First published on June 15, 2018
»So we didn’t go to Italy.«— J.K.
»Although she had often been too tired to stand, he had shown no consideration, but sent her on errands to different inns in search of different kinds of schnaps.«— T.B.
1.The Babylon Blood Club, founded in Mainz, was a literary society with four members. It existed for a year before being renamed the Babylon Friends of Water Sports and relocated to Bamberg.
2.From the beginning the members of the Babylon Blood Club had different opinions as to the society’s goals. President Anton von der Wippel, who had come to Mainz from the Alps to attend university, had founded the club with the intention of seeking out poets in the places of their creative inspiration. (It didn’t matter if they were alive or already dead.)His girlfriend Lisa, often one to kick over the traces, and who was also a member of the club, didn’t really love Anton (and she thought his club was silly), but she liked how he was sometimes a real Bavarian peasant. She laughed every time he got drunk and said things like, »Then, when your cock’s inside the chicken, you cut off its head so everything tightens up. Luvly, that.«The third member, Björn, who was less given to boozy antics, had joined the club with a personal and devious objective. Together with his best friend Imken, once he had talked her into joining, Björn wanted to wrest Lisa from Anton’s arms. But Imken (naïve as she was) thought it was all about being together so as not to feel alone. Her eyes always had a slight sorrowful sheen resembling pity.On one side, then, was a young literary type from Upper Bavaria who was yet to find his path in life (and who was really very vulnerable, inside). On the other was the perpetually horny and devious antagonist Björn, with his melancholy henchwoman. This might all sound familiar. But they were barely twenty. And it’s also clear that such a club, sooner or later, has to become a club for water sports.
3.The club’s establishment was celebrated with four bottles of sparkling wine on the roof of a tower block between the art school and the old Bruchwegstadion of FSV Mainz 05.(When the club was founded they were in that phase of their lives—when people ring bells to get into buildings or jump the fences around public pools or climb onto university roofs or into abandoned factories or underground rail tunnels. But most of all, just like everyone who went through this phase, they liked roofs.)
It was turning autumn in the city and, as it happened, summer picked that very evening to come to an end.When they had all fallen silent, Anton thought about the future, Lisa about Anton, Björn about the past, and Imken, for once, about nothing at all.
4.Two weeks later Anton went to Berkeley on an academic exchange.He stayed with his uncle, who ran a fast-food restaurant in Milvia Street, right next to Berkeley High School, where every morning he served Louisiana-style gumbo to the children he coached during afternoon basketball.Anton liked the golden autumn and the orange sun that set over the Pacific. He harboured no fear of radioactive fish—Fukushima was still a year away. Once a week he accompanied his uncle for a pleasurable meal at a restaurant called The Dead Fish in Crockett.It would all have been even better if he hadn’t, just before Christmas, cheated on Lisa. For a whole day afterwards he lay around his uncle’s house crying. In the evening he dried his tears over the storage heater. Outside the sky was yellow and swarming with helicopters. They were looking for car thieves from Oakland.In truth, Anton had no reason to be sad. For one thing, the student he had slept with was writing a doctorate on Edmund Burke (The Father of Conservatism) and, oh yes, her beauty would make you weak at the knees.But Anton disliked himself more and more.Still, once a week he went for pizza with the girl who had seduced him to Wendy’s in Telegraph Avenue. Afterwards they would walk to Sather Tower on the campus and look at San Francisco Bay.On the last day of his stay they also went there to watch the sunset. The young Burke scholar looked at Anton long and insistently then said, »I don’t believe in you.« And left him. Without another word.The sun was still setting when Anton saw his cousin in a street in South Berkeley sitting on the back of his pick-up. He tried to sneak past him. Everything was glowing, the whole street turned to dust before his eyes and burning leaves fell on the pavement. His cousin kept his head down but Anton still couldn’t get past him.A black arm dragged him onto the truck. They sat there a while until it was completely dark. Anton’s cousin was sixteen and sad.One time the ground shook slightly. Anton briefly thought it was the underground. But actually it was an earthquake.
5.Lisa hadn’t been able to visit Anton during his six-month stay in the United States. She had been too busy with her theoretical work on the novel The Weapon Shops of Isher by Canadian science fiction author Alfred Elton van Vogt. She just didn’t have the time.Björn had kept trying the whole six months to get in touch with Lisa, but apart from a chance meeting at the Staatstheater in Wiesbaden (which, as it happened, took place on the same day Anton slept with the Burke scholar in Berkeley) they didn’t see each other at all.But still: in those six months Björn had set eyes on Lisa one more time than Anton.
