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  • Discoveries on the Map
  • Franz Fühmann (bio)
    Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

When German radio reported that Moscow would fall any hour now, we were packing to march to the Oppeln station where we’d take the train east to be deployed. I was in the Reich Labor Service no longer, I’d gotten lucky: past Narva I’d incurred an inguinal hernia while building log roads; the hernia became strangulated, putting my life at risk, and had to be operated on, so I had been admitted to a homeland military hospital and ten days later, following a successful operation and recovery, was transferred to the Wehrmacht. As I was still considered convalescent I was assigned to light duty with a teletype company of the air signal corps which, after half a year of training, would now be deployed in the east. On December 9, five weeks before my twentieth birthday, we’d boarded the overheated train to Kiev; the journey, spent dozing by day and playing cards by night as the train sped through wastes of snow, had taken six days, and now we were sitting in the headquarters of the Ukraine Air Signal Regiment, a former school in Kiev, waiting for our company commander, who was receiving his operational orders from the regimental commander. It was warm in the classroom where we sat waiting, and we lolled luxuriously on the school benches. Outside it was forty-four below, and the wind swung its axe at every corner; it had sliced through our thin linen coats in no time as we marched from the train station to headquarters, and halfway there Alfred, next to me, stared and said aghast that my nose was white, and I stared at him and said that his nose had turned white too, like a cauliflower stalk, and then we rubbed our noses and cheeks with snow until they turned flaming red, hardly able to hold the snow in fingers that had gone numb despite the gloves, stiff as ebonite rods. The white frost had spared no one’s nose and cheeks; it had been a punishing march, but now we sat on the comfortable benches in the heated room and stretched out our legs and dozed. Through drooping lids I saw the light yellow room, decorated with stucco shells and fruit; I stretched my limbs and wondered where and how I would be deployed and hoped I could stay in Kiev: even with frost-burned eyes I’d seen, enthralled, the city’s splendor—never had I seen a city crowned with gold! Ah, crowned with gold, you’d have to see it in summer, I thought, crowned with gold and flower-suns swaying around it and July blazing on its domes and towers! Crowned with [End Page 45] gold and blue onion domes, patina and six golden crosses above the cathedral’s aquamarine, the pillars’ snowy marble: that was Kiev, and when Nature smiled it must be a dream of a city. I got up and gazed out the window, but out the window there was little to see: an icy courtyard where trucks froze, skeletons of trees, red and green fences, and a statue’s pedestal with no statue on it. I gazed out the window and suddenly felt tired; I thought of taking a nap; likely the meeting would drag on and I could catch fifteen minutes of sleep before I had to go back out into the cold. Some of my comrades were already asleep, others were playing cards or smoking or dozing or reading trashy novels. There was little conversation.

I sat back down on the bench and dozed. It was warm; the wall and the stucco swam before my eyes, and then, half asleep, I saw green domes and a blue wooden gate from which a bearded peasant suddenly rose into the air. One hand was buried in his beard, and the other hand held a fiddle with a bird’s head; I wondered, dozing off, where I had seen this image before, and after the peasant trotted a cow with a transparent belly and a calf inside, blue, pale, a pale-blue...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2161-9131
Print ISSN
1053-1297
Pages
pp. 45-50
Launched on MUSE
2012-12-10
Open Access
No
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