Augsburg is a long way from here. I have never seen it. They say it has sixty thousand inhabitants and is very prosperous. Augsburg is the biggest city in Germany and people like living there.
August. For three days I have been pacing my darkened flat. Outside, the August sun is shining. The radio is making great efforts to convince foreign tourists that Slovenia is a peaceful country. The war is somewhere else. The war is that television set in the corner. In that hole in the world that keeps bringing me new corpses. In that box where the idiocies of propaganda alternate with pictures from a degenerate imagination. The speakers are mostly idiots. When the speakers are intelligent they speak in square sentences. Everything is flat and lifeless. From political upheaval to change. Upheaval? Change? Upheaval, yes, but what kind? Change, yes, but what kind?
The time is coming when I won’t know how to rejoice.
We have had our fill of rejoicing, for two long years we’ve been carousing and now we’re walking up with a ##### hangover. Images from dreams are coming, images from the road. Bizarre pictures of our journey.
I had a dream about a chicken. It was being killed very slowly. Before we set out for Augsburg we used to kill chickens. Kill chickens and debate aesthetics.
In one theatrical presentation in Ljubljana, actors on stage ritually slaughtered a chicken. They cut its throat and then a fair-haired actor held it by the feet. It jerked and flapped for a short time and then it died, since its blood had all run out, finally only dripping into a white basin. At that time the young writer sitting in the theatre felt sick, though at that time he didn’t believe in his sickness, which he took to be a weakness of his somewhat oversensitive nature, he believed in Art and the World, which are, as is generally known in the portrait of every artist as a young man, infinitely more important than blood or a momentary sickness. So he believed in Art, which maintained that the slaughtering of a chicken was "the poetics of sacrificial ritual" and in the World, which added that the death of a white battery chicken was at the same time "the death of the literary, only aesthetically functional theatre in Slovenia".
That was long ago now and the debate was still an aesthetic one.
When the Slovenian youth theatre took its production of Beauty and the Beast to Belgrade there was an incident. The debate was an ideological one.
The same artists incorporated the "politics of ritual slaughter" in another piece. A year previously in the fairy-tale northern Austrian town of Prinzedorf, the Orgienmysterientheater theatre of Herman Nitsch ("nitsch" in Slovenian is nič, nothing, nihil) had killed cattle. Well, the Slovenian artists killed chickens. And when in the course of the poetics of ritual sacrifice the chicken’s blood began to flow, a well-known Belgrade dramatist flew into a total rage. Possibly he simply felt sick, like a certain young writer in the days when around poetic slaughter there would develop an aesthetic debate. But it was no longer the time for mere sickness or for moral debate. Now it was already something else.
Fascists! shouted the writer, very much engagéd, as he noisily left the auditorium. Ugh, fascists! Death to fascism!
This was seven year ago and the debate was ideological. Before we went to Augsburg we used to have ideological debates, polemic between the nations. We were still killing chickens, some industrially, and some in the name of the poetics of sacrificial ritual.
Since then, at a dramatic moment on the was to Augsburg we have cut down the barbed wire at the borders.
On my desk is a piece of barbed wire from the Austria-Hungary border. That was the whole point, after all, wasn’t it? To have pieces of wire on our desks, not running through our fields.
In Budapest a one-time border guard is making the wire that helped him protect his country into tourist souvenirs. He says the wire is the original, although there’s no proof. But what about me?, he says, aren’t I proof?
In a Budapest street, I think it’s called Bajcsy Zsilinski, you go through a dark passage into a courtyard enclosed all round with tall old house fronts. I have often dreamed of this courtyard. Somebody has come running in from the street, where they were shooting, looking desperately around for some entrance hall to hide in. But all the doors are close and the walls, like those of a prison, reach up to the sky. This was in 1956. Now in the courtyard there are big heaps of barbed wire. A machine is whining, an older man is chopping off pieces of wire, a younger one is packing them in neat boxes. Both are working intently; it is a peaceful scene. The barbed wire from the Austrian-Hungarian border is a little souvenir for American and West European tourists. For some time there was a brisk trade, as in pieces of the Berlin Wall. Now sales have stopped. And while the younger man raises his hands in despair over the big still uncut heaps of wire piled up all over the courtyard, the older one wipes his hands with a rag.
Don’t despair, son, he says. If you ask me we’ll still be able to get rid of that lot at a good price, kilometers at a time, wholesale.
He’s been around a long time, the father. And there’s always been that sort of wire on the borders or around the camp. It’s not clear what he was thinking then. Maybe they’ll sell the wire somewhere else, export it. Maybe wholesale for home use, on some other border. Maybe there’ll be more work for the Czech specialists in minefields between countries.
This is something that Solzhenitsyn knows too. As far as I know, he is still in Vermont, incarcerated in his estate by a barbed-wire fence, surrounded with alarms and guards.
