Carmen-Francesca Banciu

 

The Lights Are on Again on Friedrichstrasse

 

One month of being away is all it takes in order to feel like you don’t recognize your own city anymore. One time this street is closed. Another time, it’s that one. Sometimes the damn commuter traffic rules the underground. One has to always be braced for surprises. Berlin is no place for creatures of habit. Nor for those who crave order. Nor is it a place for intolerant people, or lovers of tradition. Berlin is a city for the young and those who remain young, even though they may be advanced in years. It’s a city for mental joggers. For lovers of surprises. For those endowed with vision and imagination. The city of dreamers and conmen.

 

Everything happens so fast in Berlin. The rhythm of the city is an expression of time. A spiral of exciting rhythm. When I got here, everything revolved around Ku’damm. Around Breitscheidplatz and the hollow tooth, the Gedächtniskirche. That was the heart of the city. It’s where the street fairs, street art, pantomimes, concerts and protests took place.

 

Everything happens so fast in Berlin. And much is also short-lived.

 

On Ku’damm new shops appear overnight. And disappear just as fast. The French book dealer has also disappeared. On Meinekestrasse the French store Fnac has opened,  (but nobody cares about French stuff now) and by the time I make the time to get there, it’s already gone.

 

Everything happens so fast in Berlin. The year has hardly begun and it’s already gone. My friend Ingeborg says that it has to do with age. My friend Barbara says that it’s Berlin. Only here does the time pass so quickly. I believe that it has to do with time itself. Even my children complain about getting away too quickly.

 

A great deal happens during my first year. There is an unspoken battle in the city. For and against the Reunification. But pretty quickly the momentum leans toward the East. Everything that the zeitgeist has to offer relocates there. The bleak Alexanderplatz is artificially revived. Until it begins to develop its own life.  Peruvian street musicians and buskers are tolerated. The many snack booths provide for life and color. Berlin Alexanderplatz needs to be resurrected and regain its flair.

 

In the beginning, hardly anyone came willingly to the East. But gradually, the pioneering spirit awakened. And soon the East is in. Students from the West want to experience it too. The adventure. Student life on a hard floor. A ground that was fertile for artists.

 

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PHOTOGRAPHE : Marijuana Gheorghiu

 

Mostly teeth-gnashingly. The DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). The Council for Cultural Events. Even the government. Everyone has to offer their sacrifice. And no one is pleased about it. People are made to suffer the rough tone and the rough customs of the East. And the lack of good taste and the heavy kitchen vapors. The dreadful cuisine, the heavy side dishes and other qualities that typically characterize the East. On both sides, many regret that nothing is the way it used to be.

Political interests take precedence. Private interests have to take the back seat when trying to get a metropolis on its feet. A metropolis like no other in the world. One that unites two worlds in itself. And seeks to reconcile them to one another.

 

Many small revolutions take place in Berlin. And they’ll be many others. The interruption of theU-Bahn lines that connect the trains from the East with those from the West has been abolished. We no longer need to dial an area code in order to make a phone call from Leipzigerstrasse in the East to Kochstrasse in the West. The zip codes are changing. Streets are renamed. Deciding which ones will remain is part of a political debate. Clara Zetkin will remain for a long time. But in the end she has to give way too. The streets are assigned postcodes. One has to constantly adjust. Have new business cards made. Notify the banks.

 

The next step is to consolidate the districts. The people curse it. What all these politicians don’t think up. And yet, Berliners love their city. Their new city. And like it or not, this all has to be. And most of it proves itself to be positive.

 

There’s a great deal that can go wrong in Berlin. Thank God, I tell myself. Thank God, the Olympics aren’t coming to Berlin. Thank God Berlin and Brandenburg will not be merged. It’s not yet demanded of me to think in the interests of the city. Yet, I soon realize that this is also my city, and I am obliged to get involved. And that I too bear responsibilities here.

 

There’s so much that goes wrong in Berlin. There’s corruption like every other place in the world. Deceit and poor planning. But underneath it all and new city is blossoming.

 

When we relocated to the East, the neighborhood, in which we live, was still a bleak, hooded world. Friedrichstrasse is like a dirty trace of a drawing that had been elided with a rubber eraser. Construction sites suffocate the city. Everywhere cranes and noise. The people swear. I take the city under my wing. In a few years, it’s going to be the most beautiful and most modern city in Europe. And we are its witnesses. One appreciates the present only once it’s over. It’s always been this way.

 

In the meantime, Friedrichstrasse at night is a mile of lights. At Christmas it sparkles all decked out in garland and decorations. In Stadmitte, the Christmas tree seeks to one-up the Cathedral Dome. The light series are an extension of the Ku’damm. The humongous tree. The many banks. The expensive shops tell of victory. Of the victory of thoughts of Reunification. Not far from Checkpoint, Galeries Lafayette moves in. It’s the counterpart to the department store of the West, KaDeWe. And yet, it is not called, KaDeO (department store of the East). It can only be Lafayette. Only Lafayette can be a symbol of reunited consumption. Without triggering a German-German debate.

 

Even the book store giants, DussmannHugendubel and Kiepert have secured places on Friedrichstrasse. The cultural department store, Dussmann at the train station is a station itself. It’s a station of ideas. We all ward ourselves against department stores. And yet this station has one within itself. One can step into its world and renounce to all travel. It’s possible to imagine spending a lifetime inside of it. That lifetime would not suffice to explore everything within it.

 

Everything happens fast in Berlin. Many traces get obliterated. Some acquire a different meaning.

Friedrichstrasse was the dividing street. The street of tears. The Tränenpalast, the tear palace, is still there. No one knows yet what will become of it now.

 

There are many symbols in Berlin. It’s not right to tear them down. Nor to erase its history. Neither side of the history. Sometimes I walk home from Café’ Adler via the Wilhelmstrasse, past a big gray building on the corner of Leipzigerstrasse. It’s an abysmal building. It’s the expression of consummate ugliness built for eternity. The edifice is a bunker decorated with socialist realist paintings. A former bunker with scenes from a working class life. From a working class state. So wonderfully optimistic that today the Finance Ministry has based itself here. Three large segments of German history are captured within it. They should be used as lesson materials in school.

 

Even the modern building I live in on Leipzigerstrasse is a historical edifice. A remnant of the battle and victory. Here is where socialism is supposed to have won. An entire street has that responsibility to bear. Leipzigerstrasse versus the Springer high rise. Yesterday’s victors are today’s losers. After the fall, everything has changed. Buildings made with precast concrete slabs, that are privileged in the East are renewed according to the standards of the West. Modernized. There is no stagnancy in history.

 

Berlin is not allowed to suffocate in its own history. And yet no one is allowed to cancel any side of its history. When I look out my window to the south side, I can see directly out onto theSchlossplatz. A new castle is supposed to be built there. One that has not existed there for a very long time. What is it supposed to prove? Who wants to turn back history? And would that ultimately be a good thing?

 

When I lie in bed, the arms of the cranes move before my eyes. They move away and cross each other. They come very close to my window. A calligraphy of movement. A gigantic performance. The poetry of cranes. I have photographed it.

 

Construction is taking place in front of my window. On the south side, construction is taking place. On the north side, construction is taking place. In any case in the east and in the west.

 

Even Kreuzberg renews itself. The Springer high rise expands. It gives rise to a new building. With mirror glass facades and a clock. So that people can tell the time in Mitte too. The mirrors reflect the clouds. And the new Leipzigerstrasse remodernized according to Western standards.

 

In the meantime, from the south-side of my apartment the view to the synagogue has accrued new construction. I miss the unobstructed sight of “the most beautiful square of Europe.” Especially when Carmina Burana floats through the air.

 

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PHOTOGRAPHE : Marijuana Gheorghiu

Since Wim Wenders, the sky over Berlin is free again. An airship floats by and writes: “Maria I kiss you with love, Kai.”

