Battlefield. Craters. Clouds of smoke. Starless night. A wall of flames on the horizon. Corpses. Dying soldiers. Men and women with gas masks appear.

DYING SOLDIER (crying out):

Drum up the drumhead court martial, Captain![1]

Die for the emperor? I will not!

You’re only the emperor’s lickspittle, Captain;

There’ll be no more salutes when I’m shot!

When I dwell with the Lord up in heaven, Captain,

And the emperor’s throne’s far away,

I’ll have only contempt for his orders, Captain!

Where’s my village? And my son still at play?

When I’ve peacefully passed to the Lord, Captain,

And my final field postcard is read,

Oh, how my dearest ones call to me, call to me,

How deep is my love, even dead!

You haven’t the sense you born with, Captain,

If you think you command my last breath.

My soul’s been burned up in the firestorm, Captain,

I won’t give my country my death!

There’s no way that you can coerce me, Captain,

My shackles will break when I’m shot!

So try giving a drumhead court martial to death –

Die for the emperor? I will not!

FEMALE GAS MASK[2] (approaching):

A man fell here, and by God’s will, I know.

We’re that sort too, when duty calls we go.

In these grave times frivolity’s been banned.

Fashion is unwomaned and unmanned.

We have equal rights in death, disease, distress,

And in hunger, filth and human sexlessness.

MALE GAS MASK (positions himself across from her):

O unknowable face!

O beautiful mask!

Meet my embrace,

That’s all I ask!

Dread filled with danger,

Dutiful, proud,

We’re stranger to stranger,

No looks are allowed.

There’s only our mission,

Our fight, but alas,

There’s a threat of attrition

From poisonous gas!

The skies puke down fire;

Blood boils, congeals.[3]

It’s a redoubt we require,

Oh, let’s take to our heels.

Far off barrage.


We’re compelled to keep hidden

What each mask encases.

Duty’s forbidden

Us gender and faces.

A life spent with carrion,

Maggots and flies –

Now harp, horn and clarion

Fill my night skies!

BOTH (arm in arm):

Duty’s forbidden

Us gender and faces.

We’re compelled to keep hidden

What each mask encases.

They disappear.

Two generals in flight, in a car.

GENERAL (Sprechgesang, between speech and song):

Torn earth and destruction,

Dead men and barbed wire,

And at every obstruction

We come under fire.

There’s no road back,

Bad’s turned to worse,

Our frontal attack

Has gone into reverse.

It’s no joke, at our age –

One prays one survives –

There’s a risk in this carnage

Of losing our lives.

Not an inch in retreat!

Our men’s proud battle cry.

Drive over the dead meat,

It’s the suckers who die.

What’s up with this one,

Head off at the throat,

And that one, both legs gone,

And a button off his coat!

Corporal, you’re a mess!

Enough is enough!

Such a state of undress

Really pisses me off!

A scandalous affair!

And what I abhor

Is you’re lying down there

While we’re still at war!

Are you deaf now? Attention!

You skiving cunt,

I’ll brook no dissension,

Get back to the front!

This shambolic retreat

Is verboten, taboo!

Drive over the dead meat

Or we’ll feed the crows too!

They drive off. The day is dawning.

Two war correspondents in a car, they get out. Breeches, binoculars, Kodak.


I get such a good vibe

Here, watching the show;

It takes balls to describe

All the fighting below.


Yes, a great place to hang,

Lots of action by rights,

Our troops are slap bang

In the enemy’s sights.


Some authentic depiction,

The dead stacked and piled,

Knocks spots off fiction

For getting folks riled.


Describe a croaked fighter,

Real atmos, it clicks,

A proven exciter,

Especially with pix.


I love info and facts

From an exclusive source,

And what really attracts

Me’s the detail of course.

He accosts a dying soldier close by.


Death gifts you a new guise,

A transfigured savant,

But it’s the look in your eyes

As you cop it I want.


You seem pretty clued –

In the brief time you’ve got,

If I can intrude,

Fill us in while it’s hot.


So what did you feel

In that final affray?

Was it fear, fervour, zeal,

As your life ebbed away?


It’s this nitty-gritty

That stirs up real clamour,

The crowds adore pity

It’s hotter than glamour.


You’ve got heroic stuff

Here we’re dying to peddle,

And it’s horse’s mouth guff,

I could be up for a medal


Quick, Doctor – at last –

Dress my wounds fast –

I’m in agony – hell –

Please don’t walk past!

Can’t you see the red flood –

Blood and more blood –

All these hours since I fell –

Oozing into the mud?

I’ve only minutes to go –

You can save me I know –

Bandage me well –

Staunch the blood flow.

Don’t you see I can’t last –

My breath’s fading fast –

Just stop the blood swell –

Doctor, please don’t walk past!


Un-newsworthy cock,

The man’s addled, congealed,

If I was a real doc

He could never be healed.


I’ll speak from the heart,

War is war, it’s not fair.

So you’ve been blown apart,

C’est la guerre, c’est la guerre.


Dress wounds? Do first aid?

I’ve had no training sessions,

What we journos get paid

For’s collecting impressions.


Yes, mood, atmosphere, oh

That earns a good crust,

But a moody, mute hero

Is as dead as dry dust.

They turn to make their departure.


This agony – never ends –

My wife – ah – no more –

Take me with you – friends –

A hospital – I implore!


Oh, that’s a real beauty –

Us intercede!

You’re doing your duty,

Just lie there and bleed.


Your pic in the press,

A celebrity name!

What greater success

Could a plain soldier claim?


I guarantee a great spread,

Purple prose from our pens.

So before you drop dead

Look me straight in the lens!


He’s got no more to say,

But he’ll do just fine.

Take him that way,

They’ll touch it up down the line.

He takes a photograph.


No, it’s trite, banal, bland,

We need more atmosphere.

You’re not what I’d planned,

Now, if we had a priest here –


To pray over the martyr,

Genuflect in respect,

Much, much smarter,

That would have real effect!


I’ve got one, a friend,

Who’d do that for me,

Well, for a priest, in the end,

It’s great publicity.


And where else but in hell

Would one need one? It’s sad –

My God, smoke! It’s a shell!

No, it’s a dud, not so bad!


There’s no more we can do

Here, no copy, no craic.

So safe home to HQ

Before they counter-attack.


We could retouch all we want,

We could stay here all night,

The camera just can’t

Get good shots in this light.


I know Sturm und Drang

Hits the literary heights,

But we really are slap bang

In the enemy’s sights!


Let’s go! Where’s the glory

In another hero’s stunt?

It’s the same old story,

Just more tales from the front!

They drive off.

A sergeant drives a platoon in front of him with his revolver.


Get a move on! Forward march! Here no bugger shirks!

Die for your country, or be shelled by it, you jerks!

Don’t think you can fool me, I’ll teach you lot to run!

If you don’t start shooting, lads, I’ll shoot you one by one!

They disappear.

WOUNDED SOLDIER (fumbling, crawling forward):

Damn you, Franz Josef! I can still feel your hand

Bringing darkness and poison to our fatherland!

I can smell decay, ruin, the end of all hope;

Your eyes are a gallows, your whiskers the rope.[4]

Your laugh is a lie and your pride is pure bile,

Your wrath’s beyond measure, mad, arbitrary, vile,

Lilliput tantrums that should just cause mirth,

While puppeting greatness you butcher the earth.

From Rhine to Ganges, the world’s turned upside down

By a second-rate actor in a tin hero’s crown;[5]

Not protecting an old world from change and mishap,

Just gifting the new one faux-medieval crap.

While real vision atrophied you set your sights

On an army of department store[6], fantasy knights.

You sucked blood from the veins of the best as they heard

Your brave squadrons of word upon vacuous word.

No greatness is born out of filth and flame;

With your God at your side you’ll lose your war game!

As the make-up’s scraped off and a world is exposed

Made mad by your madness, foul, decomposed.

