Extracts from the novel





Part one (1890 – 1900)

(Number of chapters 25)

 

Chapter 22



It was Christmas 1899. As usual, Nuremberg was a whole kaleidoscope of colours. It was a special year because of the coming of a new century. Nadia’s pregnancy was in an advanced state. Her new appearance highlighted her prettiness even more in the eyes of her friends. The girl and the nun simply loved Christmas.


  As he had promised them some days before, Rudi was taking them to eat out on Christmas Eve, then to Midnight Mass at the ancient church of St Sebald. Nadia wore a new dress for the occasion, a surprise gift from the doctor which she liked at once. He knew it would be a perfect fit for her. Seeing it on her, he was speechless.

 

Rudi chose a particularly pleasant restaurant and they thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. At times Cecilia felt awkward seeing them looking steadily into each other’s eyes. Rudi noticed everything. He was a gentleman and did not want the nun to feel ignored on such a special night. So he brought her into the conversation, at times making some joke to further harmonize the atmosphere. They sat there for nearly two hours then they went on to the church for a most beautiful celebration.

  Back home they were tired but happy. A warm glass of milk and they bade each other good night. In their room, between moans over her swollen feet due to her new shoes, the nun could not refrain from teasing Nadia about Rudi’s behaviour with her earlier that night. Nadia blushed shyly.


  Rudi wanted them to celebrate New Year’s day together. This time Cecilia made it quite clear that on that day she was going to the village to join the other nuns. She wanted to celebrate the event with the children also. But this was a momentous pretext of the nun’s so that Nadia and Rudi could spend the evening together. Nadia did not comment, proof enough that she too wanted to spend the evening alone with the doctor. He took her to an even more romantic restaurant than the one they had gone to on Christmas Eve. For that occasion he bought her an exclusively-styled maternity dress in organdy and black satin. Nadia looked a dream. Her face radiated against the dark hues. Her hair was brushed in upward coils exposing her white neck and contrasting sharply with her scarlet lips. Her breasts were half-exposed, heavy, now that her pregnancy was nearing the end. Thanks to the environment and the doctor’s mellifluous words she felt blissfully happy. He was intrinsically romantic and things began to happen spontaneously for both of them. Rudi embarked on a series of compliments while caressing her hands with almost reverential gentleness. After the third glass of wine, Rudi slipped a hand in the side pocket of his jacket pulling out a small gift-box and presented it to her. There was a gold pendant with three tiny pearls. She stood looking at him perplexed.

 

“But Rudi! I… I just don’t know what to say.”

  “Say nothing.”

  “Thank you.”

 

She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek leaving the mark of her lips which Nadia removed delicately. Rudi invited her to toast the new century. The atmosphere blazed on, the wine giving them a helping hand too. The surroundings melted into the background, they were no longer important to them. As midnight neared, they decided to celebrate the new year in the open near the Pegnitz. It was not their unique idea. Many had decided to go there and celebrate inexpensively. Nadia giggled at two drunken men who were doing their best to look sober to their wives who were already furious with them for ruining half their fun.

 

It was well past midnight. Nadia and Rudi walked on along the river completely isolated from the rest of the crowd. The only movement came from the water. The temperature had dropped below zero. Snowflakes started to flurry down lightly. Nadia huddled into her thick overcoat as she rested on an icy wooden bench. She took Rudi’s hand inviting him to sit beside her. They sat looking at the light reflected in the gurgling water. She felt cold and snuggled against Rudi as closely as she could. He took off his overcoat and wrapped it around her bundling her up warmly. In doing so, his face came near hers, very near. With their lips they could feel each other’s heat. She felt like falling into his arms but did not dare. They looked into each other’s eyes saying nothing. They knew that their silence spoke volumes. On an impulse, Rudi stroked her hair declaring how happy he was to be with her on such a special occasion. She smiled but said nothing. Instead she squeezed his hand, snuggled nearer to show him she was reciprocating. She saw a shooting-star flashing across the dark expanse of the sky. She made a wish. She wished only for a happy future, nothing more. It was late. They got up and headed for home.

 

Once more at the villa, Rudi prepared her a hot drink to warm her up. She was tired. Her belly protruded heavily. She felt like lying down. Rudi helped her upstairs, opened the door and bid her good-night. But she pulled him back and kissed him full on the lips. Rudi was electrified.

