Memories 2003/2004 Berlin, Germany:
“Watery golden sunlight, the staccato clack of Herr Zug awaken me, struggling up through vivid dreams already late with the rising of the sun, I pull on clothes willy-nilly. Racing down the corridor, through the station, barely making the train I need, I catch my breath only to have it taken again: a handsome young student quietly defiant in military black and a ponytail, an arm’s length away warms me with the intensity of his gaze. I imagine our hearts begin to beat in time, that he must see even the hole in the toe of my left sock so long he looks at me.
“You see something you like”, I ask finally, laughing in mild exasperation and pleasure after several interesting minutes ride of mutual review.
“Yes,” he replied simply with a small smile, his eyes never leaving mine. And even I, I the one surprised by nothing, blush beneath his glance, surprised. Returning his books to his rucksack, refastening his ponytail all the while watching me, he stands and I am presented with the profile of yet another fit muscular German derriere clad in black fatigues.
Standing at the door, he looks back to me. “Want to go for a coffee?” Thrilled yet trying to remain cool, “Sure,” I say. We step off together. After a conversation that begins somewhat stilted, we conclude laughing. We make plans to meet later that night.
What a wonderful beginning to a day!
Glittery sun, sudden gloom, a spattering of rain then sleet, pattern having been repeated a dozen times during the day. Standing in a breezeway waiting for the worst of it to pass I lean against cold graffitied concrete listening to the shrill laughing voices of children happily crunching the beads like glass underfoot. A Sigmund Freud look-alike shares my haven for a moment blinking up at the sky through round spectacles. Lost in Kreuzburg, looking for work, it’s taken all of my day yet nothing to show for it. I’ll find my way home soon, tomorrow I am confident Berlin will bow before me.
Evening rush, hurrying through the tunnels for no particular reason except the crowd presses close behind me driving me onward, I fight against them a moment, and they part like water around a river stone, as I toss an euro at the guitar player whose music fills the air, his voice lifted in Russian song. That’s how I know I’ve reached the right station. He’s there every day without fail at Nollendorfplatz. The doors close with the computerized voice calmly announcing in German, “Caution, doors closing!” I sink down on molded plastic, sigh at the aching in my feet. Most of the day has been wasted for me but I have enough money for a few beers tonight. I sit rocking next to an Asian woman delicately biting at a small sandwich barely seen above the wrapper. My mouth waters but I tell myself I am not hungry. I still have some beef jerky left at the room anyway.
The door is opened to my knock, its someone I don’t know recently moved into the eight steel bunk bed room, but that doesn’t matter. Almost everyone has the same dream that’s come to this special room at Meininger 12 hostel: room 007, dubbed “the room of dreams to be”. Dreams of success in their field, of making the grade, of finding a job. Each and every one of my friends are dear to me now: Nikko, the jolly giant from Münster come to make pastries; Isabella, an awesome young opera singer come auditioning; Rachel, a petite Australian beauty who wandered in from Amsterdam; and Robin, my first and dearest, a young Swiss student with a love of jazz.
We all sit around the lone scarred table counting out our last monies, most of us are near the end of our stay, reluctant to go home, to leave each other, to give up on our dreams for this trip but we still smile and make the best of it. We bring together what foods we have left and share until each is filled. I contribute my beef jerky, a great new favorite of Robin’s. He offers fresh bread we all exclaim in delight. Some granola bars from Rachel, beer from Nikko, and dried fruit from Isabella. A great feast.
A new friend awakes on the bottom bunk of Rachel’s roost, groggy and jet-lagged, groaning at the light, his accent is Australian. A great surprise and pleasure for Rachel, they are even from the same city, Melbourne. He is friendly as the day is long and immediately pulled into our group. Robin and I vow to show him the wonders of Berlin, and help him get acclimated. He’s in Europe for the first time, a journeyman engineer come to work at Siemens.
“Now, we go?” Kunal asked, but we only laugh. Its around eighteen hundred hours, far too early to go out. Go back to sleep, we advise him, it’s what we are going to do. Last night’s wandering around Wedding with a return at four a.m. begged for necessary napping.
Not long after midnight I am shaken awake by a smiling face, Robin, in faulty endearing English whispers so as not to awake the others who’ve chosen to pass on this night’s adventure, “Come, come to meet friends!” Prodded, pressed, and persuaded, shaken, stirred and baited I stumble into my best, snatch up Kunal, and out the door we go.
Walking down a dimly lit side street, parameter tape still flutters in the night breeze, marking the steps of the synagogue, its sole guardian identified only by the red ember of his cigarette burning in the shadows. Not until the door opens at the next corner do I know we’ve reached the place.
Wading through bodies thrashing to the heavy beat, sliding onto shabbily chic sofas where slim hot bodies make room in a casual way, one can’t hear a thing above the chest smashing pulse of the music but a soft kiss of welcome eases the tension from the persons closest, the first beer blurs the lines. I lean back in muzzy delight. Its Robin’s favorite place, Cafe Cinema, its dark walls covered with photos of famous stars, its high ceiling swimming in haze.
“What’s your thing?” a smiling guy whom I’ve never seen before, sporting a red spiked Mohawk yells in my ear leaning across from a wobbly chair. I can barely hear him. He can barely keep his eyes open.
“Poetry,” I shout back at him, “just poetry!” I push him back into his chair for he’s almost fallen into my lap.
“Cool,” he mouths as he falls asleep sitting upright, “Cool, cool, cool….”
“He works at the embassy,” my friend tells me lighting another cig. “He’s their head chef!” We laugh uproariously.
After a half-dozen rounds of dark German beer which he generously provided in good Aussie style though we tried to decline or at least return the favor, Kunal expostulates loud enough to turn heads, “Oh my God! It’s supposed to be spring!” Across the tall front windows a sudden fierce snowfall blows sideways, in its grasp, dim figures with heads ducked struggle to and fro, one group cavorting in protest as a night bus pulls away. Better head in for the night, we decide, for the Aussie Auslander has work in the morning unlike my Robin and I. Lucky devil he, we both have to come back and try again for a place in Berlin after returning home to work and get more blunt.
Wading out into the swirling squall, Kunal still exclaims in amazement beneath his breath shaking his dark curls in wonder. The rhythm still in his head, the beer curling warm in his belly, Robin dances in the station, his face angelic as we beg him to stop for he’s too close to the edge of the tracks. He pirouettes away with glee lifting his Frank Sinatra style hat politely to an elderly couple, stalwart in wool and tweeds standing stolidly shoulder to shoulder waiting, as are we, for the next train.”