Translated from the German by Zaia Alexander
A Short Journey
Listening to the silence of a small wooded clearing, my gaze falls upon an ant in the brushwood, fighting against the adversities of its ant’s life, thereby fulfilling its appointed task of carrying a crumb from one end of the ant world to the other end of the ant world, but because of the smallness of the object being transported by the ant, and because of my imperfect eyes, I can’t be at all sure whether, instead of a crumb, it isn’t perhaps a miniature edition of Shakespeare’s Collected Works; or a new translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis; or maybe Cervantes´s Don Quixote, which wouldn’t be terribly surprising given the topic, for in a word, what is an ant’s life other than a constant battle against windmills you think are giants.
Thinking along those lines about the ant’s reading material, I recall how as a child I used to interrupt the journey of his fellow species by hunting them down with a magnifying glass on the terrace of our tract house, not to find out what they were reading, but to ascertain the truth of an assertion I had learned about in physics class, which was that you could gather the sun’s rays in such a way that if the ant is in focus, it’ll be zapped to a crisp straight to Nirvana. In an ant’s life, at least, real giants do exist.
Once I was imprisoned in an onion tower. A frog, who was reading the New York Times at a sidewalk café, had asked me in French to keep him company. He led me far from the city, promising to show me something I had never seen before. Step by step, splaying his little legs with effort, he climbed with me to the little room at the top of the onion tower where I had spent so many long years. Barely had he left the room to get some pastries and a pair of binoculars, so I could get a better view of the receding world from high up in the tower, when the door bolted behind me. At that point I noticed that the onion tower had no window, and that I had been duped.
I found out later that the little room in the onion tower had been enclosed in twelve peels, and the next few years, for lack of any other food, I peeled the layers away with my sharp teeth and devoured them. Year after year, I removed a layer of the onion, and the dim light that I had at first breathed through the skins, got brighter. I used the power of my imagination to furnish my jail more comfortably, and created out of one or the other dark corner, a place of promising secrets, but in the last year, when on sunny days the emptiness of the onion room, and for that matter of my life, was revealed to me, the absurdity of my long wait became obvious. Then, seized by a violent urge for freedom, I bit my way outside and plunged to the depths. It seems to me, at times, as I whirl past the tower wall, that to this day I haven’t hit the ground.
English language translations copyright ©2006 by Green Integer and Zaia Alexander
Bernd Lichtenberg was born in Leverkusen in 1966 and grew up in Bergisch Gladbach. After graduating from high school, he studied philosophy and religion studies, first in Cologne and Bonn, then in Berlin. In 1991 and 1992 he participated in the Screenwriting Workshop “Drehbuchwerkstatt München.” He completed his film studies from 1992 to 1995 at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne and, in 1995, won the North Rhine Westphalia Culture Ministry Screenwriting Award. He has been working as a freelance screenwriter ever since. In 1997, he himself directed a short film he wrote: Déjà vu is a chamber piece with Katrin Saß and Wolfgang. He won the German Script Award 2002 and the European Script Award 2003 for the screenplay of the film Goodbye, Lenin!. He lives in Cologne and Berlin.