Schirach, Ferdinand von
(Sample Translation)

Verbrechen (Crimes)

Piper Verlag, August 2009, 208 pp.
ISBN: 978-3-492-0536-24

(First story, Fähner, pp. 7–19 of German edition)
Friedhelm Fähner had been a family doctor in Rottweil all his life: 2,800 patients a year registered with him, practice in the high street, chairman of the local Ancient Egypt Society, member of the Lions’ Club, no criminal record, not even parking offences. He owned, as well as his house, two apartment buildings, a three-year-old Mercedes E class with leather upholstery and air conditioning, about 750,000 euros in stocks and bonds, and a life insurance policy. Fähner had no children. His only living relation was his sister, six years his junior, who lived with her husband and two children in Stuttgart. There wasn’t really much to say about Fähner’s life.
Except for the Ingrid affair.
When Fähner was twenty-four, he met Ingrid at his father’s sixtieth birthday party. His father had also been a doctor in Rottweil.
Rottweil is a thoroughly middle-class place. Every stranger is told, unasked, how it was founded by the Hohenstaufen dynasty and is the oldest city in Baden-Württemberg, You do indeed find medieval oriel windows here and there, and attractive sixteenth-century shop signs. The Fähners had lived in Rottweil forever. They were among those described as the “first families” in town, and had been well-known as doctors, judges and pharmacists.
Friedhelm Fähner looked like the young John F. Kennedy. He had a friendly face, and was thought of as a contented man for whom everything went well. Only when you looked a little more closely did you see a trace of something sad, something old and dark in his features, the kind of melancholy quite often seen in the faces of people from this area between the Black Forest and the Swabian Alps.
Ingrid’s parents, who were pharmacists in Rottweil, brought their daughter to the party with them. She was three years older than Fähner, a sturdy provincial beauty with heavy breasts. Sea-blue eyes, black hair, pale skin – she was aware of the effect her appearance made. Her curiously high, metallic, unmodulated voice disturbed Fähner. There was no melody in what she said unless she spoke softly.
She had not taken her secondary school exams, and was working as a waitress. “Just for now,” she told Fähner. That was a matter of indifference to him. In another field, one that interested him more, she was far in advance of Fähner. To date, he had had two brief sexual encounters with women, and they had made him if anything less sure of himself than ever. He fell in love with Ingrid at once.
Two days after the party she seduced him after a picnic. They were lying in an outdoor shelter, and Ingrid played her part well. Fähner was in such a state of confusion that he asked her to marry him a week later. She accepted him without a moment’s hesitation. Fähner was what is called a good match, he was studying medicine in Munich, he was good-looking and affectionate, and he was just about to take his first medical exams. But it was his serious nature that attracted her most. She couldn’t put it into words very well, but she told her best girlfriend that Fähner would never dump her. Four months later she was living with him.
They honeymooned in Cairo, by his choice. Whenever he was asked about Egypt later, he said it had been a “weightless” time, although he knew no one would understand him. There in Egypt he was the young Parsifal, the pure but innocent fool, and he was happy. For the last time in his life.
On the evening before they went home, they were lying in their hotel bedroom. The windows were open, it was still too hot, the air lay heavy in the little room. It was a cheap hotel, it smelt of rotting fruit, and you could hear the noise coming up from the street below.
They had made love, in spite of the heat. Fähner was lying on his back, watching the ventilator fan in the ceiling going round and round. Ingrid was smoking a cigarette. She turned on her side, propped her head on one hand and looked at him. He smiled. They said nothing for quite a long time.
Then she began talking. She talked about the men in her life before Fähner, the disappointments, the mistakes, but most of all about the French first lieutenant who had made her pregnant, and the abortion that almost killed her. She was crying. Alarmed, he took her in his arms. He sensed her heart beating against his chest, and felt helpless. She’s entrusted herself to me, he thought.
“You must swear to look after me. Swear you’ll never leave me.” Ingrid’s voice was trembling.
He was touched, and tried to reassure her. He’d already sworn that at their wedding in church, he said, he was happy with her, he wanted to …
She interrupted him harshly, her voice rising. It had that colourless, metallic edge to it now. “Swear it!”
