Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen

Bremen

April 1635

 

“Marieke! Come here now, girl!”

Marieke cringed in her bedroom, looking out the blue curtain-framed window at what had begun as a sunny spring day. Her father’s bellow told her the day was probably getting worse rather than better.

Marieke’s stepmother quickly confirmed Marieke’s suspicions when she peered around the bedroom door with a worried look on her slender face. “Marieke, dear, your father would like a word with you in the library. Please come with me.”

At that moment, her father released another elephantine bellow from the floor below. Marieke thought she saw the painting of the flowers on the wall over her lace-covered bed quiver but surely, she told herself, she imagined it. Didn’t she?

The picture could stay calmly perched on her wall but she must follow her stepmother to confront the man calling for her. At eighteen, Marieke was very much an adult but her father still ruled the house and held sway over his unmarried daughter.

Marieke loved her sometimes bombastic father but ever since he had retired from Prince Frederick’s service a few months back, her father had been a man with no purpose. Instead of spending hours every day managing affairs for the prince, her father wandered around the house, and sometimes all of Bremen, like a rooster with no hens. That meant that he was all too free to attend to the affairs of his small family, most especially including Marieke.

Stepmother and daughter went down the wooden staircase to the richly appointed library where the red-faced bürger paced in front of a huge stone fireplace. His green silk doublet had wrinkled where his ample belly had stretched the material as he sat at his leather-topped desk. But now he was apparently too agitated for any sitting.

“Marieke, my dear, I have something I must ask you.” His whole demeanor told both daughter and wife that the man was having to make a major effort to contain himself and control his temper. He spat out his question like it tasted bad on his tongue. “I have been told that there are rumors of you still being involved with the ludicrous, demon-spawned Committee of Correspondence in town. Is this true?” Herr Knaub’s grey eyes bored into her, his ferocious beetling eyebrows framing their anger.

Herr Knaub stood in front of the unused fireplace as if he could not move until his daughter answered. Frau Knaub gasped and held her breath, waiting for Marieke’s reply. The color drained from her face and neck as Marieke pushed back her white blonde bangs, dropped her cornflower blue eyes to the wool rug under her feet and gripped the light blue skirt under her brown bodice. She had known she would have to tell her parents some time but had hoped it would be later. After all, the confrontation about the now-traveling Hans had been but four weeks back. Hardly enough time for the hurt feelings to heal. Even though she knew Hans had planned to leave and go study engineering, Marieke still blamed her father for running the young man off sooner than she wished.

All this flashed through her mind as she stood in front of her father and her stepmother wrung her own hands.

“Well? Answer me, child? Is my daughter still consorting with revolutionaries and atheists? Is this a lie by those who wish us ill?”

There was no help for it. She could not outright lie to Papa. He would find out and then, then he would not trust her. No, she must, as the up-timers said, make a clean breast of it.

“Yes, Papa, I have been spending time at the Freedom Arches in town. They are good people and have been helping the flood victims. You have always told me it is our Christian duty to help others.” Marieke could see the storm clouds suffusing her father’s face as the rest of her pitch poured from her lips. “They do so much good and they help so many people. Besides, Aunt Betlinda volunteers there, too.”

At the mention of his sister’s name, Herr Knaub became, if possible, even more enraged. His chest puffed out even further, endangering the silver buttons. “Do not use your aunt as an excuse or example of anything. That apostate holds queer ideas about life and has always been an embarrassment to this family!”

He paused to calm himself, running a pudgy paw through his thinning grey hair, pushing the once-neat shoulder-length hair back from his sweating face.

“What am I to do with you? First, you take up with a young man from a family of night soil workers. Now I find you are spending time with up-time revolutionaries. Do you not see how your actions besmirch us all? I am a man of some importance in our town! Your mother is known as a beacon of righteousness! Your brother is . . .”

Marieke could stand her father’s self-righteous tirade no longer. “My brother is a pompous, primping, two-faced lout who only cares for himself! The stories I could tell . . .”

She was ready to declare a litany of her brother’s sins and missteps when her father stopped her with a raised hand as he turned his back. “Stop now, girl, before you overstep yourself. This discussion is about you, not Ebbe! He has not been called in fault!”

Now Marieke’s face was as flushed as her father’s. “It is time to discuss him. He had no right to attack Hans and no right to say anything about how I live my life!”

“Yes, he does on both accounts. You are unmarried and still the responsibility of this household. It falls to us, your mother, brother, and I, to ensure you are able to make a good marriage when the time comes. Running with the reprobates of the CoC could dirty your reputation, making it impossible for you to find a good match short of frozen Russia or God-forsaken Ireland! No! There will be no more discussion! You will not go back to the CoC, and you will stay away from Betlinda.”

