Arrows In The Fog - Günther Bach - ebook

Arrows In The Fog ebook

Günther Bach



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.

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Arrows in the Fog


The Hair of the Tortoise


Günther Bach

Günther Bach

Arrows in the Fog

© 2004 by Verlag Angelika Hörnig

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted

in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

without the written permission of the publisher.

Illustrations: Günther Bach

© quotation: Hans Magnus Enzensberger,

Vom Blätterteig der Zeit, aus:

Die Elixiere der Wissenschaft © Suhrkamp Verlag

Frankfurt am Main 2002

poem: Hans Magnus Enzensberger,

Das Einfache, das schwer zu erfinden ist, aus:

Die Elixiere der Wissenschaft

©Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 2002

Thanks for the authorization.

Translation: Robert Dohrenwend

Cover design: Angelika Hörnig

according to a photo of Silke Lübbert

Lecturer: Mitch Cohen

© 2012 ebook

ISBN: 978-3-938921-26-5

Verlag Angelika Hörnig

Siebenpfeifferstr. 18

D-67071 Ludwigshafen


Table of Contents



































The Beginning

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.


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 out of it. He shook his head vigorously and stood up bracing himself until the feeling of giddiness vanished. When he heard the sound of the car horn, repeated at short intervals, he realized what had brought him out of this peculiar waking dream. He had a feeling of relief as he walked slowly back toward the others already waiting by the cars, but just before the parking lot, he turned around again. The group of concrete giants stood against the blue sky so exactly angled from his position that the nearest tower completely concealed the one behind it, like an abstract symbol. What kind of symbol?

I’ll find out, said Bärger to himself, and raised the camera for the last time that day to find that he now could really capture all that he saw in the viewfinder. Then he walked quickly over to the group of four impatiently waiting for him.

“What was your name?” asked the investor with the Rolex when Bärger finally arrived at the group, sweaty and dirty.

“Bärger,” he said cheerfully, “Rolf Bärger.”

The investor said that he would be hearing from them and the two Daimlers drove off, one behind the other. Lothar said that they had still more to do, and the municipal councilor repeated that nobody, but really nobody, was interested in the cooling towers. That didn’t make a lot of sense, thought Bärger, but he preferred to keep that to himself.

He looked over at Lothar who shook his head unhappily, and then with a decisive “Well, let’s go!” settled himself behind the wheel and started the engine.

It would seem that the conference hadn’t been a real success, but Bärger wasn’t sure if Lothar’s bad mood was due to his unplanned detour to the cooling towers or to the result of the negotiations. He thought it best not to ask, and waited until Lothar himself began to talk about it.

“What did you think of that guy?” was Lothar’s first question after a while. He could only mean the investor.

“What should I think of a man I met today for the first time, and didn’t see for more than five minutes?” asked Bärger.

“But I suppose you’re right—somehow they’re all the same, developers as well as investors. You can never shake the feeling that they are playing poker and take great care never to reveal their real intentions. What is truly remarkable about them is that the clichés which describe them are mostly correct. What happened this time?”

“He is interested in the reactor chamber and the administration building, but naturally won’t say for what, and only wants a small piece of the land. He also wants a new evaluation of possible contamination where the reactor used to be. That’s really where the deal is going to fall through. I would like to know what it would cost to tear that down.”

“So, it’s another dud.”

Bärger looked out of the car window. The exit from the autobahn was already posted. This area was outside the usual ring development, but close to the autobahn – a strong plus.

How did that motto go that they used to recite? For real estate, there were three important things: first, - location; second – location; and third – location. What did they really have in mind here?

Bärger remembered his first job after the Berlin wall had come down, with a company which had emerged from one of the branches of the architectural institute and was looking for a leading architect. That had been a remarkably unstable and insecure period. You were foreign and felt foreign in what used to be familiar surroundings. Then he was introduced, to something that, against his will, he was forced to adopt as a principle of his professional life: mistrust, including the acceptance of the mistrust of others. That had been painful right from the start. Since he left school, he had regarded a trusting relationship between contractor and architect as an understood and unconditional basis for cooperation. He had believed that a building assignment could only be successfully carried out on such a basis. Things had been so different then, that often, words failed him in the company of his contractors.

As an architect, he found himself forced into the role of an unnecessary and far too expensive specialist, whose signature and stamp on various forms and papers were still required in order to obtain the necessary construction permits. He hadn’t been on a single job where he knew how his building would eventually look, not even the color of the glazed bricks nor the shape of the window latches.

