For some people a home is a city, its people, or the four walls they hide behind. Hannah would leave Berlin tomorrow if she could—but she is a Berliner. She has spoken of leaving the apartment, she has even made a list: the bawling from the neighbors upstairs, the men painting and using sanders below; the sweeping sound of rough sand against stone that begins in the haze of dawn and ends in the rasping wan of the day.
Hannah could move but she stays to be close to Rheinsberg, near her father. The last time she visited he’d told her he didn’t want her to return. ‘Erinnere dich wie ich war,’he had said: remember me how I was. When she rested her hands upon his much older, coarse hands (liver spotted skin that felt like old braided paper) he tugged them free. These cold stubborn acts of self-rule left Hannah speechless and all she could do was lower her misty eyes.
In some ways the fading of her father is the shedding of her home; the dying embers of old Berlin – the open converted apartment bars of Neukölln, that spill out onto the cobblestone streets like an inventor’s workshop, the all-night cafes, clubs and Turkish restaurants, now gradually dissolving, like her father. And she wonders if Berlin is being gobbled up by its own cancer – by the malignancy of tourism and overseas investors. But Hannah is not versed in the cabals of surrender or the nomadic gypsy life—rather, she is shackled to old customs and habits like a Schnauzer to its master.
There are some friends who might call this ignoranz, a fantasie, but each morning she sits on her porch and breathes in the faint scent of cigarettes and lavender and smiles. It’s the small details that cause her dimples to deepen and her cheeks to rise. She closes her eyes and sips on her Myrtle and lemon tea. Her hair is pushed back from her face, but there are a few hazel strands that catch the afternoon breeze. Perhaps the last gasp of the true Berlin, the old Berlin is in the last shallow breaths of her father now waiting to die alone in the altes Krankenhaus in Rheinsberg.
She strikes a match and watches the flame chew the stick to coal, before lighting a cigarette. Soon she is sorting through old photographs. There is one that catches her attention: she is no older than 14 and standing on either side of her are both her Mutter und Vater, their arms locked in a crescent. The photo was taken at the Lucia Christmas Market at the Kulturbrauerei in 2002. Hannah can’t remember by whom, perhaps a stranger took the picture. A tear strikes the sun-worn paper.
The memory is like a Gespenst– a specter. In the photo she is smiling, there is a pink tinge to her cheeks from the brisk winter air, pearls of snow line her jacket and her mother’s hand rests on her shoulder. Her mother is brimming with a glow she hardly recognizes – her hair is pulled back (just like she now wears hers) and she is caught in elastic laughter, her gracious dark eyes glinting against the flash. Her father does not smile, not completely – he is too busy studying the person behind the camera; a gaze that feels both prophetic and skeptical, as if the camera is in fact a weapon that will cause some kind of unspeakable misfortune. Another tear falls and rolls across the Kodak colors, and Hannah palms the photograph into her back pocket. Sometimes words are not a substitute for anamnesis. Perhaps this is what he needs to see, if not his daughter, then this.
by Jakob Ryce