vistula flows, taking with it something from Güttland, something from Mantau, Amsel hunched over and the whole time clouds, while Senta upwind, the gulls downwind, the dikes bare to the horizon, while the sun is gone gone gone – he finds his pocketknife. Sunsets last longer in eastern than in western regions; any child knows that. There flows the Vistula from sky to opposite sky. The steam ferry puts out from the Schiewenhorst dock and bucks the current, slantwise and bumptious, carrying two narrow-gauge freight cars to Nickelswalde, where it will put them down on the Stutthof spur. The chunk of leather known as Kriwe has just turned his cowhide face to leeward and is pattering eyelashless along the opposite dike top: a few moving sails and poplars to count. A fixed stare, no bending over, but a hand in his pocket. And the eye slides down from the embankment: a curious round something, down below, that bends over, looks as if it wants to swipe something from the Vistula. That’s Amsel, looking for old rags. What for? Any child knows that.

But Leather Kriwe doesn’t know what Walter Matern, who has been looking for a zellack in his pocket, has found in his pocket. While Kriwe pulls his face out of the wind, the pocketknife grows warmer in Walter Matern’s hand. Amsel had given it to him. It has three blades, a corkscrew, a saw, and a leather punch. Amsel plump, pink, and comical when crying. Amsel pokes about in the muck on the ledge, for though falling fast the Vistula is up to the dike top because there’s a flood between Montau and Käsemark, and has things in it that used to be in Palschau.

Gone. Down yonder behind the dike, leaving behind a spreading red glow. In his pocket Walter Matern – as only Brauxel can know – clenches the knife in his fist. Amsel is a little younger than Walter Matern. Senta, far away looking for mice, is just about as black as the sky, upward from the Schiewenhorst dike, is red. A drifting cat is caught in the driftwood. Gulls multiply in flight: torn tissue paper crackles, is smoothed, is spread out wide; and the glass pinhead eyes see everything that drifts, hangs, runs, stands, or is just there, such as Amsel’s two thousand freckles; also that he is wearing a helmet like those worn at Verdun. And the helmet slips forward, is pushed back over the neck, and slips again, while Amsel fishes fence laths and beanpoles, and also heavy, sodden rags out of the mud: the cat comes loose, spins downward, falls to the gulls. The mice in the dike begin to stir again. And the ferry is still coming closer. A dead yellow dog comes drifting and turns over. Senta is facing into the wind. Slantwise and bumptious the ferry transports its two freight cars. Down drifts a calf – dead. The wind falters but does not turn. The gulls stop still in mid-air, hesitating. Now Walter Matern – while the ferry, the wind and the calf and the sun behind the dike and the mice in the dike and the motionless gulls – has pulled his fist out of his pocket with the knife in it. While the Vistula flows, he holds it out in front of his sweater and makes his knuckles chalky white against the deepening red glow.

Third Morning Shift

EVERY CHILD BETWEEN Hildesheim and Sarstedt knows what is mined in Brauksel’s mine, situated between Hildesheim and Sarstedt.

Every child knows why the Hundred and Twentieth Infantry Regiment had to abandon in Bohnsack the steel helmet Amsel is wearing, as well as other steel helmets, a stock of fatigue uniforms, and several field kitchens, when it pulled out by train in ’20.

