A Small Circus: A Novel

A Small Circus: A Novel

by Hans Fallada


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A Small Circus: A Novel by Hans Fallada

It is the summer of 1929, and in a small German town, a storm is brewing.

Tredup, a shabby reporter working for the Pomeranian Chronicle , leads a precarious existence . . . until he takes some photographs that offer him a chance to make a fortune.

While Tredup contemplates his next move, the town is buzzing. Farmers are plotting their revenge against greedy officials, a mysterious traveling salesman is stirring up trouble, and all the while, the Nazi party grows stronger as the Communists fight them in the street.

As the town slowly slips into chaos, Mayor “Fatty” Gareis does everything in his power to seek the easy life.

As tensions mount between workers and bosses, town and country, and Left and Right, alliances are broken, bribes are taken, and plots are hatched, until the tension spills over into violence.

From the brilliant mind of one of Germany’s most celebrated writers, A Small Circus is a genuine and frightening tale of small-town Germany during a time of unrest. It belongs in the collection of every reader who has enjoyed his break-out classics.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade, Yucca, and Good Books imprints, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in fiction—novels, novellas, political and medical thrillers, comedy, satire, historical fiction, romance, erotic and love stories, mystery, classic literature, folklore and mythology, literary classics including Shakespeare, Dumas, Wilde, Cather, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628724325
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Publication date: 01/06/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 792,491
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Hans Fallada was born Rudolf Wilhelm Adolf Ditzen in 1893 in Greifswald, northeastern Germany, and took his pen name from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. He spent much of his life in prison or in psychiatric care, yet produced some of the most significant German novels of the twentieth century, including Once a Jailbird ; Little Man, What Now? ; and Every Man Dies Alone , which was only published in English for the first time in 2009, to near-universal acclaim. He died in Berlin in 1947.

Michael Hofmann is a German-born poet and translator. He has translated such authors as Hans Fallada, Franz Kafka, Patrick Süskind, and many others, and has won numerous awards for his work. He lives in London, England.

Read an Excerpt

A Small Circus

A Novel

By Hans Fallada, Michael Hofmann

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 1994 Aufbau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62872-432-5


An Order of Attachment in the Country


At Haselhorst Station two men climb out of the train that goes from Altholm to Stolpe. Both are wearing town clothes, but are carrying raincoats over their arms and have knotty canes in their hands. One of them is dour-looking and in his forties, while his scrawny twenty-year-old companion looks round alertly in all directions. Everything seems to interest him.

They follow the main street through Haselhorst. The roofs of the farmhouses peep through the green everywhere, some reed, some thatch, some tile, some tin. Every farm is its own world, ringed with trees, and careful to turn its narrow side to the main road.

They leave Haselhorst behind them and walk along the rowan-lined avenue towards Gramzow. There are cattle standing at pasture in the meadows, red and white or black and white, idly looking round at the wanderers, slowly chewing.

'It's nice to get out of the office once in a while,' says the young man.

'There was a time I thought that as well,' replies the older one.

'Nothing but figures all the time, it's too much.'

'Figures are easier to deal with than people. More predictable.'

'Herr Kalübbe, do you really think something could happen?'

'Don't talk rot. Of course nothing's going to happen.'

The younger man reaches into his back pocket. 'At least I've got my pistol with me.'

The older man suddenly stops dead, waves his arms furiously, and his face goes purple. 'You idiot, you! You blasted idiot!'

His rage deepens. He throws his hat and coat down on the road, and the briefcase he was carrying under his raincoat.

'All right! Go on! Do your own thing! What insane stupidity! And a hothead like that ...' He is incapable of going on.

The younger man has turned pale, whether from indignation, anger or shock. But he is at least able to master himself. 'Herr Kalübbe, please, what was it I said to annoy you like that?'

'If I so much as hear the words "At least I've got my pistol with me"! You propose to go among farmers with your pistol? I have a wife and children.'

'But this morning the revenue councillor briefed me about the use of arms.'

Kalübbe is dismissive. 'Oh, him! Sits at his desk all day. Knows nothing but paper. He should come out with me on an actual attachment one day, to Poseritz or Dülmen or, why not, Gramzow, today ... He would soon stop giving briefings!'

Kalübbe grins sneeringly at the thought of the revenue councillor accompanying him on one of his attachment trips.

Suddenly he laughs. 'Here, let me show you something.' He pulls his pistol out of his own back pocket, aims it at his colleague.

