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Arrows In The Fog: The Hair Of The Tortoise

Arrows In The Fog: The Hair Of The Tortoise

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Arrows In The Fog: The Hair Of The Tortoise

298 pagine
4 ore
Apr 19, 2012


Can you shoot at something that you can’t see,
something that you merely know is there?
Rolf thinks that he hears Erhard’s voice saying:

“You must learn to see the invisible clearly!”
In this sequel of the archery novel "The horn of the hare" the story about the two friends continues.
15 years later: Germany is no longer divided and everything has changed, also Bärgers life and his shooting with the bow and arrow.
Apr 19, 2012

Informazioni sull'autore

Günther M. Bach, Jahrgang 1935, Architekt und Designer in Ostberlin. Auf der Sucher nach real existierenden Auswegen aus dem Sozialismus auf Umwege geraten - Malen, Schreiben und Bogenschießen.

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Arrows In The Fog - Günther Bach


Evidently the time is gone

when you could believe that

it was possible to live

your life in step with the times.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

For life doesn’t allow trial runs,

it’s happening – right now.

James Ogilvy


Bärger was packing up.

Even after four years with the company, he didn’t have a lot to pile into the two banana boxes. Really, Bärger thought, I shouldn’t lug all this stuff around with me anymore. Not after I finally figured out that domestic utilities were never my strong point. One more bit of misinformation passed on to me when I was a student, like statics. How did the professor put it: As an architect, you need to understand only enough statics to make it clear to a construction engineer what you need from him.

Right, Professor, but your exams looked a lot different!

That was a long time ago.

Bärger lifted the last pile of books from the shelves on the wall, building construction and building design texts; good old Neufert, the 33rd edition since 1936. The book had grown three times as thick since his days as a student in Dresden. Neufert, who had collaborated with Gropius on Measurements, Standards, and Codes, and then Bauhaus and the beginning of industrial construction.

How mixed all that was now, how easily blending ideas could become their exact opposite: the Gropius concept became the settlement in Dessau and the mass flats in Berlin, the capital of tacky buildings.

And now – the table lamps by Wagenfeld and the steel tube chairs by Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, and Mart Stam that were designed more than eighty years ago as economical purchases for everyday use by average people, were replicas offered as unique exquisite pieces at horrendous prices in today’s chic window displays.

Bärger unfolded a brochure printed on several pages of high gloss paper. The names of the inventors didn’t appear anywhere. It only referred to top creations of an international designer, as if this rubbish could be compared to the accomplishments of Mies and Mart Stam. The final sentence of the advertisement was a beautiful example of contemporary usage: Ideal for raising your liquidity and for providing a quick tax shelter. That sounded a lot better than Wagenfeld’s idea that the best features of the things around us should be the least obvious.

Through the open door, Bärger heard the noise of the elevator going down. Only now did he notice how quiet it was in the old corner house, which had been occupied by the Worker’s Council during the East German period. He looked at his watch; it was late. Glancing toward the window, he noticed that he had almost forgotten his small espresso coffeemaker. There was still enough black powder in the can, and as he shoved the small thick-walled mug under the spout and listened to the gurgling sound of the flowing coffee, he almost regretted that, once again, it was over.

He had had a very pleasant time here. He liked the large room with its ceiling as high as those in Italian Renaissance palaces.

The box with his business cards lay next to the drawing lamp. He picked it up and held it for a moment in his hand. Then, slowly, he let the whole pile slide into the wastebasket. A single card with the red company logo and the inscription Chief Architect fluttered to the floor. He picked it up, hesitated, then stuck it in his shirt pocket.

That’s it then, said Bärger aloud.

He was already at the door when the phone rang.

Bärger glanced at his watch. It was just before ten. He turned on the drawing lamp and reached for the receiver.

Bärger, he said. I’m really not here anymore.

But the caller didn’t pay any attention to him. Are you still there? I’ve been looking for you at your house. What are you doing still at the office at this hour?

It was Lothar, the representative of the Construction Committee, thorough and conscientious as usual. Had he forgotten anything else? Bärger pulled his desk calendar into the cone of light cast by the drawing lamp. Right, there it was. Tuesday, inspection of nuclear power plant. 8 o’clock.

Hallo Lothar, he said. I’m doing what everyone in the office does, drinking coffee. No, no. I’m not kidding. I’ve just packed up the last of my stuff and I’m going straight home. Everything’s set. Tomorrow at eight in the parking lot. Yeah, see you tomorrow. He hung up. The last telephone call, thought Bärger, perhaps even a gesture by fate, a glimpse of the future. Then he shoved both boxes over to the door, turned out the light, and shut the door.