 

In Berlin everything goes so fast. And much of it short-lived. I have gotten accustomed to the construction sites. That has its price. Sometimes I lose sight of the development. The progress. I’m too involved with my own development. I live with the city. I live in the city. In order to see better, I need to distance myself sometimes. I practice perceiving the world. To be present with all of my senses. I want to learn all that which is very difficult. Want to learn, to breathe consciously every day.

 

One day I walk to Adler and notice that something in the landscape has changed. The scaffolds are gone. The house across the way is complete. There are new stores on the ground level. And my acquaintance Johannes has moved in with his Art Shop. Prior to now, he’d had a small shop right next to the Adler with souvenirs from the Wall. Now he’s expanding. He takes advantage of the metaphor of Checkpoint Charlie. Johannes studied political science. He experienced the fall of the wall live. In his shop, one can get souvenirs of Berlin and the Wall, T-Shirts, books, guides, maps and tchotchkes. Since he started doing so well, I don’t see him anymore. Before, he used to tend to the shop himself, and I used to wave to him on my way to the café. Sometimes he’d stop in and we’d drink coffee together. Now Johannes is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’s sunning Spain or investing his money in a new project. Even Café Adler is changing. Before it used to be so tight and abutted the wall. It was a tiny nest. A sad little den at the end of the world. Now it’s the city’s navel. The navel that tourists flock to.

 

Tourists want to see, what is now just a memory. That which is only documented in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

In Berlin there’s so much building and building taking place. The no man’s land exists no longer.

 

The traces of the separation are getting blurred.  The streets grow together. The watch tower has also disappeared. Soon the separation will become a fiction. I sit in a café in Kreuzberg and look toward Mitte.  It’s nothing more than a jump over a rope. And yet on the other side was another country. Café Adler can tell the story. It belongs to the tourist attractions. It belongs to the history of the wall. Tourists come in hoards. They come and they go. They are in transit. They bring no life of their own with them. They only bring their curiosity. I don’t need their curiosity. I have my own. I’m looking for another place to write.

 

At first I try Potsdamer Platz. Where more and more it looks like the way one imagines New York, when he or she has not yet been to New York. I have not yet been to New York. I go to the Arkaden. I don’t know yet, if I’ll like it. Everything is so big, and it makes me dizzy. I don’t know, whether I’d like to live there. And I realize that it’s too early to write here.

 

Potsdamer Platz squeaks and shines like a new shoe. During the day it becomes filled with life. Like a torrent. But at night, it’s rather quiet. Once in a while, on some nights, a miracle happens and people meet there, in order to listen to poetry. For the Long night of poetry. The Literaturexpress has arrived with poets from all over the world. And the world wants to hear them.

 

There are many lights on Friedrichstrasse. Many lights in Berlin. New lights. It’s not always good. But stagnancy is the worst. I love the rhythm of this city. And its energy. Its noise gives me wings. It gives me energy. But it’s also an energy-robbing city. Sometimes one has to leave it temporarily. My little daughter wanted us to move to the country. She dreamt of a farm and of pony rides. That was not so long ago. It was only her age. Now she can no longer imagine living anywhere else but in a big city.  Here at our place, she says, here in Berlin, it’s so beautiful.

 

 

 

Homesickness

 

It was. A garden on hilly ground. At the edge of the village. Behind it the mouth of the forests. And the wilderness. And the acacia and the elder pollen in early summer. The village was high up in the foothills and the summer heat parched the fountain. We retrieved the water from the spring on the mountain. The freshness beat against the glass. It was precious. The water. The heat was unbearable, and the dust of the parched earth would scratch your throat. Burn your eyes.

 

The heat was unbearable. During the day, you’d have dreams of being a snake. Or a lizard on a rock. Sprawled out in the splendid sun. The garden was very big. The harvest rich. And the day unending.

 

The whole summer long, we would live under the pear tree. In the pear tree lived the woodpecker, the squirrels and the many bees. The pear tree was a fragrant dome. The pears hung heavily over us. Boxes and boxes of honey fragrance. So many pears. We made marmalade and juice. And we distilled the most ambrosial schnapps. And despite all of that, half of the pears on the tree would be left over. For the birds. The squirrels. For the ants. For the earth.

 

My children lived in the pear tree and would eat breakfast there. The tree was a dome. Our roof. Our protection. From the rain. From the annihilating sun. And from the spring nights. From the spring nights when one would come from the city and the moon would look like silver magic over the bent boughs. The moon would suffocate in its blossoms. The blossom fragrance would float in the air. And they would fall to the ground like snow.

 

In autumn, the village would sink under the sharp odor of the goats. The billy goats seeking mates. An odor that rose up into the high mountains. It was the season for weddings. In winter the landscape would rest. But the village would be bustling.

The schnapps would burn and spread the smell of summer on the tongue. Then it would slide into the limbs and into the heart. Pain would transform into a dormant island. And that hurt.

 

It was. A garden on hilly ground. The cherries. The apples gleamed. The precious water. The wash on the mountain by the spring.  Schlepping the wood from the forest. Cooking in the blazing heat. We would exchange the bread and batteries that we brought with us from the city in a big rucksack for eggs in milk in the village. When the bread was gone we bought ourselves a goat. We’d take potatoes with us to the city. Cheese and quinces.

Dried prunes and fruit preserves. For the long winter. We’d bring back summer warmth and a piece of hope that would help us get by until the following spring.

 

We’ve lost the survival garden. It was sold. Even so, it’s still ours. We take it with us everywhere we go. And we tread it with reverence. We can never go back to the actual garden. This is our chance. Our chance to make ourselves at home in Berlin.

 

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PHOTOGRAPHE : Marijuana Gheorghiu

I come to Berlin with a manuscript in my suitcase. The most precious things in my life arrive later. My family.

 

Since we’ve been here, we’ve been able to leave everything behind us. No books. We didn’t even take our family photos with us. This is our chance to make ourselves at home here. We don’t busy ourselves, cleaning our family silverware and shedding tears over its previous owners, our ancestors. Unencumbered, we buy ourselves new silverware from Zillemarkt. We receive furniture donations from our friends and strangers. Pieces that are filled with the life stories of others. Of those we don’t know. We are curious about the stories of others. And curious about our future stories.

 

We feel at home. That’s a grounding feeling. And when we did finally bring our photos, books and silverware here, it had a different meaning to us. It carried a different weight. The objects were liberated from their emotional weightiness.

 

Elegance is important to me. Elegance is not a question of money. Rather a question of attitude. Imagination and the ability to combine things. Harmony. The ability to be in tune with oneself. And with the cycles of nature.

 

In Romania, we lived without giving thought to the cycle or the environment. We ate strawberries in spring and apricots in the summer. In winter we ate quinces, apples and dried prunes. We peeled the vegetables and gave the remains to the chickens. That was a necessity. We lived in the big city. We lived at the edge of the city. On the fringe of society. We survived. Staying far away from ideology. In Berlin, we didn’t know what to do with our vegetable peels and our left over bread. We asked ourselves what happened with nature’s cycle. We became conscious of the environment. The environment, die Umwelt, is a word that I have not gotten for some time. [So many words related to it in the German language begin with “un.”] All the time I hear about “the Unwelt.” Like Unwetter, meaning storm, Unkraut meaning weeds,Unmensch, meaning barbarian. I don’t understand how it’s possible to for one to stand up for something that he or she rejects at the same time.

 

Elegance is important to me. As is harmony with nature’s cycles. With the environment, die Umwelt. With the world around me. I learn to understand the world environment. And other words. I learn that life is different here. It’s also become my life. Since then I avoid left over bread. I eat strawberries from Brandenburg, when they ripen in Brandenburg. I scrape my vegetables with care. No longer do I peel them. I adapt by doing that which I hold to be right. There’s a lot here that I deem to be good. But sometimes I don’t know right away, what’s good. I learn to not to put my reason before my intuiton. Even in the big city, there is a life that is in harmony with nature. Even in Berlin.

 

My children were born in a big city. In Bucharest. On whether we’re homesick?

