Narrator: It is a time of great unrest, old Europe has fallen to the fire it ignited four years ago, and now lies next to 10 million dead. Previous institutions wiped away, a large nation in the heart of Europe twist and twitches in its ashes, it’s phoenix not yet ready to rise once again. No one and too many to take power, to share guilt and fault, to rebuild to new and former glory. In the heart of nation, Berlin, visionaries, reactionists, and revolutionists struggle for the hearts and minds of the people, to shape the country to their ideology…
A factory interior, two men working at a conveyor belt, distant thumping of generators and sledge hammers. A well-dressed, fat bellied man enters the scene.
Von Goldberg: Attention, good Workers! News from our brave troops have reached us. Our beloved Kaiser has visited our Armies General Headquarter to oversee the final strike against the enemies of the empire. Before Christmas Eve arrives Brittons, Frenchmen and Americans will be pushed back behind the Marne and Loire.
Von Kaltenstein leaves scene. Two workers look up from working.
Karl: (turns towards Otto, half-silently, as not to attract attention) Who do they think they’re still fooling? The western front hasn’t seen any progress in years. News of the final victory arriving daily, but we are standing no closer to Paris than this time last year-
Otto: – Or the year before. And they are sending my brother Franz into that hell. Barely a man, yet is he still convinced after 4 years of war that he will fight for a glorious cause. Two month without a word from him. God forbid he lies amongst the millions in the mud.
Karl: (nodding energetically) Yes! Exactly! In fact, since the Americans have joined the fight, we have been pushed back into Belgium. Our men are bleeding like pigs at Ypres, Flanders and Amiens and their wives and children are starving.
Otto: Meanwhile our Navy’s sailors rather like to revolt than break the British Blockade.
Karl: I heard the censorship is trying to keep the papers clean of it, (lowering his voice) but I heard revolutionists have risen in Magdeburg and Rostock – it won’t be long until they reach Berlin.
Otto: Those traitors and revoluzzers bring nothing but unrest. The war may be lost, but destroying everything our nation stands for – (furiously) by our own countrymen – will do no good.
Karl: You’re not thinking ahead my friend. The monarchy has been paralyzed for too long, the time for change has come. Their motives might not be the right ones, but from the chaos and destruction the revolution will cause, we will be able to rebuild our nation to a new civilization. Look at what the Bolsheviks achieved in St. Petersburg. Toppled the Czar and established a socialist state right from Marx’ dreams.
Otto:.. leaving the blood of thousands on the street.
Karl: A disappearing number in this time when enough men to populate a city are killed in the trenches in the west on a single day.
Karl: (Whispering) It’s not only happening in Russia. I heard Liebknecht speak a couple days ago.
Otto: (Gasping) Listening to communists speakers is high treason! You can be shot for that.
Karl: Ah, no one will shoot me now, meer hours before the Götterdämmerung. They’re ideas are incredible. They say the capitalist-monarchist ruling class let us workers march into our death in this war, for reasons only the wealthy could profit from. This war was forced upon us!
Karl: That is what I thought too when I first heard it. (eagerly explaining) But their visions – Did you ever read Marx’ Communist Manifesto?
Otto: Forbidden Litera-
Karl: A better world, the abolishment of classes. Equal work, equal pay, total Equality. Finally the democracy and unity the Germans have longed for, and which they deserve, now hanging like a ripe apple from a tree, at arms length. Just waiting for us to seize it.
Otto: Not one more word, we are lucky if no one has heard us yet. Otherwise we will both end strung up on the next tree. I have served my country, I am German of mind and Prussian by heart. Let Frenchmen march under the quadriga but I will not trust communist filth with the future of my fatherland nor be part of it.
(A dull horn rings, signaling the end of the shift.
Karl: Beware, Comrade. When the forces of old Germany vanish, and be assured: they will vanish, then sides will have to be chosen. Do not stand with the one that loses.
The next work day, same factory, but a different man working next to Otto. Von Goldberg enters.
Von Goldberg: (Holding a newspaper) My fellow workers, news have just reached me that the Social Democrats have just proclaimed the German Republic and deposed our Emperor, who has fled the country to the Netherlands. The monarchy does not rule the Germans lands any longer. The new government states that at the mercy of the allies, Germany will reform itself to a true democracy.
Murmurs in the factory, Von Goldberg ready to turn on his heel as a hastened looking man out of breath taps him on the shoulder and gives him another paper. Von Goldberg studies it quickly.
Von Goldberg: (Shouting) Silence! I say, Silence! (Murmurs fading) Liebknecht has declared the Socialist Republic in Germany just minutes ago.
Shouts and uproars fill the factory hall, some of anger some of joy.
Von Goldberg: (Turning away to leave, then shouting over the noise) Otto, follow me to my office.
Otto gets up from his work space and follows swiftly.
(In Von Goldbergs office) Von Goldberg rustling with papers looking confused.
Von Goldberg: Ah, yes. Sit! Sit, my friend. (Now businesslike) As you must realize the situation is serious. The country is on the verge of falling into chaos, the communists will fill the streets with blood and democrats don’t have the authority to stop them.
Otto: I am just as confused as you are, Sir. Yesterday we heard that our troops are on the verge of victory. This change of government surely will not stabilize the front.
Von Goldberg: You may stop with that propagandistic nonsense in here, we both know the war is lost and there’s no use denying it. (trailing off) Hindenburg and Ludendorff should have accepted Wilson’s 14 points when they had the chance to…
But it’s too late for that now. We must save what still can be saved before those bloodthirsty, communist brute’s take over.
Otto: I could agree no more with you. Their ideals might be noble but their means can never work.
Von Goldberg: This uprising must be destroyed before it can take foot. Next thing I know, they disown me and sign my factory over to a council of workers.
