Walter Matern (VAHL-tehr MAH-tehrn), the stocky son of a miller. Walter, known as the “grinder” for constantly grinding his teeth, is the protector, friend, and blood brother to Eddi Amsel. Their lives, along with the changes in Germany, are traced from their boyhood in the mid-1920’s through the early post-World War II period. Walter is expelled from the Young Prussia Athletic Club for distributing Communist leaflets, and his career as an aspiring actor is cut short by his excessive drinking. He joins the brown-shirted Nazi Sturm Abteilung (SA) on the urging of Amsel, who wants a source of uniforms for scarecrows. Walter, however, eventually reports Amsel for making animated SA dummies. In times of exasperation or anger, Walter reviles his friend as “sheeny.” He and his fellow thugs beat Amsel, and Walter personally knocks out all of Amsel’s teeth. Walter is later kicked out of the SA and joins the army to escape punishment for his political opinions. He commands an antiaircraft unit in which Harry Liebenau serves, but eventually he is condemned to a penal battalion for anti-Nazi statements. Released from an English prison camp as an anti-Fascist, he eventually becomes a radio star because of the dynamism of his voice. Subjected to a brutal and accusatory review of his life on a live radio program directed by Harry, Walter in disgust decides to leave the capitalistic West. In Berlin, however, he meets Amsel, whom he does not at first recognize, and is taken on a tour of his fantastic scarecrow production center.
Eddi Amsel, a short and corpulent boy with reddish-blond hair and an ample supply of freckles. Amsel, from a village near Danzig, has a marvelous voice, is a talented artist, and has an especially creative talent for making scarecrows. The son of a wealthy Jewish merchant and a German peasant, he inherits their money, much of which he invests in Switzerland. After the beating by the SA, Amsel is transformed as he lies in the snow: As it melts, his corpulence shrinks away. Thin and toothless, he leaves for Berlin, where he purchases gold replacements for his lost teeth. After the arrest of Jenny Brunies’ stepfather, Amsel, now known as Hermann Haseloff, returns to Danzig and takes his beloved Jenny back to Berlin, where she becomes the star of his ballet company. After the war, going by the name Goldmouth, he becomes a rich speculator and businessman. As Brauxel or Brauchsel, he purchases a mine, which is transformed into a production center for elaborate scarecrows, which embody the mechanical and spiritless character of West German...
(The entire section is 1100 words.)