THE LAST DAYS OF MANKIND ACT I SCENE 12
The Café Pucher.
(A waiter, Franz, at a table. Orders are called out: ‘Double espresso!’, ‘Froth and milky!’ ‘Whipped cream on top!’ ‘Cappucino filtered!’)
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: Latte, no, you know what, just for a change you can bring me a cappuccino, extra whipped cream, and the New Free Press!
OLD BIACH (picking up the New Free Press): Magnificent! Benedikt’s been celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the New Free Press for a fortnight now, it’s always on the front page, then comes the battle of Lemberg with all the analysis, etc., of course. It shows there are still positive events in Austria. After all it’s an unprecedented occurrence. The bulwark of Germanic liberal culture, civilisation, but that’s not all, look at the names congratulating him – there, three, four, five pages; the elite of the elite.
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: I wrote today – you see, it’ll be in tomorrow.
OLD BIACH (excited): I shall write too. It will be an honour to be in such company – Weiskirchner, the mayor! The greatest anti-Semite of all! He congratulates Benedikt with ‘heartfelt sincerity’. Look. Now that really is very choice, ‘the New Free Press is the prayer book of the cultured classes’.
PROFESSOR: Listen: ‘Benedikt, Commander-in-Chief of the Intellect’!
OLD BIACH: The speeches at the banquet were magnificent –
COUTURIER: The banquet was cancelled due to the war.
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: Out of humility.
COUTURIER: Overzealous solicitude.
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: Take a look at that list though, it’s never-ending –
PROFESSOR: Yes, it’s very sad.
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: Sad?
PROFESSOR: Oh, sorry. I was looking at the casualty lists underneath.
OLD BIACH: It’s too bad – what can one do, but yes, it is an event that stands out as something even our children’s children will be talking about.
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: It’s not every day a newspaper turns fifty.
OLD BIACH: I meant Lemberg, the battle.
PROFESSOR (looking around carefully): A battle that does us no credit.
OLD BIACH: Who wants to argue about Lemberg? If you must get dispirited, despondent, take heart from Benedikt’s front page – his jubilee!
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: What impresses me: a hundred congratulatory advertisements from the banks! In the middle of an advertising moratorium!
OLD BIACH: What do you expect? Benedikt’s chutzpah is second to none in Austria today! He’s got imagination and heart and character and attitude and like Nimrod himself he is a mighty receiver before the Lord.
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: You know who you remind me of, Herr Biach, the way you speak. Of Moriz Benedikt himself, with all those ‘ands’!
OLD BIACH: Is that a surprise? One has no choice but to be under his spell! When it was announced that Lemberg was still in our hands, he said, ‘What strikes us above all here is the word “still”, our eyes drill into it and we can visualise everything.’ Invariably he gives us everything, everything and much more besides! ‘It was reported yesterday – it is reported today’; you can’t get phrases like that out of your head. He speaks the way we do, only more articulately. But does he speak like us, or do we speak like him?
PRIVY COUNSELLOR: Who could replicate this first sentence? ‘The Brodsky family is one of the wealthiest in Kiev.’ You’re in Kiev in the thick of it all. Then he leapfrogs: Talleyrand, what he said at dinner, and before you know it you’re in 1867 and it’s the Hungarian Compromise.
OLD BIACH: What impresses me is when he says, ‘Can’t you see it?’ He grabs hold of us. We visualise it as if, God forbid, he was among the smoking guns and we with him. He attaches great importance to atmosphere and detailed impressions, it’s mesmerising when he describes how his passions are aroused. I love it when he imagines them tossing and turning at night, Poincaré and Gray,  even the Czar,  fear gnawing as their bastions crumble. ‘And perhaps at this very moment… and perhaps… and perhaps!’ High drama! I’m told he dictates when he writes. How my imagination relishes that picture, the very chandeliers shaking as he dictates!
PROFESSOR: Just by chance I do know, because I took a complaint up to him personally, over that article about the rubbish collector and the flies –
OLD BIACH: What did you see?
PROFESSOR: They haven’t got any chandeliers.
OLD BIACH (excitable): Enough, Professor, everyone knows you’re a wet blanket – so they’ve got standard lamps! No matter – the chandeliers shake!
 Gewure, a Yiddish word meaning ‘forcefulness’; it would have sounded Yiddish to Kraus’s audience.
‘Ein grosser Nemmer vor dem Herrn’, ‘a great taker/receiver before the Lord’; ‘vor dem Herrn’ is a phrase that appears many times in the Bible, but only once in a sentence that can echo this one: in Luther’s version, ‘Er war ein gewaltiger Jäger vor dem Herrn, darum sagt mann: Wie Nimrod, ein gewaltiger Jäger vor dem Herrn, ‘He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord’ (Gen 10:9). In Judaism the meaning of this is disputed; Nimrod’s strength and prowess were a good thing in the eyes of God; as the builder of the Tower of Babel he represents rebellious mankind and, pointedly, first brought war to the earth. Kraus replaces ‘gewaltiger Jäger’ with ‘grosser Nemmer’; Nemmer seems to be a Yiddish version of Nehmer, ‘one who takes’ (there is a Yiddish proverb, ‘A nemmer is nit kein geber’, ‘A taker is not a giver’); it is ambiguous like the word ‘receiver’ in respect of its nefarious implications; is he a receiver of gifts from God or a receiver of stolen goods? It seems unlikely that Old Biach doesn’t mean the former; even more unlikely that Kraus doesn’t suggest the latter. It is appropriate to add Nimrod to the sentence; what was self-evidently a biblical reference is so no longer.
 The Brodskys were one of Russia’s wealthiest Jewish families, especially during the liberal rule of Czar Alexander II, when Lazar Brodsky was chairman of the Kiev stock exchange; they fared less well in the pogroms that followed his assassination in 1881 – ‘To Brodsky’s’ was the Black Hundred mob’s rallying cry. They financed the building of a huge synagogue in Kiev, destroyed by the Nazis but recently restored. After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the Russian government planned to expel ten thousand Jewish families from Kiev; any problem was an opportunity to present the Jewish population as an enemy within.
 Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince (1754-1838), hugely influential French diplomat; though an aristocrat he supported the French revolution; he was later Napoleon’s Foreign Minister. He then travelled full circle and was instrumental in re-establishing the Bourbon monarchy; he also concluded a secret agreement with Britain and Austria-Hungary that effectively marginalised their former ally, Russia.
 The Hungarian Compromise (1867) established Austria-Hungary as a dual monarchy, with governments in Vienna and Budapest; although it kept Hungary within the empire it only exacerbated the grievances of other minorities, like the Czechs, Romanians and Croats; it was a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.
 Raymond Poincaré (1860-1934), politician, cabinet minister, president of France during the war.
 Edward Grey, viscount (1862-1933), British Foreign Minister (1905-1916), later Leader of the House of Lords. His words: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime’.
 Czar Nicholas II (1868-1918), last of Russia’s Romanov rulers; Russia was another vast and crumbling empire, seething with unrest, controlled by an autocratic and out-of-touch aristocracy; already on the verge of collapse the Russian Empire would not survive Nicholas’s decision to take direct command of the army.
 Vienna began waste collection in 1839; the collector, Mistbauer, announced his presence with a bell and householders brought garbage to his cart; after the First World War a bin collection service was introduced. Inadequate rubbish collection was a long-running issue for the New Free Press: so were the consequences.