 

That night neither could sleep. Rudi felt restless, loath to get into bed, and so decided to go for another walk on that first morning of the new century. Nadia’s kiss was still warm on his lips and he had to walk quite far to consume the energy generated by that kiss. The girl recalled the best scenes of the last few days. Then she remembered the last hours spent with the doctor. Her heart was overjoyed. There, in his villa, she felt rested and protected. Nadia dwelt upon him and felt excited. She ran her hands over her body without inhibition, and for the first time in her life she indulged in an erotic world in which Friedrich did not feature.

 

 


Part Two (1900 – 1920)

(Number of chapters 28)

 

Chapter 17



Klaus just could not overcome his obsession with Nadia. More than a year-and-a-half had passed since he had discovered the truth about her from her own boys. But soon after the discovery, he had to be admitted to hospital, suffering from a slight brain infection which was to linger for months on end; he was in and out of hospital for more than a year, at times in a serious condition.

 

When he had at last recovered, the investigations continued. Presently he found out where she lived but, for days, he did not manage to see her. Each time he had to return home disappointed. His head-wound had finally healed but his mental condition worsened; irrationality continued to gain the upper hand. Since he had never succeeded in seeing Nadia, he deduced that she was being forcibly kept home by her jealous husband so that they would not be able to meet. It was another idée fixe, that the husband’s paranoia stemmed from the fact that, at long last, he had discovered that his wife still loved him in spite of the years.

 

In all this, Eva could hardly help him, but she went on with her sporadic visits, though at times she was afraid of him, mentally disturbed as he was. She was very angry at the way the world had treated him. Hearing his version of his misfortunes she felt dejected, convinced that if circumstances had been different she would have had a normal happy family. The more she dwelt on the thought, the more she hated all those who had ruined his life and hers.

 

   On certain days of the week, Klaus paid routine visits to the town centre to pursue his investigations. At times he doubted if the villa he was shadowing was in fact the one the boys had mentioned, apart from the possibility that he had been taken for a ride. ‘But how could the bastards guess I knew their mother? Did they recognize me, in spite of my damned bandages?...’ He was getting more and more furious at the boys.

 

One afternoon, when he was as usual in the vicinity of the villa, he spotted two boys approaching. They were the ones who had been at his inn. He kept watching them until they went into the villa. ‘It’s them...  they must be coming back from school. But where in bloody hell is their mother? Why isn’t she even seen anywhere? Can’t I spot her for once coming out of that damned door? Could her bloody husband be actually locking her in? I was right, then. Hmm… so she had to marry him for his money, the money she couldn’t get out of me. But… in spite of all this opulence she never forgot me. See what she’s got herself into now? And all this because of that scorpion, Friedrich… that dirty old pervert… But where the hell is she?...’

 

Klaus was feeling disheartened. He had been neglecting the inn for many weeks and his money was dwindling, so he decided to allow himself some respite until the tide would hopefully turn in his favour.

  However his ravings continued. He was restless, obsessed with the clock, waiting for closing time to go on his walk.

 

One day, when he was near the river he had an unexpected surprise. On the other side he saw a familiar-looking woman. She was only some distance away. Klaus just could not believe his eyes. It was her! At long last! That day was the same day that Nadia had seriously argued about the boys with her husband. She was wearing heavy winter clothes and a scarlet hood pulled down over her head. Klaus walked up to her stealthily, careful not to let her see him, convinced it was her. Her classic mien was enough to reassure him, particularly the way she crossed her legs and her nervous tapping on the ground with her shoes. He could recall all this from the village days. Many a time he had seen her behaving in this manner way back in the past. He was not prepared to meet her that day; he thought it better to wait and bide his time, he did not want to repeat his past mistakes like when he had declared his love to her with horrible results. At that moment, his mind was working well.

 

He walked over to the street, going further up. Then he crossed furtively to the other side. He was now at a conveniently shorter distance. Now he could see for sure if it was her. He stooped over the barricades looking at the gushing water and glancing around fleetingly. Klaus perceived that Nadia was rapt in thought. He saw this as an advantage to espy her more freely, as she too was gazing at the water rather sadly, positive that she was sad because of him, despondent at the thought of not seeing him again. He smirked proudly at this conjecture. She had hardly changed. His heart was thudding heavily. The crucial moment had arrived but he wanted to study every move before acting, so he continued watching her furtively, afraid she would see him.