The cat is back again. Every child knows that it’s not the same cat, but the mice don’t know and the gulls don’t know. The cat is wet wet wet. Now something drifts by that is neither a dog nor a sheep. It’s a clothes cupboard. The cupboard does not collide with the ferry. And as Amsel pulls a beanpole out of the mud and Walter Matern’s fist begins to quiver around the knife, a cat finds freedom: it drifts out toward the open sea that reaches as far as the sky. The gulls grow fewer, the mice in the dike scamper, the Vistula flows, the fist around the knife quivers, the wind’s name is Northwest, the dikes taper away, the open sea resists the river with everything it’s got, still and for evermore the sun goes down, still and for evermore the ferry and two freight cars move closer: the ferry does not capsize, the dikes do not burst, the mice are not afraid, the sun has no intention of turning back, the Vistula has no intention of turning back, the ferry has no intention of turning back, the cat has no, the gulls have no, nor the clouds nor the infantry regiment, Senta has no intention of going back to the wolves, but merrily merrily … And Walter Matern has no intention of letting the pocketknife given him by Amsel short fat round return to his pocket; on the contrary, his fist around the knife manages to turn a shade chalkier. And up above teeth grind from left to right. While it flows approaches sinks drifts whirls rises and falls, the fist relaxes around the knife, so that all the expelled blood rushes back into the now loosely closed hand: Walter Matern thrusts the fist holding the now thoroughly warmed object behind him, stands on one leg, foot, ball of foot, on five toes in a high shoe, lifts his weight sockless in the shoe, lets his entire weight slip into the hand behind him, takes no aim, almost stops grinding; and in that flowing drifting setting lost moment – for even Brauchsel cannot save it, because he has forgotten, forgotten something – while Amsel looks up from the mud at the foot of the dike, with his left hand and a portion of his two thousand freckles pushes his steel helmet back, revealing another portion of his two thousand freckles, Walter Matern’s hand is way out in front, empty and light, and discloses only the pressure marks of a pocketknife that had three blades, a corkscrew, a saw, and a leather punch; in the handle of which sea sand, powdered tree bark, a bit of jam, pine needles, and a vestige of mole’s blood had become encrusted; whose barter value would have been a new bicycle bell; which no one had stolen, which Amsel had bought in his mother’s shop with money he himself had earned, and then given his friend Walter Matern; which last summer had pinned a butterfly to Folchert’s barn door, which under the dock of Kriwe’s ferry had in one day speared four rats, had almost speared a rabbit in the dunes, and two weeks ago had pegged a mole before Senta could catch it. The inner surface of the hand still shows pressure marks made by the selfsame knife, with which Walter Matern and Eduard Amsel, when they were eight years old and intent on blood brotherhood, had scored their arms, because Kornelius Kabrun, who had been in German Southwest Africa and knew about Hottentots, had told them how it was done.

Fourth Morning Shift

MEANWHILE – FOR WHILE Brauxel lays bare the past of a pocketknife and the same knife, turned missile, follows a trajectory determined by propulsive force, gravitation, and wind resistance, there is still time enough, from morning shift to morning shift, to write off a working day and meanwhile to say – meanwhile, then, Amsel with the back of his hand had pushed back his steel helmet. With one glance he swept the dike embankment, with the same glance took in the thrower, then sent his glance in pursuit of the thrown object; and the pocketknife, Brauxel maintains, has meanwhile reached the ultimate point allotted to every upward-striving object, while the Vistula flows, the cat drifts, the gull screams, the ferry approaches, while the bitch Senta is black, and the sun never ceases to set.

Meanwhile – for when a missile has reached that infinitesimal point after which descent begins, it hesitates for a moment, and pretends to stand still – while then the pocketknife stands still at its zenith, Amsel tears his gaze away from the object that has reached this infinitesimal point and once more – the object is already falling quickly fitfully, because now more exposed to the head wind, riverward – has his eye on his friend Matern who is still teetering on the ball of his foot and his toes sockless in high shoe, holding his right hand high and far from his body, while his left arm steers and tries to keep him in balance.

Meanwhile – for while Walter Matern teeters on one leg, concerned with his balance, while Vistula and cat, mice and ferry, dog and sun, while the pocketknife falls riverward, the morning shift has been lowered into Brauchsel’s mine, the night shift has been raised and has ridden away on bicycles, the changehouse attendant has locked the changehouse, the sparrows in every gutter have begun the day … At this point Amsel succeeded, with a brief glance and a directly ensuing cry, in throwing Walter Matern off his precarious balance. The boy on the top of the Nickelswalde dike did not fall, but he began to stagger and stumble so furiously that he lost sight of his pocketknife before it touched the flowing Vistula and became invisible.

‘Hey, Grinder!’ Amsel cries. ‘Is that all you can do? Grind your teeth and throw things?’

Walter Matern, here addressed as Grinder, is again standing stiff-kneed with parted legs, rubbing the palm of his left hand, which still bears the glowing negative imprint of a pocketknife.

‘You saw me. I had to throw. What’s the use of asking questions?’

‘But you didn’t throw no zellack.’

‘How could I when there ain’t no zellacks up here?’

‘So what do you throw when you ain’t got no zellack?’

‘Well, if I’d had a zellack I’d of thrown the zellack.’

‘If you’d sent Senta, she’d of brought you a zellack.’

‘If I’d sent Senta. Anybody can say that. You try and send a dog anyplace when she’s chasing mice.’

