Her name was Maria, and I wished she'd have a better name. She had on a long black skirt, a dark red coat and red hair in a braid, and spoke English in a cold monotone. She was as distant as Andromeda to me, and I got the feeling that she was not warm to anyone, in this schoolteacher's home in Lower Saxony
, in the first week of December.
"I asked you what time it was."she said. "I forgot…you're not German."
I took that to mean a compliment.
This is storybook country here, in a literal sense: in some ways like southwestern Connecticut, as seen from a train window, the woods look like someone planted them-- all birches and evergreens, there's hardly any dead leaves and every little town has a name that conjures a story. Bremen, free port of animal fame, Lunenberg, City of Salt. The European diaspora passed through these towns, giving their memories to the Republic: goodbye Buchhold, hello Altona, to be anglicized into Altoona, a name that resonates with the American West. Every town has a story, whether old, new, sad or sweet.We went out to the Reeperbahn. Everyone who goes there talks about the legalized prostitution. At least all the foreign men do. The locals go there for the amusement park, the fast food places, and the bars and clubs.
I could have been stepping back a century. I'd seen this club before, these walls and these booths, taken from Otto Dix or George Grosz, the warm earth tones and the splashes of red and white. I'd seen these faces, the sea of mostly white, with only hair to distinguish them. I'd seen the black and red zigzag flooring and the worn bar, and we walked to a booth.
The DJ played techno. The Anons put on their masks, and spasmed with the others, who wore all black.
And then, Maria, still as distant as Andromeda, took up the hands of a black-clad gentleman near her…They danced. Ballroom-style. The Hesitation. To techno.
And it was then that the timeframes really melted. She was liquid, gliding under his lead, her hair and outfit seamlessly blending into the background in a way that you'd never see in America. He looked predatory, yet with a certain charm…they collapsed onto a booth, and proceeded to carry on. It went a lot further than I've ever seen anyone do in public anywhere in America including a back room in the disco era. Really. And nobody even turned a hair..
And then, it was over. She buttoned her blouse, straightened her hat, and sat down next to me.
I was speechless.
America, I hear, had the personal automobile, apartments for singles…Ian Fleming had gone through here and reported that the private balls held by the city's elite were stellar...
How could I say that I'd just been to a Weimar-era night club, partied with an underground resistance movement, and stayed with an amazing local family…I'd out-hipped James Bond!
And as for American night life…we're missing out.