It is summer, 1929, and in a small German town a storm is brewing. The shabby reporter Tredup leads a precarious existence working for the Pomeranian Chronicle - until he takes some photographs that offer the chance to make a fortune. In Krüger's bar, the farmers are plotting their revenge on greedy officials. A mysterious travelling salesman from Berlin , Henning, is stirring up trouble - but no one knows why. Meanwhile the Nazis grow stronger and the Communists fight them in the streets. And at the centre of it all, the Mayor, 'Fatty' Gareis, seeks the easy life even as events spiral beyond his control.
As tensions erupt between workers and bosses, town and country, Left and Right, alliances are broken, bribes are taken and plots are hatched, until the tension spills over into violence.
Hans Fallada's raw, darkly humorous account of a town rife with corruption, greed and brutality, first published in 1931, was written as Weimar Germany collapsed around him. It is an extraordinary novel about the failure of governments and the failings of people. Michael Hofmann's brilliant, colloquialtranslation brings this work of intrigue and foreboding to English readers for the first time.
Part i - The Farmers
1. An Order of Attachment in the Country
At Haselhorst Station two men climb out of the train that goes from Altholm to Stolpe.
Both are wearing town clothes, but are carrying raincoats over their arms and have knotty
canes in their hands. One of them is dour-looking and in his forties, while his scrawny
twenty-year-old companion looks round alertly in all directions. Everything seems to
They follow the main street through Haselhorst. The roofs of the farmhouses peep
through the green everywhere, some reed, some thatch, some tile, some tin. Every farm is
its own world, ringed with trees, and careful to turn its narrow side to the main road.
They leave Haselhorst behind them and walk along the rowan-lined avenue towards
Gramzow. There are cattle standing at pasture in the meadows, red and white or black and
white, idly looking round at the wanderers, slowly chewing.
‘It’s nice to get out of the office once in a while,’ says the young man.
‘There was a time I thought that as well,’ replies the older one.
‘Nothing but figures all the time, it’s too much.’
‘Figures are easier to deal with than people. More predictable.’
‘Herr Kalübbe, do you really think something could happen?’
‘Don’t talk rot. Of course nothing’s going to happen.’
The younger man reaches into his back pocket. ‘At least I’ve got my pistol with
The older man suddenly stops dead, waves his arms furiously, and his face goes purple.
‘You idiot, you! You blasted idiot!’
His rage deepens. He throws his hat and coat down on the road, and the briefcase he was
carrying under his raincoat.
‘All right! Go on! Do your own thing! What insane stupidity! And a hothead like that .
. .’ He is incapable of going on.
The younger man has turned pale, whether from indignation, anger or shock. But he is at
least able to master himself. ‘Herr Kalübbe, please, what was it I said to annoy you like
‘If I so much as hear the words “At least I’ve got my pistol with me”! You propose to
go among farmers with your pistol? I have a wife and children.’
‘But this morning the revenue councillor briefed me about the use of arms.’
Kalübbe is dismissive. ‘Oh, him! Sits at his desk all day. Knows nothing but paper. He
should come out with me on an actual attachment one day, to Poseritz or Dülmen or, why
not, Gram¬zow, today . . . He would soon stop giving briefings!’
Kalübbe grins sneeringly at the thought of the revenue coun¬cillor accompanying him on
one of his attachment trips.
Suddenly he laughs. ‘Here, let me show you something.’ He pulls his pistol out of his
own back pocket, aims it at his colleague.
‘What are you doing? Put that away!’ the younger man shouts, and jumps to the side.
Kalübbe pulls the trigger. ‘You see – nothing! It’s not loaded. That’s what I think of
your sort of protection.’
He puts his pistol away. ‘And now give me yours.’ He pulls the barrel back with a jerk
and ejects one bullet after another. The young man picks them up in silence. ‘Put them in
your waistcoat pocket, and hand them back to the revenue councillor tonight. That’s my
briefing on self-defence, Thiel.’
Thiel has also picked up stick and coat and briefcase, and hands them all silently to
his colleague. They walk on. Kalübbe looks across meadows that are yellow with crowfoot,
or whitish-rose with cardamine. ‘Don’t take it amiss, Thiel. Here, shake hands, no hard
feelings. – That’s right. All of you cooped up in the rev¬enue building, you’ve got no
idea of what it means to be working out here.
‘I was pleased when I became a bailiff. Not just for the per diems and travel
allowances, which I can really use, with a wife and three little ones. But also for being
out here, on a spring day, when everything is green and fresh. Not just stone. You respond
‘And now – now you’re the most shameful and disgusting blot on the State.’
‘Herr Kalübbe, you, who everyone praises so!’
‘Yes, them indoors! If a farmer comes to see you, or if ten farmers come to see you,
it’s the same thing, it’s a farmer in town. And if they ever get really insolent, as you
term it, then there’s plenty of you around. Behind the glass screen. And with a direct
line to the police up on the wall.
‘But here, where we’re walking now, the farmer’s been sat for a hundred years, for a
thousand years. Here it’s us that don’t belong. And I’m all alone in their midst, with my
briefcase and my blue cuckoo stamp. And I am the State, and if things go well, then I will
take with me just an edge of their self-esteem, and the cow out of their byre, and if
things are rough, why, then I make them home¬less at the end of a thousand years of their
‘Can they really not pay?’
‘Sometimes they can’t, and sometimes they won’t. And of late they really haven’t wanted
to. – You see, Thiel, there have always been a few rich farmers, who did really well for
themselves, and they don’t see why they should be reduced to gnawing on a crust. And they
don’t run their businesses in a rational way . . .
‘But what do we know about it? It’s none of our beeswax. What do we care about the
farmers? They hoe their row, we hoe ours. But what bothers me is the way I walk among them
dis¬honestly, like a hangman from the Middle Ages, who is despised, like a harlot with her
parasol on her arm, that they all spit at, and with whom no one will sit down at a
‘Hold it! Stop!’ calls Thiel, and he grabs his colleague by the sleeve. In the dust is
a butterfly, a brown peacock butterfly, with trembling wings. Its antennae are moving
gropingly in the sun¬shine, in the light, the warmth.
Kalübbe pulls his foot, which was already hovering over the creature, back. Pulls it
back and stands still, looking down at the living brown dust.