A tale of two cities

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A walk in a park, and a reading of Vasily Grossman inspired those lines.

There is the city by the wide river, beyond it there is only the immense steppe, to the sea. There was a turning point, they say, a combat of titans.

Here, the river is slow and narrow, feeling its way to the Elbe. There are, all around, woods and and lakes: water reigns. I walk those streets, haunt those memorials, read the grafiti on the walls of the Reichstag, carefully preserved, that remind us of those who walked all the way from the city by the wide river, to meet their fate here.

I live here, and think constantly of the long road, from the shore of the Volga.

Image: Soviet War Memorial, Schönholzer Heide, Berlin

 

The violin

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She appears suddenly, soon swept away by the camera, behind the violoncellists. Even at a live concert, he has difficulties in seeing her more than fleetingly. Yet he knows her face, a medieval beauty, inspired, aloof, as if out of a distant past. He basked in the symphonic beauty, Tchaikovsky, Alban Berg, Mahler… She’s there, not all the time, over the years she appears not to have changed much. Is she a spirit? Is she the soul of the orchestra? When did he notice her first?

Lost in a dream, he listens, enthralled, expecting an angel to appear.

Untouchable

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I remember the first months in the city, I was puzzled by people wearing black, as if in mourning. Months and years passed. Slowly, I wore darker clothes, without knowing why. Not only during the grey season, all the time.

Did I forget Spring would come, clearer skies? Did I ignore the cheerful chorus of the winged friends?

No, like so many others, as if in a dream, I became untouchable, a silent ghost, sometime observed in the deserted streets, wrapped in darkness.

On the streets #Berlin #January

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Still remnants of the past Sylvester

and dead Christmas trees

litter the streets,

grey the walls,

sad the dogs,

only the crows find cause to rejoice.

Sparrows sing, in the cold bushes.

The city, lost in a dream,

lets the clowns speak, 

ignores the lies:

she’s heard many others.

Yet Spring will come,

and the Sun will shine again on Mauerweg.

 

Image source

Encounter with an Angel, a pre-Christmas tale

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I stood waiting at the traffic lights with a few other humans, and I noticed her immediately: her posture, the recognisable signs of strength and gentleness. There are some very beautiful beings in this city, but this was enough for me to keep my eyes on her, as the traffic roared past us. She turned her head round toward me, and I saw the light in her blue eyes, and heard the melody of her voice in a concert of crystalline bells:

“You look worried, my friend, and you should not be,” said the Angel with a dazzling smile, “We know that not all is well in this world, but this is no different from all times,” she continued, as I looked at her face in awe. “Besides, there are some very good things happening, even if it is sometime difficult, for you, to recognise them. You should know that every time the Enemy scores one, We win two, sometime even three. So, please relax, and keep your faith in Her, for She won’t abandon you, however stupid you might be, most of the time.”

I was speechless. People walked around me. The lights had changed from red to green and back to red again. The Angel had gone, in a cloud of bells.

Hidden

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The little daemons I used to see, at the crossroads, or standing high up on roofs, pretending to be busy, have gone. Or, perhaps, I have stopped noticing them, or they have stopped inviting me to see them. What does it mean? Is it because the city is now used to me, no longer interested? Or is it me who is now impervious to her mysteries, unable to decipher the signs, to see through the deceptive appearance?

But they are still there, watching, without being watched. They are waiting for my next move: they have all the time, other strangers to amuse themselves with, other tricks to play on the unaware. They know that, day by day, this old man is losing strength.

Soon I will be ripe for the taking, for the offer I cannot refuse. The Master knows.

Image: Nemesis, source

Of a broken box and a small town

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In the past two weeks my writing output (I did not want to say “literary”) was badly affected by the collapse of my old Mac, bought in 2009. This was the tool for my writing before and after a first (disk) failure, back in 2018. I was then lucky enough to find a local expert (in Gesundbrunnen) to fix it, without loss of anything. So its life was extended by about a year. Ha! the anxiety, those precious manuscripts! I have now bitten the bullet, and got a so-called refurbished recent version of the same, so that I can now, for a while, avoid the usual trap of “too old to be updated etc.” Hence new MacOs and new virus protection. Even an updated version of Scrivener. Sigh… The “migration”, although assisted courtesy Apple™, was an experience… It’s all there as far as I have been able to ascertain, so far. I am now full of enthusiasm, and I am even considering a major reconstruction of my first novel, still languishing on the Cloud (more about this for another post).

In the meantime, on a beautiful and cool Sonntag we have discovered another treasure of Brandenburg, the town of Eberswalde. Treasure because of the location (slightly north-east of the city of Bernau by Berlin, and easily accessible with the regional train, well designed for carrying lots of bicycles), along two beautiful canals, the Finowkanal and the main Oder to Havel canal. Superb riding country, much loved by cycling enthusiasts all year round. The Finowkanal is on its length the site of magnificent industrial buildings in ruins, notably a paper mill dating back to the XVIIth century (and still working in 1991 when the vultures came in), and an electricity generation plant. This inspired me to write about it, and seek its history.

