Looking out of the window down to what I could see of the lake, for in summer the lush greenery mostly obscures the shifting waters except for slivers of misty grey, I was playing a CD of songs I’d collected over the years. Its title “soundtracks” was written on the burned disk and since it started off with tracks from the 28 Days Later film, it was what I thought it solely contained. At track 5, I knew it was a different CD than I’d assumed, for it changed to the main theme from the animated film, “The Snowman,” with its beautiful vocals.
I had been writing on the story tentatively titled “Hazardous Confessions” and making good progress, but after hearing two renditions of Ave Maria, the last by the Vienna Boys Choir, I was surprised by the next song, “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night), the traditional Christmas song, in German, also sung by that world reknown arrangement.
At its first line…I was simply overcome with memories of a special time in my life and I felt like embracing someone.
“Stille nacht, heilige Nacht…”
Over eight years ago I was living in Berlin, in all its ugly fury and beautiful reality, sharing a flat with a woman who later came to be my best friend. This was especially ironic in that I’d been introduced to renting a room with her by a man I was dating, whom she’d dated in the past. She and I had immediately hit it off, and by mutual consent the romantic attraction between he and I waned, though we too remained friends and in contact even after he moved to Canada.
I was writing then as well, but more occupied with exploring my new freedom and the rampant sexuality Berlin can offer and brushing up my German language skills, so to have something specific to do each week day I signed up for classes at a busy school catering to foreigners without deep bank accounts or corporate funding. In my own class alone there was 15 different nationalities including Mongolian, Kazahk, Panamanian, Russian and a young woman from Mozambique. Classes were fun and often hilariou. I spoke more German than the majority of them and a bit of some of their languages like Russian and French to help out when they were stumped, so I didn’t have to be active for my own classwork because I usually finished it quickly.
The Lehrer, the teacher was a middle-aged gentleman of generous stature, white haired and bespectacled, who was both very German of the northeastern variety (that is hard to explain but those who spent time personally around Germans will know what I mean) and very open-minded having absorbed and adapted to the “new” Berlin. He was someone who didn’t see foreigners as invasive or of lesser capacity, but enjoyed the differences of cultures and thought and behavior. He and I often had our private jokes and discussions. From some knowledge in his past or personal experience, he sensed what I was, knew that I was intergendered and he was quite curious but also fully accepting.
We were nearing the end of the course, soon to break for holidays with many of the students not returning to continue on, as they’d learned the basics of address, how to ask questions, state your name, age and find your way home if you were lost. The teacher spoke of German traditional Christmas practices and others shared their beliefs or lack thereof for Christianity. At the end of class we were all going to a Weihnachtsmarkt and have a few drinks, but before that, he handed out printed lyrics to “Stille Nacht” and began to sing.
There’s a thing which some other nationalities think of as arrogant or being a show-off, but we only think of it is as using your abilities to the full, not to show anyone up, but only to give of yourself in honesty. If you can do it well, then do it well. That makes sense to us. Hiding your talents or not allowing it to be enjoyed by others is strange and is a kind of dishonesty in and of itself. I include myself as German in this because it resonates with me, and always has. It meshes and agrees with my Native American personality and beliefs, so, many aspects of German idiosyncracies and societal behaviors are my own.
My teacher had a strong beautiful voice and when it lifted, it filled the room. I, too, sing very well and joined him. I don’t know what it meant to the other students, for most didn’t have proficiency enough to sing along, but for me it was a kind of worship in that moment though I am not Christian, I did know this lovely song. Faith without recourse to dogma or need of doctrine.
My tenor abilities with somewhat of a baritone range, and he, a strong baritone able to take a deeper bass in counterpoint, we sang together. It was beautiful even if I do say so myself, and I feel no shame just as I didn’t when I wiped the tears from my face afterwards, as did he. And who says Germans are cold showing little emotion? Someone who doesn’t know us very well obviously, for it entirely depends on what the circumstance.
We hugged and kissed afterwards, laughing and happy. We all signed the final attendance list and though it wasn’t expected or a part of the course, I took class photos which I still have today. Then we all bundled up and headed to the Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt. Glühwein of course, a couple in fact, then the teacher and I had a one or two laced more strongly with rum and came to be in very high spirits. (I have more photos here as well.) My birthday was coming up and I’d invited the teacher and class (the entry, The One & Only Party) including the young Brazilian guy with whom I’d shared some special moments and I learned later the teacher had become a mentor to. But the day was going into evening and time for us part.
Not far down from the embassy area of Berlin, a few of the students caught a bus and hurried to the top and back so they could wave as they sped away into their lives. It was time for the rest of us to go also, though the teacher and I would see each other again. He kissed me, that brilliant and cold December day, on the street in Berlin just as he later did as he left my party in early January, only that last time, to my surprise he’d said, “I like you. I really like you.”
And so almost a decade later, I’d totally forgotten about singing “Stille Nacht” together that way, though certainly I’d not forgotten him. I’ve recently moved back to Germany, and live nearby Berlin. I have his contact information, but it’s anybody’s guess if he is still at that address and can be reached at the telephone number. He had invited me to come by anytime at the language school and say hallo if I happened to be in the city. No idea if he is still teaching there either.
Though I do know, in appearance, I am not quickly forgettable, would he still recognize me? Would he welcome the contact? Would he too remember the singing of that song and the afternoon with a class of his students?
It’s moving into late afternoon and soon will be evening in the place I am now. The sun, predictably, from a misty morning with intermittent rain, has emerged and the lake through the trees has shifted into hues of blue. High summer, the shortest night of the year in contrast to my memories of that frigid December day preceding the longest night. It seems right somehow, and magical that I would remember all of this just now.