Act I Scene 11

SCENE 11

(Two people who have made arrangements to avoid conscription meet up.)

SHIRKER 1:    Hello, still in Vienna? Didn’t they call you up after all?

SHIRKER 2:    I went straight upstairs[1] myself and got it all sorted out. So what are you doing in Vienna anyway? Weren’t you called up either?

SHIRKER 1:    I went straight to the top and got it sorted out as well.

SHIRKER 2:    But of course.

SHIRKER 1:    But of course.

SHIRKER 2:    I don’t know what happened to Edi Wagner though, did he get himself sorted out? He was up for a medical assessment in October, then there was a story that his old man was going to buy him a Daimler because his major, Tschibulkavon Welschwehr[2], promised he’d be put in the motor corps, then I heard he’d either go into the monastery at Klosterneuberg[3] or into a munitions factory, well into the office anyway, then they were saying the family business would declare him indispensable and his uncle, you know, the one who seems to have put down roots at the military hospital in Fillgradergasse[4], I bumped into him, he told me the worst case scenario he’d get Edi a job with the Red Cross; to cut a long story short no one seems to know; I’d really be interested in where the poor devil’s ended up.

SHIRKER 1:    I can tell you. His old man, such a cheapskate, changed his mind about the Daimler and got him a position with the Danish Papercloth Company[5] instead, but that didn’t suit him, he said he’d rather get on with his service and he was sent to Blumau Barracks[6], but he was bored there, so now he’s sitting at the Chapeau Club[7] every night, sometimes in uniform sometimes in civvies, how the guy does it is a mystery to me, I can only assume that when all that patronage didn’t work out, well, he just went upstairs and got it sorted out for himself. Although it could be he was actually discharged of course, or he got himself that medical exemption in the end. I’ll see you then, I’ve got a rendezvous with a real starlet, maybe sampling the merchandise, a classy little piece even if I do say so myself –

SHIRKER 2:    You always were a bastard. Did you hear, Pepi Seifert[8] fell, at Rawa-ruska[9], did you know, anyway have to fly, got a meeting at the War Welfare Office, we’re doing an afternoon tea tomorrow and I’ve promised to bring Fritsi-Spritsi[10], Sascha Kolowrat’s coming too, be a sport and come with us, you can bring your bit of fluff too, cheerio!

SHIRKER 1:    I’ve got other things to do now, old chum, but if that works out I’ll phone you, bye-ee – oh, and apropos – what I was going to say –

(A newspaper subscriber and a patriot appear.)

PATRIOT:    Perfectly healthy young people, look at them? I could raise a whole corps on the Ringstrasse!

SUBSCRIBER:    I’m appalled, really. Apparently they’re shirking conscription in France as well, it’s disgusting!

PASSER-BY 1 (turning):    Are you talking about me?

SUBSCRIBER:    You? I don’t even know you, leave me alone –

PASSER-BY 2:     Then leave us alone too – you know absolutely nothing about –

PATRIOT:    Please, gentlemen, he was talking about the French shirking the call-up, you don’t need to get so exercised, I mean you’re not in France.   

PASSER-BY 1:    All right, I beg your pardon, if you weren’t applying it to Austria, then it’s my mistake, all the best! (Both off.)

SUBSCRIBER:    Did you see that, the barefaced cheek of it into the bargain! He’s certainly got that in common with those draft dodgers in France.

PATRIOT:    Probably a Frenchie who’s dodged the call-up to wreak havoc here, how can we know, hang me if he wasn’t a deserter or even a spy!

SUBSCRIBER:    I have the distinct impression he was.

PATRIOT:    It’s quite something, what’s going with the enemy!

SUBSCRIBER:     You’re telling me! Let’s just stick with France for example, they’ve announced another round of examinations for medical exemptions now, can you imagine, re-examining the rejects.

PATRIOT:    And if that’s not enough, re-examining them – the ones they do take go straight off to the front! I did read the piece on ‘The Enlistment of Rejected Conscripts in France’.

SUBSCRIBER:    And what do you think about the deplorable state of the French Military Commissariat?

