Love and Chaos Part 9(K) Chris 2

13th October 2021

Winter in Berlin 2021 – Berlin.de
Berlin in winter from berlin.de
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“She stood you up ! Silke ! Here ! And you kissed, you sonofa…. You should see where she lives, and the shampoo … neon blue, and what a fragrance, designer alltheway, nonea that Schlecker (1) sheiss ! Did ya phone her ? Now, Pimms … no, but have a butcher’s, take a gander at this my friend.” (2)

Thus, Hurricane Chris, back in Rodenbergstrasse, coat still on, hat down over eyes, gloves thrown in different compass points of the room. Thus, Hurricane Chris, a vortex of verbosity, several topics covered in one seemingly endless bombastic tirade, no pause for breath or thought. Now, Hurricane Chris bending and rummaging through travel bags, an auspicious, “Ahhhhhhh, voila !”

Behold, a bottle, one metric-litre, of the finest port, according to Chris, Duty-Free had to offer, who went into pointer dog hunt mode, searching out suitable vessels.

“No port glasses ? Oh, that’s positively Dickensian.” Finally, an intermission for Richard to get a word, but probably no more, into the proceedings.

“Port is quintessentially Dicke …” Almost four words.

“Oh, it’s Melanie, everything, all of a sudden, is ‘Dickensian’. Now, what we need are comma glasses. Hhmmm, OK, these Biberkopf beakers will have to suffice, I want to hear your news, Silke, man ! And ya … where, where did ya kiss her ?”

Richard looked around him:

“Pretty much around here,” pointing to the floor.

“Very funny, no port for you, ya damn kissaholic, I mean, you know what I mean. Anatomy !”

“The lips.”

Chris nearly went into orbit:

“The lips ! Silke ! The lips ! Man … man. Silke, on the lips. And … ?”

“And ?”

“And … ? How was it ?”

“It was … nice.”

Chris thought, amateur dramatic style, finger stroking chin.

“Hhhmmm, nice or … nicccccccceeeee ?”

“It was nice.”

“Oh. Yeah, well, go figure.”

Chris shook his head, and seemed to be pondering the deepest of mysteries. Suddenly, he snapped back to the more pressing business of port, leaving behind the disappointing smoochings of Silke (with the Bond-girl legs).

He continued:

“Stood you up, hey ?”

“And I’ll tell you all about it, but first, we drink, then you tell me about Melanie, I still can’t believe … never mind, then I’ll tell you all that didn’t happen. Which won’t take long. A heads up; nothing happened.”

Chris concurred. They clinked their totally inappropriate glasses, appropriated from Cafe Biberkopf, Chris took off his outer layers as the Öfen had been stoked all day and the room was snug in the extreme, and the catching up began.

“So she’s living at Clapham Junction, near that store Arding and Hobbs …”

“Arding and Hobbs, Arding and Hobbs,” sang Richards to Chris’ utter bemusement until the memory of distant Christmas TV adverts came back.

“Oh, yes, yes, I never, OK, so, Mel’s got this great pad, I mean, Man, it’s so new, so clean, got an intercom, security gates … washing machine.”

“No !”

“Check out my jumper, no, don’t, it’s already been Berlined, oh, it’s only Berlin, and we have port ! Drink up. Prost !”

“And you didn’t go home ?”

“Well, I planned, but everything was booked, booked or fucking hell, do you have any idea how expensive everything is ? Train to Stafford was more than the flight to Berlin. Then when I saw the flat, I just crashed, I mean, I was ex…haus..tttedddd. I couldn’t move. Bag down, shower … hot water, even the water felt …”

“Wetter ?”

“Cleaner. And the shampoo ! My friend, we have accustomed ourselves to a bargain bin basement lifestyle. Port excepted. Man, this port is beautiful.”

“Yes, it’s like Zola. I love Zola, but I’ve hardly read any. Port is exquisite, we can get it here, I guess, but we don’t. Bumped into Danny Boy on Christmas. Gave me this.”

Richard reached over and held up a Penguin Classic edition of Zola’s ‘L’ Assommoir’, black spine, Degas painting on the cover.

“That looks right up my street, some knackered old slapper drowning her miseries. So, Mel, great pad … ”

“How can she afford it on just a grant ?”

“Ah, the plot … mutates. Sister. Sister avec boyfriend. Boyfriend has one of those jobs. Ditto sister. Merchant banker, him, project manager with development portfolio, her. No fucking clue any which way, me. Landed Mel with a part-time gig as managerial consultant.”

“The only part of that that made any sense to me was, ‘No fucking clue.”

Chris threw his hands up;

“I know, I asked, I asked again, I tried making diagrams, zilch.”

“German chef syndrome. You ask the name, it doesn’t take, you try again, you know, you just know, you can’t ask a third time. So you call him Yorckstrasse, and that really pisses him off. So, Mel graduates next summer ?”

“In reality, yes. In her noggin she’s already Erasmus professor at Harvard, Cambridge being somewhat beneath her.”

“Oh …,” exclaimed Richard as a loud firecracker exploded nearby. “She’s coming to stay … here ?”

“Well I can’t invite her to Rigaer 78, can I ? Can I ? No, she’s too busy. Maybe a weekend visit, but that was her just … ”

“Being herself. Now, what the Dickens ?”

“Oh, that, well one day there was a buzz and the intercom was slightly distorted, which incurred her wrath, ‘Oh, how Dickensian.’ Another day the washing machine didn’t spin, you guessed it, ‘How Dickensian.’ Seems someone had lent her some TV drama, ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, I believe, on video.”

“Ya mean she didn’t even read the book ? Kids ! You’re waiting to hear about the date, right ?”

Chris nodded and refilled the glasses. Richard sat back to compose himself. Meanwhile Chris had found the Ritters;

“This chocolate is fucking gorgeous. Ok, the floor is yours. You saw me off at the airport, oh, I forgot, ya dumped me at the U-Bahn … ”

“After which I returned home, picking up the pastry, cookin’ the coffee. Suddenly, bang, bang, bang on the door. Enter Silke, legs and all, hug, exchange of body warmth, increase of heart rate. We natter for an hour or so, she just lives over Stargarder now, we drink, we talk, we smoke, we laugh … we kiss. Once. Long but not too long. Lips closed. No invitation for a follow up. It was, I believed, a taste of things to come. So, we are at Kottbusser Tor, by which I mean I was, and I’m making my way through the drunks and bums and the, ‘Haben Sie Kleingeld, bittes ?’ (3) heading for the right exit, get to the bar, I’m early, of course, get a drink, Campari and soda … and casually wait. Bar’s getting busy, Saturday night before Christmas. I look around, take my drink, sit where I can see the door, just waiting for her to arrive. Make a point of not checking my watch, but this is Berlin …”

“Clocks everywhere.”

“And they are ticking away. S’OK, weather’s terrible, delay on the U-Bahn, I know, it’s Berlin there are never delays on the U-Bahn. She’s putting on special make up, or a dress or … so I wait. I allow her thirty minutes, no problem. It’s now forty-five minutes. I’m sippin’ that Campari as slow as possible. Now it’s an hour. I need the bathroom.”

“Do you stay or do you go ?”

“Oh, I had to go, big time ! All that soda. But if I go and she comes, she may think I’ve gone or stood her up. So I stay. Ten minutes pass. I could have gone five times. Finally, just had to go, but I saw a payphone. Gave her a call.”

“Yeah, and … ?”

“Had it all prepared, ‘Guten Abend, darf ich mit Johanna sprechen, bitte ?’ That’s good isn’t it ? Apparently not. Barbaric baritone belchings from hell, and phone slammed down.”

“Not a good sign.”

“Not a good sign. More port, please. Cheers. Ah, this is heavenly. So, I walk back, expecting Johanna to be there, beaming, radiant, apologetic … Nothing. My glass had been taken, new people in my seat. I checked my watch. Over ninety minutes late. I check outside. Dark, bitter, empty, depressing. Only one thing for it.”

“To Alex, to Samariterstraße, to the Czar Bar, to hell with women.”

“I went out to call her the next day. She has no way to contact me and maybe something came up. Several coats on, phone card and coins, slippin’ and a sliddin’ my way across Schönhauser Allee. Got my patter worked out. ‘Entschuldigen Sie bitte, es tut mir lied …’ As far as I got. Really belligerent death threats, I’m sure. Phone slammed down, eardrum gone for a Burton. And that was that.”

