We Would Have Told Each Other Everything | Judith Hermann | Granta

We Would Have Told Each Other Everything

Judith Hermann

Translated by Katy Derbyshire

Some time ago, in a 24-hour minimart on Berlin’s Kastanienallee, in the middle of the night, I happened to run into my psychoanalyst – two years after the end of my analysis and for the very first time outside of the room where I’d lain on his couch for years.

I was out that evening with G, my only writer friend. We’d eaten at an Italian place on Eberswalder Straße, drunk a few glasses of wine together outside a bar, then G had walked me to my tram and on the way to the tram we’d started talking about our mothers. It was that mother conversation, our slight drunkenness and the fact that we were retracing old paths – Arkona, Rheinsberger, Wolliner, streets where we’d spent our youth an actual quarter-century ago; that is, in the days when snow still fell and the world around us was black and white and pure poetry – that led me to skip one tram after another and to sit down with G on the steps in a doorway on Kastanienallee, both of us immediately craving a cigarette, even though we’d given up smoking ages ago.

A girl walked past us, smoking. I asked her for a cigarette and she apologised for not having any more, but over there – she pointed at the late-night shop across the road – you could buy single cigarettes: like in the old days. We crossed the street, went into the minimart; the Arab shopkeeper was behind the counter and in front of the counter was my psychoanalyst, Dr Dreehüs, paying for a nice soft yellow pack of American Spirit Lights.

Many times in my life, I have not recognised people when I’ve met them outside their usual settings. I had never encountered Dr Dreehüs outside his office; nor strictly speaking inside his office. He would open the door to me three times a week, I would walk past him down the hall, enter the room, take off my jacket and hang it over the chair provided for that purpose; then I would lie down on the couch and he would take a seat behind me. At the session’s end, we followed the same procedure backwards – I would get up, put my jacket back on while gazing out of the window, embarrassed, and he would walk down the hall in front of me, open the door, we’d shake hands, and then he’d close the door behind me; it was a miracle that his face, his figure and appearance had made any mark on my memory at all. In the late-night minimart, I was faster than him – I recognised him first, or, I realised first, and I was alert enough to find the situation remarkable and not to give any sign that I found it remarkable. I said a polite and surprised hello to Dr Dreehüs and introduced him to G, which was amusing because they both knew about each other; G had come up in stories during analysis sessions and had, in turn, been forced to listen to a good deal of stories about the sessions.

This is G. So this is G.

G, at the end of the night and after all these years, this is in fact Dr Dreehüs, my analyst.

My former analyst. All three of us feigned bows. In my memory of the moment, I have regretfully lost sight of the shopkeeper, his eyes on us, on Dr Dreehüs, who seemed to be a regular customer and might not yet have revealed himself to be an analyst. Whatever the case, I embraced the curious opportunity to ask Dr Dreehüs for two cigarettes. We left the minimart, exchanged a few words, how are you, fine thanks, how are you, as he elegantly tapped the cigarettes out of the pack, offered them to us and was kind enough not to mention the fact that I’d given up smoking during my years of analysis. He seemed nonchalant, whereas I was having trouble maintaining my composure. I wanted to commit everything to memory at once: gestures and expressions, his slightly extravagant suit, the way he gave us a light, then smiled and kept a relaxed distance. I had assumed Dr Dreehüs did not exist. I had of course brooded at length about Dr Dreehüs’s life outside his office and had come to the conclusion that he didn’t have one, which was partly to do with him, as a professional analyst, never having betrayed the slightest detail of his existence other than his presence, his slightly dandyish shirts, ironed trousers, the interior design of his practice room and the occasional book placed as if coincidentally on the desk. For me, Dr Dreehüs lived in that room, with its couch by the window, its scruffy armchair at the end of the couch, its half-empty bookshelf, its empty desk. Outside that room, he didn’t exist. But suddenly there he was – I lit my cigarette with the light he offered. I was aware of his hands, close to my face. I was aware that he was slightly drunk and, like me, had let go, in a sense, as the night progressed. He gave G a light too. And then he wished us goodnight, walked three or four yards down the road and vanished inside a bar, which to my mind opened solely in that instant, materialising only for him, and then closed tight behind him. Outside the minimart was a crooked bench. I had to sit down; G had to sit down as well. We smoked our forbidden cigarettes in perplexed companionship, G’s sympathy for my shock at the encounter consolatory. He said that he wasn’t at all sure the scene had really just happened, or instead had taken place, like in a Woody Allen or Jim Jarmusch film, in a wormhole, an illusion prompted by the wine, the conversation about mothers, the paths into the past. The situation seemed as surreal to him as it did to me, and he too had never noticed the bar into which Dr Dreehüs had vanished like Alice into Wonderland before, and when I said I absolutely had to follow Dr Dreehüs G said that he’d thought as much. He said: But I’ll walk you to the door, at least.