And suddenly he understood. This was not lovers’ pillow talk. The ventilator, Cairo, the pyramids, the heat of the hotel bedroom – all those clichés suddenly disappeared. He moved her a little way back so that he could look into her eyes. Then he said it. He spoke slowly, and he knew what he was saying. “I swear.”
He drew her close and kissed her face, They made love again, and this time it was different. She sat on top of him, she took what she wanted. They were grave, strange to each other, isolated. When she came she struck him in the face. Later, he lay awake for a long time, staring at the ceiling. There was a power cut, and the ventilator had stopped moving.
Of course Fähner passed his exams with distinction, qualified, and started on his first post as a junior doctor in the Rottweil hospital. They found an apartment, three rooms and a bathroom, a view of the outskirts of the woods.
When their household goods in Munich were being packed up, she threw his record collection away. He didn’t notice until they were moving into the new apartment. She said she couldn’t stand those records, he’d listened to them with other women. Fähner was furious. They hardly spoke to each other for two days.
Fähner liked the clarity of the Bauhaus style – she furnished the apartment in oak and pine, hung net curtains at the windows and bought coloured bed linen. He even put up with the embroidered doilies and the pewter goblets. He wasn’t going to dictate to her.
A few weeks later Ingrid said she didn’t like the way he held his knife and fork. At first he laughed and said she was being childish. She repeated her criticism the next day, and the day after that. And so, since she took it seriously, he held his knife in a different way.
Ingrid complained that he didn’t take the rubbish downstairs. He told himself that these were just the early difficulties bound to come in any marriage. Son after that she started telling him he was coming home too late, he’d been flirting with other women.
The criticisms never stopped. Soon he was hearing them every day. He was so untidy, she said, he got his shirts dirty, he crumpled the newspaper, he smelt, he never thought of anyone but himself, he was talking nonsense, he was being unfaithful to her. Fähner hardly defended himself at all.
After a few years the abusive insults began. First in a small way, then on a larger and larger scale. He was a bastard, she said, he was tormenting her, he was a fool. Then came the filthy language and the shouting. He gave up. At night he got out of bed and read science fiction novels. He jogged for an hour a day, just as he had in his student days. It was a long time since they had slept together. Other women showed that they were available, but he had no affairs. At the age of thirty-five he took over his father’s practice, at the age of forty he was going grey. Fähner was tired.
Fähner’s father died when he was forty-eight and his mother when he was fifty. With his inheritance, he bought a half-timbered house on the edge of town. The house had a big garden, almost a park, with overgrown plants and shrubs, forty apple trees, twelve chestnut trees and a pond. The garden was the saving of Fähner. He sent away for books, subscribed to gardening magazines, and read all there was to read about shrubs, ponds and trees. He bought the best tools, found out about irrigation techniques, boned up on horticulture in his typically thorough, methodical way. The garden flourished, and the trees and shrubs were so famous locally that Fähner would see total strangers taking photographs of his apple trees.
He stayed late at his surgery during the week. As a doctor, Fähner was thorough and sympathetic. His patients thought highly of him, his diagnoses set the standard in Rottweil. He left the house before Ingrid was awake and did not come home until after nine in the evening. He ate his supper in silence, to the accompaniment of Ingrid’s accusations. They poured out, one after another, in her metallic, unmodulated voice. She had grown fat, her pale skin had turned ruddy with the years. Her fleshy neck was not firm any more, and a flap of skin had formed in front of her throat. It wobbled back and forth, keeping time with her abuse. She suffered from breathlessness and high blood pressure. Fähner himself got thinner and thinner. One evening, when he tried at some length to persuade Ingrid to consult a neurologist who was a friend of his, she threw a saucepan at him and shouted that he was an ungrateful brute.
On the night before his sixtieth birthday, Fähner lay awake. He had brought out the now faded photograph taken in Egypt: Ingrid and himself in front of the Pyramid of Cheops, camels in the background, sand, some Bedouin for the benefit of tourists. When she threw away the album of wedding pictures, he had retrieved that photo from the rubbish bin. Since then he had kept it in his wardrobe at the bottom of a pile of clothes.
