Love and Chaos Part 3(F) Chris 2

13th December 2020

Image by Harald Ansorge from the music video ‘dwot’. Watch, like and subscribe on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxJBbyKLlp0

Part Three. Berlin. Summer 1994

Monika let out an exclamation of happiness. There was a parking space outside of Chris’ street door. She gathered her bag, and a carefully selected handful of tapes from the car’s floor.

“And this one,” added Chris, “Husker Du,” then began singing ‘Could You Be The One ?’.

They got out, Monika checking the locks on her beloved, yellow Toyota and Chris entered the block, getting out his keys to unlock the Briefkaste. He mimicked her exclamation, pulling out a letter with its distinctive handwriting and British stamps.

Chris’ flat was on the second floor of the back block, or Hinterhof. Ute had organised it for Chris, as it had belonged to a friend of hers who was moving in with her boyfriend. Ute had left some bits of hers there, a source of constant irritation to Monika. It implied that she would be back and when she returned, Chris would go back to her.

Inside, the second ceiling was immediately above the door, an improvised storage space,overflowing with Ute’s belongings and general junk. Monika rarely failed to make at least one allusions to this, per visit.

The small hallway had a door, to the left, which was the bathroom. A toilet with old-style chain, but a normal sized sink and a bath with shower attachment. There was also a small gas heater. A quantum leap from the previous flat.

The main room was larger, as well, and the windows received more light from the small courtyard. There was the Ofen in one corner and the door to the kitchen in the corner diagonally opposite.

The kitchen was smaller, but big enough for a table and could easily sit two and cosily sit three.

Chris played the tape that had Husker Du on one side and Jane’s Addiction on the other. Monika had introduced him to both bands and now he couldn’t hear enough of them. There were the soundtrack to his new life.

Richard’s letter was also full of enthusiasm, and Chris let out a series of whoops and ut-oh’s periodically.

Monika busied herself, allowing him space. She knew he would tell her everything, anyway, in great detail, some of which she may even understand. As soon as Chris had finished the last word, he called Monika over.

“He’s in love, too.”

“Ah, that’s nice.”

“Nein, not nice.”

“It’s not nice your friend is in love ?”

“Yes, I mean, no, it’s not nice, not nice. Nice is a bad word, very weak, it doesn’t mean anything. If you go somewhere and watch someone, I don’t know, act, or play a song and you have to say something, you say,’ it was nice’.”

“So, it is … great ? Great he’s in love ? Super !”

“Yes. Except, no, it’s not.”

“And why ?” A very strong demand from Monika.

“It’s Richard. Nothing ever seems to work out for him in that department. OK, he’s in love with this girl called Käthe. Yes, a German girl.”

“Ah-ha! And where did he meet her ? In Berlin ?”

“No, at work, in London. She and her boyfriend work at the same place. Seems Richard got offered a permanent position, so it means more money. Still shit, but better. Let’s see … “

“But … boyfriend ?”

“That’s all you need to know about Richard. Always falls in love with girls who are in committed relationships. Never mind, we’ll find him a girl here. You got any single friends ?”

“What about Ully at Biberkopf ?”

“What about her ?”

“She’s single, no ?”

“Yeah, I’m sure of it. Are you surprised ? She’s got … the thing.”


“She’s got a lovely smile.”

“And the … thing. No, we can do better than that.”

Monika looked out of the window.

“Ah, it looks a nice day, no, a great day. I don’t want to go to work.”

“What would you like to do instead ?”

Later that afternoon, Chris re-read the letter. In it, Richard had mentioned his routine; seeing films on Mondays, when there are cheaper, maybe drinking with Melanie, then getting home and heating up a pizza slice and watching some American shows, something called ‘NYPD Blue’, or ‘Northern Exposure’. Richard also exalted a book called ‘Generation X’ that everybody was reading and told him to look out for a film about slackers which had Winona Ryder dancing in a convenience store. They all sounded fantastic.

