Translated from German by Michelle Carey.

I am writing to you from Berlin.

I came here for a job and when it was over, there were no more flights between Europe and Argentina. My film shoot is postponed to next year, when there will be a vaccine.

I ride my bike through the city, and wonder where I am. Everything feels familiar but foreign at the same time. In Argentina it is the inverse, foreign but familiar. If I had to shoot a film here, I would have no idea what would be the right position for the camera.

I carry the bewilderment around like an abyss within me, but before I plummet, my brain sends me a message: it doesn’t matter, sooner or later you will fly home, that is, to Buenos Aires.

Ideas come to me and sometimes, in the street, they almost become phrases. But I can’t grasp them, like in a dream that becomes hazy as you try to grasp it.

Since all this started, I dream a lot. People that I can’t hang out with come up, including you.

A short time ago, I discovered this stream in the middle of the city, laid out like a mountain waterfall. It’s cheesy but it works: there are always people sitting by the water. When it was constructed in the 19th century, the architects and city planners had no idea how the people would look sitting here 150 years later.

Bodies, gestures, accessories.

Hands slice through the air, suggesting a direction or erasing a thought. They caress a back, brush away a strand of hair, hold another hand, roll a cigarette. They pass a joint, a shisha mouthpiece, an orange juice bottle or a lighter, books and phones.

In German it is easy for me to approach them and ask whether I can film them with my phone. Nobody says no. The younger ones address me formally: and what are you doing this for?I’m sending this to friends in Argentina.

If you only watch their hands, you can’t tell which language they are speaking.

It’s getting dark earlier now. Black headscarves, and the green- and blue-dyed hair of the girls and trans people vanish into the greenery. The gurgling of the water swallows up voices and conversations like a dangerous underwater monster from an old German fairy tale.

When it gets so dark that my phone can no longer detect anything clearly, only patches of light skin remain. The white jogging outfit of a boy listening to hip hop.

The water reaches the street and is pumped up again. Down here, it stinks a little.

The sun sets quickly. At the height of summer in early August dusk lasted for hours. It was amazing what could be done during that time. When you finished with one thing, the sun was still setting, and you began with the next. And when it was done, there was still light in the sky. I had forgotten how much I love that.

On Saturday night, too many people at the stream ward off the illusion of loneliness; too many phones and posing. When I realise that I’m doing something that other people are already doing, I get overwhelmed by a profound lack of will.

I go home to an apartment that I will be giving back soon. In the dark courtyard a melody sounds. Somebody is practicing scales, perhaps on an oboe. I can barely make out the instruments. It’s black and the sky is dark blue.

I realise that I haven’t thought in a long time, I’ll be going home soon anyway.

A few days ago, I moved again, for the seventh time since the pandemic began. The building is situated on another small stream, the Panke. My window overlooks courtyards that I can’t enter. The landlady installed a small fountain that splashes day and night. The sound of one water stream commingles with the other. It started to rain yesterday, summer is over.

In the new neighbourhood, nobody practises the oboe, but someone listens to rap and sometimes death metal, more likely two people than one. I can’t make out their windows.

I am startled by the sounds of the first falling chestnuts in the courtyard: it sounds like footsteps in the apartment. The chestnut tree suffers from leaf-lining moths. The leaves hang brown and dry on the branches over the summer, without falling and without corresponding to the seasons.

On the map I discover the Jewish Hospital 300 metres from my apartment. My mother was born there. My family isn’t Jewish. I don’t know how the Jewish Hospital came about after National Socialism, but when my grandfather returned from captivity, from the east, I believe Poland, he found work there as a doctor. My family lived in a room in the Jewish Hospital in this neighbourhood that is unknown to me.

The idea of coming home soon has been replaced by a new one: that the story also continues there, where you are, but in a different way, and when I return, I will not understand anything anymore.

I began to research for a new film. In Argentina I thought it would have to be filmed in Los Angeles. From here, tracks are leading me to Eastern Europe.

That the chestnuts are falling to the ground now, red and shiny, reminds me of the rediscovery of their flowers in spring. Clearly I haven’t been back a single time in May, that’s the only way I can explain that I didn’t mention it in Argentina. The splendour is hard to describe, just as over there, the jacarandás simply stand. But the chestnut flowers are not only glorious, they are also my flowers.

The next season is winter.

Kisses and see you soon,

About The Author

Nele Wohlatz is a German-born filmmaker who lives in Argentina.

Related Posts