'What are you doing? Put that away!' the younger man shouts, and jumps to the side.

Kalübbe pulls the trigger. 'You see — nothing! It's not loaded. That's what I think of your sort of protection.'

He puts his pistol away. 'And now give me yours.' He pulls the barrel back with a jerk and ejects one bullet after another. The young man picks them up in silence. 'Put them in your waistcoat pocket, and hand them back to the revenue councillor tonight. That's my briefing on self-defence, Thiel.'

Thiel has also picked up stick and coat and briefcase, and hands them all silently to his colleague. They walk on. Kalübbe looks across meadows that are yellow with crowfoot, or whitish-rose with cardamine. 'Don't take it amiss, Thiel. Here, shake hands, no hard feelings. — That's right. All of you cooped up in the revenue building, you've got no idea of what it means to be working out here.

'I was pleased when I became a bailiff. Not just for the per diems and travel allowances, which I can really use, with a wife and three little ones. But also for being out here, on a spring day, when everything is green and fresh. Not just stone. You respond to it.

'And now — now you're the most shameful and disgusting blot on the State.'

'Herr Kalübbe, you, who everyone praises so!'

'Yes, them indoors! If a farmer comes to see you, or if ten farmers come to see you, it's the same thing, it's a farmer in town. And if they ever get really insolent, as you term it, then there's plenty of you around. Behind the glass screen. And with a direct line to the police up on the wall.

'But here, where we're walking now, the farmer's been sat for a hundred years, for a thousand years. Here it's us that don't belong. And I'm all alone in their midst, with my briefcase and my blue cuckoo stamp. And I am the State, and if things go well, then I will take with me just an edge of their self-esteem, and the cow out of their byre, and if things are rough, why, then I make them homeless at the end of a thousand years of their occupation.'

'Can they really not pay?'

'Sometimes they can't, and sometimes they won't. And of late they really haven't wanted to. — You see, Thiel, there have always been a few rich farmers, who did really well for themselves, and they don't see why they should be reduced to gnawing on a crust. And they don't run their businesses in a rational way ...

'But what do we know about it? It's none of our beeswax. What do we care about the farmers? They hoe their row, we hoe ours. But what bothers me is the way I walk among them dishonestly, like a hangman from the Middle Ages, who is despised, like a harlot with her parasol on her arm, that they all spit at, and with whom no one will sit down at a table.'

'Hold it! Stop!' calls Thiel, and he grabs his colleague by the sleeve. In the dust is a butterfly, a brown peacock butterfly, with trembling wings. Its antennae are moving gropingly in the sunshine, in the light, the warmth.

Kalübbe pulls his foot, which was already hovering over the creature, back. Pulls it back and stands still, looking down at the living brown dust.

'Yes, there's that as well, Thiel,' he says in relief. 'God knows you're right. There's that as well. And sometimes you manage to stop your foot in mid-air. — And now I've got one thing I want to ask you.'

'What's that?' says Thiel.

'Just now you showed restraint, and I was the wild one. Maybe we'll swap roles in the course of the day. Then you must remember you will have to endure any insult, any scorn without reply — have to, you hear. A good bailiff doesn't press charges for offensive behaviour or foul and abusive language, he just collects. You must never raise your hand, even if the other guy does. There are always too many witnesses against you. In fact, there are only witnesses against you. Will you remember that? Will you promise me?'

Thiel raises his hand.

'And can you keep your promise?'

'Yes,' says Thiel.

'All right then, we're going to Farmer Päplow in Gramzow to auction off his two oxen.'


It's a little before eleven. It's still morning, and the two revenue workers have shaken hands on the road to Gramzow.

The Krug at Gramzow is full to the rafters. All the tables are occupied. The farmers are sitting over beer and grog, and schnapps glasses are in evidence too. But it's almost silent in the public bar, you hardly hear a word spoken. It's as though everyone was straining their ears to listen to the back.

There are more farmers sitting in the back bar, round the table with the crocheted cloth, under the walnut clock. There are seven of them round the table, and an eighth standing by the door. On the sofa with a glass of grog is a lanky fellow with a creased, angular face, cold eyes and thin lips. 'All right,' he says from his sitting position, 'you old-established farmers of Gramzow, you've heard Farmer Päplow's complaint against the decision of the tax office in Altholm. Those who support him raise your hands, those who are against him leave them down in impunity. All do as you think right, only as you think right. — And now, cast your votes.'

