A Tavern in the Spessart (Das Wirtshaus im Spessart)


Würzburg; Saturday. Early in the morning, the two madmen break into my room in the ›White Lamb‹. »Get up! Police!«, and »How can you sleep in this air?« Jakopp in a new suit, dreadful to behold, Karlchen, baring his teeth and grinning in a mixture of mock derision and schadenfreude. The walking tour, which was announced a year ago, and has been repeatedly organized, arranged, and postponed, has finally come to pass. My God!

Evening. We shouldn’t have drunk so much Steinwein[1]. But that’s difficult: there has never been such purity, clear strength and sunshine gathered together and poured on the earth. And that was just the open house wine, by the glass. What’s going to happen when they put the Bocksbeutel[2] bottles with labels, on the table? In the fortress on top of the hill there is a guide to ›explain‹ the old bastion and be cute, like the famous man in the papal palace in Avignon. But this troubadour in an NCO’s cap turns out to sing a rather different song: he detects Frederick the Great’s troops behind every tree, and scolds the rebellious peasants just like Luther did back in the day, and heaps recrimination on the peasant leader Florian Geyer: he sat drinking down below in the town hall while the peasants had to charge up here. I must have heard that somewhere before. The well is so deep that a lit taper… the same old story. The state police are stationed in the fortress, from where they have a wonderful view of the broad, rolling landscape. We should have stayed in the wine garden drinking Steinwein.

Ochsenfurt; Sunday. As the town hall clock struck six, we put the dice down and raced out to see the apostles stick their heads out, the bulls charge each other and the Grim Reaper harvest[3]. Then we ran back quickly into the tavern, where the abandoned dice were whimpering on the table. When we are not examining and appreciating the regional baroque and retracing the path of great historical events, we play dice. We play ›Damsel in the Tower‹, ›Racing House Numbers‹ and ›Castrated Jungle Ape‹, as well as the more complicated ›Nun’s Doughnuts‹, ›Gretchen Can’t Hit the Skittle‹ and ›The Echo in the Black Forest‹, which I made up. We all have to concentrate all the time, because at least one player is always trying to cheat. I would never cheat, if someone noticed. We also have to write everything down, so that we know who has to pay for the wine afterwards. I have already paid four times. It is a very dear friendship.

Iphofen; Monday. I am certainly not going to write down where we were. When we had drunk the first glass, we all went very quiet. Karlchen had invented a ›Noble Dried Late-Harvested[4]‹, of which he claimed that it was so expensive that there were only cobwebs in the bottle… but this was much better. A 1921 vintage, deep as the ringing of a bell, serious good luck. (Tippler poetry, tippler liver, the temperance movement, „Young man, you should…“ Serious good luck. The luck was even surpassed by a highlight: the landlord had a 1917 vintage in the barrel that was light and gentle like early summer. We became quite emotional. It’s such a shame you can’t stroke wine!

Iphofen is a sleepy little place, with very excitable geese in the streets, old houses, a grassy town wall, and a ›Geologist and Magnetopath‹. I advised Karlchen to have his earthy finger nails examined, but he doesn’t want to.

Ochsenfurt. On the way here, we saw a municipal clerk at the outer town gate. He was standing there, directing traffic. The ox-cart drivers, transporting manure, stuck out their left arms as they approached the gate. A terrible plague, which is particularly evident at road junctions, must have broken out here. Terrible! The poor people. Of course, that’s what you get when they direct the traffic on Broadway. We each took two bottles of the serious good luck with us, to give to our loved ones at home. We each have a bottle left.

Bronnbach Monastery; Wednesday. Autumn tints and the forests burn with colour. We were in Wertheim, where the Main flows like in a picture book river, and where the people cross over in a ferry-boat, like in a tale by Hebel. Opposite, in Kreuzwertheim, it was the gala opening performance of the world circus. In the morning, you could go and look at the wild animals: an infinitely sad polar bear, lying behind bars on a shelf, stinking and sweating; a few leopards and a small panther, which the circus maiden held in her arms. A little bit of wilderness. He scratches her, and the circus maiden says to the wilderness, »You little cheat!« We witnessed that, and then we left.

There is a beautiful church here in Bronnbach; the gold of old baroque bursts on white-painted walls. There is an old cloister courtyard, monks and the colourful stillness of Autumn. How wonderful this journey must be if we three weren’t there!

Here and there; Thursday. Big discussion about whether you could pick a grape-picker. Miltenberg, Mespelbrunn and Heiligenbrücken: forgotten, but in Wertheim there was a house with a motto written on it, of which I made a note. And when I come to be raised into the aristocracy for my contribution to the German army, I am going to put it in my coat of arms. It says, »Everyone is so right!«

Lichtenau; Saturday. The pearl of the Spessart[5]. This is not the tavern in the Spessart, that is in Rohrbrunn, but we are renaming it. Here is right.

Jakopp had problems with his feet underway; he staggered considerably, moaned, and prayed to mysterious Gods. He also recited rude poems, which frightened us because we were well brought up. We were happy to get our fellow ailing veteran to Lichtenau in good condition. And as we set foot in the tavern, behold, our eyes fell on a sign:

»Motor transport! Motorized Hearses in all Directions«

That cheered us all up no end, and we sat down cheerfully to eat. The landlord was severe, but fair. Well, not completely fair, as will shortly become apparent. We took a little walk around the house.

This is a historic landscape. There are very few like it left. Time has stood still here. If a landscape made music, this would be a German string quartet. The roads are as serious as the deep tone in the tops of the tall trees… The stone gables of the old houses is so severe – old Prussian cavalry, from about the time of Louis Ferdinand, should ride in here. The windows are in eight panes; the evening wind rustles around us in the woods in the park. The three of us sit on a fence pole and discuss something serious, and then we go inside.