They sat and drank in silence. Richard continued:

“We’re both thinking it. Right ? This time last year … ”

“I was with Monika, you were up to no good with Gabi, chasing Lorelai with Silke on the backburner. Arizona Al, the coolest dude ever. Melanie fucked off and nobody cared how or if she got home. Oh, got ya this.” Chris went into another bag and gave Richard a paper bag covering a paperback.

“Feynman ! ‘Six Easy Pieces,’ incredible. Thanks so much.”

They clinked and finished the port.

“You know,” Richard started, “We could go out it you want. Czar Bar ? Maybe just local, maybe try Silke ?”

“No, I’m really tired. I saw some beer in the fridge. That will be OK. One or two, then I really gotta sleep. I’m exhausted.”

Thus, to the sound of fireworks and cheers, two Englishmen spent what would be their last ever Silvester together in Berlin. Within a year, one would no longer be living in Germany, the other would be on his way to achieving a modicum of fame.

Across town, Daniel was drinking Champagne, not German Sket or Prosecco, genuine Champagne out of a crystal glass that cost more than his weekly rent. He was, undoubtedly, on his way to achieve rather more than just a modicum of fame.

Across the Channel, Alan was at his parent’s home having a marathon film night. He didn’t care for the chiming of Big Ben and the linking of arms for ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ He had gone through his video collection and watched F.W.Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’, and was now waiting for Janet Leigh to take that shower in ‘Psycho.’ ‘La Dolce Vita’ was special, that could wait until tomorrow so, after Hitchcock, he thought Truffaut’s ‘La Mariée Était en Noir,’ would be a perfect conclusion.

Across the Atlantic, Eric was on a bus heading into Manhattan. He wanted to see the ball drop for real. Naturally, the crowds were so dense he didn’t get anywhere near, but at least he was in New York, the centre of the Universe. Where else was the night brighter than the day, where else could you buy anything at anytime ? Where else could you go into any bookshop and find exactly what you were looking for, and then some.

Back in Berlin, Jake was both out of his head, and functioning as sole barman, with the occasional help from Peter. The French were in full force, Claude singing, showing off his new girlfriend, a very cute German lady in a very cute peaked cap. Marc, the eagle-headed chap responsible for creating a gravel-based installation, was with his girlfriend, an ice-blonde German who looked stunning, Johan was talking with his brother, and everybody within earshot. For the German contingent, Robert was making his usual proclamation and initiating some old friends from Heidelberg into serial vodka drinking. Thomas and Stefan were holding their own, and even planning some kind of musical collaboration with York T, who tonight had tied different colour papers in his hair. Sascha was performing some weird dance or mating ritual with Iris, his girlfriend, while Olga was shouting at Jake for being too slow with the Bloody Marys. Boris, now with short hair and dark rings under the eyes, was leaning against a wall, making small talk with some newly-arrived Russians.

Back in west Berlin, in Steglitz, an adorable young lady named Nadeem was at a small party, having one, and only one, glass of Sekt. Her closest friend, who could have been a supermodel if she were taller, couldn’t believe Nadeem was single. Everybody was chasing her. The friend was adamant that the time was right for Nadeem to be caught.

Chris was already snoring while Richard began reading Feynman’s lectures. The port was gone, the beer was gone, the chocolate was long gone.

Fireworks and explosions, laughing, clinking and drinking, hugging and kissing.

Welcome to 1996.

Notes

(1) Schlecker was a low-budget chemist chain. They sold a lot of own brand items. The company went bankrupt in 2012: https://www.ft.com/content/049ef850-0248-11e6-99cb-83242733f755

(2) Both are British slang meaning ‘have a look.’

(3) Do you have any small change, please ? A request for money from homeless

Love and Chaos. Part 9(J) Enrique Granados – ‘The Last Romantic’

1st October 2021

Granados
Enrique Granados

“My motto has always been to renounce an easy success in order to achieve one that is true and lasting.”

Enrique Granados achieved lasting success in 1889 with the publication of his ‘Danzas españolas’. The composer, born near Barcelona in 1867, had just returned from studying piano in Paris. Upon publication, the collection of twelve piano pieces proved to be immediately popular.

His music is classified as Nationalistic, which means being inspired by, and celebrating, the history, culture and traditions of the homeland. For his second lasting achievement, Granados, not unlike Mussorgsky in Russia, sought inspiration from art. His musical musings on the work of fellow Spaniard Francisco de Goya, the ‘Goyescas’, are cited as his masterpiece.

During the period of composition (1911 – 1913), Granados met Ernest Schelling, a pianist from America, who arranged a music publisher in the USA as well as encouraging the arrangement of the Goya piece into an opera. It was set to premiere at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

There were two problems that foreshadowed tragedy. Firstly, Granados was terrified of water, secondly the premier was in 1916. Europe was at war.

In January 1916, the Opera, well-received, had its world premiere. Granados stayed longer in the USA to perform some piano recitals.

He and his wife had planned to sail directly back to Spain when an invitation to play for President Wilson at the White House arrived.

The journey home was delayed by a day, and the route was altered; New York to the UK, UK to France. As they crossed the English Channel, a German U-Boat torpedoed their ship. On March 24th 1916, the composer and his wife were killed.

A short time before, Granados had written to a friend

“I have a whole world of ideas. I am only now starting my work.”

Love and Chaos. Part 9(I) Richard 2

30th September 2021

Wichertstasse, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin

Part Nine. Berlin. Sylvester 1995

Richard smiled at a group of children who were setting off firecrackers on the street. He was walking back from the phone box, ineffectively-gloved hands as deep as possible in jacket pocket, shoulders hunched together, wooly hat covering as much face as possible, said face facing down, avoiding the skin-scraping sandpaper hail.

Lot’s wife would have had no problem; turning back against the blizzard would be impossible. Lot’s wife survives, Lot’s daughters wouldn’t have got Lot Czar-bared, and maybe the world would have been a better place. Yes, Richard had found a King James version of the Bible, and had decided that Genesis was populated by some seriously demented people. Chris would love it.

Apropos of Chris, Richard made a detour along Wichertstrasse to get some food in. The street, parallel to Rodenberg, was more commercial, having several stores. A small German-language school, admonishing Richard every time he walked past, a small Spar market, a Waschcentre and shops to be filed under ‘miscellaneous’. Into Spar, grabbing a wire basket and loading up with the new staple food; a frozen fish pie that was reasonable and actually delicious. The Spar home-brand pizza was a sorry item, but 99 Pfennings, you couldn’t go (far) wrong. 99 Pfennings German Camembert (Camembert-style), brown bread, some tomatoes for colour, certainly not for taste, giant sausage, beer, Sekt and Ritter’s chocolate bars. The packing was great, the variety of flavours were great, they tasted fucking great. In the spirit of Christmas, you could forgive the Germans so much, for producing such heavenly chocolate, and the beer wasn’t bad either. The women … some of the women … were breathtaking.

Gabi. Why didn’t he make a play for Gabi ? She was so far out of his league, there would have been nothing to lose. This time last year, he was together with her, alone, in a locked bathroom. But that was last year. This year is ending with more Teutonic screaming from an unknown male on Johanna’s number. So that is that. Johanna can go to hell with the rest of 1995. Two dates, a building up of critical mass and then … and then.

Chris was flying back today. He should have some Physics books. Maybe something on String Theory. At least Stephen Hawking’s ‘Brief History of Time,’ that was thin enough. Pimms, maybe, Stilton, unlikely, gossip unquestionably. Chocolate, well, that’s covered.

Several hours later, the flat remarkably toasty from continual offerings to the Öfen, a thumping on the door. Laden with cases, nose and ears red from imminent frostbite, smiling ear to frozen ear stood Chris;

“Recalled to life, recalled to active duty, the beer goes on, the beat goes on, Berlin goes on !”

Love and Chaos. Part 9(H) Jake 1

27th September 2021

Photograph by Martin O’Shea 2020

Part Nine. Berlin. Christmas Day 1995

“I couldn’t believe it, fucking hell, man, you know what this crazy bitch woman say ?”

Richard arrived at the Czar Bar just as Johan was delivering these festive felicitations. Jake gave him a nod and Daniel beckoned him over to a free bar stool. It was mid afternoon, there was a mild, happy vibe, no drunken madness, just the buzz of an easy beer or two, or so. And then there was Johan. He was holding court, gesticulating, slamming his bottle down before drinking from it. Daniel turned to Richard;

“’ere’s what you’ve missed. Johan and his girlfriend have split up.”

“No ! When ?”

“Last night.”

