Act I Scene 25



SPECULATOR:    Do you know who’s completely disappeared from sight?

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    I know, Kraus and his magazine.

SPECULATOR:    How did you guess – just think, no little red Fackels, no more lectures – it’s ages since anyone even caught a glimpse of him.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    Skip Kraus, as everyone acknowledges, a man without principles.

SPECULATOR:    I know him personally.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    You know him personally?

SPECULATOR:    Absolutely, he passes me every day.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    That’s hardly an association you can be proud of. Dragging everything through the shit – tearing everything down – creating nothing – a bleeding-heart do-gooder! I mean, I do know how it is. I was young too, I criticised everything once, nothing was right for me either. Till I got my wild oats sown. He’ll sow his wild oats too.

SPECULATOR:    He’s already under a lot of strain.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    You see? I’ve heard he’ll settle down soon.

SPECULATOR:    Why not, he must have made a pretty penny.

PROPERT MAGNATE:    Cleaned up – ! Not much left to squeeze out! But I’d say he’s finished. Rely on it. And it’s showing. Max Harden hasn’t stood still since the war started. But then he deals with the bigger topics – (stands still) So dashing those German officers, much more dashing than ours.

SPECULATOR:    Of course, and now there is something to write about, naturally Kraus doesn’t write.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    But can he anyway?

SPECULATOR:    On account of censorship? Excuse me, a proficient pen can get round anything, and you have to give him that –

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    It’s not on account of censorship – it’s because he can’t. He’s written out. Believe me. And then – he probably feels there are other problems now.  It was all very amusing in peacetime – now no one’s in the mood for his sort of malicious gossip. Just wait, he’ll soon be on his uppers. You know what I’d treat him to – his call-up papers. Off to the front!  He’d have something to show us then! All he can do is bellyache.

(The Begrudger goes past. They both greet him.)

SPECULATOR:    What a coincidence! You know him personally? How so?

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    Only in passing really, from a lecture of his, I’m just quite relieved when I don’t run into him. One simply doesn’t associate with that sort of man. (Fanto[1] passes. They both greet him.)

BOTH (at the same time, furtively):    Fanto! The Petroleum King!

PROPERTY MAGNATE (absorbed in thought):    A great man!

SPECULATOR:    Why doesn’t he give lectures? It pays so well.

PROPERTY MAGNATE (as if waking):    Who? – Oh, yes – too right – Marcell Salzer[2] is travelling round Belgium performing for the German troops, I just read that today, he’s moving on from there to the army in France, then on to headquarters and then on to Hindenberg’s troops.

SPECULATOR:    Hindenberg wrote to him, didn’t he?  He’s going to have a story and a half to tell. Did you read about the incendiary bombs today, they self-ignite when they’re exposed to air, they’ve been lobbing them into Rheims[3]for ten months now? They won’t let up! It’s a tough job though! I mean, I can well imagine they’d want to listen to Salzer sing in the evening.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    Too bad for Rheims – the cathedral, hard luck!

SPECULATOR:    Hey, don’t start with all that, I’m not having it! I’m sorry, it’s been shown very clearly now that the place is a military stronghold, so it’s all pure hypocrisy on the part of the French. Hiding behind a cathedral, I won’t put up with it, just let me have five minutes with those blackguards.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    All right, don’t bite my head off. What did I say? It’s not as if I don’t know exactly what those barbarians are up to. Still, can’t one be a little bit fed up, about the cathedral? I mean as a property owner –

SPECULATOR:    Well, that’s something else, but I simply can’t bear it when people get sentimental in wartime, especially when the enemy’s trying to pull a fast one. After all, war is war.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    You’re so right!

SPECULATOR:    Isn’t that what they say? Can we risk a defeat? Attack is the best form of defence! Look there – we should show some respect.

PROPERTY MAGNATE:    Hang on, I’m going to cheer – Hooray, hooray, for our brave boys in grey!

(A German and Austrian soldier appear, privates[4], shoulder to shoulder.)

WAGENKNECHT[5]:    So we’re all fell in and our bombardier says: Right boys, if the fire’s in your belly, let ’em have it hot.

