I was sitting in a corner, looking for a brief reprieve from the morning’s hubbub, and chancing upon a magazine on the start-up scene in Berlin, thumbed through it, curious.
And there it was: St Oberholz, that restaurant on Auguststrasse in Berlin’s Mitte district, where S and I saw Gracie last before she passed away in July 2011. The article mentioned that there was another branch on Helmholzplatz, one of Gracie’s favourite places to hang out.
Suddenly, it became important to me to find out whether this was indeed the name of the place that I had met her many moons ago, after her second surgery.
I put the question carefully to S when I saw her Sunday night. She did not seem the least bit perturbed.
“Let me check on Google maps,” was her prompt reply. She gently slid her iPhone across the kitchen counter to me. “Is this it?”
“No,” I said, disappointed. The restaurant in the picture had a green facade, reminiscent of an Irish pub.
“No, the place I used to meet her at was on the corner of two streets. It wasn’t this one,” my voice took on an urgency of its own, hopefully perceptible to no one but myself.
We searched some more but could not locate it. The memories chase me, haunted ghosts, as I meander around Kreuzberg, wander around Potsdamer Platz and take the U-Bahn.
I still remember J’s face and his fear for his children’s future. The second friend whom I lost in this city.
How does one deal with memories of loss? Will they continually echo across time, triggered by touch, smell, colours and sound?
I no longer wish to rid myself of these memories – I let them wash over me, an ocean, a sea of fleeting images as I build up new, happier ones. It is somewhat strange to be cocooned in a little bubble as I move around Berlin, a gentle bubble, cushioned by new friends who speak English and are not aware of my history with this city.
For we all have our histories with the cities that we love. Some we cherish, some we do not. But they come, unbidden, by necessity.
And we’d have to welcome them.