 

There is no homesickness, when there’s no inner conflict. And I’ve not been in conflict for a long time. There is a place in Romania that I sometimes miss. It’s a garden on hilly ground. In a village in the mountains. In this place we spent our last two summers in Romania. Two horribly hard summers. It’s a time of our lives that only our memories will preserve for us. The place itself we’ve lost. We don’t even have photos from this time. But nothing can erase this place from my heart.

 

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PHOTOGRAPHE : Marijuana Gheorghiu

 

 

Mother, is this also my tongue?

 

 When I started to write in German, it was an obvious step. Because as I wrote, words kept coming to me in German and I had to restrain myself not to allow their excessive flow into my Romanian writing. For a while I believed that I would be able to isolate myself in my native tongue here and use it creatively. I believed that by working with it I would find a more complete expression and have command over it.

 

Sometimes one is in command of a language. And runs the risk of remaining trapped in its structures and in part to its time-specific vocabulary. One has to destroy language in order to rediscover poetry. And the better one knows a language, the greater the danger. It has to do with a power relation. Between oneself and the language. For a time I wrote in Romanian and would find myself in a trance-like condition. I’d brought a petrifaction with me. My words were stuck in my throat, behind my palate and would suffocate one another. And they all threatened me. I wanted to spit them out. Force them out. They were the words of a sick language. I did not want to use this language. And since I could not use it, and only partially disposed of another, I was mute. I decided for a cramped attempt at language liberation. And as I wrote, it hurt my hand. And as I spoke, it hurt my throat, and occasionally, I would be able to express myself inarticulately. The language I possessed was blocked inside of me and I needed to let it out as though it were a bird. I needed it for a book.

 

Scrunched, contrite and chopped, the language came out. When I’d finished writing the book, I realized that my work in the Romanian language had ended, at least for a time. Then after several years, I traveled back to Romania for the first time. Meanwhile, the people there began to speak a contorted Romanian. A language in which I was not uncomfortable, but felt uncommon to me just the same. As though the order of the words in a sentence had changed. And liberation. The transfiguration had occurred only on the surface. I spoke to a writer about this and he noticed none of these things. No one noticed any of this. One writer argued that everything happens in the same way changes happen in an organism. It’s unconscious. And probably everything was still very much in process that no one felt the need to think anything of it at that point. Or to talk about it. In Germany too there’s a need for a new language, a complete German language. Here too, one operates on the surface and changes the spelling system. It happens like everything else, on logical tracks. A liberation of the captured bird by law. And what luck, that there is literary freedom, to trap the bird again. To twist its neck only to let him fly again later.

 

Sometimes the best thing one can do to a language, to a literature and to poetry is to estrange it. To derail it. Like with trains. Except that trains that are derailed have no refreshing effect on life. They leave pain. The pain of a derailed language leads to its rebirth. It’s good that there are still a few conservatives, so that we discover the boundaries and get a clearer sight of what needs to be changed.

 

Writing in German was no break. It happened naturally. Because I was filled with the sound and spirit of the language. And ever more the sensations that I experienced were connected to the language and flowed into the writing. I couldn’t pull myself out of the eddy’s current.

 

When I went to Paris for the first time, I wrote daily in a famous café. I wrote in a café that I had wanted to visit for twenty years. A café that I had known only from literature. And in spite of that, it still seemed familiar to me. I wrote my daily notes as though I was at home in Berlin. And could not restrain myself from coloring what I’d written with French sentences. When one is a writer and can experience everyday life anywhere in the world, then he or she experiences everyday life in foreign languages that flow into the writing foreign as they are. And so in order to express the foreign, one makes use of the foreign language. No, that’s not how it works. One writes in the language in which he or she experiences his or her everyday. My change of language has preoccupied me quite a bit. I met authors that view changing a language as a loss. A loss of identity. A betrayal. Many suffer from the narrowness of the mother tongue. Some from its estrangement.  But they enjoy the suffering. There are some that feel hurt and incomplete. They feel homeless. They declare that one cannot write poetry in foreign languages. I believe that the poetry is simply there. Independent of us. We either discover it or we don’t. Poetry is the expression of an inner state. And to be able to express that state in any language, is a big thing.

 

I write in German. Am I a Romanian author? I have changed my language and have written about old experiences in a new language. It was a necessary step.

 

I write in German. Am I a Romanian author? My new book is about my move to Berlin. It tells about my arrival in a new language.

 

Do I dream in German? I dream in languages that I don’t even know.

 

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PHOTOGRAPHE : Marijuana Gheorghiu

 

I sing in German.

 

There are words that I have never spoken in Romanian. Some are words of love.

 

I have conversations with myself in German. Conversations with oneself happen only in one’s own language.  One has to feel at home in this language. I am at home in the language.

 

I am not a Romanian author, and also not a German author. What am I then? I am not only the sum of my language experiences.

 

I have leapt from one world into another. Leapt here and there. Again and again. Over a crack that grows increasingly smaller. I have built a bridge. Like an arch. This arch is a space that is filled with experiences. I have interiorized what I have lived through. I have expanded myself. I am more than the sum of these two experiences. The sum of these experiences is Europe.

 

And that is more or less what I know. Or what I don’t know. About that.

 

from Carmen-Francesca Banciu’s Berlin ist Mein Paris

Translated from the German by Elena Mancini

 

 

 

Fleeing Father

 1

My father is a small, old man with glass orbs in his eye sockets. Since I’ve seen him last—and that’s already a while ago, about seven years ago. Since then his eyes have gotten bluer and glassier and his mouth larger. The silver in his hair gleams brighter. And the color of his skin is healthier. My father believes in the future. My father lives in Romania and believes in the future of socialism. That gives him the strength to carry my heavy suitcases, fully packed with the goods I’ve brought him from the West.

My father doesn’t believe in the West. The West with its profligate prosperity is a fiction to him. A fiction that no one will admit to when it finally proves itself as such. So that no one will laugh at them when they fail and come back. For this reason my father carries the suitcases with enormous strength and refuses to take a taxi. I have to fall into line. Because I’ve just arrived and still have no Romanian money. It’s still too early in the day to exchange my Deutsch-Marks. I have to fall into line. After a twenty-four hour train ride, I follow my father like a drunken hound. I’m the kid again. The good one. The one who would soon rebel.

 

2

He’s standing in the station, wearing his old leather coat and his Kyrgysian astrakhan cap, waiting for me. His lips like the blades of a scissor.

His lips were always cutting. Unsparing. You are not worth anything. Nothing will ever come of you. And no one will marry you. For years I have heard these phrases. For years I have carried the scissor wounds within me. The deep scars of this unrelenting way of raising someone to perfection. You are not allowed to make any mistakes, my father would take great pains to tell me. And I have always grasped very soon what was expected of me.

We were an exemplary family. I was proud of that. I was proud of every burden that I could share with my parents. I had to be self-confident, self-critical and responsible. To be able to influence others. So that the world would become a better place.

La valeur n’attend pas le nombre des années. That it was never too soon to prove yourself, was inculcated upon me at a very early age.

We lived in one of the party’s residential settlements, the Partidul Comunist Român, or the “PCR Block”. That’s what our four story apartment house was called. It was the first high rise in our little city. A modern building with running water and a furnished bath for the most modern strata of the country. And we belonged to it.

All of the adult inhabitants of the PCR-Block were actively engaged in the well-being of the country. No, they fought for it. In the class struggle. They were also fighters for the well being of the Motherland and the growth of the Communist Party. All of the fathers and many of the mothers in the building were party functionaries. Propagandists. I had the unspeakable fortune to have two politically conscious fighters in my own family.

We were an exemplary family. And belonged to one of the largest. To one tribe. The tribe of the PCR people.

Even for the children of our tribe, I had to be a role model. Mother and Father expected it of me. And I could not disappoint them. Father, among other things, had taken it upon himself to produce the new human, the utopian being the party urged us to strive for, in his own family. For this reason, I had more duties than the other children. My consciousness. My sense of responsibility had to be greater than that of the others. No childish excuses. No tricks. No playfulness. I can’t remember ever being forgiven for a mistake.