6.Björn lived with his parents in Frankfurt. He was the youngest in the club and couldn’t decide what to do after finishing school. His mother was worried about him, but not his father. Their scepticism was only aroused by his countless trip to Mainz and the increasing exhaustion he displayed, especially upon returning.Björn was one of those precocious (and hence totally immature) young intellectuals who thought someone like him should always be bouncing around.
7.When Anton returned from Berkeley in the spring the Babylon Blood Club would exist for just one more summer.
8.But this summer was the summer of the Blood Club.The heat set in as the magma chamber of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull pumped out such thick clouds of ash that air traffic was suspended at Germany’s largest airport.Imken sat at home, looked out the window and didn’t see a single vapour trail. She saw all the Sundays of her life united in this Sunday and was happy.But then her best friend Björn rang at the door. She was to go with him to the Rhine at once.Imken’s nose was very long and her glasses sat on its tip, threatening to slide off. She tried to push them back with her right index finger but slipped and poked herself in the eye.The red eye combined with her sorrowful gaze and, as she stepped out the house under the trailless sky, Björn thought, »Imken’s been crying again.«
9.On the banks of the Rhine Lisa and Anton were waiting for Imken and Björn. Their reunion was marked by mutual shyness. They didn’t really know what to do and sheltered behind a wall of silence.At some point they thought it might be nice to drive to Bingen and visit the childhood home of the poet Stefan George.In the car Lisa took a couple of drops of Codicaps cough syrup.She was doing great, really just great.»What does it mean, a sky like that?« Lisa asked herself, and was over the moon. She had leaned the passenger seat so far back that Imken and Björn had to squash together in the rear. In her arms Lisa held a black book without a cover.While Anton had already enjoyed a whole weekend with Lisa, Björn was seeing her for the first time since their encounter at the Staatstheater. Björn had called his mother that morning and asked her to pray to God for him.»That young man, I worry about his feelings, about his romantic temperament,« Björn’s mother had said to her husband after the call, who replied, »I’m not the least bit worried about my son’s cock, not the least.«That’s how things were in Björn’s awful family.
10.It was the most blissful, blue day the Rheingau had seen since the activation of commercial airline turbines.But sadly the childhood home of Stefan George had been destroyed in the war and so the four club members sat under the patio lights of The Swollen Heart Inn and drank three bottles of Rümmelsheimer Steinköpfchen.A minor dispute flared up over who exactly had been so sure Stefan George’s birthplace or childhood home was to be seen in Bingen. But it was only a minor, minor dispute and did little to dampen the high-spirited atmosphere.They talked not about the volumes of Stefan George’s poetry but about Felix Krull, another child of the Rheingau.»Do you think they have that sparkling wine from the Thomas Mann book here?« Lisa asked with a sigh. »It was called, if I remember correctly,«—and then she cupped her hand over her mouth and shouted—»LORLEY EXTRA CUVÉE.«And so the three bottles multiplied into six.
11.In the twilight the four drove back to Mainz, their hearts overflowing with the joy of the spring.Björn was happy to finally have the unattainable Lisa close to him again. Anton was happy to be back in Germany, while Lisa, who owing to the interaction of the Codicaps with the three bottles of Riesling seemed unwaveringly in love, somehow missed Anton, even though he was right next to her. Imken, who had drunk the most by far (and which the others thought suited her extraordinarily well), was as steady as a rock.And as happens on the most beautiful days of our lives, no one went home—they stayed together.
At some point, approaching midnight, a slip of paper fell out of Lisa’s black book. Without anyone noticing, Anton picked up the note and read it three times.»Finally we’re living like we always wanted,« thought Anton, as he placed the sticky slip back in Lisa’s book.
12.From then on they met more often. The volcano stopped spitting fire and the weather stayed good. Anton, Lisa and Imken continued their studies, while Björn pursued his solitary occupations. Sometimes he vanished for days then suddenly reappeared. Things went on like that for a while.
13.In May there was a fight in front of the university library after a master’s student in Film Studies called the group the »Famous Four of the Second Philosophy Faculty.«Anton had simply replied »Fuck off, you twat« and thrown a galvanized-steel bin at him so he had to be carted off with a fractured skull. From then on nobody compared them to Enid Blyton’s amateur detectives, but they weren’t taken for noble-minded bellettristes either.Anton had to be restrained from further rage. He stopped attending the university.
14.They continued to take long and short trips together. One time they visited the writer Ror Wolf, who offered them very old cigarettes, which they accepted with gratitude and smoked in his garden. Another time they got drunk and went to the Goethe House. They also walked the Hölderlinweg from Frankfurt to Bad Homburg. There they went to a casino and paid homage to Dostoevsky in the spa gardens where, one-hundred-and-fifty years ago, he had chundered all over the place.»What a beautiful spot,« they thought.
