As this spring changed into summer I celebrated my 49th birthday by going out for dinner on Pentecost Monday with friends, my son and my wife in Hamburg’s Portugiesenviertel neighborhood. It was early June, a warm evening on the Hamburg harbor; a storm was supposed to blow in from the southwest, but it failed to come, and we sat out on the sidewalk until late at night, drinking wine, laughing and listening to the distant rumble of the thunder as it drifted past.
One morning soon after I traveled to Düsseldorf to give an hour-long reading from my novel Night No More on the terrace of the Theater Museum, at the edge of the Hofgarten. The organizer picked me up at the train station, and we drove through Düsseldorf in a taxi; I’d never been there before, but I was immediately struck, and profoundly disturbed, by the devastation I saw. We talked about the storm which, in its weakened state, had passed Hamburg by, but had clearly hit Düsseldorf with full force. The clean-up operation was in full swing, but I saw not a single street that wasn’t filled with branches and twigs, strewn with trash cans, bicycles or torn-down awnings and billboards. A boat lay stranded in the middle of an intersection.
The closer we came to the Hofgarten, the more devastating seemed the destruction of the city’s urban nature. On what until a few days ago had been a narrow strip of woodland leading up to the park itself, not a single tree had been left standing. The evening of my birthday, the organizer told me, three separate storms had merged over Düsseldorf to form one berserker hurricane that bore down on the city. She showed me the terrace on which I had originally been supposed to read an hour from now; it no longer existed. Three or four centuries-old copper beeches and horse chestnuts had been torn from the ground like withered thistles, sunk, branches shredded, in their own canopy of leaves, mown down to lie on top of each other and every which way on the flagstones which were pressed crookedly down into the ground beneath their weight. A hundred, perhaps a hundred and twenty chairs, said the organizer, still pale, had been set up on the evening of the storm for a concert that was hastily adjourned – she could still picture the string players diving for cover to save their instruments – just before the chairs whirled away like flies, then by entire rows like swarms of flies, rising into the trees while the trees were still standing. Choked with emotion, I stood for a long while amidst the devastation. Down below, in a grassy hollow filled with tree stumps, I saw the ruin of a greenhouse, crushed and shattered by a fallen sycamore. An old man with a big dog came walking up through the drizzly grey June afternoon, making his way through the gaps in Düsseldorf’s devastation, marked off with red and white tape. “I was seven,” he called over to me. “I used to go walking here with my father!”
Translation: Isabel Fargo Cole
Photo: The Düsseldorfer State Parliament on June 10, 2014
Video: Posted by “Homeboykoree”, a clip that touchingly moves from wisecracks to consternation, spiked, for good reason, with completely appropriate “foul language” – I post the link quite deliberately. MB