Meron Hadero is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
Original version published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Issue 52, finalist for the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing
When I met Herr Weill, I was a lanky 10-year-old, a fish out of water in –, Iowa, a small college town surrounded by fields in every direction. My family had moved to the US a few weeks earlier from Ethiopia via Berlin, so I knew no English, but was fluent in Amharic and German. I’d speak those sometimes to strangers or just mumble under my breath to say what was on my mind, never getting an answer until the day I met Herr Weill.
Inside Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum, there is a quiet passageway which serves as a spatial juncture between the Nazi era and the Soviet one. There is only one exhibit in this place: an enormous metal globe, encircled by wooden framing and encased in glass. Its lands are tinted municipal yellow-brown, its seas faded cyan. This particular globe may once have belonged to Ribbentrop, Goebbels, or perhaps Hitler himself. This is not a shock; Hitler’s actual desk rests in the preceding room, about forty meters behind you. You have therefore already experienced such a flood of icy association; an anxious dread similar to when you behold a steep precipice, or pass by a policeman toting an automatic weapon.
I wake up from my three-hour nap because of a text from my brother.
I’ll be there in five!
After reading some texts and checking Facebook, I summon the strength to pull myself off the mattress, leaving the sheets damp with sweat behind me, and approach the red-framed mirror on the bright yellow wall of our hostel room. The nap had been good and deep but my head feels swollen with the heat and the grogginess of an interrupted sleep cycle. My eye-makeup is slightly smudged, which makes sense considering I’d applied it five minutes before I passed out. It didn’t have time to dry.
Because I had a roomy exit-row seat on a full plane to Berlin, I sent a photo of my gloriously unbent legs to my wife. A petty triumph, the frequent-flyer’s tame version of sexting. My seatmate was a small, physically non-intrusive man, but troublingly prone to coughs and sneezes.
Travis Meinolf, Fabric panels made for with Kai Althoff, Whitney Biennial, 2012
If you need a blanket, Travis Meinolf, the self-appointed Action Weaver, will give you one. For free. And it won’t be a common fleece or wool number. It will look like folk art. It could be made by the artist or by many hands, and perhaps strung together from woven cloths of varying stripes, colors, and sizes. These free hand-woven blankets are a component of the artist’s ongoing project Blanket Offer, part of the artist’s grand mission to bring weaving to the masses.
There’s a big church conference in West Berlin and the streets are amazingly crowded, but many shops are closed. It’s the perfect day, we decide, to visit East Berlin, the land of Godless communism, as my husband Bob calls it. We hope to find bookstores selling cheap editions of classic books (Marx, Goethe). Also, because we are traveling on a tight budget, as always, we hope for some inexpensive but substantial meals. The Wall has been down for about seven months, but East and West are not yet unified, and they still have separate currencies.