On the way to Augsburg we have ceremonially and lightheartedly knocked down our walls.
I also have a little bit of the Berlin Wall. What souvenirs! There was a time when what people had on their shelves were Venetian gondolas, miniature models, little gilded things and dolls that said, "Mama".
On the way to Augsburg we’ve moved from upheavals to change, from dream to reality.
On the way to Augsburg ethnic and religious wars have broken out. In ethnic and religious wars the first thing in line are pigs. On the way to Augsburg we’ve been killing pigs. Some for food, some for entertainment. About the poetics of ritual sacrifice nothing more has been said by anyone. Nor of the symbolic aura of the act.
A man who had survived the siege of Vukovar said that day after day through the cellar window they would watch an enormous pig that used to come to the square.
The people were either dead and lying in the streets or they were alive and cowering in cellars. But the animals had no sense and wandered through the streets and among the corpses, exposing themselves to the shells. This pig, though, had some sense. It didn’t just wander about, it picked its way carefully across the square. As time passed they noticed that shells never fell when this cool customer of a pig was in the square. Whether it was guided by some higher foresight or some animal awareness incomprehensible to man, the thing was in any case remarkable and they gradually got so accustomed to the pig that they missed it when it hadn’t been around all day. But there were many days and they were long, sometimes even longer than the nights. Then the food ran out and they decided to eat the pig. The task was not an easy one. Not only did they have no food in the cellar, but no munitions either. The attackers fired with bits of barbed wire which mostly did not kill but left many wounded, so that afterwards, survivors said, they pulled that wire out of their heads in the military hospital in Belgrade. And so one day they spent the whole afternoon in total silence shooting bits of barbed wire at the pig. The shells, obviously, weren’t falling at the time and they were able to devote themselves to the hunt. The pig had a thick skin, since it had been well fed and every hit buried itself in its fat. Sometimes of course it jumped and run away but it still kept on coming back to the square in front of the cellar window. Finally they got it in the head and the same instant some shells fell on the roofs on the houses around. They made a lasso and with it they tried to pull the pig inside. This even gave rise to some laughter, for the man with the lasso couldn’t manage to get twitching pig. Then somebody plucked up courage and ran under fire into the square, tied a sling around the neck of the enormous pig and they managed with difficulty to haul the pig through the window. That’s what happened to an animal in Vukovar.
This gave them a piece of theatre which shortened the desperately long time between attacks, between the explosion of the shells that left heaps of dead bodies. On the streets. Buried under rubble. Nobody protested.
And the chickens? asks the reader, where are the chickens now in this story? They’ve gone, they were killed and eaten long ago, shortly after the beginning.
To Augsburg, we must journey to Augsburg.
We waited for a long time for one of our Belgrade colleagues to protest against the fascistic treatment of animals. The pig that was done to death was not the only one. Many of them lost their lives in some such unanimal fashion, horses and cows too. But nobody protested. Although somebody could have. They could have cited the World Declaration on Animals. Article 10: No animal shall be used by man for entertainment or for any presentation not consonant with the dignity of the animal. Nor did anybody say anything more about fascism. Nor as far as is known anything at all, which was perhaps even more sensible.
As far as is known, protests against the killing of animals during the siege of Vukovar came only from Vienna. At that time, somewhere in Slavonia, without any reason or purpose, most likely for the sake of "the poetics of ritual sacrifice", the so-called Chetniks killed a herd of Lippizaners. A high-circulation Vienna newspaper lost patience on its front page. This is going too far! it printed in big letters. Iranians in yellow nightshirts went through the cars with bundles of newspapers in their hands shouting: This is going too far!
On the way to Augsburg we decided to build a new town.
Now another writer came on the scene, a world-famous writer, a professor, a Byzantologist. At the time when Serbian forces were liberating the ruins of the Croatian town, marching into it with the death’s head on their black flag, at the time when this splendid spectacle, with the liberators singing "Give us salad, we’ve got the meat, we’ll have Croats to eat", when this triumphant spectacle was being immortalized by Belgrade television cameras and thereby winning the American Television Association’s prize for documentary of the year, the voice of the world-famous writer and distinguished Byzantologist was heard. This town, he said, must now be totally demolished and then completely rebuilt. It must be rebuilt in the Byzantine style. And at once everything became clear; of course, the important thing there is literature, drama, the literary vision…
They have told us that Augsburg is a place of peace and prosperity. Around it rage religious wars, bands of men with different new flags trample the fields, kill, plunder and rape. In Augsburg, however, people live and die consistently with their Augsburgian nature, that is they also love, work, trade and vote their representatives on to the city council. Above Augsburg there are golden cupolas, the churches have baroque and Gothic altars, in Augsburg they have a richly furnished market and a repertory theatre.
