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By Benjamin Weil
excerpt from his new book: Lillian Loewe Chapter 24 © 2008
[This chapter takes place in Berlin in January 1914.]
[Sixteen year-old Lillian Loewe lives with her German-Jewish parents in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1913. Her parents have decided that the best option for her future is an arranged marriage with the son of wealthy friends, but these friends have imposed the pre-condition of a year-long sojourn in Germany, so that Lillian may learn something about high society and be "finished" in Berlin. In January 1914, Lillian is about half-way through her year in Berlin, and is accompanying her young cousin, Sigmund, and a friend of the family, Fritz, to the Kaiser's birthday parade.]
Fritz appeared the next morning at eight. Lillian was tired again, after a second short night, but grateful that there had been no repetition of the previous night's dream. She dressed hurriedly, unable to take her breakfast, since Fritz was impatient to arrive early for the parade.
"Frieda! Bettina!" he said, as they continued eating their breakfast at a leisurely pace. "You'll have to hurry if you want to leave with us. We need to secure a good spot in front of the palace."
"Thank you, Fritzi, dear," said Frieda, calmly. "But Bettina and I have things to do today."
"Things to do? What could be more important than the Kaiser's birthday?" replied Fritz, in an agitated, almost irritable tone.
"A fashion show at Kersten and Tuteurs," answered Frieda, unapologetic.
Fritz's plump, red face looked as if it might erupt at any moment. "A fashion show? On the Kaiser's birthday? Why, it's a sacrilege! It's immoral! Kersten and Tuteurs should be shut down, censured for their audacity! And the two of you should be ashamed of yourselves."
"You, of all people, have a lot of nerve, lecturing me about morality!" said Frieda, her gray eyes flashing and her ample breast expanding with anger. "It so happens that Bettina needs to look her best by early next week! Nathan Goldmann has asked for an audience with her next Monday, and to see Heinrich immediately afterwards! So take your little favorite to the parade, and kindly allow us to go about our own business."
Fritz's flushed face began to cool, and an expression of remorse appeared in his eyes. He looked like a large dog being reprimanded by its master.
"Well, I didn't mean any offense, I'm sure," he said, quietly. "But maybe Sigmund would like to come with us?"
The boy had not been paying attention to the conversation, focused instead on finishing his large breakfast. He looked up as he heard Fritz speak his name.
"Huh?" he said, dully, a clump of jam stuck to his lower lip. "What would I like?"
"To see a parade," said Fritz, in a friendly tone. "All young boys like parades."
Sigmund looked doubtful.
"Come on, young man," continued Fritz, firmly. "We'll stop first at Garotti's for candy, and later at Café Bauer for hot chocolate."
The indolent expression faded from Sigmund's heavy face, replaced by an eager gleam. "I'll just get my hat and coat!" he shouted, racing into the foyer with uncharacteristic speed.
Frieda looked fondly in the direction her son had taken. The strident tone had left her voice, as she said to Fritz, "All right, then. The three of you enjoy yourselves. Why don't you join us back here for lunch, when you've finished? We shouldn't be long."
Fritz breathed a sigh of relief. Lillian had never realized how important it was to him to be in Frieda's good graces. But she had definitely noticed how her aunt's mood improved when she and Fritz were on good terms. At such times, Frieda's good humor even extended as far as her niece.
"Splendid!" cried Fritz, wholly restored to himself. "Be sure to reserve a side of beef for me. We'll bring you a souvenir tiara from the palace, in exchange."
He quickly bestowed loud kisses on the cheeks of Frieda and Bettina, before seizing Lillian's hand and rushing over to the foyer, where Sigmund was now waiting impatiently.
The traffic in the city was thick and tangled. Streetcars, automobiles, carts and carriages vied for the right of way, resulting in an almost total impasse. After nearly half an hour of waiting next to the Bülowstraße train station, Fritz, Sigmund and Lillian managed to board a streetcar, which inched its way along Potsdamer Straße, then Leipziger Straße, before they finally disembarked close to the candy store. As they hurried along the street, dodging and hurtling into the other pedestrians, it was difficult to ascertain who was more anxious: Fritz to reach the palace at Schloßplatz, or Sigmund to reach the candy store. Lillian followed swiftly behind them, her small body fitting neatly through the holes that her two larger companions consistently forged in the crowd.
