Richard was in the bathroom, trying to get his hair to do something presentable, when he heard someone shouting, in English, from the Hof,
“RECALLED TO LIFE ! RECALLED TO LIFE !”
Having just finished ‘The Tale Of Two Cities’, he instantly recognised the quote, and the speaker could only be Chris.
Sure enough, within seconds, there was the sound of key in lock, the door opening and Chris bounding in, repeating his phrase, with a wide smile.
“Hey, I’m coming, too ! Couldn’t miss Al’s gig.”
They embraced and whooped it up.
“What about work ?” asked Richard, having gone with Monika as she had driven Chris to work in Yorckstrasse, some hours previously.
“I raged against the washing-up machine. I threw down my tea towel, pointed at the head chef and said, ‘fuck you ! I won’t do what you tell me !’”
“Well . . . OK, not exactly. I jumped out the window and legged it.”
“You’re gonna hafta fill me in here, Dude, c’mon, full story.”
“So I’m at work, and it’s Saturday and you’re going out tonight with my girlfriend, not sure how I feel about that, but by the by, everyone’s going to have fun . . . “
“No, we’re going to see Al. Have you heard Al ?”
“A minor point, I’m working and I get sent to get something, I don’t even know what it is, some long piece of meat, about two metres long, who the fuck knows where it comes from, real ‘Naked Lunch’ food. Anyway, I forget what it is I’m going for and I have to ask somebody . . . “
“I hate having to ask somebody.”
“. . . and I completely forget the fucking chef’s name. I know it’s something like Randy, Roderick, Reginald, but they’re not sounding too German, so I’m in the fridge, suddenly it comes to me. I run out, stand in the middle of the kitchen and shout out, ‘RUDOLPH!’ like, you know, as in reindeer. Everyone looks at me, then goes back to work.”
“Guessing his name wasn’t Rudolph, then.”
“Guessing you could be right. Randolf.”
“Ah, much more German.”
“I just thought, fuck this ! I’m standing in the middle of a greasy, pasta-stinking kitchen calling out for a red-nosed, possibly fictional, animal. And not even drunk. The sink is right by the window, looks out onto the street.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Future reference. You ever start a kitchen, don’t ever give the Spüler clean sight of escape.”
“Well, you just did your duty.”
“Absolutely. I mean, fucking hell, washing-up for a living, screw me.”
“Yes. Pretty rough, isn’t it. Monika should be here soon.”
Soon enough, the knock on the door. Richard opened it and he hugged Monika. She asked him,
“Ah, question, shall we go straight there, or would you like we go to another bar first ? Get a bit drunk ?”
At that point, Monika stopped. She had just seen Chris come out from the living room. He stood by the door, smiling,
“Liebling ! (Darling)”
“And . . . what is ?”
“I left the job. I’ll get another.”
“And, when ? You have something ?”
Monika walked into the room and into the kitchen, Chris expected to follow.
“Er, it’s OK, I’m just gonna put some blue shit on my face,” said Richard, trying to be tactful, and referring to a face pack he’d picked up at Zoo Station. Chris had no idea what he was talking about, but did know that he was in for a rather unpleasant meeting.
The bathroom wall backed onto the kitchen, so the voices were quite clear, especially the female one, which sounded somewhat angry. Richard turned on the taps and began humming to himself.
After a series of very animated, though muffled screams, Richard heard heavy footsteps, followed by the front door slamming shut.
He came out of the bathroom, with the face pack on. Chris just gave him a look, an intake of breath and shake of the head. Then he looked at Richard more intensely,
“You’ve got blue shit all over your face.”
“You going like that ?”
“Naw, thought I’d wash it off, first.”
“Cool. Ummm . . . don’t think Monika will be joining us, tonight.”
Gabi was on the merry-go-round. She fell onto the red, leather sofa, holding her head and knowing that all would be well, if only she could get the room to stop spinning.
Monika sat next to Gabi and instinctively began stroking her hair, while Lorelei went to the bar to get water, and another round of Voudinis for those still standing.
Silke waited impatiently. When Lorelei returned, she grabbed the vodka and bitter lemon drink and handed one to Monika,
“Come, Prost!” She emptied her glass in one go.
The four girls were getting a lot of attention from a group of men in the Nollendorfplatz bar, but before they could make their move, Silke fixed them with an angry start and a stern,
“Ja ? Was ?” (Yes ? what ?) which, quite understandably, deterred them.
Silke continued her post mortem of her relationship with Andreas. He didn’t know yet, but she was about to end it. She had made a lot of allowances and had carried him, financially, for just too long.
“Can you believe it ? I told him not to worry about Weihnachten (Christmas), we’ll have a little celebration when I get back. And what ? He fucks off to Turkey. With what money ? He’d been saving up. All the time I was paying for him, drinks and food and cinema. Scheiße ! Arschloch !”(shit, asshole).
Gabi was talked out about Sebastian, punctuating her tale of misery with shots of Voudini, and, as there had been a lot of misery, there had been a lot of shots.
Lorelei had joined in lamenting about not having a man, there seemingly being none around, while Monika had felt disturbingly empathetic as she listened to Silke’s catalogue of complaints.
Monika was known to have continual on-off affairs, so it was no surprise to her friends that she had broken up, than got back together, with Chris.
Tonight, inspired by vodka and the general mood, she let rip about Chris. There was no progress there. There had been such magic at the beginning, but, half a year later, there were in the same place. It felt like a holiday romance, that Chris could leave at any time and feel no remorse. It was this obsession that was keeping her from really committing, as well as her conviction that he was interested in other women and it would only be a matter of time before he cheated on her.
At another time, Gabi would have explained that maybe he sensed her not being fully open, and would encourage her to give more of herself, but now she was just making soft noises of distress.
Silke appreciated the solidarity, women who deserve better than the no-hopers they has wasted time on.
Lorelei mainly remained quiet. She was also glad that this bar had red lighting, because when she heard that Andreas may soon be available, she felt herself blush.
Back in Prenzlauer Berg, Richard had just come home and found Chris standing by the CD player. A tape of flat, plodding keyboard music, with some unmelodious attempt at singing, was playing.
