Berlin reminds me of…

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September 18, 2012 by anelim

Did a friendly pixie leave a glass of water by my bedside? I’m thankful for the water, almost floating in my new bed, trying to remember that I am not a tourist, but live here. Last evening was spent with my new landlady. She showed me around the neighbourhood, and we talked over dinner and red wine until late, as if she weren’t my landlady I had only just met, but a friend. As I drink the water, orange-pink light seeps through the windows of my new residence on N-er strasse. I have woken up earlier than usual, amused by the realisation that I am thinking about my experience in sentences, in English, with an audience in mind, as if already writing in my head. Wherever did expressions such as ‘N-er strasse’ come into my head!? Must be all the Russian authors I grew up reading. Cheap tricks. Must avoid.

Funny, though: languages play such a huge role in my life, yet, a lot of the stuff in my head does not lend itself to words in any of the languages I speak, so forgive me if I ramble. <serious ramble alert!> I speak Bulgarian, Russian, and English, in no particular order any more. My German is very rusty but will hopefully get better soon. In England I spoke primarily English, occasionally Bulgarian, and some Russian. And since arriving here, I have spoken so much German and Russian and so little English and Bulgarian that my head is spinning.

I am also synæsthetic, so I feel, for lack of better words, like I’ve moved into a new combination of colours. This is confusing and exciting at the same time. English is sky-blue, Bulgarian is white (don’t ask me why, it just is). German is green-brown, Russian is brick-red, so the pair of them somehow go well with each other, although both are pretty loud-coloured. I think I should stop rambling about languages for a bit before everyone gives up on reading this.

I look out of the window. The air at 7 am in Berlin smells nice and familiar. It reminds me of being in Ukraine. Why could this be? Is it the trams, linden trees, pastries, a cold impending autumn eating up the heat from the pavement, or something else? No, don’t even try slip in cliches like ‘the spectre of communism’. Ah, too late, I’ve already done it. Oops. But it is not that. In fact, it is not even Ukraine I’m thinking about. What I meant by this was vague statement was quite precise. The place I think of is my relatives’ apartment in one of the central areas of a Ukrainian city called Kryvyi Rih, and the points in time were 1984, 1986, and 2001. So let me instead call it ‘at Annoushka’s’ (‘у Аннушки’), at my auntie’s place in Krivoi Rog: a constellation of personal points in place-time with memories attached to them. I have to admit that I know nearly nothing about the country and the city of which Berlin’s morning scent reminds me. Does this make the homeliness of the morning air  a hoax? I don’t know…

Like Berlin, in the last couple of decades Kryvyi Rih (Кривий Ріг) has changed its geopolitical location without travelling anywhere. Previously a large industrial centre of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), it is still one of Ukraine’s largest cities, second in importance in the Dnepropetrovsk Oblast (region). I know it as Krivoi Rog (Кривой Рог) because this was its main official name before 1989, and because I, like my relatives, am Russian-speaking. I admit I even had to google its real name to write it here, because the Ukrainian spelling does not come naturally. It is an impressively gigantic medium-sized city. My memory about it having over 1 million inhabitants is confirmed by a brief Wikipedia search: in 2012 there were 670 million inhabitants in the city and 1,01 million in the conurbation. I also remember my mother telling me that it was 120 km long, but in fact it is even longer: it extends 170 km north to south in the shape of a horn (hence its name: рiг (Ukr)/рог (Ru) means ‘horn’). I also learn than on the verge between the 80-90s it was the place of violent clashes between youth gangs, the so called ‘runners’ (‘бегуны’). None of that is part of my memory of the city. My memory is centred mostly around the apartment, the family, and the neighbourhood. I remember all three visits, although I was very small in the first two (I was born in 1981, and we visited the USSR in 1984 and 1986). Luckily, I also have newer memories, from 2001, when my family managed to visit again, but even those are now fading a bit. The very old ones are somewhat black and white (understandably, since photographs of that time are also b/w), and the 2001 ones are a bit Polaroid. But I’m digressing again into my language/colour bubble. Perhaps it’s time for coffee. Pity coffee here is not blue, but brown.

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I will be no longer Berliner in..

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