19th November 2020
Part One. Berlin. September 1993
Shoulder sat down next to Richard, turning the chair around, straddling it like a horse, arms waving, fingers pointing, head constantly turning. Richard realised that the metal figure hanging outside could well be a self-portrait.
Both Chris and Silvio, who were also sitting around the table, had trouble containing their laughter. It was Chris who finally had to interrupt the artist as he was half-way through a monologue, the subject of which hadn’t yet made itself known,
“Hey, Shoulder, this is Richard, from London.”
“Yes, I know, I was speaking to him last week.”
“No, you haven’t met him. You were speaking to me last week.”
Shoulder screwed up his eyes, in an expression of pantomime incredulity. He turned to Richard and stared at him.
“Is that true ?”
“Yeah. So, how are you ?”
“Ah, a philosopher. I studied philosophy. I saw another student on the U-Bahn once and I said to him, like you just did, ‘how are you ?’ and he said ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Hey ! Philipp, come and join us.”
Shoulder, of course, wasn’t his real name, but Chris wasn’t able to catch the correct appellation and felt that while asking for a name to be repeated once was acceptable, twice was too much. Shoulder was what may be termed ‘a character’, or ‘a force of nature’. He dominated every conversation with the sheer power of his enthusiasm, his never-ending gestures and ever-changing expressions.
He called for Philipp to join them, but Philipp preferred to stand alone, looking on, leaning against a wall and swaying slightly, eyes off into the distance. Shoulder clearly decided that Richard was a long-lost friend he had never actually met, and focused all his attention on him, for the rest of the evening. He explained about Philipp,
“He misses the old east, yeah, we’re all Ossies, all from the DDR. Now I work in, you know the Schloss at Charlottenburg, yeah, nice building, yeah, you been
there ? No ? You must, or maybe not, I don’t care, I have a studio near there. Many friends have moved to the west and so we don’t see each other so much. I come here, but it’s a long way. We all used to meet three times a week, drink, smoke, joke. Now … “
He made a gesture of hopelessness,
“So I have a joke for you that you will like. A man comes home, you like Surrealism, yes ?”
“After a holiday and he looks around. And can’t believe it … everything in his house, everything, the light bulbs, the windows, the toilet paper, the stains on the walls, the walls, everything, has been stolen. And replaced by an exact replica. The man’s flatmate comes home. The man says to him, in panic, ‘what has happened. Everything has been stolen but replaced by an exact replica ?’ And the flatmate says …… ‘who are you ?’ Hahahahahaaha!”
Shoulder told endless stories, leaning first on Richard, then alternating and leaning on Silvio, to his other side. Eventually Philipp came and sat down, pulling his chair a little distance apart, but clinking his bottle against everybody’s. Richard saw this as a sign that he, too, was accepted. It felt very good.
Shoulder began describing his new work, a kind of psychological chair. Rather than being a mere piece of furniture, it represented a challenge, a philosophical proposition to man: ‘why do you want to sit down ? Do you want to sit down ? A symbol of all the poor people in the world who have nothing to sit down upon. It was rather hard to follow, but the tagline stayed in Richard’s mind:
“Most people sit down to think. But with this chair, you have to think how to sit down”.
When Richard was back in London, he went to the Tate Gallery, and bought a postcard of a Vorticist painting by Wyndham Lewis; geometric lines, bold colours, force, power and energy. He sent it to Shoulder in Berlin. He knew he’d appreciate it.
They had been a number of girls he had spoken to in the Cafe, either up at the bar, or people who had shared their table when it was busy. Being English was a great bonus, as people were interested in why he was in this part of Berlin and what he thought of the city. He tried a few flirty moves, but nothing panned out. For either of them. Chris still had vague hopes of Marina or Claudia, or, when he had taken a few shots of bourbon, both. Richard was curious as to the extent of his relationship with Marina, but was, as he reminded himself, ‘ too British to ask.’ Yet one night, Chris, in Kinski, did say that she had beautiful breasts. That told Richard all he needed to know, and was happy for whatever conquest Chris had made, yet puzzled as to why women like Marina always stayed with men like Ross.
But the person that left the biggest impression was the young lady he met on his final night.
Chris and Richard had just finished eating and were about to have a mellow drink before the farewell bash at the Cafe, when there was a heart stopping thump on the door. Both had visions of a middle-aged, German woman with a beefy bastard in tow, ready to beat them to the proverbial pulp. The reality was far worse. Chris left the room and as he opened the front door, Richard could hear,
“Oh, Steffi. What are you doing here ?”