Trommel – Dr Dreehüs’s bar was called Trommel, like the drum. Front window blocked off, dim light emanating through the gap in the door, Trommel could have been a brothel, a darkroom – which I wouldn’t have put past Dr Dreehüs – an Irish pub, or a club; we stood clueless outside. In the end, G said: You know what, I think I’ll just have a bit more of a sit-down here on the bench. Just because. I’ll just hang out here for a bit longer. And if you don’t come out again in fifteen minutes, I’ll assume everything’s fine. Then I’ll go home.

He said: Is that alright with you?

I said: Yes, that’s fine by me. More than fine.

G nodded, gave me a brief but firm touch on the shoulder, returned to the crooked bench and sat down again; he straightened his back, then raised his hand like a boxing referee.

I raised my hand.

Took a deep breath, opened the door to Trommel – and went in.


In the years after my analysis I had written my fifth book, Lettipark. Seventeen short stories about people between the ages of forty and fifty, perhaps at the end of their tethers and on the brink of new insights, a book that had come about after my novel Where Love Begins and had come easily to me; there had been something liberating about that return to the short form; writing it had made me happy. Looking back, I think that happiness was linked not only to the act of surviving the novel-writing process, but also to the end of my analysis, my willingness to sort things through on my own, to grow up, let go. One of the stories is entitled ‘Dreams’; only a few pages long, it describes a narrator’s psychoanalysis as she goes to see the same analyst as a friend of hers. During the analysis, the women’s friendship breaks up, whereas the narrator’s relationship with the psychoanalyst has a distanced constancy to it. Naturally enough, the story is closely linked to my analysis with Dr Dreehüs – that’s what I write: I write about myself. I write along the lines of my own life; I don’t know any other way. The character of Dr Gupta is narrated along Dr Dreehüs’s lines, Dr Gupta’s clothing is Dr Dreehüs’s clothing, the furnishings in the office are his real-life furnishings. There is one point when Dr Gupta opens the door with a black eye, to the narrator’s surprise, and that black eye too really existed. And naturally enough, that first-person narrator is me, I am her – the woman named Teresa, who dreams of slugs and elevator shafts, cries continuously, can’t move for grief, can’t speak in the first months of the analysis, can’t possibly say what is making her sad. And naturally enough, that first-person narrator is precisely not me and nor is Dr Gupta the same as Dr Dreehüs; on the contrary, the two characters are dreams, wishes on paper, and what I imagine as I put down those words is hard to grasp. Despite the characters’ fragility, what I have in mind is something unhurt, undamaged. Something I don’t possess at the moment, but that I know I once possessed and may possess again, something I yearn for, an exquisite distension, a lacuna. The story is a protective space for the narrator, housing her like the shell of a nut. The narrator is the smallest doll in a Russian matryoshka, the story the cocoon around her. I don’t write what she talks about, what she talks to herself about in the analysis sessions; the protective space grows out of that deliberate silence. It is up to empathetic readers to imagine it: trauma, loss, abuse, grief, absence, death and fear, life at its most normal, or to remain on the outside. It suffices for me to know what the narrator is grieving, and I’d like to keep it to myself. The story is tidy. The narrator’s apartment, her everyday life, the books she reads, the paths she takes, all that has an orderly, presentable structure – in contrast to the apartment I live in, the books I read, the paths I take – I would never depict all that in a story without making alterations. The story distracts the readers from the heart of the matter; it distracts them from me. A magic trick – the readers see the magician’s hocus-pocus and miss the trick. I tell the story of my psychoanalysis and hand it over to a character who is the way I’ve always wanted to be, never was nor ever will be; never in all my life have I dreamed of slugs. And finally, the story is of course also a love story; the narrator falls in love at some point with Dr Gupta, and remains in love, and nothing changes – like I too, after perhaps five or six years of three forty-five-minute sessions a week, at some point fell in love with Dr Dreehüs and at some point fell out of love. And then it was over. And then I left him.

