Starter, the Flag – We 5 Pseudonyms are Off with 5 Horsepower (Starter, die Fahne – Ab mit 5 PS)


We are the five fingers of one hand. The one on the title page, and: Ignaz Wrobel, Peter Panter, Theobald Tiger and Kaspar Hauser.

These pseudonyms appeared out of the dark, intended as a bit of fun, made up in fun. It was back when my first contributions appeared in the ›Weltbühne‹. A small weekly periodical doesn’t want to have the same author four times in one edition, so these homunculi appeared, for fun. They saw themselves in print, they were still falling over each other, but they sorted themselves out very quickly. They became more self-confident, then very self-confident, and then bold. They lead their own lives. Pseudonyms are like little people; it is dangerous to make up names, to pretend to be someone else, to create new names: a name lives. And what started as a bit of fun, has ended as cheerful schizophrenia.

I like us. It felt good to hide behind the names and then have Siegfried Jacobsohn show me letters like the following:

»Dear Sir, I must inform you that I only read your esteemed periodical for the contributions of Ignaz Wrobel. That is a man after my own heart. On the other hand, your editorial staff also includes an evidently older gentleman, Peter Panter, whom you seem to be retaining out of loyalty. In your place I would. . . «

And it was also useful to exist five times, then who in Germany would trust a political author with a sense of humour? Who would take a satirist seriously? Who would attest a playful author knowledge of the penal code, or the local historian humour? Humour brings one into disrepute.

We didn’t want to be disreputable, so each made his contribution. I saw with their eyes, and I saw all five of them: Wrobel, sour as vinegar, glasses, five o’clock shadow, just the hint of a hunch, red hair; Panter, a mobile, spherical little man; Tiger only sang in verse, if there weren’t any, he slept. And after the war, Kaspar Hauser opened his eyes, looked at the world, and didn’t understand it. A feud between them would be entirely possible. It has already been going on for thirty-seven years.

Where the names come from?

The alliterating siblings are the children of a law tutor in Berlin. He always addressed full tables, and when the bristle-blond man with the short-sighted squinting eyes and heavy pear-shaped belly held forth, he made up names for the examples in the puppet show of legal cases he presented.

The persons on whom he demonstrated the criminal code, confiscation decrees and legal procedure were not called A and B, not heir and not bequeather. They were called Benno Buffalo and Theobald Tiger; Peter Panter [P1] and Isidor Iltis[P2]  and Leopold Löwe[P3]  and so on throughout the whole alphabet. His alliteration animals murdered and stole; they gave guarantees and had their goods confiscated by the bailiff; disturbed the peace, performed abortions, and behaved very badly altogether. I took two of these animals with criminal records home with me, and instead of becoming a magistrate, I brought them up.

Wrobel – that was the title of our maths book; and because I found the name Ignaz particularly ugly, prickly and absolutely repulsive, I committed this small act of self-destruction, and named a part of myself so.

Kaspar Hauser[P4]  needs no introduction.

That’s all five of them.

And these five have now lived in the ›Weltbühne‹ and elsewhere over the years. I must have looked through about a thousand articles to make this selection[P5] , and it all came back to me… Above all, the father of this work: Siegfried Jacobsohn.

Only he can bear fruit in whom the seed is planted. Love plants a seed; travel, books, women plant seeds… In this case, the seed was planted by the little man whom I visited in his round book cage in January 1913, and who maintained a hold on me until his death. I have his letters in front of me: postcards, closely scribbled from the top to the bottom, in tiny, bold handwriting which looks like the pattern on a Persian carpet. I hear the, »Yes?« with which he habitually answered the phone. It is as though I can still hear the receiver at my ear… What was it?

It was the very rare case of a person with something to offer being confronted by another who was willing to receive it, not just exert pressure. We transmit our waves and we rarely know what of them is received. In this case, everything was received. The finest receptive apparatus, which is what this man had, drove me on to the highest performance. It was not possible to deceive him, he noticed everything and criticised mercilessly, but you learnt something from it. What he called, ›translating into German‹ was worth more to me than any grammar book. He once found a passage which he did not understand. »What does that mean? That’s woolly!« he said. I objected, and knew much better. »I wanted to say…«, I replied, and explained to him exactly what I had meant. »That’s what I wanted to say«, I concluded. And he said, »Well say it, then«. I have tried to follow that advice ever since. The almost automatic control mechanism of his sense of style let nothing get past, no exaggerated punctuation, no unruly style, no dash after a full stop (a deadly sin!) He was always watchful.

And so our contributions were really all only letters to him, written for him, with reference to him: to his smile, for his approval, for his pleasure. He was the receiver for which we transmitted.

A teacher, not a boss; a friend, not a publisher; a free man, not a dancer to the tune of the readers. He used to say, »You are entitled to not read my magazine«. He stood up for us and helped us, helped us to find ourselves, and we all loved him.

We called each other Kalwunde, after a revolutionary commander of Berlin.

»Kalwunde!« you would say, when you already had thirty-three articles in the drawer of your desk, »Kalwunde, why are you not working any more?« And I’d get up and start all over again. When the thick envelope landed in the letter-box with a thud, then it had been a meaningful day, and I imagined, equally intensively in Berlin or Paris, how you would react when the package arrived. So you see, now I’ve collected it all together, and you can’t read it any more. »Man«, you would have said, »I’m not going to read all that again. I’ve already translated it all into German!«

And you have, too.

And so, with a greeting to you, I’ll get on my way.

Starter, the flag! Off we 5 pseudonyms go with 5 horsepower.




 [P5]This text is the introduction to a collected edition

Author: Kurt Tucholsky

Published in: PantrTigerCo Tucholsky Panter, Tiger & Co.


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