by Natasha Anderson
It is a city cradled by hills, golden sunlight sliding down the wooded slopes cresting like emerald waves toward the horizon. A single band of sapphire, the Neckar, winds its way through the center. Sun-kissed southern Germany. Land der Dichter und Denker. Country of Poets and Philosophers. Standing still and strong, a water-worn stone submerged in the river of time.
Once home, now nothing more than a city across the sea, swept away as my life rolls on like the never-resting waves. Everything from the familiar past now lies forever beyond my grasp. But its legacy still lives on, within me, through the dewdrops of remembrance caught in the spider’s web of my mind. Through the kaleidoscope of recollections swirling before my inner eye. Through the ceaseless, circular stream of seasons. The images glisten and sparkle, drawing me back with their luster.
Taking me back to the place where I once belonged.
It is a city of life. Spring shivers on the edge of awakening, buds thrusting through the still-cold ground. Grass spears through the last lumps of snow, a viridian victory as the cold retreats. The first notes of birdsong peal through the air like bells, cracking the icy cold into splinters of iridescence. The electrifying hiss of the subway trembles through me as we speed through the sleeping earth like a bolt of lightning. Bursting up into daylight, I breathe in the air like champagne.
It is a city of sweltering summer air captured in a cauldron. Too thick to breathe, suffocating in its intensity. Ice cream melts lavishly across my tongue for a moment of blissful cool. I retreat into the museum to escape the heat filling the streets like molasses. Silent hallways of Altes Schloss, Lindenmuseum, Ebene 0, Kunstgalerie, Landesmuseum. On the central square, back corners, boulevards, everywhere. Castles and chapels of hidden knowledge. Treasure troves. Hushed feet slide across the marble floors, following a whispered voice just up ahead. Vibrant colors and faded secrets on the walls. Crowns and diamond brilliance in glass casks. Ancient eyes stare down at me as I pass under the gallery of kings. Familiar ghosts.
It is a city of the senses. In the marketplace, fruit tickles my nose with its fragrance. Strawberries, oranges, kiwi, plums gleam with jeweled brilliance in the sunlight. Bees buzz in the honeyed air, as hypnotized by the scents as I am. The berries burst upon my tongue, fulfilling flavor promises with nectar of honey-golden sunshine. The vendor gives me a smile and a laugh that I carry with me long after.
It is a city of joy. I remember standing on the Karlshöhe, rising like an emerald crown from the surrounding streets. The small forest is full of dreamers sitting on lonely park benches, families hauling strollers up the slope, joggers outdistancing the clouds of sweat they leave behind. Birds, flits of color, weave through the rustling green canopy alive with dappled shadows and sparks of sunlight. Sneakers crunch over gravel as a soccer ball shoots toward the azure sky, joyous shouts rising high. Standing at the peak, I can see the glass spires of the city sloping away from me.
It is a city of loneliness. Concrete canyons echo the snarl and roar of cars speeding past. Porsche, Mercedes let loose on their asphalt hunting grounds like wolves of glittering steel. Icy wind rips through the bare-bone branches of trees, burning colors already bleached away. Now only naked skeletons robbed of their fiery fury. Autumn leaves drift down in spirals, not ready to let go of their home yet. They hit the cold earth like broken butterflies, without a sound. Huddled forms of the homeless lie forgotten in empty doorways. Wrapped in lumpy cloth cocoons, they wait to be reborn.
It is a city of motion. I walk the crowded streets, only a drop of color in a surging ocean, a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds. A thousand tongues, pulsating with breath, whisk the air with their words. Rain peppers down, sliding down the back of my neck in icy shivers no matter how high I pull my coat. My feet ache against the asphalt speckled with faded gum long since merged with the cracked stone. Already the third pair of shoes that I have worn through by racing across these petrified plains. Backpack cutting into my shoulder blades, air slicing through my lungs like a dagger as I dash to class.
It is a city of knowledge. The university, twin towers stretching high above the tides of students. Wavering sunlight through a break in the lead-gray sky ripples like water across the countless windows. Inside, my feet squeak across the linoleum floor, too loud for the library. The printer churns out papers still wet with new ink like a thunderstorm, lightning flashes from the copy machine making me wince. I duck down, hoping to blend in with the shelves surrounding me. Cinnamon scent wafts out from the books already crumbling to dust. Secrets fill the air in whispered languages: Latin, Greek, German, English. A thousand lives press in on me.
It is a city of cold. As the nights turn icy, I wrap coat, scarf, gloves around me, pull on boots to hurry after my family across mirror-smooth cobblestones. We climb the stairs and gratefully enter into the warmth. A restaurant, a glass cube, floating high above the city pulsing with energy. Dinner arrives daintily arranged on ivory-white plates, like savory sculptures on cold clouds. The gentle delight of chocolate melts on my tongue. I gaze out past my shimmering reflection, watching the metropolis watching me.
It is a city of lights, a glittering galaxy of stars fallen at our feet, gently reflecting the midnight heavens above. The colored ecstasy of Christmas trees breathing prickly pine fragrance competes with the warm embrace of gingerbread and hot chocolate just up ahead. The dreamy glow upon the distant clock tower, a sentinel against the encroaching night, is dusted with snow. Now the flakes swirl down thicker, making me lose sight of my companions just up ahead.
And it is gone again, that star-kissed city, forever out of reach. I long to return to the shores of the crystal Neckar, to explore the ever-wakeful streets again. I can’t. Can’t return to that time, that feeling of belonging. But that does not mean it is lost in me. Even as the sun rises and sets with mechanical rhythm, Stuttgart will stay a part of me. It will remain, crystallized in memory, mine forever.
Every season, always home.