We Are Camera

Fritz Kater

Artwork by Yohei Oishi

ernst: 38

paula: 25

mirco: 5

sonya: 3

john: 29 (superman/thalomide skinhead/multiple personality)

1

"back to life back to reality"                                               summer 1972

mirco
papa is sitting in the boat mama screams you idiot  stop it stop it once and for all  the blood dripping from papa's hands is increasing the fishing line has cut into his hand stop it you idiot just cut it loose do you hear me mama's makeup is beginning to run sonya has turned white a man comes up to our boat and asks can i help you no thank you my father smiles back
on the floor of the boat a large carp is dancing sonya throws up into the scharmützelsee

papa
do you want a sandwich

sonja
with liverwurst

papa
yes

sonja
yes

2                                                                                       december 31 1969

mama
you have to get up you hear get up we're going on a trip

mirco
i can't my eyes are sewn shut can't you see the threads in my eyes who was that

mama
come on you'll get a red fire engine you can go back to sleep in the car

3

checkpoint zero                                                    december 31, 1969, 4:30 am

papa
keep me up my sergeant and press your cheeks together

mama
we have to go

papa
yes you're right
let's go
the alarm clock i never heard the alarm clock

mama
come on get up dear

mirco
i'm still so tired
the radio in the bathroom with papa the broadcast of the tidal chart
the radio is always in the bathroom with papa
the fairy tales are on at 5 the first story starts at 5
the roses are beautiful but first come the thorns that will prick the princess
and everybody has to cry

john
i'm getting ready for an assignment
a job
everyone does it in his own way i choose to sort through
stuff photos
the sagging breasts of the wealthy press
i just say guillaume
poverty is colorful poster upon poster
guillaume topples willy brandt
an era draws to an end
as do historical books that i find on the train
or when i practice disappearing
i've always got chemistry with me
lo how a rose 'ere blooming
is a song from the thirty years' war
that's how far back the records go
that far everything else is ancient lore legends
no family tree can be traced back further than that
we come from ancient times and all of that is inside of us
everything we can't possibly imagine
simplex simplicissimus has a child in his backpack
he found it or it's his clone
the child's name is johnny depp and it's a thalomide skinhead
i fell asleep laughing and woke up
screaming
i'll fuck marion before i leave
after that i'll stare at the pool

mirco
besides that barry newman from vanishing point appears as my father the girl from the name of the rose as my mother
"the older you get the harder you try"

john
everyone knows that the indian from the cuckoo's nest later killed himself because he couldn't get any more roles no one knows what the guards thought about on their lunch break when the jews and the others stood naked in the gas chambers and there was no gas because it was lunch break and the guards were eating after locking up of course
the gas chamber germans that is
what did they think about as they ate their pork knuckles and sauerkraut followed by a delicious pudding
life isn't exactly economical
the concorde flies to sugarloaf mountain and back
"wake up b-boys united in pain"

papa
we have to go we have to be at the airport
at least an hour early
finland is the only place where you don't always have to drink it's just too expensive

mama
i wasn't so sure about my life
but no one is going to be crowned he fights the good fight
and now a vacation time to learn to tell things apart

papa
my job was to chase animals in the air
a false life exists within the right life you have to fight against it even privately
the 20th anniversary of the german democratic republic
my friends
...you proud...for the others we'll bring the guillotine to their bedsides
something got in the way of guillaume
on the radio the broadcast of the tidal chart
numbers combinations of numbers
don't misunderstand anything
don't misunderstand

sonya
my teddy my teddy i can't leave without my teddy

mirco
then you'll just have to stay here

sonya
no no you're so mean
mirco you pig

mama
come now little mouse your teddy is right here under the bed like always
we're leaving now
today before the sun sets you'll see the ocean for the first time

sonya
is it big

mama
gigantic

sonya
then i don't want to see it

mama
come on

4

vomit                                                                                           march 1975

