Donating my organs

Some years ago, I met two women who shared a liver. One had donated 60 percent of hers to the other, both had survived and when they showed their scars, they joked that they were in the shape of a Mercedes-Benz symbol.

But behind their laughter were stories of a desperate cry for help and incredible human generosity. I came away from meeting them knowing that though I was unlikely to become a living donor, I should at least sign up to volunteer my organs for use in the event of my untimely death. Yet, the furthest I got was the bone marrow register.

Why? Good question. The only explanations I have are concerns about post-death German bureaucracy coupled with an objection to its stuffy burial laws, and a very large dose of just not getting around to it. They’re not very good excuses really, and I really don’t excuse them. Read on or listen

Category: Writing

North Sea love

It was put to me recently that after so many years in Berlin, I must really love it here. I think I said I did. Because in many ways I do. But love, as they say, is a fickle thing, and I fear my heart will never beat for this city in the same way that it does for the water that ripples and rages between the shores of Germany and Britain, over once-connective land it swallowed many thousands of years ago.

I’ve long tended to indulge my adoration of the North Sea during visits back to the UK. It has, in fact, been intrinsic to them. Not only because the island nature of the place, but because of a deep green cliff to which I invariably go, from where I have a completely endless and endlessly complete view of the coldhearted object of my affection that roars and murmurs as the mood takes it.

Down below, when the tide is out, I walk the broad wet sands in search of fossils left there by time, watch the elements brush and daub the sky, and I swim. I accept the biting cold, for it was the salty chill of these waters that kept me afloat when I took my first-ever solo strokes. I recall the sheer vastness of it all, and being told that if I kept swimming long enough, I’d eventually reach the other side. Read on or listen

Category: Writing

Summer in the city

In early April, the temperature in Berlin hit 24.5 degrees. Around the same time last year, we’d been waking to regular frosts, as heavy in nature as in our lament. And because once they’d finally thawed, they’d given way to weeks of rain as opposed to the much-yearned-for sunshine, we didn’t mind a bit that summer 2018 had come early. Just two weeks into the official advent of spring.

Berlin rose to the occasion with flourish. Café owners dragged sidewalk furniture out of hibernation, ice cream parlors unlocked their doors with a sense of purpose, shops traded on garish displays of plants, seeds and picnic blankets, and pink-cheeked residents slipped into their sandals to indulge in it all before the hand that had given had a chance to take away.

By mid-May, the city had warmed to just shy of 30 degrees Celsius. By the end of the month, it had gone above and beyond. School kids were sent home early, people clambered for a spot in the shade and as casual conversation turned to heat oppression and lost sleep, I turned our balcony into an al fresco family bedroom. Read on or listen

Category: Writing

Teenage hope and glory

There’s something decidedly surreal (not least in this age of Brexit bickering and bluster) about the sight of hundreds of German teenagers, dolled and dressed up to the nines, parading and tottering down the lengthy steps of Europe’s largest revue theatre — the Friedrichstadtpalast in Berlin — not only to onlookers’ rousing whoops and cheers, but to the pomp and circumstance of Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory.

Surreal, but real. For several Saturdays in the late spring and early summer, the almost 2,000 seats in the show palace fill up with families set on celebrating the coming of a certain age. Generally 14. When the childhoods of offspring are considered spent and their adulthood not yet fully upon them.

The Jugendfeier, as those grand Saturday morning gatherings are known, is a secular youth ceremony that first emerged in the mid-1800s as an alternative to confirmation. Back then, when it was staged on a smaller, less splashy scale, it marked a clearer turning point in the lives of young people: namely, leaving school. Read on or listen

Category: Writing

City of singles

Before Berlin was so radically and comprehensively gentrified, I lived in a fourth floor apartment of a crumbling house whose windows looked across a concrete yard into an apartment of an old man. We largely kept different hours, and he to himself. As such, our exchanges never progressed beyond the occasional stairwell greeting.

But late at night I would often see the light go on in his kitchen, and in he would hobble. Until one evening, he didn’t. For a couple of days, I rang his bell and eventually alerted the building’s managers. They came and shortly thereafter confirmed my worst fears. He had died.

Elke Schilling, a silver-haired woman in her early 70s, had a similar experience in her block of flats. When she saw no sign of life from the neighboring apartment for a couple of weeks, she called the police. They would only break in on the condition that she paid for the repairs should the missing man be on holiday. Needless to say, he wasn’t. Read on or listen.