Book Extracts
  • In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser
  • Friedrich Glauser |  In Matto's Realm
In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser
Rude awakening
It’s five o’clock in the morning, a time when respectable
people are still fast asleep in their beds, and the
telephone rings. Wakes you up. It’s the chief of police
on the line, so of course you dutifully reply, “Sergeant
Studer here, sir.” Naturally you’re still in bed, you still
have a good two hours sleep left. Then you’re told a story
a half-awake brain has problems getting to grips with. So
you have to keep interrupting your lord and master
with “What?” and “Sorry?” until eventually you’re told
you’re a moron and you should wash your ears out . . .
That wasn’t as bad as it sounded; the chief of police
likes to express himself forcefully, and moron, for
goodness sake! . . . What was worse was that he
couldn’t quite cotton on to what he was supposed to be
doing. A certain Dr Ernst Laduner, he’d been told, was
coming to pick him up in half an hour, to take him to
Randlingen Psychiatric Clinic, where a patient by the
name of Pieterlen – yes, P for Peter, I for Ida, E for
Edith . . . – a patient by the name of Pieterlen had run
It happened now and then . . . At the same time, that
is during the same night, his boss went on, the director
of the loony bin – the chief of police had no very high
opinion of psychiatrists – had disappeared. He’d get
the details from Dr Laduner, who wanted to make sure
he was covered, covered by the police. And the chief of
police had made a joke involving the word “covered”,
not a very good joke, one with a whiff of the cowshed.
Laduner? Ernst Laduner? A psychiatrist? Studer had
clasped his hands behind his head and was staring at
the ceiling. Surely he knew a Dr Laduner, but where
had he made his acquaintance, on what occasion?
Because – and that was the remarkable thing about the
whole affair – this Herr Dr Laduner had particularly
asked for Sergeant Jakob Studer; at least that’s what
the chief of police had said. And, after he had told him
that, the chief of police had added that he could well
understand why. It being a well-known fact that
Studer had the odd screw loose, it was no wonder a
psychiatrist asked for him specifically.
You could take that as a compliment, thought Studer
as he got up, shuffled across to the bathroom and
started to shave. What was the director of Randlingen
Clinic called? Würschtli? No, but something like that,
it definitely ended in “li” . . . – The razor-blade was
blunt, tedious, since Studer had a heavy beard – . . .
Bürschtli? Ah, of course! Borstli. Ulrich Borstli. An old
gentleman, close to retirement.
So on the one hand there was Pieterlen, a patient
who had run off, on the other Ulrich Borstli, the director
. . . And somewhere between the two of them Dr
Laduner, whom he ought to know and who wanted to
make sure he was covered. Why did he want to be
covered by the police, and more particularly by Detective
Sergeant Studer of the Bern cantonal police? That
was the kind of unpleasant job that was always coming
Studer’s way. How did you behave in a lunatic asylum?
What could you do when the people behind the bars
just sat there raving? Carry out an investigation? It was
all very well for the chief of police to ring up and issue
instructions, but it wasn’t going to be much fun, that
was for sure . . .
In the meantime Frau Studer had got up, he could
tell by the smell of fresh coffee permeating the
“Grüess Gott, Studer,” said Dr Laduner. He had come
without his hat; his hair was brushed flat and a strand
stuck up at the back, like a heron’s crest. “We’ve met
before. You know, in Vienna.”
Studer still couldn’t remember. Being addressed
familiarly as “Studer” didn’t particularly surprise him,
he was used to it, and he invited the doctor, very
politely and slightly fussily, to come in and take off his
coat. But Dr Laduner had no coat to take off, so he
went straight into the dining room, said good morning
to the sergeant’s wife and sat down, all with an assurance
that amazed Studer, as if it were the most natural
thing in the world.
