Bruno came home from school one day to find his family’s maid, Maria, packing his belongings. Despite his shock, he remembered to address Maria politely when he asked her what she was doing. Maria refused to answer him, so Bruno asked his mother, expressing concern that he had done something wrong. Mother explained that Bruno had no reason to worry. Maria was packing because the whole family would soon be going on a “great adventure.” Mother reminded Bruno that his father’s employer had a very special new job for him. Bruno didn’t know much about his father’s work, and in the past when he’d asked Mother, she had simply repeated that Father’s job was “very important.”
Mother explained that they would have to close up their house in Berlin for the time being and that Maria, the family cook, and the butler, Lars, would come with them. The family would be leaving very soon, and Bruno grew upset when he learned he wouldn’t have a chance to say goodbye to his three closest friends. Even though he didn’t like having to turn off all the lights in the house at night, Bruno didn’t want to leave Berlin or his life there.
Dejected, Bruno went upstairs to help Maria pack. He held the banister, which extended from the ground floor all the way up to the fourth floor. Bruno loved nothing more than climbing to the top floor of the house, which had a window that looked out across Berlin, then sliding all the way back down on the banister. As he walked upstairs, he saw Mother enter Father’s office, which was “Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions.” He listened to his parents argue briefly, then kept climbing.
Whereas the Berlin house had five floors (counting the cook’s cellar) and stood among other, similar houses, the family’s new house had only three floors and stood alone, looking empty and desolate. Bruno thought about the hustle and bustle of the city, with its bright store fronts and overflowing vegetable markets. The memories of Berlin filled him with a sense of “sweetness and life.” But standing in front of the new house, he felt he’d arrived in “the loneliest place in the world.”
Deeply upset by the upheaval, Bruno made his dissatisfaction known. But Mother insisted that he had no choice in the matter and that the family would stay for the “foreseeable future.” She sent him to his new room to help Maria unpack his belongings. Still fuming, Bruno asked Maria what she thought of their new situation, but she refused to answer him.
Bruno heard a creak in the hallway and saw a young blonde soldier carrying a box out of his parents’ new room. The man saw Bruno but said nothing to him. Bruno thought he looked too serious. Maria said, “Well, they have very serious jobs . . . Or so they think anyway.”