An undistinguished return

Sixteen years later, I barely recognize Berlin, and it doesn't recognize me

I came back to Berlin in September 2003, and could barely recognize the place. So many street names had changed – all the communist heroes removed – that I kept getting lost. I had also become accustomed to orienting myself along the Berlin Wall. Ultimately, I bought myself a nostalgia map in a tourist store. It had dotted lines where the wall used to be.

I still felt a little fear when going to the East - still felt a slight shock when the S-bahn train drove painlessly through what used to be barbed wire.

And I couldn't help looking for the East Berlin shops I knew so well – the Marxist bookshop, the huge department store full of cheap goods and uncomfortable clothes, the half-empty supermarkets with mysterious products in wrapped in pastel wax paper. Now the old streets of Mitte, where I had met Robert Paris in the garbage dumpster, were filled with real art galleries.


The Brandenburger Tor, now open for tourists. 2003.

West Berlin had changed less. Café M was exactly the same – the same tables, same chairs, same aqua and red straw chairs, the same black tile floors, now with some of the paint scraped off. The same glum, trendy clientele, although as usual there were a few people having a good time in the corner, and they were Americans.

It's one of the few places in the world I've ever felt perfectly comfortable, like there's no place else in the world I'd rather be.

Berlin had been a misfit, insecure, isolated city, which was of great interest to a misfit, insecure, isolated college girl. Now I was more ordinary and it was too.

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