As I sit in my flat hearing the winter winds tearing over Dublin with gusts of rain, bringing the pleasant smell of ocean and moist country side, I am listening to a record which I picked up Saturday in a small hidden used bookshop that also sells used vinyls. Its now spinning on my old Marantz 6100, which has been with me since my early student days and the songs playing have touched me that there is no way that I can concentrate on what I should be reading.
Actually I picked up an LP which took me back 7 years in one instance. Yepp music can do this. Like a skipping record it jumped instantly back to a song I was listening up and down at that time, which brought up vivid memories of a warm summer day from back then…
The memory is nothing special, it doesn’t entice stories of graphic eroticism or nudity, its rather a tale of a subtle melody that encompassed me back then.
It was summer a perfect summer in Berlin. The World Cup was happening in Germany and there was a constant positive vibe in the air of Public Viewings, skipping classes at Uni to catch a game and hang out on the lawn with the mates, kicking back a beer or two. Even the professors came in dressed in fan gear and broke up the lectures early if an important game was on. And to top it all off Berlin saw a wonderful summer, the way they only happen every few years. These wonderfully exceptional summers start early in the year bringing a warm May, mild nights and wonderful sunny days. Low humidity that picks up towards the end of the month and then melts into a dry and arid June and July, only to be cooled off by the occasional summer storms, crashing in with thunder and bringing relief to the dusty capital.
If I wasn’t spending my time in lectures, reading in the library or playing with my band in a musty cellar, I spent about 10 hours a week earning a bit of money, working in an obscure and dusty department at the university. It was hidden on the second floor off the beaten track in the middle of the Philological wing. Not many students strayed here except if they knew what they were looking for.
It dubbed itself the SLZ (SprachenselbstLernZentrum) which would roughly translate to Language Self Teaching Center. We had ancient workstations which kept crashing and needed my constant attention to keep them up and running, meter long shelves filled with obscure dusty foreign language VHS cassettes and some flickery TVs with crumbling headphones to assist students in getting the tapes mangled in the VHS players, stacks of language teaching books with audio cassettes. All in all in was lovably outdated and turned into a sauna in the summers, as it was right under a flat tin roof.
We were about 9 students that kept this center running during the week from 7:30 till around 8 p.m. The visitors we saw were either some that must have seen this center open or got directed here by one or the other language professor to pick up a assignment sheet or fill out an Erasmus sheet. Apart from making sure no one nicked a VHS cassette or one of the rare CDs, we had a smelly copier room one level lower where we printed all the handouts for the professors from the adjoining departments and ensured that all rooms of the language departments were locked up in the evenings and all windows were shut.
I can still smell the stale carpets and feel the warm and sticky air when I went on one of the key rounds in the evenings. Its a distinct slightly sweet smell, emanating from the carpets, the wooden chairs and heavily consumed air. All in all it was magic and one of the best jobs I must have had.
I loved the key rounds in the evening. Walking from room to room, along the dark and empty hallways, checking each room if the windows were closed and the sponges in the right place. Looking out into the inner park which during the day would be crowded by students reading, talking and socializing but in the evenings gave way to a family of chipmunks and a few birds that would enjoy picking at the leftover crumbs they could easily find. I could hear the chirping and watch them from the empty classrooms for longer than necessary.
I don’t remember exactly what game it was I was missing (I think it could have been Brazil playing someone, so it must have been some time in June) while I had passed another three hours of my shift in the sticky SLZ together with two customers in total, as the sun was shining, football was on and really, who would want to study for a oral pronunciation exam right now? I waited till they left, fished out my mp3 player, that I had just loaded up with the newest Alternative Rock sampler (which I was heavily into at that time) and made my way to lock up. I plugged in my earphones, locked the door and walked down the shady hallway to make my way to the first of the class rooms.
I flip the record over to side B and stop for a second, listening to the blast of wind howling past my window. The lights of Dublin stretch away and the yellow subdued lights of Dublin’s streetlamps flicker in the lat January storm. I gently lower the needle and with the first few guitar plucks radiating from the speaker I drop back through time…
…the second song in the playlist is Death Cab for Cutie – I will follow you into the Dark a very melancholy tune which hits the nerve of the moment. Its more the melody, the soft and quietly strummed guitar, less the dramatic vocals that stop me in my track. For the last few weeks I have been floating on thin air, not just because of the football but due to the tingling that has encompassed every waking moment and accompanies me before I go to sleep and even after that. I have found something so utterly unexpected at the moment and too good to be true. …Yet in hindsight so fragile… The song keeps bouncing around my head, the sticky air in the classrooms. I sit on a table in an empty classroom watching the peaceful scene of the deserted courtyard. Minutes drag by as Death Cab for Cutie are in replay loop singing of Love beyond the grave for the nth time. Its just a good recording and fits a mellow summer evening. I go out and lock the door. Only three classrooms left. Oblivious to my surroundings, isolated by the music, I turn around a corner and bump into a group of female students. There’s about four of them and my heart skips a beat, as I realize that she is there too. She recognizes me and grins, I – as usually- become flustered for words and don’t notice that I’m being talked to as I still have my earbuds in. I sort of take them out and its nothing special but she just says that she is of with the girls to watch the game and would I care to join them later? …I can’t remember who “they” were or how many of them there were, I just remember her…
I have plans for meeting up with my mates later and for some strange reason that is the first thing that comes to mind, plus as nervous as I feel, I wouldn’t know how to hold myself in her presence with all these girls. I try to make it sound sad that I can’t come, I really would like to but alas the rooms wait and I have to meet up with friends. The other girls have already tagged ahead a bit leaving me with her alone in the hall. She just smiles and waves and says that its ok and we’ll meet up soon, rushing to catch up with her friends. And with that she is gone. No hug, no kiss or any magic.
I stand in the hallway with the melody still coming from my headphones on repeat and watch them walk away laughing about one joke or the other. It doesn’t matter. I smile as I listen to Death Cab for Cutie again. The twilight and the the warmth of the sticky hall surround me, with that distinct sweet smell of old carpets, mixed with old books and summer. It was summer, a perfect summer in Berlin…