The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Berlin

Return to the City of Faust

LongingAfter two years, Sarah decides to return to Berlin, the city where last she lived with her husband. She longs to see again the banks of the Spree, crowds of youths on Museen Insel, the cafés of Bergmannstraße, the runners along the Landwehrkanal… Above all, she wants to find the spirit  of Julian, the one who left, leaving her, alone with his ghosts. Maybe she’ll be better armed to exorcise them, there, in the light and peaceful apartment where they lived, in Neukölln, through the quiet streets of Friedrichshain, in the park of Charlottenburg…

She’s tired of her lucrative business. For two years, after her last encounter with Helga, she travelled across the world, from financial centre to another, tirelessly making money, negotiating deals, to saturation. With Julian’s inheritance, and her own fortune, she can retire comfortably, keeping her house in London – she may well let it now – and living the life she wants in the city of Faust. She is not without men, a cohort of admirers that have long followed her and showered her with presents, offers, sometime to absurdity. But her only attachment is for Jane, Julian’s young sister, a regular visitor to her place in London, and now in Berlin. Jane, more beautiful than ever, a successful actor and model, and her lover since her first stay with the couple in Berlin. Jane, loyal, for ever missing her brother – Sarah’s well aware of her romantic attachment to him – and whose smile may turn, in the light of this late summer, so much like that of Julian.

Sarah moves back to their Neukölln apartment in late July, with those pieces of furniture, art and books she wants to retains from London. She makes Julian’s study her room, and shifts the HiFi and bookshelves to their former bedroom. The lounge is now her workshop, where she intends to write, paint, and spend hours with Jane, nude, to design the photography album they have decided to make together.

One evening, as she walks back through Kreuzberg from a visit to the Altegallerie, she stops at a restaurant in Bergmanngieß where Julian and her used to go, in Melissa’s time. She likes the place but it is the first time she goes back there since Julian’s departure. She orders an Italian dish and some wine, and, as she waits for the wine to arrive, she suddenly recalls what Helga shared with her, at their last meeting in London. Through her Eastern contacts, Helga had learnt of Julian’s activity in shipping arms to the insurgency via the Caucasus. She also knew that this displeased the authorities of the Federation to the extreme. Late into the night they had discussed the implications of Julian’s actions, for his and his wife’s safety. Was Julian’s death natural? This was also the question Sarah was determined to resolve, here, in the city of Faust.

Between light and shadows

DSC_0218

Sarah fills the months that follow Julian’s death with work and strenuous exercise. She looks after Jane, with Paul, and make regular visits to their London house. Slowly, as if reluctantly, Jane tries to return to a normal life; without Paul and Sarah, she would fail.

Her financial consultancy business is thriving. A group of investors, some from as far away as Japan, have requested her services. She often flies to Frankfurt and Berlin, once to Tokyo.

In Berlin, Julian’s room in their Neukölln apartment, is still as it was during their last stay there, together. Pictures of her, of her with Melissa, of them three with Helga, are everywhere. The Mac is on the desk, Julian’s last manuscript safely buried on the big drive. Her thoughts of him are calm, her resolution not to give way to despair. There, or in London, she runs five kilometres every morning. In Berlin, she retraces Julian’s footsteps along the Landwehr canal, in Maybachufer imagining him and Melissa, the Melissa of Köpenick, who soon would become her, as well as his, bed companion.

Back home, in South London, she’s reorganised their place, archiving Julian’s papers, and clearing some of the furniture in his office, which is now hers. Soon Julian’s estate is cleared, which will make her a rich widow. She has offers, from customers, bankers, admirers, and, unexpectedly, from a young woman journalist, who claims to want to write a biography of her husband, and seeks her cooperation.

Then, one morning, as she emerges from the shower after her 5K, she gets a call from Helga. Sarah does not recognise her voice at first. Helga’s accent sounds more pronounced that she remembers. Helga wants a meeting, she says she has important information to share with Sarah about Julian’s work, and his connections to the country they visited together, the year before. This surprises Sarah, but she agrees to meet Helga in London two weeks later.