But the shop’s boarded up; goods you had to sell

Are in the Devil’s hands now and heading to hell.

It’s not with the Lord’s grace but his fury and ire

That you lead out your armies of sulphurous fire.

The weapons of God! We’ll give him no praise

Till you’re on the scrap heap of the End of Days!

Your ministers, diplomats should be here in the mud

To wade through the seas of our tears and blood!

O Emperor, damn you, a curse on your brood!

Let them all drown, enough blood’s been spewed!

One more German son here is dying alone,

One more witness against you before God’s throne!

A Death’s Head Hussar appears with his entourage. [7]


Wham-bam, wham-bam, wham-bammer-boom!

This frontline air is some sweet perfume.

We’re the Death’s Head Hussars, we take no shit,

Death is our trade and we’re damn good at it.

With hourglass waists and tight-trousered arses

We thrust forth into battle, no enemy passes.

The bastards all take us for cute figurines

Till they’re up close and dirty with what Death’s Head means.

Don’t let looks make you think of unnatural pashes,

A Death’s Head Hussar never flutters eyelashes!

The boys just get on with the matter in hand

And show what our skills are when we take a stand;

They show what we mean when we say, ‘Who dares wins’;

They show what we can do when the assault begins.

Every day since the Marne[8], the day we were pushed back,

I’ve warned against flaccidness in our attack.

Stuck for months at Verdun[9], but when forays resume –

Wham-bam, wham-bam, wham-bammer-boom!

Wham-bam, wham-bam, wham-bammer-boom!

If only my corset had a little more room.

Papa didn’t feast with panthers[10], he only snacked,

And I make up in litheness whatever he lacked.

I’m a real jaguar; I am young, sleek and wild.

Hey, my country’s honour has been defiled!

I’ve a British-style beard[11] now, dapper not rough.

Damn, there’s a shortage of mortars shooting off!

Oh, but France is no picnic, I do have to say;

This war’s not over yet by a long, long way!

Still the young do need action, we need to be young,

We need to get out there and get our flings flung.

Oh, what am I saying? I’ve let down my guard,

I’m due at the billet of my favourite bard.

At twelve we attack, at five we’ve got vespers;

When it comes to hot verse I adore Rudi Presber’s.[12]

Art’s cheery face can light up duty’s gloom.

Wham-bam, wham-bam, wham-bammer-boom!

The group disappears.

A march is being played. Nowotny von Eichensieg, bemedalled, enters.[13]


From the scum in the slums,

From the ranks of blabbers and bums,[14]

My daily haul of human flotsam comes.

Now that the home front

Has to bear its share of the brunt,

I don’t spare the rod for cretin, crip or runt.

As for the Common Man?

I’ll screw him whenever I can,

God sees all, but doesn’t seem to mind that plan.

Shirkers are blessed

With a prison cell, at best,

If the gallows doesn’t grant eternal rest.

Malicious or seditious,

AWOL or merely suspicious,

It’s the Field of Honour pronto, you won’t dish us.

If your gut’s shot to shit,

If you can’t stand and show true grit,

You’ll be handed down a frontline death for it.

Oh, this is where I reign,

I don’t give a toss, it’s my domain,

They’re all carcasses in waiting, that’s quite plain.

And everyone’s fit here,

The medical officer’s crystal clear,

They wouldn’t call you up if you weren’t A-1, no fear!

No options, no free will,

Only our quotas to fulfill,

And with no lack of human blood product to spill.


Doctor of Engineering Abendrot[15] from Berlin appears.


To win forever and forever, we’ll fight the endless fight,

Until the final victory is finally in sight;

We’ll mobilise a strategy of vast, unfailing powers,

The last reserves of science now will make the conquest ours.

What use were the gas bombs we delivered with such skill?

The enemy just made a gas that was more toxic still.

Chucking gas should be a cinch, there should be nothing to it,

Except when it blows back again and kills the men who threw it.

But after all that churning out of fruitless contributions,

Now science will deliver us up its final solutions.

We all know how catastrophe reduced to naught

The weapons of iron that our gold once bought,[16]

To be dumped on the scrapheap, past it, without doubt,

As we went back to our genius for just sticking things out.

But knights ever in spirit, we still reached for the sword,

Though it was with the flamethrower that we really scored;

Steadfastly attacking, too, with poisonous bomb blast,

With mines and smoking missiles, fit to fight to the last.

To bejewel such great deeds flowery words were enlisted

From the times when none of these weapons existed,

For when we engage in the tourney these days

Our glorious victories come in a chlorinous[17] haze;

Spewing out every chemically lethal mod con

Our chivalric spirit bravely battles on.

So what finally matters in this time of romance?

Hit them in the trenches, lads, don’t give them a chance!

To our wonderful fables, our ancient German story,

We bring a new tale that’s profound in its glory.

We deny those Hunnish lies that our enemies tell

And reach deep, deep down in our fairy-tale well.

So I’m the Taleteller now, and I’m here to create

A tale to set all willful children straight.

We are not barbaric! How could we be?

Haven’t we got electro-technology?

Now the actual story, in its poetic redaction,

Has, after my byline, this brief introduction:

Berlin’s Doctor Abendrot, Doctor Sunset in fact;

My glow’s untimely death, that’s the nub of this tract.

Once upon a time then, that’s how I like to start,

How I win my way into the listener’s heart,

Once upon a time there was a lung disease,

More vicious and evil than words can reprise.

Science buried it deep, each species and strain,

And it just wasn’t there when it was needed again.

So science resurrected what it had suppressed,

Well, science has an ear for a strategic request.

Hasn’t it tinkered with things we drink and eat?

Given us ersatz coffee and tea and meat?[18]

Can it ersatz a deadly disease? Oh, you bet!

Through the practical methods of Doctor Sunset.

We’d the choicest selection of gas you could want,

Yet just the myxiest rabbits got chased from the front.

But now no living thing can survive in the field,

That’s the triumph our lung disease surrogates yield!

A world morgue and necropolis, such is our aim;

God, what offal and ordure to reach that endgame!

But now we can ensure that our fortunes revive;

Before the foe even sniffs it, he won’t be alive.

One press of the button, expertly employed,

And ten thousand enemy lungs are destroyed.

So now we wear slippers, throw the hobnails away;

Death tiptoes, oh so silently, to find its prey.

People ask me, can you show us your mastery, sir?

Well, the proof’s in my work; the facts never err.

The begrudgers who tried to steal victory from us,

Can they now deny what my miracles promise?

With death as our ally, and deadly intentions,

It’s time to try out all our last-ditch inventions.

So before the enemy (wham!) even knows,

The whole Western Front business comes to a close!

We’ll have mountains of corpses now, piled up so high,

And a place in the sun[19] that no one can deny.

See the gold glow of sunset, sinking down;

When it comes to world war, don’t I wear the crown?

Forget Tirpitz[20], von Zeppel[21], I won’t take second place.

I bring new-made slaughter, new hell, with God’s grace.

He pushes a button. Three brigades sink silently down.

But the children, the children, they don’t need to see

How destructive the weapons of God can be!

Now no Watch on the Rhine[22], be it ever so sure,

Can match my biological Nibelung war. [23]

That’s the final commandment adversity wrote.

Now my name’s Siegfried Sunset. Germans take note. [24]

He disappears.

Night falls. Hyenas appear, with human faces. Glutton and Sweet Tooth speak. They squat beside the corpses, left and right, and address them. [25]


Is there something you want? Something you need?

We’re here in our masks to help, not to feed.

Don’t let matted hair and manes put you off,

We’re hyenas, not humans, we’re not here to scoff.

We’ve come to the Field of Honour again,

To make sure your sacrifice wasn’t in vain.

What’s surplus to need, we can take right now;

Who needs jewellery and cash in a grave anyhow?


Look, everything’s settled. Be content with the cost.

We’ve made handsome profits from all that you’ve lost.

