Mind The Trees

The man waited under the tree. When his time had come, he moved forward.
A sudden, strong gust of wind broke off the crown of a plane tree. It fell into the chestnut under which the man had waited.
He laid on his back, unconscious, seemingly unhurt. When the ambulancemen moved him, they realised that the back of his skull was smashed in. They brought him into the next hospital, already dead.
Paris, Champs Élysée, 1. VI. 1938, 19:30.  Ödön von HORVÁTH (Ger., Eng.).

In 1956 a young German student* visits Paris trying to identify the location. He speaks with the street sweepers, but no one remembers the accident. When he walks away they come back and point him to Mr Maurice – Maurice was already there twenty years ago, he may know something.
And he does, he remembers it well, he actually saw what happened. He thinks of HORVÁTH as a poet of Czech origin, remembers the brother.
HORVÁTH is of old-European origin, he describes himself as a “typical mix of Austria-Hungary”, “with Hungarian passport and German mother tongue”.
He was born into a family of reasonable wealth, his father Ödön Joseph (1874-1950) held a position as minor diplomat of the Doppelmonarchie – he took care of the economical ties between Austria-Hungary and the Southern-German kingdoms of Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, diverse parts of Hassia and the Rhineland. The revolution of 1919 interrupted his service, the economical disturbances and ongoing inflation did harm to the family fortune, but he was reassigned into his old role in the new republic (Eng.) until retirement.
In those turbulent years after The Great War young Ödön started to write seriously, of course he went to Berlin. HORVÁTH was accepted & established when he was awarded the Kleist-Preis (Ger., Eng.) in 1931, the prestigious literary award of the Weimar Republic, of course discontinued after 1933.

HORVÁTH is a superstitious man with a fondness for macabre stories. The storm that killed him, overturned a fishing boat on the Channel with all hands drowning. The boat was beached on the second of June. As Walter MEHRING (Ger., Eng.) remembers, the last words HORVÁTH wrote in the manuscript of his new novel “Adieu Europe” were :”Ein Sturm kommt über das Meer. Er wirft eine Barke um. Übers Jahr kehrt sie vielleicht zurück, mit schwarzen Segeln und unbemannt …”
“A storm comes over the Sea. It overturns a boat. Perhaps she comes back over the year, with black sails, unmanned …”

The burial saw the gathering of the German emigration in Paris, WERFEL (Ger., Eng.), ZUCKMAYER (Ger., Eng.), ROTH (Ger., Eng.) – they all were there. A large bunch of zerzauster Vögel, as ZUCKMAYER put it, “dishevelled birds”, wearing those undefined and undefinable neckties that cover shabby collars.
While the burial goes smoothly, the infight starts when friends decide to honour the late author with a commemoration (“When they invite the Commies I do not attend !” etc.). Finally this takes place on the 13th of June, Josef ROTH leads through the evening. Nobody realises that the large glass of water, from what he now and then takes a big gulp, contains pure Slibovitz.

I end this with the last sentence of HORVÁTHs last finished novel, A Child of Our Time : “Bedenk es doch, er wußt sich nicht anders zu helfen, er war eben ein Kind unserer Zeit.”
“Mind, he did not know better, he was a child of our time.”

The young man’s name is Traugott KRISCHKE, whose biography of HORVÁTH I shamelessly use here : KRISCHKE, Traugott : Ödön von Horváth. Kind seiner Zeit. Berlin 1998 (Ullstein-Buch, 26525)

Interesting Women: Mechthilde Peto

She is born (1879) Mechthilde Christiane Marie Gräfin von und zu ARCO-ZINNEBERG (Ger., Eng., DNB),  was correctly addressed as Mechthilde Christiane Marie Fürstin LICHNOWSKY between 1904 and 1937, and finally lived and died (1958) as Mechthilde Christiane Marie PETO.
Mechthilde, a Urururenkelin of Empress Maria Theresia, has a nice childhood, spent on a castle in Niederbayern and in the family palais in Munich. Her catholic education is strict, what is not the worst, and “open” at the same time, among other things she learns French and English fluently (she will later write a novel in French).
In Munich she meets the young British military attaché Ralph HARDING PETO in 1901, they become engaged, but the family does not accept this mésalliance. In 1904 she marries Fürst Karl Max LICHNOWSKY (Ger., Eng.) (1860-1928), a man in his early forties then, 19 years her senior, who has just retired from his career in the ministry of foreign affairs. They have three children, the marriage is seemingly not an unhappy one. In those years until 1912, they live in houses belonging to Fürst LICHNOWSKY, mostly in Schloss Grätz (Ger.) and Kuchelna (Ger., Eng.) in Mährisch Schlesien (Ger., Eng.). Under her influence these places become gathering points for literates, musicians: People like KEYSERLING (Ger., Eng.), HOFMANNSTHAL (Ger., Eng.), C. STERNHEIM  (Ger., Eng.) and others show up; she works together with a certain Karl KRAUS (Ger., Eng.) on texts of NESTROY (Ger., Eng.), and the Viennese thunderer and the Tyrolian countess are linked in a lifelong friendship since these days, until his death 1936. Must have been carefree and happy times.

