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An unforgiving Saturday

Niels, I said, it was the smallest thing. Tables and chairs placed outside on the city sidewalk. Just the expectation. Yes now. This is describable joy: the flush of my skin, the smile that bubbles with goofy intensity, and the bounce of my step. Yes, yes, welcome, welcome!

But Spring doubts herself. Darkens. Weeps this whole, chill day.

(Come back soon.)


I spend the afternoon reading in a Kreuzberg cafe with my back to the gray sky and the slick streets. The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer. Have you read it? It’s another offering from the apartment shelves and a relief from the gritty intensity of Clockers, which I’d finished a couple of days before. I’m reading voraciously these days.

Still, the new table of smokers is finally driving me off. There’s a right moment in the book to stop, so I pay the tab, shove the book in my bag and shuffle through my iPod for the walk home. Yes, a few miles walk, despite the soft, steady rain.

Lips are turning blue
A kiss that can't renew
I only dream of you
My beautiful

Sing for absolution…

Muse. I pay little attention to the streets. Instead, I am back with Julian at the 9:30 Club on the crowded, dark dance floor on November 8, 2004. What a great concert that was. (What a tragic weekend.)

I cross the Spree on Oberbaumbrücke and climb the hill towards Friedrichshain. I take a small detour under the U1 train tracks. I’d spied a neighborhood from the train just recently (how could I have missed it all of these days?) and now’s a good time to explore. But the streets are mostly empty. Quiet, modern apartments. Office buildings. A couple of building guards—old men with their thick paunches—take a cigarette and coffee break. A teen girl walks to the station with her head down.

I shop at a quiet grocery store on these backstreets. Fruit and eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast. And, at the last minute, some pork medallions.

With saukerkraut? You know who you are.


I figure that I have plenty of time to get to Cliff and Katarina’s for dinner, but I scan the email for the directions and see that Cliff had written 6 p.m. It’s 6:30.

I call, apologize, slip back into my clogs and head out. I find a cab quickly enough, and then we’re off on the darker streets to Prenzlauer Berg. I’ve only been to the neighborhood once before. With Martin for a Berlinale film called One to One. I hadn’t really seen the neighborhood then. We’d had a spicy hotdog on the street, griped about the lack of popcorn at the theater and enjoyed the movie. But even from the cab window, I can see that the streets are bustling with people. Hip and happenin’ Berlin.

Cliff and Katarina have a lovely apartment. It’s on the topmost floor of a typical East Berlin building and, just as Cliff had boasted, it is thick with books. They line both sides of the entry, crowd the walls of his smoky study, and climb floor to ceiling in the living room.

I am curious. How many of these have you actually read, I ask with a teasing laugh. He considers it seriously. Two-thirds? He settles with “three-quarters.”

Politics had so dominated our last meeting, that I make a valiant effort to direct the conversation away from his reading. Movies? Ventures out into Berlin?

No luck. He’s obsessed with the details of the September 11th attacks, and tells me of the radio shows, books, and movies that he’s seen on the subject.

I try again. How’s your translation work going, I ask.

He waves it off. No time, because of all the reading. I’ve only slept four of the last 72 hours, he says with something like pride.

Katarina quietly serves a simple and delicious dinner: a fresh salad of nuts, cheese and greens; poached salmon with rice and broccoli; chopped fruit with fresh whipped cream. I acknowledge her effort with my fork and smiles. Cliff chatters on, careless with us both, and she eventually pulls his dish aside for later.

I consider her endurance. Is this love?

My undoing is in declining to see footage of the fall of the Twin Towers. He has conclusive evidence that it was a controlled demolition, planned by a top-level U.S. agency, and not the fault of the crashing planes.

It’s just 10 minutes, he says. Do you want to see it?

Granted, I’m already exhausted from playing “audience,” but it’s more than that. I had watched the footage of the Towers repeatedly, like so many worldwide. Frankly, it is a horror. In the weeks that followed, I decided that my recovery had to include a ban on news. I simply shut it down.

Do I need Cliff, my fellow American, albeit an expat, to show it to me here, in this apartment of books, and light-loving plants, and a German wife who’s already attempted one retreat to the living room to read?

No, thank you, I reply.

And again. And again.

I decline repeatedly.

I can’t believe this, he says, with obvious disgust. Don’t you care that your government killed 3,000 people?

Weary, but with a pointed look, I ask: So has my leftist card been revoked?

I am grateful that he calls an abrupt end to the evening.

The rain welcomes me back to the street.

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