2nd January 2021
Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994
Monika was happy as she’d found a Parkplatz close to where Chris lived. They got out of the car, smiling and joking with each other, and walked, arms around each other, to the street door.
Monika worried about Richard, who had been alone for two nights, while Chris had stayed in Kreutzberg, but Chris told her that he was all right. Inside, Chris opened the Briefkaste and sorted out letters from adverts and junk.
Monika saw a letter addressed by hand. She inquired who it was from.
“It’s from Hamburg.”
The smiles quickly faded.
Chris rang the bell, before opening the door, just in case Richard had managed to get Lorelei or anyone else back, but found him alone, reading. Monika gave a curt greeting and went straight into the kitchen.
Chris asked how he’d spend his time, trying to give the illusion of some kind of normalcy, and what he thought of the book he was reading, Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’.
Then he pointed to the brown phone on the floor.
“The East German chef was furious when he heard I had a phone.”
“Yeah. Why ?”
“Oh, because it took him over two years to get one, under the old system. He had to put his name down and join the waiting list and, you know … wait. Over two years. Then I turn up, a Spüler, and an Ausländer (foreigner) to boot, and get a flat with a phone.”
“Everything … OK ? We still on for tonight ? The movie ? Winona dancing ?”
“Yeah. I think.”
“Anyway, I was just about to go out, get some sun, walk around a bit, read some. I may be gone for a couple of hours.”
Richard said goodbye to Monika and left the flat, walking through Prenzlauer Berg to the Thälmann park where he found some shade and read about The Lost Generation in Twenties Spain.
Back in Chris’ kitchen, Guernica was about to be recreated. Monika knew that the letter was from Ute and Chris was scared to open it, even though he knew it would just be harmless questions about the flat.
“So, don’t you want to open your love letter ?”
“It’s not a love letter. You know that.”
“No, I don’t know anything. I know you move into her flat, have all her shit here and get letters from her.”
“Her friend’s flat. How can you be jealous, after last night ?”
“Maybe you just fuck me while she is in Hamburg. So, when is she coming back ?”
“And you miss her ? You want her to come back ?”
“Of course not. I don’t even care, we’re finished, it’s over, understand ?”
“I know she left you. Maybe you still have feelings for her.”
“No, we are just friends now, c’mon, you know that.”
“You have many letters from her ?”
“No. Not many.”
“But others ?”
“Yes, of course.”
“ ‘Of course’ ? Oh, now I understand, you keep writing to her so you can get back together and just use me.”
“What ? What is wrong with you ?”
“No, what is wrong with you ?”
“Listen, if you’re going to argue, can you do it in German ?”
“You can’t speak German.”
“Oh, that is so very funny, fucking idiot. Open the letter.”
“No, it’s private.”
Chris knew that wasn’t the best response he could have given.
“Ah, so you have private things going on. Maybe I should leave. It’s been a fun summer fling, but now it can be over.”
“Right, sit there and listen.” Chris opened the letter and read it aloud. It was very innocuous, asking him how he was, how the flat was, was he paying the bills all right, was he still at Biberkopf ? But she signed it ‘Love Ute’ and wrote three kisses at the bottom with a little heart symbol. Monika seized on that blatant sign of affection and the argument gathered fresh momentum and followed its own illogical logic.
When Richard returned, late in the afternoon, Monika had long gone. They had planned to go to the Babylon Cinema in Kreutzberg all together, by car, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen.
Instead, they took the U-Bahn and Chris made sure Richard followed closely, as the cinema was in a back street, and Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn was on a busy intersection with exits at all points of the compass. The ground level, from the lower U 8 to the elevated U 1, was also a popular hang out for drunks and junkies and punks and Penne’s (beggars) who would buy cheap beer and spirits from the kiosks on the platform and have an unofficial social club on BVG (Berlin Transport Authority) property.
Chris pointed out that though it may look seedy and dangerous, he had never been bothered by anyone there, and that the BVG constantly patrolled the area with guard dogs that looked as if they’d much rather be chasing balls than breaking them.