Her husband is always counted among those who would get an important job in the ministry of foreign affairs, and this becomes true – seemingly after the Kaiser has misunderstood an article the Fürst had written about British-German relations. LICHNOWSKY himself writes in his memoires that the first proposed candidate was found to be too old, two others turned the job down, so he became the  ambassador of the Deutsche Reich at St.James’s (Ger., Eng.). The last before the Great War.
Mechthilde was not a Mauerblümchen, but an ideal model for this role. As Alfred KERR (Ger., Eng.) put it: “The house of the German ambassador is the only place where not the buffet is the main attraction, but the hostess”. She collects art and has some paintings of this strange Spaniard PICASSO on the walls (blue phase), she writes books and establishes a salon: When she comes to London in 1912 she already has a lot of contacts in the cultural European scene of the day, and she uses them.
In August 1914 her husband – as one of the very very few of the elite in the Reich – stands the test of time: Fürst LICHNOWSKY – a man deeply rooted in the 19th century! – is the only one in the ministry of foreign affairs who seriously opposes war as means of politics, who actively works for peace: One of his last telegrams simply says: “There is nothing to win!”
They do not listen to him in Berlin. When he has to leave London the British give him an Ehrenkompagnie, a very fine gesture to a brave man, who had tried all his best to avoid the abyss. LICHNOWSKY is later (1917) expelled from the Prussian house of Lords, but this itself ceases to exist after just one more year – then there is no more Reich. The usual dickheads screamed “traitor”, but it is a sad fact: He stood the test, those in charge to make decisions, not. He dies 1928.

Mechthilde’s first book is published before WWI, a travelbook about Egypt. Later she writes novels and plays, and  in the 1920 establishes herself as a well-known writer with essays, newspaper work and so on. After the death of her husband she spends most of her time outside of Germany, notably in France, especially after 1933. 1936 Mechthilde should join the Reichsschrifttumskammer, what she plainly refuses to do. So her books are not published in Germany anymore and she is de facto verboten. She leaves and we find her among the expatriates who come together in Southern France in 1937 – an illustrious crowd, definitely good compagnie. In the late 1930s her first love, the young attaché from Munich, steps back into her life, and she marries Ralph HARDING PETO (scroll down) in 1937, they settle in London. Mechthilde goes back to Germany on family business in 1939, I have no idea what was so important to her. Despite the fact that she has a British passport she is not allowed to leave Germany – she will not meet her husband again: Major Ralph H. PETO dies in September 1946.
During the war she lives in Munich and in the house in Graetz, and as a foreigner has to show up at the local police station every week. She writes, but of course does not publish. When I piece it together correctly the end of the war finds her in Silesia, in the small part that comes to the new   Tschechoslowakei (Ger., Eng.). So she may have found herself in the midst of the expellation of  Germans (Ger., Eng.). She comes back to London at the end of 1946, some months after her husband’s death, the house in Graetz and other possessions of the family were confiscated by the new state.

She publishes her first book after the war in 1949, Worte über Wörter, a Sprachkritik about style. Some say that it could be compared to KLEMPERERs Lingua Tertii Imperii – I have ordered her book via Fernleihe and am eager for reading it.
Since the beginning of the fifties new editions of her titles start to be published, she receives some honours: In 1950 she becomes a member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste, the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung and the Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur. The brand new oh so democratic state and the old society want to adorne itself with those, who did not what they did in the twelve years. Mechthilde lives quietly and humbly in London: She did not visit again the house the German ambassador once had. A journey to Germany or to Munich is impossible, not for monetary reasons, but not after those times of Ungeist. There is a break, a fracture between the individual education and the general cultural decay she had to witness first hand, and the language mirrors it. Her prose is characterised as strict and rigid, dismissive even; she understands language as the tool for the Geist to express itself – the “expert” sees language as tool for domination, what is nothing else but oppression.
I think her writings earn to be rediscovered, an interesting woman.

Sources besides those in the text: Literaturportal Bayern (German only), Lesekost (German only), fembio (German only, with a bibliography and further sources), der SPIEGEL 1949 (German only).