Monday, November 9, 2009

9:52 p.m.

Postcard from Berlin

This train is freezing. We couldn't understand the woman who walked by, shivering through her teeth in coarse German. I'm reading with both pairs of gloves, and the leggings I brought do nothing to dampen the chill that has taken my lungs and squeezed them hard. This place, this train, all of Berlin is desolate and eery in the strange bewitching hour. I understand nothing and can't keep warm. Snow blizzards through the air, dancing on the windows menacingly. My boots have not dried in three days, and I am out of socks. The smell of the station when we get off the train is dank, like a must in an attic that froze years ago. At least it's warmer than the car.

For most of today I have been thinking about Berlin. It might not have been the wisest choice to spend a late-February spring break in a city that darkens at half four and roughens your cheeks rosy and windburned for days after you leave. But we went anyway, and when we managed to find our stop on the S-bahn, we toppled out into a grey and graffiti'd East Berlin.

A harsh wind drove cyclists down the road like frantic geese that are late flying South. We had managed to reserve an inexpensive hostel, and when we turned the key, the door opened to a man snoring on a bunk in only his underwear. We underestimated the amount of wool socks necessary for such a trip. On our first afternoon we walked, bundled in tights under more tights under trousers, to the Jewish Museum. One morning, the icy drizzle was so bad we came home to warm our undergarments on the radiator for an hour or so before going out later.

We drank from jugs of wine and ate pizza, and then Eli took us to a party. There was talk of going to a 24-hour club. We were tired by 1. I stayed quiet as I tried to decide which accent was harsher — my American or their German.

In brief moments of sunshine, we wandered through galleries on Augustrasse, sipped cappuccinos and savored cakes next to cafe windows, and we crept up the huge staircase of Tacheles, a squatter's art paradise.

We also saw Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag and ran our fingers down the Berlin Wall (there was also a large portion of the wall that was still intact near our hostel). The list goes on. But for me, Berlin was like many visits to unfamiliar places in that the spontaneous moments stand out more than the monuments.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

I am so fortunate to have shared this trip with you and even more fortunate to have relived it through this beautiful post.

I can feel the dampness and taste the cakes now. Thank you.