Excerpt of a Play commissioned by the Staatsschauspiel Dresden
First Image: THE FLOOD
Announcer: The bad news first.
Moderator: No, don’t start like that.
Announcer: I don’t intend to start.
Moderator: Oh yes you do! (Gives her a little shove)
Announcer: So, the bad news first. All of a sudden, we have rivers. No one saw it coming. All of a sudden we have mountains, seas, and lakes—yes indeed, we have bodies of water. Still water, rushing water, water gushing up from the deep. Suddenly, there are rivers where nothing was there before, or at the very most a brook or a stream, or a road, a parking lot, a shopping mall—there’s a river now where there used to be a subway station, torrential water where there used to be a housing settlement. Rivers and the highest flood levels, rivers and 800 liters per square meter coming down every day. Whereas we used to have a deficit of 800 liters per square meter in a year. And now, the whole amount in a single day. Today. In other words, now.
Look over there! A body of water lying dormant for a moment, and then it starts to move again! No rivers all winter long, and even drier last summer. And now? You want to go out, you open the door, and there’s a river in front of you. You look out the window and there’s water. It’s one meter high, two meters, five meters, seven meters high, and the rain keeps coming down. You want to get out of the car, but there’s a wall of water pressing up against the door. You look out the window and realize that you’re under water. It’s looking for a way in. It knows all the hairline cracks, the crevices, the tiny fissures and holes. It knows the way in before you do.
Moderator: We know you don’t like this. It doesn’t belong here, you say. Where we live, everything’s in moderation, you say. And when it’s not, when things become totally unpredictable, then we set our politicians in motion, isn’t that right? But they’re not moving, are they? That’s what we up here on the stage expect from you. You people down there have to get the politicians moving so that we can have enjoy ourselves up here, in our theater.
Announcer: We’ve also been wondering where all the water is coming from suddenly. Because we’re not in the mountains, where there’s always something coming down from higher up. And besides, there’s hardly any up or down here, we’re quite sure of that—what else is the welfare state there for? But the up must have happened anyway, overnight, without anyone noticing. A mountain must have grown, because you’d need one to have a downgrade.
Moderator: No one noticed, and yet it’s a catastrophe with a prelude, you might say. We could have known, that is, someone should have known, and should have at least told us . . .
Announcer: The water doesn’t make any noise, it’s very quiet, eerily so. Or rather, it was quiet just a moment ago—the roof of the house was jutting out above the floodwater, we saw it, but now it’s quiet again and the roof is gone. It’s quiet and there’s no sign of the truck that got trapped on the highway. It must be in motion again, must have gotten swept away. They say everything is getting swept away now, but you can’t see anything. Of course, it’s almost completely dark now.
Moderator: And there’s nothing to hear, either, meaning, it was really loud before. Or was it actually loud the whole time, only we couldn’t hear it anymore, we couldn’t hear the sound anymore, meaning we couldn’t recognize it as sound. Because that’s what happens when you can’t distinguish a certain type of sound from background noise. Of course they call water raging, they call it gushing, spewing, gurgling, thundering, roaring, but it loses its meaning at some point if it never stops.
Announcer: In any case, it’s louder than the people up there on their roofs. A small group on each roof. We tried to call each other on our cell phones, of course, tried to reach our neighbors in chat, but there was no point, the networks collapsed, they immediately stopped working, all of them. The water is the only existing network now, but it doesn’t bring things together, it tears them apart.
Moderator: You don’t want to hear that right now, am I right?
Announcer: Even rivers don’t always hear: did you know that some of them are called “deaf?” It’s true: not only are there deaf rocks in nature, there are also deaf rivers. Or have you never heard of the Tauber, of the Taubkyll? And now, now they definitely won’t be hearing anything at all anymore. They won’t hear the cries of people or animals, they won’t hear the buildings groaning, they don’t care one bit.
Moderator: Things like this don’t exist in your world, do they? A world where river regulation makes good sense and the rain clouds pass. Sometimes the rain is here, sometimes it’s somewhere else, it’s not always in the same place.
Announcer: Because of the noise, the rivers’ names are changing rapidly. They’re no longer called Reichsteiner Bach, the Rinnel, Biela, and Bielebach, the Leupolishainer Bach, Teufelsgrundbach, and Eselsgrund; we don’t call them Waldbach and Pehnabach anymore, or Schafhornbächel and Stuppenbach, Katzbach, Prießnitz, and Weisseritz, Buchenbach and Amselgrundbach; there’s no Weißtropper Graben, Kleditschgrundbach, Wilde Sau, Lowitzbach, or Wolfsteichbach anymore, they’re all just called “the flood” now. The rivers respond in a single voice now, the rocks and mountains respond in a single voice, the avalanches in a single voice.