‘So what did you throw if you didn’t have no zellack?’

‘Why do you keep asking questions? I threw some dingbat. You saw me.’

‘You threw my knife.’

‘It was my knife. Don’t be an Indian giver. If I’d had a zellack, I wouldn’t of thrown the knife. I’d thrown the zellack.’

‘Whyn’t you tell me? Couldn’t you tell me you couldn’t find a zellack, I’d have tossed you one, there’s plenty of them down here.’

‘What’s the good of talking so much when it’s gone?’

‘Maybe I’ll get a new knife for Ascension.’

‘I don’t want no new knife.’

‘If I gave you one, you’d take it.’

‘You want to bet I wouldn’t?’

‘You want to bet you would?’

‘Is it a bet?’

‘It’s a bet.’

They shake hands on it: tin soldiers against magnifying glass. Amsel reaches his hand with its many freckles up the dike, Walter Matern reaches his hand with the pressure marks left by the pocketknife down the dike and with the handshake pulls Amsel up on the dike top.

Amsel is still friendly. ‘You’re exactly like your grandma in the mill. All she does is grind the coupla teeth she’s still got the whole time. Except she don’t throw things. Only hits people with her spoon.’

Amsel on the dike is a little shorter than Walter Matern. As he speaks, his thumb points over his shoulder to the spot where behind the dike lies the village of Nickelswalde and the Materns’ postmill. Up the side of the dike Amsel pulls a bundle of roof laths, beanpoles, and wrung-out rags. He keeps having to push up the front rim of his steel helmet with the back of his hand. The ferry has tied up at the Nickelswalde dock. The two freight cars can be heard. Senta grows larger, smaller, larger, approaches black. More small farm animals drift by. Broad-shouldered flows the Vistula. Walter Matern wraps his right hand in the lower frayed edge of his sweater. Senta stands on four legs between the two of them. Her tongue hangs out to leftward and twitches. She keeps looking at Walter Matern, because his teeth. He has that from his grandmother who was riveted to her chair for nine years and only her eyeballs.

Now they have taken off: one taller, one smaller on the dike top against the ferry landing. The dog black. Half a pace ahead: Amsel. Half a pace behind: Walter Matern. He is dragging Amsel’s rags. Behind the bundle, as the three grow smaller on the dike, the grass gradually straightens up again.

Fifth Morning Shift

AND SO BRAUKSEL, as planned, sits bent over his paper and, while the other chroniclers bend likewise and punctually over the past and begin recording, has let the Vistula flow. It still amuses him to recall every detail: Many many years ago, when the child had been born but was not yet able to grind his teeth because like all babies he had been born toothless, Grandma Matern was sitting riveted to her chair in the overhang room, unable as she had been for the last nine years to move anything except her eyeballs, capable only of bubbling and drooling.

The overhang room jutted out over the kitchen, it had one window looking out on the kitchen, from which the maids could be observed at work, and another window in back, facing the Matern windmill, which sat there on its jack, with its tailpole pivoting on its post and was accordingly a genuine postmill; as it had been for a hundred years. The Materns had built it in 1815, shortly after the city and fortress of Danzig had been taken by the victorious Russian and Prussian armies; for August Matern, the grandfather of our grandmother sitting there riveted to her chair, had managed, during the long-drawn-out and listlessly conducted siege, to carry on a lucrative trade with both sides; on the one hand, he began in the spring to supply scaling ladders in exchange for good convention talers; on the other hand, he arranged, in return for Laubtalers and even more substantial Brabant currency, to smuggle little notes in to General Count d’Heudelet, calling his attention to the odd conduct of the Russians who were having quantities of ladders made, though it was only spring and the apples were in no shape to be picked.

When at length the governor, Count Rapp, signed the capitulation of the fortress, August Matern in out-of-the-way Nickelswalde counted the Danish specie and two-thirds pieces, the quickly rising rubles, the Hamburg mark pieces, the Laubtalers and convention talers, the little bags of Dutch gulden and the newly issued Danzig paper money; he found himself nicely off and abandoned himself to the joys of reconstruction: he had the old mill, where the fugitive Queen Louise is said to have spent the night after the defeat of Prussia, the historical mill whose sails had been damaged first on the occasion of the Danish attack from the sea, then of the night skirmish resulting from a sortie on the part of Capitaine de Chambure and his volunteer corps, torn down except for the jack which was still in good condition, and on the old jack built the new mill which was still sitting there with its pole on its jack when Grandmother Matern was reduced to sitting riveted and motionless in her chair. At this point Brauxel wishes, before it is too late, to concede that with his money, some hard, some easy-earned, August Matern not only built the new postmill, but also endowed the little chapel in Steegen, which numbered a few Catholics, with a Madonna, who, though not wanting in gold leaf, neither attracted any pilgrimages worth mentioning nor performed any miracles.

