A story about the real magic in life and about a time, when there were two different worlds, completely separated: One for grown ups, one for children. And about two men who try not to obey those rules.
The older I get, the more I remember childhood. When I tell my grandchildren that once there were two worlds, not one, they don’t believe one word.
But it’s true. I’m old, so I do remember childhood.
Of course there were no smartphones or computers. There wasn’t even a television set in every home. If someone in the village bought a car, he or she had „made it“.
When I went shopping for my mother, I couldn’t read or write. So I simply gave the shopping list to Frau Griebel. She owned the mom-and-pop store in our village. She piled the purchases into my basket; my parents paid once a month.
But the most important difference was the deep ditch. The most important difference was that there was not one world, but two! These were not connected.
In one world, there lived the giants and in the other the children. The giants were the adults and they were a different species.
The worlds were not allowed to touch because that would be too dangerous.
Everything we children did was nonsense and completely unimportant in the eyes of the giants. It just didn’t matter. For them we were little adults who needed to be repaired.
And for us, everything the giants did was boring and completely unimportant. We knew what they expected from us. We tried to do the opposite. For us giants were children who were broken.
We lived in a world with dwarves and fairies and evil! Evil was the giant who surprised us while playing and then yelled at us. We ran away, but sometimes he caught one of us. Klaus claimed all his life that his left ear still rings from the slaps.
Every adult was allowed to slap every child at any time. „He will have had his reasons“ – was what we heard when we ran home crying.
The two worlds were separate. Both worlds were full of violence. Both worlds were damaged, but the giant world was even more heartless.
That changed when my grandfather returned from captivity. It sounds paradoxical, but captivity had not broken him, it had repaired him.
On one hand, he was older than most adults. They respected him. He always smiled and he always greeted, everyone, friendly. Everyone greeted back. But many giants were embarrassed.
On the other hand he was like us! He told us all the tricks he’d learned in Siberia. He was slim, even though all he thought about was food! Every meal was special to him. When he ate, he closed his eyes and growled like a bear.
Like us children, he collected treasures. In fact, he collected everything. Feathers, buttons, cigars, straw hats, bibles, strange bottles, playing cards, beer mats, hiking badges, carpets, bicycle bells, hazel sticks, baking recipes, stamps, coins, snuffboxes, pictures of angels, mousetraps, ashtrays and autographs of football players his age.
His little house was a world of miracles for us children. A holy place full of relics and treasures. An enchanted place that we were allowed to visit whenever we wanted.
He traded with us – and he was interested in everything! Plastic soldiers, quartet cards, peppermint chocolate or even unusual branches.
The most important thing for us was: He listened to us. Anytime.
The things my grandfather collected were not sacred to him. We were allowed to play with everything. He used to say, „Collecting is just a hobby, it’s just stuff. You can’t take it to heaven.“
Unfortunately, my grandfather didn’t live very long. The long imprisonment and the various shot wounds. When he died I was about to become a giant myself. Strange things happened to me – girls, for example, became a different specis, too. It just happened to me. So I fought back. With Elvis hair, rock’n roll and my irresistible, deep-eyed look – which I had copied from James Dean.
I can remember when I came back to my grandfather’s cottage on the day of his funeral.
While I parked my scooter in front of the magical house, I watched the spectacle. My family took care of the estate like hyenas would: First come, first served!
Everyone in the village suspected there were hidden treasures in the amount of stuff my grandfather had collected. And they were right, of course.
Everyone thought my grandfather was secretly rich. There must be a reason why he was so happy! And of course they were right about that, too.
There were real treasures hidden, and my grandfather was indeed the richest man in the village.
I looked at my scavenger family with disgust. My cousin had come in his mint-colored car; the trunk filled up quickly. He nodded at me while he was dragging a carpet through the herb patch.
I entered the living room, which still smelled of the cold smoke of grandpa’s cigars. It was a scene of devastation! Carelessly, people rummaged through shelves and cupboards. Most of them I had never met before.
Sure, the coins were gone the fastest – almost as fast as the cigars, by the way. Closely followed by the stamps, the Karl May books and the Bibles. But even bicycle bells could have a value, even if they were just scrap metal. Some of my relatives tore the images of the angels from the walls and piled them up like boards on their pendant.
I sat down on my grandfather’s worn leather armchair and looked into the true face of these giants. I realized why they were bitter and hostile. They had greed in their breasts instead of a heart.
When the bells rang for the funeral mass, the hyenas silently agreed to a truce. Their facial expressions switched – click – to sadness. I remained in my grandfather’s house.
Tears ran down my cheeks while this piece of paradise was dismantled. The magical house was about to be torn down.
I didn’t move. They sang songs for my grandfather in the church. I looked out of the living room window as they carried my favorite human in a wooden box to the graveyard. I heard the priest speaking words.
I couldn’t stop crying. Then I remembered that as soon as the funeral was over, the vultures would come back! If I stayed here, I would have to witness the desecration again.
I could barricade the house, nail up all the doors! And if a relative tried to slip through the cracks, I would beat him with one of the hazel sticks!
I didn’t do that. I’d rather run away. No giant had to see me crying like this, no one from their cold world to which I did not want to belong.
I stood in the living room, wondering: Should I take something with me, too?
The jay’s feather that my grandfather proudly wore on his hat after I gave it to him? The strange bottle in the shape of a skull, according to my grandfather a stolen relic of the Atlanteans? The mousetraps he collected all over the village because he pitied the mice? The Japanese Bible, which had to be read the wrong way round because otherwise it starts with revelation and ends with the birth of Jesus? The baking recipe for the biscuits that we called „gold coins“, which made you strong like Hercules? The compass without a needle, which supposedly worked great because it always pointed to the sky?
The beer mat that the devil had signed because of gambling debts? The cigars that were allegedly rolled in Cuba especially for him to chase away evil spirits? The ashtray, which, if you spoke the right words, had no bottom so you could talk to the natives in Australia? The bullet that had pierced his right lung? The black pebble that was in fact the shriveled heart of his vicious feldwebel? Or the big blue button he claimed to have stolen from St. Peter when he escaped from heaven?
No. I left everything in its place. I took nothing with me. I left everything in the magical house. Especially these seemingly worthless things, which were the real treasure.
I didn’t need any stuff to never forget my grandfather.
The graveyard had become quiet. All the giants were pretending to be sad right now. Everyone would take the shovel, throw some earth on the coffin and then move their lips silently as if he or she knew any prayer by heart.
The last thing my grandfather told me in the hospital was that he knew the undertaker from the army. So he had arranged to be put him the wrong way round in the coffin! The relatives then had to parade not past his face, but his … well … his backside.
But the undertaker was only a giant. My grandfather and I secretly knew it wasn’t going to happen like that.
On the way to my scooter I cried even more. I had to swear never to come back here again in my life. I could never enter the magical house again. I would not bear the sight of the empty shell it would become soon, a symbol for the very end of all magic.
When I left the village , I swore another oath to myself:
If I had left my captivity in the cool world of giants, when I was old enough, then I would become a child again! Like my grandfather!
I would try to live like the most precious person in my life!
That is what I am trying to do. I really am. It’s not showing right now, I know, but be patient:
I’m just getting started!