Karl Gustav Necker sat in the shabby cafe, gazing through the hole he had rubbed in the steam on the window, gazing at where the wall had been, at where the wall should be. He sighed.
“Hey, Professor.” The young man called as he bustled through the door in a flurry of snowflakes and made his way to Karl’s table. “Back again already?” He looked expectantly at the older man. “Well? Tell me about your adventures in the Golden West.”
Karl mopped his receding brow with a large handkerchief. It is really very hot in here he thought. The snow on the young man’s overcoat had already melted leaving wet patches on his shoulders. He realised he was stalling.
“Well, Manfred,” he began, “I came home, didn’t I? That should tell you something. There are not a lot of jobs for ex dissidents. A few years ago I would have been feted as a defecting Professor, now I’m just a greedy Ostlander come to rob the hardworking burghers of their booty!”
“But surely they realise.” Manfred was indignant. “Without people like you, there would have been no reunification. Without you,” he gestured towards the window, “the wall would still be there!”
“Some of them wish it still was. Ein Reich, Ein Volk, It made a fine political slogan but although we may be one State we are no longer one people. Let’s face it, Manfred, we are now the poor relations. Socially we are one step higher than a Turkish factory hand. Though the Turk would dispute that, at least he has a job!” Karl drained the last of his now cold coffee and looked at the dregs at the bottom of the chipped mug; anywhere but the face of his dismayed disciple.
He remembered the heady days of their dissidence: the plotting and scheming, the secret meetings in places like this, the suspicion of a strange face for fear he might be STASI and the even greater fear of betrayal by a trusted friend. Those were the days, he thought, the years at the university, carefully sounding out fellow staff and students. Overcoming fear and suspicion, his own as well as theirs. It had spiced up the rather dull life in the DDR with all the magic of a lottery ticket. What will you do when you win. The Daydreams. And now. What now?
Manfred broke the silence “When we heard you were back, we organised a meeting, the old group. They sent me to tell you. We thought you’d be here. I brought the resolution he fumbled in an inner pocket and produced a crumpled piece of paper and read “’We, the members of Liberation, invite our honoured guide and mentor, Professor Karl Necker to celebrate the Third Anniversary of the Destruction of the Berlin Wall.’ It was unanimous.” he added, and handed the paper to Necker who regarded it numbly, noting the irony of the fact that the proposed venue was a very modest restaurant in glitzy West Berlin. This cafe, the scene of many a clandestine meeting, was no longer grand enough for would be Yuppies. Poor old Ernst, the proprietor, had lost customers to the West and managed now on workmen’s lunches and the carefully conserved coffees of penniless students. To enjoy the warmth of the cafe, a student would make a coffee fast all morning.
“I don’t know whether I can come.” Necker was evasive.
Manfred noted the professor’s frayed cuffs and seedy appearance. He blushed with embarrassment. “You would be our guest, of course, It is all paid for: food, drinks, the lot. We had a collection.” he didn’t look Necker in the eye.
At the talk of food, Necker’s stomach rumbled in protest, reminding him that it had had little other than coffee since early that morning. He thought longingly of a good hot meal, possibly a beer. Then there was the adulation of his former students. Young people who regarded him as a person of importance. They would not see him as an out of work academic, a useless begging Ostlander. For the first time since his return, he felt once more at home.
“You are very persuasive,” he said, “What time do we eat, I mean meet?”
“If we leave now we should be in good time. Here’s to a wonderful evening. Prosit!” Manfred raised his coffee cup.
“Prosit!” said Karl Nekker, raising his. It was empty. But that is symbolic, he thought, I have nothing to offer them now.”
The two men went out into the snow.
H.St.V.Beechey Sept. 1993