Before they fixed it up, traffic could drive all the way around Marheinkeplatz until it reached the dead-end cement posts at Bergmannstrasse in front of our pub. We spent all day on barstools along the front window with a view across the square.
In this corner of Berlin the tall Passionskirche presides over the tree-lined rectangle of the Marheinkeplatz. On Sunday bells toll across the gravel pathways. Benches and rose bushes surround a patchy lawn mined with dog poop. At the far end (a world apart from our pub’s daily soap opera) a sandy playground with swings and slides backs onto a line of clumped bushes and trees.
One day I arrived early for my afternoon shift at the pub. Seated on a shaded bench under a leafy tree in my cheetah-print skirt, I was unsurprised when Gunter left his barstool and sauntered out to join me. The warm air on my legs, the background noise of kids playing at the playground on the other end of the square and the heady feeling of his cautious admiration all created a perfect capsule better than any drug. Marheinkeplatz seemed for a golden moment to be the navel of the universe, the most desirable place I could be.
That feeling of being in the right place, in the right skin, comes and goes in life. Pursuing it can become a full-time job. The promise of such felicity has fueled some of the wishful choices I have made. And it is the reason why, several years later, I found myself again on Marheinkeplatz, this time at night.
A bitter, dry paste glued my tongue to the roof of my mouth. Cool air brushed the sweat on my forehead as I hurtled down the damp cobblestone street, miraculously not turning an ankle in my stiletto heels. At the corner of the Bergmannstrasse I paused, unsure of my next move, then headed for the Platz with its cover of bushes and trees. The swish of traffic and rain blended in my ears above the thud of my pounding heart as I arrived and scoured the area for cover. Happily, a gap in large clump of bushes appeared to my right near the playground. I crouched down into it, hidden by darkness and leaves, and tried to stifle my gasping breaths.
Across the square from the dark mouth of the Bergmannstrasse where it emerged tunnel-like from between tall rows of bomb-pocked apartment houses, I heard him.
Where are you, slut?
I know you’re here.
I’ll find you.”
I crouched lower, hugging my knees. I felt fairly sure that he would not find me, here in the bush, in the state he was in. The more pressing problem was where I could spend the night. I couldn’t go home to the apartment we now shared until he’d had a chance to sleep it off.
The heavier weight I carried in my chest was the knowledge that I would indeed return to that apartment again. And again. Because I wanted a taste, a glimpse of that safe right feeling I’d known sitting on a summer bench two years before, here in the Marheinkeplatz next to the bush I now occupied.
A thin slant of golden morning light threw long shadows as I strolled past the playground along the gravel pathway. A bench appeared invitingly to my right. Exhausted from jetlag and yesterday’s flight, I settled to watch some early traffic across the park. A flow of women with children filled the paths. The children carried school bags or wore backpacks. The women hurried them along the path toward the Zossener street subway entrance.
As birds flitted through the rose bushes I sat, fascinated. In twelve years spent living in Berlin, I’d never glimpsed this morning activity. The rattle window shutters being rolled up came from the market hall at the end of the Platz. Delivery drivers called out to each other in barking Berliner tones. I thought of my two children back in California, ages 7 and 2. Of my long path toward choice and freedom.
If I had stayed here, would I be shepherding them towards the subway for school like these moms? Or would I ever have made it out from under the bush?
Tamara Catto lives in Santa Cruz, California, where she cares for two daughters and a menagerie of animals. Alongside this, she teaches ESL at a local Adult School. She is learning to carve out time to write. Favorite subjects include her job, parenting, and twelve years spent in Berlin, Germany.