How much is the fish?
Three Radio Stations

How much is the fish? – Three Radio Stations
© Jay Heike / Unsplash

Enis Maci tells the story of three radio stations at three different points in time at three different locations. Radio memories from the Vatican, the Ruhr region and the Dollart.

By Enis Maci

In 1874 Guglielmo Marconi is born. He purses his lips in search of milk. Bologna is shrouded in fog.

A few streets further on, two anarchists are cleaning their weapons. They’re planning to start an uprising in the summer. In the end one of them is jailed, and the other flees over the Alps, disguised as a priest.

In 1909 Marconi receives the Nobel Prize for Physics for his achievements in the field of wireless telegraphy.

In 1923 he becomes a member of the Partito Nazionale Fascista. Eight years later he founds Radio Vaticana. The Jesuits are responsible for running the station.

In 1988 a student presses his ear to the box. He concentrates. Although the voice speaks his language, he doesn’t have a clue. “Who,” he wonders, “was the Holy Spirit again?” He can’t look it up anywhere.

I imagine a slender monk. The pop filter’s directly in front of him. He cups his hands around the headphones, in the style of the Do they know it’s Christmas? video. The sleeves of his cloak puff up to create wings. He’s surrounded by a bundle of rods, like rays. He’s glowing.

These rays overcome oceans and signal jammers. They exert their effect even where they aren’t supposed to. The monk’s voice crackles behind closed windows and even behind closed curtains, as if the uninitiated would be able to see it if they only looked hard enough.

In 1993 I am born. And learn a phrase: “Walls have ears.”

I spend my work experience placement in a law practice. August Vordemberge works here. He once defended Hans-Jürgen Rösner, one of the hostage-takers of Gladbeck. The practice is in a high-rise block next to KiK.

On the first day, Vordemberge summons me. The edge of the desk cuts into his belly, over which a green double-breasted suit is stretched. I imagine he bought it from that gentlemen’s outfitter at the main railway station, a long time ago, before the renovation and the World Cup, surely before my birth. I learned the expression “gentlemen’s outfitter” from the shop window of this store.

Vordemberge shows me his dictation machine, from which the secretaries collect cassettes on an hourly basis to transcribe the content. He explains the constitutional state system to me, and the fact that even bad people have the right to a legal defence. Then I’m allowed to go.

I feel very grown-up at this point. For two weeks I eat lunch in Café Extrablatt. The small salad with pizza buns costs 2.95 euros. At the end of the second week I have to pay in coppers.

Everyone smokes in the law practice, apart from in the reception area, because the receptionist is pregnant. But my seat’s in the filing room with Lars, the miserable office administrator, who envies his colleagues their higher salaries and daylight. I staple and stick. For some reason Lars has given me power over the radio, and so we listen to BFBS, the British armed forces radio station. In the afternoon they read letters from soldiers stationed overseas to listeners at home.

On the fourth day Britta, the head secretary, asks me why we’re listening to military radio. It’s for my homework. She asks me what the teacher is called. I say the name, and she tells me a story.

In another life, as a trainee teacher, my teacher had an affair with a classmate of Britta’s. They used to be seen in town or at the bus stop, and they behaved strangely in school. As soon as the girl turned 18, the entire year group had to tolerate the man at pre-exam parties and allotment barbecues. “Okay,” says Britta, “they’re still married today.” She passes me the stack of newspaper articles about the hostage-taking that I’d requested. “But somehow I don’t actually think it is okay.”

Years later I see Rösler on day release, in the Bild newspaper. I imagine a telephoto lens sticking out of the bushes. The criminal sits on a park bench eating a Twix. “Twix,” the caption tells me, “was still called Raider when Rösler was enjoying his freedom.”

As I slowly roll the car onto the ferry, the sky sticks to the back of my neck like the moist hand of a store detective.

It’s Holy Saturday. It was only yesterday that I was watching orange-tanned girls with glittering collarbones hoisting their tops up to their armpits, pouring Margaritas down their throats, staggering around. The first real days of freedom since New Year.

It’s as if the ferry is swaying but not the car. It has a long aerial. Like the remaining feeler of an injured animal, I think.

In Dunkirk we land on the continent again. It’s the time of the terrorist attacks, the village priests beheaded with machetes and so on, so I refuse to stop before Holland. We turn on the radio, and HP Baxxter speaks to us. He’s performing that evening in the Sportpaleis in Antwerp, at the big Back to the 90s and Nillies concert. He patiently answers the presenter’s questions, which essentially relate to his habits, breakfast preferences, rituals.

I imagine HP with his feet in the Dollart, right where the Ems flows into the Wadden Sea. A border runs through the middle of the bay here. Once the sea surged over the swamp here. Under the water there are villages, monasteries and churches. At the very bottom there’s peat.

I imagine the Dollart burning.

I imagine HP eating a herring snack, in his hotel on the old wharf. A view of lazy ships from his window. Loaded with weapons, they once arrived in the Congo, and returned full of other things.

I only come to my senses again when I feel the central reservation vibrating under me. Ahead of me lies an expanse of green and windows without curtains. The sky is smothering me – all shoplifting will result in a criminal charge – and the presenter asks HP whether he has a song that’s particularly relevant to Belgium, and HP doesn’t understand the question, and the presenter says: “What about ‘How much is the fish?’” And HP says: “It’s always good to have a hit like ‘How much is the fish’.”