Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Fear and loathing in Berlin

The snow has melted now, and for a couple of hours in the afternoon buttery, hopeful sunshine rolls over the windowsill. People walk their dogs without the frozen step-focused overvigilance brought by ice on cobbles.

When first I arrived, there were piles in twenty colours -- today's foofy, crunchy flakes of pale sky on the top of yesterday's grubby, last week's sooty, like photocopier 60gsm spilled onto newsprint. The cabbie carried The One Suitcase, not alpine-rated, over the snow onto the grit outside the apartment door, towering overhead in case you wanted to drive your horse and carriage inside. We'd bonded over deciphering the address written in my diary -- neatly, I thought, but not to German eyes apparently -- and over my tip, which I didn't know yet was copious for this town. He put my case down and his hands into his pockets. It was fucking freezing. Bye! he said, icing the one syllable with a more lush Germanic carillon than I'd have thought possible.

Most of the time I look out of my windows, out to the Strasse through a pair of heart-soaring double-casements with brass handles and headed with matching smaller windows like a Dutch door. I watch the snow melt, fall, melt again. People walking their dogs, lights-on/lights-off diurnal of the apartments across the way. Through the ceiling, the pattering of the feet of the small person I met on my first journey up the four flights of stairs to these windows, rendered jointless like all children in insulated clothing, like an overstuffed toy. Back and forth, back and forth. I wonder what it is like to be three and live five floors up.

Sometimes I venture outside and peep shyly into the windows of shops and cafes, listening to dopplered half-bars of German conversation passing me in the snow.

Bunches of tulips and daffodils stand outside in aluminium buckets. Cafes have rugs on chairs outside, and people sit there with their scarves over their noses and their hands wrapped around things that steam. A-frame blackboards with today's specials on them. I don't know what they mean. My instant, effortless powers with text and voice belong in another place and it is a noisy, colourful, overwhelming world of silence and I am in love with it, passionately, wildly in love with it, with every exotic, I-Am-International-Woman-of-Mystery cliché, with the bullet-holes in the buildings, the careful restoration of the sugarcraft plasterwork, the graffiti, the smell of currywurst. The fact that I can't understand, wedging my fingernails into cracks in meaning with long-ago Latin, fragments of Italian, a lifetime of idle etymological fetishism.

Brought all my fear and loathing with me. But they don't speak German.

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