Marieke heard her stepmother sob behind her, knowing she could not reason with her enraged father. Afraid of losing her own temper beyond reason, Marieke turned and fled the room, running up the stairs to her bedroom. She slammed the door behind her and threw herself on the bed.

Whether from anger or frustration, tears filled Marieke’s eyes, dampening the down pillow she cried into. She did not want to give her father the satisfaction of hearing her cry so she pushed her face into the pillow.

What was she to do? Marieke had always wanted a true job, a true purpose. Working with the CoC gave her that purpose. She could well and truly help people who needed aid. She had been raised to be a pretty, yet vacuous housewife, a trophy for some well-heeled businessman or noble. She was trained to serve tea and social niceties. But always, even before the up-timers arrived and showed her world that women could do more, be more, she had wanted better. No, she couldn’t captain a ship to explore the world but through the CoC she could change things for the better! Couldn’t her father see this?

Maybe she could convince her stepmother . . . She and her stepmother were not close, but they also were not open enemies. Their relationship was more like two boats docked at the same port.

Aunt Betlinda would help her if she could. She understood. She herself worked with the Committees of Correspondence and had avoided the chains of marriage so she could stay free. Maybe if Marieke declared her intention of doing the same her parents would leave her alone and give up on making a marriage match for her. It was worth a try . . .

Marieke lay on her bed as the sun rays shifted and the day passed. Intent on planning her escape from matrimony, she did not hear the first few rappings on her door.

“Marieke! Marieke!” A quiet female voice called from the other side of the wooden barrier.

Her sister, Katrin, slowly opened the door and stepped halfway into the room. “Are you going to throw something at me?” Katrin’s lips curled into an impish grin. “Your row with Papa was quite impressive. I don’t want to come in if you are going to use me for pitching practice like the up-timer baseball players. Are you, or is it safe?”

“You are quite safe, Dumpling. Come in and sit with me.” Marieke was the only family member that Katrin let call her by her baby name, Dumpling. When she was young, Katrin with her round face and body did bear a passing resemblance to a potato dumpling. As she grew older, Katrin had lost most of her baby fat and with it, the baby name.

“I only caught part of what was said but it seems Papa does not agree with the way you spend your time?” Katrin had seated herself on the bed, pushing off her silk indoor shoes and putting her bare feet on the bed. Her hair was a darker blonde than Marieke’s but she had the same clear blue eyes. It being a housework day, Katrin had on some of Marieke’s hand-me-downs. At fourteen, Katrin was almost as tall as her older sister.

Marieke reached out to affectionately tug on one of Katrin’s fuzzy braids. “I think you heard enough. Papa is concerned for the household reputation and demands that I avoid the CoC.”

A sly smile spread across Katrin’s sweet face. “Yessss, I am sure he said that. I am also sure you will not do that. Am I wrong?” The smile grew to a toothy grin.

Marieke met her sister with a smile of her own as she reached for a small, clean cloth on the night stand next to the bed. She blew her nose and gave a short laugh.” You know me too well, Dumpling. I have been making other plans.”

Katrin giggled and hugged her sister. “Good for you! It is a new time and a new world. It is time that women make their own destinies and not be forced into marriages as their life’s work.”

“That is what I have been learning from Aunt Betlinda.” Marieke nodded and dabbed at her still-dripping nose.

“I am so glad to hear that! There is something I have just been dying to tell you, and it seems that now is the time.” The younger girl glowed with anticipation.

“Tell me, silly goose! What could be that important?”

Katrin drew herself up on the bed, sitting as tall as she could, patted her yellow skirt and straightened it across her knees. “Two things, actually. First, I have decided what I want to do with my life. You know I love up-timer rock and roll. I have always been able to sing.”

“Yes, and?”

“I have joined a rock and roll band as a singer.”

Marieke clapped her hands and hugged her sister. “How lovely! Have you told Mama or Papa?”

“Not yet. The band has only started rehearsing together. We have a drummer. It’s not really an up-time drum set. It is an empty ale barrel. Then we have a lutist. We hope to add a few more players in time.”

“Does your band have a name?”

“Not yet, but we are trying out several that sound like up-time bands. I can’t tell you now because it might jinx it. But I can tell you something else.”

“And what would that be? I can’t wait!”

“Well, I cannot tell you one name but I can tell you another.”

“Stop being so mysterious and tell me!” Marieke gave her sister’s arm a small shake.

“I have given myself a new name. Katrin is sooo down-timer. My name is now Barbie, like the dolls. I can’t think of another name that sounds more up-time.”

“Well, Barbie, this will definitely help my cause.” Marieke giggled and shook her head.

“Why?”

