June 11, 2012 1 Comment
By Rob Packer
We left Berlin on the knife-edge of a summer’s day. The heat had built up for days and the air had a tang, as if the flap of a butterfly’s wing would bring the summer crashing down.
As we drove south across the plains of Brandenburg and Saxony, the blue skies greyed and between Wittenberg and Leipzig, a curtain of darkness had been drawn across the Autobahn. At some point my mother—this part of the trip was more pilgrimage than holiday for her—had put the ‘Goldberg Variations’ on the car stereo and they were our soundtrack as we drove who knows how many times around Leipzig, asking for directions: they kein Englisch, we kein Deutsch. The butterfly had flapped its wings and the city had become a labyrinth.
Had I understood the butterfly effect then, I would have imagined its wing-flapping in Bosnia. That summer, Bosnia was on all our minds as the war intensified and whispers of the horror of Srebrenica filtered out barely reaching us. Just six years after the end of communism, parts of Europe were tearing themselves apart as we watched powerlessly; peaceful areas seemed—at least from a Westerner’s perspective—part hopeless grey morass, part our continent’s new frontier. To me it also said future: it was the summer before I was to start German and Russian at school which, I imagined, would lead to me discovering my lost Romanian heritage—more about that in this blog—although life ultimately turned out very differently.
Seventeen years later these memories seemed all but disappeared, as I stepped into a honey-scented spring evening at Leipzig’s steel and glass airport and took the train to its enormous shop-filled station. In the centre the next day, memories did start to come back, but more as hazes of remembered images than real memory.