Act II Scene 1



Vienna. Ringstrasse. Sirk Corner. The crowd consists mostly of Galician refugees, racketeers, regular officers on leave, officers in charge of military hospitals or other comparably light tasks on the home front, and of fit civilians exempted from fighting by ‘arranging things for themselves’.

POLISH JEW:    Extra edition – get it from me, ladies and gentlemen –

PROFITEER[1]:    The last thing we need is that Jewish riffraff turning up here – wherever you look, nothing but Jews! And what will that lead to? But let’s stick to business, eh?

REP:     I can’t complain about that at the moment. Though I’m doing nowhere near as well as Ornstein.[2]

PROFITEER:    Which Ornstein? The exempted Ornstein?

REP:    Doesn’t that go without saying? Last Saturday one telephone call made him eight and a half thousand. Some clout!

PROFITEER:    I did heard that one. What was he in before the war?

REP:     Before the war, you don’t know? Matches. He had the agency for Lauser and Löw. Now he’s really made it. He has said he’s going to wangle something for me as well. He’s very intimate with a certain major.

(A casualty, on crutches, limbs twitching, drags himself past.)

PROFITEER:    Yes, we really do have to see it through now.

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:     Extra edition – ! New Free Press! Huge German victory in Galicia! Bloody repulse in hand-to-hand fighting!

PROFITEER:     Knöpflmacher[3] must be earning a pretty penny too. Have you heard, Eisig Rubel’s[4] up at the Alcohol Regulation Board[5] every day, what do you think of that? He’s come a long way! One thing I meant to say, wasn’t yesterday’s article on the emotional upturn we’re seeing very sound?

REP:     I did hear today that leather’s going up fifty per cent in value.

PROFITEER:     You don’t say, well, Katz[6] will be creaming it, he won’t know whether he’s coming or going. He will get himself that title in the end. We’re still cheaper though. You know what I’d like to do? Drive a nail into that Iron Soldier at the Imperial, for a laugh. Come with me, what does it matter, you’re in good company? So why not? Only a crown! You get a certificate with your name on it, and you’re in the annals for all posterity!

REP:    You can leave me out of those sort of shenanigans![7]

PROFITEER:    Here comes Bermann. Exempted, of course!

BERMANN:    Hello there!

PROFITEER:   You’ll bang a nail in the Iron Soldier with me, Bermann?

BERMANN:    Already nailed it! (Off.)

PROFITEER:    All right, I’ll go on my own!

REP:    I’m just not a fan of all that tripe. [8]

PROFITEER:     What do you mean tripe? Just look at all the people! –  It’s a great idea! The way it’s bringing in money for our brave soldiers, and you get a souvenir of these great times into the bargain!  Wow, take a look at that piece of – (a strikingly dressed woman walks past, they both stand still.)

BOTH:    Just between ourselves.

REP:     Did you hear how snooty Raubitschek [9]and Barber are about their Red Cross medal?

PROFITEER:    Some neck! How much did they give for it?

REP:    Chicken feed. They’d have gone for the big one if they could have got it. But that one really is for merit. So it costs an arm and a leg!

PROFITEER:     Who could afford that now? And if you could you’d be better off buying a title. Feigl, the great Canned-Food-Feigl, he’s going to be called ‘Baron’ the moment peace arrives.

REP:     Who’s thinking about peace now? Haven’t we got plenty of other problems at the moment?

PROFITEER:     Why are you so bellicose all of a sudden? Sounds like you’ve got some big deal on the cards?  Good guess?

REP:       Big deal, schmig deal. It’s a matter of survival.

PROFITEER:     You’re so right.  I stand by what I’ve always stood by, war is war. I mean whether they break their necks driving cars or for the fatherland, boys will be boys – I can’t join in with all the sentimentality.

REP:     Too true. I’m sick and tired of people endlessly slagging off the war.  A lot of things are more expensive – but that’s all part of it! I assure you, a great many of those who are complaining today will feel very sorry for themselves the day peace comes!

PROFITEER:    Absolutely, aren’t we putting our heart and soul into it –

REP:    And right in the middle of it, when we’re seeing the real benefits, is it all just going to end?

