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Berlin: the week since

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

Opa made it through the surgery and spent only one day in the ICU...! I feel like we're on "borrowed time" now, which makes me all the more grateful for being here with him, except that I haven't visited since Sunday... the day Danielle and Daniel left, I was feeling tired and sniffly. I went to Oma's for dinner that day and wore a mask except for eating. I'm not sure she and I have ever spent time together alone. It's so weird how you can spend a lifetime knowing somebody only in the context of the people they're always around. We ate fried potatoes and Bratwurst for dinner and Oma peeled an apple for dessert. She told me a lot of things I wish I had recorded: like how the East Berlin currency was worth only a quarter of West Berlin's, and how the police at the border took valuables away. She told me nicknames for her and her sister that I already don't remember, and she sang a silly rhyme about me finishing my food, something about peasants and a king. She tried to give me a big jar of honey; I told her I didn't want to carry it around.


The buses were running off schedule; it took me longer than usual to get to Oma's and back. I sat behind a balding man who was reading the day's news that he'd printed from online; I saw something about Thunfush. He had greasy curly hair and took up three seats with random bags; he untwisted a glass bottle of orange juice and drank it in staccato swigs; all of him was trembling. He unhooked his mask to blow his nose, then put the mask back on. Other people stared.


On Thursday, I wrung out my clothes in laundry soap and hot water in the kitchen sink: load after load, four wash bins full. I wondered if it was actually more efficient this way, water-wise, or if I was wasting more. As I kneaded, I tried to remember the last time I didn’t have a washer, the last time I hung anything out to dry. My sweaters steamed in the cold morning air; water dripped from the ends of my leggings. I waited for the first steady sun in two weeks to dry it all out, to clean the things I’ve worn again and again, the dirt that collects from living.


I walked a couple of miles on the greenway that afternoon toward Spandau, and thought about how much I wanted to have a bike: how that's the Germany I remember, speeding from one side of town to the next, with bread in our baskets.


Marcella, the AirBnB hostess, chatted with me while I was outside. She asked about my grandparents and then said her husband died from cancer a couple years ago in just six weeks. Plotzlich. That's so awful, I told her, meine Mutti auch. She asked how it was that Mom ended up in America when she was born here. She wondered if it was for love. I said yes, sort of, but Oma told me later that Mom had always planned to come to America, even before her boyfriend went abroad. We talked a little more and then she knocked on the window later to return a trash can she forgot she took. When I opened the door, she told me about a small bird with a long tail she'd just seen, that I gathered was quite rare; she clasped her hands together and said she is so happy she saw it. I remembered then that that's how you get through grief: you observe the life your loved one left you, and you find things you'd share with them if they were still around.

 

On Friday, I started the morning with Silver Tea, the milk + water + honey tincture Brenna's husband Ivar told me about last year in Iceland. I spent all day sneezing and blowing my nose, wondering if COVID resurfaced or in my post-COVID state I caught another bug in the cold and rain. I tried not to freak out; I texted friends and they texted back. I worked on both the Nashville Market Overview and a sticker design, the skunk that's taken me months. I took the bus to Edeka, where I bought weekend goods: two waters and Fräulein apples (which, according to the website, have flesh that explodes in your mouth), raspberries and Bratwursts and a new loaf of bread. I FaceTimed with Austin and then Teams-videoed with my manager; we talked about how everything is changing, but ultimately is the same. We talked about how our company wants to move back to offices at least twice a week, but that the Nashville team is so small we may be excepted. I wondered if that is a problem in and of itself, since big corporations can just chop off limbs and re-grow them somewhere new.




 

I woke up Saturday morning feeling congested, hot and tired with a dry throat. Logan wanted to chat; on FaceTime, he told me about his former bandmate who just died from sepsis on a cruise ship, how things like this happen to the super talented and young. Logan talked about Biden's drilling plan in Alaska and the potential TikTok ban in the U.S., how he thinks TikTok helps people see each other around the world as humans, rather than outsiders and enemies.


I took a long, steaming hot shower after the call and washed my hair, then worked on Illustrator until mid-afternoon when I went for another walk: the temperature hovered near the mid-60s. So many older Germans were out snipping things in their yards. I paid attention to the houses, the shapes and the trinkets in the half-curtained windows, the cars out front. The tiny trash receptacles hidden in the bushes. Bicycles whizzed by. A group of kids got off a bus and cackled in German accents about that viral TikTok video about chickens: why are chickens so funny? beCAWse.

 

This morning I woke up to rain, feeling the same as the last few days: crappy. I took another long hot shower and worked on Illustrator all morning, just making tiny edits to things I finished months ago. I boiled water to drink since I don't know about the tap and then FaceTimed with Bren for an hour. It was amazing sitting with her in our respective kitchens while she ate Icelandic skyr: we haven't been on the same timezone for so many years, and now I know what it's like to be awake when all your friends are sleeping.




I went on a walk afterward, hopping off the greenway to meander through neighborhoods instead. I love seeing all the triangles and squares, the reds and yellows faded with the sun. I've been saying a lot that everything in Germany is so small but that's not really true when you're out of the city: the yards here in Falkensee are large and full of gardens, and the homes themselves are three, sometimes four stories tall. Some of the driveways are long enough to take a short morning stroll. It all reminds me of Oma and Opa's four-story condo in Oedt, which had a perfect little backyard with a playhouse Opa built. I have so many memories of that place: a grandfather clock and a big doll carriage; apple-shaped bowls full of pudding and Mensch ärgere Dich nicht. The smell of the basement freezer full of chocolate and treats. Oma told me a couple weeks ago that the house was nice but too big, that the village was too small--that she's happier in their Wohnung in Berlin, with less to clean and more to see.





I've been thinking a lot about space and place, as I do when I travel away from my big house...the cottage I'm in right now is probably the same size as a camper van; it has a twin sized bed, hot plate, small bathroom, a mini fridge and a breakfast nook. It really is all I need; there's something cozy about touching all the space you occupy. But tomorrow I'm leaving for somewhere bigger, an apartment with a full-sized fridge, stove and washer (!) I'll be there for the next two weeks, before I transfer again. I wasn't sure how I would feel hopping AirBnBs so much, but I think I like it: I've always found something comforting in leaving, in seeing what happens somewhere new.

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