chapter18


November 1968
I
took the 71- tram to the DIY centre and because it was in the vicinity of the cemetery, I made a detour there. I bought a white rose at the entrance. For three hours, I walked past the graves of the departed. 
I saw the Orthodox church that looks like the one on the Nevada river in Russia. There were names in Cyrillic – many of these names belonged to Russian migrants who fled the Bolsheviks in 1917. 
I saw the monuments of the great composers – Lehár, Strauss, Mozart and Beethoven who provided the soundtrack to a city which prides itself on old-fashioned elegance. 
I saw the final resting places of famous personalities, whose legacy I will eventually discover. 
I saw the monuments for the people who were sentenced to death by Nazi tribunals between 1938 and 1945. 
I saw the monument for the victims of Auschwitz as many Jews were deported from the city. I visited the Jewish cemetery with some names written in Hebrew. It is a tad neglected because many relatives emigrated to the USA or Israel. 
I saw the monument dedicated to the 1934 February Rebellion.
I saw a monument dedicated to the civilians who died during Nazi occupation.
I saw the pauper graves – rows of names written in black on white painted board stuck in the grass. 
I saw the graves of the unbaptised children who had no first name – they were called 'Boy X' or 'Girl X' . 
I finally arrived at the Garden of Remembrance where they bury the bodies donated to medical research. I left the white rose in a vase there in the memory of Lukas Votova.

I listened to the wind blowing through the bare trees. The cemetery brought home the reality of class division. This was in stark contrast with the egalitarian society where I grew up. There the dead where cremated and despatched by a string quartet. Apart from Sedlec and the stacked bones in the chapel, I had never visited cemeteries before. I had always felt too young to be thinking about my potential residence at the necropolis. And in fact, I don't fancy an address at the Necropolis. And why bother anyway? I don't believe in the immortality of the soul. Memories make people immortal.


I took the 71-tram back to the DIY centre, and bought some wallpaper and white gloss paint. With this cumbersome package, I travelled back to the City Centre and got off the terminus at the Schwarzenberg-Platz. It was named after the general who distinguished himself at Austerlitz. I looked at the equestrian statue and thought that the last year was so different. I was dealing with Napoleon, Slavkov, the Uni, a Muscovite TV-crew and listening to the Professor and his speeches. I regretted not to have read his voluminous book, perhaps I could try to track down a copy. Why was he so fascinated by this subject matter?                    

By the Schwarzenberg fountain, I stood a while in front of the Red Army Soldier. Was he a liberator or was he another imperialist? Was he sure that he was fighting for the right cause? What would he do if he was in the wrong army? It is absurd to expect answers from an object whose body is made of molten watches. Who started this tradition of the memorial to the Unknown Soldier anyway? But you might as well ask your questions to a wall, a wall of lamentations, a saintly votive figure on a bridge or a ruin, they will never provide any answers. The oracle only echoes the sound of my own thoughts. I walked into the Polish émigrés church nearby. Even though I wasn't a Catholic, I liked the sound of their hymns. At least here, people could show peaceful devotion to their faith. The faith of the departed people of Sedlec might have been as strong as theirs. 

• 


I left my building materials in my room, helped Olivia at the shop, where we listed stock. Stefan phoned the shop to invite me for dinner. I took the D-tram to Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof to meet him. Stefan wanted to introduce me to his friends who ran the Café Dritter Mann (The Third Man Café) located inside the station. He loved that film and explained how he met Monika at one of the weekly screenings at the Burgkino. The café interior imitated the ochres of a Sienna Palazzo and there were frescoes depicting Tuscan landscapes. How much was ochre and how much was nicotine, I could not tell. It was called 'Dritter Mann' because its walls were adorned with monochrome pictures of actors and writers connected to the iconic film, which was shot in Vienna. I thought it was a nice touch to put a picture of Joseph Cotten speaking on the phone above the coin-operated public telephone. There was a photograph of Alida Valli on a train above the railway time-table. The actress plays a German-speaking Czechoslovak refugee who is hiding from  the authorities. After the War, when the allies occupied Austria, Czechoslovaks were sent back to their country unless they were Sudetes who were reluctantly assimilated. There a photographs showing Orson Welles standing by the Ferris Wheel. A bit odd was a photograph of Ernst Deutsch playing the violin above the American jukebox. I sat down at the table next to it. 