Dr Laduner was wearing a light-coloured flannel suit,
and the fat, loosely tied knot of his tie was a shimmer of
cornflower blue between the points of his white shirt
collar. He hoped Frau Studer had no objection, he said,
unfortunately he was going to have to borrow her husband,
but he promised to return him in full working
order. Something had happened, something complicated
and unpleasant. Anyway, he knew the sergeant
well, had known him for a long time – Studer gave a bewildered
frown – and had decided to treat the sergeant
as a personal guest. Anyway, it wouldn’t be that bad.
“Anyway” seemed to be Dr Laduner’s favourite word.
And the way he spoke was odd, a mixture of eastern
Swiss dialect and formal German that didn’t sound like
authentic Swiss German at all. And his smile was a little
disconcerting too; there was something of a mask
about it. It covered the lower half of his face up to his
cheekbones. That part was fixed and only his eyes and
his very broad, high forehead seemed to be alive.
No, thank you, Dr Laduner said, he wouldn’t have
anything, his wife would have his breakfast waiting for
him at home. Anyway, they had to hurry, reports were
at eight o’clock, and this morning he had to do the
round of all the wards; whether the Director had disappeared
or not, work still came first, duty called and
all that. Dr Laduner made little gestures with his left
hand, still with the glove on, then stood up, gently took
Studer by the arm and led him out . . . Goodbye . . .
It was a cool September morning. The trees on
either side of Thunstrasse already had the occasional
yellow leaf. Dr Laduner’s low-slung four-seater
behaved itself and started without a murmur. The
open windows let in a light breeze, which had a faint
hint of mist, and Studer leant back comfortably. His
black boots looked a little odd beside Dr Laduner’s
elegant brown shoes.
At first both men held back from speaking, and
Studer used the silence to rack his brains about Dr
Laduner. He must have met the man somewhere . . . In
Vienna? Studer had been to Vienna a few times, in
those distant days when he had been comfortably
installed in his position as a chief inspector with the
Bern city police, the days before that business with the
bank that had cost him his job and he had had to start
again from the bottom as a plain detective. Things
could be tough if you had too strong a sense of justice.
It was a certain Colonel Caplaun who had demanded
his dismissal, a demand that had been granted. The
same Colonel Caplaun of whom the chief of police
would say, in his unbuttoned moments, that there was
no one he’d rather see in Thorberg Prison. No point
in wasting his time going over the same old story; he’d
been cashiered and that was that. He’d started again
from the bottom and in six years’ time he’d retire.
When you thought about it, he’d got off lightly . . . But
ever since that business with the bank he’d had the
reputation of being a bit dotty, so actually it was
Colonel Caplaun’s fault that he was being driven to
Randlingen Clinic by a Dr Laduner to investigate the
mysterious disappearance of the director and the
escape of a patient.
“Can you really not remember, Studer? All those
years ago in Vienna?” Studer shook his head. Vienna?
All he could see was the Hofburg and Favoritenstrasse
and the police headquarters and an old and very
senior civil servant who had known the famous Professor
Gross, the leading light of criminology . . . But a Dr
Laduner he could not see.
Then Laduner said, keeping his eyes on the road,
“You’ve forgotten Eichhorn then, Studer?”
“Of course!” Studer exclaimed. He was so relieved
he put his hand on Laduner’s arm. “Herr Eichhorn!
Of course! And now you’ve gone in for psychiatry?
Weren’t you going to reform the care of children with
behavioural difficulties in Switzerland?”
“Ach, Studer!” Dr Laduner slowed down a little
because a lorry was coming towards them and sticking
to the middle of the road. “Here in Switzerland they
issue more directives than there are holes in a piece of
Emmenthal. And they’re about as effective, too.”
Studer laughed, a deep laugh. Dr Laduner joined in
with a laugh that was slightly higher.
Eichhorn! . . .
