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Authors: Gunter Grass

Dog Years

BOOK: Dog Years
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Dog Years

Book 03 of the Danzig Trilogy

by Günter Grass

Translated by Ralph Manheim

a.b.e-book v3.0 / Notes at EOF



Back Cover:


In this ferocious novel of the Hitler years and their aftermath, the author of
The Tin Drum
tells a brilliant bizarre and savage tale of "the love-hate and blood brotherhood of Nazi and Jew. . . The strongest, most inventive writer to have emerged in Germany since 1945. . . Much of what is active conscience in the Germany of Krupp and the Munich beer halls lies in this man's ribald keeping." -- George Steiner, Commentary

Grass was born in Danzig, Germany, in 1927. Sculptor, draftsman, novelist, playwright and poet, he has traveled widely in the United States and Europe. He is presently living in Berlin with his Swiss wife and their children.

His first novel,
The Tin Drum,
published in 1963, has been translated into every major European language.
Cat and Mouse
has the same milieu as
The Tin Drum
-- Danzig and its petty bourgeoisie.
Dog Years
is his third novel.

Mr. Grass has been internationally acclaimed as one of the most imaginative and powerful contemporary novelists.
has called him "Probably the most inventive talent to be heard from anywhere since the war."







A Fawcett Premier Book reprinted by arrangement

with Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.


Copyright © 1963 by Hermann Luchterhand Verlag GmbH,

Nenwied am Rhein, Berlin.

English translation © 1965 by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc,
and Martin Secker & Warburg Limited.


Originally published in Germany under the title Hundejahre.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any

form or by any mechanical means, including duplicating machine and

tape recorder, without permission in writing from the publisher.


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 65-14715


Second Fawcett Premier printing, November 1969


Published by Fawcett World Library

67 West 44th Street, New York, N. Y. 10036

Printed in the United States of America


For a free catalog of Fawcett paperbacks,

send a postcard to Book Department,

Fawcett Publications, Greenwich, Connecticut 06830




Walter Henn
in memoriam





Morning Shifts






You tell. No, you. Or you. Should the actor begin? Or the scarecrows, all at cross purposes? Or should we wait until the eight planets have collected in the sign of Aquarius? You begin, please. After all it was your dog. But before my dog, your dog and the dog descended from the dog. One of us has to begin: You or he or you or I. . . Many many sunsets ago, long before we existed, the Vistula flowed day in day out without reflecting us, and emptied forever and ever.

The present writer bears the name of Brauxel at the moment and runs a mine which produces neither potash, iron, nor coal, yet employs, from one shift to the next, a hundred and thirty-four workers and office help in galleries and drifts, in stalls and crosscuts, in the payroll office and packing house.

In former days the Vistula flowed dangerously, without regulation. And so a thousand day laborers were taken on, and in the year 1895 they dug the so-called cut, running northward from Einlage between Schiewenhorst and Nickelswalde, the two villages on the delta bar. By giving the Vistula a new estuary, straight as a die, this diminished the danger of floods.

The present writer usually writes Brauksel in the form of Castrop-Rauxel and occasionally of Häksel. When he's in the mood, Brauxel writes his name as Weichsel, the river which the Romans called the Vistula. There is no contradiction between playfulness and pedantry; the one brings on the other.

The Vistula dikes ran from horizon to horizon; under the supervision of the Dike Commission in Marienwerder, it was their business to withstand the spring floods, not to mention the St. Dominic's Day floods. And woe betide if there were mice in the dikes.

The present writer, who runs a mine and writes his name in various ways, has mapped out the course of the Vistula before and after regulation on an empty desk top: tobacco crumbs and powdery ashes indicate the river and its three mouths; burnt matches are the dikes that hold it on its course. Many many sunsets ago; here comes the Dike Commissioner on his way from the district of Kulm, where the dike burst in '55 near Kokotzko, not far from the Mennonite cemetery -- weeks later the coffins were still hanging in the trees -- but he, on foot, on horseback, or in a boat, in his morning coat and never without his bottle of arrack in his wide pocket, he, Wilhelm Ehrenthal, who in classical yet humorous verses had written that "Epistle on the Contemplation of Dikes," a copy of which, soon after publication, was sent with an amiable dedication to all dike keepers, village mayors, and Mennonite preachers, he, here named never to be named again, inspects the dike tops, the enrockment and the groins, and drives off the pigs, because according to the Rural Police Regulations of November 1848, Clause 8, all animals, furred and feathered, are forbidden to graze and burrow on the dike.

The sun goes down on the left. Brauxel breaks a match into pieces: the second mouth of the Vistula came into being without the help of diggers on February 2, 1840, when in consequence of an ice jam the river broke through the delta bar below Plehnendorf, swept away two villages, and made it possible to establish two new fishing villages, East Neufahr and West Neufahr. Yet rich as the two Neufahrs may be in tales, gossip, and startling events, we are concerned chiefly with the villages to the east and west of the first, though I most recent, mouth: Schiewenhorst and Nickelswalde were, or are, the last villages with ferry service to the right and left of the Vistula cut; for five hundred yards downstream the sea still mingles its 1.8 percent saline solution with the often ash-gray, usually mud-yellow excretion of the far-flung republic of Poland.