They looked at each other.
Richard raised his eyebrows.
Chris let out a desperate sigh.
They both shrugged their shoulders.
“I just thought it’ld be more like Beefheart, or Ry Cooder, or some wild desert music. Not that I’ve heard Beefheart or Ry Cooder, or wild desert music, but . . .”
“I know,” agreed Chris. “So. What do we do ?”
“We could say the tape got mangled.”
“Yeah. I’d quite happily mangle it. No, need something better. We have to see the fucker. Live. In concert. This . . . cack !”
“Oh, shit, I’d forgotten. Man, this is awful.”
“Tell me about it, I’ve been listening to it for half an hour. Waiting for ‘the good song’. It never came.”
“No,” Richard clarified, “I mean the situation. How do you tell someone that you hate their stuff. It’s his whole life, whole identity.”
“How can a guy look so fucking cool, and make . . . this ?”
“Did Monika hear it ?”
“Not for long. She turned it straight off. ‘That music is depressing and unnecessary.’ Absolutely right.”
“So . . . what do we do ?”
“Drink, obviously,” suggested Chris. There were four beers in the fridge but even they couldn’t help. They talked over the music, and before long, had quite forgotten it was even there.
“A brothel,” said Richard, out of the blue.
“OK. What ?”
“Remember that shop next to Rigaer 16 ? All that junk in the window, none of it making sense ?”
“I’ve been here nearly two years, but less and less about this city makes sense.”
“There’s a joke, a New York joke. You know what a Mohel is ? He’s the guy that performs the circumcision. OK, there’s this man, walking along Fifth Avenue, and he’s looking for a jewellers, to get his watch repaired. Suddenly he sees a shop window with a large, elegant clock, so he goes in, up to the counter and takes off his watch. ‘Can you fix this ?’ he asks. The shop owner says, ‘No, I’m a mohel, not a watchmaker.’ The first man then asks, ‘If you’re a mohel, why do you have a clock in the window ?’ to which the mohel replies, ‘Nu, what should I have in the window ?’ So, it must be a brothel, because . . . ”
“Yeah, what should they have in a window, yeah. Maybe it’s a mohel’s ?”
“In Berlin ? I somehow doubt it.”
Chris stifled a laugh and mulled over some thoughts.
“So, or nu, this circumcision lark . . . you, er . . . “
“Hhhmm. Still hurt ?”
“A little, but I can always tell when it’s going to rain.”
Several hours later, Alan Francis was on the London Tube, heading for a job interview.
Just before Christmas, he had had his first preliminary assessment.
He felt that he had done a good job and was expecting a pay rise, or promotion, or at least an offer for him to go on an executive trainee course, which he would have to refuse, as he would soon be making films.
Instead, he got a character assassination. Everything from his attitude to his appearance was brought up and found wanting.
He took it all with barely a word in his defence, secretly planning a new job. As soon as possible.
Richard knocked the worst of the snow from his boots and entered the bar immediately seeing, and hearing, Chris and Arizona Al at a far table.
He ordered a coffee as he walked over to them, and began the process of taking off the layers of clothing.
It was only mid afternoon, but all lights were on. The day, seen through the large glass panes, was gray and bitter, people walked along quickly, heads down and wrapped up against the cold.
“Look what I got,” he said, opening his bag and taking out three second hand paperbacks. He put them on the table, Chris taking them straight up,
“Let’s see . . . ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’, hhmmm, ‘The Trial’, Kafka, and, ah, Dickens, ‘Tale of Two Cities’. Which one you gonna read first ?”
“Think I’ll have a bash at Kafka. Everyone’s always talking about it. You read it ?”
“Long time ago. Al ?”
“Err, what’s that ? Kafka ? No, who’s he ?”
Richard explained about the Czech writer, as best he could, only knowing what he had read in the introduction on the U-Bahn ride.
“Oh, yeah, cool, could give that a go, yeah, something different. Been meaning to ask you guys about books. Like to maybe borrow some, if that’s no biggie ?”
“Here,” said Richard, offering the Memoirs. “Thought it was something German, name like Siegfried Sassoon, but turns out he’s as English as can be.”
“Yeah, the fox hunting bit may have been a clue, what ?” said Chris with a wink at Al, before asking him, “You read Generation X ?”
“Err, no, no, don’t think so.”
Richard had brought it from London, and they had read and reread it many times between them. Chris was all for going home and getting it immediately, but Al told him that later would be OK.
“It legitimizes our whole existence,” continued Richard, “for example, I’m no longer a hopeless loser, I’m a McJober. We,” indicating Chris and himself, “are occupational slummers. You, Al, are retro, neo, rock star, throwback . . . something.”
“Actually,” corrected Chris, “I’m taking an occupational sabbatical.”
“Yeah, how’s the job hunt going ?” asked Arizona, trying to get the conversation back to something he could understand.
Richard laughed to himself, having heard all of Chris’ descriptions of sordid, Dickensian working conditions.
“I’ve got an interview, meeting thing tomorrow at some pasta restaurant in Yorckstrasse, so at least I’ll get some decent grub. But, fucking hell, some of the places . . . I went to one, out past Dahlem and there was no sink in the kitchen. They were showing me how to take the plates and shit out to a big barrel in the yard, and wash them with a hose. Then I went to a brewery bar on the Ku’ Damm. Took one fucking look and thought fuck that. Enormous kitchen and about ten chefs, all screaming at each other and at the Spülers, who just stood there, heads down, as frying pans were flying around, fat was flying, food was flying, bottles . . . lucky not to be decapitated. Lucky not to be employed there.”
Richard enjoyed the embellishments Chris had made since he first heard that anecdote, when it had featured a mere four chefs. He then spoke up, as much to clear his name as anything.
“Of course, I offered to let him go back to Biberkopf . . . “
“Yes, but then what ? I have a much better chance of finding something than you. Besides . . . Monika’s not happy with me being just a . . . “
Arizona waited for the completion of the sentence, but was forced to ask,
“You and Monika not so tight ? I thought you were solid.”
Chris let out a whistle,
“No, sir, not by a long chalk. Trouble at mill.”
