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Das deutsche Wunder

The German Miracle

The butler fell into the room. He did not hear her as he gave his breathless message: “They are drumming, gracious Miss Inge. In twelve hours the Russians must give in or…”

“You‘re joking, fella!”

“And in eighteen hours the French will be next!”

“You wouldn’t dare?” said Nicolai von Schjelting slowly and rubbed his eyes with his hands as though he was dreaming. “You’d start a war.”

“Hurrah! Hurrah!”

“Do you hear them, gracious Miss Inge? Here they come down the street. A sea of black.

Hundreds of voices roared outside. The window rattled from the drumroll. A sharp command, something about the threat of war cut through the silence. When Inge Tillesen turned back, the room was empty. Nicolai Schjelting was gone. He had disappeared out in the jubilant crowd again, into the whirling, the hooting, the singing. Then, behind her, she heard the hoarse but happy voice of General Isebrink rushing to her father’s house. He had to shout to drown out the exultant crowd outside.

“Phew!... Finally! … Finally… Finally an end to the accursed discipline! Every filthy foreign pig got the better of us… Forgive me Miss Inge…”

“Oh… of course, please continue, Herr General!”

“But now we can speak frankly! God dammit! Now we can celebrate! Dearest… I am bouncing off the walls with joy. I just got my order via telegram! I am to go the front —right up to the very front! In two days I’ll report to duty at Glesshaus in Berlin!”


“Yes that’s not all. But look, a second telegram from my son Paul in Constantinople! But of course it is no longer called Constantinople. In the meantime, he is already on his way to Germany. The fellow is crazy!”


“He imagines that I am sitting around, and he writes to me innocently : ‘I will arrive the first of August and continue immediately into the east’. That is the day after tomorrow!”

“Well – that’s nice isn’t it!”

“Yes, and he continues: ‘Please wait for me there at the main station with money for a horse, equipment, and maps!’ For heaven’s sake Paulie!... He writes, ‘I will be in Berlin the day after tomorrow!’ And of course he needs money! How will I get it to him?  My wife’s in bed with her asthma.”

“Send me!”

“You, Miss Inge?”

“Why not?”

“You really do want to do this…”

“Oh, let’s not spend so much time talking! Give me the things already. I will leave tonight!”

The other two looked at each other. They were both old. But they had once been young. They suddenly understood her enthusiasm.

“How can I thank you for that, Miss Inge?”

“Not at all! This is for the Fatherland! What are you laughing at?”

“You are laughing yourself.”

Inge Tillesen turned all red. But she laughed wholly and heartily. The old Isebrink spread out his arms.

“Come here, child!” he said. “Give me a kiss! You won’t be planting it on the right cheek! But close enough! No?”


“Well, God bless! Wait! Where are you going?”

But Inge Tillesen was already up the hall steps and away. Below, the old Isebrink said to the Privy Councilor: “Well – here let’s shake hands. Excellent! That’s how it’s done! As something comes to an end, another much better thing begins!”


“Tell me for God’s sake: When does the train from Vienna arrive?”

No one answered. Everyone kept to themselves busy with their own preparations. The din of a thousand tumultuous but fragmented voices. The sound was contained under the glass dome of the Munich train station. The air was cloudy and dusty. Below, the feeling of a chaotic anthill, like a little microcosm of the Earth in upheaval.

Inge Tillesen was pushed back and forth. She struggled with her right arm against a long mountain cane with attached alpine roses. Everywhere there were hiking canes and typical Alpine hats with tufts of chamois hair cocked over excited faces. They came from the Brenner. Flushed Tyrolean summer guests. Thousands more behind them. Day and night. Luckily, she caught a breathless conductor’s arm.

“When does the train from Vienna come?”

“I don’t know.”

“But I’ve been standing here since yesterday. I must…”

The man disappeared into the crown and she was suddenly wedged into a new mass of people. Suddenly there were white hoods all around, quiet faces, eyes looking down. An entire nunnery in pairs with suitcases in hand on the way from upper Bavaria to the Vosges Mountains, Inge Tillesen thought: They are already going to the front! And so is Paul. I’m going to miss him in this mess!

“Please, do you know when the next train from Vienna is due to arrive?”