“After you tell Papa your new name he’ll be so apoplectic with anger he will forget all about me. Either that or he will feel relieved that all I want to do is talk with up-timers, not become one. So, thank you, Barbie.”

The two girls looked at each other and broke into gales of laughter.

****

 

In a barn outside Bremen

A few days later

 

The newly-renamed Barbie stood amongst a group of young male and female musicians in a large wooden barn. The only animals in attendance were a few chickens pecking the ground in search of a late lunch and four grey goats wandering among the humans cadging for treats from bags and pockets. Midafternoon sunlight slipped through the open slats here and there.

The young music makers spread themselves on the bound hay bales stacked in the center of the barn.

“Let’s get this going, shall we?” Barbie stood in the center with a tall, gangly young man a few years older than the young Knaub. His large hands emerged several inches beyond his slightly dirty cotton sleeves. His dark brown hair brushed the top of the expensive, lace-touched white collar. His up-timer jeans tucked into well-worn leather boots, and a blue patterned doublet completed his attire.

The young people scattered around him and Barbie ranged in age from thirteen to nineteen and carried a wide selection of instruments, even one or two that their instructors might not recognize as musical instruments like an ale barrel or two.

All the young eyes were fixed firmly on Barbie.

“So you want to be in an up-timer rock and roll band?” The young man scanned the musicians arrayed around him.

All the heads nodded in unison. A few shuffled their feet.

“How many of you are already in an orchestra or another group?”

Several of the young men raised their hands. The young women sat with widened eyes. One spoke up, a girl with auburn plaits wrapped around her head like a crown. “If we have not been playing with another group does that disqualify us?”

Barbie and the young man next to her, Carl, conferred quietly then turned back to the teenager. He spoke in a surprisingly deep voice. “Of course not, Brigitte. Rock and roll is about new things, breaking new ground, celebrating the music in all of us. We do ask everybody to try out so we can see how you fit n with the band. What do you play?”

She scrunched up her courage. “Recorder.”

Carl turned to the girl next to her. “And you, Gisela, was it?”

The young woman with short light brown hair smiled shyly and mumbled. “Sackbut.”

Carl continued around the loose circle, receiving a variety of answers. “Trumpet.” “Flute.” “Guitar.” “Lute.” And others.

“It sounds like we have the making of a kickin’ band!” Barbie clapped her hands in delight.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with the group talking about what up-time music they liked and getting to know each other.

****

 

The Knaub household

A little over a month later

 

Marieke heard light steps coming toward her bedroom door. She thought it might be the young maid bringing in the laundry or some other morning chore. Marieke turned back to her book. She had been reading a book copied from the Grantville library. She knew her father would not approve of the title so she hid it in her skirts when she heard steps.

The steps stopped outside her door. She slid the thin book into her skirt pocket and picked up the needlework she kept nearby.

She barely recognized the apparition that slid into the room through a half-opened door. Marieke gasped, drawing her hand across her open mouth.

“Katrin?”

Was this really her sister? Was this a joke? Marieke had never seen anyone dressed like this. It could be Katrin, or maybe not. Should she laugh or not? Frankly, she had no idea how to act.

A familiar voice called her name. “Marieke, it’s me. How do you like the new look?”

“Katrin, Barbie, whoever. What have you done? What are you wearing? Where is the rest of your hair?” Mielke did not know where to look first or what to ask. All she could do was gape.

The last time she had seen her younger sister the girl looked like many girls in Bremen. Long, braided hair with a nicely embroidered brown bodice laced over several sets of cotton skirts accented with lace on her starched blouse. Light shoes on her small feet finished the picture.

But that was this morning. Obviously, something had changed. Katrin had made a full transformation into a rock and roll diva.

Every strip of clothing Marieke could see on Barbie/Katrin was black. She wore a black stretchy turtleneck under a black leather bodice over a series of black cotton skirts. At the bottom, Marieke could see black hosen and heavy black leather boots peeking out. Her sister had cut her beautiful blonde hair! Her hair, when loose, had reached past her bottom but no longer. Now, the shiny blonde hair barely covered the girl’s ears with a straight bob. Perhaps the most shocking details danced across the black bodice –white and silver skulls grinned their way across in a macabre yet delicate chain!

“Katrin!”

“No! Please, it’s Barbie now.”

“All right, Barbie . . .” Marieke held her tongue and ran through all the things she might say.

“Marieke, will you come to our first gig? That’s what up-timers call a recital, a gig. It will be so much fun! We are going to play real up-timer rock and roll songs! It is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me! Please, say you will be there! Please!”

“I don’t know, Ka . . . Barbie. No, I will be there. Girls have to stick together, right?” Marieke stood up and walked over to her dark-clad sister and hugged her.

