Act I Scene 8


Street scene showing people (mostly men) at a demonstration in Vienna, Austria, to celebrate the alliance between Austria and Germany on the outbreak of the First World War. Large portraits of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (left) and Kaiser Franz Josef I of Austria (right) are being held up, as well as many hats. 1914

A street in the inner suburbs[1]. We see several businesses, a dress shop, a gramophone shop, the Café Westminster and a branch of a dry cleaner’s, Söldner & Chini. Four young men step forward, one of them carrying a ladder, strips of paper and glue.

YOUNG MAN 1:     Hey, we’ve got another one here! What does that sign say? Stern’s Grande Couture[2]. We paper that one over completely!

YOUNG MAN 2:    But can’t we keep something so people know what sort of shop it is? Give it here, we’ll do it like this (pasting over and painting) Stern’s Big Dresses. That’s how it should be. That’s German. Let’s get go.

YOUNG MAN 1:    Patephone[3], look up there, what’s that? Is it French?

YOUNG MAN 2:    No, Latin for gramophone, so that can stay, but there – I can see: ‘Music – German, French, English, Italian, Russian and Jewish’.

YOUNG MAN 3:    So what do we do?

YOUNG MAN 1:    The whole lot’ll have to go!

YOUNG MAN 2:    Like this (pasting over and reading) ‘Music – German – Jewish’. That’s how it should be.

YOUNG MAN 3:    Hey, what’s this then? Look at that! It says Café Westminster, seems to me that’s a very English sort of word!

YOUNG MAN 1:    Right, but we’ll have to get the owner’s consent, it’s a coffeehouse, he could be a big shot, we might end up in shtook. Wait, I’ll get him. (He goes in and comes back immediately with the café owner, who is visibly dismayed.) You understand, I’m sure – it’s a patriotic sacrifice –

CAFÉ OWNER:    It’s most unfortunate, but if you gentlemen really are from the ad hoc committee –

YOUNG MAN 1:    Look here, why did you call your business that in the first place, wasn’t it very reckless of you?

CAFÉ OWNER:    But gentlemen, who could have foreseen all this, it’s very embarrassing for me now. I called it the Westminster Café because we’re right by the Westbahn Station[4], where English lords happen to arrive in the tourist season, you can understand, it’s so they feel at home right away –

YOUNG MAN 1:    Right, so was there ever an English lord in your café?

CAFÉ OWNER:    Absolutely! God, those were the days!

YOUNG MAN 1:    Congratulations. But there won’t be any now, OK!

CAFÉ OWNER:    Thank Heaven – and God scourge England – but please, the name is so established, and after the war, when the English clientele comes back, please God – look, surely you can show some consideration –

YOUNG MAN 1:    The voice of the people, as I’m sure you know, sir, cannot accommodate any such consideration –

CAFÉ OWNER:    Yes, of course, how could someone like me ignore that, we are a people’s café, more or less – but – what do I call my café in future?

YOUNG MAN 2:    Don’t fret yourself, we won’t do much damage – we’ll have it done in a jiffy – painless into the bargain. (He scratches out the ‘i’.)

CAFÉ OWNER:    Yes – what – so – what now?

YOUNG MAN 2:    There! Now just get a painter to paint in an ‘ü’, umlaut –

CAFÉ OWNER:    An ‘ü’? Café Westmünster ?

YOUNG MAN 2:    An ‘ü’! It’s almost exactly the same and it’s German. Fantastic! No one will even notice the change but it’ll be clear to everyone that it’s something entirely different now, what do you reckon?

CAFÉ OWNER:    Brilliant! Brilliant! I’ll get a painter to come straightaway. Gentlemen, thank you for your forbearance. It can stay like that as long as the war’s on. Fine for wartime. Though afterwards I’d prefer – what would the lords say, I mean, when they come back, they wouldn’t want to see that!

(Two customers leave the café now and say goodbye to one another, one saying: Adieu! The other: Addio!)

YOUNG MAN 1:    What did I just hear? Is your café frequented by Frenchies and Eyties? One says adieu and the other says addio? You seem to have an altogether international clientele, it’s all very suspicious –

CAFÉ OWNER:    Now hang on, lots of people say adieu nowadays –

YOUNG MAN 2:    But didn’t you hear how the first one said addio? That’s the language of our sworn enemy, Italy!

YOUNG MAN 3:    Perfidiotic traitors!

YOUNG MAN 4:    River Po oath breakers[5]!

YOUNG MAN 1:    Right, those back-stabbers are our sworn enemy!

YOUNG MAN 2:    The sworn enemy who broke faith with us!

YOUNG MAN 3:    On the River Po!

YOUNG MAN 4:    On the Po! Remember that!

(The café owner has gradually moved back into the café.)

YOUNG MAN 1(shouting after him):    You English River Po dago!

