The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Gendarmenmarkt

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!”

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Gendarmenmarkt

She loves the crowds of onlookers, the small groups waving flags of all colours, the joy of the children playing with balloons, and for some time she manages not to think of him, or of her. In her mind the lover she has, and the lover she wants, still, are as one: the couple she’s enthralled with.

She knows Sarah has another apartment, nearby, in Jägerstraße. There she keeps works of art, and Melissa thinks, secrets she may have, once, shared with her husband. Melissa has never been there, but she’s seen the place, in her dreams. She does not yet know that those dreams have a meaning, a meaning not to be revealed to her before she wins Julian. For this is the challenge set for her by forces she is, for now, ignorant of.

In Sarah’s apartment, much more spacious than the studio on Eylauerstraße, there is a short corridor leading to a lounge: bay windows and a whole-length balcony on one side, two large bedrooms on the other (Melissa has failed so far to locate the apartment and its balcony from the street, so, maybe it does not exist in her reality). There are paintings on the walls, a large photograph of Julian in uniform, and of him and his wife on a beach. Melissa knows how beautiful the couple looks on that picture. There is a  concert piano in one corner, facing the balcony. The balcony opens on the Französicher Dom, and is large enough for several couples to dance. In her dreams Sarah has seen one of the bedrooms: there is, above the queen size bed, a wide picture of a naked woman. The woman sits in front of Sarah who is looking at her, a little in the shadow. Sarah wears an evening dress, and she looks at the woman with a distant smile on her lips. The woman is of Melissa’s age, with beautiful lustrous red hair, and her eyes are looking up to Sarah, full of admiration and submission, perhaps a touch of fear. Melissa is puzzled by the woman’s face, as if she should know her name, as if she has met her, sometime, but not in this life.

Then she remembers: the woman is wearing something, a black leather collar around her slender neck. On the collar there is a ring and a name engraved on a silver plate, but Melissa has not read the name. If she has a chance to go back there, in a dream, she will try to read the name.

She’s now walking down the Friedrichstraße, her heart bursting with joy, and excitement, ignoring the traffic and the tourists. For later she is meeting with Julian, on his own, at his place (that is Sarah’s place). Sarah herself is now back to travelling, to Italy and then South Africa. Melissa will not ask Julian anything about the apartment on Jägerstraße. She’s promised to respect his – and his wife’s – privacy. They tell her what they want her to know, she does not ask.

Julian opens the door, he seems pleased to see her: they hug. Melissa feels her heart melting. “Tonight I’m cooking,” Julian says in a cheerful tone “and I count on you to help me in the kitchen!” They sit on the sofa, chatting about the local news, the daily tide of laughing and crying of the Kreuzberg community. Melissa feels at home with Julian. Is she kidding herself, or is Julian looking at her now with a new interest? The notes of “Rites” fill the room. The small balcony window is open. There are geraniums, wild fennel and poppies in a hanging basket. Julian shows her pictures he has taken of the three of them running along the Landwehr canal bank. He also took one picture here in the studio: Sarah and Melissa dancing to Miles’ Kind of Blue. Melissa looks at the picture: she’s wearing the little white corsage Sarah liked. As her eyes wander around the photo she notices something else: she, Melissa, is wearing a black-leather collar, with a silver plate. There is a name on the plate. Melissa cannot recall ever to have worn a collar, and Sarah did not give her one. She looks at Julian, who smiles and invites her to the kitchen.

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