On The Road Again
Melissa Clark's Pasta with Turkish-Style Beef, Eggplant and Yogurt Sauce

Ich bin ein(e) Berliner(in)


Despite my best-laid plans to spend my week in Berlin splayed out on its grassy splendors, basking in northern European sunshine, it rained pretty steadily at some point of every day that I was there, and was as chilly as any autumn I have experienced in recent memory. It took me a while to sort through my grayish photos (and the rather blurry ones, since I managed to drop my camera squarely on its lens on my second day there - ack) to find the few that I snapped during the few moments that the clouds parted and the sun came through. Still, I tried to not let the rain stop me. I discovered new markets, filled to bursting with fat white asparagus, sensuously blooming peonies, big turkey eggs, jewel-like berries, and breads baked with every grain possibly known to man.


I walked the streets of old neighborhoods whose streets I know as well as the back of my hand, and went poking around curiously in new ones, marveling at how that city manages to be so familiar and so foreign to me at the same time. In half of the city, it sometimes feels like I never left. In the other half, there's a whole new world waiting to be discovered, a whole new population of people whose concept of their city is so different than mine.


There was a picnic, a day trip to Potsdam and its Dutch quarter, a walk among the graves of Prussian army generals, endless cups of tea and chats with legs curled up beneath me, and a few late nights, too; so late that I saw the sun come up again, birds a-tweeting, streets deserted, a rather strange sensation in my stomach that I believe must have been remembrance of what it's like to be in high school, exhilarated and late and hurrying home before mom wakes up in the semi-darkness to notice what time it is and that you're still not back.


I didn't get my beloved Pflaumenkuchen - I'll need to go back in a few months for that - but I did manage a Zwetschgenknödel - a steamed dumpling filled with sweet-tart plums, rolled in sweetened breadcrumbs and dabbed lightly with vanilla sauce. This is more Austrian than Berliner, but I can't walk past a fruit dumpling without buckling, no matter where I am. And learning the recipe for rote Grütze was easier than expected - now I just have to figure out how to make fresh Damson plum juice and we are in business.


On my last day in Berlin, the sun came out with full force, bathing the city with light, casting a golden sheen over every last wildflower, green leaf, aging bicycle, pulsing fountain, cobblestoned street. I ran my errands, saw my people, hurried from appointment to appointment, until I couldn't manage even one more word of another conversation. I left the apartment and threw myself down on the soft grass at the little square where I spent so many afternoons in my childhood, my adolescence and my young adulthood, watching the fountain do its magic until it was turned off and the sun peeled itself away from my body and the grass grew cold beneath me.


Berlin is a funny place. Not splendid like Paris, not filled with obvious magic. But beautiful in its own way, jolie-laide, as the French would say. Stunning in parts and rather homely in others, but filled to bursting with little details that you could miss if you weren't paying attention. Much has been written about the layers of history in Berlin, and it's true, tracking all that stuff is enough to fuel a hundred visits. But I like finding other strange little things, too, like these two gummy candies in the shape of bats, lying quietly and neatly on Winterfeldstraße, super heroes in disguise.


Or the fact that the city's meridians, its pathways, sidewalks, and parks aren't carefully tended to and mowed, but rather left to grow and blossom wildly, so that little flowers - white and purple and pink - crop up all over the place and grasses wave gently in the wind of the passing vehicles. Fat roses droop over the sidewalks, clover pushes through the cracks, the city's air is heavy with the perfume of linden trees, each gust of wind bringing another wave towards you, scenting even the grittiest corners with sylvan grace.


One week wasn't enough; it never is. I know, I am a broken record on this subject, on this, and many others pertaining to living far away from home, feeling neither of one place or another, or rather, feeling of so many places at once, a heart twice, thrice divided. But I'm glad I saw Berlin in summer again, saw the long fingers of the sun after dinner, heard the church bells at sunset, sat out several rainstorms and a rainbow in a cozy cafe, saw friends in short sleeves, ate dripping strawberries en plein air. Sometimes you just have to hold on to what you have and count your lucky stars, even when it hurts.

More photos here.