After initial attempts to exercise influence on professional and site related questions, Bärger had given up trying to change impressions taken from magazines and catalogs.

It was tiresome enough to have to explain the relevant ordinances of the building code as requirements for a construction permit and to work them into the plans. It was especially costly when the role of the contractor became an object of contention between a married couple. He remembered the conversion of a small single-family house- one floor with an extended roof – for which he had finally prepared eight different plans, which really did differ substantially from one another. But except for this exploration of the possibilities for altering such a little house, the expenditure in relation to the pay had been remarkably high. Even after the agreement of his two contractors on the last version, they had changed it yet again, although he had already pointed out that doing so would void the already settled contract and the schedule. Bärger supposed that the head of construction had recognized this situation and made clever use of it.

No, it didn’t bother him anymore when someone accused him of – how nicely they phrased it – taking advantage of the situation. Once, as an aside during a conference, Bärger had joked to a colleague in the construction office that he was easily bribable, but unfortunately so far no one had taken advantage of it. But his colleague was taken aback, and evidently considered the subject as an unsuitable topic for conversation.

Mistrust, then, mistrust on both sides had become the basis for his conduct. But Bärger found that you had to mistrust that basis as well. Perhaps because you couldn’t exclude in advance the possibility that someone might honestly mean what he said.

While he was thinking, the car had gone a long way down the autobahn toward Berlin.

“Have you thought about it yet?” Lothar asked.

“Not yet,” said Bärger, who knew what he meant. But there was a connection between what had been going through his head and why he had given up archery.

“It’s just that I would like to try it again. I only worked as a designer those last years because I had had a snoot full of construction. Or no, not really construction – of planning construction with a colleague who was a ‘State Leader,’ who was always a comrade and, therefore, always knew infallibly what was right and what was wrong, regardless of the subject. But you know that just as well as I do!”

Lothar sat, relaxed behind the wheel and listened. Now he nodded in agreement but wouldn’t drop the subject.

“Didn’t you have time for it any more?”

Once more, Bärger thought for a while.

‘Well,” he finally confessed, “it took me a long time to learn the rules of the new game . Showing up at work every day with a tie was the least of it. To always keep my office door open to the corridor, to only run in the corridor and to work overtime on principle, was part of it. But I could never get used to the expressions: ‘It doesn’t pay!’ or ‘We’re working on it!’, and I rapidly grew to hate them. They’re the capitalist version of our, ‘It’s running its socialistic course’, which I found just as rotten.”

Suddenly he realized.

“You know what?” said Bärger, “I never saw even one of them again. For over ten years I never saw a single one of the people I used to train with.”

After a while, he added, “And the man I learned the most from disappeared a long time ago.”

Erhard, thought Bärger, and the memory of a Baltic island inseparably bound to the bow and arrow, struck him with painful clarity. But he hadn’t gotten rid of his bow, although some people had been very eager to buy it. He had taken it with him on two moves, carefully packed and securely stowed.


Could he still draw it to the anchor point?

What happens to a bow when it is no longer shot? Would it break, or he could he once again become one with that piece of enchanted wood which took on a life of its own in his hand?

The thought made him impatient to get home, and he looked at his watch to estimate how long it would take.

“Do you have something you have to do today?” asked Lothar.

“Oh, yes,” answered Bärger. “I have to study. I have the Japanese course at the high school again this evening.”

Lothar whistled through his teeth.

“Just for your trip?”

Bärger nodded.

“When do you leave?”

“The day after tomorrow,” said Bärger


There was enough time after his shower for more than just a quiet pot of green tea.

Bärger went down into his cellar, where the black case with his bow lay on a shelf under a stack of old professional journals. After a short search, he found the mailing tube with the arrows in a corner. He wiped off the dust with a damp cloth and placed both the bow case and the tube on the table in front of him.

He held the shallow tea bowl in both hands and stared at the black case, unable to decide whether to open it.

Why should I, thought Bärger, I have more important things to do. It’s been a long time since I quit, and I probably can’t even draw the bow any more. But the more he resisted, the more he became aware that he was fighting against something that clearly came from within the black case lying in front of him; from something that, in better times, had been almost a part of himself.

He set the tea dish down, opened the zipper with both hands, and pushed back the lid of the case. The reddish-brown wood of the bow had a dull shine as it lay in the crumbling foam padding, once green and now yellowed with age. It was complete with string and bow limbs, and there was even a beat-up finger tab in one of the recesses in the padding.

