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Something about him troubled Olga Nieuwkamp. Not at first, when he’d come to them from the Prince’s residence at Wieringen. He was charming, knowledgeable, and well connected. He had done some favour for Elsa, Olga’s secretary, at the American embassy. Elsa von Nagelein undertook charity work with Austrian and German P.O.Ws, one of many jobs she did brilliantly. Given how they felt, it seemed fitting to bring him to their home at The Hague. Olga opened up about her father and first husband, both consuls in Singapore; and her second husband, Thomas, the Dutch Consul in Cologne. When Trebitsch asked for a loan of two thousand florins, he had sounded embarrassed, and that endeared him to her.
“Four days only,” he’d said, but the weeks went by. He returned to Berlin, and took Elsa with him. It was she who responded, once, to the letters demanding repayment. Her darling, T.L., was getting it organised. He just needed another month. After the Kapp Putsch, Lincoln was reported walking up and down Wilhelmstrasse in defiance of the authorities. That was when Olga lost patience. She talked the matter over with Thomas, and they set his lawyer on Lincoln’s trail. Summons went to Vienna, were the Czechs already had him in the courts. Then he escaped: to America, to China. Thomas continued working at the embassy and related any sightings, but a decade of legal action was going nowhere. He had disappeared entirely when the Great Depression hit. Olga and Thomas dropped the case, sold the house in The Hague, and moved to Cologne permanently.
Berlin Philharmonic Hall.
Tuesday 25 October, 1932.
A line slowly moved on Bernburger, the street home to Germany’s largest newspapers. They paid their admission fee and waited in the lobby, glimpsed Martin Steinke, moving through the crowd. An unmistakeably serious intellectual, he’d tight cheekbones and dark cropped hair. Then into the darkness of Schwechten’s converted ice rink, a thousand seater grand auditorium. Rows Door A, stalls and balconies Door B. The lights simmered low and then the hush. Steinke took the stage and introduced himself, leader of ‘Gemeinde unm Buddha’. For ten years he’s published ‘Community Around Buddha’. Devoted as they were to fellowship and study it was the group’s great honour that evening to present to Berlin a man in keeping with those practices; the Abbot Chaokung.
“Good evening. Wǎnshàng hǎo. Yi’n shui’ si yuan: when you drink the water, remember the spring.”
‘My Way to Buddha’ drew on the teachings of Madame Escoffier, Dr. Grimm and the Brahmavihara bhvana: the four virtues which were love, compassion, empathic joy and an even mind. What could be accomplished in a year’s devotion, he said.
The audience delighted in the descriptions of the Pao-hua-Shan Monastery: how every monk worked in co-operation for the temple’s up-keep. Each were rotated around different jobs: cook, cleaner, gardener, barber, each role like the taking on of a different identity, an identity fluid like the water of life. Some chores were only performed in days ending in ‘4’ or ‘9’. The monastery was cleaned daily, even areas that were spotless. That was how to assure a clean mind and a clear heart. He spoke of Shanghai, were conflict was lessened after the Ceasefire Agreement. Yet “heian shije”, a dark world, was coming. So Buddhism was on the rise. Asia could not contain it. There was a need for it in Berlin, Stockholm, Budapest, anywhere man breathes.
The curtains closed, black on house light, to applause. The newspaper presses rolled, sending Chaokung’s words across Berlin by tram. Night and day, Kung prayed with Steinke and Hertha Henschel. Cymbals chimed and Hertha’s pretty eyes fluttered. Steinke counted out Deutsch-marks, gifted to the Abbot for his train to Brussels.
He looked into the box of silver and would think back wondering if that was the moment everything went wrong.
The window delivered a fast reel of grainy snapshots. Leipzig: tall evergreens of triangular trinities. Frankfurt: mountain ranges rolling and bobbing, yellow and red steel bridges. Cologne, and rain clouds gathered over the locomotive. Then, like sudden revolution, the sun stretched out and breathed into the carriage. The man in black suit and trilby was a British secret agent. He just knew it. He stopped in Liege, where two men seemed to follow him in October’s callous weather. Damp robed he arrived in Brussels. He watched life speed up, contemplated all the people through the intersecting steel bars.
Before Steinke even arranged the lecture he’d wanted to prove he could be in Berlin: capitalising on a successful market; a cooler climate than Munich. Brussels was another return to another country, toward another coast. The prison bars sub-divided the dimensions of the universe, like the mesh of the train carriage. The sound of the train carriage was the encore and omen of applause. He remembered thinking he would go to where he was safe, appreciated, powerful.