He knew that Arizona would have no idea what he was talking about, so he clarified.
“I don’t know, Al. You should know, you’re been around women. What should I do ? First, every thing’s fine, great, she’s the love of my life, next thing, she’s a bloody Tasmanian Devil, a force of destruction. Hurricane Monika. Not a house left standing.”
“Hey, man, can I ask you something ?” then without waiting for permission, Arizona continued, “what was the deal with that Melanie chick ?”
Richard sat up, hoping that at last, he may know the full story.
Chris did in fact look at him as he began, but now didn’t care and was happy to get it all out in the open.
“I don’t know. As you can see, when it comes to women, I’m at a bit of a loss.”
“She was into you like a train, Dude. When you kissed Monika, her face was just pure evil. Hate in them there eyes. Queen of death.”
“Yeah ! That’s her. ‘Queen of Death’”
“All that black doesn’t help,” added Richard.
“She some kind of Antichrist or something ?” asked Arizona.
“Atheist,” said Richard, presuming Al has used the wrong word. “We had a discussion about her beliefs one morning. She told me there was no God. But atheists are like joggers; you never see a happy one.”
“And you couldn’t argue with her. She’s always right.” said Chris.
“Especially when she’s wrong,” concluded Richard. Arizona was more interesting in the background than the word games.
“But did you ever like, date or fool around ?”
“Yeah, you ever take her out to second base ?” asked Richard.
“Get to second base, asshole. If you’re gonna go Yankee on my arse, at least get it right !”
Arizona tried to get the answer. Chris refocused.
“No, no, well, yeah, OK, kinda kissed and shit, but I wasn’t really into it. Breaks down like this; I was working in a café, bussing tables ‘n’ shit. OK, I was pouring coffee and working the till, whatever, and Melanie also worked there.”
“And Will was a regular customer ?” interrupted Richard.
“I’ll get to that bloody old nuisance in a moment.” Chris shook his head and took a strong hit of caffeine. “So, we’re both students, Mel and me, but never meet on campus, because I’m doing heavy macho stuff and she’s into waste of time, book reading or flower arranging, I dunno, chick subjects. But, you know, there ain’t much a-happ’ning on the home front, and we get on, and one night we go to the movies. Then, afterwards, as we’re saying ‘goodbye’ she comes up to me and gives me a massive hug, really hung in there, got her moneys worth. That should have been a sign.”
“Oh, I get it. A clingy-thingy.” Said Arizona.
“I hear you, Man.”
“But you were never together ?” clarified Richard.
“No, course not. So we kissed a bit, well, you know, vodka will do that to ya. But then I pulled down the portcullis. Told her I wasn’t into anything physical. Childhood trauma and all. I expected her to run like the clappers, but, oh no, she has to add her own Freudian fuckups. Unable to . . . you know.”
Arizona nodded, slowly, sagely. He knew.
“But she was coming on like you were soul mates an’ all,” Richard explained, “such talk, like you have the best hands in history. Let me see. Hold up those Germans.”
Chris wasn’t exactly sure of that Cockney slang, but held out his hands for inspection.
Richard made a dismissive snort,
“They’re nothing to write home about. Now, Will; what’s his problem.”
“Where do I start ? He’s just some old fart who’d come in, buy one coffee and stay all day. Couldn’t shift the fucker. The sort that works out how much he’s saving on electricity. Sniffing around young students.”
“Male or female ?”
“I don’t think he was even bothered. In fact . . . Yes, sonofabitch, he came on to me. Few times. Cheeky bugger. Thought he was just being . . . ”
“HEY !” exclaimed Arizona, who had been looking at some flyers on the table, “whatdoyaknow ? ‘The Wiggling Kellys’.”
There were a few seconds of silence, as Chris’s story had been prematurely hacked, and they would have to adjust to the verbal jet-lag, as a new, wholly unrelated tale was going to unfold.
“Ha, those girls. They were my backing band.”
Neither Chris nor Richard were willing to delay the story, so they indicated with their eyes that he should continue, without pause, with Richard holding up his coffee cup, and three fingers, to the waitress, whom he naturally found cute. He had already checked her left hand and noticed the absence of a ring.
“Yeah, they were backing me at the ‘So Was ?’ (So what ?) club in Kreutzberg. Ya been there ? It’s got this long kinda walkway catwalk stage, so it’s great for rocking out on. I’d met these two girls some time before and they’re real hot, groupie types, and they’re asking about venues and how to go about getting a band together, and I’m all, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, just trying to decide which one I wanna connect with, ya dig ? So I told them about this gig and they were asking do I need backing singers, and I’m thinking, well, no, but, hang on here, what better way to turn ’em on, play the rock star card, so I say, well, I don’t know, maybe, let’s see what ya got.”
Laughter and claps of approval.
“Yeah, I’m one one cool motherfucker when it calls for it, I know, so they do a number, in the bar, and, what can I say ? OK, can hold a tune, just, but they start dancing to it.”
“Wiggling ?” asked Richard, with excitement.
“Oh, yeah, they had the moves, you know what I’m saying ? So I thought, hang back, if they sing, they’ll fuck up the songs, but if they dance …”
“Fucking genius ! I’ve got a lot to learn from you,” Chris gushed.
“Sure ’nuff, Grasshopper. So comes the gig, I’m playing, and doing my stuff, I just had guitar and drum machine, and I start to walk up the stage. The girls see this, and next time, they walk with me, one each side, dancing away. So it goes. Every time I move up the stage, they come with me, and the audience are going crazy. I thought it’ld be a tough crowd, lot of biker leather in there. So I play another, and another, each time, loud screams. Then I go over to change a rhythm track and strum a few chords, but the audience are still going wild, even more so, then I look up and see the girls still dancing. Then the fucking PA motherfucka cuts my amp line and starts playing Techno shit, and the girls keep dancing, the audience going even crazier.”
“So . . . what did you do ?” Richard was forced to inquire.
“Just packed up my equipment, took a beer and watched the show. Gave them the name, too. From 90210. You guys get that in England ?”
