I saw a dog the other day — a dog going to work. He was like a stuffed, cylindrical sofa-cushion with long fur-tassels wobbling down Leipziger Strasse towards Berlin. With full sincerity he walked, looking neither left nor right, sniffing at nothing. And did none of that other something, either. He just went, without any doubt, to do his business.
And why would he have done otherwise? Everyone else was doing it.
The stream of business-goers whispered through the city. Morning on morning they did the same. They trotted thither, to that holiest holy a German knows; to work. Actually, the dog had no business being there — but if even a dog went to business, no doubt it’d be welcome.
There sat two serious men on a train, smoking, rotund, shaven and perfectly content, looking out of the windows. At such moments, one longs for a miracle, say, for balloons to float out of that soldier-policeman’s* helmet, there, on the corner, so that, if just once, everyone would unbolt their muzzle and nose! The train passed by a tennis court. The golden sun played on the pale-yellow surface — it was beautiful weather, far too beautiful for Berlin. And one of the serious gentlemen grumbled: “Look at that! Nothing to do! Mornings at eight and playing tennis! They should be off to work —!”
Yes, they should. After all, work is why we’re on this planet, serious work, the kind that fills in all of you. Whether it makes sense, whether it harms or helps, whether it’s pleasant or not (“Oooh, work’s to be plezzun’ now is i’? Yuh’ve lost yer marbles mate!”) — it’s all the same. There must be work. And mornings you must be able to go to it. Otherwise, life has no meaning.
And should everything jam up at work, or the rail workers strike, or even if it’s a bank holiday: then they sit around at a loss as to what to do. There’s nothing inside them, and nothing outside them either: so what can be done? Well, nothing whatsoever.
So they walk around like schoolchildren, suddenly at a loose end because of some cancelled lesson. They can’t go home, and they don’t feel like having any fun… They doze and wait. For the next workday. For this, among other reasons, the German Revolution failed: they had no time for revolting; they had to go to work.
Then again, it’s true one can doze off during sport, which is run like a card game nowadays: highly regulated and outstandingly dull. But of course it’s always better to train than to make mischief in a black cap and gown.
Yes, they go to work. “What do you do for a living?” — “We don’t do anything, sir. It does us.”
The dog didn’t jump. One doesn’t hop down the street. The street serves to — we know that already. And that enticing, low-hanging, patriotic poster … the dog didn’t even consider it.
He went to work.
(Kurt Tucholsky, 1923)
*”Polizeisoldaten” can’t be translated into an English word (it’s not military police, by the way) as far as I’m aware, so I picked my own invention. The word seems to be reserved for soldiers doing civilian police work, but it may have some historical reference here I’m not aware of.