Peacock Island

On our first day back in Berlin in May 2008, Helen and I resolved to see some of the city’s famous sites.  We took the city bus tour, listening to an English lanugage tape while chugging past noted buildings and monuments.  On the morning of the second day we went by taxi to the Schloss Charlottenburg.  The castle had a northern feel to me, unlike the heavy opulence I’d seen in Italy or Spain.  We wandered up and down impressive stairways and through many sunlit rooms, then ended in the Schloss gift shop.  Helen bought a booklet about Checkpoint Charlie while I browsed through a rack of pamphlets.  I spied one entitled “Pfauen Insel,” Peacock Island and took it from the rack, transfixed by the name. It brought to mind a line from one of my father’s poems, “Erinnerungen” (Memories). This poem was one of some twenty that I had translated into English in 1999, as a small homage to him on the 100th anniversary of his birth. 

The poem, written in New York,  described several places from his youth in Berlin, and mentions a particular smell he remembers from the Pfauen Insel.  I couldn’t remember the German word for the smell, nor even my translation, only that the connotation sounded unpleasant.  All at once, I was curious and wanted to see the Island.  I bought the pamphlet and later that day spoke to my cousin Barbara about it.  She was enthusiastic, saying that a trip to the Pfauen Insel would make a delightful outing for us.  We set the date for two days later.

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