Richard asked why and wasn’t prepared for the answer, which Johan himself supplied;

“The whores of Amsterdam !”

The five or six men around the bar laughed. Peter, the one time possible Poseidon, was leaning quietly on the end of the bar and there were a couple of Germans Richard recognised, who smiled at him, raising their bottles. When the laughter died, Daniel was able to elucidate.

“’im and ‘is bird were watching TV last night, and they saw some old clip of Jacques Brel singing ‘Amsterdam’.”

Johan took over;

“Yeah, and he . . .“ here Johan acted out the performance, sans need to exaggerate gestures and expressions. “And this girl, this fucking crazy bitch woman, she say, ‘why he all excited, he only sing about prostitutes ?’ So . . . that it, you know, I tell her, man, she have to go !”

Jake was busy with the tapes and CD’s, looking for some Brel, or at least a Bowie version of ‘Amsterdam’, but the closest he found was Tom Waits, so he played that. He got a fresh beer, made sure everyone was OK for drinks, then called out;

“Hey, Peter, watch the bar, I’ll be right back.” Jake went out the back door and immediately the cry went up for free vodkas, but Peter desisted, taking his new job very seriously. Except when he changed the CD and, selecting a new one, turned it over in his hands, asking;

“Which side do I play ?” then he opened his mouth, missing teeth and all, and laughed.

When Jake returned, Johan and one of the Germans lifted their arms and cried out in happy surprise. Richard turned to see Jake with a guitar.

“I couldn’t find a version on tape, and it’s Christmas, so what the fuck ?”

He turned off the music, tuned up a bit, then began slowly strumming the chords to Amsterdam. His voice was dusky and strained, a little affected but was in tune, and got stronger as the song went on.

When he finished, the bar applauded and demanded more, but instead, Jake turned the music back on, put the guitar in a corner and opened the vodka. Richard stuck with beer, which he drank very slowly.

More people came in, more drinks were poured and the bar split into small groups as Johan joined some French friends, and the Germans left to play Flipper.

Richard called Jake over and congratulated him on his playing. Jake dismissed it with a wave, and launched into an explanation of what the song was really about;

“Yeah, there’s this sailor, and he’s surrounded by the filth of the world, where love is nothing more than a cheap, sordid fuck and people spend all their time just trying to obliterate their minds . . .”

“Sounds like this place,” added Daniel with a laugh, but Jake ignored him, focusing on Richard,

“But this sailor has beauty in his heart, he wants a pure woman, a pure love, he has dreams and ideals and despite everyone trying to drag him down to the gutter, he remains true to himself. And must therefore be alone. Always. Vodka !”

As they clinked Richard, still abstaining from the Stoli, noticed a sadness in Jake’s eyes and understood that Jake was referring more to himself than to any Brel song. Just as Jake often wore a heavy beard to cover up his spots, rashes and eczema, so he adopted a gruff persona to cover up a scarred heart.

At this time, Jake was on at least a bottle of vodka per day, often more. Yet he was legendary in Rigaerstrasse. No one could ever recall seeing Jake sober; alternately, no one had ever seen him hopelessly drunk. He always managed to work to the end. Boris may complain of the mess he left, but the bar was always cleared of sleeping drunks, doors always locked. Chris had lost count of how many times he had been helped up the stairs of his squat by Jake. But also, in all that time, no one had ever seen Jake in a relationship. There had been some usual drunken kisses with drunken squatters, but even these had dried up over the last years. Not that Jake didn’t appreciate women, he always had a comment to make about any woman he saw, never lewd, always respectful judgements.

He had been on his own so long, that he had almost accepted that he always would be despite this being painful and anathema to his romantic spirit, a spirit that longed to take a woman to his bed just to hold her, to love her and feel her love back. He still had faint hopes that he would find someone. Then he remembered his flat. His appearance. Any optimism was crushed. And as it was crushed, a new bottle was opened.

Richard, still refusing vodka, began to leave. He took a look around, thinking that he wouldn’t be back for a long time. He said his goodbyes, responded to Jake’s, “Don’t be a stranger,” with a nod and a commitment to return. Then Daniel stopped him.

“Wait a tic, I’ll walk with ya a bit. Could use some air.”

They walked to Danziger Str, Daniel asking about Johanna.

Richard turned and made the universal sign for ‘no idea’. Daniel put his arm around him then turned the conversation back to himself.

“Me piece comes out in the new year. She wants me to ‘ave a go at poetry, now,” he explained, referring to Jeanette, the editor of Savage Revolt. “Says there’s lots of poetry nights, open mic things around town. Be good to get exposure.”

“Yeah, sounds good.”

“Ya reckon ? Poetry ? Fuck me, I don’t read that faggot shit.”

“It doesn’t have to be all flowers and clouds, you know. Hey, what’s this ?” Richard had seen a small poster for a production of Rimbaud. “And look, it’s in English.”

“Oh, I dunno, it’s some theatre thing. Vincent, yeah ? Jake kinda knows ‘im.”

“Any good ?”

“Only met ‘im once. Right arrogant prick. Total wanker.”

“No, the theatre ?”

“Doubt it.”

“’Season in Hell’. Sounds cheerful. Fancy going ? Mid January.”

“Might as well. ‘ho are these other fucks ? Julie . . . Re . . . torree ? Alan Francis ? Never ‘eard of ’em.”

“I’ll tell Chris. He’ll be up for it. Maybe Jake.” Daniel just snorted. “Yeah. Maybe not.”

“Right, you coming back to the bar, then ?”

“No, think I’ll have an easy evening.” Instead, they found an open Imbiss, had some dreadful fatty food and returned to the bar.

Richard woke up, hungover, headache, hungry, sick and sickened. The fridge was almost empty, the coffee almost gone. This couldn’t continue. The New Year was coming and it had to be different. For Richard’s physical and mental health, it had to be different.

Love and Chaos. Part 9(G) A Christmas Miscellany

24th September 2021

Berlin in winter. Photo by Martin O’Shea

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Sunday morning and the room reeked of hangover.

Richard had to use the bathroom, had to vomit, had to open a window, had to drink litres of designer French water, had to take several aspirins, had to have a blood transfusion, had to be joking to think that this was any sort of life.

Richard could not get out of bed, could not turn or move; who had used his head as a punch bag ? He checked his face. Teeth intact. Stubble, even the stubble stank of old cigarettes, but no discernable cuts, bruises, bleeding.

The room had an unbearage fug of everything that was unholy and unhealthy. He had to open the window but it was minus God-knows what outside. It would purify the stench … or was that sunlight ? There would be no sunlight for at least five months, meanwhile … water.

But every movement resulted in an internal knockout blow to the head. Some inner-cranial entity was hell-bent on kicking the crap out of the back of Richard’s eyes. And he had to vomit. The thought made him want to vomit. He had to use the bathroom. The thought of that made him want to vomit. The infamous, cruel and unusual, you are being held to account, porcelain punishment.

Dreading how much repulsive fluid was able to emerge, projectile or explosive, from this paragon of animals, and what a Styxian stench would engulf the flat, our pilgrim makes the journey, more or less on his knees, to the bathroom, and we shall close the door on that chapter and return when sufficient ablutions have been made.

London, the clocks one hour behind. Chris woke up in Battersea, in Melanie’s flat. She sat on his bed as he drank his tea. There was toast with jam and marmalade waiting. Later they could go into the West End, take in a museum, see a film, have a beer and talk over old times. The room had central heating, the flat had a newly-painted feel, everything seemed so clean, ordered and organised.

London, several miles north in Chalk Farm, Alan was nursing a cold in his sister Jo’s flat. How could he have been such an idiot as to go walking, in the Berlin winter, knowing he had a late flight that evening. Freezing streets, overheated U-Bahns, chilly airport lounges, a stifling cramped sweaty plane, draining immigration, bedlam at baggage and then … and then the long journey on the London Tube. After several teas, lots of sympathy noises, and a potential overdose of Lemsip, Alan screened the Super 8 film.

“She’s gorgeous, that Julie. You little tinker, you ! I told you Berlin would do you the world of good.”

Back on Berlin time, Daniel Roth was reflecting on his night out. Instead of hitting the Czar Bar, or meeting workmates in some lifeless stuffy time-frozen 70s style pub, he went solo, trying some bars around Yorckstrasse. New year, new start. He restricted himself to wine, and experimented holding his cigarette in different styles. He didn’t want to look too affected or effeminate, yet he succeeded in being both. However, he did end up chatting with two German girls and could feel them about to succumb to his charms, giving him a double Weihnachten (Christmas) gift, until they linked arms and departed. Daniel spent the rest of the evening drinking with the old Turkish barkeeper, whose face seems inscribed with wisdom, gentleness and experience. He thought back over his conversation with Jeanette, and his killer put down.