They both denied knowledge of it. Arizona continued,
“Yeah, I had a lot of afternoons at home in the early Nineties. So there’s this character called Kelly, and in the opening credits, she wiggles off. Man, you gotta see it. OK, gotta split. Oh, shit, Man, nearly forgot. Got a few gigs coming up.”
“Cool !” from Richard
“Rock on !” from Chris.
“Yeah, you’ll be there, right ? ‘Cause ain’t nothing worse than playing to an empty hall.”
“Of course. Even take the night off, if I have to. Chris ?”
“Absolutely. I’m so there. One question . . . “
“No, The Wiggling Kellys will not be there. Got their own gigs. Playing the, hey, check it out, they’ve got another gig at the ‘So Was ?’. Hah. Never asked me back. OK, out of here. Tschüs.”
After he left, Richard turned to Chris,
“I’m glad we know him. Oh, shit, he’s coming back.”
Arizona returned, holding out a cassette.
“You guys still play tapes, right ? Here’s a copy of some of my old stuff. Yeah, you may be into it. Give it a listen.”
He left again. Chris put the tape in his bag and Richard checked his watch.
“OK, gotta split soon, myself. You back at the flat tonight ?”
“Yeah, gotta stay sober for the interview, meeting thing.”
“Why you sweating it ? You’re a sure thing because, one, they really need a Spüler, and, two, they really need a Spüler. Another coffee ? Then I’ll have to go.”
Left alone, Chris read a bit of Dickens, starting in on the introduction, but couldn’t really concentrate. It was only an unskilled job, paying a basic wage, but money went a long way. A full week’s work would cover his rent and travel for the month, and there would be free food, as well.
But the job meant so much more. He still hadn’t told Monika about the studio closing and was terrified of her running into Al and him telling her. He had to get something, or he would certainly get something from his girlfriend who would instantly become his ex-girlfriend.
Coffee shops, as I drill into my students, are ubiquitous in Sai Gon, so cafes need something special to make them stand out, to encourage people to go there by choice, not merely out of convenience. One such cafe is:
Cà Phê Cô Ba
4-6 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000
The cafe exudes an old-world charm, a romanticised exotic and mysterious Sai Gon. Dark-wood furniture, a twirling staircase, the aroma of fresh coffee; it requires but little imagination to picture the spirits of beautiful Vietnamese ladies in áo dài, amidst the heady scent of perfume and opium.
Enhancing the ambience, the main room has antique sewing machines along one wall, while the wooden shutters display the boy reporter Tintin on his (unofficial) visit to Viet Nam.
Furthermore, there is a back story. The cafe is named after Trần Ngọc Trà, born around 1906, and named ‘The First Beauty of Sai Gon.’
I’ve had to rely on some online translations, but it appears Ms Ba Trà was a great beauty who intoxicated powerful and wealthy men with her charm. Unfortunately, as her looks faded, she became addicted to gambling and ended her days in poverty.
The coffee is pretty average but the price is reasonable considering the central location. Incongruously, the cafe is situated inside a modern office block and is reached by lift. The sounds of modern Ho Chi Minh City, of people shouting into mobile phones, and advertising covering every space bring one back to the modern world.
Serendipity – I had to go into my bank, which had moved to a new location, and afterwards, driving around a famous ex-pat area of District 2, I discovered this:
I haven’t had a bagel since my last visit to London, way back in 2020, and that was factory produced, purchased from a supermarket, in a pack of six. There was nothing for it – I simply had to go in, get my coffee ‘n’ bagel fix.
I opted for the classic smoked salmon & cream cheese, along with ice coffee.
Motorbikes, coffee and bagels … a sign of changing Sai Gon.
Bagel with ‘everything’ (poppy seed, sesame, cheese). My bagel cost about £3, the BLT £2, coffee just over £1.
The verdict ? Well, delicious, of course, nostalgic, you betcha, but a bagel … ? No, not what we have back in east London (where there are still two all-night bagel bakeries). It was more like crusty bread, bagel-shaped, as opposed to the chewy, doughy texture I am used to (goes without saying that bacon and ham are not on the menu in Kosher delis).
However, I was delighted to find this store and though it’s a little far away, I’ll be happy to return.
Meanwhile, I noticed a New York Bagel store in District 1 … I shall try that in due course.
Arizona Al stood in his doorway open mouthed as, one after another, beautiful young women filed past him and walked into his flat.
After Melanie had entered, Chris just had to hang back and look at Arizona, who was only just recovering the power of speech, though what he was saying was hardly intelligible.
The girls, dressed for a party and then some, were taking over, lifting things up, investigating corners, opening cupboards.
No objections was raised.
Arizona’s flat was larger than Chris’ and most of the living room was taken up with keyboards, guitars, microphones, wires and cables.
Monika began pretending to play one keyboard, while Lorelei took up a guitar and began moving like a rock chick, strumming away. Gabi, not to be left out, picked up a bottle, in preference to an actual mic, and started belting out some numbers.
With the men joining in by clapping, only Melanie remained outside the clique, but nobody noticed.
Chris finished up with some extra claps,
“So, Al, do you have anything to drink ?”
“Errr, well, I dunno, errr ..”
“Ya don’t do ya ? What a rock ‘n’ roller you are,” laughed Chris.
“I thought we were going out, otherwise, I’d a gotten something in.”
“All I’m gonna say is that Sylvester in Arizona . . . think I’ll pass.”
Then Gabi, after a little private conversation with Lorelei, said,
“Yes, we must go, but . . . first ?”
“All right!” said Chris
“Let’s go!” added Richard.
“What ?” asked Al.
Monika repeated her mime and Al seemed a little shocked, but thought it over and agreed.
Monika took him into the bathroom first, then Chris, Lorelei and Gabi went in with Richard, Melanie again abstaining.
Richard had tried cocaine once or twice before, but apart from the thrill of sniffing through a large denomination bank note, hadn’t really felt any effect. Even before, in Chris’, he couldn’t really say he got any kick.