You heeded our words, you marched forth with panache;

While you poured your blood out, we clawed in your cash.

While you ventured your all, we gained from that pain;

If you’ve anything left, please contribute again.

You’re beaten, you’re broken, but we’ve won the prize.

Though blood’s down in price now dead meat’s on the rise.


Depend on us, please, we can tell you the score;

That imperial uniform just won’t fit any more.

Keep the bombs and grenades, that’s your path, never swerve,

And let us earn the riches we richly deserve.

It’s pleasure, sheer pleasure, to lounge around here,

No cold, no hunger, no anguish, no fear!

Back home, take my word, things are out of control;

They want three times the price for cooking fat, coal!


We’ll whisper it softly, no need for your thanks;

You lying here, dying here’s good for the banks.

Their capital’s growing, hand over fist,

From a slaughterhouse merger no one could resist.

What good fortune to slumber, immune to all ills,

Avoiding the barrage of thousand-buck bills.

But there’s more compensation! There’s heroic repute!

And while you swim in blood, we just swim in loot.


You’re the ones who’ll live on in the annals of fame!

They say death is free; there’s a price just the same.

This war wasn’t started by us, even though

We were happy to see it; you were happy to go.

No one sings our profits, our praise I should say,

But your ears will resound in a glorious way!

Your grandchildren’s children will revere each name.

Let’s hope ours aren’t hanging their heads in shame.


My children were about to be sent off to fight.

But I managed, good fortune, to put all that right.

One was too honest to use the back door,[26]

But the business couldn’t spare him, not during a war.

One felt undue influence smacked of the cad;

I got his discharge myself so he wouldn’t feel bad.

My youngest’s exempted, when it’s his turn next year.

Weren’t you young once – oh, aren’t those days dear!


My first lad, with no patronage, still got out with ease;

The other writes verse lauding our victories.

When the fatherland called him, he answered in rhyme,

Now he’s in the war archive, he’s had such a grand time.

He would love to fight, but he’s fighting that urge,

And he’s been promised a job now (as a dramaturge).

Till then, from his office, he hymns of the front.

My youngest? Just can’t go, too much of a runt.


Could anyone heap too much praise on this deal?

You die wanting blankets, we live buying steel.

Day in, day out, cooking oil, leather, soap,

We find scarce commodities, hope against hope.

Our prices are generous (we live with the shame)

But cartloads and cartloads don’t sell all the same.

For now that’s OK, but in peace time? God knows

We’ll build no arms factories with losses like those.


God save us from peace, this world war’s been the key,

We’ve staved off destitution with adversity.

We’ve produced and provided, even given – not much –

Yet if peace is delivered, there goes our crutch.

But who needs new arms factories? I’m happy with Škoda,[27]

The same thing in the end, or so says Roda Roda.[28]

But you’ll want to be buried, just a bare hole will do;

My wife needs a fur coat, and it won’t matter to you.


Our mouths fill with ashes; don’t you know how we grieve?

The dead should mourn us, for we have no reprieve.

If we’ve slaved here for nothing, if that’s what we find,

Then peace isn’t risk free – we’ll have no peace of mind!

If I buy my son property, what is it worth

If my friend’s the tycoon who can buy up the earth?

Every man gets his due. For the hero the tomb.

For Hyenas? The scrapings mankind won’t consume!


So be it! So it goes!

Hush! The pyre still glows

From the battle’s throes,

Still your sweat and blood flows,

Still our zeal shows,

Oh, but how prices rose!

God knows, God knows!

Corn and rice? Count your woes!

Just six wagons of those

In the railway depots.

That won’t feed the crows.[29]

We must leave, no bon mots!

The circle must close.

So be it! So it goes!

The hyenas tango around the corpses. Meanwhile the wall of flames in the background has disappeared. There is a sulphurous yellow glow along the horizon. The giant silhouette of the Lord of the Hyenas[30] appears. At that moment the hyenas stop dancing and form into groups.


Dark, grey-mottled, fuzzy sideburns and goatee beard. The beard surrounds his face like fur, merging into the similar hair on his head; a forceful, curved nose; big, bulging eyes with large whites and small, piercing pupils. A stocky figure, with something of the tapir about him. He wears a three-piece suit, with piqué waistcoat. He has his right foot forward. His left hand, fist clenched, rests in his trouser pocket, while his right points an outstretched forefinger at the hyenas; on that finger he wears a sparkling diamond ring.

On parade! Get in line!

Stand up straight! Show some spine!

Yes, I’m impressed with what I’m seeing here today.

The battle has been won!

A new age has begun!

So courage to the sticking place, OK?

Heads high, now no one cowers,

The spoils of death are ours,

And any man who crawls is a disgrace!

But if a slinking cur does pass,

Praise God and kick his arse!

We’ve reached our goal, now everything’s in place!

The one who once brought wonder

Can just be torn asunder,

He can languish on his cross and be dismissed.

I can step in where he fell,

Where the light shines up from hell.

I’m the Antichrist? Then no one can resist.

From the rooftops thanks rise up

That the one who shared his cup

With thieves has played his final play’s last hour.

Wretched, blood drained dry,

So weak he can’t defy

The crushing weight of vast, unbridled power.

Love now stands at bay,

It won’t get in the way,

And what good fortune’s brought to pass – is I!

O true believers, understand

Salvation is at hand!

In these great times the Antichrist is nigh!

Unconquered rage brought aid

To this holiest crusade,

And my pen was its good and faithful sword.

Revenge took love by the throat

With every word I wrote;

Now might is life’s true purpose and reward!

In the arenas, all-victorious,[31]

We hold up spoils so glorious,

Those pieces of silver that got the battle won.

The circle has closed at last

On a long-too-revered past;

The cross has lost the war, its days are done!

From the shadows watch us slide,

The ones who crucified,

Our pockets stuffed with Judas-geld galore!

A very different father’s prayer

Fills our theatre of despair,

And the Son of Man now exits for ever more.

He’d deliver us from evil? Well,

With fresh reserves from hell,

Good evil’s power delivered us from him.

We need feel no contrition,

What we’ve brought to fruition

Will compensate for heaven’s seraphim!

Oh, this rebellion of hate

Had to come – and such a wait!

Love was never meant to be love without end.

World ruin can be thanked

For the money that’s been banked

In a currency the Devil’s smile’s amen’d.

Though the world may be on crutches,

The marketplace still clutches;

Business must progress, it must advance.

God’s will be screwed! Accrue!

The Devil’s limping too,

And could he give a damn if he can’t dance?

On crippled feet he crawls

To the Stock Exchange’s halls,

To drive up prices more and more and more.

There’s nothing sacred here,

Just time for that financier

To watch world history make his profits soar.

I’m his broker, agent, factor,

His speech writer and actor;

He doesn’t deliver a word that I don’t edit.

I’ll steal your spirit with my prose

And I can bend the necks of those

Who claim the majesty and might he lends on credit.

I can chastise your very soul,

So when the master calls the roll,

Discharge the debt of tribute that you owe.

And with these great deeds in place

Greater advertising space

Is all this new dominion needs to grow.

O brothers! Prepare each snout

For life’s great sniffing-out

With single-minded urgency and speed.

Sniff out the future’s warnings,

Sniff out the corpses’ spawnings,

Rancid ciphers that this epoch has decreed!

Don’t let your profits lie

Where anyone else can sell and buy,

Make business, total business, your only good.

Enter it all in the accounts,

The black and red amounts,

And draw up a final balance sheet of blood!

Tear down the old dispensation,

Throw up our regeneration;

Success goes with my name – that should be stressed.

That other shepherd failed

Because his mistakes were never nailed!

Benedikt qui venit[32], benedictus, I’m blessed!

Look, I’m no soul mate of His,

It’s in this world I’m the biz,

I’m a Pope of a different colour, that’s for sure.

And all who believe in me

Will be saved by usury

To profiteer and prey on the fields of war.

