Brahms-und-Listria: A Brief Guide

This guide to the principality was first published in 1926, authored by the lately deposed regent, Arthur Fotheringay-Phipps (later Lord Snodsbury). No other guide to the country has since been published in English, which in view of what the former Regent has to say about it is perhaps not surprising.

 I shall not relate how it was I came to be, at the age of thirty-four, the former Regent of the Principality of Brahms-und-Listria; let other pens than mine dwell on misery and unhappiness. It will suffice for the reader to know that I was for a short time the de facto ruler of this small but unruly Mitteleuropean principate. Should any of you have heard of this remarkable episode in my career, I would urge you to ignore the rumours put about by my conniving former Chancellor Herman Badherrdag. He is merely jealous of my accomplishments, and his lies should not be given credence. Despite what he says, the Revolution would almost certainly have happened anyway, even if I hadn’t made that fatal mistake with the donkey.

It is a truth universally accepted that a country without a prince must be in want of a ruler, but nevertheless it may be thought remarkable that even after the unfortunate indisposition of Prince Georg Kohl that the Landtag of Brahms-und-Listria would choose an Englishman previously unknown in that country, and one, moreover, with hardly a word of German to his name. However that may be, it was so – I myself believe my exploits on the rugger field for Old Buggerensians were the thing that caught their attention – and thus I found myself installed in the grandly titled Prinz Albrecht von Saxa-und-Sifta Palace, which on closer inspection turned out to be an end terrace on Sauerkraut Strasse with a leaky roof and an even leakier cleaning lady (Frau Kaseburger, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, own mop and incontinence pants). The Palace did, however, possess a turret, from which one could with difficulty obtain a somewhat restricted view of the municipal gasworks. Since the gasworks were one of the principal sights of Schlumburg, the capital, I did not feel disposed to complain. Plans had existed for some time for a more elaborate royal residence (not counting the Mumenthal Home for the Elderly Deranged, which was the actual residence of the current Prince, as it had been for most of his immediate predecessors), and indeed an architect had been appointed, and materials ordered. Alas, there came to light at that point an unfortunate misunderstanding, and when it became clear that the Scots architect, Mr. Leitch, was not designing a palace, as such, but was in fact building a replica of his previous major work, the West Stand at the Crystal Palace Football Club in London, work was terminated rather abruptly.

History

I would dare to venture that not many of my readers will have heard a great deal of this country of which the governance had been thrust upon my shoulders, so it may perhaps at this point be of utility were I to essay a brief description of the tiny state as it was during my time there. Brahms-und-Listria is a small independent principality of approximately ten thousand people; it sits uneasily between Germany and Austria, and is mainly composed of (not very high) mountains. It retains its independence due to a remarkable set of circumstances; in the last century the wily Chancellor Herbert von Bopp managed to convince the Prussian, later German, Chancellor Count Bismarck that Brahms-und-Listria owed allegiance to the Austrian Empire, and the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef that it was part of the German. Thus neither made positive claims to annex it, although there was a worrying moment in 1866 when Austria and Prussia went to war with one another. Bopp was obliged to send a company of men to both sides, a body of Brahmenians to fight for the Austrians and a party of Listrians to enlist in the Prussian cause. By chance the two companies met on the battlefield of Wiesel, and completely annihilated one another. Hence the common saying to denote a complete debacle, ‘Bopp goes to Wiesel’.

Perspicacious readers might infer from this anecdote that the two halves of the country bear no great love for one another, and they would be entirely correct in this assumption. Brahmenia (to give it the older name) was a former constituent of the Holy Roman Empire, a holding of the princely Sachertorte family, and was staunchly Roman Catholic. Listria, so far as anyone can tell, began life as a gipsy encampment beside the main Dresden to Vienna road, from which base the inhabitants launched a long and lucrative career in highway robbery, extortion, kidnapping and molesting unattended domestic animals. At the Reformation the Listrians (who had by now amassed enough wealth to buy their way into relative respectability) decided to become Protestant; mainly, it seems, to spite the Brahmenians. The Sachertortes, meanwhile, had fallen upon hard times, mostly through their incurable and  reprehensible habit of gambling. One Sachertorte once bet another 400,000 gold marks that the latter couldn’t jump from the top of the spire of Schlumburg Cathedral to the top of the Rathaus on the opposite side of the street. The bettor technically won his bet, since the would-be jumper failed in his attempt; his remains were eventually found stuck to the wheels of a fruiterers cart that had passed by shortly after the failed leap, and he was buried after what could be scraped up had been sandwiched between two doors. The winnings were therefore never collected – and anyway the loser had not in fact had any money. Escapades of this nature eventually led the principate of Brahmenia to be hocked in lieu of debt, and by 1756 the debt had passed into the hands of Klopper and Sons, coal merchants, of Magdeburg, who were thus the titular Prince. There being no coal whatever in Brahmenia (and being at a loss how to share the title among a board of directors of fifteen), they were only too happy to sell the hapless fiefdom to the ruler of Listria, Leopold the Grave Robber, who at that time was styled a Count. (Although persons finding that their family vaults had been rifled by this worthy were apt to use a different if not dissimilar epithet).