That night Fähner realized that he was going to be a prisoner for ever and ever, to the end of his days. He had given his promise in Cairo. Now of all times, when things were bad, he had to keep it; a promise was not a promise if you kept it only at good times. The picture blurred before his eyes. He undressed and stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror. He looked at himself for a long time. Then he sat on the side of the bathtub, and for the first time in his adult life he shed tears.
Fähner was working in his garden. He was seventy-two now, and he had sold the practice four years ago. As usual, he had got up at six. Keeping quiet, he had left the guestroom, where he had been sleeping for years. Ingrid was still asleep. It was a beautiful September morning. The early mist had lifted, the air was clear and cold. Fähner was hoeing weeds among the plants. It was strenuous, monotonous work. Fähner was content. He was looking forward to the coffee he would drink when he stopped for a rest at nine-thirty. Fähner thought of the delphinium he had planted in spring. It was going to flower for a third time in late autumn.
Suddenly Ingrid flung open the terrace door. She shouted that he had forgotten to close the guestroom window again, he was nothing but an idiot. Her voice tumbled over itself, going on and on. Shining metal.
Later, Fähner could not describe exactly what he was thinking at that moment. A harsh, sharp light had come on somewhere deep inside him. Everything had been over-distinct in that glaring light.
He asked Ingrid to come down to the cellar, and took the outdoor steps down to it himself. Breathing heavily, Ingrid arrived in the cellar, where he kept his garden tools. They either hung neatly on the walls, arranged by size and function, or stood, well cleaned, in tin or plastic containers. They were beautiful tools; he had assembled them over the past years. Ingrid seldom came down here. When she opened the door Fähner, without a word, took down from the wall the axe he used on the trees. It came from Sweden, hand-forged, it was oiled and showed not a trace of rust. Ingrid fell silent. He was still wearing his thick gardening gloves. Ingrid stared at the axe. She did not flinch back. The very first blow, the one that split her skull, killed her. The axe, splintering bone, went on into the brain, the blade cut her face in two. She was dead even before she hit the ground. Fähner had difficulty getting the axe out of her skull again, and had to put his foot on her throat. With two mighty strokes, he severed her head from her body. The forensic specialist later described the seventeen further blows that it had taken Fähner to cut off her arms and legs.
Fähner was breathing hard. He sat down on the little wooden stool that he used while planting out seedlings. The legs of the stool were standing in blood. Fähner felt hungry. After a while he stood up, took off his clothes there beside the corpse, and washed the blood from his hair and face in the washbasin down in the cellar. He closed the cellar door and went up the indoors stairs to the house. Upstairs, he dressed again, dialled the emergency number for the police, gave his name and address, and said – these were his exact words – “I’ve chopped up my wife Ingrid. Please come at once.” The call was recorded. He hung up without waiting for an answer. His voice was in no way agitated.
The police arrived at Fähner’s house a few minutes after his phone call, without any flashing blue light or howling siren. One of the officers had been in the police force for twenty years, and all his family had been Fähner’s patients. Fähner was standing at the garden gate and gave him the keys. He said she was down in the cellar. The police officer knew it would be better not to ask any questions. Fähner was wearing a suit, but no shoes or socks. He was perfectly calm.
The trial lasted four days. It was held in front of professional judges and lay assessors, and the presiding judge was an experienced man. He knew Fähner, whose case he must now judge. And he knew Ingrid. Just in case he hadn't known her well enough, the witnesses had plenty to say in evidence. Everyone was sorry for Fähner, everyone stood up for him. The postman said he thought Fähner was “a saint”, and how he stood it was “nothing short of a miracle”. The psychiatrist said in evidence that Fähner had been suffering from “pent-up emotions”, but was not incapable of telling right from wrong.
The public prosecutor asked for a sentence of eight years. He took his time, he described the course of events and waded through the blood in the cellar. Then he said that Fähner had had alternatives, he could have divorced her.
The public prosecutor was wrong; that was exactly what Fähner could not have done. The last reform of the German code of criminal proceedings abolished the place of a sworn oath as an obligatory affirmation of evidence. It’s a long time since we believed in that sort of thing. If a witness is going to lie, he will lie – no judge seriously thinks that taking an oath would make any difference one way or another. A sworn oath means nothing to a modern man. But – and there is a world of meaning in that but – Fähner was not a modern man. He had made his promise in good earnest. He had kept it all his life, and indeed it had kept him prisoner. Fähner could not free himself, that would have been breaking his oath. His eruption of violence was the explosion of the pressure tank in which his sworn word had imprisoned him all his life.
