At an artists’ collective near the Polish border about an hour from Berlin, I’d been taking a break from translating texts into English, a task I once enjoyed but was beginning to resent, as I was beginning to feel invisible—or was it burnt out?—in any case, I was glad to get away for a few days: it was my first vacation since I-don’t-know-when, and I’d begun to feel my soul was spent. Over lunch on my last day there, a woman from Seoul who went by the nickname Hae—a transliteration of the word “sun” in Korean, she said—asked what the word in German was for “soul.” Actually, the woman sitting next to her asked, but the woman sitting next to Hae came from Spain and was shy about her English, so when she directed the question at me I heard the word as “sol”—we’d spent the week speaking both Spanish and English—and said, in reply, “Sonne.”
My neighborhood is called Afrikanisches Viertel, and my flat is on Guinea Street. There’s Kongostraße, Togostraße, Kamerunerstraße, Transvaalstraße, Sansibarstraße, Otawistraße—I could go on, but you could also just Google Germany’s colonial conquest of Africa.
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.