Auferstanden aus Ruinen
Und der Zukunft zugewandt
Lass uns dir zum Guten dienen
Deutschland einig Vaterland.

These are the first four lines of a national anthem, penned in 1949 by the German writer Johannes R. Becher, an expressionist before this poem and a minister of censorship after.

Risen out from the ruins
And facing futureward
Let us serve your good
Germany, united land

I learned this first verse in elementary school. Even its clever melody I could  sing. A few years later, the apparatchiks, who failed to govern the people of the country of superlatives – the tiniest, the huffiest, and the greatest German Democratic Republic of this world – banned their state’s anthem. Only the words. The music played often at olympic games or when the flag was raised or when other old men in grey suits or fantasy uniform came to visit. That’s what they called news on TV until 1989. While many were not listening, they erased notices from the news, the hymns from handbooks, and buildings from boulevards. Why? Maybe, they could not forgive the failures of their past. Maybe, they wanted children to reside in their ruins. Maybe. But it was not the line with the ruins, which made them obliterate the words. They did not want to be united. With nobody. 

And yes, the prompt for this little writing exercise was Ruins. And you will find other such exercises under Just texts.

Nighty Night (3)

Herr Fuchs und Frau Elster

Sandmännchen says hello,

Sit back or lie down slowly. Make yourself comfortable. Relax your forehead. The little muscles between your eyebrows. Read slowly. There is time. I have only just arrived. Here. On planet Malinaru. The air is good. They have palm trees here, too. Let’s sit down with the children in the date orchard. Now listen to the song the children are singing.

There is still time for a bedtime story. The children are listening to you read.

Mr. Fox is taking his sweaters and scarfs and his pyjamas out of the dryer. Crossed beetle and crossed beak, he mutters, looking at his pyjama pants. Somebody glued shut the leg of the pants. Darned. That’s when the door to his burrow swings wide open, the bells are ringing loudly. But not as loud as Ms. Magpie. Good evening, Mr. Fox. You won’t believe what just happened to me. No, I won’t, was what Ms. Magpie did not hear. Mr. Fox looked angrily from his pyjamas to Ms. Magpie. You won’t believe it. I saw Mrs. Hedgehog and she wore the same pearls I have. Here. How can she do that, wearing my pearls? Ach, said Mr. Fox. You have yours around your neck. And they suit you very nicely, if I may say so. Oh, Mr. Fox, you are a gentleman. I am indeed, said Mr. Fox more to himself. You could not tell me who glued my pyjama leg shut, could you? Oh, it wasn’t me. I have only just walked in. Let me see. That is not glue, said Ms. Magpie, picking at the leg. It is dried soap, you put too much in the washer. Och, crossed beetle and crossed beak, said Mr. Fox – a little bit too loud for Ms. Magpie, so she said: I can put them in my laundry load tomorrow. She yawned. Mr. Fox always had to smile when a yawn came out of her beak. Thank you. Yes, it is time to go to bed. Good bye and good night, Ms. Magpie. Good night Mr. Fox. And the bells on the burrow door were ringing again.

Now, it is time. Close your eyes, or leave them open. I am spreading my sleepy sand in everybody’s eyes. You can wash it out in the morning.

Om shanti om. Om shanti om. Have a peaceful night.

Ich wünsch’ euch eine gute Nacht.

Across seven bridges

Bruce bridge in San Diego
Sometimes I would walk the street without remorse
Sometimes wishing back my littl’ rocking horse
Sometimes I don’t find a resting spot
Sometimes I bolt the doors behind me shut
Sometimes I spew fire and sometimes ice
Sometimes I don’t know that I am wise
Sometimes I am tired right at morn
And then I seek solace in a song:

Across seven bridges you shall go
Seven years will come and leave
Seven times you are the ash of grieve 
Then once again your light will glow

Sometimes ’t seems the clock of life stands still
Sometimes ’t seems you’re loping in a hamster wheel
Sometimes you are lame on itchy feet
Sometimes you squat quiet on a seat
Sometimes you grab for the golden orb
Sometimes you see your lucky stars send blur
Sometimes you take, when you can endow
Sometimes you hate, who you truly love: 