Fähner’s sister, who had asked me to defend her brother in court, was sitting in the public gallery, crying. His former practice nurse was holding her hand. Fähner had grown even thinner in custody. He sat in the dark wooden dock without moving.
There was nothing to defend in this case. It was a question of the philosophy on which the law is based. What is the meaning of punishment? Why do we punish those who do wrong? In my plea I tried to explore the reasons. There is no shortage of theories. Punishment is meant to deter us, punishment is meant to protect us, punishment is meant to keep a criminal from committing another crime, punishment is meant to right wrongs. Our law unites all these theories, but none of them was really relevant here. Fähner was not going to kill again. The wrong of what he had done was obvious, but it was difficult to put it right. And who wanted to exact revenge? It was a long plea. I told his story. I wanted to make it clear that Fähner had come to the end of his tether. I spoke until I thought I had brought my point home to the court. When one of the lay assessors nodded, I sat down again.
Fähner had the last word. At the end of a trial the court listens to what the defendant has to say, and the judges are expected to take it into account. He bowed, he had folded his hands. He had not had to memorize what he said; it summed up his entire life.
“I loved my wife, and in the end I killed her. I still love her, I promised her that, she is still my wife. That won’t change until I die. I broke my promise. I must live with my guilt.”
Fähner sat down, fell silent, and stared at the floor again. It was perfectly quiet in court; even the presiding judge seemed affected. Then he said that the court would now adjourn to consider their verdict and would deliver it next day.
That evening, I visited Fähner in prison again. There was not much more to say. He had brought along a crumpled envelope and took the honeymoon photo out of it. He stroked Ingrid’s face with his thumb. The top protective layer had worn off the photographic paper long ago, and her face was almost white.
Fähner was sentenced to three years, but the order for detention in custody was lifted, and he was released from remand prison to serve his sentence in the community. That means that the person sentenced must sleep at the remand prison by night but can spend his days in freedom. A condition is that he must pursue his profession. It was not easy to find a new profession for a man of seventy-two, but finally his sister came up with the solution. Fähner registered as a dealer in the fruit trade – he sold the apples from his garden.
Four months later, a box of ten red apples arrived at my chambers. The accompanying envelope contained a single sheet of paper, with the message:
“The apples are very good this year. Fähner.”
The Hedgehog
(pp. 59–73 of German edition)
The judges put on their robes in the conference room, one of the lay assessors was a couple of minutes late, and a substitute was found for the duty police officer when he complained of toothache. The defendant was a heavily built Lebanese, Walid Abou Fataris, and he said nothing right from the start. The witnesses said the victim of the crime was exaggerating slightly, and the evidence was evaluated. It was a perfectly ordinary case of robbery carrying a sentence of five to fifteen years in jail. The judges agreed that, in view of the defendant’s previous record, they would give him eight years; there was no doubt at all that he was both guilty of the offence and capable of telling right from wrong. The trial droned gently on all day. Nothing special, then, but nothing special was to be expected.
It was three in the afternoon, and the main hearing would soon be over. There wasn’t much more to be done today. The presiding judge looked at the list of witnesses; only Karim, a brother of the defendant, still had to give evidence. Well, thought the presiding judge, we know what to think of the evidence of family members, and he looked at the young man over the top of his glasses. He had only one question to ask this witness: did he really claim that his brother Walid had been at home when the robbery at the pawnshop took place? The judge put this question to Karim as simply as possible, even asking twice whether Karim understood it.
No one had expected Karim to open his mouth at all. The presiding judge had spent some time explaining that as the defendant’s brother he had the right to remain silent. That was the law. Everyone in court, including Walid and his lawyer, was surprised that he wanted to give evidence. Now they were all waiting for the answer on which his brother’s fate would depend. The judges were getting impatient, Walid’s lawyer was bored, and one of the lay assessors kept looking at his watch, because he wanted to catch the five o’clock train to Dresden. Karim was the last witness in the main hearing; the least important are left until last in court. Karim knew what he was doing. He always had.

