The streets are empty, and rain starts falling. Some windows are lit, high up the tall buildings. Fallen leaves fly in the wind. Slowly he begins to hear the voices of the city. He has so much to learn: the geography of those unknown spaces, where the wall once stood, the secret boundaries, what was once the East, what is still the West, the ancient churchyards, the parks, the statues.
He listens to the voices, far away. He walks, he writes, he speaks to her. She says: “you have to forget what you learnt: this is different, you are on the other side of a mirror, you have to start again, and you cannot guess…”
The leafless trees look over the park, serenity reigns. Not quite free of ice, the Havel flows, almost with an excuse: it may be February, but winter is far from over. In the distance, through the mist, one can guess at the Glienicker Brücke, the bridge of spies. Many years have passed since then, since the hideous wall was removed, new trees planted, the park reopened, and the old church finally restored to its simple splendour.
The Schloss is still closed, its windows blind; a few steps away stands the millennium oak, witness to the folly of man. The old, tortured trunk still proud, even if half of it lays on the ground, finally resting. The path leads to the edge of Scarow, and further to the west, deep in the forest that surrounds the lake. There, in Summer, the young, and not so young, bathe and flirt in the nude, in the cleanest water around, under the shade of the trees. Now the woods are almost silent, if it were not for the woodpecker’s tireless effort. Half melted snow still lies on the ground, covered in patches with the small, pale bulbs of snowdrops.
The lake is frozen, the calm waters undisturbed by visitors. Nature is still asleep, and Spring a long way off.
Photo: Oak tree in Sacrower Schloß Park, © 2017 Honoré Dupuis
In my street the only trace of the Mauer is the brass inscription on the pavement. All round everything is new: Berlin is being rebuilt, or renovated, but trees also are planted, here in Mitte, and elsewhere in this fascinating city. In the evening a fine rain started, veiling the profile of the television tower, built in the DDR days, and one the vantage points of the city (I prefer the monument to the victories of 1814-15 in Viktoria Park.)
I went earlier in an exploration of the centre, from the Columbiadamm in Tempelhof, the Alte Jacobsstraße, in Kreuzberg, to Seestraße in Wedding. To get a sense of who the city really is, one has to walk, or cycle. There is a lot of this in perspective…
Landmarks, in stone or time, are everywhere. 17 June, the Landwehr Kanal, Museeumsinsel, Kennedy’s speech at the Schöneberg Rathaus… An eagle still stands proudly on the façade of the old airport building in Tempelhof, on Luftbrückeplatz…
“You got used to this now, but remember, this was once a divided city, still is, in subtle ways…”
She is right, my friend from the East: once, the river, and a hideous wall, had marked the boundary of a different world, different from this side, and different again from what the official statements said, as she knows.
“You cross the bridge, near the park, and immediately you know, the air resonates as if you were in another country, you see the signs: people still remember, you couldn’t be in Paris, or London, or Münich: it will take much longer to erase the past!”
I know she’s right, and, perhaps, I do not wish the past to be erased.
I drove carefully along your highways, approaching your centre as one approaches a very beautiful woman, a little tensed, perhaps apprehensive at the thought of your contemptuous stare…
How quiet were your tree-lined streets, how beautiful Viktoria park in the late Summer light, and how radiant your smile when you open your door, my adored lover, my soul, my mistress.
It was so quiet, everywhere, as if the leaves of the trees were silencing the far-away murmur of traffic; but this is not London nor Paris: this is the city of a hard-won peace. Oh Berlin, city of our love, where so long ago, you said we would meet again, here, on the banks of the Spree, unter den Linden.
For I adore your city, as I adore you, knowing that history never totally disappears, knowing the Topography of the Terror, the martyred bodies on the Wall, the long way back to life after the fall… Eastside Gallery, die Alte National Gallery… Dem Deutschen Volke…
In Tempelhof we ran, my eyes never leaving the golden hair and your sun-tanned legs, the goddess’s steps. And in the evening we walked the calm streets of Kreuzberg, and then you taught me that Aphrodite herself lives here.