My middle school goal had been to become a screenwriter, but somewhere in my junior year of high school, a Spanish teacher stopped me after class to ask if I’d ever considered majoring in Spanish. A lightbulb went off in that moment; that was one of those life-altering instances, and I suddenly just knew that this would be my college career. I majored in Spanish partly because it came easily to me, but it was an unexpectedly good match for my earlier draw toward the writing arts. My major was heavily literature-focused, and I always loved class discussions where we broke down texts for their symbolism, their metaphors, and the universality of their messages.
Perhaps for that reason, I see symbolism in a lot of things, even in daily life. Which actually makes everyday life a bit more magical.
I wrote this a few weeks ago when I had a major epiphany about my neighborhood. I’d like to share it with you, so you can see how the literary mind works!
… And maybe you’ll wanna study a foreign language and/or take a few lit classes? Maybe? Maybe? Huh? 😉
Sometimes, months or even YEARS after I move to a place, I suddenly realize there has been something niftily symbolic or synchronistic about it. One symbolic theme that reappears from time to time is “oneness.” Or, more specifically, the oneness that underlies illusions of separation. Like how I lived for a spell in State College on Oakwood Avenue, which is one road… but TWO… but one. (Rad. Now that’s one to meditate on!) Or Jiaozhou Road, with its multiple iterations across the hemispheres, which I’ve managed to live on now in two different countries (and counting).
Here in Berlin, I tend to bounce between a rotation of apartments in different districts. I actually do not mind this. I like getting to see different faces of the city, different neighborhoods in different seasons. One of my favorites is the one where I am
(again) right now. First of all, there’s a wall across the courtyard that loads up with snails whenever it rains. I like snails; they’re at home wherever they go. Another notable neighbor here is a (literal) fox, but I don’t see her/him too often because it always hides whenever it sees me coming, since I’m the scary kind of animal. (Humans CAN be terrifying. I get that. I’m not offended.) Aside from my cool neighbors, there’s the scenery: from my window, I can see Berlin’s TV tower. This reminds me of living in my FAVORITE Shanghai “home” (a hostel), from which I could also see a TV tower, from the balcony just outside my room. These two TV towers look vaguely similar. (Cue “Pompeii” — “Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?”)
More in the way of scenery: the fact that the complex is very, very old, pre-dating both World Wars. In the second one, amidst all the heavy bombing of Berlin, part of my roommate’s living room fell off; I can stand at my window and see the seam in its brickwork (Though my bedroom was a hanger-on.). It has a Cold War history too; tour guides occasionally lead groups to the courtyard below, and while my roommate and I aren’t entirely sure why, we imagine perhaps there was a tunnel once that led to safety and to liberation, right here.
Literally right across the street from the complex is the Berlin Wall. One of the only places in the city where it still stands in its original place. I’ve been aware of this since I first came here, of course — it’s impossible to miss — but what I never REALLY took the time to reflect on until months after I’d first moved here is that I do not simply live across the street from “the Berlin Wall.” I live at what LITERALLY used to be a border between TWO COUNTRIES.
So I reflected on that for a while: the idea of living at the border between worlds.
. . . but THEN I remembered: in a way, they were never two worlds. East Germany and West Germany were. . . Germany. Before and after. One unit, artificially split, a casualty of the confusion and trauma and reckless madness of war.
One country, two existences (for a while).
The sections of the Berlin Wall that still stand are solid in some places, though very definitely weathered. In other places, the memorial has been designed so that only a hint of a “wall” remains, entirely permeable so that people can pass through; this permeable segment is comprised of irregularly-staggered beams that reach up toward the sky. Mere wisps, suggestions, of limiting structure. Like a wall mostly dissolved; you can even stand on both sides at once.
And in other places, of course, there is no obstruction whatsoever; the wall is gone.
This borderland I inhabit reminds me of a Rumi poem I always liked, in which the poet–master–mystic says, “There are people going back and forth. . . where the two worlds touch.”
I feel at home where the two worlds touch.
And, for anyone who wonders which side I live on, I live on the side of freedom.