Stefan arrived soon afterwards. First he put a coin in the jukebox and it played  'Those were the Days', a Russian song adapted by the Beatles and sung by Mary Hopkin. He said that he could never resist choosing a song on that jukebox. Then he introduced me to Marelene Waldmüller who ran this place with Aldo Cassini her common-law husband. They both liked to eat well and treated every customer with a warm welcome. They even went as far as putting jugs of water and baskets of bread on every table. Some of the customers did not have enough change for anything beside a coffee, but they drank some  water, ate some sliced bread and left a small tip. The 'Dritter Mann' was not a soup-kitchen but a social enterprise project. Its motto was to provide nutritious affordable food. What it sold most apart from coffees and soups was spaghetti Bolognese, and its vegetarian option where the beef mince was replaced by soya protein. It was possible to run a private enterprise with a social conscience, in my country, the regime does not believe that private enterprise and social conscience are compatible. I said to Stefan that for all its faults, the West did not put artists who failed to praise the regime faithfully in prison. In fact, Graham Greene who wrote the screenplay to The Third Man had sympathies for Kim Philby, the English communist spy. Stefan replied that censorship in the West works in a different way: For example,  in the 1950s, US Senator Joseph McCarthy  set out to blacklist any influential Communist supporters in the media and film, thus ending the careers of some big names from Hollywood. Did I also know that a couple called Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed because of their communist sympathies? Their sons were raised by man who wrote the song 'Strange Fruit'. 'Strange Fruit' tells about white supremacists who lynched black people. What kind of country of the free is that? Did I know about Operation Paperclip? In 1945, the US army brought over Nazi scientists to America. He wasn't paranoid but in his opinion, the USA was not a real democracy. It also had the death penalty, no universal healthcare, and pursued imperialist policies in Latin America.  It was getting better though, at least racial segregation was abolished four years ago.  It was a lot of information to take in . I concluded that Radio Free Europe might have made some salient point about Marxim-Leninism but its claim for the West's moral high ground were not quite justified.  Stefan also went on a tangent about Napoleon Bonaparte of France. He explained how the French emperor re-established slavery on Haiti and led expeditions against the first independent state... I imagined Adolf  Schaden saying similar things when he was Stefan's age and perhaps quoting Karl Marx who in an open letter to Abraham Lincoln wrote: "If resistance to the slave power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war-cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery."(1864).  It was a relief not to have to think about secret police who might have taken offense from such a seditious conversation. Neutrality is all about being able to opt out of the Cold War. Can neutral countries claim a moral high ground then? Alas no, because deep down we will always be neutral against something. However,we must side along to whatever makes the most sense to us and be able to live as peacefully as possible with our ideological opponents.



Two days after our café conversation, I went to meet Stefan outside his workplace at the admin for the Hochschule für Welthandel. It was not far from the Franz-Josef's train-station. The department was located inside a white factory building  that had a porch and seven arches. It dawned on me that Schaden used to work in the same place. If my geographical knowledge was right, then the Karl-Marx-Hof council estate where the workers rebelled in February 1934 was very close. This factory was the place where Schaden met his political allies and enemies. Some of these enemies went on to collaborate with a racist regime that found elaborated scientific ways to murder a large number of people. Without science, technology and bureaucracy, the Nazi regime would never have been so efficient. It took me a while to find out where Stefan worked in that vast building. The porter, Herr Stanggassinger let me in  and he spoke to the receptionist Frau Kyzelak. She said that my cousin worked in Room 02B45, two floors down. 

Memories of E111 flooded back. I pictured the young man beavering in an underground warren. No wonder he was so pale and had colourless hair! His office was tiny and painted in those lime-green colours that states all over the world are fond of. The neon-light was far too dim. The plywood desk had lime-green tubular-steel legs and an assorted chair. There was an internal phone stuck on the wall and stacks of files on the shelves. On the desk there was a type-writer. The clock in this windowless office was ticking away: It was half past five.  This is what the 'going underground' metaphor means. The secret police works underground, bureaucracy works underground, revolutionaries work underground. On the ground, ordinary people walk about blissfully ignorant of this underworld. Perhaps, Adolf  Schaden was relieved to be assigned on an adventurous mission in the lands of South Bohemia. My cousin showed up, he was shuffling his feet. He looked at me with surprise and muttered that he fell off the ladder in the archive room and knocked himself out. At first, I thought that he had been drinking because of his slurred speech but then I realized that this was the result of the concussion. He leaned on me and we took the lift upstairs. The porter said that Herr Votova was lucky that I found him because he might have ended up spending the night in the building. Frau Irmgard Kyzelak said that this was nonsense because she was in the process of checking whether all staff had properly clocked out. She filled an accident form and logged it in a box-file, then she took out an expense form and called a taxi to take Stefan to hospital. He declined the offer saying that he did not want to spend the evening in the crowded A&E but if the taxi could take both of us home, it would be fine. I was worried. Stefan said later that this had happened before and he would be perfectly fine in the morning.

I took him upstairs to his flat. It was a small two bedroom flat with tired-looking furniture which probably came from a house clearance. He said that he and Monika hadn't had time yet to renovate the place. I offered my help and he accepted saying that I could stay rent-free at Olivia's in return. This was a sound enough arrangement. I suggested to paint the walls sky-blue and the furniture white which would give the place a fresh Scandinavian feel. He laughed and asked whether I was reading the Sunday supplement magazine of the Wiener-Zeitung with its practical tips. We chatted for a bit, then Monika came back from her shift at the cinema and I left after a cup of herbal coffee. I went back to my attic bedsit and continued painting the walls. The architect Le Corbusier had this idea that interior design of a house should not be left to people living in it. I didn't like Le Corbusier and his concept of a house as a machine. I certainly did not want my home to feel like a prison where the thoughts echo and threaten the architect's delicate scheme. A few days later, Stefan and I went to the DIY centre in Erdberg to get some paint, wallpaper and other stuff. We also bought a Christmas tree and some fairy lights. I told him that in our household, we never celebrated Christmas known as Koleda because Franci and Nikola disapproved of Koleda's pagan roots. We bought roasted chestnuts at a Maroni stand – and for a while we contemplated the festive lights whilst eating maronis out of a paper bag. I would have liked to drink some Glühwein - mulled wine -  but I stuck to doctor's orders and abstained.

Comments