Written for The Independent:
I remember that we had left our backpacks at Zoo Station and that we were going to save our Deutschmarks by staying out all night. I remember, too, when at last we came into the crumbling old courtyard, that the music was extraordinarily loud – a wall of sound made out of euphoria and ecstasy, the herald of a new world order.
Or so it seemed. It was 1991, we were at an impromptu party in newly-opened East Berlin and I had finished school – forever. Day-by-day, throughout the long summer, the old republics of the Soviet Union had been declaring their independence while, in Moscow, Yeltsin was standing on a tank.
She was standing in a corridor. I’d split up with a girl from home after three years – so I felt naïve, out of practice, but also careless because recently hurt.
She had turquoise eyes that danced alternately with intelligence and shyness, with gentle mockery and sudden candour. I can’t remember what I said – it didn’t matter – because she spoke no English and I spoke no German and the house music made it impossible to hear.
But some mysterious male-female magic held us. And I bought her something to drink. And we stood together without speaking for what may have been an hour.
Eventually, we kissed. But too soon she made a sign to say she had to go – and I made a sign to say we should meet again and we both shrugged and I took out a pen and a little notebook because I wanted to be a writer and I suggested Zoo Station because it was all that I knew and she nodded and wrote down three o’clock, platform one, and that Saturday’s date. And she kissed me again and I held her closer this time. And then she was gone.
My friends and I slept in a stairwell that night and we left Berlin the next day. We had decided to head for Romania where we might be rich enough to afford beds. But two days later, I woke up in a hostel in Budapest and knew that I would go back. The train was free with my pass. Why not?
I remember that the madness of what I was doing didn’t really hit me until, after an overnight journey, I realised I was still six hours out of Berlin. This was before mobile phones. I had no way of contacting her. And I was also completely alone for the first time.
I remember changing in the toilets at Zoo Station – best jeans, coolest jacket, trying to do my hair when I thought nobody was looking. She would not be there, I was certain. I locked up my backpack and went to platform one – two hours early.
But then – at precisely three – a miracle: there she was. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised. The chances seemed so unlikely that for five minutes we did not know what to do.
She took us to Schlesisches Tor – I remember the name – and we spent the next nine hours wandering round, stretching coffees, smoking… not talking.
Gradually, the light grew thicker and the street lamps came on and she brought us to this place that sold only spaghetti and nameless wine in jugs. And so we sat opposite one another, drawing pictures on napkins and speaking without words.
I remember walking to her apartment, which was in one of those elegant old ochre buildings on a wide German street – dilapidated, though, and covered in graffiti. She had a single room but very big – with a grand 19th-century window and a kitchenette and a shower up a step in a recess in the wall and a bed on the floor on which we sat.
We sipped some dark spirit that tasted of rum and liquorice and we smoked and listened to music… until, after a while, she took off her top and her jeans and I did the same.
We didn’t make love but we lay together all night – awake, or half awake, tangled, embracing, side by side – and I remember looking at her in the dim light from the street and she looking up at me.
And I remember thinking – understanding (perhaps because we couldn’t speak) – that she was a woman and that I was a man and that this had been going on since the beginning of everything and that it would go on forever and that nothing else really mattered.
When we awoke, we drank black coffee and ate a ripe pear. And then she drew me a map by hand that showed me the way back to Zoo Station. She said my name and I hers – Anya – and we kissed and I walked out into the new morning.