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Also by Werner Herzog

Published by the University of Minnesota Press
Of Walking in Ice
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Every Man for Himself and God Against All
Land of Silence and Darkness

Werner Herzog

Translated by
Martje Herzog and Alan Greenberg

University of Minnesota Press

Minneapolis  |  London
Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Every Man for Himself and God Against All, and Land
of Silence and Darkness originally published in Germany as Drehbücher II by Carl
Hanser Verlag. Copyright 1979 by Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich. English translation
originally published in the United States by Tanam Press, 1980.

Fitzcarraldo originally published in Germany by Carl Hanser Verlag. Copyright

1982 by Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich. English translation originally published in
the United States by Fjord Press, 1982.

First University of Minnesota Press edition, 2017

All photographs copyright Werner Herzog Film. Courtesy of Werner Herzog Film/
Deutsche Kinemathek.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in

a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

Published by the University of Minnesota Press

111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401-­2520

A Cataloging-in-Publication record for this book is available from the Library

of Congress.
ISBN 978-1-5179-0390-9

Printed in the United States of America on acid-­f ree paper

The University of Minnesota is an equal-­opportunity educator and employer.

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Aguirre, the Wrath of God


Every Man for Himself and God Against All


Land of Silence and Darkness


This page intentionally left blank
The texts in this volume have remained completely unchanged,
in the same shape they were before shooting started. The films
themselves, as one can see, followed a very different evolution.
There was no screenplay for Land of Silence and Darkness.
The film has but one element, Fini Straubinger, the principal
character. So in this case, there is a transcript of the spoken dia-
logue from the film here.
This volume is dedicated to Fini Straubinger.
Munich, 1977
Aguirre, the Wrath of God


Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of Francisco Pizarro

Lope de Aguirre, “The Wrath of God”
Pedro de Ursua, a Spanish nobleman
Inez de Atienza, Ursua’s mistress
Fernando de Guzman, “Emperor of Peru”
Flores, daughter of Aguirre
Juan de Arnalte, young Hidalgo
Gaspar de Carvajal, a Dominican monk
Chimalpahin, an Indian nobleman, called Baltasar
Diego Bermudez, Sebastian de Fuenterrabia, and
Gustavo Perucho, confidants of Aguirre


Gonzalo Pizarro
Tall, incredibly lean, his cheeks suggesting that he suffers from
some disease of the stomach. Unscrupulous and, like his brother
Francisco Pizarro, the typical highly intelligent illiterate.
Lope de Aguirre
He calls himself either “The Great Betrayer” or “The Wrath of
God.” Fanatical, possessed, and with limitless ambition, but ex-
tremely methodical in his actions. There is a likeness between his
type and late photographs of Kafka, with a black glimmer in the

2 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

eyes. About forty years of age, taciturn, sinewy, and with hands
like clutching steel claws. “Hands,” Aguirre once said, “are made
to clutch and grasp.” Unscrupulous, and with an almost patho-
logical criminal energy, yet so utterly human that one could not
say, this kind of man no longer exists.
Pedro de Ursua
A little younger than Aguirre but of a more ancient nobility and,
like him, a Basque. Ursua is built strongly, tending somewhat
toward corpulence. His greasy face is a bit fleshy, with perceivable
shadows from his beard, and constantly seems to betray a sallow
and sickly pallor. Physically and mentally very strong, with
nimble somewhat uncontrolled movements.
Inez de Atienza
Between twenty-­five and thirty, noble, giving the faint impression
of a madonna. Self-­composed, never losing her dignity even in the
greatest misery. Unobtrusive and very devoted.
Fernando de Guzman
An officer to whom no one paid any attention until, suddenly,
through the machinations of Aguirre, he is proclaimed Emperor
of Peru. Relatively colorless, of mediocre intelligence and, in com-
parison to the others, rather restrained in his craving for gold.
Guzman is the eldest of the expedition, and his hair and beard
already show streaks of white. Strongly boned horselike face.
After his promotion, develops a naive vanity.
Flores, daughter of Aguirre
Thirteen years old, just released from the convent, flowering into
a beauty. She is Innocence and, together with Arnalte, personifies
a kind of hope in the film. Still almost childlike, like a birch. Her
breasts are still small.
Juan de Arnalte
Still makes the impression of an adolescent Hidalgo. Typical of
the sentimental youth, the youthful lover. Even when wounded,
he is still graceful. Often fighting an inner battle between military
obedience and human impulse.
Gaspar de Carvajal
Dominican monk, in frock and with tonsure; later on, his hair
grows carelessly and gets woolly. Rather young yet, and almost
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 3

rabidly fanatical in converting people. Somewhat like Artaud in

the film of Jeanne d’Arc by Dreyer.
Indian noble, called Baltasar. Not yet thirty years old, slender
with tawny complexion. Noble features, long blue-­black hair, very
graceful movements despite his handcuffs. Very dignified, and
makes an impression of deep resignation. Continually wrapped
in profound silence and almost apathetic, his gaze directed far
off into the distance, dozing.
Diego Bermudez
Is appointed scrivener. Nimble, cynical, and loyal to crime alone.
Versed in expressing himself.
Sebastian de Fuenterrabia and Gustavo Perucho
Scoundrels craving for gold, depraved and violent, at first glance
recognizable as “villains.” Perucho wants only to give the defense-
less Indians “a piece of my mind,” and Fuenterrabia boasts:
“I don’t booze, I don’t battle, I don’t whore. My only vice is hunt-
ing Indians. . . .”

March through the Andes

There are snowy peaks all around, majestic crests, and the moun-
tains tower like Holy Cathedrals. Very clear, icy, silent air, frost
lying on the hoary ground, all in deep, majestic silence. From
the mountain crests, glacial tongues lick down into the depths.
Clouds are gathering around the crests, as if coming out of no-
where. The air further above is light and blue, deep down it is a
deep purple. Nothing at all is stirring. The huge mountains tower
one above the other up to 18,000 feet, in profound silence.
All at once, there, in a breathtaking sweep, and with a breath-
taking zoom that makes you dizzy, the camera picks out the top of
a pass: now, suddenly, we recognize a thin thread of people there
in zigzag formation, and we can distinguish hardly any move-
ment. At certain points the thread is broken, then followed up
again, winding through rocks, slag, and ice. The dizzying gaze
still moves downward into the deep: we realize now that there are
hundreds, dragging themselves along, hundreds, one man after
4 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

another. Animals are now distinctly recognizable, some horses,

llamas, and, on the glacier, some pigs. They are standing in a long
line at the edge of a crevice exhausted to death. The file works its
way forward with great effort.
Now we are close to them: There are bearded Spaniards in
armor bearing swords, and all of them can hardly hold out any
longer. Some carry arquebuses and gunpowder, some drag horses
along by the bridle, and—­almost unbelievably—­there are Indians
carrying two sedan chairs. Then a long, listless line of Indians
with long blue-­black hair. They are wearing ponchos and knit-
ted wool caps with ear flaps. They are bound to each other by
chains in a ghastly fashion. Spaniards with crossbows beside
them, and further down, Indians again, dragging a cannon with
heavy wheels, they are half-­dead. Thirty Indians drag the cannon
with ropes.
Fog gathers around the slopes, enveloping the thread and set-
ting it free again. In the distance, woolly clouds are swelling. No
one utters a sound, no one utters a single word, only deep, heavy
breathing and panting. A line of panting llamas bogs down, all of
them carry heavy burdens. They are gasping and snorting, per-
turbed, some are sniffing and wrinkling their velvety nostrils.
A Spaniard is poking a pig on the glacier, but the pig doesn’t
stir. Everything is a unique unheard-­of effort. The pigs are com-
pletely done in.
Now we behold a Spaniard whose nose begins to bleed from
thin air and exhaustion, but he is so exhausted that he doesn’t even
wipe himself. From higher up loose stones come rumbling down
upon the people, the stones making a rumbling, hollow noise.
Suddenly, a call heard from above spreads from one man to
another; getting louder, it becomes intelligible, passes on, sinks
down, and disappears into the deep. “We’ve made it!” they are
shouting and: “Here we are, at the top!” But there are no signs of
joy, no one moves faster or quickens his pace. The call resounds
in the depths, as if no one understood it, as if it were nothing to
no one.
Only up on the pass, where there is a pile of stones with flags
of faded fabric flapping on it, everything starts to move a bit, then
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 5

the order of the march is disturbed and comes to a halt. The men
drop to their knees, and the Indians, bound to each other by their
chains, relieve themselves of their burdens, drop to their knees,
and with hands folded in front of their mouths, fervently pray.
Now we recognize Carvajal, the Dominican monk; he takes
his crucifix from his chest, his left hand extending it far out over
the land, beyond the pass, and blesses it with his right hand. And
now we also catch sight of Aguirre, whose face is marked by the
ascent and his unlimited willpower. “We’ve made it,” a man be-
side him weeps. “Men,” says Aguirre, “that was merely one step.”

March atop the high plateau

A vast elevated plain framed by gigantic mountains, the march
proceeds. A strong wind blows driving sand before it, the animals
huddle close to each other. Nothing but a scant few, very hard
tufts of grass grow at this height, with white streaks of saltpeter
among them. Clouds are towering one above the other.
Now we see a flock of wild alpacas whose fur is being tousled
by the wind. They are standing still, noses twitching, full of dis-
trust, then suddenly, the whole flock flees, clustering closely to
each other, dust swirling up behind them.
The file of Spaniards, closer. Strong as the clouds, the army
marches on. A sedan chair is carried along, the Indian bear-
ers carry it in their customary quick-­paced trot, with the other
sedan behind them. Flores pushes the curtain aside a little and
looks out, as the sedan has been forced to stop because of some
timid llamas. Laden llamas behind the sedan, then Indians, ne-
glected and linked to each other, Spaniards among them, armored
and carrying heavy weaponry, pigs, and then, more Spaniards.
Roughly, they are pushing the Indians onward.
The vanguard. Gonzalo Pizarro, riding a nervous horse; he is
harnessed and wears a flying cape, lanky and unbelievably lean,
giving an impression of intelligence at first glance. Beside him,
Ursua, somewhat insignificant, of average stature. His fleshy face
has a pale ashen tint. Ursua gives a rather unhealthy impression,
sickly but still quite agile and full of energy. Trailing those two,
6 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

some soldiers—­w ild-­looking sorts, filthy—­and we know at once

that they are ready to do anything at any time. The Indians, in
spite of their rags—­some wear shirts and trousers, many are bare-
foot or have sandals that are far too flimsy—­leave a much cleaner
impression. They are plodding on in deep apathetic resignation,
scarcely paying attention along the way. They are so sure of their
mutual movements that we realize they have been chained to
one another like that for weeks. Among the Spaniards, we now
clearly recognize Bermudez, Perucho, and Fuenterrabia; they
curse while pushing the Indians who are trying to free a cannon
that is stuck in the sand.
Llamas trail with strange cages on their backs, which, upon
closer inspection, we recognize as chicken coops with hens bal-
anced dizzily inside on their perches, fluffing themselves up, ap-
parently feeling sick from the constant rocking.
To the rear of the procession, Aguirre rides and then stops
abruptly at a trio of Spaniards who are busying themselves with
a fourth man. He has sore feet and is unable to move on; he tries
nevertheless, stubborn and silent.
“Arnalte,” says Aguirre to a young Hidalgo, “you take his things,
and let him carry his sword.” Aguirre digs his spurs into his horse
and, riding away, shouts at his men: “Give him a horse, now we
need everyone.”
Aguirre rides alongside the procession from front to rear; it
looks more orderly here on the plain and we can now behold the
full extent of their equipment. Only now are we struck by a howl-
ing pack of giant hounds running about, gasping and scaring the
Indians. Apparently they have been trained for Indians, since
every now and then they snarl threateningly and start snapping
at the Indians, forcing them to fall out of line. Aguirre stops by
his daughter’s sedan and slowly rides beside it awhile. Flores
seizes her father’s hand and kisses it. Neither of them utters a
word. Mum, Flores gazes back at a dead Indian who has been left
along the way. His bare soles are covered with thick bruised skin.
Prolonged silence, then Aguirre rides on to the front.
Carvajal wanders on foot with a staff in his hand, the wind
blowing his frock forward, making it billow and flap. Aguirre sa-
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 7

lutes him with a glance. While moving ahead, Carvajal prays with
his rosary without moving his lips. He gives the impression of
being a tough methodical person.

Descent into the Urubamba Valley

A gloomy valley, densely overgrown with the beginning of the
Amazon jungle. The green slopes are dropping steeply down-
ward, following the meanderings of the Urubamba River, which
rushes way below. How far the slopes are reaching up cannot be
discerned because, further above, the valley is closed in by an os-
cillating veil of vapor and fog. The slopes vanish in the seething
steam up into nowhere. Just the muffled roar of the rapids. From
the gathering clouds of steam, hummingbirds whir into the deep.
The trek works its way forward. With almost inconceivable dif-
ficulty, a heavy cannon is lowered between the trees. The Indians
have to fulfill this terrible task. It is so steep, and the slopes are
already so densely overgrown, that one can hardly lead the horses
down by their bridle. They slip and refuse to be drawn down any
further. The two sedans must be borne down empty as Inez and
Flores, holding hands, lifting their long skirts, are steadied and
supported by Spaniards. Ursua helps Inez and Arnalte, the young
Hidalgo reaches out with his hand to Flores from further below.
Climbing, Flores almost lends the impression of being a child.
All of a sudden, shouts from above, excitement. Twigs are
crackling, a crash is heard, and, with a hollow sound close to the
women, a weighty cannon crashes down into the deep, cutting a
swathe through the undergrowth. A dead pig comes sliding down
after it. Far below, the two fall into the rapids of the brown boil-
ing Urubamba.
The chained Indians are in peculiar straits, for if one of them
slips, a whole row goes with him. The highland Indians are al-
ready beginning to suffer at this point; nearly all of them have
caught colds and some are just staggering on.
We catch sight of a sitting Indian who has been unchained
because he is too ill. He is shaking from a fever and draws in his
breath with short gasps, like someone with pneumonia. A dog
8 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

sniffs at him, snarling. They confront each other motionlessly, for

a long time, and the dog grinds its teeth at the dying person: a
gruesome picture.
Some Spaniards try to drag the llamas onward, but the ani-
mals’ fright is greater. They have planted their feet into the soft
moist soil and only permit themselves to be pulled by the neck.
They resist unto death. From deep down, cries are discernible
through the rear of the waters, but no one can tell what they mean.

By the Urubamba River

On a very narrow path, where a horse can scarcely support itself,
the vanguard has stopped, all of them holding on to something so
they won’t slip into the raging torrent. They seem to be somewhat
helpless, with only Aguirre apparently cool and master of the situ-
ation. Gonzalo Pizarro pretends to be calm. “For all of this,” he
says, “we shall be richer than anyone else before us.”

Night camp by the river

Drawn out lengthily along the river, the troops are camping on
a stretch of ground that is but one foot in breadth and slopes
steeply down. Along the riverbank the flickering fires are drawn
out lengthily.
Pizarro, Ursua, Aguirre, and the monk are sitting together in
deliberation. “When the river widens and is no longer so wild, then
we will have made it,” Ursua says. “We shall see,” says Aguirre.
Gonzalo Pizarro presses the point that boats must be built forth-
with so some of the equipment can be conveyed by water. The ani-
mals and the main troops could then move on more easily along
the river. Before too long they would have to stop counting on the
Indians because the climate would not agree with them. But they
could not have possibly foreseen that.
A Spaniard tends the fire and serves the men a hot drink, try-
ing simultaneously to overhear something. With a barely percep-
tible hand gesture Pizarro sends him away. Aguirre contradicts
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 9

Pizarro; very composed, he says it would be unwise, it would

be madness in fact, to launch the boats now, the waters would
be much too wild, it could not possibly work. Pizarro is rather
puzzled, and therefore Ursua comes to his assistance, stating that
the leader thus far had judged everything well, it was simply in the
nature of his family. “Your Honor,” says Ursua, “where there is a
Pizarro, there is Honor and gold as well.” Aguirre is silent.
Another campfire. Some wild-­looking figures crouch around it
in a very narrow space. The water is gurgling nearby. The Indians
won’t hold out much longer, one of them says, as they are so frail
that they will perish from something as ridiculous as colds and
measles. They’re not used to anything and have no power to resist.
“Not even flies die from a cold, have you ever heard flies sneeze?”
Perucho asks. They all laugh crudely.
A more distant campfire, glowing only faintly. Indians have
flocked closely together, we can see just their faces in the obscu-
rity. Dark eyes in the dark. Baltasar, in handcuffs, is with his
people and speaks to them very gently in the Quechua Indian
dialect. He seems to comfort his people, uttering very soft and
subtle words that we do not understand. The Indians cower mo-
tionlessly, almost in devout wonder, slowly comprehending their
doom. The scene is profoundly serious and sad.

On the riverbank
Several days must have passed, for the Spaniards have built boats,
ten in all, and they are completely laden with equipment. The
boats are somewhat primitive and colorless, they seem bulky but
solid. On each of four boats they have fastened a cannon, plus
sacks with provisions and casks with powder. Chutes have been
fashioned from wooden planks and lead directly into the whirl-
ing brown water. Everyone is ready to set out and awaits a sign
from Gonzalo Pizarro. A little further downriver we distinguish
about twenty carelessly made graves, each of which bears a cross
made of two sticks tied together. Indians are cowering there.
Apparently these are the graves of Indians, for their number has
10 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

diminished considerably. The Indians look callously up into the

seething mist. They turn their heads like a single man and look
up high into the clouds.
“It is time,” says Pizarro. The boats are launched, but then a
catastrophe. After only a few feet, the first boats capsize and sink
in the violent rapids. Utter confusion on shore while the boats
shatter. In the water, Spaniards fight for their lives, pulled down
by their heavy armor, coming up again for brief intervals. The
cannon sink with the provisions while a powder-­filled cask spins
in a whirlpool. A dog jumps into the water. Seven out of ten boats
are shattered; the remaining three fight against capsizing while
being pulled forward furiously. They disappear beyond the first
bend in the river, drifting along, rocking, the crew struggling
wordlessly. We realize that, inevitably, one mile further on, they
will drown as well.
For a long time the camera takes an interest in the raging
waters. Our ears catch the excitement shot through with wild
shouts. “God have mercy on our sins!” we hear Carvajal cry.

March along the river

Steep slopes, disappearing above into clouds of steam, the heat
has increased. The number of men has lessened considerably, just
fifteen Indians have survived, and some of these are recognizably
sick at first sight. Baltasar still looks quite strong.
There is only a lone pig left; it keeps sinking into the soft,
boggy ground up to its belly.
Then a dead llama in the jungle, over which thousands upon
thousands of fire ants fly. Clouds of flies are buzzing about. There
are but a few dogs left, but they seem to have grown wild rather
quickly, and scarcely stay close to their group any more. With
their swords and knives, the Spaniards labor their way through
undergrowth and liana labyrinths. They are soaked through with
sweat, and thick swarms of mosquitoes are dancing around every
single man. Damp foliage everywhere, wet with rain, closing as
the men pass in their wake, like water.
Then a boggy place where the horses can hardly move on;
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 11

they refuse to budge. Some Spaniards advance into the smacking

morass, dragging the horses behind them by the bridle. At the
edge of the bog luggage is piling up. On the opposite side of the
bog stands a man with a horse, and both are infested with leeches
sucking away at them. The soldier is trying to get rid of the leeches
with a little salt. No one is talking, it is a silent frightful fight for
every inch.
From the river Urubamba, which is visible now and then
through the foliage at their side, a deep roaring sound rises only
to be thrown back by the walls, thus sounding like an endless
waterfall. This and the wicked whirring of mosquitoes.
There, suddenly, a peculiar scene: two Spaniards are embrac-
ing a tree, weeping. One of them, deeply enraptured, kneels down
and kisses the trunk. Among all the enormous trees overgrown
with lianas, this tree seems rather insignificant. Somewhat sur-
prised, a few Spaniards gather around the two who are so moved
that they cannot utter a word.
Pizarro approaches them with Aguirre. “What’s the matter
here?” asks Pizarro. “Cinnamon,” sobs one of the two, “this is a
cinnamon tree.” There is silence once more, as if everyone were
ashamed. “Fetch Baltasar,” says Pizarro.
A larger gathering of Spaniards crowds around in a circle.
Baltasar is thrust forward and the Spaniards push some Indians
after him. Pizarro now delivers a brief public address, which,
apparently, is meant to encourage his men. From Baltasar, who
speaks almost without an accent, we learn that the famous king
named El Dorado, who reigns over an immeasurably rich land
of gold, is said to live where the cinnamon trees grow. After him
the land was named El Dorado. The houses are said to be covered
with golden tiles and the king is so lofty that only his subjects
wear clothes, while he himself is dressed in gold dust every morn-
ing. In the evening he steps into a lake and the priests rinse him
clean, and every time the gold is lost, but the country has so much
that no one cares.
By Pizarro’s cross-­examination we realize that he already
knows the whole story behind the title, and that his men actu-
ally know everything also, so this speech is merely intended to
12 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

strengthen their self-­confidence and to encourage them. The In-

dians are questioned by Baltasar, and their answers come quickly,
as if learned by heart.
Indeed, upon setting out the Spaniards seem revived. For once
they appear to bear their burdens with a more joyful heart, as if
it were but a day’s march to El Dorado.
Inez and Flores sit beside each other in their sedans. “If I be-
come Queen,” Inez says, “you will be the first lady in my court.”
Flores smiles a bit self-­consciously. “I shall do whatever my father
tells me to do,” Flores says. The sedans are lifted up and forced
through the thicket, swaying. In this jungle the sedan chairs seem
to be a sign of civilized schizophrenia.
Aguirre, leading his horse by the bridle, is beside Ursua. He
speaks with him confidentially, and we gradually discover that
he will try to conspire with Ursua against Pizarro. He complains
about some mistaken decisions Pizarro has made. He, Aguirre,
had always maintained that Indian sheep or llamas were useless,
and that one could not have the whole load of equipment fall on
them. Now all of them, mere superfluities to begin with, were all
dead. They could no longer count on the Indians either, as the air
didn’t agree with them down here, and almost all the pigs had
perished in the mountains. They must begin rationing the provi-
sions more carefully, for it was not at all certain that they would
reach El Dorado in one week’s time. Ursua, feeling reassured,
agrees because he had thought and said similar things himself,
and because Aguirre confides in him more than in their leader,
Pizarro. “We are simply in need of a man like Francisco Pizarro,”
Aguirre says. “Gonzalo Pizarro isn’t even his shadow.” He says
this in such a way that Ursua must think that he, Ursua himself,
has the makings of the leader within him. They drag their horses
along. Teeming heat, mosquitoes all over, the everywhere putrid
humidity. Pearls of sweat are forming on all faces. The buzzing of
the mosquitoes is unbearable, and then the roar of the waters and
the shrieks of the parrots. The jungle bares all its sounds. The sun
can scarcely pass through to the dim decaying ground. Dogged
penetration, step by step.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 13

Large camp
Located where the land is a little flatter and allows for some space,
there is a large chaotic work camp active in the jungle. Several big
trees have been felled and the thick undergrowth cleared away.
Bundles of accouterments are scattered about, some howling
dogs are tied to branches, five or six smoking fires are burning at
once. The clay soil is dank and sticky. The two sedans stand some-
what apart, and a small screen has been erected to protect them
from wayward glances. Some beautifully decorated court dresses
made of velvet are hanging on a line with a few lace petticoats.
A strained silence reigns over the entire camp. Little movement
among the men.
From the disorderliness of the camp we can deduce the incipi-
ent process of dissolution. Clumps of equipment are lying around
carelessly in the mud, filthy cages filled with hens are jammed be-
tween branches, shields and weaponry are strewn about, a young
Indian in a hammock is dozing toward death, motionless. Only
five of the horses are left. They seem to be the one thing attended
to with extra care. The horses have been groomed and are covered
with blankets. The saddles and bridles, too, are kept sufficiently
dry and tidy on the tree limbs.
A hollow crash and crackle and rustle becomes audible now
near camp. A huge tree sways very slowly to one side sighing, then
faster it falls down lengthwise in a tumult, taking everything with
it; a second one follows and directly after it, a third. Now we hear
the hacking of axes and the sound of saws. One tree falls after an-
other. The camera shows a great fascination for the falling trees.

Great gathering in the camp

The Spaniards are sitting in a circle fully armored, some chained
Indians behind them and, set off a bit to the side, the two sedans.
Inez and Flores, however, have removed themselves and are lis-
tening from a distance. In the center of the circle stands Pizarro,
who is giving a speech to his men. He tells them they can’t go on
like this, the provisions are nearly exhausted and everything was
14 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

getting scarce. One could not yet talk of starvation but some of
the men had been doing so the past few days. The terrain was so
treacherous that they could hardly proceed, and it was not to be
expected that they would reach a populated region in the near
future. Therefore, he and his camp foreman Pedro de Ursua and
his lieutenant, Lope de Aguirre, had made the following deci-
sion, which had already been drafted by the scrivener into a legal
document. They had resolved to build a raft, to man it with men
led by Ursua, in order to explore the territory ahead of them and
to search for means of subsistence. According to reports from the
Indians, they were now approaching some hostile Indian tribes
as well, which would endanger the situation. The crew on the raft
would have the task of returning within two weeks at most to the
main camp here, either by land or by water, and if they hadn’t
returned by then, it would be concluded that all of them had lost
their lives. In such a case, which they hoped wouldn’t happen,
the remaining expedition here would try to turn back to find ref-
uge in regions where Christians lived. They would place a great
deal of hope in the fate of the exploring vanguard, and, naturally,
they were hoping to obtain precise data pertaining to the status
of the gold country. Baltasar, who was indispensable as an inter-
preter, was sent with them for that reason. Maybe they would even
find traces of the expedition under the valiant captain Orellana
who had vanished three years earlier. He did not intend to flatter
anyone, and none who were omitted from the party should feel
neglected, but he did mean to stress that he had chosen the best
of the available men; they were the flower of the Spanish crown
and the strong arm of civilized Christianity. God had also given
them the most reverend Fray Gaspar de Carvajal for guidance so
that he might bring light into the night and darkness of Creation
here, and preach the true creed.
They had come to the agreement that the two women would
travel with the vanguard, although he did not want the responsi-
bility as it was clearly stated in the document, wishing instead to
save it for a different decision; but they would try to make their
living situation as pleasant as circumstances would allow, never-
theless. Inez had declared that she had sold all her belongings in
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 15

order to follow Pedro de Ursua, and that she would rather give up
her life voluntarily than not to be by his side; and she had pro-
claimed this with such grace and self-­assurance that one could
not help but let her go with them. As for Flores, Aguirre had pre-
vailed in his wish to keep her under the protection of her father’s
arm since she was still in the first flower of her youth.
All of this had been decided, and as a symbol of their agree-
ment they now would sign the document that had been formu-
lated today, three days before the New Year. Thus they would be
able to present it to the Indian Council upon their return.
Pizarro is given the document and sets it on a small impro-
vised table, where pen and ink are already lying at his disposal.
Pizarro withdraws a small metal plate from his pocket on which
his signature has been carved. We watch how Pizarro copies his
name with the pen in a clumsy hand. Then Ursua, Aguirre, and
some of the officers sign, and at last, the Dominican monk.

Departure of the raft

There lies the river in the first morning mist, a solid raft afloat
upon it with the two sedans standing in the middle, and a roof
of bark fastened to four poles. The heavy tree trunks are held
together by metal hooks, all else being fastened with cords and
ropes. Coarse tow-­ropes hold the raft to the bank of the fast flow-
ing river, and in spite of its weight, it rolls slightly with the pres-
sure of the waters. The raft is loaded to the brim with equipment:
armor, weapons, barrels, a cannon, and even a horse, standing to
the side. Then, cages with hens, provisions, sacks with corn and
seed, fuel, rope, arquebuses, and some pans.
The Spaniards are trying to get a second horse aboard over
some wooden planks, but despite having its eyes shielded, the
horse resists with all its might, rearing up so high that the men
consider it too dangerous. “Let it be,” says Aguirre, “it has its rea-
sons.” “One horse will certainly be enough to frighten the Indi-
ans,” says Ursua.
Already the raft is fully manned, there is barely enough room
for forty men. They are all crammed close to each other. At both
16 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

the front and rear of the raft stands a man with a clumsy oar,
which serves to maneuver the raft. The cars are lashed with rope
to a fork of smooth wood.
At dawn, Carvajal, the Dominican monk, is on board reading
the Mass. He gives Holy Communion to those on board first, and
then to the kneeling Spaniards at the riverbank who are left be-
hind. Deeply devoted and enraptured, the last surviving Indians
are taking it on land.
The main rope is hacked through with a sword; it is a laconic,
nearly speechless farewell. Baltasar has come to the edge of the
raft and kneels before the last of his people, his bound hands
folded. The Indians are clapping their hands on their mouths in
anguish and despair. Now, with a jerk, the craft frees itself and
begins drifting very swiftly. “Now it goes up,” cries Pizarro. “Now
it goes down,” says Aguirre. There is steam and seething mist over
the tropical slopes, and the day proceeds.

On the river
The raft is drifting rapidly now, pushed forward from bend to
bend unimpeded, turning round in circles repeatedly, the land-
scape slips by speedily. The raft moans and groans, and the waters
of the river Urubamba are rushing sluggishly. The jungle slopes
continue to rise up infinitely, although not as steeply as at first.
Clouds are gathering over the canyon. The oarsmen work hard
and incessantly, but in these wild waters they can barely manage
to keep the raft in the middle of the river. Sometimes it drifts close
to the shore where twigs and lianas and exposed roots dangle
over the water, and the men on board must lower their heads and
steady themselves in order to avoid being pulled overboard. There
are some rapids that turn the raft with a jerk on its axis, intimi-
dating the men somewhat, including Ursua, who wants to prove
himself leader. “For every hour,” says Aguirre, “we would need a
day on land.”
The raft drifts onward and, upon hitting a sandbar with a
jolt, some bundles of accouterments are lost. Hands stretch forth
vainly to catch some of it again. Only Perucho lifts a bag filled
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 17

with provisions on board, using a fork for propping up arque-

buses. Some tree trunks have dislodged themselves dangerously
and rub against each other with a groaning sound. Water is slap-
ping the trunks. The men have to be careful not to trap their feet
between the trunks. Creaking, the raft again hits sandy ground.
Inez and Flores have sat down anxiously in their two sedans,
which are standing close together. Inez is holding Flores’s hands
in hers, both await their fates patiently. Ursua approaches the pair
to lend encouragement. Once they had escaped the worst torrents,
they would be safe. And, as things appeared, there were no more
torrents expected further down. The Indians had asserted this
unanimously. The men gaze ahead eagerly, anticipating some-
thing around every bend. “Beyond this bend will be a house, per-
haps,” says Fuenterrabia. And while everyone maintains an in-
credulous silence, he adds that this could easily be the case.
All at once there is confusion and chaos on one side of the
raft, because the horse has taken fright and is rearing up. In its
excitement, it steps halfway onto a barrel, which makes it rear up
even more. It jerks its head hard as foam gathers around its mouth
and flanks. Some of the men try to save themselves from the mad
trampling hooves by moving to the narrowest space, thereby add-
ing to the general confusion. The horse is on the verge of leaping
overboard, simply refusing to calm down. Two men succeed at last
in getting hold of the bridles and pushing the horse backward onto
a less congested spot. Its forelegs get caught in some of the ropes,
which are cautiously untied by Arnalte who courageously attends.
Arnalte succeeds in becalming the horse completely. Baltasar is
sitting all this time close by the dangerously trampling hooves,
petrified with fright, and in his terror, unable to move whatsoever.
Flores has noticed Baltasar’s paralysis and takes a few steps to-
ward him from her sedan. She attempts to draw him aside a little,
but the terror of the Indian is still too deeply rooted. Some of the
Spaniards laugh at him cruelly, saying the Indian is more afraid
than a girl, that he is shitting in his pants. Flores suddenly starts
to cry. “Baltasar,” she says, “it’s a good horse, it’s only frightened.”
Baltasar looks at her in strange wonderment. “But it’s a stallion,
and they call it Clodoaldo,” says Flores.
18 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Sandbank in the river

It is a blazing-­hot noon, and at a point where the river has
broadened a bit the raft has hit a sandbank. The current is still
very strong. Some distance away, a few alligators are lying on
the white sand of the sandbank in motionless avidity. Several
Spaniards have stepped into the water and are trying to free
the raft with poles. Others poke at the water with their poles to
chase away the alligators that might come close. A blue-­black
thunderstorm is brewing on the horizon, the pitch-­black clouds
towering heaven high, lit up already by flashes of lightning. The
thunder is not yet audible. Excited screaming of birds in the
jungle. “Heave-­ho,” cry the men on board, and when the raft
half-­f rees itself they cry, “Come on!” “Come on, come on,” cries
the parrot, which Perucho has taken aboard with him. The bird
flaps its wings and ruffles its feathers. The horse is standing
there, frightened by the violent movements of the poles, ner-
vously tramping on its narrow space.
Chimalpahin, whom they call Baltasar, is sitting a short dis-
tance away, and with faraway eyes he gazes at the clouds. All has
become deathly still, but no one notices because of their work.
Only Chimalpahin is looking about right now. The birds in the
forest have become mute, no wind is blowing, and yet the flashes
of lightning are already visible. Quite casually we catch sight of an
arrow sticking in the wood as if it belonged there. Then suddenly,
an outcry. Screaming, a soldier stands up with a start, an arrow
stuck in his calf. And at the same time, the alligators disappear
into the water with a hollow splash.
Shouts break out, wild movement. “To arms!” shouts Aguirre
above all else. He roars at some soldiers, who have lost their
heads and jump about helplessly, to go ahead and fire. Ursua and
Arnalte, together with some Spaniards, have armed themselves
with shields and thrown themselves in front of the two sedans.
Wild excitement and, what nobody notices, no more arrows. The
sultry forest lies motionless as the first shots thunder from the
arquebuses, which are supported by the gunner on iron forks.
“What are you aiming at?” someone shrieks. “Fire, you ass!” bel-
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 19

lows Ursua wildly. Then, as if by themselves, the thunderous shots

cease and the men become sober once again. One of them declares
aloud that since there were no more arrows, the enemy was prob-
ably very few in number. Ursua asks whether anybody had seen
one. No one can remember.
The wounded man is seated between two bundles, cursing;
they have already extracted the arrow from his blood-­g ushing
leg. The arrow wanders from hand to hand while the wounded
man is seeing if he can still move his toes properly. Ursua orders
them to continue firing into the forest for the sake of security
and to chase away the enemy. The mouths of the cannon roar and
smoke and in between, deep silence. The thunderstorm overhead
refuses to draw close; in the distance its mute flashes are still
In the feverish swelter, with shots still being fired, the men
succeed with a strenuous effort in freeing the raft. As the raft
drifts on, there is just enough time for the men to be pulled onto
the tree trunks. But some of the trunks have nearly come apart
and some of the ropes are almost totally frayed. Several men on
board are trying to reattach two trunks with iron clamps, all this
makeshift at most. The current is no longer so strong, however,
and the steep slopes of the canyon now widen a bit. Dense swarms
of malignant mosquitoes are swarming around the men on board.
The jungle has regained its voice. Voices of birds and monkeys
squabbling in some tree tops, thousands of other sounds. The men
suffer in the broiling heat.
The towering clouds are now approaching, almost continual
flashes of lightning and the distant grumble of thunder. Rain sud-
denly floods down, hot and heavy, hardly ever in single drops,
almost entirely in a solid mass. Everyone is instantly drenched
and they hardly attempt to cover their heads with their shields.
All is soaked, the dresses, the bundles, the provisions; we behold
a Spaniard, whose armored sleeve serves as a drainpipe. Thunder
and lightning are very near now, the horse shies with fright and
the jungle is one dull roar. The water in the river seems to boil,
steam issuing forth from the surface. All on board are cowering,
20 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

motionless, while lightning flashes incessantly. Heavy crashes of

thunder echo out from the steep slopes.
Inside the sedan, soaked through as well, Inez is sitting, pray-
ing mutely with a rosary. Aguirre is beside his daughter’s sedan,
holding a shield in front of the curtain so that not too much rain
may penetrate within.

Campsite on a sandy spot

The raft has been tied to the shore in a flat sandy place, objects
lie scattered about in the sultry sun to dry. Steam is rising every-
where. Several fully armored Spaniards have positioned them-
selves against possible aggressors by facing toward the jungle,
some take a few cautious steps into the steaming wilderness. The
trees are still dripping profusely. The horse is on shore eating
leaves. Some Spaniards are digging in the sand for turtle eggs.
The curtains in the sedans are pulled up to dry; Juan de Arnalte
politely spreads a mat on the sand for the women, then he with-
draws again. Lively activity everywhere. Perucho is alone on
board with his parrot, trying to teach him the term “El Dorado.”
The Spaniards have constructed two charcoal kilns on the
sand, using thin tree trunks and strong branches. Both pyres are
smoking away, with the men paying close attention so it doesn’t
start smoking too heavily. If too much smoke develops, they
deaden it by covering it with sand. Ursua, Aguirre, and Guzman
are walking through the camp, carefully inspecting every ob-
ject. They pick up some pans and a short chain, then they collect
the iron forks from the arquebuses. “You have to make yourself
wooden forks,” says Aguirre to one of the men. Gradually we real-
ize that they are searching for iron. They even remove the horse’s
shoes. The ground is soft here, anyway, Ursua reflects. Even the
iron work on the handles of the sedans is taken off. A brief dis-
cussion arises around Baltasar, as to whether or not they should
remove his handcuffs. Ultimately Ursua is against it, because he
fears that Baltasar might flee into the jungle. Proud Baltasar sits
entranced, not listening to what they are saying.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 21

Camp, early morning

The raft is completely cleared now, all the luggage being scat-
tered about in the sand. The piles of charcoal are gone, and in
one spot the Spaniards have built an improvised forge. A stone
serves as an anvil, and from a coarse piece of leather the men
have made a simple bellows, on which two men alternate work-
ing. The Spaniards are busy forging iron clamps and nails. It is
very tiresome work.
There is a peculiarly tense atmosphere in the camp, no one
dares to talk out loud. Furtive glances are cast aside; at a dis-
tance, Ursua and Aguirre are quarreling, barely able to restrain
themselves. The men eye one another wordlessly while working.
Something is in the air.
Ursua calls the men together, most of whom already sense what
is happening, and he declares, reminding them of his authority as
Major General, that he has decided to return. It probably would
take two weeks to get back to the main camp by land; they had
seen from the raft how difficult the terrain really was, and by land
the danger posed by the hostile natives would increase.
Aguirre, his most intimate friends gathered around him,
curtly explains to Ursua that he will not follow this order, for their
task was to explore the territory and supply themselves with food,
and so far they hadn’t achieved either of the two since nothing of
importance had been encountered yet. In two days the power-
ful current had moved them so far away from the starting point
that, under these circumstances, a return seemed senseless, as
they would have exhausted all their provisions by the time they
reached the camp and, furthermore, they would put an additional
burden on Pizarro’s shoulders by consuming his food. Things have
progressed to such an extent that there was nothing to do but
advance; and why had he, Ursua, given orders to forge nails if
he didn’t intend to mend the raft completely. That is not the only
ambiguity he has shown. Aguirre calls upon the men, in the glo-
rious name of the Spanish Crown, to continue their expedition
at their own risk. He recalls Hernando Cortez in Mexico who,
once he had sailed, had also received orders to return, but Cortez
22 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

defied the order, and today he has riches and glory. Now it lay in
their own power to alter the course of history, now it awaited their
mighty grip.
The men are moved, and despite Ursua’s order to be quiet,
Aguirre continues talking to the men in strong inflammatory
words. Most of them are indecisive, and only Aguirre’s closest
friends, Bermudez, Guzman, and Fuenterrabia, give the impres-
sion of unity. But Aguirre knows that secretly he speaks from the
heart of the majority.
Ursua is utterly enraged, and makes the mistake of ordering
two men to seize the rebel Aguirre and put him in chains. The two
timidly lay their hands on Aguirre. At this moment, happening so
quickly that one hardly realizes how it came about, Fuenterrabia’s
musket explodes with a thunderous burst and, hit from the short-
est of distances, Ursua falls flat on his face in the sand, mortally
wounded. A wild commotion breaks out, Inez comes flying to the
scene, Aguirre’s men grab their arms. The horse gallops to and
fro, trampling the sand. “Stop! No fighting!” thunders Aguirre at
the mindless ones. He succeeds in subduing the initial panic, no
one really knows whom to fight. Inez kneels beside Ursua who has
turned to stone, and Carvajal the monk has pressed a small cru-
cifix into his hands and listens with his ear close to the mouth of
the dying man who is trying to say something. But Ursua is unable
to utter a word, and rapidly his last ounce of life dies away. Flores
runs about, completely upset, trying in vain to find bandages. An
officer rises up against Aguirre and commands several men to kill
Fuenterrabia and Aguirre on the spot. The men hesitate, look-
ing for support. “Execute him,” says Aguirre with an icy voice.
He makes a hardly discernible movement of the head. Bermudez,
Perucho, and Fuenterrabia kneel down and aim at the officer, who
first steps back a bit, but then, courageously, advances toward
Aguirre, sword in hand and resolved to do anything. Almost si-
multaneously, shots are heard. The officer is thrown back a ways,
he is dead on the spot. The white sand surrounding him soaks up
the blood. “Anyone else?” asks Aguirre.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 23

Camp, toward evening

Evening’s mood has spread over the sandy place. Mosquitoes are
dancing in the last rays of sunlight, a few big butterflies are stag-
gering by, drunk with the jungle. At the edge of the jungle, but still
in the sand, two graves have been dug side by side, adorned with
wooden crosses. Paralyzed with pain, almost without willpower,
Inez kneels before Ursua’s grave. She is kneeling as if she has not
yet awakened from her bewilderment.
All of the Spaniards have gathered at the raft. The objects are
still strewn about the landing place, and the raft is completely
empty. The men are discussing whom they should take as their
leader, and Aguirre, who leads the discussion, realizes that the
others fear his boundless ambition and untamed energy and
knows that his time has not yet come. All of the men have taken
the precaution of appearing with arms, as the situation is not un-
equivocal yet, and everyone distrusts everyone else.
As a matter of course, Aguirre proposes that Fernando de
Guzman be elected Major General. Guzman is of lofty descent
and one of the most experienced fighters ever to have fought for
the Spanish crown in Peru. Aguirre distinctly believes therefore
that no party will form against him. Guzman is extremely fright-
ened and tries to keep the burden at bay, but Aguirre continues
steadfastly to single out Guzman’s merits, recalling the conquer-
ing of the fortress Sascahuyaman. Guzman must accept this high
honor, but as he still resists, the Spaniards try persuading him
from all sides to accept their wishes. They would willingly serve
then under his able guidance, and further, they would appoint
Lope de Aguirre as his deputy, since he had coolly analyzed the
situation and expressed all of their innermost wishes. Only in this
way would they all achieve riches and honor. Who is for Guzman,
asks Aguirre. All raise their hands and, over the head of Guzman,
they appoint him Major General. Who is for Aguirre as his deputy,
asks Perucho. This time, too, all raise their hands; tributes re-
sound and the council begins to dissolve.
At a distance, on the edge of the sandbank, Inez is visible,
kneeling, her face as white as the sand; she is confessing to
24 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Carvajal, the monk who stands beside her. Carvajal is wearing

his shawl, and has put one end of it on Inez’s shoulder. He listens
patiently while she apparently tries to get her life clear, she looks
waxen and calm. They remain there for a long time, motionless,
the two of them. The sun has already disappeared behind the
mountain slope. Carvajal gives her his blessing and Inez rises,
fully composed, as if she has summed up her life. From the jungle,
sounds of a million beings are audible.

Night camp by the river

Several fires are burning, and along the edge of the jungle armed
guards are watching. They have positioned themselves in pairs.
Around the fires, the evening meal is almost over. Some of the
Spaniards are baking a few milky translucent turtle eggs, which
are covered with a soft skin, in the faint, glimmering ashes.
Subdued conversation, the men lying leisurely and expectantly,
trying to protect themselves from the mosquitoes. Aguirre walks
calmly between the fires, talking quietly to individual groups of
Spaniards. Bermudez, Perucho, and Fuenterrabia are whispering
to each other. It looks as if something has been planned for the
coming day.
Juan de Arnalte is sitting by the sedan with Flores, whisper-
ing to her of his mountains at home and of his brothers and the
waterfall behind his house. He seems to be homesick, and Flores
is aware of this, listening to him patiently and with great interest.
Aguirre disturbs the two. He sends Arnalte away, he should go
and sleep, for at midnight he will have to watch. This New Year’s
Day was the beginning of significant events, this will be a mean-
ingful year, all of them will alter the course of history.
When Aguirre is alone with Flores, he tells her to inform Inez
that he, Aguirre, will not do her any harm, on the contrary, he
would treat her as a lady of honor. She was compelled only by the
course of events to follow the expedition further, even if this did
not agree with her wishes. We notice that Aguirre has inhibitions
that keep him from talking to Inez personally.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 25

Camp, early morning

Everyone is already up and stirring. While the last iron clamps
are fastened to the trunks of the raft, the Spaniards start reload-
ing the raft. At the same time, some men are making a square in
the sand with some poles and commence construction of a small
wooden dais. Aguirre gives the orders here, whereas Guzman,
who is suffering somewhat from diarrhea, supervises the work
at the raft. Guzman disappears into the sultry damp jungle and
returns with a not-­too-­happy face, trying, however, to keep his
dignity. Aguirre speaks of an important council that must be held
before they leave. Guzman is flattered, for he knows the coun-
cil is for his benefit. The Spaniards are standing in the square
now, leaving a free space in the center. Aguirre delivers a gripping
speech to his men using very strong words. The time had come to
take common fate into their own hands, only the brave are helped
by fate, it casts off the cowardly. It was necessary to legalize all
further undertakings, and so he and Guzman had mutually de-
cided to appoint Diego de Bermudez scrivener. It was necessary
now to decide for themselves, or else once they had conquered El
Dorado, they would have to relinquish the fruits of their efforts
to the undeserving. It was therefore necessary to free themselves
from the bonds of the Spanish crown, and to proclaim their leader
Emperor of Peru and Dorado. Would they agree to that. “Yes,”
cry the enchanted men. A tumult erupts, exultation. Aguirre has
directed this farce almost in the style of an operetta.
Aguirre pushes Bermudez and Guzman forward. He declares
that overnight he had already formulated a document with
Bermudez, which he now wants to read to them, in order to ask
them for their approval or disapproval. “Caesarean King,” reads
Aguirre, “by the grace of God, through our Holy Mother, the Holy
Roman Church, named King Philip the Second of Castile, we, the
undersigned, have, until yesterday, the first day of the year 1561,
after the birth of our savior Jesus Christ, regarded ourselves as
your servants and subjects, after we have moved away from your
servant Gonzalo Pizarro more than two hundred leagues within
two days. Fate, the help of God, and the labor of our own hands
26 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

have driven us down a river, called by the natives Urubamba,

in search of a new land of gold, and we have decided to put an
end to the quirks of our Fate. We are the Course of History, and
no fruit of this earth shall henceforth be shared. We rebel unto
death. We solemnly declare—­and our hands shall be torn off and
our tongues shall dry up if this is not so—­the House of Hapsburg
to be devoid of all its rights, and you, Philip II, King of Castile,
dethroned. By dint of this declaration thou art annihilated. In
your stead, we proclaim the noble knight from the city of Seville,
Fernando de Guzman, Emperor of Peru and Dorado. Flee, flee
from here hence, O King, and may God protect your soul.”
The Spaniards rejoice, and after the incense has been lit,
Carvajal intones the Te Deum. The men wave their weapons over-
head as Aguirre leads Guzman to a shabby improvised throne in
the center of the square. A seat on the podium has been uphol-
stered with one of Flores’s velvet gowns. Guzman feels exceed-
ingly honored, though half resisting still, and has objections to
the kind of throne it is. “What is a throne?” growls Aguirre in his
ear, pushing him forward. “A piece of wood, covered with a piece
of velvet.”
Guzman takes his seat and Aguirre, the first to kneel down,
seizes his hand and kisses it. The other men follow his example,
one pushing behind the other. Then everyone signs the document
except the two women and Baltasar, who have no right to do so.
The men fire their muskets and start hailing Guzman, who ac-
cepts this homage gravely, although obviously suffering from a
belly ache.
Now they all form a great operatic tableau, and with ritual-
istic gestures, Guzman is led by Carvajal and Aguirre from his
throne to the earth. Guzman boards the raft with solemn steps
and, among the universal rejoicing of his people, gives the signal
for departure.