Karim grew up in a family of lawbreakers. Back in Lebanon, his uncle was said to have shot six people in a dispute over a crate of tomatoes. All of Karim’s eight brothers had criminal records, and reading those records out at their trials could take up to half an hour. They had robbed, stolen, committed fraud and blackmail and given false evidence. They hadn’t yet been up in court for murder or manslaughter, but that was all.
For generations cousins had married cousins in the family, nephews had married nieces. When Karim went to school the teachers groaned: “Oh no, not another Abou Fataris!” Then they treated him like an idiot. He had to sit in the back row, and his first teacher explained to Karim, aged six, that he was not to attract attention, mustn’t fight anyone, and must keep quiet. So Karim kept quiet. He soon realized that he had better not show he was different. His brothers cuffed him around the back of the head, because they couldn’t understand what he was talking about. The other kids in his class, which in Year One, thanks to a model policy of urban integration, was eighty per cent of ethnic origin, at the best laughed at him when he tried to explain things to them. Normally they too hit him if he seemed to be different. So Karim made sure to get bad marks. What else could he do?
By the time he was ten he had taught himself stochastics, integral calculus and analytical geometry out of a textbook. He had stolen the book from the teachers’ library. For tests in class, however, he worked out how many of the ridiculously easy exercises he must get wrong in order to earn the low and inconspicuous mark of a Four. Sometimes he felt that his brain was buzzing and whirring when he came upon a mathematical problem in the book which was said to have no solution. Those were his moments of personal happiness.
Like all the brothers, even the eldest, who was twenty-six, he lived with his mother. His father had died soon after his birth. The family apartment in the Neukölln district of Berlin had six rooms. Six rooms for ten people. He was the youngest, so he had the lumber room. The skylight was opaque glass, and there were some pine shelves. All the things that no one wanted found their way to this room: brooms without broomsticks, buckets without handles, cables without the electrical devices to which they had once belonged. He sat there in front of a computer all day, and while his mother thought that he was playing video games, like his big, strong brothers, he was reading the literary classics on Project Gutenberg.
At the age of twelve he made one last attempt to be like his brothers. He wrote a program that could bypass the electronic security barriers of the Post Office Bank and inconspicuously withdraw sums of one-hundredth of a cent from millions of accounts. His brothers didn’t understand what the dumbo, as they called him, had given them. They cuffed him around the back of the head again and threw away the CD with the program on it. Only Walid vaguely felt that Karim was brighter than the rest of them, took him under his wing and protected him from their rougher brothers.
Karim left secondary school when he was eighteen. He had fixed it so that he just scraped a pass in his middle school certificate. No one else in the family had ever risen to such heights. He borrowed 8000 euros from Walid. Walid thought Karim needed the money for drug-dealing, and was glad to let him have it. By now Karim knew enough about the stock exchange to start trading on the Forex market over the Internet. Within a year he made almost 700,000 euros. He rented a small apartment in a good part of town, left the parental home every morning, and did not go straight to his own apartment but took long detours until he could be sure that no one had followed him. He furnished his refuge, bought himself books on mathematics and a faster computer, and spent his time trading on the stock exchange and reading.
His family assumed that the dumbo was pushing drugs, and they were happy with that. Of course he was much too weedy for a proper Abou Fataris. He never went to the Kick-’nFight Sports Studio, but all the same he wore gold chains like the others, with satin shirts in glaring colours and black nappa leather jackets. He talked in Neukölln slang, and even earned a little respect, because he had never yet been picked up by the cops. His brothers didn’t take him seriously. Anyone asking them about him would have been told, well, he was part of the family. Outside that, none of them thought about him much.
And none of them had the faintest inkling of his double life. They didn’t know that Karim had a completely different wardrobe, or that he had easily caught up with and passed his higher school certificate at evening classes, and now attended mathematics lectures at the Technical University twice a week. He had made a small fortune, he paid his taxes, and he had a nice girlfriend who was studying literature and knew nothing at all about Neukölln.
