Mornings in the hostel are cold, but pleasant. Still reeling from last evening, I wake thinking about art, war and politics. We’ve seen so much, talked about so much – I can’t really put my finger on what makes me as anxious or revolution-prone as I feel. I get up from the bed as a soldier would, take my rice biscuits and stroll to the common room. The Poet is already there.
„Sure thing,“ I say unconvincingly.
„Any afterthoughts on the exhibition?“
„Oh yes. The war related pieces… such power. Mad harlequins in front of the ruins of war. What a way to put it. I’ve been thinking about it since last night, I feel like I could do a series of photos on the subject. And then, photos – Brus was amazing! I’ve got way too many afterthoughts, believe me. You don’t wanna know.“
„Sure I do. I’m interested.
„It’s war, you know? Sometimes I wish I could’ve lived in that time, like my gran did, to do the things she did. Take a squadron over a river and save somebody’s life, hide from Nazis in big cities, meet socialist leaders… I wish I had an ideology to stand behind. Everything’s been ruined by now.“
„Don’t say that. There’s still enough war to go around, only not in Europe. It’s all still happening.“
„The war. For freedom, of speech, of life really. Just look at Syria, Egypt, Iran…“
„Yeah, you’re right.“
I like to think of myself as knowledgeable about things that happen in the world, but I’m not really that smart. I can’t hold my own in a conversation with someone who knows what they’re talking about. The majority of people I hang with only subscribe to the Cliff Notes versions of global events. The Poet is different.
„You know, I used to think I’d be this big activist sort of person. And all I ended up doing was backpacking through Europe, mostly on my mom’s cash, talking to random people about politics. One of these days I should just take the plunge and start practicing what I preach.“
There’s something behind these words, something that he’s pondering, but I decide I don’t want to intrude on his inner qualms. I’d much rather make an impression and flatter him.
„It seems to me you’re living the life you’re preaching. You’re an artist, after all. You tell the truth in your poetry.“
„That’s not enough, I think. Not by a long shot.“
He stares at me, but I have nothing left to say about this. After a long pause, I try to lighten the mood.
„So, what’s on in Berlin today? Where are you off to?“
„Random places, meetings with friends over coffee. If you want, you can tag along. But I guess you’d rather visit the museums.“
I wouldn’t rather visit the museums, not really, but I don’t tell him that. I shrug my shoulders and try to act ambivalent.
„Yeah, I guess so. I could do with a time out later, though, to let it sink in. Maybe we could meet up in the afternoon if you’re not busy, have a drink. Or two. Or three.“
Even when I’m trying to act nonchalant, I’m sure my posture betrays me. I’m practically begging him to come.
„Sure. I’ll be in Kreuzberg so give me a ring. Here, let me give you my phone number.“
We exchange contacts and I am at peace once again, knowing I will be able to see him again today. When I recount this charade to Ellie, she laughs heartily.
„Do you know what those guys in the room next to ours asked me?“
I say I have no idea. We’d barely exchanged ten words with them since we’d come, eight of which were to politely decline their invitation for a trance party that was supposed to be „like, amazing“.
„They asked me about you, and then they said – is she your girlfriend? Imagine that!“
It’s not very difficult to imagine that, not really. Whatever our own standards may be – Ellie’s and mine –for all intents and purposes, we are a couple. We tell each other everything, we go on trips, we’re there for one another, and sometimes, we have casual sex. She’s seen me at my lowest, my worst. I’ve seen her at her most silent. She even comes to family dinners at my place once in a while. Still, the gist of the joke doesn’t escape me. Two girls traveling solo, ignoring two guys that have shown interest – what else could they be, except lesbians? I laugh it off, not in the mood to talk about gender equality. We’ve covered that subject far too many times already.
Then it’s all band aids and gel aids and all sorts of other aids to try and prepare our feet for a day of more walking. We take the subway to Charlottenburg. Our passes don’t apply to the castle and being low on cash as it is, we decide to skip it. We’ve already seen Versailles and Schonbrun, how different can it really be? Instead, we cross the road and spend more time at the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg that houses pieces from the surrealist period (my favorite).
When we meet up with The Poet in the afternoon, I can’t help but mention the lesbian misunderstanding. Maybe it’s my curiosity to see how he’ll react, more probably a way of trying to make him jealous (See, there are other men out there who want me, I’m a catch – that’s what I’m really aching to say.)
He doesn’t respond in the way I wanted, or expected, him to. He spares us a long glance, before he asks –
„So are you a couple?“
Ellie and me look at each other giggling. No. But we both feel we can tell him more than the usual story, more than the simple truth. I decide to answer with another question.
„What makes two people a couple, anyway?“
He seems to think about this for a moment, but then he replies with all the certainty of a man on trial.