PATRIOT:    Contracts for military supplies concluded at incredible prices.

SUBSCRIBER:    Suspicious price differentials observed for tinned food and munitions.

PATRIOT:    Extortionate prices paid for cloth, canvas and flour.

SUBSCRIBER:    Certain middlemen procuring huge profits for concluding sales! And they all work with middlemen, don’t they!

PATRIOT:    Where?

SUBSCRIBER:    In France of course!

PATRIOT:    It’s a scandal!

SUBSCRIBER:    And it all gets discussed in open parliamentary session!

PATRIOT:    It wouldn’t be possible here! Fortunately we have –

SUBSCRIBER:    No parliament, you mean –

PATRIOT:    A clear conscience I was going to say.

SUBSCRIBER:    Millerand[11] has admitted it all himself, he’s their Minister of War, it’s impossible, he said, to avoid mistakes, but the harshest legal action would be taken.

PATRIOT:    I don’t see any.

SUBSCRIBER:    What about Russia? Typical of them, obliged to conscript members of the Duma[12] and the government puts up with open criticism.

PATRIOT:    That sort of thing’s precluded here, fortunately we have –

SUBSCRIBER:    I know, a clear conscience.

PATRIOT:    No, no parliament I was going to say.

SUBSCRIBER:    What do you think about the harvest?

PATRIOT:    I can only say: Miserable harvest in Italy. Crop failure in England. Unfavourable prospects for the yield in Russia. Anxiety about harvest-time in France. But what about the exchange rates, eh?

SUBSCRIBER:    What about it? The fall in the rouble says it loud and clear.

PATRIOT:    God, if you compare it with our crown for instance –

SUBSCRIBER:    The lira’s in a dreadful state, down thirty per cent!

PATRIOT:    Luckily the crown’s only dropped twice that.

SUBSCRIBER:    Apropos of Italy, did you read today that on top of it all everything really is going right down the pan? The Messagero’s[13] complaining about unsatisfactory rubbish collection in Rome, which throws an all too characteristic light on the conditions there.

PATRIOT:    Compare that with the streets of Vienna! As if they’d be any dirtier in wartime than they were in peacetime! Do you ever read a word in any of our newspapers to suggest everything isn’t entirely in order at this stage? The most one sees is a piece in the New Free Press now and again – like ‘The Rubbish Collector and the Flies’ – but that was a powerful story!

SUBSCRIBER:    Anyway, those excesses have been dealt with for the most part. Didn’t you read it: ‘Partial Rubbish Collection Stoppage’! You see!

PATRIOT:    What do you think about England?

SUBSCRIBER:    You know the price of their potatoes has skyrocketed!

PATRIOT:    Yes, and it still turns out they’re cheaper over there now than ours were in peacetime. Imagine that!

SUBSCRIBER:    So what about the way our civilian internees are being treated? Did you read how they’re all wasting away? And yet we know all too well how the Russian prisoners of war are being treated by us!

PATRIOT:    In return they take nothing but liberties of course. I’ve been told that in the Tyrol, up in the Brenner Pass[14], we let them dig trenches, just to keep them occupied. What do you think happened? They refused to do it! Naturally we gave them short shrift. An army detail was sent up from Innsbruck, they were asked one more time if they’d dig the trenches. No, was the answer! Rifles were raised. No need for us to feel awkward about international law, war is war. But because we’re such a nice bunch we were still patient, we asked them once more, rebellious louts. No, they said. Sights were set. So of course – you should have seen them then, all putting their hands up at once, oh yes, they all wanted to dig trenches now. There was a real rush for the trenches, I can tell you. All except four, that is.  So naturally they were shot. Among them was an officer cadet – listen to this –

SUBSCRIBER:    I’m listening.

PATRIOT:    Almost certainly the main ringleader. He had the gall to make an anti-Austrian speech in the very midst of our own mountains. Probably an anti-Semite[15]. Listen –

SUBSCRIBER:    I am.