Karim had read the file on the criminal proceedings brought against Walid. The whole family had had it in their hands, but only Karim understood what it was all about. Walid had attacked a pawnbroker, robbed him of 14,490 euros, and then raced home to construct an alibi. The victim had gone straight to the police, giving them a precise description of the robber. The two investigating officers knew at once that he must be one of the Abou Fataris clan, although the brothers looked extraordinarily like each other, a fact that had often come to their rescue. No witness could tell them apart at an identity parade, and even on film taken by CCTV cameras it was difficult to distinguish one brother from another.
But this time the police moved fast. Walid had hidden his loot on the way home, throwing the gun he had used in the robbery into the river Spree. When the police broke into the apartment he was sitting on the sofa drinking tea. He was wearing an apple-green T-shirt bearing the legend, in bright yellow lettering: “FORCED TO WORK”. The words were in English, so he didn’t know what they meant, but he liked the T-shirt. The police officers arrested him. Because of the “imminent danger”, as their report put it, they left the apartment in the state of disorder “contingent upon the necessity of a search”. They slashed the sofas, tipped he contents of drawers out on the floor, knocked wardrobes over, and even tore the skirting boards off the walls because they suspected the money might be hidden there. They found nothing.
However, Walid stayed in custody – the pawnbroker had given a clear description of his T-shirt. The two police officers were pleased to think that they had finally caught an Abou Fataris who could be taken out of circulation for at least five years.
Karim sat in the witness box and looked up at the judges’ bench. He knew that if he simply gave Walid an alibi no one in the courtroom was going to believe a word of it. After all, he was an Abou Fataris, one of a family described by the public prosecution office as habitual offenders. Everyone here expected him to lie. That wouldn’t work. Walid would disappear into jail for a number of years.
Karim thought of the saying of the poet Archilochos, son of a slave: “The fox knows many things, the hedgehog only one thing, but it is a big one.” It was his guiding principle. The judges and the public prosecutors might be foxes; he was the hedgehog and he knew what he was doing.
“Your honour, sir …” he said to the presiding judge, and sobbed. He knew that wouldn’t touch anyone’s heart, but it made them pay a little more attention. Karim was taking a great deal of trouble to appear stupid but believable. “Your honour, sir, our Walid was at home all evening.” He paused for effect. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the public prosecutor already writing out a charge sheet for proceedings against Karim on the grounds of making a false statement.
“Ah, so he was at home all evening …” said the presiding judge, leaning forward. “But the victim of the crime clearly identified Walid.”
The public prosecutor shook his head, and the lawyer for the defence immersed himself in his file.
Karim had seen the photos of the identity parade in the files. Four police officers in plain clothes but still looking just like police officers. Toothbrush moustaches, bum-bags, trainers. And Walid, a head taller than any of them and twice as wide, dark-skinned, green T-shirt with yellow lettering. A half-blind old lady of ninety who hadn’t been present when the crime was committed would have “clearly identified” Walid.
Karim sobbed again, and wiped his nose with the sleeve of his jacket, leaving a little snot on it. He examined the mark, and said: “No, your honour, sir, it wasn’t our Walid. Please believe me.”
“I have to remind you once again that if you want to give evidence here, you must tell the truth.”
“I am telling the truth.”
“You risk severe penalties. You could go to jail,” said the judge. He was trying to descend to Karim’s level with this reminder. Then he said, with some irony: “So who do you think it could have been if it wasn’t Walid?” He looked around the court; the public prosecutor was smiling. “Yes, who was it?” repeated the public prosecutor. He earned himself a glance of reproof from the presiding judge; this was his, the judge’s, interrogation.
Karim hesitated as long as he could. He counted up to five in his head. Then he said: “Imad.” “
What? What do you mean by saying Imad?”
“It was our Imad, not our Walid,” said Karim.
“So who is this Imad?”
“Our Imad is my other brother,” said Karim.
The presiding judge looked at him in astonishment, and even the defending lawyer suddenly woke up. An Abou Fataris, they were all asking themselves, breaking every rule in the book and grassing on a member of his own family?
“But our Imad got away before the police arrived,” added Karim.
“Did he indeed?” The presiding judge was beginning to lose his temper. What a stupid story, he was thinking.
