The Brothel in Rosenstrasse

Michael Moorcock



I am at last able to move my right hand for extended periods of time. My left hand, although still subject to sudden weakness and trembling, is satisfactory. Old Papadakis continues to feed me and I have ceased to be filled with the panic of prospective abandonment. The suffering is now no worse than anything I knew as a small boy in the family sickroom. In fact minor discomforts, like an irritated groin, I welcome as wonderful aids to memory, while I continue to be astonished at my difficulty in recalling that overwhelming emotional anguish I experienced in my youth. My present tantrums and fits of despair cannot bear comparison: the impotence of sickness or old age at least reconciles one to the knowledge there is nothing one can do to improve one's own condition. Those old wounds seem thoroughly healed, yet here I am about to tear them open again, so possibly I shall discover if I have learned anything; or shall find out why I should have suffered at all.

Mirenburg is the most beautiful of cities. Great architects and builders have displayed their best talents here since the tenth century. Every tenement or hovel, warehouse or workshop, would elsewhere be envied and admired as art. On a September morning, shortly before dawn, little paddle-steamers begin to sound their horns in the grey mist. Only the twin Gothic spires of the Cathedral of St-Maria-and-St-Maria are visible at this time, rising out of the mist as symmetrical sea-carved rocks might thrust above a sluggish silver tide.

I was completely alive in Mirenburg. Ironically, during the days of the Siege, I feared death far more than I fear it now when death exhibits itself in every limb, in every organ; an unavoidable reality. Life was never to be experienced so fully. For years I yearned for the dark, lifting sensuality, that all-embracing atmosphere of sexual ecstasy I had known in Mirenburg. To have maintained that ambience, even if it had been in my power, would have led to inevitable self-destruction, so I have not entirely regretted living past the Mirenburg days. I have made I think the best of my life. Since I retired to Italy it has been simpler of course and I have been forced to review many habits I had not much questioned. Friends visit; we have memories. We relive our best times and usually joke about the worst. Changing events have not greatly disturbed us. But there is no-one who shared the Mirenburg period and few believe me if I speak of all that happened. There was so much. Alexandra. My Alice. She is still sixteen. She lies surrounded by green velvet and she is naked. I have arranged blossoms upon her skin, pink and pale yellow against her tawny flesh; flowers from a Venetian hothouse to warm her in our early autumn days, while in the ballroom below we hear the zither, the Cafe Mozart Waltz, and I smell my sex mingling with her scent, with honey and roses. Her eyes are heated, her smile is languid yet brilliant in the dark curls which surround it. She spreads her little arms. Alexandra. She called herself Alex. Later it will be Alice. I am enchanted; I am captured by Romance. Beyond the window the spires and roofs of Mirenburg glitter like a mirage. I am about to be betrayed by my own imagination. Those huge eyes, the colour of ancient oak, seem to give me all their attention and I am flattered, overwhelmed. My Alexandra. Her head moves to one side, her shoulder goes up, she speaks my name:


I am tempted to put down my pen and push myself higher in

my pillows to try to peer over the top of the writing-board and look to see if I really did hear her; but I continue to write, glad to touch just a little of that ambience again.

As a child, when I played with my toy soldiers, arranging battalions, positioning cavalry and artillery, I would sometimes receive an unexpected thrill of intense sexual pleasure, to the point of achieving not only an erection but often an orgasm. Even now, when I see a display of toy soldiers in a shop, I may be touched by that same sensation, almost as poignantly as when I was twelve or thirteen. Why I experienced it then and why I continued to experience it I do not know. Perhaps it had something to do with my complete power over those little men which, in turn, released in me all the power of my sex, full and unchecked by convention or upbringing. Certainly I had very little power as a boy. My brothers and sisters being so much older than I, I had a relatively solitary childhood. My mother was never mentioned. I was to discover she was in disgrace, somewhere in Roumania, with a Dutchman.