Bärger hesitated, then reached for the grip section, closed his left hand on the pistol grip, and raised it slowly to eye level. He aimed through the sight window at a point on the wall and tried to remember just how the colorful FITA target had looked. It still didn’t feel right, just to sit there with the bow riser in his hand, aiming over the shelf. Bärger stood up, installed the bow limbs, and tightened the screws. When he picked up the string, he realized that he had forgotten how to string the bow. He tried to remember, but it escaped him. His memory only began to work again when he saw the bow stringer in the case. He placed his left foot in the loop and bent the upper limb across his shoulder until he could string the bow.

Now what he held in his hand was a bow again. Slowly and carefully, he began to pull the string back. He let it down again, then drew it a little further, each time increasing the distance, until he finally dared to draw it all the way and hold it anchored at his chin for two or three seconds.

It’s not my head that remembers, thought Bärger. It is my body that recognizes the bow. He set the bow down on the table in front of him and sat down, looking wonderingly at his hands, as if he couldn’t believe what they had done. When he held the bow at full draw and felt the force flowing from his bow hand across his arms and shoulders to the hand holding the string, it had been like the closing of a circle, like the completion of a whole.

Tension, yes, a natural tension that would be released in the shot, giving an impulse to the arrow and sending it to the point that it should hit if he had done everything right.

There was no doubt that the bow was still in good shape. There was no doubt that he could still draw it. And there was no doubt at all that he wanted to draw it again. That was the important thing, thought Bärger.

He shook the tube with arrows, listening to their gentle clatter. It hadn’t gone away. It had waited for me. But I had almost forgotten it.

Bärger went into the kitchen, turned on the kettle and waited until the water began to boil. Then he turned off the heat and waited until the water in the kettle was still. Slowly he poured it into a small pot, the size and shape of an apple, until the water reached the rim. He glanced at his wristwatch and waited exactly eighty seconds, while he absentmindedly watched the simple reddish/brown pot, with its matt polish from long use. Then, just as slowly and carefully, he poured the tea through a bamboo sieve into the white, shallow bowl. Only then, the tea first took on color, a light, fragrant green fading into yellow at the edge of the bowl.

Bärger picked up the bowl with both hands and held it against the light from the window to look at its noble outline, and then closing his eyes, drank it all down in one swallow. It was time to pack up his books and the loose-leaf notebook. Bärger rinsed out his tea bowl and placed it carefully on a folded kitchen towel. Then he went back into the cellar, unstrung his bow, dismounted the limbs, and placed the pieces back in their case. Not for long, he resolved.

After a glance at his watch, he returned to his office and sat down at his desk to look over the chart with the Japanese syllabic script. He had pinned it to the wall in front of him at eye level so that he would always have it in view. It didn’t seem to work. Nothing did. It is really driving me crazy, thought Bärger. I can’t seem to impress them on my mind. The Japanese lady who taught the course had said that children in Japan begin to read hiragana when they’re five years old. He remembered that when he was a schoolboy, he and one of his schoolmates had learned the cuneiform alphabet in only one day. He still knew it. They had written notes to each other during class and let themselves be caught passing them back and forth, just for the fun of seeing the helpless expression on the face of their teacher, who had no idea what the mysterious symbols meant.

That was a long time ago, thought Bärger. Now he envied three high school girls who sat in front of the classroom and wrote the complicated symbols with ridiculous ease.

He had a good ear, which could detect even slight differences in speech so he could pronounce what he heard correctly, but he was almost ready to give up on the script. Again and again, he had tried to arrange the complicated system of symbols in some system, in some order he could remember, but without success. For him, hiragana was visual chaos. There must be something to the Japanese opinion, thought Bärger, that any European who learns perfect Japanese has to be crazy.

But it was time to go. He shoved the books, his vocabulary book, and his loose-leaf binder into his old, cowhide book bag, which got better looking each year as it aged. He closed the door behind him and made his way to the streetcar stop.

It was a very mixed bunch that came together every week to learn Japanese in the rooms at the old high school. At the beginning, they had all introduced themselves, giving their names, occupations, and reasons for learning the language.

