mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 40: 2012



The way to Mietzel’s house became a very long one when I moved back to Berlin. Bent over in the shape of a half-moon, her silhouette would approach the frosted glass panels of the big entryway when I came to visit. Then Maria, who goes by Mietzel, would unlock the door to let me in. In the time I’ve known her, she has become thinner and more frail. But her hair is grey in only a few spots. On top of her skirt she wears an apron, and on her feet slippers, because of her corns—‘Pain,’ she says and smiles, ‘always the pain!’; she smiles and shakes her head as if in astonishment, her feet are bony, as is the rest of her body, and in places where she bumps into things, her skin immediately turns blue from all the veins that lie just beneath it.

In the castle where she worked as a maid all her life, Mietzel lives on the ground floor, right beside the entryway. Only a few years ago page 244 she was still carrying suitcases up to the third floor. She cleaned and cooked for her employers, and tended the garden. She unlocks the big door for guests, workmen, the chimney sweep, the mailman. In her kitchen the mason and the gardener break for lunch. Mietzel drinks raspberry syrup with water from the tap, she cooks her food on an old iron stove, and anything left over in her household that isn’t suitable for compost winds up in the fire hole. Mietzel has never flown in an airplane. Back when she wasn’t yet getting so dizzy, she would always walk the three kilometres down to the village. She never learned to ride a bicycle, and has never used an escalator. When her employers are away, she looks after the castle, with only the dormouse, the Aesculapian snake, and the red salamander to keep her company. The house where she was born lies at the foot of the castle hill. Mietzel can see it from her window.

Of the two rooms she has inhabited for thirty years, one is the sitting room. In the cool shade of this room she stores fruit and cake; the baskets and baking pans occupy a huge black table with turned legs that once upon a time belonged to some person who lived here before her. The other room is where Mietzel sleeps, her dresses and aprons hanging in a shallow armoire, and this is also where the television stands, along with an armchair whose slipcover is already polished smooth in the spots where Mietzel lays her hands on the armrests. She brings in the coffee pot, and I can see that a pot of coffee weighs something.

In earlier years, when I was still her neighbour, she would never come to visit me without something in her hands: a head of lettuce, two or three apples, a few mushrooms or a plate of cake. ‘A couple of dumplings,’ she would say. Whatever she brought had been planted, cooked, baked, or found in the woods by her. Later, when she was no longer able to go to the woods and also could no longer work in the garden or even cook or bake, she would make open-face sandwiches for me. White bread with cheese or salami, and on top of that slices of egg or little sour gherkins cut in half. With her bony hands she would arrange the egg slices on the sandwiches just so, and if I didn’t manage to eat them all, she would make me take home what was left, wrapped in silver paper—for tonight, for tomorrow—and also a package of butter cookies for my son.

page 245

When I ring her bell this evening, a long time passes before the door opens. The nurse must not yet have figured out all the keys. High up in the sky, far above the big cherry tree, a buzzard is circling. Inside, in her shade-filled kitchen, Mietzel is sitting at the table, the nurse positioned her there, pushing the chair all the way in so she can hold herself upright. Mietzel sits there, but she is so weak that she can’t even manage to open her eyes. I look out her window. Through the bare trees I can see all the way to the house where her mother was a maid and her father a groom. Mietzel sits without moving. And for this reason, when I get up to leave I can only hug her from the side.