This time, however, was different. For a start, being alone in a small room with Gabi was incredibly erotic. Gabi, despite her angelic and rather bourgeois appearance, was totally at home in a stranger’s bathroom, her delicate fingers dividing the small pile into two thin white lines. She bent down first, the cramped space meaning that they were touching all the time. She passed the note to Richard and after he had snorted, she showed him some extra touches. The first was to get a little drop of water on the finger and to snort, thus catching any stray bits of powder. Then she showed him how to scoop up any particles from the seat, and rubbed his teeth with it, then, using the same finger, inserted it deep into her own mouth and rubbed it along her gums, finishing up with a lick of the lips.
The temptation to just grab and kiss her was overwhelming, and he could have blamed the drugs, the Sekt or the occasion, she may have even liked it, but, instead, he did nothing, and they went back to the main room.
Still, with his heart beating faster and maintaining a good feeling from the Sekt, he began thinking more about Gabi. It may be a cure to get over one unrequited relationship, by embarking upon another.
The room was full of nervous excitement, Chris jumping around, Lorelei and Gabi trying on some of Arizona’s coats, when Melanie opened her bag and pulled out a little notebook, which she opened and passed to Richard.
“These are some notes for my dissertation, if you want to read them.”
As she put the book directly in his hand, and out of an embarrassed politeness, Richard began scanning the pages, once again drawn away from the core. Once again, he noticed that Chris all but ignored her.
Al was putting the finishing touches to his outfit, despite Chris’ suggestions that he really ‘mix it up’ tonight, and went with crocodile skin shoes, green cords and, over layers of vaguely Medieval-looking jerkins, wore a black coat/cloak and lopsided hat, that had everyone wondering where he could possibly have unearthed ?
“Hey, look what I found,” he said, holding a bottle of Cognac. “Found it under my bed. Who’d like some ?”
The general consensus was that they should be leaving. Monika asked to use the phone to book taxis, but Al had a better idea.
“No, Man, we can ride the trolley. Be fun, all the young dudes dressed up. Straight ride to Warschauer Str.”
Ten minutes later, The Gang were waiting, along with a crowd of other people, at the Strassebahn stop on Eberswalder Str, where an impromptu party of sorts was taking place, strangers passing around bottles of Sekt or cans of beer, some were singing, others dancing, some jumping up and down, either to the beat or simply to keep warm.
The Gang, with the exception of Melanie, joined in, Richard extending his arm to take in the scene,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Chris jumped around, pretending to be taking pictures with an invisible camera and everyone joined in, striking poses, some girls blowing kisses, which didn’t impress Monika, and she made him stop.
A loud cheer arose when the yellow light of the Strassebahn appeared out of the misty black, mixing with the continual beeps and honks of cars, and distant fireworks and firecrackers. It became, as Arizona had predicted, a party on tracks, the passengers hanging off the poles and draping themselves over the seats, men offering their laps to previously unknown girls, one or two men swinging from the hand straps.
At every stop, at least one person took it upon himself to announce the station, while others mimicked the sharp, loud beeps that indicated doors closing.
By journey’s end, nearly everyone had joined in, announcing the stops and beeping, so much so, that the old and sober driver kept looking back into his vehicle, wondering how it was possible to have so much fun in a tram, his bemused shake of the head seeming to say, “Kids !”
From Warschauer Str, they walked along Boxhagener Str and turned right into Simon Dach Str.
Gabi had the address and Richard was happy to follow her, wondering if the intimacy of the bathroom would be repeated. At the same time, he was doing his best not to look too much at Lorelei who without any effort, was just looking sensational. But he knew the futility of those thoughts.
There was a moment of confusion, as Gabi realised she had the wrong or incomplete address and Arizona suggested that they just follow people and see where they ended up. Eventually, Gabi turned up another piece of paper that gave the correct location.
The first stop was a combination party / exhibition of local artists. It took place on the top floor of a converted studio, overlooking the dark, slightly ominous rail tracks of Warschaeur Str.
It was one large, open room, with photos and painting hanging up, some metal objects placed strategically, or randomly, and a band area. As they entered, they saw three men with headphones standing behind banks of equipment, playing some mellow Techno. Neither Chris nor Richard were especially keen on the music in general, and couldn’t understand how people could buy the records and play that at home, but tonight, everything seemed to fall into place and they, perhaps inadvertently, began moving to the beat, causing Richard to reiterate,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Causing Chris to reply,
“Berlin goes on, the beat goes on!”
Arizona overheard and joined them,
“Yeah, you know, I’m starting to really get into this Techno scene. If Bowie were here, he’d be mixing Techno into his stuff.”
Richard noticed that Melanie had sat down on some steps and that Monika had gone over to her with two glasses and was trying to start a conversation. Even from his distance, he could see that Melanie was only answering in monosyllables and had refused the drink.
Gabi and Lorelei were dancing, which led to a sudden increase of men onto the dance floor. The Gang took a cursory look at the art work.
One set of photos were of famous sights in Berlin, but shot through a green filter, ‘to challenge society’s perception of the colour green’, the artist explained. Another section grabbed Arizona’s attention. In a small enclave, one wall had various items cut in half and glued into it. The opposite wall has similar items, but whereas the first had noticeably German items, the second had iconic American ones.
In the German wall was half a football, in the other, half an American football. Half a can of German beer was mirrored by half a can of an American brand and so on.
The artist, an elder man with grey hair and beard, wearing a peace necklace and sandals, was showing Arizona around. Al especially liked the toy Trabant and it’s antithesis, half a toy Cadillac.
The Techno finished and four men began setting up, more keyboards and amplifiers and some unusual hybrids of instruments.
One of the four seemed to be significantly older than the rest, one of whom was very thin and tall, another short and fat, the last hobbling around on crutches.
After an endless vortex of activity, with them all changing position and plugging various wires into various sockets, they began to play.
Gabi made an immediate face of disgust at the experimental noise that it took four deadly earnest and focused men to produce.
Monika made gestures to Lorelei and Chris, then came over to Richard to shout in his ear,
“OK, Richard, now we go!”
The Gang walked up to the U-Bahn to catch the U 5 to Alex. Next stop was a club in Kreutzberg. The U Bahns were running and would be, all night, but not so frequently and they had a long wait on the U 8 platform for their connection. So long, that, as they looked at the station clocks, they knew that they had no chance getting to the club by Midnight. In fact, they celebrated the New Year on the platform, hugging, kissing and shaking hands, to the outside sounds that managed to penetrate down. Chris took Monika and gave her a long kiss. Melanie looked on, in disgust, and said, perhaps louder than intended, perhaps not,
“Oh, that’s not allowed.”
