The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Tiergarten

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.

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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

Lindenstraße

Julian

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer): Amor Skin, Berlin, ca. 1925-1930, Fotografie auf Silbergelatinepapier © Jüdisches Museum Berlin  I have always worked better in the morning, at the time dawn light is already visible, but not bright enough to let the night be forgotten. Then, the mind still remembers the nocturne walks and drifts, the bodies and faces met, perhaps touched, in those misty dreams. Early, inspiration proceeds from still live memories, and those clearer sparks born from the shock of the day.

Here, in Kreuzberg, the rising noises of city life, never as aggressive as in London or Paris, accompany the first writing shift of the day, part of that concert of senses, of which the aroma of brewing coffee is a central piece. There is you, emerging a little behind me, your soft steps a mere fluster in the peaceful atmosphere of our home.

When it is a little warmer the balcony door is open, letting the city visit our world, but this street is so quiet that only village-like sounds reach us. Sun light plays little tiling games on our walls, on the prints that adorn them, on the glass tumblers on the table. We drink coffee, in a silence hardly interrupted by the sound of a distant radio.

We talk about the book, the characters, the plot that appears so anchored in the city that it resembles a diary. Your smile encourages me to continue, rather than be tempted to lead you back to our room, as my main character would do, if he were me. Of course you know that this is for me therapy, as much as a way to finance the small luxuries that add flavour to our life here: a pair of new bicycles, new lenses, some rare vinyl records found in a marvellous and hidden shop in Friedrichshain…

We talk about going back to Sans-Souci, of Friedrich and Voltaire, of Clausewitz and Charnhorst. Prussia, we call her Brandenburg, is all around us. Constantly we look back at history, what would have happened if, if Bismarck had lived longer, if Germany had remained united, neutral, the opposite of the nexus of the Cold War. History feeds our love of the city, and my work.

We decide to take a walk, there will be time for me to go back to this chapter later, as I know that you will be out this afternoon. Hand in hand, we cross Viktoria Park, and aim for Lindenstraße and the Museum. The Museum is our meditation place, our souls’ meeting place with the city, the grey corridors and corners a replica of our minds. You said that all our secrets and hopes are there, more so than between the monoliths of the open space near the Tiergarten.

We belong here, like the others, the dead and the living, to the city of Faust.

Photography: Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer): Amor Skin, Berlin, ca. 1925-1930, Fotografie auf Silbergelatinepapier
© Jüdisches Museum Berlin 

Honeymoon

The Chancellery, Berlin

Sarah and Julian stand on the bridge, near the Chancellery, one cool and bright April morning, looking at the Spree. Sarah observes her husband, the last words of their earlier conversation slowly dissipating in the air. The thin traffic is sliding, silently, towards the Alt Moabit.

“I agree with you, I don’t want to leave now, I want to stay here, to learn with you, about all that happened in this city…” Julian knows Sarah means what she is saying, he’s not sure, yet, what it means for both of them. He choses to talk about the practicality, the tangible objects of their life, the anchors he can recognise, any help to stop his still fragile mind drifting.

“I’d like us to find a bigger apartment.” Sharing his thoughts, “I love our place in Kreuzberg, but I fancy more space.” – “It’s such a nice idea,” Sarah replies with a tender smile, “Besides, we will bring all our books here from London, so we will need some space!” They laugh.

“But I want to stay in Kreuzberg, or Friedrichshain,” she adds, turning toward him to kiss. Hand in hand they walk back slowly across the gardens in the direction of the Bundestag. The first tourist coaches have started to park along Scheidemannstrasse.

“You finish the book, then we have a long break. We will explore Brandenburg, and study the Bauhaus. Maybe we will travel as far as Dessau!” proposes Sarah. Julian is happy with such a programme, it suits his mood perfectly. They walk in the direction of Friedrichstrasse, then turn toward the Gendarmenmarkt. They stop at a small café: Julian remembers they stopped in the same place before, several months ago. He needs more landmarks, slowly he has started rebuilding the grid of his memories. He tells Sarah: “The more places we see together, the easier for me to forget…” – “I know: I am your mind guard.”

The following day they start looking, and this activity is a blessing for Julian. Sarah finds a buyer for her studio straightaway. They visit several apartments, and finally settle for a spacious four-rooms renovated one, near Viktoria Park. Julian is very happy.

Their new home is on the fifth floor of a classical building, facing the park. There is plenty of light, a wide balcony. Soon they are busy deciding what they will move back from their house in London, and what they will buy here in Berlin. They draw a lay-out of how they want to use their new space, their room, Sarah’s study, Julian’s, what they want on the walls. They buy a new bed. Soon they are on a new honeymoon.

A different you

~ Sarah

Ex Libris,  Franz von Bayroz.  You have changed so much, Julian, that your friends won’t recognise you. Even I sometimes hesitate, when I observe you, at work, writing, or simply walking around the house: is this my husband? It is only small changes, you look the same, but “feel” different, in your way of speaking, your posture when we talk, and, yes, the way our love life has now evolved. I know, people change, and I have changed too.

There is your work. You used to work chiefly in the morning, sometimes, less frequently, in the evening. Now, you are at your desk for long hours, often late into the night. Yes, you have been very successful, the last title is well on its way to become a literary best-seller. But I wonder: this sudden wave of inspiration, this new commitment to your work, what does it all mean? It happened so suddenly. One day it was writing as usual, then, it became obsessive.

