The wedding that took place late that November ’44 was a legendary event, much talked about even in later times.
It took place at Fuchs’ cottage. All the rooms were cleaned out, and a long table – boards on top of sawhorses, with a parachute draped over them – was placed right at the doorway to the porch. There was a wreath of ivy circling every plate at the table.
There were place cards. Berta Niehus the bride had directed the writing, and ThinMan had used his fanciest handwriting to address them.
“It’s not like what I imagine when I think of a totally illegal celebration right in the vicinity of the fighting proletariat,” said Lorenz Fuchs about the whole thing. “But don’t you think, dearest, that we have managed to outdo not only the normal festive occasions here, but even the most magnificent of them, and all without a protest?”
That was a theme to get Berta Niehus going. She lectured for an hour on Culture. That meant not only pictures and books, nay it included everything, like how one works and lives and eats and drinks and loves. They, the people, had for at least the past thousand years, and maybe more, been occupied with nothing more than staying alive from day to day.
“And now we, having finally arrived in history, now given the chance to determine history, will bring the culture of all the parasitic classes of all times and places around to our point of view. Yes, we will have to. Sitting at the table, my friend, is an activity of extreme importance, particularly when one sits and eats and drinks and talks with people whose sense of things is different from one’s own. A meal taken in fellowship is the number one dream of a humanity seeking a life free from exploitation, war, avoidable miseries,” etc etc.
“You just wait until they’re all smashed and can’t even walk straight and we don’t even have a proper shithouse,” said Animal through the nail clenched in his teeth. He was using it to hang the sign ThinMan had written, which said Friendship, behind the place where the wedding pair would sit.
Berta Niehus said, “You lumpen proletariat!”
It almost didn’t come to a real meal. A hutch rabbit, two skinny roosters, a couple of eggs, some bacon, a little flour, onions, and potatoes – that was all they could arrange.
But two days before the celebration, when they were all sitting around in the railway car first class, suddenly there was the roar of a Triumph 500 plus sidecar buzzing through the community gardens. Big fat Arthur Bidulski was riding the machine. He had the engine off before he even rolled to a stop in front of the railway car first class. He climbed off, hugged everybody a few times, and asked, “Where’s the bridegroom?”
Lorenz Fuchs bowed in greeting. Arthur Bidulski clapped him on the arm, tweaked his cheek and said, “Be good to her, or else I’ll take your spine right out of your back, no anesthesia.”
Arthur Bidulski, once upon a time a medium-weight boxer, security specialist and bodyguard, had worked at the stockhouse for a long time. But one day he disappeared and headed into other regions. Now he worked as a farmhand.
“Unfortunately I have not brought a real present to speak of, but there is something for feasting,” he said. He went out and returned with an impressive large wild boar slung over his shoulder. He laid it carefully on the table. “I’ll peel this one,” he said, “but then I have to get back.”
He cut up the pig, drank several liters of wine in the process, and told some of his unbelievable stories, for instance the one about how he came by this wild boar.
“I was out splitting wood, sitting on a gravestone near my wagon, chewing my bread. I hears something in the bushes behind me. ‘Don’t turn around,’ I says to myself. I had already sighted boar spoor on my way there, had even seen a little piglet in the ditch. It made like it didn’t see me. Slowly I packs up my bread and little flask. Snuffle snuffle. I smell a lot of sow. Then I hear branches breaking. I feels this stinking warm breath on my neck. In one leap I’m on top of the wagon, telling my horses, ‘Let’s get out of here!’
“Then a whole crowd of them appears over the graves. One boar already has his front feet on the wagon. I crack him one with the whip, right on his little tender spot. The horses are bolting, the wagon is jerking, nearly tips over, and we’re racing alongside the graveyard, and there’s some 20 or so sows and boars chasing us, snuffling and squealing.
“The horses is crying, and I’m howling and lashing at both of them, Studs and Wallace. We’ve covered about an acre, and every moment more pigs breaking from the bushes, at least 50 of them, behind us and on both sides. And the house is still 200 yards away.
“We get to the meadow. There, behind the oak tree, I spots their head boar, nearly 6 feet tall, standing on his hind legs. He makes a motion toward the rear. I pulls the horses real sharp to the left. There comes the second wave of sows. They has been hiding in the hedge. So now it’s 80 and they’re howling as loud as a tank.
“I’m howling too, and I cracks the whip. The horses is covered with foam, they’re galloping like crazy. I springs from the wagon onto Wallace’s back. I’m hammering him on the head with the whip handle. Coupla sows is hurling themselves against the wheels, some others is trying to get under the horses. The wagon is weaving and heaving and rattling. A wheel splinters. Still 20 yards to the gate.
