Staying with the family of Kamen Stoyanov in Russe on the
Relatives have been invited for the presentation
of my suitcase at eight o'clock on Friday evening. The coal
briquets are a success. No one has ever seen a briquet. They
test its weight. They say they could tell exactly the same
story about the decline of industry and the loss of jobs after
the collapse of Communism. They remember from school that
a lot of brown coal was extracted in the GDR.
They also know all about the annual Stadtputztag
(city cleaning day) described by Barbara Steiner as an astonishing
phenomenon she witnessed when she started working in Germany.
When Stoyan Stoyanov watches the film showing the city being
collectively cleaned he expresses his approval of the careful
and thorough work. They make me translate the Tucholsky poem
line by line.
I hand out the Pfefferkuchen (gingerbread)
and show them the Christmas pyramid. Kamen's grandmother nods
appreciatively at the idea of wanting to show people abroad
something nice about one's own country. I end my presentation
on a sentimental note by playing the lullaby "Weißt
du wieviel Sternlein stehen" (Do you know how many stars
on the mouth organ. This was a commission from my father,
who is well aware of the modesty of my skills on the mouth
organ. My performance is met with rapturous applause.
Kamen's grandmother suggests singing a song
in return. It is a folk song about a lamb and a farmer who
promises not to separate it from its mother, but then sells
it to the first person who comes along. She gets into position
and sings very beautifully. Then comes a song about Goscho
the Beautiful, who is loved by all women, the most beautiful
man of the Balkans.
After the performance we go to the grandmother's
flat across the hallway. The table has been laid. We have
banitza and yoghurt with cucumbers, Russian salad and rakia.
Serbian turbofolk is playing on TV. In the past, only lorry
and taxi drivers used to have and listen to this kind of music
and it went without saying that it was music for the uneducated.
It is shortly before Easter. They ask me whether
we have Easter eggs in Germany too. And what about Hefezopf
(braided yeast bread) at Easter? We're all the same really,
says Cousin Sornitza with an air of resignation. And those
who aren't the same yet want to be.