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Molecule Man, Spree

English translation from German

Molecule Man, Spree

After moving to Berlin in 2015, my father picked me up one day from my shared apartment in his car. Together we drive to the Dong Xuan Center. From Neukölln, we head to Alt-Treptow, then cross the Elsenbrücke to Friedrichshain. As we’re crossing the bridge, my father points out the window at the Molecule Man sculpture on the Spree. “You know it?” he asks. “It’s really famous.”

My father came to what was then Czechoslovakia as a contract worker in October 1987. In 1990, he secretly crosses the border and spends a week in Berlin. He says he wanted to figure out whether to go back to Vietnam or move to Germany. He wanted to see what life was like in Germany. I ask him about his week in Berlin. He tells me that he slept with friends in a hostel for asylum seekers in Spandau. Once there was a police check and he had to hide on the balcony. I ask him if he liked it. “Yes,” he says. “It was really good.” People were free and the stores were full. My father goes back to Czechoslovakia, sends whatever belongings and money he still has to Vietnam, and crosses the border again into Germany. He spends three months in Berlin before moving on to Lower Saxony, where I would eventually grow up.

I cross the bridge often, sometimes on the S-Bahn, sometimes on the bus, sometimes on my bike, and each time I turn sideways and look at Molecule Man, clearly silhouetted against the sky—sometimes gray, sometimes blue, sometimes pink. I think of my father.

Sometimes I forget that my father had lived in Germany for many years before I even existed. Sometimes I forget that he has his own image of this country, and his own experiences and memories tied to all kinds of places.

The Molecule Man has been on the Spree River since 1999. So my father couldn’t have seen him when he visited Berlin for the first time. And yet the Molecule Man reminds me that my father was in Berlin before me—in 1990 for a few months and then for much longer after he moved here in 2012. The Molecule Man reminds me of a moment in our relationship when my father showed me something in a city, in a country where I always saw him as a stranger, a country I always thought was probably more mine than his. Berlin, however, is the city that we both have made and continue making our own, albeit in very different ways, and where we eventually formed a deeper bond with each other. For that I’m grateful to Berlin. When I drive across the bridge and see the Molecule Man, I feel connected to my father, who has also been crossing this bridge for years, who years before me first saw this sculpture towering against the backdrop of the Berlin sky and years later pointed it out to his daughter.