The Lieutenant and the Virgin – Part One


a story of the Acropolis

If someone were to walk from the Sülztor in Lüneburg towards Amelinghausen in the Heath, then, depending on which route was chosen, the hiker would pass a very strange building behind Embsen, but before Drögennindorf, which stands on a hill a few hundred yards from the road between two small woods. The hiker’s eye is inevitably drawn to this building, even though it is not right at the side of the road, but, as I said, at least a hundred yards away from it, and no path or access branches off here, because it is white as snow. Or rather, it must have been snow-white at one time, since then wind and rain and ever-zealous nature have weathered whatever it was made of. Nor, it seems, has anyone given it much care recently. However, the cracks and crumbling bricks can only be seen once you, out of curiosity, get closer to the building. It is thanks to the hard-working sheep that it is standing in a green meadow and has not been overgrown by birch trees or some other impertinent vegetation. What kind of creation is it? It is about the size of a small barn or a large shed, an elongated rectangle, probably about three or three and a half metres high, and, as I said, white. Yet it is not made of white stone, let alone marble, but, if you look closely, of burnt brick, most of which – I’m no expert in this regard – has been painted white or whitewashed or coloured in some other way. It has a gable at the front and back, if you knew which was which. The roof, which is of a very slight angle for our rainy region, rests on pillars that surround the building. At least that’s what it looks like at first glance, but the pillars are rather clumsily made of the same bricks and subsequently formed into round shape. In short, it is a small classical temple, or rather: it is a temple in miniature, a copy, certainly not true to scale, and as if made by a clumsy child. Or as if made by someone who has only once been described a Greek or Roman temple. Or by someone who once saw a temple, a very long time ago, who then remembered it with difficulty and then tried to recreate what he had once seen from memory. The temple has no entry, the holy of holies is walled up. Fortunately, because even the few steps leading up to it are, if you look closely, covered in shit. From the sheep, the Schnucken, who otherwise keep the temple free from the vegetation of the heath, as already mentioned. But how did this miniature temple come about in the middle of Lüneburg’s green landscape, which has very little in common with the barren hills of Arcadia? Who built it? And why?

The hiker asks these questions, picks up his or her walking stick and continues at a brisk pace towards Amelinghausen. There is an inn in Betzendorf, ‚Zum Wilden Leutinger‘, where you can get a beer, some bread, hopefully a ham and perhaps the story behind these riddles.

The year was 1688 and it was a miserable November day, hardly distinguishable from evening or dawn, except that Otto Bakkhuus, the landlord of the ‚Wild Man‘ in Betzendorf, thought he could see the rain, like tiny needles, stinging his reddened cheeks and arms as he lifted another barrel from the cart with the brewer’s boy, named Schröder.

‚Shite weather!‘ cursed the landlord. Schröder grunted.

On the one hand shite, thought the innkeeper, because who wants to come in this weather? On the other hand, not shite, because whoever comes will stay. He rubbed his cold hands while the Schröder rolled a barrel to the cellar hatch. We’ll see. He stretched his head and blinked into the whipping wind. Sure enough, down from the slight hill, from the direction of Lüneburg, came a person, probably a man, his tricorn hat tied tightly to his head with a scarf or sash, his stick digging firmly into the path, a bulging satchel on his back, bent forward, driven by the wind faster than he probably wanted. He will need a drink, thought the innkeeper and turned towards the door.

‚I’m going in,‘ he called down into the cellar hole. The Schröder grunted.

A little later, as he had suspected, the man entered the tap room, pushed the door shut against the elements, wound the scarf from his head and knocked the rain off his hat against the beam that supported the low ceiling of the dim room. He had leaned his cane with its silver knob against the wall and thrown his satchel to the floor.

‚Otto, are you still alive, you fat gut?‘ he said half aloud. Now you could see his face. Gaunt, very wrinkled for his age around the eyes, as if he often squinted against the sun, and an already graying, stubbly beard. Slightly sunken cheeks, at least a few teeth must be missing. Nevertheless, he was still almost a young man, around thirty. Suddenly the innkeeper recognised him.

‚By God,‘ he shouted, ‚it’s Leutinger! It’s the Leutinger. Are the Turks beaten?

‚The Turks are, otherwise would I be standing here?‘ said the man the innkeeper called Leutinger. ‚The Turks are, but not the plague,‘ he muttered.


‚Don’t worry, I haven’t got it. Give me a mug of the good stuff. Betzendorf beer. How I’ve missed it, with all that resinous wine and even more resinous women.‘

‚I’ve just got a new barrel.‘ The landlord clattered down the cellar stairs in his clogs. ‚Schröder! The Leutinger’s back,‘ he called out. ‚Let him tell us something.