 

But Nadia was too distracted. Klaus remembered that some time back, in those same quarters, he had seen a woman wearing a similar scarlet hood, but she had been too far off and he had not been able to see who she was. Now he was sure it had been her. ‘So these are her favourite haunts…’ and undoubtedly he would see her there some other time. His mind was now at ease. But how decidedly sad she looked. ‘…Her bloody husband is surely making her life a living hell. A woman so beautiful cannot be so dejected, unless she’s pining for her distant lover. Hmm… I’m happy she’s suffering for her unwise past choices, so she’ll be atoning for her stupid actions…’

 

He knew that she had got married, but he did not care. He could not have expected her to do otherwise, desperate as she was without him during those last seventeen years. He was raving again, his mind in confusion, convinced that she did not love her husband, that her heart was his, beating only for him.

 

From where he stood he went on watching her. Although Nadia was well bundled up, he could still remember the sculptured body under those winter clothes. At the thought of it, he felt aroused. Now everything was in order; what he had done so many years before had to be repeated, perhaps in a more decorous way.

 

Klaus saw her move away, heading for the city centre, probably going home. From a safe distance he walked behind her like some private detective. Nadia was going to catch a bus. He got on after her, careful not to let her see him. The doctor’s wife sat at the front, he farther inside, head bowed but almost certain that she would get down at the same stop where he usually got down. And she did. Nadia proceeded on her way and he followed her from a distance, walking up to the villa. Then she went in. Klaus breathed a sigh of relief, drew out a cigarette and smoked quietly, as if congratulating himself for all the good work.

 



Part Three (1927 – 1944)

(Number of chapters 24)

 

Chapter 3

 


Pastoral work in Munich was not easy, although Fr Ludwig was happy. He had been sent to a small church dedicated to St Nicholas near the Chapel of Loreto in Innere Weiner Street, in the old part of Haidhausen, in the city centre. In this street stands the Hofbräuhaus Brewery where, at that time, the Nazis were organizing a number of meetings and conferences.

 

One day, Fr Ludwig received a letter from the Curia informing him that due to logistic reasons he was being transferred to the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin, near Marienplatz. He was not expecting any transfers, never dreamed that one day he would be working in one of the most important cathedrals in the city. Annexed to the letter was an invitation to visit the Curia on a prescribed date.

 

Enquiring as to the right office, Ludwig found Fr Albert waiting for him. In his office, far-removed from the virtue of humility, the monsignor explained to him what was expected of him in that role. Fr Albert averred to have seen in him an exemplary priest, a promising one at that, audacious and devout, apart from the fact that he had known his mother from the village days. Thus, in his capacity, he felt he had to do him a favour. ‘A favour?...’ They discussed various subjects, even Nadia was drawn into the picture. The proud monsignor even reminisced on snippets from his life…

 

On the way back, Fr Ludwig pondered upon his superior’s words. After learning what the reason was, or rather, what it was not, he felt somewhat sceptic; it did not make sense that such an influential monsignor had acceded to bestowing on him that privilege simply because he had known his mother. He had never liked favours because he hated obligations. In his heart of hearts he prayed that the move would not create any precedent which would compromise his mission, when he had been a priest for barely four months. He already felt like he was being manipulated, though he never suspected his superior.

 

Pondering, he eventually found himself close to the Fish Fountain in the Marienplatz. He stopped by it, gazing at the water, trying to understand what lay behind his transfer. ‘Could my mother have pressed him to grant me this privilege? No, it couldn’t be…’ He continued on his way to the apartment in the Lehel district, some three hundred metres away. When he got there, instead of going in, he decided on a walk to the English Garden. On that fine, warm morning, he had no engagements, so he went down to the River Isar walking along Steinsdorf Street. Later on he found himself at the crossroads of Maximilian Street, he crossed over and proceeded towards Widenmayer, near the river. It had been long since he had gone for a good walk along those long streets.

