Sunday, August 2, 2009

The World Behind Locked Doors

My husband and I like to explore Hinterhoefe- in English, apartment courtyards- together with our young daughters. Whenever we see the heavy front door of an apartment building propped open we always sneak in and take a look. The surface of the building, whether new-ly renovated and ornamental, or plain and run-down, never gives any clue what might be inside. Most often all we find are trash and recycling containers arranged in a row over a slab of concrete, the windows of the Hinterhof and Seitenfluegel apartments- apartments that are less popular because they are dark and don't have much of a view- overlooking the drabness.

But even these Hinterhoefe sometimes have discoveries to be made: a chestnut or linden tree leaning poetically against an old brick wall still pockmarked with bullet holes; a faded, hand-painted sign from a repair shop that once was there but has long since gone; an old shed covered in cobwebs and coal dust. Other times we find a garden; some well-kept and with a little fish pond, some wild and overgrown, a rain-warped bench half hidden among the weeds. We have also founds lots of office lofts: graphic design firms, schools for martial arts, German, astrology. Once we watched a group of middle-aged couples practice a stiff cha-cha-cha, our daughters asleep in their buggy, until the dance teacher motioned for us to please move on.

I love it when we find a Remise: a fomer coach house with wooden beams crisscrossing its red surface. Some are used for storage: other have been turned into apartments, artist studios, even an award-winning Italian restaurant.

Althought all so different, what the Hinterhoefe we explore all have in common is a certain quietness; the feeling that you have entered a private space, the world behind locked doors.

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