Back when I read Döblin’s novel and saw Fassbinder’s movie (discussed in this post), I had little access to the internet and it wasn’t what it is today (no Google, no Wikipedia), so a lot of stuff went over my head. Now I can get background information on just about anything, and oh what a difference it makes! Two samples from the Second Book of the novel and the second episode of the Fassbinder:
1) On page 90 of my F. Unger paperback, when our man Franz and his girlfriend Lina approach the newsvendor who pressed sex manuals on Franz, gravely upsetting Lina when Franz tried to explain to her what he had been reading about the oppression of homosexuals, he lets her go on the attack while he hangs back, and we get this: “In the fighting zone, Lina, the hearty, sloppy, unwashed, weepy little girl, made an offensive of her own à la Prince of Homburg: My noble uncle Friedrich von der Mark! Natalie! Let be! Let be!” And the scene ends with this fairly impenetrable paragraph:
Oh immortality, thou art my very own, beloved what sheen is now outspread, hail, all hail, to the Prince of Homburg, victor in the battle of Fehrbellin, all hail! (Court ladies, officers, and torches appear on the castle terrace.) “Waiter, how ’bout another Gilka.”
The only thing I could have looked up at the time was the battle of Fehrbellin, whereupon my old standby Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary would have told me Fehrbellin, a town northwest of Berlin, was the “scene 1675 of victory of Great Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg over the Swedes under Karl Gustav Wrangel.” Which would have meant nothing to me (except that it would have occasioned a brief perplexity as to why they translated Friedrich Wilhelm’s name but not Karl Gustav’s).
Now I can go to Wikipedia for a full account of the battle, but that’s not really so important, because it turns out Döblin is referencing not the battle itself but Heinrich von Kleist‘s last play, Prinz Friedrich von Homburg oder die Schlacht bei Fehrbellin (the link is to the German Wikipedia article; there’s no English one, but a couple of reviews of Neil Bartlett’s revival give a good idea of what it’s like: Independent, Guardian). The Wikipedia article links to a Project Gutenberg text, where one can find the originals of the quoted bits: Natalie (knieend). “Mein edler Oheim, Friedrich von der Mark!” Der Kurfürst (legt die Papiere weg). “Natalie!” (Er will sie erheben.) Natalie. “Laß, laß!” (Act IV, Scene 1); Der Prinz von Homburg. “Nun, o Unsterblichkeit, bist du ganz mein!” (Act V, Scene 10); Der Prinz von Homburg. “Lieber, was für ein Glanz verbreitet sich?” … Kottwitz. “Heil, Heil dem Prinz von Homburg!” … Alle. “Dem Sieger in der Schlacht bei Fehrbellin!” (Act V, Scene 11, the last scene of the play). Oh, and Gilka (which Franz pronounces “Yilka”) is a Berlin-made kümmel aperitif.
2) On page 104, in the midst of an argument between Franz and some acquaintances of his, whose Communist sensibilities were offended by seeing Franz wearing a swastika armband and hawking the Nazi Völkischer Beobachter (he’s not a Nazi, but he has feelings of confused resentment about the war and needed the job), there occurs this mysterious sentence: “Blood must bubble, blood must bubble, in currents muggy and thick.” Huh? I guess I took that as some sort of quasi-poetic expression of how he was feeling, but it turns out that “Blut muss fließen, knüppelhageldick” is from a storm trooper marching song—you can get a full set of the disgusting lyrics here, with translation. But a search on “knüppelhageldick” revealed that the Nazi song is simply a rewrite of the earlier “Die Konkubine,” a revolutionary song that specifies “Fuerstenblut muss fliessen” (‘princely blood must flow’), and that in turn is reworked from the song immediately preceding it in that very useful and compendious Chansonnier international du révolté, “Das Lied der ’48,” better known as the Heckerlied, a revolutionary song from 1848. (Somewhere in my meanderings I found a web page where you could hear a chorus singing it, but I seem to have lost it.) Did I ever mention that I love the internet?