On the river, mouth of the Ucayali

The river has broadened a bit, flowing more slowly, the mountain
slopes recede undramatically. The raft is drifting calmly, but with-
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 27

out delay. On the riverside, whole trees and overhanging limbs

are dragging in the water. On the right-­hand side a wide hidden
valley opens up, and coming closer, we behold the mouth of a big
river carrying yellowish-­brown water, and upon which drifts a
striking number of fallen branches, even whole trees, their roots
outstretched toward the steaming sky. And there, fully bloated,
a dead tapir as big as a mule floats past the Spaniards’ raft. The
river to the right is apparently larger. For miles, the darker waters
of the Urubamba are not mingling with the waters of the Ucayali,
which carries large quantities of clay. In the middle of the already-­
gaping river runs a clear and colorful line of demarcation.
The Spaniards are very curious, and they beckon information
from Baltasar who, however, is unsure about this. No informa-
tion had reached the Incas from such a faraway realm, but he
did know of a big river to the south called “Ucayali.” Following
Aguirre’s instructions assiduously, Diego Bermudez is employed
in making a rough sketch as quickly as possible before the raft has
drifted past completely.
The men suffer under the oppressive sweltering heat, sweat-
ing without being cooled. The raucous quarreling of the monkeys
carries from the jungle across the waters, growing to such an ex-
tent that the parrots join in, as if they were asking for silence. We
can distinguish some movement in the tree tops, and in the dense
foliage, the squeaking proceeds from tree to tree.
Since passing the mouth, the horse has become restless, al-
though there is no obvious reason for this. The stallion jerks his
head and shies from something we do not see. The Spaniards
aboard are listening, but they cannot discern a thing in the mo-
tionless jungle. The trees mysteriously mask their own trance. The
horse nervously stamps at the ground, its dance creating disorder
in the ordered assembly surrounding it. One Spaniard, shoving
hastily, pushes another one and his helmet gets lost overboard.
Hands are stretching out for it, but the helmet has swiftly sunk.
The horse is jumping now, and gets bundles of equipment
between its hooves, which makes it shy away even more. A man
has taken hold of the bridle and yanks it down, but the stallion
fights back with all its might. One half of the raft is in an uproar.
28 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Chimalpahin is particularly perturbed, and Inez, praying with her

rosary in the open sedan, briefly glances up from her trance. It
takes a long time for the horse to calm down, and just when it seems
to be tranquil once more, it jumps forward with a mighty leap right
into a group of Spaniards who are preparing a meal over a small
fire they have lighted between some stones. Sparks fly about and
chaos breaks out. “The powder!” someone cries out, horrified, and
now we catch sight of a powder barrel, where some spilled gun-
powder is swiftly igniting in the direction of the bunghole.
Panic-­stricken, everyone flees to the edge of the raft, two men
fall down and jump overboard. Aguirre advances coolly, and al-
most provocatively he slowly lifts the barrel up and throws it into
the water. There it glimmers on, drifting forward somewhat faster
than the raft. Everyone on the raft has thrown himself to the
floor, with Aguirre alone standing, serenely assessing the scene.
Chimalpahin is sitting, unconcerned. A dull heavy detonation fol-
lows with a pillar of water shooting up in the air and splattering
over the raft. Then, massive waves, the vessel rocks and sways,
and a deep silence settles over the water and over the jungle. All
voices have hushed. The two Spaniards who had fallen overboard
and were clutching the edge of the raft are pulled up onto the
dryness by helping hands. The horse seems restful now, but the
excitement of the men lasts a long time. Slowly, order returns. A
long, long view over the passing jungle. The forest is steaming
dreamily, not one leaf rustles. Butterflies are dancing in the open
air. Damp impenetrable labyrinths of leaves, exposed roots and
trees, strangled to death by lianas. A cloud of whirring humming-
birds rises high, hovering motionless above the treetops. A hun-
dred thousand strange sounds. The water flows lazily, caked with
clay. Only very far away, in the background, mountain slopes over-
grown with jungle are visible. Clouds are piling up everywhere, as
they do before a thunderstorm.

Lunch on board
Food is distributed on board, but we realize at first glance that the
food is being severely rationed. Not one of the men murmurs, we
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 29

even notice one storing away a small supply of fruit for worse occa-
sions. The Spaniards draw water from the brown river and drink
it in a manner that suggests they quit caring quite some time ago.
The horse is feeding on a heap of twigs and leaves amassed in
front of it. Its forelegs are fettered. Aguirre, eating deliberately,
sits among the men. Before starting on his own ration, Juan de
Arnalte has politely served the ladies, who apparently have been
given a little more. The women have made themselves comfort-
able in their sedans.
While they are eating, the eyes of the men keep wandering
secretly to the middle of the raft where, under the cover of a little
bark roof, Guzman feasts as always. A table made from a little box
and covered with a clean cloth is placed before him, and Guzman
is the only one to receive proper cutlery. He has appointed a man
cupbearer, who stands behind him and is not yet allowed to eat.
Such a large quantity of food has been piled up in front of Guzman
that one knows he cannot eat it all by himself. The men on board
are silent, full of animosity, the happily feasting Guzman is un-
aware of this. With a graceful gesture he lifts the mug, and the
man behind him pours brownish river water into it. Guzman ob-
viously relishes his new role.
Flores has left her sedan and carries part of her food to
Baltasar, who has been given hardly anything, and who has only
begun to eat slowly with his fettered hands after a long interval of
introspection. Flores climbs over some luggage until she reaches
him. She sets a bowl before him. Baltasar slowly glances up, awak-
ening from his trance. Flores climbs back to her sedan without
anyone taking offense. A strange silence reigns over the raft when,
suddenly, the jungle petrifies. All sounds have died as if by some
blow, with deathly threatening stillness spreading.
A few men grow wary and listen, Aguirre glances about as only
Guzman continues feasting joyfully. A man drawing a bowlful of
water bends backward. The man beside him slumps back with a
weird expression, his morsel of food getting caught in his throat
while he sinks into the river, legs upturned. At the same time the
water commences to boil and seethe, as if the man were made of
red-­hot iron. There is a furious battle in the water, and now we
30 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

recognize the piranhas, an enormous swarm of ravenous rapa-

cious fish.
The man with the bowl tries to grab hold of the sinking man
but misses him, and the piranhas snatch him with teeth like razor
blades. The oarsman to the rear succeeds in pulling up with a pole
the man’s armor, which had been drifting in the seething water. A
hand sticks out of the water and two Spaniards grope for it hastily,
momentarily withdrawing a bony arm that was eaten until noth-
ing but skeleton remained. Only the hand is still where the hand
should be. They are paralyzed with horror on board. The hand
wears a ring and bears a scar on the outside. The boiling spot in
the water is left behind, the raft drifts on.
A view of the jungle, nothing perceptible, nothing stirs, still
no sound.
On board the men have jumped up amid a confusion of highly
excited voices. Inez and Flores turn aside, shuddering. One man
alone sits motionless by his bowl, a pensive expression on his
face, his fork sticking on his food. He is leaning against a clus-
ter of luggage. Perucho’s parrot has heeded the excitement. He
screams “El Dorado.” In his agitation, Fuenterrabia nudges the
sitting man with his foot, and his fork falls to the floor with a
clatter. Fuenterrabia is startled and turns around. “What?” says
Fuenterrabia, attracting the attention of the other men. “He’s
done in,” one of them says. The Spaniards push the sitting man
a little, ever so gently, but the man is dead indeed and bends for-
ward incredibly slowly. Now we notice a dart sticking in the nape
of his neck, it is barely as big as a knitting needle and feathered
behind with a ball of twisted cotton. Carvajal, the Dominican
monk, is the first to regain his composure and extracts the dart
from the neck of the dead man, carefully laying the corpse on the
floor of the raft.
The dart, in closeup. It wanders from hand to hand, inspiring
awe. The tip has been sharpened like a needle and thickened with
a piece of bast cord. A sticky milky liquid coats it. “Poison,” says
Fuenterrabia, and “Poison,” says Bermudez. “To arms!” shouts
Aguirre. “Fire your muskets!”
Confusion arises once again as the Spaniards fire about wildly
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 31

with their muskets, throwing themselves down behind their

shields for protection. Here, all at once, the jungle seems to regain
its voice, birdcalls are heard starting up again. “Come on, come
on,” Perucho’s parrot croaks. The rolling gunshots are dying, and
clouds of bluish smoke drift over the raft.
How could this have been possible, Aguirre asks his men, who
have calmed down a bit. Yes, how could this have been possible,
Guzman repeats, his napkin still stuck in his collar. Judging from
the size of the arrow, reflects Perucho, it must have been a midget
bow about nine inches long. He could not understand, however,
how one could shoot so far with a bow as small as that, extend-
ing his hand to show. They had been at least a quarter of a league
away from the riverside. But Fuenterrabia objects, saying that the
arrow had no notch in back for a string, and besides, it was much
too thin. Everyone tries to solve the riddle, Chimalpahin is unable
to provide any information either. They are still oppressed by the
alluring calmness of the jungle, and try to deaden their fright by
way of their intense involvement with the blow-­dart.

Dusk over the river

The raft drifts downriver. With a slow beating of oars on both
sides, the men are keeping the raft in the middle of the river. We
see the raft from a distance of about three hundred feet. Incense
is rising, and all of the Spaniards have gathered on one end of the
raft, kneeling. Carvajal prays as we hear their singing drift over
the river. Two men now lift the corpse, which is sewn inside a
linen shroud, and let it slide slowly overboard. The monk makes
the gesture of a blessing. The raft drifts onward, calmly, and dis-
appears. On both sides of the river, the jungle is already very dark.

Day on the river, sultry day

Aguirre stands at the front of the raft, gazing ahead expectantly
toward a great bend in the river. It is an oppressively hot day and
Aguirre’s clothes are sticky with sweat. The men around him look
noticeably more depraved, the clothes of one of them starting to
32 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

rot. The men take hardly any measures to protect themselves from
the mosquitoes that besiege them relentlessly. All have obviously
lost weight. We catch sight of a Spaniard, nibbling meticulously at
the stalk of a manioc root without caring about the dirt.
At the rear end of the raft, the men have constructed a little
outhouse on a boom above the river, which consists of four poles
with canvas stretched between them. There, Guzman loiters
about, apparently suffering severely from diarrhea. He keeps the
place occupied most of the time, still trying, however, to look awe-­
inspiring. In their sedans standing side by side, the two women are
suffering gravely from the damp heat. Flores fans herself feebly
with a delicate laced fan, unable to cool herself. Beside her Inez
sits peacefully in a beautiful velvet dress, praying with her rosary.
She does not seem to notice anything around her any more.
Little is said on board, all of them are craning their necks
in order to detect something beyond the next bend in the river.
Slowly we see that around the bend, the river alone is stretching
out further, and to the left and to the right, there is nothing but
dense jungle. Bermudez, standing near Aguirre, appropriates the
document with which they solemnly take possession of the land
to the left and right. Guzman is summoned to sign the document,
and then Aguirre also puts his name underneath it with a flour-
ish. He writes Lope de Aguirre; he intends to add something else,
which, however, he ultimately omits. At certain spots the river
is now about four miles wide, then it narrows a bit again before
flowing onward ever so lazily. Islands appear more frequently,
some are so long that one cannot guess how far drawn out they
are. For this reason the river often forks out in several branches.
Sandbanks rise up clearly out of the brownish water, as clouds like
cotton balls drift overhead.
Inez and Flores are seated next to Baltasar, who is speaking
calmly, now and then pushing his hair from his face with both
hands, which are still bound together with handcuffs. Baltasar
talks about the downfall of his people and of his childhood,
speaking very softly. They had experienced bolts of lightning and
plagues and earthquakes, but what has happened to them now
is much greater. His name was Chimalpahin, and his surname
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 33

was Quauhtlehuanitzin, meaning “the one who speaks.” Only his

closest relatives, plus the Inca and his family, had the right to
look at him, all others were forced to look at the floor before him.
“That is the way Nobility declines,” says Bermudez bitingly, having
listened to them from nearby. Baltasar slowly glances up, keeping
silent. “So speak, go on,” growls Fuenterrabia, “and don’t shit in
your pants.”
Perucho wants to know how big the golden daggers of El
Dorado are, whether they are bigger than the ones from Peru:
this big, or this—­he spreads his hands and indicates two imagi-
nary sizes, and since he knows that Baltasar cannot spread his
hands, he starts howling with laughter at his own joke. More men
laugh as Baltasar maintains silence, quite abstracted. “Quiet,”
says Aguirre, “we still need him.” Flores sits weeping to herself.
Fuenterrabia tells her that she shouldn’t blubber, it was only an
Indian, after all.
We take a close look at two Spaniards. They are both sitting
right at the edge of the raft, and neither seems to want to fully
expose himself to the Indians’ poisonous darts out here on the
brink. Therefore both struggle slowly, silently, to take the better
place away from the other, since it apparently promises superior
shelter. They observe each other malevolently, and every time one
of them gets a little inattentive, the other nudges him over a bit.
Such jostling seems to have ensued for days, for the hostility of
the two is gnawing.

Late afternoon
Part of the crew is sitting drowsily on board, the others are stretch-
ing their necks, straining to see what is coming around the next
bend. Heavy lukewarm rain is falling steadily. The men are talk-
ing about El Dorado and how it could best be conquered. If the
capital had walls that would be bad, of course, for they had no
heavy equipment and a siege would require many more men. “El
Dorado, El Dorado,” Perucho repeats to his parrot continually, but
it croaks and says: “Come on.” Perucho has now provided a perch
for his bird, upon which it plays about. Yes, says Perucho proudly,
34 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

a parrot lives to be ninety at least. His was surely eighty already,

and it only had a bald ass.
We can clearly determine that rust has formed on the men’s
armor and that, due to the humidity, the clothes of many have
started to rot. Most of them have sore spots around their necks
from the rubbing of the armor and the continuous flow of salty
sweat. A few seem to be suffering from fever, and they always feel
cold in spite of all the heat. Guzman has apparently gotten the
fever on top of his diarrhea, for he is always wrapped in a blanket.
Aguirre is sitting with Bermudez working on a map, and he
adds some legal notes along the bottom. Bermudez wants to sub-
mit it to Guzman for his signature, but Aguirre merely says, “The
Emperor has diarrhea.” The two men eye one another knowingly.
There were but a few bags of corn left and very little food besides,
Bermudez allows. They must reach the country of El Dorado soon,
or else someone would have to think of something else. Aguirre
had noticed that Guzman had secretly held him, Aguirre, respon-
sible for the difficulties with the provisions. The salt was used up
completely, and some men had already complained of muscle ache
because of this. Aguirre stands there, musing. The rain has abated
and is only drizzling slightly.
Perucho sits with his parrot in a circle of Spaniards build-
ing castles in the air, how well one would live, and how many
servants one would have. They would henceforth build all their
cannons of gold, and fire golden balls. The men start naming the
provinces and distributing them, and they discuss the offices that
they would then hold. Perucho already imagines himself gover-
nor. He speaks of conquest and siege, and his motto is: “Billowing
sails, holy oaths, and ready arms.” The men are gradually talking
themselves into a state of agitation. Fuenterrabia, busy with his
hens, interrupts them, calling over to say that they would finally
show the Indians what a rake is.
Carvajal interjects and scolds the men for forgetting that there
were other things to be done. Actually they were the heralds who
were conveying the light of Salvation to these savages. “Rubbish,”
says Fuenterrabia, who has just appointed a hen governor of a
cornfield, “there will be hundreds of thousands after us.” Perucho
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 35

thinks that this is grossly exaggerated. There were but three or

four thousand in Peru after so many years, precisely the right
number to live a comfortable life. Only in this way would one
enjoy it.
“I have a feeling that they’re watching us,” a man in the circle
suddenly says. Everyone listens momentarily, the jungle is full of
sounds, a fact that reassures the men a little. The steaming trees
stand gloomily, nothing stirs at the jungle’s edge. There, there he
had seen something; he thought he had seen a man. Where, ask
the others—­they have seen nothing.
The two soldiers fighting for the best-­protected place are at-
tacking one another more vigorously now, shoving each other back
and forth. “Here, from this crack on, you are forbidden to tres-
pass.” “Quiet,” says Aguirre, and from then on the battle proceeds
in silence. Aguirre commands them to be in constant readiness
and to leave the arquebuses loaded. But the Spaniards still con-
sider themselves comparatively secure because, as Perucho says,
the jungle is singing. Danger would arise only from the silence.
Fuenterrabia is seriously engaged with giving out names and
positions to the hens in the cages. His loaded arquebus is lean-
ing beside him. Each of the hens was supposed to receive a whole
cornfield, and once they had chickens, each chicken would get an
Indian for a servant. Almost whimpering, he declares one of the
hens his favorite and announces that he shall crown it. For this
he takes a piece of silver wire, which he unravels from his powder
horn, and working with painstaking precision, he starts to make
a little crown with it. Fuenterrabia is exceedingly proud of his
skillful work and responds morosely as the others jeer that the
queen would be the first to be plucked and cooked. He tries the
little crown out on the hen, but it is still too big and the hen just
struggles, flutters and squawks.
Suddenly there is dead silence all around. “I don’t hear any-
thing more,” Perucho says. The river is divided by an island into
two large arms of equal size, and now the Spaniards are in one
arm trying to get to the middle of the river, as far removed from
the riverbanks as possible. The jungle lies in horrible silence, ma-
liciously still, the woodland waiting. Guzman gives the order to
36 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

open fire, and the Spaniards shoot wildly into the foliage. Entire
branches are torn off by the balls and tumble down. A man pos-
sessing only a sword has crept in terror beneath a blanket to pro-
tect himself. The whole raft is enveloped in gunpowder smoke.
Shot after shot roars into the forest. But there is still no sound
from within.
The horse has been roused by the shots and starts galloping
about the raft, frightened and panicky, its forelegs fettered. It
jumps over a row of gunners and slams into Flores’s sedan, where
Juan de Arnalte courageously throws himself in front of the horse,
forcing it to retreat. Everything on board is in turmoil. A musket
goes off, ripping to shreds half of the roof of bast in the middle of
the raft. Luggage is lost and now drifts on the river. A sedan has
tumbled over, and Arnalte holds Flores protectively in his arms;
she is very frightened. Slowly calming down, the horse is pulled
at by several men who are holding it to the deck. It stomps wildly
about and kicks a man who goes flying several yards. The man
rises but immediately sinks down again. Two men try to help him
up, but they soon notice he is dead. “That’s enough,” Guzman says.
The horse must leave the raft. Aguirre has examined the dead
man and explains that he has died not from the horse’s kick, but
from a tiny dart that must have hit him an instant later. It was still
sticking in the back of his hand. All at once the birds in the jungle
start singing again, the sound passing through the woodland like
a shock. One of the men on board remains sitting beneath his
blanket, teased now by his comrades for his cowardice, and only
after a great deal of persuasion does he appear, hesitantly. He
sees Aguirre, Carvajal, and some of the others taking care of the
dead man, and requests momentary silence to make sure that the
sounds of the jungle had revived once again.

Dusk over the river

The raft has been tied to the shore, but the jungle is so dense
and the overhanging branches jut out so far that first they had
to hack a little swathe amid the dripping leaves and twigs with
their knives. Over the smooth river the sun is slowly sinking low.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 37

The waters are flowing sluggishly, without a sound. Millions of

mosquitoes are dancing in the night.
Hacking with their knives and swords the Spaniards carve a
small clearing of just a few square yards in the jungle. Creepers
and foliage are impenetrably interwoven everywhere; the under-
growth is utterly impenetrable. Aguirre declares his belief that
what they are doing is a mistake. It was irresponsible to abandon
the only horse they had merely because it easily shied and meant
danger for them. Your Honor should simply keep in mind what a
significant part horses have played in the conquest of Mexico and
Peru, for the Indians had never seen such creatures before and,
therefore, entire armies had fled in precipitous panic just because
of some horses. But Guzman pretends not to listen to him. He ap-
parently wants to accept this challenge of power and is willing to
show that he can hold his own against Aguirre. Aguirre talks to
him directly, but more so to all the men, and explains that even
if the horse were to be of no use in the near future, that is to say,
if the country of El Dorado was still farther away than they had
thought, it certainly would provide a very important service to the
crew as a lifesaving article of food, since by that time all the pro-
visions would have been used up. “Now that is enough, the horse
must go,” says Guzman, attempting to imitate Aguirre’s own as-
sured tone of voice. Aguirre hesitates for a few seconds as Perucho
moves toward his musket, seemingly devoid of any ulterior mo-
tive. “Your Honor, the sun is going down,” says Aguirre.
Seen from the raft. Without talking, and somehow touched,
the men are standing on board gazing upon Clodoaldo, the stal-
lion, who has been taken ashore. He has just enough space there
to turn around once comfortably; everywhere around him he
is enclosed by the jungle labyrinth. Evening’s glow is spreading
over the clouds in the sky. Like veils, the dancing gnats are wav-
ing. The horse paws the ground on its spot, flaring its nostrils as
if it sensed something. From out of the jungle, plaintive cries of
monkeys emerge. At the last moment before departure, Flores
plucks a few leaves from a limb and places them in front of the
horse. The tether is cut and the raft slowly frees itself from the
land. It is a silent very sad scene. Slowly, in the red afterglow,
38 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

the raft moves away from the horse. The horse is restless and
whinnies. It is getting smaller and smaller and still one hears it
whinnying. Very far away, we can still distinguish it as a small
dark spot amid the green foliage, until distance and darkness
swallow it up. “Come on, come on,” Perucho’s parrot continues
crying in the darkness.

On the river, forenoon

The same river, the same islands, the same jungle, the same heat,
the same moldering, the same clouds, as if a thunderstorm was
approaching. Again we see the raft, drifting. The river seems to
have become even broader. All is calm on board, with added space
as well, we can clearly see some gaps. Slowly the oarsmen steer the
craft in the middle of the current round a long extended sandbar.
There, suddenly, behind a river bend, smoke appears over the
jungle, we can clearly distinguish it. At once the jungle is utterly
still and threatening. Everything on board is instantly plunged
into wild commotion. The Spaniards pile their luggage up as pro-
tective walls, and the curtains in the sedans are carefully closed.
The man without a musket creeps beneath his blanket once again.
The Spaniards start firing some shots into the stillness, and a
few of them make a real racket with their shields. The fright con-
fronting the stillness is great. Aguirre gives orders not to fire too
much, as they also must think about the gunpowder. There, all of
a sudden, shrill cries from the jungle, the voices of men. “Seems
like hundreds of them,” reckons Bermudez. “Now they’re in for it,
we’re going to give it to them,” says Perucho.
View of the jungle. There, among the branches, some Indians
are already revealing themselves. Wild and half-­naked, they ap-
parently wish to be seen since they gesticulate violently for a mo-
ment, before vanishing again into the foliage. It seems as if they
wanted to lure the Spaniards ashore.
On board, Aguirre asks for a green twig and waves it over his
head. “Senneneh,” scream the Spaniards, “Peace.” “Jurua, jurau,”
the Indians call back, shrill and ecstatic from the jungle. “Meat,
meat, there is meat swimming toward us,” translates Baltasar.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 39

They are cannibalistic head-­hunters, he says. Guzman gives the

order to land, and the Spaniards fire feverishly to give themselves
a clear spot for anchoring. When the raft is close to the land, the
cries of the Indians stop as they withdraw noticeably into the shel-
ter of the forest. Again, the jungle lies in utter stillness, full of
danger and mystery.
After some waiting, when no attack is made from the dead
silence of the forest, the Spaniards, who are ready for any sort of
battle, get restless. At last, still with no leaf moving, Guzman or-
ders five heavily armored men to cautiously penetrate a little way
into the woodland, in order to stake out the enemy. The men go
ashore, and from a sandy place, they cautiously set out. Hacking
away with knives, they must actually cut a swathe into the wildly
intertwined undergrowth to make any progress at all. Slowly the
jungle swallows up the five.
View of the motionless jungle. For a while we continue to hear
a rustling and a crackling and the hacking sounds of the knives.
Gradually it dies away completely. Everyone on board is in a state
of great suspense. All of the arquebuses are propped up on their
forks, aimed toward the jungle. No more sound is coming, long
waiting in absolute suspense. The river flows steadily on.
Suddenly a lone man, deeply disturbed, steps out from the
swathe and stumbles directly over the sand into the water. Only
then does he turn toward the raft, which has been moored but a
few yards upstream. The man carries no knife and has lost his
weapons, holding nothing but his powder horn in his hands. The
Spaniards on board begin to stir. “What is it?” asks Aguirre. But
the man has lost his speech, horselike. He just makes a strange
gesture toward the jungle and stumbles onto the raft.
Aguirre immediately sets out with twelve heavily armed men.
The traces of the troops who have cut a swathe in the jungle are
distinctly visible. The cleared path makes a slight bend around a
giant tree, then another one. Deep dusk and deathly-­still silence.
Aguirre hurries ahead of his men, sword in hand. The path sud-
denly stops, the jungle closed on all sides and overhead like the
end of a tunnel, and there, everything is full of blood. All the leaves
and twigs are red, and on the ground there is only a bloodied boot.
40 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

There is nothing else, as if the men had dissolved into thin air.
Profound threatening stillness oppresses the woodland.

On the raft
There is great excitement on board the raft. Aguirre has returned
with his men, having brought back nothing but a boot filled with
blood. Aguirre reports that he has searched everywhere, but it
was simply inexplicable how the men could have disappeared
without a sound, as if they had dissolved into nothing. The dis-
turbed man from the vanguard slowly begins to talk again, and
he haltingly reports that he had retreated briefly after noticing
his powder had been lost. He did find it, hanging on a branch,
and when he hurried after the others he could find nothing but
blood. The blood still steamed with warmth, then without a doubt
he dropped everything and fled. But they did not find any of his
things, which is strange, adds Aguirre with a twist.
The Spaniards decide to infiltrate the jungle again with a
stronger force, since disregarding the four men who could hardly
be saved, provisions have become so scarce that they had to find
some settlement or village. Once more Aguirre leads the trek, this
time joined by Fuenterrabia and Juan de Arnalte. The troops pen-
etrate the silent woodland.
A long look, roaming over the raft. There the men stand wait-
ing with their arquebuses ready. Mosquitoes are making their
wait torturous. The sedans stand motionlessly, with no movement
behind their curtains. Carvajal, armed with a sword, takes shel-
ter behind one of the bundles. His tonsure is already woolly and
overgrown. Muddy humus has gathered between two trunks on
the edge of the raft. Upon looking closer, we notice that grass is
beginning to grow there.

On the raft, nightfall

The crew of the raft continues to wait in constant readiness.
Someone breaks the silence by saying he has heard something.
The others listen, but they can’t make anything out. Then there is
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 41

a faint crackle and rustle from afar, indeed, coming closer rapidly.
Then voices of Spaniards as well, and all of a sudden, Aguirre’s
troops are out in the open. They are carrying a man with them.
When they draw nearer, it turns out to be Juan de Arnalte, who
seems to be wounded in his chest.
“Nothing,” says Fuenterrabia, “nothing to be found.” He re-
ports that suddenly, without the men noticing anything of the
enemy whatsoever, Arnalte was wounded by an arrow. On board,
Arnalte is carefully bedded on a mat. He asks for something to
drink, and Flores quickly brings him a mug of water.

On the river, stormy day

The crew of the raft seems demoralized, and once more the gaps
have widened. Guzman is laboring away in the outhouse with a
tormented look on his face, no one saying a word. In the front of
the raft, a few of the men are sleepily keeping vigil.
Inez and Flores are with the wounded Arnalte, who is lying
there very weak. Inez carefully raises one of his arms and washes
it with a clean cloth. Then she washes his face and Flores dries it.
She does this with a great deal of loving care. Suddenly, shouting
and commotion at the front of the raft; the men have caught sight
of something. View from the front, along the river. Beyond a bend,
on a sandbank, a raft is distinctly visible, and on it are Spaniards
sitting in their armor. On board there is wild jubilation, for this
is undoubtedly Orellana, who was considered lost. They joyfully
salute them with cannonballs fired skyward, but the Spaniards
on board the other raft do not stir and very soon the jubilation
ends. Upon coming closer we realize there are only dead people
on board. Paralyzing fright creeps over the crew. The two rafts are
attached to each other, and now we can clearly see that armored
skeletons are sitting there without heads. Each of the helmets is
stuck on a pole above the breastplates. And now we realize the
horrible fact that each of the dead is holding his own head, shrunk
to the size of an apple, in his skeletal outstretched hand. On the
shriveled heads you can clearly distinguish facial traits, only the
hair is much too long. The thick lips of the faces are sewn shut.
42 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

On the river, rain

The raft drifts along, as in a dream. Heavy warm rain is falling
steadily down and the river is steaming. Nothing but a deep mo-
notonous rushing sound. The river water is whitish-­brown.

On the river, evening

Darkness has fallen and from the jungle there is hardly a sound.
In the still-­pale sky, huge bats are flying in an incomprehensible
zigzag. Terror has spread through the raft and everyone is listen-
ing. Two small fireplaces continue to glimmer. The Spaniards are
nibbling roots and soft-­boiled bark, and eight men are sharing a
fish that is a good nine inches long. Inez hands a drink to Arnalte,
who is lying apathetically. He takes very careful minute sips.
In the middle of the vessel, under the half-­destroyed bast roof,
Guzman sits dining. His former cupbearer was one of the men
who disappeared in the jungle, and so he has appointed another
Spaniard who apparently does not suit him. Somewhat clumsily,
the cupbearer serves him a large plate filled with cooked corn,
and the men nearby are sniffing unobtrusively. Discreet glances
are exchanged, and some can manage to suppress their rage only
with difficulty. “Don’t you have a plate for my piece of bark?”
one of them says, but Guzman keeps eating good-­humoredly, ig-
noring the inimical undertones. “El Dorado,” shrieks Perucho’s
Unnoticed by the oarsmen, the raft has come quite close to the
edge of the jungle. All of a sudden, lianas are dangling on board.
Simultaneously something shapeless and heavy splashes into the
river with the sinister sound of a crocodile. Everyone on the raft
is seized by fright, and all around is profound alluring blackness.

On the river, early morning

Some of the Spaniards are still sound asleep, Juan de Arnalte is
lying in fever. On the sides of the raft, armed men are watch-
ing. “Hey, wake up,” one of them says, slowly standing up in the
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 43

middle of the raft, “I think our Emperor is dead.” Slowly a few

more arise in disbelief, and Aguirre joins them. “What?” he asks
with astonishment.
We see Guzman closely now. He lies beneath a blanket, and
his eyes are widely dilated and his face is bloated. Around his
neck his napkin has been tied and pulled tightly, blue streaks now
observable there. “He is quite cold already,” the Dominican says.
The men are all embarrassed, and each of them purposely
avoids the question of who has done it. How should one bury him,
that was the only question that mattered; whether by land or by
water, and how should he be honored. He had been rather ill any-
way, everyone could see that. The murder is accepted as a natural
death, yet all are confused because no one knows who has done it.
No one serves as informer, and the unconcerned try hard not to
appear concerned, but this makes them even more conspicuous.

Sandy shore, jungle beyond

A nice tomb has been erected on shore, a well-­polished wooden
cross and an inscription. Smooth stones from the river are ar-
ranged around the mound. Some orchids bedeck it and a piece
of candle is burning in a bowl. A few men in the background are
digging in the sand for snails and crayfish, laboring weakly, and
one has dug up turtle eggs from the sand, which are attacked rav-
enously by the men. They eat them raw, as they are. Perucho is
trying to fish from the raft with a rod, and several Spaniards are
busy plaiting oyster-­baskets with thin flexible tendrils.

Jungle, rain forest, twilight

The crew is working its way through labyrinths of lianas, search-
ing for herbs and roots. With the tips of their swords they care-
fully dig up maniok roots and yucca plants from the soft moist
soil. Parrots are shrieking and a laughing mockingbird bleats.
A Spaniard proudly carries a killed snake and shows it to the
44 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

On the river, noontide

Spaniards are cooking their leather belts in a kettle, adding
green herbs. With a spoon, Carvajal dispenses the last of the
flour, which he had actually meant to reserve for the hosts. “We
should have salt,” someone complains. The kettle, closer. During
the stirring, the single boot of the lost man soon rises to the sur-
face. It is already soaked through and soft. The mood seems to
be far better than the day before, some courage has seemingly
returned to the men. Aguirre stands with Fuenterrabia and
Bermudez at the front of the raft, gazing steadily outward. Can
those be houses, those white things over there, asks Bermudez.
Aguirre thinks he has been deceived, that it was merely the sand
on a sandbank.
And up ahead, Bermudez timidly reflects, can that be a canoe
with two people in it. Where, there’s nothing to see, says Fuenter-
rabia. But there, indeed, on the very edge of the jungle is a boat.
The camera studies the woodland fringe and, as a matter of fact,
half hidden by tree limbs, a dugout canoe is afloat. Aguirre di-
rects the two oarsmen to steer toward it quickly. Coming closer,
we can recognize two Indians, a man and a woman, in a twenty-­
foot-­long dugout canoe. Having noticed the raft, they advance to-
ward the Spaniards with oars dipping slowly, half surprised and
half afraid, while the Spaniards are working wildly so the canoe
can’t get away. Now we see that both Indians are dressed only in a
loincloth. The man is athletic and sinewy. The utmost excitement
reigns on the raft. Once the canoe, timidly moved forward by the
two Indians, is close enough, it is boarded by the Spaniards with
a crude jolt. The two Indians are dragged aboard and Fuenter-
rabia tries to make a go at the woman at once. Aguirre stops him.
Spaniards have jumped into the boat and triumphantly pull out
several fish of three feet or more, which the Indians apparently
have caught with bows and remarkably long arrows.
Before the Spaniards direct any questions to the Indian, who
seems to be rather small and of middle age, he begins talking
slowly and with dignity, while held fast by several men. Baltasar
answers him in a peculiar Indian dialect, and for a while the
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 45

Indians talk with each other as if they were alone on board. He

should translate at least, curses Perucho.
Baltasar and the strange Indian near him. Baltasar says, the
man already knew from his forefathers that one day Sons of the
Sun would come floating down the river, and they surely had come
from afar with enormous hardships. He wanted to offer them
whatever food he had and would prepare them a hammock, so at
last they would get some rest. Yes, for a long time they had waited
for the Sons of the Sun, since here, on this river, God had not
finished his creation.
Aguirre wants to know what he was wearing around his neck
on the string, and when he does not get an answer forthwith,
Fuenterrabia rips the amulet off the Indian’s neck. “Gold,” he
says, breathlessly. “Gold, gold,” say the Spaniards. Wondrous and
bewildered, the Indian is confronted by the Spaniards’ greed.
Where the country of El Dorado is, that is what the Spaniards
want to know. But the Indian cannot give them any information
as to where he got the gold from. From further downriver, the
man indicates. This is too vague for the Spaniards, but the Indian
is in no position to estimate the distance in leagues. Two days, he
thinks, but fails to answer whether this is on foot or by boat. He
says that he already knew about the raft, for the Indians further
upriver had spread the news in advance that strangers were com-
ing with thunder-­cloud noise that they produced from tubes.
Carvajal, waiting impatiently all this time for his turn, asks the
Indian if he had heard of our Savior Jesus Christ and of the True
Word of God. The Indian is very confused and gives no answer.
This, here, is a Bible with the Word of God, and they had come to
carry God’s Light into the darkness. While saying this he shows
him a Bible. The Indian is dumbstruck and does not comprehend
a thing. Yes, within this book is the Word of God, Carvajal insists.
Deeply disturbed, the Indian picks up the Bible and puts his ear to
it, listening. “It does not speak,” he says and casts the Bible to the
floor. Highly incensed, some Spaniards seize him at once and kill
him on the spot. The Indian woman is injured defending herself
and falls overboard. She drowns instantly. “Perhaps that was a
mistake,” says Aguirre.
46 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

On the river, rain

The current is pushing the raft on, giving it no other choice.
Thundershowers pour down heavily and accelerate the decay-
ing of the clothes. Already the Spaniards’ harnesses have a thick
layer of rust. A bundle of canvas is almost covered with mold.
The Indians’ pirogue has been tied to the rear of the raft, floating
along with it.
Again, distinctly visible through the rushing of the rain, the
woodland slips into silence. The Spaniards start to stir, but they
obviously lack their former energy; many of them seem rather
weak. Aguirre gives the order to shoot at regular intervals. The
one cowardly man once more draws a blanket over his head, and
the wounded Arnalte is covered with canvas as well. It looks as if
he is slowly going downhill, he hardly responds anymore.
The man beneath the blanket is teased by his comrades, but
apparently this does not bother him. He maintains his cowering
posture beneath the blanket.
Under Aguirre’s supervision, Bermudez has poured the last
of the corn from an almost-­empty bag into a bowl, and under the
hungry eyes of all, the corn is dispensed kernel by kernel, counted
out carefully. Some stray gunshots still rumble across the water.
The arquebuses also get their ration. It is quite a laconic scene.
No one says a word, just one of them counting the kernels. A man
stands entranced beneath the cover of a bale, mutely recounting
his kernels. Bermudez calls out for Manrique, but the man under-
neath the blanket does not answer. An arquebus shooter nudges
him with his foot, but still he does not stir. Then Perucho comes
over to make sure. He lifts up the blanket a bit, and beneath it
sits the man named Manrique with his head bent back, looking
upward with a glassy ecstatic gaze. He is totally stiff and dead.
Some of the men refuse to believe it, but they find a small dart
with a tiny cotton puff sticking in his neck. He could have been hit
only in the instant when he threw the blanket over himself, says
Perucho. He had the impression that something had come flying
in like a shadow, but he had not seen where it came from, nor did
he have an impression from having seen it directly at all.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 47

The terror on the raft increases, and the Spaniards make a

lot of noise so that they won’t have to listen to the stillness. They
are shooting about wildly, even making a racket with the pots
and pans. We look at the raft from a distance. The powder clouds
mingle with the steam from the warm rain, and from the raft
comes an infernal noise. The dusky jungle stands quite taciturn
in the pouring rain. On the raft Perucho’s parrot starts to scream.

Indian settlement by the river

Seen from the raft. All the men have crowded together at the front
end of the raft, staring with fascination at an Indian settlement up
ahead. The houses, about a hundred of them, stand close together
on top of thin poles several yards above the ground, and for the
first time we see a free spot on shore, and a clearing. The build-
ings are airy and their side walls consist of fluttering bast mats,
the roofs are covered with palm fronds. Several canoes have been
drawn ashore and fish nets are lying about to dry. Over the village
huge clouds of smoke are rising up into the sky, and at the edge of
the clearing some storehouses are burning completely ablaze. No
man anywhere in sight, no sound, only the ghostly crackling of the
fire. Up on the patio of the nearest house, hammocks in the wind
lashed to the posts of the house are rocking gently in the wind.
The Spaniards do not fire any shots, they merely let themselves
drift ever so cautiously near the pillared settlement, allowing the
raft to run aground on the sand quite delicately, without tying
it up at all. Aguirre signals his men to wait. For a long time the
Spaniards wait in front of the abandoned village. They are appar-
ently afraid of a trap. Now we recognize the open square, which
has been kept free by the houses in the center of the settlement.
From there, a path leads upward into the jungleland. Some fish
nearby are hanging on a line to dry.
After a long silent wait, Aguirre whispers an order to Fuenter-
rabia to guard the raft with five men. At the head of his gang of
wild and starved men, he then storms straight into the settlement.
While running, the Spaniards fire shots from their arquebuses,
48 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

wave their swords and storm forward, shouting. They search the
first houses in no time and then stand back from the burning
A Spaniard cries out from a house that he has found a pot filled
with food that was still quite warm. The others storm this house
yelling. We see a Spaniard try to catch a wild turkey in an enclosed
square. At last, overwhelmed with greed, he flings himself on top
of the bird. Two men rush toward the jungle path where the dried
fish are hanging but, all of a sudden, the jungle is raining arrows.
One of the pair is wounded instantly above the eye, and only with
some difficulty can the others withdraw. “There they are, in the
jungle,” one of them screams, and Aguirre rushes ahead with
about ten men. All fire madly into the woodland, but the Indians
are invisible, only shooting whole clouds of arrows. The Spaniards
slowly withdraw, the provisions being their lone concern.
Now we behold a Spaniard kneeling by a track in the sand in
the open square greedily licking the ground. Others come along.
“Salt!” they scream, filled with ecstasy. Tears stream down the
face of a Spaniard who now licks the ground. Suddenly, a strange
scene. Like a vision, Inez in her most beautiful long royal gown
of purple velvet steps upright across the square past the burning
storehouses. Her face is waxen and her hair is flowing down to
her shoulders. The men licking the ground glance up, rigid with
surprise. Unable to trust their eyes, they do not move. Inez walks
directly toward the jungle fringe like a queen, and a moment later
she disappears into the dark glade. “Captain, sir!” someone calls
now to Aguirre, but no one dares to go near the jungle. The path
lies silent and dusky, swallowed up by the jungle after just a few
feet. For a long time our gaze remains fixed to the path.

Indian settlement, toward evening

Almost all the Spaniards are gathered on the raft where they have
accumulated their modest catch. They have placed a turkey in
one of the empty chicken coops. Whispering, the men are talking
about Inez. Bermudez tells Aguirre in a low voice that those five
men left on board would not broach the matter but, rather, would
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 49

keep their mouths shut. Inez had left the moment that Flores had
gone with the monk to find fresh water for the sick Arnalte, but,
in his opinion, she was raped by the men. Anything was possible
with Fuenterrabia and his gang. We shall see whether she can be
found again, says Aguirre, but avoids clearing up the matter fully.
Flores is sitting with the wounded Arnalte, apparently deeply
shocked. She hardly moves at all, and by her face she seems to
be thirty.
Seven heavily armed men are coming from a gap in the jungle
across the open square, toward the raft. Two of the men carry the
line with the dried fish in between them. They were not able to de-
tect anything, Perucho reports, as they had cautiously penetrated
into the jungle for about half a league but had not uncovered any
natives. Then the path had branched out into two smaller paths,
and first they had followed the one, then the other. But they had
returned without delay, having been afraid of traps. One of the
men, he would not say who, had been seized with mortal terror
because of the profound stillness in the forest. They had not found
any trace of Inez de Atienza, not even a footprint.
“Men,” says Aguirre, “our number must not be reduced any
further.” The men around him are depressed because of the de-
serted place. Remnants of the storehouses are still glowing in the
The Spaniards have kindled some fires on the sand in front of
the raft and are busy preparing a big meal. They all sit expectantly
for the food to be distributed, and on the open square facing the
jungle, twin sentries are keeping vigil. Judging from the way the
Spaniards have arranged things, they must feel relatively secure.
A man is sitting in the sand somewhat removed from the oth-
ers, talking softly and urgently to another man. The two, a little
closer. The soldier sitting with his back to the crowd of Spaniards
tries to persuade the other that it would be better to leave the
squadron in order to return to Peru by land somehow with a fair
amount of provisions. He had had enough by now, this under­
taking would only mean the certain perdition of them all.
Sitting with his crew, Aguirre starts listening and subtly di-
rects his attention toward the discontented man. The latter has
50 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

talked himself into a passion and raises his voice carelessly. It

would still be preferable to put him on trial in Peru for having dis-
obeyed orders, but it should be possible to keep marching along-
side the river, that is to say, during the night, since during the day
they would have to hide.
Aguirre very cautiously nudges Fuenterrabia, who starts lis-
tening as well. “The man is a head taller than I am,” he says in a
low voice, “but that may change.” Fuenterrabia has understood.
He casually rises, taking his sword with him as if only inciden-
tally. Apparently having nothing in mind, he walks near the sol-
dier sitting with his back to him and who is just explaining to his
comrade, by means of a rough sketch, how many days march they
would need from here. “Five, six, seven,” he counts. Fuenterrabia
has stopped behind him and is raising his sword. The man to
whom this plan is being explained doesn’t dare say anything in
his terror. He just sits there rolling his eyeballs around, twisting
his face into a horrible grimace, trying to tell his partner to turn
around. But the discontented man has talked himself into such a
passion that he continues counting, oblivious to the rolling of the
eyes. “Eight, nine,” he says. At this moment, Fuenterrabia cuts
off his head from behind with an awful blow. “Ten,” the head still
says, already in flight.
With the entire camp paralyzed by surprise, Aguirre rises. “I
am the Great Betrayer,” he says. “There must be no one greater.”
A long silence ensues, no one dares to move. “Men,” says he, “I,
Aguirre, am the Wrath of God.” Then he commands Bermudez,
the scrivener, to come forth. In front of everyone he now dictates
a document. Whoever removes himself even mentally from this
doomed troop shall be cut up into ninety pieces, which shall be
trampled upon to such an extent that the walls might be painted
with them. Whoever eats one kernel of corn more than his share
shall be imprisoned for one hundred and fifty-­five years. He who
would let himself drift downstream to act out the role of his own
fate, however, shall be assured of riches unlike anyone has ever
seen at any time before. If he, Aguirre, willed the birds to drop
dead from the trees, the birds shall drop dead from the trees.
Upon reaching El Dorado, he and his daughter shall establish a
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 51

new Very Pure Dynasty. This was the Course of History, and al-
ready it had been chosen for this country, irrevocably.
Aguirre asks for the finished document and signs it: Aguirre,
the Wrath of God.
The men are duly impressed and shout with joy. Even Carvajal
displays great enthusiasm. Fuenterrabia and Perucho fire their
arquebuses into the sky and rejoice. The buildings are standing
atop their stilts and some hammocks are gently rocking in the
wind. The joyful shouts are echoed by the dead-­silent woodland.
Flores is sitting on the raft next to Arnalte, whose health has
deteriorated visibly, and wondering, first she looks at Arnalte then
at Chimalpahin, the Inca. The latter is staring serenely and rest-
fully at some clouds puffing up on the twilit horizon.

On the river, lower course of the Amazon

The river has widened immensely now, sometimes measuring
about six miles, then again it is divided into a great number of in-
tertwined branches. Islands overgrown with jungle appear more
and more frequently. Entire formations of trees with their soil and
roots pointing skyward are floating like islands toward the sea.
There the raft is drifting.
At first glance we notice that the situation on the raft has
degenerated considerably. The gaps are wide and there are only
about twenty men left. Some of them are lying wracked with fever,
and Juan de Arnalte can hardly breathe. The whole raft is rotting,
and no one tries to save it anymore. The tuft of grass between the
two logs has grown markedly. Ahead of the raft, the river splits
into several branches, and the two oarsmen are unable to decide
which to take. At last, taking Aguirre’s advice, they decide to take
the widest one, on the extreme left. The raft drifts slowly on and,
beyond a bend, the branch of the river winds up in the jungle.
Slowly the raft drifts toward the end of the blind alley. We realize
now that this branch of the river continues on through the jungle,
that all of the trees are standing in the water. Very depressed, the
Spaniards on board let themselves float close to the trees without
doing anything.
52 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Aguirre assigns Perucho the task of taking the canoe, which

is still bound to the raft, out among the trees to see how far they
would have to go to come to the open river again. If necessary,
they would cut down the trees en route to get through, for it was
almost impossible to get the raft into another branch of the river
against the current.
Perucho sets out with three men, we are with him. Slowly the
canoe penetrates into the dusk of the jungle. The oars dip quietly,
and the long slender canoe proceeds slowly among the huge tree
trunks. Lianas are dangling down touching the boat. Far away
a jaguar roars. Leaves the size of a wagon wheel are floating on
the water with turned-­up edges, huge water lilies among them.
Brooding dusk in the woodland. All around, the staring of flow-
ers, the ardor of orchids. The men in the canoe are very quiet.
Monkeys begin to chatter above them, single leaves are fluttering
down and start to float. The men are crouching in terror and only
row lightly. The water stretches out through the jungle endlessly.

Return journey on the blind river branch

We now spot the raft on the jungle fringe, and all of the men on
board are trying desperately to pull the raft backward against
the current while holding on to the overhanging limbs. Grabbing
the limbs with their hands, they lean back with all their might
and thus move the vessel almost imperceptibly upstream. To the
rear of the raft, four men are working with long poles with which
they poke the ground. Aguirre is among them, working indefati-
gably, unflinchingly. He pays no attention to the mosquitoes that
are torturing him. He pokes his pole vertically into the ground
and leans against it until it slowly becomes diagonal and sinks
into the muddy water almost up to his hands. Then he pulls it
out again.
Even Flores and Baltasar with his chained hands try to pull
themselves forward with the branches, and the monk, who looks
ever more savage, is working with them as well. His hair has
grown bushy and has gotten all matted like boiled sheep’s wool.
We now observe the raft somewhat further along, at a place
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 53

where the jungle recedes several feet and leaves a small, sandy
space on the bank. Except for the four men still punting to the
rear, everyone else has gotten off to drag the raft along with ropes.
They have placed the ropes over their shoulders and are leaning
forward, almost horizontally, their feet planted into the sandy
ground. With awesome effort they gain ground, step by step. All
of them utterly exhausted, they just stagger along.
This unspeakable labor has prevented them from noticing
that no sound has come from the jungle in quite some time. All
at once there is a strange rustle, and the first man bolts upright
with considerable strain, an incredibly long arrow in his chest.
The man, closer. He drops the rope and calmly grabs the arrow
with both hands, the tip of which is sticking out of his back. The
arrow is sticking up about six feet in front, pointing diagonally
into the air. The man calmly measures the arrow with his eyes.
“The long arrows have come into fashion,” he says. Then he col-
lapses and dies.
In a panic, all of the Spaniards drop their ropes and jump on
board. Instantly the raft begins to drift indolently once again.
The men fire about wildly, completely mad. The arquebusmen are
working like crazy, shooting volleys into the jungle, which is mov-
ing past slowly like before. Amid the thunder of guns, the raft is
drifting back the same way in bluish smoke. At last Aguirre suc-
ceeds in bringing the raft to a halt with a hook, attaching it to a
strong branch.

Amazon delta, about one hundred miles upland

The river has branched out more and more, and we behold a vast
region of parting and rejoining tributaries. In the midst of a damp
stifling steam, the raft floats along between two islands. Rain falls
at a distance, the walls of water streaming down from the sky as
gray as glass.
Most of the men on board the raft are lying down, scarcely one
of them having strength enough to look ahead, due to exhaustion,
sickness, and hunger. Resignation has spread on deck. Juan de
Arnalte is dying, and Flores kneels with the monk alongside him
54 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

to pray. Aguirre has gotten a rash on his neck, but he is the only
one who seems unresigned. He walks up and down the raft, ac-
complishing most of the work himself.
A Spaniard suddenly arises. “Don’t you hear drumming?” he
says. There is a slight commotion among the others. All of them
strain to hear something, yet no one can hear a thing. “Yes,” says
another one, suddenly. “Don’t you hear?” Ta-­room toom-­toom.
He indicates the rhythm with his finger. “You are mad,” says
Fuenterrabia. “Come on,” Perucho’s parrot says.

On a sandbank, the jungle beyond

The raft has been tied, and Perucho fires a single shot into the
stillness of the jungle before him. “We are being watched. When
it gets quiet, someone will have to die.” But, nevertheless, the few
Spaniards who have survived are so starved and sick that they
go ashore. Some of them lean on sticks out of sheer exhaustion
and start searching the sand for something edible. A few of them
penetrate into the jungle, and one is so exhausted that he creeps
on all fours into the woodland.
To the rear of the raft, Carvajal and Chimalpahin sink a crudely
made fishnet into the water. They are both pensive and mum.
Flores is sitting near them, dreamlost, singing to herself in a
very low voice. She sings a song:

Fish are filling up the nets,

Pike and perch.
Our Noble Host has wine and such
So good and more than much.