PATRIOT:    Our own men, kind-hearted lot that they are, were too excited when it came to shooting, couldn’t hit them at any price, so the captain had to help out personally, he brought them down with his service revolver. And what do you think about all the liberties Russian prisoners are taking here!

SUBSCRIBER:    Here? We should be discussing how badly they’re treating Austrian prisoners of war there! In case you haven’t read what’s in the paper today, look, I’ve got it with me, listen: ‘Improper Use of Prisoners of War for Participation in Hostilities by Russian Troops’. The Army Press Corps reports: Since the Russian expulsion from Galicia seldom a day goes by without the revelation of yet another breach of international law by Russian troops; it has been established beyond any doubt that there is scarcely a provision of international law not trampled underfoot by the Russian side.

PATRIOT:    Very good.

SUBSCRIBER:    Just listen –

PATRIOT:   I’m listening.

SUBSCRIBER:    In formerly occupied areas of Galicia police investigations have revealed that on foot of orders from Russian commanding officers, all able-bodied men and women were forcibly mobilised for work, as and when required, throughout the entire occupation, especially for digging trenches –

PATRIOT:    What can anyone say to that!

SUBSCRIBER:    – and they were herded into the Carpathian Mountains[16] to do it. Naturally it doesn’t bother the powers that be in Russia that the Hague Convention[17] expressly prohibits the enemy from forcing labour on the peaceful population of an occupied territory in any way that brings them into conflict with their own country.

PATRIOT:    They couldn’t care less! Scum!

SUBSCRIBER:    If you’ll just listen –

PATRIOT:    I am.

SUBSCRIBER:    So it’s unsurprising that the Russians, as has now been established, have similarly abused prisoners of war from the Imperial Army by forcing them into construction work that will be used against us –

PATRIOT:    Unheard of! They’re doing the same thing with prisoners!

SUBSCRIBER:    – though this also contravenes a Hague Convention clause stating that prisoners of war may not be utilised for work connected to any war-related activity whatsoever. By a remarkable coincidence the Imperial 82nd Infantry Regiment recently came to storm a Russian stronghold, which prisoners of war from the same regiment had been forced to erect. On a board they found the following inscription in Hungarian: ‘Built by Szekler Hungarians[18] of the 82nd Infantry Regiment’. After recent reports of the forcible expulsion of Austrian citizens from their homeland, the detention of Austro-Hungarian subjects and their forced participation in hostilities against their own land appears to be not just another similar incident but the logical conclusion of the Russian war strategy – so what do you say now?

PATRIOT:    Typically Russian! The world’s seen nothing like it before! Not just another similar incident at all, no, they’re absolutely following through their plans! And the poor Austrian soldiers probably didn’t dare refuse.

SUBSCRIBER:   No one’s going to have the chutzpah of that Russian cadet!

PATRIOT:    Making a speech against Austria on one of our mountain tops!

SUBSCRIBER:    Right on top of the Carpathians!

PATRIOT:    What do you mean Carpathians? It was the Brenner Pass!

SUBSCRIBER:    Right on top of the Brenner! It’s true, not a day passes without another one of these grotesque infamies crying out to heaven!

PATRIOT:    Professor Brockhausen’s article was excellent, he pointed out that defenceless captives are never humiliated here, not even verbally.

SUBSCRIBER:    He got that right: in the same edition of the New Free Press a captain at Lemberg disclosed that sections of the population jeered at Russian prisoners passing through the streets, then beat them with sticks. He expressly pointed out that this is behaviour unworthy of a cultured nation.

PATRIOT:    He did concede that we’re a cultured nation, not just the Jews.

SUBSCRIBER:    It goes without saying. But there really isn’t a single thing that doesn’t set us apart us from the enemy, they’re the dregs of mankind.

PATRIOT:    For example, there’s the refined tone of voice we use when we strike out at our enemies, who really are the filthiest scum on God’s earth.

SUBSCRIBER:    Above all, in contrast to them, we’re always humane. The New Free Press, for example, even devoted a leading article to the fish and the other creatures of the Adriatic, they’ve got good times coming, with so many Italian corpses to feed on. But it does take humanitarianism to extremes, still giving consideration to fish and other Adriatic animals in these unforgiving times, when even mankind suffers the pangs of hunger!