Then, there are your dreams, more vivid than ever before, you speaking in your sleep, which used to be very rare. What, or who, is haunting you? You say nothing, and you smile. I find your denials not so convincing. Your treatment ended months ago: you are cured now, aren’t you? Yet, at times, I could believe you are somewhere else, far from me, perhaps far from yourself. I would say that you appear now to live first and foremost for your writing. And as I am your wife, your support, I should be pleased for you, and maybe, I am. Only a little worried.

I will keep these observations to myself, for now. I am pleased with the progress you are making with your writing, and I am proud of your achievements, how could I not be? But I am also wondering, about the dark side of your soul, about the shadows that I suspect, around you.

Soon we will leave, we will return to Faust’s city, his metropolis. I know you want to be back there, and so do I. More than ever it is our city, and there we will find again the path of love. I want to run with you in the Tiergarten, around the old airfield in Tempelhof. I want to look at the paintings of Prussian soldiers of the 1870 war, in the old gallery, I want to see you smile at the bust of Wagner. I want us to go back to the Jewish museum in Kreuzberg, I want to do all those things, with you.

And, perhaps, you will become like the old you, again.

Image: Ex Libris
Franz von Bayroz.
Eau-forte originale signée dans le cuivre. Vers 1910 (via triciclo)

Tiergarten

Dame de la nuit I walk along the Grosse Stern Allee in the Tiergarten; the air is icy, the skies clear. In this city, it is already Christmas, with little markets springing up everywhere, selling Christmas cookies, tinsel, dolls and toys.

From far away, I see you, walking towards me, tall, smiling, your long legs covered in wool, the high leather boots, the short leather skirt and jacket: passers-by notice you – how could they not? My heart has frozen, for I know this is not possible, that it must be a mirage. But how could I reject this vision, this vision of overwhelming beauty?

But this, here, is our city; I know I will die here, meeting you like this, lost in a crowd, perhaps you not even noticing me. Why should you? After all, like you, I am a ghost. The difference between us is merely that you are younger, very beautiful, and indifferent to the world; whereas I am older by the day, and ugly, of the ugliness of people who have overstretched their time, and I still hang on.

Near the lake you have stopped, looking at children playing with little boats. Soon the lake will be frozen, and people will come skating on Sundays. Early winter sunlight is playing in your hair, as I look at your beloved face, trying to catch your eyes. But you don’t see me, you resume your walk, and as I follow the magic moves of your body, I know that I should not be here, and that, maybe, I am not. Yet, you turn round, and looking straight at me, you smile.

“Julian, it is so nice to see you here, I thought you were fleeing me.” Your voice reaches me loud and clear, yet your lips are not moving, the smile undulating on your face.

And then you are gone. And then I am no longer in the Tiergarten.

“You’re still very hot my darling,” Sarah says to me, and I wonder how long my wife’s been here, watching over my dream. But I take the medication she hands over to me, admiring the perfect beauty of her hand.

photo:Hideki Kuwajima

Kreuzberg

2 On our bikes

 At 6 CET I wake up: the light through the half drawn curtains filters to the two graceful naked bodies, lying across from me on the large bed – our bed. Sarah holds Melissa in her arms, their breathing in perfect unison. I am overwhelmed by their beauty. Without the usual pinch of diffused jealousy I see them as a perfect couple, my wife and my lover…

In the little courtyard outside, birds are still celebrating the morning on the tall lime-tree. I get up careful not to wake them, anxious not to disrupt the wonder of their sleep.

I shower – warm water never feels so cool as in Berlin – and walk to the kitchen to make coffee: here I use the ground coffee Melissa bought thinking of me. Soon the aroma of brewing coffee diffuses through the apartment. I hear the low sound of a radio playing across the street from the balcony. Kreuzberg is so amazingly quiet…

An hour later the three of us are jogging in the direction of Tempelhof. Soon we reach the Airlift memorial and the terminal building, and run to the entrance on the side road. My two companions are fit and easily distance me: I have to keep up! We start on the long tour of the airfield, Sarah and Melissa accelerating to an easy 10k pace, I am already sweating profusely. We pass other runners who look appreciatively at my companions.

The whole tour will take forty minutes at this pace. As we are approaching the long curve, past the civilian crews scanning for ordnance and old WWII weapons, another runner overtakes us, slows down and start running even with the ladies. I hear Melissa greats the stranger – a tall woman in a blue track suit and fashionable sneakers – then the three of them laughing. It dawns on me that the runner is no other than Elga. I am now struggling to keep up with the three ladies who have gradually accelerated their pace. Sarah turns round and smiles, signals to me all is well.

… Back home, and still with Elga in a joyous mood, the ladies decide to have a common shower, and I will wait my turn. The majority decision is to go to the Tiergarten for a picnic. We, the three of us, later have an appointment at seven at the Chancellery…

We take bikes and ride towards the Potsdamer Platz. I am again struggling to keep pace with my three companions who giggle all the way. As we manoeuvre towards the Tiergarten I notice two or three military vehicles moving in the direction of the Bundestag. The ladies chose a spot not far from the Siegesaüle. While I was having my shower they did some shopping. Suddenly I am interested to see if Elga will drink and eat as a human; perhaps I am somewhat puzzled when she does, still laughing wholeheartedly at Sarah’s and Melissa’s jokes. The four of us have a congenial and relaxed time. Elga finally excuses herself, saying that she would see us in the evening at the pre-conference meeting. She rides off in the direction of Unter den Linden. It is only then that I notice her escort: four soldiers on bikes, wearing the uniform of the élite Grenzschütz guard. They are armed, and they are all women. Sarah’s looking at me smiling, as if saying “stop worrying, you are in good hands…”

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