‘Die Sprachlosigkeit‘ in Kroetz’s Stallerhof and Geisterbahn
by Martin Stepanek
When Staller in Kroetz’s play Stallerhof says ‘Die Red bleibt eim weg’, having a serious word with Sepp about his ill-advised relationship with Staller’s under age daughter Beppi, then this seems to be symptomatic for all the characters in the play, who, to some degree, all seem unable to express themselves and at times even appear completely speechless. Consequently, most striking in Stallerhof and, to less extent, Geisterbahn is not what people say, but what they do not say. And this is probably more you would think of in the first place.
In the opening scene of the first act we are introduced to Stallerin and Beppi, the latter reading aloud a postcard from her aunt. Beppi is struggling with her reading and receives a smack in the face from her mother when she misreads dialectal ‘mir’ instead of ‘wir’. Beppi’s mother’s rage is both, an irony in itself and totally inappropriate in this situation. First of all, it is the mother herself who only speaks dialect at home, naturally using ‘mir’ instead of High German ‘wir’ for this is one of the most obvious features of Bavarian dialect, and it seems only logical that her slightly handicapped daughter’s language behaviour is a mere representation of her parents’ for they serve as her model.
STALLERIN So, jetzt werdn mir es gleich habn.
STALLERIN Waschn müssn mir dich, damit der Dreck weggeht.
Secondly, the mother’s impatience and her outbreak of violence seems to frighten Beppi even more and does not seem to be very helpful in making her daughter more self-confident in reading and speaking. Beppi then also is the character who remains numb throughout most of the play, only occasionally giving single-worded answers like ‘ja’, ‘nein’, or ‘dankschön’, or asking simple questions: ‘Warum?’, ‘Wo?’, ‘Wann?’.
In 1970 Kroetz stated:
‘Die Sprache funktioniert bei meinen Figuren nicht. (...) Sie sind introvertiert. Daran ist zum großen Teil die Gesellschaft schuld, die auf sie keine Rücksicht nimmt und sie in ihrem Schweigen verharren läßt.’
In Stallerhof Kroetz focuses on his characters, rather than on society as such. Again, what is left out, what remains unsaid about society, is the interesting fact. But then, Stallerhof also represents a little society in itself, to which the same power relationships can be applied as in large. We find a clear hierarchical structure, with Staller at the top, closely followed by his wife. If we step down the hierarchical ladder, we encounter old Sepp, who seems to work at the Stallerhof on a regular but not permanent basis (STALLER Wenn ich an Deiner Stell wär, tät ich mich für fest einstelln lassn. ). At the bottom of the scale we eventually find Beppi and, ironically enough, Sepp’s dog, whose only disadvantage to Beppi seems to be that it is not capable of producing human speech at all, and that, morally speaking, it is less reprehensible to kill a dog than one’s own daughter.
The hierarchy on the Stallerhof is clearly reflected in the linguistic behaviour of the different characters. Staller, unquestioned head of the family, produces, or better, reproduces stereotype proverbs and sayings of a society in which he himself, being a farmer of a small farm in a Bavarian village, plays a rather minor and powerless role. ‘Jeder is seines Glückes Schmied, heißt es’ says Staller. With the ‘heißt es’, Staller is referring to society which produces and establishes such proverbs, and this linguistic process of establishing proverbs normally only reflects the hierarchical structure of society itself, that is to say that these proverbs always seem to come from the top of the social strata, the ones in power. ‘Jeder is seines Glückes Schmied’ states that American dream-wise everyone is actively responsible for making one’s fortune and creating the circumstances which make a living worth-wile and oneself happy. This view, coming from the privileged and ruling stratum of society, seems rather cynical, denying that social stratum does in fact determine one’s life to a great extent.
That is, at least, what Kroetz suggests and shows with the fall of the main character Beppi at the end of the second play Geisterbahn. Up to the very end of the play it almost seems as if Beppi has successfully become her own ‘Glückes Schmied’, taking the child and leaving for the city to live with Sepp, who turns out to be a caring and loving father and partner. However, their happiness is only of a very short period of time, for Sepp dies and Beppi is forced to give away her child. The end of the play sees Beppi killing her own child, for which she is later arrested and imprisoned. It seems that her character is doomed to fail from the very beginning, for the social circumstances do not provide Beppi with any chance to be her own ‘Glückes Schmied’. One thing probably has to be mentioned, namely that Kroetz does not excuse Beppi’s behaviour and her murder, but that he simply shows the inevitability of this young and in every case underprivileged woman’s failure in society.
 Franz Xaver Kroetz, Heimarbeit. [Stallerhof u.a.]. (Hamburg 1996), p. 51.
 Kroetz, p. 58.
 Otto Riewoldt (Hg.), Franz Xaver Kroetz.. (Frankfurt a. M. 1985), p. 64.
 Kroetz, p. 41.
 At this stage it would be very interesting and tempting to consider Bernstein’s theory that a particular kind of social structure leads to a particular kind of linguistic behaviour which then reproduces the original social structure. His notion of a restricted code for (lower) working class people could certainly be applied to the characters in Stallerhof/Geisterbahn, but unfortunately, a profound Bernstein-analysis of Kroetz would go far beyond the scope of this 2000-words essay.
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