PATRIOT:     Yes, sometimes Benedikt can go a bit over the top. But – well, he really does dish it out! And anyway it’s not only when it comes to humanitarianism in war that we’re so far ahead, we’ve also got something even more valuable – staying power! For the rest of them, it’s all about defeatism, already. They’d be glad to see the back of it. But for us – ?

SUBSCRIBER:    That struck me too. Take the demoralisation in France!

PATRIOT:     Fatigue in England!

SUBSCRIBER:    Despair in Russia!

PATRIOT:    Remorse in Italy.

SUBSCRIBER:    General gloom throughout their Triple Entente!

PATRIOT:    The walls are crumbling!

SUBSCRIBER:    Anxiety gnawing away at Poincaré!

PATRIOT:    Grey in the deepest depression.

SUBSCRIBER:    The Czar tossing and turning in his bed.

PATRIOT:    Dismay in Belgium.

SUBSCRIBER:    What a relief! Disheartenment in Serbia!

PATRIOT:    Now that makes me happy! Despondency in Montenegro!

SUBSCRIBER:    So we can still hope! Our fourfold Alliance[19] in shock!

PATRIOT:    I’m recovering already! Misgivings in London, Paris, Rome. You only have to look at the headlines, no need to go further, you’ll know exactly where we stand. You’ll see how badly things are going for them and how well for us. We have our moods too, but such different ones thank God!

SUBSCRIBER:    With us it’s all joy, optimism, jubilation, hope, happiness, we’re always in a good humour, and why not, we’ve got every right to be.

PATRIOT:    Seeing it through for example, it’s an obsession with us.

SUBSCRIBER:    No one does that as well as us anywhere.

PATRIOT:    The Viennese especially – we’re the super-see-it-throughers. We’ll take on any, every single kind of hardship as if it’s just a bit of fun.

SUBSCRIBER:    Hardships? What hardships?

PATRIOT:    If there were any hardships I mean –

SUBSCRIBER:    But fortunately there aren’t!

PATRIOT:    Absolutely right! There are none. But tell me – if we’re not really going without – what have we got to do all this seeing it through for?

SUBSCRIBER:    I’ll explain it to you. Although there aren’t any privations as such, we can still put up with them effortlessly – that’s the art of it. We’ve always hit the nail on the head where that’s concerned.

PATRIOT:    Exactly. Queueing for example, that’s great fun – people positively queue up just to join a queue.

SUBSCRIBER:    The only thing that’s changed for us at all is that there’s a war on. If there wasn’t a war on you could almost believe we were still at peace. But war is war and there are a lot of things we just enjoyed doing anyway, before the war, which we now have to be compelled to do.

PATRIOT:    Exactly. Nothing’s really changed for us. And if it does come to calling rejects back for a second medical examination once in a blue moon here, well, we should consider it, I mean our young folk can’t wait to get to the front, and that’s up to and including the fifty-year-olds.

SUBSCRIBER:    The older age groups haven’t even been called up yet.

PATRIOT:    Did you read, ‘Conscription of Nineteen-year-olds in Italy’? That headline alone tells you the whole dreadful truth.

SUBSCRIBER:    No, I must have missed it. What do you say? So young! Here they’ve got to be much more mature, and if I’m not mistaken it’s the turn of the fifty-year-olds now, but only in the rear of course, and there must be plenty of forty-nine-year-olds still out there too.

PATRIOT:    They’ve stopped exempting the forty-eight-year-olds in France.

SUBSCRIBER:    Cue the grey-hairs! They must have used all their youngsters up. We move out our seventeen-year-olds in March, that’ll be really satisfying for them.

PATRIOT:    The best age for it, definitely! But you know where the real difference lies? In equipment. In fact that’s the most import thing. We understand that automatically, we don’t make a big thing of it. Did you see today’s paper: ‘Italian Concerns over Soldiers’ Warm Mountain Clothing’?