The Catholicism of the Matern family, as one might expect of a family of millers, was dependent on the wind, and since there was always a profitable breeze on the Island, the Matern mill ran year in year out, deterring them from the excessive churchgoing that would have antagonized the Mennonites. Only baptisms and funerals, marriages and the more important holidays sent part of the family to Steegen; and once a year on Corpus Christi, when the Catholics of Steegen put on a procession through the countryside, the mill, with its jack and all its dowels, with its mill post, its oak lever, and its meal bin, but most of all with its sails, came in for its share of blessing and holy water; a luxury which the Materns could never have afforded in such rough-Mennonite villages as Junkeracker and Pasewark. The Mennonites of Nickelswalde, who all raised wheat on rich Island soil and were dependent on the Catholic mill, proved to be the more refined type of Mennonites, in other words, they had buttons, button-holes, and normal pockets that it was possible to put something into. Only Simon Beister, fisherman and smallholder, was a genuine hook-and-eye Mennonite, rough and pocketless; over his boathead hung a painted wooden sign with the ornate inscription:

Wear hooks and eyes,

Dear Jesus will save you.

Wear buttons and pockets,

The Devil will have you.

But Simon Beister was and remained the only inhabitant of Nickelswalde to have his wheat milled in Pasewark and not in the Catholic mill. Even so, it was not necessarily he who in ’13, shortly before the outbreak of the Great War, incited a degenerate farmhand to haul kindling of all sorts to the Matern postmill and set it on fire. The flames were already creeping under jack and pole when Perkun, the young shepherd dog belonging to Pawel the miller’s man, whom everyone called Paulchen, began, black and with tail straight back, to describe narrowing circles around hummock, jack, and mill, and brought miller’s man and miller running out of the house with his staccato barks.

Pawel or Paul had brought the animal with him from Lithuania and on request exhibited a kind of pedigree, which made it clear to whom it may concern that Perkun’s grandmother on her father’s side had been a Lithuanian, Russian, or Polish she-wolf.

And Perkun sired Senta; and Senta whelped Harras; and Harras sired Prinz; and Prinz made history … But for the present Grandma Matern is still sitting riveted to her chair; able to move only her eyeballs. She is obliged to look on inactive as her daughter-in-law carries on in the house, her son in the mill, and her daughter Lorchen with the miller’s man. But the war took the miller’s man and Lorchen went out of her mind: after that, in the house, in the kitchen garden, on the dikes, in the nettles behind Folchert’s barn, on the near side and far side of the dunes, barefoot on the beach and in among the blueberry bushes in the nearby woods, she goes looking for her Paulchen, and never will she know whether it was the Prussians or the Russians who sent him crawling underground. The gentle old maid’s only companion is the dog Perkun, whose master had been her master.

Sixth Morning Shift

LONG LONG AGO – Brauxel counts on his fingers – when the world was in the third year of the war, when Paulchen had been left behind in Masuria, Lorchen was roaming about with the dog, but miller Matern was permitted to go on toting bags of flour, because he was hard of hearing on both sides, Grandma Matern sat one sunny day, while a child was being baptized – the pocketknife-throwing youngster of earlier morning shifts was receiving the name of Walter – riveted to her chair, rolling her eyeballs, bubbling and drooling but unable to compose one word.

She sat in the overhang room and was assailed by mad shadows. She flared up, faded in the half-darkness, sat bright, sat sombre. Pieces of furniture as well, the headpiece of the tall carved cupboard, the embossed cover of the chest, and the red, for nine years unused, velvet of the prie-dieu flared up, faded, disclosed silhouettes, resumed their massive gloom: glittering dust, dustless shadow over grandmother and her furniture. Her bonnet and the glass-blue drinking cup on the cupboard. The frayed sleeves of her bedjacket. The floor scrubbed lustreless, over which the turtle, roughly the size of a man’s hand, given to her by Paul the miller’s man, moved from corner to corner, glittered and survived the miller’s man by nibbling little scallops out of the edges of lettuce leaves. And all the lettuce leaves scattered about the room with their turtle-scallops were struck bright bright bright; for outside, behind the house, the Matern postmill, in a wind blowing thirty-nine feet a second, was grinding wheat into flour, blotting out the sun with its four sails four times in three-and-a-half seconds.

