Scene4-International Magazine of Arts and Culture

#Me too, Back Then
Sexual Harassment Log of a German Girl

Renate Stendhal-Scene4 Magazine

Renate Stendhal


Get up, go to the bathroom. Unlocked, but father still in the shower, his humongous thing dangling. Try not to see. Can’t pee with him there.


Breakfast. Father and mother want their morning hug. His hands too close to my breasts.


Suburb train to Hamburg University. Old geezer stares me up and down. I squeeze into a window seat next to a woman.


Guy enters compartment and sits down where woman has left. Has noticed my thigh-high boots under my coat. Does what I have no word for: manspreads. I squeeze further into my corner. His leg moves against my thigh.


Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, S-Bahn to Dammtor, the University stop. Train full of students. I stand near the door. Feel someone pressing against my butt. It’s not a woman.


First lecture, on obscure, weirdly erotic and homoerotic German writer Hans Henny Jahnn. Amphitheater fills up. Guy with improbably tight Jeans and blow-dried waves of hair walks up the ranks to male sniggers and craned necks. Clearly, he’s not a woman. I ache for him as if they were sniggering at me.

12: 45

Mid-aged Professor Wolfheim, expert on Hans Henny Jahnn, calls me up after the lecture. Sagging belly and sagging clothes. Looks me over with inquisitive eyes and reminds me of dinner with his wife that night. I am invited to his home to celebrate a scholarship he is arranging for me. His young assistant bug-eyes me.


Lunch in the Mensa, student cafeteria. Said assistant joins my table, bug-eyes me and does what I have no word for: mansplains Jahnn’s erotomania. I dump half my food and run off saying I’m late for my next seminar.


Guy stops me in the hallway, asks for a light. Doesn’t return my lighter. Fondles it. Asks what its shape reminds me of. I tell him he can keep it.


Seminar in art history. Two guys behind me discuss my looks. I hear “blonde iceberg.”


Café break. My student boyfriend and a writer friend are at the café, smoking and talking about Dada and Gertrude Stein. They slyly show me a photograph by Man Ray of Stein in profile. Something amuses them. I have never seen a picture of Stein. I don’t know what I am looking at. A man with makeup? As they continue their talk I feel embarrassed without knowing why.


I walk a few blocks to my piano and singing lesson with old Prof. Lubrich, who used to be my music teacher at school. He’s a jocular composer with a white crown of hair and a pointed belly.  He presents me with a song he has written, “An der Donau gingen wir langsam/ umfangen von leuchtender Dämmerung” (In the evening twilight, we were slowly walking along the Danube). I learn the song. I find it beautiful. He confesses he wrote it for me. He approaches me with his belly and kisses me. I shrink back too late. He asks if I couldn’t be his Muse, if I couldn’t light up his last creative years.

16: 45

I am shaken. On my way back to the university I pass a construction site. The workers whistle. One shouts, “So schön, aber so traurig!” (So lovely, but so sad!) They laugh. One steps down to stand in my way. “How about a smile for Daddy?”


I realize I have been thinking of rape all day without being aware of it.


Semester papers are returned at the seminar on “Sturm und Drang” poets. The professor discusses my paper without looking at me. His gaze is fixed on my breasts. Like my father’s, usually.


My boyfriend is waiting for me in the hallway to see if we can have dinner. I say no. I have a dinner invitation from my prof. He thumbs through my paper. “Pretty good,” he says, “but beware of romantic Schwärmerei (enthusiasm). Only women write that way.”


I am relieved that I will return home late tonight. Too late for good night hugs with my parents.


I am back at Hauptbahnhof. I tuck myself into a banquette in the station waiting room with another cup of black coffee. I write in my notebook. The constant motion and drafty swing doors soothe me. Nobody accosts me. I think of the last time I ran into my father in the unlocked bathroom, when he was lying in the tub, his thing standing upright in the water.  I write about being five years old when I come upon my grandfather in the garden. I watch him stretch the neck of a panicked chicken on his wood-cutting block and hack off its head with the axe.


I have dinner with my prof and his wife, who is the source of gossip in the seminars as she is so much younger than he. She has short hair and a determined face. After she clears out the plates she is suddenly behind my chair, caressing my neck and shoulders. I freeze. “Take her to the couch,” he says, pointing with his chin, “and get her ready.” I panic. I break down in a flood of tears. Everything stops. I know I have to come up with more than sobs. I come up with a story I have no words for: childhood trauma, sexual trauma.  I later don’t remember the story. They are shocked, indignant. They pity me. They let me go.


I take the last train out to the suburb where I live. The train is empty, dimly lit. A drunkard is crumpled into a corner, passed out. At night, the train always smells of piss.

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Renate Stendhal , Ph.D., is a writer and a Senior Writer
for Scene4. She is the author of Kiss Me Again, Paris.
For her other commentary, reviews and articles, check the Archives.

©2018 Renate Stendhal
©2018 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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November 2018

Volume 19 Issue 6

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