Moderator: That’s the water: that roaring noise, that thundering, gushing noise—you can hardly bear it. Someone, close the window please!
Announcer: We’re talking about permanent weather here, about how this weather is going to stay with us now—no, it’s even more serious than that: it won’t budge.
Moderator: Something has gotten mixed up and now it’s stuck. And as always, we don’t know anything. Meaning, afterwards we will have known everything; for now, though, we know nothing. It’s always like that. Afterwards they’ll say that certain things were washed away.
Announcer: Some things will get flushed out, washed away. Entire World War II ammunition depots will get flushed out. It’s amazing how this World War II keeps surfacing over and over again. Time and again, it gets flushed out—and in the process, a good deal of our so-called present time gets flushed out, too.
Moderator: As always, we don’t know anything, but will have known everything afterwards.
Announcer: The water is one meter high, two meters, five meters, seven meters high, and the rain won’t stop. You open the door and see a wall of water. You look out the window and realize you’re under water. It presses in, it always knows the cracks, it knows the way.
A sentence might appear in the background reading: “Are you satisfied with the flood relief of 2021? What kind of flood relief would you like to see in 2022? Answer this questionnaire in just ten minutes!”
A sentence might appear in the background reading: “Are you satisfied with Jonah and his flood relief? Did Jonah manage to give the warning, as God commanded him to do? How did the city of Nineveh take the news of its downfall?”
A sentence might appear in the background reading: “How do you rate Nineveh, biblical city of sins or just a normal western metropolis? Did Jonah ever make it to Nineveh? Or is he still stuck at sea, in the storm? Will God send a whale to save him? What would that look like today?”[. . .]
Speaker: Of course I was there. In other words, on site. And you know what my personal drama was that night? As the Drain Commissioner in the city of O., I was responsible for the entire district and its three rivers. We have the L., the Z., and the W. And so I was in constant contact with the fire department chiefs. They had to be told what a “4-meter flood level” meant.
Can you read flood levels? No, you can’t, but I can. So you see. The fire brigade also has a hard time interpreting flood levels, which is why they called me. So I was summoned to the supervisors’ meeting.
I thought of everything. The critical junctures in the rivers, where the water can force its way through. I thought about the dams and about distributing sandbags, all the logistics. Things were pretty dicey, especially with the L. But when I got home late that evening, I realized that I’d completely forgotten about the W. I simply forgot the river in front of my own house.
I only thought about the other two. Always just the L. and the Z., but not the W. God knows why that one river slipped my mind. And then, at home late that night, I panicked, because suddenly the river was right there in front of my living room window, where it doesn’t belong. I went outside, and I even went up on the dam, and then I saw that it was about to burst.
So I’m standing there totally dazed and can already see the water beginning to wash away the soil, how it starts getting cloudy, which is always a sign that it’s close, really close. . .
Why are you looking at me like that? This is my drama. I get home late and I think the situation is cut and dried, yes, that’s what they call it, but then suddenly there’s this river flowing through my house that I’d totally forgotten about.
And now you want to tell me. . .
In any case, this is what happened to me, but I don’t understand why. I have no idea, my mind must have gone blank, I had a blackout, we live in a time of blackouts, why shouldn’t it happen to me too, and if you think you’ve understood something when you hear 2.5 meters, 4 meters, 6 meters, then you’re probably having a blackout of your own, and so you run into the basement to fetch something. You open a door that you should have kept closed. And then that’s your drama.
Speaker: There’s definitely talk about people getting stuck in elevators on their way down to the underground car park or the basement to grab something before the water comes.
Speaker: Yes, people who just wanted to take a quick look and check their stuff, they’re everywhere. And then they never make it out again. Basements become death traps, underground garages become death traps, cars become death traps. . .
Elder citizen: Who would have thought. I’m in an elevator, too, and I want to be a hero, but it doesn’t work out that way. The water is slowly rising. These waters are still. They don’t even gurgle.[. . .]
IN THE BELLY OF THE WHALE
Enter adult, second adult, counter-adult (man with a past), woman with a future, kids 1, 2, and 3. Group scene with flickering light, the adults are preoccupied with themselves. . .
Second adult: What are they doing?
Adult: They’re swimming.
Second adult: That’s what water does, it brings us all to our knees.