Soon afterwards, the landlord, Schröder and Leutinger were sitting round a solid oak table. The latter, now that one knew, really did make quite a martial impression, even though he wasn’t wearing a uniform, but always kept his back straight; he had pulled a long knife, almost a shiavona, from his belt and was using it to slice the smoked ham, which the landlord had, generous for once, placed on a wooden plate next to the jug of Betzendorfer and the three mugs. Tiny black specks were all over Leutinger’s face and arms, looking like poppy seeds. Did he have them all over his body? If not the plague, was it some other disease that he was now carrying from the Turkish wars to beautiful Lüneburg and Brunswick?

‚What are those black spots?‘ asked the slightly foolish Schröder. ‚Are you ill?‘

‚Are you stupid, Schröder?‘ the innkeeper interrupted. ‚The Leutinger was in the artillery. That’s gun powder, isn’t it?‘

‚Yes, that’s gun powder. Went into my lungs and skin. And my ears don’t work so good anymore.‘

But at that moment, the door suddenly slammed open with a bang and the Leutinger heard it well, because he was startled, slipped off the ham with his knife and almost carved Schröder a second navel if that one hadn’t had the presence of mind to move to the side.

‚Man, watch out with your scythe, I’m not a Turk’s gut.‘ The Schröder took it lightly and adjusted his leather jerkin. But the Leutinger’s forehead was covered in cold sweat and he had turned very pale. He stared at the open door, which must have been pushed open by the wind, because neither man nor beast nor anything else could be seen or heard. Only the lashing rain, which now fell diagonally into the room and wetted the stone floor, and the howling wind. The ceiling lamp began to sway in time and cast shadows.

‚Has this ever happened before?‘ The Leutinger looked at the landlord insistently.

‚No. Hardly at all. You must not have closed it properly. And then the wind.‘ His guest’s irritability seemed a little strange to the innkeeper. Maybe that’s what war does to people. The constant fear of getting a bullet, a grenade or a knife between heart and the life. The old Leutinger, who had set off for Venice three years ago, in January 1685, would not have flinched like a high-bred woman because of a slamming door. And now the Leutinger was flaring his nostrils, scenting like a dog or horse, so that the landlord was starting to feel the creeps on this wet, dark, stormy November day. Why didn’t he close the door? Why did the staring Leutinger seem to have them all in a state of shock? Then Schröder, who had but little imagination, finally jumped up to close the door, paused.

‚Hasn’t the rain a greenish colour?‘

‚You must have goblin in your eye, Schröder.‘

Schröder slipped on the wet stone tiles and hit the floor with his arse, back and the back of his head.

‚Blimey, that’s nasty.‘

The two others rushed to him.

‚Oily?‘ The landlord, who had a strong stomach, wiped his finger over the stone tiles, which were indeed shimmering, and licked. ‚That’s not an oil I know.‘

The Leutinger fiddled with his satchel, which was still lying next to the door, and rummaged through it for something. ‚She’s not here,‘ he muttered quietly, ’she’s not here.‘

By now, Schröder had sat up and was rubbing the back of his head.

‚The oil is in the rain.‘

‚What rubbish!‘ The Leutinger almost shouted, or rather barked, like the officer he had been. ‚Here!‘ He held up a small glass bottle in a comically triumphant manner, in which a remnant of a greenish-golden, viscous liquid could still be seen. ‚The glass must have broken when I dropped the satchel. Then it seeped out. It’s my Oil of Dimitrios.‘

‚What kind of oil is that? For frying, for coach axles, or for extreme unction?‘ The innkeeper considered himself an expert in lubricants and roasting agents and was slightly offended that he had never heard of this Oil of Dimitrios.

‚It’s an oil I got from a Greek church. It’s supposed to help against all sorts of things. But I only have it with me for fun. I’m not missing anything. Never mind that it’s all gone. Maybe it will cure your flagstones.‘

The Leutinger seemed relieved and happy again. However, both innkeeper and Schröder were not quite satisfied with this matter-of-fact explanation. Possibly because such a promising diversion in their boring universe had ended so quickly and without spectacle.

‚But what is the oil made from? From dimitrioses?‘ the landlord wanted to know.

‚The oil was in the rain. That bit of oil from the bottle is never enough. Look how much is on the floor, and most oil from the bottle has seeped into the satchel,‘ insisted Schröder. ‚It came in the rain.‘

‚Enough!‘ said Leutinger calmly but firmly. ‚It was in the bottle. You want to hear about my travels. I want beer. Let’s get back to the table and stop talking nonsense.‘

The landlord quickly fetched a rag and mopped the floor, which was still shimmering, and then joined the two of them at the table. ‚Now tell me, Leutinger. What was it like with the Turks?‘

‚What was it like? How can I tell you plate-lickers and bear-skinners?‘ Leutinger blinked into the round, shiny faces of the innkeeper and Schröder, who looked at him expectantly with wide eyes, like children before a present or a fairy tale. He laughed involuntarily, took a pull from his mug and began.

