“Der Wissende”

[(GS, IV:1, p 422-3), as translated by Esther Leslie.]

1932: “I see myself in Wertheim department store in front of a flat little box with wooden figures, such as a little sheep, just like the animals that made up Noah’s ark. But this little sheep is much flatter and made of a rough, unpainted wood. The toy lured me to it. As the salesgirl shows it to me, it transpires that it is constructed like a magic tile, as found in many magic boxes: with little panels around which are wound colorful ribbons. These panels are loose and shift, all turning blue or red, according to how the ribbons are pulled. This flat magic toy pleases me all the more after I see how it works. I ask the salesgirl the price and am astonished that it costs more than seven marks. Then I make a difficult decision not to buy. As I turn to go, my gaze falls on something unexpected. The construction has transformed itself. The flat panels stand stiffly upright, as a sloping plane; at one end is a gate. It is filled with a mirror. In this mirror I am able to see what is taking place on the sloping plane that is a street: two children are walking on the left hand side. Otherwise it is empty. All this is under glass. But the houses and the children on the street are brightly coloured. Now I can no longer resist; I pay the price and put it about my person. In the evening I intend to show it to friends. But there is unrest in Berlin. The mob is threatening to storm the cafĂ© where we have met; in feverish consultation we survey all the other cafés, but none appear to offer protection. So we make an expedition into the desert. There it is night; tents are erected; lions are close by. I have not forgotten my dainty, which I want to show everyone. But the opportunity does not arise. Africa is gripping everyone too much. And I wake up before I can reveal the secret which I have subsequently come to understand: the three phases into which the toy falls. The first panel; that colourful street with the two children. The second: a web of fine little cogs, pistons and cylinders, rollers and transmissions, all of wood, whirling together in one level, without person or noise. And finally the third panel; the vision of a new order in Soviet Russia.”