Studer saw a small room with eight boys in it, twelveto
fourteen-year-olds. It looked like a battlefield: the
table demolished, the benches smashed to matchwood,
the windowpanes shattered. He stood in the
doorway and saw one boy going for another with a
knife. “Now you’re going to get it,” the boy said. And in
one corner was Dr Laduner, looking on. When he
noticed Studer in the doorway he signalled him not to
intervene. And the boy suddenly threw the knife away
and started to cry in a sad, long-drawn-out wail, like a
dog that’s been beaten, while Dr Laduner came out of
his corner and said, in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, “By
tomorrow morning all this’ll be cleared up and the
windows replaced . . . OK?”
And the boys chorused, “Yes.”
It was in the Centre for Children with Behavioural
Difficulties in Oberhollabrunn, seven years after the
war. An institution without coercive discipline. A certain
Eichhorn, a gaunt, nondescript man with straight
brown hair, had taken it into his head to see if it was
possible, without priests, or sentimentality or beatings,
to make something out of these so-called juvenile
delinquents. And he’d succeeded. For once the
education authorities had a man on their staff who
happened to have a head on his shoulders. It does
happen. In this particular case it was a man to whom
Eichhorn’s simple idea made sense. His idea was as
follows: the little villains were caught up in an inescapable
cycle of misdemeanour – punishment – misdemeanour
– punishment. Punishment aroused
resentment, to which they gave vent by committing
further misdeeds. But what if the punishment were
eliminated? Shouldn’t there come a point where the
resentment had played itself out. Perhaps one could
make a new start there, build on it perhaps, without
the humbug or, as Dr Laduner had put it at the time,
“without the religious cod-liver oil”.
Eichhorn’s experiments had been much discussed
in specialist circles and when Studer had gone to
Vienna it had been suggested he have a look at them.
He had arrived at the very moment when the
resentment was reaching exhaustion point among the
most difficult group. And he had been impressed. As
he was a fellow Swiss, Dr Laduner, who was doing a
stint as a trainee with Eichhorn, took him to see the
director. They had talked together, in slow, measured
tones. Studer had told them about Tessenberg, the
reformatory in Bern canton, how bad things had been
there for a while. By that time it was ten o’clock at
night, and there was a ring at the front door. Eichhorn
went to see who it was and came back with a boy. “Sit
down. Are you hungry?” he asked him, and went to the
kitchen himself and brought some sandwiches. The
boy was starving. He stayed with them until eleven,
then Eichhorn’s wife took him to the guest room.
Afterwards Laduner told Studer that it was the third
time the boy had absconded. This time he had come
back of his own free will, which was why he had been
received in such a friendly way. Studer had been filled
with genuine respect for both men, for Dr Laduner
and Eichhorn.
“What’s Herr Eichhorn doing now?”
Dr Laduner shrugged his shoulders. “Completely
It kept on happening. A man tried something new,
useful, something that made sense, and for two or
three years things went well. Then suddenly he was
gone, vanished without trace. Well, Dr Laduner had
switched to psychiatry. The question was, how had he
got on with old Ulrich Borstli, the director who had
also disappeared?
For a moment Studer thought of asking about the
details of his disappearance, but then let it be; he
could not get the image of the young Dr Laduner out
of his mind, standing there in the corner of the
wrecked room watching the boy go for his classmate
with a knife . . . To grasp the psychological moment
when a situation is ripe! Even at that time he’d shown
great understanding had Dr Laduner. And Sergeant
Studer felt flattered, flattered that he’d been specifically
asked for and that Dr Laduner had invited him to
be his guest.
There was one thing that was strange. All those years
ago in Vienna Dr Laduner had not worn the smile that
looked like a mask stuck on in front of a mirror. And,
too – perhaps he had got this wrong, there was no way
of checking – he had the impression there was fear
lurking somewhere in his eyes.
“There’s the clinic,” said Laduner, pointing out of
the side window with his right hand. A red-brick building,
U-shaped as far as Studer could tell, with lots of
towers and turrets. Surrounded by pine trees, lots of
dark pine trees. It disappeared for a moment, then
reappeared; there was the main entrance and the
rounded steps leading up to the door. The car
stopped. The two of them got out.
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  • Friedrich GlauserIn Matto's Realm