Brauxel mutters conjuring words: "The Vistula is a broad stream, growing constantly broader in memory, navigable in spite of its many sandbanks. . ." -- moves a piece of eraser in guise of a ferry back and forth across his desk top, which has been transformed into a graphic Vistula delta, and, now that the morning shift has been lowered, now that the sparrow-strident day has begun, puts the nine-year-old Walter Matern -- accent on the last syllable -- down on top of the Nickelswalde dike across from the setting sun; he is grinding his teeth.

What happens when the nine-year-old son of a miller stands on a dike, watching the river, exposed to the setting sun, grinding his teeth against the wind? He has inherited that from his grandmother, who sat riveted to her chair for nine years, able to move only her eyeballs.

All sorts of things rush by in the river and Walter Matern sees them. Flood from Montau to Käsemark. Here, just before the mouth, the sea helps. They say there were mice in the dike. Whenever a dike bursts, there's talk of mice in the dike. The Mennonites say that Catholics from the Polish country put mice in the dike during the night. Others claim to have seen the dike keeper on his white horse. But the insurance company refuses to believe either in burrowing mice or in the dike keeper from Güttland. When the mice made the dike burst, the white horse, so the legend has it, leapt into the rising waters with the dike keeper, but it didn't help much: for the Vistula took all the dike keepers. And the Vistula took the Catholic mice from the Polish country. And it took the rough Mennonites with hooks and eyes but without pockets, took the more refined Mennonites with buttons, buttonholes, and diabolical pockets, it also took Güttland's three Protestants and the teacher, the Socialist. It took Güttland's lowing cattle and Güttland's carved cradles, it took all Güttland: Güttland's beds and Güttland's cupboards, Güttland's clocks and Güttland's canaries, it took Güttland's preacher -- he was a rough man with hooks and eyes; it also took the preacher's daughter, and she is said to have been beautiful.

All that and more rushed by. What does a river like the Vistula carry away with it? Everything that goes to pieces: wood, glass, pencils, pacts between Brauxel and Brauchsel, chairs, bones, and sunsets too. What had long been forgotten rose to memory, floating on its back or stomach, with the help of the Vistula: Pomeranian princes. Adalbert came. Adalbert comes on foot and dies by the ax. But Duke Swantopolk allowed himself to be baptized. What will become of Mestwin's daughters? Is one of them running away bare foot? Who will carry her off? The giant Miligedo with his lead club? Or one of the ancient gods? The fiery-red Perkunos? The pale Pikollos, who is always looking up from below? The boy Potrimpos laughs and chews at his ear of wheat. Sacred oaks are felled. Grinding teeth -- And Duke Kynstute's young daughter, who entered a convent: twelve headless knights and twelve headless nuns are dancing in the mill: the mill turns slow, the mill turns faster, it grinds the little souls to plaster; the mill turns slow, the mill speeds up, she has drunk with twelve knights from the selfsame cup; the mill turns slow, the mill speeds up, twelve knights twelve nuns in the cellar sup; the mill turns slow, the mill turns faster, they're feasting Candlemas with farting and laughter: the mill turns slow, the mill turns faster. . . but when the mill was burning inside and out and coaches for headless knights and headless nuns drove up, when much later -- sunsets -- St. Bruno passed through the fire and Bobrowski the robber with his crony Materna, with whom it all began, set fires in houses that had been previously notched -- sunsets, sunsets -- Napoleon before and after: then the city was ingeniously besieged, for several times they tried out Congreve rockets, with varying success: but in the city and on the walls, on Wolf, Bear, and Bay Horse Bastions, on Renegade, Maidenhole, and Rabbit Bastions, the French under Rapp coughed, the Poles under their prince Radziwil spat, the corps of the one-armed Capitaine de Chambure hawked. But on the fifth of August came the St. Dominic's Flood, climbed Bay Horse, Rabbit, and Renegade Bastions without a ladder, wet the powder, made the Congreve rockets fizzle out, and carried a good deal of fish, mostly pike, into the streets and kitchens: everyone was miraculously replenished, although the granaries along Hopfengasse had long since burned down -- sunsets. Amazing how many things are becoming to the Vistula, how many things color a river like the Vistula: sunsets, blood, mud, and ashes. Actually the wind ought to have them. Orders are not always carried out; rivers that set out for heaven empty into the Vistula.






