Friday, 6 November 2015
The U-Boat Captain's Dream
Always the same dream, he says. I wade through a shallow sea slick with oil towards a submarine -- a U-boat -- which is beached or in dry dock. Behind it, an enormous weight of sand is heaped, rippled like desert dunes or a Baltic beach at low tide. I know I have a choice to make. I also know I am afraid to make that choice, or even to name it. As I approach, I see there is a word painted in faded letters above the submarine. When I am finally close enough, I can read the single word "Blechkoller". Then I wake up. Always. Do you know this word, doctor?
No, my German is not very good, I'm afraid.
It means something like, oh, "tin-can tantrum" or "metal madness". It was the word we used when one of the crew lost his self-control -- a violent fit of anger, of hysterical rage -- and needed restraint. Blechkoller... Usually, this was when we had dived deep for refuge -- refuge! -- after an attack run, and were ourselves under attack from depth-charges. Any noise could betray us! The tension was extreme. Very, very extreme... You could feel the ocean squeezing the boat in its fist. You could hear it. Rivets would pop like bullets. Such a panic could happen to anyone. I'm proud to say it was rare in my crews.
And yourself? Did you ever feel such moments of terror?
Oh, "feel", yes... But command brings responsibilities, doctor. Der Herr Kaleun must be a man of steel. Steel. The men expect no less. Now, may we go back to talking about my mother?