I never had time. I always had to do something. Something useful. Something that would advance me. Something that would help others too. My time had already been strictly planned since my childhood. Rarely did I have time to play. I had to struggle for the permission to be able to be with people my age. Many a time crowds of children stood in front of my door, wanting to free me from my chores. They begged my parents insistently. Tried to convince my mother. Now and again she would give in. With a reproachful look. I knew exactly what it meant. And the lectures I would get afterwards. About the regrettably stupid way I would waste my time. About how regrettable my views on life were. Because you lie in the bed you make. And my parents would sacrifice for me. So that I would have a better life than they did. Because no one had sacrificed that way for them. They had to rely on their own strength to make something of themselves. And no one would have spent so much as a penny on them so that they could learn something. So they could have an education. My father always told me that. As far as mother was concerned, she had been to a boarding school. A private school for well bred daughters.

Piano. Violin. I even got ballet lessons. Even though ballet counted as the final relic of a bourgeois education. Gymnastic training was its Communist equivalent.

For this reason I hate gymnastics. And every form of athletic training.

Piano. Violin. Ballet. Gymnastics. Russian. French. English. Any type of lessons, I always had them. Whereas my friend Juliana was allowed to joyfully push her doll stroller here and there.

I always enjoyed playing the piano. At least in the beginning. The small, old, deaf, fat man with the flaming pink ears, who always tapped my fingers, drove it out of me. He was supposed to be my piano teacher. Mother knew him from before. She still took piano lessons. I don’t believe that this was Mother’s way of taking revenge on me. It was her stubborn way of conveying an image of life to me. I was supposed to learn to stand above things. In a certain sense, I succeeded in it. Because I still enjoy playing the piano today.

With the violin it went downhill pretty quickly. The final straw was when my teacher grabbed my sprouting breasts. And I came home trembling. Without my shoes. I’ll give you a lei¨! He pleaded with me. I’ll give you more. Even more.

My parents had to see to it that an education was not achieved at any price. They believed that one had to be very careful that the remnants of the former regime did not poison the children of the new era. In our presence the reactionary forces kept themselves well hidden. And they had to be exposed immediately. Everyone had to contribute to that. We had to get better at being careful. And what good fortune that we had managed to succeed at it this time!

Piano. Violin. Ballet.

Mother wanted me to take small steps. To take small bites when I ate. To learn to move softly and elegantly. I also enjoyed the ballet lessons. But suddenly I was no longer allowed to go. I would have happily danced my whole life long. Expressed my happiness through dance. To express oneself. To dance. To lose oneself and forget. And to find oneself again. But that was not the point of it. Mother was accused of acting unpolitically. Father was furious. Horrified. Mother admitted to having made a mistake.

I was already writing back then. No one had to know. No one could take that away from me.

 

I always had some type of lessons. While Juliana played with her doll stroller. And the others played Ţări-oraşe-munţi-şi-ape or dodge ball. And we had made the rules so strict that with every ball switch we had to kiss each other. As a rule. And not for the sheer pleasure of it.

 

I had no time for kissing. I still had to take care of my pets. I always owned some sort of pet. So that I would not be so all alone. And so that I could also learn to be responsible for others. This responsibility could not kill my love for animals. I felt connected to their fate. I always owned a pet. And somehow it always turned out to be a disaster. My pigeon drowned in an oil tank in our courtyard. The rabbit wound up in the frying pan. The squirrels ate homemade soap. My tomcat got his testicles poked on a barbed wire fence. The fish. Their fat white bellies facing upwards. The smell of death lay over my childhood.

 

Piano. English. Violin.

 

Sometimes I managed to squeeze out some time for myself, furtively of course. Skipped the piano lesson. I went down the Marosch to go fishing with the other children. I knew the gravity of my sin and the consequences that would await me. The red swollen traces on the cheeks. The dark blue streaks on my bottom. I’d been able to guess Mother’s reaction for some time now. Nevertheless, I continued to take my chances over and over again.

 

Lies were always complicated. In truth, I couldn’t really afford to lie. Whenever mother asked what I had done the whole day long, I could leave some stuff out, simply not mention it. But when she asked expressly, if and when, then I had to admit to everything. And bring the strap. I would rebel in my own way. I brought the strap. Gave it to her without hesitation. Mother extended the strap. Struck with an ever-increasing fury. You will not shed a single tear. No. I didn’t cry. I knew that crying was a sign of weakness.

 

Sometimes I stole some time for myself. My parents worked hard and were seldom at home. Father, least of all. They gave me chores. One of them was to work very hard at school. Every one expected me to be the best and to receive the first prize at school every year.

 

You’re good for nothing. Nothing will come of you. And no one on this earth will ever marry you. My father intended to motivate me.

 

My parents worked very hard. Father’s life consisted exclusively of work. Mother often did overtime. As the director of the Communist Women’s Organization she had to run around to and from the different villages all day long. With dusty boots. A heroine of the Motherland, a real Natasha. For a short while we had domestic help. A rosy Swabian granny from Banat. I don’t know if father wanted to save again. Or if it was the Party that judged having a maid as human exploitation. In any case, I was already alone at age eight. I had to take care of myself. Clean the apartment. Keep things in order. Heat up my food. And cook for myself when need called for it. They left me a list of chores and a bunch of recipes. I had to finish my homework. And to go to my extracurricular activities. I was not allowed to have fears about being alone.

 

I was one of the first latch-key kids in our city. One of the first latch-key kids in our society. With the key on a string around my neck, I would be happy to spend some time at our neighbors. With their kids. While I was doing that I would listen intently to hear if my parents were returning and would quickly sneak into our apartment before they got back.

 

I wasn’t allowed to be afraid of being alone. I was afraid of being afraid. I hoped that people would not be able to see that about me.

 

Before my parents were due to come back home, I would always look out the window. I wanted to have everything ready. I would pose. I hated being surprised by them. Most of the time it wasn’t good. When they were late, I would always look at the clock over and over again and go over my list of chores. To check that everything had been done. I ran from the door to the window. And from the window to the balcony. Took something from here and set it there. Organized this or the other thing. Played the piano. I wanted them to catch me doing something useful. Each time, I never knew what they would find undone. I would check the kitchen. The bathroom. I would get increasingly nervous. I would start to shake. Sometimes they would return a day later than expected. There would be those times when they finally came and find that I’d forgotten to take out the garbage. I would go get the strap. Order had to prevail. As well as discipline. One had to be able to rely on his comrades in every situation.

 

I wanted my parents to like me. No. I was convinced of the importance of becoming a new human. All of the adults in our house were preoccupied with this. I was always considered to be a wonder child. My father liked to hear this. I was following in his footsteps. It wasn’t like having a son. But still, it was something.

 

In our tribe, no, in our whole city, all eyes were pointed toward me. Everyone took care to tell me so. I couldn’t afford to disappoint all of these people. I grew up accordingly. My opinions were childish, but “healthy.” I was even allowed to correspond with people in foreign countries. I had a friend in the Soviet Republic of Moldavia, Svetlana Vrabie. Her last name means sparrow in Romanian. Svetlana Sparrow. A Russian-Romanian name construction. She conformed to everything that Moldavia stood for. I wrote to her in Romanian but in Cyrillic script. I also wrote Moldavian. Moldavian was a Russian invention. The war had been over for some time now. In the meantime the Party allowed it. And the Motherland demanded it. Patriotism should shine brightly in us too now. Next to internationalism. And without failing to show respect to the big brother in all things, the New Generation should not forget that Moldavia is Romanian soil. Even if on a long term loan. They tried to drum this into us, without straining our relations to the Soviet Union.

 

I had no idea that it had been a political decision to allow me to correspond with people from foreign countries.

 

My other pen-pal was from France. The Party allowed the western enemy to have a look at our reality. To be exposed to a healthy image of it. And everyone had to contribute his or her efforts to this end. I wasn’t aware of my responsibility.

