Hans Schnier, a professional clown, returns to Bonn, his hometown, after he injures his knee performing his act while drunk. When Schnier arrives in Bonn, he has little money (his last employer refused to pay his full fee), no savings, and little hope of future work. Only weeks before this injury, Schnier was a highly paid, well-regarded performer earning enough to live in luxury hotels with Marie Derkum, his lover and companion. When Marie leaves him to marry Heribert Züpfner, a Catholic official and a member of a religious group to which Marie belongs, Schnier ceases to care about the quality of his work as a clown. He stops practicing and starts to drink more, which causes his performances to decline rapidly.
From his Bonn apartment, Schnier calls friends and family members, hoping for monetary and emotional support. However, each of his actions, even his conversations, triggers painful memories. At first these flashbacks are brief recollections of Marie and her group of progressive Catholics, but the reveries increase in length. In one of his early flashbacks, Schnier remembers his sister affectionately; she often acted unconventionally, saying and doing what she felt. With her parents’ encouragement, especially that of her mother, this sister was sent on antiaircraft duty in February, 1945, on a mission that killed her. Schnier blames his mother’s nationalistic fervor for his sister’s death, and when he calls his mother, her official tone and her greeting phrase—“Executive Committee of the Societies for the Reconciliation of Racial Differences”—angers Schnier and reminds him of his mother’s zeal when sending her daughter off to save German soil from “Jewish Yankees.” Although Schnier is calling his mother to ask for her support, he cruelly answers her greeting by saying, “I am a delegate of the Executive Committee of Jewish Yankees, just passing through—may I please speak to your daughter?” Mrs. Schnier is momentarily hurt, but she recovers quickly and rebuffs her son with her severe, dogmatic manner.
After the conversation with his mother, Schnier thinks of Marie, and that triggers the memory of an event that occurred six years earlier and resulted in the consummation of their relationship. Hans was twenty-one and Marie nineteen when he went boldly to her room and slept with her. After this, Marie dropped out of school, and Schnier left his family to begin his career as a clown, but his career developed slowly and the two barely earned enough money to survive. They both wanted children, but Marie had a number of...
(The entire section is 1052 words.)