1. Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories

    Today is the publication date for Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories, a collection of his early stories, with some later ones as well, set in Berlin where he followed his elder brother in 1905, translated by Susan Bernofsky and others including Christopher Middleton. We thought we’d share the first story in the book, titled “Good Morning, Giantess!”:

    It’s as if a giantess were shaking her curls and sticking one leg out
    of bed when—early in the morning, before even the electric trams
    are running, and driven by some duty or other—you venture out
    into the metropolis. Cold and white the streets lie there, like outstretched human arms; you trot along, rubbing your hands, and
    watch people coming out of the gates and doorways of their buildings,
    as though some impatient monster were spewing out warm,
    flaming saliva. You encounter eyes as you walk along like this: girls’
    eyes and the eyes of men, mirthless and gay; legs are trotting behind
    and before you, and you too are legging along as best you can, gazing
    with your own eyes, glancing the same glances as everyone else. And
    each breast bears some somnolent secret, each head is haunted by
    some melancholy or inspiring thought. Splendid, splendid. So it is a
    cold morning—half sunny, half gray—and many, many people are
    still snug in their beds: revelers who’ve lived and adventured their
    way though the entire night and half the morning, refined persons
    who make it a habit to arise late, lazy dogs that wake up, give a yawn,
    and go back to snoring twenty times in a row, graybeards and invalids
    who can no longer get up at all or only with difficulty, women
    who have loved, artists who say to themselves: Get up early? What
    rubbish!, the children of wealthy, beautiful parents—fabulously
    coddled, sheltered creatures who go on sleeping in their own little
    rooms behind snow-white curtains, their little mouths open, immersed
    in fairy-tale dreams until nine, ten, or eleven o’clock. At such
    an early hour of morning, the wild maze of streets is all a-skitter and
    a-scurry with if not stage-set painters, then at least paperhangers,
    clerks who copy addresses, paltry insignificant middlemen, as well as
    persons intending to catch an early train to Vienna, Munich, Paris,
    or Hamburg, for the most part people of no significance, girls from
    all possible spheres of employment, working girls, in other words.
    Anyone observing this hubbub will have no choice but to declare it
    exceptional. He then walks along like this and is almost taken up by
    a compulsion to join in this running, this gasping haste, swinging
    his arms to and fro; the bustle and activity are just so contagious—
    the way a beautiful smile can be contagious. Well no, not like that.
    The early morning is something completely different. It flings, for
    example, one last pair of grimily clad night owls with loathsomely
    red-painted faces out of their barrooms and onto the blinding, dusty
    white street where they loiter, stupefied, for quite some time with
    their crooked sticks over their shoulders, annoying the passersby.
    How the drunken night shines forth from their sullied eyes! Onward,
    onward. That blue-eyed marvel, the early morning, has no
    time to waste on drunkards. It has a thousand shimmering threads
    with which it draws you on; it pushes you from behind and smiles
    coaxingly from the front. You glance up to where a whitish, veiled
    sky is letting a few scraps of blue peek out; behind you, to gaze after
    a person who interests you; beside you, at an opulent portal behind
    which a regal palace morosely, elegantly towers up. Statues beckon
    you from gardens and parks; still you keep on walking, giving everything a passing glance: things in motion and things fixed in place,
    hackney cabs indolently lumbering along, the electric tram just now
    starting its run, from whose windows human eyes regard you, a constable’s idiotic helmet, a person with tattered shoes and trousers, a
    person of no doubt erstwhile high standing who is sweeping the
    street in a top hat and fur coat; you glance at everything, just as you
    yourself are a fleeting target for all these other eyes. That is what is so
    miraculous about a city: that each person’s bearing and conduct vanishes among all these thousand types, that everything is observed in
    passing, judgments made in an instant, and forgetting a matter of
    course. Past. What’s gone past? A façade from the Empire period?
    Where? Back there? Could a person possibly decide to turn around
    once more so as to give the old architecture a supplementary glance?
    Good heavens, no. Onward, onward. The chest expands, the giantess
    Metropolis has just, with the most voluptuous leisureliness,
    pulled on her sun-shimmery chemise. A giantess like this doesn’t
    dress so quickly; but each of her beautiful, huge motions is fragrant
    and steams and pounds and peals. Hackney cabs with American
    luggage on top clatter past mangling the language. Now you are
    walking in the park; the motionless canals are still covered in gray
    ice, the meadows make you shiver, the slender, thin, bare trees chase
    you swiftly on with their icily quivering appearance; carts are being
    pushed, two stately carriages from the coach house of some person
    or other of official standing sweep past, each bearing two coachmen
    and a lackey; always there is something, and each time you wish to
    observe this something more closely, it’s already gone. Naturally you
    have a large number of thoughts during your one-hour march, you
    are a poet and can practice your art without removing your hands
    from the pockets of your—let us hope—respectable overcoat, you
    are a painter and perhaps have already finished five pictures during
    your morning stroll. You are an aristocrat, hero, lion tamer, Socialist,
    African explorer, ballet dancer, gymnast, or bartender, and
    you’ve fleetingly dreamed just now of having been introduced to the
    Kaiser. He climbed down from his throne and drew you into a
    friendly half-hour chat in which his lady the Empress may also have
    taken part. In your thoughts you rode the metropolitan railway, tore
    the laurel wreath from Dernburg’s brow, got married and settled
    down in a village in Switzerland, wrote a stage-worthy drama—jolly,
    jolly, onward, hey there, what? Could that be … ? Indeed, then you
    ran into your colleague Kitsch, and the two of you went home together
    for a cup of chocolate.

Notes

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