 

Our PCR-Block was the first high-rise on the Marosch. Over and over again we, the kids, would be told how the Marosch, the Mures, was the river that separated the seven forts from Banat. How even our city was separated by the Marosch. Maybe there was a reason for that. Everything had to have a possible reason. A political one.

 

Before, our neighborhood belonged to the multiethnic state of Kakanien. And today it is marked by borders. An area that borders with Hungary. A short distance from Voivodina, the Serbian Banat. A multicultural area with many “nationalitäti conlocuitoare.” A lively area neighborhood with mixed blood.

 

Shortly after our house got modernized, the residential block MFA next door got built, the “Ministerul Forţelor Armate.” An army settlement. A great rivalry existed between us kids from the PCR-Block and those from the MFA. Power struggles. We waged wars. Who’s stronger, we used to ask each other provokingly, The Party or the army? Fraternization between the two sides was seldom possible.

 

It wasn’t until later that I understood that the Communists had come to power during the war with the help of the king and removed the military dictatorship of Marshall Antonescu. The king called upon the patriotic duty of the Communists and brought them out of their illegal status and out of Soviet exile, in order to save Romania. These same Communists, not more than a handful of them, who had enjoyed the protection of the king, had later forced him to abdicate.

 

Then these comrades brought the Russians to Romania. They brought the powerful, indomitable Red Army with its tanks. They were supposed to free Romania. In the end there was war.

 

Romania was freed. And cleansed of Romanians. Everyone became Russian. They spoke Russian. Read Russian. The bookstores and the publishers were called “The Russian Book.” Overnight Romania became a Slavic country. With a Slavic past. History was written anew. One discovered that Romanian was a Slavic language. So that everything would have its proper order, new letters of the alphabet were invented and introduced into the language. The orthography was changed. The spelling of Romania’s name was changed. So that as little as possible would remind one of Romania’s Latin roots. The introduction of the Russian alphabet was successful only in the part of Moldavia that was annexed to the Soviet Union after the war.

 

Who was stronger. PCR or MFA. This question was difficult for us kids to answer. Because with time the settlement of the MFA people grew larger and changed its name. The city’s security forces that belonged to the internal ministry also moved into the city.

 

The security forces and the army were in the service of the Party. The Party served the ideology. And the ideology was supposed to serve the Motherland. The people. The coronation of a creation that supposedly was stronger than nature.

 

Or maybe it was otherwise. Because one cannot imagine what kind of fights this engendered between the kids of the two residential blocks. The army was in the service of the Motherland. And the security forces in the service of the Party. And the Party in the service of the ideology.

 

Or was it?

 

Man was in fact stronger than nature. Indestructible. And was supposed to outlive everything.

 

La valeur n’attend pas le nombre des anneés. That virtue did not depend on age was a known fact to all of us kids from the PCR-Block. We were aware of our duties. You are the new guard; everyone would take great care to tell us. You carry a great responsibility.

 

We had a great opportunity. We had every opportunity. Even one to have clean files. To erase the dark stains in our parents’ past. We, the generation of a new world.

 

I can still remember Father’s eyes lighting up whenever he spoke about our opportunities. Almost with envy. Envy and admiration. And much restraint. One had to earn this chance. Nothing comes from nothing, everything is tied to sweat. With sweat and sacrifice. Over and over again one has to sacrifice, when something important is at stake. And what could be more important than the new world, that we were going to build. Whose foundations our parents were laying down for us. No sacrifice was big enough to fulfill this duty. How privileged we were!

 

Oh well. That’s how it went. And father’s eyes shined. And they were moist. His voice. The new times, which he would not experience. The new human. And our children. And the happiness. And our duties fulfilled.

 

I believe I was nearly sixteen at the time.

 

No one could reproach father. His position was clearly “healthy.” He was loyal to the Party and wanted to climb high within it. I had the best future before me. No one doubted that they could rely on me. That it turned out to be otherwise is something for which Father has never forgiven me.

 

We, the children from the PCR-Block, were under the care of the Party and under the observation of the security agencies. They wanted to know how we were developing and to what extent we could be trusted. The experiment with the new humans, the new era could not fail. I came to experience the consequences of this fear manifestly. I felt watched. Followed. Shadowed. How much my parents know about this observation or wanted to know about it, I don’t know. At least they didn’t take me seriously. One could not speak of naiveté where they were concerned.

 

Father spoke of imagination and fits of hysteria. Mother always feared rape.

 

3

I was not yet sixteen as it all began.

 

By that time I had already completed my service as a pioneer scout and had interrupted my term as president of the “Uniunea Tineretului Comunist,” the Communist youth organization in my class, behind me. The war was over. The revolution was successful. Communism had established itself. And in spite of all that I talked at assemblies about the importance of all young Communists to remain vigilant. To organize properly. To behave critically. To make it in society by virtue of their own strengths. And not just by duly paying the monthly membership dues.

 

It hadn’t been so bad given the conditions of the time. In the end, the Party demanded criticism. Especially self-criticism. And demanded action up to a certain point. The word action excited us. It expelled the suffocating monotony. It was bound up with heroism and revolution. With violence. A form of violence of which we were not aware of at the time.

 

Back then the revolution was believed to be over. It was not until much later with Ceauşescu that the Communists would become professional revolutionaries. “Revolutionari de profesie,” he called it. The revolution continues. It is never complete. The class struggle never ends.

 

I wanted to apply everything that father and mother had taught me. I felt obligated to include the others. At best I would have changed something in the organization myself. The possibility was taken away from me. I was released from my duties. Unburdened. Freed. Was condemned to passivity.

 

I was not yet sixteen when it all began. My performance at school was still good at that time. My talents diverse. I was the wonder child and spoke several languages fluently. I was self-confident, had my own views and defended them when necessary.

 

I found that one didn’t have to necessarily thank the Party for the mechanization of agriculture. I said it out loud. One had to only look around at what was happening in the world. Then one knew that development and progress were the products of society. That was not received well.

 

Whether Father was informed of my pronouncements is unknown to me. Probably not. I was made to pay for all of that only later. All of that and much more would later be found in my files.

 

My correspondence with foreign pen-pals also contributed to the assumption that I was harboring ideas as to how Communism could be reformed. At the time I wrote a novel about it. It can also be found among my confiscated documents.

 

I possessed qualities, which were desirable in the opinion of the party. A sense of justice. Compassion toward the oppressed and a readiness to help them. They held me to be a fighting spirit and not open to compromises. They operated under the assumption that they could quickly banish all of the undesirable qualities from me.

 

Excellent psychologists developed behavioral profiles of us, the PCR-Block kids. Thus they found out soon enough that I would not go the middle way.

 

4

I feel like I’m being watched, I kept telling my parents over and over again, when I would come back home from boarding school during school recess or on the weekend. I went to a Romanian gymnasium in Arad, but I lived on the other side of the river in a German dormitory in New-Arad. It had its purpose.

 

I spoke German and was able to fit in quite well at the dormitory. The psychologists were of the opinion that I possessed all of the desired attributes. Furthermore, I was my father’s daughter. He was the governor of Săvîrşin, a small town near Arad, where as we were told in school, the king with his obsession for luxuries owned hunting lodges. We were also told that the king had left the country headlong. First he betrayed us. Then he fled. He took countless wagons laden with gold. Romanian’s gold. And it all sits in Swiss banks. Through his office, my father was brought into contact with the king and he had to oppose him.

 

However, I was also my mother’s daughter. An exemplary personality. Earnest and work conscious. An all-around reliable comrade.

 

Thus I was exceptionally poised to undertake a patriotic duty of great importance. Both pedagogues were present. The comrade female pedagogue, who assisted the young girls and the male comrade pedagogue. I still remember them very well. I remember their faces and their impassive way of dealing with us. They awaited me with two other people, whom I didn’t know. Before they explained to me what the meeting was all about, they elucidated my outstanding qualification due to my attributes. Then they spoke of what an honor it was to be allowed to be a patriot. Of what an honor it was to receive a duty. Of the responsibility, people like me and my father bore toward society. Great expectations would be placed on me.

