As a loyal member of Communist cell Kreuzberg, Melissa felt personally under attack whenever anyone – such as her boyfriend, Dieter -- complained about the Wall. The Wall was beautiful to her eyes, a noir fortress. The buildings on her street huddled by it, like pudding in a mold. It spread a shadow into her bedroom, reliably, as if answering to a touch. She could – and did -- go on and on praising it to her skeptical boyfriend. The Wall lent a thrill to everything she was doing in Berlin. The concrete and barbed wire -- armature for the “iron curtain” (a term she particularly loved, since it conjured up images of medievalism and armor) – put no distance between her faith and her mission.
She got to West Berlin via a hefty but obscurely funded fellowship for gifted pedagogues. She opened her own pre-school, which she called Little Seeds. Her school was illegal, but no one bothered her about it. She supposed this was because no German was among her Little Seeds. There were mostly Turks and Kurds, children of foreign “guest” workers, and occasional gypsies. She taught them to chant Long Live the Revolution! as a nod to her dad, who had painted those very words Long Live the Revolution! on the mailbox at the end of the driveway. It was a family joke that there were three Communists in the United States, and they all lived in Wisconsin: her mother, her father, and Melissa Bee. Four generations had tilled the same soil, and two generations put the hammer to the sickle.
Oh, then. The Wall fell. Melissa leaned out the window in her bedroom and watched the crowds locking elbows and singing, “We Want No Wall Between Us!” Dieter sat beside her, tipping his beer to a corner of the tumult outside – as if he were toasting someone in those crowds, someone who would be looking directly past the TV cameras and into Dieter’s eyes, and saying: I’m coming, I’m coming soon.
She didn’t know whom to blame. Hungry, needy, curious swarms, the ones she used to call her “comrades,” jostled her off the sidewalk and mobbed the stores in search of bananas and CD players and feather beds and blue jeans. Their frank materialism shocked her.She wrote home to Wisconsin: “I guess I should be celebrating like everyone else? Maybe I should feel sympathy? Maybe global capitalism will put an end to all wars?” But the simple fact was, “they” – those people storming the streets – were a nuisance: they took her parking space in front of Little Seeds and stunk the air with their leaded gas cars.
What she didn’t tell her parents, and what she had a hard time admitting to herself, was that the Wall had separated her from Claudia.
Melissa had never needed to think about Claudia. Claudia was always on the other side of the Wall.
Dieter had met Claudia in Dresden and had seen her exactly five times when he was over there on his business visa. Dieter kept no secrets from Melissa. He had told her more than she wanted to know about Claudia. Claudia was a sad person, resigned to being a cog in the wheel. He had shown her a photo he’d taken of Claudia in Dresden with a war ruin behind her. Matted blood-red hair, squished nose, and tiny, nearly rubbed-out mouth.
“Now that the Wall is down, no one has to take sides,” she told the children. That was the lesson for the day. “And now we can all unravel,” Melissa shouted, and held up the paper dolls, their faces painted red, yellow, white, black. The children crashed against her like baffled birds flying against a windowpane. She laughed, “Okay, so I’m becoming invisible, along with the Wall.”
That beautiful, shrinking wall. Returning home one night, she met Dieter at the door. “She’s at Kempinski’s. I’m going to meet her at Kempinski’s. She hitchhiked all the way from Dresden. I have to say hi to her, at least.” Melissa hid under the dark bulk of a blanket, curled like an ear. “And are you planning to go to Dresden, Dieter?” She wondered if she was over-reaching, putting thoughts in his head that didn’t belong there.
“I’m saying it’s possible I might have to drive her back. Unless it’s not okay with you.”
“Scheisse. Dieter, I’m not a booboisie. I’m not going to tell you what to do.”
“All right then.”
She did not rush to the window to look. She did not watch Dieter whistle down the street, a healthy, strapping lad of nearly twenty-five, the kind Wisconsin was noted for, only he was from Hamburg.
Day after day, she endured the steady chop-chopping down of the Wall. Finally word came from Dieter: Dresden has possibilities. He was sick of Berlin hectic. He got a job designing a new shopping center. “I’m a stinking will o‘ the capitalists now. Feel free to separate yours and mine and send me what you think I deserve. They were good times, but don’t get stuck on what used to be. ‘What ambiguity there is in exalted things. We end up despising them a little.’ Lebe wohl, True Bee.”
She saw herself going back, forward, in fragments in a rotating traffic mirror on the way to Little Seeds. The street used to be one of the quietest in the city, but it was almost unrecognizable now, clogged with tourist busses. The parents and children were gathered outside the door, suspiciously downcast. She greeted them, kissing this and that little check. Why so sad, lovely darlings? Then a woman pushed forward, thanking Fraulein Petersen for her award-winning pedagogy and handed her a bouquet. She introduced herself as Frau Firwitz, and thrust a notice into Melissa’s hand. Little Seeds was an unauthorized school, as Melissa knew, left well enough alone by the freewheeling West Berlin, but that Berlin was no more. As of this morning, the children were being directed to a clean new facility licensed by the city and furthermore, it will cost the parents not a pfennig.
Regrets and danke schoens, loved you very much from the group.
Melissa paced the sidewalk, clutching the bouquet in her hands. It felt inexpressively heavy, as if all earthly cares were loaded onto her, onto her alone. Firwitz. Firwitz. My little seeds are in your hands, she cried. Don’t think of the harvest, but only of proper sowing!
“Ach ja, Fraulein Petersen, something will be arranged… a farewell party.”
“Nein, nein,” Melissa shook her head. She didn’t want a party. No more goddamned celebrations.
It sorely is a bit of a shock, her father wrote. The disaster of the Wall. It had gotten him down, too. He was feeling like he was trapped in a drain trap, with all the crud. Melissa read her dad’s letter while standing at the window of her bedroom. A creaking mechanical rake was sweeping the sand behind a construction fence hung with plastic. Mom sends love. Chips of the Wall were being hawked on the street corner, laid out on a flap-top table in a velvet cloth, turquoise and amber graffiti flaking off. Every day the price went up, and one day, she knew, the hawker would be gone, there’d be nothing left to sell. P.S. Sweetheart, her father wrote, if you get a chance, send us a piece of the Wall.