It came as no surprise, on Kastanienallee that night, that I walked into Trommel with my heart thudding.

When Lettipark came out, I had taken a copy to the practice. I wanted Dr Dreehüs to know he’d become part of a story in a book, that a story existed that was dedicated to him. I knew hardly anything about him, but I did know he was a reader, he loved books. I had gathered as much from the tiny sounds of agreement or disapproval he had sometimes uttered when I’d talked about books; and I had given him the other two books I’d written during my analysis, he had read them and made restrained comments about them. I had put Lettipark in his letter box on the ground floor of his practice building – addressed to him. He shared the practice with a woman with his surname, though I was never able to establish whether she was his sister or his wife; I preferred the former. I had delivered Lettipark in person, hoping to run into him, to put the book into his hands – a brief, highly charged contact. Perhaps I wanted to show him I was alive. Had written a fifth book. Was doing well, was capable of going on without him; I was certain he’d have been glad of it. I didn’t run into him. I had put the book in an envelope with a note, three polite lines, placed the envelope into his letter box and gone back home, and in the years leading up to our encounter in the minimart he had responded neither to the book nor to the note.

He had simply not reacted.

The story ‘Dreams’ has a third character: Effi, who suggests the narrator could go and see her analyst in an emergency – if you’re ever in a really bad place, a really shitty place, I mean – and that character too is based on a woman I was friends with for a long time, or rather: a woman I used to know.


These days, I wonder why I didn’t dedicate the story to Ada as well, why I didn’t put a copy of Lettipark in Ada’s letter box in the hope of running into her. Why did I not think in the same way of Ada, without whom, in reality as in the story, I wouldn’t have started my analysis. Without Ada, I wouldn’t have met Dr Dreehüs, I wouldn’t have written Alice or Where Love Begins; like in ‘Dreams’, it was Ada who’d recommended her analyst to me. Every decision in favour of a sentence is a decision against countless other sentences. Every decision in favour of a story passes up countless other stories. One word destroys another word. Writing means obliterating. I decided in favour of Dr Dreehüs and against Ada.

That’s one way I could look at it.


