Tanja Langer







Die Free



Translation by Carmen von Samson



Since my father died, I’ve been wanting to hit someone all the time.  My father died; it’s been a few weeks.  I stopped counting the days; I never counted the days.  I’ve never understood why people do it.  The days run their course whether you count them or not, like life itself and like death.

Death dropped in and carried my father off.  He ran like my father did.  Some at least would say he ran as if he were a refugee, while I would say he liked to run.  My father was an old nomad. He loved the world and traveled everywhere, trading carpets, telephones and watches, trading everything he could get his hands on, from Zagreb to Dubai, from Cairo to Nicosia. The Orient, it had to be the Orient – he loved the Orient; no one knows why, but that’s the way he was. My father made babies in all of those cities, just like he made me. My mother often cursed his ways, but when he came back to her and smiled, she gave in, and was done for.  My mother died because without him she was often alone. She died waiting and her death was slow.  He sent postcards from everywhere, first to her, and then to me, and sometimes he visited me.

Now I dream of him every night.  Last night I was pale like my father when he died, my lips and my tongue, too.  Since my father died, I see death everywhere. It started before, as if I had known.  I looked at a woman I knew, and I thought how morbid is her skin, and I thought, I’m not allowed to think that, but it has an appeal, that ashen, withered flesh in the low-cut blouse she’s wearing; and four weeks later someone told me it was over with her.  I see an old woman in the street and I think maybe she is a widow and has to endure missing her husband every day, or that man over there, maybe he has also gone through it, has been left behind, alone.  I see people who are no longer young. They hurry past me at the train station, and I think to myself, maybe he had to put his father in an urn too, the ashes that cost too much to sprinkle into the ocean although it is a stupid expense. How much nicer it would be to just throw the ashes of our dead into the Spree River.

I can’t bear to see death on television anymore.  Have you ever noticed how often they show death on TV?  I always used to think it was a way of preparing for the war that was sure to reach us some time, now that it’s practically everywhere already.  My father liked to travel to crisis areas. He loved the “potential“. I would say, he loved the thrill.  People liked to trade with him; new things were constantly in demand and my father was the one who brought them.  War has been everywhere for a long time. I mean the annihilation that we experience in our lives every day, the sadness and the degradation and the humiliation, and how we play dead then, because no one can bear all of that, not all the hurt and the abuse and the disappointment.  There is just not room enough for all that, you can’t lift a finger, can’t look anyone in the eyes, can’t raise a child, nothing.  So it all has to be put somewhere in the evening, it has to be said for us, we have to hear it and sympathize with it, then we can go to sleep and get up the next morning and cope with it all over again. After all, that’s why it´s nice seeing it on television.  Maybe it started because of our last war. Television was invented then and those movies about killing, and the ones with lots of dead people, were all about the question of who did it and why, but that became less and less important with time, and the killing as such picked up momentum.  At first, people couldn’t talk about war, but then they couldn’t stop talking about it.  And all that time they got used to all the killing on television; and they forgot about death in real life that always comes unexpectedly.

My father, who was still a child during our last war, always said, you think about death too little, and so now you´re making such a big fuss about it.  But he often said he would be immortal and turn a hundred years old, and the three of us laughed and believed it.  Just that his hundred years were used up faster than others, just as the lives of cats are. That’s why it’s pointless to count the days. The days have their own measure and it’s different for each one of us.

I used to be gentle. Since my father died I´ve been wanting to hit someone all the time.

Today it was an old retired lady; she was much older than my father was. She had fixed her hair into a beehive and she held herself upright when she walked.  Death breathes down the neck of retired people; they push and they shove and they are in a hurry. They stab their canes into any space they enter as if they wanted cut a lane through an ant hill, as if the revolting, diligent ants should scatter in different directions and make room for them.  But the revolting ants are us and this time the ant fought back. Since my father died, I have gotten very thin and my hair is matted.  I often feel like an ant hill; something tingles and crawls and bites all over me and I can’t sleep at night, but what does it matter, I never liked sleeping anyway.  My legs hurt but there is no animal that bites, only pain. Once a bum kicked me in the leg, really hard, from behind and for no good reason. It was a foul-smelling guy with sunglasses and size 47 shoes and the strength of a sailor.  When I turned around to face him from where I was on the ground he grinned at me and spit out. Since that day, I’ve been avoiding bums, and all those other people that I liked to smile at before because I thought you shouldn’t exclude anyone and must be especially friendly to all the people who seem so excluded – the crazy ones and the ones who limp, the cross-eyed and the neglected ones.  They used to come and sit next to me on the subway and most of the time it was quite nice.  The only ones it was tough with where those who wheezed. I became afraid in a strange way and had to force myself to stay seated and not let any emotion show, even when I got up sometimes anyway and changed compartments, pretending on the platform that I noticed that I had gotten off too soon.  Often I was so ashamed of myself that I even went out to the street and feigned surprise at having gotten out at the wrong stop, or I pretended I’d forgotten something and had to go back for it and then went back down into the subway and boarded the train later on, and thus I would arrive late countless times.

Now I never arrive too late because I don’t go anywhere.  Now I only walk around and want to hit people.  Mostly, I want to hit those pretty, well-groomed faces, friendly, normal women whose faces are so unscathed it’s horrible, without any sign of what we all are going through, you have to see those faces to believe it. I especially like punching such lovely, smooth textures.  I always used to smile, which basically was more difficult, stripping naked like that and smiling.  Being naked is the best hiding place when you’re having sex. They learn next to nothing when you’re naked.

