Tourists came to Alexanderplatz from all parts of the country. “Look,” parents said to their children, “look at the red-and-white TV tower! Look at Neptune’s fountain! Do you remember?”
In the villages these children came from, there were no tall towers; no museums to house the sacred relics of antiquity; no fountains quite like this one; no world clock. But they said, “Yes, I remember, I’ve seen them all before on The Sandman.”
In The Sandman, the fountain had moved; the fish had lashed their tails, looking friendly. The children did not see it move now, but something else did move: a pair of shadows that detached themselves from the tarnished stone.
“Look,” they said. “Who are those men?”
“What men?” their parents asked.
“Never mind,” said the children. “It’s nothing.”
They meant, It’s a secret.
“Very well,” their parents said. “Then let’s keep moving, we’ve lots to see. Shall we visit the Museum Island?”
When they had gone, Cassiel turned to Damiel and said, “You always talk to children.”
Damiel said, “Yes. Because they always talk to me.”
Adelheid put back her head and looked up. The ceiling of the Palast der Republik seemed faraway, liquid, made flux by the endlessly cascading lamps. Like fish, she thought. If you touched them, you would feel their cool, white flesh.
“It isn’t safe,” said her brother Theodor. He stood shoulder to shoulder with her at the bar, the two of them pushed together by the milling crowd. She could feel the muscles of his arm draw tighter.
She smiled. “It isn’t,” she agreed. “But safety doesn’t concern me.”
Theodor startled beside her; she could imagine the spade-shaped furrow between his brows. “I don’t think you understand what safety means,” he said.
But then the server slid them their drinks, and gaiety veiled his face. “Thank you,” said Theodor. He pressed Adelheid’s drink into her hand. “To the garden.”
“To the garden,” she said. That was their way; as children, told the Kingdom of Heaven was near, they had gone out to look for it. They painted bread with butter and laid it with lettuce leaves, cheese, tomatoes. They polished apples and boiled eggs in pots. They took sausage links and wrapped them in a white cloth.
Then they packed all the food in their father’s briefcase, together with their father’s camera, so as to have proof. They didn’t take a map. If there had been such a thing as a map that showed the route to heaven, they’d never have gone looking for it.
Remembering their quest, both soften. Adelheid digs her thumb into Theodor’s ribs. So?
He sighs. “All right. But we’ve got to – ”
“Be careful,” Adelheid says.
“Yes. Because – ”
“Don’t worry,” she says. “I know.”
They had never walked so far before. Too tired to feel hungry, they started to abandon their provisions. Bits of lettuce dropped onto the road behind them and were lost to the wind or crushed under their feet. The sun baked them out of their sweaters. Salt seasoned their flesh and collected on their dried, panting lips.
It was raining that day in Berlin. People turned their collars up and walked with their heads thrust low. Water dripped from their hats; collected on the tips of their noses, in their collars, inside their shoes. Small lakes began to form in the streets and the city squares.
“Do you remember,” Cassiel asked, “when the Huguenots came from France?”
“Of course,” answered Damiel. “They fled the massacre in their country and came across the border to Germany. They carried what they thought they would need: clothes; bedding; money. Their tools.”
“You could see their fear.”
“Yes. There was a picture in their eyes.”
“A picture of houses, burning.”
“A picture of graves, unattended.”
“A picture of suppers, cooling on the table.”
“They thought they had nothing.”
“They thought they had lost everything.”
“But they were welcomed here.”
“And they built this square. These houses. This church.”
“They had children.”
“Their children grew up here, watching the lindens flower.”
“That was what they transplanted here, in foreign soil. Their future.”
“They carried it with them.”
“And they set it down.”
“And we call this place Französischer Platz.”
In a bar in Schönnhauser Allee, Theodor shook his head. “No, impossible. They can’t bring their instruments here. Even we need permits for our own. You can’t bring them in from the west.”
“Where will the instruments come from, then?” asked the stranger.
His still-heavy accent conveyed uncertainty. Woher ended in a soft noise, a breath; the R was implicit only. No one could know where things came from, Adelheid thought, who had to talk like that.
“We’ll borrow them,” she said.
“From whom?” the stranger asked.
Adelheid chewed her lip. “We’ll ask around.”
“Discreetly,” Theodor said.
“Yes,” said Adelheid, “discreetly. And when you bring the band in, don’t bring them all together. Bring one or two at a time. Use different checkpoints. Have them say they’re tourists.”
“And don’t let them all come on the same day,” Theodor said.
The stranger nodded. This had been his idea; We certainly can do it, he’d said, listening to their radio, drinking their wine. Now they were trying to do it, and its difficulty had dug lines in his forehead.
But still he believed: We really can do this. So they nodded polite farewells to each other, took their coats, and left the bar.
They were half naked and faint with exhaustion when they reached the garden. Adelheid had cut her foot on a stone; thin rivulets of blood made clean paths through the dirt. She leaned on Theodor and limped a little.
“It’s so green,” she said. “Where are we? Theodor?”
She turned to look at her brother’s face; a cold tremor went through her heart. This grubby, open-mouthed stranger, pale eyes uplifted to the sky, could not be her brother. It was like a statue: marble cut in a figure of wonder. The marble that was no longer there, the stone the mason cut away, she called brother. Now Theodor was dust.
“Theodor,” she said, shaking him. “Theodor. Theodor? Theodor!”
He revived in an instant. Color showed in his cheeks; breath poured from his lips. “It’s beautiful,” he said.
Theodor was laughing now, harder than Adelheid had ever seen him laugh before. He took her hand. “Look!” he cried. “Look, look, look!”