The cinema was another Berlin experience that Richard loved. London’s cinemas were mostly franchised, staff all in the same uniform, décor the same, smell the same. Here, they were more like private clubs, looking like old cinemas that had been taken over by squatters, or squatted spaces that had been turned into cinemas.
The Babylon was reached by coming out of the north-west exit and walking through a arch behind some shops and Imbisses, under a large block of flats that imposed itself like a Colossus, over Adalbertstr.
The twin-screen cinema looked quite conventional from the outside, a marquee with film titles in red lettering, glass displays with film posters, stills and handwritten screening times.
Inside was a small vestibule, with posters for forthcoming films and reviews from the papers of current movies. The ticket desk was to the left, a counter with a display case showing the sweets and beers available. Tonight, the clerk had brought her son along, and the young boy was happily sitting on the counter, removing the lids from people’s beer bottles.
They bought the tickets and obligatory beers, tipping the lad, and walked into the main hall, which had flyers and adverts on one side and free postcards on the other. Richard used the bathroom, a graffiti-ed stool whose window opened-out onto the houses next door.
The hall was full of people, this being the busiest night, and the film had created a real buzz. The cinema door opened, people moved in. Chris liked middle row, middle seats and they got these, sat back and prepared themselves for a burst of pure Slacker entertainment.
Some adverts followed, then, with no censorship card that opens every film in England, the sights and sounds of Generation X embraced them and they surrendered themselves to ‘Reality Bites’, as Chris forgot how his current reality actually sucked.
They just waited for the scene that Richard had seen in a trailer, where Winona and her friends start dancing up and down in a convenience store-gas station. It surpassed all expectation.
They sat through the end credits, smiling as four girls slinked up the aisle, dancing to the music and humming ‘My Sharona’ the soundtrack to the store dance.
Afterwards, there was no discussion, they just had to go to a bar, and found a quiet bench in a Kreutzberg bar. Two beers ordered, two Jack Daniels to go with them.
Winona dominated the conversation, as they slipped in more and more Americanisms, even sports references and metaphors that they didn’t fully understand. They should be in America, not tired, old Europe. Everyone had so much energy and life and excitement and money, even the poor people. The sports were so much more colourful, the scores were far higher, there were cheerleaders. And all the women were Über-cute. The decision was taken; they had to get American girlfriends, cheerleaders, then go back with them to the States.
Which brought them back to the events of the afternoon. Chris thanked Richard for his diplomacy and apologised for any awkwardness. He had witnessed just one part of an on-going conflict. Monika didn’t trust Chris. She accused him of still loving Ute and was just waiting to be dumped by him.
“All of which is pure bullshit, man. I’m crazy about her, like, totally wacko, eyes-poppin’ out of the head crazy. But she won’t believe me. It’s all about the flat, an’ Ute’s stuff.”
“So you going move out ?”
“If that’s what it takes, but ain’t gonna solve the problem. Just be something else. Besides, I love that flat. D’you remember Rigaer Str ?”
“Like I could forget.”
“And it’s real hard to get hold of a flat, here. I only got it by luck.”
“You see, your mistake was in overdoing the heartache in the first place. What got you Monika, now creeps up to bite ya in the touche.”
“Shot by my own gun, gawddammit !”
“Could of course get dumped by Monika and use that to get a new chick.”
“I don’t want a new chick. I want Monika. Just …”
“Right on. De-quirked.”
“Well, good luck with that.”
“So can’t you come up with anything ?”
“If I could I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, I’d be with Lorelei, or Gabi. Or both. Like, what’s with Lorelei ? I think I may have played my hand too soon.”
“Time out, Brother, is the Monika situation solved ? C’mon, focus, don’t drop the ball on this.”
Just then, Elvis came on the bar’s sound system, singing ‘Suspicious Minds’. Chris threw down his beer mat,
“Oh, very funny, Elvis!”
“So where did she go tonight ? Monika, that is ?”
“To see the film ! With Silke, I think, I dunno. But German version. Can you imagine ?”
“Winona, dubbed into Kraut ? Oh, man !”
“Tell me about it. It’ll blow over. Always does. Problem is, it always blows up again, right in my face. Screw it, more beers. So, what’s the deal with Lorelei ? Progress report.”
“Well that won’t take long.”