From Brussels back to Liege, because he was in no hurry. He’d hustled another speaking lecture. From there, across the German border. Not far, for he was not quite ready to retreat.. He would go back to Cologne, back, back the way he came like some worker ant. There were passengers with newspaper faces talking of Gyula Gömbös, who had become Prime Minister of Hungary. The opening of the San Francisco Opera House. They pass viaducts and transmitter towers, enter the Rhineland. Die Transportgewerkschaften streiken. Shénme? On Thursday. Donderdag. Het is waar. Współpraca nazistowsko-komunistyczna. Ilekshanz zenen vayter vokh. Je vais changer mon vote. Du bist ein dreckiger Verräter!
The police car mesh window broke down all the buildings of the twenties: Cologne Butzweilerhof Airport, the University; disassembled them for his study. Then it was fogged over from his sweat. The door to his dirty cell rolled back like the carriages of the trapped. He was in prison in Brussels. He was in prison in Cologne. The two seemed to blur together:: with Parkhurst and Pentonville and Vienna. At night he dreamed of Cologne’s auditorium, rows and rows of metal seats filled with monks and nuns in black and white. From darkness, he illuminated. Then he remembered curtains backstage, and the sudden flash of the policeman’s torch on his eyes. They poked and prodded him and he screamed at the Belgian officer.
“Do you work for the British Secret Service?” Chaokung said. “Ou étes-vous des agents de la France? Je suis un moine bouddhiste et aucun crime n’a été commis!!”
“Vous avez été identifié comme un personnage indésirable,” said the Belgian officer.
The heat had boiled over in him as he listened to the demeaning tone. He put it at a distance, watched the events unfold before him, as the other prisoners swore, howled, laughed at the Nosferatu jail-bird.
“Vous êtes expulsé. Vous ne devez pas retourner en Belgique,” said the officer.
“Ihre Haftbefehl ist vom niederländischen Konsulat. Ihnen wurde der Diebstahl von zweitausend Gulden vorgeworfen,” said the German, and left.
Here he was again, trapped in the world’s dark time, the “heian shije”. When would it end? Might he slip through the bars, aided by the spirits of the Wise Ones? Chaokung thought deeply, silently. He practised his breathing exercises. He had to take his time. When he was released, for he would be, he would savour the successes, just like Steinke said. He’d do what he needed to do: be the victor, the advisor, the leader. This current state was just a part. He remembered the Belgian returning his personal artefacts: telegram from Collenberg, a book of prayer, his journal and the German visa. As he clung to this, something slipped through the cracks.
“Frau Nieuwkamp,” seethed Trebitsch.
Chaokung looked past the apparition. To speak with it was to engage with it.
“I have no money to give! I have only just gotten out of jail. Imprisoned because I am an enemy of the people!” said Trebitsch.
It was moustached, thirteen years younger and frail. This Trebitsch spoke in English, smelled of the sea air around Harwich A temporary autonomous state, released from Pentonville, he thought he could hear the radio orders demanding his recall.
Chaokung had accepted the truth of these words, of all things. He had no possessions worth any money. His only assets were owed fees from various concert halls. He was just a poor Buddhist monk.
“I am already declared bankrupt!” shouted Trebitsch.
Footsteps approached. “Mr. Lincoln, ich bin Ihr Anwalt”
Chaokung raised his head and smiled. “Gut. Gut. Ich möchte eine Insolvenz anmelden.”
Chaokung drank his green tea then set the cup upon the saucer. He was barely in Cologne prison a week, he said. All part of some elaborate intimidation tactic, again!! Hermann Erben laughed. He asked what didn’t Trebitsch do to annoy the German government. Chaokung said that he was no longer that person. Neither was he the man Erben met in Shanghai in 1928.
The three of them sat in the lobby of the Hong Kong Hotel. Erben was an Austrian physicist, now in his mid thirties. His friend, twelve years younger was a handsome bit-part actor from Australia. They listened with wonder as the monk spoke of Cologne, and his return to Berlin. The new government there refused to give him a new visa. The British said the same, so he returned to Nice. Errol Flynn asked about Shanghai and Chaokung talked of birdsong and bountiful fauna along the Yangtze’s mammoth cliffs. Flynn, who had come from filming ‘In the Wake of the Bounty’ in Sydney, didn’t talk of himself much. He was keener to hear about the twelve star tattoos on the Abbot’s forehead, which he learned were spokes on ‘The ‘Wheel of Becoming’. Their talk was cut short by Margot Markuse, arriving in flowing brown robes.
“Excuse me, Master,” she said. “You asked me to inform you when the time was right.”
Chaokung bowed. Flynn and Erben shook his hand and he walked with Margot along Victoria Harbour to the ferry. Henri and Marie Chauve followed behind them, then Madame Escoffier, Martin Steinke and Hertha Henschel, each robed, looking out at the South China Sea anticipating their voyage to fantastic Shanghai.