Shortly before her death, I met her briefly, by accident, in a fashionable restaurant off the Avenue Victor Hugo and recognised her from her photograph. She was small and serene and was very polite to me when I pointed out our relationship. Both she and her Dutchman were dressed in black. My father's interest was in politics. He served the government and was close to Bismarck. At our estates in Bek I had been brought up chiefly by Scottish governesses, doted on by pretty housemaids who, when the time came, had been more than willing to educate me sexually. I have been in the power of women, it seems, all my life.

Dawn comes and Mirenburg begins to rattle like a beggar's cup: the first horses and trams are abroad. The shutters are being raised, windows are being opened. The sun is pale brass upon the mist which thins to reveal a sky of milky blue. White and grey stone shimmers. She speaks the affected 'English'-accented German of fashionable Vienna; she pronounces R as

She is captivating, artificial, an object to treasure. From ome secluded tree-lined square comes the tolling of a Catholic bell. At certain heights it is possible to see most of Mirenburg's antique turrets and gables, her twisting chimneys, her picturesque steeples and balconies, her bridges built by old kings, her walls and canals. The modern apartment-houses, hotels and stores, as noble and inspiring as the palaces and churches which surround them, are monumentally designed by Sommaragu and Niermans and Kammerer. She is a symphony of broad paved avenues and cobbled alleys, glinting spires and domes and stained glass. She lies staring up into my face, her small breasts held fast against my slow penis. It is warm in the room. The sun cuts between the heavy curtains and falls, a single slab of light, upon the bed, across my back. Our faces and our legs are in deep shadow; the white sperm strikes at her throat and she cries out in unison with me; my Alice. I roll to my side and I am laughing with pleasure. She lights me a cigarette. I feel like a demigod. I smoke. Every action is heroic. And she is a spirit, an erdgeist out of Wedekind become my very own reality. We joke. She smiles. It is dawn in Mirenburg. We shall sleep later and at about noon I will rise to wrap myself in my black and white silk robe and stand on the balcony looking out at the exquisite view which, to my mind, cannot be matched, even by Venice. I glance at the table and the dark blue leather notebook in which I shall try to write a poem for her; the book was a present from my middle sister and has my name in gold stamped on the front: Rickhardt von Bek. I am the youngest son; the prodigal of the family, and in this part I am tolerated by almost everyone. The senile trees rustle in a light East wind. I smell mint and garlic. Papadakis brings me fresh materials and a little morphine. I can feel myself trembling again, but not from pain or infirmity; I am trembling as I trembled then, with every sense at almost unbearable intensity. I touch the skin of an unripe peach. Down the wide Mladota Steps, also known as the Tilly Steps, carefully descends a single student, still drunk from a party, still in his light blue uniform except that instead of his cap he wears a Homburg hat at least three sizes too large for him. It covers his ears and his eyes. His immature lips are pursed to whistle some misremembered Mozart. He is trying to make his way back to the Old Quarter where he lodges. Two working girls, pink-faced and blonde in shawls and long dark smocks, pass him as they ascend, giggling and trying to flirt with him, but he is oblivious to them, for all the sharp clack of their clogs. He reaches the bottom of the steps and casts himself off across the roadway. The embankment on both sides is planted with firs and cypresses; immediately opposite him are the wrought-iron gates and carved granite pillars of the Botanical Gardens.

These mansions on the very fringe of the Old Quarter were once the residences of the ruling class but are today primarily public buildings and museums. They retain their grounds and their imported trees and shrubs. The largest house which the student, now clinging to the railings, would be able to see if he lifted his hat, was the summer place of the Graf Gunther von Baudessin who said he loved the city more than his own Bavarian estates. He was for a while special ambassador for his homeland and did much to help Mirenburg retain her independence during the expansionist wars of the mid-eighteenth century when three enemies (Russia, Saxony and Austria) converged on Waldenstein's borders, then failed to agree who should own the province.

From the Gardens come a thousand scents: autumn flowers and shrubs; the small, scarlet deeply-perfumed rose for which Mirenburg is famous blooms late and sometimes lasts until December. There is still dew on the

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