• Anna Mangiardi

and They Gasped Too

An hour before I left Berlin I walked to the nearby Jewish cemetery.

A memory, perhaps, to take on the empty plane North. Perhaps it should have been headed West, but even today I don't believe we were ready for each other. A city block filled with tombstones without their onlookers. A simple brick wall of enclosure. Bulbous letters painted the facade. Post-war townhomes with big bright windows mirrored the scene below for morning tea. The newly deceased shared neraby soil with the perished souls of almost 100 years ago. Each plot was beautifully kempt – flower vases, blooms in the ground roots bound to the remnants below. Dead quiet – beautiful. I was alone in this place of remembrance. The cold brisk spring air clung to my face as the sunshine tried to weigh through it. Birds were everywhere, ignorant or perhaps accustomed to the stand-in grounds; there to hold the memories of blood - no, lungs (they perished brave amongst cowards) - let long ago. The wind (almost) howled. The birch trees lining the walkways that family and lovers had treaded cast perfect shadows down their lanes. I wanted to remind myself of their likeness to bars but there was no menace in their shade; quiet, soft, stinging, alive. Mein Leiber Mann shone from perfect marble through the squared shrubs. Benches built to sit and remember quietly, placed so close you’d almost hover, cuddle or hug. I walked through the center – a closed brick church facing all directions. Here you choose which path to gaze down, where death seems more beautiful (or to your liking), walking in reverence in a promise of peace. To what end? A guarantee of remembrance perhaps. Or if you walked slowly, humbly enough they would forget you chose their death in pleasure.

I wept. For them, perhaps not - My sympathy leeched into the earth but my empathy lay with the tufts and bricks. I had no other choice. - It was for myself more likely. But it was as good a place as any to let it go. Then I promised I’d be better to Ottilie.

I sat with her, tall and grey, and wondered what she’d say if she heard my heart pounding – if she saw the gasping in the ventilators – maybe she gasped too. There are nice plots here – larger ones with the fixings. None to boast but humbly shower a knowing of love - each perfectly unique like the candles lit in windows down a lane of happy families waiting for first snow.

Some are for groups; little yellow plaques like buds sticking out of the ground. 1918, 1918, 1918. 1936, 1936, 1936. A family? A town? Members of Weissensee? Maybe they gasped too. I’ll wash my clothes, wash my hands, my hair, my everything. I’ll stay in the room in the days to come and remember Ottilie. I will send her love to all the souls, in case she had no more breath. She had it worse (they had it worse). I hope she didn’t gasp too.

#berlin #weissensee #covid19 #jewishcemetery #thoughts

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