Say, "No," to the award? Of course. He had to. But how
could he say "No," when everything he'd worked on for
so long was going to be recognized? Hans folded the
letter and put it back in its envelope, then took it
out again, read it, folded it and put it back. Who was
this Dr. Hans Jacob Friedlander anyway? And who were
these people, from what international society, who
wanted to honor him, honor him for his work, honor him
for his work, in Hamburg, in Hamburg at their next
"You have to go, Hans. You know that. It's been more
than sixty years. This Germany isn't the same Germany.
And this Hamburg isn't the same Hamburg."
"I know that, Alan. But I've never gone back,
never wanted to go back."
"Maybe there will be some kind of healing."
When Alan, his partner of twenty-two years, said that,
Hans crumpled the letter of invitation into a ball and
hurled it across the table. "Fuck healing!" he
shouted. But lopsided, the paper ball never reached
Alan. It fell into the pot of soup in the middle of
the table. The two of them burst out laughing.
"Only if you'll go with me."
"Only. You think I'd miss this? I paid for your Ph.D.
and you owe me big time for every one of your books.
I've been a book widow. Half that award is mine."
Bundled in scarves, gloves, coats, they walked down a
wide street, side by side. Hans couldn't get over it.
Swarms of Turkish men streamed past, arm in arm, and
then a cluster of students, clutching their books,
most of them white, German, but three of them African,
laughing and jabbering away in fluent German, a
language he hadn't spoken since he and his family
arrived in the United States in 1941.
Watching Hans watch them, Alan turned to him and
said, "See, this isn't the Germany you left, is it?"
"No, not them. And everyone is so friendly, so nice.
Nicer than in New York. But whenever someone goes by
who's German and older than I am, I wonder if they
were a Nazi, or married to one. And if it's someone
our age I wonder if their parents were. And if they're
younger, their grandparents, or their great-grand
parents." Said with white puffs of breath before his
face. "And yet, it feels right being back here. Like
I'm some hardly old plant, some weed they couldn't
The streets were crowded, but they felt familiar to
Hans. Not familiar to him because he remembered them
from his childhood, but familiar because they were
very like New York. People were wearing the same
clothing that they saw the day before on Fifth Avenue.
In store windows, and some of the stores were the same
stores, he and Alan saw the same items for sale that
they saw in Soho, Chelsea, their Upper West Side
"Do you recognize anything?"
"The guide book says this entire section of the city
was bombed and destroyed. It was all rebuilt after the
"I was eight when we left. There's so little that I
remember. And even if it wasn't all new, I'm not sure
that I'd recognize anything."
Store fronts. Cafés. A music shop, the CD's
in the window all familiar, American. A Chinese
restaurant, and then a Thai one.
"This isn't the Hamburg I knew."
"Where was your house, Hans?"
"It was destroyed. After the war, a German friend of
my sister Ilsa found us through the Red Cross and
wrote us a letter. We were still living with my Uncle
Otto. Ilsa read the letter out loud to all of us,
sitting in the living room after dinner. I don't
remember her friend's name, but she let us know that
our entire neighborhood had been leveled. She went on
to say how terrible things were, how poor they had all
become. And then she asked Ilsa if we could send them
"What did Ilsa do?"
Hans grinned. "It was the first time I'd ever heard
her curse, in English or German. 'That Nazi bitch,'
she hissed, ripping the letter into tiny little
"Did she write her back?"
They kept walking, two older man in dark heavy winter
coats, one a fashion photographer, the other a noted
psychiatrist. But on that brisk December day in
Hamburg, they were any two men, one slightly older
than the other, stooped, stopping to look in store
windows, look up at the bright clear sky, at the
crowds they passed through. They walked for twenty
minutes, and stopped again, for lunch, in a flashy
Vietnamese place, as foreign from the Hamburg of
Hans's boyhood as they could find. Then, rested and
well fed, they bundled up and went out walking again. The
conference began the following morning and they had
all day to explore the city.
They turned a corner, just like every other corner
they'd passed. Cars, trucks, people. Hans froze. At
the far end of the street was a church. Brick. Its
pointed steeple was oddly shaped. Hans clutched Alan's
arm. His face had gone pale. "I remember that. That
was the church Greta our maid used to go to. When my
parents were out of town she would sometimes take Ilsa
and Werner and me with her, as long as we promised not
to tell them. And around the corner, not very far from
here, was the train station."
Alan pulled out the guidebook from his inside jacket
pocket, pulled off one glove, and unfolded the map
"Train station? Is this it, bahnhof?"
Hans nodded, his lower lip quivering.
"It's up ahead, and to the right? Do you want to go?"
He nodded and the two of them, slowly, side by side,
arms linked, walked up the block and turned right at
"This plaza. It's different. And those banners. But
that, and that," Hans said, pointing, "are exactly the
same." They walked toward the front of the station.
Food vendors, most of them Turkish, were selling
pretzels and shish kebab on wooden skewers. The ground
was littered with napkins and small greasy paper
"We left from here. That very last day. But it was
spring then. They put us in a sealed train, with all
the windows painted over. Only Jews. We weren't
allowed to open the windows, and when we made stops,
none of us were allowed to get out. We rode all the
way through France, then Spain. It was only when we
got to Lisbon that--" Hans stammered. The rest of his
words caught in his throat.
A large white bus with high tinted windows pulled up
behind them and a stream of Japanese tourists flooded
out, all of them with cameras hanging around their
necks. And the vendors were yelling. And the tourists'
cameras were clicking. And Alan was flipping through
pages in the tour guide. And the sun was shining in a
cloudless sky, warm but unable to cut through the icy
cold. And a smiling couple, young girl and boy, rang
the bells on their tandem bicycle as they snaked their
way through the crowd. And the multi-colored banners,
pink, yellow, chartreuse, aqua, that hung from the
train station, fluttered in the wind. But all that
Alan saw were the banners of 1941 flapping, black and
white and red, with giant swastikas.