This summer, Berlin tastes like woodruff liquor and hot falafel and the the kisses we blow. It tastes like the late summer rain that lets lights become blur and transforms streets into streams and the world into artwork. We dance in midnight rain, get lost between the high-rise buildings in Kreuzberg and ride our bikes on multilane roads. We breathe in history and exhaust fumes and the smell of adventurers and self-proclaimed do-gooders arising from our necks. Berlin is too crowded and too load and its nights are too bright. I love it.
After our wedding – a wonderful, happy and danced-through party, we tiredly travel to Berlin for a couple of days. We have planned this journey alarmingly poor but we know that somehow, options will unfold. It feels good to be on the road again. Still tiredly, we arrive in Berlin late afternoon. Anna and Gabe, who have travelled here yesterday and who have spent the night in the park around the bus station, happily welcome us. We fall into big hugs and pecks on the cheeks, and are woken up for a few days of capital city adventure.
Monday night, the mosque in Kreuzberg burns again. Again fire brigade and police everywhere, a swaying, ragged guy explains to us while we sit on a climbing frame between big housing blocks and vainly search for stars in the sky above us. Six women, young and old, with long coats and and headscarfs, sit and chat around a table next to the sandpit. Their voices resound between the tall buildings but I cannot understand them. I ask myself what they might be talking about and behind which of the many windows they might be at home. Two young men roam around the playground and suddenly shout in the direction of the bushes. “Alter!” [Dude!], one of them goes. “Don’t you piss over there! Kids play there. You go Kebabplace.” Some rats and mice race around. It’s starting to freshen – this year’s long summer nights are gone. We hand around the bottle of woodruff liquor which we call The Spirit of The Woods, and a cigarette glimmers when Gabe and Anna take a drag. The stars aren’t getting any brighter tonight.
Martin in his fishermen’s shirt sits right next to me. Martin, of whom I couldn’t be any prouder, Martin, who couldn’t look cooler with his cap and beard. Who shows us around the city as if he had been living here in a former life, who tells us the story of Berlin and of Germany with all the important connections and interrelations. Who talks about the victims of the Berlin Wall as if he had known them. Who usually hates holding hands but is a hopeless romantic apart from that. Who sings me a wonderful, cheesy song at our wedding, making the toast To the Groom’s Voice well-earned. He is my best fellow and favorite travel buddy, he counts the stars with me and with him I can be silly and stupid and fragile and very much myself. He knows poems by heart and does complex calculations in his mind. But now, he silently raises his eyebrows as Anna and I at lunch – Falafel and Haloumi, blithely and verbosely talk about our favorite books.
Anna is a short and bubbly person who wears her long hair in a tousled bun and two different socks on her feet. She laughs out loudly and has a wonderful, tender bad-ass voice, as if she drank a bottle of whiskey every day. Anna is full of surprises and loving, mad ideas. She recognizes things we others overlook. She’s here with Gabe, whom I know from my time in Kenya. He – wearing worn-out crogs, cut off jeans, a Miami Heat Basketball Jersey and a big, old and colorfully printed shirt, is the fourth person of our little group in Berlin. Some things apparently had little to do with latitudes and continents. I realize it in loud looks and silent phrases and in the laughter between the words. There’s grace and appreciation and Letting It Be. I am happy that we are all here now. With big eyes, Gabe listens to Martin explaining the Berlin Wall. Are we really here? We could as well be sitting on a shemba in East Africa. I missed you, I am gracefully thinking. I missed Uncomplicated and Chaotic, Unsaid and Blind. I missed Down and Baffled and your brutal honesty. I love where we come from and what we became and sometimes I wonder how we manage to never rip each others heads off, me with all the planning and you with your constant Here and There. We jump and dance on the rocks of a big fountain at Alexanderplatz. Sunlight shines through the leaves of the trees near the Plaza and is reflected in the chimes of a street musician.
These days in Berlin are just perfect. Somehow, everything is free again and everything is pretty good. Again we share showers and cake from a box, we laugh about life and dream away from the soon school and uni start. We have no clocks and only one cell phone with us. When I receive an email one evening, it rings for a second and I wish I had left it in the room. With dozens of other backpackers we sit in the community rooms of our hostel. I love how we share our tiny impressions of the world that seem so big and important to us and I enjoy listening with big eyes and telling with impatient voices. Sharing our worlds that are as tiny as sand grains in the desert so we can get to know small parts of other tiny sand grains and so we believe we would have seen the world.
Sometime these days we sit on a piece of grass at Bernauer Strasse, a piece of promising green area where they once started layering bricks and where still twenty five years ago had been nothing but a baleful belt in the middle of the city, in the middle of the country and in the middle of people’s lives. Separating socialist’s state and federal republic, East and West. Martin and I were born and raised in the United Germany. Tanks facing each other in our country, permanent fear of the Cold War and a wall in this city seem so surreal and we can only guess how it must feel to not being allowed to leave and not being allowed to speak up. I learn to appreciate being able to say and write of what I believe truth is. Although the truth would be that I still don’t say all the words in my mind, perhaps words like Mnazi Nights and Breach of Peace and Ember.
Absorbed in thought I pick clover and blossoms from the piece of green around us and braid a little garland which Anna will wear in her tousled hair for the rest of the day. Metal poles to our left indicate the former Wall and the houses to our right are pasted up with posters, outsized photographs of refugees from the DDR. Although it is just August, the breeze feels pleasantly fresh and much like early fall. Between the poles the wind blows from East to West and West to East and plays with our hair. We discuss different forms of government, we speak about freedom and luck, about boundlessness and about how watching a movie never only means watching a movie. Here in this city and within us things are being redefined: Freedom and Peace, Pride and Heimat and Home. Origin and Belonging. Borders and Limits. Berlin is Everything and Everybody, and everybody is Berlin. Today also You and Me and Him and Her. And Us. Us anyway. Berlin is alive and so are we.