No man's land is enemy's land
The invitation card
read: "You are cordially invited to the opening of the Brenner project
on Friday, August 1, 1997 at 12 o'clock." He smiled at himself and
slowly tore up the piece of paper into thin strips. A few hours later
and two hours before the opening, the first corpse was found.
ago, Totò Palermo, inspector of the Polizia di Stato, had been
transferred for disciplinary reasons to the Brenner because he himself
had not taken narcotic laws too seriously. Now, he sat at the frontier,
at his best waving tourists past, and had come to terms with the fact
that Siberia was to be the final stage of his career. Amongst his
colleagues, the Brenner was known under the code name Siberia and rated
as the graveyard of all hopes. Quoting Dante Alighieri with lasciate
perdere ogni speranza, voi che entrate on their office door, they were
really addressing themselves, the keepers of law and order, rather than
the breakers of the law, who here were only seldom seen.
It had got
much worse since the opening of the frontiers. Only the Tamils, Curds,
and Pakistanis searching at nighttime on all fours for a breach to the
Promised Land in the rocks above the frontier-post, gave the keepers of
law and order and their search dogs a certain right of being.
Palermo found this human hunt to be firstly too tiring, and secondly
distasteful. Due to his predilections and his past, he had been
excluded from the special case which, a few days previously, had ended
in the seizure of a truck loaded with seven hundred and eighty
kilograms of cocaine for the Russian market instead of apples from
South Tyrol destined for Germany. Therefore, there remained only this
The boss had said "Palermo, you're going there as the
official representative of the Italian Police Force at the Brenner."
The colleagues had laughed themselves silly at the agente speciale
artistico, the special mission agent for art, Totò Palermo. "And...",
the boss had said, "in civilian and sober, mi raccomando."
is how it came about, that on this day, Totò Palermo, the inspector of
the Polizia di Stato was officially standing in the sun, in front of a
café, drinking white wine and watching the goings on at the Brenner.
Still two hours to go until the opening. Siberia could also have its
As inspector Palermo was standing again at the
bar to order his second glass of white wine, two men came in and went
to sit down with a third one at a little table next to the door. They
will be artists, inspector Palermo thought. In long years of
experience, he had acquired a knowing look for people who crossed the
Brenner. They're pretty nervous, he thought, yes, that's them. Then
they began to speak together, whispering, but still loud enough for
inspector Palermo, who was straining his ears, to understand.
the mail carriage...", one of them was saying "I don't believe it. We
unlocked the door and went in, and there he was lying there, and then I
thought to myself: Still from yesterday, from the party. Drunk and
sleeping it off." The other one threw a glance around the café,
inspector Palermo bent over his glass of wine. "He was", the other one
whispered, "he was..." and then soundlessly pronounced a word.
Inspector Palermo had paid good attention and had read lips. He had
read dead. "Shit" said the third.
A flag was fluttering in the
wind in front of the two railway carriages. It read Niemandsland.
Inspector Palermo had followed the three men. Not noticing him, they
had climbed into the mail carriage without turning around, and were
talking to one another. "In one and a half hours we will have the press
on our backs", he heard one of them say. "That's not so bad" said the
other "nothing like the corpse that we're already saddled with. And
then above all, a dead colleague. That's the end of the project." For a
few seconds, nothing happened. Inspector Palermo was just going to
emerge from his hiding, when he heard a voice again. "The end. Or
pretty hype publicity" said the third. "I'm all for getting him out of
the way, at least until this evening" said the first.
said inspector Palermo, now standing in the mail carriage, having
introduced himself and discovered the strangulation marks on the body"
had you quarreled with the dead man?" For the length of a second, the
three looked at each other to then answer in the negative. "Not more
than normal for such a project", said one of them. "Good" said the
inspector "I will believe you for the moment". I don't know much about
..."art" said the first. And then someone came running up to the
"They're destroying Hollywood!"
Palermo didn't have a clue of what was going on. He only saw that there
was something that seemed to excite the artists just as much as the
corpse. "What about Hollywood?" he said. "The installation over there,
in the field above the motorway frontier-station", said one of the
artists, "we must go over there immediately. Problems have cropped up."
Inspector Palermo decided to follow the artists to the other side of
the valley. The corpse in the mail carriage could wait. The case seemed
to be taking a new turn.
And then it became clear that the
inspector had gone all that way for nothing. Hollywood was a purely
artistic problem, at the most, of political order. In no case did it
need criminal investigation. Workers from the Brenner motorway were
just loading the one meter high, white Y onto their truck, wood was
still lying in the field, five artists were standing around. An
argument was going on, it was about an authorization, and if it had
been given or not. "I'm going back to my corpse", inspector Palermo
said "with the best will, this is not within my competence." One of the
artists followed suit. "We've got a common problem", he said. "And that
is?" inspector Palermo looked at him doubtfully. "The corpse", said the
artist "is disturbing your plans. And ours too." "Right", said
"Has that also got something to do with you?"
said inspector Palermo, and pointed North. "Yes" said the artist, it's
an installation of a colleague. He did it over there in Austria, a few
meters behind the frontier. A mirror-door that turns in the wind.
Palermo stood still. "Does it reflect on one side?" he said. "No, on
both." "Then we have a new problem", said inspector Palermo, and walked
The corpse still had a knife stuck in its back. It was
attached to the mirror-door with climbing ropes, and slowly turned with
the door in the wind. "A colleague?" said inspector Palermo. The
artist, white in the face, nodded. "We'll do it this way", said
Palermo, "We'll go back to Italy, I've got nothing to loose here, and
then I will phone up the Austrian colleagues. And in the meantime, we
should think carefully. For instance about who could have something
They were sitting in the mail carriage and hadn't
got one single step further. Neither inspector Palermo, nor the
artists. The opening was to start in half an hour. "Let's go", said
inspector Palermo, "I could do with a brandy. Let's lock up and go to
"Ciao ispettore", said the man at the bar to Palermo
and raised his glass, "drink with me. You're a looser, just like I am.
We're both out of the game, and out of no fault of ours. We've both
simply been put out in the cold."
Inspector Palermo went up to the
man and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Hard times for one of your sort,
Speckbacher", he said. "Twenty years a specialist for shipping services
and frontier-clearance, you know every line of the law off by heart and
every special instruction and customs regulation. And now there are no
longer any such laws or customs rules. Suddenly it's all no man's land
here. That can get to your liver. I understand that."
these funny artists come along Ispettore and make a joke out of this or
that side of the frontier, as if it had never existed."
understand", said inspector Palermo, "come along" he said to the young
man "I will pay for your beer. You just come with me and we can put
this on record." And when they went past the artists who were sitting
at the two tables next to the door, inspector Palermo said: "I can
© translated by Helen Adkins
Written for and published in:
p.t.t.red. treffpunkt niemandsland. 1997
summer of 1997, on the initiative of the team of artists "p.t.t.red"
(Stefan Micheel and Hans Winkler, Berlin), saw the realization at the
Brenner Pass of the "Project for a Meeting Place in No-Man's Land."
Artists from the neighboring countries of Italy and Austria, as well as
from Germany and the United States, were asked to attempt to deal with
the special situation of the Brenner Pass. Two base stations (the
ex-school house at the Brenner Pass, and the Museum Gallery in Bolzano)
offered the public information on the concepts of the individual works
installed at the site.