‚All right, then. As you know, we started in Hanover in January ’85. In April we crossed the Alps, through Tyrol, and stood on St Mark’s Square in Venice – that’s a city with more rivers and moats than Brunswick and Lüneburg have streets. We must have been three thousand troups, Papal, Florentine, Maltese, Dalmatian and Hanoverian. A murmur like Babel. At the command of Captain General Franziskus Morosini and Marshal Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck, we marched to muster. Then by ship down the Adriatic to the Morea, which is a peninsula that the Greeks call island of Pelops. Pelops, whom the ancient gods ate, chopped up and boiled in broth, as someone who always read too much told me. I tell you, gods still eat people there, but that bookworm was soon dismembered by a piece of ancient pillar that the Turks threw from the walls of Koroni, which must have pleased him, such an antiquarian death, better than a bucketful of burning oil. Koroni was the first town we besieged. Fascines woven, batteries and entrenchments thrown up, mines driven forward. Me and the men fired mortars and grenades into the town and gunners worked the ramparts. Then we stormed. Oh, nobody wants to go in there. From close by, the Turks shot at us with chain balls, iron and lead pieces; women and children threw stones, as I said, and poured boiling water and oil down so that it was a horror to behold. But we got into the town and they got theirs, for in the meantime everything we came across in Koroni was destroyed, not even the women and children were spared, what remained was captured and sold for a bit of money. I tell you, Innkeeper and Schröder, the next towns preferred to surrender at once.‘

The Leutinger ran his tongue over his lips as if his throat had gone dry from the story. The innkeeper hurriedly poured him a drink.

‚Was there a harem?‘ the Schröder interjected excitedly. The landlord slapped him on the back of the head with the flat of his hand.

‚Let the Leutinger continue his report!‘

The Leutinger’s eyes were now shining in glorious remembrance, just as those of the eager listeners.

‚The harem girls were taken by Morosini, the Venetian dog. But we found silver hand basins, along with all kinds of precious silverware in the form of cups, bowls, plates and the like, the most beautiful skirts and furs. There was an abundance of grain, flour, bread, coffee and all kinds of preserves. Tobacco was found in large quantities. We opened the war chest and shared the Zechini with hats. All in all, everything you could think of was found in abundance.‘

The landlord frowned at the Leutinger’s rather poor clothes, his worn satchel, and asked: ‚And where are all the cups, bowls, skirts, furs, tobacco and Zechini?‘

‚Pah. Anyone could have made a good haul if the troops and the generals hadn’t taken most of it. And besides… but that’s… the other story.‘

The innkeeper huffed, a little disappointed. He preferred to hear about furs, skirts and Zechini. The Schröder looked equally unsatisfied. He preferred to hear about harems. The Leutinger saw nothing, heard nothing, he was still travelling.

‚So after the Morea was free of the Turks, we, the Calenbergers, what was left, a thousand men, embarked again with Generalkapitän Morosini and our Maximilian Wilhelm and sailed for Athens. What names. Athens, Attica, Alcibiades… even I had heard of Socrates, Xerxes, Marathon, Laconians and Themistocles. We also sailed past Salamis.‘

‚I like salamis,‘ said who? Schröder, of course. The Leutinger ignored him.

‚We sailed past Salamis, the many-masted ships, and anchored in Piraeus on the twenty-first of September without anyone stopping us. We were altogether, oh, about ten thousand. I tell you, Bakkhuus, there were not any more Turks and Greeks, the polis with the big name was a very small nest actually, dirty huts, mules, a deadbeat place, some olive groves here and there.‘

The Leutinger sniffed his fingers. Powder? Oil? The salty sea? Damn, now even the landlord had to sniff his fingers. Beer and ham, as always. Or was there something else? Something spicy? Something fruity? He wiped his hand on his apron.

‚And then?‘

‚Then we encamped. The Turks, the soldiers, but also their wives and children – three hundred perhaps? – had taken refuge in the fortress that… on the big rock, you know, visible from afar, a high minareh, ghastly somehow, it looked like a high chimney on a furnace, like a cross, a tree, a flag, you have to go here, we have on the other hills, Pnyx, Philopappu, Aeropagus, the hill of the god of war, Königsmarck put the batteries there, but I thought, if you want to go in with a grenade, you know that there are apples there, like grenades, with hundreds of red shrapnel in them, two or three days later a deserter came down from the rock from the Turks, who said they have their powder in there, all the powder, their magazine. There was also to be an oil tree up there, of hers, I didn’t find it later.‘

The Leutinger sighed. After his confused speech. The other two looked at him in amazement. Schröder tapped the tip of his outstretched right index finger at his temple. The landlord shook his head unwillingly, disapprovingly, but at Schröder. He patted the Leutinger’s shoulder gently.

