Berlin, March 2018
Berlin - March 8, 2018
I woke up last night – not unusual – I wake up many nights at two or three regardless of wine or coffee – I’ve heard that sleep is disrupted at my age – people joke about it, although it’s not so amusing when it’s dark and one’s mind churns. I try to remember my German lessons, which article, das, der, die – which one adheres to which noun. Then a name becomes stuck. I can’t remember someone’s name a name that would have at one point in the past tripped off my tongue but now it unglues itself and only hours or days later will it pop unbidden into my head and I think I’m coming down with my heritable brand of cognitive decline.
We are here living in Berlin on Wiesbadener Straße. Our apartment is footsteps away from the Rudesheimer Platz U-Bahn station. I am unmoored here and for the first couple of weeks I took the 186 bus to the stores in Steglitz, Der Schloss, Forum, Boulevard Berlin and bought things for the apartment: two placemats, two napkins, a red plastic butter dish, stylish, indestructible, made in Germany, a candle, a bathmat, two washcloths and for Bill a new pillow that wasn’t filled with goose down. Kissen is the German word for pillow. I was thrilled to see Kissen again in the train – on an advertisement - Falsches Kissen? with the accompanying picture of a person in anguish all because of having the wrong pillow. There’s also an advertisement proclaiming Falsches Matrezt? I rejoiced at finding the One Euro shop and bought some small tools for Bill and magnets so that I could put photos of our grandson Henry on the fridge even though I have to bend down to see them because the refrigerator in our small kitchen is not much bigger than one for a dorm room.
I am taking a German class. The name of the school is Speakeasy and on their advertisement they ask, “Tired of Speaking Silly German?” Some of the young people and I am by far the oldest person on the premises reveal that they have been here in Berlin for months, upwards of a year for some of them and they are just now trying to systematically, formally, learn the language. Yesterday a guy from Australia told the class that he was convinced the parents of his German girlfriend with whom he spent a weekend thought he must be some kind of moron because he could not speak a word to them. I take two trains to get to the school on Warschauer Straße – the U3 from Rudesheimer Platz to Wittenberg Platz and change to the U1. I love the names of the U1 stops, Möckenbrücke, Gorlitzer Bahnhof, Schlessiches Tor. Right before the Schlessiches Tor station the train is above ground high on the elevated track and if you look down you’ll see one of those huge Mcdonald’s with an elaborate play yard just outside. Next to the playground is parked in perpetuity a big orangey gold American school bus. I look for the bus every trip to class. The U1 ends right at Warschauer Straße practically in front of the school and before I leave the train station I go to the little store that sells mostly cigarettes and beer at the end of the platform and pay two Euros for a milchkaffee in a take-away cup that I nurse for the first hour of class. The guys who work there I think are Turkish. It’s important to me that I go to the same shop even though I’ve been tempted to try for one Euro only the coffee from the machine at school.
Most days after Bill leaves for the university, I don’t speak to anyone until I arrive at the language school at 3 p.m. I am consoled that I am not, certainly, the first to be lonely in Berlin. I think of the refugees who have come here with nothing and I have every possible benefit, but of course these privileges make self-pity a laughable luxury.