But now she was in the middle of Anglo-Saxons, Brits and Americans. Bayreuth and Munich Festival guests hightailing it out of there. They sat helplessly like a bunch of shipwrecked passengers on their suitcases. Soldiers rolled hand carts with coffee bags, porters helped a sick lady into the elevator. Another maelstrom of people followed behind, families shouting and waving, separated from one another, official papers in their hands. But all in Bavarian light blue. No trace of Paul Isebrink. She thought: He is probably still in civilian clothes! She was pushed by the human wall. There in the corner people stormed onto the trains to Berlin. Maybe he was sitting in one. But how to find him? It was pointless. She turned and worked her way against the two bayonet points of the station guards, who flanked the exit. Outside the lobby, which was still filled with the roar of the spirited masses, she stopped, discouraged. She was exhausted.



She continued to repeat the same phrase over and over into the late afternoon hour: I have missed the Orient-Express! By midnight, I will have stood all day. By dawn, he should be delayed by, God knows, a number of hours. At least, that’s what they claim. Others claim, he had not yet arrived…

Than she had a hope: If he is smart, he will walk around outside so that he can find his father. She walked outside, seeking to walk to Karlsplatz. The sun burned, the air glimmered, the people were feverish in the heat. The picture of war, as only the South offered glimpses of peace time. Thousands and thousands, seemingly idle on the street standing together, speaking in hushed tones, crowding around the posted news. A subterranean seething. From time to time, a sudden outburst. “Spies in the homeland … spies … We better catch those rogues!”

Inge Tillesen was barely able to jump out of the way as the crowds stormed past her to the car stopped by a policeman’s whistle. A fight was taking place inside and only the figure of a wild man dressed in women’s clothing could be seen …. off to the police headquarters … another one captured …

The first awakening of that primal instinct of creation, asleep since its creation. Struggling to exist like in primeval times. An eye for an eye. Life for life. Poisoned water … French aircraft over Nürnberg … gold shipments traveling in cars on country roads … and again martial singing around the black-white-red flag : “Firmly and faithfully standing guard, over the Rhein!” It surged and roared in Inge Tillesen’s ears. She continued walking. She searched and thought: I have had so many opportunities to say yes, and now those have vanished. Back then, my fate was so close. I could have touched it. It has gotten too big and I too small. It no longer heeds individuals. No matter how quickly I walk - I can’t keep up anymore … It moves seven leagues a step …

In front of the large yellow corner building of the general command, rows of automobiles stood waiting. Lots of people rushed back and forth through the gate. Officers stood in groups on the sidewalk in front of it. All of them were in Bavarian dress uniforms. Inge saw the sky blue of the infantry, the green of the cavalry, and the red striped pants of the artillery. But then, a man in a uniform unlike that of the German military walked through the gate. All of the officers eyed it, while they saluted, and had given bright and combative smiles. All the passers-by turned their heads with a surprised and often deferential expressions. There was something solumn to this field of grey, these yellow leather leggings, these dusty colored plated helmets. All this peace, pomp, and colorfulness represented the first enormous embodiment of the most important hour, the first ever-changing symbol of the largest war of all people and time.

A tall and slender Lieutenant could be seen walking to the left of this picture, a herald of sorts, the impending teaming crowd of a million grey uniforms. He wore a badge over his heart that Inge did not recognize. Following him, also in the Prussian Confederation’s uniform, of the general staff, was a slightly built, elegant captain. Two women accompanied him, a mother and daughter. People saw the resemblance between the two women.

Paul Isebrink was absorbed in other conversations with other general staff officers, but his sharp eyes routinely scanned the area. He was not a man to be taken by surprise. From a distance of one hundred paces, he immediately recognized Inge, who seemed hesitant, standing there with her purse and a box of equipment in her hands. He hastily said a few words to his comrades and then rushed off towards her. He appeared, to her to have never looked better ever before. Leaner and tanned by the sun of the south, already in war dress, his swashbuckling eyes ready for war and there was a smile on his face. He approached with joy, clearly because of her, and she was proud of the glances that people sent their way. Their situation was clear to anyone who saw them as he rushed toward her, reaching for her hand with such vehemence that he almost hurt her.

“Jesus, Inge! … What an awesome supr…”

He wanted to say something about this coincidental meeting but then he recognized the bags of equipment in her hands.

“My map is still there … “

“Yes. There!”

“And the letter from my mother!”

“Yes! There you go!”

“Thank you … “

In that second, he, the fellow always in a rush, never at a loss for words, was suddenly speechless. Around them there was confusion and cheering. She pointed to her purse.

“Here is your money as well … “

“From my father?”

“Yes. He is already in Berlin. They need him! On the front!”

