If you’ve ever known that pang of sadness on the longest day of the year or the faintest glimmer of hope on its shortest, this is for you. If you’ve ever pondered cycles and the tricks of the seasons, that too.
It was an early August heat wave. Audrey and I were returning home on bicycles from a late-afternoon-turned-evening gathering with friends, a craft brew and food festival just a few miles away. The sun nearly finished setting. We were just passing the final light of day. Along our path, we approached the western end of Tempelhof Airport, the airfield that was the site of the Berlin airlifts in 1948-49 and had remained open until 2008.
Now it stood empty – but not entirely so, for it had thankfully been turned into a public space, Tempelhof Park. Especially when the weather is fair, people turn out in droves to take it in – to picnic, to create, and to work all manner of wheeled and wind-propelled devices whose enjoyment requires open space.
“Let’s see if we can still get in,” I said to Audrey as she passed alongside me, casting night shadows.
After dark, the airport is usually closed.
But not this time.
We turned our bicycles into a narrow entrance and there was the old airport before us. I rolled over a few chunks of broken tarmac until the wide strip of 9L/27R, its main runway almost 2100 meters long, smoothed ahead of me.
As I peddled faster, I picked my body up and I could feel a gathering rush of warm air. I drank in the summer. Sheets of heat lightning broke high in the darkness, but rain was no threat. All manner of warmth — like a blanket of goodness — washed over me.
Warm days are wonderful, but there’s nothing quite like the weight of a warm night. Anywhere — but here especially — it feels to me like something that maybe shouldn’t be. But when it is, I take it in.
This is joy, pure and unadulterated.
Amidst the runway tar strips, I caught flickers of light from other bicycles. We weren’t the only ones with the idea of enjoying an empty airfield on a warm night. Others were still here. And I wondered if any of them were thinking what I began to think:
A warm wind, once a cool wind.
I could see boyfriends and girlfriends wrapped in blankets, embracing.
I wondered if they’d been there all day long. Friends in t-shirts, long days, the haze of freshly poured beer.
My mind began to wander to so many moments on this runway, through the exchange of seasons. I had experienced Berlin just enough to see and feel each one. Summer to winter, and the in-betweens.
The movement of seasons is something beautiful and complex. It hearkens to death and rebirth. But it’s not so straightforward. It plays tricks. For on the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, we’re told we have the entire summer ahead of us, yet the days will become shorter. On that day, I feel just a little sad amidst all that light. And on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, we’re told we have the entire winter ahead of us, yet the days will become longer. On that day, I feel just a little upbeat amidst all that darkness.
I could see the end of the runway and the little hill that rolls up to the edge of my neighborhood, a cache of life called Schillerkiez.
The seasons would change. And it would be winter once again right on this very spot. And I will feel it then, too. I'll jog these runways and when I do, I'll take in their stillness, the silence, the peace, and the solitude. The cold, the biting wind also. For there’s something oddly beautiful in all that, too.
I might also think back to a warm summer night when I could cycle across it in the dark, with a warm breeze washing over me.
I pulled up off the runway and into the neighborhood. There was great life as people hung out open windows and spilled out from restaurants and bars into the streets. Even from the local Turkish taxi driver men’s club.
I wondered where they all would be several months from now, in winter, at this very moment, at this time of night.
In the change of seasons, there’s a balance, an exchange.
I sometimes wonder what makes us alive. I hope we all do. This wonder gives us a platform for gratitude – for what is, for what was and what remains, in cycles.