I left Berlin on Saturday last week after a very productive and enjoyable month there. My daily routine did not vary much. I wrote and read all day; then, went for walks and bicycle rides through the city’s neighborhoods.
On one of my last days, I bicycled through the forest of Grunewald. Vladimir Nabokov set an attempted murder from his novel The Gift in its dappled shade; the scene has haunted me for years. And the forest, seemingly unchanged from the time Nabokov lived in Berlin and startlingly empty, still allowed one to imagine the dramatic scene. Cycling deeper into the dense grove, I came upon a pond in a clearing. There were a couple of swimmers there, languidly floating on the leaf-strewn water. The sun was going down in a near-tropical blaze; creatures of the undergrowth were clearing their throats; all around us the trees stood mutely, and the moment seemed eternal. So much unassuming beauty, and so widely available: that’s what I have been thinking about Berlin, this truly post-imperial, maybe even post-historical, city, and I felt unaccountably assailed by melancholy on my last day.
Certainly, it was my now deeper, more enduring affection for the city that made me silently root for Germany in their World Cup match with England on Sunday. Well, England didn’t deserve to win; the Germans were a far superior side. But I was thinking, too, of the crowds in the Tiergarten: how much a German victory would mean to them, what fresh paroxysms of delight it would plunge them into.
Ich bin ein Berliner: I have always recoiled a bit from this cold-war declaration from an overrated president, who, together with his Soviet counterpart, almost unleashed a nuclear holocaust. But this is how you say it in German, and that’s what I would like to claim for myself.