I'm trying to figure out what the bold marked sentence in this text from Erich Kästner means:

Irgendwo wurde Grammophon gespielt. Die üppige Dame erhob sich und erklärte ernst: »Ich darf Sie, bevor wir hineingehen, mit den wichtigsten Statuten bekanntmachen. Annäherungen der Mitglieder untereinander werden nicht übelgenommen, sondern erwartet. Die Damen genießen dieselben Rechte wie die Herren. Von der Existenz, der Adresse und den Gepflogenheiten des Instituts ist nur vertrauenswürdigen Herrschaften Mitteilung zu machen. Den idealen Absichten des Unternehmens ungeachtet sind die Konsumkosten sofort zu begleichen. Innerhalb der Klubräume hat keins der Paare Anspruch darauf, respektiert zu werden. Paare, die ungestört zu bleiben wünschen, werden gebeten, den Klub zu verlassen. Das Etablissement dient der Anbahnung von Beziehungen, nicht den Beziehungen selber. Mitglieder, die einander vorübergehend zu gegenseitigem Befund Gelegenheit gaben, werden ersucht, das wieder zu vergessen, da nur auf diese Weise Komplikationen vermeidbar sind. Haben Sie mich verstanden, Herr Fabian?«
»Dann bitte ich Sie, mir zu folgen.«

Source: »Fabian« (1931) by Erich Kästner (1899-1974) (reading sample)

It's rules for a sex-club type organization. I know that "Befund" means "Das Ergebnis einer Untersuchung", and a search on dwds.de did not yield any other results. So, would this mean "Members that temporarily allow the opportunity to ?explore each other? are asked to forget about it"?

That phrase is just a bit convoluted and I don't know what it means, as Befund has just that one very specific meaning.

  • 1
    We need more context (maybe the rest of the rules?). My guess is that members have shared health information (results of STD tests) and there is some issue with data privacy. But it could also be some slang that I'm not aware of (because I'm not part of the scene). Context might clarify. Personally, I wouldn't ask on the internet but the club's management.
    – Roland
    Dec 15, 2022 at 6:41
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    @unamichigan: The original question is hard to answer without context. So I searched for your sentence, found it, and added it to your question. Actually, you are expected to provide this context yourself. Without knowing where the text comes from, it is almost impossible to place it in the correct chronological era. However, knowing this era is important to be able to answer the question. Dec 15, 2022 at 8:34
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    Slightly off-topic, but "mit den wichtigsten Statuen bekanntmachen" is a typo for "mit den wichtigsten Statuten bekanntmachen" (the most important laws of the establishment). See this more official edition, p. 12.
    – marquinho
    Dec 15, 2022 at 11:47
  • @marquinho I edited accordingly.
    – HalvarF
    Dec 15, 2022 at 12:48
  • 2
    Vandalizing your own question after several people tried to help you with good answers is a really egoistic move on this site. Reverted.
    – HalvarF
    Dec 17, 2022 at 1:34

4 Answers 4


Befund is clearly used here outside its original (and contemporary) meaning (you've found the proper one in your dictionary, apparently): ...Gelegenheit zum gegenseitigen Befund gaben... is used as a euphemism for whatever happened in private between members of the club outside of the club. (In the book, the club is called "Institut für geistige Annäherung" - institute for spiritual convergence, which is clearly yet another euphemism).

What it means is that if members of the club entered in whatever relationship or interaction (I think it's obvious what kind of interaction is meant here) after meeting in the club, the rule is, it must be forgotten after it happened and not brought back into the club.

In order to understand why the rules were put down that way using euphemisms and in secret (even if nothing obviously amoral was to be happening in the club), you need to understand that any club like that would have had to be very careful to not fulfill the actus reus of Kuppelei (procuration), which used to be a crime (at least on paper later on, but definitely a serious one when the book was written) until 1970 (in Germany - I think Austria handles this differently still today). The name of the club focusing on "spiritual" (vs. physical) "convergence" clearly targets the same issue. In case of a charge they would claim "we only encouraged spiritual convergence. If they in fact had sex, it was their own thing and we can't do anything about it" (even if it is blatantly obvious what the real purpose of the club was).