She stopped short, took a deep breath and then spoke in a determined fashion all the while turning very pale:

“Well - I did something useful and brought it to you.”

She knew, that with the familiar ‘you,’ she sealed her personal fate, and understood immediately. She saw it in his face, already etched by, the gravity of the impending war, and a still wave of fortune came over him.

They could not kiss in front of the people. He took only her hands in his and said:

“Finally … “

And she, half defiant, yet already quite devoted:

“Well, yes …”

“I thank you. You, Inge …”

Now she turned very red. Everyone must have seen it. Even the lieutenant in his battle fatigues and the general staff captain with both women, and everyone else who had shown up in the meantime. Paul Isebrink introduced hastily and confusedly:

“Military pilot Count Vläming! Mr. von Hellfried … May I introduce the ladies.”

Inge Tillesen did not understand the names of the mother and daughter. She was too excited. She only heard Isebrink introduce her as his bride, and a man congratulated her and shook hands with her. Then he said, in his typical haughty tone while pointing at the small officer and the young women:

“They are lucky! They will have a war marriage tomorrow morning. They have just come back from the minister!”

They had just discussed everything there about tomorrow carefully. They had even decided upon a verse from the bible: ‘For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone’ … She had moist eyes but she bravely held her composure. She was the orphan of a regimental commander who had died two years prior. She asked Inge as one bride to another:

“Are you also a war bride?”

Before Inge Tillesen could answer, Paul Isebrink answered with a sudden irritation.

“Yes, that’s what happens! Who could have imagined this while marooned among the Turkish!”

He pointed, with an indignant movement, at the small staff Captain wearing the Prussian Confederation dark blue with small traces of crimson.

“Men like Hellfried are the lucky ones. He can walk around in civilian clothes as he would in peacetime and he doesn’t have to report to high command for another three days. But I must leave within the hour…and that’s an order!”

He turned desperately to Inge.

“Yes, I had no idea … I have already received telegraphed instructions while I was in transit here. Vläming and myself with two Prussians and a half Bavarian gentleman -- will have to speed through days and nights, one hundred kilometers, to the Eastern border. A lot is at stake.”

Just do your duty!” said Inge.

“As soon as I am able to get some air  -- in a few weeks at the latest -- I will see to it … I will telegraph you .. Thank God I always have access to the telegraph … in the meantime, be prepared for immediate departure!”


The army pilot Count Vläming fastened his monocle in the eye socket of his gaunt, well bred face and said to the Staff Captain Von Hellfried and the women :

“Now I suggest : we get going! Firstly, we are completely redundant here. Secondly, I am hungry as a bear and thirdly, we only have fifty minutes left. Isebrink … Isebrink … man oh man… So wake up!”

“Yes -- what is it?”

“We will make ourselves scarce, but first let’s set our clocks! So! … at eight o’clock on the dot a gasoline-powered cab from the volunteer Automobile Corp will pull up -- you know : over there … you must be there one and a half minutes prior to departure! Do not dally!”

“Thirty seconds will also do!”

“Also good! I am courageous! Let’s say twenty-five seconds! Come, Hellfried! We have to keep an eye on you bridegrooms! You guys not entirely sane!”

The late August afternoon wove into a twilight green over the Maximiliansplatz. In it was the tangle of a thousand voices, the glow of the air, the trembling of souls. A sudden swelling of people’s voices rang out, “Watch on the Rhein,” within the wild turmoil of curving, walking sticks, police helmets circling around spies caught in the act. Hooray, hats flying and waving handkerchiefs to as generals and officers swished by in speeding vehicles. Isebrink and Inge went into the storm of the masses. His battle fatigues disappeared among them and no one paid attention to them. They were undisturbed and silent for awhile like people who had too much to say or maybe nothing at all. It was all behind them.



The flames of this August erased everything, the small errors and the big misunderstandings. There was no point worth mentioning it. Inge Tillesen finally said, "Yes, you do not need to change your way of thinking. You have always been right!"

She remembered what the young war bride had said to her joriably when they parted ways: "Thank God, our future husbands  are not as exposed at the staff headquarters as they would be in the line of fire." She then thought in the midst of this moment of her own destiny. She realized, just then, in the midst of her fear, how much she loved him, and how she could have had him earlier. She said, clinging tightly to his arm:

"Yes, I was stupid!"

He laughed.

"You clever-you?"

"But we were all foolish! We had it too good! We did not know anymore than what was necessary for us!"