“Only he gave me this here first,” said Karim. He knew that his evidence alone would not be enough. Months before the trial, he had begun withdrawing sums of varying sizes from his bank accounts. Now he had the money in a brown envelope, in notes of precisely the denominations that Walid had stolen,. He handed the envelope to the presiding judge.
“What’s in this?” asked the judge.
“Dunno,” said Karim.
The judge tore the envelope open and took out the money. He didn’t stop to think about fingerprints, but none would have been found anyway. He counted the notes out loud, slowly. “14,490 euros. And you say Imad gave you this on the evening of April the seventh?”
“That’s right, your honour.”
The presiding judge thought. Then he asked the question with which he intended to trip up this man Karim. There was a note of derision in his voice. “And can you remember what Imad was wearing when he gave you this envelope?”
“Er. Wait a minute.”
Relief on the judges’ bench. The presiding judge leaned back.
Now, take it slowly, thought Karim. Slip a pause in, make yourself go slowly. “Yes,” he said, “jeans, black leather jacket, T-shirt.”
“What kind of a T-shirt?”
“Can’t really remember, not now,” said Karim.
The presiding judge looked, with satisfaction, at his court reporter, who would be writing out the sentence later. The two judges nodded at each other.
“Er …” Karim scratched his head. “Oh yes, now I remember. Our uncle sent us all those T-shirts. He bought them cheap and gave them to us. There’s something on them in English, it says we have to work and that. Kind of funny, like.”
“Do you mean the T-shirt that your brother Walid is wearing in the photograph?” The presiding judge placed a photo from the portfolio of pictures in front of Karim.
“That’s it, your honour, sir! Yes, that’s the one. We got lots of them, see? I’m wearing one now. But there in the photo, that’s not our Imad, that’s our Walid.”
“I am aware of that,” said the judge.
“Let’s have a look,” said the public prosecutor.
At last, thought Karim, and he said: “Have a look at the T-shirts? Like how? They’re at home at our place.”
“No, I mean the one you’re wearing.”
“What, right now?” asked Karim.
“Yes, yes, get on with it,” said the presiding judge.
When the public prosecutor also nodded, Karim shrugged his shoulders. Looking as unconcerned as possible, he undid the zip fastener of his leather jacket and opened it. He was wearing the same T-shirt as Walid in the picture in the files. Karim had ordered twenty identical shirts last week at one of the countless copy shops in the Kreuzberg district, gave one to each of his brothers and left ten more in the parental home – just in case there was another search of the apartment.
The hearing was interrupted, and Karim was sent out of the courtroom. As he left, he heard the presiding judge pointing out to the public prosecutor that the case for the prosecution now rested entirely on the identity parade, since there was no other valid evidence. Good, he thought, the first round went well.
When Karim was called in again he was asked whether he had any previous criminal record, which he denied. The public prosecution office had obtained a registry entry confirming the fact.
“I suppose you realize, Mr Abou Fataris,” said the public prosecutor, “that your statement incriminates your brother Imad.”
Karim nodded, and looked down at his shoes with a sheepish expression.
“Why are you incriminating him?”
“W-well,” he said, even managing to stammer slightly, “our Walid’s my brother too. I’m the youngest, they’re always saying I’m a dumbo and that. But our Walid and our Imad are both my brothers, know what I mean? And if it was another of my brothers then our Walid can’t go to jail instead of our Imad. I mean, sure, it would be better if it was someone else, like, not one of the family … but it was one of my brothers, see, it was our Imad.”
And now Karim prepared to deliver the killer blow.
“Your honour, sir,” he said to the presiding judge, “it wasn’t our Walid, honest. But it’s a fact, our Walid and our Imad do look like each other. Here, see this.” He dug a crumpled family photo of all nine brothers out of his greasy wallet and held it uncomfortably close to the presiding judge’s face. The presiding judge took it and slammed it down angrily on the judges’ bench.
“See, the first one there, that’s me. The second, your honour, sir, that’s our Walid, the third is our Farouk, the fourth is our Imad, the fifth is …”
“May we keep the photograph?” interrupted the court-appointed lawyer for the defence, a kindly, elderly man to whom, all of a sudden, his brief no longer seemed quite so hopeless.