Across seven bridges you shall go
Seven years will come and leave
Seven times you are the ash of grieve
Then once again your light will glow

1978. This song was produced for the radio in East Germany by the rockband Karat, who also toured in West Germany. Most East German bands never had the chance to tour in other countries. The West German singer Peter Maffay heard the song at one of their concerts, asked whether he could do a cover version, and made the song even more popular. After the German unification, they performed together. It has been covered by many to this day. The lyrics were written by Helmut Richter. The song has its own Wikipedia entry.

My English translation has gone through a number of versions. I am very grateful to the musician Tillmann Spiegl for his help with making some lines more singable.

Karat - Über sieben Brücken musst du gehn (1978) 

Manchmal geh' ich meine Straße ohne Blick, 
manchmal wünsch' ich mir mein Schaukelpferd zurück, 
manchmal bin ich ohne Rast und Ruh, 
manchmal schliess ich alle Türen nach mir zu. 
Manchmal ist mir kalt und manchmal heiss, 
manchmal weiss ich nicht mehr, was ich weiss, 
manchmal bin ich schon am Morgen müd, 
und dann such ich Trost in einem Lied: 

Über sieben Brücken musst du geh'n, 
Sieben dunkle Jahre überstehn, 
Sieben Mal wirst du die Asche sein, 
Aber einmal auch der helle Schein. 

Manchmal scheint die Uhr des Lebens still zu steh'n, 
manchmal scheint man immer nur im Kreis zu geh'n, 
manchmal ist man wie vom Fernweh krank, 
manchmal sitzt man still auf einer Bank. 
Manchmal greift man nach der ganzen Welt, 
manchmal meint man, dass der Glücksstern fällt, 
manchmal nimmt man, wo man lieber gibt, 
manchmal hasst man das, was man doch liebt. 

Über sieben Brücken musst Du geh'n, 
Sieben dunkle Jahre überstehn, 
Sieben Mal wirst du die Asche sein, 
Aber einmal auch der helle Schein. 

If you have the interest, time, and energy to read more of the Just texts you find them in blog order on this website. Please comment on what you associate with them, what you like, what you dislike, what you read in them, how they make you feel …

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mean the name

Woodcut by Peter Flötner
mean the name
there are many of us
grandpa said again
we were left behind 
in east-villages in wars we 
looked after women he laughed
sheriff Schulze
at three you were thus 
cute mother corrected
me after cutting in 
her fairytales the family
got a gift of god grandma
meant you Mathias

I wrote the first draft of this text in a workshop on fairytale poems with Leonora Siminovis organized by Hugo House in February 2022. It changed quite a bit since, but I am still riffing on my last name, which is very common in parts of Germany.

Is this working?

Uwe told me that it was a great way to make money. I was all ear. Money, even a few of these aluminum coins. I was a little jealous about having to wait for another summer. Uwe and I were in the same class, but his birthday was in summer and mine in December. His older sister had told him that you could only get a summer job after your fourteenth birthday. For two weeks out of the two-months school vacation. So, I went home and told my mom I wanted a job next summer. She must have helped me, but I forget how I found the gig in the little furniture factory in town. Everybody called it the Table Factory – Tischfabrik. I guess that’s what they had done for times immemorial; they made tables in the small cluster of nineteenth-century red-brick buildings in the center of town. The former owners used to live next door. In 1978, the factory had long been nationalized and become part of a centralized syndicate in East Germany’s command economy.

Monday morning. Here I was, reporting to the main office on time. Still sleepy-eyed at 6am. I thought they were expecting me, after all I was the new worker. They had to figure out were to put me. Where do you put a fourteen-year-old for two weeks, so that he does the least damage. Put him with the young folk at the presses at the end of the assembly line. If these juvenile delinquents can do it, so can he.

