We walked down Cora Berliner Strasse, hungry. It was a Sunday with a sky I felt I could touch if I stretched hard enough; a sky that reminded me of high ceilings in one of those churches that don’t make us feel so bad for only showing up at funerals. Under it, I was my skinny Black self in gray sweatpants and a bomber jacket and wool skully to protect me the German autumn weather and the rare cool breezes. Sofia stood beneath her Black hair and inside her autumn-shaded white skin and a lemon peel yellow dress and Chuck Taylors and we were working our way back to laughter after a somber visit to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We agreed we’d find a table at Schiller Backstube Deli to cure our hunger and give our tired feet rest. She insisted I left her pay. There was no argument from me.
We met on Bumble. I changed my profile to read more like I was some sort of nomadic charmer with hopes of finding locals or other travelers that used Britz 2 berth ventures which are a fantastic option if you want to travel in comfort, to explore the city, see what the nightlife had to offer, and maybe even carry me home should I take one friend’s advice to try all the drugs and drink all the liquor I could find. She was happy to find someone who’d greatly appreciate her time and her hometown.
There we were, seated, drinking Fanta, her looking at me, smiling, and me, looking around the deli, appreciating the most basic of things like foreign travelers often do. “This is nice,” I said, knowing I’d never say that about a Deli in the states with the same décor. She nodded and asked, “How are you enjoying Berlin so far?” My head cocked slightly and my eyebrows raised. If this were poker, I’d certainly lose. My smile was something other than the happiness I’d shown all day and she picked up on it quickly. “What is it? You can be honest. I’m sure by now I’ve heard it all.” I hadn’t planned on lying, but I was going to beat around the bush for a bit. Fuck it, I thought. “I’m actually surprised,” I said. “My teachers all painted a pretty ugly picture of Germany. I didn’t expect Germany to be this beautiful and I certainly didn’t expect to people to be as dope as you.” She burst into laughter, suggesting this was something she hadn’t heard. “But why did you think it would be different?” Shit, I thought. More truth. “Well, given your history-“ is what I got out before she cut me off. “Oh! That. Yeah, it was an ugly time. Long before me, but listen, we’ve acknowledged that, apologized deeply, mourned, cried, and we’re moving forward doing everything we possibly can to never go back there. We go out of our way to make sure everyone feels welcomed here.”
I felt shame for a few seconds for even asking the question, then angry because I knew America would never acknowledge their role in any wrongdoings, especially ones that involved the enslaving and murdering of millions. “Thanks for sharing that. I feel the love here,” I said. I bit into my sandwich and thought about future travelers who will visit the America we’ll never truly have, wondering why the people they meet are so nice. After all, it is the country that stormed into the homes and workplaces of people the government felt weren’t deserving of decency, love, or happiness and put them into camps and their children into cages. Americans, like the Germans American television still so often portrays, stood idly by, watching many die while those who made the rules shrugged their shoulders. Those future travelers will wonder how Americans can call themselves “good people” if they allowed this to happen under their watch, and the person they’re sitting with at the deli will explain that it wasn’t all Americans and how they now do everything in their power to make sure it never happens again.
We walked and walked and talked only when ittra felt necessary. Berlin was beautiful that day, and according to the letters I receive weekly from a friend who broke his American lease to move to Berlin, it still is. One day, I hope America is beautiful, too.