 

The young priest arrived at another crossroads, turned to the left and headed for Prinzregenten and beyond to the museum of arts, until he arrived at the desired spot. He relaxed, admiring that vast open plain which in 1808 had been turned into an immense public park. Fr Ludwig felt tired and sat on a bench enjoying the atmosphere and the chirping birds basking in the warm summer sun. In that quiet atmosphere he felt himself transported back to the past and recalled the most beautiful memories; but also, the sad and bitter ones. He remembered what his family had had to go through along the years. His father’s image soared before him. He still felt his absence, though his brother had atoned for this with his fraternal affection. He had never felt isolated with Karl, but now, in such a big city, he could not say so. Solitude often got the better of him amongst the alien crowds, thanks to the conservative mentality of Bavarian individualism. He had always sought to get along well with everybody. But Munich was not Nuremberg. It was not the first time that he had heard the phrase “mei ruah mecht i hom…” – “please leave me alone…” He too was once welcomed thus when he had tried to strike up a conversation with a man as they both waited for the tram.

 

The clock struck one and Ludwig decided to head back home. The first thing he did when he entered the apartment was to remove his shoes and he sighed with relief. Then he sprawled on a sofa, aware that he had to fix something to eat. But he had hardly given it a thought before he dozed off.




Part Four (1963 – 1990)

(Number of chapters 19)

 

Chapter 8



Like many others of the younger generation, for Magda and Fritz the last years of the sixties were the utopian meaning of paradise on earth, the more so for Magda who had graduated with honours. She had based a part of her thesis on the philosophical perspective of the Expressionist movement, particularly what the philosopher Nietzsche wrote in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which, amongst other things, he stated: ‘What does my shadow matter?... Let it run after me!... I shall out-run it…’ And that’s what Magda wanted to do with her life: declare herself independent from conventional thought and from past memories.

 

After graduation, Magda was very happy to land a job as a caricaturist with an influential paper in the city. She invested her first earnings in a tour of Paris which she intended to share with her brother who, in the meantime, had also obtained his degrees, but continued his studies with a view to becoming a teacher of physics in a distinguished college. They had always loved Paris and they intended to spend three weeks of the summer of 1968 in that enchanting city, now that both were twenty-four.

 

  On arrival at Orly airport, Fritz and Magda hired a taxi which drove them to the city. They saw before them a metropolis crowned with triumphal architecture and magnificent monuments. The first Parisian landmark that caught their eye was the majestic Eiffel Tower and, in the background, on a distant hill, the white church of Montmartre.


They immediately opted that their hotel could wait and asked the driver to take them around the city, though they knew that this would cost them a whole day’s budget. What they began to see was simply spectacular: wide areas edified with splendid monuments, fantastic fountains, enchanting gardens and bronze statues representing the best exponents who flourished in the city, amongst whom artists, philosophers, musicians and great writers. The River Seine fascinated them, with boatloads of tourists all eager to see as much as they could of the city. They also admired a number of bridges, amongst which the flamboyant Pont Alexandre III. The driver, a friendly, balding man of about fifty, with moustaches à la Clemenceau, informed them that quite nearby there was the famous Pont Neuf which, ironically, was the first to be built way back in 1607. They continued their tour... With very broken English, the driver explained that Paris was divided into twenty arrondissements, from the Louvre to the last one which contained the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery.


On their way to the fifteenth quarter of Montparnasse, where they were to lodge, the driver affably explained which were the most interesting quarters, particularly the seventh one that hosted the Eiffel Tower and the Hôtel des Invalides, which guards Napoleon’s tomb. The eighth one was notorious, the seat of the haute couture as well as the area of the Champs Elysées. The ninth and tenth quarters were famous for the night-life with countless cabarets, erotic clubs and bordellos concentrated mostly in Pigalle. The eighteenth quarter could be deemed as the tourists’ paradise, the notorious Montmartre, famous for its refined bistros and for what once was the Mecca of the great artists. The twins had heard a lot of gossip about the Parisians: that they are haughty, intellectually pretentious and rather snobbish...

 

“… Such derogatory remarks are the work of denigrating tourists,” Fritz retorted dryly. “You’ll see that we’ll cope well in this regard,” he assured her with a smile.

 

Paris was also the seat of continental modern art, a very worthy heiress to Renaissance Florence. Between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries it hosted some of the greatest contemporary artistic giants, whose works, of course, the twins were keen on seeing.

  In the meantime, Fritz and Magda arrived at their three-star hotel, appositely chosen for economical reasons. Once inside, Fritz rushed to the bathroom for a well-earned shower, knowing too well that were his sister to precede him he would have to wait ages before she came out.