Helga suggested a smart LGBT restaurant in Shoreditch, and they meet there on the day, in the hazy sunshine of a London’s late summer evening. Their appearance there is not unnoticed: they are a stunning couple. Sarah wears a long summer dress in a simple motif, of almost autumnal charm, her auburn hair long on her alabaster shoulders. Helga looks strict and coldly elegant in a pearl-grey silk suit over a pale blue shirt, her raven-black hair held high by a silver comb. As they order some wine, Sarah notices a young woman sitting quietly at the bar, whose short red hair and facial jewelry reveals as a Berliner: she’s seen her before, and recalled that it was at one of their morning runs at Tempelhof, when Helga introduced her as her bodyguard.

They exchange gossip. Helga’s accent has disappeared: her English is near perfection. They talk about their trip to the East, the people they met, the feelings they had at the sight of destruction and murder. Then, fixing her deep blue eyes on Sarah, Helga says slowly: “Do you know that Julian was involved in the delivery of arms to the insurgency?” Sarah is silent, she did not know, and finds hard to think of why her husband would have concealed such a fact to her. They are now facing each other, not with hostility, but without understanding, yet.

“Why are you telling me?” Sarah asks. Helga does not reply immediately. Sarah wonders who she really is, a person who may or may not be the Helga she knew in Berlin. “Her” Helga helped bring her husband back to sanity: is she the one sitting in front of her now?

Calmly, beautiful long fingers playing with her crystal glass, Helga replies: “I am wondering if this has anything to do with his death.”

Helga then proceeds to explain to Sarah the dark politics at the centre of the Eastern uprising, and the role of donors and supporters in the jungle of German politics. Patiently, Sarah listens: she’s heard stories, and Julian did share with her some of the myths already surrounding the history of the rebellion.

“I need to understand where this information comes from, and how confident you are about it,” she says finally. Helga agrees, they will resume this discussion later, and for now they wish to enjoy the glorious meal, served by a delightful young lady…

Later the short-haired bodyguard drives them to Sarah’s place. She’s invited Helga to spend the night, and the invite was well received.

Tempest

This story is inspired by Angela Goff’s VisDare 86: Tempest

Tempest

Snowdrops and crocuses have appeared, at street corners, and on those little urban gardens the city’s residents look after with love throughout the year. The air is still icy, and at night the temperature drops below freezing. Julian is at his desk, writing. The meeting of minds, in Denver, was a great boost for him: he’s now started a new story, while his previous novel is making its début in the US. As Sarah was busy, under the volcano, learning about the Hopis, and perhaps even more, being taught by Marie, Julian was reinventing himself, as a new-look inspired writer.

In the calm of the Neukölln apartment, with the far away humming of slow traffic filtering through the open balcony bay window, young Melissa is busy watering the numerous house plants, occasionally glancing and smiling at Julian. In one corner stands the small glasshouse that shelters the baby cacti: a sample of lovely plants from the Southwest collected by Sarah. Soon Melissa will be making coffee, and will invite him, her eyes searching his, to look at the future. The square bottle is on the lounge table, green and still, full of a pale grey liquid, for now opaque to human eyes. Today, as Sarah taught her, this recently acquired skill she must have learned from Marie, Melissa will attempt to read their future to the man she loves.

Julian is skeptical, Sarah’s happy to wait and see what the Oracle reveals. Since she showed her husband her “secret” hide-away pad near Gendarmenmarkt, Sarah has been very attentive to his comfort, and peace of mind. She sees the reading in the bottle as a gift, a sign of complicity, a way, perhaps, to encourage Julian’s imagination in the direction she wants. She knows a new work is in the making.

She comes back from Tempelhof, where she went for her morning run (she suggested to Melissa, so willing, to get ready, and look after the man of the house, in her absence.) She walks in Julian’s study, all legs and heaving breasts, hair caught in a girly ponytail, looks at him, and kisses him on the lips. Her scent, her gestures, her body in the room, pull him up from his writing, as from a dream. He smiles. Sarah disappears to the bathroom. Coffee aroma floats unseen from the kitchen. Soon they join Melissa, who stands holding the bottle in her hands, her green eyes scrutinising its content.

Minutes go by, in a silence now unperturbed by Julian’s key strokes. Sarah and Melissa exchange the ritual phrases, rehearsed many times, an invocation of the ancient deities of the Sinagua. Melissa, eyes closed, holds the Oracle high: the liquid inside has started rotating, and thin sparks of light appear, from a great distance within. Julian looks, fascinated. Vortices of light spin from the centre of the Oracle, that seem to look for direction.

