Once a German artisan came from Tuttlingen to Amsterdam. Amsterdam was a rich city full of good houses, swaying ships and busy people. A large and handsome house caught his attention, it was a house he had never yet seen the like of between Tuttlingen and Amsterdam.
For a long time the man from Tuttlingen gazed astonished at the luxurious building, the many chimneys on its glazed roof, its beautiful cornices and its tall windows, larger than the door of his father's house at home. Finally he could not refrain from addressing a passer-by,
"My good friend," he said to him, "could you tell me the name of the gentleman who owns this wonderfully beautiful house with its windows full of tulips, daisies and stocks?"
But the man he addressed just said shortly and brusquely, "Kannitverstan", and buzzed past.
Now this was Dutch for "I cannnot understand." But the man from Tuttlingen believed that it was the name of the man he had asked about. He must have been an awfully rich man, this Herr Kannitverstan, he thought and went on.
He finally came to the bay they call Het Ey. There he saw ship beside ship and mast beside mast. Finally he noticed a large ship which had just arrived from East India and was now being unloaded. Whole rows of boxes and bales were already standing on and beside one another on land. But more kept being rolled out, and barrels full of sugar and coffee, full of rice and pepper.
When he had looked for a long time, he asked a fellow who was just carrying a chest on his shoulder,
"Who is the lucky man that the ship brings all these goods to shore for?"
"Kannitverstan", he was told.
At this he thought, No wonder, a man that rich can well afford to have the house I saw too, the one with tulips in front of his windows in gilded flowerpots.
Now he went back again and got sad to think how poor he was among so many rich people. Then, as he was saying to himself, "If I had it as OK as Herr Kannitverstan only once," he turned a corner and saw a splendid funeral procession. Four horses draped in black were drawing a hearse, which was likewise draped in black. The procession walked slowly on. A long train of friends and acquaintances of the deceased followed, pair by pair, in black coats and silent. In the distance a lonely bell was tolling.
Now the man from Tuttlingen felt melancholy stealing over him, so he stood there with his hat in his hands till they all had passed by. Then he went up to the last man in the procession, gently took hold of his cloak and innocently asked.
"That must have been a good friend of yours," he said, "that you are following the procession so sadly and pensively."
"Kannitverstan!" was the reply.
At this some big tears fell from the eyes of the artisan from Tuttlingen, and he suddenly exclaimed.
"Poor Kannitverstan, what profit do you get from all your wealth now? It is what I will get from my poverty some day too: a shroud and a sheet. And from all your beautiful flowers - perhaps a sprig of rosemary on your cold chest or a rue."
With these thoughts he accompanied the corpse to the grave as if he belonged to the party, and was more moved by the Dutch funeral oration, that he did not understand a word of, than by many at home, where he paid no attention.
Finally he went away with the others with a light heart and ate a piece of Limburger cheese with a good appetite at an inn. And anytime there came sad thoughts that so many people in the world were so rich and he so poor, he brought to mind Herr Kannitverstan in Amsterdam, his great house, his rich ship and his grave.
[Retold from "Kannitverstan" by Johann Peter Hebel (1760-1826)]