 

In the evening, after a little rest, they headed for the Champs Elysées. Under a summer sky and to a gentle breeze, they walked by the lush trees on the quiet side of the street, still dense with traffic at that time. On the other side they could see swarms of people about, in restaurants, clubs, open-air cafés and other high quality haunts.

 

“… It’s a smashing city, isn’t it, Fritz?” Magda enthused dreamily.

  “So it is.”

  “If I had enough money I would settle here forever… I wish I could change this wrought-iron bench into a gold one… it would be enough for us,” she added with a sigh.

  “Well, that isn’t entirely impossible, you know, sis. It can be scientifically done by transmutation.”

  “Transmu – what?”

  “Transmutation… when a cheap metal is changed into a much more precious one, such as gold.”

  “Really?”

  “Sure. In fact, the basic elements of any type of material are all the same. The only elements that count in this process are the protons, the neutrons and the electrons. If, say, we manage to isolate a proton from the nucleus of mercury, this element could be transmuted into gold. You know… in the Middle Ages, this was every alchemist’s wildest dream.”

  “We could become millionaires then!” retorted his sister with childish glee.

  “It isn’t as easy as it seems. In fact, Atomic Physics don’t consider such a theory a viable one… the energy involved and the financial investment it entails would be a lot more costly than the gold you’d have transmuted. In a nutshell… this process is absolutely impracticable.”

  “I knew it sounded too good to be true.”

  “But if such an experiment is quite useless, at least it shows that if scientists can change a cheap metal into a noble one, the All-Mighty can outdo them all. I mean… if Man can change mercury into gold, why can’t we believe that Christ changed water into wine?”

  “Ingenious, Fritz.”

  “There’s only one thing that physicists can never change.”

  “And what’s that?”

  “A human being into a better person. As Einstein once said… it is easier to change the composition of plutonium than eliminate wickedness from humanity.”

  “Golden words…”

 

They were near the Arc de Triomphe, and turned down the other side of the street.

  “… Such beautiful girls, too… well and truly angels!”

  “Let’s see who’ll seduce the most,” Magda challenged confidently, now set to adding a little more red to their first night in the city.

  “I advise you not to try.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I know what girls really want.”

  “Really? And what do girls want?”

  “The incredible. I mean… all that is beyond conventional monotony as to how men and women deal with each other.”

  “And how are you going to proceed? I mean, how are you going to seduce them?”

  “With rhetoric! Dear sister, we live in an era where beauty is everything and thus nobody dares neglect it. But ironically, when beautiful things degenerate into the everyday norm, they lose their face value. It’s here that I use my tactics and give something that society won’t give. And you should know that Man will give up everything to add some spice to life.”

  “What kind?”

  “The antithesis of the beautiful which Man already has in hand. And this is where I come in… for it must be someone like me, ready to make a clean-breast of things to be a real hit.”

  “Such humility!”

  “It’s all true, and damn humility. You know that I’m telling the truth. How do you explain, then, that I always make it with girls whom other handsomer guys never manage to win over?”

  “A very interesting conjecture.”

  “No conjecture at all, just the truth. Look, sis… the most important thing is to discern what actually makes Man a human being, get to grips with the antithesis of the monotonous, and when you do, create an alternative for it… besides other principles.”

  “Don’t be so damned vague. Enlighten me further, I didn’t get your last contention.”

  “Hmm… let’s drop in at this bar for a drink…”

  “Dammit! You always drop a serious argument when I’m warming up to it… you really get on my nerves when you do this.”

  “Oh come on… enough truths for today.”

  “Okay… now that we’re here, with all this semi-forbidden flesh around us… how about we put to practice what you’ve just preached and see how we end up – what do you say, Fritz?”

  “Come to think of it… I’ve failed to let you know another secret: never fish in unfamiliar waters. Let somebody else explore them for you, if nothing else, as a precautionary measure against any eventuality… for you might go for the cow and overlook the bull in heat.”

  “In other words, this night is limited to just drinks, right?”

  “Right… but meanwhile, let’s explore the area further and fish about, so when the time is propitious, we’ll be able to try the transmutation I told you about… with a difference: instead of changing mercury into gold, we’ll change our tirades into mind-blowing sex.”

  “Very well. To us then.”

  “And to Paris, too...”