How did that Spanish proverb go? When one door closes, another opens.


It was still summer.

But already the broad leaves of the lindens were turning yellow; the umbels of the mountain ash were a coral red color; and in the mornings, apples fell to the damp lawns with a dull thump.

Why am I doing this again, thought Bärger, as he walked toward the car just pulling in. I haven’t even finished drinking my tea, and besides, the whole thing is just a little senseless - as if I could evaluate a shutdown nuclear power plant.

He had requested materials, at least a construction plan, but there was nothing else available except for a site map provided by the prospective investor. It’s always this way, thought Bärger. I can only think about a building with a paper and pencil in hand.

The car door swung open and Bärger raised his hand in greeting as Lothar motioned for him to get in. He was correctly dressed as always in a light gray suit and freshly ironed shirt, the tie somewhat too loud, but tied with precision. Bärger looked down at himself. At least his jeans were clean, but he was wearing only an open shirt beneath his light blazer.

Who did you dress up for today? he asked.

Lothar grunted, annoyed, and drove the car out of the parking lot, turned on to the street and competently eased his way into the heavy traffic moving toward the outer ring road.

They had known each other long enough to be comfortable with silence.

The car passed over a bridge, and the man-high parapet reflected the traffic noise through the open window. The car began to climb a long hill. Bärger sat up in his seat when the sun began to shine in his eyes. He blinked, pushed the shoulder belt to one side and looked at the road, now straight as a die, which led up to the crest of the ridge.

How far is it now? he asked.

A half hour or so, growled Lothar, and shifted down to the lowest gear without using the clutch. I would never do that, thought Bärger. Once I would even have doubleclutched whenever I downshifted, the way I learned when I was driving trucks.

Halfway up the slope, it became evident that the road made a wide turn to the west at the top and followed the ridgeline for a while. From above, you could see green hill country with isolated patches of trees. A coniferous forest traced a dark line along the horizon in front of a chain of softly rounded mountains, which faded into different shades of blue in the distance.

He looked forward when Lothar turned abruptly onto a side road, and shortly thereafter the car dove into the shadows of a pine plantation.

We’re almost there, said Lothar. When they emerged from the wood, Bärger could see the dome of the atomic reactor in the distance behind a long, low building.

A group of four cooling towers, blinding white against the deep blue of the sky, stood off to one side, on a small hill.

What are you going to do now?

Bärger let himself sink more deeply into his seat and looked at Lothar, who was concentrating on the road. Light and shadow alternated rapidly in a rhythm imposed by the spacing of the large ash trees on each side of the road.

He had been asked repeatedly to stay with the firm as an independent consultant, even before the company manager had placed his termination notice on his desk. He knew why. They needed him because he was licensed in four of the German states, and his stamp was required for preliminary authorizations by those building authorities. None of his colleagues had a license yet from the Architects’ Council. But he had only grinned and shaken his head when they had offered him money for his stamp and signature. He told them that they would have no problem finding someone else to do it, then he had left.

What was he going to do now?

First of all, I registered with the council as an independent architect. I’ll have to see how that works out. Then, I still have work on a rebuilding job over the next six months. After that, I can at least keep busy as a construction supervisor. It isn’t really what I want to do, but it’s a living. I made friends with a construction engineer who was happy to find someone to take some of his workload.

They drove past the colorful targets of an archery range set on a meadow scattered with tall poplars at the edge of a new subdivision.

Did you see that? Lothar pointed at the archery range. It was somewhat overgrown, but the targets looked almost new and little used.

Yes, I did, said Bärger.

‘Weren’t you an archer once?" asked Lothar.

Oh, yes, said Bärger and nodded his head several times. Oh, yes, that I was.

Why did you quit?

Bärger was silent for a while. That’s a good question, he said. I’ll have to think about it for a while.

Once more the car turned, this time onto a concrete drive, the approach to the reactor.

Although it had been shut down for years, from a distance the entire installation looked to be in astonishingly good shape. It had a three-story administration building, with a large turbine shed behind it right next to the reactor dome. They were all overshadowed by the group of four gigantic cooling towers, which appeared to sway on a row of supports, of almost ornamental appearance, like a pleated ribbon. Almost as if they had to be tied down, not supported, thought Bärger. He felt an intense attraction, almost like a suction when he looked at the immeasurably huge curved surfaces, like the sensation he had felt when he first saw the Chapelle de La Ronchamp.

The car rolled forward silently and stopped in the shadow of a birch, but Bärger couldn’t take his eyes off those towers.

The town-councilor’s voice brought him back from a state of deep contemplation.

Those are certainly not on our schedule.

