A short story about an insurance company.

Jun 19, 2020

A short story about an insurance company.

In 1904 a German insurance company built the tallest building in Hamburg and though it was already a proof of modernity, within twenty years it was expanded and modeled on American skyscrapers. It became 15 floors high. Inside a large spiral staircase was wending its way up till the very top. Six more than life size bronze young men were placed on the façade, one standing above another overlooking the town.

Insurance companies tend to have money, these tend to be rich. I once collected stories about circuses for a book. Circuses had to pay large sums to insurance companies, but the companies only paid when damage was caused by men, not when it was the result of an act of God. Fire caused by lightning, floods caused by heavy rainfall, storms which blew away the tents, were all acts of God. Most losses were never payed for.  

The company in Hamburg, which worked under the name of Deutscher Ring, started to work in 1933 in cooperation with the NSDAP. Members of the Nazi party could obtain a death benefit insurance. Jewish people could no longer get any insurance.

Then the war came. Hamburg was bombed and largely in ruins, but the Deutscher Ring was still standing upright. The British military administration had an office there and it also became a refugee camp, with strict rules and regulations, as the building became a crowded living place.  

The once luxurious offices were made into rooms for several families, divided by curtains to provide some privacy. Many boxes of files could be found along the corridor walls and hallways, probably containing the firm’s papers. There was no one to collect the papers, as these all had become outdated, though you could imagine how people, wandering through the almost deserted city, still hoped some insurance would pay for their devastated homes.

Helgi Öpik and her family lived for three months in Deutscher Ring. She had seen so many ruins in Hamburg that she dreamt about these for many years. But from the rooftop of Deutscher Ring she could still see in between the bombed-out houses a church.

Helgi described the lifts in the buildings, which were “doorless boxes which slowly moved continuously like miniature railway wagons, in two shafts side by side, one going up, the other down. They never stopped.” At the top and the bottom, the lifts moved sideways in a dark space, “so that at the top the ascending lift moved to the descent shaft, and vice versa at the bottom.”

The mechanism moved on and on. Deutscher Ring was liquidated after the war, but another Insurance company took its place and then another one. In 1953 the company was even renamed Deutscher Ring, as probably everyone had already forgotten some of the recent history, and the name no longer was infamous for anti-Semitism.

The movement never ended, companies sold and resold, sometimes going down and then upwards again, as we all simply need insurances, even if these are no guarantee everything will be covered when disaster strikes.  

The past months millions of people in the United States have lost their health insurance because they lost their jobs. They could all end up in a negative spiral the moment they need to go to hospital and end up with costs they are not able to pay for.

They might feel like being left in the cellars of the Deutscher Ring building, while the lift goes up and down, but doesn’t stop one moment to bring them to a higher level. But health care should be a right obtainable for everyone. The lift should stop and give everyone a chance to get on board and ascend.