Concurrently with these demonic dazzling-dark goings-on in Grandma’s room, the child was being driven to Steegen by way of Pasewark and Junkeracker to be baptized, the sunflowers by the fence separating the Matern kitchen garden from the road grew larger and larger, worshipped one another and were glorified without interruption by the very same sun which was blotted out four times in three-and-a-half seconds by the sails of the windmill; for the mill had not thrust itself between sun and sunflowers, but only, and this in the forenoon, between the riveted grandmother and a sun which shone not always but often on the Island.

How many years had Grandma been sitting motionless?

Nine years in the overhang room.

How long behind asters, ice flowers, sweet peas, or convolvulus?

Nine years bright dark bright to one side of the windmill.

Who had riveted her so solidly to her chair?

Her daughter-in-law Ernestine, née Stange.

How could such a thing come to pass?

This Protestant woman from Junkeracker had first expelled Tilde Matern, who was not yet a grandmother, but more on the strapping loud-mouthed side, from the kitchen; then she had appropriated the living room and taken to washing windows on Corpus Christi. When Stine drove her mother-in-law out of the barn, they came to blows for the first time. The two of them went at each other with feed pans in among the chickens, who lost quite a few feathers on the occasion.

This, Brauxel counts back, must have happened in 1905; for when two years later Stine Matern, née Stange, still failed to clamour for green apples and sour pickles and continued inexorably to come around in accordance with the calendar, Tilde Matern spoke to her daughter-in-law, who stood facing her with folded arms in the overhang room, in the following terms: ‘It’s just like I always thought, Protestant women got the Devil’s mouse in their hole. It nibbles everything away so nothing can come out. All it does is stink!’

These words unleashed a war of religion, fought with wooden cooking spoons and ultimately reducing the Catholic party to the chair: for the oaken armchair, which stood before the window between tile stove and prie-dieu, received a Tilde Matern felled by a stroke. For nine years now she had been sitting in this chair except when Lorchen and the maids, for reasons of cleanliness, lifted her out just long enough to minister to her needs.

When the nine years were past and it had developed that the wombs of Protestant women do not harbour a diabolical mouse that nibbles everything away and won’t let anything germinate, when, on the contrary, something came full term, was born as a son, and had his umbilical cord cut, Grandmother sat, was still sitting, while the christening was proceeding in Steegen under favourable weather conditions, still and forever riveted, in the overhang room. Below the room, in the kitchen, a goose lay in the oven, sizzling in its own fat. This the goose did in the third year of the Great War, when geese had become so rare that the goose was looked upon as a species close to extinction. Lorchen Matern with her birthmark, her flat bosom, her curly hair, Lorchen, who had never got a husband – because Paulchen had crawled into the earth, leaving nothing but his black dog behind – Lorchen, who was supposed to be looking after the goose in the oven, was not in the kitchen, didn’t baste the goose at all, neglected to turn it, to say the proper charms over it, but stood in a row with the sunflowers behind the fence – which the new miller’s man had freshly whitewashed that spring – and spoke first in a friendly, then in an anxious tone, two sentences angrily, then lovingly, to someone who was not standing behind the fence, who was not passing by in greased yet squeaky shoes, who wore no baggy trousers, and who was nevertheless addressed as Paul or Paulchen and expected to return to her, Lorchen Matern with the watery eyes, something he had taken from her. But Paul did not give it back, although the time of day was favourable – plenty of silence, or at any rate buzzing – and the wind blowing at a velocity of twenty-six feet a second had boots big enough to kick the mill on its jack in such a way that it turned a mite faster than the wind and was able in one uninterrupted session to transform Miehlke’s – for it was his milling day – wheat into Miehlke’s flour.