Chris had been in Berlin for over a year. He had two jobs, his own flat, a great new girlfriend and enough money to live comfortable on.

However, he realized from the letter how out of touch he was. He hadn’t read an English newspaper or a new book since being here. He could just about fumble through a German paper, but it was either too complex or too boring. The new bands he was listening to had all been around for a while, but had it not been for Monika, he wouldn’t have had any way of knowing about them.

Chris needed Richard to be here as much as Richard needed to be out of London. He felt that he had a lot of catching up to do.

Love and Chaos Part 3(E) Hitch 1

9th December 2020

Young Alfred Hitchcock ~1920's : OldSchoolCool
Alfred Hitchcock (Google Images)

Part Three

Hitch

Young Alfred Hitchcock felt so proud. His father, a strict and nervous man, had entrusted his son with a duty that made the infant of four or five feel like a young man.

Hitch ran along Leytonstone High Road, in the East-End of London, to the police station, with no suspicion of the notorious family plot being hatched.

Alfred confidently approached the huge desk and, tiptoeing up, stretched to put the note into the giant hand of the formidable policeman.

The Officer took the note, unfolded it, read it, closed it again, and stared down at the beaming face of the boy. After a moment of silence, he said:

“Come with me.”

How honoured Alfred felt now, a respectable keeper of the peace was leading him by the hand and showing him the inside of the station.

They went up to a cell, which the Officer unlocked and beckoned the lad inside.

Alfred needed no second telling, he gladly entered.

Then the door closed with a heart-stopping crash, and he could hear the metal screeching of the heavy keys turning the locks.

There he stayed, in the terrifying cold of the dungeon, too small to look out of the bars, too scared to scream. He was petrified.

There he stayed for five or ten minutes, until he was finally released. The only explanation were the words that stayed with him for the rest of his life:

“This is what we do to naughty boys.”

Unsurprisingly, many of his films have the theme of an innocent man caught up in something he doesn’t understand or have control over.

Around fifty-five years later, the film ‘Psycho’ was released.


Thirty-four years after that, in 1994, a film student chose it as the subject of his thesis.

Alan Francis had moved up to London to read Film Studies, and shared a bedsit in Leytonstone with three other students. He frequently walked past the petrol station that has been built on the site where ‘The Master of Suspense’ was born.

It was Alan’s contention that ‘Psycho’ was as near perfect as a film could ever get. Rather than being threatened by television, which had devoured Hollywood’s audiences in the Fifties, Hitchcock, acting as his own Producer, had used a television crew, used to tight budgets and tighter schedules, to shoot the film.

Mosaic of Hitchcock's "Psycho" famous shower scene. | Hitchcock, Mosaic, Art
Mosaic of ‘Psycho’ at Leytonstone Underground Station

But he took time and care when needed. The famous shower scene took seven days to shoot, using seventy cameras for forty-five seconds of film.

Alan also mentioned that the film had cost eight hundred thousand dollars and before the decade had ended, had already grossed over fifteen million.

Over the Summer months, Alan waited with appropriate suspense, for his results. He had had enough with theory, he now wanted to make films. But the chances of breaking into the film business were not good. The best thing, he decided, was not to send off letters or work his way up in studios, but to actually make a film, to show people what he could do.

There were so many ideas stored up, so many theories of cinema to test out. All he needed was a camera. And actors. And film stock. For these, he needed money.

In July 1994, Alan looked for jobs and was accepted by a firm of business consultants. His theories on film would not be required for the post. So he saved his money. And waited.

Till the end of his life, Alfred Hitchcock never forgot the paralysing fear of being locked in that cell. And he was never able to remember what it was that he had done, that caused his father to punish him so.

Hitchcock: a short pilgrimage around Leytonstone | Leytonstoner

Love and Chaos Part 3(D) Richard 2

7th December 2020

Photo by Pete Flatwound. Follow Pete on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flatwoundonfilm/

Part Three. London. Summer 1994

“So when are you leaving ?”

