Title: Sport 40: 2012

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, 2014, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 40: 2012

Alexander Kluge

page 297

Alexander Kluge

A Treasure in China

I was never allowed to talk about how, at the end of March 1945, before the arrival of the advance guard of the Red Army, my father buried parts of the fortune of the extended family (porcelain, silver, two large bags, travel documents) under the apple trees in the garden and laid down a compost heap on the spot, which did very well in the rainy weather. I never said a word about it, although I received a Communist training and was required to reveal all personal secrets. There is a private human being inside every Chekist. I can, however, confirm that this private human being is not the well-source, where behaviour and character have their engine (seat of reliability), it is to be found rather in a side gallery, where society does not reach. Thus I remain an absolutely reliable Party cadre, who has merely not betrayed a family hiding-place (and also does not dig it up). There must be forgetting, otherwise there are no escape routes in an emergency. The modern patriot is a complex product.

A thinking, active product. We wanted to get intelligence material, also parts of the Party assets, to safety in the People’s Republic of China. Chests and accounts were already en route to our embassy in Beijing, when we learned that the People’s Republic of China would respond to a possible confederation of the GDR with the Federal Republic of Germany by merging its two embassies. The People’s Republic recognises no separate property, not even that of a friendly brother state or a brother Party, once these lose their official status. In the short time until March, and after that until incorporation into the Federal Republic, we did not find any definitive solution. In June, when we lost our offices and telecommunications equipment, the containers, which we had sent off at the beginning of the year, were in a transport loop on the territory of the People’s Republic of page 298 China. They were transferred from State haulier to State haulier, re- registered, put on trucks again etc. Until 1992 the valuable objects moved from address to address, constituted a ‘buried treasure’; finally the consignments came to the attention of the Chinese authorities and were seized. Today, lacking an owner, they are stored in warehouses near Beijing. It is impossible for the Chinese administration to dispose of the treasure without information from us. It will never get this information.

Naked, As We Were

On the day before the drawing up of the balance sheet for the changeover to West marks we had set out with four trucks and two escort vehicles. Our mechanics in one of the escorts kept the heavy trucks, full of ingots, intact on all the roads of the eastern Ukraine and North Ossetia. Marked on our maps was the Ust’urt Desert (on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, but from the ‘road’ this sea was nowhere visible, the desert appeared as steppe). We were trapped. Local officials (or bandit gangs with insignia unknown to us) forced us to drive to an abandoned caravanserai. We had weapons. But the number of armed men surrounding us and what the use of weapons would achieve was uncertain. Once a week ‘representatives of the authorities’ brought provisions to the isolated place. So we spent the Day of German Unity glued to transistor radios as a last collective of the GDR. The cold penetrated inside the vehicles. We did not want to sacrifice any fuel for heating.

In spring we abandoned the vehicles. We buried the iridium ingots. After a march of 435 miles across two national frontiers we reported to the German Embassy in Tehran. We were twelve patriots. First we had tried the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China and been turned away. At the German Embassy they did not want to give us passports of our new Fatherland right away. They demanded proofs of our existence. We, however, had nothing but our knowledge of German and labels sewn into our clothes, indicating where they had page 299 been bought. The GDR passports and our weapons, which could have proved our identity, we had buried in a panic one night during our flight. Should we have hurried back to this hiding place, merely to prove to Foreign Ministry officials that we were involuntary ‘fellow citizens’? We lacked the elan of unshakeable conviction. When they got fed up feeding us in the relatively cramped accommodation in Tehran, they shipped us, by way of Aden and Port Said, to Rostock. As active Chekists we were used to assuming almost any desired identity. They, our enemies, had to believe us, ‘naked’, as we were.

The Six-Year-Old In Me and the Starry Sky Above Me

For structural reasons the conference hall was screened from the outside world. It was the only way a sufficient number of rooms could be strung together, with the result that not every room had windows. But, because of the milky afternoon light that filled the city, even through windows it would have been impossible to see the starry sky, although the stars at all times watch over us up there.

The liveliest speaker in this company was considered to be ‘full of hot air’. None of those present thought much of the others. A room of indifference.

I’m older than the others. Inside me I hear the six-year-old, whom I once was and who I am at every point of my life. Often the seventeen- year-old or the thirty-two-year-old speak inside me, too. But they rarely speak at the same time, whereas the objections of the six-year- old seem to fit with each of the other voices. If I close my eyes for a moment, it can happen that I return to this room from an earlier time. I have an impression of having lived on a country estate in ancient Syria. And if this is true, I am also living now, even as I explain myself at this conference, in this other time. Is it dear to me? Would I remember it, if it were not dear to me?

‘A Treasure in China’ & ‘Naked, As We Were’ from Chronik der Gefühle: Basisgeschichten © Suhrkamp Verlag, 2000. ‘The Six-Year-Old In Me’ from Tür an Tür mit einem anderen Leben © Suhrkamp Verlag, 2006. English translations © Martin Chalmers, 2004.