The Stollen (Translation of “Der Stollen”)

For Lore Schweizer

In spite of the differences among the waiting members, they were all here for the same reason. While the men, women, and children were waiting there in line, crystalline and white snowflakes were trickling onto the gray clothes, gray shocks of hair, and the gray ruins. These armies of fluff enwrapped the surrounding circumstances: the edgy asperities, sharp fissures, and gaping cracks. In front of the many, many hungry mouths, gray clouds of breathing vapor were ascending; in every cloud, there was an exigent wish embedded, an urging petition. Together, they enriched each other to a prayer. Because only that would make the stollen multiply. It would never be enough.

Finally, it was her turn. Before she stepped up to the counter, she wrapped her worn out, once petrol-colored winter coat tighter around her body, swallowed the tears and lifted her chin. Then she swapped the violet voucher for a quarter of a slice of the stollen. The small piece of the Christmas pastry was hidden in grey, almost see-through saran wrap, and it immediately nestled itself into her cold hand. It was there to stay. As tears were blurring her vision and the unexpected, intensive gush of bliss was making her heart hammer, the young woman made a small step to the side and was blindly looking for a wood truss to cling to. Instead of wood, the woman’s hand gripped something warm, soft, which immediately responded and held her cold hand. It was the hand of another. She blinked the tears away, and when she ultimately lifted her head, she was looking into the eyes of a young man.

Slowly, she loosened the stiff grip and let go of his hand. When he opened his mouth, the words traveled slowly, as if they were penetrating thick clouds of cold, gray fog. One by one, they reached her, and immediately, her eyes filled with tears once more. He prayed for her piece of the stollen.

For many years—she had stopped counting after the fifth—she had waited for this moment. For a little bit of sweetness. For the stollen. For a real, warm Christmas. First shivering, then trembling, and eventually shaking, she turned away. The tears were streaming down her face, hugging her cheek bones, her lips, her jaw-bone, her neck; she could not bear that he saw her so weak, so breakable, so vulnerable. Thousands of, and many more, snowflakes were dancing their ballet around the two young people. They knitted a cocoon, in which the unexpressed emotions could unfold and unfurl freely and unseen. In the midst of her pirouette towards him, the young woman then held her breath and halted abruptly. She was not able to look into his eyes, but she reached out with her hand and opened her white fingers; she so liberated the stollen and gave it to him. He took it, their hands touched for a brief moment. Then she turned away. And ran. Into the fog.

It was Christmas Eve. Many years had gone by, the war was over, but the circumstances were still preventing Christmas from entering German households. As the apartment was not heated, the family had gathered in the kitchen, seeking to share the sacred warmth of the Son of God. The daughter was standing by the stove. There was no pot on the stove, but her gesture was enough to fill the family member’s mouths with the grilled goose. Nobody spoke. The mother and the father had opened the black hymnbook and were silently singing an alleluia for the Lord.

Suddenly, there was a vehement knocking on the door. Three times. When the daughter slowly opened the door, the long, yawning corridor was as empty as always. A shy gust of wind caressed the contours of her face, and she bowed down in boundless disappointment.

As she was looking down, she caught sight of the bread-loaf-sized parcel, which was lying on the doormat in front of her feet. With both hands, she carried the heavy bundle devoutly into the kitchen and softly bedded it onto the kitchen table. The family stared at the gray package, and nobody dared not to take their eyes off of it.

Knowingly, the daughter turned away and stepped to the window. Her idea was affirmed: even though the stream of tears prevented her from seeing clearly, she immediately recognized the man, who was slowly marching through the snow. He was swallowed by the nightly darkness shortly after. Her emotions got lost in the gallimaufry of the deep footsteps he had left behind. She turned toward the package. The father barely felt the wrapping paper at first, but then carefully opened it and angelically liberated the content.

There it lay on the wood, surrounded by the family, on Christmas. The stollen.