Excerpt of A Woman In Berlin by Anonymous
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Friday, April 20, 1945, 4:00 P.M.
It's true: the war is rolling toward Berlin. What
was yesterday a distant rumble has now become a constant roar. We breathe the
din; our ears are deafened to all but the heaviest guns. We've long given up
trying to figure out where they are positioned. We are ringed in by barrels,
and the circle is growing smaller by the hour.
Now and then whole hours pass in eerie silence.
Then all of a sudden you remember that it's spring. Clouds of lilac perfume
drift over from untended gardens and waft through the charred ruins of apartment
houses. Outside the cinema, the acacia stump is foaming over with green. The
gardeners must have snatched a few minutes between sirens to dig at their
allotment plots, because there's freshly turned earth around the garden sheds up
and down Berlinerstrasse. Only the birds seem suspicious of this particular
April: there's not a single sparrow nesting in the gutters of our roof.
A little before three o'clock the newspaper
wagon drove up to the kiosk. Two dozen people were already waiting for the
deliveryman, who immediately vanished in a flurry of hands and coins. Gerda, the
concierge's daughter, managed to grab a few "evening editions" and let me have
one. It's not a real paper anymore, just a kind of news sheet printed on two
sides and damp on both. The first thing I read as I went on my way was the
Wehrmacht report. New place-names: Müncheberg, Seelow, Buchholz - they sound
awfully close, like from somewhere in the Brandenburg Mark. I barely glanced at
the news from the western front. What does it matter to us now? Our fate is
rolling in from the east and it will transform the entire climate, like another
Ice Age. People ask why, tormenting themselves with pointless questions. But I
just want to focus on today, the task at hand.
Little groups milling around the kiosk, people
with pasty faces, murmuring.
"Impossible, who would have thought it would come
"There's not one of us here didn't have at least a
shred of hope."
"Nothing the likes of us can do about it."
The talk turns to western Germany: "They've got it
good. For them it's over and done with." No one uses the word
anymore. It refuses to pass our lips.
Back in the attic apartment. I can't really call
it a home; I no longer have a home. Not that the furnished room I was bombed out
of was really mine either. All the same, I'd filled it with six years of my
life. With my books and pictures and the hundreds of things you accumulate along
the way. My starfish from that last peacetime summer on Norderney. The kilim
Gerd brought me from Persia. My dented alarm clock. Photos, old letters, my
zither, coins from twelve different countries, a piece of knitting that I'd
started. All the souvenirs, the old skins and shells-the residue and warm debris
of lived-in years.
Now that it's gone and all I have is a small
suitcase with a handful of clothes, I feel naked, weightless. Since I own
nothing, I can lay claim to everything - this unfamiliar apartment, for instance.
Well, it's not entirely unfamiliar. The owner is a former colleague, and I was a
frequent guest before he was called up. In keeping with the times, we used to
barter with each other: his canned meat from Denmark for my French cognac, my
French soap for the stockings he had from Prague. After I was bombed out I
managed to get hold of him to tell him the news, and he said I could move in
here. Last I heard he was in Vienna with a Wehrmacht censorship unit. Where he
still is now...? Not that attic apartments are much in demand these days. What's
more, the roof leaks as many of the tiles have been shattered or blown away.
Excerpted from A Woman In Berlin by Anonymous. Copyright © 2006. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, Incorporated. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.