PROFITEER:     What a pity for our brave soldiers!

REP (breaking into laughter):     That is a good one – What do you mean? I’m talking about business and you – (laughs and coughs) So much dust again today, it’s a scandal – I’ll send something in to the paper, under the heading ‘The Iron Garbage Man’ – what am I talking about, ‘The Iron Soldier and the Fly’[10] – no, how about –

PROFITEER:    I’ve already contributed my mite to the war effort, but it’s three months now since the road was swept in front of my house –

REP:    Look, who it is, Weiss, and in uniform! Who’d have thought – (Weiss stops, looking sullen.) So – conscripted?

WEISS:    It’s going on so long, I ran out of excuses. (Off.)

PROFITEER:     What’s going to become of us! Who’d have thought, a year ago – if you’d told me then – that they’d take Weiss!  A man I gave a job to!

REP:    He’s pretty pissed off, unfortunately.

PROFITEER:    He didn’t have the price of a pair of trousers then. Now he’s wearing the emperor’s jacket. These certainly are great times.

REP:    You won’t believe this, but listen, eight days I’ve been phoning Kehlendorfer’s[11] for tickets for ‘Blood of the Hussars’.[12] It’s sold out for the next four weeks! I tell you the war will be over and we still won’t have seen ‘Blood of the Hussars’! My wife’s giving me hell –

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:     – – attack beaten back – all positions held!

PROFITEER:    I have to say it’s not a patch on ‘Autumn Manoeuvres’.[13] And what about ‘The Gypsy Princess’[14] – people are really going for that! Have you seen ‘Maids of Athens’?[15]

REP:      ‘Maids of Athens’, of course we have! There’s a gag – hang on – a great gag that has them rolling in the aisles, ‘The Wind from the Masurian Swamps’. It brings the house down when he lets that out, Marischka – (off.)

OFFICER 1 (greeting three other officers):    How are you, Nowotny? Pokorny? Powolny? So, you’re up on all the politics – what about Italy?

OFFICER 2 (waving walking stick):    You know what I say, it’s a breach of faith, pure and simple.

OFFICER 3:    What else would you expect from the Greaseballs? It’s their nature.

OFFICER 4:     My view precisely – I had such fun yesterday though! Have you seen the latest cartoon from Schönpflug – an absolute classic!

OFFICER 1:    You know what I’d love after all this time, I’d love to go to the Gartenbau again!

OFFICER 2:     Been wounded?

OFFICER 3:     Wounded?

OFFICER 4:     He’s hardly wounded!

OFFICER 1:     I’m not wounded at all.

OFFICER 2:    So you don’t know the Gartenbau’s a hospital now! (All laugh.)

OFFICER 1:     Of course, a hospital – (after a moment of thought) My memory will be the death of me – this war has been going on so long now – (A soldier on crutches hobbles past.)

OFFICER 2:       That one needs sorting out, what a sloppy salute –

OFFICER 1:       Don’t make a scene about it. But apropos, any news on your Cross of Merit?

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:     Bloody repulse! Hand to hand fighting. Please!

OFFICER 2:    I’m still up for it – just takes forever.

OFFICER 3:    What a state of affairs!

OFFICER 4:    What do you expect, war is war. No girls about today.

OFFICER 1:    You know what?Let’s go to Hopfner’s. (Off.)

INTELLECTUAL (to his companion):    I assure you, for as long as the mentality of our enemies – (Both off.)

POLDI FESCH (to friend):    Today I’ll mostly be pissing about with Sascha Kolowrat – (Off.)

SOLDIERS (singing as they march past):

When we come home, when we come home,

We’ll meet again when we come home –

(Three racketeers, toothpicks in mouths, leave the Hotel Bristol grillroom.)

RACKETEER 1:     Yesterday I went to see Marcel Salzer’s show. I tell you, gentlemen, that’s something not to be missed.

RACKETEER 2:     That good?

RACKETEER 1:     Yes! He does this poem, by some famous poet, I know what he’s called – hang on – Ginzkey!