“Only if I get it back. I’ve only got the one. We had it taken for our Auntie Halima back in Lebanon. Six months ago, I mean all nine brothers in a group, like, know what I mean?” Karim looked at the judges, lay assessors and lawyers involved in the trial to make sure that they understood. “So as our auntie could see us all. But then we never sent it to Auntie Halima after all because our Farouk says he looks silly in it …” Karim took another look at the picture. “He does look silly in it too, our Farouk does. But he’s not really so …”
The presiding judge waved these remarks away. “The witness will please return to his place.”
Karim went back to the witness box and began again from the beginning. “So the first in the picture is me, your honour, the second is our Walid, the third is our Farouk, the fourth …”
“Thank you,” said the judge. This was getting on his nerves. “We take your point.”
“Only everyone mixes them up, know what I mean? Even the teachers at school mixed them up. Once there was a biology test in class, and because our Walid was so bad at biology they …” Karim went on, undeterred.
“Thank you,” said the judge firmly. “That will do.”
“No, I have to tell you about that biology test, like, and how …”
“No,” said the judge.
Karim was dismissed and left the courtroom.
The pawnbroker was sitting in the public gallery. The court had already heard his evidence, but he wanted to be there for the verdict. After all, he was the victim. Now he was called again and shown the group photo of the family. He had realized that it was “number two” whom he had to recognize. He said – a little too quickly, as he found out for himself later – that “of course” the criminal had been the second man in the picture. He had no doubt about it, he added, it was very clearly “Number Two”. The court calmed down slightly.
Outside the door, Karim was just wondering how long it was going to take the judges to grasp the situation fully. The presiding judge wouldn’t need long; he would decide to call the pawnbroker again and question him. Karim waited exactly four minutes and then, without being called back, re-entered the courtroom. He saw the pawnbroker looking at the family photo on the judges’ bench. It was all going exactly as he had planned. And then Karim suddenly said, out loud: oh dear, there was something he’d forgotten, he’d better tell them now and it wouldn’t take long, only it was, like, very important. The presiding judge, who did not care for interruptions of this nature, said in tones of exasperation: “Well, what is it now?”
“Sorry, I made a mistake, ever such a silly mistake, your honour, really stupid.” Karim instantly had the attention of the entire courtroom again. All present were expecting him to withdraw his evidence incriminating Imad. That sort of thing happened all the time.
“You see, your honour, the second one in the picture is our Imad. Our Walid isn’t the second one, he’s the fourth one. Sorry, I just got kind of confused. All those questions and that, know what I mean? I’m ever so sorry.”
The presiding judge shook his head, the pawnbroker went red in the face, the defence lawyer was grinning. “So it’s the second man in the picture, am I correct?” asked the judge furiously. “The second man is …”
“Yes, yes, the second. You see, your honour,” said Karim, “we wrote who was who on the back for our auntie so she’d know who we were because she, that’s our auntie, she doesn’t know us all. She wanted to see us all some time but she can’t come to Germany because of the entry permit and that. But there’s so many of us brothers. Turn the picture over, your honour. Do you see that? There’s all our names listed the way we were on the other side, I mean on the front of the picture. So when can I have my photo back, please?”
After they had sent for photos of Imad from the files, and examined them, the court had no choice but to acquit Walid.
Imad was arrested. But as of course Karim had known, he was easily able to prove, from the entry and exit stamps in his passport, that he had been in Lebanon at the time of the robbery, and he was released again after two days.
Finally the state prosecution office started investigating Karim for making false statements in court and falsely incriminating Imad to the detriment of the latter. Karim told me the whole story, and we decided that in future he would say nothing at all. His brothers could also exercise their right to remain silent because of their relationship. The public prosecution office had run out of any form of evidence. In the end there was nothing against Karim but strong suspicion. He had worked it all out correctly in advance: there was no way he could be prosecuted. There were so many other possible alternatives: for instance Walid could have given Imad the money, or another brother could have travelled on Imad’s passport – the brothers really did look very much alike.
Of course they went on cuffing Karim around the back of the head. They failed to understand that Karim had come to Walid’s rescue and outwitted the law of the land.
Karim kept his mouth shut. He thought of the hedgehog and the foxes.

Translation: Anthea Bell
© Piper Verlag GmbH, München 2009