SUBSCRIBER:    The problems they have!

PATRIOT:    We don’t even need to bother with that sort of thing. It’s no problem at all! You farm out the order and Bob’s your uncle. You know the story about the blankets? No?

SUBSCRIBER:    No.

PATRIOT:    An excellent example of how everything sorts itself out here. Feiner and Co. signed off on a million and a half blankets from Germany, in the opinion of the War Office that was about what they needed for the Carpathian Mountains in winter. No big deal anyway, because they were counting on final victory long before that. Now when things got a bit serious, well suddenly we needed action, fine and dandy, but first of all we had the customs formalities to deal with. There was no way the Minster of Finance would budge on handing over the goods before they were cleared, even if the Minister of War did keep shouting about how much he needed them. What can I tell you, it went on like that for six months, back and forth between the War Office and the Ministry of Finance. Right through the whole Carpathian campaign in fact. Then Feiner and Co. made up its mind to act and so Katzenellenbogen[20], you know, our right-hand man in Berlin, especially when it’s got anything to do with the War Office, well, he intervened personally. He went straight up to the Minister of Finance and told him to his face it wasn’t on. The Minister of Finance said he couldn’t resolve the matter just like that. So Katzenellenbogen told him, he’s got such chutzpah, that’s his great strength, Katzenellenbogen told him, first the company will go bankrupt and secondly the blankets will fall to pieces, they were lying out in the cold and damp, they were already nearly done for –

SUBSCRIBER:    The soldiers?

PATRIOT:    No, they’d been kept outside.

SUBSCRIBER:    Who had?

PATRIOT:    The blankets had! Why do you keep asking me that? Anyway, he told him categorically, first the company goes bankrupt, second the blankets fall to pieces, and third, when all’s said and done the soldiers do actually need them. The Minister of Finance shrugged his shoulders and said the paperwork had to be completed. First the excise duty, then the blankets.

SUBSCRIBER:    Well, why didn’t the War Office pay it?

PATRIOT:    You may well ask! The Minister of War took the position that he couldn’t, because the paperwork had to be dealt with first.

SUBSCRIBER:    For the excise duty?  Isn’t that up to the Finance Minister?

PATRIOT:    No, it was paperwork to release funds to pay the excise duty.

SUBSCRIBER:    I see, so what happened? I’m dying to know –

PATRIOT:    What happened? Katzenellenbogen went upstairs again and told him to his face: Excellency, he said, the War Office won’t give in. I’ll tell you something, he went on, normally in business, if a customer can’t pay immediately but after a few enquiries you learn that he really is good for the money, the usual thing is to defer payment. Excellency, let me say this to you, just enquire about the War Office and you’ll find it really is good for the money – what have you got to lose, give them time to pay! Anyway, it made sense to His Excellency. Payment was deferred, the blankets arrived.

SUBSCRIBER:    So, everything sorted itself out for the best after all.

PATRIOT:    Up to a point, yes. But by this time it was March of course. How can I put it, when they pulled out the blankets they were completely ruined. They took some refugees, got them to make up one blanket out of two, and in the end it was April by the time everything was all right, unfortunately the order was twice as expensive, well, that work had to be paid for naturally, patching up one and a half million blankets is no small matter – and when it was all finished, what do you think happened?

SUBSCRIBER:    Er – ?

PATRIOT:    Transpired the soldiers didn’t need them any more. First of all it wasn’t cold in the Carpathians by then and most of them had frostbitten feet already – But I ask you: do we make a song and dance about blankets?

SUBSCRIBER:    But the Italians, oh yes! Serves them right! What do you reckon to the high food prices in Italy then?

PATRIOT:    I didn’t see that, I only read about their bad harvest.

SUBSCRIBER:    Aren’t you confusing it with the failed crops in England?

PATRIOT:    That’s another story altogether, and you’ve got to distinguish that from the one about all the food shortages in Russia of course.

SUBSCRIBER:    Come on, it’s all much of a muchness. What about the casualty lists, for example, they’ve been brought in everywhere now.