“There is a tempest,” Sarah says, “a lot of lightning, and we are in it…” Melissa replies: “We will go through the clouds, there will be fire.” The Oracle is now bright from a darker centre; Melissa, eyes closed, appears to be in a trance.

Julian, transfixed, looks at the changing lights inside the bottle: a fire is raging, alien shapes are born from the flames, then disappear, as if beaten back by a greater force. A long silence, Julian holding his breath, then Melissa sighs, seems to come back to reality. Looking at her husband, Sarah states as a matter of fact: “it’s all happening in this new book, you will have to tell us…” Melissa rests the bottle, now inert, back on the table. “I am hungry,” she declares, “How about you?”

Far away, in a corner of the Life Sciences lab, Marie looks at an identical green bottle, smiling.

Of Arnold Böcklin

Böcklin's tomb, by Albert von Keller

Julian and his wife were in love with Böcklin. Wherever they were, they looked for his work, and that of artists who praised him. So it was no surprise, when, at long last, Sarah let her husband in the secret apartment on Jägerstraße, and he saw the numerous reproductions of the master’s work on the walls of his wife’s hideout. As she let him in, a hint of mischief in the eyes, he walked into the small entrance with some anxiety: after all, this had remained Sarah’s exclusive domain since their arrival in Faust’s city, more than a year before.

She explained to him how she’d inherited the apartment from an old friend of her late father, a lifelong Berliner, who refused to sell it to “bankers”. Sarah also said she’d almost forgotten about it, until one day she felt like having a look, as she and Melissa were walking through the Gendarmenmarkt. Julian was walking behind Sarah, who seemed delighted to show him the place. In the bedroom, her bedroom, he saw the pictures: Böcklin’s self-portrait with Death, and a large photograph of a young woman, a Native American,  looking straight at the camera (was Sarah taking the shot then?) with the most beautiful smile on her face.

“Yes,” said Sarah, reading his mind, as ever, “I took this picture of Marie in Tucson, when we were at the university.”

There was  another picture, just above the Queen’s size bed, and Julian stopped on his track when he saw it, as Sarah was already walking out of the room into the wide lounge. It was a picture of the two of them, Sarah and Melissa, naked, on the bed, looking at the camera and laughing, a vision of fun and lust. Sarah was calling him. She stood in front of the open bay window, facing the Dom. The morning was clear, children were already playing on the square. Sarah was talking about Albert von Keller’s painting of Böcklin’s tomb. She wanted to look for a copy. They decided to do this soon.

“Oh, you realise there is no kitchen in this apartment?” she said jokingly, Julian laughed, then replied, kissing his wife: “I’ve realised this place is for art and culture… only… But there are plenty of nice places where to go and eat nearby!”

A desolate landscape

Robert Doisneau: Les Helicopters, 1972As instructed Helga stopped the car at the limit of the airport. Both sides of the road were littered with the refuse of war, broken vehicles, hideously torn and burnt debris, broken glass and the litter of troops on the move. Beyond was a desolate landscape of ruined buildings, carcasses of airliners, burnt out armour, and artillery shells, sinister mementoes of the carnage of the last year.

She could hear, at intervals, the distant hammering of artillery, somewhere far away toward the North-East. Her guide pointed out the remnants of a control tower, an eerie skeleton over which savage battles had earlier been fought. The runways were reduced to grey dust punctured by craters and broken concrete slabs.

Through her human eyes, others, with more piercing vision, would observe the landscape, appraising, calculating, measuring. There were few sensors in this part of the country: the events had surprised the coven, thus her mission was now to conduct a direct assessment of the risks of planetary war. For what worried her species was the potential for a new conflict, and the consequences that would for decades delay their ambition of colonisation.

But Helga knew that this was already war: later, perhaps soon, the real fight would start, and huge armies and weaponry would be engaged. With Julian and Sarah, in the evenings of this late autumn, they had discussed the scenario for several weeks: a local uprising provokes a violent response, soon a conflict is born, fuelled by foreign interests and hatred… She trusted Julian’s deep understanding of the human psyche, more acute than hers, and Sarah’s judgement. Sarah… Helga longed to be now with her friend.

