I — Keys to past and present appear like guardian angels in surprising forms.
My most recent hieroglyph appeared in the final scenes of "Angels of Desire," a German movie by filmmaker Wim Wenders that I saw at this year's Traverse City Film Festival. I like to go to German films at the festival to see how much I have to read the subtitles to understand the film. Often, though, I come out of the theater with another piece of life's puzzle floating to awareness.
The surprising image was this: A sole apartment building sitting like a seed in the middle of a once bombed-out section of Berlin now cleared for redevelopment. The beginnings of an abstract mural is painted on its outside walls.
"Angels of Desire," was filmed in 1987 in Berlin, my mother's hometown and one of my favorite cities since the year I lived there in the early 1970s while on a newspaper internship.
Every day I had to walk about a mile from my grandmother's apartment building down the Stresemannstrasse past the remaining wall of the old Anhalter Bahnhof rail station, Friedrichstrasse and Checkpoint Charlie to the tall newspaper office building built next to the Berlin Wall.
To this day, the smell of diesel exhaust stirs memories of that walk and images of the first time I saw Berlin in 1957 at age 8. Then, a post-war mountain range of raked-up bricks filled several city blocks near my grandmother's apartment. My brother, 6, and I were not supposed to play in them because they were close to the American/Russian sector border.
When my six-month college internship was over in 1970, I got a menial backstage job at the Schaubuehne am Halleschen Ufer, a half block from my grandmother's apartment. That's howin a fly-on-the-wall sense — met Bruno Ganz, a well-known Swiss actor then and now. Festival-goers may remember him in his role as Hitler in the German movie, "Downfall," a few years ago.
Ganz played the guardian angel who became human in Wender's black-and-white film, which examined philosophical, psychological and spiritual questions at play in post-World War II Germany.
As I watched, I realized that parts of the movie were filmed in my grandmother's section of the city. I remembered my mother's belief in a personal guardian angel that saved her in that war.
I recognized that lone building with the unfinished mural from pictures I have taken of it over the last decade. Today, the whole structure is swaddled in murals and greenery in a vibrant section of the city where my brother and I weren't supposed to play.
I finally understood why I walk through that area whenever I return to Berlin to visit family. It gives me hope.