Every coward, swindler, cheat

Bows down at my feet,

Knowing money is the only thing of worth.

The spell will never break,

My empire never shake,

Because my magic’s simple – just exploit the earth!

All these corpses, corrupt, corroded,

Are a bridge for the fat and loaded

To a kingdom they could otherwise never know.

And if the world goes up in flame

We’ll find each other just the same,

My black arts will always show you where to go!

Through occult casuistry

Ink calls forth the unity

Of technology and death – that makes some spread!

Give thanks to the printing press

Where blood and type coalesce;

My words roll off it daily, black on red!

That black ink was the dart

That hit our great foe in the heart!

Thou shalt hate thy neighbour now, the coast is clear!

And you’ll be paid the Judas-rate

When you leave him to his fate –

The time has come! The Antichrist is here!

The hyenas waltz around the corpses.


So be it! So it goes!

Our mighty tread.

No tippy-toes.

Our lips blood red!

Our mighty tread.

And hot blood flows.

Our daily bread.

And prices rose!

Blood drunk, blood bled,

Blood savoured, shed.

We’re feasted, fed.

And prices rose!

So be it! So it goes!

Our ruthless tread.

War’s fiery throes.

The dead we’ve bled.

We’ve never fled.

Our backbone shows.

Earth’s painted red.

And prices rose!

Blood drunk, blood bled,

Blood savoured, shed.

We’re feasted, fed.

And prices rose!

We squeeze blood out,

Drink as it flows.

Wounds never close!

We squeeze blood out,

Drink as it flows!

And prices rose!

Go to sleep! Go to sleep!

No more tippy-toes.

Lullaby, lullaby![33]

So be it! So it goes!

The hyenas drape themselves over the corpses.

Three occasional newspaper contributors or collaborators[34] appear.


Morning light lies over these dark towns and fields.

The waltz has carried the day; the tango yields.


Gladness and sorrow unite! And here they stand,

Two great ambassadors of commerce, hand in hand.


Life rallies and recovers and leaves troubles far behind.

Behold our captains of industry, magnates of mankind.


No need to wander lonely now, solitary, cowed.

I see them there already! I’ve picked them out from the crowd.


Our objectives are so close; my nose has got the scent.

Opportunities, bargains, endless scope for development.


Haven’t we all had our bellyful of this soldierly much-ado?

Aren’t there other bodies somewhere we should hear from too?


That’s all over! We’re shot of it. Now we can make the call.

So smell the morning air, smell Vienna’s Grand Press Ball![35]


And this one will be matchless in its celebrity renown.

Frau Fanto[36] wears an eco-bio-cream-crêpe-party-gown.


See the celebs up on the balcony? That’s the real story.

The crowds pressing round them, basking in their glory.


God forbid it should collapse under all that weight!

But it’s the chat that really matters and the gossip’s truly great.


Here they come, the regulars, always on parade.

But look out for surprises! Who else has made the grade?


I see Salvator’s[37] turned up with a spring in his step! Oho!

Look, three imperial councillors now – and all in one go.


Two ambassadors close behind, they should not be missed

Off what is fast becoming a very crowded list.


Those dull lists of casualties, how can they compare?

I mean anyone who’s anyone will be at this affair.


Where all is always as it’s always meant to be,

Where those who must be seen here are here for us to see.


Celebrities, luminaries, the stars are in our eyes,

And we are in the thick of it; there’ll be surprise after surprise!


The General Staff can’t make it, but here’s Field Marshall Höfer.[38]

Earnest expressions de rigueur! What a grand old buffer!


On this meteoric, world-historic, glorious carnival night

We can finally see that all that sacrifice was right.


A night to remember!  Even our enemies will smile

To see laughter returning and stepping out in style.


Everyone’s assembled, all Vienna, low and high.

Our youngsters on the dance floor, they must conquer – or die!


I’m sorry, the party’s over! Run! The last waltz looks bleak.

Now the Devil and the plague are dancing cheek to cheek!

They run off.

Now the whole horizon is filled with plumes of smoke. A scarlet-flecked moon appears from behind the clouds that hang like rags, stained black and yellow. On the battlefield a chaotic confusion of regiments. Three armoured cars approach. Men and animals flee wildly. A babble[39] of voices.[40]


My bones rattle and chatter, my bones still shake!

Our guns broke their line. We watched them break.


We won this position, with a bold, surprise hit!

We’re going have trouble getting out of this shit!


We kicked them from their trenches, fighting hand to hand.

Let the Devil have the pleasure! It’s all at his command!


Don’t think we’re short of blessings or gifts from above.

Two men fell today; we’re not lacking in God’s love.


Losses in battle, as in business, do occur!

We’ve captured some prisoners, let that be our spur.


The enemy’s making a flanking attack!

Dead babies, dead civilians, just collateral flak.


It’s bull’s eye after bull’s eye, it’s hit after hit!

There goes a playground and five children with it.


On foot or horseback we pushed our way through!

And with very acceptable casualties too.


Our Bavarian comrades, what a display!

Church fête and Fasching[41] and auto-da-fé.[42]


It’s getting worse every minute! We’re dying like cattle!

Our brave boys from Würtemberg[43] march into battle


From Thuringia[44], Friesland[45], the Rhine, everywhere,

There’s such scorn for death, they just couldn’t care.


The results of this business show no one should scoff

At the hot blood of Hungary, look how that’s paid off.


All that valiant aggression the Bulgarians retain;

It’s why we push them forward, again and again.


Look at those shabby schleppers, dragging their feet.

Our kismet-wallah allies, or dead Turkey meat.[46]


But wait, they’re all in for a nice tidy lashing!

The Germans are here! They love a good thrashing!


It’s pouring with rain, the ground’s soft and wet.

Our own affable Austrians, hail-fellows-well-met!


We’re in deepest shit now; we’re sinking fast!

But the counter-thrust is on at last!


Speak German to the foe, you son-of-a-Slav-bitch!

Well, if you’re in the ditchwater, we’re in the ditch!


Hey, what’s all that about, we’re united you know!

Is foe shooting friend or is friend shooting foe?


Is this Nibelung union bad news or good luck?

They’re firing our own guns at us! Duck, boys, duck!


Of all our great crises, surely this is the worst!

With consummate ease the attack was reversed.


We’re out of the mire! We’re back on track!

The heavens are changing to yellow and black![47]


Don’t make me laugh! Are you off your head?

The heavens, quite clearly, are black, white and red![48]


That’s bollocks, look up, any eejit can tell,

It’s yellow on our side, on yours black as hell.


What colours we die for heaven only knows,

Just give us the lot, we’ll see how the wind blows!


Like a friendly companion that shows us the way.

Isn’t it grand though, this shoulder to shoulder melee?


In the end this whole business will bring a great prize –


Thank those excellent mortars the Krupp Works supplies.

We rely on our power, our strength, our spine –


Straight from God and the Škoda production line.


I’m still not convinced you won’t do a runner,

Still the latest field howitzer’s truly a stunner!

Flashes of light.

ALL (speaking together):

We can fry you to a frazzle

In one almighty flash!

Don’t you envy our dazzle?

Well, here it comes – smash!

Fire snakes across the sky, red and green lights.[49]

What’s happening now? What’s going on?


It’s the counter-attack! The denouement!


Victory is ours! We’ve won! We’ve won!

Look up! Our planes! Now see how they run!


Planes and more planes, and with such a heavy load.

Just watch as your lines (and your lives) explode!


What a glorious way to dispel the gloom,

Destroying babies in the womb.

Fiery stars, crosses and swords in the sky.

Splendour, celebration,

Effulgence and flame,

And for a night of annihilation,

Medals, acclaim!

Brilliant globes of fire, a sheaf of flame.

Our subjects descry

Great deeds and great days,

From the flags flying high

And the firework displays.

Three comets appear.


Three fiery horsemen on three fiery steeds![50]

You won’t like the way they fulfil your needs!