For even though a miller’s son was being baptized in Steegen’s wooden chapel, Matern’s mill did not stand still. If a milling wind was blowing, there had to be milling. A windmill knows only days with and days without milling wind. Lorchen Matern knew only days when Paulchen passed by and days when nothing passed by and no one stopped at the fence. Because the mill was milling, Paulchen came by and stopped. Perkun barked. Far behind Napoleon’s poplars, behind Folchert’s, Miehlke’s Kabrun’s, Beister’s, Mombert’s and Kriwe’s farmhouses, behind the flat-roofed school, and Lührmann’s taproom and milk pool, the cows lowed by turns. And Lorchen said lovingly ‘Paulchen,’ several times ‘Paulchen,’ and while the goose in the oven, unbasted, unspoken-to, and never turned, grew steadily crisper and more dominical, she said: ‘Aw, give it back. Aw, don’t be like that. Aw, don’t act like that. Aw, give it back, ’cause I need it. Aw, give it, and don’t be, not giving it to me …’

No one gave anything back. The dog Perkun turned his head on his neck and whimpering softly looked after the departing Paulchen. Under the cows, milk accumulated. The windmill sat with pole on jack and milled. Sunflowers recited sunflower prayers to each other. The air buzzed. And the goose in the oven began to burn, first slowly, then so fast and pungently that Grandmother Matern in her overhang room above the kitchen set her eyeballs spinning faster than the sails of the windmill were able to. While in Steegen the baptismal chapel was forsaken, while in the overhang room the turtle, hand-size, moved from one scrubbed plank to the next, she, because of the burnt goose fumes rising to the overhang room, began bright dark bright to drivel and drool and wheeze. First she blew hairs, such as all grandmothers have in their noses, out through nostrils, but when bitter fumes quivered bright through the whole room, making the turtle pause bewildered and the lettuce leaves shrivel, what issued from her nostrils was no longer hairs but steam. Nine years of grandmotherly indignation were discharged: the grandmotherly locomotive started up. Vesuvius and Etna. The Devil’s favourite element, fire, made the unleashed grandmother quiver, contribute dragon-like to the chiaroscuro, and attempt, amid changing light after nine years, a dry grinding of the teeth; and she succeeded: from left to right, set on edge by the acrid smell, her last remaining stumps rubbed against each other; and in the end a cracking and splintering mingled with the dragon’s fuming, the expulsion of steam, the spewing of fire, the grinding of teeth: the oaken chair, fashioned in pre-Napoleonic times, the chair which had sustained the grandmother for nine years except for brief interruptions in behalf of cleanliness, gave up and disintegrated just as the turtle leapt high from the floor and landed on its back. At the same time several stove tiles sprung netlike cracks. Down below the goose burst open, letting the stuffing gush out. The chair disintegrated into powdery wood meal, rose up in a cloud which proliferated, a sumptuously illumined monument to transience, and settled on Grandmother Matern, who had not, as might be supposed, taken her cue from the chair and turned to grandmotherly dust. What lay on shrivelled salad leaves, on the turtle turned turtle, on furniture and floor, was merely the dust of pulverized oakwood; she, the terrible one, did not lie, but stood crackling and electric, struck bright, struck dark by the play of the windmill sails, upright amid dust and decay, ground her teeth from left to right, and grinding took the first step: stepped from bright to dark, stepped bright, stepped dark, stepped over the turtle, who was getting ready to give up the ghost, whose belly was a beautiful sulphur-yellow, after nine years of sitting still took purposive steps, did not slip on lettuce leaves, kicked open the door of the overhang room, descended, a paragon of grandmotherhood, the kitchen stairs in felt shoes, and standing now on stone flags and sawdust took something from a shelf with both hands, and attempted, with grandmotherly cooking stratagems, to save the acridly burning baptismal goose. And she did manage to save a little by scratching away the charred part, dousing the flames, and turning the goose over. But everyone who had ears in Nickelswalde could hear Grandmother Matern, still engaged in her rescue operations, screaming with terrifying distinctness out of a well-rested throat: ‘You hussy! Lorchen, you hussy! I’ll cook your, you hussy. Damn hussy! Hussy, you hussy!’

Wielding a hardwood spoon, she was already out of the burnt-smelling kitchen and in the middle of the buzzing garden, with the mill behind her. To the left she stepped in the strawberries, to the right in the cauliflowers, for the first time in years she was back again among the broad beans, but an instant later behind and between the sunflowers, raising her right arm high and bringing it down, supported in every movement by the regular turning of the windmill sails, on poor Lorchen, also on the sunflowers, but not on Perkun, who leapt away black between the bean trellises.