sonya
mirco mirco are you coming papa is lying in front of number 12

mirco
you can see i'm playing i can't now breuer is ahead 4:3

sonya is crying

call mama at work

sonya keeps crying

tell mrs tollkühn to come i just saw her at the store

sonya keeps crying

sonya
papa is gasping so weird

mirco
i can't do anything about it

sonya keeps crying

papa was lying there in front of number 12 next to him his briefcase his hand still grasping the handle lying diagonally in front of the entrance so that everyone had to step over his huge body his tie full of vomit

sonya
he's still breathing

mirco
so what do you think

5

to the airport                                       december 31 1969, 5:45 am

mirco
sonya and i are lying on the back seat i'm behind papa sonya's behind mama we're lying there looking up at the sky the sky is made of imitation white leather with many black holes spaced equally apart so that the car can breathe papa says we have the sky overhead and gummi bears sonya eats the orange ones mama the white ones papa the green ones nobody wants those

5b

airport                                                   december 31 1969, 7:10 am

john
there's nothing good on the airplane everything is cardboard
cardboard drinks sandwiches movies
am i the only one who notices that we're flying lower
there's a storm on the other side a girl is watching things fly by
vacuum cleaner salesmen are writing something on the window
then before you can read it they wipe it away
how can a person live without a tie
i don't know
i'm still a little tired
i'm thinking about djibouti
about houses with beautiful young women
the house and woman together cost as much as a bottle of shampoo in the london hilton
the girl says i want all airplanes to crash
air conditioning is the sign of civilization
one line has no effect
like christ hanging from a nail
already a crime to look at
like how the berlin wall is 60 centimeters too low
first the rich man wakes us then his money

6

papa is dead—the carp lives                             december 30, 1981

sonya
mirco mama and i went shopping it was the day before new year's eve mirco came back from sports practice and mama said sit down something has happened then mirco sat down behind the coffee table on the couch he hadn't taken off his denim bag with his sports clothes mama said papa is dead liver and heart dieter called earlier he drank away your entire inheritance in the last year alone 37 thousand marks how he did it is a mystery to me

my eyes were red from crying mirco didn't say a thing then he laughed for a while and went into the bathroom to put his things in the wash machine now exactly one year later we bought noisemakers and fireworks on invalidenstraße everything lay on the table mama forked over a hundred marks for it all but we were getting on her nerves because we hadn't set one off yet i went into the kitchen to put the bitter lemon in the refrigerator mama ran some water for the carp which was still alive and could look forward to one more day in the bathtub

and then i saw mirco light a match over the rockets and stuff and everything started shooting off in all directions immediately setting the curtains on fire the table cloth and the flokati rug mama threw the carp into my arms and ran off to put out the fire with a bucket mirco just stood there looking stupid but miraculously he wasn't hurt not at all but a hole was burned in the table where we later played marbles for two years we had no curtains no flokatis and a sofa with holes so big that all of our hamsters could fit inside mama didn't speak with mirco for a year the tears that fell from my eyes on the carp saved its life for one more day

7

salt                                                                             december 31, 1981

mirco
sonya is 15 and finally wants to spend new year's eve on her own she was going to meet her friends on devil's mountain mama supplied her with everything woolen stockings three rockets 20 Marks and two condoms

sonya
what are those for

mama
just take them

mirco
by 10 pm sonya was back home

mama
what are you doing here

sonya
i'm cold everyone went home they were cold too

mama
and the condoms

sonya
here

mama
do you want some carp

sonya
pretzels

8

lobby                                                            december 31, 1969 4:15 pm

john
i didn't want to steal his wife but in the end it was her lips that sought out mine

ernst
there must be one empty room somewhere

paula
as a last resort you can carry me in on your back and i'll faint in front of the reception desk

john as the hotel manager
"i'm sorry, i gave the last room to those two people"

ernst
my wife is completely exhausted we got up quite early the children are waiting outside in the taxi you are our last chance

john
"oh well, i'm not hitler, you can have the first-aid room and tomorrow we'll see a new world with new options"

ernst
what should i do there's no other option

paula
well OK then

ernst
here thanks on her behalf

john
"Oh, wait a minute."