PATRIOT:    Yes, exactly like us, they copy everything –

SUBSCRIBER:    I’m sorry, what do you mean? So have we introduced –

PATRIOT:    No, but we’ve introduced a daily list of English casualties.

SUBSCRIBER:    That caught my eye too, well, ours does only put in an appearance once in a blue moon.

PATRIOT:    What are we supposed to do, forge them and make up names? The most we’ve had is maybe eight hundred wounded in a year!

SUBSCRIBER:    They don’t publish them in Italy though. That’s more than just fishy. They can’t admit to the hecatombs of dead they’ve suffered.

PATRIOT:    Apropos of Italy, you read about the dismissal of one of their generals? Demonstrable incompetence at the front! Further dismissals are imminent!

SUBSCRIBER:    Tut…! It’s barely even credible. Has anyone ever heard of anything like that here, a general –

PATRIOT:    Well, as a matter of fact, yes.

SUBSCRIBER:    Incompetence?

PATRIOT:    That’s right.

SUBSCRIBER:    At least ours didn’t have a chance to demonstrate his incompetence at the front.

PATRIOT:    It’s not that bad, you’re right. By the way, do you know people are avoiding conscription in Italy now as well?

SUBSCRIBER:    Whatever next! And they’ve only just joined the war! But you know what else they’ve brought in there?  A censor! As far a freedom of expression goes, they’re all in a state. I’ve heard no one can utter a free word

PATRIOT:    The most the newspapers are allowed to print is that our military situation is a lot better than theirs. Well, the truth can’t be suppressed completely, can it? The English military analysts are describing the situation of the Allies as utterly hopeless.

SUBSCRIBER:    A fine state of affairs, allowing loose talk like that! Look what would happen to anyone who said that here!

PATRIOT:    That the Allies’ situation was hopeless?

SUBSCRIBER:    No, that the situation of the Central Powers was hopeless. Anyone who said that would be strung up, quite right too! But no one here would have the impudence to overstep the mark like that of course.

PATRIOT:    And why do it? It would be a lie! You see, in England they’re coming out with the truth because they just can’t deny how badly it’s going.

SUBSCRIBER:    Fine patriots they are then! The other day someone over there said that England deserved to be destroyed by Germany. But he got his comeuppance. You know what they saddled him with? Fourteen days!

PATRIOT (clutching his brow):    Jail, for criticising England! What a farce! Fourteen days!

SUBSCIBER:    Yes, of course that’s something your English gentlemen don’t really care to listen to, they can’t stomach the truth. But we don’t have journalists who’d let themselves get out of control like that here.

PATRIOT:    Is it any better in France? Not a bit of it. Didn’t you see, in the New Free Press, only today: ‘Jail for Disseminating the Truth in France’? I mean come on, just because someone speaks the truth! It was a woman actually – she said Germany was prepared for war and France wasn’t. So because someone tells them the truth to their faces for once –

SUBSCRIBER:    No, the French powers that be can’t bear the truth! Warmongering, that’s what suits them, against Germany, a peaceful neighbour, right out of the blue, that suits them fine –

PATRIOT:    Golden words; Germany is waging a defensive war, not a soul was prepared for war there, the big industrialists were literally gobsmacked.

SUBSCRIBER:    Obviously, and for such self-evident truth, in plain-spoken words that even the uneducated could understand, this poor French woman –

PATRIOT:    No, you’ve got it wrong, if the woman was jailed because –

SUBSCRIBER:    Because she told the truth!

PATRIOT:    She said Germany was prepared for war –

SUBSCRIBER:    Ah, and the truth is Germany wasn’t prepared for war –

PATRIOT:    But she said it was –

SUBSCRIBER:    Well then, that was a lie!

PATRIOT:    She was condemned for telling the truth –

SUBSCRIBER:    Why exactly was she locked up again?

PATRIOT:    Because she said Germany was prepared for war!

SUBSCRIBER:    Well, how come they put her in jail for saying it in France, she should have been jailed in Germany for a lie like that!