Fish are filling up the nets,

Bass and butt.
Our Noble Host has wine and such
So good and more than much.

Fish are filling up the nets,

Carp and trout.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 55

Our Noble Host has casks of beer

So very good and stout.

How these things are bountiful fare,

How they are beyond compare!

How these things are made to please,

How they make for mutual ease!

How these things are here in masses,

Just for a while and then it passes!

Sandbank, toward evening

Some luggage from the raft has been brought ashore, and a small
smoky fire has been lighted. The Spaniards slowly emerge from
the jungle one by one, most of them carrying some yucca plants
or other herbs. One of them has even shot a big bird of paradise.
Apathetically they crouch around the fire and, while eating part of
the meal raw, begin to prepare the food. After a long silent spell,
one of them asks of the stillness, “Where is Pedro?” “Yes,” says
another, “Empudia is missing.”
Aguirre orders three men to look for Empudia, Fuenterrabia
among them. At these trees, he points out, is where Empudia crept
into the jungle quite some time ago. The three men penetrate into
the forest, making their way forward, bending the branches apart.
They come across an enormous moldering tree that lies there de-
feated by creepers. And there, on the ground, a horrifying image.
The man named Empudia is on all fours on the ground, stiff and
dead, his mouth still filled with palmshoots, upon which he had
been grazing like an animal. Empudia has a tiny blowgun dart
in his neck, and seems to be completely rigid. “Come, quickly!”
shouts Fuenterrabia filled with horror, now firing his arquebus
into the foliage. Twigs are crackling, there is a rustling sound,
and the Spaniards burst through the branches. All of them be-
come paralyzed with fright. “Baltasar,” we suddenly hear Flores
cry from the sandbank.
56 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

The Spaniards come creeping out of the jungle and run to

the sandbank. There lies the raft, and in the middle of the river
Chimalpahin is slowly rowing away with the canoe. He does not
turn around, since he knows he is already beyond the reach of
their guns. He works the paddle with his two hands tied and,
utterly calm, he disappears behind a densely overgrown island.
“Now he dies alone,” says Aguirre. Far away, evening is drawing
near, and walls of rain are towering over the river.
Then Perucho notices that a bundle of luggage is floating on
the water, that the water level has risen. This is a flood, this was
because of the rain, he says. Yes, the water had been up to here
a couple of hours ago, now it has almost reached the fireplace.
“Men,” says Aguirre, “I feel the ocean.”

Amazon delta, about sixty miles upland

The same picture as often seen before. Only twelve men are still
alive on board. Two corpses are lying wrapped in blankets. Ap-
parently one of the dead is Juan de Arnalte, but no one has any
strength or energy left to bury the dead, or to throw them over-
board. Almost everyone is sick and totally degenerate, a piteous
sight. Carvajal talks to the men and tells them to show repen-
tance, for their sins had led them deep-­down to the sea. The tide
was growing steadily stronger, and they would drift three leagues
forward and then two back again. That was a clear sign from
Heaven. “Quiet, monk!” Aguirre thunders at him. They had not
found El Dorado, it was just a delusion perhaps, but now it was
time to make new plans.
A sudden outcry from the front of the raft. “A brigantine, cer-
tainly, there is a Spanish ship.” It passes through the raft like a
shock. Now we are looking across the river at the jungle where,
indeed, a brigantine is sitting in the treetops, about one hundred
yards upland. Upon coming closer we see that the sails are tat-
tered and creepers are growing round the main mast; it is like a
ghostly vision. The men on board think they are dreaming. That
wasn’t a Spanish boat, how could it be, it is utterly impossible, ar-
gues Perucho. The others are dumbstruck. Those with a fever sink
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 57

into their dreams. Someone should investigate this, says Aguirre,

while the raft is stationary. Judging by the marks on the trees, it
did look as though the tide sometimes rose about twelve fathoms
until it went over the tops of the trees, and if the water sank af-
terward once more, it could happen that a ship would get caught.
He will convince himself of this.
Aguirre sets out with Perucho and Carvajal, but Perucho fol-
lows behind hesitantly. The three of them work their way through
the jungle and soon reach the brigantine, the keel does not even
reach to the boggy floor of the jungle. The men try climbing a
giant tree overgrown with creepers, but already Carvajal is too
weak and lags behind. Perucho and Aguirre reach the deck of the
boat, which is densely grown over with creepers, soil, and foliage.
Perucho touches the wood he is standing on ever so timidly, and
hardly dares to step on it. Moldy sails are flapping lazily in the
wind and moldy ropes are dangling from the decks. It is a ghostly
scene. This cannot be, this is not a Spanish ship, says Perucho.
Aguirre tries to find something on board, but the boat is com-
pletely empty.
Long view from the boat, circling the jungle. As far as the
eye can see, clusters of tree after tree, treetops like an unknown
sea. Some solitary mud-­flowing branches of the lazy river among
them, an unimaginable sight.

On the raft
Aguirre has returned with his two men and, at first glance, the
men rise up against him belligerently. This is enough by now, says
Fuenterrabia, all of them have now had enough, they will not go
on. Aguirre quickly takes off himself and makes his way toward
the raft, utterly resolved, while Fuenterrabia tries to stop him. But
he himself is not so sure of the men behind him, either. Aguirre
warns his men not to let themselves be deceived by hallucinations,
thereby getting so confused; he had convinced himself with his
own eyes and hands that the boat really existed. Indeed, they had
not reached El Dorado, and the sea was very close, but now the
time had come to make even bolder plans. They would—­and he
58 Aguirre, the Wrath of God

was hereby calling on everyone to follow him—­build a brigantine

upon reaching the sea, and then they would sail northward, up
to the Isle of Trinidad, to wrench the Spanish colony there away
from the local governor. From there—­and never again would the
world witness a greater treachery—­they would take all of the land
from the undeserving Pizarro and Cortez, for now they wanted to
have power over the whole of New Spain and New Andalusia. A
great New and Pure Dynasty would emerge mighty in the world.
“The Wrath of God has spoken!” cries Aguirre. “Who is for me?”
Four men stand beside Aguirre only hesitantly, Perucho
among them. Aguirre realizes that he will not have the majority
on his side any more. “Flores, come here!” he cries. “Thou shalt not
witness this disgrace.” Flores advances toward her father and he
stabs her on the spot. Sighing, Flores sinks to the ground. “Monk,”
says Aguirre, “do not forget to pray, lest God’s end be uncomely.”
The two parties immediately begin to fight, a swift and savage
melee during which the raft frees itself from the bank. Some of
the feverish men can no longer partake in the fighting. The raft
drifts away as we realize that several people on board have been
wounded, and Aguirre’s head is bleeding. Then the fight is sud-
denly over. We cannot tell why.

Amazon delta
For a long time we watch the raft drift distantly on the river, with-
out any pilot whatsoever. It first moves backward for awhile, then
it comes to a standstill and starts floating forward. It is very quiet,
and the water is hardly flowing any more.

Mouth of the Amazon, open sea

We see a broad tributary flow into the open sea, and hundreds of
small and smaller islands are lying before it. Heavy clouds, tower-
ing up into the sky. The raft is slowly drifting between two islands
overgrown with jungle, and further away we see the waves of the
sea. The raft is pilotless, and from a distance we recognize several
corpses piled up on the tree trunks. The two sedans are silhou-
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 59

etted against the horizon, and only a small part of the bast roof is
still intact. Across the vast surface of the water a cry is echoing.
“El Dorado,” Perucho’s parrot screams.
Long, long view. Then, when the raft has reached the open sea,
and drifts out among the long-­drawn waves, the camera turns to
the land with an ineffable view over the islands. Above the jungle,
pillars of smoke are rising everywhere. Bonfires are lighted in the
jungle. From the profound silence, drums begin to sound from
afar, accompanied by intoxicated flutes. Rain clouds are tower-
ing high.
There it lies, the Sad Country.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All

For Lotte Eisner

(“The oarsman sat quietly and praised the journey.”)


Kaspar Fuhrmann, parson

The Unknown Man Katy, Daumer’s housekeeper
Weickmann, shoemaker Lord Stanhope
Cavalry Captain Hombrecito, Indian
Hiltel, prison guard The Little King
Mrs. Hiltel Mozart
Julius, Hiltel’s son and others

Small, half-­obscured room, Kaspar’s prison

There is a deep gloom. From out of the darkness of the picture
dawn arises, and in the first dawning we see Kaspar. He snorts
and makes animal noises. Over the persistent and unfriendly
dawn the titles appear.
Somewhat more light. The room is dusky, hardly bigger than
Kaspar when he lies stretched out. Cool, side walls rather irregu-
lar, as in a cellar, flattened straw on the floor. At about shoul-
der’s height, if one stood up in the tiny room, there are two small
62 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

rectangular windows side by side, each only as big as a book, and

scarcely any light penetrates the interior from outside. It is only
from a few exceedingly thin crannies that we see how the windows
are sealed from outside with stacked wooden logs. To Kaspar’s
left, two little wooden horses whose feet are rooted in a small
plank beneath little wheels. Besides the horses an additional toy,
a small somewhat crudely carved dog, also on wheels. All of the
animals are painted white. Some colored ribbons are tied around
the animals in disorderly fashion, they are loose because Kaspar
doesn’t know what a knot is. Further on is an empty jug of water,
and in a small spot where the straw has been carefully cleared
away there are two slices of bread, still untouched. To Kaspar’s
right, just a hand’s breadth away from his hip, is a wooden lid
that closes at floor level, an earthenware pot is underneath it. To
Kaspar’s rear we can discern the outline of a low door, but Kaspar
shows interest only for his jug and his animals.
Kaspar is sitting in the room in a strange position of com-
plete equanimity, his feet outstretched away from his body and
his legs flat on the ground, even the backs of his knees are com-
pletely flattened out. From the knees downward his legs are cov-
ered with a coarse woolen blanket, but through the blanket the
outline of his naked toes is visible. Kaspar sits on the floor in a
peculiar half-­crouched posture, twisted up somewhat, and when
he turns a bit to the side we notice that he is tied to the ground
by the waistband of his leather pants. Kaspar is dressed other-
wise only in a loose shirt and suspenders. From the manner of
his movements we perceive that he doesn’t even have the will to
sit erect, that the state of being tied to the ground doesn’t bother
him in the least, and that he apparently accepts this as part of his
anatomy. Kaspar radiates an animal’s neglect.
Kaspar nestles amid the ribbons of his toy horses, yet he
doesn’t move them away from their places. Then he lifts the jug,
putting it to his mouth, but there is no more water in it. For a
long, long time Kaspar holds the jug up high by his mouth, as if
after a while the water would start to come by itself.
Now, once the titles are over, Kaspar’s voice begins to emerge,
it is intense but hesitant, piercing us through and through.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 63

KASPAR’S VOICE: I want to say myself how hard it be for me.

There, where I was always lokked in, in this prison, it seemed
there wel to me, becos I knew naught of this world, and so
long as I was lokked in and never seen no human being.
I had two wood orses and a dog, and with these I always
played, but I cannot say if I played all the day or the week,
I knew not when was a day or a week, and I wanto describe,
how it looked like in the prison, there was straw in it. And
my trousers were open behind, there I taken off the lid, and
there I relieved nature. And besides, there was nothing there,
nor a stove, neither. The toy orses I moved not from their
place, becos I knew not that you can move them, and the rib-
bons fell off becos I knew no knot. I knew naught that there
was other humans, never have I perceived one of those, never
a thunderstorm, neither. Since my mouth become dry, I very
often take the little jug in my hand and place it to my mouth
very very long, but water never came out, I waited some time,
whether water came out soon, becos I knew not that it must
be filled, whilst I was asleep.
A long, long time was I lokked in there, I knew no other.
I knew naught from the world, becos never I had seen a man,
never a house, a tree, or hears a sound, of speech I knew
naught at all. Also, it never came into my mind that I should
get up, since I was tied to the ground. That there come new
bread and that what I made was cleaned away, surprised me
not, becos I thought it come by itself.
I always been jolly and con-­tented, becos naught never
hurt me not; and thus I did all the time of my life, until the
man come, and teached me how to copy, but I knew not
what I did writ.

Behind Kaspar the door opens and the Unknown Man comes
in, Kaspar is unfrightened, unsurprised, and in complete equa-
nimity, letting everything happen to him. The man has a stool
with him, which he sets down across Kaspar’s legs. He places
a sheet of paper upon it, puts a pencil into Kaspar’s hand, and,
64 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

approaching him from the back, closes his fist around Kaspar’s
hand and guides it.

KASPAR’S VOICE: When now the man come for the first time to
me; but I heard not how he come, at once, he has placed a
little chair in front of me, and ther he brings a paper and a
piece of pencil. All at once the man grips me by the hand and
puts the pencil in my hand.

The Unknown Man doesn’t utter a word. After a while he lets

Kaspar scribble on his own, but Kaspar draws only meaningless
zigzag lines. The Unknown Man defines the letters with Kaspar’s
fingers and, slowly, Kaspar begins to imitate the characters. We
see quite clearly and somewhat closer now that he is writing a
name: Kaspar Hauser.
The Unknown Man commences teaching Kaspar words, say-
ing “Horse” several times, enunciating very intensely. Kaspar
pauses, listening for a long time. The Unknown Man grabs the
little horse, and guides Kaspar’s left hand to the horse. He rolls
the little horse back and forth. “Horse,” says Kaspar, touching the
horse. The Unknown Man makes him repeat this several times,
again guiding his right hand to write. “Remember this,” he says.
“Remember this,” says Kaspar. “Remember this, repeat this, then
you will get such a beautiful horse from Father as well,” says the
Unknown Man. “From Father,” says Kaspar. The Unknown Man
cautiously disengages himself from Kaspar and disappears into
the background; Kaspar is by himself once more. It is getting
somewhat darker.

KASPAR’S VOICE: Then he has learnt me this, and guided my

hand, and the man was behind me, and then I made it
myself and I made it alone, this writing, for a long time, like
this, and remembered all that he said, and from that time
I knowed how the orses are called. And the man was away
again, and I know not where he were, but he left the chair
and the paper, there I notice the man for the first time, I saw
him not, becos he was behind me, and how this man placed
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 65

the chair I left it, for I was not clever yet to remov the chair
when I layed down, and when I wake up again, then I drank
the water again, and ate the bread, then first I begun to
write, and then, that I finished the writ I took the orses and
arrayed them again, then I did with the orse likewise, as he
had showed me, and roled so hard that my own ears were
hurting . . .

At first daylight. Kaspar rolls the horses back and forth, press-
ing down hard on the left-­hand side, rolling them over the wooden
lid at last. There is a loud hollow noise. Kaspar utters loud glee-
ful cries, like an animal. Behind him the door opens, and a furi-
ous blow with a wooden log hits Kaspar on his elbow. Kaspar is
astonished beyond measure, his breathing stops with the fright.
The door slams hastily again, and the sound of steps two at a time
hurriedly withdrawing.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . then this man came and beat me with this
stick, and hath hurt me so much that I weeped quietly, so
that my tears fell down, and hath hurt me on my right elbow,
and I knew not where from this blow came forth, all at once,
and I knew not what a blow is, neither. There I keeped very
quiet, becos it give me a lot of pain, and so I arrayed my orses
and put the ribbons down softly: that I know not mysell how
softly I done it; and then, when I relieved my nature, I put
the lid away very softly, and from my straw, on which I sat
and layed, I never could go away, becos, first of all I knew
not how to walk, and secondly I could not go away. It was as
if something was keeping me there, and I never thought to
mysell that I wanted to leave, or that I was lokked in.

Dawn remains. We can see that Kaspar is sleeping deeply,

keeping the stool at the same place over his knees. The Unknown
Man enters by the door, unties Kaspar’s waistband from the floor
and dresses him with jacket and boots. He begins to lift the still
half-­sleeping Kaspar. Seen only from behind, he takes a handker-
chief and binds Kaspar’s hands. Then he props him up on his legs,
66 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

supporting him at the same time, and leans him against the next
wall. Kaspar allows his hands to slip down from him, he has no
idea that he is supposed to hold on. With his hip bent forward a
bit, the Unknown Man presses Kaspar against the wall so that he
doesn’t fall, and places Kaspar’s folded hands, which are bound
tightly around the wrists, around his neck from behind. Then he
takes Kaspar and carries him off, piggyback.

KASPAR’S VOICE: Now came this man and lifted me up from my

sleepe and dressed me with a jacket and boots, and when he
dressed me, he hath put me to the wall, and hath taken twoo
hands and put them on the neck. When he borne me out of
the prison he hath had to bow and hath borne me up over a
little mountain . . .

Lonely hill, big treetops

Dusk. The Unknown Man makes a great effort to climb the back
of the hill with Kaspar, some distance away from us. Beautiful
grass, a few broad and billowy old beech trees on the crest of the
hill. Over the trees a formidable storm threatens from the skies
far away, above a forest flaring up twice.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . there I froze so much, becos I never had the

air, and such a frightful odor hath attacked me, that it hath
hurt me very much. Then I started to crie, then the man hath
sayed and indicated, I should stop, or I get no orses . . .

Closer. On top of the hill, between the trunks of the beeches,

the Unknown Man puts Kaspar down, that is, face down to the
ground. The grass is fermenting from the rain. He unties the
handkerchief that is twisting Kaspar’s wrists together too tightly.
Exhausted, Kaspar sleeps. He awakens but doesn’t move because
he has never been lying down before. The Unknown Man grabs
him around his chest from behind and stands him on his legs.
Using his legs, he pushes Kaspar’s legs forward and makes the
first attempts at walking with him.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 67

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . but I cannot say wither the mountain hath

lasted long, becos I went asleep. And when I wake up, there
I was lying on the earth, and was lying on my face, and there
it smelled frightfully, and everything pained me. When I
awoke, I turned my head, there the man will have sawn me,
and hath come and lifted me, and hath learned me how to
walk, hath pushed away one foot after the other with his foot,
becos at the beginning he hath guided me on tween arms
and held me round my chest, becos I knew not what was a
step and what was walking. Since walking was so hard on
me and all hath hurt me so much, there I weeped and sayed,
“Orse, orse,” with this I would say to bring me back to where
I was lokked in . . .

The Unknown Man puts the obviously exhausted Kaspar down,

slowly it is starting to get dark, and a soft rain is falling. The Un-
known Man keeps prompting Kaspar with the sentence, “I want
to be such a one orse rider, as my father hath been.” Several times
Kaspar repeats after him haltingly, “Su a rider.” The Unknown
Man lifts Kaspar up again and, mercilessly, continues walking.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . from above there was a soft weeping and I

sayed orse, with this I would say, stop, there I knew not that
this was rain, and that the rain stops when it will. And there
my feet hurt so much that I really cannot say how, and there
he giv me some water and bread, and he keept behind me,
so that I shall not see his face never, and when I ate that up,
I surely made eight steps of my own, but the pains wouldn’t
stop. Then it grew dark and then I fell asleep at once, becos I
had made my farthest way alone.

It is growing dark. Deep night falls.

Way to town, dreamlost images

It is still dark when we hear Kaspar’s voice again. He speaks the
first sentences into the utter darkness. Then it grows light, overly
68 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

light. On an overly light green we recognize in a brief, but very

distinct, flash, single stalks of grass.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . Upon my awake, for the first time I noticed,

what was there, I seed things which before I never did know
of. There was a Green and a Grass, and it hath hurt mine
eyes, it was so bright . . .

It becomes glaringly bright, as if one were looking into the sun,

all is flooded with an overly light white.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . then we went away, then mine feet hurt so

much. The way there I do not remember where we went. There
was a path with tracks of wheels, there were needles from pine
trees on my coat, blown there, there the forest was sick . . .

A sandy path; we see in a flash the trail of a horsecart. Pine

needles on a jacket sleeve. The pine trees standing scantily in the
light, moving slightly, unreal.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . there was a cornfield, there it was so light,

that hurt me, and crickets screamed, and I thought they were
humans screaming there . . .

A wheat field whose borders are not visible, as if they were

electrically lit in glaring light. Overhead it seems to be like high
electric voltage. A borderless, unreal, mechanical, senseless field of
wheat. We hear the sharp chirping of the crickets screaming ever
louder, screaming all at once like human beings, shrill to the ears.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . there I sayed “be rider,” with this I wanted

to say the Screaming hurts, that I be tired of all this walk.
Then there was a mountain, a farmer, a dog, and I knew of
naught what they were . . .

The screaming of the crickets continues, like a human choir.

In very bright light we see, as if leafing through, a hill and a brook
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 69

in a valley. The brook is narrow and completely grown over with

grass. Willow stumps stand alongside the winding waterway. An
old ash tree at a distance. The dog bites his raging pains into the
bark of a tree. The farmer has a shotgun with him. The images
flicker out into brightness.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . there was a woman and a water, there was

a cattle by the water, and a boy was standing on it, that I was
all afrightened, I seed he was barefoot . . .

We see a woman stop short with her wash on a broad calm

creek, she pauses, dreamlost and semi-­erect, looking directly at
us, motionless. In the background, a bit downstream, an ox is
drinking, standing there in equanimity. On his back he carries
a boy of about five years who stands upright on bare feet; he is
holding a stick, which he beats against the flanks of the ox very
softly. He looks at us, the spectators, unflinchingly. Brightnesses
flicker across the screen like a thunderstorm. The crying of the
crickets stops.

The Tallow Square in the town of N., Kaspar’s birth

Townhouses all around, huddled closely together, the square
forms a lopsided rectangle. It is afternoon, a sunny day, music
and noises in the distance as if from a fair. Kaspar, passing
us, steps into the center of the square led on by the Unknown
Man. We observe both of them from behind. In the middle of
the square, the Unknown Man stops short. He looks hastily to
all sides, speaks urgently to Kaspar, who gives the impression of
total exhaustion, and then presses a letter into Kaspar’s hands.
He adjusts the hand in such a way that Kaspar holds the letter out
a little, as if he were about to hand it to someone. The Unknown
Man takes a step to the side, and Kaspar stands alone, swaying,
clumsily holding the letter before him, into the Void. Finally, the
Unknown Man takes his felt hat with the broad rim and puts it
into Kaspar’s other hand. Kaspar stands motionless, decorated
like some sort of fowl. We realize that the Unknown Man has
70 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

black hair. He leaves hastily at an angle to the side, his cape flap-
ping all around him.

KASPAR’S VOICE: . . . After that I must have rested twenty times,

untill we came into the Big Village. When we were in the
town, how ever, he hath given me a letter in to my hands and
hath sayed, I must stay there, untill somebody comes and
leads you there. And that I should like to be such a one rider
as Father hath been. There I stayed standing for a long while,
and suddenly, I saw all those houses, but then I knew not,
what they were, I knew not what houses are. There in town,
I came in to the World, I was borne there.

Kaspar, close. He sways slightly, trying in his clumsiness not

to change his posture if possible. Over-­exerted, he holds the letter
outstretched into the Void and keeps his hat extended, polite and
immobile in the other hand. His legs are placed one slightly before
the other as if he were stopping in midstep toward someone who is
not there. The toes point slightly inward, for only in this way can
Kaspar strain to keep himself upright. He stands half-­sunken into
himself. Nothing happens. Kaspar is surprised beyond all lim-
its. A dog crosses the empty square. Kaspar does not dare move,
stretching forth his letter. Then an old man appears in the back-
ground and slouches into a house. “Orse, orse,” and “Remember
this,” says Kaspar, maintaining his horrible posture. A little girl
carrying an even smaller girl passes by. “You there,” says the girl,
“did you see where Annelies has gone?” Kaspar’s face brightens,
his lame arm with the letter is visibly gaining force. “Be rider,”
says Kaspar, pleased.
Some time passes again, and Kaspar still stands on the square
with his hat drawn and the letter stretched out before him. The
shoemaker Weickmann is leaning from the open window above
his shop with his wife, a few of their green potted plants in front
of them. Weickmann sucks on his cold pipe and spits some dark
juice into a pot of geraniums. His fingers are brown with tobacco.
We notice that he is measuring Kaspar with his gaze. His wife is
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 71

staring down fixedly at that peculiar figure as well. There they

lean, waiting calmly to behold whatever will happen next.
Kaspar, close. Unable to extend his arm properly any more,
and lowering the letter somewhat, he nevertheless strains exces-
sively to offer it to an imaginary recipient. His mouth is contorted
by soundless weeping.
Weickmann knocks his pipe clean on his bootheel and then
approaches Kaspar from the side. “What are you doing here?”
says Weickmann. “As Father hath been,” says Kaspar. Weickmann
wants to know where he is going, whether or not he is a stranger
in town, and whether he, Weickmann, can help him with the
letter. “I wanto be such a one rider as Father hath been,” says
Kaspar. Weickmann is flabbergasted, he scans the letter more
closely. “To his Excellency, Cavalry Captain of the 4th Battalion
of the 6th Schwolian Regiment, N.,” he reads. “That is very close
by, just past Augustiner Lane, the Cavalry Captain has his house
right on the corner, I can show you the way there, or perhaps
the young man has something else to do.” Kaspar strains to
explain something, but merely extirpates unintelligible sounds
from within. “Orse,” he says at last. Weickmann wants to know
where this fellow who seems so uncanny has come from—­from
Erlangen or Ansbach, or from Regensburg? “Regensburg,” Kaspar
repeats after him. “Ah, Regensburg,” says Weickmann, pleased.
“Regensburg,” says Kaspar once again.

House of the Cavalry Captain

Weickmann rings the doorbell. Half-­conscious, Kaspar leans
against the wall beside him. Weickmann is holding the letter
now. After a second more insistent ringing of the bell, a servant
opens up while morosely buttoning his shirt, apparently having
been roused from his slumber. This young man here has come
from Regensburg, the cobbler explains, he is carrying a letter for
the Captain. The Captain is not home, the servant says, and just
as he is about to close the door he catches himself, for this af-
fair has struck him as being peculiar. The young man came from
72 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

Regensburg, but he has not explained himself very clearly because

he seems to be quite exhausted, says Weickmann; he proceeds to
gesture discreetly toward the servant with his hand on his head
indicating that the stranger is not in his right mind. For a while
they deliberate. The servant thinks the young man can relax a
bit on the straw in the stable, as the Captain surely won’t be back
until nightfall, at which time the young man could deliver his let-
ter. “Orse,” says Kaspar. “Yes, in the stable with the horses, on the
straw,” says the servant.

Horse stable
Kaspar lies on the straw in deathlike slumber. Even while sleep-
ing, he holds on to his hat in the way he received it. A horse bends
over him gently, gazing upon him intelligently for a long time.

Weickmann has gathered the Captain, the servant, a police no-

tary, two maids, and the shoemaker in the stable. In the back-
ground, the head of a stable boy peeks out from the hayloft. The
Captain and the police notary are visibly conscious of the signifi-
cance of this affair. Squinting, the Captain holds the letter out in
front of him and reads:

CAPTAIN: “From the Bavarian border, whose place is unnamed,

1828. Your Excellency Sir Captain!”
POLICE NOTARY: “Excellency, ha-­ha!”
CAPTAIN: “I diliver you a boy, who wants to serve his King faith-
fully he demands, this boy has been put to me, 1812 the 7 of
October, and I myself a poor day laborer, I have ten children
also, I have enough to do myself to make ends meet, and
his mother has put the child only for his education, but I
could not ask for his mother, now I did not say anything that
the boy has been put to me, at the Provincial Court. I have
thoght to myself I should have him for my son, I have edu-
cated him Christian and from time 1812 I have not let him
one step from the house, that Nobody knowed where he has
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 73

been grown up, and he himself knows not how my house is

called, and he doth not know the Place either, you may ask
him, but he sayeth nothing. I’ve teached him how to read
and writ, and when we ask him waht he be, he sayeth he also
wants to be such a one rider, what his Father hath been. If he
had parents, as he hath not, he had been a learnet fellow. You
may show him anything and he knows it right awai.
Dear Mister Cavalry Captain, you must not plague him
at al, he knoweth my abode not, where I stay, I have led him
awai by night, he knoweth not how to go hoam. I recommend
myself obedientli. I make not known my name, for I could be
And he hath no penny money with him, becos I have
nothing myself, if you keep him not, you have to cut him off
or hang him in the chimny.”

The servant tries to wake Kaspar, the people surrounding him

muse that he sleeps like a dead man. At last they put him on his
feet, but he continues to sleep standing upright as if deeply uncon-
scious. Weickmann attempts to prevent the Captain from using
brute force, and explains that the young man obviously is not too
clear in his mind, plus he can’t even walk properly, rambling more
than walking.
The Captain shakes Kaspar so hard that the horses are fright-
ened. Kaspar opens his eyes a slit and glances about for a moment,
ready to sink back into the recesses of his deep sleep. After a hefty
boot from the Captain’s foot, Kaspar at last comes alive, gazing
into the circle, carefully looking at their hands, however, instead
of their faces. Then he suddenly discovers the shining brass but-
tons on the Captain’s uniform and nestles against them gleefully.
Enthusiastically he grabs the epaulets of the Captain, who reacts
quite indignantly to this. The police notary wants to know what
his name is, where he comes from, and what his rank is. Since
Kaspar simply utters a low sound without answering, the notary
asks the same thing once more, speaking up now doubly loud.
Finally he starts to urge Kaspar in a piercing voice. Where does
74 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

he come from, who has brought him, where is his passport, and
what is his profession! “Rider be,” blurts Kaspar.
This fellow’s mental development seems to be in a condition of
veritable neglect, the Cavalry Captain remarks, an official inter-
rogation conducted by the police is useless in a case such as this.
Surely he must be hungry, a maid says in the hesitant lull while
handing Kaspar a slice of meat and a glass of beer. Kaspar tries
some of this, but as soon as he has touched the first morsel with
his mouth, his face twitching, visibly appalled and disgusted, he
spits the food out. The onlookers are at a loss. Kaspar begins to
moan softly and points to his feet. As the maid removes his boots
they have to support him or he cannot keep himself upright on one
leg; crowding in on him, the surrounding people become aware
that Kaspar’s feet are covered all over with blisters, most of them
open and bloody. His feet are as soft as silk, says the maid. And
the toenails are as soft and puffed up like bread crusts.
In accordance with the Captain’s command, Kaspar’s jacket is
taken off and his shirt opened. The servant discovers a vaccina-
tion mark on his arm. That is a definite sign that this foundling
belongs to the upper class, for they alone have their children vac-
cinated. He shall prepare a report on the physical condition of
the foundling, for how else can the authorities determine whether
or not this fellow is just some wicked impostor. Where does the
wound on his elbow come from, he questions louder and louder
until at last he just shouts at Kaspar.
Kaspar’s jacket, closer. The servant searches his pockets, pro-
ducing some printed pamphlets, and spreads them all out as the
Captain dictates to the notary for the record:

CAVALRY CAPTAIN: “A prayer book entitled ‘Spiritual Forget-­

Me-­Nots,’ a selection of beautiful and zealous matins by a
devout soul, Altoettingen.”
“A little rosary made of tortoise shell, with a metal
“A German key.”
“A printed brochure entitled ‘Six Pious and Forceful
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 75

“Likewise, one entitled ‘Spiritual Sentry,’ printed in

“A square piece of folded paper where, yes, indeed, we find
a small amount of gold dust.”

The boots, trousers, jacket, and hat will be subjected to an-

other, closer inspection, says the police notary. As things stand
now, this forsaken looking fellow shall be detained by the authori-
ties, he adds, to the visible relief of the Captain. There is no other
possibility, for where else shall we put someone like this.
Kaspar suddenly catches sight of the police official’s pencil and
snatches it. They let him. Kaspar starts scribbling on the sheet
of paper upon which the report has been written, first repeat-
ing single syllables as in writing exercises, then, almost illegibly:
Kaspar Hauser. With everyone shouting at him at once, Kaspar
shrinks completely back into himself. Apathetic and profoundly
indifferent, he lets them do what they want.

Prison in the tower, the drunk tank, seen from without

From outside: The door slams shut and Hiltel, the gray and hag-
gard prison guard, pushes several bolts. Then he opens the little
window in the door, watching the room. Through the window we
see Kaspar in a corner cowering on a straw mattress, totally ab-
sentminded, barefoot, and the hat still in his hands as he had
received it. In deep concentration he sniffs the straw and touches
it with his tongue.
Outside at the little window, the police notary, the Cavalry
Captain, and the servant are huddling close, seemingly visibly sat-
isfied with this solution. Perhaps he wasn’t all that unruly after
all, perhaps he was even fairly good-­natured, the police notary
suggests. He had come with them quite willingly and did not
give the impression that he wanted to make trouble for the time
being, until the authorities had arranged the case well enough
to take it up. They would question him under oath, for he didn’t
convey the image of a cretin or a madman, and would keep him
for a while in this tower for police convicts and vagabonds.
76 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

Drunk tank, interior

The cell is fairly large, it is filled with six cots, each covered with
a straw mattress and a blanket normally used to cover horses. A
drunkard is lying on one of the mattresses with his back to the
wall, snoring. He is thoroughly besmirched and neglected, and
lies on the cot fully dressed, his shoes resting on the blanket. His
shirt sticks out of his pants in the back, and the pants have slipped
down almost to his tailbone; his back is covered with dirty hair.
Heavy, gruesome snoring.
In front of the cot, half-­dried-­up vomit; we can tell it was a
noodle dish.
Kaspar, up close. He is completely withdrawn, in utter in-
difference, paying no heed to his surroundings. After lengthy
brooding cowering, he revives, glancing about without compre-
hending anything. Then his gaze fixes upon the window, which is
but lightly barred. Kaspar stumbles clumsily toward it and slowly
works his way up, placing his feet down flatly and lifting his knees
far too high. With his full front torso he leans against the window,
still clutching the hat with his right hand. He scans the exterior
with a stolid gaze but he doesn’t seem to perceive anything. His
eyes are a bit watery and inflamed, light floods inward over him.
He has not yet come to grips with the brightness outside.
View from the window. A tower window, we are overlooking
the roofs and gables of the town. Dead smoke oppresses the roofs.
Two jackdaws fly past. Longer view from the window. The drunk-
ard snores horribly and against all rules.

Drunk tank
The drunkard lies calmly, he has pulled his blanket up completely
and is breathing as softly as if he were dead.
Kaspar is sitting on the floor, shoving a wooden horse back
and forth as if entranced. He lets the wheels roll very quietly.
Toward the entrance of the room we now behold a silent wall of
people staring at Kaspar. From the entrance we feel pushing and
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 77

Kaspar glances up unperturbed, rolling his little horse on and

on. He is infinitely removed and peers through the people at a
still-­farther profundity as if they were made of glass. Suddenly,
rolling on with the horse, Kaspar utters the scream of an animal.
Dreamlike, he screams.

Hiltel’s apartment, the kitchen

Lunch around the kitchen table. The table has been set and
Mrs. Hiltel, a mild youngish woman, has taken her seat. She has
placed beside her the cradle with her baby who cries every now
and then. At such moments she touches the edge of the cradle
with her right hand without looking, while with her left she goes
on eating, undisturbed. Further back the stove crackles as a pot
steams away. We realize at first glance that the furnishings are
rather meager.
On the far side of the table there is a bench winding round
the corner, and Hiltel and his five-­year-­old son Julius are taking
great pains there to make Kaspar sit down. He tries to slide down
to the floor so he can sit with outstretched legs, and we realize
instantly that Kaspar has never before eaten properly. Kaspar is
newly dressed.
Hiltel lifts Kaspar onto the bench and tries to get Kaspar’s legs
to bend beneath the table. But in this position he topples forward
onto the table. At last, after lengthy efforts with this uncouth
foundling, Hiltel puts Kaspar at the corner of the table, permit-
ting him to stretch out his legs on the bench alongside the table.
Julius hands Kaspar a cup of water and the latter grabs it like his
jug with both hands, hastily emptying it with a single draught.
He holds the empty cup for such a long time that Julius eventu-
ally takes it from him. Julius grows into the role of teacher with
considerable ease and obviously enjoys instructing someone so
much older than himself. He shows Kaspar, by guiding his hand
into the cup, that the cup is empty. Then he turns the cup upside
down and the last drop drips slowly onto the table. Holding the
cup, he shows it to Kaspar and repeats: empty. Kaspar also says
78 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

“empty,” although he probably hasn’t grasped it yet. He apparently

thinks “cup,” since he grabs another cup that is still full while say-
ing “empty.”
“I say,” says Hiltel proudly, “that chap isn’t so bad, he is prov-
ing himself to be quite nimble. He is merely lacking manners.”
Julius puts a spoon into Kaspar’s hand and pushes forth a bowl
of soup. In a pronounced manner he mimicks the way to handle
it. Kaspar tries this as well, but at first he doesn’t touch his mouth
with the strange instrument. When he finally manages to try the
soup, he shudders with disgust and refuses to take anything else
but bread.
One would have to get him accustomed to normal food quite
gradually, Hiltel remarks to his wife, one would have to summon
a great deal of patience to turn this half-­ferocious beast-­man into
a decent chap.

Prison in the tower, drunk tank

The drunkard, who in the interim has sobered up, is sitting twisted
up on a cot. He is pressing his bent arms into his body and softly
moaning. He has a coarse face distorted by the booze, and one of
his ears is squashed like a sprout. “Jesus Maria,” says the man, “my
guts are killing me.” Beside him is an old rancid tramp, a new-
comer raising hell in his delirium. He curses and roars, “Fire, it’s
burning.” Kaspar’s corner. He sits in his customary position on the
floor beside Julius, serious like an adult. Julius pinches Kaspar’s
index finger. “Finger,” says Kaspar. He taps Kaspar’s hand. “Arm,”
says Kaspar. “No, hand,” says Julius, “the arm is the whole part up
to here.” “Hand,” Kaspar corrects himself, and then runs his right
hand all along his left arm up to his shoulder and says, “Arm.” He
is happy, he has understood.
“Fire, fire, the tower’s burning,” screams the old man in his
But Kaspar and Julius are so preoccupied that they don’t
hear him. Julius touches Kaspar’s mouth. “Mouth,” says Kaspar
forthwith, and then “nose,” tapping his own nose simultaneously.
“And this is the ear,” says Julius, touching Kaspar’s ear. “Ear,” says
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 79

Kaspar while touching his head with a frightened gesture. He

fondles his ear excitedly, it obviously is a sensational discovery for
him. “Yes, it really belongs to you, that you can truly believe,” says
Julius. “And there you have another one,” and pinches his other
one. Kaspar looks incredulous and confused. Then Julius pulls
the ear very hard, and Kaspar begins to realize that this ear really
belongs to him. “Fire-­ho,” screams the old man, and “Waitress,
bring me a beer!”
Julius takes a small round mirror from his pocket and holds
it in front of Kaspar’s face. “There, that is really your ear.” Kaspar
backs off, frightened, and when Julius brings the mirror even
closer, Kaspar lowers his eyes, evading the mirror like an animal.
Julius won’t give up, he pulls Kaspar’s ear and several times says
“ear” quite loudly. Kaspar finally gets up his courage and looks;
his gaze is that of a hare. He has yet to comprehend that he is
seeing himself. Bewildered, he leans forward to search behind
the mirror. “Waitress,” the one in the corner cries, “I have to pee.”

Wash house, the first bath

Kaspar sits in a big washtub with Julius, who is obviously there
to rid him of his fear of water. The water steams slightly from
the heat. Kaspar has the flesh of a larva. The prison guard’s wife
adds some more water because it is still too hot. Kaspar, feeling
fine and uttering sounds of wellbeing, starts kicking and splash-
ing about in the water just like a small child. Julius blows a small
paper boat across toward Kaspar’s chest, and he pats it gleefully
with the palm of his hand. The woman starts to soap Kaspar
down, poking into his ears with a rag to his displeasure. Then
she stands him upright in the tub to soap down the lower part of
his body; Kaspar permits this without self-­consciousness and is
unperturbed. He stands there like a horse. Frau Hiltel constantly
tries to excuse herself, though this is completely unnecessary, by
soothing Kaspar and telling him that he must not be ashamed
before her, since only God is looking on.
All at once Kaspar perceives how a solid year-­old layer of dirt
is peeling off him and how his translucent white skin begins
80 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

to emerge underneath. Fine little veins shimmer through from

within. He turns to the woman fearful. “Mother,” says Kaspar,
“the skin!”

Prison in the tower, feigned fencing

Kaspar sits slumped into himself in the drunk tank as a peculiar
scene takes place. He is on the floor with his legs outstretched
in front of him playing with his toy horses, oblivious to his sur-
roundings. The two companions have gone. Kaspar’s mattress has
been stuffed with fresh straw, and on a new shelf are a dozen or so
wooden animals on wheels neatly arranged in a row.
Before Kaspar stands a uniformed cavalry Lieutenant who is
sticking and striking at Kaspar with his drawn sword, although
not really touching him. He pauses momentarily and then lunges
forth with a loud “Ha!” and makes a wild thrust past Kaspar’s
skull. Next he attempts to feign in the French manner with
graceful dancing steps, finally fidgeting with his sword in front
of Kaspar’s face. Kaspar is utterly absorbed in his playing and
glances up only once, abstractedly, looking through the sword
beyond. The cocky Lieutenant now aims a cruel swishing blow
blindly in the air. He stops, astonished but visibly proud of his
extraordinary prowess, and then turns around.
Only now do we realize that there are about ten more people in
the room who have quietly witnessed this spectacle while pressed
against the wall near the entrance. They begin whispering among
themselves, and a police officer remarks that he no longer thinks
that this fellow is a cruel impostor since he obviously has no feel-
ing or concept of danger. He hasn’t been frightened at all. The
Lieutenant makes one last impressive parry.
The Lieutenant approaches Kaspar with a burning candle.
Kaspar looks up and makes pleasurable sounds as he fondles the
shiny brass buttons of the uniformed Lieutenant’s jacket. Now
Kaspar notices the candle standing close to him on the floor. He
grabs rapturously at the flame but plucks and twists the wick with
his fingers much too long. He jerks his hand back and, his mouth
grimacing hideously, he starts to cry. He cries without a sound.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 81

Hiltel’s apartment
Very tender scene. As Kaspar is half-­bent over the suckling’s cra-
dle we see that he doesn’t really dare move further, there is some
sort of taboo hovering in the air. Kaspar has put his right hand
into the cradle and is trying to withdraw it again carefully.
We now see the infant closely. He is barely six months old and
has an embroidered bonnet on his head. He grips Kaspar’s index
finger tightly with one of his hands and won’t let go. Kaspar cau-
tiously bends his finger and the little one in the cradle laughs.
Kaspar suddenly senses that someone is watching from be-
hind; he bends forward very carefully and gently tries to pull his
finger away, but the baby won’t let go. Kaspar doesn’t dare pull
any harder.
We see Frau Hiltel, the mother of the suckling, standing in
the doorway, watching Kaspar quietly and trying to make up
her mind.
Kaspar slowly turns around and, with an expression of guilt-­
ridden despair in his face, he looks into the woman’s face. He
wants to free himself from the cradle but is unable to do so, as
we can see how he lifts up the tiny hand of the infant over the
cradle’s edge with his own.
The woman smiles at Kaspar and prompts herself inwardly.
She instinctively does the right thing: she takes the little one out
of the cradle and decisively places him in Kaspar’s arms. The lat-
ter is frightened with emotion. He delicately sniffs at the little
one’s head, fondling him ever so gently, more like a blind man
than one who sees. “Mother,” Kaspar strains to speak, his mouth
twisted amid the tears, “everything is removed from me.”

Prison in the tower, black hen

Four farmboys have broken into the cell, and one can realize in-
stantly that they’re up to no good. They are standing around try-
ing to look innocent. Kaspar sits on the floor with a picture of a
plum before him that he is attempting to copy. “I am honored,”
says Kaspar to his visitors contentedly, happy because he has said
82 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

it right. While sitting on the floor he bows, and his ears turn red.
The squinting boys don’t look him straight in the eye.
The one with coarse features hiding behind the others care-
fully places a chicken on the floor in back of the others. And what
a chicken! It is a huge black puffed-­up hen with an incredibly
stupid face, and the boys have adorned her breast with a medal
that hangs from a wide ribbon around its neck. When the fellow to
the rear pushes the hen toward Kaspar through the legs of one of
his friends—­a flap-­eared yokel who stands there expectantly—­we
instantly become aware of something else: the chicken is utterly
One of the fellows says “hmmm!” while putting yet another
piece of bread dipped in schnapps into its mouth. Then the chicken
stumbles forward, turns around, and doubles back. Blathering
nonsensically it heads straight for Kaspar and, trying to peck at
the medal, it falls flat on its face. When the chicken finally man-
ages to struggle onto its legs again, Kaspar notices it.
Kaspar stands up with a start. “Black,” says Kaspar fright-
fully, “black, black.” The chicken now screeches with delight, puts
its head on the floor, and does a somersault. Full of dread and
trembling horribly, Kaspar clings to his pillow and retreats to the
farthest corner of the room. He tries scrambling up the wall for
refuge near the ceiling.
The four of them jeer and heckle crudely now, passing around
their bottle while they pick up the hen and, guffawing, leave.

Prison in the tower, drunk tank

Kaspar sits on the floor surrounded by dried herbs and pressed
flowers, which he has neatly arranged on white sheets of paper.
On his shelf is a crazy collection of wooden horses on wheels, each
is precisely positioned according to height.
In front of Kaspar stands a cute little girl about four years old,
quite lively and burning with fervor, she is obviously a friend of
the five-­year-­old Julius who, as little as he is, radiates a kind of
paternal dignity.
“Good morning, white kitten,” says Kaspar, pressing the thumb
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 83

and index finger of his right hand into an odd circle while spread-
ing out the other three fingers in the air. He beats the rhythm of
his words on the floor with his peculiarly positioned fingers.
“You’ve lost your mitten,” says the girl.
“You’ve lost, you’ve lost,” says Kaspar, all of this moving much
too fast for him.
The girl assumes the serious demeanor of a schoolteacher and
recites the rhyme with her best behavior:

Good morning white kitten,

You’ve lost your mitten,
And is that milk yours or mine?
I’ll lap here,
You lap there,
Lap, lap, lap this milk so fine,
Lap, lap, lap as good as wine!

The rhyme makes a profound impression upon Kaspar, who

listens to the girl with bulging eyes. Then, for the very first time, a
great heartful laughter shines forth from his face. Kaspar exults
and utters jubilant cries. The girl is proud in a very ladylike man-
ner, bobbing a little curtsy.
“Agnes,” says Julius after a while, “that was still too long, he
doesn’t understand yet.”

Prison in the tower, drunk tank, evening

“Two pints you drink, and two pints you pee,” Kaspar says obe-
diently. Some depraved-­looking youngsters cluster around him,
encouraging him to say it more distinctly. They can hardly con-
tain their laughter. Cheap beastly thrills. Kaspar, unsuspecting,
is learning zealously.

Prison in the tower, drunk tank, exterior

Several prominent people are jostling outside the little grated
window, pushing for a peep inside. From within we hear disgrun-
tled sounds and Julius’s jolly laughter.
84 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

The mayor whispers to the prefect of police that the foundling

was once a member of a troop of English equestrians, but had de-
serted while they were stationed in the Upper Palatinate. This was
questionable, however. But he was quite sure that the rampant
rumors linking him to the Royal House of Baden, alleging that he
was banished from the line of succession to the throne, are totally
false, since if this were the case they would have disposed of him
altogether. Furthermore, the House of Baden is above suspicion,
even if its line of succession was rather controversial. He could
not believe all of that anyway because the fellow had somewhat
coarse and indelicate features, displaying none of the natural no-
bility that is found in those of royal blood. One also must begin to
consider just how the fellow could commence paying his own way,
since for the moment he was living on the public trust. Someone
had to think of a way he could contribute to his own upkeep, per-
haps by taking advantage of the public interest in him.
Again he turns to the little window to watch, half amused and
half disgusted at what was taking place inside the cell.

Drunk tank, interior

Only Kaspar’s cot remains in the room, over in the corner, the
others have been removed but for the impressions from their legs
that we can clearly see left on the floor. Kaspar sits with his knees
extended on the floor, holding a cat between his widespread legs
that is forever trying to escape. “With the hands with the hands,”
says Kaspar to the cat as he tries to teach her how to eat with
her paws and lift the food neatly up to her mouth. Julius, sitting
next to him, is bursting with laughter. Kaspar is quite serious
about his task and refuses to be disturbed by the cat’s wiggling
and twisting.
He finally attempts with utter gravity to teach the cat how to
walk upright. He places her on her hind legs, and the cat hisses
angrily and suddenly claws him on his hands. Terribly bewildered
and totally horrified, Kaspar lets the animal go. He gets no help
from Julius, who is laughing even harder now.
Kaspar, deeply disturbed, grabs his wool and his knitting and
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 85

withdraws into himself, beginning to knit with his fat clumsy

fingers. He has already finished a piece as big as the palm of his
hand. We have no idea where it came from.

