Norbert & Harald

As I was bicycling through the park I noticed a man sitting on a bench and drinking beer, dressed in white linen shirt, who was just about to roll a new 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, and watching the world goes 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, made 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.” 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’s 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 not 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 this shit story.

“Do you know that they are going to make a film now about this Stauferg man?” – I asked. Norbert looked at me “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 WWII even started. He planned, organized and executed it all alone, on his own, without any complices. His bomb went off exactly on time, killing many nazi-veterans and totaly destroying the inside of the Münchener beer garden where they celebrated the anniversary of Nazi party. But Hitler unfortunately left only minutes earlier; he was occupied with his war plans and shortened the speech to only 15 minutes. Georg was captured, held imprisoned in Dachau during the whole war and was finally executed in April 1945, just a few days before the liberation of camp. Today, I wonder if anybody remembers him.

I told Norbert this story. He nodded. If Georg had succeded, the history would have REALLY been different.

It was about time to return to contemporary topics. I went to buy some beer and got back with two warm bottles (you can not buy cold beer in the supermarket here in Germany). As we drunk it, Norbert told me that he must pay a fine for insulting the city klerk. 320 EUR total. And he gets from the state only 345 EUR a month for being unemployed. So they substract 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 – because of liver cyrosis.

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 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 their 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? Can’t you go?” – he asked. “Because I already went to buy it 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 unemploeyd, like Norbert. He was unemploeyd since 2004, when he lost his job in the big computer factory where he worked in the department for “cooking” 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 stresfull. But it was all terribly sterile there – he had to wear a special white suit, with a mask and glasess 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 1900 EUR in month! Can you imagine it?!”, Norbert said – “Thousendninehundred! 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 3 months.”

Norbert looked at him in suprise: “No, that is not true! You did it in 2 moths, you alcoholic… WE did it in two months, together. Don’t you remember?” Then they both started laughing, and I laughed also. It was funny to tnink 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 somehting, 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 official by telling him that he is an asshole, or…?”

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

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