RACKETEER 3:     Isn’t he in carpets?

RACKETEER 1:     He’s probably related.  Anyway, it’s about the Battle of Tannenberg, as Hindenberg’s driving the Russians into the bogs – you’ ll have read a moving description in the paper at time – [16]

RACKETEER 2:     And I can still remember the title: German Army Surrounds Russian Troops and Chucks Them into the Masuarian Swamps.

RACKETEER 1:     That’s exactly what happens, but funnier, Salzer makes these gurgling, glug-glug noises as they choke to death. I tell you, the weird faces he makes, and the little piggy eyes – it’s well worth the money.

RACKETEER 3:     Ssh – you lot – field-greys. (They stop.)

RACKETEER 2 (solemn):    In shining armour!

RACKETEER 1:     Yes, the Germans!

(Three German infantry privates appear, one after another, each accompanied by a city counsellor, in top hat and tails.)

CITY COUNSELLOR 1:     There is the Opera House, now we’re in Kärntnerstrasse, where I’ll show you the Iron Pole[17], Vienna’s greatest landmark, a memorial that every craftsman who passed by hammered a nail into, just as you see with the Iron Soldier. Next comes the so-called Plague Column, from a time when the plague raged through the old town and your man made a vow to erect a magnificent tourist attraction to it on the very spot

PRIVATE 1:    Wow! Gosh!

CITY COUNSELLOR 2:    There is the Opera House, now we go along Kärntnerstrasse to the so-called Iron Pole, a landmark passing craftsmen once hammered nails into, then I’ll show you the Plague Column, where your man made a vow, with the plague raging all round at the time, just like today with the Iron Soldier, which is why a tourist attraction was erected.

PRIVATE 2:    Gosh, fantastic!

CITY COUNSELLOR 3:    That’s the Opera House, now we move straight on to Kärntnerstrasse, to the Iron Pole, which passing craftsmen used to drive nails into, as they do now with the Iron Soldier. Next I’ll take you to Graben, to the greatest tourist attraction of all, erected because the plague was raging, so your man made some vow, and that’s how we got the Iron Pole.

PRIVATE 3:   Gosh, stone me!

JOURNALIST 1 (to a second journalist):     Look, there’s the true meaning of fighting shoulder to shoulder.

JOURNALIST 2:    They do seem to understand one another very well, but we can’t hear what they’re saying.

JOURNALIST 1:    He’s just explaining it all to him.

BERLIN RACKETEER[18]:    (talking very fast to a commissionaire) Over here, old son, I need you to scuttle across to the chophouse yonder, pronto, and have a butcher’s for a guy cooling his heels. If it looks like he’s a no show, grill the door-wallah or the Big Chief for the scoop on Herr Departmental Head Swobóda, who was head-hunted from Berlin – I’m a Berliner myself – by old Zadikower, just about your City of Song’s number one guy on the access-all-areas front right now. He’ll need to sit tight, OK? – so get a table number – the message book’ll be on the counter in case something crops up at my end. It’s the usual booze and schmooze job, right, but business first, natch, and in the event of any blips we can alwayshook up at the Moulin Rouge or whatever monicker that dive goes by now, you know the one, where little Mizzi struts her stuff, just about the most It girl your City of Song’s got right now, defo. I’ll be there quarter to the witching hour. You with me? Now shift it, sunshine! (The commissionaire stares at the stranger, stunned and in silence.) Eh? Don’t you understand plain German?

COMMISSIONAIRE[19]:    Beg pardon, sir, perhaps I’m just not au fait with German à la mode –

BERLINER RACKETEER (indignantly turning to the passers-by gathering in a group):    Listen to me, I’m at a complete loss for words, this is a fully-fledged scandal, I mean the things you put up with in your beloved Vienna! As a German German I’ve already witnessed some real stunners, but I guess you get acclimatised to the unmitigated sloppiness of Vienna. It’s not that overall you ain’t a nice enough bunch, but this is unbelievable, this could only happen in Vienna, a nation that’s fighting shoulder to shoulder with us, acquiescing in such insults, it’s calamassive[20], after a year of it you Viennese still don’t even know you’re in this war, that’s why your name’s already mud! Back home the mood is severe but sanguine, but you lot – General Hindenburg should know about this, I need to fill him in on it –

CROWD (shouting):    What happened?