‚You must be tired.‘

‚Oh, what, sorry. It just seemed to me that I was there again. Shall I tell you how I got back?‘

‚Oh yes…‘ said Schröder.

‚Oh yes…‘ said the landlord.

But the Leutinger was no longer in a chatty mood. He sat quietly, blown out and sunken, emptying one cup, then the next.

‚Do you want to stay here tonight, Leutinger?‘ the innkeeper finally asked. ‚Or are you going on to yours?‘

‚Or are you going on to Söffken?‘ said the Schröder with a wry grin. ‚She’s been waiting for more than three years now, poor girl.‘

‚Shut up, Schröder,‘ barked the Leutinger, waking from his stupor. To the landlord: ‚How is Sophie?‘

The landlord shrugged his shoulders. ‚Fine, she does not come here much. She’s probably waiting for you.‘

‚Take me upstairs. I want to sleep.‘

‚Should I have Agnes wash out her satchel?‘


With heavy legs, the Leutinger got up, walked slowly to the stairs and up, satchel in hand. The landlord followed him, carrying knife, stick and hat, lamp. Schröder looked after them briefly, rubbed the bump on the back of his head, poured the rest from the jug into his mug and drank blissfully.

The Leutinger had slept through the whole afternoon, then he went down into the courtyard to the privy, had the landlord give him some water and went back to bed. The short day was long gone, it had become dark, the rain had subsided, but the wind was still blowing as fiercely as before. A wind like that usually doesn’t blow well, the Leutinger thought to himself. He hated strong winds, unless they filled the sails where he wanted to go. But the wind blows just as well for what is chasing you. It only blows against those you turn around to face. The Leutinger slapped his forehead briefly and hard to dispel such stupid attitudes. You’re not used to Betzendorf beer anymore, he thought. And then that idiot Schröder with his oily rain. The Leutinger looked at the almost empty, cracked bottle on the little table next to him. He had rubbed the oil on his wounds many a time and also dripped it onto the cloth that he held to his mouth when the plague raged in Nafplio…? How can a disease have rage? What’s the point? He thought the oil had helped. But if you believe in that? Why not everything else? Let the women and the priests sort it out. Not artillery lieutenants from Lüneburg. Tomorrow the wind would have blown out, the world would be as good as new, he would go to Söffken, who was waiting, fine, he was also a fine fellow, to give the bride money, he had a little something in his satchel of those Zechini – hands off, greedy landlord! – and then… and then… he wanted to dream about it now. He laid his head on the pillow and fell asleep.

Midnight struck from the tower in Betzendorf. The Leutinger opened his eyes. Where am I? The crescent of a Turkish moon had risen and gave off only a little light, miserly. The window wasn’t big either, not much shone in through the thick, rough glass. And the fire had probably gone out, not even a glimmer. Despite this, he vaguely recognised a big wooden chest, a stool, probably his nest of clothes on it, the black rectangle of the door at the back, and remembered where he was. Only a crescent of a Turkish moon… the other night in September it had been different, there was a full moon, full of light and the reflection of its rays from the white marble glistened. Quiet, pure, virginal light, not like the noisy fireworks of lusty grenades. A sharp pain shot through his skull. Oh tarnation, could that be the beer! Couldn’t he take his drink any more? Why was his heart racing? Why was he lying wet, as if in a puddle, in a bath of his own sweat? Where did the fear come from? You’re an even worse blockhead than that Schröder. Suddenly a hand stroked his face, a very hairy hand or one with woollen gloves, and the Leutinger screamed, high and shrill, like the ones they stabbed. Flee, just flee and where is the knife? Then the hand went through his face again, the Leutinger wanted to jump out of bed, got his legs caught in the blankets and crashed to the floor onto his stomach. In the same instant two hands clawed into his back, oh, they must have long sharp nails. The Leutinger screamed again, the claws let go, then the window started rattling. Someone was in front of it, wanted to get in, robbers out to steal Zechini.

‚Help me! They want to murder me!‘ the Leutinger shouted and rolled halfway under the bed. Damn it, you’re a Leutinger and a soldier, you’ve killed a few people, now you’re cowering in the dust under the bed, wrapped in blankets? If only the pain would cease in his skull, like a hammer, but from the inside. And still something rattled at the window and rattled and rattled. Then why don’t you finish me off, the Leutinger thought to himself, I probably deserve it. And he laid his throbbing skull onto the wooden floorboards, ready to die. The dusty breath of death was already blowing into his face, the screams of the Erinyes were deafening.

END of Part One – Part Two can be found here…

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