****

 

Bremen, Rathaus

Morning, September, 1635

 

Betlinda Knaub paused, took a deep breath, and sailed into the office of the Bürgermeister und Präsident des Senats, as the mayor of Bremen had been known for centuries. The occupant wasn’t the man known from the histories—he’d fled with the prince-bishop. The new officeholder was a widowed functionary named by Prince Friedrich, a man named Emil Jauch who was from a famous family in Hamburg. He was stout, and in the warm weather of early September, he was florid and sweating through his expensive red silk doublet.

“And what may I do for you, Frau Knaub?” Herr Jauch unfurled one of his broader smiles to welcome Betlinda into his office.

“I have an important treat to offer the citizens of Bremen. You will recall the story of the ‘Musicians of Bremen’?”

“Yes, and I just was overseeing the placement of the statue that is based on the up-time photo of the statue they say stood in the Rathausplatz in their time. It is near the holy statue of the paladin Roland.”

Betlinda smiled back. “We have a group of young people, what the up-timers call ‘teenagers,’ who have formed a musical group, a band, and they call themselves the Musicians of Bremen. They would like to perform for the city.”

“Well, I hope their musicianship is better than the cat, the dog, the rooster, and the donkey!” Jausch thought his witticism the height of humor and let loose a friendly guffaw.

“They would like to perform in the Rathausplatz next month. May we have your permission?”

“What kind of music do they play?”

“Music to dance a brawl by.”

Jausch leered at Betlinda, who was a very good-looking older woman. “Do you dance a brawl, Frau Knaub?”

“Oh, call me Betlinda, and may I call you Emil? Yes I love a good brawl. If you approve the concert, I will surely save a dance for you!”

Jausch grinned, and stood. Beneath his doublet he was wearing up-timer blue jeans, stuffed into high brown boots. He held his hand out and she shook it. “You have your concert, Betlinda. I hope they are good.”

“I’m sure you will see . . . they play up-timer rock and roll!”

****

 

Bremen town square

An early October evening in 1635

 

Between the statue of Roland and the new statue of the Musicians of Bremen, the assembled townspeople shuffled their feet as they sat on every available space. Those still standing pressed forward to see the stage lit by candles and torches. Vendors wove their way through the crowd with sweets, mulled wine and pastries. Mothers tossed their little ones on their laps to keep them amused while everyone waited for the new music.

The crowd held people of all ages, from babies in arms to almost toothless grandfathers. Several shopkeepers had rolled carts outside where they peddled ale and brats, pretzels and candies. Everyone wanted to be at Bremen’s first rock and roll concert!

Several fires had been lit on either side of the low wooden stage. Some people had brought out candles in holders they held or stood upright in the dry ground. An array of instruments was arranged as if waiting for their musicians. There was a lute, a harpsichord, a clavichord, a sackbut, a dudelsack, a recorder on a stand, a guitar, and even several ale barrels of varying sizes arranged in a circle.

Then a tall, young man took the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you . . . Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen!” The tall man in his late twenties stood in the middle of a raised platform, surrounded by an array of musical instruments. The silver buttons and chains strewn across his black leather jacket, pants, and boots reflected back the flickering candlelight.

The audience watched as a procession of young musicians filed onto the stage and took up their instruments. A burly teenage male pulled up a straw bale behind the well-used ale kegs and started a backbeat. The rest of the musicians picked up their instruments. As the rest got going, Barbie in her blackest finery danced on stage, pounding a tambourine. She got into the first song—Geboren in Bremen. The few citizens who had heard up-time music and any up-timers in the crowd would recognize the tune as “Born on the Bayou.”

Barbie belted it out at the bottom end of her sweet alto register. The male harpsichordist joined in on the chorus, adding more depth. All the musicians, male and female, got lost in the tune and missed the hoots and calls from the attending family and friends. Some of the instruments were a little too light to be easily heard but all the musicians played, letting the music flow through their instruments.

One clump of listeners stood in shock near the back of the crowd. Herr and Frau Knaub stood flanked by their son, Ebbe, and several retainers. Silence swathed the small party as Herr Knaub’s face grew redder and redder. His wife kept glancing between her husband and the stage where his youngest sang and banged her tambourine as if the world were ending.

The scrawny, ginger-haired young man, Gunter, made his dudelsack sing like a moaning cow. Gilbert, in a dapper dark blue doublet with embroidered skeleton edging, played counterpoint on the harpsichord with a strong backbeat, echoed by blonde, chunky Metta on the flute. Other teens joined in on guitar, clavichord, sackbut and underneath it all like a giant heart was Bernhardt of the massive arms, the smith’s son, pounding the driving beat while sweat poured off his dark curls.

