Good Evening Berlin by Mark Romasko

Now that the light is fading, a young man, alone on a bench, opens a cold beer. It is his first. He wears old jeans and a T-shirt with a jagged red and black pattern. On the next bench sits an older group, food, dog, sharing wine and keeping up a commentary on those walking past. A group of schoolchildren, gawky in mid-teen hormonal cascade, joke and flirt by the fountain. Nearby, the U-bahn spits out tourists from chandeliered Western hotels and Kreuzberg hostels, suited businessmen, soon-to-be diners on steakur men in leather jackets with a pug-nose or currywurst, Turks, balding photographers, pushchairs, and curiously polite punks.

None of this registers on Lena, who is two hundred metres above it all. From this height, the city resembles a termite mound. The tiny bodies below, their cars and trams and little pairs and groups, move in waves, patterns, pulses. They come together, flow together for a time, then disperse. It is difficult, she thinks, to believe in a society of autonomous individuals when more than a hundred feet off the ground.

The tower where she stands resembles a thin spike pushed through an orange. It broadcasts TV and radio, and allows people to ascend in lifts and look down at the city through panoramic glass. Lena glances at the Reichstag, then the horizon, then her watch. People talk in English, Spanish, French, German. The German speakers have different accents to hers, harder and more clipped. The ugly Ick of the West, of having been born on the right side of the Wall. She quietly pities the British couple with their war obsession, their Berlin - Hitler association so old, so boring. A Japanese man taps the top of a camera at her, and she takes a perfectly framed photograph of him and his girlfriend against a sky lacerated by pink vapour trails.

Suddenly she stops and does a double take. That was her father close by, wasn't it? She is momentarily sure of it. But no, it is a man of the same height and same beard, only that. Like a badly forged Euro note. Still, now the memories are coming back, and she surrenders and lets them carry her away ...

She is sat in a run-down stadium. It is not big, but it is full and loud. Her father sits next to her, his light blue top matching the home team's jerseys. The pitch is muddy, the play poor. It is a local derby. The blues against the reds. She is mostly unaware of the match, watching instead the thousands of mouths singing, chanting, talking, hands applauding, feet stamping. It must have been near the end as she is aware of having been there a long time. A red-shirted player runs towards the goal in front of them and throws himself down under no challenge. A penalty is given. She doesn't understand. After a pause, as though each man were waiting for his neighbour to give cover, the stand erupts into rage.

She has heard shouting before, but not like this. The venom makes her feel weak. She hears words she has never heard before, bad words, words that feel like a kick to the stomach. Her father is deciding whether to shout with them or comfort her. He soon chooses the second . . . a close embrace, tears, the outside world falling away ...

The rest is fragments. An officious guard checking their permits in a grey Leipzig station. Her father showing her how to shovel coal from the cellar. Being forced to sit straight at the table while he entertained astronomically boring men. Terrible bread, terrible cheese. The way his chest would shake when he laughed. She would always remember him fondly. He was a Party man, but they all were.

What he also was - and she understood this more clearly now than she ever had - was a prisoner. Her grandfather had been well-travelled by that day's standards; her mother used to love reading her the old letters sent from New York, London, Amsterdam. She had been to these and more: Rome, Oslo, even Tokyo. But her father, a man with an inquisitive spirit and questing mind, had been walled in, shuttered behind stone and barbed wire. So he heard tales of Manhattan and took an annual week in a Leipzig that greyed more with each passing year. He read about the treasures of the British Museum and spent his Saturdays watching those eternally second-rate blue-shirted footballers. He had never flown. She stood as far from the ground than he had ever been, seeing areas of the city that had eluded him for decades, though he lived mere miles from them.

Now the city is a forest of cranes. The two halves are merging awkwardly, mutual attraction overcoming mistrust. The old divide is coloured in. One side is white, blue, black, green, red, straight lines fighting it out with curves. The other is grey and rectangular. The dreams of the rulers, reflected in the buildings. Westward, the decadent grandeur of the Kaisers, pretty roofs, narrow streets lined with shops. Looking east, it is as though the leaders of the DDR had had no dreams at all. Those drab little boxes, strenuously equal in their dullness.

There is something behind this merging, something that is opening up. She sees twin strands drawing together, unifying, and herself as part of it, becoming light-headed, her mind drifting upwards into something warm and light ...

Someone taps her on the shoulder and breaks her reverie. It is her punky, doting, savagely handsome boyfriend from the West. They embrace; exchange a few words. She ruffles his hair. He goes to the bar, leaving her looking out over Berlin.

Below her, a woman sits down next to a man drinking a beer, and they kiss. From the bulb of the tower, she feels the same light-headedness return. She smiles as in her mind she sees lovers meeting, all now, all over the city, all over the world.


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