Seven hands go up.

The lanky, clean-shaven man gets up off the sofa. 'Open the door, Päplow, so that everyone can hear. I'll announce the decision of the farmers of Gramzow.'

The door swings open, and at the same moment the farmers outside get up. The lanky man asks a white-bearded farmer standing by the front door: 'Are the sentries posted?'

'The sentries are posted, Headman.'

The tall man asks in the direction of the bar and the little weasel of a landlord: 'And are there no womenfolk in the vicinity?'

'No womenfolk, Headman.'

'Then I, District Headman Reimers of Gramzow, announce the decision of the Farmers' League, duly arrived at by their elected representatives:

'The tax office in Altholm has ruled on the 2nd of March against Farmer Päplow, to the effect that he has to pay four hundred and sixty-three marks in back taxes from 1928.

'We have heard what Farmer Päplow has to say about this ruling. He has made it clear that the ruling is based on the average yield of farms in this area. But this average does not pertain to him, because in 1928 he suffered extraordinary losses. He lost two horses from colic. A heifer of his died while calving. He had to move his father out of his house and into the hospital at Altholm, and keep him there for over a year.

'These mitigating factors are known to the tax office, both directly through Farmer Päplow, and indirectly through me, the district headman. The tax office would agree no reduction.

'We, the farmers of Gramzow, declare the ruling of the tax office at Altholm to be null and void because it constitutes an attack on the substance of the farm. We deny the tax office and its masters, the German State, any assistance in this matter, regardless of the consequences for ourselves.

'The confiscation of two well-grazed oxen belonging to Farmer Päplow announced two weeks ago is null and void. Whoever puts in a bid for these oxen at the auction set for today is from that moment forth to be cast out by the Farmers' League. Let him be despised, no one is to come to his assistance, whether he be in financial or physical or spiritual travail. He is to be ostracized, both in Gramzow and the district of Lohstedt in the province of Pomerania, and throughout the State of Prussia, and throughout the length and breadth of the German Reich. No one is to bandy words with him, not even to give him the time of day. Our children are not to speak with his children, nor our wives with his wife. He is to live alone, and die alone. Whoever acts against one of us, acts against all of us. He is already dead.

'Have ye all heard me, farmers of Gramzow?'

'We have heard, Headman.'

'Then to action. I call the meeting closed. Withdraw the sentries.'

The door between the public bar and the back bar is closed again. District Headman Reimers sits down, wipes his brow, and takes a swallow from his glass of grog, now gone cold. Then he looks at his watch. 'Five to eleven. Time for you to be gone, Päplow, otherwise the representative of the tax office can read the protocol to you.'

'Yes, Reimers. But what will happen when they drive my oxen away?'

'They won't drive your oxen away, Päplow.'

'How will you stop them? By violence?'

'No violence. No violence against this State and its administration. I have another idea.'

'If you have another idea ... But it has to work. I need the money for the oxen.'

'It will work. Tomorrow farmers all over the country will know how we in Gramzow deal with the tax office. Go, and don't worry.'

Farmer Päplow goes out through the back door, crosses the yard, and disappears round the corner. Seven farmers funnel out into the crowded bar.


There is some commotion outside the pub: the two tax officials are coming. Each of them has a red ox on a halter.

They have been to Päplow's farm. Some farmhand was there, and let them into the cow-byre, to the attached animals. The farmer and his wife were nowhere to be found, there was no one to whom to present the order to pay. So they led away the two beasts, and brought them to the Krug, to hold the auction as duly announced.

They tether the animals to the post outside the door, and walk into the pub. In the bar there was some murmuring of conversation, perhaps the odd oath, when they saw the men with the two beasts. Now there is silence. But thirty or forty farmers are staring fixedly and expressionlessly at the two officials.

'Is there a Herr Päplow from Gramzow here?' Kalübbe asks into the silence.

No reply.

Kalübbe walks down the middle of the room to the bar. Under so many hostile eyes his walk is clumsy and awkward. He knocks against a stick that is hanging over the back of a chair. It falls to the ground with a clatter. Kalübbe bends down to pick it up, hooks it over the chairback again, and mumbles, 'Excuse me.'

The farmer merely looks at him, and then stares out the window.

Kalübbe says to mine host: 'I am here as you know to hold an auction. Would you set up a table for me here?'

The host growls: 'There's no table here, nor no room for one neither.'

'You know you have to make space for me.'

