Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hamburg 15.12.93: The Bones of Cities and Christmas on the Horizon

Waking now my first morning in Germany. Feel very jet-lagged, run through the mill. It’s 9:15 A.M.

I’m sitting at the window in W. and K.’s dining room, the room in which Steve and I are sleeping. It’s a door, really, giving onto a balcony, a glass door with windows on either side. The curtains are still drawn, because Steve is—surprisingly!—still sleeping; but I’ve opened them a crack. Cold air is pouring in from a half-open window above the door.

It’s gray and overcast, and I can see from the ruffling of the sere foliage of some summer flowers on the balcony that a slight wind is blowing. Across the way, another row of apartment buildings built of old red brick with a high sloped brown roof of what may or may not be tile. And window after window, several with balconies similar to the W.’s. Last night, I could see Christmas trees in a few rooms, all with white lights only. I saw few Christmas decorations in any part of Germany we drove through yesterday; I saw few in Hamburg as we drove into the city, either.

Woke actually at 4 A.M., and lay awake an hour or so in my usual terror, hearing sirens, the UBahn trains, cars beginning to drive—all those city sounds one pays attention to in a strange city, at least for the first several days. Now it’s surprisingly quiet—but Gryphiusstrasse is almost a cul-de-sac—a very short street lined with rows of 3 and 4-story apartment buildings on either side, trees in front and yards in back. Must be very pleasant in summer.

Last night at dinner W. spoke a bit re: the war, at my none-too-overt prodding. He said that neither his nor K.’s father speaks often of the war. K.’s father has a bullet in his head (W.: “We use that to explain many things”), and W.’s took a bullet in the leg after the war was over, when his enemy (a Russian soldier?) did not want to kill him. W. said the story in his mother’s family is that his grandfather resisted joining the Nazi party until his grandmother said that now’s the time—it’ll harm us not to join. He said neither his nor K.’s father wanted to go to war, because they couldn’t believe the Nazi promises, and felt no enmity towards the Allies.

With all the quiet of the day and street, I wonder about the screams and sirens and bombs of the war. Can cities feel in their bones the horrors of past atrocities? Does Hamburg live hunched for other wars? Or, since people have lived so long in Europe, and these cities have known so many wars, does the life people live in these places afterwards redeem the past? Is this why an atrocious sadness lives on only in some places that have been the scenes of war crimes—Auschwitz, etc.?

And me. Away from home, I struggle with all my old demons. I awoke thinking that the worst of these is a practically well-nigh insoluble quandary re: who I am, what I’m to do in life. When one combines this with my crippling sense of the sadness and senselessness of life, then . . . .

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