I met Ada in the early nineties. She was the same age as me, the uncrowned queen of a far-reaching urban tribe in which most, like Ada, came from Frankfurt an der Oder on the border with Poland. This origin, according to Ada, from a city taken by storm by the Red Army at the end of the Second World War, explained why the children of Frankfurt were so incapable and auto-aggressive, so excessively unstable: Frankfurt was a traumatised city, and the people born there continued to carry the trauma inside them. Ada lived out her trauma in a large, shady apartment on Helmholtzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg, which someone had occupied on her behalf in the chaotic months after the Berlin Wall came down and which couldn’t be taken away from her – for a while. A huge asymmetric kitchen-living room, wicker armchair with lambskin at the rear window, where Ada often sat and breastfed her baby. She was the first young mother I met, and she occupied her role with the air of the primordial mother; that wicker chair was her throne. The room full of shadows in motion, always pebbles and marbles on the long, scratched table, bouquets of branches and wild wasteland flowers in carafes, black-and-white photos pinned to the bare wall next to Shiva with all his golden arms next to newspaper clippings crackling in the draught. Candles and incense sticks, someone constantly tinkling away on the piano. The baby born in that room was delicate, rarely cried, big dark eyes fixed unwaveringly on the visitors who came and went, the front door unlocked. Inside the room there was no distinction made between day and night, the light always chalky as if underwater, no rules, barely a line to be crossed. It was evidently possible to be a reliable mother and to lose oneself at the same time, to give oneself up; I remember Ada at the counter of the bar we often went to at the time, I remember the dispassion with which she unbuttoned her shirt, took it off, sat before us with her upper body bared, upright and attentive; she wanted us to admire her bare breasts at two in the morning, she said they were the most beautiful out of all the breasts in the world – and we did, and we presumably assumed she was right. Where was the baby on those long nights, I think these days; at the time, I never wondered about it. Ada had a husband who amazed us by managing to study law, graduate, go about a regular job, earn money and still be with us when we set out to climb down into the nights that descended like deep dark wells. It was Ada who pointed out to me that the family I came from, had grown up in, didn’t necessarily have to stay my family, that it was possible to leave them and look for another, a better one; she herself had cut herself loose from her Frankfurt origins and gathered a chosen family around her, made up of her husband, her child and a close circle of other women and men. That family was good and affirming, in contrast to her biological family, whose only purpose had been to bring Ada into the world. Strangely, Ada never gave the impression while deliberating on such things that she needed any affirmation or consolation. She was invariably very composed, distanced, ironically cheerful and possessed with a defiant aloofness; she seemed always to know something I didn’t know. Her deliberations on the family unsettled me; as harmless as they seem to me these days, they were amazing and important to me then. My family was a cocoon in which I was pupated, bound up and safe. Ada’s views tugged a thread loose from that cocoon, pulled it apart, loosened it; it was other things that then led to its dissolution, but Ada, with the baby at her beautiful breast and her husband behind her and the others behind her husband, made the first cut.

I assume she didn’t know that.

When I had my baby, five years after hers, we began to spend the holidays together in my family’s summer house on the North Sea. Tides and dykes, the treeless coast, the eternal triste rain were alien to these people from Frankfurt, Brandenburg, East Berlin. The house, once my grandmother’s home, made up for that lack of familiarity. Old, decrepit, provisionally furnished, with no curtains, light perforated through the windows via a tangle of climbing plants, in one room a fantastic uncle who took part in the nightly parties and could quote Heine, albeit rather patchily; an overgrown garden with trees for hammocks and lanterns, and friends came and went over the weeks, extended and chosen family, taking it ever more for granted. It was that house where Ada explained her family principle to me, and she did so with a gentle gesture at everything around us. Furniture, framed certificates, turn-of-the-century photographs, stopped clocks with bent hands, chipped crockery and the name of the house, which someone had hammered in golden letters beneath the gable a hundred years ago.

Daheim: home.

All this, Ada said, is yours but it doesn’t have to be. You can accept it – or let it go. You can be here but you don’t have to feel responsible for anything. Anything at all. And then she stood up, walked away and left me alone with her suggestion.

I remember a dress made of tatty indigo-blue silk that she often wore, bought for ten euros at the market on Kollwitzplatz; of all the dresses I’ve seen, this was the most beautiful. She took it off the only time just the two of us went out to the mudflats, as far out as possible, up to the North Sea’s edge. It can’t have been a coincidence that this was the one evening we spent without the others. We’d cycled to the wild beach, to the spot where the promenade ended and the dunes began. We leaned our bikes against each other, removed our shoes and walked out towards the open sea; once we reached the water, Ada took off her dress and stood naked next to me. Dusk, the sky above the land far behind us now night, the sky above the water still bright, the water mother-of-pearl, Ada’s body pale and slow against the dark seam of the sea. I didn’t take my dress off. She had put hers back on at some point; then we’d walked back, cycled back to the house. On another afternoon, she embraced me fiercely and unexpectedly, in the hall by the rack of rain-soaked coats, between the children’s countless wellington boots, Ada’s scent suddenly so perceptible, dark, sandy, almost masculine.