YOUNG MAN 2:    We’ve given some stick about foreign lingo! Let’s go.

YOUNG MAN 3:    Look, we’re in luck today: Söldner and Chini[6]! Dry cleaners. Same mix as the café all over again. Söldner, mercenary, everyone knows that’s another word for an Englishman – Chini, got to be an Italian!

YOUNG MAN 1:    God scourge England and annihilate Italy – we’ll paste over the whole lot! Dry cleaners? Clean them out! I am so angry now – by tomorrow the whole place has got to be cleansed of foreign words, if I even see another one, I’ll rip its guts out! (The second one papers over the sign.)

YOUNG MAN 3:    It might be best if we split up and did this à deux[7] now, you two stay on this side, we’ll cross over.

YOUNG MAN 1:    It’s a pain, but I’m hors de combat the rest of today, and quite pressed for time actually, got little a rendezvous –

YOUNG MAN 2:    That’s bad news. Without you we might risk getting into a bit of aggro. Not that I’m bothered, apropos of people getting shirty and –

YOUNG MAN 4:    It’s all c’est la vie as far as I’m concerned – so we get ourselves into row, so what? Nothing’s happened so far –

YOUNG MAN 2:    I do understand how odious this is, I’m always very discrete, making sure I smooth things over with everyone, leaving them au fait with everything! But it’s a real faux pas to let anyone intimidate you. Now that we’ve entered upon this patriotic campaign en masse, it’s got to be driven forward with single-minded resolution, regardless of the cost.

YOUNG MAN 3:    Yes, of course, but you know what people are like, and if there’s some nouveau riche sort who starts getting het up about his livelihood being destroyed – whingeing and giving out to us, then –

YOUNG MAN 1:    Listen – we’ll just ignore him! Or come back tout de suite: We have more pressing concerns! Touché. He’ll listen to reason. Most people do have a soupçon of intelligence. No heavy disputations though – it won’t get us anywhere if we end up in endless tête-à-têtes with everybody –

YOUNG MAN 2:    But what if he gets hot under the collar – you know the kind of demi-monde type who cusses and swears at the drop of a hat –

YOUNG MAN 1:    Just label him as a subversive element, an agent provocateur! Courage, Mon Brave! Give me a status report tomorrow – I’ll help you out some then – good God, quarter to five, I’d better up tempo – or I’ll be late for the femme fatale – have fun – que sera, sera – adieu!

YOUNG MAN 3:    Your servant!

YOUNG MAN 4:    Servitore!

YOUNG MAN 2:    Au revoir!

YOUNG MAN 1(turning back):    Apropos, that’s to say in the event of anybody objecting, just identify yourselves very simply as interim volunteers of the Provisional Central Commission of the Executive Committee of the League for the General Boycott of Foreign Words. Addio!


[1] Der Vorstadt, Viennese districts just beyond the Ringstrasse, and therefore the old city walls.

[2] Literal translation of the changes made to some of the French and English is impossible, since the original depends on the spelling of German words; what follows is a reasonably close equivalent.

[3] A gramophone like the famous His Master’s Voice image of Nipper the dog and phonograph horn.

[4] Terminus for trains from Western Europe.

[5] The Italian refusal to join Triple Alliance partners, Germany and Austria-Hungary, in the war was seen as treachery. If the Rhine symbolised Germany and the Danube Austria-Hungary (it flows through Vienna and Budapest), the River Po is the great river of northern Italy; the three rivers have their watersheds in the same place, the Witenwasserenstock, between the Swiss cantons of Valais and Uri. Austria-Hungary fought rebellious Italians in the Po Valley from the time of Napoleon until the unification of Italy and the end of Austro-Hungarian rule in most of northern Italy; the carnage of a brutal campaign along the Po in 1859 led to the creation of the Swiss Red Cross. In 1866, during the Austro-Prussian War, Italy allied with Prussia; when Austria surrendered the province of Venetia was finally abandoned, its last major territory in Italy. Reaching the Po would become a major strategic aim in the Austro-Hungarian war with Italy after 1915.

[6] Söldner, ‘mercenary’, ‘English’ presumably because the English only fought for money, not love of country; Chini, pronounced as in Puccini, and a common ending to numberless Italian words.

[7] From this point the eradicators of foreign words liberally pepper their speech with words that are actually foreign borrowings in German, mostly French, with the same meanings as genuinely Germanic words (imponieren not beeindrucken, ‘impress’;  replizieren not antworten,‘reply’); as well as phrases like à propos, à tous pris, etc. These foreign borrowing alternatives were more common in German then than now, especially in the cosmopolitan German of Vienna; their use reflected class and education, sometimes pomposity, but also an openness to the world. In English, where non-Germanic borrowings make up most of the vocabulary, there is no sense whatsoever of any Englishness or non-Englishness in words; the effect of what Kraus is doing is represented instead by the excessive use of foreign catchwords and phrases.