 

The cause for the speech was an anonymous letter. A complaint. It was assumed that it came from the German citizens who lived in the area. Now I was supposed to find out from whom.

 

In the first instance I felt as though I was paralyzed. I can’t remember having given any type of a response.

 

The two strangers took leave of me with a strong handshake. You only need give us a signal and we’ll be here right away. Otherwise, they said, trust the comrade pedagogues. They represent us here and are ready at any time.

 

The expression “to spy on someone” was unknown to me and the activity itself was unfamiliar to me. In our family, loyalty was the greatest commandment. Decency. Honesty. Dignity. What I had always believed about my father was that he had always gauged himself against his own demands and expectations.

 

After the colloquy I felt the need to retreat the dormitory and to withdraw to our sleeping quarters, despite the fact that it was forbidden. For hours, I hid there. It reminded me of the time in my first boarding school. A girls’ boarding school in Temesvar. A type of jail, as we called it. In the boarding school some of the pedagogues were nuns from the former cloister. With the new leaders these women had adapted themselves into comrades. In this boarding school I met Melitta. She became my best friend. I dimly remember one of the many searches that took place in our corridor-like sleeping quarters. How they bore into our lives. Into our suitcases and into our closets. Into our satchels and the provisions sent to us from home. I can no longer remember what had actually prompted the search. It was highly likely that no one ever really knew what they were about. Because such things were state secrets and were treated as such. I can still remember how one of the female pedagogues came to the dormitory one evening with a couple of men in leather coats. They did not greet us. We girls stood there in pajamas and waited. Every possible rumor was in circulation. Was it about a cadaver that had been hidden in the wash rooms? About a new born baby that had been suffocated in a suitcase? And other such absurdities. We had to open our closets and our suitcases. Every corner of the wash rooms was checked. Then we went down to the dining room opened our food tins. I was ten or eleven back then.

 

Now alone in the dormitory everything came back to me and I felt a knot in my throat and my stomach was topsy-turvy. I began to shake. I can recall it exactly. Because this shaking would come over me later too and again and again and still attacks me today, when I am under great stress.

 

Back then I didn’t know what connected these two episodes.  Subliminally though, I felt that they were related and that they had something dark and sticky about them. I felt disgust and the wish to run away from there. For hours I remained in hiding in the dormitory. I felt as if I was sinking in a well of unknown depth.

 

It was not about political consciousness. I don’t know what was going on in my head. Perhaps it wasn’t even my head. When I came out of hiding, I felt relieved. I summoned my classmates and told them about the colloquy. Protect yourselves and watch out, I told them. Even if I won’t do it, there will always be someone else who will.

 

In fact this person did exist. Because that episode was also included in my files.

Translated from the German by Elena Mancini

 

 

 

IT’S COLD AND IT’S GETTING  SO DARK

(Theaterstück)

 

 

Stage Direction: (Musical sounds are heard.  As if someone were practicing the trumpet. Then a long pause. And the narration begins.)

 

 

 

Speaker 1:    

She wore a gentleman’s hat and directed with a trumpet in her hand a music that was audible only to her. At last you arrived on time. For once in my lifetime. Then she resumed singing, listening attentively to her inner music. She sang without words, syllables whose meanings only she could understand. Her eyes yearned for that which could not be seen.

 

Until a shimmer of color returned to her skin. Of the color of the earth. Of the wilted fields in winter. Her brow was damp. And beads of sweat streamed from her skin. They rushed down her face. Her voice was like the trace of a knife.  Scratchy and thin it slipped into my ears.

 

She didn’t want chocolate. She wanted beer instead. Flensburger, she said. Bring me a Flensburger. I didn’t know how important this Flensburger was to her. I went through a lot of trouble to find it. I don’t anything about beer. I put everything off to the last minute. I didn’t buy it until shortly before I got there. She told me: come on time. I still have a lot of things to take care of. My life is not terribly varied. But still, I do have to plan it properly.

 

I didn’t know if I could manage both. To get the Flensburger and to be on time. It seemed as though I had to choose one of the two. But then I got lucky. As if by accident, I managed both.

 

She set the trumpet down and looked at the clock and laughed as I came in. For once in my life. For once in my life, she said, you made it. You are too punctual!

 

I had no idea what time it really was. My perception of time had left me in the lurch. On the way to her place, I began to hurry and was out of breath. And if there’s anything I’m really incapable of it’s hurrying.

 

For once in my life. In my life, she said. I had thought I was late and I became furious. Furious at her, because she had demanded something that put a great deal of strain on me. To be punctual. I was furious at myself. And unhappy at the fact that I interpreted her wish as a demand. To be punctual goes against my subconscious.

 

I brought you chocolate. Your favorite chocolate, I said. But she made a gesture. Raised her hand, rested it on her breast and pushed it away. She pushed thought away from her. And I watched the tiny chocolates, filled with sweet alcohol and cherries fade. Disappear from the view. From her view.

 

Flensburger, she said to me. I had already unpacked it and was looking for a glass.

 

The air on the table stood still. It had the consistency of plastic. The air was colored gray.  Or was it the table itself that had this wretched color?

 

The legs of the table upheld an empty surface. As if the sole purpose of a table were to support this emptiness. All of the stains, the bread crumbs, the food remains were forgotten. A table without a memory. A table that had forgotten its purpose of being. And now she had to sit at such a table.

 

I can’t sit any more, she said. I can only lie on the bed. Suddenly she seemed to be exhausted. And with her eyes she pointed at this slightly raised spot on her bed. First she fixed her gaze on the gray table. As soon as I followed the gaze, it slid over the room on a small lackluster curve by the night table and it slowly got blurred. Lost. Like a piece of ice in a lake. And deep inside it one saw:

 

Speaker 2:

He had gotten me the shoes. These shoes that I had wished for. Back then I had wished for stiletto heels. He had gotten them from his mother’s closet. You can have them, he said. Anyway, she won’t even notice that they’re missing. She has too many of them.  And when I will one day earn money myself, I’ll buy you much nicer ones. I didn’t kiss him as he had hoped. His name was Franz, the same name my father had. And he already went to school. And I thought: one day when I’m old enough, he’ll be the one to get my kiss. It will be for always and forever. I hid the shoes in the barn.

 

Mother had discovered the shoes and we both got a beating. These shoes only brought bad luck.

 

Speaker 1:

A glass of water reflected the pattern of the reddish brown saucer on the night table. And the pane of glass on the night table mirrored a timeless figure. I looked into this mirror. And saw the filtered view of a being that could only be Deborah. Deborah the way she had always been. And the way she would remain. She grabbed hold of her walking stick and directed its silver tip, shaped like the head of a duck toward a bottle. Pour me a little, please. The bottle stood next to the water class and was filled with a reddish juice. A vitamin bomb, she said. They bombard me with visible and invisible ones. With atomic particles and vitamins. Between all of this stuff I’m taking, who knows if one thing can make up for what the other destroys?

 

Pour me a little. Not from the red bottle. No, from the dark bottle. That one over there, over to the right, over there, to the right. Slow down, not so much. Stop.

 

She wanted to have the glass next to the red bottle. And she wanted to have the red bottle next to the dark one. Not to the left. Not any closer. No. Also not any farther. And she wanted the tablets right next to those. And the slice of crisp bread. For when the acids in her stomach would start to sting. She also wanted to have the beer close by. The Flensburger. Everything within reach.

 

Speaker 2:

I still can’t stand beer. Father always smells like beer when I think of him. The memory smells like beer. I sit here in bed and smell father. And I’m repulsed by it.

