Schedula Confessionis (Der Beichtzettel)

tucholskyTuchoPyrenees

We had Red Gierke for geography. He had a lot of little blood vessels in his face, which gave him a coppery red appearance. To justify his nickname, he had had the decency to grow a red beard. He didn’t like us, and we didn’t like him. He had the reputation of being deceitful and vengeful. The judgements of school classes are always correct, so it will have been true.

„Did you study geography?“ „I’ve no idea!“ How should I know? The pathetic geography book listed a few names and stuttered something in halting German about soil quality and the sardine trade. Red pointed at the map with his cane, and the class slept peacefully.

„Now we come to the Pyrenees”, said Red. I don’t know whether he still comes to them today, but apart from the delightful word Maladetta, which is a mountain, not a curse, I have retained nothing. It is as though it had all been erased. What a waste of school fees! What a waste of time!

The Pyrenees, they were a rusty brown patch, with a few bits of mountains in it, on the otherwise green and black map, to the left and right of it, blue, the sea. And, yes, they divided Spain from France. And you had to think a little bit every time, before you wrote the name.

This was the scientific knowledge which the German school gave me in relation to the Pyrenees.

But Red taught history as well as geography, and that was a lot livelier. It was a murder story in which there were only battles, princes and states. He never explained what a state was, but life soon filled that gap. For example, if you want to travel to the Pyrenees, you need a passport.

A lot of European countries charge an entrance fee, and you can’t blame them for that. Authority is best exercised against the weaker, someone who doesn’t kick back when the poor, bankrupt bogeyman waves his coat of arms around. Landowners, who pay as much tax for their entire possessions as a typist, limited companies who rely on their French designation, Sociétés Anonymes, when it’s time to pay, they are not appropriate objects of authority, but the poor slut of a state has to impose itself once, at least! The foreigner is a good opportunity.

A thin dotted line runs along the peaks and ridges of the Pyrenees, the border. The case was wonderfully complicated: I live in Paris, so there were three powers involved, Germany, France and Spain. I involved them.

It cost four working days and two hundred and thirty-eight francs. The affair was conducted in friendship and affection: nobody behaved themselves more idiotically than their regulations demanded of them, I neither had to perform press-ups nor floor exercises, and the individual march-by was in general also not required. I was commanded by the Germans by a very tasteful, tall girl, by the French by a polite, dusty man, by the Spaniards by an embassy secretary and two dark consular officials. Each of them stamped forms, made entries in books, wrote, and issued, and collected signatures from unknown powers who throned behind closed doors.

The Ministry of Home Affairs decreed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs interfered, the frontier guards were unaware of either of them, and performed its own stupidities.

That’s exactly how the Church used to rule.

A man with no schedula confessionis, a written confirmation from the parish priest that he had made his confession, was a lost man, an outcast, an impossibility, a monstrosity. The intellect was squeezed into the iron corset of faith from the earliest youth, so that it was incapable of thinking in any other way. “Is he of the right faith?“ It was just possible to understand that he may be of the wrong faith, but of no faith at all? Faced with that, one made the sign of the cross and then burned him.

And the witch-hunters were not the black, creeping villains as which enlightened liberalism has so often pictured them. They were decent, reputable people, with a good education behind them, a fixed set of duties to perform, and a respected career in front of them. Did the drums beat and the mob seethe in public places? Did the prayers of the monks circle around the condemned? They regarded the spectacle calmly. The fire burned, the screams rose to the heavens, how else could it have been? It had to be so.

It had to be so, because medieval Europe was subject to something which was not a product of nature, mankind itself had created it: the Church. Who hung on the cross? The faithful himself, gasping, with his eyes popping out, his movements restricted, tied to the planks, happy, supported, and not alone. That’s how he hung.

And today he gets up, looks at the cross for a long time, shakes himself and walks away? He has run from one cross to another.

He stares at the flags like a chicken which one keeps with the nose behind the chalk line. With motionless eyes, that’s all he sees. Does he have the right nationality? It’s possible that he has the wrong one, but none at all? That shocks the policeman, and he chases him away.

And they are so proud of their schedula confessionis!

The state is taken seriously, and used, by the rich, is valued by the workers as a haven, is sold out repeatedly to the real earthly powers, whose borders are much, much different from those shown in the geography books, and is powerless when confronted by real power. That’s how the state presents itself, and it has done the most terrible thing as well: it has pasted an ethical idea onto its practical purposes.

Secretly admitting that the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t apply to it, that the morals demanded of the individual do not apply to it, that the most simple, well-meaning rules don’t apply to it, it wants to replace God, and take his place. And if that doesn’t work, it hides behind the still standing crucifix, and the person praying doesn’t realize before whom he is kneeling. Squeeze the weak, but wave the flags! Punish the sick, but love the president’s palace! Defile the country, but honour the state! And absolutely everyone has their schedula confessionis.

Are there not at least a few thousand in Europe who are not interested if the low-ranking officers of their countries have a spat? Must we care that the steel industry of one country needs the coal of the other? That because of that war songs are sung, people blinded, animals torn apart, houses blown up, prayers prayed, known soldiers beaten up and unknown soldiers buried, generals clean-shaven, and workers subjected to artillery bombardment. Should we be moved by the made-up story about it. Do we have to believe the hypocritical justification?

“Brother, give me your hand over their heads!” I don’t want a schedula confessionis. I don’t want to make my confession. I don’t want to!

François, Gaston, René, I don’t love you although you are French. I don’t love you because you are French. I love you because you are François, Gaston and Rene. I don’t care to whom you pay your taxes, who makes the speeches in a frock coat on your Remembrance Day, or who blocks the traffic at your road junctions.

The Fire Brigade is a useful social institution, but I don’t pray to it.

And now I have my passport, the schedula confessionis.

I look at the blue and red stamps, leaf through illegible signatures and multi-lingual ink blots, full of admiration. I fold my hands piously and then stick the passport in my back pocket, and set off for the Pyrenees.

Author: Kurt Tucholsky

Next chapter: TuchoPyrenees Bull-Fight in Bayonne

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