john makes a phone call

"i have a suite for you and your wife
two businessmen from vietnam left
they can't sleep so far from earth
on the 24th floor"

ernst
that's very kind of you
would you like a cigarette

john
"thanks i had a smoke two minutes ago"

9

supper                                                      december 31, 1969, 6:45 pm

mirco
radio turku is playing a finnish tango
there are only three words that are identical in both finnish and hungarian
one of them is sugar
sugar is 95% carbon
the finnish olympic athletes need carbohydrates
they are training here for munich in '72
the skiers
in '36 three finns won the 10,000 meters
it's beautifully depicted in riefenstahl's second olympic film which has been underappreciated
mama is tired
she's going to give the waiter a blowjob and spit it out in the crystal vase
later in berlin the crystal vase will be blown up—air force
papa is tired too
he has a guilty conscience and is starting to get cirrhosis of the liver
he is a biological weapons researcher bio-weapons.

john
are there stories that are important
who decides
where does fate begin what's the point of it all
what's the right way to live
for a moment i'm forsaken by chemistry
and am free of the excess trust that i used to feel
i'm thinking my own thoughts and living as a free agent
who said you can live without guilt
who writes up your account and when
beauty is stronger than intelligence
love is stronger than reason
knowledge is vomit is excess experience
is struggle life or a funny word for solitude
"showroom" and department store of the world

sonya
mama never had ballet slippers because her boobs were too big i like how it smells when she takes me out of the bathtub and rubs me with nivea

mirco
i pull sonya out by one foot from under the table she always wants to hide under the table what's that about what does she have to say to the mice will loneliness lessen when you get older do you really get used to it when you stare up at the sky do you forget where you are

john
"hey girl little girl here it's me listen to me"

mirco
sonya sonya where are you

sonya
over here by the kitchen there's a big escalator here
papa likes to eat pelmeni they don't have them here they have blue carp

mirco
stay there we can't ride it

sonya
i'm sticking my finger into the escalator's rubber handgrip
there's a handsome man in uniform next to me i have to look at him
i'm going to try sticking my finger in a little farther
o w ow ow

mirco
sonya sticks her finger in the escalator a child screams waiters fall blue carp slides down the silver stairs of the escalator to the kitchen
we always wanted blue carp there is also blue eel only no one ever talks about that or only seldom
something is poured over it some liquid

papa
vodka

mirco
then it turns blue
the noisemakers the fireworks and the snow snow snow

sonya
mirco mirco it hurts so bad

mirco
i pull her hand out
her finger is flattened
flounder
there isn't such a thing as blue founder

papa
a doctor sonya must see a doctor immediately

john
"sir can i help you"

papa
i would be eternally grateful

sonya
ow-owwwww

john
when you are carrying such a small girl it's impossible not to imagine a life with her

10

animals in bed                                    december 31, 1969  8:35pm

mirco
there's a photo of my parents where they both look happy it's from mardi gras my father's a drunken sailor who has been studying too long my mother plays liz taylor as a polish princess crossed with a 70-year-old boxer's slut.

sonya
papa is a mole a spy a secret agent spies study a subject related to science it's best if they get their phd then of course they need to learn lots of languages papa knows six languages german english french italian polish and later after he was exposed russian

spies have two jobs spying and the job they are spying on papa was actually a biologist spies have to keep things secret if they aren't secret any more they are exposed then they have to give up give up and run away then it's a disadvantage to have a family because they have to run away too even though they don't know that their papa is a spy because that has to stay a secret but there has to be a family because a doctor without a family would be suspicious but a spy can't be suspicious no way and if he does raise suspicions he has to give up and run away with his family which doesn't know why they have to run away and give up because they have no idea that their own papa is a spy because that has to stay a secret and only later can the topic be broached that one hasn't taken a quick vacation but in fact is making an escape that one has to give up and run away because he is a spy who is now making an escape and papa can only talk about that when one is in a neutral country Finland for example in a hotel where it is snowing outside and the children are asleep or at least are under the covers pretending to sleep