Adult: Some more, others less. Isn’t that true?
Second adult: We’re inside, they’re outside, that’s the problem.
Adult: I always tell them it just looks that way, don’t get discouraged.
Woman with a future: They don’t want to have children. At any rate, my kids don’t.
Man with a past: We didn’t want any either. Don’t you remember? Who wants to have kids at that age anyway?
Woman with a future: They’re far more serious about not wanting children than we were.
Man with a past: Come on: at eleven, twelve, thirteen?
Woman with a future: Seventeen.
Kid 3: What part of “no future” don’t you understand?
Kid 1: You say the end of the century is far off, but we say the end of the century has been here for a long time already.
Kid 2 (tired): It’s still here. And now it’s going to stay.
Kid 3: 14,000 researchers have issued their warning. 140,000 demonstrators in this city alone.
Woman with a future (to man with a past): Let’s stop now, he’s at a vulnerable age. What else do you want to tell him? He doesn’t need to hear any more of this stuff.
Man with past (to woman with future): Me? I didn’t tell him anything. Besides, he doesn’t listen anyway. His attention span is pretty short.
Woman with a future: What do you want—puberty!
Adult: I think we can all talk openly here. We can sit down at a table together. No one needs to be afraid of being beaten for their opinion or winding up in jail.
Woman with a future (to man with a past): What’s he saying?
Man with a past (to adult): What do you mean? Did they do something wrong?
Adult: Better not. There are other countries where they don’t so much as blink.
Second adult: Yes, exactly. You should tell that to your children. They just load the kids onto trucks and off they go.
Woman with a future: Where to?
Second adult: No idea. . .
Adult: I thought you read about it, I thought you saw the cell phone video. . .
Man with a past: We’re talking so much that we’ve completely lost track of the time. I’m afraid we’ll have to excuse ourselves here, we have to head home, don’t we? (Looks over at woman with a future)
Woman with a future: Yes, but do you know where the kids are?
Man with a past: No, no, no, you don’t do that when you’re thirteen. That doesn’t start until you’re sixteen. Even if kids are different these days, thirteen is definitely too early. That’s what all the psychologists say. You don’t kill yourself at thirteen, even if you say you will. It’s the kind of thing you can get carried away with. It’s not going to happen. Listen, it’s not gonna happen. Definitely not.
Woman with a future: How do we know what’s happened? He never came back.
Man with a past: Whatever the case, you won’t get access to his social media. You know that.
Woman with a future: I can’t get to them anyway, social media or not.
Man with a past: He’ll be back.
Woman with a future: Nobody’s coming back. He won’t find us anymore.
Man with a past: At thirteen, sorry, seventeen, you’re not leaving behind a life.
Woman with a future: Think of Anke’s daughter.
Man with a past: Anke’s fifteen-year-old? They found her just in time.
Woman with a future: Finding someone in time is a good thing. Birguel’s fourteen-year-old lost his life.
Man with a past: But not like that.
Woman with a future: I mean, I understand it, considering everything that’s going on. They get these ideas and think that radicalizing will help them. And then they crash.
Adult: You don’t need to tell me, I know these kids. I ran into them on the Intercity Express, on their way to the Rhineland, to the lignite mining region. Kids armed with video tutorials, off to play revolution.
Second adult: It’s this arrogant attitude they pick up on Netflix, and always so anti-racist, anti-colonialist, queer, transgender. Antisexist.
Adults: These are middle-class kids, God forbid anything should happen to them. And they’re all called Greta.
Second adult: Noms de guerre! A youth spent gaming, kids who were still streaming Twitch days ago, feeling like their lives depended on clicks and followers, and now they’re trying rebellion on for size.
Adult: Just a moment ago they wanted to become professional, and then—bam!—they’re anti-capitalist—and now—bam!—post-growth.
What’s left is the chatter. The new thing now is climate change.
Woman with a future: What’s she saying?
Man with a past (with earbuds): She says we’re acting like we still have time.
Lighting change, change of the characters’ positions
Translated by Andrea Scrima
Published With the kind permission of S. Fischer Theater & Medien
The publication of this excerpt marks the beginning of our Special Issue “Strange Bedfellows,” a collaboration with the Austrian literary Magazine MAnuskripte.
SHORT DESCRIPTIONS OF ADDITIONAL PLAYS BY KATHRIN RÖGGLA PUBLISHED BY FISCHER VERLAG CAN BE FOUND HERE.
 The German word “taub” means “deaf” and forms a part of these rivers’ names.
 The German word “Bach” means “brook.”