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.
Three words to describe the climate: windy in winter
Best time of year to visit?: spring, summer
1) The most striking physical features of this city/town are. . . The skylines and the River Main. Frankfurt was destroyed during the second war, and the skylines give a “fresh air” to the city. Of course, I cannot compare the city to New York or Chicago, but I think the modern architecture makes Frankfurt unique, if we are talking about Germany in general, and fits in general the composition of the city. Everything is around the River Main: holidays, boats, sports, cafes and walkways.
Ask a Local: Anzhelina Polonskaya, Frankfurt, Germany
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.
I was in Hamburg for a language course, and all week the syntactical floodwaters of German grammar had been rising. By Thursday night I was drowning in homework and would need Friday morning, before my afternoon class, to stay afloat.
Then the friend I was staying with, a German lawyer, suggested I join him in court the next morning. I could attend a session with him, see the German system, meet a German judge. An appealing prospect that alas would leave no time for homework.
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.
We painted lipstick on our lips and watched businessmen in suits flip open Die Welt, grazing the top of the newspaper with their line of sight, conspicuously shy in their observations of two foreign frauen. The train shot into Berlin’s Hauptbanhof with succinct precision, confirming one of our German stereotypes: 7.00pm exactly on Dec 31st, 2003, and not a minute late. My friend and I hoisted backpacks and flowed out of the central station and into a city that was eagerly, furiously rebuilding, was humming with energy, and was dusty and heterogeneous and still could not quite figure out how to contain itself. 2004 seemed like an inauspicious year to welcome.