Around this time last year, I watched SHANGHAI EXPRESS, which I had never seen before. Like pretty much everyone who ever laid eyes on Marlene Dietrich, I thought to myself: “That woman sure does have some cheekbones on her.”

Sternberg knew exactly what he was doing when he lit her face:

After the movie ended, I of course realized I’d fallen in love with her. I knew she was from Berlin, so I decided to look up where she was born and where they had ultimately committed her to the deep. There in the dark, I was surprised to find out that not only had she been born in a house in the same neighborhood where I lived, but she was also buried nearby. And so with nothing else to do with my life, I decided I would wake up the next day and pay her a visit.

This was in late April, and the weather had just gotten real nice, almost summer-like. After I’d painted myself with sunscreen, I went down to the street and pointed my body in the direction of Städtischer Friedhof III cemetery and got to walking. Most of the 40-minute walk there was familiar to me since it constituted the area where I spent most of my time. However, the area around her cemetery was especially beautiful . . . it was quiet and forested and felt like a secret place. I walked through the gate and was inside the place. There were a handful of people there, mostly older people who were tending to the graves of their loved ones. In Germany, family members regularly visit cemeteries and take care of the plots there. Or anyway, that’s my perception of it. They even have their own watering cans there, which I had seen my first winter in Berlin:

Back in April 2023, in the Here and Now, I knew right away that I was the only person there to see Marlene Dietrich, and so did everyone else in the cemetery. Well, I thought, I have good intentions, so what difference does it make? I’d read she was buried in “Section 34”, but I took my time finding it. I walked down the little paths and read the names on the graves. It looked like a pretty nice place to be dead:

And then finally, there it was: the eternal resting place of movie legend Marlene Dietrich. I just happened to walk up on it:

On my walk there, I’d searched everywhere for flowers, but could find none that felt OK to take. And being that it was Sunday, all the stores were closed . . . so I placed a little grape hyacinth upon her grave, which you can see in the bottom left corner of the first picture. I stood there for a while at the foot of her tombstone, which says “Here I stand at the marks of my days.”

An old woman approached me from the left and went to work watering the flowers on the grave next to Marlene’s, which belonged to a woman named Hannelore. I wondered who the woman had been, who had only died a few years ago in 2020, and who must have known for 30 years that she was going to be buried next to one of the greatest actresses of all time. I guess in death we really are equal.

I did one more lap around the cemetery and then departed from a side gate. Rather than retrace my steps, I walked home a different way so that I would walk past the building where Marlene had been born, which is Leberstraße 65 in Schöneberg:

Her plaque says she’s one of the few German actresses who achieved international fame. And despite offers from the Nazi regime, she emigrated to the United States and became an American citizen. In 2002, the city of Berlin posthumously awarded her honorary citizenship. “Thank God I am a Berliner.”

ONE YEAR LATER

. . . I thought about ol Marlene and realized I had only visited that one time, when I had intended to go every few months. So next day I walked back to Städtischer Friedhof III cemetery. It just so happened to be one of the most beautiful days I’d ever seen in Berlin . . . one of those dreamy Sundays in June where there is hardly anyone outside and the city is quiet. Under the shade of many trees I turned a corner and saw a familiar throughway and knew I was close:

I stepped through the iron-wrought gate to a practically deserted cemetery. There were maybe five people total in the whole place. I once again took my time walking around the cemetery . . .

. . . until I found her grave:

A mother and her little kid were passing by, and they stopped and stood beside me when they reached Marelene’s grave. The mother said, “Ahh, es ist Marelene . . .” with affection, and kept walking.

I stayed there for a little while. I did not particularly want to be anywhere else just then, and anyway, I figured both Marlene and I could use the company. I found a bench nearby and sat down. Across the way some old dudes were talking. I could tell they had just happened to run into each other at the cemetery. I thought that was nice.

When I felt it was time to go, I announced to the cemetery and the dead which were buried in it that I would return soon, and then departed. I walked the mile and a half home to my fortified compound and climbed the high tower where, not unlike death itself, I am cursed to wander around aimlessly in the dark.

There’s just one thing: how can I make a compact with the earth ever-more? I don’t kiss the earth, I don’t tear open her bosom; what should I do, become a peasant or a shepherd? I keep going, and I don’t know: have I gotten into stench and shame, or into light and joy? That’s the whole trouble, because everything on earth is a riddle. And whenever I happened to sink into the deepest, the very deepest shame of depravity (and that’s all I ever happened to do), I always read that poem about Ceres and man. Did it set me right? Never! Because I’m a Karamazov. Because when I fall into the abyss, I go straight into it, head down and heels up, and I’m even pleased that I’m falling in just such a humiliating position, and for me I find it beautiful. And so in that very shame I suddenly begin a hymn. Let me be cursed, let me be base and vile, but let me also kiss the hem of that garment in which my God is clothed; let me be following the devil at the same time, but still I am also your son, Lord, and I love you, and I feel a joy without which the world cannot stand and be.

you do me wrong to take me out o’ th’ grave. thou art a soul in bliss; but i am bound upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears do scald like molten lead lol

‘the fall of the rebel angels’ by frans floris

this painting is in the royal museum of fine arts in antwerp . . . i’m gonna go see it this summer when i’m housesitting in brussels

listen: i love fallen angel art, ok?

to wit:

once, a long time ago now, a reader sent me a book of gustave doré’s etchings from DANTE’S INFERNO . . . these PARADISE LOST etchings are equally good. i love that guy!

just fyi to all my hater’s out there: this is my hot girlfriend (nonexistent) and me (insane loser) aka “the sweetest boy” 😎