“Don’t have the exact date, but around the end of July. I can’t believe it. Back to Berlin.”

Richard had to shout a little above the noise of the pub. There were highlights of a World Cup game showing Bulgaria beating the mighty Germany, and the London pub was cheering as loudly as any in Sofia. Richard’s attention wandered to the screen when he thought Melanie wasn’t looking, but he was caught out and had to suffer her views on football and football supporters, but knew enough to keep his views on her views, to himself.

It was also the first time he had seen her in a skirt, a pretty skimpy one, that showed off legs that were smooth and shapely. He was prepared to contemplate a complete review of the Melanie situation.

Maybe it was the skirt, the warm Summer night, or the joy of seeing Germany beaten without the inevitable heartbreak of watching England lose (as they hadn’t even been able to qualify), but the conversation, after three or four drinks, became the most revealing the two ever had. No reviews of art, or humorous small-talk, usually with Chris as the butt, or hints of truths that suddenly pulled back. They actually got to know a little about each other.

After ten o’clock, they decided to spend the last drinking hour at the Coach and Horses, a pub famous for it’s artistic clientele, actors, painters and writers and therefore infamous for its collection of would-be actors, painters and writers. A simple “excuse me”, or a “hello” would be met by a laboured and over-rehearsed
half-witticism, or a meaningless epigram.

They got two seats at a large table and had to politely smile as a man with long, straight hair and a cane, offered salutations. Then they got down to business.

Richard asked about her relationship with Chris. What exactly was it ? He wasn’t prepared for the answer.

“Oh, we’re married.”

Richard paused, the wine glass half-way to his lips.

Then Melanie laughed.

It was an even greater shock, now, to discover that Melanie had a mischievous sense of humour. And great legs, that inspired alcohol-fueled aspirations. She clarified.

“No, but we did go out for a time. Yeah, we were dating. Boyfriend and girlfriend. But, there was no sex, obviously.”

“Obviously ?”

“Well, Chris, you know, and I … you know … it was cool.” Melanie was biting her lip and nodding her head, expecting Richard to be able to fill in the gaps.

“What, you didn’t have sex ?”

“No, of course not. I mean we were … intimate … with each other … but there was control … ” Back to the nodding.

Richard was having difficulty processing, and restraining the “WHAT ?” that was screaming to be let loose.

“Well … what’s the point in that ?”

“What do you mean ?”

“To have a girlfriend and not … have … not … Just … what’s the point ?”

“It was what we both wanted …”

“Both ?”

“Yeah. I mean, you must know about Chris … ?”

“No.”

“No ? What do you boys speak about ?”

Again, that phrase, ‘you boys’. Richard let it slide, the revelation was too big.

“Man stuff. TV programs. Quantum Mechanics; had some quite heated debates over that. Football. Sweets from our childhood that no longer exist. ‘Spanglers’, for instance.”


“And women ?”

“No, sir, never. Almost never. OK, but not always. Yeah, a lot of talk about women. I didn’t know with Chris it was just all talk. I’m going through a fallow patch, admittedly, but that’s just to replenish the oats. I’ll be back ploughing soon enough …”

“Ah, don’t gross me out.” Just then, the music stopped and there was a momentary volume drop in the bar. Richard continued, at his previous level;

“That’s why it’s more fun with men.”

The long-haired man next to Melanie slowly turned towards him, and raised his glass. Music re-started.

“Talking, I mean. So, you and Chris … never … ?”

“That’s right. Can’t believe he’s not told you. That’s why I knew it would never work out with Ute. She’s used to sex. It’s hard to go from being sexually active to celibacy.”

Something wasn’t quite right about this, thought Richard, but again, he thought he shouldn’t push any further. He envisaged some very interesting conversations when he got back to Berlin. And Monika ? Did Melanie think she was also in a celibate relationship with Chris ? Was that what she meant, claiming she was ‘her kind of woman’ ? Was Melanie gay ? Tonight, it seemed, anything was possible. But, in the best tradition of show business, or, in this environment, show-off business, Richard was saving the best till last.