SEDLATSCHEK[6] (keeping very close to him and looking at him fearfully):   Get away –

WAGENKNECHT:    Do you mind, you’re leaning right on my shoulder.

SEDLATSCHEK:    Oh, sorry – (steps back)  

WAGENKNECHT:    That’s better. So you get the picture, the bombardier says, right, the whole bombardment’s down to us –[7]

SEDLATSCHEK:   You see that, that was nearly one of our worst setbacks – but we won through in the end (he points at a shop where the still visible word ‘English’ has been painted out.)

WAGENKNECHT:    What? – oh, I see – well, I’ll take your word – so anyway – (he stands very close to Sedlatschek who lurches back.)

SEDLATSCHEK:    Ow, you’re leaning on my shoulder!

WAGENKNECHT:    Sorry. But anyway listen, the bombardier –

SEDLATSCHEK:    I don’t want to interrupt. I’m not entirely clear –

WAGENKNECHT:    About what?

SEDLATSCHEK:    Well, I’m sorry – but you said the bombardier left the whole bombardment to you. So if you’re doing the bombarding and he’s the bombardier, who’s calling the shots –

WAGENKNECHT:    I don’t see what’s unclear about that, I just told you, pay some attention – the bombardier.

SEDLATSCHEK:    No, excuse me – you’re bombarding, right? Well, if you’re bombarding then you’re bombardiers as well, it stands to reason?

WAGENKNECHT:    What? Just listen –

SEDLATSCHEK:    Well surely – a bombardier, that’s someone  – who’s chucking bombs – and aren’t you all at it, bombardiering I mean?

WAGENKNECHT:    Bombardiering? What’s that?

SEDLATSCHEK (does a mime of a shell firing):    Well – you can see it –bombs – up, up – over – watch – down – enemy bombadiered to buggery.

WAGENKNECHT:    Yes, I get it – very funny– I’m laughing fit to burst – a comic turn or what – but we’ve another expression for all that: duck.

SEDLATSCHEK(looking at him blankly):    Duck!

WAGENKNECHT:    Duck you bastards!

SEDLATSCHEK (laughs, then puzzled):    So bombardiers don’t bomb –

WAGENKNECHT:    Look, the bombardier’s in charge of the bombardment, that’s why he’s called the bombardier – how can I make it clearer, right, I’ll give you another example, a head waiter[8] doesn’t wait at tables, does he –

SEDLATSCHEK:    But you can shout at him – Hey, here, at the double!


SEDLATSCHEK:    Well, if the bombardier’s in charge, you wouldn’t want to do that, he’d be shouting at you – Hey, over here, at the double! 

WAGENKNECHT:    The point is the Bomb’s in charge.

SEDLATSCHEK:   You just said the bombardier was, how can a bomb –

WAGENKNECHT:     That’s what you call the bombardier for short, Bomb.

SEDLATSCHEK:    I get it – everyone has to say: Bomb, can I – bomb?

WAGENKNECHT:    Well, whatever, if that’s all it takes to amuse you – you Austrians are an odd lot, aren’t you. Won’t be a minute, I need a piss.

(He goes to a pissoir. Just as he is about to enter Hans Müller[9], another patriotic, self-promoting poet and author, steps out, he walks over to the German private, embraces him and kisses him.)

WAGENKNECHT:    Well bugger me, listen, that’s very kind, you Viennese really are such a charming bunch, but –