“There’s all our people, standing on barrels behind the fence, 6 foot high, carbines ready. And suddenly, there’s the head boar, right in front of me. His thing is as big as an elephant’s. He’s grinning at me. I race the team past him, coupla yards more, and we’re inside. The men throws the door shut, and they bolts it.
“And then the battle begins. Always more pigs streaming from over the meadow, wave after wave of them, throwing themselves at the fence, trying to climb over. I kills two sows with my knife in hand-to-hand combat. The mens is shooting and shooting. In two hours they stop and withdraw, taking their wounded with them.
“Then, at midnight, a starry clear bright moonlit night, they begins their second attack. In the meantime we got our MG 42 in position. We waits till we can’t stand the smell of sow stink anymore, and taktaktaktaktaktaktak! I tell you, it was a slaughterhouse.
“The head boar leads them back in another retreat. But I can still see him standing there, dark and powerful in the moonlight, his fist upraised, threatening and rumbling. We brings the dead ones inside the yard, 123 of them. And this is one of them.”
Arthur Bidulski held the pig’s head up to the light, and glared at it with his eyes flared. He gnashed his teeth, growled menacingly, and yelled, “Haaa!”
Everybody laughed. “A pure Bidulski story,” said Berta Niehus, “just like in the old days. Once during the Kapp putsch he carried me out of the line of gunfire in his strong arms, and later he claimed that the bullets just bounced off his back.”
They fried some chunks of the meat, Arthur Bidulski spun yarns, he interspersed them with songs in his deep voice, the old songs. Berta Niehus accompanied him on the lute.
That evening, before everyone fell asleep, he said, “I’ll stay until after the party. One day isn’t going to make any difference one way or the other.”
At that moment he was sitting in front of the beer keg, strumming the lute and humming along.
Then everybody else arrived, one by one. The ladies in their Sunday best hugged the bride. The men, also better dressed than usual, shook her hand. Lorenz Fuchs stood behind the wheelchair in his blue train uniform, accepting wellwishes and gifts. There were socks, onions, handkerchiefs, eggs, some seeds, a scarf and muff and stuff like that. Berta Niehus was also wearing blue, plus a shawl made from parachute cloth, clasped by a gold brooch. She had on little pearl earrings.
Everyone looked for their own placecard. “Ivan, you can go sit yourself over there,” Hugo Beck said to Stash and Piotr and to Lena from Minsk too, even though they were people he had brought with him.
Nobody smiled as he said this. They had to be careful, because there were a few here from outside the Quarter, sympathizers, as Berta Niehus put it, but people who didn’t know anything about the Organization, like for instance Lorenz Fuchs’ two railway colleagues plus their wives. Stumpe was missing, of course, the one Lisbeth Krach thought to be a complete brownshirt.
Everyone felt a little awkward waiting, sitting around the long table full of plates with ivy wreaths around them, placecards and fancy napkins. But then the short Mr. Pottmann stood up, and said, “Silence!” and began his speech.
He used not a few words to tell the life story of the two. “They have travelled over different roads, these two. The way of the groom has been a zigzag one, yes, and it has led though dangerous territory, but his clear understanding has led this train master back onto the right track in the end. This track has now crossed that of the bride, whose road has been rough and rocky and yet it has been right since the very beginning. And now the two of them will continue on the same road and walk together to the goal, hand in hand.”
He raised his glass full of wine. “Here’s to your path, dangerous but true, together,” he said.
And everybody drank a toast to Berta Niehus and Lorenz Fuchs.
And then they all sang, with Arthur Bidulski on the lute, Phantom on harmonica, 'When we walk side by side, and we sing our songs till late, and the woods reverberate, then we know it will go very well. Ushers of a newer time, man and wife, wife and man, not water be this time, but fire. A new peace all around us, we see clearer now, let’s go farther.'
Lorenz Fuchs delivered a reply, speaking upon the errors that a man may make in his life now and then, when he is alone and strays from his comrades, but that it’s never too late, one can rejoin the band etc etc.
Then ThinMan and Sugar, accompanied by Phantom on the harmonica, sang the Solidarity Song. Berta Niehus had taught it to them. She and the short Mr. Pottmann sang along on the chorus. 'Forward, and don’t you forget, what the source of your strength might be, if you’re hungry or full, remember – Solidarity.'
And with that, Berta Niehus and Lorenz Fuchs were as good as wed.
The beer keg was sitting propped on two chairs. Lorenz Fuchs circled it three times holding his hammer, according to tradition. Then he took the tap peg out of the water, positioned it at the bung hole, and tapped it in with one blow. It opened without spritzing everywhere.