Leopold thus promoted himself to Prince, and took up residence in the princely apartments in Schlumburg. The inhabitants of Brahmenia, having been robbed and despoiled by the Listrians since time immemorial, were as may be imagined somewhat unhappy with the arrangement, and promptly revolted. The matter was settled by the brief but sanguine Battle of Dachsschnause, at which Leopold gave a graphic demonstration of how he intended to deal with rebels, involving a carving knife, a large cucumber, a red hot poker and two bears. Peace broke out approximately fifteen minutes later, to be followed by the Massacre of the Goats, as the Brahmenians endeavoured to save their livestock from the known proclivities of the Listrians. This tragic episode is still recalled in Brahmenian folk song, a sample of which I will give in my own translation:

Dearest Billy, I shall save you / From the fate that lies before thee / Though Death befall thee / It is much better so / For those Listrians / Are a bunch of dirty b*ggers / And no mistake.

Following this sad affair, peace of a sort reigned over the now united principality, although the Brahmenian Nationalist Party claim that the Listrians have continued to rob Brahmenia blind to this day. (The Listrian Fatherland Front, by way of reply, make a number of obscene and ingenious suggestions as to what novel uses the Brahmenians may put various household items, with which I shall not sully your eyes). It cannot be said, however, that the two populations have ever truly become reconciled with one another, as may be evidenced on days when Vorwaerts Listria play Schlumburger Sportverein at association football. All police leave is cancelled (in a vain attempt to prevent members of the force from weighing in on one side or the other), every shop in town keeps the shutters down all day, and on particularly sensitive occasions – such as the anniversary of the Battle of Dachsschnause – machine guns are mounted on the roof of the stand. (Although after the rather unhappy business with the visiting Italian referee, who was not aware of the nature of the contest, and rashly awarded a penalty kick to the away side, flame-throwers are now banned. Most people thought the referee looked better without his hair anyway). Unfortunately, due to the small number of teams in the Brahms-und-Listria Fussball Bund, these contests take place nearly every Saturday in the season, and twice a week in the event of cup ties.

Recent history has seen the country be a reluctant participant in the Great War, owing to Austria and Germany lining up on the same side. Brahmenian and Listrian units served as occupation troops in Belgium, which may account for the surprising number of Flemish old masters in the National Art Gallery. However, a crafty move to swap sides and become an ally of the Entente Powers (ratified by the Landtag on November 10th, 1918) allowed the country to escape the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and even participate in the occupation of Germany (an episode that ended as soon the village in question had got enough of its menfolk back from the front to chase the occupying troops back over the border).

Industry and Produce

The principal industries of the country are agriculture (chiefly growing celery, allegedly, although my observations suggest that there are a suspiciously large number of poppies in most celery fields), light engineering (manufacture of weapons not produced elsewhere in Europe, owing to their being banned under the Hague Convention, to which Brahms-und-Listria is not a signatory), international trade (smuggling cigarettes from Germany to Austria and smuggling schnapps from Austria to Germany), chemicals (mainly of a hallucinogenic nature), financial services (insurance fraud, protection rackets and money laundering) and traditional crafts (highway robbery, prostitution, extortion, kidnapping and molestation of unattended domestic animals).

Culture

It cannot be asserted by even the most fervent Brahmenian or Listrian nationalist that the country has had much to offer the world by way of culture. No great artists have sprung forth from its sub-Alpine pastures, and achievements in music and literature are similarly negligible. Indeed the only notable personality of any sort the country has produced in the field of high culture is the almost famous philosopher Evangeline Wont, founder of the short-lived Kohlschule or ‘Cabbage Patch’ school of philosophy. Wont was mainly remarkable for being a woman at a time when the field of theoretical philosophy was almost exclusive to men, but is also slightly noted for her thesis that since the elimination of all desire and ambition is the source of true happiness, the highest form of life, which all others must strive to imitate, must be the cabbage. This concept was taken up by the Prince of the time, Engelbert V the Completely Bone Idle, and still retains a certain following among the less energetic members of the citizenry. Fraulein Wont once met Friedrich Nietzsche (allegedly in a public toilet in Potsdam) and he is said to have compared her philosophy to a pile of sheep’s testicles.