As she observed the desolation surrounding them, she was listening to her guide, who, in perfect German, was describing the life of local people, in the nearby city, through the night and day shelling and bombing of the past year, when the airport had been a battlefield. Helga reflected on the soldier’s absence of accent. At first she’d thought he might be a German mercenary, or volunteer fighter. But he had explained where he came from, far North, near the Arctic circle. Like the other military men Sarah and her had met on their arrival in *** his uniform had no insignia.

Three weeks ago they had driven all the way through Poland, after leaving Berlin. Friends in the German military had given Helga a detailed itinerary, and a letter for the authorities, in the capital. There they had spent three days, visiting the city, waiting for their laissez-passer. With their passports the officer who briefed them, explained how to make sure they would cross the front line at authorised checkpoints held by the army, and avoid those  guarded by militiae who were largely out of the government’s control.

Further East, Helga had relied on one contact she had from the coven’s days, a high ranking officer, who had confirmed the safe crossing points. Driving through the deserted back roads of the demilitarised zone, as such existed, they were met by two civilians, who, again in perfect German, had told them to follow them. Soon they entered the city, passing on their way columns of armour and motorised artillery. The country was at war.

In the city they had to wait another four days, under armed surveillance. They were well looked after. Helga’s contact had explained they would have to be patient. They would be cleared by officers of the army East, not from the local battalions. Indeed one morning they met the “team”. Four soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms, the look of professional fighters on their clean-shaven faces. Only one of them, apparently the political officer, spoke to them, in German. They would be given a guide and internal passports. At all times they must listen to the guide’s instructions. Their request to visit the airport had been granted at that condition. Only one of them at a time should go there, always with the guide. They could visit the city together, but had to keep within the military limits.

They were allocated comfortable quarters on what seemed to be the base of an army unit busy with telecommunications, judging by their vehicles, the forest of masts and satellite dishes on the roof of the building. Their room was guarded by two heavily armed soldiers. At no time had their luggage be checked, nor themselves interrogated, nor searched.

Today Sarah was meeting with some residents in the centre of the city, something she’d hoped to be able to do during their stay. Sarah was more relaxed here than she had been in the capital. Helga was reflecting on her friend’s affinities with the rebellion in this part of the country. Julian had also made clear where his sympathies lied.

Her guide was signing to her to enter a low level warehouse and be silent. Soon she heard the noise of powerful engines, still some distance away, above ground. Through the door of the warehouse Helga saw the helicopters, three ugly machines, bristling with weaponry and aerials. Her guide was talking on his combat radio set, in a language she could not identify.

The choppers were now very closed, in a few seconds a cloud of dust invaded the warehouse, the guide gestured to Helga to come out. One craft had landed in front of them, the other two were hovering a few meters from the ground, on each side of the warehouse. Three soldiers and one civilian were walking toward them. Her guide saluted. The three soldiers stood behind the civilian, and Helga recognised her contact.

The general had not changed since the day they had met in the small town, on the Rhenan border, it seemed a long time back. He smiled and they shook hands. Helga knew that he had worked out the reason for their visit, and remembered perfectly well who – or what – she was. “I am pleased to see you Helga, and you haven’t changed either, only more beautiful than ever,” he said gallantly, as if he could read her mind.

Helga did not answer immediately, her sight fascinated by the icy eyes, the calm composure, and his smile. For a fraction of a second she wondered if the general was not one of them, an agent like herself, gifted with a perfect human persona.

“I am sure the coven has good reasons to risk someone of your rank in this war zone… Although of course we have cleaned up this area now, as well as that corridor from where the enemy was shelling the city. People can sleep peacefully now, and you and your companion are safe.”

Helga replied: “We are grateful for your help, please accept this message from my own that should you require our… contribution,” Helga paused, “This would not be withheld.”

The general looked at her with searching eyes, smiled, then exchanged a few words with the guide who had stood by Helga all the time of the encounter. “We wish you a good stay,” the general finally said, “be assured you can contact me any time via your guide if you need anything, or just want to talk, I am here for a while.” He waved to her as he and his escort boarded the chopper. There was no signage on the craft, no identification. Helga and her guide looked on as the choppers were disappearing to the South.