Here, on Brauxel's desk top and over the Schiewenhorst dike, she rolls, day after day. And on Nickelswalde dike stands Walter Matern with grinding teeth; for the sun is setting. Swept bare, the dikes taper away in the distance. Only the sails of the windmills, blunt steeples, and poplars -- Napoleon had those planted for his artillery -- stick to the tops of the dikes. He alone is standing. Except maybe for the dog. But he's gone off, now here now there. Behind him, vanishing in the shadow and below the surface of the river, lies the Island, smelling of butter, curds, dairies, a wholesome, nauseatingly milky smell. Nine years old, legs apart, with red and blue March knees, stands Walter Matern, spreads his ten fingers, narrows his eyes to slits, lets the scars of his close-cropped head -- bearing witness to falls, fights, and barbed wire -- swell, take on profile, grinds his teeth from left to right -- he has that from his grandmother -- and looks for a stone.

There aren't any stones on the dike. But he looks. He finds dry sticks. But you can't throw a dry stick against the wind. And he wants to got to wants to throw something. He could whistle for Senta, here one second gone the next, but he does no such thing, all he does is grind -- that blunts the wind -- and feels like throwing something. He could catch Amsel's eye at the foot of the dike with a hey and a ho, but his mouth is full of grinding and not of hey and ho -- nevertheless he wants to got to wants to, but there's no stone in his pockets either; usually he has a couple in one pocket or the other.

In these parts stones are called
The Protestants say
the few Catholics
The rough Mennonites say
the refined ones
Even Amsel, who likes to be different, says
when he means a stone; and Senta goes for a stone when someone says: Senta, go get a
Kriwe says
Kornelius Kabrun, Beister, Folchert, August Sponagel, and Frau von Ankum, the major's wife, all say
and Pastor Daniel Kliewer from Pasewark says to his congregation, rough and refined alike: "Then little David picked up a
and flung it at the giant Goliath. . ." For a
is a handy little stone, the size of a pigeon's egg.

But Walter Matern couldn't find one in either pocket. In the right pocket there was nothing but crumbs and sunflower seeds, in the left pocket, in among pieces of string and the crackling remains of grasshoppers -- while up above it grinds, while the sun has gone, while the Vistula flows, taking with it something from Güttland, something from Mantau, Amsel hunched over and the whole time clouds, while Senta upwind, the gulls downwind, the dikes bare to the horizon, while the sun is gone gone gone -- he finds his pocketknife. Sunsets last longer in eastern than in western regions; any child knows that. There flows the Vistula from sky to opposite sky. The steam ferry puts out from the Schiewenhorst dock and bucks the current, slant-wise and bumptious, carrying two narrow-gauge freight cars to Nickelswalde, where it will put them down on the Stutthof spur. The chunk of leather known as Kriwe has just turned his cowhide face to leeward and is pattering eyelashless along the opposite dike top: a few moving sails and poplars to count. A fixed stare, no bending over, but a hand in his pocket. And the eye slides down from the embankment: a curious round something, down below, that bends over, looks as if it wants to swipe something from the Vistula. That's Amsel, looking for old rags. What for? Any child knows that.

But Leather Kriwe doesn't know what Walter Matern, who has been looking for a
in his pocket, has found in his pocket. While Kriwe pulls his face out of the wind, the pocketknife grows warmer in Walter Matern's hand. Amsel had given it to him. It has three blades, a corkscrew, a saw, and a leather punch. Amsel plump, pink, and comical when crying. Amsel pokes about in the muck on the ledge, for though falling-fast the Vistula is up to the dike top because there's a flood between Montau and Käsemark, and has things in it that used to be in Palschau.

Gone. Down yonder behind the dike, leaving behind a spreading red glow. In his pocket Walter Matern -- as only Brauxel can know -- clenches the knife in his fist. Amsel is a little younger than Walter Matern. Senta, far away looking for mice, is just about as black as the sky, upward from the Schiewenhorst dike, is red. A drifting cat is caught in the driftwood. Gulls multiply in flight: torn tissue paper crackles, is smoothed, is spread out wide; and the glass pinhead eyes see everything that drifts, hangs, runs, stands, or is just there, such as Amsel's two thousand freckles; also that he is wearing a helmet like those worn at Verdun. And the helmet slips forward, is pushed back over the neck, and slips again, while Amsel fishes fence laths and beanpoles, and also heavy, sodden rags out of the mud: the cat comes loose, spins downward, falls to the gulls. The mice in the dike begin to stir again. And the ferry is still coming closer. A dead yellow dog comes drifting and turns over. Senta is facing into the wind. Slantwise and bumptious the ferry transports its two freight cars. Down drifts a calf -- dead. The wind falters but does not turn. The gulls stop still in mid-air, hesitating. Now Walter Matern -- while the ferry, the wind and the calf and the sun behind the dike and the mice in the dike and the motionless gulls -- has pulled his fist out of his pocket with the knife in it. While the Vistula flows, he holds it out in front of his sweater and makes his knuckles chalky white against the deepening red glow.

BOOK: Dog Years
12.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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