Otto: (slightly sarcastic) How terrible!
Von Goldberg: I won’t let that happen. I have contacts in the social democrats, they have promised to maintain a free market economy. But they cannot do it alone.
Otto: What are you suggesting?
Von Goldberg: Otto, you are respected among the workers and I respect you too. More importantly the workers trust you. The government needs the support of the working class – the social democratic government. It will need men like you to convince his peers that their future is brighter in the hands of SPD.
Otto: I distrust the communists just as much as you do, but with their promises they have bought themselves great influence with the workers. Equality and unity speak sweetly to simple and poor mind.
Von Goldberg: I knew you were a smart man, Otto! Those were just my concerns. A man like you will surely come to wealth in the new Germany we will build. I will need you, not only as the speaker for the social democrats to the workers, but also as the eyes and ears to prevent the communists of taking over.
Otto: I’m not sure I can follow what you are hinting at.
Von Goldberg: (turning away) Otto, I am sure you know it is not only the mindless followers, with communist ideas planted in their head, that walk through my factories gates every day. Their preachers come with them, spreading this sickness through the ranks of the workforce.
Otto: I think you are overestimating your workers mental capabilities. The communist speakers are out there on the streets, not in the workforce.
Von Goldberg: (Quickly turning around) You will not lie to my face and act as if you know of nothing. I know that you know who they are (shouting) and I ask you, no, I demand you to point them out to me, so they will get what they deserve.
Otto: (shouting as well) And I will not betray my comrades. I might not agree with them, but a German will not sell his brothers life away.
Von Goldberg: (now softer) The revolution is upon us. We need to work together to save what can be saved.
Otto: (also softer, nearly whispering) It might be common amongst your people, but I will not reveal another man for thirty silver coins.
Von Goldberg: Your antisemitsm will not put food on your family’s table in the years to come. Leave, and do not dare to enter my factories grounds again.
Otto turns and leaves. Scene closes.
A small apartment, Otto sits at a table reading a newspaper. The headline reads: “Armistice of Compiégne – Peace!” A door opens and Franz enters.
Franz: Brother, I have returned.
Otto: Thank God, you have. Alive and healthy.
Both men stand up and fall into each others arms.
Franz: Alive and healthy alright. But without a bullet fired from or at me. Those amateurs at the front and at the strategic card tables could not even keep the fire going long enough for me to get my share glory.
Otto: The war was lost long before. It just took this long for the high command to realize.
Franz: Leftist nonsense all this talk. How could we have been defeated? In the east our armies stood from Petersburg to Kiev. In the west no frenchmen has set foot on the eastern shores of Rhine or Maas.
Otto: But surely you must realize that without Austria-Hungary at our side and the United States joining the war on the Allies side a continued fight would have simply caused more German blood to water the fields of France and Belgium.
Franz: The strategic situation may have reached a point where the enemy had accumulated more troops and supplies than us and open one or two breaches in our lines. Stories that our morals had been dropping are enemy propaganda and nothing else. A Prussian soldier will always believe in and fight for victory.
Otto: (laughing) Now listen to yourself speak like a general. If father would hear you head be proud to hear his youngest son juggling such big words and phrases.
Franz: Father … God bless his soul. It is a blessing he did not live to see his country fall to such shame. Surrender to the French! A million Germans must have turned in their graves when that armistice was signed. Their generation would not have allowed it to come this far. Look at ourselves, Otto. Us Germans, barely united for half a century, by the generation of our Grandfathers, now sure to be ripped apart into a hundred pieces by the vengeful Allies.
Otto: Enough of this gloomy political talk, today we shall celebrate the end of the war and your safe return home. Wait until mother will see you.
Franz: There is no time for idle celebration, as much as I wish there would be. But times of joy and even mother will have to wait until honor is restored to Germany.
Otto: Franz, what are you saying?
Franz: (Hectically) I will go south, to Munich. Comrades on the train back to Berlin have told me that formers soldiers, officers, and even generals are assembling in Munich. They will not allow that everything we fought for, for so long will be lost. Companions of them have already set out eastward – to protect our countrymen living in the eastern corners of the German lands. They will not allow that Lithuania and the rest of the Baltic falls prey to the Bolshevists.
Otto: (sarcastically) The same generals that lead our armies into death at Verdun? The generals we owe the defeat to?
Franz: (lowering his voice) In the troops rumors circulate that we were all just puppets in a larger theatre none of us come close to comprehend. Many say the Jews and the protocols from the Elders of Zion are behind the war.
Otto: (sarcastically again) Oh, are we talking about the Jewish world conspiracy again? Come on, Brother. I thought you had outgrown these horror stories to scare children into behaving by now.
Franz: These are not horror stories, they planned the war years ago – to weaken the states and their governments. As soon as the states of Europe fall into Chaos they will step in. We have seen it happen in Russia. The Bolsheviks are just a disguise. If they would reveal their objectives now they would be sure to fail. They tried to cause a revolt in Britain in 1916 – and failed. Now here. I tell you if this revolution is not exterminated within the next months, our fate will be no different than that of the Russians.
Otto: (The mocking expression now replaced with genuine concern) Who was told you all this? Surely you have not thought of it by yourself. I would not dare to claim I understand the mechanics of world politics. But whoever developed this theory is most likely a maniac.
Franz: … Or a genius. Come with me to Munich. Apart from it being safer than here in Berlin, I want to introduce you to my comrades and one or two other men who have a greater understanding of this matter.
Otto: I will go with you brother, you are too easily convinced by false preachers. But even if only half of what you say is remotely accurate then Germany’s salvation lies in Munich and not here in Berlin.
Both exit, scene closes.
By Max Görlich, 16, John F. Kennedy School, Berlin, Germany