Tent at the fair, interior, Four Riddles of the Universe

The fair is shabby, the tent dilapidated, the festivities awash in
a profound sadness. The atmosphere is filled with gloom, which
is all the more striking since the visitors do not notice it in their
desire to amuse themselves. Many people are pressing inward, the
tent is almost full. There are a lot of women and children, even
drunkards as well, who behave in a particularly raucous manner.
We can see a bit of light shimmering through a shabby trans-
parent curtain that has been in a semi-­circle. There is some move-
ment behind the curtain, then it freezes into a rigid stillness as the
director steps onto the tiny stage from the side. Dressed in circus
garb with lots of glitter and shiny black patent-­leather boots, he
wields a wooden pointer in his hand.
He bids the audience welcome. “Ladies and Gentlemen!” he
shouts to quiet down the troublemakers, as he wishes to pre­sent
to the public the Four Riddles of the Universe, all together in a
single place for the very first time. He begs the adults to keep their
children at a safe distance for piety permits no childish pranks.
They can step up a bit, but only as far as this line here. Music from
a merry-­go-­round outside is drowning out his words. He raises
his voice to introduce the first Riddle, The Little King. Behind the
curtain a fanfare blares forth.
He gives a wink and with several jerks the curtain opens, but
only wide enough to see The Little King.
A throne has been placed on a slightly elevated wooden plat-
form, a huge ample throne richly decorated with carvings and
golden glitter. The Little King cowers in a corner of the throne
as if exiled. The Little King is a tiny midget about forty years old
with an old man’s wrinkled face. His skin is shriveled like a leath-
ery apple. He wears little white boots with a small ermine coat
made of rabbit’s fur around his shoulders. Holding both arms out-
stretched, he barely manages to reach the armrests of the throne
86 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

with his fingertips. A large, impressive crown is hanging from a

rope above his head. Two poodles in gold embroidered uniforms
stand at attention on their hind legs before him. The Little King
seems apathetic as he contemplates the crowd.
This is the King of Punt, the legendary land of gold, the direc-
tor exclaims, he descends from an ancient race of giants. But, in
the course of time, one king after the other became smaller than
his predecessor, and as of now this was the last one of the line. If
the lineage were to continue for a couple of centuries more, one
would not be able to see the last King of Punt for he would skip
away like a flea.
Tremendous curiosity among the greatly enraptured public,
particularly among the children.
Now, if the people in front would kindly move on and make
room for those behind them who also want to have a look, next
comes Mozart. The curtain opens a little wider. Behind it sits a
gentle boy about seven years old with the face of a prince. He
is dressed like a little gentleman in a rococo costume, holding
a piece of drainpipe made of papier-­mâché in front of him. It is
painted black inside, he stares into it incessantly.
The director shouts out that Mozart didn’t start to talk until
the age of three, but once he did, he asked for nothing but the
music of Mozart. Night and day he longed obsessively for Mozart.
By the time he was five he knew all the scores by heart. Now he
doesn’t talk any more, as he is only interested in dark holes in the
ground, in cave entrances and drainage ditches that capture his
attention and enable him to meditate upon the blackness within.
He stopped speaking altogether at the age of five when they tried
to teach him how to read and write at school. He couldn’t do it, he
said, because the bright whiteness of the paper blinded him. Since
then he has refused to speak.
The audience is already pushing onward, and with a new fan-
fare the curtain opens further. The director cries out that next
will be a live tribal show, with an Indian savage from the New
Spanish Realm of the Sun.
The Indian, Hombrecito, appears from behind the curtain, a
lean feeble-­minded man with an enchanted look. He is wearing
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 87

three coats, one on top of the other, and across his shoulders he
carries a folded embroidered Indian poncho. He wears a beautiful
Indian woolen cap with ear flaps and reddish embroidery on his
nearly clean-­shaven skull. His pants come down to just past the
knees so his calves are naked like exposed cables, and on his feet
he is wearing sandals. As soon as the curtain opens, he starts to
play a strange beautiful melody on some sort of Indian panpipe
made of bound bamboo stems. The children in particular push
to get close to him.
The director tells the audience that this savage is the only liv-
ing member of the original Native and Indian Show that once
toured Europe. He plays his flute because he believes that if he
stopped, the townspeople would die. He always wears three coats
at once to protect himself from colds and, as he says, against the
breath of people. He is quite a jovial fellow and very well behaved,
but he doesn’t speak a word of any language other than his Indian
And now, the greatest of the Four Riddles, the director pro-
claims, and as the curtain opens completely amid the fanfare,
there is Kaspar, the Foundling. He explains that Kaspar has ex-
pressed his willingness to appear here every afternoon with the
consent of the authorities, in order to ease his financial burden
on the community.
We see Kaspar on a dais and realize instantly that he doesn’t
have the slightest idea what this is all about, that he doesn’t even
understand how he got here. Kaspar is standing on his own
wooden platform, with a thick ornamental rope stretched be-
tween four posts so no one can get too close to him. Kaspar stands
there the same way he was found in N., dressed the same, in the
same tortured posture with one foot a little in front of the other,
the letter in his left hand extended toward an imaginary recipi-
ent, and his hat in his right hand, politely removed.
The people crowd in more closely, curious but rather shy. The
director talks while pointing with his stick, explaining about
Kaspar, going on and on. No longer can we comprehend what he
says because music is setting in, strong and solemn. Long shot.
Kaspar is beset by the same dreamlost, gruesome, and forlorn
88 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

confusion as in the Tallow Square the day he was born in the

town of N.
We see Daumer standing among the spectators in the back-
ground. He seems to be the only one there who understands.

Behind the circus tent

Kaspar and Hombrecito are sitting behind the tent in front of a
cage on wheels with somewhat narrow but very strong wooden
bars. Julius runs by one time in the background with a stick and
a hoop. The backs of some primitive stalls and tents all around.
Grass trodden under foot, straw trampled into the clay. A small
dung heap and pitchforks, everything is rather bleak. Hombrecito
patiently plays his flute to himself, playing for the bear.
The cage, close. Inside we can recognize the figure of a bear,
lying apathetically on the dirty straw on the floor of the cage. He
wears a heavy leather muzzle over his snout, which he pokes be-
tween the bars a bit. The bear breathes deeply and exhaustedly,
steadily gazing upon the two visitors outside.
“The bear is sick,” says Kaspar, practicing the sentence. “The
bear is sick, the bear is sick,” he says, learning the sentence that
he has obviously just picked up from Julius. With an otherworldly
expression, Hombrecito plays. They eye each other for a very long

Open field, the grandfather, father, and son

Far away in the distance we see an excited crowd running across
the field, a charming landscape with half-­grown fields of wheat
that are still green. A pronounced clamor. And now we notice that
even farther away three figures are running, far in front of the
others. Somewhat closer, the three fugitives. Mozart, Hombrecito,
and Kaspar have escaped, they are racing across the fields. Flat-­
footed, Kaspar runs with long awkward bounds. Hombrecito with
his skinny calves is in the lead, he has unbuttoned all three coats,
and bringing up the rear is Mozart, who is hampered by his ro-
coco costume. He is the first one to get stuck when their escape
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 89

route takes them over a small canal. Right there is a drainpipe

that runs into the ground, black and mysterious. Mozart suddenly
stops and, squatting down, stares into the black opening won-
drously. He lapses at once into a profound trance.
The pursuers, including the director, the police notary, and
Daumer spread out a little; a few of them stay with Mozart to take
care of him, others continue the chase and visibly gain ground.
There are approximately a dozen people, several women among
them as well.
Kaspar slows down and Hombrecito moves ahead ever fur-
ther, though realizing that the pursuers are faster than he. In a
small lovely hollow, three maple trees appear in a row: a tall one,
a medium-­sized one, and finally a young one whose trunk is still
thin. They look like grandfather, father, and son, and from the
shouts of the pursuers, we clearly learn that these are really their
names. Close by, on the forest fringe, is an apiary, with a dense
grove of spruce saplings behind it. Hombrecito flees up into the
Son, in his confusion he has seized upon the thinnest tree and it
can hardly support him.
Kaspar, having taken the lead, reaches the edge of the woods.
He disappears among the spruces and we last see him changing
directions. “Stop,” the police notary shrieks after Kaspar, “stay
where you are, I say,” he gasps, stopping short himself.
About half of the group storms forward into the spruce grove
and search about in it, as we can see by the trembling of the little
trees, which are a little taller than the average man. They yell for
Kaspar and wonder what is the matter with him, whether or not
he has lost his mind.
Hombrecito, meanwhile, has climbed so high into the Son that
if he goes any higher, the entire trunk will bend over. Therefore no
one dares to follow him up the tree.
He should come down, bellows the notary, who considers him-
self the leader because he has a uniform on. He will ruin the tree,
which had been planted but three years ago by Heuser’s grandson.
Why doesn’t he pick the Father or Grandfather for his ridiculous
escapades? Hombrecito does not answer, gazing down calmly at
his pursuers. What does he want, the director calls up to him, he
90 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

makes a good living, he has nothing to complain about. Finally,

one of the men climbs up the thin trunk after Hombrecito. The
whole trunk slowly bends over, and Hombrecito is plucked from
the branches like a piece of fruit.
One after the other the pursuers reappear at the edge of the
spruce grove. He couldn’t have simply disappeared, one of them
says. They will have to search this part of the forest again, but
this time more systematically, not so haphazardly. He couldn’t be
anyplace else but in there.
Daumer stands quietly at the edge of the forest, thinking hard.
He then walks decisively around the apiary and opens a little tool
shed. There, among the boards, tools, and honeycomb frames
cowers Kaspar apathetically, his face glowing like red-­hot iron,
as it was at the outset in the cellar. He notices no one and nothing,
taking no heed of Daumer, still sitting quietly.
View over the fields. The people stand together peacefully be-
neath a cluster of trees. A solemn music ensues.

Kaspar at the window, winter’s day

Kaspar is standing at the window gazing out silently over the
garden. It is winter outside, time passes. The bottom part of
the pane is frozen over. Nothing stirs; someone is leaning over
the rail of the footbridge at the far end of the garden, staring
motionlessly at the frozen creek. A raven stands still in the snow-­
covered garden cawing hoarsely, his breath visibly frozen. Then,
tottering, he walks away directly into the Imaginary. Kaspar
sniffs quietly.
A grandfather clock chimes somewhere in the house below.

Daumer’s room, interior

Almost at ground level, it is a spacious room with imposing win-
dows. It is summer, and the song of a solitary bird is heard from
outside; through an open window we see black currant bushes
and part of the garden. The walnut tree outside rustles softly. The
room is furnished pragmatically, with pictures hanging on the
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 91

wall and shelves filled with books that are stacked so disorderly
that you instantly know these books are really being read.
Kaspar sits at the piano in the foreground. He now sports a
downy mustache on his upper lip, making it apparent that much
time has passed. But something else is evident also: Kaspar still
betrays a neglected air about him. His movements are still bi-
zarre, and though he isn’t ill-­groomed, he gives the impression
of needing a bath badly. His countenance bears a certain crude
Kaspar is a dilettante at the piano, playing the simple “Virgin
Chorus” from “Der Freischütz.” He frequently hits the wrong key
and with every false note gesticulates wildly with his hands. His
movements seem jerky, eccentric, and as yet unassured. Daumer
stands behind Kaspar wearing a frock coat, listening contentedly
to his ward’s playing. Daumer seems learned, paternal, with lively
eyes and an unhealthy pale complexion. His posture is slightly
stooped. We notice that the few times he corrects Kaspar, he does
so affectionately.
Kaspar suddenly stops and turns toward Daumer. He cannot
continue, he cannot concentrate, “it” feels so strong inside his
Kaspar moves to the window and gazes out into the garden.
Daumer follows him, paternally placing a hand on his shoulder
without saying a word. He, says Kaspar, he feels so “unexpectedly”
old. Prolonged silence; Daumer doesn’t say anything, because he
apparently feels it is not good to say anything.

Walk through the garden

The garden is rather large, not too tidy, with idyllic nooks that are
somewhat neglected, more or less like an English garden. There
are also some huge walnut trees, a pergola covered with clusters
of lilacs, black currant bushes, gooseberries, plus a few flower and
vegetable beds: a halfway practical garden. At the edge of the gar-
den is a dense hedge of small beeches that hasn’t been trimmed
for quite some time. Beyond it, off to the side, a slender canal with
a railed footbridge. A poorly raked gravel path runs around the
92 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

garden, overgrown with weeds. A little bench and a garden table

sit under the walnut tree. The exterior of the house is tressed by a
pear tree that covers nearly the entire front wall facing the garden
and is supported by a trellis.
Kaspar and Daumer are rounding the garden in pensive si-
lence. Kaspar still lifts his knees up high as he walks, placing the
whole foot down on the ground. Kaspar’s speech continues to
have a peculiar cadence and choice of words. If he gets stuck or is
searching for a word, he confusedly scans the vacant space in the
sentence with his index finger in the air.
“It has dreamed in me,” says Kaspar. You should tell me, says
Daumer. Walking silently for a while, Kaspar gathers words in-
stead of speaking, delicately moving his lips. After a while Daumer
says he is pleased with Kaspar’s progress, for only two weeks ago
he still thought his dreams were real, as indicated by his recollec-
tion of a visit with the mayor’s wife, who had in fact been away on
a trip for several weeks. Kaspar nods.
It was also strange that he, Kaspar, hadn’t begun to dream
earlier; in his first prison he hadn’t dreamed at all, since he
was unable to imagine anything, but afterward—­why hadn’t he
dreamed then? Or had he dreamed and mistaken it for reality,
not recognizing the difference? After some strenuous reflection,
Kaspar says he can’t be sure if he was actually in his prison or a
different prison, and, as for this walking, whether or not it is a
dream. It had dreamed in him from the Caucasus, he had been
in the Caucasus.
Yes, he had learned about that during his lessons, Daumer says,
pleased; that is where the dream must stem from. But, says Kaspar,
he had seen the Caucasus very distinctly. First there had been a
strange village on a mountainside, with white houses and steps
rather than streets, and on the steps there was water running.

Vision of the Caucasus

All at once we see what Kaspar is relating, it is mysterious and
strange and flickering. We see a village on a steep incline, a very
alien Southern place, with whitewashed steps converging from all
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 93

sides into one main road of steps. Water is running on each of the
steps, flowing into brooks.
Then, says Kaspar, stopping short in his walk, he had seen
the Caucasus, towering red-­colored mountains, and beyond them
there was a plain filled with houses, white ones, each by itself as
if from another world. These dwellings reached as far as his eye
could see. He had looked “over yonder.”
We behold towering mountains, gazing down from the peaks.
The air and the clouds are colored deep purple from the setting
sun. In the haze we discover a mountain range, then behind it
another one, then further below a third, and behind that one, be-
coming ever more glassy and transparent, a fourth, fifth, sixth,
onward into unfathomable depths. The gaze roams over these in-
credible mountains, the incredible purple. Then, suddenly, we see
a vast plain. And in the plain there are mysterious temples with
high, white, pointed towers, richly decorated like buildings from
some other star. The gaze reaches far and, into the depths, as far
as the gaze can wander, there is nothing but unreal structures
upon this vast plain. There are hundreds of them, we are in the
grip of vertigo. The images are strange and flickering, unlike any-
thing we have ever seen before, utterly otherworldly.

Daumer’s room, interior

Kaspar is sitting opposite a superior force of four pastors. On a
little table there is a pot and cups of tea, but Kaspar, who is obvi-
ously feeling uncomfortable, doesn’t touch his. The housekeeper
Katy, a plump good-­natured country woman, brings a small plat-
ter of biscuits and withdraws immediately.
The pastors nibble primly on the proffered delicacies. Fuhr­
mann, with a flesh-­swollen face, moss on his teeth, and his collar
still stained with egg yolk from breakfast, sits beside Kaspar, who
evades the man’s breath by necessity. As he speaks one sees his
bad teeth; the other three present themselves a bit less obtrusively.
Fuhrmann wants to know if Kaspar had a natural concep-
tion of God while imprisoned, looking over at his colleagues
94 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

Kaspar speaks strenuously, knocking each beat with his hand.

He doesn’t understand this question, he knows only that he hadn’t
thought of anything in prison. He doesn’t understand at all what
they had told him some time ago. He cannot imagine how God
created everything out of nothing, as he was lacking the concepts
for that.
The clergymen put their heads together taking council among
themselves, seeing if someone can make this comprehensible to
him. He simply has to believe, says Fuhrmann, pushing a little
closer to Kaspar, for to search through the darker elements of the
Creed too precisely was sinful. Kaspar says that he can’t under-
stand any of this, they are talking too loudly, and he would have
to learn to read and write much better to comprehend this. No,
says Fuhrmann, he must learn these things above and beyond
everything else. But, says Kaspar, when he, Kaspar, wants to
make something, he needs something to make it with, so they
should tell him how God makes something out of nothing.
He should stop, says Fuhrmann, beating his index finger on
the table constantly while talking. In that case, Kaspar says,
speaking will be even harder for him. This ends the discussion. A
disagreeable silence spreads. The four clergymen maintain their
silence toward Kaspar for a while, then they put their heads to-
gether. Finally, Fuhrmann says that Kaspar should repeat after
him. He proceeds to recite a prayer. Kaspar displays an obvious
reluctance in repeating it.

Narrow lane, prison tower from outside

It is just before noon; Kaspar and Daumer are standing in front of
the prison tower. Kaspar gazes upward in amazement.
That is really very high, he says, it must have been a very
tall man who built that. I would like to make his acquaintance.
Daumer tries to explain to him that the builder had been of quite
a normal height, that they had worked with scaffolds, he would
take him to a construction site this very day. He wondered if
Kaspar still remembered having lived in this tower.
That is hardly possible, for his room had been but a few steps
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 95

long, says Kaspar. Daumer doesn’t understand this contradiction

at first. The house in which he had lived had to be even smaller
then, not as big as the tower. Correcting Kaspar, Daumer attempts
to make plain the fact that a room was always smaller than a
house. This doesn’t sit well with Kaspar. The room was wherever
he turned, he had the room on all sides; but he could look at the
house only from one side and when he turned it wasn’t there any
more. It didn’t extend in all directions as a room would. Daumer
suspends any further explanations to a later date. Kaspar doesn’t
seem satisfied, neither does Daumer.

Daumer’s living room

Kaspar sits at his writing desk while Daumer observes from be-
hind, looking over his shoulder at his writing. Without concen-
trating properly, Kaspar makes an effort to translate a simple
Latin text.
He would prefer to hear something about the vast desert of the
Sahara, and whether or not it was really so far away, and whether
or not he might go there one day to look at it, says Kaspar. Besides,
he would greatly prefer going out into the streets than translating
Latin, as sitting seems very hard to him, and Latin as well.
Knowledge of the Latin tongue was indispensable for learning
German, Daumer teaches him. To learn German thoroughly one
had to have a thorough knowledge of Latin.
Kaspar continues working attentively for a while. Whether
the Roman had to learn German thoroughly in order to read and
write proper Latin, this he would like to know. Daumer ignores
this question, pressing in even closer so as to remonstrate Kaspar.

Daumer’s garden, gravel path

Kaspar, Daumer, and Fuhrmann are gathering apples, which
cover the ground where the gravel path forms a loop. Kaspar
straightens up, gazing at the apple tree.
Kaspar, close. How beautiful this tree would be if its leaves
were as beautifully red as the apples. Then he would be able to
96 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

tolerate this tree much better. Daumer drops an apple, which rolls
some distance along the gravel path. Daumer wants to pick up the
apple again. It is tired now, says Kaspar, it is tired from walking;
they shouldn’t plague it any longer. Daumer tries to teach Kaspar
that there is no life in the apple, that it was up to him which direc-
tion the apple would take, and that it would drop where he threw
it. He tosses an apple along the path to demonstrate. But the apple
skips onward after touching the ground, which provides Kaspar
with opposite proof that reinforces his viewpoint.
Daumer now attempts to instruct Kaspar not so much by ar-
gument but by continued visual demonstration. He rolls an apple
along the path toward Fuhrmann, who extends his foot to stop
the apple, to show that by his will the apple comes to a halt. The
apple has so much momentum, however, that it jumps over the
shoe and rolls on. Kaspar is exceedingly pleased by the nimbleness
and intelligence of the apple, admonishing the one in his hand to
do likewise before he lets it roll. The apple skips over Fuhrmann’s
shoe. Kaspar is jubilant, while Daumer and Fuhrmann have noth-
ing further to say for the time being.

Kitchen in Daumer’s house

Kaspar sits at the kitchen table, expertly ladling the soup in front
of him with a hearty appetite. The housekeeper Katy busies her-
self over several pots at the stove, and slices some vegetables. The
kitchen is suitably ample in size.
Why hadn’t she always prepared the soup like this, he liked it
now, yes, it is alright like this, says Kaspar.
Katy looks at him in amusement. Ah, says she, the young man
has never before had soup like this, heretofore feeling nothing
but disgust for all dishes always, except for bread, and now he
was gradually getting used to normal food. But beer and coffee
still don’t agree with him. Kaspar nods approvingly, resuming his
eating with a good appetite.
After a pause Kaspar asks what women were made for, could
Katy tell him. They really don’t seem to be useful for anything
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 97

more than sitting around; they are persons who don’t occupy
themselves with any serious work except sewing, at best, or cook-
ing and knitting a bit. Katy stops working. He should address
himself to Mr. Daumer about this, for he would have a decent an-
swer. He had already asked him, but he didn’t know anything ei-
ther. Kaspar lapses into contemplation. Absorbed in his thoughts,
he makes a sketch with his soup spoon on the wooden table.
Yes, says Kaspar after lengthy brooding, Mr. Daumer knows so
much that he, Kaspar, would never be able to catch up with him.
Mr. Daumer had told him of the desert, he couldn’t get that out of
his head. He wondered if she, Katy, had ever been in the desert. By
no means, says Katy, she had been only in Erlangen, once. From
there it was still quite a ways to the desert. Kaspar now directs
the conversation further, aiming at something definite: he has in-
vented a story about the desert and has always wanted to relate it
to Mr. Daumer. Why haven’t you told it to Mr. Daumer, says Katy.
Yes, he doesn’t know the actual story yet, only the beginning, says
Kaspar, and Mr. Daumer said he wanted to hear the story as a
whole, that Kaspar should think it out first before telling it. If
she, Katy, would like to hear the beginning of the story, it wasn’t
very long.
Some other time, young man, says Katy, untying her apron
strings; she would like to listen, but now she must run to the mar-
ket. Kaspar is visibly disappointed. He outlines figures on the
table with his spoon, breathing very softly.

Kaspar’s chamber, Kaspar lonesome in his bed

Kaspar lies in bed weeping, trying to do so quietly, he merely
makes his mouth more contorted. He lies very still, until dusk.
Very quiet, long scene. The half-­torn curtain cannot be drawn. In
front of the window outside, the leaves of the pear tree are lightly
After a while music sets in, a beautiful, calm, and unstrained
aria sung by a tenor. In a corner of the room the mice are rustling.
We hear faraway footsteps from without.
98 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

Garden, red currant bushes

Kaspar and Daumer stand close to each other, picking red cur-
rants. They work next to one another for a long time.
It cannot be possible, says Daumer after a long pause, that for
Kaspar the only agreeable thing in this world is his bed, and that
everything else was ever so bad. Surely he at least loved this gar-
den. Kaspar doesn’t answer, working his way through the bushes.
Something is at work inside of him. He is strongly moved, but he
doesn’t find the words. It is a prolonged ponderous silence.
Yes, Kaspar says after a long pause, his appearance in this
world had been a “hard fall.”

Kaspar’s chamber
Kaspar is sitting in his little room writing zealously with a pen.
He already has filled several pages with his neat childlike hand-
writing. In his zeal he doesn’t notice that Daumer has entered
He suddenly recoils in shock upon realizing that Daumer is
standing behind him. There is no need to be frightened, Daumer
says. Daumer wants to know how far along he is with the descrip-
tion of his life, because the news has spread and the public was
waiting impatiently for his report.

Small ballroom, interior

Lively activity among the festive people in the brightly lit ball-
room this evening: ladies in fine attire, gentlemen, noblemen, and
uniformed servants taking champagne around. A light clinking of
glasses, stylized amusement, and polished conversation. A rumor
clinks faintly about; all eyes turn to a small hallway leading into
a side wing, where Lord Stanhope and Kaspar emerge.
Kaspar is very embarrassed. He doesn’t want any of this to
leave his hands, for he still doesn’t know many words and there
was so much still for him to understand, as he hasn’t been in this
world too long yet.
He has come, says Daumer, to inform him, Kaspar, that an
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 99

English earl—­His Excellency, Lord Stanhope—­was residing in

town, that he was taking particular interest in Kaspar’s fate and
was nurturing the intention of taking Kaspar to England with
him as his son, if he were to make a good impression on him. This
means that there would be quite a future for him. The lord has
invited them to a ball he is giving tomorrow, and people of rank
and reputation will be present. Tomorrow, immediately follow-
ing breakfast, he will accompany him to the tailor and borrow a
coat for this occasion.
Kaspar is a bit confused and wants to contradict him, but he
cannot think of anything except for the fact that he does not know
how to dance. There is no need for that, Daumer reassures him,
and withdraws once again.
The two of them, closer. Stanhope, about fifty, very suave
and worldly in his manners, dressed like a dandy in his English
outfit, with Kaspar beside him in a black frock coat and white
gloves. He has removed his right glove and holds it with his left
hand or rather, he clings to it. He seems to be strangled and ut-
terly helpless. His movements resemble those of a dancing bear.
When he turns to face someone, he turns not only his head but
his entire body along with it.
Daumer is behind them, dressed festively as well, and two
uniformed persons further beyond. Stanhope is talking German
almost without an accent, and from his phraseology we gather
that he is delighted with how well he can speak. He feigns inti-
macy with Kaspar, as if he has been his special protégé for quite
some time.
The earl introduces Kaspar, showing him off all around. The
ladies in particular exhibit their shrill enthusiasm. Kaspar, visibly
suffering, reaches forth with his right hand and makes a forced
bow, then he turns his body clumsily a little further, making a
bow to another lady. The ladies are enraptured by this funny little
animal. The earl basks in Kaspar’s presence.
How had it been in his dark prison, an elderly dame imme-
diately wants to know. Kaspar, obviously incapable of evasions,
answers: he had been happy there, he had felt quite well. The earl
is a little indignant, directing the topic of conversation at once to
100 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

Kaspar’s remarkable progress in Latin, as well as his entire educa-

tion. Daumer shows that he feels honored.
Stanhope and Kaspar increasingly become the center of atten-
tion among the guests, who are closing in on the two in a circle.
His young protégé, the earl proclaims, was obviously the very best
proof of how a noble heart cannot be spoiled or hampered in its
development by even the vilest crime. Genius and Grace had now
fully awakened in the young man’s breast. A pure soul had come
to life within him.
The surrounding people display their approval as Stanhope
sinks into Rapture. Then, suddenly, something stirring in Kaspar
turns to stone. He mustn’t be frightened by all of these guests, he
should say in all his youthful naivete whatever was moving him,
Stanhope encourages him. “Your Honor,” blurts Kaspar, “there is
nothing more that lives inside me but my life.”
Stanhope is visibly irritated.
Kaspar begs to be let out into the open air on the balcony
for a moment, he says a slight case of nausea has befallen him,
but it isn’t anything serious. Issuing an excuse to the surround-
ing throng, Stanhope gallantly escorts Kaspar, with exaggerated
helpfulness, to the balcony, where he sees that they push him
down upon a velvet chair.

Balcony of the ballroom, exterior

Kaspar breathes heavily, freeing himself of his frock coat, he then
opens his shirt, which is too tight around his neck. A uniformed
man and Daumer are with him. Deadened, dainty conversation
from the ballroom, music sets in. The air is doing him good, says
Kaspar with a pale face. He should be left in peace for a minute,
his sickness is really almost over, says Kaspar to Daumer.

Smaller ballroom, interior

The conversation has shifted to a different subject, as Kaspar’s
debut is over. The earl, surrounded by distinguished dames, is
talking about Corinth and the Sun of Hellas. When he has gotten
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 101

as far as the horses, an elderly lady laden with jewels steps forth
from the side with a knowing glance, tugging at his shirtsleeve for
him to come. Stanhope politely excuses himself for a moment and
follows the lady. The gaze of the others, suspecting something,
follows the couple. They advance toward the balcony.

Balcony of the ballroom, exterior

Stanhope and the lady step outside onto the balcony, where Stan-
hope remains spellbound with embarrassment. Kaspar is sitting
on the velvet chair with his shirt open wide and his sleeves pushed
up, sunk into a deep, oblivious abyss, knitting. He holds a little
piece of knitting, which he is enlarging. With thick fingers he la-
bors with colossal concentration. The woolen thread with which
he knits is winding down to the floor and up again, straight into
Kaspar’s right pocket. There they perceive the outline of a modest
ball of wool.
Stanhope casts a devastating glance at Daumer, who has just
entered, and Daumer is pierced by equally deprecating glances
from behind as well. In his indignation, Stanhope leaves no doubt
that he is through with Kaspar.
Silence spreads. It is an awful, painful silence, because even
the music in the room has ceased. All of this completely escapes
Kaspar’s attention. He is submerged in his work.

Daumer’s garden, beneath the walnut tree

Daumer and Kaspar are seated together at the table underneath
the walnut tree, playing checkers. Kaspar deliberates before each
move with a great deal of care, positioning the stones in every
instance with a cautious inquisitive glance. Katy is working in the
background in a vegetable bed.
After a prolonged silence, Kaspar says it seemed peculiar,
wondering whether Daumer felt it as well: he felt glances being
directed toward him. He felt glances falling upon him ever so
vaguely. Daumer turns around, reassuring Kaspar that there is
no one in the garden except for Katy. The feeling was only a vague
102 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

one, says Kaspar. Also, an unknown man had spoken to him on

two different days while he was on his way from the municipal
court, and he wondered whether this had something to do with
the renewed police investigations, or with the fact that someone
had spread some gossip around about his autobiography. Well,
says Daumer, it could be that the persons who had first hidden
and then expelled him were afraid of his place of confinement
being revealed in greater detail. But one also knew that all inves-
tigations into this matter had produced nothing thus far. In the
future, by no means should he walk alone to the municipal court.

Daumer’s house, side view, exterior

The hedge reaches up along this side of the house a few feet. To
the rear the garden is open, and toward the front there is a clear
view through a high double-­w inged wooden portal, a small extra
entrance has been built in the right wing of the portal. On the side
of the house an enclosed staircase made of inlaid wood descends
from the second floor. A small improvised outhouse has been
built beneath the stairs, closed off from the exterior by a screen.
Garden tools and rakes are lying about inside there, as the out-
house is apparently employed by the gardeners. A tiled path runs
between the house and the hedge, the rest of the yard is covered
by firmly packed sand. In front of the portal, a dog is sleeping in
the sun. It is late morning.
Kaspar rounds the house from the garden and tries to enter
the house by way of the stairs, but he finds the door locked. He
yanks at it once, then turns to the outhouse underneath the stairs
without trying any further. When he pushes the screen aside a
bit to enter, Katy bends down from a window above and, seeing
what the trouble is at once, calls out: “The young gentleman has
obviously taken too much of the Welsh nut laxative that the doc-
tor prescribed for him.” Kaspar looks up while closing the screen,
leaving it slightly ajar.
Kaspar squats down onto the toilet seat. Through the crack
between the screen and the wall of the house, the sleeping dog
and part of the portal can be seen. The small door in the portal
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 103

suddenly opens; we see this only because of the slight movement

of the hinges, the rest of the door being obstructed by the screen.
The bell above the door jingles softly, and the dog stirs in his sleep.
Kaspar, who obviously hasn’t noticed that someone has en-
tered, calls out: “Katy, would you open the door, I think somebody
rang.” But Katy doesn’t come, as she is probably in another room
by now.
Behind the screen, Kaspar suddenly holds his breath, aware
that someone has already entered. Evidently embarrassed by his
situation, he doesn’t make a sound.
Through the slits between the joints of the screen, we see from
Kaspar’s perspective now that someone is approaching hastily,
almost silently. The footsteps come to a halt in front of the screen.
Kaspar stiffens into a statue of stone, looks under the lower edge
of the screen a couple of inches from the ground and sees a pair of
boots stop still and move no further. Kaspar doesn’t dare breathe.
Someone is standing just as soundlessly in front of the screen.
Long breathless tension, extremely tense anticipation. Then an
arm rips the screen away with a jerk; Kaspar jumps up and into
his pants with a similar jerk in confused haste. For a split second
we recognize the Unknown Man by his clothing, his face veiled
by a black kerchief, he lands a blow with a hatchet, as quick as a
thought, into the outhouse. Kaspar, hit above the brow, falls for-
ward into the half-­open screen. The dog in the background rises,
yawns, and wags his tail as a sound is heard from the house. The
Unknown Man turns away before he can land a second blow, and
flees with silent steps. The dog stands at the portal, which has
remained open, wagging his tail.

Daumer’s house, kitchen

The kitchen door opens, and Daumer sticks his head in. Katy is
arranging pear preserves in the pantry adjoining the kitchen.
Where is Kaspar, Daumer asks; he hasn’t come to his lessons, and
hasn’t appeared for lunch at the usual hour, either. He has already
looked in his room. Katy comes out of the pantry. She had seen
him this morning around a quarter past ten, she answers.
104 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

Daumer’s house, side

Daumer and Katy are standing by the outhouse, the screen is
completely torn down. Daumer has discovered a trail of dried
blood on the tiles that reaches past the packed sand to a point
below the hedge, where a lump of dried blood has gathered in a
little hole. Daumer senses evil.

In front of Kaspar’s room

In the anteroom of Kaspar’s chamber there is a large dark ward-
robe. Daumer and Katy are standing in front of it, their faces pale
with fright. They have discovered the bloody imprint of a hand.

Entrance to the cellar

Daumer is forcing open a heavy trap door, which hides a steep
dank staircase leading to the cellar. There, he says, he must have
gone down there. On the cellar door we see traces of blood.

In the cellar
It is a frigid gloomy basement room, with walls full of mildew
and water dripping to the floor. The entire floor is ankle-­deep in
water. Kaspar is lying crumpled up in a slightly inclined corner,
still conscious. On this one dry spot there are sprouting potatoes
as well. Kaspar looks at Daumer and opens his hand. Blood is
streaming from his head.

Kaspar’s chamber
Kaspar lies in his bed fully clothed, with a makeshift bandage
around his forehead. Daumer is supporting his head while Katy
puts a bowl of water to his lips, as she was unable to come up with
a more suitable drinking vessel in her haste. Kaspar drinks with
such fervor that he bites a piece out of the rim. A doctor and a
domestic come rushing in through the door.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 105

Kaspar’s chamber
Daumer politely ushers the police notary, a scrivener, and a
municipal judge out the door from Kaspar’s chamber. There is
nothing more to get out of Kaspar today, the municipal judge re-
marks, he really hasn’t strength enough yet. Although the patient
has made considerable progress in these past few days, he doesn’t
believe that they can expect any more clues that might lead to a
solution of the crime and a clarification of Kaspar’s origin. And
despite his lingering weakness, he adds, the patient has regained
the complete use of his mental faculties, his statements are no
longer so confused.
Daumer closes the door and turns toward Kaspar, who is re-
clining in his bed on a pillow, the bandage around his head much
smaller. Kaspar is pale and visibly feeble.
There is something that has nothing to do with the attack on
him says Kaspar, but which he would like to mention anyway, as
he was seeing it clearly before him now. He ought to talk about it,
Daumer says, if he is sure it won’t be too much of a strain.

Vision of the island

When, in his confusion, he ended up in the cellar instead of the
kitchen with Katy, says Kaspar, he sank down unconscious on the
only dry spot. Then he very clearly saw a canoe with a man in it
rowing in the open sea, he saw the canoe from high above, there
were mighty waves. The canoe had reached a rock, like a square
pillar in the sea, and atop it was a verdant plateau where he saw
a woman with flowing sleeves, who was swinging her sleeves ever
so slowly. He knew that this was Death, this woman was Death.
Then he looked over the edge of the rock into the sea, he felt drawn
into the void, and then the cold water in the cellar brought him
back to consciousness. This will not leave his mind.
While Kaspar is speaking we see flickering images. A canoe
on massive ocean waves approaches a craggy stone tower. On top
of the rocky tower is a sloping plateau, over which fog is float-
ing. There is a low stone wall upon it with strange huts of rough
106 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

stone running along the edge, huts like igloos made of stone. A
woman is standing in the distance wearing a light silk dress and
fluttering veils. To her arms she has fastened long floating veils
that reach down to the ground. She is swinging her arms slowly
and solemnly, like wings. The veils swing like the wings of some
majestic bird. The image flickers past. Mist rises from the depths,
flowing over the plateau.
Kaspar leans back onto his pillow and grows silent. He is tired
now, says Kaspar.

Garden, under the walnut tree

A heavy armchair has been carried from the house over to the
walnut tree, beneath which Kaspar usually sits. Kaspar, propped
up by a couple of pillows, is sitting there in front of the four par-
sons. Fuhrmann is seated closest to him once again, but this
time Kaspar cannot lean evasively away from him because he is
thwarted by the tall back of the chair. It is a warm, sunny day.
Kaspar wears a long piece of bandage plastered across his brow.
He cannot imagine that this attempt to murder him had been
part of any divine plan, says Kaspar. The screen had somewhat
prevented the murderer from landing a solid blow; and it was he,
Kaspar himself, who had nailed the screen on one side to the wall
because the wind had blown it over several times.
Fuhrmann leans toward him, and since Kaspar cannot back
away, he pushes himself subtly up the back of his chair. He should
not fret so much about being persecuted, Fuhrmann says, but
should place his trust in God instead, for even this murder at-
tempt could not have happened without God’s will, nor, he adds,
could it have ended so happily.
Kaspar slides slowly down into his normal sitting position.
A thought graces his face. Yes, he says, that really makes sense
to him; God surely must have something against human beings,
judging from the way they were made.
All four pastors begin to talk at once. They hurl a horde of
arguments at Kaspar. We can understand only part of what they
are saying, something about the wise yet oftentimes inscrutable
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 107

ways of Divine Reason, of sane suffering for probation, by which

we weigh our Faith and abandon ourselves to His will. Otherwise
all we know is chaos.
Kaspar sits in his armchair, gazing at the pastors with

Country scene
Kaspar, Daumer, and Fuhrmann stand on a small hill overlook-
ing a lovely green valley. A short distance away from the group,
a poor old day laborer with an excessively heavy load of wood on
his back has paused as well, secretly partaking in the pleasure of
the wayfarers, the gentlemen. Is this the Labenbach, Fuhrmann
wants to know, this magnificent meadowland! Yes, says the day
laborer, trying not to reveal the stress caused by the burden on his
back, this was the Labenbach, he works there, he will soon have to
mow the whole meadow, a hard job for just one fellow like himself.
What a charming, rustic scene this is, and what a beautiful
meadow, Daumer says. Yes, says Fuhrmann, the landscape here is
as God commanded it to be. Kaspar stands off to the side, some-
what morose, scratching the scar on his forehead.
Daumer turns to him, wanting him to cheer up. He can’t
see anything beautiful here, everything is much too green, says
Kaspar. Daumer hands him a red tinted lens and has him look
through it. Yes, says Kaspar, he likes it this way a little more, but
he still can’t call it beautiful since the children down there—­he
should turn and look a bit that way—­have such raggedy clothes
on even when he sees them through the red lens. They surely don’t
get enough to eat, either.
Daumer leans toward Kaspar a little and, following his gaze,
we now see somewhat intimately an impoverished farmhouse at
the bottom of the hill with some poor-­looking children in rags,
barefoot and dirty, who stand stiffly, staring toward the wayfar-
ers, hesitating in a peculiar way as if they didn’t dare beg from
such strangers. They stand there in a weird fearfulness, a fear that
cowers over them.
That, says Fuhrmann, has nothing to do with the landscape,
108 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

the fertile valley. What is more, he adds, the poor are especially
dear to the heart of our Lord.
A poorly dressed farmer now comes hurrying out of the farm-
house and heads straight toward the three visitors. Even before
reaching them he politely begs them to leave. He works this farm
with his brother, who is the father of those children. The mother
of these poor little urchins died three days ago, and since then his
brother was out of his mind with grief. He might be a danger to
the gentlemen. Yesterday his brother killed two cows, to show the
calves how it feels to lose one’s mother.
Daumer and Fuhrmann retreat uncertainly. Kaspar stands
rooted to his spot and has to be dragged away by Fuhrmann. The
day laborer transforms into a living monument for all those who
must bear too heavy a burden. The rustic scene ensues.

Garden hedge, blackbird nest

Kaspar stands enraptured by the hedge in the farthest corner of
the garden. The drenched leaves are dripping with rain, but the
rain subsided some time ago. Kaspar cautiously spreads apart
a couple of twigs, revealing to us a blackbird’s nest in a forked
branch about breasthigh containing four young ones who huddle
in their nest half-­naked still, closely pressing together.
And now we also perceive that Kaspar has pulled a sheer black
stocking over his right hand, and that he has made a fist inside
underneath. He lets only his middle finger protrude a bit, like a
nose. On both sides of the middle finger, where it is attached to
the hand, he has stuck two lightly colored stones, so the fist rather
resembles a small face with two eyes and a nose.
Kaspar carefully moves the hand with the tiny face down close
to the nest, and to his indescribable delight, the little blackbirds
stretch their necks out toward the face, opening their beaks wide
while chirping for food. Kaspar withdraws his hand again and
lapses into deep thought.
Then he notices that the blackbird mother is sitting with some
food on the hedge, very near the nest. Kaspar turns his back quite
carefully, stepping away stealthily on his heels.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 109

Sunday, square in front of the church

A beautiful, calm, sunny Sunday; on the square in front of the
church some sparrows are having a row. Some wagons and car-
riages nearby. In the background, an old woman is sitting in front
of her house on a stone bench, sleeping.
Through the open door of the church we hear the distant sing-
ing of the congregation as services are being held inside. For a
long time nothing stirs.
All of a sudden we see Kaspar rushing distractedly out the
door and down the steps into the open square, the sparrows
take to the air. He wears a black coat with white gloves and
looks as if he had been squeezed into his suit. Behind him
Daumer hurries down the steps with coattails flying, catching
up with Kaspar.
The two of them, closer. Kaspar doesn’t even wait for Daumer’s
question. The congregation’s singing seems to him like some re-
pulsive screaming, he says. “First the people scream, and when
they leave off, then the parson starts to scream.”

Garden, the bed of watercress

Daumer’s garden, a calm idyllic spot in the afternoon. Kaspar is
sitting under his walnut tree at the little garden table, writing on
a big sheet of paper with utter devotion. He dips the pen into a lit-
tle inkwell, meticulously blowing a wasp away, though it persists
in sitting on the edge of his paper. The sun is baking the goose-
berry bushes beside him. In the shadow of the bushes, a separate
little flower bed has been raked and planted and pruned with a
great deal of love. The name KASPAR has been written upon it
elegantly with watercress seedlings. Part of the bed is trampled
down, with the A and the R having suffered in particular. Kaspar
glances up from his sheet of paper, softly reading over to himself
what he has written.

KASPAR: “I beg Mr. Daumer to read this paper only with good
will. Yesterday it was quiet, so I went in the canoe; and the
110 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

oarsman sat quietly and praised the journey. Days before I

had sowed my name with garden cress, and these had come
up beautifully, and had caused me so much pleasure that I
don’t know how to express it. And yesterday, when I come
home from the boat trip, there was someone who had entered
the garden and borne off with many pears and did trample
my name. Then I wept for a long time, and I want to sow the
bed anew . . .”

The light in the garden slowly fades. The stiff trees stand dead
still. A music sets in, very gently and devoid of pathos.

Open field, night

It is a bright mild night, the moon is shining over a field and a
forest that stands dark and submerged in silence. Kaspar and
Daumer are standing with eyes staring upward at the starlit fir-
mament. Kaspar’s astonishment and rapture surpass all that we
have seen of him so far.
This was truly the most beautiful thing he has ever seen in
this world, he exclaims. But who was it who put all those many
lights up there, who lights them and who puts them out. Daumer
tries to explain that the stars, just like the sun that he already
knows about, shine all the time, although they aren’t always
Again Kaspar asks who it was who put them up there so that
they are burning all the time. And why can’t one see them during
the day, where are they then. Finally, with head bowed, he sinks
into deep serious thought.
Kaspar sets himself on a bench and asks Daumer why that
evil man had kept him locked in all the time without ever letting
him see any of these wonderful things. He wished that someone
would put this man in prison, too, for just one day, so that he knew
what it meant to be in Darkness. After that, Kaspar lapses into
prolonged weeping that can hardly be stopped. Daumer stands
still and does not know how to help him.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 111

Daumer’s garden, gravel path

Daumer is walking along the garden path lost in thought, a book
tucked under his arm. Katy is pulling weeds from a vegetable bed.
Kaspar suddenly rushes toward him, tottering and stopping
in front of Daumer. Like a mime on the stage, he mutely holds
his arms outstretched and flails about frightfully.
For God’s sake what has happened to him, says Daumer, who
discovers blood and a puncture wound in Kaspar’s breast. Katy
rushes over from her bed with her fingers full of mud. Kaspar
cannot speak. He tries to pull Daumer with him.

In the Hofgarten
Kaspar is pulling Daumer with him across a lawn in the park. He
stumbles rather than walks.

Hofgarten, small fountain

A small stone fountain with some nymphs. Behind it an artifi-
cial, ivy-­covered grotto. The fountain has dried up and the muddy
ground nearby has been excavated into a pit. Evidently they are
repairing the water pipes, but there aren’t any workmen. A few
shovels and pushcarts are scattered around. Huge chestnut trees
in the background.
We see Kaspar pulling Daumer toward the fountain. He stops
near the pit and points to the ground. That, there, was given to
him by the man who then stabbed him. Kaspar suddenly regains
his speech.
Closer. We see a small black bag on the ground, which is now
picked up by Daumer. It seems to be empty, but then a small piece
of paper folded over several times emerges.
The slip of paper, close up; backwards script to be read re-
flected in a mirror. We hear Kaspar blurt out that the park gar-
dener had ordered him here by a messenger, to see the various
levels of earth at the excavation.
Daumer, who has realized that the strange symbols on the
112 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

paper are mirror-­script, holds the paper against the sun so he can
see the text show through on the other side. He reads: “Hauser
will be able to tell you what I look like and where I am from.
To save Hauser the trouble I shall tell you myself where I come
from . . . I come from the Bayvarian border . . . at the river . . .
I even want to tell you my name—­M.L. O . . .

Daumer’s house, entrance

Mrs. Hiltel runs up to the entrance and rings. The door is opened
at once from within.

Kaspar’s room
Kaspar is half-­reclining on the bed, pale and disfigured, an image
of horror. He hasn’t removed his clothes yet, on his chest alone the
clothes and the shirt have been pulled apart. Kaspar is not com-
pletely stretched out, his body turned to the wall in a half-­lying,
half-­sitting position, his legs dangling from the bed onto the floor.
Daumer is in the room and Katy hands him a bowl with a
damp cloth. Fuhrmann has squeezed himself in beside the bed,
trying to stay out of the way. The surgeon-­general of the town is
with Kaspar, fondling his wound, which is not visible to us be-
cause of Kaspar’s half-­averted position. Mrs. Hiltel comes into
the room.
“Mother shall come, Mother shall come, the Mother,” whispers
Kaspar, but he doesn’t recognize Mrs. Hiltel, who is bending over
him. The doctor raises Kaspar’s upper torso, bending him for-
ward a bit, then he feels with his little finger down in the wound.
He can feel a membrane, he says, and now he distinctly feels the
throbbing heart muscle with his fingertip. The wound now seems
more dangerous than it had appeared to be from the surface. “To
Regensburg, to Regensburg,” Kaspar calls out, and in his delirium
he springs halfway out of bed. The doctor is still sticking his finger
into Kaspar’s breast, wrestling him down again with a great deal
of effort. Kaspar loses consciousness.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 113

Daumer’s living room

On his sofa, which has been converted to a bed, Kaspar lies in a
yellow jaundiced pallor, though inwardly he is serene. The room is
filled with people, and from the appearance of those surrounding
Kaspar’s bed we can gather that this is his deathbed. Mrs. Hiltel
is present with Julius, a doctor, a male nurse, Daumer, Katy, the
municipal judge, Fuhrmann, and the three pastors. Embarrassed
stillness reigns. Kaspar is clearly conscious but only manages to
whisper. The people stand solemnly around Kaspar’s bed.
Do you have anything to relieve your heart of, Fuhrmann says,
bending over. Yes, says Kaspar and stays silent. Then, after a long
pause: there was the story of the desert, of the caravan, but he
still knew just the beginning of it. He should tell it anyway, says
Daumer, that wouldn’t matter now.

Vision of the Sahara

Kaspar, close. He is silent again. After a while he begins to whis-
per. He saw a long caravan coming through the desert. In the cara­
van were merchants, and suddenly some of them were puzzled
because the outline of some hazy mountains was emerging be-
fore them. One of them now rode up ahead to stop the leader.
They seemed to have lost their way as tall mountains appeared in
front of them, they were beholding towering mountains. There the
blind leader stopped, sniffed the wind, and then took a handful
of sand from the ground, tasting it carefully. Son, says the blind
man, son, you are wrong. What you see before you are not moun-
tains. It was just a hallucination, it was just a mirage. They headed
further north. Yes, they headed irrevocably northward, and then
the real story began, in some oriental city. The story should be
called: City in the Mountains, or City of the Far North, but the
history that transpired in this city he didn’t know.
While Kaspar narrates, images are flickering past. We see a
big caravan like errant light come over the sand dunes, mythically
grand. We see the blind Berber, walking in front on foot. We see
fat Arabian merchants, pointing ahead, scanning a map, reading
114 Every Man for Himself and God Against All

a compass with confused gestures. We see a fat merchant driving

a dromedary forward. We see how he dismounts, stopping the
leader. We see glimmering mountains swimming as if in a lake.
The leader tastes the sand with his tongue like a cook. The images
become lighter, flickering away.
Kaspar, close. He has reflected for quite some time, Kaspar
whispers, but the actual story has not occurred to him yet. He is
silent for a long while. He thanks them for listening to him. He is
tired, says Kaspar.