mama infected guinea pigs at the institute with biological agents they either got goiters or teary eyes or frostbite then they died and their bodies were incinerated mama has infected over a thousand guinea pigs

if you run over a cat or a dog you should drive back and run over it again so it doesn't suffer

mirco
i had a hamster his name was romeo he was a golden hamster he fell off the 8th floor balcony and survived but he had to wear a brace which meant i couldn't play wheelbarrow with him any more but i was happy he survived when he died i got romeo 2 for my birthday my mother ran him through the wash machine with my sweatpants where Romeo 2 had gone to hide my father crushed romeo 3 when he slipped in the kitchen totally drunk and crushed him romeo 4 got yellow fever turned yellow and died  my mother bought a juliet to go with romeo 5 to breed our own hamsters and cut down on the costs  juliet was albino and had 7 baby hamsters but they were too much work for my mother so she swapped them all for a rabbit while i was in school but i never touched it so it became sonya's from then on i never had another pet my father had a little fungus in a jar it looked like what happens when you leave the pickle jar open it's mold fungus it always disgusted sonya and of course mama too he was only allowed to take it out of his briefcase in his office later mama grew her own mushrooms button mushrooms in the basement on old mattresses sonya and i had to go get old mattresses from the neighbors' attics and lay them down in our basement then the mattresses were sprayed with water and the mushroom spores strewn over them later button mushrooms grew—puny, greenish-white things i never ate a single one no one aside from my mother ate the mushrooms i didn't start eating mushrooms until after Chernobyl when they were cheaper

11

lobby II                                                  december 31, 1969  11:15pm

john
"you can't sleep on the chair here in the front office
aren't you pleased with your suite we can look for another one tomorrow"

paula
my husband has polyps he snores you get used to it but not always

john
"a cigarette"

paula
always

john
"look the room's bed is small but you'll have two or three hours of quiet"

paula
will you come back

john
"i have to go on the roof there is another little girl that can't sleep"

paula
if you come back you can wake me up

12.

attempt                                                   december 31, 1969  11:23 pm

sonya
walking around at night looking at the stars hanging all around you and the icy air the way it breathes
running along the rooftops jumping from roof to roof landing in the snow like a cat cats don't have fat thumbs
what's real blurs disappears in the other
behind me is a man who wants to push me
i want to fall and of course i don't

john
there is no why
there is 3 degrees kelvin in space and
god is an old cookie tin that you can't throw away

sonya
the black man
the murderer
the snow is burning
i jump in fear with fear out of fear
superman-spiderman-heman jumps jumps with
me
jumps
from up here the 36th floor of the hotel europa the ashes of my memory "look back"

john
"i hope you'll find home
i'll pray for you"

sonya
i am flying past mommy's window in my dream she is slaughtering one rabbit after the other i dream that our house has to be built for example because of the new gas hook-up everybody has to live in the attic which doesn't exist because we live in a new building and space is very limited and besides everyone understands that they have to make some effort because of the state of emergency and then civil war comes to us still in the attic the whole civil war soldiers and horses and ammunition and refugee grandmothers with their children and pots and everything

john
i'm tired of monsters
i'd rather see real people in movies again

12b

john
hello
hello mister

ernst
i'm coming what do you want

john
"please open the door
i brought her down from the roof she was walking around
didn't you notice she was missing"

ernst
i have to admit
i didn't notice

pause

john
"listen"

ernst
she's sleeping she talks in her sleep

john
"do you understand her noises"

ernst
i think
sometimes i do

john
"we pass messages faster than we should"

ernst
you've already helped me so much today
i don't know how to thank you

john
"sometimes the shape of my heart alarms me"

ernst
unfortunately that can't be a coincidence

john
"do you hate the smell of our jobs
i like to see the different colors inside me
as well as the black"

ernst
what i do i don't do for myself

john
"you are"

ernst
get lost

john
"professor soder was coming to our riverside"

ernst
now you're lying

john
"there are a lot of people who are afraid of going to the movies by themselves"

ernst
why are you laughing

john
"you think i'm laughing
your little daughter will have an accident tomorrow
the shape of my heart alarms me
good night
time is passing and i don't have time"