HANS MÜLLER:    Hurrah, every day I am reminded of Bismarck’s words: Our men cry out to be kissed and I shall do it. Thunder and lightning! I can do no other when I behold such brave young men. I was striding on my way, reflecting on so many valiant sons now fixed in the hearts of so many devoted mothers, you crossed my path, a defender of the most sublime and steadfast union that ever forged two peoples into one, and if you’re happy to do so, cousin, I’d like to savour a little drop with you. Look, here, close by is a tavern that goes by the queer name of the Bristol, and there is an honest table laid, where we can expect a mouth-watering meal and convivial conversation, and while always conscious of this sacred hour, our time together can never be too long. And look, I have a splendid walking stick, my sprightly steps can match you stride for stride. Come on, let us foster fellowship, how about it? I have a terrible craving for something to drink, my friend, so shall you and I together raise a glass of Roman red up to the sun? Or would you rather partake of a flask of barley beer, that delectable brew from Bohemian lands! It won’t cost you a farthing! You shall also sample a subtle leaf that my uncle, a proper old baccy-beard, sent from across the briny deep. Oh, we will puff away at it, you and I, and when those lazy rings of smoke rise up, may many a truehearted hope fly with them, up and over to those brave men who, far away from us, for the sake of our herd, lower their horned brows to face an unworthy foe, because all our troubles stem from Italy. And you – were you in hospital too? An invalid? Were you badly wounded? Well now! You shall feast to your heart’s content. Let us also tend to more uplifting things and, as befits us in the happy protection afforded by this moment, calmly contemplate the meaning of this tragical history, but let us joyfully anticipate the rosy days of springtide yet to come to boot. Ah, you draw back? You don’t want to? Are you such a killjoy then? Play the clown! Hang up your grouchiness, stand it in the darkest corner, wherein we pile all the household clutter that has no place at our feast. We’re on, let’s shake, take up the hand of brotherhood and let all good souls celebrate your lustfulness for life. And come to the fair! What? Sulking under a blue sky withal? Huh, tomfoolery!  A grouch who would be stand-offish at such an hour, an ingénu who harbours mistrust in the face of the friendliest words, a trickster who would put suspicion about a boon companion into the minds of other folk! Let the devil take every scandalmonger! Everyone knows this is no time to be a sourpuss. Egad, you’re no foolish boy! You may not be an intellectual either, but we can still travel a goodly stretch of the road together, I and thou. Hey, go on and swing those legs, you rapscallion! (A fiaker stops in front of the Hotel Bristol. We hear a voice: ‘War’s war’n the price is double!’) Ah, you’re surprised by that? Don’t take it the wrong way, it’s just our local tradition, the coach driver is a ruffian and an arch-vagabond into the bargain –

WAGENKNECHT:    Is that right?

