Sundry concentrations of smoke from nearby eateries afforded me confrontation with an illusion of the streets ahead. Granted, German life would already be hazy. I was an eager African-American adult from Miami whose permeable barrier was interested in the possible combinations that language could distort itself into. If language was an acrobat, German was a shapeshifter.
You were perplexed. You could not remember a time when you had to become Sherlock Holmes to understand the world around you. Nothing that you had been exposed to could ever prepare you for a cultural restart. It was just something that you had to dive into and embrace. I am appreciative that you ultimately found satisfaction and interest in the differences of a novel culture.
Until this moment, I was not sure if the allure of German language and culture was something to which my eyes would avert or submit. Foreign, guttural sounds from the mouths of passerby trespassed my ears. It was as if the English gates of hearing were suddenly broken, and German knowledge flooded in. My inquisitive mind did nothing to stop it.
I breathed in the metallic and authentic fumes of the untergrundbahn—German underground metro. Somehow, my nostrils juxtaposed the remnants of trauma and labor from Sachsenhausen with the development of the industrialization of a nation. Great reflection often invaded the essence of that moment as I was reminded of the similar history that the United States had with blatant acts of inhumanity.
While on that subway car, I thought of the lives that I passed by. It was youth and dotage in close proximity. An elderly man equipped with a walker provided an irritated air while a mother and her newborn shared utterances. This was familiarity itself. While I could not comprehend the automated German phrases that crept around the subway car, I understood the humanity that was ultimately there when the moment was stripped bare.
Back at home, I knew that elder who seemed to be independent despite their reliance on transportation or that mother who had to comfort her child to sleep. Retrospectively, my past experiences in Berlin was not an entirely uncertain one. Sure, they called carbonated water, “soda,” which made my friend’s check out almost impossible. Marcus Phan asked for a soda—meaning Coca-Cola—yet was greeted with a trade of pleasantness for frustration and various flavors of carbonated water. Soon, another cashier resolved the situation after becoming privy to our confusion.
Akin to that cashier, CIEE has continued to be that facilitator for us in great forms. They provided salient facts about public transportation as well as many German customs. Most importantly, I am grateful to be afforded a safe place in Berlin to retire from the day’s activities.