Watch them head for the front with the speed of a shell,

In armoured cars too, like bats out of hell!


May they not be unworthy of praise! Lo, behold,

Our war machinery is of a different mould!


We’re not falling for that, we’ve got tanks of our own:

Our Apocalypse bus tours in those are well known![51]

Two orderlies arrive.


Let hosannas resound, let hosannas resound:

On Mount Olivet[52] bombs fell on sacred ground!


No doubts shall disturb the believing ears:

Mount Olivet’s had gun emplacements for years.


Let praises be sung for the audacious and bold,

And laud the wise man’s barricade:

Let him who succeeds in success be extolled,

And the builder of the timely palisade.[53]


And those, here and there, who won through in the end,

Let them rest on their laurels, not sit upon thorns:

Though some may have had motives we don’t apprehend,

They knew what they did – O sound the rams’ horns![54]


When instead of a cannon it’s a cross that gets struck,

It’s a palpable miss though a laudable hit:

And no flying splinters, no debris with luck,

But there’s military damage amounting to shit.

A great bloody cross appears.


Step back! Step back! Quake at the sight!

Our red cross demands your respect, awe, fright![55]


We’re not suckered by that sort of copycat act.

You think amens and omens can cause us distress?

While the emperor (just) keeps his marbles intact,

Astronomical portents – we couldn’t care less!

It is raining blood.


Go back, if you can, look out, watch the sky!

You’ll be soaked in blood as it spills from on high!


Our newest chicanery, if you didn’t know,

Was planned at a war pow-wow some time ago.

From high in the sky our foe’s torn and riven;

We’ve already seen blood as it pours down from heaven.

There is unity of action in the theatre of war –


Blood and blood synthesise and bloodily concur!


We’re stronger than ever (if the weather’s on our side),[56]

It’s in a General Staff memo, so what better guide?


There are darker manoeuvres the weather has planned.

The skies are jet black now, your lines barely manned.

It is raining ashes.


It’s a blessing, a blessing!  Deluge after dearth!

We’ve made synthetic ash that can rain down on earth!

It is raining stones.

Stones? Such old methods? What’s next then – spears?

Hand grenades are the great yokes for giving out hell!

Stones will bounce off us – we’ve spent too many years

Being hardened by bomb barrage, mortar and shell.


We haven’t quite done it, but we can progress quicker.

It’s not only the brightest of stars we let in;

We’ve the Goliards[57] who sanctified satire and liquor,

We’ve crooks, villains, killers – we’ve a surfeit of sin.


A star that shines on Berlin is a star star-struck!

Any gains you have made are beginner’s luck.

It is raining sparks of fire.


I can’t see, in this stew,

Any beacon or sign.

Though I do have a view,

My own bottom line.


What’s that whirr? That blip?

Do you see that spark?

Yes, a light – as we slip

And fall into the dark.[58]

Complete darkness.


What the hell’s happening now? Why did all the lights quit!

Fade to black? What crap! That won’t keep them grinning

Between ‘Willie’s Not Shy’[59] and the feature beginning –

The flick’s ‘No One Escapes Me’[60], the detective hit!

Come on guys, there’s a contract, deliver – we’ve paid.

Though ‘Battle on the Isonzo’[61] may be truly stunning,

We need hits not dead losses; it’s a business we’re running.

We could sell Judgement Day with more light and less shade!


We’ve looked down on your blood-letting, skull-splitting spree

That now claims endless carnage as victory,

And last week, with the collapse of negotiations,

Mars[62] has broken off diplomatic relations.

Having carefully considered all these events

We have decided to act now, in our self-defence.

We are resolved to eliminate your planet

And all the battlefields that span it,

And the earthly ingrates who even presume

To take the heavenly spheres by storm.

Who in every place they impose their presence

Despoil creation’s very essence;

Who torment beasts and enslave humanity;

Who honour shame and shame morality;

Who gorge the bad and butcher the good;

Who despise the very virtue in their blood,

But use it to cover up greed and excession;

Who violate intellect, reason, expression,

And language itself just by speaking their thoughts;

Who have opened the hereafter up to exports;

Who send art, God, the Devil, the dead earth itself

To hawk products on a department store shelf.

Who hide what life means with the means of subsistence;

Who make mass production the end of existence;

Who are slaves to expanding their output and sales;

Who corrupt their being and pay with their souls;

Who market themselves as their own market forces

And brawl with their neighbours for natural resources.

Who wield hatred and envy as business allies

Until gold’s toxic glitter burns out their eyes,

And in their empty, unseeing, nothingness-night

Are proved ever-unworthy of eternal light;

Who in the radiant glory of suns and stars

Make victorious slaughter from perfidious wars;

Whose minds are mere engines for butchery

And ubiquitous, vile criminality;

Who unite to fill the skies with flames

And pollute the air with vengeful fumes;

Who pray their weapons heap up ever more dead,

Flushed not with shame but with blood instead;

Who blaspheme God and nature (their own nature’s root)

And crush the last traces of life underfoot;

Who lie before Heaven, who lay waste the land

They wrap national flags round and claim to defend.

Who feed upon iron and fob off the rest

With a trough full of guile about final conquest;

Who demand that their neighbours be wretched and poor

And cook on the flames of the torched house next door;

Who take food from the famished and wolf down their fill

And yet never quite feel that their stomachs are full;

Who heap burning coals on the heads of bystanders

And warm their cold hands on the ashes and cinders,

And then have the gall to tax immolation

While spiralling fat prices ramp up inflation.

Who blackmail and plunder and broadcast confusion

And swallow down whole their own boldfaced delusion;

Who attend victory fund-raisers as essential workers,

As heroes and hunters who sniff out the shirkers;

Who’ve claimed TB or syphilis, or used the back door,

While delivering us bombs and bacterial war;

Who pillage mankind’s creative autonomy;

Who bankrupt themselves and their nation’s economy;

Whose ideals hide the piracy of base privateers,

Soldiers of fortune in their own vale of tears,

In their cultural armour, erudite, urbane,

Armed to the teeth but malnourished within;

Mighty by grace of their murderous machinery,

Full of arrogance, ego, spite and malignity;

Subjects cocksure, too all-powerful to fall –

Wasn’t the Baghdad Railway[63] theirs after all?

They’re swindlers in Heaven and con men in Hell,

Hyenas who screw life and fuck death as well,

High-fliers stuck here on the earth with no wings,

Slaves to science and industry’s latest big things.

They’re versed in techniques of new pain and penology,

Barbarians lit by electro-technology,

Who had the idea, since Death had to come,

Of making him a comfortable, permanent home,

With plenty of like-minded souls to befriend,

Who in flight from themselves seek war as their end!

The cosmos, though preferring a peaceful solution,

Has agreed on the following resolution:

Though on Mars there’s no hunger for subjugation,

If we are attacked there’ll be retaliation.

For the sake of the universe and men of good will

We have accepted your methods, we are ready to kill.

And for all our research into murder’s techniques

We’ve relied on your scholarship and your critiques.

Through a telescope your planet’s a mere speck of dust;

Through a hand lens a bellicose dwarf at the best!

Brightening your weather is our only intention;

We’re content with our borders, we seek no expansion.

Our tribunal was tough though; this is what we will do:

We have something exceptional, uniquely for you.

Though it’s not in our nature to pursue annexation

(It would do serious damage to our reputation),

The peace of the universe must stay on track;

That compels us to defend ourselves from attack.

Since serfdom and slavery aren’t games we play

We’ll resolve this business in a quite different way.

The costs of the war will be yours just the same

But the annals won’t feature the principal’s name.

The eternal harmony of the heavenly spheres

Cannot be disrupted by your buccaneers;

Your assassins’ and philosophers’ fists will not dent

The quiet, seclusive firmament.

No thunder of battle, no cheap tricks of trade,

Will shatter its noiselessness; you will not invade!

The cosmos will listen to no more profanity;

You’ve smashed your way almost through to infinity.