And then the train came.
They got out at Moritzplatz, the men again happy to just follow the girls, Melanie tagging along and Richard was getting increasingly irritated at being her chaperone.
The club was a red-lit bar, with tables around the side and a large bar in the centre. In the back was the dance floor which was dark and smoky and exciting and inviting and promising.
Richard sat down, beers arrived and then, another invitation. Monika sat next to him, after a similar conspiracy with Gabi and Chris, and asked him,
“Ah, Richard, would you like to take half an ‘E’ with me ?”
Monika handed him half a tablet, already prepared, which he washed down with a swig of beer.
“This will make me want to kiss people, right ?” he asked.
“And will they kiss me back ?”
Monika smiled and shrugged her shoulder.
She then went on to Melanie, who again rejected the offer.
Richard sat back and thought about Gabi on ‘E’ and how the New Year could get off to a worse start than kissing her all night.
He began to feel himself smiling, and was unable to control it, nor did he want to, as everybody else seemed to be smiling. Except Melanie. He asked her how she was.
“Pretty bored, actually.”
There was a mass movement towards the back room for dancing, with Arizona electing to sit with Melanie. As Richard went into the back, he turned and thought he saw her offer Al a small notebook to read.
By now, the pill had kicked in and it seemed as if everyone was on the same vibe, half as many people kissing as dancing.
Chris came over, put his arm around Richard, gave him a kiss on the cheek and shouted,
“More beer.” It was a demand, rather than a question.
Back at the table, smiling at all around, strangers sharing a similar high, Richard shouted at Melanie,
“C’mon, Mel, shake your money maker !”
“What does that mean ?” she asked, not hiding her contempt, hatred and anger.
But it was too late for Richard to care and everyone was relieved when she decided to leave. There were one or two concerned questions about her knowing the way, with Chris not hiding the fact that as long as she went, he didn’t care where she ended up.
Some time later, it being hard to gauge with the constant dark lighting and drug and alcohol highs, The Gang began to disperse. Gabi and Lorelei headed back to the west, after prolonged Hugs and kisses. Chris then was staying nearby with Monika, so it as just Arizona and Richard.
After another and final beer, Mexican, as homage to Al’s South-Western roots, which they sipped slowly and really enjoyed, they thought about leaving, both having to get back north of the river, to Prenzlauer Berg.
They spoke constantly, and could have stayed in the bar, which by now was thinning out, all night, or at least until the ‘E’ wore off, but decided to go. Should they happen to stumble upon a bar, on the way, there was no reason why they shouldn’t go in.
Arizona admired the reasoning, and they left, shocked by the early morning light, but after their eyes got acclimatised, they felt refreshed on the empty, light blue streets, with a fresh wind blowing them along to the U Bahn as they stepped through a tangle of old streamers and firework cases and bottles and cigarette packets and cans.
On the U 2 from Alex, during a momentary lull in the conversation, as Arizona looked around at the other casualties of the night, Richard turned to him and said,
“It’s all right for you. I’ve Melanie to go back to!”
Arizona doubled up in laughter, which proved infectious as most of the other awake passengers joined in, most of them having no idea why they were laughing.
Arizona reached over and slapped Richard on the knee,
“Ya wanna crash at my place ?”
“Oh, man . . . can I ?”
Al’s laughter doubled.
At the same time on Chausser Strasse in Wedding, Daniel Roth was walking home with two English work mates and a Dutch bricklayer.
Of the four, it was only Daniel who was new to the city, having only arrived two days earlier, and he was due to start work on the Second, by which time, he calculated, his hangover may just be over.
Chris emptied his Brief Kaste, threw away the Werbung (adverts) and took the envelope upstairs. He recognized the handwriting at once, and the British stamp only confirmed that here was another letter from Melanie.
He had promised Richard that he’d go to a travel agents with him, help book his ticket to London, but had just received some bad news from the studio: there would be no more work in the new year. The studio was closing down.
It had created a surreal atmosphere. Anyone who turned up got paid, but nobody was doing any work. People just sat around, drinking coffee and smoking. The room was full of uncertainty, worrying how rents would be paid, some wondering whether they would return to Berlin after their visits home for Christmas.
Chris kept this from Richard, but asked him if he knew what the situation was at Biberkopf, as he could take over the shifts while Richard was away.
The flight was booked with Chris insisting that Richard get back in time for New Year’s Eve, ‘Sylvester’, in Germany.
“You just wouldn’t believe it, it’s like a war zone, people throwing bangers, fireworks, everyone out drinking on the streets. You’ll love it. Hey, new year, new start. It’ll be OK, you know.’
“You sure about that ?”
“Yes. I am.” An optimistic answer from Chris who would start the new year unemployed. He knew that if he told Richard, then Richard would immediately give up the Biberkopf job, insist on giving it back to Chris and would therefore have an excuse to stay in London.
On Christmas Day, Chris fixed himself a breakfast of smoked salmon, day old rolls, some tangerines, and several cups of coffee.
Monika was at her sister’s, just outside Leipzig, Gabi back in Vienna. Silke was in Bavaria, Kai incommunicado and Andreas had somehow found the money to go to Turkey. Lorelei was staying in Berlin, but Chris was sensitive enough not to mention her, or to blatantly not mention her. Tommy was visiting family in Aachen, in the west of Germany and Gert had naturally disappeared somewhere.
In the early afternoon, Chris went for a walk, enjoying the freedom of being totally alone in his city. The roads were almost empty, only an occasional car passing by and beeping hello. The shops were all shut, even the Imbisses had closed, or so it seemed. A side street off Schönhauser Allee had two fluttering flags, showing that at least one fast food joint was open. Chris made a note of it, should he require a Christmas kebab.
With no direction or purpose, Chris turned into Danziger Str and thought he’d walk to Friedrichshain. He walked along this notoriously tedious road, smoking, strolling, feeling quite happy. For the moment. The shit was going to hit the fan, so he may as well enjoy this anomaly of peace and quiet.
