Actually, it’s none of my business what goes on with other people. Nevertheless, what is soon to be 30 years ago I asked the German Federal Railway whether it would be possible to ride along in the driver’s cabin of a freight train on Christmas Eve. As far as possible, from Hamburg to Munich or something. I simply wanted to sit next to the locomotive engineer. Two men rattling through the dark, holy night with 2,000 tons of silent freight.

I would have looked at the many illuminated windows and imagined what was probably happening in all of those apartments. I would have made up stories, beautiful, suspenseful, funny and repugnant, as the case may be. Giordano Bruno once said, “Se non è vero, è ben trovato.” Even if it is not true, it is well-conceived. I would have imagined it. The German Federal Railway, on the other hand, was of a different opinion. If a guest were to ride along in an engine, a second engineer would have to be present, and one couldn’t expect this of a colleague on Christmas for the kind of nonsense I had in mind, was the reply given to me. Only in friendly terms.

White Feet in Flip-Flops

I was disappointed. Today I think that it was probably a good thing. The Catholics burned Giordano Bruno at the stake; who knows what they would have done to me.

Besides, one now sees on commercial television what goes on in people’s homes and even with my rich troves of fantasy, I couldn’t imagine it to be more gruesome. “Nothing is more amazing than the simple truth,” the great author Egon Erwin Kisch once opined. Today I would add, “and therefore I would no longer even really want to hear the truth.”

When one has experienced a lot, one becomes choosy. For example, I would like to no longer see the winter white feet of men in flip-flops. The day before yesterday, they again peeled their feet. Like albino lemmings, they waddled through the city by the thousands. Disgusting! I don’t want to see that. It’s too private for me!

The Gun Lobby Prays Along

Nevertheless, I am again and again forced to picture what goes on with other people. Last week, for example, I was forced to imagine a child’s birthday. It was celebrated in November of last year in the little town of Cumberland in the state of Kentucky. Little Jacob — let’s call him that — turned five, and his parents gave him what he wished for: a real rifle branded “My First Rifle.” It was a .22 caliber with a 5.6-millimeter cartridge. I imagine how delighted little Jacob was. The whole family had sparkling eyes, including — let’s call her Sophia — his then one-year-old sister.

What then happened is well known. Last week, Jacob shot Sophia down. Now, I imagine how the distraught parents torture themselves with self-reproach. I imagine how the nation prays for the parents; the National Rifle Association prays, too. I imagine how they all take the same line: The event is tragic, but one is accustomed to collateral damage in the U.S. But how could God and the parents allow Sophia to be unarmed? It would have come to a showdown, a quite normal occurrence in Kentucky. But as it was, the little one didn’t even stand a chance. What a shame!