 

Thirsty, father said. I am thirsty. Bring me a beer. Bring me a beer from the cellar. I can’t stand this smell. The sweat fermented in his skin and streamed out of his pores, stale and salty. I don’t bring him beer. I bring him water. Before I fill the bottle, I cup my hands under the water like a bowl. Fill the bowl. Fill it with fluid crystals. I sniff this freshness. I slurp it up. New water flows into the bowl. It sprays the stone basin full. It runs over. My feet are wet and so are my shoes. My dress sticks to my legs. I fill the bottles with water and take a drink from it from time to time.

 

The water shrouds my tongue. It fills my mouth with my own taste. Only when one drinks water can one discover what one tastes like, said Franz, who had the same name as my father. The man I would marry.

 

Water tastes like happiness. Father does not know this and drinks beer. Nothing in the world has a taste like it. Nothing can top the taste of water. Father does not know this and will never find it out. Because he’s never lived in the city and has never craved fresh water. He always had this fount in the cellar and he’d had his fill of water. But one can never drink enough water to be sated. One only learns this when one no longer lives near the fount.

 

I don’t bring him beer. I bring him water. Do you want me to rot, my father shouted at me. Do you want me to drown? Father shouts and throws the bottle against the wall. And he raises his hand and gets like a dragon. A Flensburger is what you have to bring me. That’s what I told you. But we don’t have Flensburger in our Saxon village. That’s right, a Flensburger! Our new gentlemen, our new comrades don’t like its taste!

 

Water from the fount. From the fount in our cellar. Our cellar. Our water. Our house. Our country. Sometimes  the people from the village would be allowed  into our cellar. To drink to their satisfaction. To fill their pitchers. But only when father was not around. Soon you’ll want to have the fount that my grandfather discovered. You’ll want to steal his hard work. Soon you’ll want our family fount. As national property. You’ll get nothing, you pack of scoundrels. You with your communes.

 

Mother says, Franz, let the people drink. Let them quench their thirsts. Let them drink to their hearts’ content. Let them have their part. Let’s share with them. Sharing increases the fount. And father says, shut your trap, woman. This thirst can’t be quenched with water. And I don’t think much of sharing, anyway. You women always want to share.

 

I didn’t try a Flensberger until I got to the West. After the fall of the wall. Father was no longer with us. A Flensburger is what you should bring me. He smells like beer. Father. Whenever I remember him.

 

Speaker 1: 

On her night table lay a broken beer bottle and the smell wafted through the room. Deborah said, I’m not drinking any beer. I’m only smelling it. I’m not smoking any more pipes and no more cigars either.

 

But you should smoke one for me. So that I can remember what it felt like.

Deborah wanted to remember everything. This had already started last winter. In the early summer she’d still wanted to travel with me.

 

Speaker 2:

I still have to show you my hometown, she said. The fount. I want to sit with you on a step in the cellar and wait until the smell of the stew reaches us from the kitchen. To find the place in the cellar where mother keeps the cream. I want to stir the clay pot and spread a layer of cream two fingers thick on warm bread. I want to drink fresh milk. I want to go up the granite steps to follow the smell of the stew and find mother in the kitchen. Mother, saying to me: you can’t fool me. I know the little kitty that dips into the cream. You have a white mustache.

 

Speaker 1:

Everything is still there. The smell of mangel-wurzel is there. The smell of old potatoes. The stink of cows and pig dung, said Deborah. I’ve found it again, said Deborah. I wanted to show you grandfather’s workshop and the barn, where I let Franz fit the shoe onto my foot and where I danced with him. Franz in his play shorts. With his blond curls.

 

I wanted to show you the pattern on the door handle. The first door I can remember. The first opening. Doors were always important to me, she said. Her voice was like a shaky veil. Sadness came over her face. Then her mood changed. She suddenly gazed at me with a mischievous look on her face and said. Now you must discover all of this on your own. This is your task. You are not the only one to whom I assign tasks.

 

Up until the early summer she had wanted to take me with her on her trip. I had canceled short notice. I had stood her up. I didn’t know at the time that I would never have the chance again to take a trip with her.

 

All of a sudden she couldn’t stand the smell of the broken beer bottle on her night table. Pour it out she said. I’ve had enough of it.

 

Speaker 2:  

The first time I drank a Flensburger was with her. With my love.  In the night that changed everything. The night with the wall. I called her right away. She lay in bed. She had sprained her foot and could barely walk. I’ll grab a taxi, she said. But there were no more taxis. Everybody hurried to the gate as fast as they could.  Wait for me, my dearest.  This time, it will be I to come to you. That way we won’t miss each other. I’m with you, my dearest, I told her, as we embraced each other. And no one will ever be able to keep us apart. I had a hard time believing it, to be allowed to drive through this opening with my Trabi. And no one who would want to shoot at me right after. And the border security just stood around clumsily and didn’t dare to stop us. Everybody hugged, cried and laughed and was ecstatic. And no one knew how the next day would be. And if there would be some terrible awakening.

 

She packed a couple of Flensburgers with her. It was her favorite beer. I couldn’t stand Flensburgers.  But everything was different on this night with her.

 

She left me. Left me. She said it would strain her to see me every day. With my missing breast. It would strain her to hear my wheezing breath every day. She would feel guilty. My voice. The tumor in my throat. On my vocal chords. And this sound that I make every time I swallow. It unleashed a fear in her. And she couldn’t live with this fear. With this voice that would remind her of death every single day. Of my death.That would remind her of the fact that all of us are mortal. She didin’t want to be reminded of her own death on a daily basis, she wrote when she left me. She didn’t want to be reminded of the grieving she would one day have to experience. When it would get to that point with me.

 

I got her farewell letter in the hospital. After that I never saw her again. I waited for her the whole time. Waited and waited. My whole life through I waited. For father. For him to return from the war. For him to take me up on his lap. For him to stop drinking beer. I waited for him, who had the same name as father, to bring me back the shoe. And I waited for us to be happy with one another again in spite of everything. For the fall of the wall.  For God to help me. To pull me out of the hole. And he did. I couldn’t announce the news on the radio anymore.

 

I had to strain my vocal chords excessively in order to through it and to announce to the people the news from all around the world every day. In our country. The news. I felt as though I had a lump of lead in my throat, out of which sticky tentacles grew and numbed my vocal chords with paralysis. I prayed to I don’t know whom. That he would help me to not have to announce the news any more. That a miracle would happen. I waited for salvation. My body had liberated me from that. The lump grew wild. It flooded my voice with mold. With a poison.  And I could no longer speak. I was relieved. But then came the fall of the wall. And I wanted to live. To conquer the world. To start everything from scratch. The world was born anew and I believed that it would happen to me too.

I wanted to conquer the world with her. With her, the love of my life. I had waited so long for her. And now I am only left waiting for eternity.

 

Speaker 1:

Deborah sat in bed, propped up by a pile of pillows. Her skin had gotten translucent. So much so that one could see her cheekbones and her teeth right through it. The skin on her hand had shriveled up. The bones of her fingers were bulging out. Her veins were like hardened strands of blue. Everything about her had gotten small. Only her eye sockets were big. Her eyes were bursting out of them.  Alert, oversized marbles.  The head itself seemed to have gotten smaller. And on her head she wore this gentleman’s hat. She was small and her head was big. With time the hats got ever smaller and the cigarettes became cigars. Now her body had shrunk like laundry.

 

From hospital stay to hospital stay she grew smaller and smaller.

 

Her eyes were getting lighter and lighter. Bigger, brighter. They sucked in the world. As if she wanted to take everything with her.  As if she wanted to store everything in her retinas. They were oversized marbles. Bigger. Wider. It looked as though only her eyes wanted to remain. Alert, oversized marbles. Underneath the covers, her legs were impatient.

 

Her impatience reminded me of my mother. Her intemperate way when I didn’t immediately pick up on what she wanted from me.

 

That ended with a slap on my face.

 

I know, I am unbearable, said Deborah.

 

You are not unbearable. You are only tired.

 

She was tired from the daily swallowing. And elimination. And from the daily stepping on the same place. From walking and never getting anywhere. One must live in harmony with one’s body. I grasped this too late, she said. My body. I always treated it as my rebellious subordinate. My body and I, we were enemies. I fight with my body on a daily basis. I still believed this up until the summer. I want what it wants. And it wants for me to want no more.

 

One day we must come to an understanding.

 

She started to get restless. The trumpet. Give me the trumpet.

 

I want to play the trumpet one more time.

 

Today I had myself rubbed with ointment, she said to me. She let the trumpet fall onto the bed. It didn’t emit any sound. Only a croak. A grind. A scratch of a wound in her own skin. One day we will have to come to an understanding. My body and I. We’ve agreed on  a couple of more days still. One day the time will come when one has to give up. Simply stop. And accept everything. She said. I would like to be a tree. A tree in the wind. That only falls over when it is felled. Now I’m like a crawling bush. A dry juniper. Are you afraid, I asked her.

 

The crutches leaned on the bed next to her walking stick. She wanted to have that too. Because it was beautiful. And the crutches, she thought, were so unaesthetic. On the wall hang the other walking sticks. She wanted to look at them all. She wanted to bid them farewell. I grabbed hold of the crutches. I wanted to help her. My hands were shaking and I dropped them. Just accept it, Deborah said. No one can help me. I have to die on my own.

 

Are you afraid?

 

The room was full of books. All of this I won’t read anymore. One doesn’t need to read everything in order to grasp what it’s about. One reads only until one manages to grasp it. Once that has happened, one looks out the window and stares into space.

 

It took forever for her to grab hold of her crutches. I canstill do this myself, she said. And tapped me on the hand whenever I tried to help her. Getting to the bathroom felt like a trip around the world.

 

I stayed alone in the room with my fear and shuttled back and forth from the chair to the bathroom door. And back to the chair. And sometimes I’d sit back down and swing one leg over the other.

 

Make yourself comfortable, she said from the bathroom. It’s going to take a while. I was afraid. And I asked myself what this fear was about.

 

And if it was that I was afraid that she could die. In this very instant. In the bathroom. And I couldn’t catch her. She could slide right into death.

 

And she would disappear. Completely disappear. And no one would be with her.

 

Don’t be so tense, she whispered to me. It was a loud whisper, a scream filtered through the layers of tiles. As if it had been sieved of the unessential.

 

Of the unimportant. And as if only the essence of the scream had remained. Its force could not be measured by its volume but by its pain and the exertion that one surmised was behind it.

 

I was alone and listened attentively. It was dark in the room. She whispered once more from the bathroom: Open the closet, that way you won’t get bored. I have something for you! She didn’t let me turn on the light. You don’t need any light. There’s enough light there. Look inside.

 

 

 

Stage Direction: (Music: Valse triste by Sybelius)

 

 

 

Speaker 2:  

The ballroom was overcrowded when I came in. It was my first ball since the wall came down. It was the first ball in my life. Life no longer seemed to rush past me. I was immersed in its flow and I flowed with it. I had no time to stand still. We were invited by the President of the Federal Republic. And try to imagine somebody who was just as wide as she was tall. And round. That was me. The fall of the wall found me this way. And since I had no wish to hear any more advice on how to lose weight, I designed this dress.

 

Imagine somebody who was as tall as she was wide. And who rolled into the ballroom on the arm of a very young prince. It was a real prince that I chose for myself. It was a real ball. On the following day it read in the tabloids:

 

Edmund Prince of T. and T. accompanied the jounralist D. to the presidential ball. She wore a red silken Rococo gown. A dress that bore a string of lights. The president of the Federal Republic greeted her among his guests. The prince and the journalist bowed before the president and she pressed a hidden button and her whole dress lit up. She did this every time she was introduced to someone. They were both in very good spirits and danced until the wee hours of the night. And the dress lit up countless times. It seemed as though the journalist had spare batteries on her. Or was it possible that she wore a dynamo underneath the dress? It shone brighter and brighter as she danced.

 

Even the president of the Federal Republic asked the journalist to dance a waltz with him and the photographers snapped pictures.

 

 

 

Stage Direction: (Music escalates from a waltz to something quicker. And ceases. Or it slows down until it becomes quiet.)

 

 

 

Speaker 1:

                      She came out of the bathroom with the hat on her head. A man’s hat. She seemed to discover me all over again and drew her hat to greet me. Her wilted hair clung to her head. She set the hat on her night table.

 

Speaker 2:               

What else can I do for you, my lady?:

 

Don’t look at me that way. It isn’t such a bad thing to go through the gate.

 

I’ve been  in front of the garden gate so many times before. In front of the hedges. I stuck my finger and felt the thorn. Pull it out for me, I told my mother back then. But mother was blind. Mother was deaf. Mother was not there. Pull it out for me, I yelled at the young Franz. But he’d already been long gone. He’d disappeared. He took the shoe back and gave it to somebody else. Nevermind that one should never take back a gift. And that it didn’t even fit the other girl’s foot. Her big toe was too long. One toe-length too long. It lay in a package one day in my mailbox. I wasn’t happy about it. And I threw away the toe. Threw it to the cat.

                    

Her foot didn’t fit the shoe. And in the end everyone sang: Oh yay, oh yay. The queen has no toe. O yay. Hurrah!   

 

Speaker 1:  

Come. Why the long face?  I’m doing my best to try and get you to laugh. I want to make it easier for you, she told me.

 

Today I’m going to get up for the last time. She said. From now on, I’m only going to sit. Until everybody is here and I will have taken leave from them. I’ve planned everything. Down to the last detail. I don’t have much time left.

 

Therefore, everybody must arrive on time. And no one may show up unannounced.

 

Tell me something about the children. She said. About your son. He’s probably a full-fledged man by now. Does he help out enough? Tell him, otherwise I’ll come to him as a ghost and lay him one on the ears.

 

Are you afraid, I asked her. What should I be afraid of? She said. I have made a truce with my body. And since there I’m not afraid anymore.

It’s cold here and it’s getting so dark.

 

They told me, it’s supposed to be fun up there. Soon it’ll be Christmas. And whoever dies at Christmas, she said: goes straight to heaven. And white lilies bloom up there and it rains roses and jasmines. The ground is full of moss. I’m  going to sit on the bench and play the trumpet. The cat will rub against my leg and lie in the grass. I’m going to sit on the bench and breathe in the air. And have time. And think of everything and everybody. And think about how I’m going to do things when I start fresh. I will play the trumpet and never wait for anything again. Because everything will have happened already. And everybody will already be with me. I know what awaits me. Just a couple of more days. But I still have a lot more to do until then. I still have to take care of so many things. Father smells like Flensburger. But I’m not mad at him for that anymore. And to the one who has the same name as father, I’ll gladly leave the shoe.

 

She should be able to get up a couple of more days still. Up until the end she should still be able to do that. I’m adamant about that she said. At least to be able to sit. Then she fell asleep. With her mouth slightly open she snored lightly. I took her hand. She was like a breath. The weight of the world had vanished from her. Like a swan feather, she lay in my hand. I laid her on the bed. Everything felt so light. The fear was dispersed. A light flowed out of her, it flowed through the room. It lay itself over my fear. And painted it gold.

 

Shortly thereafter she woke up and smiled at me. Go, she said to me. There’s nothing left to say.

 

On the threshold of the door I turned around one last time. I was on time. She saved an hour of strength for each one of us. For each one of us a gift. A memory that we should take with us. I’m inundated with my memories. I’ve already been to the garden gate many a time. In front of the hedges. Now I have no more fear. Now, everything is white and flowy. Go. There is nothing more to say.

 

Before I leave the room, at the threshold I turn around to look at her again. She laughs at me and says. Go now. Then she signals me with her hand and goes into the garden. The door is open. She has a trumpet in her hand. And she waves at me with the others. Then she disappears through an arch of roses.

 

 

Stage Direction: (wild waltz music playing in a frenzied crescendo. Then the music ceases to be heard and sudden bursts of freewheeling bands are heard) Valse Triste by Jean Sibelius.

 

      

THE END

 

Translated from the German by Elena Mancini

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