Sometimes they went to look at one Ludwig’s projects. He specialized in large communal housing, four or five stories high and designed to ease the housing crisis. Explaining, Ludwig said, “We want to give every worker a place to live. But with lots at a premium, we’ve had to build up.” Frederick thought Ludwig was showing off again when he didn’t need to. Pauline was already impressed not only with what Ludwig was saying, but also by his confidence and knowledge, and by his accomplishments. And just as he felt when he first walked into the Obdachlosenhein and saw Frederick doing women’s work, Herr Lippert was also impressed. And it changed his impression of Ludwig.
Herr Lippert said one day, to goat Frederick, “What do think, Frederick-boy? Looks like you’ve got some competition.”
“What are you talking about?
“The queer!” As soon as he said this, Frederick regretted it. At the same time he remembered going to Pauline’s flat and nothing happening. He remembered every detail and thought about how foolish he felt. Now he suspected that Herr Lippert knew something that he didn’t. It made him think. Why was he spending so much time at the Obdachlosenhein? Had he fallen for Pauline? If he had, it was something he wouldn’t admit. Frederick asked, “Is there something going on between Ludwig and Pauline. It’s impossible. But if there is something, what do I care?”
“Then why do you impersonate sweet charity?”
“Impersonating sweet charity indeed!” Frederick knew he protested too much. “Why not! It doesn’t matter. She’s married and has two children.” It wasn’t true. It did matter to him. It was also true that the war had produced many women like Pauline…widows with kids. Again he protested too much. The idea was something that he’d thought about a lot. He had become obsessed. Why else had he spent so much time working at Obdachlosenhein doing women’s work? Frederick looked disturbed, when he asked, “Can we assume that we’re a whit happier?”
He’d been thinking about how much the world had changed since the war. They had talked about this before. They went to a neighborhood gasthaus and tried to sort it out, and Herr Lippert thought he’d never seen Frederick look so serious. He wondered what was wrong. And he was worried. He’d seen what he thought was an attempt on Pauline’s part to play the three men off of each other. What he didn’t want to lose was Frederick’s friendship.
At last Herr Lippert said, “It’s like we’ve both been stung by a honey bee, and she’s taken off with a drone. But actually, if you think about it, the two of us are where we shouldn’t be. We should leave social work to women, like it’s meant to be. You should be in some business, and I should go into politics. Ludwig, of the three of us, is the only one on course, and he’s free from the bee, but she doesn’t seem to know it yet.”
Frederick felt humiliated, exposed, and wanted to crawl under the table. Instead he reached across it and shook hands with his friend.
Herr Lippert said, “It’s better this way.”
“You think so?” Frederick left the gasthaus thinking, “Herr Lippert is right. It’s better to clear the air about certain things.”
Valuing his friend, he began thinking of Pauline and the Obdachlosenhein. He agreed with Herr Lippert. It was woman’s work, but he couldn’t resist working there. He took a tram to Kastanienallee and the Obdachlosenhein. As he was crossing the street to No. 2, he saw Pauline and knew he couldn’t stay away from her. She didn’t see him because she had her head down. Would he follow her or not? Yes, it was woman’s work. Seeing her go into the building confirmed it but hadn’t the world changed? And weren’t they part of the same movement? Frederick had no wish to go into the Obdachlosenhein immediately. For once, he’d be late.