15.Since they’d been getting on so well after the springtime outing to Bingen, and after the other trips had been such a success, they decided to drive to northeast Italy in the long summer holidays—to Trieste, to be precise. Everyone wanted to see Ezra Pound’s house there. Yet this idea was, as in the case of Stefan George, founded on a grave error: unlike his colleague James Joyce (who no one was interested in), the American poet Ezra Pound had sojourned in many Italian cities, but never Trieste.What a lousy literature club, you might think.But still. The journey would be worth it, for on the way to Trieste they could pass Sachrang, where Björn wanted to take in the countryside where the young Werner Herzog went walking. In Bischofshofen Imken wanted to look at the ski jumping hill—she was a great fan of the Japanese sportsman Noriaki Kasai.As they researched the exact route to Trieste online Lisa also learned where she absolutely had to go: she wanted to see the Trbovlje Chimney in Slovenia, the tallest chimney in Europe.Although everyone groaned, none of them really wanted to go to Sachrang or Bischofshofen anyway, so they granted her wish.Anton didn’t want to commit himself. But he also thought the chimney was good.
16.On the first of August the club had existed for eleven months and perhaps, if everything went well, they would celebrate its first anniversary on the Adriatic.They had decided to renounce the advantages of digital technology and find the route to Trieste themselves, using street maps if need be.They didn’t get far.On the day of departure they had to collect Björn in Frankfurt. His parents, however, decided to invite the group of travellers inside to learn more about their plans. (Yes, Björn was still that young.)Groaning, Anton, Lisa and Imken climbed out the car and up to the fourth floor. At that moment they really did feel like the Famous Five.Neither Noriaki Kasai nor Ezra Pound meant anything to Björn’s parents and they hadn’t heard of the chimney in Trbovlje either. Björn was very outgoing during the conversation and thought it was funny to laugh at his parents’ jokes. He was drinking a beer and his mother made a snide remark every time he picked up the bottle.»A madhouse,« thought Anton.»I don’t think Björk’s mother deserves such a son,« thought Lisa.»My god, my god, why are you punishing us so?!« thought Imken, smiling like a bibliophile.Since Björn’s parents wanted to know so much and one thing led to another and the group was running late anyway Anton also started drinking beer, soon followed by Björn’s father. And so on that summer’s day they didn’t make it to Italy.
17.The four stayed up all night in the Sachsenhausen cider house and sat on the Main at daybreak, broken, flayed, their souls skewered on alcohol’s trident.The car was still parked outside Björn’s parents’ house and no one dared go back. They walked through a flea market on the banks of the Main and Imken bought an Aleister Crowley tarot set. The whole time she was the happiest.The friends decided to spend this hungover day in Frankfurt and took the U-Bahn to the outermost greenbelt where they lay on the banks of the Nidda, shaded by the trees.As evening approached it grew cooler. They sent Björn on the gruelling path back to the car so he could pick up their thick jumpers and sleeping bags. The others bought beer at a nearby kiosk and Imken dealt them tarot cards from her new deck.Things were looking good.But how were they looking for Björn?
When Björn came back and saw his friends asleep on the bank of the Nidda he was overcome with the unpleasant feeling of no longer belonging.
The moon, spying on them through the trees over the river, sighed and thought, »Another day when nothing happened.«
18.On the third day of the journey Lisa, feeling distinctly uneasy, used her dark red lipstick to paint vampire fangs on her lower lip.Imken in particular found this disgusting and couldn’t look at Lisa the whole day.»Imken, you bitch,« thought Lisa. Just like that.They packed up their sleeping bags and stuck the paperbacks they had read aloud during the night back into their rucksacks. Determined, they made their way to the car to finally drive to Italy.
Björn, who since the previous night no longer believed in the collective, licked Lisa’s sweaty neck on the motorway between Würzbug and Kitzingen while Anton was driving.»Cut it out, Björn, you perv,« said Anton, while Lisa laughed. It was mainly Lisa’s laughter that sent Anton’s tiny soul into the deepest disquiet imaginable.Björn didn’t care about anything now, but he still apologized hesitantly to Anton.Like a rooster, Anton avenged himself for the unabashed display as soon as he could by driving, a couple of hours later, directly past Sachrang.When they arrived in Salzburg and Björn finally understood they hadn’t stopped in Werner Herzog’s hometown it was all over.