His feet were fast freezing, coins devoured by the phone box, Jeanette’s voice exuding warmth, comfort, opulence.

“We absolutely adored it, there’s no question, no question at all that it meets our criteria, only, well, how shall I put it delicately ? Daniel, it is a little near the bone for some of our board. I’m sure you know the section to which I allude.”

Daniel paused for effect.

“The magazine’s called ‘Savage Revolt’.”

A few seconds of silence.

“Do you know, you are absol…, no, quite right, we have an obligation to the artist, and … and, if certain people don’t wish to read it, they don’t have to, yes, yes. Let’s do it. I’m going to go to bat for you.”

“Unedited ?”

“Unedited, you have my word. Now, my young Hemingway, what are you doing on Silvester ? I’m having a little soiree and you simply must come. There’s a lot of people that want to meet you.”

Sunday afternoon, Daniel found one of the few Lebensmittel open and bought more wine, Sekt, chocolate, tins of goulash, giant tins of soup, cigarettes, cigarette papers, factory-produced bread and cake-type items, then returned home. He was going to read some books Chris had loaned him, maybe write a follow-up story. It seemed official. He was going to be published, and people wanted to meet him. Controversial already. But, it was Berlin. Maybe it was all just so much bullshit. He opened the wine, opened Dickens, took a swig straight from the bottle and thought, “Fuck me !”

“Fucking hell, never, never, never again,” announced Richard to no one in particular, as there was no one with him, save the Tasmanian devil running amok inside his brain. He had finished the water, and was now settling down for a day of mint tea and self-recrimination.

Serves him right for expecting anything good to happen in this shit city, in this shit life. He had hoped that he would be waking up, snuggling up, to Johanna.

At least this time he couldn’t blame himself for being drunk or too forward or not forward enough. He had been at the bar early, and waited. And waited … and waited. Johanna had stood him up.

Merry fucking Christmas

Love and Chaos. Part 9(F) Richard 1

14th August 2021

Berlin Christmas Markets Walking Tour
Berlin at Christmas. Google Images

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Chris spent Friday evening at Rodenberg Strasse, abstaining from alcohol, and reading until Richard returned from Steglitz, after which they shared a couple of easy beers. The music was constant but soft, limited to Richard’s few CDs. The next morning, Chris was flying back to London and Richard had all day to fret about his date with Johanna.

In the morning, dark and bitter, Richard, light and optimistic, walked with Chris up Schönhauser Allee to the Strassenbahn (tram) stop on Wisbyerstrasse, slushing through the snow, head down, shoulders hunched up. Chris tried moving from foot to foot to keep warm, but almost slipped on the treacherous ice. Before too long, the faint smoky glow of an approaching tram, doors opening with an hangover-splitting shriek but the inviting warmth of a heated vehicle.

Richard was travelling as far as Osloer Strasse the northern terminus of the U 9 Line. From there, Chris had a mere two stops to the interchange with the U 6, then four more to get the airport bus.

“So, tea, naturally, now, drinks … what do you have in mind ?”

“How about some Pimms ?”

“Didn’t know you liked Pimms.”

“Don’t know if I do. Never tried it. Just sounds so English. Ah, forget it. Everything’s cheaper here. Suppose Stilton’s out of the question.”

“I’m not bringing sodding Stilton back in my bag, I’ll get arrested. Books ?”

Richard named some Physics text books.

“Man, those things weigh a ton. All right, let me see. Oh, here we are. Sure you don’t wanna come to the airport, it’ll be fun.”

Richard said goodbye to Chris and watched him descend into the U-Bahn station. Just then, a Strassenbahn appeared, heading back east, and he jumped on, buying some croissants on the way back to his flat. As the coffee was brewing, there was a knock on the door, heavy, forceful, determined.

So Chris had missed the flight, or gotten the date wrong, or forgotten his passport. He pulled his door open, prepared to shout mock obscenities and bemoan the lack of Pimms when he was momentarily silenced. Completely blank for a second or two, and then a warm but confused,

“Silke !”

Standing outside his door, in tight black jeans, a very figure-hugging jacket, and boots that were far too sensual for the ice and muck of Berlin streets, was Silke who, in character, walked straight in and hugged Richard.

“Gehts ? Hey, long time, why don’t you phone, did you forget me ? Was ist ? Coffee ?”

Richard followed her into his own kitchen and, yes, she did look absolutely fantastic in jeans. He allowed himself this unexpected pleasure.

“But, er, Chris isn’t here. He’s just left for the airport.”

“Ja, und ? I speak with you. Oh, croissants, can I have ?”

“For sure. You speak with me. Wow. It’s a Christmas miracle.”

“Ah, mensch, bullshit. So was is with you ? Tell me.”

Naturally, there really wasn’t that much for Richard to tell. Same job, same life, same old Czar Bar. Chris, same job, same life, same old Czar Bar. Except for Johanna, about whom Silke was very curious.

“She lives where ?”

“Is it Marzahn ? Somewhere in the east.”

“Marzahn, schiess ! Have you been there ?”

“No, we always … ‘always’, twice, meet in town. Kreuzberg. In fact, we’re meeting tonight. Third date. Anyway, what’s with you ? Monika said you had a new man.”

“When was this ? You saw Monika ?”

Richard told her about meeting Monika in summer, without elaborating, not that there was any need for restraint. Silke knew everything.

“Ah, so, you know Gabi lives with a lawyer. Is a nice Hausfrau now, never meets. Lorelai went to …”

“I know, Munich.”

“Nein, England. She met a student and now lives in … let me think … Brighton ? Is it nice ?”

“Probably nicer than Marzahn. A student, hey ? What do ya know ?”

“Now we are neighbours.”

“Who ? You’re moving to Brighton. Why’s everyone going to bloody Brighton ?”

“Nein, you and me. I have a new apartment in Greifenhagener Strasse. Just go over Stargarder. By the Cafe Ankhor. You know it ?”

“Yes, remarkably cute waitress who couldn’t care tuppence for me. What else is new ?”

Silke, being unfamiliar with this rhetoric, actually began explaining what was new.

“Aber, ja, Monika, who knows ? I think she is tired. Too many stupid jobs, stupid men. I told her to go back to university. I’m going to. Is there more coffee ?”

An hour or so later, Silke got ready to leave. She made Richard promise to visit her, it was only five minutes away. They hugged and as they did so, they kissed. It was natural. For Richard, it was nice, very, very nice.

Around the same time, Chris was getting ready to board the flight to London. He was pinching himself, remembering to say Lufthansa, not Luftwaffe, and was looking forward to a high of 4 degrees.

Around the same time, in the north Berlin Bezirk of Wedding, Daniel was putting on his coats to call Jeanette. He had his Pfennings and Marks counted out, weighing down his jeans. The telephone that accepted cards was open-air and he would freeze his ears, while the coin-box was in a booth. It would still be freezing but not fatally.

Around the same time, ‘Rough Guide’ clutched in gloved hands, Alan Francis was walking along Danziger Strasse. He would have to move out soon, but Kelly had a room organised for him, across Schönhauser Allee. He saw a cinema over the main road and took it as an auspicious omen. He went to investigate his new neighbourhood.

Around the same time, although on EST, Eric Schwartz threw John Stuart Mill across the room, grabbed a Sam Adams, and planned on, in the morning, hitting a punch bag instead of the books. After Eric had finished Sam Adams Volume II, he felt better and reflected that making people happy, that is, tipsy, was undoubtedly for the greater good. By Volume III, he was wishing that the good people of Boston had tipped John Stuart Mill into the harbour instead of tea and by Volume IV he no longer cared, and was watching whatever was on late night TV.

Back in Berlin, Richard was reflecting on his day. He had seen Chris back to the UK safely. Soberly. He had caught a Strassenbahn immediately. Silke had miraculously reappeared in his life, the lady with Bond-girl legs, and S&M fetish boots, and tonight he was meeting Johanna. The year was ending very well.

Love and Chaos Part 9(E) Chris 1

7th August 2021

Rodenberg Strasse, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin. Google Images

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

“So, have you . . . ?”

“No, early days. Don’t want to rush things.”

“Third date coming up.”

“I know,” Richard replied then, to change the subject, pointed to his new CD player. “What do you think ?”

“Very nice. All you need now are some CD’s.”