“I’m in love. And she’s German.”

“Wow ! That’s great. Who is she ?”

“Her name’s Käthe. She has platinum blonde hair, dark eyes and is just gorgeous. And she going to be driving me to Berlin. Along with her boyfriend.”

Love and Chaos Part 3(C) Kurt C 1

6th December 2020

Nirvana remembers Kurt Cobain on 25th anniversary of his death | Fox News
Kurt Cobain (Google Images)

Part Three

On 8th April, 1994, the body of Kirk Cobain, singer and guitarist of the band Nirvana, was found at his Seattle home. He died from a gunshot wound to the head.

The pop-culture space-race that had been going on between Britain and The States since the Fifties was now firmly in the American orbit, as the amount of small bands who spent limited money on equipment, not designer clothes, seemed to reach stratospheric heights.

Britain’s alternative scene has seen Indie Pop branch out into the tiny Grebo movement, a kind of home-grown pre-Grunge which combined music and humour in equal doses, before people smartened up and went dancing with the aid of little smiley tabs.

There was a definite vacuum that needed filling, and the music, attitudes and fashions of Grunge, of Slacker, of Generation X seemed tailor-made, and all that tailor need provide were flashy baseball caps, checked shirts and jeans with a rip or two.

It was the three chords of punk, with the freedom to add a fourth or fifth and, hey, guitar solos can be cool, providing they’re shit hot. The lyrics were personal and poetic. And a reaction, the reaction that a lot of people felt, shaking their heads and wondering,’ What the fuck happened in the Eighties ?’ a realization that no catchy slogans were going to change society, and anyway, no point picking on individual countries, they were merging into bland, soulless, multinational corporations, whose twin gods were uniformity and profit. And the ones blackballed from the club were in the black hole of poverty and disease.

There were new causes, arguments that seemed irrefutable; the need to protect our water, our land, our air, yet the corporations found ways to argue and stall and ignore and undermine.

It was the last decade of the most remarkably innovative century in the history of this planet, and a fitting time for reflection and criticism. A century when civilized nations embarked on unspeakable, unimaginable, incomprehensible barbarity, and all that came out of that was the slogan, ‘Never Again’, but by the early 90’s it already had, and as the decade wore on, it happened elsewhere, it happened again, and then later, it happened again and then, elsewhere … it happened again.

In his suicide note, Kurt Cobain referred to himself as a ‘experienced simpleton’. He hadn’t found what he needed in the music business and didn’t want to go on pretending, but other people, on the outside, across the nation, across the ocean, were happy to keep looking.

It may have been the end of Grunge Rock, but the Slacker movement and lifestyle just got bigger and bigger.

Love and Chaos Part 3(B) Chris 1

6th December 2020

Image by Harald Ansorge from the music video ‘dwot’. Watch, like and subscribe on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxJBbyKLlp0

Part Three. Berlin. Spring 1994

“Says he’s working for a temp agency again. As kitchen porter. Fucking Hell! “

Chris broke off to explain to Monika about Richard’s job, then continued reading the letter.

“And he misses Berlin. Good. He should come back. We could find him a job, couldn’t we ?’

“For sure. He has been here, before ?’

The story of how they met and Richard’s two trips to Berlin were briefly related. Chris took a bite of toast as Monika poured more coffee, and read further, nodding. It wasn’t in the letter, but he had obviously seen Melanie, as he had the new address. One line made him exclaim;

“Yeah, that’s right, Dude, you coulda.”

Monika looked over, her icy blue eyes asking for clarification. Her English was only basic and Chris’ use of slang and Americanisms sometimes threw her.

“Oh, he’s just saying how he if he’d stayed at Uni, he’d of graduated by now. Last year, in fact. Ha, then he jokes about what he’s done, instead. A year at a bookshop, six months at a record store, six weeks in Berlin, the rest washing kitchen floors. What’s this ?”