She walked over to them, elegant as always, a vision of freshness and energy. Her fiery red hair was carefully disarrayed, and her unsuitable, high-heeled red shoes tapped on the coarse concrete. Was she the reason Lothar had dressed up like that? Shut up, thought Bärger. He grinned in a friendly way and took the offered hand. Black Robert, Bärger’s name for the man from the PDS¹ faction because of his preference for black clothes and his black beard, came up behind her with a gloomy expression on his face.

Only now did he see their car parked behind the bushes, grown wild, which surrounded the parking lot.

There must have been a lot of people working here once, Bärger thought. He had always imagined that an atomic power plant would be run more or less automatically, or at least with a minimum number of personnel. That too seemed to have been an error. Evidently a far higher number of workers were required for its operation than would have been expected for general maintenance and supervision.

In any case, there was no one there now, and everything was still. The air above the roof of the administration building had already begun to shimmer in the increasing heat.

A door slammed, the sound echoing. Two men left the administration building, and approached them through the open gate next to the unoccupied gatehouse. Upon introduction they turned out to be the investor and the developer. The municipal councilor spoke their names in hushed tones. Their two Daimlers, naturally, stood in the shadow of the turbine building. They wore white shirts and ties, naturally, and the gold watches which appeared under their white cuffs when they picked up their black leather pilot’s bags, were Rolex watches, naturally. Why do I find all that natural, thought Bärger? It is entirely unnatural. Just the fact that I am aware of these status symbols, just because I know what a Rolex looks like, means that I am beginning to accept this absurd social game.

He watched a sparrow hawk, soaring over the meadow near the cooling towers. It hovered with fluttering wings, then closed them and stooped. Just above the short grass it spread its wings, leveled off from its dive, and then, its talons spread in front, pushed among the thick stems.

The group had almost reached the door when Lothar called to him. Bärger took a last glance at the sparrow hawk, which was skimming off toward the woods. Then, he turned and followed them.

It had been arranged that he would not participate in the conference but would use the time for an inspection tour of the turbine and administration buildings to evaluate their structural condition. He had explained that he could only make a very preliminary evaluation by merely taking a glance at them – no one had objected to his phrase. However, everyone agreed that a quick survey of possible existing damage would be entirely adequate at this phase of the negotiations. So, Bärger hung his camera and laser range finder on his belt, stuck his notebook in his shirt pocket and took off for an hour and a half.

As he was already in the administration building, he decided to begin there.

A two-level installation, he noted, with stories 2.80 meters high. Dimensions: 15 X 60 meters. Flat roof – I really have to inspect the roofing, he thought. Bärger made a rapid sketch, looked for and found reference points for his range finder, and noted down the exact dimensions. He was pleased with the accuracy of his initial estimate. He found the cellar stairs behind a closed steel door below the gable on the north side. Judging from the light shafts, the cellar extended under perhaps a quarter of the building. Space for utilities thought Bärger, service lines, heating, electric power, with high and low voltage. Well, thought Bärger glancing at the gigantic reactor, they must have had enough energy available here. He examined the foundation, and found no damage there either, except for rising damp. The plaster was dry and free of cracks. Thick clumps of yellow stonecrop grew in the clay embankment around the building.

The outside walls had originally been white but were now somewhat gray on the windward side. Stains had been formed by water running along both sides of the lower sills, but all that was to be expected and was within the limits of normal wear and tear. Gutters and down spouts were intact. There was only one small birch, motionless in the late summer sun, growing near the south gable. Seeing it reminded Bärger to examine the roofing, and he climbed the echoing stair shaft to the third floor to look for an exit onto the roof. As he reached for the guard rail without thinking, he stirred up a cloud of gray dust.

He found the exit at the end of the corridor, steel rungs set into the wall, leading to a hatch in the ceiling.

It wasn’t hard to lift the hatch, which was secured by a chain, and a moment later Bärger stood on the roof and looked around. The roofing was a light colored clay coating and bore astonishingly few plants, if you ignored the isolated clumps of stonecrop and the little birch on the gable.

As far as he could see, there were no defects in the seams along the outer walls, nor around the flashing for the ventilation pipes and shafts. He noted the observation in his notebook. Then he put the notebook back in his pocket, sat down on a metal hood over a ventilation shaft, and looked out over the surrounding country.

The sparrow hawk was long gone, but another larger raptor had appeared, cruising over the woods.

How quiet it is here, thought Bärger.

He looked over at the cooling towers. Even at this height, they soared far above their bases like mathematical curves made real. Bärger knew that he would have to go over there, even though he couldn’t have said why. But first, he still had to inspect the turbine building.

After a final glance around, Bärger climbed back into the shaft, secured the hatch behind him and continued on his tour.

