Aleš Šteger

Translated from Slovenian by Brian Henry

From the top of the Eiffel Tower’s little cousin one could see across the green endlessness all the way to the Alps and Urals. Only lakes, which like tiny snakes were dragged to the southwest, broke up the monolithic forests, the evening glare of traffic jams on the roads, above which the trace of an airplane every so often sewed together the clouds like threading a roast. The steel radio tower lightly swayed for eighty years beside the exhibition area in the city’s far west. Although it had been half an hour since the Korean employee from the ticket office came to get the last visitors, to ground us, because the tower was closing due to technical troubles, I didn’t yet need to tear my eyes from the space, the space, the space that spread out before my eyes. The technical troubles overtook her admonition. She didn’t manage to awaken a lift, which greatly pleased me. I floated above Berlin and watched the glimmering of white bubbles on a hill in the distance. I didn’t know then that the devil lives there. Or at least his name. Before, I would say that he found his temporary skin in the man, who until the arrival of the lift vigorously turned up his nose at the Korean, enough to be on solid ground again, and who for his whining received a high ticket price, and I learned what Berliner Meckern means. When months later I proceeded toward the wicked one, I already knew how large he was, how old he was and how he looks from the inside. Unlike fear, inside he wasn’t hollow, but full of broken history. Teufelsberg, called the highest Berlin hill as it was a hundred and two meters small, rose up astride the last tectonic faults in this part of Europe precisely in 1945. Here mostly women with wheelbarrows transported hundreds of tons of remnants of Berlin’s ruins. If all the remnants with the forest overgrew the walls, the roofs, the foundations, which rose up on my right, and were arranged again in their former order, they would grow at least another Berlin. Now there were only fragments of tiles amid ferns and fragments of broken bricks amid roots, still sometimes whispering one of the stories about the end of the war. I swerved into a parking lot by the road, which was closed to traffic. For a moment one of the white bubbles appeared at the top, looking enormous and quite close, but immediately hid among the trees again. I plotted a shortcut straight uphill and followed him. But even before I came gasping over the steep dusty slope, I saw at the top two girls. The first, dressed in black, led the other, dressed in white and blindfolded, by the elbow. Just before a steep overhang they came to a stop. Black watched how I approached from below, for a moment it seemed that she would let White step over the cliff, but suddenly turned her and they vanished. When I arrived at the top, they transformed into a young couple, into a man, who was doing a handstand in the grass, and a woman, who was recording the view with a video camera. I made a circle, so that I wouldn’t enter her shot, though I had a premonition that even otherwise the camera wouldn’t register my presence. On the hill from the destroyed city the devil’s things emerged. As if evil forces would suddenly overgrow me with wild shrubs and trees. The path was cloven once, once more, again and again. The two of us were frightened, a seeker of white bubbles and a lizard, sunning on the ground, and I almost trampled him. Bumblebees flew at me, hung in midair a couple of centimeters in front of my face, regarded me like hairy floating eyes. On my left I could constantly hear road noise and occasionally voices, but there was no way for me to cross the thicket. And even fewer buildings looking like space stations. Faded arrows on the ground, a cap, hanging in the bushes, were signs. But whose? And what did they mean? Half an hour later I saw for a moment in the distance a couple hugging, but when I approached by one of the narrow tunnels through the greenery, the suckers of kisses disappeared without a trace. Did they live in another Berlin, in the one under the earth? Then there was a glint among the trees again, but this time it was not a mirage, but the reflection of parked cars. As if I had come out of the desert to an oasis. Everywhere people, already completely nude, a bit ahead, by the lake. I returned to the main road and tried again, now aware that even the devil did not know the tricks and shortcuts. At the top of the winding path the view was suddenly fenced with barbed wire. Some of the largest scoops of ice cream that I’d ever seen sparkled in the wreckage, but it didn’t seem that the sun was melting any of them. In the wreckage each of the windows in the buildings was the opened glass jaw of a shark. Before me lay the still cadaver of the American listening base. It looked like the wrecks were still performing with all devotion their former mission. Only that they weren’t listening to the enemy all around, but only to the devil below. His message was deciphered in each of the cracked walls.

From Berlin (Beletrina, 2007).

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