Leipziger Straße was teaming with spectators awaiting the royal procession. The Kaiser and his military retinue were to begin their cortege at the Royal Palace, marching down Unter den Linden to Königgrätzer Straße, then heading south to Leipziger Straße. Fritz insisted that the best place to view the parade was in front of the palace.
When the threesome reached Garotti's, Sigmund stood motionless in front of the glass display cases filled with chocolate, marzipan and nuts. "I can't decide which I want," he said, whining a bit, as if he were carrying a heavy burden.
"Then I'll decide for you," said Fritz, briskly, pushing the boy out of the way. "We'll take half a pound of this, half a pound of that, a quarter pound of this, and a quarter pound of that," he said, decisively, pointing deftly to several cases. "Please pack them up to take away," he added.
When the shop attendant had packed a large bundle of paper sacks, Fritz paid her quickly, and handed the bundle to Sigmund, whisking him out of the store.
"Can I eat them now?" asked Sigmund, anxiously.
"You can eat them anytime you like," replied Fritz, restlessly, "as long as you keep moving."
Sigmund munched happily, as Fritz herded him and Lillian relentlessly up Friedrichstraße, then across Französische Straße and Werderstraße to the palace. The street and pedestrian traffic was such that it was useless to wait for another streetcar. Before they had reached the end of Werderstraße, they were forced to slow down to an excruciating crawl.
"Excuse us," shouted Fritz, still attempting to muscle his way through the tightly gathered spectators. "Please! Think of the children! We must get to the palace."
"Think of the policemen blocking the way to the palace, about ten yards ahead," said a short, scruffy man, laconically. "This is about as far as it goes."
"What?" cried Fritz, dismayed. "They've cordoned off the Schloßplatz? We'll never be able to see anything from here," he added, with obvious disappointment.
He thought for a moment. "Well, the next best place is Unter den Linden," he said, suddenly, gripping Lillian and Sigmund by the shoulders and steeringthem back across Werderstraße. "Make way! Make way! Please! Think of the children!" he called, as he bustled a path back through the throng.
On Unter den Linden, the crowd was thick and deep, but it was still possible to burrow a tunnel to the edge of the sidewalk. Groups of men, women, children and entire families stood chatting and laughing, waving flags at the empty street, and pointing at the banners displaying the Imperial insignia, high atop the lampposts. The entire city seemed to have convened for the parade. Men wore bowler hats and fedoras, their topcoats cleaned and brushed for the occasion, fresh flowers in their buttonholes. Even the workers had on clean shirt collars and tight, uncomfortable-looking new shoes. Lillian noticed for the first time how many of the men sported the slicked-back hair and bushy, upturned moustaches as the Kaiser himself. The women had bright flowers, ribbons and feathers in their broad-brimmed hats; their coats were trimmed with fur collars and velvet lapels. The children had all been scrubbed and combed; many carried bouquets of flowers to offer to the emperor when he rode by. As the minutes passed, the humming and milling about intensified. Sigmund had finished most of his candy, the glossy look returning to his gray eyes. He looked as if he might fall asleep standing up.
Suddenly, a cry came from the direction of the palace. "Hoch soll er leben!""Long may he live!" The call echoed throughout the crowd, mutating into song, as more and more onlookers joined in. "Hoch soll er leben!" they sang, in unison. Fritz strained forward, hoping to catch a glimpse of the procession as it marched into sight.
"Look, children!" he yelled, enthusiasm elevating his voice. "There's the Royal Guard! He's coming! He's on his way! Hoch soll er leben! Hoch soll er leben!"
The goose-stepping guards were now in full view of everyone, dressed in woolen knee-britches and coats, brass buttons sparkling in the winter sunshine. A tall spike stood erect on each metal helmet, also gleaming in the sun. Their arms and legs struck the air in front of them in perfect, jerking unison, as they marched. Lillian put one gloved hand over her mouth to hide a smile, as the soldiers tramped by, their boots slapping the ground in front of them. It was difficult to keep a straight face as she watched them. They looked like stern, life-size marionettes, a giant, invisible puppet-master pulling their strings to make them thrust their way down the street. On the other side of the boulevard, two boys of twelve or thirteen stood pointing and snickering. They were a bit wiry and scraggly, with old caps set askew on their scruffy heads, either unwilling or unable to dress in stiff, spotless clothes like the rest of the crowd. The guards continued their goose-stepping, staring grimly ahead as the spectators continued their cheers. The two boys began flinging their arms and legs awkwardly in front of themselves, in a crude imitation of the marching soldiers.