We tried to be patient, but we’ve no more largesse;

Our faith was forbearance, yours was excess.

To ensure a new hope on an ever-hopeful earth,

To ensure a final victory acquires final worth,

To ensure no mitigation, no remission, no qualms,

We have carpeted the whole wide world with bombs.

It is raining meteors.


Attack! Come on! Drive!

Push them back, just once more!

And were this world all devils o’er[64]

Leaping flames.


Let no one survive!

That’s it! To the sword!

A thunderous sound, the call is roared[65]

Thunder fills the world.


Something new in this dive?

What’s it mean? Any clue?

The watch on the Rhine stands strong and true[66]


We’re burning alive!

Now who’s broken through?

Dear fatherland, may peace come to you[67]



The night was wild, the storm well deployed.

What was made in God’s image has been destroyed!


This is not what I wanted.[68]

[1] A drumhead court martial was an illegal battlefront trial, short on justice and usually lethal in punishment.

[2] Photographs of women in gas masks made a profound impact on Kraus; he saw an expression of the self-congratulatory dehumanisation the war seemed to be fostering. In this case what was denied was, for Kraus, an essential quality of what it is to be female; it attacks female sexuality itself. The mask also removes the physical expression of human individuality, the face, and that is to be ‘celebrated’ too, with no sense that the mask is an adjunct of a hideous means of mass murder. Applause for the mask is applause for the gas.

[3] ‘Medical Manual of Chemical Warfare’, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1941, data from 1918: Lung irritants (chlorine, phosgene, etc.)… In severe cases the haemoglobin percentages may rise as high as 140 with a corresponding rise in the red cell count. Associated with this concentration is the occurrence of thrombosis in pulmonary blood vessels, and also, to a variable extent, in those of other organs of the body.

[4] Long side whiskers were a distinctive feature of the ‘old’ Austria (and its aristocratic values), as particularly exemplified by Franz Josef himself; they were almost his trademark. See below n.17.

[5] Emperor Franz Josef had, as a young man, appeared in plays in the imperial court. Kraus refers to this in Act IV in a verse ‘lament’ that the emperor delivers about the sufferings (usually trivial) of his life. The notable absence of facial hair, Kraus seems to imply, led to an imperial preoccupation with it when older!

When just eighteen I trod the boards

(The play was called ‘Confusion’),

They left the barricades in hordes

To witness my effusion.

The people shouted themselves hoarse:

‘The emperor’s got no beard!’

I was that emperor of course –

There is nothing I’ve been spared.

[6] The idea of the department store and a culture subsumed by marketing is important in the play; not so much a culture of marketing as a culture where only what can be marketed matters. Marketing corrupts everything, and reduces everything it touches to the banal; the unique ‘value’ of the media is that it is both a marketing tool and infinitely marketable in itself. The’ Big Store’ has many shelves that include art, industry, armaments, patriotism, human life, whatever – all now on special offer in the service of the war. For Kraus these ideas form a recurrent polemical image, but they are very clearly connected to the much more complex exploration of the new consumer culture, and its physical architecture, Walter Benjamin would write about (in Paris), in ‘The Arcades Project’ (‘Welcome the crowds and keep them seduced…’).

[7] The Totenkopf, a skull-and-crossbones emblem adopted by a Prussian cavalry regiment, along with a black uniform, under Frederick the Great; retained by the regiment in its subsequent incarnations. These Ruritanian tight-trousered, short-jacketed hussar uniforms are still around, for instance in the dress uniforms of Britain’s Royal Horse Artillery. They were also much in evidence in Viennese operetta in Kraus’s day. An easy target for mockery, in conjunction with the death’s head insignia, it’s refreshing that Kraus can’t resist a cheap shot! But he also sensed a darker side to this overdressed absurdity. The brutality of German militarism and its nationalist obsessions extended into every aspect of military life; the strong undercurrent of homosexuality was no exception; it was ‘militarised’ too. It is no accident that this found expression even in the avowedly anti-homosexual Nazi Party, in the shape of Ernst Röhm, head of the SA. Röhm’s overt homosexuality was an unlikely continuation of that military subculture, institutionalised among his supporters in the SA; an embarrassment to Hitler, it was tolerated until he became a political liability. Many opponents of Hitler died in the Night of the Long Knives, for many reasons; but homosexuals close to Röhm were singled out for very unpleasant ends. However, the riding boots, jodhpurs and crops, etc., that were left over from the cavalry origins of some of these old military dress codes, hadn’t disappeared from German militarism; the SS sported them proudly – with the black uniform and Totenkopf.

[8] The battle fought along the River Marne in September 1914 effectively stopped the seemingly unstoppable German advance on Paris, but set the scene for the years of trench warfare that followed.

[9] After the Battle of the Marne the extensive French fortifications at Verdun eventually became a salient penetrating the German lines. There were numerous attempts to capture the city, culminating in what is referred to as the Battle of Verdun; it would last for most of 1916 and leave 300,000 soldiers dead.

[10] Kraus knew Oscar Wilde’s work well; the reference to panthers is a conscious echo of Wilde’s words, describing his pursuit of male prostitutes and his obsession with the danger involved, in ‘De Profundis’.

[11] The whiskers of the older German and Austrian military were characteristically extensive and ‘whiskery’; as above, the image of the bewhiskered Franz Josef seemed somehow to represent the empire itself. The interchangeability of ‘British’ and ‘English’ may mean that this is another reference to homosexuality, which in its upper-class manifestation was sometimes referred to in Europe as the ‘English Disease’.

[12] Rudolf Presber (1868-1935); German poet. The line that follows is probably his.

[13] The name combines the Slav Nowotny with German aristocratic von and a German name (a Hermine Grünzweig von Eichensieg was active in women’s suffrage in Vienna at this time) that suggests military decorations; the oak leaf cluster (eichen ‘oak’) awarded with Prussia’s highest military medal, Pour le Mérite (oddly in French, the language of Frederick the Great’s court): Bemedalled O’Newbody.

[14] Words Kraus uses here may be either acronyms of military or wartime organisations (Dag, Rag, Kag) or simply a ‘war’ word (Flak); the implication being that by serving in such organisations on the home front you were a good target for conscription rather than the opposite. The words are, in combination, slightly ugly monosyllables; they suggest other meanings, which make them uglier – these words are near full rhymes as final ‘g’ is unvoiced as ‘k’ in German: Dag echoes Dachs ‘rascal’, ‘wet behind the ears’; Dackl means ‘eejit’; there’s an Austrian word Tuach that suggests wildness or depravity. Rag echoes Racker ‘rascal’ and in older usage ‘knacker’; also Austrian ruach ‘boorish, stupid’. Kak is, in various forms, Yiddish for ‘shit’, and was a very common word in Vienna. Flak refers, naturally enough, to the product of exploding shells, and probably to Vienna’s defensive batteries generally, including anti-aircraft weapons (though less exclusively than in WWII); the point being if you could fire one why weren’t you at the front? Kraus may also sense the ‘debris’ aspect of the word extending to people; Flag is found in Vienna for Floh, ‘flea’; Flachse is Austrian for ‘gristle’; flachen means ‘lounge around doing nothing’; interestingly Flak in Austria can mean ‘getting an F’ in an exam – that is, to fail. In all, in short: dregs and dropouts to the front!

[15] Sunset.

[16] Gold gab ich für Eisen, ‘I gave gold for iron’, an Austrian scheme to get people to give gold and jewellery to finance arms manufacture early in the war. Viktor Léon, real name Viktor Hirschfeld (1858-1940), wrote the libretto for a patriotic operetta of that name with music by Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953); it was a timely rehash of their earlier operetta ‘Der gute Camerad’, ‘The Good Comrade’ (1911).

[17] Kraus substitutes his coinage chlorreich ‘chlorious’ for glorreich ‘glorious’; the English equivalents work perfectly on the page; in speech anything but the most laboured pronunciation won’t distinguish the words.