In every one of those summers back then, Ada gave me flowers on my son’s birthday, an August bouquet picked on the edges of the fields the night before; she was the only person who considered that tradition important. The summers were exhausting. Nerve-racking, making us happy in an exorbitant way that was painful for everyone, our goals all variable and movable, life one long lyrical transit. Once Ada’s child was old enough to go to school alone in Berlin, she sometimes let her husband and child return to the city without her. One summer, her husband called me after getting back home to thank me for his stay and sum up how important it had all been for him, and then he asked me to get Ada on the phone, only to tell her the washing machine was broken and the fridge was mouldy. After that conversation, she sat down on the bench by the front door and cried. I’d never seen her cry before, and never did again. I’d like to say she left her husband shortly afterwards, met another man and had a second child; in real life, years passed between that crying on the bench and the second child, years that feel only in retrospect like a single step from one room to another. With her second child and that child’s father, Ada still spent her summers at the house; we stayed close. The second child’s father got the place at the head of the table; he left that spot after every meal as if he were the youngest of all the children. There was a walk on which he and Ada set out, and when they got back his glasses were broken, his shirt ripped, and his nose was bleeding. Things didn’t seem to get easier.

And yet – it’s unforgettable how Ada would retire at noon with her second child, still toothless and chubby-cheeked, for a nap. How she drank a big glass of milk before the nap, the baby perched on her hip, snuggled into the curve of her arm, round cheek laid on Ada’s shoulder, how she held the glass with her free right hand, downed it in one, head tipped all the way back, in deep, earnest gulps. Ritually, as if it were not milk but something far more exquisite, essential, not a drink but a colour, a material she was ingesting before she escaped with her child into the in-between world of sleep, which I knew would be deep, heavy with dreams and genuinely delicious; nothing compares to a nap shared with your own child. She put the empty glass back on the table, ran the back of her hand, her wrist over her mouth, gave me a mysterious and tender smile, went to her room and closed the door gently behind her. In the years of her separation from her first husband, the dissolution of her chosen family, her love for the father of the second child and the birth of that child, she attended analysis with Dr Dreehüs, something I didn’t know at the time; she only told me about it once the analysis, the restructuring, was over. She disbanded her family. Or her family disbanded itself. The father of her first child had a baby with a woman from Tierra del Fuego, the father of the second left Berlin. The building on Helmholtzplatz was sold and its tenants were evicted. Ada moved into a small apartment a few streets away, in a building with a camera hooked up to the doorbells, which was the beginning of the end, domesticating us all.

My child got older.

The summers were limited; sometimes school resumed in early August and we had to go back to Berlin, dog days in the city, days which always made me melancholy, full of yearning for the water, the garden, the bed in the attic room with the sandy sheets, listening to my child’s breathing in the night. On one of those dog days, I was sitting in a cafe with Ada, and as she went to leave, she said in passing that she had to go to her analysis session, one of the last. She gestured down the street, towards where the practice must be. She said: A good analyst, if you ever need one.

And that was all.


That tiny scene – the cafe, the remark, the gesture in the direction – crops up in my story ‘Dreams’. Two or three sentences that deliberately conceal all else – the indigo dress, the light on the mud- flats and the water, the glass of milk and the nap, the chosen families, the children, mine and hers – negating them. Those two or three sentences sum up something that’s impossible to grasp. They decide in favour of a single instant, a snow-globe moment. They cast all the rest overboard.