“One thing at a time.”

“Yeah,” Chris added, “don’t want to rush things.”

Chris had arrived at Richard’s with a bag of cakes which they had demolished. Fresh coffee perpetually brewed in the kitchen. They took turns making it, and keeping the Ofen stoked. The kitchen door open, gas rings and fire lit to the max, to combat the Berlin winter.

The reason Chris was here was to see when Richard was flying home, so was surprised when he learnt that Richard intended to spend Christmas in Berlin. Chris, however, had to get away. His life depended on it.

Despite the fun of working in the bar, the sense of rebellion he felt by living in a squat, paying no rent or taxes, and a steady supply of one-night stands, he had also experienced the other, less glamorous side.

He felt wretched all the time. Truly wretched trying to keep up with Jake and failing miserably, waking up with Baustelle headaches, frequent vomiting and an increasing sense of paranoia. He rarely felt relaxed, always sure he had done something terrible, but exactly what always eluded him. The only cure seemed to be to get drunk. The cycle continued.

Winter in the squat was no fun, the Ofen inefficient, and he was always too drunk after returning from the bar to spend time lighting it. Burning down the squat house wouldn’t go down too well with the other squatters.

He was wearing clothes far longer than they ought to have been worn, knowing full well that he smelt, but, as he justified, it was only Berlin, and what was the point in wearing fresh, clean clothes if he was only going to the Czar Bar.

He was also imitating Jake’s eating habits, which comprised of fast food exclusively, either burgers or something deep fried from the local Turkish Imbiss. He could feel the spots multiplying on his face.

As for the women, he was getting used to finding an unattractive malodorous naked body snoring next to him, when he was sure he had gone to bed with a far cuter angel, just hours before. The speed at which the women got up, dressed and left indicated that they, too, were less than impressed with their conquest.

To balance this, he would often go to Richard’s, take a bath, spend time in a warm flat, and sleep a little, without having to worry about being woken by some screaming in the Hof, or someone knocking on his door, barging in, shouting in loud German and expecting him to be as lively as he was when working.

Today, there was another purpose; a new travel agents had opened on Richard’s street, and Chris wanted to see if they should book their tickets together.

“So, it’s getting serious ?”

“Yes, it is. You’re right, there are only so many times a guy can play ‘Monster’. I need some new CD’s”

They walked to the travel agents, looking at the posters of sunny, tropical resorts, while the very tall owner, with a very receding hairline ending in very long hair, scrutinised his computer, with almost comic intensity, to find a flight.

“Nice guy,” said Chris, after having bought his ticket. “I especially liked the John Lennon glasses.”

Richard agreed and they walked a little down Schönhauser Allee. They went into one of the Überraschung shops, a ‘surprise’ store filled with household goods at cheap prices, made by companies with very similar names and logos of established brands. They marvelled at the packets of cheap shirts, endless shelves of crockery and gaudy kitsch items that defied description, wondering how such items got designed, manufactured and sold, wondering who would buy them, when a small albeit very well-built old woman barged in between them to grab the last remaining flower pot-vase-thing.

They soon lost enthusiasm for their constitutional, and returned home. Richard left Chris in the flat, to go to work. He felt a bit relieved, as Chris had mentioned checking out universities back home, or at least some courses. He thought about how things were changing. It was now Chris who seemed lost, having no purpose remaining in Berlin. It was now Richards’s turn to be happy, to be in a relationship. This thought made the job bearable. That and the expectation that in Johanna he had found what he had always been looking for; someone beautiful, intelligent, kind and . . . he was allowing himself to believe, falling in love with him.

Love and Chaos Part 9(D) Julie 1

30th July 2021

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Julie gravely wanted the run to be over, doubting if the cast would hold together for the projected three nights. There were times when she doubted the cast would even hold it together for the first night. She thought of an expression that Alan had taught her; Brecht would be ‘turning over in his grave,’ and smiled, calmly applying make-up in a vortex of disorder.

The actor playing Baal was walking in diagonal paths up and down the room, bellowing out his vocal exercises. Another actor, playing Johannes, was in a side room, running around in circles, reciting all his lines as quickly as possible. He first tried this without shoes, but had slid into a wall, and had almost broken his hand. An older woman, playing Emilie had found an old, out-of-tune piano, and was irritating everyone by singing in an equally out-of-tune voice.

Most of the other men were simply in the bar, half-in or half-out of costume, drinking beer and speaking loudly, half-sober or half-drunk. One proclaimed to the young barmaid, that he would go straight from the bar to the stage as, (here implication) he had so much talent, he didn’t need to warm-up. The part was beneath him, anyway.

The Assistant Director was desperately trying to get the lighting man to focus on the job, giving him the cues when the lights should go on and off, but instead, the technician was brusquely dismissive, as the week before there had been a performance with thirty-seven light changes, executed perfectly. The A.D. looked at the desk which was a mass of wires and sockets and beer cans and ash and Rizlas, and visibly abandoned all hope.

The Director was everywhere, shouting at everyone, making elaborate theatrical gestures of what he presumed were indications of artistic genius. He held the script as a weapon, thumping it on occasion, clutching it to his breast on others. He was angry at the cast, some of who still hadn’t appeared. The theatre manager kept coming in, asking them when they would be going on, but really to catch a look at Julie.

The Director was now making a laboured display of appearing to remain calm under insurmountable pressure, and asked the manager if the bar staff could change the music from Portishead to the Kurt Weill tape, to set the mood. The manager said he would, immediately. Nothing changed. Portishead prevailed.

The theatre was on the top floor of the third Hof of a backstreet off Warschauer Str. Alan was glad to have Vincent as guide because he would never have found it. Vincent was very dismissive of the whole project, mainly because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been asked, and had already decided it was a doomed production, but he was going, magnanimously, to support Julie.

Alan enjoyed being with Vincent in that it got him noticed and introduced to all the creative people in east Berlin, and many attractive women, who warmed to him when they heard he was a director. Yet he resisted all the subtle and blatant temptations of Berlin, remaining focused and sober.

In the bar, Vincent was performing, ordering beers, running his hand through his hair, calling out to people he recognised, explaining that he was here to see Julie, to support this little effort, no, he wouldn’t be performing tonight, yes, he knew what a massive disappointment that was for everyone.

Alan looked through the crudely photocopied program and saw Julie’s photo. He tried reading, but the German was too hard for him. He had asked his sister to send over an English translation of the play, which he had read and re-read, in preparation.

He had wanted to take a seat in the front row but, being with Vincent, had to sit in the back. That helped him decide to return, alone, which he did. Every night.

The play was unbalanced; some of the actors were quite good, some appalling, and at times there appeared to be no direction at all. Some of the minor characters forgot their lines, or spoke over each other, and decided to turn this into part of the show, turning to the audience and laughing. Vincent translated;

“He said he was being, ‘Very Brechtian.’ Verdammt Arschloch.”

But even with little German, and without bias, it was obvious to Alan that Julie was the only one on stage who merited being there. The difference between her and the rest of the cast was simply embarrassing.

Afterwards, a crowd of people had commandeered a corner of the bar, actors, their friends and various people on the fringes of the Berlin scene. Some girls were taking photographs of the cast, and a greasy young man was interviewing the director for a local paper, circulation in double figures.

Alan was elated when Julie sat next to him. Despite her well-founded reservations, she knew she had performed well, and was glowing with a natural high. She even allowed herself to be photographed and took several glasses of Sekt. She got up to kiss various people and waved and smiled. Alan found everything enchanting. Yet he was very uncomfortable when Vincent approached and, after embracing and complimenting, sat with his arm around her. It was uncomfortable that she let him keep it there.

Julie waved to one of the actors who was just leaving. She explained to Alan;

“We call him Matthäus, after some footballer. It is because on the first day, he arrived in a tracksuit, and thought we were all going to do lots of exercises. He started stretching and everything. It was so funny.”

Julie thought that the first night mistakes could be addressed, but they just intensified over the next two nights. Some actors were not just late, they failed to appear at all, and the Director wanted to make changes to the script, almost leading to a fight between him and the main actor. Matthäus was now ignoring everyone but Julie, simply not willing to waste his time on anyone else. The Assistant Director had either been sacked, or had quit depending on what story one chose to believe, and the actress playing Johanna had gone home with the theatre manager, just to get away from the actor playing Johannes, who had been seen smashing empty beer bottles in the car park, the previous evening. And the bar staff still played Portishead.