Although high art is conspicuous by its absence from the cultural fabric of the nation, folk art is endemic, and apparently unstoppable. You may recall that the traditional bards of the Ukraine, before their recent suppression by the Bolsheviks, were blind; Brahmenian folksingers, similarly, are by tradition deaf. Their songs, the much feared Ochsenlieder (so named for their remarkable resemblance to the sounds made by cattle undergoing castration), are banned, on pain of severe pain and long term imprisonment, in eight German Lander, five Austrian counties, six Swiss cantons and, rather oddly, the American state of Minnesota. Brahmenians, on the other hand, claim to cherish them above all other forms of music, although I for one regard it as suspicious that they seem only ever to be sung when a Listrian is within earshot.

Folk tales and folk sayings are also a prominent aspect of Brahmenian and Listrian culture, as for instance the famous folk-tale The Lonely Goatherd. This tells of a young Listrian goatherd, who had a tragically unrequited love for a beautiful Saanen nanny goat called Dorabelle. The goatherd wanders about the mountains singing of his unattainable love, and eventually commits suicide by walking into a Brahmenian inn and singing a song about how all Brahmenian men are big girl’s blouses. On a happier note is the fairy tale The Princess and the Peasant which treats of a love affair between a ploughman and a royal princess, in which it transpires, after many adventures, that a wicked fairy had cast a spell disguising one of them, and once the spell has been broken the two can marry after all, since the princess is really a washerwoman.

Native folk sayings are full of the earthy wisdom for which the inhabitants of the region are justly unknown. Some notable examples are as follows:

When the wolf is at the door, don’t expect him to knock; Celery never grows if watched all day;  People who live in glass houses need a lot of window cleaners; A goat in the hand is better; In winter, do not look for nudists.

 Not forgetting, of course, the official motto of the country, which roughly translated from the Latin reads:

Never give a sucker an even break.

Religion

Religious affairs occupy a great deal of the time of the citizens. Brahmenia is as I have said mainly Roman Catholic, although there are some customs peculiar to the area which seem to be unknown amongst other nations of the Romish persuasion, notably the practice of all the congregation partaking of the Communion wine, generally by the bottle full. Some of the more pious citizens attend Mass every day, and four times on Sundays. Wheelbarrows are often provided to allow the very religious to be taken home after their last Mass of the day. Listrians, conversely, are militantly Protestant, chiefly as members of the Reformed Free Primitive Lutheran sect. This peculiar schism has many features unknown elsewhere, including secret rituals not to be divulged to outsiders. However, the noises emanating from some of the more notorious Listrian chapels on Saturday nights are sufficiently loud to have ensured that some at least of these practices aren’t much of a secret anymore. Both persuasions have enjoyed a somewhat bloody history of persecution, although they have not so much been producers of martyrs as a cause of martyrdom in others. The patron saint of Brahms-und-Listria is St. Willibroad of Bongpipen, who was canonised after he had performed an unspecified but signal service for the Abbess of Kronenburg, who claimed it was a miracle. Some citizens like to try and make the flesh of foreigners creep by claiming that the last witch in Brahms-und-Listria was burned as recently as 1919, but they neglect to add that it was her own fault for leaving her chip pan on the stove. Rumours persist of pagan practices performed on dark nights out in the forest, but the general opinion is that in view of what goes on in the official churches there isn’t much need for any alternative faith.

Sport

Sport plays a major role in Brahmenian and Listrian life. In the winter the entire country is in thrall to association football, which is distinguished from tribal warfare only by the appointment of a referee. I did endeavour to introduce the natives to the delights of rugby football, but unfortunately both teams were arrested and charged with public indecency immediately after the first scrum had been set. In summer the Listrians, remarkably, play a form of baseball, which was introduced by a former American consul. The Listrians, being a literal sort of people, took the phrase ‘struck out’ to mean what it said; in their version of the game the pitcher can only strike the batter out if he manages to hit him with the ball in such a way as to render him insensible for a count of ten. Fielders similarly out a batter not by throwing to the base but by aiming to hit the batter on the run and down him for a ten count. Brahmenians, reluctant as ever to fall in line with their neighbours, play a form of cricket in which tripping, gouging and low punches are permitted.

