Joanna stood like a human pebble amongst the ebb and flow of the tourist tide on the roof of the Reichstag. She’d bought a £39 flight to Berlin and got on the plane the very same afternoon, something she’d never done before. She was giddy with bravery.
And now she was here, with Berlin at her feet. So far she had eaten currywurst – a disappointing long sausage with curry sauce on the side, rather than the curry-flavoured sausage she had expected – she’d been on a boat trip down the Spree, walked through Checkpoint Charlie which was a street filled with tacky souvenir shops – not like the films at all – and she’d plucked up the courage to ask a stranger to take her photograph outside the Brandenburg Gate. He was Japanese, she thought, or possibly Chinese, but he smiled a lot and seemed to know more about how her camera worked than she did. She had managed to say danke schön, which afterwards she realised the tourist wouldn’t have understood. And now she was standing on top of Berlin.
Her nose felt hot, she hoped it wasn’t red. September in Berlin was hotter than September in Leeds, and she had a horrible idea her nose was going to peel. She stood, her left index finger idly rubbing the bridge of her nose, up and down along the long bony bit, as if the heat of the skin might leach into her finger and eliminate the glow. In front of her was a stone wall. Like many features of the building it seemed to incorporate old stone with modern metal and glass. A Norman Foster architect’s trick to enliven a destroyed building, she supposed. She could feel the history in the stones beneath her feet, the walls around her, the stories of the city, of the country. She hadn’t bargained on the war stuff when she’d clicked on the £39 flight to Berlin rather than the £35 flight to Stockholm. She might be eating smorgasbord now, rather than thinking about Hitler.
On the wall in front of her was a stone sculpture every metre or so, a head of a woman, an angel, hair braided, wearing some sort of headdress a bit like the laurel leaves worn by the Romans. Well that can’t be right, thought Joanna, unsure if the Romans got as far north as Berlin. She wasn’t sure she liked the face. It was square-jawed with the kind of fleshy lips which always seemed to belong to a man not a woman, fat lips which promised a rubbery kiss. Joanna shivered in the mid-afternoon heat. There was no definition to the cheekbones, as if the angel had eaten too many currywurst mit bier. The best feature without doubt was the arch of the eyebrows, finely-shaped, quite like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.
It was the eyes that really gave her the creeps, fat eyes, the same shape as the lips which she now realized was odd. Joanna looked at her own reflection in the glass partition by the ladies loo to see if her mouth and eyes were the same shape. They were not. And the stone eyes were closed too, or were they? She reached for the information leaflet she’d been handed by an efficient steward outside the lift, everything seemed to be efficient here, as if they knew what she wanted to do before she did. It didn’t happen like that in Leeds. She fished the scrunched up bit of paper from her handbag. There was nothing in the leaflet about angels, just lots about government and architecture.
She took a step closer to the statue and stood on tiptoe, squinting to see the stone eyes more clearly. Definitely closed, almost as if sleeping. Well that’s odd, she thought. Who makes a stone sculpture with closed eyes? Aren’t eyes supposed to be the window of the soul? She couldn’t remember who said that, but was pleased with herself for remembering. The longer she studied the face, the more intimidating it became. Even the white dribble of pigeon poo which decorated the tip of the stone nose didn’t humanize the blank expression. It looked like it had had a giant injection of Botox.
It’s not human though, is it, she thought. It’s a statue. And she giggled. She decided that the left eye – that’s the left from where she, Joanna, was standing, so the right eye from the statue’s point of view… Stupid, she thought, it’s made of stone, it can’t have a point of view – the left eye was partly-open, as if caught mid-blink. It looked almost bruised, the skin puffy and swollen.
Joanna reached out a hand to touch…
“You should see what the other guy looks like.” The voice was deep, male. And then the statue winked. The pupil was brilliant blue, as brilliant blue and alive as the Berlin sky.
© Sandra Danby The inspiration for this short story came from a number of directions. A visit to Berlin and snapshots taken on the roof of the Reichstag [above], and a conversation with a writing friend who referred me to the Wim Wenders film Der Himmel über Berlin, or in English Wings of Desire [below] in which post-war Berlin is watched over by angels, visible only to the children. To watch the 1987 trailer for Wings of Desire on You Tube, click here.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
On top of the Reichstag in Berlin: STONE #flashfiction via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-15A