On Ku’damm

I saw her on Kurfurstendamm on Friday. She couldn’t be much older than I am but she seemed smaller, less imposing, in spite of the short black hair, obviously and aggressively dyed, and the blurry black lines around her eyes, a statement, I’d always thought, “I am an Artist”. She’d appeared in my dance studio one day, unannounced, looking for a Brazilian dancer who – the word had already got around – was about to make his Berlin debut in my studio. It was the Eighties. Berlin was in its highly cultured state, a sort of petri dish nourished by infusions of funding from the Federal government.
In those days Berlin attracted all kinds of people: youngsters looking to escape army duty, wannabe artists hoping for funding, established literati and scientists lured to the city by generous grants. They could be seen at lectures, performances, concerts, curious about the cultural life of the island city, and somehow carrying with them an air of impermanence. In conversation they would casually mention Paris, London or New York as they enthused about Berlin. “So much better here for artists” they’d say. They were gone after a month or two, although some stayed a year, a condition of their grant.
Now, almost thirty years after unification, the money was long gone, sunk into redevelopment and most recently, refugee support. Ku’damm was full of foreigners, some refugees, some tourists easily identified by their clothes, their foreignness, their eagerness to see what made Berlin so ‘hot’. But this woman, like me, marched stolidly through the crowds, intent on getting somewhere or other. She didn’t notice me.
What was her name? I’d lost it but not the memory of her eager desire to photograph the exotic dancer- or her attitude. I remember visiting her atelier, full of portraits of artists, photos full of dramatic shadows and sharp contrasts. She seemed, maybe she was, just in from Paris then, or going to Paris the next day. She was that kind of person, dressed in black only with unusual accessories, large jewelry, strange shoes. She was still in black – a large bulky coat, flat shoes, nothing extravagant, no jewelry in sight. – smaller somehow, less insistant in her physical presence.
Is this what happens to the avant garde, the bohemians, I wondered? All the accouterments were eliminated, the arrogance diminished by the years. Perhaps at a cocktail party, or a semi-official reception she would emerge again, a little the worse for wear, just a bit out of touch, without the momentum, the urgency
but present all the same – “immer noch” as the Germans would say – still here.