We caught the tram having walked through smooth, unmarked snow on the pavement outside our house. As we walked a cyclist passed, cutting a solitary line ahead of us where the caretaker of a neighbouring building leaned on his shovel and considered the work that was to come. The tram was soggy, with puddles of water surrounding islands of grit, our neighbourhood of Berlin-Wedding passing by on the other side of steamed-up windows.
We took the tram to the end of the line. Is this where we came for my arm? Lotte asked, as she always does when we come to this corner of the city, as we disembarked opposite the Virchow Klinikum. Yep, I replied, but turned her away from the hospital and crossed over towards the graveyard that stands like a gothic warning to patients walking the grounds on the other side of the street. Here the road, our road, makes its last hundred metres as an ordinary city street before it becomes the motorway, next stop Dresden, Leipzig or Magdeburg…
Turning off the road we crossed a snow-covered field at the point where I guessed the path lay, based on summertime visits and bike rides, but it was not possible to see where the grass gave way to gravel. It was the same on the other side of the fence, where the embankment leveled out onto the frozen surface of the lake. This expanse of pure white snow was too tempting for some, who ignored the warning signs hanging from the fence and crossed the ice towards the bathing beach on the opposite bank. On the tram the TV screen told me it was three degrees, and as I looked closer I could see patches of what looked suspiciously like water.
They shouldn’t really be walking there, should they? Lotte asked, and I wondered what I would do if the man striding purposefully across the surface of the lake was to suddenly disappear.
On the edge not far from where the nudists bathe in warmer months a group of lads cleared snow from the ice to create a small ice hockey rink, skating backwards and forwards as the sound of puck on stick joined the bicycle pump call of what I guessed was a Great Tit, the shallow breaths of a passing jogger, and the planes taking off from nearby Tegel Airport as the soundtrack of our walk through the trees.
Leaving the lake we skirted the outer reaches of the bathing beach grounds, the beer garden abandoned for the winter and the puffed-up heated courts of the tennis club. The canal that links the Havel with the Spree was also frozen, and the houseboats clustered in the shadow of the motorway bridge looked anything but cozy. Even so, in the snow, Lotte and I could see the appeal of a life on the water and as we walked the canal path we discussed the practicalities of a life we are never going to live.
For the final stretch of the walk she dropped behind me, trying to match each of my footsteps as we made tracks along the middle of the street. The boathouse bar was open but we kept moving. The soggy tram was waiting for us, as was lunch and a football match on the telly. Wedding was beautiful in the snow, we agreed, thinking of lake, the streets, the canal and graveyard. And it would seem all the more so, in the morning, when we pulled back the curtains and it was almost all gone, leaving behind dirty piles of slush, more grit-filled puddles, and the greying washed-out colours of a city that only yesterday was perfect in black and white.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton