Notes from Marienbad ( 2 )

One would wish every story about Marienbad could begin with the sentence „Once upon a time“ but this would raise expectations never to be fulfilled. The once so frequently visited place, Edward VII even bought his mistress a hotel, and it is said that the Shah of Persia threw golden coins from the balcony, now is a paradise for the budget- conscious German pensioner. The average age I presume is about 65. But their habits do not reflect their age. They are always in a hurry. In the morning they rush down to the breakfast parlor and look with deep mistrust at my habit to read the paper in the very same time, they race to the buffet for a third time. No, besides of the old facades not much reminds one of the old and famous spa culture. The pensioners however, have no time  left to play golf as Rudyard Kipling did here, nor do they know that Sigmund Freund laid in the peat bath as well and thought deeply or just annoyed about the human soul. Now his house is a public library. Of course the library is closed and no signs tells the visitor when and if the doors would open again. It is said of the old Emperor, who was a frequent visitor as well that in every hotel room a picture of his was to be found. Even when the Habsburg Empire had lost all his splendor the old emperor smiled indulgently from the walls. Maybe if not in such a hurry some of the pensioners would remember that this was the case till 1938, when the old Emperor finally was replaced by that of Konrad Henlein, who soon after declared the town free of jews and expelled the Czech population. But the pensioners are all gone, to receive treatments of whatever kind in the basement of the hotel. In preparation to this they breakfast all in blue jogging trousers and horrible slippers. I wonder, while looking at their faces what they are looking for? Are they seeking for tenderness when tender hands were missing for the most part of their lives? Do they believe that drinking cups of sulphuric water will make up years of carelessness? But they are always running by to quickly to catch more than a handful of words. So by 10 AM I am alone in the breakfast parlor, the waitresses chat about things I can not understand, someone turns on the radio that plays horrible versions of Edith Piaf songs and I look out of the window into the snow that falls as if we were in deep winter. Half an hour later, a waiter comes and after many polite formulas I understand that I better had to leave the parlor, they would start soon to prepare the room for lunch. Always the pensioners on their heels. Empty is the town, pre-season says the man at the reception and shrugs his shoulders, uphill I walk up to the old and now nearly decayed building where Edward VII forgot his dreadful mother and smoked too much, maybe close of being happy. Two houses further, Goethe stayed and fell in love. My grandmother adored Goethe and his love letter to Marienbad. I adored my grandmother and so for many years declared that I loved the Marienbad Elegy best. ( Even when in truth I prefer most of his other pieces to this.) But my grandmother, always recited a piece her and a piece there and I wish as desirous as possible to walk with her down the Goethe path. Me listening to her telling me the story of Goethe and Ulrike von Levetzow walking on the very same path, he eager to wake her interest in stones, now you must imagine my grandmother snorting and then laughing about the stupidity of men and the poor girl probably bored to death by the old men with his stones. Chocolate as the story went after my grandmother, he smuggled under his precious findings to keep her spirits up. If he really hoped that the girl would follow him to Weimar, I doubt, even when my grandmother always blamed her parents, but little we know about the stories of others and careful we should judge even an old and a bit ridicule men, who searched in Marienbad for a magic that never would have be lasted in reality. Ulrike however, stayed in Marienbad till she died, at age 95. Maybe the man long forgotten and only a glimpse of glittering paper, where chocolate was wrapped in, remained of the story at all. My grandmother would have not listened to such talking. Goethe was a hero beyond all heroes and with a conspiratorial look, she would have proposed to quit lunch and to start with the cake right away. I always happily agreed, and returning to a café with very wet and cold feet, I eat cake and read only for her Goethe’s farewell of the once so splendid and now so long lost world.

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