Writing imitates life, things disappearing, images constantly being left behind, falling out of focus, sputtering out. But the autonomous decision in favour of that omission – not the glass of milk, not the dress, but yes to the cafe scene, although the milk and the dress are more sensual – makes it easier, balances out anguish and grief over loss and time elapsed. The father of Ada’s second child once said that above all else he fell in love with her hands, her gestures; a remark I could instantly relate to. I always found Ada’s hands even more beautiful than her breasts: their distinctive knuckles, slim fingernails, the explicitness with which she stretched out those hands, spread her fingers when she made her decisive, capricious observations, the elegant nonchalance with which she touched things, moved them, dropped them. She was a beautiful and quite cold woman with an upright, always rather defiant posture, although her gait might suddenly become bouncy, light-hearted.

I never trusted her; perhaps that’s why it’s hard for me to say I was friends with her. I’d rather say I used to know her. It would be easier to say I used to love Ada. After that occasion in the cafe we lost touch, I broke off contact. It may have been because I took her comment seriously, made an appointment with Dr Dreehüs, began my analysis. Too much closeness, perhaps: Ada’s sessions on the couch, my own sessions on the same couch. Dr Dreehüs, I thought, knows something about me that I’d never tell him of my own accord, he knows things about me that Ada told him. I must have felt the need to regain control, to place the other at a safe distance. In the first years of my analysis I crashed, and I didn’t want to expose myself to Ada in that state, have her observe me. We lost one another; I can’t remember missing her. I was busy leaving my own family, and I didn’t intend to start a new one.

I wanted, I think these days, to be alone.

The story ‘Dreams’ describes a realisation – a retrospective classification of a relationship, the insight that we delude ourselves, fool ourselves, how glad we are to be fooled. Ada may have felt a vague sense of endearment towards me, but she never let me out of her sight; I would never have become a member of her family. In the summers with the children, she always wanted us all to do a reading of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard together. A scene she dreamed of – the circle of friends around the long garden table by night, with white wine, cigarettes, candlelight and the classic yellow Reclam paperbacks, reading roles she’d already allotted, but that had never gone any further. Those paperbacks are still on the bookshelf in the house by the sea. What would have happened if we’d agreed to Ada’s suggestion? No one wanted to read The Cherry Orchard. Everyone wanted to drink to excess, smoke, tell stories, let themselves go, take different roles, and perhaps that was the only sign of Ada’s vulnerability – that she wished we wanted to put on a play together. We didn’t play together. And now our children have left home. The story focuses on the separation, a futility. Putting a copy of Lettipark in Ada’s letter box would have been a superfluous gesture – and beyond that, I assume Ada would prefer to leave me in the dark about her possible reading of my view of our years.


In Trommel, Dr Dreehüs was sitting alone at the bar, with his back to the door. The barman saw me coming and Dr Dreehüs followed his eyes, turned round to me over his shoulder and smiled – he hadn’t expected me but he promptly patted the bar stool next to him, ridding me of my embarrassment. To an outsider, it might have looked like we’d arranged to meet. Dr Dreehüs seemed to like being alone in a bar, we were the only guests. He smoked. The light was dim, the bar not clearly of any particular persuasion, and the slightly thuggish-looking barman seemed to sense that the encounter between Dr Dreehüs and me was – let’s say, somewhat shady. A little illegitimate.

I took off my jacket, asked him for a second cigarette. Dr Dreehüs casually tapped one out of the soft pack and held it out to me.

He said: What are you drinking? He said: It’s on me.

At that point in time, he and I had spent over a thousand hours of our lives together. I had talked about all sorts of things I usually kept to myself. Dr Dreehüs knew a good deal about me, I knew nothing about him, and our encounter in Trommel was an unexpected expansion of our configuration, a small and puzzling mutation. To this day, I’m not sure whether Dr Dreehüs was a competent analyst. When other people talk about their analyses, I get an impression of lively and heart-warming communication; Dr Dreehüs, however, almost never spoke to me, I remember perhaps five utterances in ten years. The minutes passed while I spoke to myself, searchingly, pausing between my sentences, posing questions and reaching for the answers alone. These days I think that kind of analysis was exactly right for me: it was ideal.

