The Fragments of Walther Holtzmann: Die Schiffbrüchige

In the autumn of 1991, when tearing down an old, abandoned apartment block in the Berlin suburbs, former Eastern Germany, the workers came across something curious. The rooms of one of the apartments formed a strange, barren landscape of mountains, craters and valleys, all built up by layers of garbage partly covered by cement. When searching through the apartment they found the remains of the dwellers body in the bathroom. Next to the body they found what turned out to be the diary of Walther Holtzmann.

Excerpts from Walther Holtzmann’s diary:

10th of September 1968

The Moon. Not a landscape of ruins, like Germany after the Second World War, but a ruin of a landscape, more desolated than a desert. Here, to ease my mind, I can count the people present and be sure never to end up with more than one.

22nd of March 1985 (I believe). Night

I’m moving around like a living dead in this deserted landscape, old (how old? There’s nothing but lines in my face), almost starving to death, mimicing a heliotropic organism when pulling my body up the ladder, towards the moonlight, to behold the Muse of my habitat; the heavenly body of lady Luna.

Spring, probably 1986

I cannot hear my own voice. My arms can barely lift a spoon. My hands, bony, black from dirt. I can hardly write. My diary flutters restlessly around the apartment, like a bat, or a weightless object.

Fall, 1986

Thank God. I’ve finally managed to catch some of my dear rats (insects barely keep me alive). I used what was left of my books to make a grand open fire in the big crater in the hallway. Roasted rats taste like chicken. Smell like vacuum. I collect the ears, tails and feet in a big bucket. Not purely for the fun of it, but because it makes excellent bate. Rats love eating one anothers body parts.

In the dead of winter

I am the last. Everyone’s gone to the moon. According to my observations I carry the lunar surface on the back of my hands and in my face. The irony of fate: Before long there will be trees everywhere.

Notes on the origin of the text:

In John le Carré’s autobiography A Most Wanted Man (2008) the author, a former British spy, writes about his meeting with a German double agent, Hans-Dieter Mundt, in 1962: “He was like a German Humphrey Bogart. The only thing you owe the world is a good performance. That was his only words. And what a great performance. The perfect double agent. For all I knew he could have been both Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard”.

On the 9th of November 1989 the very same Hans-Dieter Mundt received a package. The Soviet Intelligence operated with an extensive code system, and most of their communication was carried out through codes. The package Mundt received carried five postage stamps, all bearing an illustration of a mineral: malachite, proustite, goethite, topaz and gypsum crystals. The package was stamped with the USSR state emblem and contained an amethyst. The postage stamps told Mundt to change name and identity, the state emblem adviced him to flee from DDR, and the amethyst commanded him to erase all traces. At the fall of darkness Mundt left his apartment as Maximilian Merz and sat tail for the Berlin Wall, where a tunnel would lead him to his friends in the west. However, when approaching his place of escape, he ran into a large crowd of excited people: the border was opened – the cold war had come to an end. Merz blended himself with the crowd and walked out of DDR.

From his first day as a free man Merz’ only concern was to track down, and then erase, all traces that could lead back to Hans-Dieter Mundt. For this reason he visited The Humboldt University of Berlin, and, under the pretence of being a historian, he got access to the university archives. There, in the fall of 1994, he found the diary of Walther Holtzmann. From that moment he decided to dedicate his life to the enigma of this unbelievable man.

Maximilian Merz died from a gastric ulcer in 1999. His body was found sitting in the hallway of a miniature model covering more than three fourths of his living room: Merz’ vision of Holtzmann’s apartment down to the last detail. In the living room of the miniature model lied a 700 pages thick manuscript that turned out to be Merz’ unfinished autobiography Die Schiffbrüchige (The Castaways) blended with fragments of Holtzmann’s diary.

Die Schiffbrüchige was published by Verlag Karfunkel in 2002. The original manuscript together with Merz’ typewriter and parts of the miniature model are today in the possession of The Humboldt University of Berlin.