13

jason material                              at the graveside, January 1982/93?

papa
jason,
as he sailed off into the ancient world
to battle ancient things and steal the golden fleece
knowledge
knowledge is
power
and then he brought along Medea as a talisman some thought
but no she helped him survive the sea journey the adventures
and then the fear of his house which now seemed strange

sonya
ernst what would you miss
miss most of all if you were to die again

papa
photosynthesis clearly
the most important thing on earth

mirco
from the place where you are
to push off to run away
until you feel your legs don't feel your legs anymore
to the place where you lie down exhausted
a flower
by chance
but right there
take the flower
with you
something is growing there that you can take care of
to venture outside of yourself
inspecting things that reflect you from all sides
filming yourself filming yourself
a camera that instructs you how to operate it
looking for the things you are
like love which is a temple

sonya
papa
where are you now
dead from nato poison that grew in your body
or did the stasi kill you
or did you die all alone in your damp cell
i'd rather not know

14                                                                                             

tollkühn                                                              March 1977

sonya
mr. tollkühn's arm is hanging from the seventh floor
hanging there from the airshaft grate his brains lying on the ground below
his skull smashed open his brains flew out landing like a loaf of bread filled with little holes
only red

mirco
in the basement ghosts are riding the subway to the west

sonya
mr. tollkühn decided to jump into the shaft from the 10th floor because of his cancer and his divorce
but when he jumped he reconsidered
on the 8th floor our floor
he wanted to haul himself back towards life and used his hand to break his fall on the 7th
but he was too heavy
the body's mass times the speed squared equals weight
and so the rest of his suit and the rest of mr. tollkühn sped down and hit the cellar
only his arm with the sleeve still hangs from the airshaft grate on the 7th floor

mirco
now they're going to put netting in the shaft so we can't climb down it anymore

sonya
that's right
they know how to spoil all the fun

translated from the German by Douglas Langworthy

© henschel SCHAUSPIEL Theaterverlag Berlin GmbH 2004



Read the original in German

Read translator’s note

Fritz Kater was born in 1966 in Bad Kleinen (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania). Later he moved to East Berlin and completed High School there. He then did his military service in the army, followed by training as a television technician. He worked with alternative theatre groups associated with the Church. In 1987 he moved to West Germany. He did casual work as a waiter, assistant director, and taxi-driver in Bavaria. In Bavaria he made his first attempts at writing. He returned to Berlin in 1990. In Berlin he gained full-time employment with a design control company, based in the Moabit district. He has been writing plays since 1990 and is married with three children.

Douglas Langworthy is Literary Manager and Dramaturg at the Denver Center Theatre Company. He held similar positions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the McCarter Theatre. He has translated fifteen plays from the German, including  Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Szechuan, Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening, Hans Henny Jahnn's Medea, Heiner Müller's Quartet and Hamletmachine and Heinrich von Kleist's The Prince of Homburg, Amphitryon (National Theatre Translation Fund Award) and Penthesilea . His translation of Goethe's Faust was produced in 2006 in New York by Target Margin Theater and the Classic Stage Company. He co-wrote the libretto for The Sandman, an opera based on an E.T.A. Hoffmann story with music by Thomas Cabaniss, directed by David Herskovits. He also co-adapted with Linda Alper and Penny Metropulos the new musical Tracy's Tiger, which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.


All of the text in quotes was written in English in the original German text. The original lacks all punctuation marks and capital letters. The title, WE ARE CAMERA, is the playwright's original title, which was written in English.— D.L.


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