(l) A present from God

 This is a story by Bertolt Brecht, a distinguished German poet, play writer and theatre director. He wrote plays like the “Dreigroschen Oper Threepenny opera” set to music by Kurt Weill. Its most famous song is “Mack the Knife” in English.

This story tells about Brecht’s experience in Chicago in 1908 and is called a “A present from God”.

The winter had been the coldest for very many years. To make things worse, many people had lost their jobs and accommodation was scarce and very expensive. To keep themselves warm, many saved their cents by spending time in the warm public bar, where they tried to make their watered-down glass of whisky last as long as possible. The poor hotelier was not happy, no-one was spending much.

Suddenly two men appeared and, to everyone’s surprise, they had money. As it was Christmas, they wanted to share their good fortune and shouted everyone in the bar a drink. This went down well, the mood lightened but there was still a sinister under-current. Maybe the fact that they were taking something without giving anything back had made many feel uneasy.

They came up with the idea that they would also give presents, but these had little to do with good will. For instance they went out and fetched some dirty snow water for the hotelier, so that he could water down the whisky even more. The waiter received an old tin can, so that he would have some proper crockery and the bar maid received a knife to scrape the makeup off her face – to much acclaim.

Their attention now turned to a man, who had spent many an evening in the bar. This man was very timid and everyone believed he had something to hide or had been in trouble with the police. They found an old phone book that contained the addresses of all the police stations in the city. With the permission of the hotelier they tore out these pages and carefully wrapped them in an old newspaper.

They gave this present to the timid man. As he tugged at the string to open the parcel, his eyes fell on the newspaper. His attention focussed on a particular article and he read and read. When he finished, he looked up, with a sparkle in his eyes and he smiled broadly. “This is the best present I could have ever received,” he said. “For years there was a dark cloud hanging over me, because I was a suspect. And now I have just read that the case has been solved and I am no longer under suspicion.” And he laughed out loud.

Everybody was stunned and joined in his laughter, all bitterness forgotten. They had meant to make fun of this man and instead they had given him so much joy.

In all the hilarity it no longer seemed important that not they, but God had chosen this particular sheet of newspaper.


Adapted from the story “Das Paket des lieben Gottes” by Bertolt Brecht, by Resi Schwarzbauer and edited by Herta Uhlherr.