9th April 2021
Part Five. Berlin. Autumn 1994
The yellow Toyota sped around the twisting, turning slalom of roadworks and diversions of Potsdammer Platz, once the busiest intersection in all Europe, now a giant wasteland, a massive construction site of cranes, wire fences and wooden walkways, constantly changing passages with temporary traffic lights and signs whose location seemed to alter weekly.
Monika and Chris were in the front, Chris back to his hyper-active self, holding conversations with Richard in the back, Monika to his left and Sabrina, next to Richard. She was a Viennese friend of Monika’s, in Berlin for the weekend.
They drove to an address off Kantstr, in West Berlin. It was dark when they got there, but the affluence of the area was apparent. The houses were elegant and well kept, each house with a well-lit doorway, giving the street a charming, old-world feel. The streets all looked clean, no debris or litter of any kind.
There was a brass panel with the tenants names inscribed, on the intercom, but it was obvious where the party was.
All three rooms, of the ground floor flat, had their windows wide open, and many people could be seen in shadowplay through the thin curtains. The street door was open, as was the flat door, and people came and went, sat on the immaculately carpeted stairs or smoked on the street, their discarded butts the only garbage on the once spotless pavement.
Monika entered first, waving and smiling. Sabrina followed, embracing Gabi and Andreas. Chris noticed Nice Guy Kai and Richard caught a glimpse of Gert and they exchanged some brief comments before Gert disappeared for the night.
The four newcomers all gravitated to the kitchen, which was the bar area, and bought white wines. Richard had no sooner taken his first sip, when he felt a stubbly kiss on his cheek. He turned and saw Tommy wearing a very smart suit, four days growth of beard and a hat covering his newly shaved head.
“Ah, you’re still here ? I thought you’d gone back to London.”
Tommy had lived some time in The States and spoke very good English, with a Transatlantic accent. He was busy making the rounds, greeting and kissing everyone he knew and trying his luck with a few girls, he didn’t.
“Have you seen the art ?” he asked. “Come on, you may as well.”
Tommy led Richard and Chris to the last room, the smallest of the three, which was covered in paintings. The artists, predominantly young women between eighteen and twenty, stood around, in front of their work, happy to discuss it, happier still to sell any of it.
Nothing particularly grabbed the attention of Richard or Chris. Tommy swaggered around, looking left and right and winking at some of the artists. Nice Guy Kai took his time, casting a critical eye over the work on display. He was joined by Andreas, who merely laughed at everything.
Most of the paintings were abstract, some being little more than masses of colour, others featuring various large shapes, super-imposed on indistinct backgrounds. One woman had a series of shapes that vaguely resembled female genitalia, all with different colour schemes.
Back in the kitchen, over the next glass of wine, Tommy proclaimed, making sure everyone could hear him,
“I liked the colour pussies. Might get one for my wall.”
Most of the guests were of student age, being either artists or friends of artists. Richard continued looking around, while Monika came over and explained:
“In the second room is going to be some poetry and reading and performance, then in the big room, there is going to be music and poetry.”
Richard and Chris stood by the door of the second room, which had a stage area and some chairs laid out, giving it a theatrical look.
A very tall and thin, obvious-student man got up and after introducing himself very quietly, launched into a recitation of an original piece. Neither Richard nor Chris understood the text, so they went back to the bar. Shortly after, Gabi came over, rolling her eyes disapprovingly at the rendition. She leant on Richard’s shoulder so as to whisper in his ear,
“It is lucky you not speak the good German.”
He smiled at her, and offered her a refill. She accepted and then continued,
“Lorelei says, ‘Hello’. She could not come tonight because … “ and then she was lost for words, so turned to Chris for translation.
“Ah, alles klar. Lorelei is still unpacking, but she sends greetings. There you go. More cheap, nasty plonk ?”
After half an hour, the poetry readings were over, and more people came into the kitchen. Richard asked Sabrina what she thought of it,
“Ach, it was shit. Real student, ‘nobody loves me’ shit.”
The second room was cleared of its chairs and the space opened up for people to dance in. Meanwhile, the third room was being made ready for the live music. Chris, expecting a band of sorts, grabbed Richard to show him the peculiar preparations being carried out.
The stage area had a cello on its side and two chairs. To the left of the stage was a type of sandbox, only filled with gravel. A tall, young man, with an enormous eagle-like head and full, black beard, was meticulously scraping and re-scraping the tiny stones with a wooden fork, appearing very unhappy with the results. He began shouting to the corner of the room, then back to his scrapping, then back shouting. Nothing seemed to alter, nothing seemed to please him, so Richard and Chris they left him to his endeavours, to watch girls dance.