As expected, the access door in the gigantic sliding door of the turbine building was unlocked. He closed the heavy door behind him. The noise was like a loud shot in the empty chamber. Two doves took off from a steel beam with fluttering wings and flew side-by-side out of one of the open windows below the support for the traveling crane. Dust flickered in the beams of light, which fell into the huge room from the skylights.

There was nothing left of the machinery which must have once stood here. It looked as if earlier someone had planned to convert the building to a different use, but nothing had come of it. The walls were freshly whitewashed, and the tiled floor also showed no significant damage. Bärger looked for traces of the machinery mountings, but found nothing except for a few irregularities in the fit of the tiles. Even the traveling crane in the eastern peak seemed to be still in place. But his curiosity didn’t extend that far, not even to see what condition it was in.

Bärger noted his observations and also the conclusion that some effort had already been made to convert the building to a different use. I’ll make myself a present of the roof, he thought after glancing at his watch. The cooling towers were drawing him to them.

¹ PDS = Partei des Demockratischen Socializmus, successor to the East German SED Communist party.


Shortly after, he left the building and stepped out into the glaring sunlight, blinking. He crossed the courtyard and then made his way through the tall grass to the cooling towers, as if they were the real goal of his trip. As he approached, it became apparent that they stood on a small rise inside company land still surrounded by a tall, unbroken, wire fence. The traces of a deeply rutted dirt road were visible beneath the grass.

Bärger followed them to the artificial plateau, apparently raised for the construction of the towers.

Here too, it was apparent that any equipment had been removed a long time ago. In any case, the sunlit grass on the other side was clearly visible through the supporting struts, which he estimated as three stories high. The angle formed by the struts seemed to extend the hyperbolic curve of the cooling towers down to the ground. He looked up at the top edge of the tower. He felt dizzy, because the gigantic curved surface rising in front of him offered no stopping point for his eyes.

Bärger went closer, climbed up onto the foundation ring, and then stepped between the struts into the interior of the cooling tower.

In spite of the immense size of the chamber, where he suddenly found himself, he felt hemmed in and uneasy. It was suddenly clear to him that it was not in spite of, but because of its enormous size. The inhumanity of this gigantic funnel really came from the lack of any human dimension. He looked up to where the bell shaped shaft was open to the blue sky. The sun shone at a steep angle through the circular opening, and the sharply restricted beam of light lit the opposite inside wall all the way down to the floor. Bärger tried to complete the outline of this gleaming surface, determined by the deformation of a circle of light falling on the inside of a concrete bell, as a geometrical construction, but he was unsuccessful. It defied the abilities of his imagination.

He picked up his camera to get at least a two-dimensional image of this shape, but the field of view wasn’t wide enough to capture the entire picture. The thought that the size of this space would be beyond his ability to estimate reminded him of his laser range finder. As the side opposite to him lay in bright sunlight, Bärger took a couple of steps to one side, until he thought that he could make out the red reference dot in the tower’s own shadow on the other side. He whistled through his teeth. The display showed what his eyes could not – an exact measurement of 42.35 meters. He tried several times to measure the height, and finally decided to believe his third measurement, which indicated exactly 53 meters.

The height to the lower edge of the bell shaped wall, borne by the slanting struts, was close to four meters, far more than the usual height of a single story. He realized, surprised, that there was nothing else to measure, and that those dimensions would do nothing to help him come to grips with this space.

Even though he wasn’t sure why, he wrote down the measurements in his notebook, shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and began to pace around the edge of the cooling tower taking regular, equal strides. When he arrived back at his starting point, he had counted 220 paces, which roughly agreed with the measurement.

A small heap of gleaming, blue-black cinders, remnants from welding or more likely from cutting steel parts, lay in a small area of the smooth concrete, which formed a shallow basin inside the ring foundation. There were conspicuous places on the edges of the struts where they had been damaged by the removal of bulky pieces of cooling equipment. Aside from a broken wooden pallet and the mummified corpse of a rook, the gigantic space was empty.

Bärger walked slowly to the center, looked around in a circle and then up and suddenly had the feeling that the round hole up there leading into the sky was the real exit. A cloud passed over the edge of the tower and again he felt a slight dizziness, as he was unable to tell whether the cloud or the tower was moving. He positioned himself, standing where he thought the center point was, and lay down on his back staring up until his eyes hurt.

When he shut his eyes he heard the noise of the wind. He lay there long enough to become conscious of a new sensation. It seemed that he was becoming lighter and lighter, until he began to float. His body began to circle very slowly, while at the same time he rose higher and higher toward the opening into the light.

Bärger brought himself

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