Food and Drink

Play over, all the country’s citizens of whatever ethnicity love to sit down to a hearty meal. The native cuisine tends to be somewhat on the heavy side, and whatever dish is set before you is sure to contain both a large proportion of potatoes, and be liberally larded with the ubiquitous celery dumplings. This tendency has had a deleterious effect on the national waistline, although by some law of compensation the custom of adding celery dumplings to everything has meant that the dessert sweets served are particularly nasty, and rarely eaten, with the result that sugar consumption is so low that dentists get very little business. (As dentists, anyway; many of them moonlight as abortionists and torturers).

Drink is perhaps the major feature of national life; the citizenry put away an astonishing amount of the local celery schnapps, celery wine, celery beer and even celery brandy, which is all the more astonishing when you consider how foul it all tastes. The celery schnapps is especially revolting, but it doesn’t matter very much as one glass will render your sense of taste inoperative anyway. Two more glasses are sufficient to see off the other four senses. Natives are often asked if drink is a problem in Brahms-und-Listria, at which point they focus unsteadily on you and say ‘what problem?’ A law still in force requires all inebriate persons to get themselves off the main street before collapsing; this edict has made navigating the side streets on late nights somewhat hazardous, due to the numbers of unconscious drunks stacked up in them. I made numerous complaints to the Chief of Police about this state of affairs, but all he did was cry in a maudlin fashion on my shoulder, tell me I was his best pal and then fall asleep in a side street.

Politics

The political and constitutional structure of the country is strange, to the say the least, and during my term in office – before I was so rudely ejected by the revolutionaries – I spent much of my time struggling to understand it. The parliament of the country is known as the Landtag, and is composed of two houses, the upper house, originally of a hundred nobles, called the Hundtag, and the lower house of two hundred commoners, known as the Kodakammer, after the father of Listrian democracy, Ostman Koda. The franchise was until quite recently restricted to owners of two or more celery fields, innkeepers, owners of brothels, and licenced whelk stall operators. Pressure from the League of Nations (of which Brahms-und-Listria was a founder member) has recently extended the vote to all adults over twenty one, and this has fuelled a spectacular growth in nationalist party politics. In the first fully democratic election, in 1920, the Brahmenian Nationalist Party and the Listrian Fatherland Front each claimed 52% of the popular vote. The two candidates for Chancellor then fought a duel to decide who had won; choice of weapons lay with the Listrian party leader, Herr Badherrdag, who chose to use bratwurst. So successful was he at wielding his sausage that he won handsomely, and the Brahmenian leader had to resign his seat on account of being unable to sit down. The ruling Prince – or, as in my case, his Regent – is still head of state and shares the responsibility for being head of government with the Chancellor, a peculiar arrangement which seems to involve the Chancellor accepting all the bribes and the Regent taking all the blame. All legislation must be passed by a majority of both houses to become law, but given that there are equal numbers of deputies from both parties in the lower house, and only six eligible nobles (three from each half of the country) left to sit in the upper house, passing any kind of legislation usually involves kidnapping or arresting sufficient of the opposition to create a majority. Fortunately it is nearly always possible to find suitable grounds for arresting deputies, especially if the police are short of funds that week, or if a football match has been played.

Climate, Flora and Fauna

The geography of the principality is largely mountainous, although Brahmenia tends to be somewhat lower-lying than Listria. Summers are generally cold and wet, and winters are shockingly cold and wet. Much of the higher slopes are covered in pine trees, and most of the lower slopes are either pasture for the many voracious goats, or the ubiquitous celery fields. Wild animals abound in the less inhabited parts, but given the feral nature of the human population it is likely that the animals are better behaved. Wolves are still to be heard, if not seen, and the odd bear wanders across from the higher Alps now and then. Hunting is practiced; the Brahmenians pursue wolf and bear with dogs and shotguns, using the vicious breed known as the Brahmenian Tripehound. This barely tamed dog stands about five feet high at the shoulder, has a coarse reddish pelt, sharp teeth and a surly disposition. None have as yet been house-trained. Listrians prefer to hunt game using steel traps, which have the added benefit (for the hunters) of also catching trespassing Brahmenians. The most abundant creature of the countryside is the red squirrel, the local variety of which has developed the habit of hurling nuts at anyone who disturbs them, with dismaying accuracy. Black rats are endemic in more urban areas, and suggestions by Listrians that Brahmenians consume them as a delicacy are hotly denied, although if you ask me I wouldn’t enquire too closely into the contents of a Brahmenian sausage … I have seen things called Ratwurst on sale in the market, and I am not certain this is merely a spelling error.

