Germany. A Winter’s Tale

Text by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
translated into English by Joseph Massaad

Caput XXI

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Departure | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV

They’re rebuilding, bit by bit,
The luckless half-burnt city.
Hamburg now looks like a sad poodle,
Half shorn, inspiring pity.

There are many streets that disappeared,
Some of which I’ll certainly miss.
Where is the house, in which I shared,
With my sweet love, my first kiss?

Where is the printing-house
That published those Travel Sketches of mine?
Where is the oyster-cellar where
I gulped down oysters for the first time?

And the Dreckwall, where has it gone?
In vain, I seek for the street!
And where is the old Pavilion, where
There were so many cakes to eat?

Where’s the City Hall, where the Senate sat
And the burghers busily debated?
A prey to fire! The flames spared nothing,
Even the holiest was incinerated!

The people were still sighing with fear;
Deep sorrow showed on their face,
When they recalled the frightful story
Of this most horrendous blaze:

“It flared in every corner at once,
There was nothing but smoke and flame!
The church-towers flared up in the sky,
And then crashed, and down they came.

The old exchange was burnt right out;
There, for centuries, our fathers made
Many an honest business deal,
According to the rules of the trade.

The bank, the city’s silver soul,
And the books, where inscriptions were made
About each person’s net worth,
Thank God! They were saved!

Thank God! They collected on our behalf:
From the most distant lands, help was sent.
It added to eight millions in all.
This business was really excellent!

The money filled our open hands,
It flowed from every nation;
We even accepted victuals too,
We didn’t disdain any donation.

They sent clothes and beds enough,
And bread and meats and soups!
The King of Prussia even thought
He’d wish to send us his troops!

The material damage has been repaid,
That was easily calculated.
But the fear, the fright we had,
Than can never be compensated!”

To cheer them up, I said: “Dear people,
It’s no good wailing like a beaten hound,
Troy was even a finer town,
Yet it burnt down to the ground.

Build your homes and dry your puddles,
Establish new laws that could prove
Better and more effective.
Your fire-engines must also improve.

Reduce the spices in your mock-turtle-soups,
And, before cooking, scale every fish;
Carps, cooked in grease, with their skin,
Are quite an unhealthy dish.

Turkeys won’t hurt you unduly,
But be on guard against disaster
From that vile bird that laid his egg
In the wig of the burgomaster.

Who might that vile bird be?
I do not wish to reveal.
Thinking of him upsets my stomach,
In a manner that is unreal.”


Departure | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV