Late flight from Berlin, Schönefeld. Stuttgart airport brightly lit but hardly anyone inside. Short heartfelt goodbyes to Nikolaus, our gracious host, then walked away buoyed up. Mechtild and I headed for our Black Forest havens. Got into deep snow. Autobahn restaurant for coffee. Smoking forbidden. It was 3 a.m. when we finally arrived. Sat in the car and talked. What a trip! And there was still such a lot more to talk about.
A Saturday morning. We breakfasted and went to the Sony Center, Berlin's spectacular new meeting place at Potsdamer Platz. Then for a change we all went our separate ways. I walked. And walked until I was out of the great city. Maybe it was too much for me, I thought. It felt good to be where kids were playing in the street. But I felt lonely. Like a stranger. All the pictures of Berlin in W.W.II came back, then the daring Airlift and the DC-3s flying overhead to keep the grandparents of these Berliners sustained. The Soviet presence so mightily stated in architecture and monuments. The Wall. The Reichstag and the shimmer of swastikas, the cafeteria where we had lunch, where outside in the courtyard the Graf Stauffenberg, after his unsuccessful attempt to assasinate Hitler, stood before a firing squad and was shot down. The bewildering burden of history during my own lifetime was suffocating. I had walked so far that I had to hail a taxi and be driven back into the City Center where the group had planned to meet.
Markus was the instigator of our trip. He wanted to get us together again after that great weekend last May in that quaint Black Forest hotel. In Berlin he is looking out for us, finding restaurants, subway connections, sites. He is the heart of the group. A great conversationalist, always delving into a interesting subjects concerning old school days. Open and frank, genuine; not shying away when a matter gets delicate. I marvel at my old student . . . but think I saw the man he is today in the teenager of yesteryears. His children were always calling on the cell phone. Can't wait till he gets home. I understand. . . _______________________________________________ Christmas 2008
I hung the decorations that Markus's daughter Johanna made for me on our Christmas tree.
Stephanie, our Black Forest girl who ended up living and working in Berlin, joined us at this restaurant that evening. We knew she was very busy and might not make it. She had just had the unsavory task of handing out 15 notices to employees where she works. That done, she came. What a charming young woman she is! She attracted our attention with her stories about how she had tried to cushion the bad news and reach mutual settlements. While telling, all her old warmth and heart came back. . . just like in the old days in the Senior class when both Nikolaus and Markus had had a crush on her. . . Didn't I see some light sparkling in their eyes again?
Approaching the theater Nikolaus extended his arm saying: This has been my living room ever since I've been in Berlin! We went in, had cocktails, saw a remarkable Brecht play. Appreciative applause, scene for scene. Afterwards over wine, Nikolaus surprised us with news that he will be making his first appearance in a Berlin cabaret next month. Next day he took me to Brecht's house in the Chauseesstrasse for a private guided tour by a charming actress who was on stage the night before. The cemetery was near the house and we stood for some minutes at Brechts's unpretentious grave.
Next morning Mechtild and I headed for the National Gallery. We stood there looking at the sculptures outside around this building, especially this Henry Moore piece, for at least half an hour. Mechtild is a sculptress herself and it was wonderful to exchange views with her. Going inside, looking intently, we managed only four or five works, all sculptures.
Over coffee I leaned over, looked Mechtild in the eye told her how she could run rings around me as a teacher. What a smile she gave me!
. . . and you're coming with us, they said. So here we are catching the evening flight from Stuttgart to Berlin. Already Nikolaus is waiting for us at Schönefeld. When you get here I'm taking you up to the restaurant on top of the TV tower at Alexanderplatz, he says. The visibility is great. We're going make a toast to Berlin . . . and to you!
I sit here thinking of the myriad possibilities of where I might be at this moment: in hospital bed or in a casino in Vegas, in a prison or in a shack on the Mexican border. But here I am in in this church rehearsing the sublime choral music of Johann Sebastian Bach for a Christmas concert. How fortunate I am. . . And my heart soars toward You in gratitude.