Damiel and Cassiel stood at the checkpoint and watched officials strip a car. “He doesn’t have what they’re looking for,” Damiel said.
“No,” said Cassiel, simply. Damiel understood: this happened every day. Every day, they watched things and people come in or go out: coffee, journalists, refugees, stockings. Yesterday a man had been shot in the trench between enemy states; formerly a single city.
The guard had been doubled today.
They saw a magazine confiscated; some pieces of fruit.
“Books. Magazines. Sugar. Humans like those things,” Damiel said. “I wonder why?”
“Humans like what they like.”
“What else do they like?”
Cassiel thought. Finally, he said, “Music. Do you remember the children we found in the Tiergarten?”
“Yes. They thought they were in heaven.”
“Yes,” said Cassiel. “They were singing.”
It would happen. They had found an old church, bombed to a shell in the war, that no one used now. Debris filled it up to the three quarter mark. The church had no roof now; for forty years, the world had been free to fall through the top of it.
Quietly, Theodor, Adelheid, and their friends worked for weeks to clear the debris. They came singly, at randomized intervals, and took away sacks full of dirt, weeds, rubble, even bits of shrapnel. They disposed of it carefully. Some of the trash they threw away. Some they sank. Some they buried. The rest, they hid.
One day when Adelheid came to the church, she found a tree growing up through the slough of stone and metal and garbage. It was winter, but she imagined the tree in spring: color blossoming from its boughs. Perhaps it would have a scent: something sweet. She breathed deeply, and left it where it stood.
They went on meeting the stranger. He was not so strange now: only a little foreign. He liked music, he said. He had come to Berlin to play music.
He could go West when he liked. That was easy for him; his passport was real, a key that opened doors wherever he went. Adelheid’s passport could not do the same. She could go east; she could visit the Black Sea, as her friends had done, or learn Russian, disguise her identity, and travel as far as she could before she was taken. There were a few people who did that, too.
But the place she wanted to visit was close. She asked once if the stranger had been there; he said Yes, and she stared hard at him, searching for some mark of what he had seen. He turned his face away.
“You frighten people,” Theodor said.
“There’s a lot to be frightened about.”
She apologized, though, and they all laughed. It was true that they were all frightened. But they were happy now, too. Something was coming into their lives that they had not expected ever to have. They were building this thing with their hands, day by day, with the labor of their bodies and of their minds. It was taking shape before their eyes.
Finally they went to the church and saw: there was room for a stage.
They ran. Nothing was real. Everything was real. The trees bowed their canopies, welcoming, welcoming. The lake’s surface tossed and rippled. It welcomed them, welcomed them. Adelheid looked up and the sun filled her eyes. It did not burn. Its white light caressed her and lifted her up.
“I see what you see,” she said to Theodor. She understood now. She was the thing waiting inside the marble; the life that the artist chiseled from the stone.
But the grown-ups found them, and took them away. They grew older. The garden, they said to each other. The garden, the garden. Do you remember?
The city built a wall overnight. Adelheid and Theodor lived on one side. The green lungs of Berlin on the other.
“This morning the sky was red,” Cassiel said. “In one of the apartments in Danziger Strasse, a girl woke shivering from uneasy dreams and saw the red light pouring through her window. Unable to return to sleep, she heard her father slip from the apartment for the last time. The door closed. The sun drew its red shadow up, up, up as it rose. The sky cleared. Water ran in the bathroom. She thought, So there is still such a thing as after, and got out of bed.”
Damiel answered, “The weather today was unseasonably warm. There was almost no wind. The elephants in the zoo nodded into their feed. Their hide itched. They yearned for a monsoon.”
“In the Spreepark, a man held a book of poetry over a woman’s face while she slept, shielding her from the sun. He read to her in a whisper that entered her dream. ‘Awaken, Friederike!’ the voice said. ‘Drive out the night/that one look from you changes to day.’”
“I remember when that poem was written,” Damiel said. “I did not understand it then.”
Cassiel nodded. “And now?”
“Now,” said Damiel, “I begin to want to understand it.”
The musicians came through the wall. In ones and twos and threes, in different places, at different times, they came. You could tell they came from the other side; you could see it in their walk, their clothes, the expressions on their faces. At least you could not hear it in their accents – yet.
“Thank you for coming,” Adelheid said. They were in the gutted church, hidden in the wings. There was a crowd waiting. An audience. People who crowded around the radio at the same time every week had come here tonight to experience in the flesh what they’d dreamed about. You could hear their nervousness. Their excitement. Their disbelief. Would it happen? Was this real?
Adelheid smiled. “The sound you make tonight,” she said, “will have a much longer echo than you can imagine.”
“Thank you,” said the leader. “We’ll take it from here.”
They went out to a crowd that wanted to scream, but could not scream. The band struck up their borrowed instruments. They began to make noise: noise that came from somewhere deep inside them, as if they were pulling their viscera out through their mouths. Their voices slashed the air. They snarled and shrieked at the crowd.
It bellowed back– and the people began to dance.
In the center of those four rent walls, in that church with no roof, they were free. Their freedom ravened and raged. Joy came to their eyes in tears.
Behind the stage, Adelheid and Theodor danced, too.
“One day,” Theodor said, “this will be ordinary. Everything will be permitted. Every kind of music – rock, jazz, electronic, punk. And every kind of voice.”
“Yes,” said Adelheid. “I believe.”
The voice in her dream said, Listen.
The tears in brothereye.
One stayed hanging, grew.
We live in it.
it may be released.