Marieke and Aunt Betlinda sat on a bale at the front of the audience where Barbie could see them. Shortly after the music started she saw them drawn along by the musical flood with the rest of the increasingly appreciative crowd.

By the end of the first song, the happy Bremenites were clapping and stomping, their legs carrying them through polkas and simple stomps, as they made largely unsuccessful attempts at singing along with the rousing chorus.

The song stopped, and Barbie swiftly swung the Musicians of Bremen into their next one, “Stolz Maria” or “Proud Mary” to the English speakers. Nobody seemed to care too much about the words as the young band carried the song to a rousing crescendo.

The Musicians of Bremen kept up their concert, bewitching the town square. By the end of an hour of up-time-based songs their black costumes were drenched in sweat, and the townspeople were dancing on and around the bales, with ersatz polka and waltz steps and some that resembled nothing more than an outright brawl.

Halfway through the gig, the Musicians of Bremen took a few minutes to grab some water and air. A few audience members had left, mumbling, “Devil’s music” and “Never want to hear that again!” But most of the townsfolk, of all ages, were just catching their breath and waiting for another round. They were saying things like, “Best polka I ever heard!” or “I haven’t danced a brawl that good in a long time!” The children universally took advantage of the chance to dance unabashedly across the square with their parents using more traditional steps. The older people seemed split, with a few leaving, complaining this must be devil-inspired, but most staying to clap hands and tap toes.

As soon as Barbie felt the band members could hit a beat again, she started into the second half. Now the audience was ready for them. There was no hesitation as there had been at the beginning of the first set. Bernhardt, sweat plastering his light linen shirt to his body like a wet second skin, hit the top of his ale barrel and everyone was on their feet.

The Musicians of Bremen kept the crowd dancing through several more songs ending with a fully German version of “It’s Only Rock and Roll But I Like It.” All the band members not playing an instrument that required their mouths joined in on the final chorus.

Then, just as suddenly as the music started it stopped. The young players were so tired they resembled nothing more than clockwork figures that had merely run down. Sweat dripped off their clothes and hair. They seemed almost too tired to hold their instruments. The crowd milled about, exhausted but too energized to stop talking. Nothing like this had ever been seen in Bremen!

The susurrus of the crowd rolled across the square. Then, one voice, one word, resounded from the back of the happy crowd. “Katrin!!!”

Herr Knaub, looking like an expanded red balloon, stood staring at his bedraggled youngest daughter. Her stepmother sat on the bale next to him, fanning her face with a Spanish lace fan.

Barbie was still on the stage, chattering happily with her band mates. Her father’s voice cut through everything, dragging her attention to the other end of the square where he stood, ready to explode.

She looked at each of the other musicians then stepped off the platform and headed toward her family. Barbie walked past where Marieke and Aunt Betlinda stood.

Marieke grabbed and hugged her as she drew near. “That was wonderful! You were wonderful l!”

“That you were, my girl!” Betlinda stood nearby, beaming with pride. “I have not had that much enjoyment in ages!” Her greying braids frayed where the hair had escaped as if to better enjoy the music. Her embroidered brown dirndl was unfashionably damp.

Fully aware that her father still loomed at the back of the milling crowd, Barbie hugged them and promised to talk more later. Then she headed to meet her father.

“Papa! Did you enjoy the show?” Barbie cast her lot by pretending she did not see her father’s impending explosion.

“Katrin, we MUST talk.” The words seemed to push their way past his clenched jaw rather than being propelled.

“Wasn’t it marvelous!?” Barbie looked from her father to her stepmother, even glancing at Ebbe who loomed at the back of the family. She hoped her status as youngest daughter would protect her from the worst of Herr Knaub’s ire.

“Not the words I would choose, Katrin. We will discuss this at home. In private.” With that he turned to his wife and then Ebbe. “Enough of this for now. We are all going home now. You, too, Katrin.” Herr Knaub walked off, somehow seeming to stomp without actually doing so, followed by his wife and son.

Ebbe grinned maliciously at Barbie as he pulled up the rear of the small procession. He had always been jealous of her. Barbie figured this was his chance to become the favored one. Fine with her! She never wanted to be a pampered princess. She wanted to have a real life! She was going to be a rocker! Imagine! The first down-time rock diva!

****

 

The Knaub Household

Later that evening

 

Barbie walked slowly up to the front door of her brightly illuminated home. Light poured out of the windows on the first and second floors.

This told her everything she needed to know, or feared, about her father’s anger. Normally, the house would be dark at this time of night. Maybe Old Albruna would be in the kitchen baking the morning’s pastries. But Barbie had never seen the house lit up like a lantern this late. Maybe she should wander outside for a while, hoping her father would fall asleep, and everyone else would follow.

