A May Day Affair
A New Landscape, A New Day
Looking to escape Parisian days of intoxication and excess, I hopped on the first train out. I arrived in Berlin at dawn. As the glow of the first morning light filled the station, the past was now 500 kilometres away. Grabbing my beaten-down camera, I headed towards the streets. A crowd of flag wielding German grandfathers flew past, followed by a brawny, youth. I asked what the ruckus was all about and eager to educate me on European-style activism, he informed me that his “cape” was actually the Kurdish flag and invited to come along for the annual May Day demonstrations.
Europeans consider the first of May as the International Worker’s Day. However, in this politically-driven metropolis, this public holiday has been transformed into a parade of protests from the Left, Labour Unions, as well as many other groups.
My Kurdish friend told me that the event was both anticipated and feared. It was an opportunity for the public to air out their frustrations and call for change, but has also resulted in violence wherein cars have been set on fire and riots have broken out.
Marching alongside fellow protesters who didn’t hesitate to yell out their frustrations to the tourists watching from the safe distance of the sidewalk, he told me about the plight of the Kurds in Germany and abroad. As we handed out flyers in Kurdish and German (both languages that I didn’t understand at the time), he told me that he was born in Berlin, but his heart belonged to Kurdistan.
Before we reached the gate, we parted ways and he said in his thick Kurdish-German accent, “Thank you. You are an angel. You’ve helped even if you don’t know me or any of us.” I was stunned. Not just at the kind words, but also because I was the one who grateful for a glimpse into his world.
Love literally hit me on the head
I found myself in the midst of a crowd, whose anger turned to festivity upon the sight of pretzel, sausage and beer booths beneath the shadow of the Brandenburg Tor. Snaking my way through the activists turned partygoers, the tip of a flag hit my head. As I ducked to avoid the next dangerous swoosh of heavy cloth, I heard laughter. That simple sound was the ring of a small bell; the sweet, powder-fresh scent of an infant; and that touch of lemon and ice in your drink. I whirled around to find myself face-to-face with a mass of curly brown hair, shocking blue eyes and a large smile. He pointed at his flag-wielding friend who was still oblivious to the fact that he could have caused major brain damage.
I laughed. He laughed back.
From the Brandenburg Gate, the tree-lined streets of the Unter den Linden, to the Spree River, we spent the day exploring the city. On a grassy knoll by the water, we watched as boats went by and picnickers sipped wine glasses and enjoyed the sun. Like children, we invented a “guess-the-time” game, wherein the loser had to do the other’s bidding. With giggles of glee, I watched as he bounded up the cement slope, up the tree, and yelled out in German “I am the King of the forest.” People cheered and applauded while I grinned triumphantly.
Sunset was approaching and unexpected shyness suddenly came over us. Inside a beaten-down subway train that had fake wood panelling and smelled like cat pee, we said our awkward goodbyes.
He stood silent on the platform as my train sped away.
I travelled through the rest Europe wondering if I would ever see him again. My inbox remained silent and my emails to him were returned with the line “message could not be delivered.” Disappointed but not broken, I traveled to other parts of Germany, Morocco, Spain, France, the UK, Amsterdam, then as luck would have it, I found a job in Europe which took me back to the place that challenged my cynical view of the world—Berlin.
Remember, Remember that email in November
One cold November’s eve, I had just about enough. It was my first winter but the initial joy of snow was replaced by a growing sense of angst and frustration. Tired of the never-ending cold, I was ready to pack up and head to sunny California. However, before I got the chance, there was message in my inbox. Who would’ve guessed that the sentence: “Remember the 1st of may?…in Berlin?” was enough rekindle my passion for the season?
I replied and told him that I was living in Berlin. Thus began our email courtship. Each letter grew longer as anticipation grew stronger. Though excitement was building, the fear that the second meeting would not live up to the first was growing as well.
But I was wrong. It was better.
A Winter’s Eve
We decided to meet in front of the Fernsehturm (Television Tower). With nervous steps, I rushed towards our rendezvous spot but paused when a handsome boy came down the escalator.
Our eyes met, and with a flash recognition we found ourselves standing face-to-face, laughing at nothing in particular, in the middle of station as commuters hurried around us.
Reunited, we once again explored the city on foot. The biting cold did little to slow down our happy chatter.
The city by night was unlike anything else. The full moon’s hazy glow and the red and blue lights of the christmas markets lit up the grey Berlin streets. From getting lost in the grave-like maze of the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” to watching the subway train flash below our feet atop secret bridges, to discovering canisters of frozen flowers in a hidden industrial garden, the evening was the perfect sequel to that unforgettable day in May.
And Spring…then Fall, and Summer, and Winter…
Countless walks later, I was organizing my inbox when I found an unopened email from him requesting to meet again. The date on the letter was May 2, the day after we had first met. I could not believe it. After all this time, I assumed that he had not written at all. I’m not sure why I had failed to see it but I also realized that the address to all the letters I had wrote him during my travels were misspelled by one letter. Despite these mishaps, the city brought us back together. After a year together, we not only traipsed through Berlin, but also to Spain, Sweden and the Philippines.
He once said that our story was like “in a movie, where two people are looking for each other and one of them has to lace her/his shoes at the wrong moment; Or they’re both on the escalator, approaching each other, when one of them drops something and misses the other.” I agree, but I believe that life is much sweeter than any film could be.
Before I left for my trip to Europe, someone once told me that the secret to a life well lived was to be open. It was the best advice that anyone has ever given because in that simple act embracing all that was possible led me to an unexpected journey of life, love and adventure.