Mühsam meets Meyrink

Gustav Meyrink

Not so very long ago I was in a Berlin fleamarket (friends of mine will recognise this as the beginning of almost all my anecdotes), leafing through second-hand books, when I came across Das grüne Gesicht (The Green Face) by Bohemian bohemian and author of macabre fiction Gustav Meyrink (who died on this day in 1932). Underneath it was Namen und Menschen:Unpolitische Erinnerungen (Names and People: Unpolitical Memoirs) by the ordinarily highly political Erich Mühsam. Two books heavier and two euros lighter I repaired to a park, slung open the Mühsam, and the first page it opened to has the author describing his first encounter (in a café about three blocks from where I was sitting) with…Gustav Meyrink. Actually given Meyrink’s apparent precognitive powers, he probably knew that was going to happen.

The midnight meeting took place in Berlin around the beginning of the 20th century at a corner where, over two decades later, “Dada Baroness” Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven could be found selling newspapers. It was the site of the Café des Westens, favoured venue for the city’s bohemian artists and writers and a familiar rendezvous for Mühsam, indeed a painting hanging on the wall of the café recorded his encounter there with Hanns Heinz Ewers and other young writers. This milieu was, as Mühsam explains, very taken with the Prague-born writer’s stories at the time, and his recollection reads like a parody of Meyrink’s own eerie tales:

It must have been around midnight when a waiter in the Café des Westens brought a visiting card over; the gentleman was standing outside and wished to speak with me. I read the name Gustav Meyrink. This must have been in late 1904. Meyrink’s stories in “Simplicissimus”, mysterious, grotesque, spectral, sardonic, witty and sparkling, were at that time exerting a powerful influence on the imaginations of young intellectuals. They would tear into new issues of the Munich magazine and if it contained a new Meyrink, it would provide the stuff of several evenings’ conversation. “Meyrink!” I cried, turning the visiting card around in my hand, and I rushed out the door as my friends looked on, envious and curious. Their curiosity was not to be satisfied as the writer was reluctant to follow me into the café. Our first meeting and first conversation took place on the corner of Kurfürstendamm and Joachimsthaler Straße in the shivering night wind…

Meyrink death mask

Meyrink’s death mask

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One comment

  1. Interesting meeting, isn’t it? 🙂

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