“What is ?” asked Monika, in her heavy accent.

“I dunno, something about being locked in a freezer. ”

“So ? Is he coming over ? I think you would like that, no ?”

“Yeah, I would.”

“Does he need a flat ? I could ask The Gang.”

“No, he’ll stay here. After Rigaer Strasse, this is a palace. What time do you start ?”

“One. I told you.”

“Just checking. So we have time.”

“For what ?” asked Monika, with mock innocence. Chris raised his eyebrows and smiled.

Love and Chaos Part 3(A) Richard 1

5th December 2020

Photo by Pete Flatwound. Follow Pete on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flatwoundonfilm/

Part Three. London. Spring 1994

“So one of the chefs tells me to clean out the large, vegetable freezer and I’m in there, scraping frozen crap off the shelves and sweeping up lumps of … I don’t know what. Then, this other chef appears, young guy, tall and gormless, carrying a clipboard. It’s part of his job to make routine checks on the temperatures, every day, same time. Now, the door’s open because, right, I’m in there, doing their shitty work. Gormless looks at the temperature gauge and, naturally, it’s way up, and he freaks out. This has never happened before, it’s an anomaly, except, of course, he wouldn’t know what an anomaly was, because he’s a chef, and of all the qualifications needed for that job, intelligence ain’t one of them. “

“So,” asked Melanie, unaccustomed to keeping quiet for long, “you’re saying he’s not too bright ?”

“As two short planks. Now, here’s the rub; he has to think.”

“Ouch !”

“In spades, and he really does, no bullshit, man, stand there, gob wide-open, dribble trickling down, you can hear the spokes turning, slow, slow, then … light bulb above the head, he comes up with a solution, though he’s probably more used to sniffing solutions that in coming up with them. Be that as it may, he says, proud as Punch, ‘I’ve gotta closer door, Mate.’ And proceeds to do same.”

“What did you do ?”

“I objected, of course. I’m in a bloody freezer, in just a T-shirt, and he wants to close the door on me. Apart from the fact that the temperature is going to go down to minus Twenty-Five or whatever, the perishing light will go out ! They’ll go back to get some peas, and find me frozen like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’.”

“The situations you find yourself in,” joked Melanie as Richard once again got the sense that she was laughing explicitly at him, not his anecdote.

“But he wouldn’t be told. I tried to explain the law of manslaughter to him, and that being a fucking moron was no defence. No avail. So I just left it. I mean, the freezer’s working, everything is stone cold and the only reason the gauge is up is because the door’s open. Use some initiative; fake the temperature. But no, he can’t do that, has to carry out his orders, do his duty. Then his girlfriend walked past and gave one of those, ’look what I have to put up with’ expressions, deep intake off breathe, then followed by the,’But I love him all the same, the big lumock’ look.”

“What’s she like ?”

“Not bad, kinda cute. OK, bit on the chubby side, but good features. Lovely eyes. Too good for him. What I should have done was to hit him on the head with a bag of frozen cauliflower. We got time for one more, or shall we go ?”

For the past month or so, Richard had been meeting up with Melanie and seeing movies or just having a drink. This evening, they were in a small pub by Leicester Square, before going to see a film based in post-war Berlin. It was a disappointing mess of a co-production, with a British actor giving a one-dimensional portrayal of an American, an American actor giving an unconvincing, stiff-upper lipped rendition of a Englishman and an Italian beauty attempting to be an ugly German. But, at one point during the film, there was an interior scene showing a room with an Ofen. Richard and Melanie poked each other on the leg and laughed. They left as soon as the film finished, heading straight back to the pub. They covered the usual topics: Richard’s awful job, awful love-life, awful everything. It seemed to cheer Melanie up.

“No regrets about leaving the record store ? I mean, it was regular work.”

“Not really. Couldn’t go back there, anyway, they would have sacked me for taking off too much time. And for what ? Berlin in Winter. Barely even saw Chris.”