PATRIOT:    Yes, but why? – Wait a minute – no – or maybe – listen, it’s quite clear, here’s the thing: she was speaking the truth, so in France, you know what they’re like there, she was condemned for lying.

SUBSCRIBER:    Wait, you’re muddling it up. I think it’s like this: she was lying, but she was condemned because the French can’t stomach the truth.

PATRIOT:    Right, that’ll be it! I tell you, it runs in their veins. They just can’t help getting carried away with expressing their opinions.

SUBSCRIBER:    Exactly, you can read it all – their newspapers tell the truth about their own governments and concoct a pack of lies about us. Obscene. If you believe what the London papers say about us, England is finished.

PATRIOT:    Come on, does anyone believe that! We feel very differently here. I’m told that our mind-set is another thing altogether. And thank God for it. You could even say that our journalists are even more enthusiastic about the war than our soldiers. Especially our feuilleton writers.

SUBSCRIBER:    Since you brought the subject of feuilleton writers up – I’ve got to tell you who coming over here today, all right? Not a word of a lie, only our greatest living writer, Hans Müller[21]!

PATRIOT:    Wow, then you tell him from me that his writing expresses everything that’s in my heart. What’s he like as a person? I want to know. The only words that can describe his style are cheerful and charming. But charm isn’t even the word for the way he gave one of our ordinary boys-in-grey a little kiss in Berlin, right there in the street, and then that prayer for the military alliance, at the end of his feuilleton, for us to say in church! He’s my absolute favourite! There’s not one other writer, even Roda Roda or Felix Salten[22], who encapsulates the shoulder-to-shoulder spirit like him, you could almost say he positively writes shoulder to shoulder – with that poet Ganghofer[23] in Germany for instance. He almost reaches his level! At the start, when he was writing that frontline feuilleton of his, Cassian at the Front, it was so sincere, so impassioned, you could actually have believed he was at the front himself. It was by pure chance, afterwards, that I discovered he’s in Vienna. He could even write it in Vienna! He just captures the feel of it all! So gifted! But what’s he like personally, that’s what I’d love to know.

SUBSCRIBER:    Personally, well – hard to say. Just now extremely worried, the poor chap’s got his army medical coming up the day after tomorrow

PATRIOT:   So how come, how come he’s worried?

SUBSCRIBER:    About the medical.

PATRIOT:    Why’s that a worry? Afraid they won’t take him?

SUBSCRIBER:    What are you talking about, it’s obvious what he’s worried about, he’s afraid they will take him!

PATRIOT:    You’re kidding me. Hans Müller? The Hans Müller who’d tear himself apart for the fatherland? You can’t mean it! I’ve never encountered anyone else I’ve had so much faith in as him, to live and die by the Nibelung oath! It was my belief he came back from Germany, where he’d hugged our warriors, our brave boys-in-grey, because he was so dying to join up! He’ll be over the moon, I thought, if they take him! And suicidal if they don’t!

SUBSCRIBER:    Still, you know yourself he wrote that Cassian at the Front here in Vienna, and didn’t it command even more respect because he got the front so spot on, even when he was writing it in Vienna?

PATRIOT:    I did wonder if he wrote that frontline feuilleton out of a feeling of hurt, because they didn’t call him up straightaway – to make a point! He wanted to show them how well his writing could have captured the frontline atmosphere if he really had been at the frontline! But, I can’t believe what you’re telling me. You’ve mistaken him for someone else.

SUBSCRIBER:    The day after tomorrow he’ll be delighted if they mistake him for someone else all right, at his army medical.

PATRIOT:    Look, I’m quite upset by this! I can only imagine you don’t have all the information. Anyone who writes like that, like Hans Müller does, so sincere, so impassioned, surely has to be glad to be conscripted –

SUBSCRIBER (excitable):    Well – do they have to take everybody? Does everybody have to be glad? Can’t anybody worry about anything any more?  Isn’t it enough that he is so impassioned?  No, he’s got to serve as well? Him of all people! You’re nothing but a chauvinist! It’s as if you couldn’t wait to see him square bashing! But you’re worrying unnecessarily, and hopefully he is too! And if he does have to go – fortunately everyone knows exactly who Hans Müller is today! He will be utilised in accordance with his talents!

