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Pilgrimage to the Source

By David FOENKINOS Sofitel Berlin Gendarmenmarkt

Berlin is an antidote to routine. Divided, demolished, walled in, protected by angels and lindens, Berlin contains all cities. I’d like to marry a woman who is Berlin. Is that why I come here every year with the woman I would so like to marry? But that woman remains eternally wedded to her husband (which seems perfectly logical). Eight years ago, Alice married her dentist, a total aberration in terms of intimacy. She told me that he had made irresistible declarations about the sublime beauty of her molars (to each his arms of seduction). It’s like pulling teeth, the saying goes. Well, he pulled Alice away from me. I knew her already at the time, and it was clear that we were a couple with a future. But she saw things differently. She was having work done on her teeth, and she probably thought it would all be very practical. A
pragmatic atrocity. Before getting married, she wrote me a note:
“Every year my husband goes away for a few days to a dentists’ convention. Those days when he’s away are yours.” And so my love story with Alice would be episodic thanks to an annual dentists’ convention.


Alice has long, straight hair, she loves scrambled eggs and she has a passion for the German cinema renaissance of the 1970s.
Above all, she’s obsessed with Alice in the Cities by Wim Wenders. Maybe it’s her narcissistic side? In fact if I think about it, I realize that she likes everything that has her name in the title:
She likes to be in wonderland, but prefers, simply, Woody Allen’s Alice . We walk for hours in the empty January streets (dentists’ conventions are often in January, which means that to discuss gums they go to Mauritius or Cuba; it could almost make you want to be a dentist; although, no, nothing could really make me want to be a dentist – who would want to spend their life looking at rotting teeth, forever telling people to brush them, bottom to top, then left to right, then diagonally?). But is this digression really appropriate just as I was about to describe our sweet, happy hours in Berlin? So: We stroll, we take in the beauty of transcended destruction, knowing that there’s always somewhere to have Wiener Schnitzel and that we can drink a beer to the chancellor’s health.


Alice and I always stay in the same hotel, the Sofitel, in the heart of Mitte. All the embassies are in that neighborhood, which is quite practical if you lose your passport. And it’s not unusual for women as beautiful as Alice to lose their passports; in fact, that’s how they can be identified. An atrium in the middle of the hotel filters the light, as if to embellish the dream I’m living. In the solarium on the top floor, you can stretch out like at the beach, except that the view is of the Berlin sky rather than the ocean. A bite of a green apple would complete the picture of paradise. We both think of Thomas Mann’s notion that the contemplation of beauty destines one to die. It’s not untrue; leaving Alice when we return to Paris is a small death. This time I had wanted it to be different. I wanted to make a declaration, something tender that would move her, touch her, soften her, but just as the words were about to come out of my mouth, a man of about 60, a fat man –
yes, I must be honest in this story: he was fat – walked across the room, naked. This irruption, perfectly logical in nudist Germany, cut short my attempt at decisive lyricism.

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