The Pharmacy (Die Apotheke)


When they visit new places, some people go to the Ratskeller[1] first. Some visit the sights. I go to the pharmacy. One knows what to expect there.

It is intensely reassuring to see that the jars, of whose contents we have no idea, are lined up, each with its label, in Dalarne, in Faido or in Turn-Severin, just like at home. Some of the labels sound very rude, but the pharmacists don’t mean it that way at all. And it always smells pungent and bitter. It’s these smells which slowly go to the head of the good, old pharmacist, and produce the common and well-known pharmacist’s tic. (Protest from the Imperial German Pharmacists’ Association. Apology by the author. There is no such tic any more, even the surveyors are reasonable these days. You all just have one madness left: professional vanity). Anyway, the pharmacy.

I never really need anything in particular, but there are such pleasant little remedies which one can purchase so nicely: valerian, bicarbonate of soda, iodine tincture. One can always put them to good use. “Please could I have…„

Then a substitute angel breezes in. If it’s a German pharmacy, the young men have duelling scars, and frown grimly, as if to say, “Now, look you! We have academic qualifications, and we’re doing you a favour by selling you something!” The jars become even more acidic out of fear. Or it’s a young, female pharmacist, blond and buxom, and it seems impossible that such a friendly person should know all the latin names off by heart. And there is always an older, taciturn man mixing one of the countless medicines behind a high desk.

By the way, there are only fifteen, at most. There have been no more than about fifteen basic medicines ever since the blessed Hippocrates. Despite this, a highly-developed chemical industry, and factories for the mass production of doctors, have made forty-four thousand four hundred and forty-four medications out of them. Some of them go out of fashion; we throw those away. Someone makes a profit out of that as well. But that is not the whole story: the patients want it to be like that. They believe not only in the miracle worker, whether professor or amateur; they also believe in these colourfully labelled and neatly packed things whose names end in ‘in’ or ‘an’, and contain some new combination of the ten or so ingredients.

It’s so nice in a pharmacy. One feels so safe; nothing can happen to you because they have remedies for all illnesses and for everyone here. It is all so orderly, so squared-away, so well-rounded, so un-chaotic. Is the pharmacist nuts? Is his wife unfaithful? Does he have ideological problems? He’d better not have. At least, we don’t want to know anything about it if it is so. We stand before him, the village priest of the IG-Farben[2] and the missionary of medical science. The pharmacy makes it you stop and reflect. We ask for, receive, pay, and we are already half cured. Until we get out the door.

The climate is much rougher outside. We make our way from the gentle odour of the medicine island back onto the high seas of life. The pharmacy is the icon of the insignificant disbeliever.


[1] The restaurant in the cellar of the Town Hall in many German cities.

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