It was a fight to the end. I stood in a timeless place; a motionless place. Around me, all stilled; the air, time and space. In my heart, there was a darkness, which slowly crept and moved, stealthily, gaining with every breath. What would be, what could not be? I lost this fight, I lost it. The swings went back and forth, pushed by the wind, the noise started, getting louder, that persistent climb into consciousness I tried so hard to deny. It wasn’t reasonable to suppose this time the steps would reach the same conclusion. It wasn’t reasonable to put myself in someone else’s hand. It wasn’t reasonable to depend, to repent, to scream out loud, to make this noise. It wasn’t reasonable to have those dreams. Surrounded by the crowds, drowning in the sounds of the carnival; laughter, the smell of fresh popcorn; the clink of glasses coming together; the rising swell of music as I leave, leave it all behind. Leaving the garishness, the bright lights, the mockery, the life I lived; leaving it all behind; every single step, every minute resolve, strengthening; there is not a shadow of a doubt in my heart. There is not a suspicion or a dark cloud blighting my horizon. The way is clear, the path is drawn and behind me I’ve left shards, shards and blades and stones; each one has a face, each one has the face of my fears- all left behind, suspended, halted, contained. Notice my footsteps, notice my breath. Notice, my decision. Finally, I’m free.
I took the night train to nowhere. And I arrived in Freiburg, the city I came to, the place that lived in my dreams. The first time I set foot in this town in the middle of the Black Forest, I got lost on my way between the University and the Hauptbahnof (central station). They are less than a kilometer away from each other. It was my first landing in Europe, my first day in a new world. From Lahore, where I never walked, where I couldn’t walk; everywhere I went, I drove. Where the heat was too much, the people even more and the world different in its entirety. But now, I was here. Dear old Freiburg… If you were my love, I’d tell you I miss you. They said I would and I didn’t believe them. The last day I was there, the sky gleamed gold like the hilt of a royal sword. It was a clear, gleaming gold; in it reflected every single day I had spent in this place; in it reflected every memory, tiresome, old, lover-like, happy, wicked, sorrowful and joyous- in it reflected every single day of my life so far. For a moment, as I walked on the trails I will now remember forever, for this moment I thought it was a dream. And I was afraid I’d wake up.
That night by the lake, when the fireworks lit up the sky like a thousand fairies; walking in the tall grass, drunk, stumbling and laughing; those days, when summer had started to whisper sweet words of hope; the cool evenings; bulbs illuminating the graveled streets; the footfalls as we ran after the trams before the last ones left. Those were the footsteps of my freedom; it was my dance in the rain; it was the first glimpse into a new world of magic I couldn’t predict would affect me this way. It was the expression of my belonging; it was the start of a life I never thought I’d have.
A smell of coal and fire hangs in the air even now. Summer is approaching in Freiburg; people litter the streets, in their shorts, their caps, their backpacks. Some are casual walkers, some are climbers. The children run, trailing their little wooden boats in the Bächle (canals) behind them. The world is different when I look at it from the top of the Schlossberg; Freiburg shines and glimmers and beckons. The Münster watches over everything; the homes with their wooden windowsills; the shops with their hustle and bustle; the old facade standing proud, right where it belongs, at the center of everything, in the middle, like a throbbing and pulsing heart, giving power to all surrounding it.
In the morning I leave, like many do. Freiburg’s always been like a train station, the station where you get off only to take the next train. Life takes you places; you arrive in Freiburg and everything is a bit of magic, a bit of luck. You make friends and these friends become your family. You make a home for a couple of years; you learn to live, you learn to love; you work hard and you take your happiness and grief in stride; things change, they always do and time is but one step forward in the steps of life. And the ones who come after me, and the ones who stayed behind, I will tell them all how much I miss it.
It was a festival of lights, of laughter. It was a celebration of friendship, of love. It was where the lovers met and the crowds cheered. There was smoke and there was fire. There was an onslaught of cold wind but no one gave up. There were echoes in the arena, there were blasts and bangs and booms. The lights popped and flashed. There were drinks and long walks. It was easy to hide among those people. I was nobody, lost in a reality I didn’t wholly own. Behind that laughter, there were tears. Behind the cheering faces, there was truth and the truth was sadness, the truth was loneliness. On the journey on a stolen pathway, there was no one, there was emptiness.
A foreboding sky hung in its entirety, threatening a storm, threatening rain. People began to disappear, one by one, the crowd grew thin. The rides were rolled away, the stalls closed down, lights went out, slow and steady; one, two, three… Then all. A darkness descended. The sounds of the storm grew louder, the lightning glowed from afar, the shadows thickened. It didn’t last but it ended; the laughter only ghostly, only in my memory. Everything stopped. Trapped in time, I stood while everything went still around me. It was yesterday and it was today. No time ruled here, no hours passed. There was stillness as the images flashed and burned; opening and closing; rushing in and rushing out. It was only alive in my dreams, and the rest was gone; time had frozen and the rest was gone.
There was a place we used to go. Midnight, the stars were out, strewn like gems into the darkness. The gods had been busy. Late night, a slight cold swept over me. Behind the misted windows, I could hear laughter. A little wistful, as if I too wanted to laugh, I moved closer. Moving silhouettes, the crack of a door opening, sharp, a chord, a bass filtered out, touching the air, making me smile.
Flashback. Fast forward. Today or tomorrow. I no longer knew. Whose face and whose touch? Who smiled and who let go of the sorrow? It was the night we spent, the night we loved. It was the whisper of the sheets, the footfalls, it was the scent in the wind. It was a conversation, a kiss forgotten. It was the smile, taken, taken away from me.
So we sat all night. We spoke all night. The dew from the grass soaking through my dress. The stars came down, I swear I saw them, they came down, they drenched me in magic, drenched me in sorrow. What of the past, what of the future?
My two years in Freiburg are almost over and I’m (finally) moving to another city, I decided to make some Freiburg posters from my collection of photos! Here are a couple of posters of the Stühlinger bridge, or more commonly what we call ‘the blue bridge’. You get an almost symmetrical view of Stühlinger Church from here (something Wes Anderson would be proud of). Yes, I did some Photoshopped coloring- trying to go for the ethereal look; this place does hold a special place in my life!
Here it is from another angle; beautifully lit up as evening falls…
This is a picture of one of the first places I went to in Freiburg, a town at the southern border of Germany. It’s also one of the first pictures I took when I toured around for the first time, incidentally, I was also lost. Now I pass it almost every other day because it is right in the center of the old city center.