Four days later, Julie met Alan for a coffee. He had a copy of the local paper with the review. Kelly had translated for him, and it was generally supportive, though only Julie, in the role of Sophie, received a namecheck. Only Matthäus sent her a congratulatory note.

She was still glowing, though now it was more from relief. She had changed her hairstyle, which Alan complimented her on.

“Yes, it was an experience, but I don’t think I would want to go through it again.”

Alan showed her the paper and was surprised that she covered her face when he pointed out her name. Instead, he asked her what was wrong and what she, as an actress would want from a theatre piece. He already had an idea.

“It was too big, too many people. We never had a full rehearsal. I often had to read lines with a stand-in. It is hard, it is impossible to build up the character and the . . . “

“Inter-action ?”

“Ja, danke, inter-action. The Director wanted a different actor for every part, but we could easily have played other small parts. Then with so many people, and many of them only having one scene …”

“They get bored and start drinking.”

“Genau ! (exactly). People try to rehearse, and I just hear other actors laughing in the background, sometimes speaking louder than the actors. When we say to be not so loud, they get angry, and leave. But, when it worked, it was . . . just wonderful.”

“So you would do some more theatre ?”

“Ja, of course. But not with so many. It is just too impossible.”

Richard put a copy of Rimbaud on the table.

“’A Season in Hell’. Do you know it ?”

“I know the name but I haven’t read it. OK, what part do I have ?” Julie asked as she took some coffee, hiding the smile.

When her office manager asked her why she was reading poetry, Julie explained that her boyfriend was taking a course and that she was reading it to keep him company. This of course backfired, as her manager made disparaging comments about students and their financial insecurity, and if he needed her to help him, maybe he wasn’t intelligent enough to be a student in the first place. He would look at her with a meaningful nod, then leave her to ponder his sage words.

The fictitious boyfriend was meant to serve two purposes; one to explain how she spent her free time, the other to deter the men in the office from hitting on her. Neither was successful. She still had to listen to the senior staff talk about how empty their lives were, before they asked her to take coffee with them, or found pretexts where she may have to stay behind after work.

Other people asked her what she and the boyfriend had done, where he had taken her, what their plans were. Julie did her unstimulating work, but didn’t feel close to anyone there, certainly didn’t want to share anything of her personal life. She couldn’t even think of anyone from the office coming to see her, or discussing rehearsing and acting.

Even though the new piece was to be in Friedrichshain, and she worked in Charlottenburg, west Berlin, she was still scared that someone may, just possibly, see her name on the handmade posters Kelly was making up for the new piece. The fact that they would only go up in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreutzberg didn’t really calm her. She insisted her name be much smaller than Vincent’s, justifying it as he had a larger role, but Alan over-ruled her, reminding her that she now was a name, referring to the newspaper piece. Vincent didn’t seem to appreciate that so much, but knew that if it generated interest, in would work out well for him, too.

Before rehearsals started, Julie has been quite forceful, saying that Alan was the director and that he would have final say, but that any mistakes would ultimately be down to him, if the actors followed his instructions. This was a notice to Vincent not to try taking over, and to boost Alan’s confidence. Of the two, it was Alan who, in her opinion, had a real future. He put the project first.

Alan had finished the script, adapting the poem for the two actors. Vincent would open and close the performance, but the central piece would be Julie’s, a monologue from the Ravings 1 section of the poem, ‘The Foolish Virgin / The Infernal Bridegroom’

Vincent had booked a space, the usual bar where he performed, for three nights in early January. There would be a week to rehearse, then a break, as both Alan and Julie would leave Berlin for Christmas.

Julie was excited by the part, and loved hearing Alan talk, watching how this normally quiet, almost withdrawn man suddenly became so animated, gesturing and almost falling over his words as idea stumbled over idea.

Alan knew he could trust both of them to learn their parts and to rehearse. He couldn’t even imagine how Julie had coped with the shambles of Baal. The only problem was the situation with Vincent, his actor, and Kelly, his flatmate. Vincent was a very attractive man, and got a lot of attention, but recently his indiscretions hadn’t been so discrete, and in such a small city like Berlin, it was only a matter of time before Kelly found out.

But, for the moment, Alan had the cast for his first play, Vincent had a new piece to talk about and Julie had another part she hoped to keep secret from the people in the office.

Love and Chaos Part 9(C) Sergei 1

26th July 2021

Berlin winter. Photo by Martin O’Shea.

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Richard hadn’t really spent much time with either of Jake’s Russian flatmates, Sergei and Micha, so wasn’t sure what to expect when Chris told him that Serge wanted a meeting with them.

When they ran the Czar Bar, their choice of unlistenable music and uncharismatic service deterred all but the hardcore. They also closed very early, and often Richard would arrive after work, only to find Jake making an ad hoc bar to cater for the drinkers who were, in many cases, only just waking up. Squatting a squat bar, as Jake put it. Ad nauseam.

Yet they were both friendly and had a reasonable command of English, certainly not learnt from their Death Metal bands. Micha was small, tiny in fact, but was quite solid, with a rather unexpected quirk of suddenly breaking into a breakdance routine. Sergei was of a more serious demeanour, being something of a musician, classically trained on the clarinet, which he refused to play in front of anybody, but whose tones could occasionally be heard in the Hof of the squat house. He would also alternate between a bushy, almost religious zealot-like beard with curly locks, and a completely shaven head. At this moment, in the Berlin winter, he opted for the later, a decision that lead Richard to consider him crazy. But, they had something in common; after being alone for a long time, they both now had girlfriends.

Johanna was known, at least by sight, by a few people, though she had yet to return to the bar. Serge’s girlfriend, however, had made a more ostentatious arrival.

It had been mid week, Andrei making the bar alone, though Boris lent a hand when needed. Andrei also had a new girlfriend, German, and there seemed to be no animosity over the Olga situation. Richard arrived some time before two. There were only about fifteen people in the bar, all men, except one small dark-haired girl who was clearly drunk, or something. She began jumping onto the tables and dancing, enticing some of the men to tell her to strip. She didn’t understand the words, being, as Richard later learned, Spanish, but understood the meaning, and began to comply. Sergie rushed up and tried to stop her, making her put her clothes back on, and pleading with her to step down. No sooner had he succeeded in this, than she began again, different table, same routine, same applause from the clientele.

Eventually, Sergei managed to get her upstairs, to his flat, which impressed Richard. He naively believed Serge only wanted to get her out of the bar for her own protection.

The show over, Richard took a beer and began speaking to Boris about music and women. Boris was happy with Olga, and could see how happy Richard was, now he had met a German girl. They took another beer together, and a vodka, and Richard asked about Chris and Jake. They were off to another squat bar, checking out some band.

Then the back door opened and the Spanish girl rushed in, naked, and began running around the bar, jumping on the chairs and tables, dancing away to the music. When she tired of that, she began walking around the room, sitting on men’s laps, kissing them. Sergei appeared, looking very distraught, totally at a loss. She moved over to Boris, kissed him, then another man and then another, before dancing again. Richard felt uncomfortable and asked Andrei if he shouldn’t do something, but Andrei just shrugged. Suddenly, the girl began crying and making loud, high-pitched screams. A couple of the drunken men began imitating her and laughing but Richard and Boris told them to shut up, and, with Andrei backing them, their commands were heeded. Sergei came over, covered her with his long coat, and, putting his arm around her, led her away again.

Some time later, Chris and Jake arrived.

“Did we miss anything ?” asked Chris.

“No, usual night in the Czar Bar,” was the reply.

The next week, at Biberkopf, Josef came in to the kitchen, and with a scowl slammed the phone down. Richard didn’t care; he had friends and a girlfriend. Chris on the line,

“Hey, you ain’t got nothing on tomorrow, right ? Daytime ?”

“What’s on yer mind ?”

“Sergie wants a meeting with us ?”

“Sergei ? What about ?”

“Well, he’s kinda got this, idea, kinda . . . thing he wants us to, you know, like . . . “

“You don’t know, do ya ?”

“Yeah, but it’s . . . you’ll see.”

“What kinda meeting ? Do we need suits ? Should we take minutes ? Where is it ?“

“Your place. Around one, one-thirty ?”

Next morning, Richard went to to the local Spar, picked up some water, tea-bags, fruit juice, then went to the baker to get some Berliners, or doughnuts. Then he waited.

Sometime after two, there was a knock.

Sergie’s idea, which he expressed in a straightforward manner, was to stage a play in one of the spaces in Rigaer Strasse. Richard nodded, looking over at Chris, wondering how it affecting them, when Sergie delivered the punchline;

“And I want you to write it,” he said, pointing between the two of them, “as it is in English.”