  • +1. So the charge of "Kuppelei" might be what the "complication" in the rest of the sentence alludes to ("da nur auf diese Weise Komplikationen vermeidbar sind").
    – marquinho
    Dec 15, 2022 at 11:51
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    That's obviously one thing - The other (obvious) thing is that "Komplikationen" could also be jealousness, rumours about specific "qualifications" and "disappointments" whatever, brought back into the club and disturbing the maintained liberality about relationships (or, rather, non-relationships) in the club.
    – tofro
    Dec 15, 2022 at 11:57
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    @tofro: I agree, and I would stress the word "vorübergehend" when saying the sentence. If they become a couple, they don't return to the club. If the "gegenseitiger Befund" was only transitional however and they therefore return to the club, they are to forget about the encounter.
    – HalvarF
    Dec 15, 2022 at 12:57
  • @HalvarF Well, if they become a couple, they will obviously not need any further support for "geistige Annäherung" and not return to the club anyhow.
    – tofro
    Dec 15, 2022 at 14:06

The establishment is not a sex club in the true sense. (Quote: »Das Etablissement dient der Anbahnung von Beziehungen, nicht den Beziehungen selber.« = »The establishment serves to initiate relationships, not the relationships themselves.« In the following paragraph you can read that they dance there and play bridge). But it's still a secret club, where you're only let in if you know someone who's already a member of the club. Fabian was able to refer a few lines before the quoted text to his boss, Mr. Bertuch, who had already been a guest of the establishment five times.

The sentence in bold type refers to this reference rule, and apparently also to another rule that was not explicitly stated, but is implicit in the room: Misbehave and you're out. The sentence states that any two members of the club may not recommend each other, and that they may not protect each other if one of the two has attracted unpleasant attention.

The word Befund (from the verb befinden in the meaning to deem) means (oral) testimony or certificate in this context. The whole sentence uses a stylistic-grammatical pattern that already 90 years ago, when Kästner wrote this novel, was old-fashioned and is completely outdated now in modern German of 21st century.


I am not familiar with the work but the quoted speech is clearly ironical in that the code of conduct of a seedy club is expounded in a very bureaucratic manner, e.g.

Das Etablissement dient der Anbahnung von Beziehungen, nicht den Beziehungen selber.

is simply saying

No sex on the premises.

Befund does not have any meanings beside the one given by the dictionary: findings. The irony of the passage results from the contrast between opaque bureaucratic language

sich zu gegenseitigem Befund Gelegenheit geben
(lit.) to provide the opportunity of mutual findings

and banal reality (have sex). Note the Funktionsverbgefüge Gelegenheit geben; these constructions are typical for bureaucratic language.

  • I would infer that you can only find someone if you observe him, so Befund = Betrachtung (observation). In a state of undress, presumably.
    – ccprog
    Dec 15, 2022 at 20:00
  • @ccprog: maybe not "Betrachtung" but "Begutachtung".
    – bakunin
    Dec 16, 2022 at 12:54
  • @bakunin yes, that is even better.
    – ccprog
    Dec 16, 2022 at 16:10

In contemporary German the word "Befund" is in fact used only for a medical or archeological finding. I guess this interpretation was more or less the same at the time when Kästner wrote "Fabian". So probably also his readers in the 1930'ies were a bit confused. However, etymologically the verb "befinden" (which is nominalized to "Befund") also has other meanings giving a good interpretation in the context of your quotation. In DWDS you can find

... mhd. bevinden 'finden, erfahren, kennenlernen' ...

It seems to me that zu gegenseitigem Befund should be read as zu gegenseitigem Kennenlernen.

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