„It’s when you know you can tell the person your deepest, darkest secret – when you do tell them your deepest, darkest secret – and you’re not afraid they won’t love you as much afterward.“
„You’re talking about your parents, there.“
„No. I’m talking about giving yourself over completely, even beyond the limits of your own understanding. Of sharing things you yourself are not sure of. I’m talking about all-encompassing trust. Surrender, even.“
Ellie and me stare at each other. We trust one another. We’ve been through many a shit storm together (and most of them were mine, too). I’ve told her everything that ever crossed my mind in those moments. But did I really? Was I ever as open with myself to acknowledge my failings, my doubts?
The three of us sit in that small garden in Kreuzberg, caged in our minds, not wanting to break the contemplative silence. After a while, I suggest we go in because it’s become chilly. We order another round. Talk about something ordinary, like books. The Poet keeps glancing at me between sentences, and I at him. When Ellie goes to the loo, we don’t talk. One of the longest minutes of my life. He breaks the silence.
„I love the little crook that forms in your neck when you try hard to explain something. That barely visible vein that comes sticking out. It’s passion.“
I raise my eyebrow at him, and blush. We’re trapped in this moment, medieval flies in amber. We’re two people who don’t know who they are, but recognize pieces of themselves in one another.
This is the first time in Berlin that I think, if only.
After a couple more beers, we get up to go back to the hostel, but decide on visiting another gallery first since it’s barely six as it is.
When I sit down at the plastic white table to write in my journal a few hours later, I’m unsure of what I really want to convey. We’ve visited Charlottenburg. We saw Klee, De Chirico, Tanguy, Goya, Dali, Piranesi, Kubin. At the time I was mesemerized by their work. Ellie and me had a lot of fun trying to psychoanalyze various drawings. But this is not what I want to write about, what’s on my mind. The only thing I can think of, beside the fact that I love modernism, is The Poet. Our talk in Kreuzberg that afternoon. The walk to the Newton photography exhibition, him telling me that he doesn’t really enjoy the medium as much. I frowned and he sighed, exclaiming –
„Fine! Show me some of yours, then.“
We hijacked the communal computer and didn’t leave for an hour. He commented on each of my pieces thoughtfully, sometimes demanding that I go back to this photo or that so he could tell me the differences or similarities he saw in what was being conveyed. If he disliked a photo, he said so right away. I resented him the dissection at first, but as we came to the end of the my portfolio, I realized it was his way of showing interest. In my work, in me.
After having written down all there was of note, I get an urge to go shopping. We still haven’t bought anything and this is quite unusual. Apart from museums, stores are our primary destinations wherever we go. So I haul Ellie to Alexanderplatz before it’s too late and we lay waste to the shops. As we exit the mall, I realize that clothes really do make me happy, but try to bury this sentiment as deep as I can. I am a communist daughter, after all. Base material possessions should not move me.
On the subway, there’s a man dressed in black reciting some kind of a political statement. We don’t understand what he’s saying, but are frightened all the same. I think of bombs and terrorists, and for the first time in my short life I realize what people in the USA must feel like when they encounter patients like this. But, I say to myself – and to Ellie – this is Berlin, and Europe. People are allowed to be weird.
In the evening, we’re not as confident. We decide on going to Kreuzberg again, and Ellie notices a guy is following us. We cross the street, then another one. He’s still at our heels. We walk some more and try to get lost in the crowd. When we think we’ve lost him, we go into the nearest club (which also caters to the LGBT crowd). There are two middle-aged lesbians dancing by the bar, there’s a host of gay young men drinking, and I suddenly feel very safe. But then I turn around and notice the silhouette of our stalker. I tell Ellie about it. She glances around the bar and her face is as pale as flour.
„That’s the guy I saw earlier, he’s definitely following us.“
Unwilling to leave this cozy bar, or to succumb to paranoid frenzy, I do the first thing that comes to mind. I text The Poet.
Hey, we’re down in Kreuzberg and some guy seems to be following. What to do?
The reply comes in no time.
Which bar? In Kreuz as well, can be there in mins.
In deed, he does come in a blink. He sits down with us and asks about the stalker. The guy doesn’t seem fazed by our new company, so The Poet goes up to this table, leaving him stranded with poor excuses. The waitress backs him up and they all agree the guy should leave before they call the police.
„I hate creeps like that.“
The Poet sits back down with us and has a sip from my alcohol-free cocktail. I nod, stressed out. Ellie doesn’t seem to acknowledge him.
„Can we go back to the hostel now,“ she asks.
We decide against a taxi and take the subway again (not something I am completely comfortable with). The Poet says he’d be more than capable of beating up a random German that comes our way, though, and even though he’s lanky and awkward-looking, I believe him. As we go down to the trains, we hear violin music. I walk toward it. It’s a middle-aged Asian lady, and there’s people sitting on the stairs above to listen to her play. There’s an older man dressed casually, and an adolescent with an earring in baggy pants. And then there’s the three of us. Five people who stopped to appreciate a sentimental piece of music.
I knew, even then, I would always remember that moment.
Our way back to the hostel was uneventful. I don’t know if our 911-call messed up The Poet’s plans, but he never said anything about it. We smiled at each other as we brushed our teeth and said we’d see each other tomorrow.