 

Image: Robert Doisneau, Les hélicoptères, 1972

Imaginary friend

MelissaFor once Melissa and him have the Schöneberg apartment to themselves: Sarah and Helga have gone on a mysterious mission to Istanbul, driving in Helga’s antique Mercedes. Julian is unsure for how long their friends have gone, probably several days, more than enough time to renew their intimacy, and for a few runs along the Landwehr canal, surrounded by the gold of a Berlin autumn.

The first morning they go out early in the dawn stillness. Melissa looks the very essence of the city: her short blond “East-Berlin” hair, the long legs, her beautiful sun-tanned face and the probing grey eyes: as this is for a serious long run, perhaps a half marathon, if she fancies it, Julian braces himself to be her equal. They follow the Maybachufer at a good pace, on their own for another hour, until the early risers in Kreuzberg and Neukölln realise what a sumptuous day this is. Julian notices his friend wears the t-shirt she wore when they first met, and those o-so brief shorts that made him dream awake… He’s missed being on his own with her, at the same relishing the happiness of the small tribe.

At the Görlitzer park Melissa sees a fixed bar and decides to do some gym, which lasts ten minutes, enough to make Julian admire her muscles, and feels his: had he really forgotten what an athlete she is? They resume their track toward the river, as the low humming of the city signals the start of the day. Melissa decides to run up to the Jannowitz bridge on the east bank, and then across Kreuzberg on their way back home. He now follows her, along the bank, on the line of the old wall, then across the bridge.

When they reach home she takes him to the shower and the glory of hot water. Later, as he looks in her triumphant and loving eyes, and feels the weight of her vigorous body over him, he knows how real his friend is. The ghost is himself.

In a Deep Well

Dan DaminghaAutumn succeeds to the late Berlin summer: gold streaks appear through the foliage of the Tiergarten, and along the canal. Step by step life resumes: Sarah – Melissa – Helga, and Julian. In his searching mind, it is a pentagram, and one vertex is still missing. Does he expect Gabrielle, the historian? Or, perhaps, the older Melissa? He cannot tell, but he knows, that someone would soon be there, completing the magical polygon.

The three women often go out in Neukölln, or Kreuzberg, walking, cycling, shopping, or to exercise in an exclusive women-only gym Melissa had discovered in Schöneberg. He does not feel excluded, rather the opposite. He has started relishing a kind of daylight solitude, in the full knowledge that later in the day, or the evening, they would be four again. On the banks of the Landwehr canal the chestnut trees are wearing their cloak of mystery, as he runs, tireless, breathing in the essence of the city, all the way to the Spree, and back to their place.

Now at the apex of her modelling career, his sister has written to him from far away places, attentive, caring, even flirting. She joins them for one long weekend, at once blending with the other three ladies as if she has just left yesterday. They talk of fashion, of the approach of winter, of Jane’s new assignment in Russia, and of books. Sometimes Julian surprises himself, as he imagines being at the bottom of a deep dry well, as Toru Okada once was, listening and seeing a small sector of the sky from far down, awaiting the special ray of the sun.

In the evening they invade Italo, and he recalls the many times he has been there, alone with Sarah, with his wife and Melissa, and as they are tonight, the completed pentagram. The Berlin night sky is clear, and the air chillier that it has been in recent days. The candles light plays on the faces of his friends, Melissa smiles at him, blows him a kiss.

On Monday morning Sarah and Melissa take Jane to Schönefeld, to catch her flight to Saint Petersburg. Julian stays at home with Helga, talking about the East, and what could happen next, as they sip coffee. Mahler floats in the fresh air of the lounge, teasing the morning sunlight. Helga is pessimistic about peace, and talks about “their” findings on the years that preceded the first world war: how the slide to war had happened, despite, or maybe because, of the fear that very prospect inspired to most people. She explains that war has its logic, and that beyond some threshold, that logic takes over human destinies, whatever governments and people attempt to do: then the future is no longer controllable by human will. It is not merely the interplay of alliances, promises and prejudices, the consequences of fear, it is the work of the Devil himself. Julian looks at his friend, incredulous. Helga is evoking evil, a weird, anachronistic, unscientific concept, for her exceptional mind. He has surprised her using clichés before, and wondered if it was her way to tell him she had abandoned all pretence of superior knowledge. She smiles, acknowledging she has been caught.