HANS MÜLLER:    It’s nothing untoward, the man is struggling to make a living, not doing it for the love of God; a travelling companion of that ilk can certainly never demand too much, if on no other premise than that of greed. It’s just day-to-day business, perish the thought of a serious altercation – he thinks his passenger ought to know what the fare should be, the stranger retorts that he doesn’t but would like to find out, and the driver should tell him plainly, the driver protests that he won’t ask for more than is legal under the bylaws, the stranger, without guile, enquires what that is, the driver cheekily recommends he should be paid what his passenger would usually pay anyone else, and complains vehemently about these hard times, when he’s itching for oats even more than his horse is, so they haggle away cheerfully for a while, but neither backs down and considers bringing in the authorities. Then lo and behold, they wrap it all up peacefully, the passenger pays double and the driver, pushy as ever, demands ten per cent on top, the passenger pays up, the driver whips on his nimble steed and calls the passenger a scumbag. And that’s that! Everyone has a duty to exploit an opportunity, whenever a favourable moment presents itself, and Dame Prudence always shows us the surest road. We are only the dupes of fortune, and it’s a fool who doesn’t understand the ways of the wise. And so it is for you. If you’ve got the gift of the gab and even a ha’p’orth of sense, then gradually, step by step, everything will turn to your advantage. (A prostitute goes by and says: ‘Come with me, Mister, we’ll have some fun together’.) Certainly not, I don’t have time for that sort of thing. (To Wagenknecht.) Ah, you’re surprised by that? Well, you just see to yourself and let the girl satisfy your appetite, she’s a pretty little thing and she’ll give you great pleasure, that’s her job, to fulfil your desires. And the Devil take the begrudgers, it’s entirely a matter for your own discretion, but such company seems to me, well, unworthy of these grave times. Fasten upon your fortitude and though you may be unconversant with courtly discourse, untutored in the arts and the study of what is right and proper, ignorant of academic treatises, still, hard working hands find blissful lands, and you have no need at all to guard your apprehensive tongue in front of me. There’s a trinket on your mind, that you’ve promised to bring your sweetheart, a nice little cousin or some other pretty poppet, a trinket you couldn’t even rent – speak from your heart. You shall have it, though it be a little golden ring for her finger, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Don’t worry. I know a merchant who has, out of the goodness of his heart, presented many a brave warrior from the German demesnes with a costly keepsake. Don’t even trouble yourself about it. Gold, forsooth, is an infernal substance that needs to be safeguarded well, and Grandfather Traugott Feitel[10] across the way will be delighted to do you a good turn. (Mendel Singer[11] walks by. Müller greets him.) Ah, you didn’t recognise him? Goodness, that was Master Mendel, a praiseworthy singer from the worthy family Singer and the Emperor’s counsellor-in-chief of mirth! But I really do recommend you make a beeline to the tavern with me now. Mine host is an exceptional innkeeper and the food and drink he will prepare for you will be exquisite. Come, my shy friend, let go of unworthy doubts and give that Devil Down-in-the-Dumps the slip. He’s full of tricks and snares and he can even end up giving you gout. He turns up in all kinds of disguises and pinches you before you even know it. So, Master At-a-Loss, how come so dumb? Do I look like someone with a head full of weird ideas? Or do you think my wallet’s empty?I earned mighty money-hoards treading the boards and fought my way up valiantly with songs of war! I’m no stick-in-the-mud, I mean you well and it is your entertainment I’m intent on, no gloom must grab hold on such a bright day. Do you spurn the company of a poor boy left at home because you are a cavalier? Well, I’m no shirker. I can sing you many a brave ditty to raise your manly mettle to new and lusty heights. (Rudolf Sieghart[12] passes by. Müller greets him.) Ah, you didn’t recognise him? What an old charmer, Master Sieghart, one of the best, he’s getting royalties on every arms sale – I promise you! Anyway! It’s a rascal who offers more than he owns, but I really do have fine tales by the dozen in my bag. I see. You think I’m scheming? Or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, playing practical jokes, or an idle, chattering, blathering coxcomb out to bamboozle you?What a nerve! Don’t be so beastly! No, please don’t! There’s never been anything spineless or pussyfooting about my life. I’m entirely without malice, neither callow youth nor down-and-out, I’m the sort of guy who has his heart in the right place, revels in the sunlight and, for the rest, just takes life as it comes. Manful and mettlesome, I can saddle any steed I’m offered. (A man stoops down to pick up a cigarette end.) God save you, gaffer, enjoying your pipe? (Going off) I’ve always applied myself to truth and honour, to the last gasp of man and mount. Interrupt me in vain. Let me get a word in and I’ll sing you a song of my own making, one that will almost have you believe I’m playing a violin. See how the sun sinks over the landscape, hailing the reapers, ready to drop, as they trudge on their weary way and the huntsmen as they return, all shot, from a gladsome day’s shooting; each has his eyes fixed on that peaceful destination where hearth and home and loving spouse and a joyful brood of bairns await.Many a maid sews her fingers red, fervently recalling a warrior’s hardship in bitterest wintertide; unwed, without the responsibility of managing her own household, she ministers tenderly to her fellow-countrymen’s kith and kin. O wives and maidens of Vindobona’s old Nibelung streams[13], God bless you!

WAGENKNECHT (as if waking from anaesthesis, to Sedlatschek):     Hey, listen, Sedlatschek –

SEDLATSCHEK (coming over):    I hear you, that took forever –

WAGENKNECHT:    No, I was just going in, but this Jewish guy here comes out and starts blathering on at me –

HANS MÜLLER (suddenly changed):    So is it a crime perhaps, inviting you to the Bristol out of my passion for our brotherly alliance in arms? Who are you anyway? Do you imagine you’ve impressed me? Acting the big shot! Over what! You won’t catch me saluting you, oh no, you won’t get that now, not from me! I simply wanted a conversation because I am writing something for Sunday’s paper, a feuilleton, about our undying oath of German loyalty – the Nibelung Troth – well, you can wait a bit longer! (Off.)

