Monument at the Deutsches Eck (Denkmal am Deutschen Eck)


On the Mosel it was still within limits. We drank our way slowly down the river, on the booze train from Trier down to Bulley, getting off at every third station to see how things were the wine. They were. Once we had established that, we got back on the train, which included a carriage which from the inside looked like a saloon car, from which one could have comfortably waged war, with a telephone on the table a big, fat cigar, and, “His Majesty has just been informed about the assault.” We, however, were not waging war. We pressed the waitress and a bell push appeared, or vice versa, and then we could drink a pure, unadulterated Mosel wine at the long table, while playing dice. The following games were invented during this train journey:

Fat Lottchen,
Proud Spix,
Georgine, the well-behaved flower, and
Charly and the little doe

This last game refers to a romantic episode of Charly’s, in the free, fresh, pious forest, which the little does had observed with interest. I lost terribly and always had to pay, but everything is like that. Bernkastel, Traben-Trarbach, Bulley, and then we changed to a serious train to Kolbenz[1]. (We adopted this pronunciation in case Jakopp should have had false teeth, in which case it would have been easier to say.) In Kolbenz we drank a Rhine wine, for geographical reasons[2], and it really knew who its parents were, which is more than we did by this stage. The next morning, a clear, bright Sunday, we went for a walk.

I didn’t know Kolbenz. The first thing that I noticed was a large and loud crowd of bourgeois holiday-makers, behaving in a strangely excited manner. Just as dark-haired women, when they visit Paris, fall under the spell of the word Paris, and behave in ways in which they would never behave at home, so the blond ladies let their hair down here. The Rhine, Father Rhein, the German Rhine, sparkled in the glasses, and it was not a pretty sight. The second thing I noticed was the ‚schmachch[3]‘. We pronounced the word with double ‚ch‘, and used it to refer to the French, about whose ‘Black Schmach[4]’ we had seen so much in the educational cinemas. We could only see white Schmachch here, and we didn’t much care for it, but that was because we didn’t like the military, not because we didn’t like the French. We are not as stupid as, for example, the Kolbenz General-Anzeiger, which, now that the Schmachch has withdrawn, screams accusations of murder and manslaughter after them, making not the slightest allowance for how the Germans behaved in Belgium and France, the nature of the military, for whom it works, or how this whole, nameless disaster, the war and its consequences, is the fault of Europe and its national divisions. Instead, the newspaper now screams, in authentic petit bourgeois rage, after a few thousand soldiers whose youthful energy is misused just as unproductively as that of soldiers of all countries, including Germany, and whose offences, of course, must be condemned.

So we strolled along the Rhine. I had once again neglected to learn my geography, and let Jakopp point it out to me. There was Ehrenbreitstein[5]; where a French flag burned, to the pleasure of all the Rhine cadets. Really. The flag burned at the top of a flagpole, was reduced to cinders, and caught flame again. I’m not interested in the military, and I don’t know what they burned up there. It doesn’t matter. It is as unimportant as everything which our brothers in uniform do. And there was the Rhine, in its frenzy of kitsch, and, as Goethe said, there were big ships making themselves at home on this river. And suddenly I got the biggest shock that I experienced on this trip. I remember it in every detail:

We were walking along the broad, tree-lined avenue; there was a photograph stall ahead, on the corner. They had a display of pictures which were brown, like old daguerrotypes. Then there were no more trees, a bit of open space, I looked up… and nearly fell over. There was – wham! – a huge memorial of Kaiser Wilhelm I. A petrified slap in the face. It took my breath away. When one looked more closely, one discovered that it was a superb, Wilhelmine, artistic work of art. It looked like a gigantic multi-layered cake, and represented that Germany which caused the war – now we want to thrash them! In Holland[6]. One can’t find an empty space on this monster at first. It has decoration measles. And on top, himself. On a horse. What am I saying, horse? On a charger! Charger? On a huge war stallion, like in a Wagner opera, hoi-ho-to-ho! The old ruler sits there doing something which he never did in his life: he looms over the country. The horse looms as well, and if I remember correctly, some female personage floats around him and offers him something, although my memory may not serve me well… Maybe she is just giving the huge horse a lump of sugar. And decoration, and rampant reptiles, and strangled snakes, and eagles, and coats of arms, and flourishes and squiggles, and bits of lilies, and I don’t know what else… It was great. I looked at Jakopp, wordless with shock. „Yes,“ said Jakopp, „that is the Kaiser Wilhelm monument at the Deutsches Eck[7].”

That’s right, a second river flowed into the first river, and, if one ignored the factory chimneys, it was a pretty place, much too pretty for this lump of stone, for this heap, this pile of a monument. “What? How?“ I stammered, overwhelmed. Then I heard a quiet voice to my left. A young lad had approached me, unnoticed. He had probably noticed my perplexity, and he asked, “Should I explain the monument to you?” Quickly apprehending the  state of the battle  does credit to the SA[8] man, so I replied, “Explain the monument to me.”

The boy’s gaze fell anywhere but on the multi-layered cake. He was asleep on his feet, his eyes had the expression of a peacefully grazing cow. I had never before seen it on a person. He spoke in a monotonous, squawking voice. And this poor child wasn’t the only one doing this. I later observed four or five colleagues of his who were doing the same thing, professionally, the whole Sunday morning, in front of the monument, and lower down, in front of the hotel and all over, so I was able to hear what the boys had learned by heart, several times. After the administration of several glasses of good wine to refresh my memory, it went roughly as follows:

„This monument was erected in 1897. It depicts Kaiser Wilhelm I, mounted, a goddess of victory, and the defeated enemy. The goddess of victory has become an angel of peace since the loss of the war, and has a wingspan of five metres. The monument weighs five million kilos, and occupies an area of 1200 square metres, so it is a great work of art. The plinth upon which the monument is built stands on a base pedestal, and on it stands the actual pedestal, and on this the under-pedestal, from which the monument pedestal rises up. The artists to blame for the monument are called Schmitz and Hundrieser. The motto engraved into the monument is, „The empire will never be destroyed if you are united and loyal.” The heads of the sea snakes are Germany’s enemies, the granite of the pedestals comes from the Black Forest. The Mosel flows behind the monument, its current is particularly strong here because it has to flow around the monument. The monument was opened during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, so it cost two million marks. That is the monument at the Deutsches Eck.“ (Long pause to collect tips.)

I read in the newspaper that the speeches made after the withdrawal of the Schmachch were just like the monument. But could you imagine that a government will ever be prepared to carry this deep-frozen crap away? On the contrary, they are soon going to build a new one: the Reichsehrenmal[9]. And when it has been built, snotty-nosed kids will go there to explain it to us, the restaurants all around it will be full, and a murmuring will rise from the mass graves in the north of France, “What for? For this.“

[1] Mis-pronunciation of Koblenz

[2] The Mosel flows into the Rhine at Koblenz.

[3] Schmach = humiliation or disgrace

[4] A racist reference to French colonial troops, who took part in the occupation of the Rhineland

[6] The Kaiser went into exile in the Netherlands after the war

[8] Nazi brown shirt para-military force

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