PATRIOT:    You’re aware I concur with you on most things – but we must go our separate ways on this one! I believed in Hans Müller and what I’ve just heard disappoints me. Naturally you take the point of view of a New Free Press subscriber, for you such a forceful journalist is indispensable –

SUBSCRIBER:    And you view everything as a patriot – that won’t get you far! Adieu, I need to get the late edition. And what are you going to do?

PATRIOT:    I’m going to contribute my little mite to the war effort. (Off in opposite directions.)

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:    Extra! Latest Austrian and German bulletins!

(Change.)


[1] ‘Upstairs’, like ‘to the top’, is a euphemism for influence in the War Office’s corridors of power

[2] Bulbous von Waronwops; Czech cibulka, a small onion or bulb, maybe from a nickname ‘onion head’ or trade ‘onion seller; German welsch usually refers to the French-speaking areas of Switzerland, but in Austria it is also a contemptuous term for any southern European; something like ‘wop’, ‘dago’.

[3] Augustinian monastery (founded 1114) in Klosterneuberg, a town close to Vienna, now a city suburb.

[4] Fillgradegasse, a street in Vienna’s 6th district, Mariahilf.

[5] Not obvious what this refers to; paper tablecloths were in high demand instead of blankets in hospitals.

[6] Blumau, near Baden, the site of a large barracks and munitions factory.

[7] A night club or bar, not identified.

[8] A common German and Jewish surname, originally from the name Siegfried.

[9] In Russian Poland, now in Ukraine; a major defeat for Austro-Hungary in September 1914.

[10] Johnny-Jollies.

[11] Alexandre Millerand (1869-1943), French Minister of War (1912-1915), President (1920-1924).

[12] The State Duma, Russia’s parliament; it had limited powers under the Czar’s autocratic rule.

[13] ‘Il Messagero’, Roman newspaper, founded 1878; the most popular paper in Rome and Central Italy.

[14] The Brenner is one of the major Alpine passes between Austria and Italy; there is also a railway line through the pass. After the war the Brenner would become the Austrian-Italian border.

[15] The Russians were notoriously anti-Semitic; the word ‘pogrom’ is, of course, Russian; in Austro-Hungarian territories occupied by the Russian army Jews were likely to fare very badly. Of course anti-Semitism, albeit of a less brutal nature (up to this point) was also alive and well in Austria-Hungary.

[16] The Carpathians make up the largest range of mountains in Europe, stretching (now) through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, almost to Serbia; the Carpathians formed the backbone of Austria-Hungary’s eastern provinces, especially its Slav territories; they would all disappear after 1918.

[17] The Hague Conventions (1889 and 1907), the first treaties to regulate war by international agreement.

[18] Szekler or Székely Hungarians, an ethnic group from an area between Hungary and Romania, including Transylvania; new borders divided their lands after 1918; they still wage a forgotten struggle for autonomy.

[19] Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria.

[20] Name originating from Katzenelnbogen, Germany; Jewish family, widely dispersed through Central and Eastern Europe, founded by Rabbi Meir ben Isaac Katzenellenbogen, of Padua and Venice. Here any influential Jew whose worldly wisdom can cut through the insane red-tape of the Imperial civil service.

[21] Hans Müller (1887-1924), journalist, poet, novelist, playwright; a tireless self-promoter even in wartime.

[22] Felix Salten, real name Siegmund Salzmann (1869-1945), Jewish journalist, writer, art and theatre critic; best remembered as the writer of ‘Bambi’; his other work include an anonymous fictional biography of a Viennese prostitute. Kraus called his piece on another of Salten’s animal tales, ‘Rabbits with Jewish Accents’ (he was lampooning all Viennese Jews who disguised their Jewishness); he also referred to Salten as being ‘more bound up with Habsburg tradition than any other feuilletonist’; that was saying something.

[23] Ludwig Ganghofer (1855-1920), German writer and poet, one of Kaiser Wilhelm’s favourite authors.