Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A daydream

My 18-year-old brother is in Berlin at the moment and caught me on gmail chat. I tried to come up with some last-minute suggestions for things he should see and do there, having served an LDS mission in the eastern part of Germany and spent a significant amount of time in Berlin, but I didn't come up with much. A museum, a strange and broken church I couldn't describe for him but imagine he'll come across anyway, an old friend of mine, and a food recommendation.

He's got me daydreaming of Eberswalde, where I lived for eight months, instead.

Church then was in the Brandenburgisches Viertel, a sort of geriatric ghetto (the former East Germany has a lot of these, since most of the young people disappeard West to find work) surrounded, spectaculary, by dense forest on three sides, and again on the inside, in the courtyards of a half dozen massive apartment complexes. It's a strange feeling, after spending a year studying Soviet-era architecture (a pursuit occasionally interrupted by discussions on religion) to walk into the place: bland buildings rising up out of the woods, you can't help but be aware of the haunting presence of nature to your east, south, and west. You don't know, in those moments, whether they are the woods of Goethe or the Märchen, but it doesn't really matter--feeling their alive presence in this grey and aging place is enough. And then, on a Saturday, was it? to try to find an almost housebound, embittered old woman for a requested visit, to ring the outer doorbell and be directed, through the intercom, into the courtyard of a four-building concrete fortress to find exactly the same tall, dense growths of trees inside...this world, my friends, is a strange and breathtaking place.

Eberswalde is also home to my favorite zoo. It's out there, in the woods, somewhere between the Brandenburgisches Viertel and old Eberswalde, where we lived. I remember walking in, my first time, to hear this strange sound coming from the North American enclosure, home, among other things, to a grey wolf and a grizzly bear. In front of the enclosure was a sort of vending machine you could put money in to let out treats through a long metal tube directly into the enclosure, presumably to motivate the animals to come close so you could get a good look. The machine was shaking. When we went up close, we could see that the bear had dug out around the machine, leaned his head down and opened his mouth wide around the tube, and used his paws to shake the tube violently, shaking loose a few treats. I will probably never again see such an intelligent bear's open mouth from such proximity.

You could see the deer close, too, walking right along a big area they had free run of. And the could watch from the edges of their enclosure or else walk underground and come up in a glass booth right in the middle of it.

The best part of the zoo, though, was the lemurs, who walked free, who might hang down from a branch to look at you. Who gathered on the wall to chat and gazed out across the forest, and back into the zoo, and apparently always chose to stay where they knew they had a home.

The church is on the corner of Breite Strasse (Wide street) and Jüdenstrasse (Jews' street) now, apparently. At least that's what Google says. My brother can't go to the zoo, as it's on the way to Poland, and he'll be heading to Prague next instead.

Am I part of Eberswalde, as Kira would put it, still? Is Eberswalde part of me?


  1. We are part of the places we've been and the places that came before us, just as they are a part of us. Perhaps that is why I long to climb the sheep-spotted, daffodiled hills of Grasmere and Ambleside and Kira knows that Ireland is some sort of homeland even more distant than Florida.

  2. And Eberswalde is still a part of me as well.


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