In spite of the blows and though quite without Paulchen, poor Lorchen whimpered in his direction: ‘Oh help me please, Paulchen, oh do help me, Paulchen …’ but all that came her way was wooden blows and the song of the unleashed grandmother: ‘You hussy! You hussy you! You damn hussy!’

Seventh Morning Shift

BRAUXEL WONDERS WHETHER he may not have put too much diabolical display into his account of Grandmother Matern’s resurrection. Wouldn’t it have been miracle enough if the good woman had simply and somewhat stiffly stood up and gone down to the kitchen to rescue the goose? Was it necessary to have her puff steam and spit fire? Did stove tiles have to crack and lettuce leaves shrivel? Did he need the moribund turtle and the pulverized armchair?

If nevertheless Brauksel, today a sober-minded man at home in a free-market economy, replies in the affirmative and insists on fire and steam, he will have to give his reasons. There was and remains only one reason for his elaborate staging of the grandmotherly resurrection scene: the Materns, especially the teeth-grinding branch of the family, descended from the medieval robber Materna, by way of Grandma, who was a genuine Matern – she had married her cousin – down to the baptizand Walter Matern, had an innate feeling for grandiose, nay operatic scenes; and the truth of the matter is that in May 1917, Grandmother Matern did not just go down quietly to rescue the goose as a matter of course, but began by setting off the above-described fireworks.

It must furthermore be said that while Grandmother Matern was trying to save the goose and immediately thereafter belabouring poor Lorchen with a cooking spoon, the three two-horse carriages bearing the hungry christening party were rolling past Junkeracker and Pasewark on their way from Steegen.And much as Brauxel may be tempted to record the ensuing christening dinner – because the goose didn’t yield enough, preserved giblets and pickled pork were brought up from the cellar – he must nevertheless let the christening party sit down to dinner without witnesses. No one will ever learn how the Romeikes and the Kabruns, how Miehlke and the widow Stange stuffed themselves full of burnt goose, preserved giblets, pickled pork, and squash in vinegar in the midst of the third war year. Brauxel is especially sorry to miss the unleashed and newly nimble Grandmother Matern’s great scene; it is the widow Amsel, and she alone, whom he is permitted at this point to excerpt from the village idyll, for she is the mother of our plumpish Eduard Amsel, who in the course of the first to fourth morning shifts fished beanpoles, roofing laths, and heavy, waterlogged rags from the rising Vistula and is now, like Walter Matern, about to be baptized.

Eighth Morning Shift

MANY MANY YEARS ago – for Brauksel tells nothing more gladly than fairy tales – there dwelt in Schiewenhorst, a fishing village to the left of the mouth of the Vistula, a merchant by the name of Albrecht Amsel. He sold kerosene, sailcloth, canisters for fresh water, rope, nets, fish traps, eel baskets, fishing tackle of all kinds, tar, paint, sandpaper, yarn, oilcloth, pitch, and tallow, but also carried tools, from axes to pocketknives, and had small carpenter’s benches, grindstones, inner tubes for bicycles, carbide lamps, pulleys, winches, and vices in stock. Ship’s biscuit was piled up beside cork jackets; a life preserver all ready to have a boat’s name written on it embraced a large jar full of cough drops; a schnapps known as ‘Brotchen’ was poured from a stout green bottle encased in basketry; he sold yard goods and remnants, but also new and used clothing, flatirons, secondhand sewing machines, and mothballs. And in spite of the mothballs, in spite of pitch and kerosene, shellack and carbide, Albrecht Amsel’s store, a spacious wooden structure resting on a concrete foundation and painted dark green every seven years, smelled first and foremost of cologne and next, before the question of mothballs could even come up, of smoked fish; for side by side with all this retail trade, Albrecht Amsel was known as a wholesale purchaser of fresh-water fish as well as deep-sea fish: chests of the lightest pinewood, golden yellow and packed full of smoked flounder, smoked eel, sprats both loose and bundled, lampreys, codfish roe, and strongly or subtly smoked Vistula salmon, with the inscription: A. Amsel – Fresh Fish – Smoked Fish – Schiewenhorst – Great Island – burned into their front panels, were broken open with medium-sized chisels in the Danzig Market, a brick edifice situated between Lawendelgasse and Junkergasse, between the Dominican church and the Altstädtischer Graben. The top came open with a crisp crackling; nails were drawn squeaking from the sides. And from Neo-Gothic ogival windows market light fell on freshly smoked fish.