Julian sees that Helga has changed, in subtle ways. In the middle of their conversation they stop, looking at each other in silence: she holds his gaze, and, at the end, he is the one who surrenders. He is much in love with her face and expressions, remembering how cold and icy she used to be, once upon a time. He can no longer pretend ignoring her sensual lips. Sarah calls to say that Jane’s flight is delayed and they are keeping her company as she waits. She gives instructions to Julian for lunch. Helga and him decide to go out shopping. The other two will meet them later at the little coffee shop in Bergmannstraße.

Metamorphosis

HelgaHelga came to visit him, one autumn morning, when his women had gone out to take a look at the new mall. Hearing her knocking quietly at his door he knew, immediately, who it was, as if her visit was a preordained moment of his life.

They smiled at each other, and finally he hugged Helga. Holding her in his arms was a strange feeling, like rediscovering a well-loved mistress after many years of absence. Openly, he admired the black hair, the steely eyes, the full lips, and she seemed to return the compliment. She made herself comfortable on the sofa, and looked at the book he had been reading. He went to the kitchen and made coffee. When he was back in the lounge she kissed him, a long and passionate kiss, as if to say that she was back in his life, a very human being, a woman of flesh and blood.

She said they had lost their bet, and that the war would continue, implacable. He thought she meant the group that had attempted to force peace, and disarm the “powers”, but in his mind the time and place of those actions were shrouded in mist. She was pleased he had renewed with Melissa, and Julian understood she meant Melissa of Köpenick, not his long-dead childhood friend. Suddenly he understood everything: step by step he checked the facts with Helga, her head resting on his shoulder, her hands around his knees. Yes, Melissa, the ghost, had been an intermediary, a go-between. No she was no cyborg, but a real being whose love had taken back to him, through a painful metamorphosis, the kind of journey he was himself embarked on now, with Sarah, and, still, with Melissa’s help. Julian asked about Gabrielle. Helga told him then that Gabrielle had returned to her studies, moving back to a time closer to the “Great War”. “They” had not given up, but had realised it would take much longer to influence human destiny decisively. So their friend, Gabrielle, had been asked to research the origins of the war more deeply.

He asked Helga if she was staying in the city, and she replied she wanted to. She would like to come back and meet with the three of them. He wanted to ask her more about her circumstances, whether she was alone in Berlin, but hesitated to hurt her privacy. She said she missed him and Sarah, and regretted to have disappeared the way she had to. They were silent for a few minutes. Helga sipped her coffee, looking at him. He returned her look, smiling. He had noticed the simplicity of her clothes, the absence of makeup, the slightly longer beautiful dark hair. She stood up, and said she would be back. This time she hugged him, the way a longtime lover could do, and kissed him, lips on lips. And she was gone.

 

Lützowplatz

La PoupéeEverything revolves around the canal: wherever his walks, or rides, take him, he’s always back there, in the Tiergarten, or on Schönerberger Ufer, or closer to home on Tempelhofer Ufer, and all the way to Maybachufer. So it is when he walks through Lützowplatz, on his way to the Nollendorfplatz station, or further west, to the Kurfürstendamm (which he compares with Regent street), as if he was, in a mysterious way, bound tight by the water spirits – or is it by the spirits of the martyrs whose tortured bodies were thrown in the Landwehrkanal?

He rides to Charlottenburg, loses himself in the park, reflects on Queen Luise’s grave – oh! the marmor… – and finds treasures in the Scharf-Gerstenberg museum. For him, the City hides layers after layers of troubling mysteries, to be discovered so slowly, as an endless source of inspiration, an endless flow of loss, wondering and hope, as if generations before him had legated to him their forgotten dreams. Faust’s metropolis has now a firm grip on his soul, and Julian enjoys that servitude. Melissa understands, who shares his passion. But she’s no barbarian, like him, but a native of Köpenick, where the ancient fortress once stood, between two worlds. Sometime, he sees her too as a beautiful ghost, not one from his childhood, but one direct descendant from the slavic tribes that once lived on this land, the old Brandenburg, before Berlin and Germania even existed at all.

The studio on Eylauerstraße is now too small, as Sarah and her husband have brought more books, and some furniture from their East London house, and Melissa has moved her little possessions, finally. So he’s looking for a larger apartment, for the three of them to pursue their dream, where they will work, love, reinvent their shared adventure. He roams in Schöneberg, and further East, along the Spree, always armed with camera and notebook, which makes Sarah smile. None of them ever mentions the Jägerstraße house, it remains taboo, without anyone willing to even question it.