Barbie started to move away from the ornately carved front door and back into the late night shadows. Too late.

Unseen, Ebbe had stationed himself at the library window as lookout. “Katrin, Father is looking for you.” His voice boomed out across the front yard like a foghorn.

As if waiting for the right sign, her stepmother swept out the front door, directly at Barbie. “Katrin, we were all so worried. Where have you been? You are still dripping wet and in this cool air, too.”

Before she could physically drag Barbie in the doorway, Herr Knaub’s voice reverberated through the house, out the windows and down the lane toward town. Somewhere in the back of her mind Barbie wondered if the band members could hear him, too. “Katrin!”

Barbie felt herself being dragged, gently, by her stepmother into the house and down the hallway to the library where her father radiated anger like some ancient battle lord. Her stepmother waited for Barbie to get all the way into the library and then left her standing in front of her father, who was also standing.

“Katrin. You are to begin a new life tomorrow. Or rather, you are to return to being my beloved daughter. I do not know this skull-bespangled, black-draped apparition that shrieks in public. This is not my Katrin! I demand to have my Katrin returned to me! With the morning light! Am I clear?” All of that he had ejected in what seemed like one breath. Then, with a deep “Hrumph!” he sat in his red leather desk chair with air of a king who has just made a kingdom-wide pronouncement. His dark grey eyes bore into her blue ones.

Barbie was silent, stunned by her father’s reaction. She had expected him to be upset but she had never seen him this angry. What should she say? What should she do? What could she say or do? She loved her rock and roll. How could she make him understand? This was who she was, what she wanted to be. No words came.

“Well, Katrin, you are home now, and the morning will see the return of my girl. You may go to bed now but make no mistake. I do not want to see you like that again. Am I understood?” The anger seemed to have bled away a little bit but Barbie could still hear the steel in her father’s words. With that, he waved his hand, motioning her towards the door. Then he put his head in his hands, feeling the anger replaced by exhaustion.

Barbie turned and left, climbing the stairs to her room. She noticed Ebbe and her stepmother had vacated the hallways. Where was Marieke? Barbie told herself she hoped she was already out of the way of their father’s temper.

Once in her room, Barbie disrobed, secreting her precious outfit away where, she hoped, no one could find it. She knew her father would order one of the servants to search her room for it so she planned to take it to one of the band members’ houses in the morning. Then she curled up in her bed, falling swiftly into an exhausted sleep.

****

Sure enough, Barbie woke as Old Albruna rummaged through her closet, obviously looking for something. Barbie noticed that various piles of clothes had been moved since the night before.

“Young Katrin, Guten Tag! I am looking for your dirty clothes. It is wash day and, after your raucous night, I suspect you have at least a few things to wash, do you not?” The old woman continued to cast her eyes across Barbie’s room as if the offending clothing would raise its hand to be recognized and collected.

Barbie thought quickly. She hated lying, but it had taken quite an effort to get that outfit together and if it went with Old Albruna she knew it would disappear. Her father would have already ordered it to be destroyed. No! She would not give up her dream so easily!

“I changed elsewhere before I came home and left last night’s clothes elsewhere.” She hoped the old woman would not check her story with anyone who had seen Barbie come home.

“Ach! Well, bring them home for cleaning when you go out. There are fresh buns in the kitchen for your breakfast, so come on, sleepyhead.” Old Albruna had been with the family since before Barbie was born so she could take such liberties with the young mistress.

Albruna bustled out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. Barbie knew she couldn’t hide much longer in her room. She had to get up and out. She had to figure out what to do. Besides, by looking at the height of the sun, she realized it was mid-morning. Someone had decided to let her sleep in. Could this be a good sign? She could hope, couldn’t she?

She slipped out from under the voluminous, cream-colored comforter with a small whimper. The chill in the air caught her by surprise. Barbie wrapped a woven woolen blanket around her so she could perform her morning ablutions without shivering. Albruna or someone had brought a pitcher of clean water and set it next to the basin on her washtable. It could not have been too long before because a slight trail of steam still rose from it.

Barbie started to wash her face then stopped, startled by the image in her looking glass. Was that her with the huge black circles around her eyes? Oh, that was it . . . She had gone to bed so late and upset she had forgotten to take off her rocker makeup. Giggling at herself, Barbie started scrubbing her face, removing makeup and sweat alike. She would have to remember to wash after the shows, she told herself. If there were any more shows . . .

There had to be more shows! She would find a way no matter what it took! She had never felt more alive, more right! She knew the chill she felt now had less to do with a fall morning and much more to do with last night. The first night of her life as a rocker.