BERLINER RACKETEER:    What happened? You want to know what happened? What a bunch of weirdoes! That man, standing there, like he’s the real McCoy in the Viennese commissionaire department, I wanted to send him to a restaurant with an important message, for a Departmental Head – no less – I’d arranged to meet, and he – I mean there is a war on –

CROWD:   What did he do?

BERLINER RACKETEER:     – he only answers me in French!

(He takes off greatly agitated. The crowd looks suspiciously at the commissionaire who has stood there the whole time as if frozen; now he just walks away haughtily.)

CROWD:    Every Frog – Will die like a dog![21]

NEWSPAPER VENDOR:    Extraaedition! Great victory for the Alliance!


[1] Sesschafter Wucherer, ‘settled, resident profiteer’, but ‘local’ would probably a better translation. The point is that the profiteer complaining about Jewish refugees is not only Viennese but Jewish. The accents of the newspaper vendors here are, by contrast, very much those of Eastern Europe.

[2] Prominent Jewish family name, as others used here. Some have been identified, but it seems likely they all refer to real people, influential and successful in business, and supposedly making big money from the war.

[3] Jewish name; several prominent businesses at the time with this name. One notably a dealer in fur and animal skins in the light of the Rep’s comment about leather, following; Tlustý-Knöpflmacher, at Subenring 6.

[4] In ‘Wien – Retour’ (Otto Binder 2010) Eisig Rubel’s name is described as being ‘immortalised as the prototype of the Eastern Jewish profiteer… by Karl Kraus’. Arthur Schnitzler’s diary refers to Rubel as one of a group of Jewish businessmen who created positions of mercenary power for themselves during the war. There was, of course, no shortage of profiteers who were not Jewish; far more in fact. There is every reason why a conspiratorial focus on Jews, from Kraus too, should make us uneasy.

[5] A number of commercial activities were taken into state control in the course of the war, effectively becoming state monopolies; the sale of spirits (in die Spirituszentrale) was one of these. Operating the monopolies was a moneymaking proposition both for the state and middlemen involved.

[6] All the names that follow are, again, identifiably Jewish

[7] The German is Narrischkaten, actually Yiddish narishkayt, ‘nonsense’.

[8] German Schmonzes, a Yiddish word meaning ‘balderdash’. Neither of these words (see Narrischkaten above) is familiar enough in English to be usefully retained in the translation, but they emphasise the characters’ Jewishness, and I have included a few more familiar words of Yiddish origin to the same end, many of them also very common in Vienna at this time.

[9] This may be Dr Hugo Raubitschek (1881-1955), who was the Austro-Hungarian army’s Chief Pathologist during the war. He had left the Jewish community early on and had been baptised. He fled Austria after the Anschluss, and seems to have spent part of WWII in Shanghai, like many other stateless Jews. He settled in America in 1947, where he died in 1955.

[10] See I.10

[11] Kehlendorfer, theatre ticket agency, in Kriegergasse.


[13] ‘Herbstmanöver‘

[14] ‘Csardasfürstin‘


[16]‘Ballade von den Masurischen Seen’, Ballad of the Masurian Lakes’, Franz Karl Ginzkey (1871-1963); poet and novelist; cartographer in the Institute of Military Geography in Vienna until 1914, then worked in the War Archives (a safe sinecure for many writers). A Ginzkey family was a manufacturer of carpets, with family members holding high office in various commercial institutions and organisations. As the First World War began, battles in East Prussia (now in Poland and Russian Kaliningrad), including the battle of the Masurian Lakes and the devastating battle of Tannenburg, decimated the Russian army, ending its invasion of Germany.

This is the poem Kraus refers to in the text:

General Hindenburg feels the east wind blow

O’er the Masurian Lakes where he rides ‘gainst the foe.