WAGENKNECHT (watching, astonished):    Wow, you’ve definitely got some weirdoes here in old Vienna! The man looks like a Jew but he blathers on in some lingo from the year dot, before we’d even got any Jews. He says he’s from the press and then he kisses me! Instead of getting it from a Viennese dreamboat, I have to put up with that. God help us, I’m starting to wonder if the price we Germans paid for Warsaw wasn’t too high!

WOMAN NEWSPAPER VENDOR (a thick eastern European accent):    Extra edition! German bulletins! Big victory!

SEDLATSCHEK:    Look, hear that, there’s your Viennese dreamboat.


[1] David Fanto (1852-1920), important industrialist; from an apprenticeship with a petroleum retailer in Vienna he went on to a hugely successful career, owning oil fields in Romania, Galicia and Poland; the New York Times obituary calls him ‘Europe’s Petroleum King’. The war brought him more wealth; in 1917 he had Palais Fanto built in Schwarzenbergplatz built (now houses the Arnold Schoenberg Centre).

[2] Marcell Saltzer, real name Moritz Salzmann (1873-1930), cabaret performer and comic writer.

[3] Rheims, founded by the Gauls and a major Roman city, was heavily bombed by the Germans; its ancient cathedral, where many French kings had been crowned, was severely damaged and the ruined cathedral became one of the central images of a propaganda campaign that accused Germany of attacking European culture and European civilisation itself; restoration of the cathedral began in 1919 and is still not complete.

[4] In the German they are sergeants; alteration to their dialogue necessitates giving them lower ranks.

[5] The German soldier; Wagenknecht, ‘wagoner’, ‘coachman’, ‘packhorse driver’, an obscure and obsolete word;there is a pun on Wappenknecht, ‘man-at-arms’; but a straightforward equivalent is Wagoner.

[6] The Austrian soldier; from Czech and Slovak, Sedlácek, diminutive of Sedlák, ‘peasant’ or ‘farmer’; it originally suggested an independent small farmer; ‘yeoman’ is a close equivalent; this is also an ancient military term (‘yeomanry’) and still a rank for the Royal Corps of Signals and the Warders in the Tower of London (so there is a military reference in one of the names); call him Yeoman. Nothing captures the German and Slav ancestry suggested; something like Wagonmeister and, more jokily, Yeomanov.

[7] An area of the play where accurate translation is impossible. The argument between the two soldiers depends on uses of the word ober; primarily a preposition, ‘over’, it also means ‘chief’ or ‘head’; English does the same, ‘overseer’; but German usage is extensive and can designate military rank, so Oberleutnant, ‘first lieutenant’ (American). Here the confusion is around Oberbombenwerfer and Bombenoberwerfer; the first suggests a rank, ‘Senior Bomb Thrower’, the second is ‘someone who chucks bombs over’. As in most comedy the meaning is not in the substance; it is in the performance. A bit like an exchange between Groucho and Chico Marx; initial confusion is only a trigger for a circle of banter in which it is never entirely clear who’s winding up who; but here fatuousness and wind-up are about mass slaughter.

[8] In German a head waiter is referred to as (Herr) Ober.

[9] ‘Our greatest living poet.’ (I n.151) Müller’s German is larded with obsolete, archaic words. He affects a kind of ersatz ‘medievalism’; like a grotesquely populist William Morris, but with considerably less talent and with very different ideas politically.

[10] Feitel is at least partly a Jewish name; the image is clearly Fagin-like; Feitel in Austria also means ‘pocketknife’, ‘penknife’; and Traugott means something like ‘trust God’: Trustingod Switchblade.

[11] Mendel Singer (1846-1929), parliamentary correspondent, political consultant and advisor; wrote for the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, occasionally the New Free Press; ennobled on Stürgkh’s recommendation in 1912.

[12] Financier and banker. (Pro n.97)

[13] Vindobona, originally a Celtic settlement, later a Roman camp that grew into a village, then town, then long after the Romans, became Vienna; as noted the Danube, like the Rhine, has Nibelung legends. (I n.70)