The noise of the horde intensified as the Kaiser's carriage rolled into sight. As he approached, Lillian could see that he had donned an even more spectacular uniform than he had worn the night before. A huge, feathery brush stood on top of his helmet, dancing in the breeze as the carriage advanced. He looked otherwise much as he had on the previous evening at the opera, except that he was no longer smiling and nodding, but gazing gravely ahead, like the guards who preceded him.
The carriage advanced, and had nearly arrived at the pavement in front of Fritz, Sigmund and Lillian. The two boys across the way stared briefly at the Kaiser, then back at the soldiers marching briskly in front of him. Those who directly preceded the monarch, their rifles pressed securely against their arms as they marched, seemed to be goose-stepping even harder, as if his presence required an extra effort on their part. One of the boys, a tall, thin fellow with dirty, light brown hair and a missing front tooth, suddenly let out a guffaw as the nearly-convulsive guards jerked by. While Lillian watched, the Kaiser turned his stiff head abruptly to look directly at the snickering culprit. In a split second, one of the guards on the far side of the street lifted his rifle and slammed the butt against the side of the laughing boy's head. The boy stood still for a moment, a look of astonishment on his thin face, as blood began to trickle from his head. Then he fell slowly into the equally shocked arms of his companion. A furious rustling ensued, as the crowd tried to disperse, panic overtaking them. The two boys were left alone, surrounded by a wide circle of empty space. Lillian watched in disbelief as the wounded boy crumpled to the ground in the arms of his friend. His head was bleeding profusely, and the other boy began to howl, screams of grief and terror bursting from inside his gaunt body.
After the Kaiser's carriage had passed, the scene unfolded before Lillian like the flickering images at a nickelodeon. Rows of soldiers continued to pass by, as if nothing had occurred, their goose-stepping limbs making the image of the boy's fall and the crowd's diffusion shadowy and incomplete. As the guards persisted in their marching, she awoke from the horror of what she had seen, and turned to Fritz.
"We have to do something!" she screamed, the words ripping from her throat. "We have to help him!"
Fritz seemed stunned, unable to move, although a trail of tears had stained his fleshy cheeks. After a moment, he found his voice again, and said, "I don't think we can! We can't get through to the other side!"
It was true. The guards were still advancing, too swift and dense in their ranks to allow any passage between them. Behind them, large, ornate chaises filled with members of the country's highest nobility began to pass, the passengers smiling and nodding at the crowd, just as the Kaiser had done the night before from his loge in the theater. Lillian felt herself straining inwardly to get to the boy across the wide street, but any actual movement was useless. The people around her began to cheer and laugh again, seemingly oblivious now to the appalling incident that had just taken place. She watched helplessly as the uninjured boy, sobbing now in hard, quick yelps, lifted his lifeless friend onto his shoulders and filed slowly away from the parade.
"Lillian, you're hurting me!"
Sigmund's voice brought her back to herself again. She looked down at her hand, and realized that she had been squeezing her cousin's thick mitt with all of her strength.
"I'm sorry, dear," she said, looking at the boy. She released his hand, but suddenly reached out again and pulled him close to her. Sobs began to wrack her body, as she clutched her cousin, treasuring him as she never had before.
Sigmund stood inert in his cousin's embrace, one hand patting her lightly on the back. After several minutes, Fritz gently disengaged her arms, and took hold of her hand.
"I guess that's enough excitement for one day," he said, wearily, holding out his handkerchief. "Let's go home. Can you make it as far as the bus stop, Lillian?"
Lillian accepted the handkerchief, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose with it.
"I'm all right," she said, her voice still shaking. "I'm just feeling a little weak. I haven't eaten anything since lunch yesterday."
"Well, let's take care of that right away. I'll even relinquish my side of beef to you, when we get home. Agreed?"
Lillian laughed weakly at the idea of eating a side of beef, then turned to follow the others away from the crowd and back to Friedrichstraße. She reached for Sigmund again with her free hand. "I won't hurt you this time," she promised. When the omnibus arrived at the stop, they stepped inside and sat down with their backs to the parade, too exhausted to climb to the top deck, despite the mild weather. The cheers of the multitude grew faint as the bus lumbered slowly down the street.
This chapter is an excerpt from "Lillian Loewe," originally published by PublishAmerica, excerpted with the permission of the publisher.
Lillian Loewe is available from all online bookstores, including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com
from the December 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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