Tommy came up behind them and put an arm around each of their shoulders, smiling as he watched Gabi move. Monika reached out her hand and Chris was only too happy to oblige, deliberately dancing out of time to the innocuous Euro-pop that was being played.
Tommy looked at Gabi, then at Richard.
“That, my friend, is one great piece of arse. Got yourself a German girl, yet ?”
“Not yet, but I’m working on it.”
“How about Gabi ?”
“Out of my league. Just look at her.”
“I am, I am. Have you seen her boyfriend ? A real zero, nothing. He must have been born in the Chinese Year of the Boar. Doesn’t even fuck her, can you believe it ? Has that next to him in bed and all he wants to do is read fishing magazines. She’s desperate.”
“Desperate enough for you ?” joked Richard.
“Hey, I could have her if I wanted to. Probably. Maybe.”
“If she were drunk enough.”
“Oh, English humour, so very funny. Well, wanna make it interesting ?”
“What do you have in mind ?”
“A bet; who can get inside Gabi’s panties first. Hey, to hell with it, who can get inside Gabi, first.”
Richard burst out laughing; just the idea of either of them with someone like Gabi. But he played along.
“OK. And the winner takes the other out to dinner. And drinks. Lots of drinks.”
“No, the loser has to pay.”
“No, man, in this case, the winner! Only right that he has to pay.”
Tommy starred him in the eye, thinking intensely. Finally,
“All right. I can dig that. Put it there.” He spat on his hand, rather more than he anticipated, and Richard begrudgingly shook. At that point, Chris joined them.
“What’s going on here ?”
Tommy answered in a pure, matter-of-fact voice, “Oh, we’re having a bet who can fuck Gabi first.”
Chris stuck out his hand.
“Count me in,” quickly checking behind him, to make sure Monika was well out of earshot.
Both Tommy and Richard protested and shook their heads.
“You’re with Monika. Gabi would never go with you.” argued Richard.
Over the discussion, Tommy brought them to silence.
“He’s right, you’ll have to wait six months before you can go from one member of The Gang to the other. That’s what happened when I left Silka for her friend, and when Silke went from Kai to Andreas. Didn’t think Andreas would last the course. Must have more between his legs than between his ears.”
Kai walked over, thinking he had heard his name. Richard and Chris turned to look at each other. Chris spoke first, addressing Tommy, Richard with the follow up.
“You were with Silke ?”
“And … how is she ? Bet she’s into some real kinky stuff ?”
“No, not so much. Kinda placid, actually. Lies back and takes it. Which is all right, you know, don’t have to put too much energy into it, or thought, just get the auto-pilot up and running.”
“Well,” began Chris, “that does surprise me.”
“Yeah, my whole scale of balance is shifted.”
“Maybe … “ said Chris, building tension, “and don’t take this the wrong way, but, maybe, just maybe … it was you. Like, you know … you just ain’t no good ?”
“No way, Churchill, home-run every time. Hey, let’s ask Sabrina. I was with her once. ”
“No. No, no.” said Chris.
“What ? Are you nuts ?” asked Richard, but it was too late. Tommy called out to her on the dance floor,
“Hello, Sabi … aren’t I a sex-god in bed ? These two don’t believe me.”
Sabrina, not missing a beat of the music, answered,
“Ach, you’re OK, nothing special. Too sweaty for me. And your orgasm cry is weird.”
Instead of being embarrassed, Tommy stood there, proudly, arms outstretched, as if to say, ‘see, didn’t I tell you ?’.
“Why did Sabrina dump you ?” inquired Chris.
“Well … she’s very business minded. Got her own five-year plan. One of those ‘work hard, play hard’ types. When she dumped me, it was like a hostile take-over; ‘I’m going to have to let you go’. I was dumped by the board of Sabrina GmbH.”
“Did you at least get a golden handjob ?” asked Chris with a misleadingly serious face.
Andreas joined them and Chris and Richard regarded him in a new light. Tommy smiled at him and Andreas smiled back, not knowing what was going on.
“And ? What’s happening ?”
A blonde student moved up to Kai, attaching herself to his arm, and whispered something to him. Kai explained,
“The music’s going to start soon, we should go if we want to see it.”
“Do we want to see it ?” asked Andreas.
“Shouldn’t that be ‘hear it ?’” replied Tommy with a smug, alcohol grin.
“No, Arschloch, it’s also another verdammte (bloody, fucking) performance,” Kai clarified.