They walked on arm in arm, surrounded by the sound of an endless sea, a thousand tones around them, singing and shrieking, laughter, and rumble, and yet they were only united in one immense harmony, their hearts beating as one. All faces around them seemed similar, luminous glances and unshakeable solemn expressions, a great mystery about everyone and everything, a drunken and yet solemnly uplifted mood, like the last sunset over the roofs, or the dawn of a coming tremendous day.

Inge remained standing.

"Paul, What was with us?  Why were we so blinded?"

"Because we are Germans, child, we live in harmony only when we absolutely must, and then totally.”

"Oh God yes - what has each of us made of ourselves?”

Inge said as she continued.  "Yea, people thought we were each so important, and now take a look at the masses.”

"Yes, today I embrace everyone. I love them all!"

"Who knew that we were on the verge of ruin for years?"

"We tried to tell them so."

The people around automatically made way for the Captain dressed in battle greys.  Men looked at him seriously and thought: This is the one who will lead us! The mothers looked at him and their eyes read: we entrust our sons to you!

A gentleman said to his wife:

"Do you see the red lines, those are the leaders of our operation, we from the infantry will follow with the power of our fists."

"Germany, Germany above all.”

The song rang again, A group of students in colorful caps passed on by the way to the General Command. To report as a War Volunteer. The whole core was in a tightly knit, enclosed rank. They called and laughed to Captain Isebrink. He laughed and waved back with his hand, as if they were all his comrades! For a second the fever of war glittered in his eyes. For Inge, it was as if all these people glowed from the inside out, as if they were not even themselves. She thought again of the young Staff Captain’s wedding verse from earlier. It was like its reflection on the thousand faces, in a thousand pairs of eyes: For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. She clung tighter to Isebrink's arm and said, "You know ... everything is actually a miracle ..."

He laughed unconcerned.

"A miracle has already happen: I'm holding you, and now you can’t leave me".

And while they turned around and returned, it was as if not only the two of them had found each other. They had found Germany within themselves. As if there were no border between people and them, in what was called Germany, a single force united in courage, struggle and support.  

Reluctantly she and Paul Isebrink took the last steps to the brightly lit open porch of the restaurant on Lenbachplatz. Uniforms, colorful women's clothing, men in bright summer civilian garb. The band played the national anthem. At a  long table between flowers and champagne bottles sat Prussians, Bavarian officers, and their women ready to depart. The army pilot Count Vläming had climbed onto his chair and peered through his monocle long and seriously, looking for Isebrink.

“Finally! Always tardy, Isebrink! Only 20 seconds left! Go!”

Out on the street was a jubilant crowd. A bright yellow vehicle pulled up.  

In peaceful times, it was probably shuttled American tourists/capitalists from the Munich hotel  to Hohenschwangau and back between breakfast and dinner.

But now, it was packed with army luggage, box-cases and spare tires.

Replacement canisters of gasolinefilled the floor, on the carriage floor stood with black paint: "To Petersburg!" The chauffeur in the uniform of the Volunteer Motor Vehicle Corps, and sporting a hunting dagger stood next to the Bavarian Count  and shouted through the noise. “Hooray” “Great Trip” “Hail to the war”

The music played: “Rise up, my comrades! Lets mount our horses!

And although there was no horse, and it was a car, the pilot sang with enthusiasm.

He leaned loftily above the humanity, sitting on the driver's seat of the car with legs raised high on the windshield and sang:

“No other man can take your place; in the fray, each man must face his fears!”

And then:

“Go, Isebrink!”

Paul Isebrink pulled Inge close. Now all of people, man and women, were allowed to kiss, to say goodbye, even in the face of the enemy. Finally, the tall bachelor with the monocle, impatiently rubbed his hands. He squeezed her hand once more and jumped into the already running car.

“Get ready!  For as soon as the Telegram comes, we will go. In fourteen days the wedding!” She nodded and laughed courageously as did the other ladies around her. The fanfare surrounded from the front of the line. The vehicle set into motion and sped through the packed streets, past the hats and shorts into the night and towards the East.  



They still had the parting laughter on their lips and moist eyes. It happened so quickly. Now, all of a sudden, a giant void was there. They shivered with abandonment. Their men off to war, the fiancees set out into the unknown with fear and love and silence in one. And around as before, the patriotic tunes, the sound of rushing waiters, voices swarming at busy tables.

From one of these tables, where just two gentlemen sat, someone glanced quickly over to Inge Tillesen. Her still moist eyes met the big, gray ones, widened in disbelieving wrath. She was suddenly completely with herself.