In four days time, both Monika and Melanie would arrive in Berlin. Melanie was arriving early evening and expected to be met at Tegal airport. Monika was driving, probably arriving late evening. The next day, the 30th, Richard arrived back, same time flight as Melanie, but he could make his own way home. Chris could stay at Monika’s, leaving Richard with Melanie. That image made him laugh out loud.
Then, how would Monika react to Melanie ? Melanie to Monika ? How would Richard be ? Chris knew he was in a lot of pain, more than he could help him with, and just hoped that his break in London would give him the distance he needed.
After half an hour, he was at Rigaer Str and thought he’d try Café Kinski. It was locked, but there were people inside, so it was probably a private party. He walked on, past more squat bars, squat houses, negotiating the piles of dog shit on the street and the distinctive odours of shit and piss and vomit and sweat and fumes and fast food. He felt at home.
After walking along the Strasse he saw a light above the door of the Czar Bar. It was open.
Coming from the left, there was a large, single pane window, with the Cyrillic ‘bap’ (bar) painted along the lower edge. The window was usually crammed with junk, but it was still possible to see inside, see who was working.
Chris peaked in and saw a figure in a fedora, twisting around, reaching for some glasses and a bottle of vodka. Tidings of comfort and joy.
The Czar bar was entered by walking up a step, into a sheltered vestibule, both sides plastered with flyers and stickers, flapping and peeling off. The door was solid, bottle green, also covered in small posters. Immediately inside was a thick black curtain, which had to be brushed aside.
The bar had changed a lot since Chris dragged an unimpressed Nuno and a repulsed Melanie here. A year ago. A lifetime ago.
There was now a more permanent looking bar, stretching from the door and curving around to the flipper (pinball) room. There were pallets below the bar, making a step up to the tall stools that were bolted down. Drunks may continue to fall, but the chairs would remain standing.
Above the bar, was a flat surface reaching to the ceiling, giving the bar the appearance of a kiosk. Behind the bar was the large dresser, now with more bottles and glasses, and a CD system, playing early Neil Young.
Around the room were placed round tables and along the walls, two old sofas. Chris looked into the far recess of the bar and saw that there was actually a stage, reached by four or five steps.
The room had also been painted; it was now a dull, deep orange, and with the main shutter down, and low wattage bulbs, it could easily have been late evening, not afternoon.
Chris took a seat at the bar, next to some Germans who looked half-way pissed already, but smiled at him warmly. He smiled back.
“Heeeeyyy, Chris, welcome back. Haven’t seen you around here for a while,” said Jake the Barman, extending a hand for a complex series of shakes.
“I was here last month.”
“You were ? Where was I ?”
Chris pointed to the end stool,
“Oh, right, I wasn’t working, I’m only out of it when I’m not working, yeah, Yuri was work .. no, let me … Micha ? Hell, I don’t know, what the fuck does it matter, hey ? Oh, Merry Christmas, can I get you a Christmas cocktail ?”
“What’s in it ?”
“Vodka and … vodka.”
“OK, I’ll have a double.”
This made Jake laugh, and they drank together, Jake introducing him to everyone who came in. By evening, Chris was very tipsy, and the bar, which was also looking tipsy, was full. Tom Waits had at some point replaced Neil Young.
A small, well built man with a dark beard and moustache came in and rested both elbows on the bar, staring intensely at Jake.
“Jake. Vodka,” he barked in German. Jake was having difficulty controlling his eyes, which were scanning the room, back and forth, and he was also trying to dance along to the music, but he managed to open a new vodka, pick up three shot glasses in one hand and pour the vodka to the very top of the glasses without spilling a drop. He spoilt this achievement by licking the drips off the bottle.
“Claude … Chris. Chris. Claude,” said Jake, making the introductions. Claude turned the intense gaze on Chris, looking him right in the eyes from across the bar. Then he raised his glass, said, ‘Santé’, and downed it in one gulp. He let out a vodka sigh, shook his head, slapped himself once or twice and clicked his fingers.
“Jake. Noch drei mehr (three more).” Jake repeated the process, Claude repeated his ritual of sighing and slapping, then slammed down some money on the counter and left.
Chris had no recollection of leaving, or getting home, or indeed, buying his Christmas Döner, but did find the tell-tale tin foil in his dustbin, along with small chunks of meat and purple cabbage that he kept discovering around his flat over the next days.
On the 28th, Monika called, saying she couldn’t wait to see him. It was then that he told her about Melanie arriving.
The line went dead.
But not for long.
There followed a lengthy conversation with accusations and insinuations, despite all of Chris’ assertions that she was, and always had been, a friend and nothing more. Why should Monika know so many men, and Chris not be allowed any female friends ? Monika easily countered that by mentioning all the ladies of The Gang. Then Chris had a moment of inspired genius,
“All right, it’s for Richard. You know he’s heartbroken.” Monika went silent. Chris pressed on, amazed by his brilliance and enjoying the previously unknown sensation of being victor in an argument’
“And why ? I’m not blaming anyone, here, but, well, all I’m gonna say is that Lorelei is your friend. That’s all. I’ll say no more. If Melanie can help him, be a friend to him, then … yeah, it’s good she’s coming.”
He realized his ending was weak, and knew not to press his point, not to allow Monika too much of a chance for a killer comeback.
It ended with Monika telling him what a great friend he was to Richard and how much she really loved him.
He didn’t tell her about losing his job and not knowing how he would pay the rent in February.
On the 30th, Richard arrived back in Berlin. He knew that it would take some time before he felt better, or normal, or whatever was the correct word for recovering from a broken heart, but he was determined to get over Lorelei.
As he passed through passport control, he was greeted by Chris, making high-pitch whistle noises, pretending he was blowing into a party streamer. Next to him was Melanie. Chris, through an exaggerated smile said,
“Look … it’s Melanie !”
“So I see.’
Chris had taken precautions, making sure he had a half bottle of vodka with him for the journey back.
At the flat, they sorted out the sleeping arrangements. Monika wouldn’t be back until late, so she would come over tomorrow and they would all go out. It was all planned.
