Snow is falling white-out
over the Schloss and its collections
of the dead. A small marble hand
glistens in its case and holds
a...broken staff of life? In a darkroom
animals carved from mammoths’
tusks forty-thousand years ago,
and downstairs, a piece of knotted blue jewellery
aches in its category, its time period.
A hoplite’s helmet is mounted
as puritan offering, thick castle walls
gathering around, the snowed
city quiet with Sunday. I struggle
with the German inscriptions,
but manage. I won’t go into
the glass enclosures of Egyptian
death, the coffins, the writing
into afterlife. I won’t. And in the
cast gallery, myth and municipality
and old men following the narrative
of the Swabian dialect poet, the humourist,
the satirist, the key member of PEN,
Thaddäus Troll, in his true-life
manifestation as Hans Bayer,
wartime propagandist for the Nazis,
Nazi Party member who denied membership
after the war, another of the ‘de-Nazified’
who learnt the ropes of the New Europe,
the new morality, adjusted with verve,
became an icon of the new imprint,
killing himself thirty-five years later
with a Dixie band lined up for his funeral – funny.
Expressing ‘deep shame’ for keeping shtum.
Late-war editor of Der Sieg, egging
the Wehrmacht on and on, thrilled early-on
to be at war, thrilled to be invading Russia,
a victim of his own propaganda, his own
lust to be part of the Propagandakompanien?
Munitions and a thorough coverage of the arts.
An exhibition among bright white naked youth,
among lovers and heroes and Gods raping humans.
Animals converting and cavorting. The perverse
eyes of Caesars. The denied is reconfigured
and built into the reincarnation of that nineteenth-
century nationalism, the defence of the town
in the medieval castle, the fast shiny new BMWs.
Mea culpa and yet, those ‘ordinary’ soldiers,
the quotidian outside the Warsaw Ghetto –
get it out in the open, barely slanted,
and the laundry will come out clean enough.
The sin hanging around as the grand entry into the hall
of the gods is made. The sun comes out – holes
through which the edges of the smear of cloud
redden and redden and redden. Not ‘angry’,
just reflecting. It’s physics. Properties. Sociology.
Philology. It all comes home to roost. Tracy asks
which language other than English I first read.
It was Russian because of Sputnik and the Cold War.
But then German because I played wars.
And I read all history of Germany at war.
And I knew every battle and every detail.
Then I got my Purnell’s History of WWII
issue on the camps. Then. Then. Then.
Is it just semantics that Bayer’s father
was a soap maker? How should we arrange
this in his biography? I am troubled
by the right-wing historian who prefaces
his exposé of European ‘history’
with a plea (or warning) for vigilance
from ‘Europeans from both sides of the Atlantic’.
Who are these bifurcated ‘Europeans’? Carvers
of mammoth tusk, idolaters of miniaturised animals?
Artists of cave walls. Idols? Survivors? Projectors
of force? Foundations of the state? Poets?
A dog is leaping and bounding (easiest translation)
down the white slope of Österberg.
The silver-foiled rays of Dante’s exile
sucking all Hellwards or up into the swirl
of heavenly light. What chance do we have?
It’s the colour of illustration. It’s the plates
we print from. It’s the artefacts gathered
to arrange a version of history. It’s
admiring the small white hand outlasting
its body: alive and glistening and holding
firm to its identity. It’s the laugh a minute
to keep up morale, it’s the excitement, it’s
the conspiracy. It’s the ash from crematoriums
disguising itself as snow; and if the world
overheats and shrivels it has still left its marks,
baked by the bloody sun we worship and fear,
baked into caskets (house, town, city)
we occupy with varying degrees of comfort;
painting over the cracks. I watch the ‘happy’,
wintering families climb Österberg
and can openly wish them well –
bright colours in the glare,
toboggans and release. What else
are they to do? The snow is slippery
and surprising and so inviting.
I think again of old men, very old men,
slowly taking in the Bayer exhibition, watched
over by casts of classical sin.