I enjoyed the sections I translated before so much, I have begun translating the whole
It was written and spoken in 2001 to the graduating class in Saarland.
Muller waa in Germany for several decades, but she had given a similar address in 1987
just 3 years after she escaped Romania. She begins by recounting that someone then had
to cross the border into France the next morning for breakfast. The thought of it
appalled her because
it brought back dreaded memories of her best friend dying, shot at the border, trying to
And so the romanian dictatorship and securitate still held her in their spell and she
accomplice in imprisoning herself inside open borders. Hopefully, she has regained some
of that lost freedom,
but it impels her into a discussion of trust and language, and especially of her
that is beautifully insightful and poetic, and has special meaning, I think, for all of us
I'll share them as they are done in bite -sized pieces, not necessarily completing a
section or theme ..
Heimat ist das
was gesprochen wird
what is spoken.
Literature Nobel Prize Winner 2009
If one lives here, one lives in another country and another language. I can still remember
well, I had a reading shortly after my arrival from Romania here in Saarbruecken. A
man, who had come in the evening to my reading, suggested going with me the next morning
over the bridge to France for breakfast. I had known until my departure from Romania only
borders with shooting soldiers and dogs trained to tear human flesh apart. Escape attempts
ended with death daily. Many dead remained lying in the fields of the border area, left
for the frost and the heat. At harvest time farmers found skeletons and clothes in the
wheat. No one knows, even today, how many humans were killed at those borders. Only by
chance, i.e. the State arbitrarily wanted it, were the dead ones sent home in zinc coffins
welded shut. The coffins and transport costs had to be paid by the members of the state
that had done the killing. Every zinc coffin was accompanied and guarded by a troop of
soldiers until the funeral ended and the coffin was underground.
The guarding had to guarantee that no one opened the coffin and saw the
mistreated condition of the dead ones and possibly documented it with photos. There should
be no proofs of the grisly practices at the border.
There were rumors enough, the border soldiers were of course the children of normal
people up to the day when they came into military service,. And they withdrew again into
normality, after their soldiering ended. Speaking behind cupped hands could not be
forbidden. It was well-known that the border guards were compensated for each unerring
shot on the fleeing with a higher rank in the army and a vacation home.
Many border guards were village boys, obedient to authority and easily indoctrinated by
the army, away from their villages for the first time for such a long period. Because they
were unused to thinking for themselves, they instantly became unconditionally obedient and
ready to do everything. This thought really pained me, that a village boy, shielded by his
uniform, would shoot humans for the reward of a vacation. That the yearning for home would
goad him. That some days later, as he is embraced at home by his family, in the interior
periphery of his joy of seeing them again, the flash of the fresh murder.
I would have had to go not only over the bridge to France for breakfast, but above
all through the attendant knowledge that pulsated in my head. And at a freshly set French
morning table, perhaps in the sun, I would have been served this knowledge too along with
the coffee cup and the plate. Dozens of tragic stories would have been set out before me
on this table. I did not consider it appropriate to trouble this man from Saarbruecken,
who could go any day unhindered into his neighboring country for breakfast, with the
burden of these stories. And so I simply declined. Not simply, probably even brusquely,
because it was utterly brief and without further explanation. Quite briefly, in order to
bar my mouth and to leave him at ease, which was his right - the same right as my internal
obligation to take my knowledge into account. The helpless mourning of the dead who ran at
a border for their life and could not save it, does not whet an appetite for a border
crossing for breakfast. That is the way it seemed to me at the time.
Borders can be so different: At the one you risk your life, the other one is a normal
bridge like every other bridge in the city. This unhindered crossover between the two
countries would also be available - I imagined at that time – between the two languages.
You grew up here, you are familiar here with the liberty of the head and the liberty
of the feet, which can cross a border at a stroll - and I hope you have used this, your
Even if the German minority emigrated completely from Romania, even now many other
nationalities live close together with the Romanians: large groups – such as the
Hungarians and gypsies. And small ones – such as the Serbs, Turks, Jews, Ukrainians,
Slovaks, and Armenians. And they were all close together for decades, locked up with the
Romanians in the country. They were not allowed to travel. I know the interlinkages of all
these languages. It was everyday life, even with the bitter taste of a nationwide,