Where Were You, Robert?

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

One day, when Robert sits alone at home, looking listlessly at the TV set, he is suddenly drawn into the picture on the screen and finds himself in another time and place. It is winter, and a national uprising is being brutally crushed. Robert runs into a chemist's shop where he meets Olga who explains where he has landed: in 1956 in the Soviet city of Novosibirsk. Robert tries to get to terms with this foreign world but is soon betrayed by a police informer. The next day, the KGB break into Olga's flat and take Robert to Moscow. The contents of his pockets – objects from an incredible future – make him suspicious as a spy in the age of Cold War. Unable to explain, Robert escapes to a cinema where the process repeats itself: he jumps into the celluloid scene before his eyes, to another time and place.

In this manner, Robert jumps back in history seven times. He meets his great-grandmother in the era when the Nazis started to spread their evil. In the Baroque era he falls in love with a princess. He becomes a member of a band of robbers in the Thirty Years' War. In the end, he has gone back almost four centuries and begins an apprenticeship with a renaissance painter in Amsterdam. This is when he realises how he can go back to the beginning of his travels in time. He must only draw the kitchen where he was sitting, before he left it, four hundred years in the future, down to the last detail. And the plan works. Nothing has changed in the kitchen – but Robert has changed very much.

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Where Were You, Robert?

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