One was a policeman, who wanted, or who had been assigned, to learn the language for professional reasons, and one was a fireman, who was interested in the samurai and especially in their swords. There was a married couple sitting next to Bärger who ran a martial arts school together. A retired man, who hadn’t really been able to explain why he was interested, had quit after the third lesson. As well as the three high school girls who sat in front, two students from another school also attended, explaining that they were preparing for a university language major. He was the only one who was preparing for a trip to Japan, and he was much envied by the others. It was very quickly clear to him that, in the short time he had for the course, he could not acquire enough real knowledge of the language to make himself understood in the country, even at a beginner’s level. The teacher had explained that there would be no problem using English in the cities, but that people in the country normally spoke only Japanese. Only one thing helped him to recover a bit from his disappointment. She explained that the Japanese were very pleased when a foreigner – a gaijin - not only mastered the usual manners, but was also able to express the most important courtesies in words.

After that, Bärger concentrated on correct pronunciation and the complicated rituals of introduction, greeting, and departure in combination with the appropriate bows for each occasion.

Today’s lesson concerned shopping in Japan but, like all the others, it began with a quiz. Its tempo and results reminded him unpleasantly of his schooldays from long ago. According to everything that he had heard and read, it was the same in Japan. Was he simply to old for this sort of class? But he had paid for the privilege of being treated as a schoolboy and presumably the method really was effective. Even so, he didn’t like it, and he cared even less for the superior attitude and mockery of the high school girls, who openly made fun of the awkward pronunciation of their older classmates.

What really gave him pause was his obvious inability to learn the twenty-three symbols of hiragana, the Japanese syllabic script. This bothered him particularly. He had always believed that he had a particularly good visual memory, but this task was simply too much for it. Bärger felt that he was even beginning to develop a dislike for the symbols. He found it absurd that a people who unconditionally recognized the value of a modern, technically oriented, and extremely rational working environment, would at the same time use three different scripts in parallel and mix them together.

When he asked about it, the teacher, Yoshiko-San, had answered that the origin of the hiragana symbols lay in a further development of the Chinese script symbols as a phonetic, syllabic script. That helped explain the shapes of the symbols, which had often seemed so bizarre to him, but it did nothing to make learning them any easier.

On the other hand, he found it remarkable that he had a much better grasp of the true Chinese script – the kanji. Although he had never really wanted to learn the thousands of graphic symbols that had originated as simplified pictures, it had been possible for him to learn a few of the basic forms quickly. However, that was long before his efforts with the Japanese language and was probably due to his intense interest in the spirit and technique of Chinese ink painting at that time. He took relaxed pleasure in adding the written symbols to his ink pictures, and he also considered it an agreeable calligraphic exercise. No, he liked the classic forms of kanji, but he wasn’t able to do anything with the simplified script derived, from it.


The teacher’s voice brought him back to the present. After a last glace at his exercise notebook, he stood up, went to the chalkboard, and without hesitation wrote the required sentence on the green surface. Even as he dusted off his hands and returned to his seat, he knew that by tomorrow he would have forgotten it all again.

The lesson continued at the rapid pace that Yoshiko-San thought proper. Bärger admitted to himself that he hadn’t quit only because he didn’t want to confess in front of the schoolgirls that this kind of instruction was beyond him.

The lesson ended precisely at the break. He made a note of the homework assignment in his loose-leaf binder, intending to deal with it the next morning.

“No more school work, Bärger-San!”

Yoshiko stood smiling in front of him and held out her hand. It was a minute before Bärger understood. Then he stood up, bowed, and grasped her hand.

“I wish you a pleasant trip to Japan,” said Yoshiko formally. “You will see the autumn leaves in the woods of Kyoto”. It sounded a little wistful. But then she said, smiling again, “Your bow was too deep for a simple teacher, Bärger-San. I wish you a safe return.” Then she quickly left the classroom.

On the way to the tram stop, Bärger thought about his approaching trip. He had studied the guidebook thoroughly, and had discovered that the proposed route hit every culturally significant spot in central and southern Japan. He was a little concerned whether he would have the time to see them properly.

He recalled a trip to Cyprus in November two years ago; the huge empty hotels along the beach, the dried vegetation, and the smell of the burning rubbish heaps at the edge of the city. In particular, he remembered the disaster of a side excursion to Cairo from Cyprus, a two-day tour by ship to Alexandria offered by a local shipping firm. The luxury liner sailed there and back at night, arriving in Alexandria in the morning. From there, they boarded the waiting buses for a non-stop, six-hour trip to Cairo along a four-lane highway through desolate country. Most of the way the route ran parallel to the Suez Canal, with only the superstructure or funnels of an occasional passing ship visible above the banks of the canal.