Chris just held a wide grin, enjoying seeing Richard trying to hold a polite smile amidst his confusion, not to say utter panic. He managed to splurt out that he, they, had never written anything, had no idea how to write or what to write about about. They had studied Physics, Science, they wrote in equations.

“Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter,” said Sergei with a dismissive wave of his hand. Chris clarified;

“He has the idea, ideas, just needs us to put it into a script.”

“Yes, exactly, exactly.”

Richard made coffee and offered the cakes, to buy time, but there was no stopping Sergei, and in between mouthfuls of pastry, washed down by large gulps of burning coffee, he did his best to explain.

Every so often, Richard would look over at Chris, but most times Chris just shrugged his shoulders, or nodded encouragingly at the Russian.

It seemed to be a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and an American Indie film. Peter, the old squatter, who did indeed look like a classical actor gone to seed, would be some kind of Greek God, looking down on proceedings. Richard mentioned that with Peter’s alleged nautical background (no one really knew anything about him, but the received wisdom was that he had been a sailor of the ‘girl in every port’ variety), he could be Poseidon, complete with trident and conch shell. Chris already had a pad and pencil ready. Sergei rocked back and forth, slapping his thigh, crying out;

“Yes, write it down, write it down.”

He repeated this order, accompanied by laughs and slaps, every time he liked a suggestion, which seemed to happen every time a suggestion was made.

It was decided that Peter would be Poseidon, with a shirtless Robert of the, “Shit on a stick,” as a kind of cup-bearer, though a vodka bottle-bearer would be more apt. The idea of getting these two together, outside of the Czar Bar, for rehearsals was so far beyond the realms of possibility that it wasn’t even funny, but Richard went along with it, as Sergei described even more elaborate scenarios, with an apparently endless cast.

Chris made various suggestions about who could play what part, all of which elicited the same response of laughing and slapping.

It seemed to Richard that the plot went something like this: Peter, or Poseidon, would make an opening speech about the nature of love and life, maybe with a song (a sea-shanty, Richard offered, which caused Sergei to clutch his sides with mirth) before being lured back to sleep by the vodka bottle. He would be on a platform above the main stage, decorated with sea motifs.

On the main stage, which would resemble an American diner, a bunch of young characters would enter. They were all in relationships with each other and would talk about love. Already Richard was concerned, but politely listened.

It soon became apparent that there was no plot, and that Sergei had merely disconnected ideas, partly developed, at best. Not only would they have to write the dialogue, they would have to come up with the story as well.

Richard felt himself losing patience. He was listening to Chris mention people as possible actors, knowing that even if they did agree, they would never actually learn their parts, rehearse or even remember agreeing to it in the first place. He also found it hard to concentrate as he was thinking about Johanna. They were going out again on the weekend, and he felt, rather he hoped, that the relationship was about to turn more intimate. So far he had to be content with hand-holding and kisses on the cheek.

Still Sergei continued, but then a twist occurred that made Richard want to stop the meeting, which he could tell was a waste of time.

The idea for the second act was that a group of totally new actors come on stage, and pretty much repeat all that had happened in the first.

“And what about the other characters ?” asked Richard, “where are they ?”

“They gone.”

“And they come back later ?”

“No, they gone. Now, we have the new people.”

“But . . . “ Richard was at a loss, and even Chris, who had been strangely enthusiastic was quiet.


Chris was hoping that Sergei would come up with a better explanation than just simply, ‘they gone’, but was losing hope, nor could he quickly think of a feasible solution. But he really wanted this to work, and had already planned to ignore all of Sergei’s half-arsed nonsense and make his own play. With help from Richard.

The catalyst was hearing that Daniel would be having a piece published in ‘Savage Revolt’, thanks to a suggestion from Chris, credit for which he was not shy in proclaiming.

Chris had enjoyed his spell as band manager, but was resentful that it had only brought him stress, while Daniel had lived the rock star life. At least for the few weeks of the band’s existence. Daniel had become a local star, impressing the women, while Chris remained just a barman, always to be in Jake’s yawing shadow. Sergei was offering Chris his chance to move centre stage. He had even thought about taking a part, as well as directing. But he was genuinely shocked at Richard’s reaction.

“You can’t introduce characters, get the audience interested in them, then never show or mention them again.”

“Yes,” corrected Sergei, “we have new characters, now the audience interest in them.”

Chris tried to smooth things over;

“We can talk about this later.”

Richard continued arguing with Sergei, neither giving in. Then Richard asked where would all the new actors come from.

“Inez knows people. She is actress.” Sergei told them about his girlfriend’s acting experience and Richard resisted the temptation to say that he had caught one of her performances. It was obvious Sergei was only doing this as a way to provide an opportunity for her, so Richard, in love himself, understood, and kept his thoughts private.

Chris took this as a good sign and was already thinking about ways to simplify the script, believing the play was going to happen as much as Richard new it never would.

And Richard was right. Inez left Sergei before the week was out. Rumour had it that Sergei caught her in bed, or sleeping bag on the floor, with Micha, and she, like the play, was never heard of or mentioned again.

Love and Chaos Part 9(B) Johanna 1

19th July 2021

Part Nine. Berlin.

Johanna brushed her short blonde hair and checked her watch. She hated being late, and she hated waiting. Richard, her date, waited nervously outside the cinema. Chain smoking. Throwing away cigarettes half smoked. Lighting up fresh ones. Walking up and down, battling the cold, battling his anxiety. Johanna arrived sheltered by a scarf. She removed it and smiled at her date. She took his arm and they went inside.

A movie followed by drinks in a bar. Predictable. Safe. Richard was a safe and predictable man. Johanna had chosen the film, after she took him to a light and lively bar. This spacious corner Kneipe was popular with students, bench seats and large tables where they could count out their small coins hoping it amounted to the price of a beer. Music played, old-time waltzes. People sang, laughed, shouted. Sometimes Johanna had to move closer to Richard to be heard. The chilling night walk to the station, a shared journey as far as Alexanderplatz. Richard insisted on waiting with her for her connection. She found that sweet. She kissed his cheek goodbye, held his hand before she got onto the train. Smiled and waved as the train pulled away.

Johanna thought about how pleasant the evening had been. She would certainly see Richard again. If he called. After that, she thought no more, not wanting to expect anything. She didn’t want one more disappointment, one more man who seemed so different, so ideal, only to have all her illusions painfully shattered, be left permanently damaged. It had happened too often. The chances of finding someone who would love, respect and look after her were zero. So Johanna believed.

‘A cry for help’. Johanna hated that expression. A meaningless banality uttered by those who could never conceive pain. Real physical pain. Real emotional pain. A rationalisation, a way of tying up with one neat thread, the thousands of multiplying loose ends. The psychologically scarring, unanswerable questions. Johanna tried to kill herself. She wasn’t crying for help. She was crying for death. The cry was from her own demons imploring her. The agony she was in would never end, the crying, the calling was never going to end.

While her family asked the ‘why ?’ question, Johanna had one of her own; why was she alive ? Worse than ‘the cry for help’ was the, ‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ dictum, as if someone was watching over her. She spat on that fallacy. If anyone was watching, it was with a sadistic grin, not a protecting hand. Failure. She was alive and would have to account to her inconsolable parents and clueless doctors if she were to regain the freedom she needed. The freedom to try again. The freedom to succeed.

A list of easily acceptable motives; boyfriend trouble, pressure of work, lack of fulfilment in her life. Easily remedied. As quickly as she had been admitted, she was discharged, returned to her parent’s suburban house. Searching for university courses. Her parents were sure she’d meet a nice man at college, and all would be well. Johanna’s placid smile always dropped when the subject of men came up. She believed that had she confessed the real reason behind her suicide attempt, she would have sickened and repulsed the doctors, who would thereafter treat her as filth, too contemptible and contaminating for their sanitised wards, sanitised words, sanitised world.

Teenage dramas common to many pretty girls. Suddenly being very popular with boys, who wanted one thing from her. She had once been cornered by three teenage boys who had succeeded in removing and keeping her panties as ‘proof’ of their conquest. She was just grateful that they hadn’t gone any further. Her first serious boyfriend had been sleeping around with her other friends. When discovered, claimed it was a test to see if he really loved her. A confused inexperienced teenager, Johanna knew this was no test of love. The boyfriends that followed were faceless. They pressured her for sex, then dropped her after their few minutes of glory.