In the Anatomy
A bare room: the anatomy chamber, a tiled floor that inclines
from all sides toward a drain in the room. Big, high windows;
from outside the light heats within. On one of the side walls a
faucet without a sink, which is fully flowing constantly though
no one closes it. The water runs into a drain beside the table. On
the table is Kaspar’s corpse, whitish, with yellow-­green patches;
the body is opened wide and pulled apart with hooks. The head is
nearly beyond recognition because the top of the skull has been
removed and the brain set free.
Close. On the sole of Kaspar’s foot is a simple registration tag
adhering to it with glue, with the initials K.H., a date, and some
elaborate registration numbers.
Five physicians are leaning over Kaspar’s corpse, disembowel-
ing him like vultures. Quiet, busy, matter-­of-­fact, scientific greed.
“Mister Surgeon-­G eneral,” one of them says, “look, there you
are, the liver, the left lobe in particular is stretching extremely
far, swollen all the way to the pleura.”
“I cannot see,” says the Surgeon-­G eneral, pushing in front.
“Mr. Physician, please remove this exudation first so I can judge
for myself.”
The interest intensifies, they have discovered something ab-
normal, as if that could explain everything. After having sepa-
rated the two hemispheres of the brain, one of them discovers
that the cerebellum is rather large and well developed in relation
to the cerebrum, and that the posterior lobe of the left hemisphere
Every Man for Himself and God Against All 115

refuses to cover the cerebellum, as is normally the case. The busy

greed increases as something extraordinary has been discovered,
the brain is being sliced into pieces. From the tap the water keeps
flowing full force, the light from the window is blinding.
Then, all of a sudden, music sets in. An aria from a very old
recording, full of dignity, beautiful and solemn. The voice carries
peacefully and without strain. The doctors work efficiently, dia-
bolically. The water flows incessantly from the faucet. The music
overwhelms the conversation.
Then, as the music grows stronger, our gaze moves slowly away
from the group and is drawn as if by magic to the window. The
light becomes painfully bright. View from the window; outside on
a dusty square, blinding as if lighted by electricity, three people
are standing immobile. They are waiting. Then after a long time,
the carriage they have been waiting for arrives. It emerges swiftly
from trees that are petrified from the heat. White, glowing dust
swirls up and settles again, glaringly hot. The carriage stops
right in front of the people. Calmly and as a matter of course, the
coachman waits until the three have entered the open carriage.
All available seats are taken. Now we expect the carriage to leave
as matter-­of-­factly as it arrived, but it simply doesn’t move. No
stirring, no protest from the passengers. They just sit there like
stone, and the vehicle doesn’t move. Why aren’t they moving, the
carriage had come so swiftly. Prolonged stasis, nothing stirs, the
passengers sit, staring straight ahead.
A stray dog passing by increases the lifeless rigidity. The horse,
playing with its ears apathetically, slowly lowers its head.
The music stops. A gruesome horrible light over everything,
without shadows. The carriage stands and stands and doesn’t
move on. In the midst of this unheard-­of rigidity and paralysis,
the vehicle stands stock-­still with the people inside it. The square
is filled with electric inflexibility.
The carriage doesn’t, and doesn’t, and doesn’t move on.
Land of Silence and Darkness

“From the Life of the Deaf and Blind Fini Straubinger”


The Field Path

FINI STRAUBINGER: I see before me a path that leads across an
unplowed field, and fugitive clouds fleeing past.

The Ski-­Jumper
FINI: As a child, when I could still see and hear, I once visited
a ski-­jumping event; and this image keeps returning to my
mind, how these men were hovering in the air. I watched
their faces very closely. I wish you could see that too, once.

On the Park Bench

RESI MITTERMEIER: Could Mrs. Straubinger tell us about the
animals again?
FINI: That was such an enormous pleasure for us. First we were
led into the room for the crawling animals. There was a
roebuck of normal size—­they were all normal animals that
had been stuffed for the instruction of the blind. There was
a very beautiful roebuck, its fur was so beautiful. Beside it
lay a stag’s head of a capital buck, a twelve-­branched antler.
118 Land of Silence and Darkness

And there was its neck as well, and the gaping mouth. I was
awestruck by that huge animal. Then there were—­hares,
yes!—­in leaping and sitting posture, one could touch them
all over. Some of us felt creepy because there were also some
mice. In the second room there were only the flying animals.
First there was a black woodpecker on a branch, which was
interesting . . . then its little brother, the colored woodpecker.
I was enraptured! Those long beaks! Then a pheasant with
its long feathers. What a pity that we couldn’t see the colors.
RESI: Could Miss Julie tell us about the animals as well?
FINI: They are asking you whether you can talk about the
JULIE: I don’t remember much.
FINI: She doesn’t remember much. But, what you do remember.
JULIE: I touched some animals that I had never seen before
in my life—­pheasants, crocodiles, snakes, tigers, lions, and
several others. And some that we also have here in Europe—­
goats, roebucks, hares, foxes, and even a mouse.

On the Plane
Title: Flying for the first time
Title: Memories

In Fini’s Room
FINI: As a child I was very temperamental. My mother had a
hard time with me and tried time and time again to keep
me in line. Father died at the age of thirty-­three, I wasn’t
even six years old. And so it happened that I lived my own
life whenever I had the slightest breath of fresh air. Then it
came to pass that I fell down the stairs at the age of nine.
That is to say, I somersaulted from the third floor down to
the second, and I fell so hard on my back and on the back
of my head that a man who was standing nearby thought it
Land of Silence and Darkness 119

was a gunshot. He asked: Did you hurt yourself? No, I said.

Please, don’t tell Mommy or else she will spank me. And
on all fours I crept up the stairs, for I couldn’t walk any
more. Apparently I was very frightened and had received
quite a shock . . . like a good child I sat down beneath the
window and pleaded: Holy guardian angel help so Mommy
doesn’t spank me! But from then on I always had nausea
and headaches, something I had never known before. When
the vomiting started, the doctor thought it was from grow-
ing, the second one said the same. Only the third doctor said
that the child had suffered a fall. And at school I was very
attentive and I showed interest—­the schoolmistress said one
day: Listen Fini, you must pay attention not to write below
the line! Yes, I said, but I always pay attention. Then it oc-
curred to me that I didn’t even see the line. I had wanted to
embroider very much, and then it happened that I was forced
to stop halfway through my embroidery. The teacher said:
Go home, you can’t see it anyway. And I didn’t feel like knit-
ting . . . but. And from then on, it gradually went downhill.
First, I went totally blind at the age of fifteen and three-­
quarters. At that time I also had to stay in bed, I had some
very serious inflammations of the eyes. And then at the age of
eighteen my hearing began to fail me. At first I didn’t realize
what that funny buzzing in my ears was. And then one day I
simply didn’t hear anymore. Mother spoke to me and I didn’t
understand her. She came to my bed and said: But don’t you
hear me? Why don’t you answer? I asked: What? Did you say
something? Yes, of course, she said. I talked to you all that
time, and you have given no answer. So I said: But Mommy
I didn’t hear you. Then we both were very frightened. And
it kept changing: sometimes I didn’t hear with my right ear,
and sometimes I didn’t hear with my left. I wanted to see a
doctor, I wanted help, I tried foot baths, I prayed fervently,
but it didn’t help. Gradually I proceeded to lose my hearing,
down to five percent. Initially I accepted it from the religious
side. That gave me strength, but the loneliness, the terrible
120 Land of Silence and Darkness

loneliness stayed with me. People promised: Yes, I will come

and visit you, but they didn’t come; and if they ever did, they
sat at my bedside chatting with my mother, and I was very
quiet. And when I asked, I received a slight tap, and: Be
quiet, I’ll tell you later what we were talking about. Yes, I
wanted to grasp something of life.
RESI: How long were you confined to the bed?
FINI: Almost thirty years. Again and again I tried to get up.
There were periods when I could hardly move. Were those
ever times! Then the doctor realized that it was a permanent
disease, that perhaps it would take a very long time, and he
deprived me of the morphine. That was hard for me, but I
got over it. It is like this: one thinks of deafness, that it is
complete stillness. But oh no, that is wrong. It is a never-­
ending noise in the head, ranging down to the lowest ring-
ing, perhaps the way sand sounds, trickling, then knocking,
but worst of all it pounds in the head so that one never knows
where to turn one’s head. That is a great torture for us. This
is the reason why we are sometimes so touchy, and don’t
know what to do. It is precisely the same thing with blind-
ness: it is not complete darkness. Oftentimes there are very
strange shades of color in front of one’s eyes: black, gray,
white, blue, green, yellow . . . it depends.

Birthday Party
FINI: Hello, Mr. Messmer! I’m so pleased that you’ve come.

Commentary: On her fifty-­sixth birthday, Fini Straubinger has

invited friends who are, just like her, both deaf and blind. Such
a party is not easy to organize because each deaf and blind per-
son needs a helper who interprets the conversation into his or her
hand, for among themselves they can neither see nor hear.

FINI: Hello, hello, Mrs. Meier, Mr. Forster, where is Mr. Forster?
Hello, Mr. Forster! Please tell Mrs. Meier what we are talk-
Land of Silence and Darkness 121

ing about. That is someone with remnants of eyesight. But

this group must be looked after as well so that they are not
pushed overnight into the Land of Silence and Darkness.
Hello, dear little Julie.
JULIE: Where is Mr. Hundhammer?

FINI: O noble knight George, where are you? Here! Good after-
noon, Mr. Hundhammer. I am sincerely grateful that you
will be looking after Julie. Good afternoon!
JULIE: Has everyone arrived?

MR. HUNDHAMMER: Yes. Yes, they are all there.

FINI: Who, but who is this? Mrs. Augustin? No . . . that’s

Chipmunk! Welcome, my Chipmunk!
To all people present, a nice afternoon! Now please, who
can recite a poem?
JULIE: I would like to ask that you translate for the deaf and
blind in the finger alphabet. I shall speak as slowly as pos-
sible so that the people can keep up with me. For when the
deaf and blind forever squats down, staring into the void, he
feels ever so oppressed, and now I am going to read a poem
particularly suited for this point in time. It is titled “The
Finest Art.”
To see from afar how others rejoice,
fills with pleasure the holiest task,
and for our own good nothing do we ask.
To live in the shade, the sun so far,
and yet to shine, for the others a star,
that is an art, which only he knows,
in whose soul the wind of heaven blows.
DEAF AND BLIND WOMAN: Shall I begin? Yes.
Annie with her pretty hood
is at all times kind and good.
Dost for our care and keep
every day our staircase sweep.
Our thanks do we convey,
here and now, and every day.
122 Land of Silence and Darkness

Botanical Garden
Commentary: In the afternoon, Fini Straubinger and her guests
visit the botanical garden.

GARDENER: You may touch one if you like, because they are very
solid. Pillar-­shaped . . .
RESI: Pillar-­shaped. Nothing but cactus!
FINI: How interesting!
GARDENER: Here we come to the fruits of the cactus . . .
RESI: A fruit of a cactus . . .
GARDENER: We might as well pick one. This is the fruit.
The natives eat it, its meat . . . (is quite fruity)
FINI: Who can eat that?
GARDENER: The natives.
RESI: The natives.
FINI: Are they ripe yet?
GARDENER: No, not like that.
FINI: Thank you.
GARDENER: No, not like that.
FINI: Thank you.
GARDENER: You are welcome.
FINI: Look here . . . a bamboo!
RESI: This is a bamboo, isn’t it?
FINI: Look here, I imagined it to be quite different . . .

On the Train
FINI: All of that will be in January . . . then again we will have
a lot of work. First of all the visits here, then the trip to the
Land of Silence and Darkness 123

Upper Palatinate. No, before Christmas is out of the ques-

tion! I wonder just how much I will have to prepare for
Christmas . . . Mr. Schwarzhuber said I should prepare a
play. But how, what, and when?

Commentary: For four years, Fini Straubinger has been taking

care of the deaf and blind people in Bavaria. She was nominated
to do so by the Bavarian Association for the Blind. With her com-
panion Resi Mittermeier, who guides her and interprets by a fin-
ger alphabet, she makes regular visiting tours in the country. She
establishes contact with the deaf and blind there, taking care of
their problems.

FINI: Ah, my ticket, thank you!

If I were endowed with the divine gift of a painter, I
would paint the fate of the deaf and blind roughly like this:
Blindness as a dark melodious stream that slowly but surely
flows toward a fall. To the left and to the right are beauti-
ful trees with flowers and birds that sing wonderfully. The
other stream, which comes from the other side, should be
very clear and transparent. This stream flows slowly and
soundlessly downward as well, and then, below, there is a
very dark, deep lake. First there would be rocks on both
sides where the rivers converge, the dark one and the
clear one, against which the waters push, foam, and form
whirlpools; and then, very slowly, very very very gently,
they flow together in this very dark pool. And these waters
would be very still and from time to time they would spray
upward. This would depict the tortured soul of the deaf
and blind. I don’t know if you actually understood prop-
erly. The pushing and spraying of the waters against the
rock are, so to speak, the psychological depressions of the
soul that accompany the deaf and blind when he proceeds
toward deafness and blindness. I cannot paint it otherwise,
it is right inside me so, but one doesn’t know to get it out
in words.
124 Land of Silence and Darkness

In the Insane Asylum

Commentary: Here in a Lower Bavarian asylum, Else Fehrer has
been living for two years; she is forty-­eight years old. Her mother,
the only person with whom she could communicate, is dead.

FINI: Welcome, my dear companion of Fate! Yes, that is the sign

of recognition. Miss Fehrer attended the School for the Blind
in Munich for two years as a child. She learned braille, but
since she has had no practice she has forgotten.

Commentary: Since no charity or old people’s home would accept

Else Fehrer, she was sent, out of necessity, to an insane asylum,
where she doesn’t belong at all. Else Fehrer withdrew completely
into herself. She never spoke again.

FINI: The last years that she spent with her mother she was still
able to read somewhat from the mouth. But that is over now
as well.
RESI MITTERMEIER: She is looking at me all the time.
FINI: Ah, well . . .
For you, my dear Else, yes, for you.
RESI: She’s looking at you all the time.
FINI: I . . . blind . . . deaf, like you, blind and deaf, too. Not
another word more.
FINI: I might try . . . (guides Else’s hand in cursive letters)
blind . . . deaf, yes! You and I are sisters of Fate! You poor,
poor human being, no contact with the world!
RESI: She doesn’t speak.
FINI: Yes, it is because she has forgotten her speech over these
many years. There is no bridge to her.
RESI: Fini—­Fini Straubinger, from Munich, yes?
FINI: Does she speak?
RESI: No. But she is looking at us attentively.
Land of Silence and Darkness 125

Title: When you let go of my hand it is as if we were separated by

a thousand miles.

Congress Hall
GERMAN PRESIDENT HEINEMANN: The other group of those
who cannot cope with an achievement-­oriented society,
which literally means: those who cannot get their right if it
is only the achievement that counts, are the handicapped. To
them society owes more than tolerance for what they are, or
how they are. To them society owes a taking into its midst in
myriad ways. Ultimately, we deal with the consciousness of
us all in our attitude toward handicapped people. And I must
speak out at this point in utter frankness that I consider
some of our attitudes in our society, I consider them terrify-
ing. A society that doesn’t know how to treat old people, sick
people, and handicapped people of all kinds as a natural part
of its own, proclaims its own judgment.

On the Park Bench

FINI: That was a very great experience. Yes, I was quite taken
aback when the president first approached me and grabbed
my left hand with his left hand. His hand was cool, but not
cold. And as I was presenting my petition I kept feeling a
slight pressure, so that I knew I was understood, and that I
was truly understood. And what I said was the following:
Honorable Mr. President! Please grant your benign at-
tention to the deaf and blind as well. Help us out of our
isolation . . . help us to find noble people who will lift us
out of our loneliness.
RESI: Could you explain to us how “Lorming” works?
FINI: Oh yes! The entire Lorming system consists of strokes
and points. But one must watch very closely how to apply the
points and strokes. For example: the short strokes are made
from top to bottom; h, g, d, b, and p from bottom to top.
126 Land of Silence and Darkness

Q is this; the a, e, i, o, u is tapped on the fingertips. If you tap

with all of your four fingers into the palm of the hand, it is a
k. If you make a stroke across the palm of the hand, it is a z.
And the entire alphabet is like this.

FINI: R, e. Pleasure.
URSULA: Yes. I takes a long time, doesn’t it, until I understand.
RESI: Who practices with you sometimes?
URSULA: How, with me? Lorming? No one. Like my brother
says: Don’t reckon I can recall.
RESI: Then you could talk to him more easily.
URSULA: Naw, he only follows the dialect.

Commentary: On a farm near Freising, Fini Straubinger visits

the brother and sister Ursula and Joseph Rittermeier. Ursula is
deaf and almost blind, but she can still understand language by
reading lips.

URSULA: You only follow dialect. You can’t speak High German, no.

Commentary: Her brother is blind, though he still possesses rem-

nants of hearing.

URSULA: Lorming, you said, you’ll never learn. Can’t follow it,
you said.
RESI: He has said Straubinger.
FINI: I have brought you a money box.
URSULA: Here, look!
FINI: Joseph, I have brought your money box.
URSULA: You can put in ten pfennig pieces, five pfennigs, one
mark, fifty pfennigs . . . Now stick it in, uh-­huh, an’ when you
need it, shove it through again, then the money will pop out.
Land of Silence and Darkness 127

Don’t shove too hard! Thataway! Got it? Okay? Now shove it
in. Naw, press first. Naw, not yet.
This is our parents’ house. And this is our vegetable garden.
And there is the meadow. There my brother Joseph often
mowed with his scythe.

URSULA: The laundry, yes.

FINI: A big wash, mmm.

FINI: Joseph, I don’t see or hear either, just like you. We are
comrades in Fate . . . but now I’m wobbly.
RESI: Ask him if he understood.
URSULA: You get that?
URSULA: Your head, man! Stand up, Sepp, you ain’t so old yet.

Commentary: These deaf and blind here have never been to the
zoo. Some of them have not touched a live animal in years. It
would be simple to provide them with such a pleasure, but you
find too few people who are willing to guide deaf and blind people.

FINI (WITH CHIMPANZEE): Shall I let go? We must not hurt

him! There now, good.
FINI (WITH A LITTLE GOAT): May I pick it up? But only if the
mother approves . . .

Hannover School for the Deaf and Blind

Title: Children born deaf and blind
MR. BASKE: This is Harold, Mrs. Straubinger. Harold is one of my
first pupils, he came to me five years ago. He came as a small
128 Land of Silence and Darkness

untamed boy, upsetting everything and breaking everything.

It took a lot of effort to make him adjust to a daily routine, to
familiarize him with his duties. It took a year for him to grasp
the preliminary concept of the finger alphabet. Helen Keller
speaks of this grasping as the recognition, the spiritual birth
of the deaf and blind. And thus, the actual schooling for deaf
and blind children commences at this moment. Since Michael,
who sits next to me, still had remnants of hearing, we did not
start him on the finger alphabet, but we have used on him the
vibration method developed by the Americans, in which the
children feel the word from the lips and repeat it. Michael,
this is a car with a trailer! It is very difficult to guess the mood
of our pupils, their thoughts and their emotions, and in most
cases we are forced to resort to our own supposition.
FINI: I can still remember being there two and a half years ago,
when Harold was such a young foal, so to speak. He was
inclined toward watches and bracelets.
MR. BASKE: It is much more difficult to teach them abstract
terms. We dress up these abstract terms in little stories. If
we explain “good,” “loving,” we say: Harold gets up, Harold
studies, Harold helps Sabina, Harold is good. Then we try
to classify the opposite by saying: Harold spanks Sabina,
Harold pulls Sabina’s hair, Harold snatches something from
Sabina, Harold is bad. Thus, with a little example, you can
demonstrate how we explain “good” and “bad.”

Swimming Pool
MR. BASKE: So, Mrs. Straubinger, now we will dip into the water . . .

Commentary: Harold was scared to death by the water. It has

taken more than a year to get him to follow his teacher into the
swimming pool.

MR. BASKE: And now I am trying to make him wade through

the pool alone.
Land of Silence and Darkness 129

MISTRESS: -­to, -­to
PUPIL: -­to, -­to . . .
MISTRESS: Yes! Michael also says “Auto.”
MISTRESS: Once more come here! Yes, speak up!
MISTRESS: The lamp is also blue. La-­

Commentary: During the language lessons earphones are used

as well. Harold can feel the sound waves through the vibrations.
But even if these children learn to speak in entire sentences, it is
still almost impossible to teach them abstract terms. What they
really imagine by “ambition,” “hope,” or “happiness” will forever
be alien to us.

Apartment, Waldkraiburg
Commentary: Vladimir Kokol is twenty-­t wo years old and was
born deaf and blind. All his life he has been taken care of by his
father exclusively, and he has never had special training. His
needs have never been used in order to stimulate his learning.
No one has ever tried to awaken his sense of Reason. Vladimir
has never learned to walk properly; he almost always accepts soft
food, which he gnashes with his tongue against his palate.

FINI: There he is! Welcome, Vladimir! I am just showing him so

he knows that someone is there.
With patience and observation you can still get a lot out of
him. He certainly won’t learn how to talk any more, but I am
sure he will learn to interpret gestures. Something I’ve been
observing from time to time is that he presses his nails into
130 Land of Silence and Darkness

my hand, but that is merely because he can’t make himself

understood otherwise. I am certain this isn’t malicious. Don’t
scratch, my little one! Now look, now he is giving me the
other hand!
This is a radio, isn’t it? He loves that, because he feels
something alive. Is this music? How do you put him to bed?
FATHER: Just guide him in front of the bed, then he goes.
FINI: Can he keep to the day and night rhythm at all? For that is
often very difficult with the deaf and blind. They simply can-
not keep to the day and night rhythm.
RESI: Does he know when it’s day and when it’s night, when one
gets up and when one goes to bed . . .
FATHER: No, he doesn’t know at all, but when it is time to sleep,
then someone has to lead him to the bed.
RESI: But then is he really willing to go to bed?
RESI: He can’t dress and undress alone?
FATHER: No, he can’t.
FINI: Ah, look, I’ve observed something! (Vladimir crosses
himself.) I must talk as well. I am sure you can get a lot out of
him. Be good! Now he is getting bored. Yes, I think so, too.

Old Age Home, Autumnal Park

Commentary: For five years, Heinrich Fleischmann, fifty-­one
years old, has been living with his mother in an old folks home
near Noerdlingen. At the age of thirty-­five, the farmer’s son went
blind on top of his congenital deafness. From then on his rela-
tives neglected him so that he completely forgot how to read and
write. After being expelled from the human community, Heinrich
Fleischmann sought the companionship of animals. For years he
has lived with cattle in a barn.

MOTHER: He is seeking your hand, don’t you see?

Land of Silence and Darkness 131

RESI: He is seeking the mother’s hand.

MOTHER: He knows me only from my ring.
FINI: We want to chat.
RESI AND FINI: Can he talk?
MOTHER: Yes, if he could read lips he could speak everything. I
could talk with him when he was still able to read lips, when
he was still able to see. But five years ago, for example, dur-
ing the winter, I led him to the window, and he said, “Snow.”
But I can’t bring anything close to him.
RESI: Now and then a word . . .
MOTHER: Very seldom, very seldom!
RESI: And when we were here, did he afterward ask who it was,
or not?
MOTHER: No . . . nothing, nothing. When my children come, he
recognizes none of them.
RESI: He doesn’t know his own brothers and sisters anymore?
MOTHER: No, he doesn’t know who it is.
RESI: He doesn’t want any more strangers.
FINI: He must have had his experiences . . .
MOTHER: Oh, there is bound to be a lot that I don’t know about.
FINI: Goodbye.
MOTHER: Ah, Heinrich, he is escaping now.
RESI: Did you say goodbye to him?
FINI: Yes, I did say goodbye to him. Goodbye, Mrs.
Fleischmann. All the best for the coming year as well!
MOTHER (TO THE CAMERA): Goodbye, gentleman!

Written title: If a World War broke out now, I wouldn’t even

notice it.
The Original Story


Enrico Caruso
Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, called Fitzcarraldo
Wilbur, his nephew, feebleminded
Bronski, actor
Molly, former singer
Jaime de Aguila, captain
Huerequeque, cook
Stan, juggler
The Mechanic
Don Aquilino, rubber baron
Don Araujo, rubber baron
The Borja Brothers, rubber barons
Opera Director
Black Lackey
McNamara, eleven-­year-­old Jívaro boy
Jesuit Missionaries
Inhabitants of Iquitos, Manaus, and Belén; Jívaro Indians;
plus Gringo and Verdi, Fitzcarraldo’s dogs, and Bald Eagle,
his parrot

134 Fitzcarraldo

The fundamental geographical pattern is vitally important for the
understanding of this text. The two tributaries of the Amazon,
the Pachitea and the Ucayali, do exist, but in reality their course
is completely different from the description in this story. Their
names have been selected only for their sound.
Only one thing matters for the story: both of them are tribu-
taries of the Amazon, running roughly parallel to one another. In
one place, far along their upper course, the rivers come very close
to each other. The Pachitea flows into the Amazon upstream from
the city of Iquitos, the Ucayali downstream. The upper course of
the Ucayali would be easily navigable if the Pongo das Mortes
rapids did not block the flow early on.
The Pongo das Mortes really exists, although in actuality it is
called Pongo de Manseriche and is situated on the upper course
of the Río Marañón.

Manaus, Teatro Amazonas, Night

The big, pompous opera house is festively illuminated, a row of
elegant carriages stretches all the way up the ramp, which is beau-
tifully ornamented with light and dark inlaid bricks. The clay-­
caked spokes of the wheels, in which huge jungle leaves have been
caught here and there, and the horses’ hooves give us the first hint
that the opera house has been built in the middle of nowhere, in
a jungle settlement suddenly become rich.
In front of the gigantic portal, two Indian palace guards stand
wearing uniforms from the wars of liberation. Their glances are
wrapped in jungle trance, far from all comprehension. By the
carriages, black servants in gala livery, hands gloved white, are
standing in wait. A distinguished-­looking gentleman with a top
hat and black cape, who apparently has arrived a bit late, hastens
toward the portal. “Champagne for the horses,” he hurriedly calls
to his servant. The latter hangs a bucket on the drawbar and actu-
ally fills it with several bottles of the choicest French champagne.
The horse slurps it up.
136 Fitzcarraldo

From the jungle, which can’t be far, cicadas shout their mo-
notonous song of the night; from inside the foyer of the opera
house we hear the typical mixture of festive murmuring and the
orchestra tuning its instruments. Apart from this, we hear only
the pawing and chewing of the horses. Only the champagne-­
drenched horse disturbs the pattern, accompanying his lapping
with a patient, long-­drawn-­out, long-­range fart. Otherwise all is
quiet. The horse makes a deadpan face. With the sound of a kettle
drum, the overture to Verdi’s A Masked Ball begins inside.
Closer to the portal. Full of awe, some curious onlookers—­
various barefooted half-­breeds, along with caucheros, the local
rubber workers, in tattered pants, and a few mulattos from the
poorer quarters—­have formed an impassable wall.
They are staring inside, listening intently to the music, which
meanwhile has opened up fully and oozes outward in muffled
tones. Only the liveried servants near the horses think them-
selves better and loll on the upholstery of the carriages. Near
the wall of closely packed people, under a glass showcase, a huge
poster proclaims in big letters ENRICO CARUSO and SARAH
BERNHARDT together in a sensational GALA PERFORMANCE
on the stage of the TEATRO AMAZONAS, MANAUS, and below, in
much smaller print, A Masked Ball, by Giuseppe Verdi.

Manaus, Harbor, Night

The moonlight reflects off a lake so wide we cannot make out the
far shore, and the lake moves. It is the monstrous middle stretch
of the Amazon River. At the edge, dozens of boats of all sizes,
most of them for cargo, are moored. Many of the boats have roofs
of corrugated tin or braided palm fronds, and next to them lie
cargo rafts made of balsa wood for cattle transport. A tree trunk
comes floating by, and directly after it a peke-­peke emerges, one
of those typical Amazon boats that appeared shortly after the
turn of the century, with a simple gasoline engine, covered by a
palm roof.
The engine does not work, and we see Fitzcarraldo, strenu-
Fitzcarraldo 137

ously rowing the boat with one paddle against the current, then
tying up on land. Wilbur is steering at the stern. Both wear white
linen suits, but Fitzcarraldo’s is visibly soiled with sweat and dark,
oily spots. His hands are wrapped in dirty bandages soaked with
blood and oil. He wears a battered straw hat, although the sun
went down a long time ago.
Wilbur is trying to heave a magnificent barber chair off the
boat, a chair that could only have been invented around the turn
of the century in a Latin country. But Fitzcarraldo urges him on
insistently. “My God,” he says, “we’re too late.”

Teatro Amazonas, Stage

The opera has reached its climax. The production, seen from the
audience, is bombastic in the extreme, overstylized. The turn of
the century celebrates itself.
It is the gloomy night scene, where Amelia timidly approaches
the high court to look for the magic herb under the gallows.
Theater lightning flashes through the fearsome landscape. Sarah
Bernhardt, as Amelia, is clearly limping; her flowing costume
cannot conceal that she has a wooden leg. Neither does she her-
self sing, but only moves her lips. Down in the orchestra pit stands
a real singer, singing the aria “If the herb, as the fortune teller
says . . .” for her.
Enrico Caruso, as Riccardo, who has followed her, urges her
to confess her love. Their feelings for each other flare up in a blaze
of wild passion in the duet “I am close to you,” while, unnoticed
by the two of them, the plotters lurk in the gloom of their hid-
ing place. Suddenly Renato, Amelia’s husband, appears to warn
Lord Riccardo of the conspirators. Amelia just manages to pull
the folds of her veil over her face. The men exchange cloaks, and
Riccardo leaves, as Renato begs him to, but demands from Renato
an oath that he will escort the veiled lady to the gates of the city
without speaking a word.
Then his path is barred by the plotters, the blackguards, who
demand to see the lady’s face. . . .
138 Fitzcarraldo

Manaus, Quay, Night

Fitzcarraldo and Wilbur hasten along the quay, where amid the
clay and muck a few miserable bars thrown together with old
boards serve sugarcane rotgut, where stuporous drunks play
cards, where prostitutes of the cheapest kind loiter about. One of
them blocks Fitzcarraldo’s way. “Hola!” she says. “Gringo!” But he
shuns her and hurries on. In his haste he has brought his paddle
with him.

Teatro Amazonas, Night

As before, the ragged, barefoot figures form a wall, as they lis-
ten intently to the sounds inside. The opera seems to be drawing
slowly to a close; a dramatic climax of delusion, death, and belated
recognition builds. When Fitzcarraldo and Wilbur come running
up, panting, the faces turn. Fitzcarraldo stops short when he re-
alizes everyone is staring at his paddle. He is embarrassed for a
moment because it is so out of place. Pulling himself together, he
puts on a small face and pulls Wilbur through the wall of gaping
people into the foyer.

Teatro Amazonas, Foyer

A festive radiance illuminates the huge, columned foyer. The
marble floor reflects the lights from the crystal chandeliers. On
the walls all around are garish jungle paintings with the lurk-
ing jaguar and other Amazonian imagery. At once, an elderly
black man in particularly splendid livery bars the way of the two
“Gentlemen,” he says in a refined tone of voice, “you may not
enter here—­this is a gala.” With a condescending look he assesses
the strangers’ clothes and paddle. “The Barber of Seville?” asks
Wilbur. “Figaro?”
Fitzcarraldo composes himself; he’s going to put everything on
the line. “We have been traveling ten days. We’ve come down the
Amazon fifteen hundred kilometers from Iquitos. Two days ago
our engine broke down. Look at this. Look at our hands! We’ve
Fitzcarraldo 139

been rowing two days and two nights, just to see Caruso for once
in our lives—­the great Caruso, the one and only—­in person.”
“Excuse me,” says the black man in a friendlier tone of voice,
“you have no tickets, and this performance has been sold out for
six months.”
“Please,” implores Fitzcarraldo, “we have to get in. I once had
my own theater, and I have to get in here. I too am going to erect
an opera house, in Iquitos, and Caruso is going to inaugurate it.
The plans are all set. It will be the greatest opera the jungle has
ever seen, and I am going to name you as Administrative Director
if you let me in now.” More and more urgently he insists, for, in-
side, the agony of the grand finale is already in the air.
“I myself would like to be inside,” says the black man, and
Fitzcarraldo senses that the ice has broken at last. “Make sure to
be very quiet,” says the black man, “and squeeze against the wall
back there by the entrance.”
“Figaro!” says Wilbur. “The Barber of Seville!” A joy known
only to the feeble-­minded radiates from within, illuminating him.

Teatro Amazonas, Auditorium

Red velvet and gilded chandeliers. Three tiers of balcony tower
one above the other. This opera house was begotten in lust.
Breathless silence reigns. On the apron of the stage, hardly visible
because he is lying on the floor in the throes of death, is Caruso
as Lord Riccardo, wearing the disguise of a harlequin for the
masked ball. Sarah Bernhardt, who as Amelia has now discarded
her shrouds, has thrown herself upon him, rather clumsily due
to her wooden leg, but nevertheless in utter exaltation.
The conductor is an imperious Italian with the look of a mili-
tary commander in his eyes. Beneath him stands the singer, who
sings Bernhardt’s part, while up on the stage Bernhardt merely
mouths the words.
Caruso, the dying man, in the robes of the harlequin, raises
himself for the last time for an aria. Leaning on his elbow, he
hands his murderer Renato a document guaranteeing him his
friendship and the inviolability of his honor. With his last words
140 Fitzcarraldo

he forgives his murderers and hails his homeland. Caruso flings

out his right hand, indicating an imaginary distance, where the
horizon lies, the other bank of the river, vaguely in the direction
where Fitzcarraldo stands.
Fitzcarraldo has pressed himself against the rear wall. He
clutches his paddle with his sore fist. He has removed his hat
as well. There he stands, the man, the witness of the sublime.
Caruso’s grand gesture from the stage pierces him like a lance.
“He was pointing at you,” Wilbur whispers to him.
Then the mighty curtain falls, with its colossal allegorical
painting of the birth of the Amazon River. Only the turn of the
century and the rutting imagination of the jungle could have given
birth to such a monstrous allegory. Tremendous applause surges
upward in foaming waves. Lights, festive glamour, cheers, bows,
curtain calls. Fitzcarraldo alone stands frozen like a pillar of salt.
Then, finally, the applause ebbs away, and the first specta-
tors leave the auditorium. Long evening gowns, jewels, tuxe-
dos, and starched shirtfronts. They press toward the exit where
Fitzcarraldo stands weeping in his rumpled linen suit with his
bloody hands, paddle in his fist. Disapproving glances; people
feel disturbed by Fitzcarraldo’s display of emotion. Wilbur doesn’t
quite know what to do and casts a troubled glance at Fitzcarraldo.
Then, caught by the same emotion, Wilbur too begins to weep.
The loneliness of what they have just experienced unites the two,
forges their bond, the secret of which we can only guess.

Teatro Amazonas, Office of the Director

The ostentatious office of the director, a stout man with an alert
intelligence and a sentimental bent. He is seated behind his ma-
hogany desk, on which is one of the very first telephones, along
with framed photographs of opera singers with autographs, a pot-
ted palm next to them, orchids in a sumptuous vase. Fitzcarraldo
and Wilbur are sitting across from him; they have been offered
tiny cups of black mocha.
“Fitzcarraldo?” asks the director with feigned astonishment.
“Let me explain,” says Fitzcarraldo. “My father was an Irish-
Fitzcarraldo 141

man, and my real name is Fitzgerald. Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald.

But in Peru nobody could pronounce my name correctly, so I
modified it a bit.”
“Fitzgerald? Iquitos?” wonders the opera director. “You’re not
by any chance the man with the railroad?”
“Yes,” admits Fitzcarraldo, somewhat embarrassed, “the Trans-­
Andean Railway from the Amazon over the Andes to the coast
of the Pacific. But that enterprise, as you certainly have heard,
fell through. At the moment I am trying my luck as an ice manu­
facturer in order to raise some money. I’m only doing it because I
have but one dream, the opera: the Grand Opera in the jungle. I
am going to build it, and Caruso will inaugurate it!”
“Yes, Caruso,” echoes Wilbur devotedly.

Teatro Amazonas, Backstage

The opera director conducts his visitors backstage, where the sets
have been taken away minutes earlier. “Our house might be too
small in a couple of years,” he tells them. “For five years now we’ve
been the richest city in the world.”
“And Iquitos,” adds Fitzcarraldo, “is catching up. As far as rub-
ber is concerned, we have almost reached the same production
“This place is getting a little crazy,” says the director. “Our
prices are now four times as high as in New York; palaces are
being built with tiles from Delft and marble from Florence. We
have a telephone network with three hundred connections, more
than Paris. And the people who are more well-­to-­do, if I may use
that expression, send their laundry to be done in Lisbon, because
the water in the Amazon is felt to be too impure. Unfortunately,
our governor Ribeiro has died . . .”
“What?” says Fitzcarraldo. “He couldn’t have been more than
thirty years old.”
“You know, between ourselves, although the newspapers gave
a different version of the incident,” the director replies myste-
riously, “he strangled himself in a fit of erotic frenzy.” Then he
adds in a more formal tone, “Our governor Ribeiro said at the
142 Fitzcarraldo

inauguration of this house: ‘If the growth of this city calls for it,
we will tear down this opera house and build a bigger one.’ This
one was put right in the middle of the jungle—­now see how the
city has grown up around it.”

Teatro Amazonas, on Stage

Fitzcarraldo, Wilbur, the director, and the uniformed man from
the night before wander through the auditorium; without people
it now seems much vaster but no longer as festive and glamorous.
Nevertheless, this theater is unique in the entire world. Wilbur
feels the velvet upholstery of the seats and tries out several, one
after another.
Fitzcarraldo, who addresses the black man as “Mr. Adminis-
trative Director,” tests the hall’s acoustics from the stage, shouting
Ho! and Ha! and clapping his hands, listening to the echo.

Dressing Room
Inside the dressing room used by Caruso just shortly before,
Fitzcarraldo is noticeably quiet, impressed.
“Do you know how much Caruso got for this one evening?” the
director asks. “Two hundred thousand gold escudos,” he answers
himself. “And Sarah Bernhardt almost twice as much, though she
can’t even sing, but the public here wanted both of them at once.”
“Where has my nephew gone?” asks Fitzcarraldo. “Have you
seen Wilbur?”

Teatro Amazonas, on Stage

Fitzcarraldo and the black man find Wilbur cowering in a chair
in the middle of the stage, frightened, like a nocturnal animal
suddenly blinded by a searchlight. Fitzcarraldo tries to see what
Wilbur sees. But there is only the yawning void of the empty au-
ditorium, with its row upon row of empty seats, staring back mo-
tionless, expectant, as if the people to fill them were unnecessary.
Fitzcarraldo 143

Then there are the big fans, with their long, long, rotating wooden
blades twitching as they turn. “This man here knows what a stage
is,” says Fitzcarraldo.

Amazon River, toward Evening

Gigantic, almost motionless, the vast river is resting in itself.
Calmly and surely, Fitzcarraldo’s boat follows its course. Up-
stream, to the west, the heavens are lit by the glowing red light
of the evening sky. Steam sinks down upon the jungle. Parrots
fly in flocks over the boat, squawking in their typically restless
flight. Quiet and composed, Wilbur and Fitzcarraldo sit and steer
the boat against the current, into the night. Wilbur is stretched
out comfortably in his barber chair, his feet propped up on the

Tres Cruces, Dawn

Their backs to us, as in an old painting, Fitzcarraldo and Wilbur
sit and survey a visionary land now resting in the mythical mists
of early morning. They are on the last heights of the Andes, from
which the jungle descends into the immeasurable expanse of the
Amazon basin. Into unimaginable depths the jungle ripples out to
where sight gives out and vision begins. The view is beyond com-
pare; in the whole of South America there is nothing like it. As
immense as an ocean extending to the edges of the universe, the
jungle stretches out, steaming, as on the morning of Creation, still
indistinct, full of animal noise. A music swells up, magnificent,
breathtaking, and measured, as a hundred million birds awaken
far below our feet. The earth lies in wait, calmly and patiently, but
the sky begins to quiver as if this were some painful quaking of the
heavens, something like the birth throes of heaven.
Softly, almost hesitantly, Fitzcarraldo begins to speak. He
seems to be seeking a measure for the immeasurable. “From here,”
he says, “it’s four thousand kilometers to the Atlantic. Do you
know what the Indians call the jungle? They call it the dreamland,
144 Fitzcarraldo

and here, where the rapids are, they call it the land God created
in wrath. We shall bring Grand Opera to this place, this is where
it must happen.”
“How?” asks Wilbur. “How are you going to do it?”
“I don’t know yet,” says Fitzcarraldo. “Listen now, hold your
breath and don’t move.”
The horizon erupts into convulsions and, bathed in trembling
flames, it now gives birth to a sun, a wavering, gigantic ball of
red, breathing fire, bigger than we have ever seen the sun before.

Iquitos, Riverbank and City Streets

Even this first glimpse of the city makes us aware of the enormous
gap between Fitzcarraldo’s dream and its realization. His boat is
moored in an awful jumble of other boats; there are rafts loaded
with cattle for the slaughterhouse and others piled high with fruit.
A cow has broken loose and swims out into the current, pursued
by a man with a liana rope.
The hillside up to the town is strewn with fermenting garbage;
vultures, pigs, and naked children poke about in it as equals. The
vultures, hundreds of them, are black, sluggish, and ugly, wait-
ing for the entrails and steaming refuse from the slaughterhouse,
where every day the murdering seems to begin anew.
Farther up are the first wind-­warped shacks, roofed with cor-
rugated tin, where dingy bars dispense sugarcane booze to men
who, in the early hours of morning, lie drunk in their own urine.
Rice and yucca and bananas are frying and simmering every-
where, on the boats and up on the street on improvised fireplaces.
Timber of tremendous girth is hauled ashore; women squat fully
dressed in the river, doing their wash; rubbish gathers in whirl-
pools around the bows of the boats; some children torment a
mangy dog in a doorway. Peke-­pekes ride the river, up and down,
Indians stagger under the overly heavy loads balanced on their
backs with the aid of head straps, people jostle each other, Indian
women suckle their children, people sleep on precarious planks.
This is a place where chaos will triumph over order for all eternity.
We see Fitzcarraldo and Wilbur as they work their way up to
Fitzcarraldo 145

the town, through the slippery clay on the slope that keeps crum-
bling away. An Indian porter has loaded Wilbur’s barber chair
onto his back.
We accompany Fitzcarraldo through one or two streets. We
can see clearly that Iquitos has been wrested from the jungle only
in the past few years. Low houses with sheet-­metal roofs, loitering
beggars, loitering caucheros, loitering dogs—­the dogs are truly
the most wretched to be found on this earth. Everywhere there
are signs of rubber, the gold that has made everything possible
here. Lined up in heavy bales along the edge of the streets, the
rubber awaits transport, watched over by fifteen-­year-­old Indian
guards armed with carbines—­children who understand nothing,
only that they must instantly open fire on anything nearing the
goods. Vultures crouch on the rooftops, glutted by carrion and the
sweltering heat. In the streets there is the hustle and bustle of life,
but it is overshadowed by fatigue, fever, disillusionment, and pov-
erty. In the background, where all the streets end at the Amazon,
the palaces of the rich are situated, bombastic, their outer walls
set with colored tiles.

Belén District, Fitzcarraldo’s Hut, Morning

Fitzcarraldo wakes up in his hammock, blinking his eyes without
opening them, pretending to go on sleeping. He knows his audi-
ence has already arrived, has been waiting patiently for a long
time. Like a silent, enclosing wall the Indian children stand at
a respectful distance. Among them an unusually long-­legged,
woolly pig, a real sprinter, has pushed its way to the front in
breathless curiosity.
Drunk with sleep, Fitzcarraldo gropes with one hand toward
a little table, as if it were wandering away in a dream, upon which
sits one of the very earliest phonographs. It is one of Edison’s
machines with needle and horn, which, in those days, worked by
sensing the grooved cylinder. The machine starts to move, the
morning concert begins: these are the first recordings of Enrico
Caruso, terribly scratchy, but of an unspeakably dignified beauty,
sad and strong and moving.
146 Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo now opens his eyes completely. “When one day

my opera house is built, you will have your own box and an arm-
chair covered in velvet,” he tells the pig. It stands there as if rooted
to the ground, listening.
Now we see Fitzcarraldo’s hut more closely. It rests on tall
poles, like hundreds of others around it. Through the slits in the
floor we see people moving underneath. The hut is extremely
simple, essentially a platform, almost without walls and covered
with a braided roof. From his house we can see through dozens
of similar huts: one always participates in the lives of one’s neigh-
bors. Some of the houses rest on thick, rotting balsa logs so that
when the water rises they float. Nearby runs a narrow tributary
of the Amazon, on which there is busy boat traffic.

Belén, Fitzcarraldo’s Porch, Later That Morning

Fitzcarraldo has gathered his followers and is sipping black cof-
fee with them. First we must introduce his two dogs, Gringo and
Verdi, the ultimate monstrosities of misery. He treats them, how-
ever, like aristocratic greyhounds, talking to them now and then
in a tongue especially invented by himself. But his most splendid
companion is Bald Eagle, a relatively small, previously green par-
rot that now has only a few feathers left on its body; both the back
of its head and its ass are completely bald. He apparently has been
trying for some time to teach the bird two sentences in particular,
with only moderate success: “I am an eagle, yes I am” and “Birds
are smart but they cannot speak.”
Stan has arrived, a young, pleasant-­looking juggler, bearded
and slender, always looking a little shy. He has an unmistakable
New York accent. Wilbur has placed his coffee cup on the floor
and is busy feeding his snake, which he keeps in a glass cage. The
snake is one of those rare specimens born with two heads. Both
heads are fighting each other for the food.
“It’s possible,” Fitzcarraldo muses, “that we could sell the use of
the patent. Just imagine the possibilities. Ice! Ice on every boat, in
every storehouse, and to cool your mattresses at night.”
Fitzcarraldo 147

“But,” Stan interjects, “why doesn’t anyone take this seriously?”

“The potato wasn’t taken seriously for two hundred years,” says
Fitzcarraldo. “It’s going to drive me crazy! We’ve got to prove that
people need ice, then we’ll find a backer. Just think, we could sup-
ply Colombia, Ecuador.”
“In the States,” Stan says, “they’ve already flown fifty miles
with powered airplanes, and people still don’t want any ice.”

Belén, Fitzcarraldo’s Ice Factory

At the outskirts of Belén, where the steps go up to the town of
Iquitos and where the teeming Indian market starts, there are
log houses with corrugated tin roofs that are built somewhat
more solidly yet are unable to disguise their slovenly, temporary,
Amazonian character. The side facing the market is half open,
and life outside surges past. Stands with roofs of canvas or tin,
men and children laden with cargo, fish kept fresh by sprinkling
water on them, meat beneath clusters of whirring flies, fruit, heaps
of garbage, noise, music, stands selling steaming food and people
with food served before them on tin plates, goods wrapped in
big fresh leaves. But all this is only outside, noisily shoving past.
Inquisitive glances pause in passing by the activity inside, and
children crowd around the door. They can always be found wher-
ever Fitzcarraldo makes his appearance.
The “ice factory” inside works according to the principle, em-
ployed well into this century, that the reaction of various salts
removes heat from water in a container. Two Indian laborers
stir constantly in big circular movements with a metal pole in
a vat whose outside is frosted, steaming from the cold. On a
wooden pallet, several long blocks of ready-­made ice are stacked.
Fitzcarraldo has a block sawed into four slabs and loads them
onto a little cart, where he has his ice-­shaving machine.
His two curs, Gringo and Verdi, have been following him,
sniffing around in all the corners. Fitzcarraldo has some friendly
words to spare for them, and the dogs wag their tails.
148 Fitzcarraldo

Belén, Several Locations

Fitzcarraldo, Wilbur, and Stan, strolling through Belén, stop here
and there to sell shaved ice. Hordes of children surround them;
without the children there wouldn’t be anything lively down in
Life here is Amazonian, as if dozing in a coma. Women sit in
their open stilt huts, endlessly delousing their children, suspended
in time. Vultures perch drowsily on poles that serve to anchor the
houses on floats during floods, spreading their wings like heraldic
animals. They often remain motionless like this for hours. Women
lean over porch railings and watch the river flow lazily by. Only
the river is always in motion. The air is sultry and stifling, and
people hardly move. On small charcoal grills yucca roots, green
bananas, guinea pigs looking like naked rats without their skin,
and fish are being barbecued, and half a cayman is roasting over
a large fire. This attracts Fitzcarraldo’s attention.
“I’ve never tried crocodile,” he says, and for a coin he is served
a piece on a fresh palm leaf. The meat is almost milky-­white. “It
tastes a little of swamp,” says Fitzcarraldo.
Big piles of empty turtle shells are lying about, and there are
places where you have to balance your way along fallen balsa
trunks so as not to sink into the swamp. There are little shacks
made of bark and braided twigs sitting on logs in the bog, out-
houses that float when the water is high. The place swarms with
children; they comprise two-­thirds of the population down here.
Often, fifteen-­year-­old girls are already carrying their second
child as a papoose; naked children grovel with pigs in the foul
mud; children play marbles. Children bear loads that are far too
heavy for them. Then they stop, panting and swaying.
“Fitzcarraldo!” the children cry, and Fitzcarraldo sells shaved
ice, dispensing it for coins of very little value. He has clamped a
lump of ice into his machine and, turning a handle, he shaves
it underneath with a kind of grater. The ice, which is more like
white, loosely packed snow, drops into a glass, and Fitzcarraldo
pours sweet, heavy syrup over it, a bright orange or an even
gaudier bright green that quickly colors all the fluffy ice. While
Fitzcarraldo struggles to keep up with the urgent demand, the
Fitzcarraldo 149

juggler juggles and Wilbur dances for the children with strange,
almost witchlike movements. He illustrates what the juggler
Stan has a fascinating way of handling the children. With
three or four little balls he can juggle entire stories, in which the
balls can be sad, joyful, mischievous, or scrappy. He is a true mas-
ter in his field, a born street performer who reacts to every move
his little spectators make, instantly involving them in his stories.
Although he speaks English to the children’s Amazonian Spanish,
they understand everything. He tells them the gloomy ballad of
the children who leap around and swim in the river, and of the
child who drowned, lured to the bottom of the river by white
bufeos, the white freshwater dolphins, so that he might become
one of them. How the dolphins sing and dance in the depths, and
how they sometimes come up to dance on the surface when the
moon is full.
“Say, ‘I am an eagle, yes I am,’” Fitzcarraldo says to his little
friend Bald Eagle, who sits on the ice grater, but the parrot just
yanks out a few of his last feathers and says nothing. Business is
good, that’s obvious.

