A Man by the Name of Ziegler
by Hermann Hesse
There was once a young man by the name of Ziegler, who lived
on Brauergasse. He was one of those people we see every day on the
street, whose faces we can never really remember, because they all
have the same face: a collective face.
Ziegler was everything and did everything that such people always
are and do. He was not stupid, but neither was he gifted; he loved
money and pleasure, liked to dress well, and was as cowardly as most
people: his life and activities were governed less by desires and
strivings than by prohibitions, by the fear of punishment. Still, he
had a number of good qualities and all in all he was a gratifyingly
normal young man, whose own person was most interesting and important
to him. Like every other man, he regarded himself as an individual,
though in reality he was only a specimen, and like other men he
regarded himself and his life as the centre of the world. He was far
removed from all doubts, and when facts contradicted his opinions, he
shut his eyes disapprovingly.
As a modern man, he had unlimited respect for not only money, but
also for a second power: science. He could not have said exactly what
science was, he had in mind something on the order of statistics and
perhaps a bit of bacteriology, and he knew how much money and honour
the state accorded to science. He especially admired cancer research,
for his father had died of cancer, and Ziegler firmly believed that
science, which had developed so remarkably since then, would not let
the same thing happen to him.
Outwardly Ziegler distinguished himself by his tendency to dress
somewhat beyond his means, always in the fashion of the year. For
since he could not afford the fashions of the month or season, it goes
without saying that he despised them as foolish affectation. He was a
great believer in independence of character and often spoke harshly,
among friends and in safe places, of his employers and of the
government. I am probably dwelling too long on this portrait. But
Ziegler was a charming young fellow, and he has been a great loss to
us. For he met with a strange and premature end, which set all his
plans and justified hopes at naught.
One Sunday soon after his arrival in our town, he decided
on a day's recreation. He had not yet made any real friends and had
not yet been able to make up his mind to join a club. Perhaps this was
his undoing. It is not good for a man to be alone.
He could think of nothing else to do but go sightseeing. After
conscientious inquiry and mature reflection he decided on the
historical museum and the zoo. The museum was free of charge on
Sunday mornings, and the zoo could be visited in the afternoon for a
Wearing his new suit with cloth buttons—he was very fond of it—
he set out for the historical museum. He was carrying his thin,
elegant, red-lacquered walking cane, which lent him dignity and
distinction, but which to his profound displeasure he was obliged to
part with at the entrance.
There were all sorts of things to be seen in the lofty rooms, and
in his heart the pious visitor sang the praises of almighty science,
which, here again, as Ziegler observed in reading the meticulous
inscriptions on the showcases, proved that it could be counted on.
Thanks to these inscriptions, old bric-a-brac, such as rusty keys,
broken and tarnished necklaces, and so on, became amazingly
interesting. It was marvellous how science looked into everything,
understood everything and found a name for it —oh, yes, it would
definitely get rid of cancer very soon, maybe it would even abolish
In the second room he found a glass case in which he was reflected
so clearly that he was able to stop for a moment and check up,
carefully and to his entire satisfaction, on his coat, trousers, and
the knot of his tie. Pleasantly reassured, he passed on and devoted
his attention to the products of some early wood carvers. Competent
men, though shockingly naïve, he reflected benevolently. He also
contemplated an old grandfather clock with ivory figures which danced
the minuet when it struck the hour, and it too met with his patient
approval. Then he began to feel rather bored; he yawned and looked
more and more frequently at his watch, which he was not ashamed of
showing, for it was solid gold, inherited from his father.
As he saw to his regret, he still had a long way to go till
lunchtime, and so he entered another room. Here his curiosity revived.
It contained objects of medieval superstition, books of magic,
amulets, trappings of witchcraft, and in one corner a whole
alchemist's workshop, complete with forge, mortars, pot-bellied flasks
dried-out pig's bladders, bellows, and so on. This corner was roped
off, and there was a sign forbidding the public to touch the objects.
But one never reads such signs very attentively, and Ziegler was
alone in the room.
Unthinkingly he stretched out his arm over the rope and touched a
few of the weird things. He had heard and read about the Middle Ages
and their comical superstitions; it was beyond him how the people of
those days could have bothered with such childish nonsense, and he
failed to see why such absurdities as witchcraft had not simply been
prohibited. Alchemy, on the other hand, was pardonable, since the
useful science of chemistry had developed from it. Good Lord, to think
that these gold-makers' crucibles and all this magic hocus-pocus may
have been necessary, because without them there would be no aspirin or
gas bombs today!
