I’m in the middle of the street when from my left, perhaps five or six car-lengths away, comes the whoop of an ambulance siren.
For two or three seconds I’m transformed into one of the squirrels I scream at while driving “Make up your mind!” as they dash back and forth in front of my car. Hilarity for everyone watching.
At the traffic island, as I catch my breath, the old guy I passed a minute ago catches up with me. He uses two crutches and wears comfortable-looking Herman Munster shoes.
“He scared you, huh?” he says.
“I don’t think they should be allowed to do that.”
“Naja. (Oh well)”
I slow my pace to walk with him, amd he begins to talk.
“I got diabetes — the sugar ate up the nerves in my feet.”
(Note to self: Buy salad greens)
He continues, “I have to walk every day. Don’t drive anymore. These are actually my house shoes. I have another pair, with laces. I buy two pairs a year.”
A moment’s silence, then I ask him, “How long have you lived in Berlin?”
A wheezy laugh. “From the beginning! I was born in Charlottenburg, only lived anywhere else for three years.
“I started school in ’43. I went a few months, and then one day my mother got a call — the school was gone. The British, you know. So I went to live with my grandmother, out in Hessen in the country.
“And you, where are you from?”
“USA,” I tell him. “Olympia, Washington.” We go through the fact that it’s not the capital of the country, that’s on the east coast, I’m on the west.
“Ah,” he says, “north of California. I went to Florida three times on vacation, and once to Canada. I liked Canada. You ever been to Toronto? If you go you need to go up in the tower. You can see everything from up there. Used to be the tallest bulding in the world.
“I used to drive for the Reichsbahn — thousand miles a day on two hours of sleep. Those cars are longer than the accordian buses you see now.
“My son will be 59 this year! And I will be 80. Here’s where I live. Name’s Miele”
As I tell him what a pleasure it was to talk with him, I find myself near tears.
It isn’t so much the content of his stories, though I find them fascinating. It is the connection, something I’ve had trouble making in Berlin. Likely it’s my introverted nature. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m passing quickly out of middle age, when women become invisible in any case. Perhaps it’s that Berliners in general are, as I have found, polite but not friendly.
In a lonely time, he is a bright spot. Herr Miele will be in my thoughts, with great gratitude.