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The final days, Berlin

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

In Berlin my last two weeks, I showed Austin the midnight trains, the potato place, the Spandau gym, the apartment that plagued me with insomnia, the techno club with beds where nobody sleeps. We sprinted in the suburbs, learned tango in a dungeon, danced bachata on the Spree. When we walked to the Arcaden I told him, I think I took a picture of that building for you, and he said I remember. I thought about all these places I'd already sort of taken him, and all the ones I hadn't: all the texts I'd sent him since March, and all the ones I kept in Drafts: I just walked by a man and he literally made orgasm noises when I passed, but I'm safe, lots of people walking // It was a much different vibe than usual and also it really made me miss dancing with you // I'm sorry I've been distant- I've been overthinking and haven't quite been able to formulate what I want to say. I thought a lot about how Berlin was a wild card, the place where anything could happen, and how from December to September Austin went from a total stranger to someone who helped toss soil on Opa's grave.


Our time in Berlin felt chaotic, bound by obligations and transit tables. This wasn't Spain, where we could walk out at any hour-- there's little room for spontaneity when the bus comes only a few times on a Sunday. We spent half our two weeks waiting for trains and half our money on Ubers we hoped would drive to the suburbs. The rest of our money went to food: groceries and gyro, ice cream and bland Vietnamese. Currywurst and schnitzel. Delectable Persian mango lamb. American breakfast with Leonie, Chinese lunch with Oma. Kinderschokolade in our musky basement AirBnB, where we showered in the kitchen and rescued the biggest house spider we'd ever seen. The pipes croaked and the toilet spritzed water on each flush and one of the hostess' cats squatted outside the kitchen window, grooming the paws that killed the sidewalk shrew.


On our first Sunday together, Daniel and Austin drank beer at the Mauerplatz flea market and then we spent hours browsing all the booths. It was just as packed as the time I went with Brenna and just as full of funky fashions, although most people still wore black. Danielle and Austin bought pressed-flower jewelry and I bought a canvas bag of a big round mouse. Before we left, we saw a vendor scold two girls who attempted to steal a sticker. Your mother would be proud! he berated them in German, as they blinked back and took five minutes to find their spare change.


On Monday we spent a whole day with Leonie and Nick and their friend Anneka, who was visiting from Leonie's Hamburg hometown. It's something Germans do really well: planning and keeping their word. Austin and I waited outside Leonie's favorite restaurant (the American breakfast place where Leonie and I first hung out) until Austin saw a group of three very tall people heading our way. That's probably them, I told him, and then hugged them and said Good morning to the hostess, even though it was afternoon. At the big round table we shared big platters of food and baskets of bread. Leonie gave half of her white chocolate raspberry pancakes to Austin, who traded her something in return. When we were stuffed, we strolled to Leonie's apartment to pick up their cat for a walk. But we found ourselves instead drinking coffee in their tiny kitchen, talking about cross-cultural perception and politics and slang. Just before dinner, we drove to a park where we watched Belvedere the cat scale a tree and bed down in giant holes.

(Photos courtesy of Nick and Leonie)


On Tuesday, September 05, Danielle, Daniel, Austin, Oma, Opa's cousin's wife, and I took two Ubers ten minutes away to Friedhof Staaken, where we sat in squeaky church pews. We hadn't arranged a service, just silence and solemn bells-- the sound of a sad September saunter. We stood for a long while at the deep round hole in the ground, just big enough for the urn, and then whispered our goodbyes to Opa's ashes. Opa wasn't one for pomp, Oma said, and repeated how relieved she was that it was just us at the funeral, with no strangers or neighbors to whisper behind our backs all the ways we could have done it better.


On Wednesday we visited Sanssouci, a palace in Potsdam south of Spandau, a direction I never went for the entire four months. I loved looking at the ornate interiors and imagining regal lives and lavish banquets, kings' and queens' conversations and the pauses in-between. Outside, Danielle and Daniel walked the gardens while I leaned against Austin on a bench in the sun. We weren't used to being tourists, and sightseeing was proving to be totally exhausting. It confirmed that the only way I want to travel is weeks at a time, or preferably months, being in one place long enough where it doesn't matter at all if you stay inside the whole day and recoup. I've been so crazy lucky with my remote job, because usually work schedules and budgets mean seeing so many things in so many days that everything becomes a numbing, disorienting kind of blur.


On Austin's last night in Berlin, we went to Brauhaus in Spandau and ate schnitzel outside. I was feeling pensive and somewhat sad -- not necessarily because of any one thing, but a conglomeration of all the thoughts I'd had the last few months, the ups and downs, the reminders of the past, of Mom and Opa alive and well; concerns about Oma getting older and living on her own. The night I'd slept on Oma's couch, she'd woken up in the middle of the night and shouted, Missy?! Are you still here? in such a way that I wondered if this happened-- maybe with Opa instead--even when I wasn't.

I was thinking about the dichotomy of being present but making plans, the discomfort of being almost 34 and still not wanting kids. The awareness that everything that's been so good in my new relationship could fade with time. I guess I was just feeling human that night, looking at Austin across the table with the candlelight flickering, knowing we'd never be there again-- not at that moment, those ages. I guess that's what "last nights" are good for, stilling time long enough for you to look around and really see.

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