This will be the summer we went to Berlin and were not in Berlin. The summer we made plans and broke them. The summer we subleased a flat and never left the neighborhood.
The place we rented is white: white walls, white rugs, white leather couches, kitchen full of white Ikea plates. I lay flat beneath a tartan blanket, watching B. at his computer, his back rounded to the task of typing. I’ve not been equal to my work this week. An hour at the laptop enervates me, our walks each afternoon the same. But my blood moves, and my three keyhole wounds are healing. The stitches in the centimeter cut across my belly button are dissolving in my skin. This will be the fortnight of my convalescence.
I’m here without my camera, too, having misplaced it in the bedclothes whirlpool of our hospital retreat. So this leg of our summer must be fixed in words for want of images. Inked onto the white curtain in the bedroom. Etched once and left behind.
Is it fair to say I’m learning finally what I can’t control? To accept those things I cannot change. This is the coolest city on the continent, and here I am pacing a quiet rut around the Helmholtzplatz. Not going to the Türkischer Markt on the canal, not going to the C|O museum, though this exhibit might well be its last, not running laps around Neukölln. Not even waiting for the night bus after tango with a liter of cold, glass bottled beer. No dancing, no Görlitzer barbecues, no kuchen in the afternoon. With the exception of one trip to the Charité to have my wounds appraised, I’ve not even seen the inside of a U-bahn station.
Prenzlauer Berg is the Park Slope of Berlin. Dogs and baby strollers clot the streets. Chic and lanky stay-at-home dads take their children out for treats at trendy coffee shops. There are drunks in the park, passed out among their empties, but only three of them. Ten metres or so away, the young and hip play table tennis. Graffiti comes in kindergarten colors. We pass the same folk every day: the squat and balding man in cargo shorts, distinctive for his dandy tuftlet of a braid, the swarthy goateed guy who always carries crates of beer, and the couple at the art gallery, who smoke and drink rosé-schorle on their stoop.
Tomorrow we fly to Dublin. And Berlin recedes into this blankness, this pure stretch of hidden days. In retrospect, they look the same: the fruit and kräuter tea, the tartan blanket, the dinners on the balcony each night. Market vegetables made into soup. Evening saunters to the eiscafé. Early bedtimes, Batman movies on the laptop, sleeping away so many hours of this week. There is something pure about it, something contained and unimpeachable. Something not altogether real.
Tonight we meet some friends for dinner, just a few blocks’ walk from here. We’ll do a load of laundry and erase all trace of us. We have no wild and lyric answer for those who’ll ask about our time here. It passed in unrecorded moments. How Berlin is ever shabby, ever stylish. How in summer everything but the buildings in the street is green. How it’s chill so no one notices one couple folded in, our tortoise pace, our temporary stay, and my discreet recuperating. How we caught the last half of a Euro cup game, and watched Germany net their winning goal. And how just at that moment a cab sped by—one toot of his horn in madcap approbation, a flag flapping from his window as he passed.