Act II Scene 2


The Optimist and the Begrudger in conversation.

BEGRUDGER:    Do you consider it within the bounds of possibility for an Eskimo and Congolese Negro to get through to one another eventually, even to fight together shoulder to shoulder? I think it might just work if they were in an alliance against Prussia. But any union between a Berliner from Schöneberg and a Viennese from Grinzing[1] seems completely impracticable to me.

OPTIMIST:    And why’s that?

BEGRUDGER:    It is in the wonder of fairy-tales that we re-connect with the Nibelung loyalty of ancient times.[2] But what are those connections beside the extraordinary, miraculous ones of the living, breathing, bloody present? It’s like this: here we are, where you can’t even make a telephone call, and there they are, making telephone calls endlessly, effortlessly – the situations are worlds apart, and I can’t see there’s likely to be any connection of a spiritual nature when even a connection by telephone is impossible? Can you conceive of two beings, shoulder to shoulder, one with disorder and sloppiness its sole purpose in life, with the other insisting on nothing but order, order and more order?

OPTIMIST:    The organizational skills of our Teutonic brothers-in-arms have always been an example to us, even in peace time –

BEGRUDGER:     Well, the example set by our own slovenly ways should loosen all that up, in fact the course of this war might well put paid to it altogether. The external and internal order of the German world is a nutshell that’s almost ready to crack. I’d say being shoulder to shoulder to with us should just about do the job.

OPTIMIST:    You can’t really believe German bureaucracy, with its tried-and-tested sense of duty, could ever be weakened, let alone corrupted?

BEGRUDGER:    As a representation of how Germany is evolving, only the other day, on the Swiss-German border, a railway official, in uniform, walked over to me at the ticket office, and muttered that he could offer me a much better exchange rate for Swiss Francs than the railway.

OPTIMIST:    Where you see a decline in moral standards, I see –

BEGRUDGER:    Spiritual regeneration. Yes, I’m sure that point of view will have a positive influence on the reality. Under the aegis of the self-deception created by the lies of war there will be never-ending chaos. And with the quantity of stock that’s been set rolling, look out for derailments.

OPTIMIST:    And what about us, in Austria?

BEGRUDGER:    We’ve got nothing to look forward to but going further downhill. For us there was already a war on in peace time, with the conclusion of every concert a kind of riotous decampment. So now, well, we’ll just stick it out.

OPTIMIST:    In a loyal alliance like ours there can be no conflict. It has held good up to now and we will fight together to the very end.

BEGRUDGER:    I believe that too. Only we’ll end up speaking completely different languages in the melee of all the shared confusion.

OPTIMIST:    What we share is the language of the sword. We are united with Germany for better –

BEGRUDGER:    – and for worse!


[1] Schöneberg a suburb of Berlin; Grinzing a suburb of Vienna.

[2] The opening lines of ‘The Song of the Nibelungen’.