Notable Sights

There is a very small Roman ruin to be seen on the roadside just north of Schlumburg. It consists of a broken column, bearing an almost illegible inscription. There are various theories as to what the Latin means, but the most commonly accepted version reads ‘HERE FLAVIUS PEREMPTUS LOST HIS VIRGINITY HIS PURSE AND HIS LIFE’. Presumably in that order. Local legend has it that the Emperor Caligula stayed briefly in Listria, but left in a hurry after the antics of the locals disgusted him.

There are no other structures of any antiquity in the country, most buildings being no more than sixty or seventy years old, a testament to the local predilection for riot and arson; history records at least sixteen Great Fires of Schlumburg. The scenery not being terribly arresting either, it follows that tourism has rather failed to take off, despite the Reisburo having paid to advertise in every pornographic magazine in Europe, stressing the debauched delights to be allegedly found. Perhaps they should have used something other than goats as illustrations.

Transport

There are two railways in the country. The Brahmenbahn, of standard gauge, runs from Schlumburg Kleinbahnhof to join the Austrian national network for connections to Vienna. The Listrenbahn, of metre gauge, heads to the German border and carries traffic to Dresden. Needless to say, the two lines do not connect with one another. Trains run on most days, provided a sober driver can be found. (Sober conductors being all but unknown). I remonstrated with the Chancellor about the lack of connections between the railways. “Where do you want to go to?” he asked. “Suppose I want to go from Listria to Vienna?” I suggested. He gave a typically Listrian shrug. “Ah, Vienna,” he said. “It means nothing to me.” Such communication as there is between the two parts of the country is thus still confined to the road, which freezes in the winter and is filled with vile mud in the summer. A bus service operates, or rather two do, a Listrian one and a Brahmenian one. Crashes due to racing between the two are a weekly event. There are very few casualties, as the two buses used are both elderly and badly maintained, and rarely get above five miles an hour on the level. (I believe both vehicles were ‘acquired’ during the War from the British Army – certainly one of them still has a fare chart inside for services from West Ham garage). In recent years there have been plans to bring the benefits of air travel to Brahms-und-Listria, mainly, I suspect, because of the splendid scope it offers for smuggling. No commercial flights have yet been started, but an off-course Zeppelin did visit Schlumburg in 1923. It was reduced to a bare hulk by looting locals within the hour, and no further flights have been scheduled.

Language

All official business is conducted in standard High German, but amongst themselves the natives use barbarous dialects of their own, incomprehensible to other speakers of German. It is even claimed that the two dialects are themselves mutually unintelligible, but they seem to understand each other well enough when it comes to trading insults. A feature of both the Brahmendeutsch and Listrendeutsch dialects is that they seem to involve far more coughing, hawking, belching and cursing than regular German does. English and French are taught in all the schools, and many citizens are reasonably fluent in these tongues, if perhaps with more profanity than is customary when conversing with foreigners.

Law and Order

Justice is dispensed by an independent judiciary and a state police force, both of which derive most of their income from accepting bribes. Only those who cannot afford to pay the increasingly extortionate rates are actually convicted, but even these luckless criminals rarely face imprisonment, as the culprits generally abscond to either Germany or Austria, safe in the knowledge that the police are unlikely to pursue them (there being no money in it). Foreign visitors may adopt the same strategy with impunity, so far as I can see. Certainly nobody has asked me for the crown jewels back yet. (I am holding on to them until such time as I get paid for my services to the country, or failing that, I can hock them, although they don’t actually seem to be worth all that much).

Currency

The Brahmenian pfennig is the official currency. It briefly enjoyed parity with the German mark, but since this was in 1923 and it took several million marks to buy a loaf of bread at the time, this is not a testament to the strength of the pfennig. For all practical purposes German marks or Austrian schillings are used … or, indeed, any reasonably hard currency at all. Barter is still common in rural districts; a goat is worth about five kilograms of celery – ten kilos, if it’s a good-looking one.

Population

According to the last census, taken in 1924, the populace numbered 9,685 souls. Or, for tax assessment purposes, 11.

Conclusion

I hope my brief overview of Brahms-und-Listria, a country all but unknown to the outside world, has helped any prospective travellers thereto. In particular, I hope it has helped them decide to stay well away from the place. Which is what I should have done.

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