Glossen 23

“Schott und Flieder”
Aus: Hans Joachim Schädlich, Schott, Reinbeck: Rowohlt Verlag, 1992


Schott, p. 160 - 163

At the buffet, Schott is being pushed against a man holding a glass of champagne in his hand. Excuse me, the man says. Schott says, do we know each other?
Not that I know, the man says.
My name is Schott
Flieder, the man says.
What made you attend this conference, Schott says
Oh, Flieder says, I am a big city ornithologist.
I have an immediate interest in the conference, Schott says. As a big city dweller, a lover of the feathered friends, and a scholar.
What are you working on?
Well, Flieder says. Most recently, I published on the seating order of birds on power lines.
Extremely interesting from a comparative perspective, Schott says.
You can read it, Flieder says. In the Archive of General Ornithology.
At the moment, I am interested in something different. A universal topic.
That would be?, Schott says.
The issue of the “minimal environment.”
For birds?, says Schott.
Well, well, says Flieder. For certain kinds of birds.
Tell me, Schott says.
Consider, says Flieder,. The original living conditions out in the open spaces. Of course, you can’t find those in a big city.
There are green spaces, canals, Schott says.
Certainly, Flieder says. Even fields of ruins. They are somewhat like open spaces.
But. Train stations, Elevated urban train tracks. Urban power lines.
Yes?, Schott says.
That is an environment reduced to the minimum.
Yes, yes, Schott says.
This may seem to you like the whimsical musings of a pedant, Flieder says.
No, not at all, Schott says.
If I tell you, that for the last fifteen years, my ornithological diary has listed all of the varieties of birds that I have found in the city train stations.
Extraordinary, Schott says.
From the last five years, I have access to more than six hundred ninety-two entries of sightings made during three hundred and seventeen days of observation.
At how many train stations?, Schott says.
At forty-eight, Flieder says.
How many varieties of birds did you record?
Twenty-nine, Flieder says. Of course, this is not much more than one can observe during a one-day excursion out in the open.
But?, Schott says.
These are just city-train-station excursions, train-track excursions, open-power-line excursions. You can’t find song thrushes, red breasts, flycatchers, or wrens at any city train station.
But?, Schott says.
Laughing seagulls, Flieder says. House sparrows. Starlings. Black birds. Greenfinches. Mallard ducks. Rooks. Hooded crows. Common Swifts. Jackdaws. Magpies. Swallows. Crested larks. Chaffinches. Tree sparrows. Kestrels. Blue tits. Great tits, redstarts. Cuckoos.
Cuckoos?, Schott says.
Sighted and recorded on three days, Flieder says. And black redstarts. Sighted and recorded on two days.
That is, Schott says, twenty-one species. You mentioned twenty-nine.
I observed wagtails, goldfinches, bullfinches, serins, lesser whitethroats, culvers, each on only one day, at or flying over a city train station., Flieder says.
Pigeons. A plague, Schott says.
Wild pigeons, yes, Flieder says.
And the rest of the birds?, Schott says.
Cranes and peewits flew one time each over two city train stations.
Well, Schott says.
Most common are blackbirds, Flieder says. Followed by starlings, common sparrows, hooded crows, rooks, greenfinches, and the laughing seagull.
The house pigeon?, Schott says.
Is omitted, Flieder says. It is not clear whether it is still a true house pigeon, as I said.
I am still with you, Schott says. Where do the little ones nest and breed?, Schott says.
An interesting question, Flieder says. My notes on the house sparrow increase in frequency in April and May. I suspect that city train stations are particularly attractive as breeding grounds for the house sparrow.
Really?, says Schott.
Yes, Flieder says. The increase in my notations at a particular place makes it highly probable that they are bound to that place because of brood care (care for their young) foraging (food-gathering), and rest (nesting).
Plausible, from a comparative perspective, Schott says. How is it though that birds end up in the center of big cities. It would probably be too simple to say that they simply fly over the unsuitable parts of the city.
Absolutely right, Flieder says. Waterfowl follow rivers and canals. Other birds, however, and this, you must admit, is what is really fascinating, follow the city train tracks.
Mr. Flieder, Schott says, have you considered applying your knowledge to other species?
No, Flieder says. I am an ornithologist.
Or to generalize?, Schott says.
Well, the key word would be the adaptability of the species.
Indeed, Schott says loudly.
By adapting to a synanthropic environment, Flieder says. Birds on the Galapogos Islands that have never had the opportunity to appreciate the taste of turtle meat seek out human dwellings where there are pieces of turtle hanging and pick small bits of meat out of them.
Schott says, would you contradict me, Mr. Flieder, if I concluded that we are not yet doomed,?
No, Mr. Schott, says Flieder. He lifts his champagne glass and drinks.
You couldn’t know it, but you have taken me a step further, Schott says


Schott 324 - 326

In the kitchen, Schott is being pushed against a man who holds a glass of water in his hand.

Schott says, we know each other.

Of course, the man says. My name is Flieder.

What brings you to my kitchen?, Schott says.

Well, Flieder says, I am gazing at your curtains.

Why, says Schott.

Well, Flieder says. Circumstances. Lately, I haven’t been trusted.

Really, Schott says.

My interest for power lines. My interest in bird research was seen as a pretext.

And?, Schott says.

I had to relocate inside. Most recently I published about the seating order of canaries on curtain rods.

Really, Schott says.

You can read it, Flieder says. In the Archive for Military history. At the moment, I am changing my topic.

To?, Schott says.

Minimal conditions for life.

For canaries?

Well, in a way, Flieder says.

Tell me more, Schott says.

Contemplate, Flieder says. The original living conditions on power lines. Of course, those can’t be found on curtain rods. The canary that originally had greenish yellow feathers on its back, golden yellow ones below, and brownish sides has already suffered many changes in appearance from mixing with linnets, et cetera. While once it frolicked in blissful climates, nowadays, it assumes it can survive only in closed rooms. While once it swarmed unimpeded, today it mostly lives in cages. Instead of soaring over high mountains, today it is content to reach the height of a living room ceiling. It does not look for nourishment in fertile landscapes, where fruit and fine wines ripen, but rather in its feeding dish where it finds ready-made food. It is not threatened by any danger, except for house cats or errant champagne corks. It blithely chirps for everybody who persuades it to do so. It has an awful readiness to learn and can be trained to do many things.

Mr. Flieder, Schott says, have you considered applying your knowledge to other living things?

No, Flieder says, I am an Ornithologist.

Or to generalize?, Schott says.

Well, Flieder says. The key word is degeneration of the species. We are dealing with cheerful slaves who prefer life in a cage to an uncertain excursion into the open because food is certain and regular. If they stray through a window into the open, they soon try to return to their wretched comfort. For an additional nugget, they strain their throats to please their owners. In the end they themselves find delight in their song; it saves them from melancholy.

Schott says, would you contradict me if I concluded that these animals are doomed?

No. Flieder lifts his glass of water and drinks. Basically, I prefer aphids (plant lice).

You couldn’t know it, Schott says; however, you have opened my eyes.

Translated by Wolfgang Müller and Jane Müller-Peterson