16th November 2020
Part One. Berlin. Spring – Summer 1993
The flat situation was solved by the combined efforts of the German girls. Marina knew a woman through an ex-boyfriend, who had a shop near where Claudia lived. Claudia had been in touch with her and was monitoring a flat she owned in a different Bezirk, or area, of Berlin. It was actually free immediately and Claudia negotiated a fair rent, provided the landlady, a Frau Holtzengraff, could also get an ‘under-the-table’ gratuity.
Five days after arriving in Berlin, Marina was helping Chris move to his new, permanent base in the eastern Bezirk of Friedrichshain.
She told him about the costs, but didn’t pry into how much he actually had with him, expecting him to be able to cover the first few weeks. Although she earned a modest amount, Ross had a good wage and her parents were comfortably off, so she had never really known what is was like to be without money or financial aid. Therefore she had no conception that Chris may really be in difficulty.
They were met on the street outside Rigaer Strasse 16 by the stocky figure of Fr Holtzengraff, a middle-aged woman wrapped in a thick, fake-fur coat, despite the late spring weather, and an unsuccessful blonde hair-dye job.
Rigaer 16 was painted in white across the two large wooden swing doors that opened for vehicles. The right hand one also had a conventional inward-opening door. They walked in and the first dozen or so paces were under cover, making it hard to see the names on the post-boxes fixed to the right-hand wall.
The flat was on the fourth floor, through a courtyard that was small and oblong, framed by three sides of the house and a large intimidating blank wall. A door in the far corner of the yard led to the stairs . Marina kept a smile on, but was clearly seeing the flat for the first time and trying to remain optimistic. Chris, meanwhile, was amazed. Here was a real artist’s flat, a place where he could read and write and compose and get German girls to pose nude for him.
Marina talked in German and then asked Chris for the first month’s rent. He could just about cover it, but it would leave him with almost nothing. He got a receipt and there was more German, Marina nodding and interjecting, “Ja, ja, alles klar,” – yes, yes, everything’s all right.
“Then Claudia will help with the other.” Chris nodded, not at all sure what the other was, but knowing that now was not the time for schoolboy humour. The keys were handed over, directions given to the U-Bahn and shops, and then Fr Holtzengraff gave Marina a hug and left. Chris put it down to Marina’s personality, that everybody who met her would be compelled to hug her within minutes.
Marina had to work that afternoon, so she left him, making sure he knew the tram or Strassebahn that would take him to his work in Prenzlauer Berg, the next Bezirk to the west. He watched her drive off and then he was alone. He noticed a kind of shop next door. The paintwork was faded but still reasonably clean. There was a glass door, with a heavy net curtain behind it and a main window, also netted, but, along the window-shelf were a strange collection of miscellaneous items: an old football boot, a ceramic tiger, some kind of metal-working implement, an old fob-style watch, a plastic gnome or elf. Chris looked at the display and tried the door, but it was closed.
He looked up and down the street. It terminated at the western end in a roundabout, close to the tram stop. Diagonally across the street was a squatted building. Some punks were carrying empty beer crates out. Opposite him was another squat house, the whole front daubed in slogans and banners. Several similar buildings led off to the eastern end, which seemingly went on into infinity.
Chris tested the street keys, then the letterbox, or Brief Kaste key. Then he went upstairs to unpack, before making his first solo trip to work.
Luke was another Englishman working at the studio, very much a ‘what you see is what you get’ bloke. He had a London accent and laughed, loudly, at his own jokes, which was helpful as his jokes were generally not particularly funny. His skin showed that he had had more than a few drinks in his time and had probably tried several different drugs, several times. He worked next to Chris and took it upon himself to act as guide to Berlin. He told Chris that he could get paid on the Friday if he asked in time. He was, in fact, full of very useful and pertinent information and friendly, but was also very full of himself and Chris found him a little over-bearing.
Not too pushy, however, that Chris would refuse the offer of a beer after work. He mentioned that his funds were low, but Luke dismissed it, saying that it could be his shout next time.
Several beers later, Chris staggered onto the Strassebahn to get home and it wasn’t until he was walking along Rigaer Str that he realised that he had forgotten to buy a ticket, but he hadn’t been checked and had therefore saved a DM or two.
His rent was paid for the month, and he hadn’t spent anything getting drunk or getting back home. Berlin was going to be cheaper than he imagined. He continued to feel that way until a week later, when Fr Holtzengraff accompanied by a very mean-looking Herr Holtzengraff, pounded on his door, then opened it, catching him in just T-shirt and boxers and demanded, in gruff, blood-curdling German, “Geld!” which he recognised as ‘money’. Waving the receipt had no effect and it was only after chanting, “Claudia, ja. Marina, ja, kein problem” that they turned to leave, amidst finger wagging and black looks of a ‘this is your one and only chance’ complexion.
After they had left, he smoked the last cigarette in the box and walked into the kitchen, burning off nervous energy, as he promptly turned and walked back into the main room, trying to calm his nerves. After he had smoked down to the filter, he got some paper and wrote to Richard.