At The Bus Stop
By Evelyn Apte
Berlin, May 2012
Can I really write about this? It seems so strange; it went beyond the concepts of another country with another language. It felt like another planet. However, it belongs to and with the other strange experiences which seem to happen to me when I return to Germany. My german is probably better than my hearing, but along the way my anxiety about both seem to go by the way and it all becomes manageable and alright.
So, there I was, on my way to the Jewish Museum in Berlin to partake in the first workshop of the week.
I was still feeling a bit insecure about my l language facility, but even more so about the physical route I was taking. In past years I had taken the S. Bahn. transferred once and then walked through a mainly Turkish neighborhood. I liked the diversity. This time the agent in the train station routed me a different way. She suggested a route by train, followed by the transfer to a bus. I exited the train, found the bus stop and began to wait.
What I did not know was whether I was waiting for a bus in the right direction. Crossing the street I found the stop for the opposite direction. Right at the bus stop was a woman, perhaps in her 70s, in a wheel chair. I queried, in German of course, if this was the right direction for the bus to to Jewish Museum. She nodded in the affirmative. Then she asked me what I was going to be doing there. I told her and she immediately launched into her life story. She had been an infant at the beginning of the war. She was Jewish and she and her mother had gone into hiding using false identity papers. They managed to live in a village near Berlin the entire time. Upon their return to Berlin at the end of the war the same policeman who had passed upon their identity papers earlier told them “you would not be here now if I had known who you really were.”
I have no idea how this woman had spent her life. I have no name, no address, nothing to identify her. I had assumed she was also waiting for the bus. However, it appeared that she was just waiting there—perhaps she lived in an apartment house nearby? Perhaps she was waiting for someone? She said that recently she had begun to be afraid again. Some skinheads had spat upon her a few weeks ago. She had been wearing a star of David which she has not worn since.
The bus came, I got on. She did not. As I got on she thanked me for what I was doing and blew me a kiss. I went, she stayed.
Her story was very powerful for me. I wondered how many more people were still living out their holocaust trauma this way. When I got to the museum I described my encounter to the people in the archives. They did not know of her, but asked that I get her name and contact information if I saw her again. They would see if she needed assistance.
On my way back to my hotel that afternoon I went by the same route hoping to see her at the bus stop again. She was not there. The next day I went by there again. Finally on my 4th and last trip I stopped and went around the nearby apartment house. It was very large. There were concrete wheel chair ramps leading towards an entrance. Perhaps she lived there. Perhaps she did not. Perhaps it had all been a hallucination a hallucination fueled by my brain trying to cope with the experience of once again being back in Germany.