In one of our first sessions, I had told Dr Dreehüs about my fear of no longer being able to write at the end of the analysis, having to sacrifice writing to the analysis. He had replied that that remained to be seen, and submerged after that mysterious remark into a silence from which he did not reappear for ten years. More or less. I’m exaggerating, but that is what I remember, and that is what the narrator in the story remembers: Dr Dreehüs-Gupta never said anything, and in some moments she was certain – as I was – that he’d fallen asleep. He would always sit behind me, at the top end of the couch, I would never turn round to him, having the superstitious impression it would bring bad luck to turn round to him. Sometimes we’d laugh together – he had a sense of humour. Occasionally, he might express sympathy or understanding through half a sigh or a longer exhalation. But whenever I’d ask him a question he would ask me why I was asking him, and refuse to answer. There had been sessions when I’d arrived early, paced up and down the park outside the building, looked up at his windows and seen him smoking a cigarette on the balcony, and I’d felt great satisfaction that Dr Dreehüs had his own addictions, was dependent on such an unhealthy habit. He played classical guitar, the guitar rested against his desk in an expensive bag every Monday. And that was all I knew about him. The night-time encounter in Trommel brought with it the risk of gazing at a face that wasn’t what I thought I knew. Instead, the face of a stranger to whom I had entrusted my whole life in the mistaken assumption that he understood me – and now it might prove that he’d understood nothing at all and aside from that was a know-it-all, unlikeable and cold. I was afraid Dr Dreehüs might simply not be the man I had taken him for, might, to use a preferred phrase from Ada’s chosen family, be an utter idiot. A total and utter idiot. Ten years would collapse in on themselves, crumble into nothingness:


Realisation in time-lapse – a little more specific than the realisation over years that the person you love is not the person you think they are, a gradually dawning awareness that you are alone in the world, your partner a mirror image of your needs, a reflection which will fall away the moment you let go. Held by nothing, responsible for no one, least of all for you.

You are, in Turgenev’s words, alone like a finger.

I didn’t know what to drink, but Dr Dreehüs ordered for me in a manner that had a clear and absurd touch of the paternal: a gin and tonic. The barman mixed the drink placidly as I watched on. And then I took the first sip, lit my second cigarette myself, turned to the side, gathered my courage and looked at Dr Dreehüs. His expression was friendly, rather arrogant in a way that was familiar for no good reason, a little weary, beneath the weariness essentially: earnest.

He was perfectly fine.

His gaze was perfectly fine, as was his gentle and mockingly interested amusement; he was nothing but a man in the late years of his life sitting at a disconsolate bar at two in the morning – on a weekday; he’d get up early and go about his specific work – and that fact alone had something deficient about it, and the deficiency had something calming about it, and I had evidently not, at least not at this first glance, been wrong about him.

He said: You were brave to come into Trommel. You were brave to come in, I’m glad, and it was clear he meant what he said.

I said: Does this barman here know what your job is?

He said: This barman here thinks I’m an electrician.

I said: I can imagine you doing almost any job but that.


Photograph © Suzie Howell, Untitled, 2022

Judith Hermann

Judith Hermann was born in 1970 in Berlin where she lives and works as a writer and film-maker. ‘This Side of the Oder’, which appeared in Granta 74, was taken from her first collection of short stories, The Summerhouse, Later. She has since written two collections of stories, Nothing But Ghosts (2003) and Alice (2009).

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Translated by Katy Derbyshire

Katy Derbyshire, originally from London, has lived in Berlin for over twenty years. She translates contemporary German writers including Inka Parei, Heike Geissler, Olga Grjasnowa, Annett Gröschner and Christa Wolf. Her translation of Clemens Meyer’s Bricks and Mortar was the winner of the 2018 Straelener Übersetzerpreis (Straelen Prize for Translation). She occasionally teaches translation and also co-hosts a monthly translation lab and the bi-monthly Dead Ladies Show.

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