Now let’s go back to work!

Image: old paper mill in Eberswalde, source: Technikdenkmal in Eberswalde

Eberswalde bei Wikipedia.de

Toteninsel

Inspired by an evening, roaming through the second floor of the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin

 

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In the morning I went to the gym and trained as usual, carefully.  I felt relaxed, the dizziness was gone. Back home, the most important person had gone to her own class. We would meet later, and I had time to prepare breakfast. First I sorted the gym clothes, making sure the wet towel and T-shirt were hung out to dry. The air was still cold but the sun was shining. The clear new bright sun of February. I closed the door of the balcony. Suddenly the dizziness had come back, like a small cloud out of nowhere. I laid out the breakfast table, poured a cup of coffee. The pain in my left arm was now sharper. I was used to it. The price for keeping fit was to be in permanent pain, or so I had told myself, long ago. I sat down, breathed deeply. The apartment was silent, I could only hear the deep growl of traffic, down on the avenue, and the crows exchanging gossips, up there on the roof. I had time. The most important person would not be back for another hour. I decided to write a short note: “Feeling a little tired, if I am asleep when you come back, just wake me up, softly! Xx”

I decided to lie down on the sofa, pulled the light blanket over the pain, smiling. The crows had gone silent. The traffic noise seemed to recede. The pain had moved from the arm to somewhere  between the shoulder and the middle of the chest. All at once it grew even sharper. There was no surprise, I had long expected this: not a question of if, merely when. My vision had gone vague, all sounds had receded. I felt a great calm, just the pain, invasive, and I knew I was going. Soon it was dark. A last thought was how simple this was.

The separation came later. How much time had gone by then, I could not even imagine. The pain had gone, only remained utter lightness. The light was dimmed. The room and the surface where I had rested were gone. Moving felt easy. Was it really moving? Exploring without motion, rather. Was this still me? These questions felt unimportant. I sensed, rather than looked, around. There was a shore, an expanse of water. No sound.

Then I saw him. I knew immediately who he was, although he looked much younger than I had expected. Charon’s eyes betrayed his apparent youthfulness. He was deaf, but his benevolent words came clear to my mind. “I was expecting you earlier, and I am pleased to see you.” Then a little later – but what did that mean now? – “Take place when you are ready, there is plenty of time.”

I stood at the front of the boat, exactly as in the painting. Standing, I was aware of the long white robe, of the hood. I felt somehow very dignified, at peace. Charon sat at the back, his muscular arms in evidence under the medieval shirt. Without moving I could see his calm face, the kindness of his eyes, and yet the absence of smile. The boat was now moving effortlessly, or rather gliding on the surface of the water. I could see the rudders cutting through in silence. The light was now brighter, under a cloudless but rather dark sky. I had the feeling we were immobile and that it was  the water that was flowing under our boat. 

Then the island was there, at first a small icon, and then the cypresses came into view. The sight of them was a sheer pleasure, a feeling of fulfilment. The dark green contrasted with the pale face of the high walls and rocks at the water edge. A faint mist surrounded the vision. “We have arrived,” said Charon without a word, “don’t worry about your luggage, it will be taken care of.” I only then notice the ancient coffer at my feet. I looked up, saw the small windows on the face of the cliff. Scents: the trees, sea water, salt in the air. I knew there was a cell for me, somewhere deep in the immensity of the island. Lightheaded I turned to the sea: Charon and his boat had gone. Small waves were crushing on the narrow shore. Did I hear sea birds in the sky?

“Wake up lazy bones!” said the most important person, her crystal laugh resonating in the room. The crows were back, and so was the traffic. Why did those legs feel so heavy?

Photo: Arnold Böcklin, die Toteninsel, Alte Nationalgalerie

Die Toteninsel, in Deutsche Wikipedia

Arnold Böcklin, Artikel in Deutsche Wikipedia

Das Gästebuch ist noch immer ein beliebter Weg für Museumsbesucher, sich selbst zu Ausstellungen oder Werken zu äußern.”

Being there, or here? #fivewords

Weekly Writing Prompt #177

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leaf, home, alter, light, front

There, she knew well, it was her home, her friends, where she’d met him. Here, was another leaf, both of them now almost past the light, an alter-life she did not understand, even feared a little, however familiar she was with the language, the everyday words. Indeed this was different, in a way she had not expected. She did not know where to be, there was her past, and much happiness, here was the unknown, only clouds in front of her. But him, did he know?

Image: ©2019 Mark Fernyhough, The Berlin Architecture Series, Kaltblut Magazine