Are there still borders? More than ever! Every street has its borderline. Between each plot, there’s a strip of no-man’s-land disguised as a hedge or a ditch. Whoever dares, will fall into booby traps or be hit by laser rays. The trout are really torpedoes. Every home owner, or even every tenant nails his name plate on the door, like a coat of arms and studies the morning paper as if he were a world leader. Germany has crumbled into as many small states as there are individuals. And these small states are mobile. Everyone carries his own state with him, and demands a toll when another wants to enter. A fly caught in amber, or a leather bottle. So much for the border. But one can only enter each state with a password. The German soul of today can only be conquered and governed by one who arrives at each small state with the password. Fortunately, no one is currently in a position to do this. So… everyone migrates, and waves his one-man-state flag in all earthly directions. Their children already shake their rattles and drag their filth around them in circles.
(Der Himmel über Berlin)
„You don’t fit into this place. Not even with your crazy hair and frayed jeans. Not even with that dark lipstick you keep correcting.“
The Poet and me are sitting on the filthy steps of Bahnhof-Zoo, eating sandwiches. A couple of council estate boys (or whatever the equivalent is in Berlin) are higher up, and though my German is basic I can tell they’re talking about us. Me, specifically.
„Thanks for that. One more city to cross off my potential-home list. It’s getting thinner by the year.“
He takes a sip of tea and stares at his feet.
„It’s not an insult. I can’t help what I see.“
„And what’s that?“
„I’m not sure, but it’s not you here. If it makes you feel better, I don’t think I belong here either.“
„So where do we belong?“
My tuna baguette tastes like a promise of death. I put it down and hug myself, a familiar defensive stance I’ve perfected to the nth degree.
„I don’t know about myself, but you… I think you belong somewhere posh and expensive. Like, a horse race or country club. Something like that.“
„And I suppose you’d fit in in Africa doing humanitarian work, or somewhere where there’s war and you’re doing all these altruistic things.“
The Poet chuckles and shrugs his shoulders.
„It’s not altruistic if it’s the only way you can live. But yes, perhaps you’re right.“
I’m not sure why his attitude hurts me, but it does. I don’t like the way he’s subtly telling me we’re different, when in the last few days all I seemed to notice were our similarities. Still, I do feel that he’s right to some extent. As much as I liked to believe I was a revolutionary or a rebel when I was younger, I’m starting to notice more and more that I may not be as unconventional as I’d like to think.
„Don’t take it the wrong way, hey.. Maria?“
My head doesn’t want to obey my instructions, I can’t lift my eyes to meet his. The liquid glaze on them is getting thicker and I fear that any moment now, I might start to cry.
„The only thing I’m saying is, I see you like some fancy, rich liberal chick who’s smart and donates loads of money to the cause I’m working for. And then, your money probably helps more than my being there in the first place.“
Nothing he says can make me feel better. I’m watching as a future I dreaded for so long replays itself in front of my eyes as he’s talking, and I see the truth of it – I see my dislike of being uncomfortable, my ambition to make it in my field of work, the insanely intense love I have for shoes and pretty dresses. Suddenly and simultaneously, I see all this about myself as if for the first time and begin feeling out of place, just as he said. I’m not the girl who will ever again sit down on a dirty flight of stairs at an old train station.
„Let’s go walk around for a while, yeah? I’d like to just walk around Berlin today.“
„Sounds like a plan.“
He stretches his hand out to me to help me up, but I don’t take it. We both pretend not to notice it dangling in midair, and then keep pretending that nothing has happened as we stroll around the city. When we reach the Holocaust memorial, I slip between the gray slabs of concrete and lose him in the labyrinth.
Cry now, if you’re going to. Just cry. Let it out. He doesn’t like you, and that’s fine. It’s okay to cry about it, for a second.
I can feel the tears coming. My face distorts into an unattractive mask of repressed disappointment. My feet are in a frenzy now, one step, two step, I’m almost running. He appears in front of me. I have nowhere to turn to get away. Naturally, this is when the tears erupt.
„Damn it, Maria!“
The kiss is not particularly grand, or even comforting. His earthy scent reminiscent of the incense I used to burn in my Indian phase overwhelms me. His lips are softer than I imagined them as I hiccup into his mouth. We laugh.
„What was that for?“
„All the money you’re gonna send me when I’m in Africa.“
This, finally, coaxes a chuckle out of me. I wipe my face with my coat sleeves like a 10 year-old would. I even feel like a 10 year-old, wailing and crying in a supermarket because his parents refuse to buy him a new toy.
The Poet takes my hand and leads me away from the dead. He says he’s going to show me something beautiful, somewhere in this city where he thinks I’ll fit in. We reach the Brandenburg gate and head downwards. I can see where he’s taking me, and I smile.
Siegessaule. I’d almost forgotten about my wish to climb up and see the city as Bruno Ganz might’ve seen it, the sky over Berlin. We’ll pretend to be angles, for a short while, then.
Nothing with him can be ordinary, though. Instead of with all the other tourists, he pulls me with and we end up walking along the middle cobble stone path, between two car lanes. The victory column is dead center before us, in line with our joined hands.
I have to admit I get slightly claustrophobic as we climb the narrow, winding staircase. Despite the unease, I feel as if I’m climbing toward something, maybe a realization or a truth I’ve forgotten. It’s silly, but there you have it. When we reach the top, a drizzle has started. It’s a ridiculously movie-like scene. The tourists scamper off inside, and in no time, it’s only The Poet and myself. He embraces me from behind as we watch the Berlin skyline and I sigh, snuggling into his embrace.
„I really wanted to belong here.“
Even though it’s my own words, I can’t tell whether the here I’m talking about is Berlin, or his arms. He tightens his hold on me.
Neither of us moves, even as it starts raining more heavily. As my gaze passes over the foggy vastness of it all – the trees, the buildings, and always – the sky – I realize that I am seeing a kind of truth I was blind to before, but it’s not my own. It’s this city’s. The unfair judgement from a few days ago, about it being big for no purpose, crosses my mind.
Fine, you win, I tell Berlin. I was wrong. I see the point of it now. All the souls you needed to keep from dying, or being forgotten. Maybe you’re even too small to hold such a history within.
At the same moment I think this, I see the truth of it for me, as well. I am too small, too human to live the life of my grandma, of any of my ancestors. I’m even too small to be all the people I myself wanted to be. A tiny speck on the asphalt, not even a gray slab in a labyrinth.