Richard had brought back some books, an old Sunday Times, some English crumpets, Marmite, and a couple of new CD’s.
“Hey … look.” He held up the ‘Reality Bites’ soundtrack and ‘Monster’ by REM.
Chris whooped and grabbed the soundtrack and played it. As soon as the first song, ‘My Sharona’ came on, Melanie began complaining,
“Oh, The Knack, so brainless,” and other disparaging remarks.
There was a definite vibe in the room, and Chris thought the best way to dispel it was to go out drinking. Richard wanted to change his shoes, and put on an old pair of boots. He withdrew his foot, rapidly, as it was obstructed by something. He reached in and pulled out what he presumed was an old piece of rotten cardboard, and threw it away, without giving it a second thought, this was Berlin, after all, but Chris was amazed, not to say perturbed that kebab meat was still turning up.
The celebrations for Sylvester began early, and even from the flat in the Hinterhof, with windows closed, they could hear intermittent explosions as soon as they woke.
Chris was up first, and went out, looking to find any shops, so as to have Sekt and possibly food when Monika arrived.
Melanie and Richard sat drinking coffee together. They compared this flat with it’s gas heater in the kitchen and bathroom, to the flat in Rigaer Str. They talked about that November, motor bike crashes and walking around Berlin in the snow. Richard remembered going all the way to the museum at Karlshort, where the Germans signed the unconditional surrender in may 1945, and finding it closed, but seeing a genuine Russian soldier walking along the road, a rather small specimen, with bright red, dripping nose and hat with ear flaps. Melanie brought up the fire and worried about Chris burning his hands,
“He has the most beautiful hands of any man, ever.”
Richard was also curious how Monika and Melanie would get on.
“I’m going to like Monika, I know,” she said, “we’ll probably go off together and have a good time, a good chat, and bitch all about Chris.”
Richard wasn’t so certain.
Around eight o’clock, there was a furious thumping on the door. Chris opened it, and from the main room, Richard and Melanie could hear him greet Monika, as well as hearing other female voices. Richard recognized Lorelei and took the next seconds to compose himself.
Then Monika, Gabi and Lorelei came in, all smiles and hugs. Melanie kept back, while they all hugged and kissed, then extended a hand to the three women. Richard put on the soundtrack CD, and as the opening drums and bass pounded out, Monika began jumping around and dancing, followed first by Chris, then Richard, then Gabi, then Lorelei.
There was a babel of languages as they tried to decide what to do. Chris had bought some Sekt and insisted the only way to start an evening was with a bottle of Sekt. Richard nodded sagely at this piece of received wisdom and Gabi backed him up. There only being four glasses, the men drank out of cups.
“OK, listen, we’ll go to Arizona Al’s, first. He’s at Eberswalder Str, we can walk there. Then … where’s the first party ?”
Monika answered him,
“Friedrichshain, near Simon Dach Str. There will be … seven of us, no ? Ja, seven, so we need two taxis.”
Then Gabi coughed suggestively. Monika picked up the hint.
“Ah, point, would anyone like a little … something … nice … hahaha ?” She put the back of one finger to one nostril and sniffed through the other one.
Chris lit up,
“Yeah, let’s go!”
“OK, anybody need the toilet first ? Richard ?” asked Monika.
“Are you sure ?”
“What am I ? Six years old ?”
Monika laughed and led Chris into the bathroom. Shortly afterwards, Chris quoting another line from ‘Pulp Fiction’, screamed,
“I say, Goddamn!”
Richard was next, and took the rolled up fifty Mark note, sniffing the trail of white powder off the toilet lid. Monika came back and asked Melanie, who just shook her head.
Finally, they were good to go.
Walking down Schönhauser Allee, Melanie began to fall behind the others and Richard, not wishing to leave her out, walked along with her, listening to her observations, while wishing he were part of that chain up ahead, as they all walked with linked arms, and Lorelei, in three-quarter length coat and black boots, was looking more beautiful than ever.
Pedal to the metal, let’s dive in and hit the ground running !
We are licensed to review the previous lesson, a potpourri of quick thinking (thinking on your feet), dropping idioms at the drop of a hat and sentence building by employing as many relative clauses as humanly possible … big time ! Not forgetting the grammar lesson, prepositions, directions and map-reading, differentiating between locating (finding) and labelling (writing on something). Now, without further ado …
What do you see in the picture ?
Let’s break it down into three sections: the man, the car, the location, then the spatial relation between all three. Piece of cake ? OK, breaks down like this:
The man: Daniel Craig (actor), James Bond (character), tall, blonde, handsome, strong, highly-skilled, well-off (quite rich), talented, licensed to kill, British … what other adjectives ?
The car: expensive, beautiful, full of gadgets, exclusive, cost an arm and a leg, astronomical, Aston Martin DB10, luxury …
The location: Rome … no help here ! What do you know about Rome ?
NOW … YOUR TURN
Make an IELTS-style sentence featuring relative clauses and prepositions of place. You have two minutes … go !
Thay Paul, can you give us some help, please ?
Oh, you know I will ! OK, how’s this: Daniel Craig, who’s a world-famous British actor, is playing James Bond, a fictional spy who has been in over twenty films. Mr Craig, who is very tall and attractive, is standing in front of an incredibly exclusive Aston Martin DB10, which is an iconic British car, whose price is astronomical. Behind we can see the breathtaking skyline of Rome, which is the capital of Italy, a country famous for style, elegance and luxury.
Teamwork – utilise the internet to gather information. Quite simply, I am at St Paul’s Cathedral and I want to get to Shakespeare’s Globe.
Create a jaw-droppingly brilliant IELTS response telling me about St Paul’s, the Globe and how I can get there on foot.
You have five minutes … go !
Bonus points: What symbols can you identify on the map ? What do they signify ?
Now, time for some retail therapy, and we’re going to take it up a notch.
You will enter at OLI and meet your friend outside of Top Brand. From there, you want to visit The National, then Viking. Afterwards, your friend wants to pop into Books before you meet another friend inside Nortex. Your taxi will pick you up at IDEA.
This time give me directions as well as using relative clauses to explain something about the shops in question … or as much information as you can provide.