My emaciated body makes people feel comfortable.  My little stinking fur, you wouldn’t believe how they like it, the ones I sleep with.  They don’t have to make an effort; they love that eccentric stinking moment, they are completely relieved, like with the whores they have to give money.  No one has to give money to me; I do it for free.  One guy did though, so I bought myself a new pair of boots and put my old shoes next to the garbage can so that people can see them right away and don’t have to reach inside for them, like that petite Chinese woman did the other day – she was shining a flashlight into the trash before she reached in.  She was older, but not really old, maybe as old as my father was, and probably used to work in a noodle stand, where people looked through her or down on her, and only very few met her eyes because they understood that it is a good, respectable job to serve people their meals. But in the end, no one needed her anymore, and now no one wants her anymore, the china woman of pain.

Since my father died, my heart has turned grey, but my flesh is pink.  I would never have thought that people like to sleep with someone who smells as bad as I do.  Maybe people like my eyes; they look at me with such beautiful need.  Before, when I still tried to do it by smiling, many avoided me, except the ones who were so seldom smiled at, mostly the overburdened mothers with their restless children who thought I might interfere in a minute.  But now people downright fall into my eyes, into these dark blue passages straight into my grey heart, and then they want to touch my pink flesh that stays so miserably fresh, as if it wants to play a trick on me or treat me badly by living and living and living like the baby whose smooth beautiful skull I bent over today, that I would have liked to have seen smashed to pieces, although I know it’s not good to think such thoughts because I was a baby once too, a baby that a mother took care of.  My mother waited until I was old enough to take care of myself, and then she died of loneliness because my father was gone so often and left her alone although she really loved him.  I never bothered with love, and now I am emaciated and smell bad and will probably die soon, too, and nothing will come of love anymore, so at least I want to hate a little bit, put all my potential into that.  The images and sounds and information, the noises and colors and offers, how are we supposed to deal with all that, and all in one day.  It was too much for me even before.  Some can do it, they wash themselves and read the newspaper and get to their appointments on time.  I always carry a stone in my pants’ pocket, for the unscathed; I hold it closed in my hand and sometimes I lay it in the sun and watch it as it becomes charged with heat.

My heart is grey but my flesh is pink and in the end I will be terribly old, and then I will have to think of something.  Sometimes I stand at the Spree River and look into the dark water, but then I think that no one will remember my father if I don’t, and they say people live as long as someone remembers them and I really and absolutely do not want no one to remember anymore.

In the end, my father couldn’t breathe, his lungs failed, but he sang one last time, an old hymn, and at the very end he looked at me and softly said only – die free.

Since that time I cannot stop thinking about what it could mean: die free. Die free.

I found a Euro coin and bought myself a half liter of milk.  My father liked to drink milk, early in the morning and late at night. In the end, he was as milk, so white.

I drink this milk to you, Papa; it won’t prolong the life in my bones, as it didn’t prolong yours, the white blood cells ate up the red, they overran them. You were as white as milk, inside and outside, and then you were ashes because you were a penniless man and ashes are cheaper than everything else.  But it’s better that way.  I feel sick from all the milk but my stupid pink flesh liked it, my flesh that won’t stop thinking about you, although I feel so wretched from it, the dumb milk, the extra fresh milk from the Thuringian countryside where the cows have pink tongues.  “Granny has Sex with a Horse“ I read in the paper, “the last of the taboos in Germany has been broken,” and there are points of light dancing on the waves of the Spree River and a blue sign shining in the night, and the man with the “Jesus needs You” suitcase has given up on me.  He thought I was a junkie and left, the idiot.  I would have liked to rearrange his face a bit.  When I was a child, I once saw a horse´s penis when the horse peed slipping out its member, enormous and rosy-white.  Actually, it should say   “y o u need Jesus” – he should be an independent factor in that calculation, but the former of course, is what people will fall for every time, that they’re needed.  We all want to be needed because if no one needs you anymore, you’ve had it, and who needs the petite Chinese woman who shines a flashlight into the garbage can?  I need her.  I need her.

My hair is matted and I wash my face sometimes.  People like to look into my eyes because death lives in my eyes, and they all want to see it without being afraid, just like that and for real, and not on television, and because the death in my eyes is so beautiful they practice thinking die free.  And when you can think it, then it is somehow already possible, as a minimal chance.  Minimal like the tulip dots, the neon dots, the light at the kebab stand under the bridge.  Hopefully someone will pass by soon whom I can give a good swift kick in the balls; and if no one does, I will slam my knees against the railing until they are black and blue.  She served them their meals – here you are – and people looked through her or down on her, or gave her a particularly friendly smile, which is all the same, because they thought she was pitiful, because she served them their meals, but it’s an honorable job after all, it is important to serve people their meals.  My father was a waiter on a ship for a while, a steward it’s called.  He wrote postcards from all over the place; you always have to be proud, girl, he said, regardless of what you do.  The strangers I sleep with say “girl”, especially when they come and they sigh, and I like to hear it – “Oh, girl”.  Because then I always think of my father and because he lives on in my bones that  don´t want to get porous no matter how little I eat, and, soon, I will face people as the grim skeleton reaper woman, wouldn’t that be beautiful, then artists would have to draw new pictures.  Then Death is a woman with strong, white bones and beautiful pink flesh hanging from them, and on the pink flesh there’s a beautiful, big, blue tattoo, blue like my eyes where death lives, a great tattoo: die free.

I see wild dots


My father died; it’s been a few weeks.



















Tanja Langer, born 1962 in Wiesbaden, lives in Berlin since 1986.

She first studied philosophy, comparative literature and political sciences in Paris, Munich and Berlin, but already during her time at the university she started photography and theatre.



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