My reading of your novela Krambambuli (first published in Dorf- und Schlossgeschichten, 1883) comes colored by all the times I read it as a child.
We follow the district hunter Hopp, as he meets a drunkard in a tavern and somehow feels connected with the guy’s dog. In exchange for the animal, he offers the man twelve bottles of Krambambuli (Wacholder schnapps, made of juniper berries, now known as Danzig cherry brandy). From then on, the dog is called Krambambuli: “’What’s his name?’ – ‘His name is the same as what you bought him for: Krambambuli’” (My translation. Original: „’Wie heißt er denn?’ – ‘Er heißt wie das, wofür Ihr ihn kriegt: Krambambuli’”).
Loyal to his old owner, the dog is reluctant to go with Hopp and has to be carried away. It takes two months of brutal beatings for Krambambuli to understand to whom he belonged now. The dog finally gives in and accepts the new owner. Krambambuli becomes the centre of Hopp’s life (even his wife was jealous of ‘Buli’). “’You only have something to tell Buli, Hopp, and never anything to me! With all this talking to the brute, you will forget how to talk to humans’”. (My translation. Original: „‘Weißt denn immer nur dem Buli was zu erzählen, Hopp, und mir nie? Du verlernst vor lauter Sprechen mit dem Vieh das Sprechen mit den Menschen‘.“)
Hopp thinks he has won the dog over, but he will be proven wrong. We jump a few years into the future, and a notorious poacher, known as “The Yellow One” (der Gelbe), is making his rounds on the local forest. The chief forester adopts tough measures to ensure safety, and even harmless trespasses start to be severely punished.
One day, the chief forester beats up two women for collecting branches full of blossoms. Hopp witnessed everything, but remained quiet. One of the women was rumoured to be the lover of the ‘Yellow One’, and our protagonist has a feeling that this cannot end well. A week after the incident, Hopp finds the chief forester murdered in the forest, with his disfigured corpse surrounded by blossoms.
Petrified with horror, Hopp then pays attention to the dog’s strange reaction: Krambambuli cannot stop sniffing at the corpse, and runs excitedly around with his nose on the ground, as if a memory that had long since died had suddenly awaked in him.
About a week later, Hopp runs into the culprit, and orders the dog to grab him; the ‘Yellow One’, on the other hand, calls Krambambuli with a coaxing voice – as it turns out, the rascal is the animal’s former owner! The dog, torn between two masters, runs halfway between them then comes back, at once attracted and repelled by both. Finally, Krambambuli makes his choice, but not without suffering: he crawls to the ‘Yellow One’.
Furious, Hopp shoots the poacher, and holds a silent, imaginary dialogue with Krambambuli: “You know whom this bullet is meant for?” “I can imagine.” “Deserter—traitor—rascal, forgetful of all fidelity and all duty!” “Yes, master, I agree.” “You were my joy once. But it is all over now. You give me no more pleasure.” (My translation. Original: «Weißt du, für wen das Blei gehört?» «Ich kann es mir denken.» «Deserteur, Kalfakter, pflicht- und treuvergessene Kanaille!» «Ja, Herr, jawohl.»«Du warst meine Freude. Jetzt ist’s vorbei. Ich habe keine Freude mehr an dir.»)
I love the way you split our perspective (and our loyalties) between the dog’s and Hopp’s points of view, such as Krambambuli himself was split between two owners. Hopp’s moral conflict is suddenly projected into the dog’s choice (which, ironically, ends up by saving our protagonist’s life). The first time I read this story, I could not help but side with the dog: why couldn’t Hopp just forgive poor Buli? He was just a dog, after all. He was not supposed to know better – let alone to make complex moral choices on the spur of the moment. Reading the story now, I like to imagine that Buli did make a complex choice – and one that Hopp was not able to make. And I continue to side with the dog!
Krambambuli stays by the corpse of his old master and starts on a homeless, ownerless life, away from Hopp. The dog does not dare to cross the threshold of the hunter’s house. Is he aware of his own betrayal, or is he avenging the murder of his beloved ‘Yellow One’? Who betrayed whom here? Should the dog be punished for his loyalty? The beast loves what it loves. When Hopp comes to his senses, it will be too late for both of them.
“Vorliebe empfindet der Mensch für allerlei Dinge und Wesen. Liebe, die echte, unvergängliche, die lernt er – wenn überhaupt – nur einmal kennen.” – Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Krambambuli (My translation: “A man may like all sorts of things and creatures; but love—the real, everlasting love — he gets to know, if at all, only once”.)
About the book
- Reclam Verlag, 2016, 64 p. Goodreads
- My rating: 4 stars
- First published in 1883
- The story was made into a film several times: Krambambuli (1940) directed by Karl Köstlin; Heimatland (1955) directed by Franz Antel; Ruf der Wälder (1965) directed by Franz Antel; They called him Krambambuli (1972) directed by Franz Antel; Krambambuli (1998) directed by Xaver Schwarzenberger.
- Projects: Read More German Books in 2020, hosted by Mel and Britta; German Lit Month, hosted by Lizzy and Caroline; Novellas in November, hosted by Cathy and Rebecca