19.»Why’d you do it?« Björn asked as he tried to strangle Anton from the back seat.Though Björn’s ›strangling‹ was meant as a joke, Anton took it seriously. You could say his anger went full throttle. He unbuckled himself and tumbled onto the backseat, where Björn received a fist to the face.After a decent tussle they fell from the car onto the pavement. There they loosened their grip on each other. Björn stood up and kicked Anton, who was kneeling, in the ribs. Anton’s head hit the pavement and his nose started to bleed.»That must be it, the fight’s got to be over,« thought Björn, not reckoning with a renewed attack from his outcast rival.But Anton stood up, grabbed Björn by the hair and smashed his head into the roof of the car. As Björn, somewhat dazed, hung in his arms, Anton wiped up the blood streaming over his nose and chin with his left hand and, holding Björn’s nose, rammed the hand into Björn’s mouth. Tears shot into Björn’s eyes, he vomited violently and fell to his knees.Imken and Lisa had decided it would look silly to bounce around the brawlers, shouting. They had remained seated in the car and reflected on all sorts of things.When Lisa suddenly noticed how Anton was trying to force his fist down Björn’s throat it was too much for her. She got out of the car, kicked Anton in the stomach with incredible force and helped Björn stand up.After the kicking he’d received in the fight now Anton was crying as well. But he was crying too late for Lisa.
20.All three were so shocked by Anton’s brutality that they took their luggage and fled to the centre of Salzburg without him.At some point they arrived at Mozart’s childhood home. They were confused and sad and started licking the walls of the Mozart House to convince Japanese tourists it was part of a special ritual.Then they couldn’t think of anything to do but go to a smoky pub.
»What the deuce!?« exclaimed a local on his way home late at night, directing these words expressly at the three club members, who were still in the pub. They were telling an old man who had sat at their table about the club.»A light will always burn for you in the cathedral of my heart,« the old man said to Lisa.At some point Imken just got up and left, saying »I don’t believe in you.«Then Lisa and Björn started kissing, no longer paying attention to the old man.
21.As the early summer sun rose over the Kapuzinerberg Anton was back in the car between Kitzingen and Würzburg—back where Björn had licked Lisa’s neck.
Lisa and Björn, after a horrific and seemingly endless night of booze and excess, went to the tallest chimney in Europe.
Only Imken continued the journey as planned and hitchhiked to Trieste, where she battled through numerous tourist offices and cafés before she understood that Ezra Pound had never lived there.Her cursing was interminable.
Anton, back in Mainz, attempted to dissolve the club, which he had registered with the local authorities. But he didn't know that to do so officially would require three-quarters of the membership to approve the decision.
22.They saw each other one more time. Anton was very nervous before the reunion. He was afraid no one would forgive him. He spent the whole night thinking about the way he sometimes behaved. He hadn’t forgiven himself.They decided to go to Bingen together one more time and drink a couple of bottles of that tasty Rümmelsheimer Steinköpfchen wine.But on the way the group’s spontaneity overcame them and they took a ferry from Ingelheim to Oestrich-Winkel to visit the MM Extra distillery in Eltville.On the ferry, which was called Michael, they loudly recited the old advertising jingle of Matheus Müller’s champagne company:
MM is written in your hands,Red, white and gold in colour,So follow Nature’s own commandsAnd drink Matheus Müller.
After several bottles of sparkling wine on the banks of the Rhine they believed Matheus Müller to be the greatest poet they had ever sought out in his place of creative inspiration.The wine had such an enchanting effect that even Anton and Björn got along, and they took each other’s handsome heads in their hands and touched their brows together. Only Lisa wanted nothing more to do with Anton, though she smiled at him now and then.For a long time they tried to identify the real poet behind the MM jingle. They wanted to go the following week to the advertising agency Young & Rubicam in Frankfurt and investigate there.And no, the club must never die!
But nothing came of it.The four of them never met up again. Autumn came and Björn moved to Bamberg, Lisa stayed in Mainz, Imken had shown (for not exactly obvious reasons) a great interest in Trieste since the summer, and Anton went back to the Alps.But before all that Björn and Anton met one time. Forgetting all the bloody noses that had come between them, they officially dissolved the club with the forged signatures of the others. Then they hugged and Björn suggested he would establish a canoeing group in Bamberg and name it after the Babylon Blood Club.
Thus the society was disbanded. None of the four members of the Babylon Blood Club would have such a colourful year again.
LEONHARD HIERONYMI, born and raised in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, lives in Hamburg. He graduated from The Humboldt University of Berlin, where he studied Literature and Computer Science. His most recent book is In zwangloser Gesellschaft. He is nominated for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2020.
CHRISTOPHER FENWICK is a writer and translator based in Berlin, where he is completing a Ph.D. at The Freie Universität Berlin. He previously studied at the École normale supérieure in Paris and at the University of Cambridge. He is an editor of literaturwissenschaft-berlin.de, a blog published by the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies, and also maintains the blog www.lexipenia.wordpress.com. Fenwick regularly contributes to STILL.