So Julian is on a search, around his beloved Kreuzberg, and further afield, in Schöneberg, in Tempelhof, in Friedrichshain, in Neukölln. He – and Sarah – know what they want, the quiet tree-lined street, a second or third floor, a balcony, two or three good rooms. Melissa’s on the lookout too, now an essential part of this community, and devoted body and soul to the couple. It is the high summer, with the humid heat that renders Berliners a little slower, and Julian himself more meditative. Between bouts of e-mailing estate agents, and photography editing, he manages some writing, and is now looking for a local literary agent, since he wants to publish his two novels with a German house.

Sarah is attentive, sometime even watchful, more often in Berlin now than in London, when she can afford the time off her business. Julian’s sister, Jane, visits them also more frequently. She was around for the Berlin fashion show, and stayed over for a few days. She took immediately to Melissa, who sees her as her “big” sister. Julian’s mind wanders, around the new pair, his sister and his lover, under Sarah’s knowing smile.

Then, one morning, as the three of them breakfast at Ambrosius, at the corner of Einemstraße and Kurfürstenstraße, Sarah decides that her husband is now cured of his phantasms, and back to the reality of the living.

Image: Hans Bellmer, la Poupée (die Puppe, the Doll), courtesy Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg, Berlin-Charlottenburg

The benevolent wife

Gleis-DreieckSarah is listening to her husband in their studio in Eylauerstraße. Julian is talking of his discoveries, the turkish market on Maybachufer, the secret corners of the park, the Serbian barber, his new gym. It has been two months since Sarah’s last visit: her business has taken her almost everywhere in Europe, except here, in Berlin. Now she’s taking a break.

The morning sun invades their lounge. Soft jazz floats through the cool air: far away street noises can be heard, soft and unobtrusive. Julian’s now talking about his new friend: the ‘golden girl’. He’s unsure about what it means, new fantasy – or something deeper. Melissa has been true to her word: she’s discrete, and has respected his privacy, as far as he can tell. Once a week they go running, or for a swim in the nearby pool.

Sarah’s unworried, and rather pleased her husband has found a new friend. What she’s not telling Julian is that she knows all about the ‘new’ Melissa. On a previous visit she surprised the girl taking pictures of their balcony, and she challenged her. They too talked, and got friendly, and have since communicated, all the time Julian and Melissa have been seeing each other. Wiser and more experienced, Sarah understood the young woman’s crush on her husband. She advised her caution, and explained what to do, or not. Melissa quickly proved herself a listening and obedient pupil.

Sarah and Julian decide to go for a walk, and they cross the park toward the Yorckstraße. When they reach the Ostpark playground they stop at the little café. “Are you interested in her?” asks Sarah, as she and Julian watch the young children playing in the nearby field.

“I don’t really know,” replies her husband, “I am not interested in her sexually, however cute she is, but I am probably intrigued, by her own interest, which I cannot explain.” Sarah thinks that such things need no explanation: the girl’s infatuation, if it is what it is, may disappear just as quickly. What she really meant to ask, and decided not to, at least for now, was: “Does she remind you of the other girl?” They smile at the children’s games, look up at the new city landscape being raised from the ruins around them.

“Do you know where she comes from?” she asks Julian after a pause. Julian does not know, but thinks she’s local, though not from the city, probably some small place nearby. Sarah knows: Melissa’s accent is from Köpenick, to the south-east of the city.

They continue their walk, cross Julian’s beloved Landwehr canal, and soon reach the Potsdamer Platz. For a moment they enjoy the crowd of strangers, visitors of many tongues and colours, and the low traffic hum of the city centre. They talk art and the music scene in the city. Julian wants to take Sarah to a small modern art gallery, hidden in a deep bunker, north of the Mitte. Sarah says she will be here for a week, perhaps longer: they have time. Julian smiles, kisses his wife, for long seconds, standing. Now she wants to reassert her ownership, her dominance. They go home, this time taking the U-Bahn. The City soon surrounds them in her calm embrace.

Later Sarah says, during one of those instants of delight when she knows for certain nothing has changed in her husband’s devotion to her: “Why don’t you invite your new friend for drinks, sometime while I am here?”

%d bloggers like this: