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Poetry Magnum Opus



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Get up, silly boy, or you'll freeze!

Oh, danke schoen. Danke schoen.

I do not know

why I lie upon the snow.


Ich hole Dir ein Taxi.

Weiss Du wo Du wohnst?

Haha, of course.

Darueber. Over there!


Also, gut, steh auf. Komm mit.

Ach, komme, Du!


I began, I think, to sing:


Nach Hause, nach Hause,

nach Hause geh'n wir nicht!

Wenn nicht der Fuehrer spricht,

nach hause geh'n wir nicht!


Ha, ha -- Heil Hitler!


Sei ruhig! Stupid boy!

So sorry, I am really sorry, tell me ...

are you Jewish? Sind Sie ein Jude?

Are you crazy? Halt's endlich dein Maul!


And so Karlheinz

got me home, saved my life

and became my friend.


I was ashamed, contrite,

when we met again. Mein Lieber,

auch wenn Du Auslaender bist

darfst nicht sagen was Du denkst!


You may not

say what you think!


I was no friend of the Nazis.

I thought they were a joke.

To Karlheinz they were no joke


and so I started to listen

and look around me

and think. Before, life was grand

unplanned, just happening every day


in Berlin, so weird and strange,

and rather lovely. I was living in Pankow

in one of those huge awful houses

from the Kaiserzeit. My landlady, Frau Weiss,

had a picture of the Old Boy up on the wall

and said, quite often, with a heaving sigh


Ja, ja, das war die schoene Zeit.

Yes, that was the lovely time.


I couldn't see it, with my schoolboy images

of Ypres and the Somme and the gas and ghastly Huns

and the heavy memories of loss and hatred at home

and so said nothing about it, I contented

myself with platitudes about the horrors of war

and Frau Weiss would sigh and talk about

starvation and embrace me, embarrassingly, and say


Mein Kind, mein Kind, so was soll nicht wieder geben!

My child, my child, may such things never happen again!


I couldn't help but notice that she liked the Nazis,

thought that Adolf Hitler was the coming man:

laughter at this was met by pained and frosty silence.


Karlheinz would call around from time to time

and I think Frau Weiss was afraid of him. He had exquisite

manners, in the stiff Prussian way, the clicking of heels,

the not-quite kissing of hands. She was in awe of him

and to have such a friend did wonders for my reputation.


Karlheinz, I fear, looked upon me as an idiot,

a laboratary example of the strange enigmatic English

(I protested I was Irish to no lasting avail: Ja, ja, ja, ja!)

An Englaender who lies singing songs in the snow on freezing nights

needed to be taken gently but firmly in hand!


Vigorous protests followed, but this image was to remain

until Karlheinz died for Germany, the real Germany, in July 1944.

I am getting ahead of my story, I know, and am aware of that,

as harsh iron tears squeeze slowly from my eyes.


We were friends. We met in the year before Hitler and his gang

came to power, and we remained friends in all the years to come,

until I had to leave Berlin; even then, in different opposing armies,

we still heard news of one another. Until that fatal end ...


I went to Germany, a doddering old man,

to seek out his grave. But he had no grave.

They had denied him even that. I stood there.

I lifted my arms and prayed for you. Karlheinz.


And I can see your face even now,

concerned, annoyed ...

Was macht's Du denn, was soll das sein?

You die, you die, don't you know,

when you sleep inside the snow?

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Your story is a human and worthwhile read. Set against the background of a nation impoverished by reparation after 1918..and a generation hi-jacked by unscrupulous people and nationalist fervour.... 1945 is now referrred to as year zero... yet melodic proud marching songs can still be heard in certain bierkellers. But images of things such as buses, whose windows were painted over with pictures of laughing people to hide the huddled victims inside, do not fade easily. It was difficult for our island mentality to understand the "stiff Prussian way" although arguably we can draw parallels with protocols of the rich, the powerful and priveleged anywhere. I suppose we are all susceptible to being hi-jacked one way or another, but as you rightly said before, "the human spirit is indomitable."

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