"That's unbelievable!" she said to the captain’s wife beside her. "Can you imagine that a Russian, a real Russian, is sitting quietly in the middle of the bar?"

"A Russian?"

"Schjeiting, back there at the table, I don’t know the other one!"

"Is he crazy?"

"I think he has the crazy idea that the Bavarians will remain neutral! At least that’s what he said two days ago in Wiesbaden!"

"Are you quite sure, Miss Tillesen?"

"God ... I know the man, just look at the arrogant face!"

"But he is wearing an American badge in his buttonhole!"

At the tables around Schjeiting people gazed benevolently at the stars and stripes of the small little badge attached to his breast pocket. All the Yankees in Munich and their wives and daughters had something with that. The Munich citizens were happy when they saw them and did their best to please them.

"Of course he can walk around here undisturbed like that for a long time!" said Inge Tillesen determined. “Where is your groom? "

"In the hall inside, he has made himself the heavy rider!"

"Please get him, I'm not going to lose sight of the Russian!"

"And then what...?"

"Then we'll arrest him! Simple as that!"

The young girl forced herself into the hall. She could only move forward slowly. Inge posted herself at the entrance. She noticed a sudden concern on Nicolai Schjeiting's ponderous, nervous features, while he again threw a lightning-fast sideways glance at them, then he again silently and broodingly observed in the German jubilation, the wildly awakened lust through the songs and the weapons, with a look of disbelief and amazement, as Inge had never looked at him. She trembled with impatience. Before her, two down-to-earth locals from Munich chatted over their beer about the Boers.

"Over there, on the balcony of the Bayerischer Hof, stood the Cafe, Botha, had wept, the big fat man! They brought him thirty-two thousand Marks to the hotel on one afternoon, the citizens of Munich …

You, my friend. Was in those days that God's reward. But no good deed goes unpunished. Now if we to go war Englishmen, Botha and the Boers will join in.

"I have more faith in the Japanese!" said the other. "They've got momentum going, to learn how to beat the Russians!"

“They have learned something from us! Their small and they’ve got the stuff. Cheers!”

He raised his glass and, with a friendly smile, drank with two of Munich’s many Japanese students at the next table. The yellow creatures knew what was appropriate. They joined in grinning accordingly in German fashion. Outside, it was loud and there was cheering again. A train of enthusiastic young people marched by. They came from the Italian Consulate General, where they had cheered their allies on beyond the Alps, Nicolai Schjeiting turned his head watching them. His spiteful, unreadable smile made Inge angry. Again she kept an eye out for the captain. And then...


"Where is the criminal, madam?”

The small, elegant Herr von Heilfried had worked his way through to her. A few other officers and a gentleman in civilian clothes followed behind him.

"There at the table!"

She pointed casually in the direction. At the same time new waves of people pushed forward and blocked the view. Students from the procession in honor of Italy were outside. The martial music received them, the Italian royal hymn. The captain became impatient.

"You can’t see anything, so now, where is the table?"

"Over in the corner"

"Yes but..."

"God ... the table is empty!"

Nicolai Schjeiting and his companion had disappeared in the crowd. Unobtrusively out into the teeming, feverish, roar of the summer night. There was no trace of him.

Nicolai von Schjelting's comrad that evening was a Moscow Dane, one of those financiers who took advantage of the powerful protection of the Empress Mother and the Copenhagen clique that allowed them to further their business in the interests Tsarist Empire, the land of unbounded possibilities. He was short, brunette and lean. He had his friends in the Petersburg Ministerial Committee, in the Reichsrat and in the Gossudarstvennaya Duma. Like Schjelting, he hated Germans. Ironically, their language communication was German. But, in order not to be noticed by its accented sound, they spoke English.

"Well, you left so suddenly, Herr von Schjelting?

They walked along Otto street, on this balmy summer night. Nicolai Schjelting had his composure once again. He dealt with the businessman.

"Yeah, well, one can’t sit here all day... these Germans ..."

Mr. Niels Poulson was still a Danish citizen, and as therefore politically neutral. He had not been quite comfortable with the Yankee bow since the escape retreat, in the presence of the Russian. Schjelting did not pay attention to the silence of the other.

"Those Germans..."

Only made no oath in pain! I do not trust him, he has a hollow word: a moment of overflowing. The feeling does not accommodate the later years.

Those who hate life, reconcile in death.