Finally it’s raining. I used to hate the rain, but then I inherited a garden full of hydrangeas. I remember, when I was a kid, Mum would always sigh with relief when the rain started and her standard response to my complaints – I have always complained about the rain – was, ‘oh well, it’s good for the garden.’ I cannot tell you how often I say that, now that my hydrangeas have finally assented to face the sky, as opposed to drooping, sulkily, their wrinkled brown leaves devoid of life. I’ve been researching how to best look after my ten or so hydrangea bushes – some people say prune in winter, some say lop off the fading blooms, some say don’t worry about pruning, some say cut them right back, they can handle it. There’s a science to this gardening, and I am an amateur, figuring out what pops back up and when, what handles the seasons better than others, why German gardens seem to have such a soft spot for the evergreen, unkillable Lorbeer and box shrub.
Late August now, and in the mornings, it seems autumn is trying to muscle in a bit. The last few days have been cool, around 16 degrees, a shock to the system when just last week it was 32. I never rule out a Spätsommer in September, and I really don’t like officially ushering autumn in until October, but the sun is waking up a little later. For me, even more than the temperature, I measure the seasons in light. The endless days of May, June and July are over; in mid-August, they hand the baton over and it seems the days shorten with a suddenness that is surprising every year. I can see the garden slowing down, not that this hot, dry summer ever allowed it tremendous growth. But the leaves are starting to turn and it feels like soon the squirrels will be out and about and the streets full of wet leaves.
I ducked across and down to Berlin a couple of weekends ago, to organise the kids’ passports. I could have turned right back around after the embassy appointment and headed home – it’s only three hours on the train, a lovely bit of quality reading time. Instead, I stayed for a couple of nights. It was nice to be alone, not needed by anyone for anything. Strange, though. Travel since the kids have arrived has changed entirely – I’ve only down it twice without them and it’s lovely and lonely at the same time. I drifted around the city, able to get lost without a worry, duck in and out of shops at a whim, be in a silent art gallery for a rather long time. I drank too much wine and had some great hummus with a Mum friend, had a decent curry with an old Münster friend, and much to the disbelief of my air bnb host’s flatmate, had an early-to-bed-and-read Saturday night. But you’re in Berlin, he said. Ja ja, and so I have been and so I will be again. Berlin, for all her brutal beauty, is still a city in which I can sit with a cup of tea and read a book on a Saturday night, even when her inhabitants gasp with the horror of it all.
This weekend just gone, we visited Uroma for Kaffee und Kuchen. I always feel like I come face to face with the fundamentals of it all, whenever we take the kids to the home where Uroma lives. It isn’t that her Heim is any different to others, it is simply that there is such loneliness wherever people at the end gather to wait out their days. All anyone wants to do is talk, connect, however momentarily, with another person. The women sitting in their wheelchairs at the entrance, watching the comings and goings. The man sitting by himself at the table, flagging down whoever’s around with one-liners, to see who’ll take the bait and have a quick chat with him. We’re so busy and young over here, in the middle of it all, our time consumed by small people at the very beginning. I should give more of my time to those at the other end. It’ll be me, soon enough.
We ate cake (Käsekuchen) in the garden while the kids ran around, finding ladybeetles and snail shells and using a Strandkorb as their fire engine. Uroma insisted they ride in her wheelchair and she took her walker. When we left, the two women in the entrance had managed to get the wheels of their wheelchairs stuck alongside each other. As they laughed about it, it became apparent one of them was holding her teeth in her right hand, quite unable to get them back in.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Australia has just ushered in its fifth Prime Minister since I left in July of 2010. So that’s five Prime Ministers in eight years, and it feels strange to watch it all from afar. I don’t have a say in what goes on here, in Germany, and I don’t have a say in what goes on there, in Australia. I have more of a vested interest in what happens here, because it’s where I am raising my children and where I own a house and where I pay my taxes. But my interest in what happens in the country of my birth, of my citizenship, is inbuilt, ingrained, innate – and, of course, self-serving. Australia is the country of which I am a citizen and could return to at any time – my children, too. This suspension, however, between two places, has taught me to have my say in other ways. My job here is with students and how I teach is my say. How I raise my children is my say. How I write is my say.
Late August and the last of the summer heat and light is slowly fading, a new season soon upon us.