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Our Berlin

Our week in Berlin went by quickly. We had barely begun to explore the stores in the rebuilt and futuristic eastern neighborhoods, and we wanted to see more of Museum Island, especially the Pergamon Museum, with its monumental temples and gates from the ancient world. The kids had found a favorite lunch spot—Berlin's Hard Rock Café, which happened to be directly across from the building where my grandmother grew up. By the end of our stay we were all feeling a little nostalgic, as though my father's erstwhile home were now somehow our own. In the final entry of his trip diary, Nicholas wished we could have "one more day here." At night in our hotel we watched videos the kids had filmed of our boat ride, our visit to the Jewish Museum, and our pilgrimage to Benfey Street, named after my father's great-granduncle, a fairy-tale-collecting linguist and colleague of the Brothers Grimm.

We spent our last day at the zoo, one of Ted's childhood haunts. The best entrance is the chinoiserie Elephant Gate near the shops of the Kurfürstendamm. After visiting the flamingos and panthers, we watched a baby spider monkey learning to jump. He would leap from his mother's arms and try to grasp a low-hanging branch, miss, fall, return to his mother's arms, and jump again. It seemed, in the late-afternoon haze, a fitting image of a child's first perilous steps into the uncertain world. This handsome city had pushed my father out into the world, and without that expulsion and his flight to America, my sons and I would never have been born.

The baby monkey jumped one last time, grasped the branch firmly, and swung back and forth. I could swear that he smiled in triumph.

Christopher Benfey, who teaches literature at Mount Holyoke College, is the author of Degas in New Orleans.


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