Absentmindedly he picked up a small dark-coloured pellet, rather
like a pill, rolled the dry, weightless little thing between his
fingers and was about to put it down again when he heard steps behind
him. He turned round. A visitor had entered the room. Ziegler was
embarrassed at having the pellet in his hand, for actually he had read
the sign. So he closed his hand, put it in his pocket and left.
He did not think of the pellet again until he was on the street.
He took it out and decided to throw it away. But first he raised it
to his nose and sniffed it. It had a faint resinous smell that he
found rather pleasing, so he put it back in his pocket.
Then he went to a restaurant, ordered, leafed through a few
newspapers, toyed with his tie, and cast respectful or haughty glances
at the guests around him, depending on how they were dressed. But
when his meal was rather long in coming, he took out the alchemist's
pill that he had involuntarily stolen, and smelled it. Then he
scratched it with his fingernail, and finally naïvely giving into a
childlike impulse, he put it in his mouth. It did not taste bad and
dissolved quickly; he washed it down with a sip of beer. And then his
At two o'clock the young man jumped off the street car,
went to the zoo, and bought a Sunday ticket.
Smiling amiably, he went to the primate house and planted himself
in front of the big cage where the chimpanzees were kept. A large
chimpanzee blinked at him, gave him a good-natured nod, and said in a
deep voice: "How goes it, brother?"
Repelled and strangely frightened, Ziegler turned away. As he was
hurrying off, he heard the ape scolding: "What's he got to be proud
about! The stupid bastard!"
He went to see the long-tailed monkeys. They were dancing merrily.
"Give us some sugar, old buddy!" they cried. And when he had no
sugar, they grew angry and mimicked him, called him a cheapskate, and
bared their teeth. That was more than he could stand; he fled in
consternation and made for the deer, whom he expected to behave
A large stately elk stood close to the bars, looking him over. And
suddenly Ziegler was stricken with horror. For since swallowing the
magic pill, he understood the language of the animals. And the elk
spoke with his eyes, two big brown eyes. His silent gaze expressed
dignity, resignation, sadness, and with regard to the visitor a lofty
and solemn contempt, a terrible contempt. In the language of these
silent, majestic eyes, Ziegler read, he, with hat and cane, his gold
watch and his Sunday suit, was no better than vermin, an absurd and
From the elk he fled to the ibex, from the ibex to the chamois,
the llama, and the gnu, to the wild boars and bears. They did not all
insult him, but without exception they despised him. He listened to
them and learned from their conversations what they thought of people
in general. And what they thought was most distressing. Most of all
they were surprised that these ugly, stinking, undignified bipeds with
their foppish disguises should be allowed to run around loose.
He heard a puma talking to her cub, a conversation full of dignity
and practical wisdom, such as one seldom hears among humans. He heard
a beautiful panther expressing his opinions of this riffraff, the
Sunday visitors, in succinct, well-turned, aristocratic phrases. He
looked the blond lion in the eye and learned of the wonderful
immensity of the wilderness, where there are no cages and no human
beings. He saw a kestrel perched proud and forlorn, congealed in
melancholy, on a dead branch and saw the jays bearing their
imprisonment with dignity, resignation and humour.
Dejected and wrenched out of all habits of thought, Ziegler turned
back to his fellow men in despair. He looked for eyes that would
understand his terror and misery; he listened to conversations in the
hope of hearing something comforting, something understandable and
soothing; he observed the gestures of the visitors in the hope of
finding nobility and quiet, natural dignity.
But he was disappointed. He heard voices and words, he saw
movements, gestures and glances, but since now saw everything as
through the eyes of an animal, he found nothing but a degenerate,
dissembling mob of bestial fops, who seemed to be an unbeautiful
mixture of all the animal species.
In despair Ziegler wandered about. He felt hopelessly ashamed of
himself. He had long since thrown his red-lacquered cane into the
bushes and his gloves after it. But when he threw away his hat, took
off his shoes and tie, and shaken with sobs pressed against the bars
of the elk's cage, a crowd collected and the guards seized him, and he
was taken away to an insane asylum.