Norbert & Harald

As I was bicycling through the park I noticed a man dressed in white linen shirt, sitting on a bench, with a bottle of beer to the side. He was calmly rolling a cigarette.

I stopped and started to talk with him. His name was Norbert; he had no work, no money, no house and no wife, and he didn’t seem to miss them either. He was just sitting there on the bench, drinking his beer, rolling strong tobacco, watching the world going by.

I asked him if I could take the photo of him. “No”he said, “I was in jail”. Interesting, I thought: “Really? In jail? Why?” – “I got drunk, did some shit. They put me there for two months. It was not bad. Me and my fellow man, we had a TV in the cell. Every day the same: in the morning they unlock the doors. In the evening, they lock them. That’s all. Nothing else. The real criminals, they put them in other jails.”

“Jails in Serbia are different”I said. “If you get there, you are sure to be fucked by somebody.”He looked at me: “I am a catholic! I am a catholic, and nobody dares to touch me!”Nice places, I thought, these german jails. You just say you are a catholic and they leave you alone. I wondered if it also works for atheists and muslims.

“Do you know which date is today?”he asked. “No, why?”, I said. “It is 20th July. TWENTIETH JULY! On this day in 1944 they tried to kill Hitler! I heard it on the radio today. I woke up, and I heard it. This man… what was his name? He did it, with a bomb”.

“Staufenberg”, I said – “Grof Staufenberg.”- “Yes! STAUFERG! He was it. He was a BIG officer. And some doctor too, he also helped, but I can’t remember his name. But the damn bomb did not kill Hitler. It just did not. Imagine that it did. Just imagine that it did. He should have done it with a pistol, this man Stauferg, I tell you. With a pistol.”

“Yes”, I said. “He sure should have.”Funny, I thought – you just can not escape Hitler in Germany. Even 60 years after the damn war. On a sunny day, in a park. You just can not escape it.

“Do you know that they are going to make a movie now about this Stauferg man?”- I asked. Norbert looked at me in surprise: “No, really?”- “Yes. And guess who is going to play him?”I paused for second: “Tom Cruise.”

What Norbert did not know was that another man, a carpenter from Hungary named Georg Elser, tried to kill Hitler all the way back in November 1939, five years before Staufenberg and just two months after World War II even started. He planned, organized and executed it all alone, on his own, without any accomplices. His bomb went off exactly on time, killing many nazi veterans and totally destroying the inside of the Munich beer garden where they celebrated the annual anniversary of Nazi party. But it did not kill Hitler: he left only a few moments before the bomb exploded. Instead of talking for two hours, as in all previous years, Hitler has shortened the speech to only fifteen minutes because of the war in Poland. Georg was captured, tortured, and held imprisoned in Dachau during the whole war; he was executed in April 1945, just few days before the liberation of camp. Today I wonder how many people do remember him.

I told Norbert this story. He nodded. Had Georg succeeded, the history would have REALLY been different.

It was about time to return to contemporary topics. I went to buy a few beer and got back with two warm bottles (you can not buy cold beer in the supermarket here in Germany). As we drunk Norbert told me that he must pay a fine for insulting the city clerk. 320 EUR total. And he gets from the state only 345 EUR a month for being unemployed. So they subtracted from his welfare 60 EUR each month, until it is payed off.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I told him he is an asshole. ASSHOLE! In Düsseldorf, where I come from, it’s nothing. You say ‘asshole’ every now and then, to everybody. Just like that, no big deal: ‘Hey, Petar, you old asshole! How are you?’ You see – it’s normal.”

As we spoke a guy dressed in black came along. I learned that his name was Harald, and that he was Norbert’s buddy. One that was still alive. As Norbert told me, in last two years over twenty of his street friends died – mostly because of liver cirrhosis.

Harald smelled bad. He was sweating like hell and speaking fast, as if he wanted to tell you everything in one sentence. He was from Eastern Germany, from Rostock. He was one of those germans who sped up the destruction of the Berlin Wall by fleeing over to Hungary. When the government of Eastern Germany realized that thousands were crossing over to Hungary and then to West Germany, it was already too late. They had no choice but to open up the borders and sign own political suicide.

Harald was laughing all the time. I liked him. He said, “I have only 7 cents.” – “No problem”, I said, “Take this money and buy some beer for us all”. “Why me?” he asked – “Can’t you go?”. “Because I already went to buy some before. And because Norbert went there already three times, always for one beer. If he appears again they will throw him out.”So he took the bag from Norbert, emptied the bottles of orange juice out of it, and came back after a short while with as much beer as he could have bought for 5 EUR. As we opened the bottles and cheered, he said: “I bought the cheapest beer, that you know, the cheapest one!”

Harald told me how he spent three months in some army garrison somewhere in Bavaria, where all the refugees from the East were temporarily housed. “It was quite ok there”, he said, “men and women were separated.”It took a while before all the paperwork was finished and he could get some money from the German state. Meanwhile he kept asking for some; they asked him what does he need it for: “You have all you need here”they said. “But I need to smoke, man, I need to smoke!”So he got some money and left the garrison and came to Regensburg.

Harald was also unemployed, like Norbert. He was unemployed since 2004, when he lost his job in the big computer factory where he worked in the department for “baking”computer chips. His job was to put those silicon wafers in the acid, and then take them out when the machine starts beeping. Not really a job you could call stressful. But it was all terribly sterile there – he had to wear a special white suit, with a mask and glasses and gloves and all. Because of this all the employees there looked alike – you could not tell who is who. So they all had their names written in big letters on the back.

“He was earning 1,900 EUR in month! Can you imagine it?!” Norbert said – “THOUSAND-NINE-HUNDRED! HELL OF a good money. And he got 13,000 EUR as a pay-off from his company for being fired! Ask him what he did with it.”

“Harald?” I asked.

“What could I’ve done with it? I drunk it. I drunk it all with my buddies”, he said. “In three months.”

Norbert looked at him in surprise: “No, that is not true! You did it in two moths, you alcoholic! WE DID IT in two months, together. Don’t you remember?”Then they both started to laugh, and I laughed also. It was funny to think of it, to think of all that money just drunk up in few months, with some people that are not alive anymore. It was funny to think that one can do just exactly what he is not supposed to and then laugh over it.

We drunk some more beer, we talked, we laughed, I took some photos of them, they wondered over my camera, how expensive it is, how heavy it is, but also how good it is. Harald said “If you want to do something, do it right, no?” and Norbert and me both nodded and cheered. We drunk some more, laughed again, cheered, and drunk again. They remembered that they both have some grown up children somewhere, who will not be happy if they died, because they will have to pay for their funerals. We laughed again.

“You know that I also must pay a fine?”Harald said. “You also?”, I replied, “how much?” – “120 EUR”. I saw something interesting coming: “Why’s that? You have also insulted some city official by calling him an asshole, or…?”

“No!”, he looked at me jokingly, “I told him that he is a CLOWN!!! Ahahahahahaahahaha”.

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