All his life he has roamed on foot and on horse

Round these lakes and swamps and followed their course.

He knows every reed in this bog, every sound,

He bends his head low, puts his ear to the ground,

He hears ghostly gurgles deep in the swamp:

The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump.

It will swallow the Russians up, torso and stump.

There’s no toad, no frog, no amphibious newt

Whose knowledge of these bogs is so acute.

He knows every brake, where each crossing falls,

He knows every lake like he knows his own balls;

As he roams to the east, as he roams to the west,

He knows it all like a sweetheart he has caressed.

And still there is gurgling deep in the swamp:

The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,

It will swallow the Russians up, torso and stump.

From Berlin comes the news, oh, how he is pained;

The Reichstag’s resolved: the swamps will be drained,

His lakes must be drained, his Masurian Lakes,

To be ploughed up for profit, don’t they know the stakes? 

Can wheat be a bulwark in this vital spot?

General Hindenburg heads for Berlin like a shot.

They must hear the war drum that sounds from the swamp:

The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,

It will swallow the Russians up, torso and stump.

The Kaiser greets Hindenburg; Hindenburg’s bold:

As defences these lakes are worth more than gold;

Draining the swamps really wouldn’t be wise:

We’ve got enough land, we daren’t risk this prize.

It’s not wheat fields but death-dealing marshes we lack

To swallow the Russians up when they attack.

Your Majesty, save this great guardian swamp!

The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,

It will swallow the Russians up, torso and trump.

The Kaiser laughs loudly and raises his cup:

I’ll give you these swamps to swallow them up!

Whereupon Hindenburg, filled with delight,

Hies himself home to prepare for the fight.

He retreads old pathways and studies the land,

Reconnoitring and charting all that he’s planned.

He rubs his hands gleefully: Our salvation’s the swamp!

The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,

It will swallow the Russians up, torso and stump.

Now see how in him all is gloriously fulfilled,

All that the swamp’s ghostly gurgles revealed;

At the Kaiser’s command, by his own iron will,

He slaughtered the foe with Hannibal’s skill,

Smote, choked and broke them with all his might.

General Hindenburg’s victory scaled every height:

One hundred thousand died in that swamp.

The swamp was our trump, the swamp was our trump,

The Russians were swallowed up, torso and stump.

[17] These monuments are referred to throughout the play. The point of the Iron Pole, Stock im Eisen, seems to have been that journeymen who had finished apprenticeships drove in a nail (many would have been leaving Vienna) on their way home. The Plague Column, Pestsäule, erected by Emperor Leopold I to commemorate the plague of 1679; naturally at the time the emperor fled the city. The explanations are a half-remembered, garbled, lazy presentation of history as nothing but a tourist attraction.

[18] Kraus’s German Racketeer speaks here in broad, impenetrable Berlin dialect. As noted before German dialects find no useful parallels in accents and dialects in English; where significant differences obtain in the rich variety of Englishes (worldwide and, within the British Isles, nationally and regionally) there are inappropriate agendas, in which emphases on nationality or class are especially prominent. In order to achieve the necessary opaqueness for the Commissionaire’s response I have concentrated not on dialect or accent, but on an ‘eclectic’ jargon-and-catch-phrase-laced register and ‘modernisms’ the Commissionaire simply can’t follow, adding the necessary information that the profiteer is a Berliner.

[19] The Commissionaire’s reply is in incredulous Viennese, to the effect that he can’t understand a word. The Berliner can’t understand the reply, and the gulf between the dialects of Berlin and the streets of Vienna is such that the Berliner thinks the Viennese is speaking English. Impossible to achieve in any translation in English. The next best thing, weaker though it is, is to use the fact that standard Viennese German (not dialect) used both French phrases and words derived from French far more than the standard German of Germany, and to make the confusion about French instead.

[20] Kraus writes kolomassiv, his own invention of the ‘humungous’ kind. Kraus’s word would have been as odd as the one I’ve used; a coinage uniting ‘calamitous’ and ‘massive’ seems about right.

[21] As this is about English in the original, the actual cry is the now familiar ‘Gott strafe England!’