One Berlin Summer


My friend, very ill, asked me to write something for her book, which is being prepared for her.

When we were young, Susi remarked to me one day, “the human body is both very fragile and very resilient. You just never know which way it will fall.”

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Bill and Toni's cafe, Stanley Street Sydney.

And so it is. You wanted me to include this, and so I do.

When we met, I was ironing. Was it 1989? I may have been so distracted as to burn my shirt. I can’t remember and it didn’t matter. Nothing else did once my eyes touched on your cool face and your rosebud lips as you walked into my Bondi apartment, trailing my buddy who had met you on a bus. 


When you smiled at me I believe I fell in love at that moment. We went swimming and I was quite dumb as I fell into the waters of your arctic eyes.

I came to know you all through that summer. I pursued you, a young man whose heart was full, and a young woman whose heart was open. There were no mobile phones. We swung from appointment to appointment, hungry for our company and every morsel of Time. I stole you from your place in hospital as much as possible, and you surrendered to my persistence.

As I said to you, “I was lucky, I was so lucky to be loved by You. You were a gift to me of beauty, intelligence, the good heart, compassion, honesty, courage, fragility, sensuality, and the brightest sky.”

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At my sister's wedding at Warrawee, Sydney

There are photos of us at a sister’s wedding in Sydney.

My chest was full with as much pride as love. I showed you off, and was scorched by jealousy when you spoke with other men.

Is it too much to write of this?

You see, you set the tone for much of life, one that I am still living through and exploring and referencing alongside the liberation that untroubled love brought: like a cushion of lavender, your fragrance lingers over all.

Our love carried an additional poignancy. We were born of the great bloody European drama of the 20th century. Her family lay on one side of that divide, and my family on the other, and we spoke of it early. Past the years of love, as our friendship took over and deepened, and coloured, and we came to rely on one another for open expression, we explored the darkness that had led to our shared light.

We talked, pondered the terrible irony of history, and felt within each of us the absolute promise of tenderness in every human being who is allowed liberty, and who is without the retarding suffocation of totalitarianism.

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All of life is political, because politics can and will snuff out the best of human feeling, and politics can and will crush lovers unless it is fought with fists.

For years we have planned to visit Auschwitz together, and then to travel to Danzig, the city from which her family had been driven by the Russians at the end of World War II. We have never made that trip, but we did reach Wannasee.

There, in that sombre villa, where the heart of darkness was hatched by those intellectually deranged and stone-hearted men, we walked silently across those parquet floors, the mood of history sending chills across our skin. Susi and I walked our love, and our care for one another, through history, in defiance of the past, in defiance of cruelty and forgetting. I was so proud of our soaring ambition, so filled with love for my willing guide, my lodestar.

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A walk through Berlin, winter 2022.

How else should I write of Susi, if not filled with love for her, if not about love?

“When I travelled, I would send You tape recordings of what I saw.”

I have never known a person to listen so carefully to every word, and to repeat things back to me I’d long forgotten. “For you, the word was alive, and connected to the things you could see, and the things you never stopped thinking about.” I think the same is true of music, art, literature, and all that she has absorbed through her long, lovely, and rich life.

“I told you this.”

How does one write to one whom one loves, especially under these conditions? As I grew older I came to doubt the power of my words to adequately represent my feelings, and so it is now. How can I write enough about Susi?

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We lay beneath her Augustapfel... Berlin, Summer 2022

Perhaps I can reflect best on the day we just spent with one another, in her garden, watering to fullness the plants she has grown, planting wild carrots stolen from the Grunewalde, taming her Augustapfel and plumb trees of their fruit, and lying lazily beneath that apple tree “(the varietal from my youth)” while the sprinkler showered the flowers.

When we strolled through the forest together, talking and laughing as easily and lightly as our slow footfall over the soft and fruity earth beneath those shielding boughs, through the dappled sunlight, and into the open space and those huge mounds of sand that re-built Berlin, I stopped to take a glowing photograph of Susi.

It was a ‘photographers light’ that fell on her gently smiling face as she tolerated my directions - “stand this way. Now turn your head and find the light!” She stood there just perfectly against the tree line, glowing like a billboard German wife advertising soap, a large black cloud standing above her promising another Berlin summer shower.

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In a field of the Grunewald, Berlin, 2022... photographer's light.

In that walk we covered everything we’ve talked about throughout the years. Love, intimacy, our fragility, our ability to survive, our children and our work, and the frustrations of life that seemed, somehow, as confounding as when we first met, when life had certainly seemed simpler, without pandemics, or climate change, or monumental European wars.

In the garden, as we lay on chairs beneath the apple tree and watched the clouds scattering above us on that lazy hot Berlin afternoon, and we considered life, I remarked to Susi that, “You have built a beautiful and rich life, filled with most things a person could desire.” She practised a profession that she loved. She has raised two beautiful children. She had relationships with an uncommon depth of feeling. She has made many friends who hold her in esteem and affection.

“Your life has become a garden,” I say, “and You have seeded us all.”

ADDENDUM: Susi died five months later.

A night ride through Charlottenburg, Berlin, summer 2022

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