As she dried her face and pawed at her newly shorn hair with a wooden comb, Barbie began gathering her thoughts and strength for the battle ahead with her Papa. Surely he wanted her to be happy. Couldn’t he see this made her happy? She had to show him, convince him, that this was the best for her. But how? He was a traditionalist. He believed that the best thing for his girls was to marry well. Ebbe could do as he liked, but she and Marieke must obey Papa. That is what he believed.

And where was Marieke?? She should have heard from her by now. Normally, Marieke would have woken her, refusing to let her sleep so late. Oh well, that’s a question for later . . .

She silently argued her case to her clean-scrubbed image in the glass. The Ring of Fire had changed everything! The up-timers showed us women could do and be something other than hausfraus with retinues of servants. Look at Rebecca and Gretchen, the heroines who were changing the world! They did get married but they were not tied down to a house like a horse to a plow. Oh, no! She would be free, too!

Barbie felt her courage slowly creeping back in when someone knocked on her door. “Katrin dear, are you ready to come downstairs? Everyone else is up.” Her stepmother knocked again, this time a little harder.

Guten Morgen! I am up and dressing. Give me a few more minutes to properly prepare myself.” Barbie wanted to stick her tongue out in rebellion at the door but didn’t. She was above such childish displays. Besides, she must prepare herself to be a rock diva, and surely rock divas did not partake of such displays!

Listening to make sure the older woman walked back down the hallway, Barbie checked for her hidden clothing. She moved her painted dresser and found the now-dirty black bundle where she had placed it last night. “Good! I still have my rocker clothing!” She threw a glance around as if someone might have snuck in while her back was turned then returned the bundle and the dresser.

Under her breath Barbie mumbled, “I guess I must play the good girl at home and dress the part. But there is no growing my hair back overnight so I guess he will have to accept that part of me.”

She pulled on a blue skirt with yellow edging, a white linen blouse and her old dark blue bodice with embroidered edelweiss. “Don’t you look like the proper fraulein now?” Barbie allowed herself one display of tongue extension at the neatly-dressed girl she saw in her looking glass. “Papa will just LOVE you!”

She turned around, opened the door and walked into the hallway to meet today’s fate.

She had not even reached the bottom of the stairs before her father bellowed, “Katrin, please come to the library.”

Marvelous! He was not going to even let her break her fast before commencing with the lecture. Just great! Well, at least she looked the way he wanted her to look. He couldn’t complain about that. Except her hair.

Barbie walked down the hall to the already crowded library. An odd tableau met her view. Walking in she wasn’t surprised to see her father in his usual leather throne. But what did surprise her was who else awaited her. Aunt Betlinda, Marieke, and the Bürgermeister und Präsident des Senats himself! What was his name? Somebody Jausch . . . Never mind! What was happening?

All except her father seemed happy to see her. The bürgermeister stood in his warm fur-lined red doublet beatifically surveying the scene. Aunt Betlinda and her sister grinned like, like cats out of that up-timer book Alice in Wonderland. Aunt Betlinda kept looking, sidelong, at Herr Jausch and smiling in a peculiar way. Her father smiled with that tight-around-the eyes expression she had seen him use when he was avoiding telling the prince a hard truth. All too odd! What was happening? And what did they want with her?

Herr Knaub started to speak. “My dear Katrin, the bürgers . . .”

Before he could finish the sentence Herr Jausch broke in, offering his hand to Barbie as if she were a princess. “Katrin or Barbie, I must tell you I and my family thoroughly enjoyed your performance last night! I and my darling wife danced like we were bewitched! You and your band must perform again and often! That is why I am here.” He seemed to have completely forgotten Herr Knaub, now standing at the desk looking forlorn.

The bürgermeister continued to hold Barbie’s small hand in his large, somewhat hairy one. “The bürgers met right after the performance. None of us could have slept so soon after that invigorating music, could we? So we voted and decided that you and the Musicians of Bremen must be asked to perform at least once a month in Bremen. Your band will set Bremen apart from all the other towns, nay cities, in Germany! We will be the envy of the others because we have a real up-time style rock band! We will be the talk of Europe! We will have real Musicians of Bremen!”

As he talked the bürgermeister spoke faster and faster, obviously warming up to his topic. Meanwhile, Herr Knaub became more and more deflated. What was he to do? He could defy the bürgers and require Katrin live a life of quiet anonymity, or he could please the bürgers, and probably his prince who wanted to please the bürgers, and let her become that wild thing.

Finally, Herr Knaub could hold quiet no longer. “Sir, we are greatly honored by your offer . . .”

“Herr Knaub, this not an offer as such. Please consider this as more of a request. Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen are the most exciting thing to come out of Bremen in many generations. We do not believe what these young people are doing should be lost or go elsewhere. They are Bremen-bred and the whole world should know it!”

