I am looking at a map of Regensburg and realising how swiftly one forgets the racing of the heart which results when eyes feast on that little slither of land between Danube and Danube Canal – that jewel of whitewashed houses, others rainbow colours – where I lived close to the bone in the spine of Europe’s greatest river. How swiftly I forgot that the Kanalbrücke’s real name is the Protzenweiherbrücke – and that Fischmarkt leads to Keplerstrasse, the Freibad sits on Lieblstrasse, the Pfaffensteinerbrücke and motorway cuts across the river at the Altstadt’s western edge, the last crossing until Mariaort.
Examining the map elicits other remembrances. The route I used to ride to school, a furious pedal zig-zagging from stone bridge to iron, up Weissgerbergraben, overtaking yellow buses at Arnulfsplatz. Sipping green tea on the street (Rote-Hahnen-Gasse, the map tells me) at Cafe Lila with Julia for the first time, dawdling in the doorway, umbrellas in hand as a May thunderstorm crashed overhead. I clutched warm laptop to chest, fresh from the white shelves and embracing cool of the Bibliothek.
And Christl. Her Germanic softness (not the oxymoron one might imagine) is evoked by her very name. My string of memories form a necklace: Christl baking frisbee-shaped doughnuts in the poky kitchen at Rathausstrasse for Kirchweihe, Christl wearing red tights and matching dress for the entire season of Advent; Christl laughing, writing letters, hanging and folding laundry, typing up depositions, everything in that oh-so-capable way of hers. Christl waiting outside Kaffeelotte on Untere Bachgasse, with Fahrrad. A friend, who met Christl only briefly, remarked to me in the autumn that it must be nice to have such a lovely role model – a strong yet empathetic, kind yet discerning, intelligent yet easily pleased wonderwoman. I wholeheartedly agree.
It is the easy route when I feel sad or discontent, to blame said mood on the Regensburglessness (Regensburglosigkeit?) of my life. Christl wouldn’t. Perhaps my occasional sadness this winter was not a lack of sunlight, a first world sulkiness about my damp ceiling and leaking roof, but a period of mourning for the city I briefly called home. I used to think a return, however brief, would solve all. Alles lösen. In hindsight this was a childish, self-centred train of thought as my happiness belongs all to myself. I – as much as others, as much as a medieval city an der Donau – have the power to make my heart sing. Of course, a large helping (three courses and more) of the blue river and the little island on its back help the knees buckle – but the deep-rooted contentment in my bones, from eyelashes to kneecaps to painted toenails and back again? That responsiblity belongs to me.
And lately I have found (remembered) a lasting recipe of sorts. Morning walks and two cups of milky coffee. Cat by my side. Bare ankles where appropriate. A healthy mixture of academic work, recreational writing, kisses, favourites, fresh fruit and a spoonful of sugar (in chocolate form, please) for good measure. The smallest things – conversely – make me happiest: a sister’s laugh, a cat’s purr, W’s long eyelashes, Mama’s touch, the smiles of others. I wish I had more time to practise writing, but beyond I have little to complain of. Life lately has included a veritable bounty of long walks, fresh air, nice meals and beloved people. I have everything, and more, to be thankful for.
Nonetheless, my heart beats a little faster looking at that map, knowing that next week I will sleep in a bed I know from childhood, in an upright house on a hill north of the river. I cannot wait to eat celebratory gelato (what we’re celebrating is secret) with my favourite and only Austrian roommate, revisit that green tea with Julia (this time on the balcony of her new apartment), walk to meet Caroline at Kuchenbar, cook with Christl and sit drinking Kaffee in my old haunt ten seconds from my old front door. And then hop on a six hour train to Hamburg, just as I did this time one year ago.
P.s. Excuse the clumsiness of my prose, won’t you? I’m out of practice, but trying harder. (How precocious.) Expect dispatches aus Deutschland.