'How would you want me to do that, sir? Who do I send away? Perhaps you could make some room for yourself? Sir?'

Kalübbe says emphatically: 'You know you are required —'

And the weaselly publican, quickly: 'I know. I know. But give me some advice. Not the law, but some advice I can follow.'

A commanding voice calls through the pub: 'Put up a table outside.'

Suddenly the little landlord is all action and politeness. 'A table outside the door. Of course. What a good idea. From there the animals will be in plain view too.'

The table is brought out. The host in person carries two chairs.

'And now a couple of glasses of beer for ourselves, Landlord.'

The landlord stops, his face creases with worry. He squints at the open windows, at which farmers are sitting. 'Gentlemen, please ...'

'Two glasses of beer! What's the —?'

The landlord raises his hands imploringly. 'Gentlemen, please don't ask me ...'

Kalübbe looks over to Thiel, who is looking at the tabletop. 'You see, Thiel!' And to the landlord: 'You have to give us two beers. If you don't, and I press charges, you've lost your licence.'

And the landlord, in exactly the same tone: 'And if I do, I've lost my custom. Heads I lose, and tails I lose as well.'

Kalübbe and the landlord look at each other for what seems like a long time.

'Well, let them know inside that the auction's beginning.'

The landlord half bows. 'I think one should try and be decent as long as possible.'

He goes inside. The official takes a protocol and a list of conditions out of his briefcase and lays them out on the table in front of him. Thiel wants Kalübbe to look at him, so he says: 'I just thought of the pistol. I think I'm learning that weapons don't help.'

Kalübbe, leafing through his protocol, says drily: 'The day's not over. When you're home, you'll have learned more.'

A shadow falls across the table. A young man, dressed in black, with black horn-rims, and the strap of a camera across his shoulder, approaches them, doffing his hat. 'Morning, gentlemen, Tredup's the name, I represent the Altholm Chronicle. I've just come from Podejuch, taking photographs of the restored church for our pages. I was cycling by, when I saw there was an auction being held here.'

'The announcement was in your paper.'

'And those are the distrained animals? — You know, one hears so much about trouble at attachments. Did you experience any yourselves?'

'Herr Berg is the man to turn to for official information.'

'So you experienced no difficulties? Would you have any objections if I took pictures of the auction?'

To which Kalübbe, roughly: 'Stop bothering us. We've got no time for you and your chit-chat.'

Tredup shrugs his shoulders loftily. 'Whatever you say. I'll take some pictures anyway. — We all have work to do, and yours doesn't seem to be much to your taste.'

He crosses over to the other side of the village street and starts setting up his camera.

Kalübbe in turn shrugs his shoulders. 'He's right, basically. It's his job, and I shouldn't have been rude to him. But I've got a bone to pick with the Chronicle. They're nothing better than blackmailers. Did you happen to catch the review of the Circus Monte there a couple of days ago?' 'I did. Yes.'

'Bare-faced extortion. The whole town knows that no one from the Chronicle saw the show. The owner wanted to bring charges against them for damaging his trade, but there's really no point. Schabbelt has a screw loose, his wife is on the sauce, the fellow who writes it, Stuff, has his wobbles from time to time ... And as for the rest of them ...'

'My God. Who reads

the Chronicle anyway? I'm a News reader myself.'

'I wonder what the man will find to write about the auction. Doesn't seem to be eliciting much interest from anyone.'

They look in the direction of the pub windows. It looks to them as if the place may have somewhat emptied, even though there are still plenty of farmers sitting there.

'Will you go over to the doorway and call out that we're about to begin. And then ask the landlord to see me again, if you will.'

Thiel gets up and goes over to the door. Kalübbe hears him shout something. Someone else shouts something back. There is laughter, and then a harsh voice calls for quiet. Thiel comes back.

'What just happened?' Kalübbe asks with equanimity.

'The landlord's on his way. — Oh yes, some joker told me to go home, my mummy wants to wash behind my ears. And then a tall fellow told him to shut up.'

The landlord steps up to the table. 'Yes, gentlemen?'


Excerpted from A Small Circus by Hans Fallada, Michael Hofmann. Copyright © 1994 Aufbau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Dramatis Personae,
Prologue: A Small Circus Called Monte,
Part I: The Farmers,
Part II: The Townies,
Part III: Judgement Day,
Epilogue: Just Like at Circus Monte,
Appendix: German Parties and Elections in the Late Weimar Period,

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