Barbie could not believe her ears! Not only did the town like their music, they wanted more! She noticed her Aunt Betlinda said nothing, but the grin on her face could not have been wider. She was enjoying this moment way too much! What part had she played in this scenario? Marieke stood behind Betlinda, grinning widely.

Herr Knaub gave up. He knew from long experience with the bürgers that he could not outtalk this one. He needed time to consider his options. He did not like being shoved into allowing Katrin to become a whirling, screeching display. Even if it would be good for his beloved Bremen.

“Indeed, Herr Bürgermeister, it was a long night for us all. As you can see, Katrin is as startled by your reaction to the performance as I am. I need some time to talk with her.”

Seeing he was not to get an immediate approval, the bürgermeister‘s face clouded over but he hung on to the remains of his smile. “Of course, we can understand, Herr Knaub. But please do not keep us waiting long. We want to publicize our jewel as soon as possible. The Christmas season is pressing close, and we would want to draw in visitors at least once during that time.”

He turned his attention back to Barbie, her hand still caught in his grasp. “Barbie, I hope that you can prevail on your esteemed father to do the best for his city.” With that, he leaned down, kissed her hand, bowed to the other women present and processed out into the hall, where someone led him to the door.

The air seemed to rush back into the library with the bürgermeister‘s exit. Herr Knaub fell rather than sat into the leather seat behind the desk. No one spoke.

He seemed to not know whom to glare at first, torn between Barbie and Aunt Betlinda. Herr Knaub had forgotten Marieke was still in the room, half-hidden behind an elaborately detailed clock.

“Is this your doing, Betlinda?” Herr Knaub spit out the words like they tasted bad. Now he only had room to glare at his sister.

“Not quite. He only asked me to come along because he suspected that you might not welcome the idea. Everyone DID hear you last night, after all. But now I must return home. I have some duties to attend to, and . . .”

“And you are done sticking your meddlesome nose in my family’s life for today, aren’t you?” It was a good thing that he could not really throw daggers out of his eyes, or he would have been charged with sororicide. At the moment, the penalty would not have distracted him. He was beyond furious with his older sister. She denied it, but he knew she had some guilt in this matter.

Enough time to deal with her later. For now, he was in a quagmire with Katrin. He needed time to think. “So be it, Betlinda. You have most certainly done enough here for now. But know, this matter is not done.”

Betlinda took that as her cue to leave, taking Marieke with her. Marieke seemed perfectly content to leave and put distance between herself and an exploding father.

That only left Barbie standing in front of her father. She had no idea what to say or do. She began the morning expecting it to go one way and something happened. But what? What would her father say! Would he allow her to openly play rock and roll? Would he demand she remain his Katrin?

Time stood still as Barbie stood in front of her temporarily silent Papa. The tall clock ticking was the only sound in the room for more breaths than she noticed. Both people were lost in their own thoughts.

Then Herr Knaub broke the silence with his quiet hammer of a voice. “What am I to do?”

****

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5 thoughts on “Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen

  1. Tim Sayeau

    The answer is simple, Herr Knaub= ensure your daughter and the Musicians of Bremen get paid well for their promotional work! Get signed contracts, record deals, look after the best interests of Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen, the music industry OTL is cut-throat, I see no reason the record industry in the NTL shouldn’t follow the same, protect your daughter, Herr Knaub!

  2. Wayne Roy

    Tim Sayeau is completely right. The music business is a vile parasite that sucks the lifeblood out of musicians as vigorously as it can. I might have a bad attitude about it. I have friends who’ve had major hits that if you look at their labels’ math, have never turned a profit. So they are basically unpaid to badly underpaid. If you use the same kind of math, Star Wars has yet to turn a profit. Apple Computers hasn’t yet made a profit if you let record company accountants do their books.

  3. Charles K. Alexander II

    I’m skeptical of the whole premise of this story – that so many downtimers would react so well to uptime rock and roll music – but if I concede that point, Tim Sayeau’s advice to Herr Knaub is spot on.

  4. Lorraine Rovig

    Well IMO–People who polka surely enjoy a good beat. The band tunes mentioned surely have that so I can see a majority of the townspeople enjoying this new music.

    We readers learned at the start of the story that Papa is retired and bored. The list of jobs from Tim in the comment above would be a great way for the tyrant-papa to use his knowledge from being secretary to a prince and get over having too little to do.

    Now if we can only read that the author has a comeuppance planned for the obnoxious brother, we’d have a win-win-win.

  5. Marcus Hagen

    I expect the band sounded rather like a rocker “unplugged” concert or album. This could be the reason for the more general positive response. Lorraine & Tim make me impatient for the next installment!

    (note to the editor: “fraülein” is missing the umlauted “u” in the story.)

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