10th June 2021
Potsdamer Platz, the centre of Berlin, in 1995. Google Images
Part Seven. Berlin. June 1995
Josef, the new barman, came into the kitchen and slammed the phone down, barking at Richard that it was for him, his mouth salivating with contempt. Richard thought fuck Josef, and he really meant it.
He answered, expecting Chris to invite him to the bar, but instead it was Monika inviting him to Café Haller.
Hardly able to wait for his unspeakable shift to finish, he finally walked to the bar, both curious and nervous. He had thought about what could Monika possibly want. Probably to just see him, have a drink and renew the friendship; just because she was no longer seeing Chris, didn’t mean that they had to stop seeing each other. Maybe she had news of a new job for him; even another Spüler job would get him out of the awful Biberkopf and there would be a novelty period before that monotony set in. Or . . . possibly, there was news of Lorelei. He tried to dismiss that idea, but he couldn’t, and that was why he entered the bar both hoping and fearing that Lorelei would be working. He would only need to see her once to fall in love all over again. He would get his heart broken all over again, but even the remote possibility was worth the risk.
But, no Lorelei, and it was some seconds before he saw Monika. She smiled, but it lacked warmth. Richard’s heart sank. He felt she blamed him, and, in a way, he had lied to her, as well.
There was some small talk about work, before Monika got to the point. Could he tell Chris to stop calling her. It was a demand, not a question.
Richard told her that he knew nothing about this, that Chris hadn’t told him. Then he thought back to the concert, the way Chris kept looking at every one coming in.
“Did he invite you to a concert on Saturday ?” he asked.
“Ah, yes, in the shitty Czar Bar. You really think we want to go to a bar that has no water in the toilet ? Women need to wash their hands.”
Richard gestured that he understood. Then he asked if he could speak openly. He apologised for that Sunday morning, explaining that he really had left the club without Chris and didn’t know where he was. He said that he suspected that Chris may have crashed at Arizona Al’s, though this was somewhat disingenuous. Monika suddenly turned gentle and friendly, as if she were dying to finally speak about it and clear the air. She said she didn’t blame Richard at all, but had felt sorry for him caught in-between.
The conversation continued, both saying sorry and how they had missed each other. They caught each other up with the gossip.
Silke was now seeing a new man. Andreas was furious and hurt that she had a new boyfriend so soon after splitting up. Nice Guy Kai was seeing a journalist and appeared happy, though in no hurry to enter into a committed relationship. Gabi was now dating a lawyer and was talking about moving in with him. Lorelei had found someone who often worked in Munich, so she was considering a relocation. Richard appreciated her sensitivity when speaking about her. He knew his eyes gave away his pain.
To change the atmosphere, he was about to ask her about her love life, when a man in shirt and tie walked out of the kitchen and came over and kissed Monika.
It was Carsten, an old boyfriend of hers that had come back into her life . . . sort of . . . maybe . . .
Carsten stayed for a beer and Monika explained that Carsten ran a club in Wilmersdorf, and knew the chef (1) at Haller.
Carsten knocked on the table, (2) shook Richard’s hand and gave Monika a slightly exaggerated goodbye kiss.
After he had gone, Monika shrugged,
“Ja, Richard, I don’t know, I am alone, he is alone, it is nice. But . . . Ja, we see. We see. You drink something ?”
They stayed until the bar closed.
“And, Richard . . . how do you get home ?”
“Ah, mist (bullshit) I drive you.” It was a generous offer, really out of her way.
The journey from Steglitz to Prenzlauer Berg gave them more time to speak. Richard asked to go through the city and was amazed at how Potsdamer Platz was changing. The route was now totally different from his last trip here. New roundabouts and traffic lights amidst the wooden walkways, the iron-wire fences, the giant water pipes that spanned the roads. Tiny red lights suspended in the darkness of the night, warned planes of the ever-present cranes.
And empty roads, only an occasional night bus, or car. Almost no neon, sometimes no street lamps. Richard mentioned the fact that they were in a main European capital, yet there was hardly any light. They could well have been in some provincial village.
“And, um, Richard, I ask you something ? If it’s OK ?”
“You still think about Lorelei.”
“Yes, but it’s getting better. Now it’s down to about ninety-six per cent of the time. The other four per cent I’m thinking about not thinking about Lorelei.”
“And you have no one else you like ?”
“No. Not yet. I’m sure I will.”
“No one at work ?”
“I’m the Spüler . . . I don’t count. I liked one new girl, Jolande, you know her ? But, well, she wised up. As for the others . . . even Ully looks down at me. Her, with the thing. My fault, really, me and Chris. We were there one night, she was working, and we were kinda flirting with her. Because she does have quite a nice body. Very nice, in fact. But . . . anyway, she’s now walking around like she’s Claudia Schiffer. Now, a girl like Claudia Schiffer. That would get my mind off Lorelei. But I don’t think they exist. She’s probably been genetically modified. If so, here’s to genetics.“
“Ah, you haven’t seen Margot. New waitress at Haller.”
“Oh, very cute. All the men want to fuck her. Even I want to fuck her.”
Richard got out by the U-Bahn on Schönhauser Allee, hoping to get some fast food and cheap beer from one of the Imbisses. A young girl was there, slighty tipsy, and they began a short conversation. Then Richard paid and went home.
He later wondered what would have happened if he had asked the girl to come back with him.
But, he didn’t, and once more he went to bed, alone.
(1) In German, chef can mean cook or owner.
(2) A sign in Germany that one is leaving.