I remember back in kindergarten… I think I was about seven or eight, and I had a friend, Mirko, who was my best buddy. We used to do everything together, played soccer with the other kids, hide and seek, cowboys and indians, constructing all sorts of stuff in the sandbox, well, you know the deal when children play.
In the backyard, there was this giant old tree that we were actually forbidden to climb, although it would have been easy. Its trunk was wide and its branches were heavy and hanging low. One of those trees that provides a lot of shadow in the summer.
I wonder if it’s still there… Not Mirko, but the tree, that we were forbidden to climb…
Mirko and I, however, always conspired about how we would eventually climb it, secretly, one day, when no one would notice. Had the movie existed back then, I’m sure we would’ve felt like two little Indiana Jones.
One day, during homework hour, I finished early and was allowed to go outside and play, which was a little boring, since everyone else was still inside and there was half an hour left of homework hour. Thirty minutes is an eternity for a child. But after five minutes alone in the sandbox, Mirko came running who had finished his homework, too.
„Come with me, I have an idea!“ he whispered into my ears, very conspiratorially.
Very quietly, we tiptoed through the hall until we reached the nursery (my kindergarten had the nursery for infants from 0 to 24 months, kindergarten, pre-school and school kids). There was the door to the backyard. No one noticed we were there, since it was nap/homework hour.
It was a sunny May day, I think, though I wouldn’t swear on it.
There was the forbidden tree. Its branches were heavy with leaves and the shadow they threw looked really dark and cold.
Mirko and I came closer, and the closer we got, the bigger the tree seemed, the higher the branches.
For an adult, it would have been easy to climb the tree, but for us, it looked like something dangerous – but doable. Once you got the first branch, the rest was easy. Mirko and I exchanged looks and it was clear what we were about to do. We were hesitant, of course, both we had fallen from other trees and hurt ourselves. But this was our tree and we were here together.
„Should we really?“ I asked timidly, thinking about what would happen if we got caught – or fell again. Mirko looked at me for a while and then just said „I dare you.“
Even at seven years, I knew what a dare was, and I knew, that this one I could do.
So I looked up at the branch hanging above me. I couldn’t reach it, not even with my arms raised. But I imagined that jumping up, I might catch it.
It took me three attempts, but then suddenly, my hands touched the branch and grasped it firmly. With my legs walking up against the huge trunk, I managed to hoist my entire body onto that first branch. And from there, the rest was a piece of cake. The other branches we almost like steps leading up, very inviting.
„Come up, Mirko!“ I shouted. „This is so cool and it’s so easy to go higher!“ I climbed onto the second branch while I said that. From there, I looked down to where Mirko was still standing.
„What are you waiting for?“ I asked. Mirko looked very scared and didn’t say anything. I smiled at him and signalled with my hands that he should come up.
„I’m scared!“ he said and looked at me. „Well…“ I replied, „so was I! And you dared me!“ While I wondered if I should double-dare him, he suddenly turned around, said „I’m sorry, I can’t“ and ran away without looking back.
Had I been older, I probably would have said something like „What the fuck!!!“ but since I was that little I just got scared and all of a sudden felt abandoned. My best buddy had challenged me to climb the forbidden tree and then bailed on me because he was afraid??? Seriously???
The ground now seemed very low, or else I was very high, and not in the cool way (that I experienced some fifteen years later) and I didn’t know how to get down and Mirko had left and couldn’t even talk me through it. How unfair, my best buddy was a coward…!
So instead, I climbed a couple of steps more and there, through the leaves, I could suddenly see the Berlin horizon, a little bit of the skyline and a lot of blue sky. And I stopped short and contemplated the view for what seemed an eternity. And my scared tears had dried and there was this big smile on my face as I saw what I had just seen.
I was so lost in this that I almost didn’t notice that down below me, there was Mirko with one of the kindergarten teachers. Mirko still looked scared and the teacher looked pissed, or worried or something.
„You come down here right now!“ the teacher bellowed and I started my descent. Slowly and carefully, step by step, I came down from the forbidden tree.
I will save the sermon she gave me, as a matter of fact, I don’t really recall all of what she said, because I was so taken with Mirko’s face – which was priceless. A mixture of fear and envy, because I, after all, the girl, had dared to take the challenge and he, the boy, chickened out like a wuss.
The only thing I told Mirko was: „You missed out big time!“
And the last thing I remember is: it was worth the sermon and the fear, because I got to see something really really beautiful.