Iquitos, Brothel, Night

Molly, with her Indian maid service, resides in one of the larger,
slightly more ostentatious buildings in town, which, however,
lacks the refinement of the great palaces, betraying more of its
plaster and cheap paint. Still, her house does offer every stimu-
lation for lewd fantasies, with the aid of some effectively placed
potted palms, orchid plants, and concealed lights. This is no mere
brothel operation; rather, Molly trains pretty young Indian girls,
often forcibly captured in the jungle, to be maids in distinguished
households. While this is no different from procuring mistresses
for rich men, Molly considers it better than letting the girls go to
ruin on the street.
Molly is serene and still has the radiance of a great lady from
her days as a singer, but with the years she has gained in moth-
erliness. Although she sometimes treats her girls with severity,
150 Fitzcarraldo

she never loses her fundamental note of affection. She treats

Fitzcarraldo like a big boy who has to be watched, who has to be
consoled at the right moment, but who has to be allowed his free-
dom. Molly loves Fitzcarraldo, and Fitzcarraldo loves Molly, but
they have been through so much together that they don’t waste
big words on it.
Molly and Fitzcarraldo are seated together at a festive dinner
table, Fitz wearing his best suit, his hair kept under control with
a little pomade. Several of Molly’s prettiest girls are serving.
“But you have good connections with some of the very rich,”
says Fitzcarraldo.
“With all of them,” corrects Molly.
“You should see how the children scramble for their flavored
ice,” says Fitzcarraldo. “The news must have gotten around. Now
that, on a bigger scale . . .”
“But,” says Molly, “the barons here have to want something
themselves. Then they finance, then they pay any price. Zulma
here, for example, has been here only nine months, and now Don
Araujo has already got his eye on her, and Alfredo Borja, too.”
“Is that one of the Borja brothers?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
“No,” says Molly, “the father, the old man. And now they’re
trying to outbid each other on her price, you wouldn’t believe it.”
“With that kind of money,” says Fitzcarraldo, “I’d build myself
an opera house out of blocks of ice for every performance, so for
each night there’d be a huge, cool palace of ice, just for one night,
and then it would melt away.”
“Fitz,” says Molly, “you’re dreaming again.”

Gentlemen’s Club, Late Afternoon

The gentlemen’s club in Iquitos is located on the second floor of an
elegant building on the Plaza de Armas. The rooms are arranged
in such a way that they open onto a spacious veranda, extending
them. Large fans disperse the cigar smoke; there are comfortable
cane-­backed chairs and a piano on a dais, and deals are being
made. This is pure masculine society; those who meet here to
gamble were made rich overnight by the rubber boom. Everything
Fitzcarraldo 151

is ostentatious; one displays openly how much one has acquired,

and entire fortunes change owners here in less than an hour.
At one of the tables they start yelling because one of the rubber
barons, who apparently has won, now beheads a whole crate of
champagne bottles with one, two strokes of his machete.
Fitzcarraldo sits pushed halfway to the side at a table where
six players, stubbornly drunk and stubbornly taciturn, sit playing
poker. The table is covered with green velvet, and set into the rim
of polished mahogany there are small bowl-­like holes that are far
too small to hold the huge bundles of banknotes passing across
the table.
One of the players, Don Araujo, waves to the waiter and orders
another glass of horsepiss. The waiter, a pure Indian who appar-
ently doesn’t know proper Spanish, says, “Sí señor, horsepiss.”
For the other men at the table this seems to have been a joke
practiced for a long time. They trade conspiratorial glances.
“How do you count?” asks Don Araujo, as the beer is being
“One, two, three.”
“And what is this called?”
“Horsepiss,” says the waiter.
“Good, right,” they all agree, applauding.
Fitzcarraldo takes advantage of the brief interruption to ad-
dress Don Araujo. “Well, what do you think of it?” he asks.
“I’ll tell you what I think,” says Don Araujo rather frostily. “In
the first place, you can’t have any patents, because that’s been
written in every schoolbook for the past hundred years.”
“Yes,” says Fitzcarraldo, now growing a little discouraged, “but
I have the experience with it, the experience is what counts . . .”
“And secondly,” Don Araujo continues, “what good is ice here?
To cool the rubber? To put glaciers in the jungle? Or to put the
Trans-­A ndean Railway on sled runners, then let the brakes go,
and adiós, down into the valley?”
This scores a point. The circle of players is sneering now, try-
ing to suppress their laughter. Fitzcarraldo starts to jump up and
“No, stay,” Don Araujo says, pulling him down by his sleeve.
152 Fitzcarraldo

“Here, take this.” He hands him a single bill from a bundle so

tightly packed it looks like a brick. “Play a hand with us. Ah, this
precious feeling of losing money! Ecstasy!”

Steeple, Plaza de Armas, Sunset

In a corner of the Plaza de Armas stands the shabbily built main
church of the town, made of sloppy plaster with a distorted,
scarcely recognizable trace of Gothic. In the center of the plaza
there is a fountain, eternally dry, with benches, lawns, and trees
around it. The trees, however, are all completely leafless, their
branches bare. A crowd has gathered in front of the church, star-
ing up at the spire. We recognize Fitzcarraldo and Wilbur, who
have barricaded themselves in the tower, sounding the alarm. The
bell sounds very thin and wan; it proclaims no fire, no war, no
raging storm. It sounds more like an out-­of-­tune teakettle.
Fitzcarraldo violently beats the clapper of the bell while Wilbur
dances like a dervish. The people stare up at them. At the church
door below, four policemen led by a lieutenant are trying to force
the door open, but it seems to be securely barred from inside.
And then something breathtaking happens. The sky dark-
ens, at that moment when the sun descends below the rooftops
and the jungle. From all sides the sky, still bright, darkens with
raging black clouds, and now we recognize what they are: gigan-
tic flocks of black, swallow-­like birds, whirling into each other
and against each other in increasingly narrow, furious circles
and whirlpools—­unimaginable, like biblical swarms of locusts.
If you look into it you are seized by vertigo. The birds circle in
layers above each other, within each other, six hundred thousand
birds right over the Plaza de Armas. People seek refuge in the
doorways, in the open bars. And then, all of a sudden, a frontal
swarm forms, crashing down toward the plaza in a frenzied fun-
nel, like a whirlwind. At the same instant, the entire demented
sky coalesces to an orderly vortex, to a whipping tail of a predator
lashing down on the plaza. Six hundred thousand birds land in a
single unearthly whir on the few trees in the plaza. In seconds, the
trees are transformed into shapeless black clumps, not one branch
Fitzcarraldo 153

visible, nothing but heaps of fluttering birds. At the edge of the

plaza thousands more settle on window ledges and thin stucco
strips, suddenly delineating in black on the walls of the houses
designs that were hardly visible before.
Up in the tower, Wilbur has gone into ecstasies, dancing, fight-
ing an army of six hundred thousand enemies whizzing around
his head, close enough to touch. Wilbur stands in the middle of a
cloud of whirring birds, flailing his arms like windmill vanes and
crying, “We want the Opera!” Fitzcarraldo goes on ringing the
bell with a vengeance.

Prison, Inner Courtyard

The prison courtyard is a cheerless square, partially roofed with
corrugated tin. Vultures perch sleepily on the gable. All around
are cell doors, bars reaching down to the floor. From the one open
cell, the yelling and coarse singing of men is heard. We recog-
nize Fitzcarraldo’s voice. Wilbur comes stumbling out of the cell,
followed by the police lieutenant and Fitzcarraldo, their arms
around each other’s shoulders, staggering. Fitzcarraldo is waving
a whiskey bottle in his right hand.
“Compadre,” he shouts, “drink up! How did you like my alarm
bells! Drink!” he insists.
“To your opera!” yells the lieutenant. “He who builds an opera
house must be a free man. And you, compadre, look me in the
eye—­where is he?” But Wilbur has already taken off.

Belén, Fitzcarraldo’s Hut

Completely knocked out by his hangover, Fitzcarraldo is lying in
his hammock, still fully dressed with his boots on. He senses that
someone is staring at him. As usual, he gropes with his hand for
the phonograph. But he doesn’t get that far, as a hand stops his
halfway. Fitzcarraldo opens his eyes.
There are no children standing there, no familiar wall of bod-
ies; not even the pig is there, his fan, the long-­legged sprinter.
Bronski stands before him, and it is already late afternoon.
154 Fitzcarraldo

“What’s going on?” asks Fitzcarraldo.

“I am your man,” says Bronski.
“You are?” says Fitzcarraldo with his head still spinning, not
yet fully comprehending. “My pleasure!”
“I was there yesterday,” says Bronski, “when you made your
appeal for the opera from the spire. It was so beautiful the way
you sounded the alarm. I am an actor. May I introduce myself:
“Yes?” says Fitzcarraldo, slowly coming to. “What time is it,
anyway? Oh, my head!”
“I arrived in Iquitos just a short time ago,” says Bronski.
“Buffoonery is rampant on the stages of the world. What remains
for us now is the jungle. You must excuse my accent, for I haven’t
quite shaken off Germany yet.”
Then, out of the blue, without warning, he starts reciting a
Shakespearean monologue, but with such boldness, such inten-
sity, that the first sentences take your breath away. Bronski goes
into a fit, a kind of raving, while people gather below the hut.
Abruptly, in the middle of a sentence, Bronski breaks off.
“That is the man,” says Fitzcarraldo, “or my name isn’t

Molly’s Brothel, Toward Evening

Molly and Fitzcarraldo seem to have been conferring together for
a long time; they give the impression of being in cahoots.
“I can arrange that all right,” says Molly. “I have my ways, rely
on me. I’ll bring my girls with me and you’ll see, they’ll all be
there. We’ll have all the rubber barons together in one spot, and
I’ll make sure they feel really good. And you bring Bronski and
your phonograph. . . . But look at you! I won’t let you out of this
house looking like that.”
At a sign from Molly, four pretty Indian girls grab Fitzcarraldo
and drag him amid his half-­hearted protests up the stairs into a
“A steam bath!” Molly calls after them. “The very finest treat-
ment for Mr. Fitzcarraldo!”
Fitzcarraldo 155

“Help!” cries Fitzcarraldo weakly to Molly, as he disappears

through a doorway above.

Garden Party, Night

A garden party with everything that is rich and has a name.
Gentlemen in tails and ladies in long evening gowns. With many
of the gentlemen it is obvious that their manners are poorly stud-
ied, that only a few years ago they were nobodies, that their com-
portment is but a thin veneer, hiding what is, in reality, a mob
of cutthroats and gangsters. Chinese lanterns illuminate a lus-
cious tropical garden, sanded paths interspersed with lawns, fire-
places where lamb is being roasted, waiters displaying fine fat
fish on big silver platters to the guests, champagne in abundance.
Molly is distinctly visible with all her girls, who wear identical
aprons and embroidered ribbons. The girls are carrying trays with
drinks. Fitzcarraldo and Bronski are present, both wearing their
best suits, looking dapper and well groomed. They stroll with a
group of billionaires, the Borja brothers and Don Araujo, through
the garden.
“Everyone wants money from us,” complains Alfredo Borja.
“The hospital, the fire brigade, and you keep straining my ear
with your opera. Where will it all end? We can’t afford every-
thing either.” He wipes his greasy face and fat neck with a silk
handkerchief. “Just take a look at this.” From his pocket he pulls
a thick bundle of banknotes that must weigh a pound or more.
“Come here and look at this.”
They stop in front of the pond, whose muddy brown surface
rests peacefully within the frame of its whitewashed walls. Borja
throws his money into the pond, only a few feet out, and at once
the water is transformed into a raging tumult, as if sea monsters
were at war in it. A huge paiche, a species of pike almost ten feet
long, as thick as a man, sucks up the bundle of money with an ugly
noise. Other fish fight in frenzied greed for a share of the apparent
food. Fitzcarraldo is taken aback and deeply shocked, as Alfredo
Borja puts on an overbearing expression.
“You see how fast our money runs downstream,” he remarks
156 Fitzcarraldo

superciliously. “You must have had a similar experience your-

self—­a railway is bound to swallow up a lot of money. There must
be something titillating about going bankrupt.”
Fitzcarraldo is having difficulty maintaining his composure;
we can clearly see him wrestling with his urge to throw Borja into
the pool. “I have my phonograph with me, along with the very first
recordings of Caruso, the ones from Milan and some later ones
from New York. You only have to listen to them once, then you’ll
understand me. And look at this man here, Bronski.”
“Ah,” says Don Araujo, “this gentleman was supposed to recite
something from Mr. Shakespeare. Could we start with that? You
know, such a chance to meet all of one’s friends and rivals in one
place doesn’t present itself often. Please start at once, and don’t
make it too long. Ladies and gentlemen, may we have your atten-
tion for a moment please!”
The party guests gather hesitantly, wrapped up in light chat-
ter, their glasses still in their hands. Bronski begins with a mono-
logue from Richard III, and after the first few sentences he works
himself into such a hysterical fury that all conversation stops at
once. Fear spreads through the crowd. Like a cripple, Bronski
rushes toward a group of ladies, who scatter in terror. He whirls
around, and a gentleman behind him stops chomping his cigar.
Bronski, all in a rage, with a hallucinating leer, storms toward a
young girl as if having a fit, and she flees at once.
After less than two minutes, Don Araujo, evidently the host,
feels forced to end the proceedings. At a signal from him, three
black servants abruptly surround Bronski and hustle him out.
With their white-­gloved hands they touch him as if he were a
leper, a reeking, mangy cur. Another servant takes Fitzcarraldo
by the arm to lead him away. All hell breaks loose as Bronski tears
himself away with an incredible, mad jerk and screams lines from
Richard III into the faces of the Borjas.
“Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen, these two gentlemen are
harmless, they’ve just had some soul-­stirring experiences.” Don
Araujo makes a studied bow in the direction of Fitzcarraldo. “Sir,
my domestics will accompany you into the kitchen. My dog’s cook
Fitzcarraldo 157

will prepare you a meal. Thank you very much, gentlemen, you
were superb.”
Bronski falls silent, he is now nothing but wrath incarnate,
sparkling and glowing, pondering murder; now, in his muteness,
he is one with the part.
Suddenly Fitzcarraldo, icily controlled, pulls over one of Molly’s
girls carrying a tray filled with champagne glasses. He grabs a
glass, raises it: “To Shakespeare,” he says, and drinks it in one
gulp. Immediately followed by the next one. “To your dog’s cook!”
And then the next one: “To Verdi!” And another, and another. “To
Rossini, to Caruso!”
On a sudden impulse, Don Araujo grabs the last remaining
glass, raises it, and addresses the entire speechless assembly: “To
Fitzcarraldo, conquistador of the useless. Cheers!”
Fitzcarraldo moves up, only inches away from Don Araujo’s
face. Don Araujo doesn’t flinch. Fitzcarraldo speaks in a low voice,
trembling with restraint. “As sure as I am standing here, one day
I shall bring Grand Opera to Iquitos. I shall outgut you. I shall
outnumber you. I shall outbillion you. I shall outrubber you. I
shall outperform you.”
“You pigs, you dirty pigs, you savage pigs!” Bronski screams
in a voice that can no longer be called human. In an instant a
fistfight with the servants breaks out. Molly, horrified by the way
her friends have been treated, demonstratively departs the scene
with all her girls. The whole thing ends in wild uproar, a wild

Belén, Amazon Riverbank

Vast and calm, the greatest river on earth flows by. It is raining in
tranquil streams, everything is water in water. Ships draw calmly
past. Thunderous clouds hang heavy in the sky. Fitzcarraldo is sit-
ting with Wilbur and Stan in a cantina, protected by a palm roof.
We see them from the rear, watching the downpour. A drunken
cauchero lies near them on the floor, snoring. Mournfully and ab-
stractedly Stan juggles some balls. The rain drips down from the
roof in a thick curtain. There is a long silence.
158 Fitzcarraldo

“I could kill myself, the best things always occur to me later. I

should have said: ‘Sir, you are dead as a doornail, you’re not alive
anymore.’ And he would have said: ‘I think you are mistaken, I
am still standing firm on my two legs.’ And I would have said,
‘When you shoot an elephant, he remains on his legs for ten days
before he topples over.’ And I should have, I wanted to say: ‘Sir,
the reality of your world is nothing more than a bad caricature of
the great operas.’”
“We have to get rich with rubber ourselves,” says Stan. “How
did these guys do it? They didn’t have anything to start with.”
“First of all,” says Fitzcarraldo, “you need land. It costs almost
nothing around here, but all the good areas, where the trees are
worthwhile, have been parceled out. And then you need a big
steamboat, to make shipments up and down river and bring in
provisions for large numbers of forest workers. And we don’t have
“But,” says Stan, “on the Ucayali there’s still an area with mil-
lions of rubber trees, almost as big as Belgium.”
“But you can’t get there,” says Fitzcarraldo. “It’s on the upper
course of the Ucayali. Farther downstream are the rapids, the
Pongo das Mortes, which you’ll never get past. You’re not the first
clever person who thought of that.”
“And the Pongo das Mortes?” asks Wilbur into the ensuing

Pongo das Mortes, Early Morning

Jungle, steep mountains, steaming fog. Parrots squawk, the water
roars like wild bulls. The river below the narrow part of the Pongo
das Mortes widens quickly to half a kilometer, but we can see
distinctly that further up the Pongo the cliffs start rising verti-
cally. Higher up they are overgrown with dense jungle. It is high
water, yellowish-­brown as it surges along. Fitzcarraldo is stand-
ing at the water’s edge in the dense jungle, with Don Aquilino at
his side, a fine-­boned man who looks like a Spanish aristocrat.
Deeper inside the forest, a few ragged Indians with machetes
stand staring out over the water.
Fitzcarraldo 159

“And your territory?” asks Fitzcarraldo.

“It ends right here where the Pongo empties. Downstream it
reaches for thirty kilometers.”
“And beyond the Pongo?” Fitzcarraldo asks.
“Well, beyond . . .” Don Aquilino sighs. “I would like to be there
myself. If you are good at climbing, and over the mountains at
that, then good luck to you. We’ve thought about building a road
across it, but it would be a crazy venture, and then there would still
be something missing.”
“A boat,” muses Fitzcarraldo, finishing the thought out loud.
“And through the Pongo by boat—­nobody’s ever tried it?”
“Want to see for yourself?” asks Don Aquilino. “You have to see
it with your own eyes, or you’ll never believe me.”

In the Pongo das Mortes, Boat Trip

We are with Fitzcarraldo and Don Aquilino on a powerful motor-
boat, steered by an Indian boatman. All three are wearing life
vests. To the left and right, rocky walls vanish up into the fog.
The rushing water forms huge whirlpools, which, like whirlwinds
with a deep hole in the center, often drift in semicircles against
the current.
“What’s that?” asks Fitzcarraldo, frightened.
“Shh, quiet, don’t talk,” the boatman calls in his native tongue.
“What’s he saying?” Fitzcarraldo asks.
“You must be quiet,” says Don Aquilino. “Whoever talks or
makes noise will be swallowed up by the whirlpools. That’s what
the Indians here believe.”
The current becomes so violent and the waves farther up-
stream tower above them so threateningly that the boat must be
tied to big boulders on the riverbank. Here we can see ground-­up
pieces of tree trunks lying around, torn and filed smooth by the
water into weird shapes.
“In flood season the water rises more than thirty feet above
this level,” says Don Aquilino. “Take a look at these marks.” And
indeed, things don’t look so good; we can sense violent forces here.
“We can go a bit farther on foot.”
160 Fitzcarraldo

Riverbank in the Pongo das Mortes

Fitzcarraldo and Don Aquilino have penetrated deeper into the
Pongo on foot, up to the point where they cannot proceed any
farther because the rocky walls plunge almost vertically down
into the raging torrent. We are in the midst of the most furious
rapids in the whole of South America, a pure inferno. We see Don
Aquilino drawing Fitzcarraldo’s ear toward him, shouting over
the roar.
“The Indians call the rapids chirimagua, ‘the angry spirits.’
Anyone who falls in there is done for. The Indians also say, ‘The
water has no hair to hold on to,’” he shouts, laughing.
We see him and Fitzcarraldo, their life vests still tied around
them, as they seek a firm hold on the slippery rock. Far above
them the sky is veiled by fog. The rocky walls are lost in it. Colibri
hummingbirds dive down out of the roiling fog. Lianas hang out
of the nothingness, almost reaching the seething of hell. There is
no passage through here, never.

Jungle Path
The jungle is dusky and moldering, foul vapors of organic decay
rise from the ground. Rain streams down incessantly, and inces-
santly the monkeys scream their wailing noises in the treetops.
Shrill sounds of birds in the liana thickets, an enormous, mysteri-
ous orchestra reaches out to the edges of the world.
A path, hardly visible to the naked eye, winds its way through
dripping green profusion. We notice it only when a strange pro-
cession, led by a half-­naked Indian, passes by at a lope. The In-
dian has something resembling a miner’s lamp attached to his
headband, and in his right hand he has a machete, sharp as a
razor, which he wields with surprisingly lithe, swinging move-
ments to hack through the constantly creeping foliage and lianas.
Behind him hastens Don Aquilino in a grotesque-­looking hat
hung with a mosquito net, tied at his neck, making him look like a
beekeeper. Behind him follows Fitzcarraldo, stumbling, slipping,
and beating about with his hands to ward off the mosquitoes.
Fitzcarraldo 161

After him come some Indians with closely cropped hair, bare-
foot and half naked. Shy and soundless they glide through the
sinister forest.
Don Aquilino turns to Fitzcarraldo and says, “I told you this
wasn’t a joyride.” Fitzcarraldo falls into the muddy, putrid, rain-­
soaked soil but is back on his feet at once, hurrying on bravely. The
jungle swallows up the men.

Jungle, Rubber Tree

The men have stopped at a rubber tree.
“So that’s a rubber tree?” Fitzcarraldo asks, disappointed by
such a small, stupid, ordinary-­looking tree with its gray bark.
“Right. Hevea brasiliensis,” says Don Aquilino.
The Indian with the lamp on his head carves a kind of fishbone
pattern into the bark with quick, practiced movements, sticking a
little wooden peg into it, angled downward, as a viscous, whitish
juice immediately begins to ooze out of the cuts and flow together.
The milky juice is channeled precisely to the wooden tap, from
which it drips down into a tin can that one of the Indians has
hurriedly fastened to the trunk with a wire. The Indian speaks
Jívaro, and Don Aquilino interprets.
“The word for rubber comes from their language, they call the
tree cautchou, ‘the tree that weeps.’ These bare-­asses here are very
fond of flowery language; gold they call ‘sweat of the sun,’ and
bees ‘fathers of honey.’ It’s no easy job disciplining these bare-­
asses. That’s why each one is given his own separate area, and as
the trees are pretty far apart, it’s quite a runaround. But that’s
the only way to keep them from making mischief.”

Jungle, Settlement of the Rubber Gatherers

In the middle of the dripping jungle is a small clearing, where
some sad hens stand in the dripping rain. They stand apatheti-
cally, completely motionless, thinking intensely about nothing.
Parrots fill the treetops with noise, rain gushes down, far away
162 Fitzcarraldo

a mighty thunderclap rumbles. Moisture steams up between the

tree trunks. A few very primitive huts are scattered about. In the
center of the clearing are two protective palm-­roofs of differing
height, erected almost vertically. On the ground between the two
lean-­tos, a fire is flickering, and over it a wooden pole fixed in
a forked branch is being rotated. On the pole a wild growth of
brownish rubber has already collected.
One Indian turns the pole as another carefully pours on the
milky rubber juice, which, because of the smoking fire, coagu-
lates quickly into a thin skin, making the ball thicker. Corrosive
white smoke rises against the rain and lingers in the clearing and
among the trees, refusing to disperse. Fitzcarraldo huddles under
the steep lean-­to with Don Aquilino, trying to avoid the smoke
by keeping his head down. In his hand he holds a cigarette, swol-
len by the humidity, and he approaches the blaze rolling it be-
tween his thumb and middle finger to dry it. It is getting too hot
for him, and the cigarette is still swollen with dampness. The
Indians work silently.
“You are a strange bird,” says Don Aquilino, “but somehow I
like you.”
“I’ll tell you something,” Fitzcarraldo says. “There was a funny
little Frenchman, at the time when North America was hardly ex-
plored, one of those very early trappers. From Montreal he went
west, and he was the first white man to set eyes on Niagara Falls.
When he returned, he told of waterfalls that were more vast and
immense than people had ever dreamed of. No one believed him,
they thought he was a madman or a liar. But he was a vision-
ary. They asked him, ‘What is your proof?’ and he answered, ‘My
proof is that I’ve seen the falls.’”
Fitzcarraldo tries to light his cigarette with a glowing twig, but
it refuses to catch fire. “Excuse me for having told you this now,”
he says, coughing. “I don’t really know myself what it’s all got to
do with me.”
The camp is wrapped in mythical vapors, and the rain presses
upon the sad forest with the full colossal weight of an entire con-
tinent. A grandiose music emerges. We breathe deeply.
Fitzcarraldo 163

Don Aquilino’s House, Night

A broad veranda, built on poles like the rest of this stately house of
Don Aquilino. It is lit by kerosene lamps. From one of the rooms,
the door of which is ajar, a strip of light spills out. A man crosses
the light, casting a fleeting shadow on the floor of the veranda.
Only now do we see that several Indian women and girls are
huddled in the darkness between the braided-­cane chairs on the
veranda. Steadily the rain drums its song on the rippled tin roof
of the house.
The living room, seen through the door of the veranda. Simple
furniture, the quarters of a pioneer, with only a massive mahogany
desk to suggest that Don Aquilino is one of the very rich people in
this country. A young Indian woman whisks in from outside car-
rying two glasses of thick, rich papaya juice. Fitzcarraldo reaches
absent­mindedly for a glass. He is not really paying attention to
Don Aquilino, who is talking to him.
“Women, that’s the only pleasant part of this business out here,
there are enough of them. Unfortunately, for the first two or three
years you’ve got to be out here sweating in it, or else everything
goes cockeyed.”
But Fitzcarraldo cannot tear his gaze from a map hanging
on the wall. It attracts him magically. Don Aquilino steps up
beside him.
“This, here, from the Pongo to where the Ucayali empties into
the Amazon, is my area,” he says. “And this here is Araujo’s terri-
tory, as big as Switzerland. And this here, Alejandro Borja’s, and
this Gustavo Borja’s, and this over here, Clodomiro Borja’s. And
up north of them, Hardenburg’s, you know, the only Prussian.
Farther east you see the Peruvian Amazon Company, that’s a
joint-­stock company.” He points to all these places on the map
with cursory, magnanimous gestures appropriate for a landowner
of his caliber. Only one big gap remains—­beyond the Pongo, up
the Ucayali River.
Closer to the map, we see a sector of the Amazon region with
several tributaries branching out, which, in the Peruvian Andes,
curve south into parallel mountain valleys, while in the Andes of
164 Fitzcarraldo

Ecuador and Colombia they behave similarly, except that they all
branch out to the north. The Pongo das Mortes lies between the
last heights of the Peruvian Andes. The adjacent river parallel to
the Ucayali is the Pachitea, which sometimes runs as far as one
hundred kilometers distant, but in some places comes quite close.
On the whole, however, one gets the impression that the two run
approximately parallel to each other. The Pachitea feeds into the
Amazon River above Iquitos, the Ucayali a little farther down-
stream from Iquitos. On almost all the other tributaries, gridded
spaces of vast dimensions have been marked off, apparently the
territories of the rubber barons indicated by Don Aquilino. On the
upper course of the Ucayali, that is to say, beyond the Pongo, an
ungridded rectangle has been marked, and on the Pachitea there
is nothing at all.
“What does that square mean?” Fitzcarraldo wants to know.
“Well,” says Don Aquilino, “that’s the rubber region of the
Ucayali, with about fourteen million trees, and look, it’s the only
one that has yet to find an owner. You’d have to be able to fly.”
“That’s been done already,” says Fitzcarraldo. “And what’s up
there on the Pachitea? Why is there nothing marked there?”
“There are no rubber trees there, that is to say, there are a few,
but it wouldn’t be worthwhile,” says Don Aquilino. “The only thing
you’ll find there are savage Indians. White civilization stopped short
at their doorstep because it wouldn’t have been profitable for us.”
An idea akin to madness has suddenly seized Fitzcarraldo. He
stares along the Pachitea, and then he stares along the Ucayali.
A sudden flash of inspiration shoots through his mind, but he
doesn’t want to give himself away. He grabs Don Aquilino’s glass
by mistake and drinks it down, trying to overcome his hoarseness,
but he barely manages.
“How exact is this map? Is there anything more exact?” he
blurts out.
“Yes,” says Don Aquilino. “Why?”
Fitzcarraldo just stares at him glassy-­eyed.
“In 1896 a group of surveyors got to the upper Pachitea, along
with some soldiers, and some of them were murdered. Then the
Jesuits penetrated a bit farther up the river. They have their last
Fitzcarraldo 165

outpost in Saramiriza, and from then on it’s only Jívaros. Savages—­

you know what I mean? They make shrunken heads. Have you
ever seen one?”
“Yes,” says Fitzcarraldo. “I mean no . . . sort of.”
Don Aquilino withdraws briefly to an adjoining room, return-
ing with a shrunken head smaller than a fist, discolored and al-
most black. It is the head of an Indian with long hair. The lips have
been sewn together with a fuzzy thread.
“Genuine Jívaro, from this region here, but this one is from
twenty years ago,” says Don Aquilino. But Fitzcarraldo is unable
to pay attention because a great idea has taken hold of him.

Iquitos, Molly’s Brothel, Day

A restlessness seizes events from now on, something urgent and
insistent. Incidents crowd each other and pick up tempo.
Molly is busy assigning one of her girls to a fat, rich client. He
has narrowed it down to four of the young Indian girls, and the
others are presently leaving the room.
“So this is your final selection,” says Molly, very businesslike.
“I guess so,” sighs the man, “now it’s getting complicated.”
Fitzcarraldo bursts in and pulls the amazed Molly to one side;
she hasn’t seen him like this for a long time.
“I think I’ll take all four,” the man says, half apologetically, half
like an accomplice.
“Molly, you have to stake me—­every red cent you can spare,”
Fitzcarraldo blurts out. “You won’t believe it.”
“Oh God, not again,” says Molly.
His voice becomes low, threateningly determined. “I have a
great idea,” says Fitzcarraldo, spreading out maps, showing de-
tailed sectors from some of the tributaries of the Amazon, on the
nearest table.

Molly’s Bedroom, Night

Molly’s bedroom is dominated by a huge, stylish brass bed from
France; otherwise only a few indoor plants catch the eye, and a
166 Fitzcarraldo

night table with expensive perfumes in cut-­crystal bottles. Molly

and Fitzcarraldo lie in bed, pleasantly tired and a little rumpled,
but Fitzcarraldo is in a terrifically good mood, with Molly weary
but loving by his side.
“First I have to see the notary and then I must get a boat, it has
to be called Molly and then . . .”
“But,” says Molly, “for a really big boat even my money isn’t
Fitzcarraldo has no answer to this at the moment, but he is
happy that he has got around Molly once again. He grabs under
the sheet that covers the two of them, poking around near his knee.
Molly wonders what he’s doing, until Fitzcarraldo suddenly pro-
duces a cockroach, an enormous specimen bigger than any we’ve
ever seen. Fitzcarraldo lets go of the kicking monster, and it scut-
tles across the sheet in a mad sprint and disappears onto the floor.
“We’ll have children yet,” says Fitzcarraldo, thinking himself

Notary’s Office
The notary’s office has everything that made turn-­of-­the-­century
Peruvian bureaus unpleasant. Scrubbed, joyless wooden floors,
racks stuffed with files in which nothing can ever be found, an
ugly photograph of the reigning president, a dusty flag in a stand,
and a desk that tries to be impressive but is merely repulsive. In a
corner a couple of minor clerks are working on some papers, and
even at this distance their incompetence is obvious. The notary
is a gaunt, elderly, very tall man who is sitting behind his desk,
slightly stooped in order not to tower above it too much. In front
of him is a map with surveyor’s markings, a fully completed con-
tract, and various other forms that have to be signed. Fitzcarraldo
and Wilbur sit opposite him. Fitzcarraldo seems self-­assured, and
Wilbur, who wants to imitate him but overdoes it, assumes an
expression that is the picture of self-­confidence. Fitzcarraldo has
a bundle of money lying on the table in front of him and still keeps
his hand on it.
Fitzcarraldo 167

The notary straightens up a little more in his chair. “You must

sign with your full, given name; pseudonyms like yours are not
permissible here, I’m afraid. Now the procedure. The acquisition
process goes step by step: you and your partner sign first, then
you hand over the money, and I complete the document with my
signature. But before you do this, I must direct your attention to
the option clause. The Peruvian government requires, through
its legislative bodies, that a region of this size shall have been
taken into possession by proof and by deed within nine months’
time, and that the first operational steps to exploit said region
be undertaken, or else your rights of exploitation terminate with
no compensation. The government is concerned that said areas
be developed competently and speedily, so that they do not go
to waste.”
“Just hand it over,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“We knew all that anyway,” echoes Wilbur.
“Allow me one question of a personal nature,” says the notary.
“Do you really know what you’re doing?”
“We’re going to be billionaires,” says Fitzcarraldo.
The notary’s gaze passes slowly from one to the other. Evi-
dently he is dealing not with an idiot, but with an idiot and a
madman as well.
“Well?” says Wilbur.
“Go on, sign,” says Fitzcarraldo.

Río Itaya, Tributary

A fine, sad rain envelops river and forest. The yellowish-­brown
Itaya flows lazily. An arm branches off to the side, with gray-­
black muddy banks and equally muddy sandbars. The hull of a
completely rusted ship lies there in the mud half-­broken, with no
housing on it anymore, no engine, the ship having no value even as
scrap metal. With Wilbur’s aid, Fitzcarraldo poles his peke-­peke
in shallow water right up to the wreck. But he knows already, and
we can tell by his movements, that there’s no sense in it. “No,” he
says, “that’s not it.”
168 Fitzcarraldo

Jungle near Puerto Maldonado

It is raining even harder, a thunderstorm emptying itself out over
the jungle, rushing with a low steady sound down through the
silent giants of the trees. Fitzcarraldo and Wilbur are standing
in mud up to their ankles, covering themselves with large banana
leaves that they hold over their heads. They are peering straight
ahead from beneath the dripping curtain.
We see what they see. In the middle of the forest, far away from
the course of the Madre de Dios, a paddle­wheel steamboat of
mammoth proportions lies stuck in the jungle, no doubt deposited
by an enormous flood more than a decade ago. Lianas have slung
themselves around it and made it grow into one with the giant
trees. Out of the belly of the gaping hulk a tree has grown at least
thirty feet tall. Fresh, proliferous greenery covers the deck and
spills out of the captain’s cabin. A weird, mysterious sight, as if
grown from the gloomy dreams of the jungle itself.
Fitzcarraldo stands there and stares. “No,” he says, and turns
around. With heavy steps, sloshing in the mud, he goes away.

Río Nanay
Fitzcarraldo and Wilbur, they stand and stare. Clouds are tow-
ering behind them, white like fluffy cotton. The sun is shining.
Fitzcarraldo wears a sheepish face, and Wilbur smiles like an aco-
lyte during mass, a smile of religious trance. Fitzcarraldo removes
his hat and holds it against his chest.
“Wilbur,” he says solemnly, “that’s it.”
We see what the two see. There it lies, the ship, the Nariño, the
jewel, pulled carelessly onto land, covered all over with rust and
showing some gaping holes below the water line, yet sad, beauti-
ful, and inviting. The Nariño measures 120 feet, has cabins on
two levels, and, on top of the second, the bridge, several lifeboats,
and a smokestack sticking up at an angle. Added to this are masts
fore and aft. It is no paddlewheel steamer (which are very rare
in these waters anyway) but it originally had a screw propeller
that is gone now, and we can still see the driveshaft leading into
Fitzcarraldo 169

the interior. The rudder has broken off, the cabins on deck have
only traces of white paint, and grass is growing along some of the
edges. But the ship looks good enough to fall in love with—yes, at
last, that’s it.
We accompany Wilbur and Fitzcarraldo on an exploration
through the boat, poking around with them in the cabins and the
engine room. Nearby, almost surrounding the bow of the boat,
there are some log huts on poles, and from the windows children
and mestizo women stare over at them in sleepy indifference.
The engine, a big, old steam engine, is still there, but evidently
it no longer runs and hasn’t in years. On deck there are magnifi-
cent ornaments and fittings of brass, and the upper frames of the
cabins are decorated with beautiful ornamental molding from
which the paint is peeling away. In the cabins, which are some-
what cramped, there are bunk beds, although only their fanci-
fully decorated metal frames remain. The galley is still almost
fully equipped; there are even pots and spoons left. Fitzcarraldo
is excited, and Wilbur runs around the decks, faster and faster,
disappears into a cabin, then comes shooting out again from a
different place. He falls into steps that are more like a strange
dance. At the helm, a balding chicken broods. Screeching, it
leaves its roost.

Office of the Borja Brothers

The three Borja brothers, looking like Mafia bosses in elegant
tropical suits, offer Fitzcarraldo a cigar. All four men in the room
light thick, black Brazilian cigars; all business has been con-
cluded, all papers signed, the money delivered. The three brothers
show a feigned curiosity.
“One thing,” says Clodomiro Borja, enveloping himself in a
thick cloud of smoke, “one thing interests us, of course”—­he asks
this question with slow, savoring pleasure—­“you are not by any
chance thinking of a connecting link for your railway?”
“Yes,” Gustavo Borja pretends in a servile tone, “a kind of traf-
fic connection by boat from the Atlantic, up the Amazon, and
170 Fitzcarraldo

from there across the Andes by train to the Pacific coast? Do cor-
rect us if we are wrong.”
Fitzcarraldo veils himself in smoke and silence.
“Or do you intend to brave the Pongo in the Nariño? Bold!
Excellent! You know, the three of us have a bet going, how long it
will take until you are bankrupt again. Don’t take it personally,
please, we are all sportsmen, aren’t we?”
“No, there is only one of us,” says Fitzcarraldo. “I shall move a
mountain. Good day.”

Río Nanay, Where the Nariño Lies

The place seems transformed, there is enormous activity around
the boat and on deck. At least a hundred people are busily work-
ing. Scaffolding has been erected along the sides of the ship. There
the rusty metal plates are being torn down. On deck there is saw-
ing and planing. There is hammering and forging, shouting and
singing. It is delightful to watch. Many of the workers are chil-
dren, carrying things or painting. Fitzcarraldo is in constant mo-
tion, rushing about giving instructions, directing the carpenters
as they hammer and saw. He crawls into the engine room, where
the engine and boiler are being taken apart.
On deck, Wilbur is sweeping with glowing enthusiasm. Stan
sustains the children’s mood by way of speedily conjured tricks
with a few balls. Bronski rushes like a raving fury into a group
of men who are obviously about to fasten a metal plate to pre-
cisely the wrong spot on the hull. Anyone would be scared by him.
Beside the ship a small carpenter’s workshop has been set up in
the open air, and next to it an improvised forge, with a furnace
kept glowing by some children with a big bellows.
We become aware of something fascinating: at that time weld-
ing was unknown, so all metal plates were fastened with rivets.
The rivets are heated red-­hot, and a human chain of rivet-­throwers
brings the rivets with terrific speed and agility to the places where
the rivets are required at the moment, often inaccessible spots
inside the hull where the last riveter lies in a twisted position,
catching the glowing rivet in an asbestos glove, then fitting it into
Fitzcarraldo 171

the right place. Small fires are glimmering, where women cook
fish and yucca on improvised grills, pots of fish soup are simmer-
ing, hens are being plucked, and little children crawl in the mud.
We observe Stan closely, how he makes four balls dance. Chil-
dren climb around him on the pipework on deck, scraping and
brushing the rust off. Stan speaks in the rhythm of the balls; fi-
nally he drops one. “I just wonder,” says Stan, “what he . . . actu-
ally . . . plans . . . to do . . . damn, I’ve lost one.”

Foundry, Iquitos
Into the clay ground a smelting oven of the most primitive kind
has been set like a frayed iron volcano; bellows make the fire in
the earth white-­hot. The foundry looks more like a forge of the
bronze age than a modern construction. The plant is covered by a
roof of corrugated tin set on poles. Near the foundry a workman
is fashioning a clay mold; we see that it will be a large propel-
ler. With a trowel he gives the last corrective touches to the con-
tour. Half-­naked, sweating workers stand around; Fitzcarraldo is
among them. Foundry pots lie about, fastened to metal poles for
carrying. Pigs grunt in a fermenting garbage heap, ducks waddle
around amid pieces of metal. In a corner a pig is slaughtered,
women nurse babies, and a dwarfish, crippled woman works at a
sewing machine. The leaves of a papaya tree hang into the chaotic
yard. The bronze mixture, meanwhile, is boiling white; workers
grab a foundry pot filled with sloshing, hissing, white liquid metal
and pour it into the mold. There is a malevolent seething, steam-
ing, and hissing as the propeller is formed.

Little Shipyard, Iquitos

A small shipyard housed in temporary shelters has been installed
upstream, as primitive and chaotic as the foundry. Frightfully
huge tree trunks are being lifted out of the water onto land by
a crane. Workers peel off the bark with gigantic crowbars. At
the river a chaos of boats and people; ships ride the current up
and downstream; vultures, sluggish with satiation, are shooed
172 Fitzcarraldo

off, landing again on the same piece of stinking carrion. In the

shipyard Indian carpenters work on two of the Nariño’s lifeboats,
keels and rudder shafts jutting like skeletons into the sky. Piles
of lumber, planed planks, fireplaces, smoking pitch for caulking.
In their midst an elderly mestizo works on a life-­sized carving,
the figurehead of the Nariño. Already we can clearly distinguish
a girl’s body, with naked breasts and Indian features; a thick an-
aconda coils itself around her body and disappears behind her
back, emerging below her left breast. A flat river turtle creeping
toward her belly covers her sex.
Fitzcarraldo is talking to the woodcarver, who does not stop
working. “When is the señorita going to be ready?” he wants to
know, and we can see that he would like to hurry him.
“La señorita?” the woodcarver says. “Mañana!”
“Tomorrow, tomorrow,” Fitzcarraldo says, half angry, half
resigned. “For ten days you’ve been saying mañana to me. The
launching is in four days, and you keep saying mañana. It’s
enough to drive a man mad!”

Outside Iquitos Bar

In front of one of the cheap bars, two to three hundred people
are crowded far out into the street, all barefoot, in torn trousers,
impoverished, disillusioned, destroyed by their life in the jungle.
Disease, alcohol, and hopelessness have left their mark on their
appearance. Near them, piled directly along the edge of the street,
bales of rubber lie ready for shipping. A tall, crude, two-­wheeled
cart, to which a pair of zebu oxen is hitched, stands there, and a
drunk sleeping on the loading platform is snoring loudly. Pushing
at the door, shoving for position, everyone wants to enter the bar
at once.

Inside Bar
Behind two tables pulled together, Stan, Wilbur, Fitzcarraldo,
and Bronski are seated like a tribunal. Bronski cannot stay in his
Fitzcarraldo 173

seat any longer. He jumps up and attacks the chaotic throng being
shoved in from outside. He shouts in a cracking voice and actually
succeeds in spreading so much terror and fright around him that,
momentarily, something like order is created. Beside the tables
stands a tall, quiet, rather heavy man with deep-­set eyes, a little
embarrassed: Jaime de Aguila. Fitzcarraldo leans back content-
edly in his armchair.
“We’ve already got the most important man,” he says. “Tell me,
do you really speak Jívaro?”
“I lived fourteen years with the Jívaros,” Jaime says curtly,
leaving no doubt.
“You have been sailing the rivers safely so far?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
“Yes, my last ship was the Adolfo,” says Jaime, “but I’ve been
out of commission for a couple of years. My eyesight isn’t so good
anymore, but I can’t be tricked.”
“What do you mean?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
“The jungle plays tricks on your senses. It’s full of lies, dreams,
illusions. I have learned to tell the difference,” says Jaime.
“And you took part in the Pachitea expedition in ’96?”
“Yes,” says Jaime, “as helmsman. On the way back I was the
captain. The captain died, there were only five survivors.”
Fitzcarraldo stands up and extends his hand to him in a firm
grip. “Jaime de Aguila,” he says a little solemnly, “you now have
full captain’s authority.”
Jaime returns the handshake wordlessly, and he radiates great
A small, wiry man pushes his way forward, an American who
somehow has stumbled into these parts, able to recite poems,
who had heard they were looking for people for the opera, the
great theater. And before Fitzcarraldo can stop him, he begins
reciting a poem, faltering and pathetic. Bronski turns green,
sickened by the ghastly recital, which Fitzcarraldo manages to
interrupt at last.
“We need people for the Nariño! What can you do?”
“I know something about engines,” the man says, surprised.
“Keep in touch,” says Fitzcarraldo curtly.
174 Fitzcarraldo

Outside Iquitos Bar, Evening

There are no longer so many people in front of the bar, the rows
have thinned out. But there is still a good deal of pushing going
on. With a slightly swaying step, barefoot and wearing only linen
pants and a straw hat, a somewhat pot-­bellied man comes plow-
ing his way through the crowd with great self-­assurance.

Inside Bar
The selection committee is still sitting, as before, except that now
Jaime de Aguila is sitting at the table with them, evidently exercis-
ing his rights, doing so with a completely natural authority. The
man in the straw hat plants himself before Fitzcarraldo.
“Hola, brethren,” he says. “I am Huerequeque. I am your man.”
Fitzcarraldo turns to Jaime de Aguila, who, before he can ask
his question, gives a short gesture indicating no.
“Compadre,” says Huerequeque, whose attention the signal
did not escape, “I am the best cook in the Amazon, I have been
on every boat and, amigo,” he whispers softly, his eyes growing
even smaller and slyer than before, his expression even more au-
dacious, “I know what you are planning. I’m no blockhead. Now
and then Huerequeque may spill one too many into his gills, but
up here,” he says, pointing to his temples, “it’s electric. Eléctrico! I
am the best gunman up and down the entire Amazon.”
This remark makes Fitzcarraldo prick up his ears; he glances
toward Jaime, who, in spite of himself, nods in agreement.
“I took part in the Chaco wars,” Huerequeque says. “I was at
the upper Napo when we had a hell of a fight with the bare-­asses.
Amigo, I am Huerequeque.”
Fitzcarraldo recognizes that this man has thought further
ahead than all the others, and he doesn’t want the conversation
to continue in this vein. “Huerequeque, you are our cook.”

Iquitos, Hardware Store

A big hardware store, in the typical chaos of all the shops and
stores in this town, with rolls of wire lying around, kegs of nails,
Fitzcarraldo 175

tools, cable drums, steel girders, corrugated tin. The owner of

the shop, a small, bald Jew, scurries about and shoos a couple of
helpers into the back room. Fitzcarraldo and Jaime de Aguila are
inside and hand the merchant a list, which they check against
their own copy.
“Machetes,” says the merchant.
“Two hundred,” Fitzcarraldo says.
“Two hundred and fifty,” says Jaime.
“Okay, two hundred and fifty,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“Steel girders: two inches thick, one and a half inches, and one
inch,” says the merchant.
“Everything you’ve got,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“Everything?” the merchant asks, more and more convinced
that he is dealing with a madman.
“Everything. Everything you’ve got. Cog wheels, crowbars,
saws, winches: everything you have in stock,” says Fitzcarraldo
firmly. “Do you have train rails?”
“Rails?” says the merchant, sweat beading on his brow. “What?
How? We don’t carry those. Your railroad, are you really going
to . . .”
“No, we aren’t,” says Fitzcarraldo, “but never mind, if you don’t
have any in stock.”

Belén Market
Fitzcarraldo and Jaime de Aguila are plowing their way through
the teeming Belén marketplace, followed by Indian porters who,
heavily loaded already, are carrying their loads on their backs
with the aid of head straps. Jaime has apparently taken on the re-
sponsibility of buying provisions. They stop at a stall overflowing
with black tobacco; several women are busy rolling primitive ciga-
rettes with quick, practiced movements, almost like a small fac-
tory. Jaime gives some brief instructions in Spanish. The women
pack the entire contents of the stall in two big bags.
“All of it?” asks Fitzcarraldo, astonished.
“Yes,” says Jaime, “we need tobacco. Now we only need guns,
hammocks, and kerosene for the lamps.”
176 Fitzcarraldo

The two of them stop at another stall, where in tin canisters a

sticky black substance is for sale. The canisters are handled with
the utmost care, as though there were high explosives inside.
Some of the gooey, pitch-­like material is oozing out from under
the lids. The Indian merchant touches the canisters with special
“This is going to be pretty expensive,” says Jaime.
“What do we need curare for, actually, and why twenty kilos
all at once?” Fitzcarraldo asks, surprised. “A milligram scratched
into the skin is enough to kill a pig, after all.”
But Jaime is sure of himself, he is a man with inestimable ex-
perience. “The Jívaros,” he says, “are a tribe that uses the poison
arrow. Not knowing how to make the poison themselves, they
trade with neighboring tribes for it.”
The Indian joins in, and for the first time we hear the Jívaro
“What does he say?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
“He says,” Jaime translates, “for a knife-­point full of gold dust
you get a white woman in the brothel here for one night, but for a
teaspoonful of this here you get a Jívaro woman for a week.”

