When my sister and I were still young, our dad would sometimes take us on a long walk through the woods that started right behind our house in a small industrial suburb in Northern Germany and seemed to stretch forever, even though forever ended at the road to Frankenbostel, a village that was important only to its farmers. I can’t recall how long these walks really lasted, but they seemed dominated by silence and small whispers, so as not to disturb the animals and the overall atmosphere of making our way through brush and over small, secret meadows, where small prints on the ground told stories we were unable to read. We knew they were stories, we’d read all the Wild West novels by Karl May, and were familiar with noble and not so noble Indians reading the ground in front of them, but we could only guess. Still, we didn’t realize how little we knew, and felt just like our heroes Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, the Chief of the Apaches.
I was two years younger than my sister, and sometimes given to imitating bird calls, mostly owls, whether or not that was appropriate. My sister was a calm girl, matching my dad’s solemnity on these occasions. I however did not fit in. I wasn’t able to keep their peace – I was bubbly, impulsive, and irrevocably they would start to shush me and cast angry looks at me.
As a young man my dad had wanted to emigrate to Australia or Canada. He never got farther then looking at pictures of endless forests and the wide open desert, yet he treated every forest as though it could lead him to the Bering Strait, if only he would walk long enough.
On better days we found that small ditches running through the woods – who had dug them and when? – had filled with water, which was running clear and shallow. “A stream,” I’d crow and imagine that I could some day catch fish. I wanted to live by a river, be able to go on canoe trips, but the closest river was three miles away and too shallow in the summer to allow for canoe trips.
Sometimes we’d find a freshly dug foxhole, and my dad would cautiously approach us, waving us slowly closer, with a face that expressed awe, interest, and importance. And on other days we found colorful bird feathers and collected them in our pockets.
These were the early 70s and people often got rid of their trash by dumping it in the forests. We saw our share of house trash, savaged by raccoons and other rodents. My dad always tried to find a letter with an address, in order to call the police about it, but he never did. Those trash heaps we found close to the road to Frankenbostel. Whenever we got there, our expedition reached a point of crisis. It was a letdown to reach ‘civilization’ again and there were only two things to do: turn back and march home, a disappointing prospect; or cross the road and enter the area of the small landfill.
The landfill, though surrounded by trees, bordered on farmland. It was an open space, the seclusion of the woods was gone, and yet it had its own special joys. When it was first dug, the pit seemed like a canyon in a rugged and remote mountainous region (Zeven was as flat as you can imagine it. The highest elevation was about 90 feet). You could enter it and watch the heavy machinery like some relics from a long lost civilization, you could climb the large heaps of yellow and reddish sand outside the pit and imagine to be near the beach, on a dune. I was a cowboy, trapped by vicious Comanches, I was an archeologist digging for skeletons, I was reaching the ocean to become a whaler.
Soon, water collected at the bottom of the pit, and strangely, it seems that when the first trash was deposited there, the water levels rose. The water turned a strange, intensive blue-green, opaque and reminiscent of laundry detergent and shampoo. Refrigerators sometimes broke the surface, little white, rusty islands, and we would throw small stones at them. In the winter we skated over the frozen surface here, trash covering the sides of the pit, a barbecue trapped in the middle of the ice.
On one of the walks we found trash of a different kind. It was an overcast fall day, winter announcing itself with a certain chill in the air. We were dressed in dark colors, in our outdoors clothes, which looked nothing like the fancy lifestyle clothing that is so popular nowadays. Back then, at least in my memory, nobody wore trekking gear and bright-colored trail shoes. Hikers had hiking boots, and that was that. Our outdoors clothes were our old clothes, not good enough to be worn to school or church, but fitting okay to be still worn.
Only oaks still had their browned leaves on their branches, and we fought our way through some scratchy underbrush and dying pines, when we came, in the middle of our forest, onto a small clearing. A bit of moss was left of the ground. Yes, there was trash, but these were not household items, but clothes. Mostly women’s clothing. And magazines, which my dad opened with the tip of his shoe to reveal gigantic, large-nippled breasts, and men with sideburns, long hair, no clothes and long penises.
My sister knew she wasn’t supposed to look and didn’t, and I gawked until my father closed the pages again. The ground was soggy from recent rain, and so were the colorful magazines. Soggy too was a book which lay among the pants and bras on the ground, it’s title Süßes Flittchen, Sweet Hussy.
It was very quiet among the trees and I was awed by our find, and my dad paced about, lifting a jacket here, panties there. There were so many clothes – how many people had gathered here, and in what state had they left? Even shoes, high-heeled yellow sandals lay on the ground. What had happened to the feet wearing them?
We breathed in the cold air, stood, giddy with our find. My dad must have been thirty-five, and he examined what I didn’t dare touch, and then we left. The woods though changed that day, and the lonely adventures of trappers and Indians began to fade. My forests became populated with people who parked their cars by a landfill, and dragged their friends into the trees, to clearings where no one else could hear the rustling of clothes being discarded.