She has been my friend for twenty years or more. We met at a party, or we met at a demonstration, or a lesbian film screening, in Montreal. She would often appear at my door in her trademark rollerskates; I can still remember the sound of her clomping up the stairs, taking them off only when she entered my apartment. I remember that we used to talk for hours, a pot of tea growing cold as we sifted the fine details of politics, love and art through our words.
Now, The Literary Tourguide lives in Berlin. Tour guide by day, writer by night, married and mother of a young boy, she is beyond busy. Still, she insists on meeting my plane at Tegel Airport at 8 in the morning and except for the missing rollerskates she looks exactly the same.
Soon enough, we are at a café on the Spree River, sharing a wedge of apfelkuchen mit sahne (apple cake with cream) and delicious coffee. The changes she has experienced, which parallel historic changes in Europe and Berlin, are marked not by appearances but by the way she talks, the stories she tells. Berlin, she tells me, is going through a Jewish renaissance, result of years of what she used to call “memory work”. As a tourguide for Holocaust survivors and their descendants, she is fully part of this moment. On the way to the café she proudly showed me the new skyline of Berlin, where old buildings mesh with new, in a conscious architectural strategy of intervening into history.
The cake is light as air, yet rich with butter and cream. My body settles into European ways of being with familiar discomfort. I feel more myself here, in this slower, older environment. And I feel so North American . Where’s. Our. Cake. I mutter as we sit with our coffee. The. Coffee. Comes. First. Says The Literary Tour Guide, matter-of-factly. You’re. Supposed. To. Relax. And. Take. Your. Time.
The cake does come and in the meantime she shows me photos of her 90-something mother in New Brunswick, provides advice for my heart, tells me more stories. Around us, Berliners read books, sip coffee, drink beer. The river glows, in a sudden brief moment of sunlight.