Beer foam flowed into steins and glasses. People waited, in silence. The cork covering the second hole was pushed inwards, to release the pressure. Then what flowed from the keg was proper beer. Finally, when every single person had a full glass or mug standing before them, Lorenz Fuchs cried, “Prost!”
For long moments all you could hear were deep breaths, swallows, smacking lips. Then, finally, earnest sighs. And then everybody laughed and they all started talking at once.
And that’s when the fun started.
Erna Trietsch and Lena from Minsk brought in the wild boar’s head, which they had seared with a hot iron the day before. They had skinned the snout, and had poked holes in the head, so that it wouldn’t burst, they said. They soaked it in water, to take out the burnt smell. They cooked it for five hours in a broth of water and onions and herbs, the tongue pulled straight, the ears scrubbed. Now it was lying in front of them on a platter, surrounded by greens and egg slices, garlanded with green, and with an apple in its mouth. And Grandma Bertram said, “A picture of peace.” The ribs and cutlets came out, the legs, basted, everything smothered in brown sauce.
And the talking and the laughter grew ever louder, such that Stash every now and then hissed at them to be quiet, and he put his finger up to his mouth, his greasy mouth. Everybody was sweating and rubbing grease from their face.
“Beer here, beer here,” Grandpa Thiel kept crying.
It grew louder and louder until the short Mr. Pottmann was shouting, “Quiet, please, quiet, remember where you are!”
Phantom, who was sitting near the beer keg, supported ThinMan as he poured himself another. It was still flowing fast, and Phantom looked around at his people.
The short Mr. Pottmann was at the head of the table, where the porch began, leaning back lightly, smiling, sometimes waving his arms lightly up and down, to signify “quiet, please.” Herta Ronsdorf was over to the side, her head ducked, whispering to Olga Pottmann. She was drumming her index finger on the table to punctuate her point. There was Makevka, all earnest and with grey tufts of hair growing out of his nose. His hand was cupped behind his ear, out of which came grey bunches of hair. He was listening to Else Kleff, as small and silver as a knife.
There there was Lattmann’s Paul, this old war sweetheart, as he himself put it, stroking the beer stein in front of his stomach. There was Lisbeth Krach, smiling as peacefully as the madonna whose picture hung over her head. Next to her was Grandpa Thiel, hissing and hooting. He was holding his fist in front of his face, and he had his thumb sticking out from between the index and middle fingers. There was the old Dautzenberg, half crying and half laughing. There was Piotr with his doeskin eye patch, looking broad and contented with Erna Trietsch, who had lain her hand on his hairy arm. Next to them was Stash, nodding and listening to Berta Niehus, but still he had his antennae up for what was happening in the rest of the room.
The bridegroom Fuchs was looking happy, and was deep in conversation with a railway colleague. Animal’s grandfather was next, the ivy wreath from his plate now on his head, under the supervision of Schliepkoetter’s Karl, who had eaten too much and had his hand over his eyes. And there was Anna Spormann, laughing with Lena from Minsk, and Sugar. Then there was Phantom’s brother Karlheinz, sitting between ThinMan’s sisters Rosa and Klara, eating and eating and eating.
Then Hubert Klein and Paulo Conti, the Italian. Then Erwin Zibulla with some ladies, the wives of Fuchs’ colleagues, who were listening to Arthur Bidulski and giggling. Grandma Bertram was looking threatening, holding a boar’s knuckle. Hugo Beck, Lorenz Fuchs’ first cousin, was sitting at the end of the table. His one eye was shining bright as a carbide lamp, as if the party were his. And throughout it all ThinMan’s younger twin sisters Hannelore and Doris were laughing and running around.
“Don’t pour any of that red wine into your beer,” cried Berta Niehus, “there’s going to be a Spanish punch later.”
Animal and Sparks came in from sentry duty, and Phantom and ThinMan relieved them.
ThinMan climbed onto the roof of the cottage. Phantom climbed to the top of the train overpass, and hid underneath the bushes, and dreamed. It was cold, and there was fog everywhere. It would be a night free from bombs, and the tracks were clear, and so one train after another streamed by, in both directions.
And thus it was that this little bit of commotion coming out of Lorenz’s rooms stirred up no fuss at all, and nobody who shouldn’t have known was ever to find out later that Erwin Zibulla had poured Spanish punch all over Lattmann’s Paul, that Grandma Bertram and Grandpa Thiel had danced the tango, that Arthur Bidulski sang Goodbye Johnny, who it was that first slipped when they were dancing the Polonnaise, why it was that the tablecloth of parachute fabric suddenly came down over everyone’s head, when it was that the short Mr. Pottmann and Stash used more than just words to persuade the company to go home, or how late into the night it was that Erna Trietsch just sat on sturdy Piotr’s open hand and didn’t just sit there.