Now we are nearer we can see: revolutions and changes are happening all around, from upheavals to changes. Everywhere new pictures. On the way to Augsburg we stop in Buenos Aires. A lady in Argentina says it’s the work of the freemasons. All the communists who still weren’t freemasons have joined secret lodges. We stop in the Third Rome too. A Russian lady professor from Moscow says it’s the Jews, it’s the work of the Jews. They used to do their work under communism from inside, now they do it under the cloak of "catholicism". She has seen pictures of murdered Serbian children. They had stab-wounds on their shoulders and in particular places on their bodies. Jews, freemasons and the Vatican, especially the Vatican. A degree of madness is sweeping the continent.
On the way to Augsburg we are everywhere accompanied by new pictures. Dream images. Renewal. Of course, there was an upheaval, we can see that clearly, of course there was. Now come the changes. On our way to Augsburg we cross Slavonia. It is night, the train rattles through the still night, there is rumbling in the distance, the fields are burnt, dead bodies are floating in the Sava. A lone guard follows us with his eyes, his pupils red. Reality it changing, dreams are changing into reality. We are accompanied by bizarre stories, along the river floats a bloated pig. A chicken flaps above it like some heavenly bird.
In Budapest there is an alchemist’s workshop. In Belgrade in a big factory hall a dark mass of people undulates and moves. A Byzantologist with the skull and crossbones strides across the plain. To Bosnia! To Bosnia! A workshop in Hungary where they make souvenirs… the order will come soon for real barbed-wire entanglements, the Czechs will receive orders for minefields, the Russians from concentration camps, the tourist industry will blossom on Goli Otok. Freedom, movement. Upheaval, change.
An anatomy theatre in Bosnia. And football. A literary historian playing football with a human skull… football is top favorite… a poet carrying a pistol… the poet is the Commandant of a concentration camp.
Dear God all this is true.
The excesses and obscurities of a Herman Nitsch in comparison with the images from Croatia yesterday and Bosnia today are just children’s games.
Across Europe masses of refugees wander and among them you hear the exhausted wheezing of lost animals. On the other side of the continent millions of emigrants are preparing to set out for Augsburg.
But getting to Augsburg is not easy. We know that now.
On the way to Augsburg I am still in my flat, darkened for three days now. Outside the August sun shines and there is war on the TV. From upheaval to change… from change… to upheaval? Upheaval… Change? Change, upheaval? In the Balkans, madness; Havel’s state has split in two. In Poland there is confusion. In the "new federal lands", as they are calling the former GDR, they are wandering through the labyrinths of the secret police.
Between dreams and waking come bizarre pictures. Dream images. Every day fresh corpses, every day more ruined houses. The fields burn. People with vacant eyes wander through empty streets. Severed limbs in a cellar hospital, hotels in heads. The rumble of distant explosions. A glow over the mountains. What is all this? Something dreamed up by some devil, bored beyond endurance?
Is it a dream? I saw an expert from some West European Ministry of the Interior sitting up all night long, the light burning above his desk, leafing through books all night long. One title could be read. Montainge, Journal de Voyage. The Way to Augsburg. And another: Delumeau: Fear in the West. In the morning, when the feeble early sunlight blends with the electric light over his desk, he rubs his eyes, stretches and lights a cigarette. Of course there’s a solution, of course there is - Augsburg.
So we find ourselves at the gates of Augsburg.
Travellers first find themselves facing an iron gate. It is opened by the guard from his room some hundred paces distant from the gate with an iron chain which "with twists and many turns" pulls out an iron bolt. When the traveller steps inside, the gate suddenly closes again. The visitor the crosses the bridge over the city moat and comes to a small place, where he shows his documents and gives the address where he will be staying in Augsburg. The first guard then rigs a bell to warn a second, who operates the spring that is in a groove near his post. This spring first opens a barrier - also made of iron - and then acting on a big wheel raises the drawbridge, but so "that in all these movements it is not possible to observe anything as they are worked through openings in the wall and gate and everything closes again with a great noise". On the far side of the drawbridge opens a huge door, wooden, but studded with thick iron. The stranger steps into a space where he suddenly finds himself in semi-darkness. But after a time another gate, like the first, leads him into the next space where this time there is "a little light". In the middle of this space there is a metal cup hanging on a chain. In this cup he puts the money to pay for his entrance into the city. Another porter pulls up the chain, takes the money the visitor has deposited and checks the amount. If this does not correspond to the charge laid down, the porter leaves the guest to languish there until morning. If, however, he is satisfied with the amount, then he "opens for him in the same manner a further big gate, like the second", which in the same way closes as soon as he steps through it. And the stranger finds himself in the city.
One further important detail completes this at the time complicated and ingenious contrivance: under the spaces and the gates has been made "a great cellar, where there may lodge five hundred armed men, together with their horses, in readiness for any kind of surprise".
Now we are in Augsburg. In the year 1580.
When we have finished sleeping, we shall dream on.