October 2015, Dresden, Germany
We’d arrived from Munich a couple days ago, on the 3rd. The sky loomed low and grey, and a tinge of winter chilled the air. It wasn’t cold enough to keep us indoors, though we were weak and ducked into the Altmarket Starbucks for a chai latte to warm up for an hour or so.
Sufficiently warmed, we wandered north towards the Elbe River. A man was singing opera in the short arcade on the north end of Schloßstraße, and we stopped to listen. He had a beautiful tenor that echoed softly off the curves of the archway. The sound of it made us linger until he finished his song, and I dropped a few euros in his upturned hat as thanks. Then we walked another couple of meters until the sight of the Katolische Hofkirche stopped us again.
Like much of the city, the cathedral was badly damaged in the firebombings and had to be restored. It cut a magnificent silhouette against the darkening sky, though it didn’t turn out so well in my photos. As far back as we were (almost to the river), I could barely fit the whole structure in the frame, even all but lying down on the concrete to get as low an angle as possible. Instead I tried to zoom in for some details: the tower and its spire; the statues of saints perched along the eastern side.
After a few minutes of indulging my amateur photography, we crossed the bridge to explore Inner and Äußere Neustadt. During his Internet perusals back at our rented AirBnB apartment, Jeff had discovered a craft beer shop called Hopfenkult in Äußere Neustadt , so we aimed our Google Maps in its direction. It was in a tiny cobblestone square off from the street, in a building painted bright blue with silver pipes trellised all up its front. They looked like trumpets, bent and warped this way and that. The building opposite was bright yellow, adorned with what looked like giant gold shavings. The bright colors were a pleasant shock after the relative darkness of the rest of the area.
We bought a few bottles of beers and ciders to try back at the apartment, and then stopped by the small tea shop that was in the arcade beneath the yellow-gold building. Then we had dinner.
So it was well dark by the time we started south to return to our week-long home, bags of beer and tea in hand, bellies full of some tasty meal. Probably kebab or curry, knowing us.
We were prevented from crossing the bridge by a throng of demonstrators. Not wanting to get too close, we sat down on some wire mesh benches fifty or so yards away and watched, waiting for them to pass. The longer we sat, the more my feeling of unease ripened. I couldn’t read many of the signs, but there was an image of Angela Merkel with red crossed over her face, and that I understood.
At last the end of the march came in sight, and as it did, I felt an angry heat rise in my cheeks. There was a sign, in English, at the very tail of the line, simple and loud and full of utter contempt.
It felt like someone struck a blow across my face. I reeled, dizzy from the force of it. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run up and take that sign and bash it against the sidewalk, then drown it in the Elbe. Of course I did none of those things. I simply sat and shook and clenched my fists, while Jeff put his arm around me in quiet empathy.
Such thoughtless cruelty in so few words. Such spite, such fear, such ignorance, such unmasked hatred…
I seethed the entire way back to our apartment. I raged in fits and starts, spitting out half-completed thoughts in a rant that chased its tail in circles. That sign unlocked a white-hot anger in me like I’d never known before, a beast with razor wings and heavy claws and gnashing teeth. It beat against my chest and churned my stomach and squeezed its fists around my throat so I could barely breathe or speak.
Back in the apartment I threw off my jacket and paced like a caged animal in the living room.
“How heartless do you have to be?” I bit off the words through a mouthful of angry tears. They weren’t new; I had voiced them hundreds of time on the walk back. But it was all I could think to say, and I repeated it like a mantra, like they would reach the sign-bearer through the fabric of space-time and transform them. “They’re fucking refugees! Don’t you think that’s where they’d rather be than in a country of strangers? Home? They have no home, it was destroyed, or it’s not safe anymore, or both! THAT’S WHY THEY’RE FUCKING CALLED REFUGEES!”