[18] The idea of ersatz products, of all kinds, fascinated Kraus and he extends the idea frequently to concepts of artificiality in almost everything. Here is a character celebrating Austria’s War Press Bureau in Act III:

We have ersatz food, why not diffuse

Unpalatable truths with ersatz news?

[19] In 1890 Kaiser Wilhelm II made a distinct move away from Bismark’s policy of Realpolitik (in German a less negative term than in English; realistic expectations rather than ideologically driven ones) towards what would become known as Weltpolitik, ‘global strategy’; the aim was to make Germany a global ‘player’, with overseas colonies, expansionist policies in Europe, and a much-enlarged army and navy. In 1897, in the Reichstag, Bernhard von Bülow, Secretary of State for Foreign affairs, said this: Mit einem Worte: wir wollen niemand in den Schatten stellen, aber wir verlangen auch unseren Platz an der Sonne (‘In a word: we do not wish to put anyone else in the shade, but we do demand our place in the sun too’).

[20]Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1917); German admiral, Secretary of State for the Imperial Naval Office, 1897-1916; architect of the German Imperial Navy. He was an enthusiast for the development of the torpedo and subsequently for submarine warfare. During WWI he was a vocal proponent of unrestricted U-boat attacks.

[21] Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, German count (1838–1917); army general, later aircraft manufacturer, notably of dirigible airships, which came to be known by his name; the Zeppelin Airship Company developed dirigibles into the 1930’s in serious competition with heavier-than-air craft. Tirpitz, as a pioneer of submarine warfare, and von Zeppel, as one of the facilitators of aerial bombardment bore a heavy responsibility in Kraus’s eyes for moving war from the battlefield towards a universal terror.

[22] Die Wacht am Rhein, ‘The Watch on the Rhine’, a song proclaiming pan-Germanism heard throughout the play. It calls for the union of all the German peoples against various (often ill-defined) ‘enemies’. Naturally enough it went on to become a major anthem during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

[23] The word Nibelung has a range of meanings in Germanic mythology, from the East Germanic tribe, the Burgundians, to the Nibelung dwarf, Alberich, who forged the magic ring in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen; in the broadest terms the subject matter is the origin of the Germanic peoples, their gods and goddesses, and their ancient unity; as in Wagner’s work the Rhine is often central to the mythology. But at least one medieval version places elements of the story on the Danube, near Passau. Wherever it appears in the play ‘Nibelung’ is an expression of mystical ideas of ‘sacred’ pan-Germanic bonds of blood and race.

[24] Siegfried is the dragon-slaying hero of Germanic legend, who features prominently in the ancient legends of the Nibelunglied and in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The name combines two Germanic words that are represented in modern German by Sieg, ‘victory’, and Frieden, ‘peace’. A bit of ancient ‘doublethink’?

[25] As ‘The Last Days of Mankind’ has progressed through its final acts the play has seen a growing presence of hyenas, especially in the streets of Vienna. The hyenas represent not only the Press, but in many ways the whole ‘press pack’ of the great and the good: politicians, industrialists, financiers, influential academics and scientists, celebrities, etc.; the people who have fed off the war as they feed off each other.

[26] The ‘back door’ was simply a term for the well-used mechanism (for those with any influence or social position at all) of accessing the corridors of power to get themselves or relatives exempted from military service; or at least posted to safe jobs in Vienna (and anywhere else that wasn’t near the war’s front lines).

[27] Founded in 1859 by Count Wallenstein-Vartenberk in Plzeň (Pilsen, German); Emil Škoda acquired the company in 1869. Austria-Hungary’s main arms manufacturer: naval guns, cannon, mortars, machine guns, ammunition. It was the empire’s largest industrial conglomerate; during the war there was huge investment in arms production. Most of the operations were in Czechoslovakia after 1918; though there was diversification, especially into transport, Škoda remained one of Europe’s largest arms manufacturers.

[28] Alexander Roda Roda, real name Sándor Friedrich Ladislaus Rosenfeld, (1872-1945), journalist, writer cabaret and satirical magazine contributor; New Free Press war correspondent; officer in War Press Bureau.

[29] Line added. It needed no explanation for Kraus’s audience; after the war Vienna was close to starvation.

[30] Moriz Benedikt, editor of the New Free Press; description partly based on Kraus’s photomontage of Benedikt as Die Sieger, ‘The (real) Victor’, published in Die Fackel in 1911 after parliamentary elections.

[31] The idea of the arena, that is to say specifically the Roman amphitheatre of gladiatorial combat and, more pertinently, of Christian martyrdom and massacre, more broadly the callous slaughter of the innocent, in the context of a corrupt and decadent imperial regime, is present in the play very early on; the Prologue (which deals with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the ill-tempered funeral that follows) closes with a poem in which the blood-soaked sand of the amphitheatre is evoked as an image of the carnage to come:

God of the mighty and the humble,

Auditor of small and great,

You saw your Tester, tested, stumble

Thorn-crowned back to heaven’s gate;

Was He too early or too late?

Was this your aim when life and death

Were sanctified in holy birth?

Was this the gift you gave with breath:

Let loving-kindness lose all worth,

Let insane slaughter fill the earth?

And wasn’t sorrow, in your hand,

A burden for the killer’s soul?

The blood of millions stains the sand,

The ruby-gems of life we stole

Tearing out what made us whole.

Our tears are ersatz, shining glass,

Cheap baubles for a traitor’s kiss;

When God’s great audit comes to pass

And God asks each man what he is,

The tears mankind will cry are His.

[32] Kraus simply says ‘I’m Benedikt’, ‘My name is Benedikt’; the pun on Latin benedictus, ‘blessed’, is self-evident in the context and, of course, in a Catholic culture familiar with that word. Now it needs exposition, both in terms of its simple meaning and its religious resonance. ‘Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini’, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord’; from the Sanctus of the Mass.

[33] Kraus’s line Eia popeia is the refrain from a well-known lullaby.

[34]  The German gelegentliche Mitarbeiter translates literally as ‘occasional collaborator’, though in English ‘contributor’ is a better word; the phrase suggests an occasional contributor to a newspaper, rather than a professional journalist. But the ambiguity (more WWII) in the word ‘collaborator’ is difficult to resist. This is a section of the play where ‘found material’, from all sorts of sources, is much more clearly in evidence.

[35] Der Concordiaball, an annual ball organised by the Press Club; one of the city’s major social events.

[36] David Fanto (1852-1920) was married to Gisela Goldstein (1850-1941). Fanto rose from humble beginnings as an apprentice in Vienna to become a successful businessman and one of the world’s great oil magnates, owning oilfields in Galicia, Romania and Poland, and contributing to the development of oil exploration in the Middle East. The Palais Fanto was built between 1917-1918; it was probably the last Viennese palace of the imperial age; since 1998 it has housed Vienna’s Arnold Schoenberg Centre.

[37] Franz Salvator Maria Joseph Ferdinand Karl Leopold Anton von Padua Johann Baptist Januarius Aloys Gonzaga Rainer Benedikt Bernhard, archduke (1866-1939); Tuscan branch of the Habsburgs; sometime cavalry officer; Knight of the Golden Fleece; also a doctor of medicine (Innsbruck). He was the Inspector General of the Austrian Volunteer Medical Service and deputy head of the Austro-Hungarian Red Cross.

[38] Franz Höfer von Feldsturm (1861-1918); field marshal and member of the General Staff.

[39] The extensive lists of barely identifiable ‘crowd’ that follow echo, more abstractly, the Korso scenes that begin each act the main play, full of the voices of Vienna’s streets. But for me the nature of the words (One, Another, This One, That One) also make me think of the way Goethe handles crowd in Faust (Die Ersten, Zweiten, Ein Dritter, Die Andre, etc.). He also has speaking animals of course; not to mention the demonic qualities Kraus has brought to the fore in the epilogue. It is no more than an echo, but I think it is there.

