Passport to Crime

Here in Tremonia

by Karr & Wehner

 

Translated from the German by Mary Tannert

 

And when the snow falls . . .

in Tremonia,

here in the coal-mine settlement, behind the embankment, by the slagheap, next to the air shaft and the abandoned coal mine, right at the edge of the city. On a dark and bleak December mornin’, the grayness of day flows across the roofs and the wind blows cold . . .

through the settlement.

A flatbed truck stops in the access road. On its side is a sign that reads MAGMA Real Estate. Two men get out, dressed in workmen’s overalls and safety vests.

They unload shovels, picks, red-and-white construction tape, and warning signs. They dig two holes, fill them with gravel and fast-setting concrete, and set poles in them to hold the big sign they take from the truck.

 

Coming!

A modern residential community of the highest standard.

32 exclusive condominiums in four units.

Leisure center. Guarded community.

Another project of MAGMA Real Estate Development.

 

The men load their tools back on the flatbed truck. No sooner are they gone than . . .

. . . the first of them come out to take a look.

Rita, Karl, and Georgie.

Klaus and Rudi and Ursi.

They stand looking at the sign, and they know what’s coming.

In the settlement.

*   *   *

And the band plays . . .

Out here in the old school, in the auditorium on the second floor.

The miners’ band is practicing for the Christmas party here in the elementary school, with the kids, their parents, their grandparents. The way they’ve always celebrated Christmas,

here in the settlement.

They practice the snowflake song, they practice “White Christmas,” and they practice “Christmas Time is Here.”

And then . . .

they play for the settlement. Their songs.

Rita, Karl, and Georgie.

Klaus and Rudi and Ursi.

In the settlement.

Where the men stick together.

And the women stick together. And play in the band. Up front.

’Cause they’re the Tremonia Miners Band, and they always play when there’s something to play for. The local Schützenfest target-shooting festival, funerals, weddings, and every time the soccer club Tremonia 06 has a home game.

They play the old mine foreman’s song called “Steigerlied,” and they play “The Ruhrpott is Green” and “The Moon Over Wanne Eickel” and all the other songs about life in the coal-mining settlements of the Ruhr Valley. And they play that song of the King’s.

Here, in the ghetto.

*   *   *

And his mama’s dead.

Klaus’s mama. Klaus lives in number 1, the first on the street with all the coal miners’ cottages. Here in the settlement. Klaus lives alone in the cottage. He’s always lived here and here’s where he’ll stay, even if they write and say he has to leave. Leave the cottage, leave the settlement.

The company already sold a couple of the cottages, numbers 1–3 and, across the street, 7–10. That’s where the new residential community is supposed to go, the one MAGMA wants to build.

Here . . . in the settlement.

*   *   *

And Georgie’s staying too.

In number 8. Georgie with the dog with the too-short legs, the mutt bred from all the other mutts in the settlement, and the three-colored cat and the rabbits.

In the hutch behind the cottage.

So he tears up the letter that says he has to leave, and gets a beer and drinks it in the backyard.

With Rudi and Ursi and the other neighbors, at the fence.

Because people look after each other,

here in the settlement

*   *   *

And Rudi’s staying.

Just so that’s clear. He’s staying and that’s the way it is.

Because a man’s a man and his word is his word.

Here in the settlement.

That’s why the people here help themselves. With advice, but with action too, so that everything stays the way it is, the way it was, and the way it’s going to be.

In the settlement.

Where the men stick together.

And the women stick together. And play in the band. Up front.

*   *   *

Where a child’s not a hungry mouth to feed, but a child. You play with him, and you let him play. So he grows up strong and stays here, so he helps out in the mine or the factory and brings home his wages for his wife and the child they have so that everything stays the way it is.

In the settlement.

*   *   *

And the snow falls . . .

When the man comes, the man from the city, the district mayor. He holds a talk in the auditorium of the school. He has papers with him, papers with the MAGMA logo. He projects plans and pictures on the wall. They show what the condominiums will look like, if they build them,

here in the settlement.

Beautiful, snow-white facades, smooth walls, with solar panels and double-paned windows and garage roofs with urban gardens on them.

And a cobblestone square on the other side, over where the old mine shaft is, with bushes and trees and a little lake—for ducks, not for the kids. And a fence around it.

MAGMA will build it all.

But not for the folks who are already here.

In the settlement.

*   *   *

The district mayor talks a long time and they all listen to him, because they all came, everyone from the settlement. The ones whose cottages weren’t sold and the ones who are supposed to leave.

Rita, Karl, and Georgie.

Klaus and Rudi and Ursi.

And the snow falls . . .

It’s a cold December night, a dark night, and there’s hardly a light burning in the cottages here in the street when they all go home.

Only a couple of them stay and want to talk to the district mayor.

A little chat between pals, says Georgie.

Between comrades, says Karl.

Between friends, says Rudi.

And he opens the bottle of schnapps, the kind that’s been distilled twice. They bought it at the ALDI with the big parking lot on the street where the old mine shaft is.

Across from the settlement.

And the snow falls . . .

*   *   *

It’s a cold, clear December mornin’

when the sun rises over the settlement. It shines on the man on the school playground. He’s wearing only his briefs and an undershirt, but he’s got his shoes on.

It’s the district mayor: blue, stiff, cold.

He froze to death

during the long December night

here in the settlement.

While the snow fell.

*   *   *

And nobody knows what happened, yesterday evening, when it got late.

They all went home, say Karl and Georgie and Rudi. Together, after they talked to the man.

Between friends, with a schnapps or two.

Well, of course he was drunk. And how. Couldn’t hold it, at least not like people

here in the settlement.

And everybody knows when you’re drunk you don’t notice how cold it really is, how drunk you really are. You even think you’re burning up, like working at the blast furnace, and you start taking off your clothes ’cause you’re sweating.

During the night, when it snowed

here in the ghetto.

That’s what must’ve happened, they say, and they read in the papers about the tragic death of the district mayor in the December night

when the snow fell

here in the settlement.

*   *   *

And the band plays . . .

. . . at the cemetery, at the grave of the man who froze. They play the “Steigerlied” and they play “Amazing Grace” and “Hallelujah.”

Rita, Karl, and Georgie.

Klaus and Rudi and Ursi.

The band plays for the man who couldn’t—or didn’t want to—do anything for the people whose cottages were sold

here in the settlement.

And the snow falls . . .

on a fresh grave

in the cemetery.

*   *   *

People don’t you understand

that it won’t work—

a condominium project

here in the settlement?

Where people live together without solar panels, with a shed behind the house for the chickens and the pigeons or maybe just for coal.

Where people know each other and like each other and a man’s a man and his word is his word. And the women stick together. And play in the band. Up front.

And another man comes in the spring, when the days grow brighter. A man in a suit, with polished shoes and a briefcase.

And he stands at the entrance to the settlement next to the sign and talks to the people who walk by and hands them a flyer. It says:

 

MAGMA’s Building Houses

For You Too!

 

Later, the man moves over to the fountain on the square,

next to the poplars

in the settlement,

at the end of the street, where soon there’ll be construction fences and access will be blocked. Except for the excavators and the trucks and the cranes and the DIXI toilets.

The man talks to the people from the settlement. And he says they’re building houses for them, and everybody can have one if he works hard and makes an effort and is approved for the mortgage.

And then they, too, can live in luxury with granite floors behind their double-glazed windows and urban gardens on their garage roofs.

And the children can feed the ducks in the lake that they’ll build behind the houses, next to the old mine shaft. That’s a promise.

Because a man’s word is his word, everyone knows that,

here in the settlement.

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month's issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2020. Here in Tremonia by Karr & Wehner

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