Word had gotten around that she was anyone’s for the asking. Time to leave school, look for work. The adult world. Shops were always hiring pretty young girls. Her parents knew she had more independence than academic ability. They felt proud, chose to feel proud, of their daughter making her own life. They arranged for her to stay in a shared house in Wilmersdorf that belonged to an old family friend, Herr Schulz. He appeared very friendly to Johanna, very attentive, offering to drive her wherever she needed to go. She found his slits of eyes and joined eyebrows charming, as if he were a creature from a fairy tale. But it wasn’t long before that tale took a very adult twist.

Still being very young and inexperienced, Johanna had difficulty managing her money. Buying clothes without making sure she had covered her rent. The first time, Herr Schultz smiled, patted her knee and told her not to worry. The next time he playfully spanked her, but she wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Knowing that she would not be able to pay on time, Herr Schultz took Johanna to her room and screamed at her. He told her how much money she was costing him, how many bills he had, how she was destroying his business, endless abuse that paralysed her with fear. He then calmly, in a professional way, offered her a choice of services that she could perform to pay her debts.

Frustrated at her lack of response, he grabbed her hand, used it to open his fly and showed her what to do. Grotesque sounds and expressions as his pleasure increased. The smell. She was sick when it was over. Repeatedly washing, scrubbing her hand. That was just the start. Johanna was still on the lowest wages. Herr Schultz began improving the house, all of which added expense to the rent. When he threatened her with sending her home and telling her parents that she had been bringing too many boys back, she went along with his next demand. She stripped, got into bed, and after preparing him for the condom, allowed him to do what he wanted. Emotionally, she felt nothing, barely blinked, didn’t move. She refused to cry out in pain, to shed tears, to show any life. As soon as he was satisfied, she left the bed, locking herself in the bathroom until he was gone. This was the way it was going to be. And it was. Until she met Marcus.

Marcus was a driver at work. She only saw him two or three times a week, but he was so different to anyone else she had known. He was confident, strong, a real Alpha-male, always centre of attention. He noticed her and told her, rather than asked her, that he would take her out. She felt that someone so powerful could protect her. Johanna was determined to keep him interested, allowed him to sleep with her that first night. Her nightmare with Herr Schultz had at least taught her what men want. Marcus got the benefit of her unsentimental education. He was used to taking what he wanted, and wasn’t prepared for her, a wild sex-fiend in a demure body. Johanna began bringing him home when she knew the landlord would be there, and it worked. He collected the rent and left her in peace.

For a time, she was something close to happy, though she never was able to predict what mood Marcus would be in. He’d either be very rough with her, foregoing any sort of foreplay, and leaving her bruised and sore, or would be completely docile and indifferent to her body. Nothing surprised her about men. Her own moods altered from gregariousness to complete detachment, from contentment, to deepest depression. Why should men be any different ? Hindsight. In hindsight it was obvious. Erratic behaviour, nervousness, sweating. Johanna’s mental state was controlled by unpredictable internal forces. Marcus’ was dependent on external. She hadn’t even realised that her boyfriend was on drugs. Another reason to detest herself soon followed.

One Saturday morning, she was woken by Marcus who barged into her room, demanding money. She had just woken up and pointed to her bag, naively thinking that it was to pay a taxi. Marcus threw the bag down in disgust when he saw how little she had. He began rambling, muttering incoherent words to himself, walking up and down the room. He looked over at her, in bed, stopped his disturbing movements. He told her to wait. Two men came into the room. One took a look at her and seemed pleased, the other looked around, opening drawers, picking up her possessions. She looked at Marcus, who moved over to her and told her it was all right, before he grabbed her arms and pinned her down.

The first man pulled down his trousers, threw back the bedclothes and had her panties off before she could even think. He was finished very quickly. All the time, Marcus, with one hand over her mouth, the other holding her down, was telling her that everything was going to be OK. The second man’s turn. He made sure she saw him, made her see the hatred in his eyes. He preferred to bite and slap her, made sure he caused her as much pain as possible, her muffled cries only encouraging him. He stopped and demanded that she finish him off with her mouth, to the approving applause of his friend. Marcus assisted, grabbing her long hair and forcing her onto him. The man screamed out, grabbed her chin and made her look at him. He demanded, ‘Swallow, bitch !’ As an encore he slapped her face and spat on her.

She fell back on the bed. Lifeless, not physically there as if she were above the room, looking down on the shell of a body that she knew was her own, yet alien to her. She could hear distorted voices, the men talking. Something was exchanged. Marcus laughed. Why weren’t they leaving ? Marcus was offering them a drink ? After some time, minutes or hours, probably only seconds, they left. The second man gave Marcus a friendly slap on the face, telling him he was a lucky man, before acting out his recent conquest. They all laughed. All except Johanna. Marcus immediately began preparing himself, jumping on the bed next to the immobile Johanna. He relaxed, lay back, and was in his own world.

At some point, Johanna began moving. She knew she had to wash herself and painfully made her way to he bathroom. Only then did the first realisation crack the shock and soft tears flowed faster, as she tore at her hair, vomited in the sink and began throwing herself against the walls, a terror-stricken animal in a tiny cage. She saw the razor blade.

Johanna woke up in hospital, wrists restrained, tubes in her arm, the contemptuous eyes of a male nurse watching over her. His eyebrows reminded her of Herr Schultz and she tried crying out, but no sound came. She never knew how she got there. The police wanted to know about her boyfriend. One of them said that she should have just died. A total waste of their time looking after silly girls who make a big performance if their boyfriend forget to bring them flowers. Stupid bitches.

Johanna was kept on suicide watch. Couldn’t be left alone, couldn’t lock the bathroom, couldn’t take a bath without being observed. She would have to give a reason before she could leave. What could the doctors do, anyway ? Nothing could be undone. Ever. The only help she got was from Günther, a fellow patient and another failed suicide. It was obvious to her that he was gay, so was the only man she felt safe with. Her own father had led her to Herr Schultz and, in turn, to Marcus.

Günther explained how the system worked. The sessions with the psychiatrists, the group talks. The correct responses. Nobody really cared, anyway. The first time Johanna had heard someone else express her sentiments. She bonded with him. The only professional interest seemed to come from a young medical student who saw patterns in her behaviour that seemed to indicate a certain condition. He asked to be allowed to study her, but case studies on opposite-sex subjects were discouraged. No qualified doctor had time to listen to over-enthusiastic amateur speculations regurgitated from recently-read textbooks.

Johanna followed the advice. Back to the suburbs, with Günther’s phone number. Only the thought of seeing him again kept her from repeating the attempt, that and her mother’s pathetic act of finding reasons to come into her room to check up on her. Night and day. Externally, Johanna tried to alter as much as she could. Her hair, always long, was now cut into a boyish bob. She was obsessed with washing, showering several a day, in a room that now had no lock. No control over when the memories would come back. She became a different person, unrecognisable. She would scream abuse. She fell in hysterical crying fits. Once she grabbed the largest kitchen knife and spat demonically, stabbing an imaginary Marcus, over and over.

Johanna had to see two or three psychiatrists, neither of which inspired Johanna to open up. Her history of abuse was too painful and sickening for anyone else to hear. She would deal with it her own way. Her look already altered. She cut off all contact with everyone who knew her. Her parents encouraged her to go back to school, get some professional qualifications. There were several business courses that could be of practical use. And she choose denial. She tried to block out everything that had happened to her, to project it onto an imaginary friend. She wanted to believe it worked. Denial hadn’t a chance.

By the autumn of 1995 she had started on her course and was doing well. Living at home and travelling into Berlin. She became an avid reader, losing herself in long books. By studying. By spending so much time studying, she hoped to block out the past. But it always attacked her, especially when she was alone. She was generally alone. To protect herself from herself, she started accepting offers to go out. Invitations were constant. She gave nothing of herself, no encouragement. She always made sure that she never dated anyone more than twice. Avoid the implied sex after the third date. She only really felt comfortable with Günther, who was now living in Friedrichshain, not exactly the epicentre of gay Berlin. He was quite taken by a certain squat bar he had discovered, and his vivid description made Johanna curious to see it.

She felt quite relaxed there, and was amazed at the lack of sexual tension. She could just relax and drink with her friend, no one came up and tried to join them, or start trying to pick her up. One night she looked over and saw a tall young man who seemed both at home and totally out of place. She could sense something about him. When he looked over she smiled at him. It was no surprise that he looked away, not in arrogance, but out of nervousness. Johanna decided that she would like to meet him. Something about him told her that he was different.