[40] Again disjointed newspaper extracts, clichés, received opinions, overheard remarks, heard more strongly.

[41] In Bavaria, the carnival season, culminating in a version of the Shrove Tuesday Mardi Gras.

[42] Ceremonial burning of heretics by the Roman Catholic Inquisition; this expands on Kraus’s text.

[43] Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911: A kingdom of Germany, forming a… compact mass in the S.W. angle of the empire. In the south it is cleft by the long narrow territory of Hohenzollern, belonging to Prussia.

[44] Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911: Thuringia strictly designates only that district in upper Saxony that is bounded by the Werra, the Harz Mountains, the Saale and the Thuringian Forest… it is frequently used as equivalent to the Thuringian states, i.e. the group of small duchies and principalities lying between Prussia, Hesse-Nassau, Bavaria and the kingdom of Saxony… such as Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Altenburg, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, etc.

[45] Coastal region in the northwest of the  state of Lower Saxony, connecting Dutch West Frisia with Nordfriesland in Schleswig-Holstein; historically part of Frisia; the East Frisian Islands are also German.

[46] A fairly concise reflection of attitudes to Germany and Austria’s Ottoman allies.

[47] The colours of Imperial Austria.

[48] The colours of the Germany Empire.

[49] Intervention from beyond the earth, not immediately recognised by those below.

[50] Echoing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (conquest, war, famine, death) in the Book of Revelation.

[51] ‘Trips to the front’ (from well-heeled hotels) organised for egregiously self-promoting and gushing journalists by the War Press Bureau, are, throughout, the play, a particular object of Kraus’s contempt.

[52] Hill east of Jerusalem sacred in Jewish and Christian teaching. In the New Testament it is where Jesus stood, looking down at Jerusalem, weeping for its fate; later where he was betrayed by Judas. In the Old Testament it is the route David took in flight from his rebellious son Absalom; he also wept, looking back at his city; in Zachariah 14:4 there is a description of the Apocalypse in which God ‘shall cleave’ the Mount of Olives in two. In a Jewish Midrash the branch brought to Noah’s Ark by the dove, symbolising new life and the return of humanity to the earth, was from the slopes of Olivet. In December 1917, when Jerusalem was captured by the British, Olivet was one of the last Ottoman Army positions. A fortified line to secure the city was established by the British under General Allenby, running to the east of the Mount of Olives.

[53] Kraus here echoes a distinctive feature of Hebrew verse throughout the Bible, most familiarly in the Psalms: parallelism or chiasmus; words, ideas and images are repeated or elaborated on in various ways. The first two verses of Psalm 19; in each verse the substance of the first part  is reworked in the second:

  1. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.
  2. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.

[54] Kraus’s last line in this stanza, ach sie wußten, was sie tun, echoes the words of Jesus on the cross, Luke 23:34: ‘(Father forgive them) for they know not what they do’; here ‘for they did know what they were doing’; Luther’s German: (Vater, vergib ihnen) sie wissen nicht, was sie tun. The ram’s horn (Hebrew shofar) is an addition to maintain and reinforce the ambiguous biblical quality of the language; in New Testament guise it is already there in the distinction between ‘laurels’ and ‘thorns’. The shofar features throughout the Old Testament, in rabbinical texts and the Talmud, as a musical instrument which carries different meanings, at different times, in Jewish ritual and liturgy. It was the most important instrument in the Temple in Jerusalem; in early rabbinical times it was associated with mourning for the destruction of the Temple itself, and the idea of that destruction is clearly in Kraus’s verse here. It is often a statement of liturgical celebration (Psalm 81, etc.); it was anciently used in war (in Joshua shofars are blown to destroy the walls of Jericho); the shofar is still, of course, associated with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

[55] There is here at least a passing reference to the Red Cross organisation (which had actually been created in 1859 as the result of a brutal campaign in Italy by Austro-Hungarian forces, against Italians fighting for independence), but it is only a passing one. Kraus doesn’t expect, anywhere, that the ideals of the Red Cross will help anyone in this war; in fact he represents the organisation for the most part as a means by which ‘shirkers’ get soft jobs to avoid fighting. Throughout the play Red Cross officials are usually drunk in Viennese bars and nightclubs. This is only momentarily a ‘logo’; it is almost immediately something else; the real cross on which Christ was crucified and on which, now, mankind is suffering the same fate. And then it is something else again; it is not an image of the victims but a weapon against the perpetrators.

[56] Probably another reference to gas; deployment required the wind to blow in the enemy’s direction!

[57] The Goliards were a disparate group of monks and priests who wrote satirical poetry in the 12th and 13th centuries, lampooning the church hierarchy and the popes in particular, but also the failings of humanity in general; they were noted for heavy drinking, crude language, and such irreverances as parodying the Mass, gambling at the altar, dancing in churches dressed as women, etc. The ‘Carmina Burana’ is the best known collection of Goliard verse (some of it notably set to music by the German composer Carl Orff in 1936).

[58] There is a German proverb: Wenn die Sonne vom Himmel fiele, säßen wir alle im Dunkeln, ‘If the sun fell from heaven, we’d all sit in the dark’.

[59] Or ‘Willie Makes Himself at Home’. Cinema programmes often included live acts before the film (films then were shown in music halls and theatres; dedicated cinemas barely existed); this is the title of a comedy sketch; Willi, as a diminutive of Wilhelm, may, naturally enough, resonate absurdly with the Kaiser’s name.

[60] ‘Mir Kommt keiner aus’, Austrian detective film (1917); directed by Jacob and Luise Fleck. In Austrian German it means ‘No one Escapes Me’. However a standard German translation could be ‘No One Gets on with Me’. Perhaps that’s deliberate (remembering Willie!); echoing the moody Kaiser and Germany itself.

[61] This seems to be a documentary about the war on the Italian front, made around 1917-18. Largely forgotten now, the battles that took place from 1915 along the Isonzo River (Soča, Slovenian), between the armies of Austria-Hungary and Italy, were among the most brutal of the First World. In winter the snow-covered mountain passes into Italy were the most inhospitable of battlefields; the cold alone killed many thousands. The Kobariski Museum (Kobarid, Slovenia) commemorates the battles in the area and shows a film edited from battlefront footage of 1915-17; this may be the material used in the film Kraus refers to.

[62] Mars is, of course, the Roman God of War, but there is an important distinction between him and his Greek counterpart, Ares; where Ares represents little more than destruction and disorder, Mars was effectively a founder of Rome (he was the father of Romulus and Remus); he is also an instrument of the pax romana, wherein military might is seen as the instrument for achieving and maintaining civic peace. Mars also simply represents the celestial world beyond a self-destructive earth; we might remember that in the preface to the play Kraus writes: The performance of this playis intended for a theatre on Mars.

[63] Started in 1903 and not completed until 1940, the Baghdadbahn was to connect Berlin with Baghdad, in the early stages still in the Ottoman Empire; a 1600 km. railway through Turkey and what are now Syria and Iraq. From Germany’s point of view the primary aim was to counter British influence in the Middle East and provide access, via the Persian Gulf, to its East African colonies, but it was widely felt in England that ‘Baghdad and the Persian Gulf in the hands of Germany would be a 42-centimetre gun pointed at India’ (J.M.Earle). The Ottoman Empire saw the project as a weapon in its own rivalry with the empire of Russia.

[64] Line from Martin Luther’s hymn ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott’ (1529), ‘A Safe Stronghold Our God is Still’. In Thomas Carlyle’s English translation the verse in question begins: And were this world all devils o’er, /And watching to devour us, /We lay it not to heart so sore; /Not they can overpower us.

[65] From Die Wacht am Rhein; referred to earlier, and throughout the whole play.

[66] Die Wacht am Rhein again; I have slightly expanded Kraus’s more elliptical quotations.

[67] Ibid.

[68] ‘Ich habe es nicht gewollt’; the ever-vacuous words of Kaiser Wilhelm II.