Iquitos, Riverbank at the Amazon

A holiday. There it lies in its moorings, the Nariño, in a festive
place cleared of the host of other boats: truly a glorious craft,
beautiful enough to fall in love with. The decks have been rebuilt,
the cabins gleam white with their fresh coat of enamel, the hull
looks completely new, mended so perfectly and painted gleam-
ing white, garlands adorn her. La Señorita, the lasciviously sen-
sual figurehead, looms upward from the bow. Some ten thousand
happy, curious people have gathered at the steep riverbank, high
up on the edge of the city. A brass band is playing loud and off-­key,
peddlers sell sweets and fried things wrapped in leaves, there are
children in countless numbers: it is a big day. A zebu cow is heaved
aboard with a crane.
On deck the crew has assembled, lined up in formation, among
Fitzcarraldo 177

them some pretty tough-­looking characters, the wildest to be

found in the entire Amazon region.
Jaime, the captain, proudly wears a gold-­braided captain’s
uniform and looks like a Spanish grandee. Huerequeque arrives
late, driving two young, very pretty Indian girls before him up
the gangway.
“I won’t have those women on my ship,” Jaime shouts down
from the bridge.
“Compadre,” Huerequeque shouts back, “I need them in the
galley, they are my assistants. I can’t cook without them.” By this
time they are already on board. In the general festivity this inci-
dent is quickly forgotten.
Ashore, Fitzcarraldo stands in his white linen suit as proud
as a king, with Molly by his side, wearing her finest, most elegant
dress and a big Parisian hat. She looks particularly beautiful and
radiant, a grand lady amid a throng of barefoot, shouting people.
Fitzcarraldo holds a rope in his hand that leads to the bow of the
boat, which is partly veiled.
“Molly,” he cries, “you’ll be an opera singer again. You’ll make
your big entrance. This is your day!” He kisses her freely and im-
petuously in front of all the people and pulls the rope. The cloth
drops off the bow to reveal the new name of the ship. Molly Aida
is emblazoned on it in shimmering, decorative golden letters.
“Oh, Fitz,” says Molly, “that’s more than my poor weak heart
can stand. I know it.”
“Right, and now comes the highly official part,” says Fitzcarraldo
proudly. “We couldn’t do a real launching at the Nanay, it was too
shallow out there. We had to drag the Molly into the water with
a tugboat.” He hands Molly a small champagne bottle that hangs
from a rope tied to the bow. “Hard!” says Fitzcarraldo.
Molly swings the bottle against the side of the boat, where
it shatters, foaming. All of a sudden she begins to cry out loud.
Fitzcarraldo hugs her to him. Cheers ring out. Jaime toots the big
foghorn, and the brass band plays. Gringo and Verdi remain on
the shore, wagging their tails.
We see the Molly Aida shove off from the riverbank, smoke
178 Fitzcarraldo

pouring out of the chimney. People wave, some toss their hats in
the air. Yes, Fitzcarraldo has friends. The Molly Aida picks up
speed and heads upstream. The cheering dies down; the people
stare in disbelief.
On the riverbank we see Molly. Shouts are heard. “Wherever
is he going? He’s going upstream!”
The three Borja brothers step up to Molly in incredulous as-
tonishment. “He’s not going to the Ucayali River. He should be
heading downstream,” says Clodomiro Borja.
Molly suddenly stops weeping; pride surges up in her. “Yes,”
she says, “you have seen right. Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald is moving
against the Amazon!”
We see Fitzcarraldo on deck with his most faithful comrades,
Wilbur and Stan. They wave back.
Iquitos, with its houses and thousands of people, shrinks to
a single line. Like a lake the river widens between the town and
the ship.

Amazon River
Violently, a distant thunderstorm is building up over the vast
river. Lightning flashes far away across the sky, so far that the
thunder rolls but softly from horizon to horizon. In heavy, hang-
ing streaks, a dark gush of rain pours down over the endless for-
est. The boat has set its course toward the horizon, and our hearts
become lighter.
On deck, many of the crew have stretched out in their ham-
mocks to get some sleep. All is quiet. The vessel is stuffed with
equipment, cables, provisions. Fitzcarraldo’s ice machine is lashed
securely to the upper deck, and up on top, on a specially built
platform, sits the phonograph. Fitzcarraldo is just covering it
from the first solitary raindrops.
Wilbur is asleep in his barber chair, which he has unfolded al-
most horizontally—­the sleep of the just, his mouth wide open. The
steam engine throbs evenly, reassuringly, and the decks vibrate
slightly. Jaime de Aguila stands solid, sure, and calm, steering
the boat. In front of him, the parrot Bald Eagle is preening what
Fitzcarraldo 179

is left of his feathers. From the galley door one of the Indian girls
emerges with a basket of tropical fruit and giggles. A hand stuck
under her skirt still has hold of her. When she frees herself, a man
takes a step out of the galley—­it is Huerequeque. “Ay, qué rico!”
he says with a gleam in his eye.
Jaime de Aguila is leaning against the railing of the bridge,
alert, his head tilted at a strange angle. Fitzcarraldo has taken
over the rudder.
“Starboard!” shouts Jaime. “Further starboard, we’re approach-
ing shallow water. There must be a sandbank there.”
“I can’t see a sandbank,” says Fitzcarraldo. “How do you know
there’s a sandbank coming?”
“Shallow water,” says Jaime, “sounds different from deep water.”

Jungle Railroad Station, toward Evening

The boat glides softly along a narrower leg of the wide-­branching
river, toward the railway station landing. No other boats are tied
up there, as it seems to be one of the deserted connecting links
on the upper course of the Amazon, with all the sadness, desola-
tion, and somnolence characteristic of places like this. The station
lies there dead and abandoned; only a few yards back begins the
jungle. A ramp with tracks slants directly down into the water,
and further up, on solid ground, is the main building with its cor-
rugated tin roof. Trans-­Andean Railways is written there in big,
rusty letters. Part of the roof has torn loose, and shreds of tin
rattle malevolently, dangling in the light evening breeze. The sta-
tion house gives an even greater sense of desolation with the iron
parts scattered around it and a deserted forge and mechanic’s
workshop nearby. Behind it we see the stationmaster’s hut and
the smokestack of a locomotive.
The stationmaster, a gray-­haired, seedy man in his official
uniform—­which he evidently has rarely worn and which looks
newly ironed with its brass buttons all polished—­is standing with
his Indian wife and several grimy, half-­naked children in a row.
Beneath his uniform jacket he is wearing no shirt; he must have
just slipped on his uniform hastily, and his bare feet protrude from
180 Fitzcarraldo

his trousers. From his splayed, powerful toes we can tell that he
hasn’t worn shoes for years. He is standing at attention, giving a
half-­military salute, in order to control his emotion. “Fitzcarraldo
is here! At last! With a ship!”
Fitzcarraldo is the first to jump onto land, and he returns the
salute. The stationmaster, struggling for self-­control, delivers
some sort of official report, but then it all comes pouring out
of him, all the things that have been piling up throughout the
years of desperate waiting. As Fitzcarraldo, followed by his crew,
mounts the ramp to the railway with the stationmaster, the latter
starts talking like a waterfall.
“I knew you’d come back one day,” he says. “I’ve been here six
years now without salary, the station is ready for action, just look
at the children. I’ve taken an Indian wife, the locomotive is still
in good shape, although I must admit I was forced to sell a few
iron parts, but those were all parts of no great importance, it’s
still running, this steam engine, you know, there’s no iron any-
where around here, and the Indians need it for their machetes and
things, I had to do it, for I had been forgotten at this post. Oh, am
I glad you’re here! When will you resume construction?”
Fitzcarraldo is embarrassed and silent. “You know,” he says,
“we had some financial problems. But we haven’t completely given
up the project.”
They reach the platform where the railroad begins. There
really are tracks, caked with rust, starting at a buffer block, from
which a clothesline hung with wet washing is tied to the next tree.
And there stands the sad locomotive. It is a big model from the
turn of the century, with a huge boiler and big steel wheels, but
everything is covered with rust; the engineer’s cab has lost almost
all its housing, and only part of the rusty roof struts jut into the
sky. Grass has taken root on the steps, and beneath them some
bushes are growing, though they apparently have been trimmed
now and then. The rusted tracks run straight ahead, and after
about five hundred feet they plunge into the dense labyrinth of the
jungle. They probably end a few yards farther on, for no cleared
right of way can be seen.
Near the tracks are the sad headquarters of the stationmaster.
Fitzcarraldo 181

Above the front door we read Amazon Terminal in large, splen-

did letters, but in fact it is nothing more than a slightly sturdier
wooden hut on poles. Neglected dogs doze on the narrow veranda,
butterflies flutter drunkenly around the house, from the forest the
cicadas cry at night.
“Come in,” the stationmaster says to Fitzcarraldo, but he de-
clines. He has something painful to say, and he keeps putting it
off, not knowing how to get it out. He pulls himself together and
clears his throat.
“The rails, you see. The thing is, we’ve come here because of
another project, a very big one. Our whole financial situation will
change overnight, if it works. What I’m trying to say is, we need
the rails.”
The stationmaster is dumbfounded, and his face turns gray
and old. Night is falling.

Jungle Railroad, Early Morning

It is getting light. Fitzcarraldo’s crew is busy prying the rails off
the wooden ties with crowbars. Everyone is working, lending a
hand, except for Huerequeque, who is chasing one of his maids
into the darkness of the forest. Jaime de Aguila looks up quickly;
something like that does not escape his attention. The zebu cow
is grazing between the tracks.
The stationmaster is in a state of shock, his eyes gazing into
the void; he rushes around from one to the other, having to look
on helplessly as his railroad is dismantled bit by bit. As a small
group of men starts to loosen the big spikes near the locomo-
tive, he comes back to life, a desperate resistance surging up
from within. “No, not these, please not these.” He hurries over to
Fitzcarraldo, who is working in the midst of a group of men and
obviously wishes he could hide himself among them.
“Don Fitzcarraldo,” the stationmaster gasps, “the men are tak-
ing away the rails by the locomotive as well. I beg you, leave at
least a few yards around the locomotive, or how can I keep it in
shape? Thirty yards would be enough for me, just to roll it back
and forth.”
182 Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo looks up. He has to answer for this.

“Stop your men, for God’s sake. Look there, in the jungle, the
entire route continues on two tracks,” says the stationmaster.
“Hey,” Fitzcarraldo calls to his men, “we don’t need those,
there are some more out in the forest.”
From the bottom of his broken heart, the stationmaster looks
gratefully at Fitzcarraldo.

On Board, Bridge
The boat is again sailing up the main river. Jaime, the captain,
stands outside at the railing with a cord to which a tin cup is at-
tached. Fitzcarraldo, in the wheelhouse, is poring intently over a
“We must have passed the Pachitea a long way back,” he says.
“No, we haven’t,” says Jaime.
“But according to the map . . .” Fitzcarraldo ventures hesitantly.
“Then the map must be wrong,” says Jaime.
“How can you be so sure?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
Jaime lowers the cup down into the water and then pulls it
back up by the string. He carefully tastes the brownish water, like
a chef sampling a sauce. “No river tastes like the Pachitea. It’s just
ahead of us.”

Amazon River, Mouth of the Pachitea

The boat pushes on in its normal course; the river stretches out
into the distance. The smokestack puffs evenly, and the engines
work in their gentle rhythm. Toward the left riverbank, a little
ahead, we see the mouth of the Pachitea. At first glance it is not
recognizable as a separate river, since the main branch of the
Amazon divides up again and again into individual branches
with islands interspersed, so that the confluence of two or more
branches always looks like the confluence of entire tributary sys-
tems. At this point, however, much darker, almost brownish-­black
water comes flowing in distinctly in a straight line, set off from
the rest as clearly as a knife slice. The horizon is wide, always with
Fitzcarraldo 183

more sky than land, and in the sky mountains of clouds are tower-
ing high, whole countries, whole continents swelling up, joining
and flowing into one another.

On Board, Bridge
Jaime de Aguila is steering the boat, keeping a sharp eye out
for shallows and driftwood. In some places we see extensive flat
sandbars, and it doesn’t seem easy to find the navigable waters,
even though the river is easily a kilometer across. In the cramped
wheelhouse are a compass and other nautical instruments, beau-
tifully set in brass. Fitzcarraldo stands beside Jaime, staring at
the river ahead and at a detailed map in front of him. Jaime casts
him a furtive glance, and they nod to each other. Jaime throws
the rudder to the left, and from now on the voyage follows a dif-
ferent course.

On Board, Lower Deck

Part of the crew hangs around the galley door like bluebottle flies,
and some are hanging on to the window as well, annoying and
horny. A girl’s hand playfully slaps a rag at one of the more ag-
gressive ones.
The zebu cow is asleep on the lower deck on a bed of fresh
leaves, twitching its ears to get rid of the flies.
Farther up the deck, in an area free of cabins, is a long, heavy,
polished wooden table with beautiful fixed mahogany stools.
Some men are lolling about there, playing cards and boozing.
They are so tanked up that they are playing as if in slow motion.
One is asleep, bent forward with his head on the table. Suddenly
he wakes up and looks around in surprise; he is the only one who
has noticed the change of course.
“Su madre,” he says, drawing out his words, “where are we
going, puta su madre!” The card players lower their cards and
stare at him.
The men leave the galley door, turn and scrutinize the river-
bank before them.
184 Fitzcarraldo

“What?” one of them says. “Hey, what’s that?”

“Amigos,” says Huerequeque, stretching his body out of the
galley, tenderly stroking the rifle in his hand, “this is the Pachitea,
well known for its native hospitality. Nobody told you that, did

On Board, Bridge
Stan leans in the door of the wheelhouse with a worried expres-
sion and speaks to Fitzcarraldo in a low voice. “Something’s brew-
ing down below,” he says. “The crew doesn’t quite agree with the
course, to put it mildly. I must say, I’d like to know myself where
the hell we’re going.”
“I’m coming,” says Fitzcarraldo curtly.

Lower Deck
The crew has assembled; even the mechanic has appeared, smeared
with oil, and only Huerequeque and his two young assistants are
missing. Besides Wilbur and Stan there are fourteen other men,
standing in a semicircle, angry and belligerent.
“Where is Huerequeque?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
“He said he’d rather relax a bit with the señoritas, he knows
where we’re going anyway,” says a sinister-­looking man with an
open shirt and tattoos on his arm.
“Okay,” Fitzcarraldo says. He takes a deep breath. “What did I
say in Iquitos?” he asks them. “I need men, real men, not pansies
who shit in their pants, understand? You can go straight back to
Iquitos. Who wants to go back to Iquitos?”
Fitzcarraldo seems to know his men well; not one wants to go
back to Iquitos. He prods them further. “I’ll pay your full wages at
once. Whoever wants to return to Iquitos, step forward.”
Silence, hostility, but no one steps forward. One of the crew
is a man as strong as a bear, his cheek stuffed with chewing to-
bacco. First he shifts it to one side, spits out the brown juice, and
then speaks up. “Where are we going?” he says threateningly. “We
want to know,” he says, pausing to spit again, “what course we’re
Fitzcarraldo 185

“We are going up the Pachitea, about three days’ journey,”

Fitzcarraldo says very calmly, as if it were the most harmless kind
of destination.
“But Saramiriza is only one day away,” interjects the man with
the tattoos, “and then what?”
“You can stay in Saramiriza and become missionaries if you
want,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“Fitz,” Stan joins in, “I’ll do everything with you, everything
really. We’ve got rifles with us and rails and tools, and provisions
for months. I’ll do anything you want, you know I’m not afraid,
but I would really like to know what you’re up to.”
Fitzcarraldo just stands there. After a long pause he starts
talking. “You know, my plan is so wild that I’m not quite sure
myself if it’s going to work. We’re going up the Pachitea two days
past Saramiriza. We have the precise maps from the expedition of
’96. I am planning something geographical. If it succeeds, we’ll
all be richer than in our wildest dreams.”
“Do you know,” asks the one with the chewing tobacco, “how
many started in ’96, and how many came back?”
“I know,” says Fitzcarraldo, “but this isn’t ’96 anymore. Once
we get there, we’ll see, and I’ll explain everything to you.”
The crew is not really satisfied, but no one wants to leave the
ship, that is clear. Sullenly the assembly disperses.

Saramiriza, Missionary Station

An oppressively hot, sultry day: dangerously slow the sky is hatch-
ing its thunderstorm, which does not want to form just yet. The
river flows so sluggishly that it seems afraid to move. The air is
still, the forest motionless, the flies alone are buzzing malevo-
lently. The missionary station lies dormant there, some huts in a
square, one of them faintly reminiscent of something like western
civilization. Along the front of the square is a small church with
a tin roof on which vultures are dozing, contemplating carrion;
some are even perched on the faded wooden cross on the gable. In
front of the church, fastened to a tree limb, hangs a bell without
a clapper. Beside it, strung up on a wire, dangles a piece of iron,
just the right size for striking the bell.
186 Fitzcarraldo

The buildings face a flat plaza on which a freshly mown lawn,

with stripes of reddish clay, has been planted. The lawn is di-
vided geometrically by paths sprinkled with sand. In the middle,
where the paths meet, a whitewashed flagpole stands, fenced by
a pathetic wrought-­iron railing. By the flagpole the pupils stand
in quasi-­military formation, divided into groups like teams of
gymnasts. They all wear khaki shorts and have their hair shorn,
yet their Indian features create a strange, incongruous contrast
to their formation. Far from them, on the bank of the Pachitea,
stand two Jesuit padres in clean, light-­colored cassocks; one of
them is already rather old and has a white, biblical beard. Both
look like men who have worked long, hard years in the jungle.
Where they are standing on the riverbank, the river has torn holes
many feet deep. Large, loose clumps of earth still hang down over
the river, and there are deep fissures in the lawn. Soon part of the
empty square will have disappeared. One of the buildings on the
riverbank is abandoned, half collapsed, teetering on the edge of
the scarp. Pilings have been driven into the bank to prevent its
deterioration, but the law of the river has visibly gained the upper
All is motionless, expectant. Then, suddenly, a boy standing
alone by the bell starts beating the clapper against it. The result
is a rather miserable, almost tinny sound. In the middle of the
square the flag is being hoisted, a heavy, limp fabric that refuses
to unfurl in the stationary sultriness of the air. At the moment
Fitzcarraldo’s ship comes into view of the square, the children
begin to sing the Peruvian national anthem, in Spanish and hor-
ribly out of tune.
The ship docks and the gangplank is lowered, which is no
simple task since part of the bank crumbles away immediately.
Fitzcarraldo is the first to step ashore. He greets the two mission-
aries with a handshake.
“Welcome to Saramiriza,” the elder one says. “We thought you
were a government commission; no one else ever comes here.”
“We would like to spend the night here,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“Could we bring our cow ashore? You really have nice grass here.”
“Yes, of course,” says the younger one. “You may do that, but
Fitzcarraldo 187

you must tether her farther away from the riverbank, or else she’ll
loosen the soil here with her hooves, as you can see for yourself.
We have been forced to give up three buildings already, and if
this keeps up we’ll have to abandon the station soon. Terrible.
The Lord is incomprehensible in his resolutions. For twenty years
we’ve been building this mission, and now this.”
“I’d like very much to talk with you,” says Fitzcarraldo.

Missionary Building, Night

Night encloses the main building of the mission. A simple table
has been set for the guests with white linen, upon which stand
several glasses of fresh mango juice. Braided cane chairs surround
the table outside on the plain veranda; around it sit the two mis-
sionaries, Fitzcarraldo, and Jaime de Aguila. In the background,
illuminated by a kerosene lamp, we see the interior of the build-
ing. There are almost no solid walls. There are two beds covered
with light-­colored mosquito nets, simple chairs, and an extremely
austere table. Outside on the convocation square, not far from the
boat, the crew has kindled a big fire. There is drinking and noise.
Occasionally Huerequeque’s señoritas can be heard laughing and
shrieking, but Fitzcarraldo pretends not to hear it, feeling embar-
rassed in front of the two padres. He feigns particular interest in
an old school primer he is leafing through.
“Tell me,” says Fitzcarraldo, “when I look at this, these texts
and pictures, I ask myself how anyone can learn patriotism from
a schoolbook?”
“We have a hard time with it,” says the younger padre, “but
the government requires it; otherwise we wouldn’t be allowed to
stay on here. You’d never believe how difficult the simplest things
are out here: I could tell you about our vaccination program for
“People just refuse to be inoculated,” the elder padre says. “But
the children, that’s easier, they all feel like little Peruvians already.
The other day I asked them in class: What is an Indian? Are you
Indians? And they said no, we are not Indians; the others farther
upstream, they are Indians, not us. And when I asked, what are
188 Fitzcarraldo

Indians, they told me: Indians are people who can’t read, and who
don’t know how to wash their clothes.”
“And the older people?” asks Jaime in the ensuing pause.
“Well,” says the elder missionary, first taking a hesitant sip
from his glass, “we can’t seem to cure them of their basic notion
that our normal life is just an illusion, behind which lies the real-
ity of dreams. In a certain way this does relate to our basic concept
of Salvation, but . . .”
“This interests me very much,” interrupts Fitzcarraldo, sud-
denly attentive. “You see, I am a man of the opera.”

Mission, Convocation Square

The men are flocked around a big campfire, drinking, singing
songs, and yelling. Standing around them, still and solemn, are
Jívaros from the station, their dark eyes gleaming in the semi-­
darkness. Huerequeque’s señoritas are the center of attention,
they are being passed about and fondled. The girls laugh and rap
the knuckles of the impertinent men. Suddenly a fight erupts in
the dimness, two men become entangled in a scuffle.

Missionary Station
The padres and their two guests are still sitting around the table
as before. Jaime de Aguila now leads the conversation.
“What do you know,” he asks, “about the Jívaros on the upper
course? I was there during the disaster in ’96; have you had any
contact since then?”
“Yes, eight years ago, not so long after your misfortune,” says
the younger missionary, “two of our brothers set off with some
natives. One of them returned a day later and said that the Jívaros
had withdrawn deep into the forest. After that we heard nothing
for weeks. And then, as you probably heard, one of our brothers
was washed up, he was rotting away already. His head was gone,
and they had filled his belly with stones. But it was God’s will that
this outrage should come to light, and He let the corpse appear
when the water had dropped.”
Fitzcarraldo 189

“Ah, that was the time when the military planned a retaliatory
expedition,” says Jaime.
“But nothing came of it,” says the elderly missionary. “There
was a lot of talk, but nobody did anything. Since then we’ve had
no contact. Now and then a canoe shows up, the people are peace-
ful enough and want to trade, but really we don’t know anything.
Anyway, what do you want up there?”
“We are planning something geographical,” says Fitzcarraldo.
This has apparently become his standard reply.
From outside the noise is getting wild, it can no longer be ig-
nored or hushed up. Jaime rises. “Padres, please excuse me for a
moment, I must attend to things outside. The men . . .”
We see that Jaime de Aguila is assuming an increasingly domi-
nant role. In the darkness we hear him shouting at the men, and
quiet is restored almost immediately. In the ensuing lull, only the
mosquitoes can be heard, buzzing malevolently. Fitzcarraldo is
slapping at them.
“You have to get used to them, young man,” says the elder mis-
sionary to Fitzcarraldo, who isn’t so young himself. “We have more
than enough of them.”
The first faraway, soundless flashes of lightning pierce the dis-
tant sky. “I hope the rain comes soon,” says Fitzcarraldo.

Saramiriza, Missionary Station, Next Day

Dawn is breaking, misty stripes hover over the dark river, and
the jungle is steaming. The birds greet the day with their infer-
nal jubilation. It has rained during the night. The grass on the
convocation square is glistening wet, and puddles have formed
in the red clay. All men are on board. Children stand mutely
on the riverbank, looking at the ship. The two padres are with
them. On board, on the lower deck, there is noise and confusion.
We can’t quite make out what it’s about from this distance, but
most likely the battle for the señoritas has flared up again. One
of them is bickering angrily. The men are pushing and shoving
each other.
190 Fitzcarraldo

On Board, Bridge
Jaime de Aguila has taken Fitzcarraldo aside. Serious and reso-
lute, he demonstratively removes his captain’s cap, which he hasn’t
worn in a long time and obviously has put on only to enhance his
“You must crack down on the men now, and I mean at once,”
he says, “or else I quit, and you can find yourself a new captain!”
“Who is it?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
“It’s Evaristo Chávez and Fabiano, the Brazilian. They’re the
main ones, and then the señoritas, they must be put ashore im-
mediately. I mean immediately, or you can steer this tub yourself.
And Huerequeque, I don’t trust him an inch either.”
“But he’s cunning,” says Fitzcarraldo. “He may booze a lot, but
he’s got more brains than the rest of them put together.”
“The rest,” Jaime says disdainfully, “they aren’t worth much,
either. Go on, do something, you’re the boss.”

On Board, Lower Deck

Fitzcarraldo descends the bronze-­trimmed stairway from the
bridge, and at once the quarreling dies down. Unruffled, he plants
himself serenely behind the mess table and counts out four piles
of money, one beside the other; casually, almost offhand, he calls,
“Evaristo! Fabiano! And the two señoritas!”
The four step forward with foreboding.
“Your services,” says Fitzcarraldo, “are no longer required. I
thank you. Here is your wage till the end of the week. You have two
minutes to get your things. To put it more precisely, in a hundred
and twenty seconds you’re off the ship.”
This hits home. Huerequeque, who has just taken a step for-
ward to say something, stands rooted to the spot and doesn’t make
a sound. The four of them leave the ship, and one of the señoritas
is crying.
“Maybe we are the lucky ones,” says Fabiano somberly as he
leaves the ship.
Fitzcarraldo 191

Pachitea, Early in the Day

The Molly Aida follows its course up the middle of the river. To
the left and right the jungle towers above the waters, but for this
it pays a big price. Here and there, trees on the riverbank have
been uprooted and have crashed into the watery clay; in some
places the bank has been so undermined that entire groves of
trees are searching in the void with their bunched roots, while
in other places big clumps of earth have been washed away along
with several trees. Branches stick up out of the water, swaying
and shaking their denial against the current. Fog still hovers in
the treetops, which obliviously grow, crowd each other out, give
birth, and are overgrown with lianas, engulfed, rotting. The trees
sweat and sleep and doze and grow and fight for the light and lie
dormant, and in the morning, after a night of rain, they piss, like
cows, hundreds of thousands of them, a hundred thousand mil-
lion. And that makes the birds happy, and they screech, ten times
a hundred thousand million.
Tense expectation settles ponderously over the decks. No one
is sleeping or drinking or playing cards. All the men are leaning
side by side over the railing, staring silently into the dusky green
of the forest. Up ahead the first hills emerge, overgrown by the
jungle, with clouds of fog billowing up the slopes. The forest falls
strangely silent, as if it wanted to hold its breath.
Time passes, slowly. On the bridge Fitzcarraldo searches the
forest with his binoculars. Nothing.
Then suddenly, from a distance, from the depths of the forest,
comes the sound of drums, at first almost inaudible, wafting away
with the fog. Then they get stronger, closer. Huerequeque steals
quietly to his galley and cautiously grabs his rifle. One after an-
other the men follow his example. Only Wilbur seems to feel fine,
lounging in his barber chair, soon to become his throne.
On the bridge, Jaime de Aguila bends down to the speaking
tube that connects him with the engine room. “Choke the engine,
half speed ahead,” he says.
“Half speed ahead,” the funnel replies.
“What are the men doing?” asks Jaime.
192 Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo leans over the railing and looks down to the lower
decks. “They’ve armed themselves,” he says.
“On no account are they to shoot,” says Jaime. “If there is any
shooting, then we’re lost. That’s exactly the mistake we made on
the first expedition. They are only to shoot if we’re directly at-
tacked. Go down and tell them that, or there might be another

Jungle by the Pachitea, Night

With our eyes we scan the edge of the forest; our glance moves
very slowly, seeking to penetrate the depths of the shadowy for-
est. But nothing stirs; there is only the dim silence and the hol-
low, rumbling, incessant drumming of a whole group of drums at
once. The sound is disquieting, menacing, coming closer, swell-
ing up. Our eyes burn with the strain, yet we can see absolutely

Aboard Ship
Fitzcarraldo climbs atop the uppermost roof with his phono-
graph, to the small wooden platform. Now it’s Caruso’s turn, he
says to himself. “The cow,” he calls down. “Put the cow right up at
the bow, right in front so she can be seen.”
This is done. Huerequeque is the driving force. “I bet those bare-­
asses have never seen anything like this,” he says. “That’ll teach
’em respect.” There is a sudden, hard thud beside Huerequeque’s
head, and an arrow as long as his arm vibrates in the cabin wall
with an evil twang.
“All right,” says Huerequeque, “this is it.”
The men spring into motion; most of them dive for cover, and
one of them jerks up his rifle.
“Don’t shoot, you asshole!” roars Jaime from the bridge over-
head. The man lowers his rifle and flees into one of the open cabins.
And then, suddenly, Fitzcarraldo’s music resounds, the voice
of Caruso, sad and beautiful and stately and very scratchy. The
Fitzcarraldo 193

music mixes with the drums, swells up against them, and gradu-
ally silences them. One drum after the other falls silent.
Wilbur jumps up and dances a strange, ecstatic dance on deck.
He is the only one visible. From the forest, silence comes back.
Only the ship vibrates gently, the engine chugs softly, the for-
ward movement is barely perceptible, almost at a standstill. “My
armies,” says Wilbur, “have reported for duty.”
Up on the bridge, Fitzcarraldo has spotted something with
his binoculars. “There’s a canoe,” he says. “I can see just the rear
part, it must have been drawn ashore fast.” Through the binocu-
lars, we can see that he is right. Between the hanging branches
of a big tree, whose twigs reach down into the water, lies an
Indian dugout, half hidden and partially drawn ashore. Besides
this, nothing. The jungle seems to be paralyzed with emotion by
Caruso’s beautiful, sad voice.

On the Bridge
The music is over. A foreboding silence pervades the jungle, noth-
ing moves, even the birds are mute. Jaime strains to listen, and
Fitzcarraldo stares ahead intently.
“There are silences and silences,” says Jaime. “And I don’t like
this one.”
Fitzcarraldo has discovered something. “I can see something.
There’s something on the water.”
Jaime can’t see it.
“Something black,” says Fitzcarraldo, “on the water, floating
toward us.”

Water of the Río Pachitea

Something black drifts on the water of the Pachitea. It comes
closer, it’s not large. Like a black bowl with a small mast. Then we
see what it is: a black umbrella, opened and placed on the water
like a nutshell, the handle sticking up in the air like a mast—­an
ominous object of unknown meaning.
194 Fitzcarraldo

On Board, Lower Deck

Fitzcarraldo leans far over the railing and fishes out the umbrella
with a pole. The men, armed, cluster around him.
“What the hell is an umbrella doing here?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
“The Jívaros took it off one of the missionaries they killed,”
Huerequeque surmises. “The gentlemen in the forest mean it as a
last warning. They love flowery gestures.”

Fitzcarraldo’s Cabin, Night

Fitzcarraldo has called almost everyone to his cabin, which is
simply arranged but a bit larger than the rest. The men crouch
all over, packed into the room. Some are smoking, and the fumes
fill the air.
“From now on,” says Fitzcarraldo, “everything depends on
how we behave. With the first expedition, they were expecting
the ship. Word had gotten around that some sort of divine vehicle
was on its way, with Viracocha, the White God, sent to lead the
Jívaros out of the jungle. The Jívaros probably left the interior
of Brazil about three hundred years ago, and for ten generations
they’ve been criss-­crossing the jungle. It often happened that
whole tribes began to wander.”
“Yes,” agrees Jaime de Aguila, “their language doesn’t be-
long to any of the language groups that settled around here: the
Huambisas, the Shapras, the Campas, all belong to a quite differ-
ent language family.”
“These Jívaros,” says Fitzcarraldo, “were driven by religious
faith to seek a land without sorrow and death, and, at the end of
their pilgrimage, a White God, Viracocha, would lead them there.
We have to take advantage of this. But this God doesn’t come with
cannons, he comes with the voice of Caruso.”
“What the hell has that got to do with us,” says the man with
the tattoos. “If a bare-­ass gets too close to me he’ll get one right
between the eyes.”
“The good Lord doesn’t mean shit to us,” says one.
“Let others stick out their ass for the good Lord, not us,” an-
other murmurs.
Fitzcarraldo 195

Things don’t look too good. The atmosphere reeks of growing

“Sometimes I think,” another man challenges, “that you’re
missing a few screws somewhere. This here ain’t no stage play.
Those boys out there in the woods mean business.”
And deep down Fitzcarraldo knows it’s true; he feels it too,
and he says no more.

On Deck, Night
Darkness surrounds the boat. It is pitch black. Some of the men,
standing watch with their rifles, are straining their eyes, staring
out into the night. The forest is filled with millions of wailing,
croaking sounds coming from tiny tree frogs. Into the darkness,
an entire universe is croaking sad messages. We too strain our
ears to listen: wasn’t there something, aren’t there human voices
among them, exchanging wailing messages about a sneak attack?
Fitzcarraldo gently puts his hand on one man’s shoulder. “Go
and sleep, I’ll handle this now,” he says in a low voice. “At four
o’clock someone else can take over from me.”
The man nods and glides over the darkened deck toward the
cabins. The engine is chugging softly.

Fitzcarraldo’s Cabin, Next Day

The darkness of night is over, and day slips through the wooden
shutters in streaks of light. Fitzcarraldo lies under his mosquito net,
sleeping soundly. Wilbur enters, cheerful, almost casual. He lifts the
mosquito net and wakes Fitzcarraldo, who bolts upright with a jerk.
He instantly grabs his rifle, which he has taken to bed with him.
“Fitz,” says Wilbur, very friendly, “we’ll be having breakfast

On Deck
Rifle in hand and hardly dressed, Fitzcarraldo rushes on deck.
There he finds only the mechanic, bent over the railing and staring
196 Fitzcarraldo

bewildered after something. Fitzcarraldo looks, too. We look with

him. There, in the middle of the misty waters of the Pachitea, a
lifeboat is floating, jammed with the crew. They are rowing like
crazy, rapidly vanishing downstream in the morning mist.
“Why didn’t you go with them?” asks Fitzcarraldo sarcastically.
“I didn’t know anything about it, I was below deck in the en-
gine room the whole time,” the man says.

Fitzcarraldo comes rushing up the stairs and tears open the door
to the wheelhouse. There Stan is kneeling, bent over Jaime de
Aguila, who is lying on the floor. Stan is loosening the ropes on
his arms and legs with nervous movements. Jaime pulls the gag
from his mouth in a rage.
“These pigs,” he says, “all of a sudden there they all were with
their rifles. I said all along they were good for nothing.”
“Wilbur’s still here, and the mechanic,” says Fitzcarraldo. “I
thought we were all alone.” Outside the drums start to drone
“It seems to me,” says Fitzcarraldo, “that we’re now in great
need of some Italian opera.”

The ship is now in the midst of the last foothills of the Andes. To
the left and right there are small but very steep mountains emerg-
ing from the morning fog. The smokestack is fuming, but the boat
makes so little headway that it almost seems to be stationary, it
pushes along so slowly. The music of grand opera wafts over from
the boat to the forest and, as before, the drumming soon stops

The five men remaining are holding a brief council of war in the
crowded wheelhouse. All of them, except Wilbur, carry rifles.
Fitzcarraldo 197

Fitzcarraldo is composed and speaks quite calmly. “The dream,”

he says, “is over. That was it, gentlemen. We’ll have to turn back.
Stan will stay up here with you, and you go back down to the
engine room.”
“Sure,” the mechanic says. “I will. I can manage.”
We look closely at the mechanic for the first time; slender and
young and smeared with grease, he had always been inconspicu-
ous to us. But now, in this hour of distress, the young man seems
to have class, even if he would rather have taken off as well. He
seems to have gained some power now.
“And I’ll take over the center deck with Wilbur,” Fitzcarraldo
says. “We’ll make a 180-­degree turn. Can we do that here?”
“We can,” says Jaime, the captain.
Before each of them heads for his post, Fitzcarraldo again
quickly scans the edge of the jungle to the right and left. The
Italian opera on the roof reaches a crescendo. Fitzcarraldo leans
out the window and looks back. Very slowly, as if in slow motion,
he pulls his head in again.
“Won’t work,” he says, his words drawled, yet laconic.
“What?” asks Stan, not comprehending.
“If you would all please turn around very slowly, but no sudden
movements, nice and slow.”
Moving as one man, they all turn around slowly and look out
the rear window.
“Do you see what I see?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
At last we share the same view. Abruptly we see that across
the entire breadth of the river, the way back is blocked by dug-
outs, at least forty or more, following a short distance behind,
perhaps a ship’s length away. Each canoe is manned by three or
four Indians, paddling very smoothly and carefully maintaining
a precise distance from the creeping steamboat. And now we see,
farther back in the fog, more canoes appearing. We can tell from
a distance that the Indians have long hair, their faces are painted
with ochre stripes, and they seem to carry weapons. But they only
follow slowly, at a cautious distance.
“Great,” says Fitzcarraldo, “this is just what we needed.”
“We have to keep going ahead,” Jaime says, gritting his teeth,
198 Fitzcarraldo

“whether we want to or not. Breaking through back there would

be the end of us.” He turns to the mechanic. “You go down to the
engine room now, nice and easy, no abrupt movements, under-
stand? We should put on a bit more steam, but very delicately.
I think it would be good to pick up a little speed.” With calm,
controlled movements the mechanic slips out of the wheelhouse.
The Indians continue following at a distance. We see how the
propeller at the stern gently starts producing a stronger backwash,
the engine adds power and the boat picks up a little speed. Trail-
ing them at the same distance, the Jívaros’ canoes also step up the
pace. We notice that their numbers have increased in the meantime.
In the wheelhouse, Fitzcarraldo stares through the window
toward the rear. He looks through his binoculars. “They’re all
men, some of them have spears,” he says softly. “They’re keeping
their distance.” He turns to Jaime. “Did you experience anything
like this in ’96?”
“No,” says Jaime. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my en-
tire life.”
The music on the roof stops, the cylinder is finished.
“I don’t think our friends like this,” says Fitzcarraldo. “It seems
to make them nervous when Tosca is finished.”

At some distance, seen from the riverbank. The steamboat glides
upstream of necessity, now followed by probably a hundred ca-
noes. Small but recognizable, Fitzcarraldo creeps slowly up to his
phonograph on the roof. An overture begins, loud and exquisite
and scratchy. The boats are trailing in a great procession. The fog
has lifted above the treetops. On the center deck, the patient cow
stands and gazes.

On Board, Bridge, toward Evening

Jaime the captain and Fitzcarraldo are standing soaked with
sweat and exhausted, staring straight ahead. A prolonged silence.
Fitzcarraldo 199

Without seeing the canoes again, we know that they are right on
their tail.
“How long can this go on?” asks Fitzcarraldo.
“Until we run onto a sandbank,” says Jaime curtly. “But I think
it’s best to keep moving. If we do anything now it could be the
worst move possible, for one reason or another. The initiative has
to come from them.”

On Board, Quarterdeck
At the stern of the ship. We realize to our horror that Wilbur,
completely unprotected, is gesticulating wildly in the direction of
the Jívaros in the canoes beyond. He performs a strange courtship
dance and mouths great soundless cries in a language familiar
only to those on the far shore of madness. He lures the canoes
with the seductive movements of his wooing body. He summons
his whole army. And indeed, three or four of the canoes in front
come closer, hesitantly. One is extremely close now, almost at
arm’s length. Altogether there must be four hundred canoes now
following the Molly Aida.

In alarm, Jaime suddenly sees what is happening with Wilbur.
“Wilbur,” he shouts, and with an obviously mistaken reflex, he
pulls the lever to sound the foghorn.

Precisely at the moment when the foremost Jívaro touches the
hull with his fingertips, the foghorn issues its mighty blast. The
Indian pulls back his hand at once as if he got an electrical shock
from the contact. As when a gust of wind swirls into a pile of
leaves and scatters them, the canoes whirl away in horror from the
boat. Slowly they regroup again into a formation, like a school of
tiny fish after they have been scattered.
200 Fitzcarraldo

Jaime breathes a sigh of relief. “Excuse me,” he says. “I almost
ruined it.”
The sudden event has loosened up Fitzcarraldo, making him
almost cheerful. He leans his rifle beside the wheel and goes to
the door, perfectly normal, as if he were somewhere in the harbor
of Iquitos. “I think I’ll take over now,” he says. “The sun is going
down soon.”

On Board
Fitzcarraldo comes down the steps, quite relaxed, crosses the
deck past the astonished Stan, who lies under cover between two
rolls of cable with his rifle aimed.
“Hope that thing doesn’t go off by itself,” Fitzcarraldo kids
him, stepping up to Wilbur. “Well, Wilbur, now we’ll wave our
friends to come on over,” he says. With the senseless courage of
fools and visionaries, he stands and waves.
And then, suddenly, another one of their kind joins them. One
of the cabin doors opens and Huerequeque appears, blinking
sleepily, just waking up from his binge. He is barefoot and wear-
ing only his pants, and his naked belly bulges down over his belt.
“Hola, brethren,” he says to the natives, “what time is it
anyway? Amigos!” he shouts. “Come on, you bare-­a ss sons of
bitches—­t here’s beer for everyone!”
Fitzcarraldo is momentarily rigid with amazement; he stares
at him as if he were seeing a ghost. “Where did you come from,
Huerequeque?” he asks. “This can’t be true.”
“I just had a nap,” says Huerequeque. “Did the others take off
already, those cowards, those degeneraditos?”
During this moment of utter innocence and ease, the biggest
canoe has tied up to the side of the ship, unnoticed, and a digni-
fied man, with a particularly beautiful feather headdress braided
into his hair, apparently one of the chiefs, has boarded with two
companions. They are unarmed except for fishing spears with
long shafts. Fitzcarraldo is the first to see them.
Fitzcarraldo 201

“Keep quiet,” he says. “I don’t think they’ll harm us.” Fitzcarraldo

extends a hand to the chief, intending to grasp his, but the Indian
merely brushes over Fitzcarraldo’s fingertips with his own finger-
tips, very lightly, a soft, tender, beautiful first touch. Wilbur and
Huerequeque get the same careful, shy touch.
The chief begins to speak, very calmly and dignified; he and
his companions now and then spit casually through their teeth
onto the floor.
“We need Jaime,” says Fitzcarraldo.

Evening has descended over the river, and there the boat is lying
now, still under steam but moored to several strong trees on the
riverbank. It is surrounded by a thick swarm of canoes, all press-
ing close, hands hoping to touch the hull of the ship. At first glance
it looks as if all the danger and apprehension is over for the mo-
ment. Between the trees, the first campfires are being kindled; the
Indians seem to be making preparations for the night.

On Board, Evening
An enchanting spectacle, the sky is consumed by red-­orange
flames. The last screeching flocks of parrots seek their sleeping
trees for the night. The wailing tree frogs begin their nightly or-
gies of grief for the state of the universe. The million-­fold croak-
ing sets in.
On the center deck sits the entire remaining crew, huddled
together, and, in a wide semicircle around them, about seventy
Indians. They have brought some clay on deck, confined within a
square of thick wooden clubs, upon which burns one of their typi-
cal fires: three tree trunks arranged to form a star, with thinner
dry branches in the gaps to feed the flames, and on top, placed
directly on the glowing trunks, a broad earthenware pot, in which
something is simmering. One or two Indians take turns talking,
and for the first time we have time enough to listen to their peculiar
202 Fitzcarraldo

soft-­sounding language. There seems to be a hierarchy dictating

who is to say what and when. The gestures of their hands are
striking and beautiful, foreign, gentle—­they move their hands like
conductors scanning an inaudible, unknown melody that falters
into the light from the darkest, most mysterious depths of the
forest. It is a cautiousness, a shyness beyond compare.
A silent lull ensues. Jaime begins to translate.
“They’re talking about the white vessel, meaning our ship,” he
says. “I think they expect something like salvation from it. They
say a curse is weighing on the entire landscape here. They know
that we are no gods, but the ship seems to be making a big impres-
sion on them, and they keep talking about the voice on the roof. I
think they want us to stay with them, and the chief says he wants
to give us a present.”
Wilbur beams with enthusiasm. “The Jívaros,” he says, “my
people! I have found my people. We shall establish a kingdom
with them.”
The chief rises and hands Fitzcarraldo two live turtles that
have been pierced in front on the projecting rim of their shells and
bound to each other with a liana string. Then he fills a bowl with
the dark liquid boiling on the fire.
“Drink,” Jaime says between his teeth. “It is chushuási, a little
bitter, but it won’t kill you.”
Fitzcarraldo drinks bravely, as he is told. He lowers the bowl
and passes it on to his men, obeying a gesture from the chief.
“Friends,” he says in a low voice, almost to himself, “I think this
voyage continues.”
Night has fallen darkly, the faint glimmer of the fire is reflected
seventy-­fold in the dark eyes of the Jívaros.

On Board
The new day fades in, bearing rain that cascades down steadily,
indifferently. The whole center deck is filled with Indians; about
a hundred of them are huddled silently on board, looking straight
ahead. The boat steams slowly and smoothly up the river, while
behind and around it throng the Indian canoes, now very close.
Fitzcarraldo 203

The jungle slopes are not very high, but steep, and behind them
we see towering cloud-­veiled slopes, the first hint of the eastern
edge of the Andes. Right in the midst of the natives, Wilbur moves
about, completely at ease. Stan, who is with him, seems a bit more

Fitzcarraldo is poring over detailed maps, and beside him Jaime
is steering. Huerequeque has moved over to him and stares over
Fitzcarraldo’s shoulder. Fitzcarraldo straightens up to his full
height. “There, up ahead,” he says to Jaime. “Yes there, do you see
that range of hills?”
“I see it,” says Jaime. “That must be it.”
“We’re here,” says Fitzcarraldo and turns to Huerequeque:
“This slope may look insignificant, but it’s going to be my destiny.”
Huerequeque has a knowing look on his face.

Heights of Camisea
The boat has anchored; there is nothing to indicate why here, of
all places, nothing distinguishes this spot. Like everywhere else,
the jungle simply grows up the slope, damp and steaming. It is
still raining. Farther ahead a more conspicuous mountain rises
steeply from the river.
Fitzcarraldo has gone ashore with his companions, and almost
every Indian on deck has followed them. Fitzcarraldo is trying
to keep his maps dry by hiding them under his shirt. A footpath,
bearing the distinct imprints of many naked feet, starts here and
snakes up the hill.
“Follow me,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“Now he’s showing his cards,” says Huerequeque.

Atop the Ridge

Fitzcarraldo has counted the steps. He is peering around in the jun-
gle. Vaguely we understand with him that the summit of the slope
204 Fitzcarraldo

must have been reached. Fitzcarraldo pauses solemnly and waits

until his crew and the Indians on the path have caught up to him.
“This is it. This is what we were looking for, right here.”
Stan and the mechanic look around in amazement; there is
nothing here, just ordinary, dense jungle, like everywhere else.
“We’ll have to climb a tree for you dimwits to figure it out,”
says Huerequeque. With his machete he hacks his way through a
tangle of roots and lianas to a giant tree. “We shall build a viewing
platform for these gentlemen.”

Treetop, Heights of Camisea

In the expansive crown of a giant tree a narrow, temporary plat-
form has been built, adroitly lashed tight with lianas. Fitzcarraldo
and his friends are crowded together up there. There isn’t room
for all of them, so Stan and the mechanic have to perch lower
down in a forked branch, but from there they can still see enough.
“I don’t believe it,” says Stan.
Now we see what they see, as we follow Fitzcarraldo’s point-
ing hand. The dark, clay-­brown upper course of the Pachitea
stretches below us, and when we turn our gaze to the other side,
where the slope descends again, we suddenly see, so close we can
almost touch it, a much broader, much lighter river. At this point
it reaches close to us in a bellying curve, but then turns away again
to lose itself in another direction between the mountains.
“That’s the Ucayali,” says Fitzcarraldo. “And all the upper
course belongs to us.”
“I knew it!” says Huerequeque. “We’re going to build a railway
“No,” says Fitzcarraldo, “we’ll drag the ship over the mountain—­
and the bare-­asses are going to help us!”
“How the hell are we going to do that?” asks Jaime.
“Just like the cow jumped over the moon.”
Emotion overwhelms the men in the treetop: so this is the
goal, this is the task. A grandiose music, full of pathos, sets in as
we look from the Ucayali to the Pachitea, and from the Pachitea
to the Ucayali, and back again, amid the screams of the chattering
Fitzcarraldo 205

monkeys. It is uplifting, we begin to soar, drunk with joy we rise

with the wafting music high above the land. There they are, the
two rivers, converging toward each other at a single point, and
between them the heights of Camisea, densely overgrown with
jungle, the mountain that is Fitzcarraldo’s fate. Here it is, his chal-
lenge, the challenge of the impossible.

Jungle, Heights of Camisea

It rains. It rains solidly. It rains in heavy, dense streams. A giant
tree, almost fully overgrown with lianas, aged by the pull of wild
creepers and the fight for the roof of light, gone old and gray and
mossy, suddenly shudders down to its roots. It groans a terrible,
almost human groan, then, ever so slowly, it bends forward, bends
farther, picks up speed, yes, we scream inside, it’s falling, the
tree is falling! It falls in one last bow before human force, before
human axes. With a terrible crash the giant collapses to the earth.
And there, right next to it, the next one bends, and then another
and another; a whole forest is swaying and collapsing.
Deep inside the forest, the foul, moldering slope rises steeply
in front of us. There the Indians have lined up along a broad front,
hacking away with machetes at the dense jungle growth and knot-
ted liana thickets. Clouds of mosquitoes swarm around them, and
from above a drizzling mist of tropical rain is falling. With light,
almost dangling movements, the Jívaros wield the razor-­sharp
machetes with such elegance, such finality in their actions. And
still we know that the jungle will close up again on its own, within
weeks. As soon as they are cut, the dangling lianas hesitate for a
long moment, as if denying at first their own destruction, as if
needing a moment to understand, then they crash to the ground,
collapsing into themselves. Fleshy bushes are hacked through
with a single stroke, their big leaves bending aside as an angry,
whitish juice oozes from the cut. Conjuring poison, orchids in heat
glare at their reapers.
On two giant trees standing side by side, the Indians have
erected head-­high scaffolding, making a notch with their axes at
the point where the high-­ribbed roots unite from all sides in the
206 Fitzcarraldo

tree trunk. From the forest the axes resound, and the machetes
accompany them with their music, each whistling and ringing in
a different tone, depending on what it strikes. Almost casually, an
Indian kills a snake with a stick.
A clearing. Several big, flat stones have been placed on the
clay ground, and a whole group of Jívaros are waiting their turn
to sharpen their machetes. Much like scythes when cutting grass,
the machetes must be sharpened after being used a short time.
The Jívaros dip the blades briefly into a clay puddle to moisten
them, then they hone the blades, pressing them on the stone and,
in doing so, bending the steel.
Fitzcarraldo is in the middle of the forest among the toiling
Indians, indicating the direction that the towpath must take. We
can already see that the jungle has been cleared in a strip about
twenty meters wide. The trees crash, and the rain crashes, too.