“Stefan is really good. On cello,” added the blonde. Kai looked down at her, as if seeing her for the first time, then seemed to remember,
“I liked her paintings,” he said by way of explanation, then moved into the other room.
The music stopped as an announcement was made, and people began crowding into the largest room, for what was rumoured to be the main event of the night.
When all space was taken, the lights dimmed and a tall and slightly overweight man dressed in dark trousers and tails walked onto the stage and took up the cello. A woman with long auburn hair and evening dress sat next to him, a folio on her lap. She nervously altered the position of it in her hands. Then the eagle-headed man from before reappeared, with wooden fork, and took up his position in the gravel box. He looked around, commanding silence and was about to commence, when there was a giggle. Andreas turned to those around him, and made a gesture of apology.
Eagle-head started again, raising his fork as a baton. The cellist looked over, an expression of earnest concentration, eyebrows furrowed, eyes squinting behind round lenses. He slowly drew his bow across the instrument and played a gentle passage of quite unexpected beauty.
The room was silent. Monika and Gabi rested their heads against each other. Sabrina looked at Tommy with an ambiguous glimmer in the eye. Kai, standing at the back, had begun softly stroking the hair of the young artist at his side. Richard and Chris desisted drinking. Andreas went to find the toilet.
Softly, almost inaudibly, the woman in the evening dress began speaking, her head facing down into the folio before her.
Above the music and voice, there was an excruciating nails on blackboard shrill. The speaker gained in volume, though people still had to strain to understand. The cello continued, then suddenly made some savage scrapes across the strings, as the woman jumped up, an unexpected occurrence, a not altogether easy operation in such an outfit, and began shrieking, answered by more metallic scrapping.
The woman began screaming, unaccompanied, then more scrapping. Chris stood on tip-toes, and could see the hunched, eagle-headed figure, bent double, holding his fork above the gravel, then bringing it down at an exact spot and dragging it back and forth.
As suddenly as she has jumped to life, the woman sat down. There followed a conversation between cello and fork, though they didn’t seem to be speaking the same language.
The performance dragged on and people began trickling out, all drawn to the bar.
The woman actually seemed relieved, the cellist angry, and Eagle-head oblivious to the loss of audience.
By the time they had finished, there was barely half a dozen people left. The woman immediately jumped down and ran to a couple of friends. The cellist took inordinate care of his cello, as if not sure what to do and Eagle-head starting complaining about something to do with the box, or the gravel, or both, or neither.
Kai’s young friend said that she had to say hello to Stefan, the cellist, who she explained was in his last year of music studies, and was going to be a great conductor.
Meanwhile, the cultural appetites of The Gang having been assuaged, they began making plans for escape.
Chris was going to stay with Monika, who was first going to drive Sabrina to Gabi’s flat.
Tommy had found two Danish girls who had a car and wanted to see some of the underground bars that Tommy had told them about. He conferred with Richard. Andreas came over and asked what the plan was. Tommy decided. He, the two Danes, Andreas and Richard would go to Friedrichshain, Richard suggesting Café Kinski.
The Gang said their farewells, hugs and kisses all around, except Gert whom no one had seen for hours, and Kai who was occupied with a kissing thing of his own.
Tommy walked between Anna and Karin, the Danish girls, while Richard and Andreas followed to the car parked a few streets away.
There was a little skirmish as Tommy claimed shot gun but Andreas, who had taken a fancy to Anna, the driver, said that as Tommy was so short, he should get in the back.
He was about to object, then noticed that Karin had a great, healthy, Scandinavian body, and orchestrated himself into the middle seat, keeping her away from Richard, with a sickly grin at his opponent.
Andreas gave directions, suggesting they drive up to Bismarkstrasse and then a straight run, past the Siegessäule, through the Brandenburger Tor, and on to Alexanderplatz, an easy journey and sight-seeing tour combined.
The car was full of screaming and joking and laughing, everyone speaking the lingua franca of English.
As they passed through the arch of the Brandenburger Tor, Richard remarked about the amazing turn of events, that less than five years previously, this wouldn’t have been possible, that The Wall had been there, watchtowers and armed guards and dogs and tanks and the might of Moscow.
They began speaking about when The Wall had fallen. It, of course, dominated the news in Denmark and England. Andreas said he was stoned in Bavaria and more concerned about being busted by the local police (“Bavarian paranoia” a complaint shared by all the Bavarian members of The Gang.)
Tommy allowed the conversation to flag, before speaking up.
“I was living in Berlin, West Berlin. And I’ve got a story. Who wants to hear it ?”