Then they continue zooming south, towards the wall of the Alps on the horizon at 240 kilometers per hour, in sweeping curves through the green Allgäu, which looks as though a tourism manager had placed a tiny church on each hill. The group visits Neuschwanstein, the Munich Hofbräuhaus, and then drives into the Black Forest. Amidst pensioners who carry their Knirps umbrellas like truncheons, the five push to Lake Titi. Guofeng Wang buys a cuckoo clock and a wristwatch for 400 Euro, Pingsheng Ding a cuckoo clock for 200 Euro. Their days begin at eight in the morning with breakfast in the hotel and end at ten at night, at the latest, in their rooms. In six days they eat Chinese five times, slurp and smack a little and are constantly checking the images on their digital cameras. Nobody strays from the group.
[ . . . ]
In Metzingen in the northern Black Forest, in the middle of the German provinces, the world is now noisy. One more night in Germany, one more chance to buy a prestigious piece of the Western world. The true center of Metzingen consists of a parking garage and a concrete block on whose façade is written HUGO BOSS, an outlet store. Next door, Levi’s, Nike, and Esprit offer factory seconds. Russian, Japanese, Chinese comes out of the dressing rooms. Women with Swabian accents push metal clothes racks full of suits across the concrete floor. Men are carrying shopping bags, as big as those at Ikea. Women with labels on their sleeves are turning around in front of mirrors. The five are now speaking quickly, their Chinese turns hard, almost whip-like. Tour guide Ding has given them ninety minutes. They rub cloth between thumb and index finger. They leaf through dress shirts in crinkly packaging. China is becoming a brand country, new social strata are seeking new symbols. Guofeng Wang, the man who used to wear Mao blue, puts his party glasses on again and studies the labels. Qing Li says Boss is an attractive term in China right now: “Boss like boss, you understand?”
[ . . . ]
In the end, Li pulls a credit card from his Versace wallet and pays 244 Euro for five Polo shorts and two pairs of Nike sneakers. This put him almost exactly at the average that is so lucrative for the destination country Germany: Chinese tourists spend 240 Euro per day here, European tourists only 100. And he confirms a saying that in the future China will be the world’s production site, America the granary, and Europe, if all goes well, the boutique.
The last day. Once more the sky arches high and blue above Doi Tse Lan. On the right side of the A5 the Black Forest is basking in sunshine, and two dark Mercedes sedans are rolling “again toward Frankfurt at great speed,” which is also what the brochure had said. The speedometer shows 150 . . . 160 . . . 170 . . . the news comes on the radio. The announcer reports on the debate over whether Germans should work forty hours a week in the future. Guofeng Wang, who sits in the back seat, tired after 1,400 kilometers, would also like to achieve that: work only forty hours per week. Outside the wind rustles the fields of grain. Wang says that he wants to come back to Doi Tse Lan soon. With his wife. He wants her to get to know the blue sky, the white clouds, the fresh air, the silence.
Source: Henning Sußebach, “Im Reich der Stille” [“In the Kingdom of Silence”], Die Zeit, no. 31, June 22, 2004.
Translation: Thomas Dunlap