I reported to the shop floor – everyone was in full swing already – and was assigned to one of the presses. The boy at this machine did not look too happy. I was going to lower his output performance, and he would make less money this shift. I didn’t understand. He took the time to tell me. You get tasks for the day. Put the apron of this table together. With the press. Four boards in exactly the right position. Dip the corners in glue, but not too much. Put the corners in exactly the right position. Turn the lever, but not too much. Not the right position or too much pneumatic pressure and the apron was ruined before it was made. Waste of material, they called it. Put the apron on the pile, the ladies in the other room are waiting and will pack the apron, the top, the legs. These tables are to be exported, the boy said. To Sweden. Each apron counted for a minute or two. Some for three. The foreman counts them at the end of each shift. The boy and I got paid for our total of these minutes. Each day. No money for a ruined apron, when I was not focused. Less money for him, if I did not pull my weight fast enough.

Monday noon. The presses had to be turned off for safety during unionized breaks. I was not sure about hanging out with the boys in my shop. When I went home at three in the afternoon, a social worker came and a bus took them back to the detention center at the edge of town. I saw the movies and read the articles about juvenile detention centers only fifteen years later. So, I went into the factory yard and sat with the women who packed the tables also by the minute. They depended on our work to make money. Money to be able to visit their husband. To feed their children. To buy a blouse. I liked chatting with them. They told me things I knew nothing about.

Monday afternoon. The work was done. I cycled home. When my mom came at four, she could not wake me up for two hours. I had fallen into the sleep of the righteous on the sofa. She was still laughing, when we had supper. Maybe, I got a little older that day.

I have signed up for a year-long online writing course. This is lesson 2 on ‘work’. I am committed to the remaining 50 lessons … And yes, I worked each summer after that. And after I turned 18, each year, all year, I worked. I painted walls and fences, made nuts and bolds, tore down brick and concrete at construction sites, cleaned city streets, was a lifeguard in indoor and outdoor swimming pools and at the Baltic Sea, helped clean and polish the final parts produced in an aluminum foundry, worked at an electric arc furnace producing calcium carbide, built wooden scaffoldings as a carpenter for the mechanics doing repairs, laid cable and pipes, taught at a secondary school and at universities in different countries. And I have looked back often to this first real job.

Winter ’75

Photo by Alesia Kozik on

Winter ’75

This was hard work, and the boys had only one shovel. Martin had brought it. The whole thing was his idea. He – like only a few of the others – had skis. From his grandma. Long brown wooden skis with strange rounded tips and metal boot brackets and a very old wired clip binding.
The small sand quarry was echoing the laughter, shouts, and banter of the neighborhood boys. It had snowed overnight. Just a little. Enough for them to hope they could build a narrow slope. Narrow. For one skier in a straight line. One firmed track for the left ski, one for the right. One inch deep. Then the coarse sand of the quarry. The two tracks ended on a jump, a snow-dusted board, as smooth as they could find.
Martin went first. The first day of real winter. First snow. Not every year had a real winter. And the snow came less often and stayed shorter, year after year. But here it was. Not much, but here. Martin closed the wire bindings above the heel of the sole of his wet pigskin boots and jumped on the tracks, as he had seen on TV many times. He heard the sand and small pebbles scratch the wood of his skis. The fleeting thought: grandma will be upset about her old skis. Down in a straight line. All gazes on him. Velocity. Wind. Sounds of downhill. And a melting snow flake. Martin knew they were waiting for him to fall – before the jump or after. To leave the tracks. To stop before the jump. They knew he had fallen often. When playing ball. He was slow when running and clumsy when moving his arms.
The skis were different. He loved them. They gave him small wings, going down towards the jump in a perfect line. Without angst. With joy. And pride. The jump. In the air for longer than he had ever been in shoes. Landing in the sand. He turned around and looked at the other boys. His face under the tuque beamed like it had not in many months. It was the … snow.

2021-12-11 SD Writing / Creativity Group in Zoom

Any text. Any topic. Just with snow. That was the prompt. That’s how I remember it.

If you have the time and energy to read more of these texts you find them in blog order on this website. Let me know what you associate with them, what you like, what you dislike, what you read in them, how they make you feel …