On Deck, Camisea Landing, Evening

Fitzcarraldo’s crew sits around the mess table on the center
deck, eating. From an Indian basket lined with fresh leaves,
Huerequeque takes a piece of smoked, dark meat, and cuts off a
piece for himself.
“Not bad, this wild boar,” he says and takes a swig of aguardi-
ente from a bulbous basket bottle.
The mood is more contemplative. Jaime de Aguila steps out
from the shadows to the table, elaborately kicking the clay off
his shoes. Only Wilbur sits apart from the others, by the rail-
ing, where he has stretched a linen sheet tautly with some cord.
He holds a lamp up very close to it so that the cloth glows white
on the other side. Gnats dance toward the luminous spot and
huge moths flutter about excitedly; a few have already settled
on the glowing material. We see them closer. Some of the moths
are strange, almost primeval-­looking creatures, as if they have
emerged from some deeply buried, distant epoch. Wilbur’s breath
comes in short excited gasps. Branches from a large tree hang
over the deck. The zebu cow sighs aloud in its dream. On land,
Fitzcarraldo 207

fires flicker and low voices waft over. The parrot speaks a couple
of unintelligible words.
An eleven-­year-­old Jívaro boy is standing quite naturally by
the mess table, now and then joining the circle of conversation
with ease, in his own language. Wilbur evidently brought him
“That was quite a good start,” says Fitzcarraldo contentedly.
“What do you think, Jaime, will the Indians stick with us?”
Jaime, wrapped in thought, keeps cleaning the soles of his
shoes with a piece of wood. “I’m not sure what the Jívaros are
really thinking. I spoke with some of them just now, but what’s
really going on in their minds is a mystery to me. And it’ll take
us a long time, too. I ask myself if this is going to work out at all.”
“If it doesn’t,” says Huerequeque, “we’ll just build a tunnel.”
But nobody seizes on this idea, and he is alone with it.
“Once the stretch of forest has been cleared, we should be able
to manage,” says Fitzcarraldo. “Theoretically, I could tow the boat
over with one hand tied behind my back, provided I had a perfect
pulley system. I would pull a chain as far as two miles, in order to
move the ship two inches.”
“But that’s just theory,” says Jaime. “It will take a long time,
and we haven’t got that much.”
“The shipbuilding has cost us two months already,” says
Fitzcarraldo. “That leaves seven before the option runs out.”
The Jívaro boy starts talking. “Our little amigo is absolutely
right,” says Huerequeque, who of course doesn’t understand
a thing. “What’s his name, anyway? Hey, Wilbur, what’s your
friend’s name?”
“McNamara,” says Wilbur. “McNamara is my footman,” he
“An aguardiente for our little footman!” cries Huerequeque,
moving to hand the bottle to the boy.
“Leave it,” says Fitzcarraldo angrily. “That stuff has ruined
enough Indians already.”
There is a long silence. Then Jaime brushes a black, almost
fist-­sized spider off the table with his muddy stick, after it had
208 Fitzcarraldo

been sitting there motionless the whole time, attracting more and
more attention from the circle of men.

On Board, Center Deck

The day has begun with light rain, jungle and sky are dripping. A
long row of Indians has formed on board, filing past Fitzcarraldo.
The Jívaros are half-­naked, and some of them carry machetes,
spears, and blowpipes, the latter wrapped along the stem with
liana strings. Jaime de Aguila is giving each a spoonful of the
blackish, sticky goo as they wait. The Indians scrutinize the
arrow poison, sniff it, and stuff it into small wooden cases. By
Fitzcarraldo stand a few dignitaries, among them the chief who
made the first contact.
Stan and the mechanic work strenuously in the background
at Fitzcarraldo’s ice machine. “I need someone to take over, my
arms are falling off,” says the mechanic.
“Wilbur,” says Fitzcarraldo, “can’t you help?”
But Wilbur can’t, for he evidently rubbed his arms with sugar-
cane brandy the night before, and now he is carrying on his care-
fully outstretched arms about twenty big, iridescent blue butter-
flies, which he cannot bear to shoo away.
“We can’t count on Huerequeque today, either,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“He took the aguardiente with him to bed.”
Beyond we see the entire hillside teeming with Jívaros. Trees
are still being cut, and work is proceeding on clearing the tow-
path. About a hundred men are needed to drag one fallen tree
out of the way with liana ropes, levers, and axes. The activity
is tremendous. Fleets of canoes are moored at the riverbank
with tough cords of liana bark, and for the first time we also see
women, most of them carrying children on their backs. They are
dressed in tunic-­like reddish-­brown cloth, their long hair falling
to their shoulders.
Fitzcarraldo lets a shy, hesitant Indian try a test shot with his
blowpipe, or else, he says, they might think we’re trying to pass
honey off on them. The Indian takes a thornlike dart about four
inches long from his leather quiver, wraps it in a wad of cotton that
Fitzcarraldo 209

he takes from a second quiver, dips the tip into his bowl of sticky
poison, and shoves the finished dart into his pipe. Fitzcarraldo
steps a little to one side and points to a chicken a few yards for-
ward at the bow, tied with a string on one leg. The Jívaro fires the
dart with a short, strangely hollow-­sounding puff of breath and
strikes the hen in the side. It spreads its wings with a sudden
jerk and goes rigid in the instant paralysis of death. Foam gath-
ers on its beak, forming bubbles. Then the hen topples over, as if
frozen, and moves no more. There are murmurs of admiration:
the curare is good.
“I just hope it doesn’t occur to them to use it on us,” says Stan.
“The ice is ready!”
Fitzcarraldo goes over to his machine and takes the whitish,
gleaming block of ice, partially wrapped in a cloth, from Stan.
“Should I really give it to the chief as a present, Jaime?” asks
Fitzcarraldo. “You must explain to him that it melts, that there
will be nothing left of it.”
“There is no word for ice in their language,” says Jaime.
After some hesitation, Fitzcarraldo finally thrusts the block
of ice into the arms of the chief. Caught by surprise, he stands as
still as a statue, and Fitzcarraldo looks somewhat embarrassed.
Some of the Indians fondle the dripping block, deep astonishment
in their faces. As in an old photograph they freeze into a tableau
as whispers pass down the line. Then we notice the Jívaros up
front, who are working to clear the path through the forest. They
stop and look over at the boat. Like a brush fire the astonish-
ment spreads up the entire hillside, and we can see how it heads
along the slope. In an instant the whole slope is still. Only the river
flows, as always, and the rain rains.

Heights of Camisea
At least two weeks must have passed, for now, as if sliced clean
by a taut cord, a cleared strip stretches up through the forest like
a ribbon of clay and disappears down the other side. The day is
fairly clear; we can now make out the higher mountain ranges in
the distance. The cleared stretch gives the impression of a foreign
210 Fitzcarraldo

body in the sea, floating in the hilly waves of the jungle. We also
see that the terrain is not flat: there are folds in it, and the in-
cline levels off at first before starting up even more steeply. There
is even a small gully that has been furrowed in the ground by a
brook. Along the towpath the Jívaros have built temporary huts,
from which thin smoke pervades the entire jungle in the vicinity.
The steamboat is set diagonally to the Pachitea, tied to the
other riverbank with strong, tightly anchored ropes so it cannot
drift away. The bow touches the riverbank at its slope, which goes
up at a treacherous angle there. From heavy logs an inclined ramp
has been built from the water to the slope, in order to lift the
bow out of the river. It looks a bit like a heavy, massive bridge,
inclined and supported by sturdy pillars. About forty ropes and
steel cables are stretched uphill from the bow. An equal number
of winches, anchored deeply in the ground with poles and braced
by the sawed-­off stumps of the strongest giant trees, are scattered
along the slope. Each winch has cable wheels with heavy, bulky
gearboxes, upon which two beams are set in the form of a huge
cross. The beams are chest-­high, so that about twenty Indians
pushing them in a circle can set them in motion.
The first big moment has arrived. Fitzcarraldo’s crew has as-
sembled on deck at the bow and on land by the ramp. Anything
not nailed down has been removed from the boat and is spread
about on the ground: the lifeboats, all the luggage, parts of the
rudder mechanism, cables, and rails that haven’t been used yet
lie in wild disarray, everything damp and smeared with clay.
All eyes are turned to Fitzcarraldo, who gives the signal to
start working. The Jívaros begin pushing in circles on all the
winches simultaneously; they turn the crossbeams and a me-
chanical clicking of ratchets and creaking cogwheels begins.
Across the river, the mechanic and some other men prepare to
loosen the counter­tension of the ropes. As if in slow motion the
steel cables slowly tighten until they are stretched horizontal in
the air. With a slight lurch the boat gets stuck on the wood of the
ramp, and the bow starts slowly digging into the wood. Somehow
things don’t look too good; the force of the towing mechanism
seems to be set incorrectly. From the terrible pull of the ropes
Fitzcarraldo 211

the whole ship groans as the hull begins to buckle; we can see
this from the uppermost supports of the deck housings, which
bend slightly to one side. The highest platform on deck contorts,
and with a vile noise a plank springs up from the deck and soars
into the air. The bow has eaten its way into the slope by the ramp.
“Stop!” roars Huerequeque. “The hull is breaking apart!” Jaime
de Aguila shouts something in Jívaro and hurries up the slope
because a few of the winch crews are still turning. Everything
stops, and an ominous calm spreads.
“Back up!” shouts Huerequeque. “Reverse the tension!” Slowly
the tension is released. It takes a long time, since this procedure
apparently has not been practiced.
Fitzcarraldo examines the bow with his men. A rivet as thick
as a man’s thumb has shot free, others are loose. “That almost did
it,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“I told you,” says the mechanic, “we have to divide the boat into
at least three or four parts and get them over one by one.”
“We rejected that idea a long time ago,” Fitzcarraldo says an-
grily. “We could take it apart easily enough, but to put it back
together again we’d need a real shipyard, and where are we going
to get one?”
“Compadres,” says Huerequeque, who is not quite sober, “I
know how we can do it. In Brazil I saw how a lady like this was
put ashore—­maybe not such a fat one, but Huerequeque has seen
more of the world than all you opera singers put together. First
of all, we have to brace the ship inside with beams, then the force
outside must be applied at several different places at once, and
then we have to send our boys into the woods again. Now we need
a lot of balsa trunks. Amigos, now let Huerequeque tackle this
señorita. There’s nothing to be gained here by crude assaults; we
need patience.”

Camisea, Edge of the Cleared Jungle

Work has stopped, almost all activity has died down. The spi-
dery webbing of ropes still stretches up the slope, but the cables
are not fully taut. Naked children are playing in the slippery clay,
212 Fitzcarraldo

smoke filters out of the huts and forms a long layer among the
trees, weighed down by the closeness of the air. From a distance
we hear a low singing. To the left and right we can see at least two
hundred huts.
A steady pounding can be heard, muffled by the dense jungle
as some women work together grinding manioc in big wooden
mortars. They stuff the moist, whitish pulp into a long tube woven
of liana fibers, then attach it by a loop at one end to an overhang-
ing tree branch. A stick is pulled through another loop at the bot-
tom of the tube, and the women lean their full weight against it,
tightening the mesh and forcing out the slightly poisonous liquid
of the bitter manioc.
A man works his way up the slope with a huge fish on his
back almost bigger than he is, heading for one of the largest huts.
Staggering under the load, he climbs the stairs, consisting of a
tree trunk with steps carved into it, up to the platform of the
chief’s hut.

Chief’s Hut
The Indian places the fish on the floor of tough bark strips. The
hut is composed of a large platform with a few pots and tools, one
of the typical elevated clay fireplaces, some hammocks, and the
carefully braided roof above. The chief squats on the floor with
some children, and beside them sit Fitzcarraldo and Jaime de
Aguila. A little to the side, two women are chewing peeled pieces
of the sweet manioc root. They spit the chewed stuff into a big
earthenware bowl in front of them, where it has already begun
to foam and ferment. The chief has invited the guests to eat, and
they are having a broth of yucca and turtle. The turtle carcass lies
nearby, and the children are playing with the shell and the spiked
feet. There is no conversation.
Mutely the chief hands Fitzcarraldo a flat, shiny white stone
that resembles a tortilla. “Salt,” Jaime whispers to him. Fitzcarraldo
tries to scrape some off with his machete, but the salt tortilla is
hard, and nothing comes off.
Fitzcarraldo 213

“Look,” says Jaime, and he takes the stone from him and stirs
his soup with it like a huge spoon.
Fitzcarraldo imitates him, stirring for a long time. “Now I’ve
made it too salty,” he whispers to him after taking a taste from
his bowl.
The chief pulls over a bowl of finished manioc chicha and
hands Fitzcarraldo a pottery drinking bowl.
“You must drink it,” says Jaime threateningly. “It’s just fer-
mented saliva.”
Fitzcarraldo gazes for a moment at the viscous substance,
which looks a little like pale, watery yogurt, and then takes a
bowlful of it. He drinks bravely, and gestures to the chief that it
tastes wonderful. “My God,” he says to him, smiling, “how time

Pachitea, near the Boat

With renewed vigor, everyone is back at work. The scores of ca-
noes have been cleared away, many dragged ashore, and big rafts
made of light, pale balsa wood, lashed with lianas, float near the
bow, which still leans flat against the incline of the ramp. Indians
are dragging some logs of the feather-­light wood under the bow,
diving underwater, as others help by shoving the logs from behind.
There is enormous activity. Huerequeque, who stands chest-­deep
in water, is in command. On deck overhead, Fitzcarraldo and his
crew are fastening the heavy cables at various points farther back
on deck; it is a tedious job.
We see the ship’s hull at the waterline. It has, indeed, risen a
bit up front; the black-­marked line along the craft’s belly is al-
ready slightly inclined in the water. More and more trunks are
pulled below the bow, which rises slowly. Huerequeque is happy.
“Even from a peasant’s brain,” he cries, “you’ll sometimes get
something clever.”
“But you’re no peasant,” Fitzcarraldo shouts back. “You’re
just the finest drunkard that ever staggered over God’s earth. To
Huerequeque!” He grabs the basket bottle and takes a mighty swig.
214 Fitzcarraldo

Mountain Slope, Camisea

As one man, hundreds of Jívaros start moving at the same time,
and like windmills placed horizontally, the winches begin to turn.
The cables tighten, one after the other, stretching and groaning.

Pachitea, at the Boat

By means of the mass of balsa logs the ship has been raised at a
sharp angle; at the stern it seems almost to drown in the water.
Supporting beams have been positioned on both sides. In a neatly
arranged network, the ropes lead to different spots on the side of
the hull, thereby relieving the bow of the main force pulling the
boat. The Amazonian figurehead now juts sharply upward.
We see the bow up close. Pulled with enormous power, the keel
now presses against the ramp, which has been rubbed with lard or
soft soap. The pressure increases, the whole ship sighs from deep
within. Huerequeque, working like a madman, pours water on the
slick trunks, and then all at once, almost with a jerk of liberation,
the bow pushes up onto them.
Huerequeque yells, “It works!” Inch by inch the keel pushes up
the ramp. The Indians on the slope run in circles. After ten turns,
the steamboat pushes forward a hand’s breadth. To the stern it is
already dangling dangerously deep into the water. On the other
side of the Pachitea the ropes are loosened. This is the beginning.
“We forgot something,” Fitzcarraldo roars from on deck.
“What?” Huerequeque roars back.
“Enrico, Enrico Caruso,” Fitzcarraldo shouts. And then a beau-
tiful, stately aria begins and enraptures us.

On Board, Deck, Night

Near the mess table Fitzcarraldo and his men have tied ham-
mocks, and only Huerequeque sits at the polished mahogany table.
He is already heavy and slow from a great deal of aguardiente. He
has a glass in front of him, and he keeps putting it back in its place
when it slides toward him. With his bare chest leaned against the
Fitzcarraldo 215

edge of the table, he stops the glass, refusing to acknowledge the

steep slant of the table. From the way the hammocks are hang-
ing, we can discern precisely the angle to the vertical. The men
are daydreaming. Fitzcarraldo talks to his parrot Bald Eagle,
but the bird just nibbles patiently at a wax candle, and doesn’t
say a word.
Jaime raises his voice from his hammock. “The cigarettes are
going too fast, we have to ration them more carefully. And the
kerosene for the lamps will be used up soon as well.”
“My torchbearers will come then, my armies shall bring the
light,” says Wilbur, whose hammock is slung beside his abandoned
barber chair. “We shall proclaim the Ucayali and the Pachitea as
the Kingdom of the Jívaros, and we shall stay here forever.”
“Wilbur,” says Fitzcarraldo soothingly, drawing on his ciga-
rette, which illuminates his face.
“Fitz?” says Wilbur.
“We’ll stay for a very long time,” says Fitzcarraldo. “How fast
are we getting on?” he asks in the direction of Jaime, after a pause.
“On a good day we can manage thirty feet, like the other day,
but something always interferes. Today we didn’t advance at all,
and yesterday it was an arm’s length, if anything.” A new pause
“We’ll have to build ourselves a hut,” says Fitzcarraldo. “This
lopsided life is getting ridiculous.” He looks at Huerequeque, who
is trying to prop his glass with a knife handle, but the knife and
the glass are now sliding toward him together. The sounds of the
night drift over from the nearby forest. Otherwise it is dark all

Mountain Slope, Camisea

The boat has been pulled up the slope farther than its own length.
It is propped up on both sides, and additional trunks have been
placed at the stern. Towed by ropes they have the effect of huge
levers. Some pulleys with long chains are towing as well, and
the work is in full swing. It is impressive to watch, hundreds of
216 Fitzcarraldo

Indians working simultaneously at the winches, trotting in cir-

cles. The proper tempo has been found; it is no longer hectic, as
it was in the very beginning. At the edge of the swath through
the forest the women are working, their fireplaces burning every-
where. All told, there must be eleven hundred natives.
A large group has assembled down by the river, something is
going on. We recognize Fitzcarraldo and Jaime de Aguila among
them. Wailing sounds reach us as we overlook the scene.
About a dozen women are pounding bunches of a certain herb
with clubs against peeled tree trunks, until a pasty green sub-
stance is produced. Men with spears are standing around; they
have painted their faces and arms black. A woman sits on the
ground, rocking the upper part of her body back and forth, sing-
ing a strange, wailing song. Something extraordinary is in prepa-
ration. Standing with his men, the chief is smeared with black
as well.
From the mountain slope, where most of the Indians have
ceased working, groups of men are joining them. Wilbur ap-
proaches cautiously with the boy named McNamara. The boat,
which has moved only imperceptibly forward, now stands com-
pletely still.
Jaime carefully takes Fitzcarraldo aside. “I’m not sure what,
but something is brewing, I don’t like the looks of this. The first
time, in ’96, it started the same way. Do you know what the women
are doing?”
“No,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“It’s a poison, a very potent one, not just for chickens,” says
“And the men painted in black. What does that mean?” asks
“It means that they’re invisible, they do that before the hunt
or going to war,” Jaime explains. “But the woman singing, I can’t
place that yet.”
“What’s she singing?” asks Fitzcarraldo. “Shouldn’t we get back
to the boat and load our rifles?”
“No, you know perfectly well we wouldn’t stand a chance. Let
me listen,” says Jaime. “She’s singing to some kind of fertility
Fitzcarraldo 217

goddess, it doesn’t fit somehow. She sings: ‘Thou art a woman like
me, I always call the food. My little children, come ye to me hap-
pily, so come to me also, my beloved food.’”
Then, all at once, life returns to the assembly. Fitzcarraldo is
ready for anything, but what happens, unexpectedly, is this: the
women spill the poison into the river, and the men with the spears
jump into canoes, and now we learn the meaning of this myste-
riousness. After a few seconds, several big fish rise to the surface
belly-­up, unconscious, twitching briefly in paralysis. The invis-
ible ones pierce them with their spears. In seconds, many of the
nearly man-­sized fish have been killed. A wave of relief now runs
through Fitzcarraldo.

Camisea, Mountain Slope

It is difficult to tell whether it is day or night, raining as it is like
the Flood, in a way we have never seen before. Lightning flashes
without interruption, the thunder cracks the earth in two. The
water pours from the sky in an almost solid mass, nearly smother-
ing the people and putting a heavy load on the forest. In no time
the entire swath cut in the jungle has become a broad, clay-­red
stream, increasingly violent, a torrent rushing by. We see how the
water instantly digs furrows and grooves, how it washes beneath
the hull, how it carries away the supporting trunks and logs.
We recognize Fitzcarraldo and his men, like specters in this
deluge, as they try to drive the Indians out into the rain. They
seem reluctant, anxious, as far as we can make out through the
downpour. The thunder rolls frightfully and the lightning flashes,
In the flickering light and through the curtain of torrential
rain, we can barely see a group of Jívaros who have set to work at
one of the winches, but after only a few turns there is a terrible
jerk, and the mooring, flooded by the red torrent, rips loose from
the mud. Screams, men slip in the mud, a crash of wood drowns
out the thunder, the hull breaks loose, starts to slip, wooden sup-
ports snap, mud and water splash up, the boat slides several yards
down the slope. There is a horrible jolt and the sloshing water
218 Fitzcarraldo

sprays everywhere. The ship stops dead and the ropes tighten and
twang. Cries of pain, people hurrying, there has been an accident.
In the pouring rain we see two Jívaros pinned beneath support
beams ripped loose at the rear of the boat, squeezed together like
victims of an earthquake. A burst of thunder hits like a grenade,
then everything vanishes in the furious rain, as if it were only an
evil apparition.

Camisea, Mountain Slope, Early Morning

A misty, fresh, early morning, the birds rejoice with their infernal
jubilation. On the hillside all is still, no people in sight, just smoke
drifting from the huts at the edge of the swath. From there an op-
pressive feeling counteracts the exultation of the forest. Nearby
we notice a confusion of logs, but the boat is stuck a good hundred
yards up the slope from the Pachitea.

On Board, Fitzcarraldo’s Cabin

In Fitzcarraldo’s cabin, his crew has gathered around him, de-
pressed, everything but the open door looking lopsided on this
inclined plane. The men are leaning in a peculiarly strained po-
sition against the cockeyed state of their world. Prolonged si-
lence. Huerequeque tries to generate a little optimism with new
“We will start up the engine,” he says, “but instead of the pro-
peller it will drive the anchor winch, and the ship will be wound
up the mountain under its own power. And then we’ll fasten a
rope from the ship to the other side of the mountain, and put a
huge barrel on tracks, and we could fill it little by little with water
from the Ucayali. That way a counter­tension would arise, and the
ship couldn’t tear itself loose again. And we could even . . .”
“We have two dead men,” Fitzcarraldo interrupts.
“I only meant,” says Huerequeque after a pause, “that the
weight from the other side could even pull our steamboat uphill.”
Despite the general depression, we feel that the proposals
Fitzcarraldo 219

may not be so bad, but at the moment there is no enthusiasm

for them.
“Two men dead.” Fitzcarraldo clings to his dark thoughts.
“If that’s the price, then I don’t know. Something is wrong here,
everything’s warped.”
We hear voices coming from the huts outside, the Jívaros are
obviously in council; we hear the sound of a violent argument, and
Jaime de Aguila tries to hear what it’s about.
We see at a distance several hundred Jívaros gathered at the
edge of the swath. Loud shouting, gesticulating. The gestures have
lost their harmonious center.

On Board, Center Deck, Night

Completely filled with sleeping people, the hammocks hang against
the incline of the deck. Only Huerequeque snores irregularly amid
the calm breathing of the sleepers. Steps come up the staircase
from the lower deck, a figure bends over one of the hammocks. It
is Jaime. He gently wakes up Fitzcarraldo, who needs a moment
to orient himself.
“I’ve just been outside. Whether you believe this or not, they
are all gone.”
“What!” says Fitzcarraldo, waking the others. “What are you
“I had this feeling,” says Jaime, “so I went out, and not a soul
was there. Nothing. They’re all gone.”
Beside Wilbur, who has sat up in his hammock, the head of the
Indian boy pops up in the hammock next to his. “Only McNamara,
my footman, has remained with us,” says Wilbur.
Jaime turns to the boy and speaks to him softly in Jívaro. The
boy answers low and hesitantly. “He doesn’t know anything,” says
Jaime. “I must say this can mean they are planning an attack, but
it can mean a lot of other things as well. I don’t really know what’s
going on. It’s a mystery.” Stunned silence spreads. There is a low
wailing and croaking in the woods.
220 Fitzcarraldo

On Board, Center Deck

A day veiled with thin clouds, a joyless rain drips thinly down.
The steamboat hangs at an angle on the slope. The hammocks
sway empty and dejected in a slight breeze. Some guns are lying
around, always within reach. The crew lolls about idly.
Huerequeque plays his sapo game against himself, but he plays
so badly and hits so seldom that he starts secretly cheating him-
self. “Two thousand eight hundred,” he says, adding up the points,
but everyone knows it wasn’t even a thousand.
“Haven’t you got anything better to do?” Fitzcarraldo yells
at him out of the blue. We notice the men are getting on each
other’s nerves, the wait is gnawing at them. “For four days now,”
Fitzcarraldo says, “nothing but sapo, sapo, sapo, sapo. I can’t
stand it any more.”
Jaime de Aguila sits on deck, carefully cleaning his toenails
with a screwdriver. He says nothing. Wilbur and McNamara are
the only ones who seem content, chewing on some fruit, spitting
out the seeds, and lost in thought.

Pachitea Riverbank
Fitzcarraldo, who can no longer stand being on deck, has climbed
down to the riverbank. Behind him, the abandoned path of slip-
pery clay soil stretches up through the jungle in a light rain. There
the steamboat hangs on the slope; to the left and right, all life has
withered away. The zebu cow has been tied near the bank and
gazes with big, soft eyes at Fitzcarraldo, who scratches her on
the forehead, between the horns. “We’re going to have to kill you
soon,” he says in a low voice.
Fitzcarraldo steps onto a sandbar that has just formed; evi-
dently the water level has dropped a little. Lost in contempla-
tion, he gazes out across the lazy current of the river, which flows
past him monotonously and incessantly. The jungle stands mute,
a light rain drizzles, the melancholy river passes by. Scores of
tiny spiders, colored an almost transparent brown so that they
hardly stand out against the sand, arouse Fitzcarraldo’s attention.
Fitzcarraldo 221

They are long-­legged speedsters with small bodies, and whenever

Fitzcarraldo puts one foot before the other they bolt upright and
run for a while. The whole sandbank is covered with them, both
resting and on the run. When Fitzcarraldo stamps his foot hard
with a thud in the damp sand, all the spiders, hundreds of them,
like a fine, semitransparent skin over the sand, dash in a long-­
legged sprint down to the river. The spiders continue racing over
the surface of the water, and it supports them. They race out onto
the river as if they had never heard of the law of gravity.

On Board, Center Deck, Night

All the men are standing in a line at the slanting railing. They
strain their eyes and look out into the night in disbelief. We hear
voices, myriad sounds, a hum of voices and noises.
We see what the men see. All along the edge of the forest, fires
glow, shadows move, single shouts reverberate.
“They’re back, as though nothing ever happened,” says Fitz­
carraldo, as if he were dreaming.
“I don’t understand anything anymore,” says Jaime de Aguila
softly. “It’s all a mystery to me.”

Camisea, Mountain Slope

The work is in full swing once more, the place is teeming with
people. The flat wooden beams of the winches turn steadily, the
ropes creak, the boat groans gently, yet it is strangely quiet. The
work proceeds in total silence. Suddenly, the smokestack of the
Molly Aida makes a loud noise and belches a cloud of smoke, a
solitary cloud that dissipates, then another one, and then dense
smoke puffs out; the engine has been started, it begins rumbling
and chugging steadily.

On Deck, Bow
Fitzcarraldo and Huerequeque are standing by the anchor winch.
The mechanic joins them. We see how the winch starts moving
222 Fitzcarraldo

very slowly, how it begins winding up the heavy chain very slowly.
The chain is stretched forward tautly, and about forty yards away
the anchor is tied to a big stump with massive roots. The boat
pulls itself up the mountain with the power of its own anchor
“It works,” says Huerequeque proudly.
“That takes the pressure off the other winches,” says the

Camisea, Mountain Slope, As Before

A strange sight: the swath, the jungle, the smoking fires, the fren-
zied labor. And, in the middle of it all, on giant logs, the huge
riverboat slowly rolling uphill, powered by itself under full steam.
The chugging of the machinery chimes in with a grandiose music.

Camisea, Opposite Slope toward the Ucayali

On the opposite slope a big, makeshift metal barrel the size of a
railroad car, open at the top, rests on tree trunks, which function
as rollers. The impression of a railroad car is reinforced by the fact
that the rollers are set on rails, which extend downhill about two
full lengths of track. The container is attached by a heavy steel
cable leading over a securely fastened wheel on top of the ridge to
the boat on the other side.
A queue of hundreds of Jívaros is busy passing along buckets
made of bark and filled with water; the line of people extends in
a serpentine path down the swath to the shore of the Ucayali. The
barrel is being filled little by little with water. We can see it will
take days before it is full.
Fitzcarraldo and Huerequeque slip and slide as they walk
along the line of Jívaros. Huerequeque is obviously proud. This
is his invention, his idea. The Indians have painted broad stripes
on their faces with reddish-­ochre achiote and uricuri. As we pass
along the queue with Fitzcarraldo, it strikes us that all of them
avoid his gaze.
Fitzcarraldo 223

Camisea, Fitzcarraldo’s Hut, Evening

A new hut has been built at the edge of the swath; from the
clothes, from the small wooden table with its detailed maps of the
area, from the tin utensils, we know that this hut has been erected
for Fitzcarraldo and his men. Otherwise, with its fireplace and
hanging hammocks, it resembles the hut of the chief. Fitzcarraldo
and his men crouch on the floor near the fire, having accustomed
themselves to the posture of the Indians. The chief is their guest,
and the boy named McNamara is with them as well. In the back-
ground, seen beyond the platform, we see the boat hanging on
the slope, tied securely. It is fairly high up, and weeks must have
passed. Outside, where the platform of the house almost touches
the hillside, Indians are leaning on the inclined slope, silently
looking inside. Wilbur lights a kerosene lamp and hangs it up as
night sinks slowly down. The men eat yams, beans, and monkey
meat with their fingers, like the Indians. The roasted monkeys
look something like fine-­limbed, naked babies, contorted into
painful physical positions.
“Why are they doing this?” Fitzcarraldo keeps asking into the
silence. “Why do they keep working?”
“I don’t know,” says Jaime, “we can only guess. I can’t shake the
thought that we’re taking too much time for all this, four months
have gone by already. Maybe we’ll get the boat over the mountain,
but maybe it will also be months too late and our option will have
expired, and everything will have been in vain, and in the end
they’ll celebrate by making shrunken heads out of us.”
“I don’t think so,” says Fitzcarraldo. “I think we’re safe.”
“How come?” asks Huerequeque.
“Unless I’m mistaken, I can see a sure sign,” says Fitzcarraldo.
“Look over there. Try to be inconspicuous, but look where I look.
Do you see those hands on the railing?”
We follow their cautious glances. Meanwhile, black night has
fallen outside. On the railing of the bark-­covered platform we see
several hands illuminated by the kerosene lamp, and the Jívaros
face us from the darkness, motionless. In the black of night we
can only guess where their eyes are, there is only darkness there.
224 Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo stares directly at the spot where their faces should

be. At once the hands silently withdraw from the railing back into
the darkness, and only a single Indian hand far to one side re-
mains. Fitzcarraldo turns to that hand, staring into the darkness
toward the obscured face. The hand remains, and Fitzcarraldo
keeps staring unflinchingly. Then, after a long hesitation, a finger
moves and the hand slips cautiously back into the darkness.

Heights of Camisea
Like a familiar companion the day has also brought streaming
rain, yet the mood is festive. The ship has reached the summit. A
strange sight. Atop the highest spot on the ridge, the big steam-
boat sits firmly fastened, all smeared with clay, and on either side
the jungle swath descends to the Pachitea and the Ucayali, its
reddish clay just bottomless mud now. Hundreds of Jívaros are
swarming about the hull of the boat, seized by joyous excitement
like the rest. Wilbur has set his barber chair up on the crest, in
the midst of the mud and rain, and presides from his throne, with
his footman McNamara beside him. “I’m going to stay here,” he
proclaims into the tumult, “from here I shall reign over the united
empire of the Jívaros.”
Fitzcarraldo is sitting on the ground in the midst of the red-
dish mud, as a Jívaro bandages his swollen foot with a thin liana,
up past the ankle. Apparently a little drunk, Fitzcarraldo sings.
“Mosquitoes and fire ants and foot fungus don’t matter to us,” he
sings, “we’ll get this babe over the mountain.”
Jaime de Aguila comes over and slaps his muddy hand on
Fitzcarraldo’s shoulder. “And even if we take two years, and it was
all for nothing, we’ll finish the job for its own sake.”
Not far from them, where some Jívaros at the edge of the for-
est are breaking open a rotten tree with their axes, extracting fat
white grubs and eating them at once, Huerequeque lies in the
pouring rain, stupefied, dead drunk. He spreads a drenched linen
sheet over himself and goes to sleep as if he were home in bed.
The mechanic tries to get him to his feet, but Huerequeque just
Fitzcarraldo 225

turns onto his side grumpily, wrapping himself with the sheet in
the mud.
Stan has taken out a few balls and makes them dance, lost in
his art, a sight we haven’t seen for a long time. The rain suddenly
stops and wanders off like a dark, striped wall. The sun breaks
through a little, and over all the festive crowd and the strange,
crazy steamboat on the mountain, a strong, gleaming rainbow
appears. Overgrown with jungle, the slopes in the distance tower
up into the white clouds, right into the mysterious.

Camisea, Slope toward the Ucayali

A normal intensive work day, but now the bow of the ship points
down toward the Ucayali, and the winches are all operating be-
hind the boat, braking it with the same power that was earlier
used to pull. The Indians are all leaning against the crossbeams,
now going backward in circles. The boat has already made it a
third of the way down the other side, but it seems to have reached
a difficult point on the slope, where a deep furrow several yards
wide must be crossed on some sort of bridge of cumbersome
trunks and support beams.
Fitzcarraldo is there with his men, and bending down below
the boat’s belly he examines the movement of the mass. We see
how the colossal hulk of the steamboat moves downward foot by
foot, grating hollowly.
“I wouldn’t have thought so, but downhill is just as difficult,”
says Fitzcarraldo.
“But now it’s a little faster,” says Huerequeque, “so we must
have learned something.”

Banks of the Ucayali

Again there is rain, but what a moment. The boat lies tied to a
ramp, with its bow almost touching the light, clay-­colored waters
of the Ucayali. The river is carrying high water and streaming by
at a terrible speed; leaves and wood float on the surface, the sign
of a rapidly rising flood. Eleven hundred Jívaros drag their canoes
226 Fitzcarraldo

in a strange procession down the mountainside to the Ucayali,

where the terrain is somewhat flatter than on the Pachitea side.
Fitzcarraldo stands, axe in hand, by a tightly stretched rope,
and gives his men a sign, to Wilbur, to Stan, to Jaime, to the oth-
ers. Axes, machetes swoop down as they start hacking in turns,
and with a final mighty chop, Fitzcarraldo cuts the last rope,
stretched so tightly it bursts. With a clumsy, hollow wobble, the
boat begins to move, sluggishly picks up speed, and finally slides
with the full force of its weight into the Ucayali. The bow dives
deep into the water and, a moment later, the boat rights itself
on the brownish, foaming flood. This is its true launching, and
amid the rejoicing Huerequeque gleefully fires his rifle, though
its sound is drowned out by shouting and singing. The boat, with
ropes still fixed to the bow, now turns parallel to the shore, where
Fitzcarraldo’s men tie it up at once in front and back. The bow
faces against the current.
As proud as a father after the birth of his first son, Fitzcarraldo
lights himself a cigar, his last one, he says, and at once serves
aguardiente in great quantity, taking a whole bowlful for himself.
We’ve never seen him like this, so beside himself, so totally given
over to the joy of the moment. And how this man can be happy is
a pleasure to watch.
“Three weeks early,” cries Huerequeque in front of him, “three
weeks before the deadline!”
“Yes,” says Fitzcarraldo, “we’ve done it. Watch out, now comes
the official part.”
He makes a meaningful pause. “We need a harbor.” Then he
roars with laughter, “I’ll found a town here! A hammer, quick!
And stakes, and ropes!”
Someone hands Fitzcarraldo the things he needs. He races
madly back and forth on the shore, hammering on poles, tying
ropes and uttering wild, snorting sounds of joy. “This here will
be the marketplace,” he cries, “and that will be the mayor’s office,
and Main Street will run in this direction, and here I’ll build my
palace, and here we’ll have a small theater, and here . . .”
“What’ll you call this town?” asks Wilbur, awestruck.
Fitzcarraldo stops short in his creative raving. His face is
Fitzcarraldo 227

marked with enthusiasm, bright with happiness. He makes a very

sly face. “Fitzcarraldo,” says Fitzcarraldo.
Indescribable cheering breaks loose and, as if they under-
stood, the Jívaros cautiously join in. Wilbur is overcome by one
of his seductive ecstasies. “I’ll weave you a hammock of living
snakes!” he sings.

Banks of the Ucayali, toward Evening

Pressing close to one another, Fitzcarraldo, his men, and the
eleven hundred Jívaros are gathered on the bank of the Ucayali,
which in the meantime has risen another three feet or more. The
boat, however, lies securely tied at the riverbank. Fitzcarraldo is
already rather drunk, he staggers with wobbly knees over to the
chief and tries to shake his hand, but the chief simply touches
his hand softly with his fingertips. The Indians are strangely
silent now, they seem introverted, their gaze turns within. Over
everything, Caruso’s voice resounds. Dusk sinks down on this

Fitzcarraldo’s Cabin, Early Morning

Fitzcarraldo lies in bed, sleeping off his drunk. From outside we
listen to the voices of the jungle as they announce a fresh morn-
ing. The water of the river rushes and slaps the side of the ship.
But the water is curiously loud, and the voices of the birds sound
strangely hollow, like an echo. The boat shakes slightly, then it
begins to sway. Fitzcarraldo’s bed sways so much that his body
rolls slowly back and forth. His bed keeps rocking up and down
as if it were bobbing on the high seas amid heavy swells.
Fitzcarraldo wakes up all green in the face, hung over. He feels
his head, his forehead is buzzing, the cabin is turning in circles,
the floor is uncertain as it rocks up and down, his bed slides
to and fro. He gets ready to vomit but, suddenly waking to full
awareness, he recognizes it is not his head vibrating and going in
circles, it is the cabin that is rocking. The whole boat is rocking.
Fitzcarraldo flies out of bed.
228 Fitzcarraldo

He dashes on deck, dressed only in his trousers. A few Jívaros

are huddling on board, but that is not it: The boat is drifting pilot-
less down the Ucayali, and a moment later he understands it’s
much worse than that, much more terrifying, there can be no
doubt: the boat is drifting right into the Pongo das Mortes. For
a second or two, Fitzcarraldo stares in disbelief—­distraught. The
dramatic cliffs jut up to the left and right, and up ahead they nar-
row to the gorge through the rocks.
At the same moment, Jaime de Aguila comes racing on deck
as well.
“The Pongo!” cries Fitzcarraldo with a voice no longer human.
“We’re drifting into the Pongo!” The Indians sit motionless, star-
ing into their profoundest depths, their eyes as wide and empty as
the sea. The boat is reeling.

Engine Room
Fitzcarraldo and Jaime hurry down to the engine room in a panic.
They must grope for support with their hands as they are thrown
from side to side with the lurching of the boat. The floor is slip-
pery with oil.
Jaime falls and staggers up again. “The valves first! Open the
valves!” he shouts.
“Where?” cries Fitzcarraldo desperately.
At that moment the mechanic comes slipping down the nar-
row iron staircase. “Open the boiler, start the fire, quick!” he

Pongo das Mortes, Early Morning

It is high water in the Pongo, and it is even more terrifying than
we remember. It roars and rages and thunders, and already the
ship comes drifting at a frightful speed, hurled forward by the
waves, whirled in circles by the swirling current, pilotless, ripped
along by the elements. Foaming white waves loom up in rage, the
boat rises on the towering waves and comes shooting down again
into a bottomless valley.
Fitzcarraldo 229

And then, all at once, smoke starts coming from the smoke-
stack, cautiously at first, then thicker and fuller, and the smoke-
stack, tossed to and fro, draws weird patterns of smoke in the
gorge. But it is too late, no power in the world could now stop
the Molly Aida’s voyage to hell. Then, in a narrow bend, there is
a vile, atrocious, sick scraping sound as the ship smashes against
a rocky wall, part of the superstructure rips away at once, then
there is a crash, a muffled rumbling, and the elements hurl the
ship through the foaming white maelstrom.

Pongo das Mortes, Lower End

The Pongo das Mortes lies there before us, raging, the rocky walls
above veiled in mists. And then, all of a sudden, it spits out the
Molly Aida, which now lists in the water lopsided, smoking heav-
ily. Its upper housing is torn apart in front, but somehow it is still
afloat. How it was possible to come out of this unharmed strikes
us as a miracle. Behind the boat the Pongo roars like a hundred
thousand stags in heat, so proud of its monstrous power.
And as the boat drifts toward us, having survived the inferno,
we have time to let a terrible thought germinate. Here comes
Fitzcarraldo, emerging from the lower end of the Pongo, and so
everything was to no avail. Yes, everything was to no avail. And:
why, then, how could this happen, why was the boat set adrift?
The dream is over, all was in vain. In a single night, eight months
of exertion are rendered null and void. Fitzcarraldo again ends up
below the Pongo das Mortes.

On Board, below the Pongo das Mortes

Parts of the upper deck are dangling down onto the center decks,
and it looks like the aftermath of battle. Fitzcarraldo is dazed, he
hasn’t fully grasped what has happened. This stroke of misfortune
was too severe. Jaime, bleeding at the mouth after hurting himself
somehow, questions the Indians on board, just four of them, who
report to him with happy, relaxed faces. Yes, they seem relieved,
almost overjoyed.
230 Fitzcarraldo

“Now just sit down and hold on,” says Jaime. “Do you know
what they are saying? Fitz, grab hold of something. They say they
untied the boat themselves last night, so we would drift down-
stream all night long, and they did it on purpose. They say they
always knew our boat, the divine vessel, was dragged over the
mountain only so it could drift through the rapids. They say it
was necessary, that they had been waiting for this since the time
of their forefathers, it was necessary to reconcile the evil spirits
of the rapids.” The Indians nod in affirmation. They are quite re-
lieved and happy, and start singing a song.
The boat limps toward the shore where, in the distance, we
recognize Don Aquilino’s settlement.

Don Aquilino’s Settlement

Fitzcarraldo and Don Aquilino are sitting on the veranda of the
house. Fitzcarraldo is silent, almost catatonic. Don Aquilino
makes an effort to help his guest get over the worst. But he is
discreet in doing this and, to a certain degree, sensitive. He opens
a bottle of champagne.
“First of all, have a drink. Taming the Pongo das Mortes with
a steamboat is a record that won’t be repeated.”
He turns to the Indians and hands them a glass of champagne.
“Formidable gentlemen,” he cries, “to the soothing of the evil spir-
its of the Pongo.”
Fitzcarraldo remains silent.
“Look here,” continues Don Aquilino, “out in front of the house,
all the way down to the Ucayali, those are all champagne bottles,
there’s always a reason to celebrate here.”
We see that the road leading down to the river really is paved
with champagne bottles, that is, empty bottles have been stuck in
the ground in such a way that the bottoms form a paved road. At
the Ucayali, Fitzcarraldo’s boat is moored; in the distance we can
see his crew removing the upper structures.
“To the Pongo das Mortes,” says Don Aquilino, raising his
glass. Fitzcarraldo raises his without a word and drinks it down.
“What will you do now?” asks Don Aquilino.
Fitzcarraldo 231

Silence. Fitzcarraldo shrugs his shoulders.

“You know,” says Don Aquilino, “I ask you that because I am
interested in your boat, since for you it’s of no use anymore, while
I myself could put it to good use. The business here has expanded
a great deal lately. The hull and the engine have weathered the
Pongo quite well, and within a week it should be possible to mend
the damage. I assure you I don’t mean to exploit your delicate
situation. . . .”
But Fitzcarraldo doesn’t react properly, he is far away in his
thoughts, where there is nothing but darkness.
Don Aquilino feels rather helpless with his guest and his
misfortune. He tries to direct the conversation to more pleasant
“From Manaus we have news of a European opera company
that is giving a guest performance there at the moment, perhaps
you should go there, I mean to relax. They say that there’s an opera
by a sensational German composer there, one of the very modern
ones, Federico . . . no, Ricardo, what’s his name? Ricardo Wagner,
I think, and the opera is called Walkiria, one of those fat Teutonic
goddesses, the whole thing is supposed to be very Teutonic.”
Suddenly life returns to Fitzcarraldo, first to his eyes, then he
sits erect. “Wagner,” he says, “really? The one who wrote Parsifal?”
“It must be the same one,” says Don Aquilino.
“Tell me,” says Fitzcarraldo, “about the boat, do you really
mean it?” A sudden idea has seized him, he has caught fire. The
fire has taken possession of Fitzcarraldo again.

Ucayali, near Don Aquilino’s Settlement

Don Aquilino and Fitzcarraldo are coming down the road paved
with French champagne bottles, toward the landing where the
Molly Aida is moored. Fitzcarraldo is cheerful and full of energy,
clutching a bundle of money in his hands. Upon arriving at the
boat he calls his crew together. Now we see the devastation on
the upper deck more closely; no vital elements seem to have been
affected, although the boat is looking rather desolate.
“My friends,” says Fitzcarraldo to his men, who, surprised by
232 Fitzcarraldo

his effusive mood, have flocked around him, “may I present to

you the new owner of the Molly Aida, Don Aquilino. But he has
agreed to a clause that permits us to keep the boat for our own
use for two more weeks. We’ll patch it up temporarily. Jaime,
you will travel to Manaus, you’ll take a boat and all the money
here, you’ll bring me back a tailcoat, and the biggest cigar in the
world, and from the theater an armchair with velvet upholstery.
I’ve made a promise to a pig that loves Caruso so much.”
“Yes,” says Jaime.
Fitzcarraldo makes a very secretive face and whispers in his
ear: “And then . . .”

Ucayali, Landing
It is early morning, one of the most spectacular, blazing up beyond
the jungle in red flames. Quiet flows the river. We look down-
stream. All at once several peke-­pekes appear from the next bend
of the Ucayali, a small flotilla of seven or eight boats, chugging up
the river in a broad formation.
Fitzcarraldo is standing at the gangplank of the Molly Aida,
which has been roughly put in order; at least a week must have
passed. Fitzcarraldo is looking hard, he recognizes Jaime in the
lead boat, waving, and Fitzcarraldo draws a deep breath: here
they come.
The boats land, and now they come thronging ashore, ex-
hausted, yes, but also exhilarated by the unusual boat trip: the
musicians, the singers, the entire orchestra.
“We shall make our entry into Iquitos, we shall bring Grand
Opera to Iquitos,” Fitzcarraldo calls out, “just once in my life.”
And then the sounds of the jungle vanish, the noises of the boats,
the speech of man. Grandly the overture of the Walküre sets in,
the music pervades everything, the landscape, the heart.
We see Fitzcarraldo greeting the conductor with a handshake,
helping the singers, mighty Germanic women, on land, as Jaime
de Aguila hands over a cigar of unheard-­of proportions, a the-
ater seat, and a tailcoat. And then the sound swells up, the music
grows, becoming all-­embracing. A small pudgy Italian bassist
Fitzcarraldo 233

is suddenly bereft of his instrument, which is drifting away—­an

accident while unloading. With its wide belly, the double bass
floats away on the Ucayali. The little Italian is sobbing after it,

Mouth of the Ucayali, at the Amazon

There goes the Molly Aida, steaming proudly past us down the
Ucayali into the mighty Amazon. There it turns upstream in a
wide curve, in the direction of Iquitos. All of this has something
uplifting about it, a pathos, a grandeur. The music increases, the
singing begins, and we see that the entire upper platform is oc-
cupied by the orchestra, there the male and female singers stand
with helmet, spear, and armor, imposing Germanic deities, sing-
ing. They have erected a forest of papier-mâché, their theater sets
and the stage forest pass by the real jungle. What a sight!

On Board
There lies Fitzcarraldo, slouched in his hammock, in tailcoat and
laced shirt, smoking the biggest cigar in the world, and beside
him he has the empty velvet chair from Teatro Amazonas in
Manaus. Next to him lies Wilbur in his barber’s throne with his
eyes closed. And the orchestra plays the Walküre.

The riverbank of Iquitos resembles an excited beehive, people are
streaming together in countless numbers, like a brushfire a shout
spreads through town: Fitzcarraldo’s coming back. But a miracle
seems to have happened; Fitzcarraldo, who had been lost for eight
months, who disappeared upstream, is coming back from down-
stream! How is that possible? It can’t be, someone who’s gone up-
stream has to come back from upstream! A miracle, something
incomprehensible has happened. Thousands of excited people
rush together. The shore is black with people.
We recognize Molly running up with some of her girls, and
234 Fitzcarraldo

how happy she is! Fitzcarraldo has returned. And Bronski is

standing there, pale and quiet, staring straight ahead down-
stream. Music is wafting over from the river, the Walküre.

Amazon River
We see the Molly Aida still at a distance, proudly steaming along,
the boat following its course upriver in its last triumph.

On Board
The music plays, swelling again into a great, painful jubilation.
We see Fitzcarraldo stretched out in his tailcoat with the biggest
cigar in the world. He makes his entry into Iquitos like a real king,
just once in his life he has brought Grand Opera to this city.
Then, suddenly, a voice above him squawks over the music.
“Birds are smart,” says the voice, “but they cannot speak.” Fitz­
carraldo spins around. And there his parrot perches above him
on the railing of the upper deck, almost featherless, with the bald
ass; we had almost forgotten him, not having seen him for such
a long time. He looks down at Fitzcarraldo, his head to one side.
“You little bastard,” says Fitzcarraldo, “there you are again. I
think I’ll have to teach you a new sentence: ‘There is no sin beyond
the equator,’” he says to the bird.
The shore comes into view, people are running along with the
boat, trying to keep up. The boats appear, the huts, the town. The
music of the Walküre drowns out everything else. Fitzcarraldo is
puffing up a cloud. He makes his entry into Iquitos, a king makes
his entry, and he brings Grand Opera with him.

And Fitzcarraldo rejoices.

Werner Herzog was born in Munich and grew up in a remote
mountain village in Bavaria. He made his first film in 1961 at
the age of nineteen. Since then he has produced, written, and di-
rected more than sixty films, such as Nosferatu the Vampyre and
Grizzly Man. He has also written more than a dozen books of
prose and has directed many operas.