Manfred Kyber - Friendship

At the Lake Zug's(1) shore sat a poor basket-maker and weaved his baskets.  He could nothing else than weaving these baskets, and looking after his little house in which he lived in solitude with his dog — it was a gray spitz, inconspicuous like his master, but full of attentiveness for his master's work and always friendly and well-disposed to conversation.  For the basket-maker talked to his dog, as one talks to a person.  People found that strange and said that the man was a little simple-minded.  Maybe, he was like that, but maybe he was very wise, for he hardly ever talked to people.  Also, there would have been no point, because the other people all were so very rational, and therefore did not believe the stories that the basket-maker told.  For he saw much what the others could not see.  Some thought he was shrewd but they laughed about it.  It was better to talk to the spitz, he always understood what the basket-maker said, and also, he always shared the same opinion.  They were very good friends, and one held the other in esteem.  That was another thing the people laughed about.  But they bought the baskets, because it was good and very careful work, and often elaborately woven.  It was just strange that the basket-maker could only weave the same patterns all the time, and, that these patterns were constantly reminiscent of the drawings from the age when houses were built on stilts, that was even more strange.  After all, one knew these drawings from the museum in Zurich.  However, the basket-maker had never seen them because he had never been to Zurich and had never left his small hometown.  But when someone liked to have a different pattern from him, then he shook his head and yet wove again the old ones.  And so one got used to it.

It was at the lake's north shore, where one sees the stiff heads of Rigi and Pilatus(2), and, in the blue distance, the Bern mountains' snowy crowns.  In the basket-maker's vicinity, several archaeologists worked on an excavation, one as the lake had already repeatedly handed out from its mysterious bosom.  Otherwise, it was silent and deserted, even the birds in the trees kept quiet, the water's surface laid motionless and from the Zug clock-tower, it struck midday.

Twelve o'clock midday is a mysterious hour.  It is as if something old had run out, as if time stood still and waited for something new, for some miracle that should glide on shiny pinions through the silent sunny peace.  There was a waiting in all that lives, a waiting for something that one does not know, but that has to be very beautiful and very wonderful and different, very different from the whole other life.  It is a very mysterious hour, one only has to be able to read in it.  Only very few people can do it, and who can do it is someone others laugh at. It is a pity about that, because the world would be better and happier, if people could read in the midday hour.

The basket-maker put down his work and looked far out on the clear water's surface that flashed in the sun.  Wasn't the sun weaving pictures in the water haze, didn't carry the gentle, barely noticeable wind words over here from an old time?  Was it really today, wasn't it yesterday, wasn't it many thousand years ago, that this yesterday had been?  The basket-maker looked far out, with distant, unearthly eyes, and his hand wove the usual pattern, the old one, the always practised, with very simple signs.  A strange yearning was sounding in his soul.

Look, spitz, how the small boat comes swimming over the quiet lake?  Do you see who is sitting in it? That are you and me.  It is a dug-out canoe, made from a trunk, hollowed out with fire and a stone. It is a beautiful barque, and someone else is sitting in it, do you recognize her, the woman with the long, night-black hair?  We belonged together, but now she is somewhere else.  I have never seen her in this life, but my soul is searching for her.  Only we two stayed together, isn't it, spitz.  Can you see how she is slowly driving the small boat forward? You are in the middle and I am sitting at the bottom and am weaving a basket for catching fish.  I could do that already at that time — there are also same patterns in it as today.  You had coarser hair, spitz, and you were a little bigger.

The spitz wagged his tail and looked up to his master very wisely. Of course, he shared the same opinion.

The little boat is drifting forward, it enters in a current, we will be at home soon.  Look, there is our house, on the big stilts, where the clever scholars are standing and looking.  But they do not see the house, yet it is midday, and one can read in it when it's midday.  It is a beautiful house and so much peace inside, and the forests and mountains all around.  The sun is shining on the naked limbs, it is so marvellous to be alive, much more beautiful than it is today.  How the water gently pounds against the little boat, as if it was singing something — now they are waving and shouting from the home…

The spitz got up and cuddled up, restlessly.

But what are they shouting?  The peace is over now, spitz.  They are pointing to the forest, it flashes of arms, and those who are coming out are different from us.  They have gleaming axes and swords, and we have anything but arms of stone.  It is a new age, and the midday hour is over.  Look no more, spitz, they are killing us all, it is horrible.  O, the poor, beautiful woman with the night-black hair.  Now we are the last, spitz, you and me, of our wrecked home.  We do not give each other up, we stand together, we are just friends.

The dog growled and stood by his master, with hair standing on end.

The punch was aimed at you, but I absorbed it.  The blow was aimed at me, but you have thrown yourself in front of me.  Now we both die, spitz.  O, it is long ago, and at that time, we were happier than today.  But today, we are still together, and we are here again, where we were at that time, isn't it peculiar, spitz?  But it is good the way that we are together, even here we again remain what we once were.  Now it is over, and the midday hour has passed, as it had passed at that time when our house was completely wrecked.

The basket-maker put the arm round the dog and stroked him.  The lake lay motionless in the midday heat, Rigi and Pilatus stretched the rigid peaks into the blue, clear air, and from far away, the Bern Mountains white crowns shone — like many thousand years ago.

The archaeologists had got clear in their minds.

It is an interesting area of contact of the Neolithic Age and the first Bronce Age, obviously caused by an attack, one said, also especially valuable here are the bones of the peat dog, canis familiaris palustris, who can already be established as man's companion.  In this solitary situation it points, so it seems, to him belonging to the more primitive tribe's destroyed settlement.  A big piece of civilization's history in a confined space…

Do you hear, what they are telling, the basket-maker said to his dog, it is a big piece of civilization's history, they think, and they will know, because they are scholarly gentlemen.  So be it a piece of civilization's history — but isn't it, spitz, we know better, it is even more than that, it is the history of a friendship!


Translator's notes:
(1) The city of Zug (pronunciation: [t͡suːg], like "tsoog") and Lake Zug are located in Switzerland, south of Zurich.
(2) Rigi (pronunciation: [riːgiː], like "reeguee") and Pilatus ([pɪlaːtʊs]) are mountains in Switzerland.


From: Das Manfred Kyber Buch, Rowohlt, December 1985
Translation: Ulrich Messerle, February 2003
Published on:

Text version: 2015-04-06 (a)