…We taste once, twice, three times. »This wine«, I say, as an old connoisseur, »tastes like sunshine.« »And of the cork!« add the other two at the same time. Landlord! He approaches threateningly. It’s time to stand up for ourselves! Here we go!

»Landlord… The thing is… would you taste the wine please?« He knows what it’s about, and speaks in tongues, very quickly.»Where is the cork? First of all, I must have the cork! First the cork!« The cork is passed to him, he smells it, he sniffs at the bottle, he drinks the wine and tastes it. You can see it in his eyes that strange processes are taking place. The judgement, »I could see that the gentlemen are not Bocksbeutel drinkers. The wine is good.« Appeal… »The wine is good.« Final instance… »It’s good.« And that’s it.

So there we sit. Another sympathetic patron of great patience who is taking a cure in this establishment, looks over at us. »May I try?« He tries. And with his spine bent over, this coward says, »Gentlemen, the wine is not corked! If it is corked, it leaves a musty taste.« Of course it’s musty! We had no idea what the word meant, but it immediately entered our vocabulary. Every wine connoisseur must know what ›musty‹ is. To take our revenge on the landlord, we drink lots and lots more bottles of Steinwein, of all types, and all of them taste of sunshine.

Lichtenau; Sunday. We are all feeling pretty musty.

In a wine village; Monday. A forwarded letter from the black princess is waiting for me at the post office. She just happens to be in Franconia; she had heard that I… and if I couldn’t perhaps… and if she couldn’t perhaps… Hm. She loves intensively, among other things, her record player, which some idiot gave her. Once it played, with the lightest of needles, all night. She has such wonderful American records, black music. One, I can remember, ends, after an infernal din of disharmonious rhythms, the baritone rings a little bell, the music stops, he rings the bell again, and says, »No more!« I send her a telegram.

This evening is a banquet. We have ordered a goose, but it is not stuffed with apple. A goose between three is not much, particularly when one eats as much as Jakopp, as quickly as Karlchen, or as unappetizingly as me. We steal everything from each other; it gives the landlord the creeps. Jakopp has the s-sickness. He says ›towns hall‹ and ›chambers pot‹ and ›roasts potatoes‹. »They are roast potatoes as invented by the privy councillor Roasts from Berlin himself.« I win outrageously at dice, and the other two don’t want to play with me any more. They are bad losers.

Heimbuchenthal; Tuesday. How poor the people here are! All the children look like old people: pale, jaundiced, with dull eyes.

Walking is a pleasure. Sometimes we don’t talk at all. We have already said everything to each other. We are just happy to be together. Sometimes one of us makes a speech, nobody listens. Sometimes… in male-only company, or when a man is alone, someone burps. It’s liberating. In a three-way friendship, two usually gang up against the third and set about him. But the teams change, the alliances break up and re-form; the number three has strange properties. It’s not the same with four. Four are two pairs or a lot.

Würzburg; Wednesday. Farewell visit to the Residence; the green games room with the silver walls, the cold silver shines metallically under the green in Schein. Napoleon slept here… OK, OK!. It’s not easy to leave. The Steinwein weighs heavily on us. The older vintages from the Bürgerspital need drinking. We drink them.

Würzburg; Friday. I accompanied the other two to the station, with the firm resolution never to see them again. What a pair of boozers! Now they are rolling home, one to his Hamburg waterworks, the other to his police station. He claims to be a very important man, but he’s probably just an assistant constable. And we have to hang around with someone like that! The princess arrives at quarter past three.

Veitshöchheim; Saturday. The sun is shining in the park, the cherubs stare at us, the princess chatters like a parrot. She calls me ›Daddy‹, which I quite like, actually. Now the sun is red, the evening draws in gently, and the princess becomes, as always when night falls, mother and cradle and home. We don’t say anything, we haven’t told each other everything by a long way, but a man and a woman don’t have to. The 1925 vintage nearly knocks us over. We go back to Würzburg, the record player is playing, Jack Smith whispers, and I hear all the atelier gossip from the whole of Berlin. Good…! Pardon? Good night.

Würzburg, I don’t know which day. All of a sudden everything is cheerful, vibrant, enjoyable. The shops are sparkling, we drink moderately and with purpose, I whistle in the bath in the morning. They’ll throw us out of the hotel. No married man behaves like that.

There is a statue of Nepomuk on the beautiful bridge over the Main. We go over to it and leave a lucky penny at his feet, to test the honesty of the saint, and the locals. We wanted to come back and check the next day, but we didn’t, so the penny is probably still there to this day. The princess stares mischievously in the shop windows and talks suspiciously often about lingerie and silk stockings. The most attractive piece of jewelry for a pale lady’s neck is a tight fist.

Nowhere; Never. – – – –

Between Nancy and Paris; today. The parting was emotional, but not sentimental, as it should be. Now everything floods past in heavy waves: Jakopp and the slightly tipsy Karlchen; the baroque dolls in the Residence park, the Wasserschloß and the musty man; Lichtenau and Miltenberg. It is very difficult to come from Germany. It is really nice to come from Germany. I say, »Now turn over and go to sleep!« but she turns towards me. Hold hands. In the morning, the first thing I see is a yellow, silken hair net. And a mouth smiling with pleasure. How the train rattles! Tac-tac like a sewing machine, tact and counter-tact. The black man sings, »Daddy,  oh, Daddy!« The music is working, a little bell rings, someone says »No more«, and then there is no more.

[1] Local wine in Franken/Franconia

[2] The distinctively shaped bottles in which ‘Appelation Controlle’ wine is bottled in Franken

[3] The Glockenspiel

[4] Fantasy exaggeration of the names used to describe the different qualities of German wine.


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