This was the link Melanie was waiting for, and she barely listened to the rest of his speach.

“I can understand what Will meant, now, about not being able to work with people. I mean, my job really is shit, but at least I don’t have to deal with … the public. Book shops and classical music, sounds like ‘green and pleasant land’ material, but it’s the Mean Streets. In Fordham’s I devised a theory. People were in a bad mood because they came in to buy books that they couldn’t find, couldn’t afford and didn’t want. As for the Classical Music lot … I tell you, you won’t find a more arrogant bunch of self-loving Arschlochs than music students. Makes me miss my old physics gang. “

If Richard hoped Melanie would take up this cue, he was mistaken.

“Speaking of Chris, I got a letter from him recently. Are you still in touch ? You know he’s moved, now, and got a new girlfriend ? Oh, yes, much better by the sounds of it. I didn’t like Ute at all. I knew it wouldn’t last.”

This was all news to Richard, who hadn’t heard from Berlin since he left, the previous November. Melanie brought him up to speed, taking secret pleasure in being the one with the information.

Ute had decided to go back to Hamburg, possibly having something to do with the suspicious phone calls and letters that periodically arrived and which she read privately and hid at the back of a cupboard. Chris seemed somehow prepared, as if expecting it. Soon after, he was in love with a new woman. Her name was Monika and she was Austrian.

“She doesn’t stand any nonsense, by the sounds of it. She’ll keep Chris in line. My kind of girl. That’s what you need, a good, strong, Germanic girl.”

Richard was very close to admitting that right now he’d settle for any kind of girl, but didn’t want to give Melanie too much ammunition.

“So he’s still at the restaurant ?“

“Oh, yes, he says they’ll probably make him a chef before long.”

“Please, no more talk about chefs.”

“And the new place. In Prenzlauer Berg.”

“Oh, that’s much better. The flat in Rigaer Strasse … I’ve tried telling people about it and no one believes me.”

“I know, they look at me and think how could someone like me possibly spend time there.”

“Quite. Oh, there was something else weird happen after you left. Every night, about six o’clock for an hour, the water from the toilet sink had an electric charge.”

“No !”

“There you are, trying to wash yourself, two inches at a time, and no cheap cracks, Lady, and suddenly … the water gives you an electric shock. Only in Berlin. Still … “

“What, you miss it ?”

“Yeah. Sometimes. I don’t know. I’ve never lived there. Maybe November was especially bad. The weather. Chris being preoccupied. So, Monika … ? “

Richard enjoyed these after-work evenings and found Melanie good company. She introduced him to a lot of films and authors he wouldn’t otherwise have know, and got him out of the bedsit. The film about Berlin, and the conversation about Chris had provoked conflicting thoughts about that city. The November nightmares began to fade, as the good times of September asserted themselves; amazing squat bars, friendly, open people, an easier pace of life. U-bahns that arrived on time. A population less than half of London’s. Women, girls, young ladies. Hannah. Maybe she was still at the bar … or Monika … she must have friends. Maybe it was time to re-open diplomatic ties between London and Berlin.

Love and Chaos Part 2(I) Richard 2

3rd December 2020

Image by Harald Ansorge from the music video ‘dwot’. Watch, like and subscribe on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxJBbyKLlp0

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

It wasn’t just the flat, but the whole of Berlin that seemed quieter after Nuno had left. Richard had really enjoyed hanging out with him, and seeing east Berlin through his eyes. He recalled Nuno’s expressions as he experienced first hand what it was like to live here; boiling pots of water for washing, chopping wood for heating, drinking in squat bars. He remembered the first time Nuno had used the toilet, the morning after the jazz club night, with Nuno struggling to articulate the ordeal;

“Don’t go in there … you will die ! Why … why is it … like … ?”

“The plateau ? Who knows ? To make people’s lives even worse.”

The resulting Nuno laugh.

Naturally, it would be Nuno that would meet a young, American girl and go off to Paris with her, while Richard would be trying to light the recalcitrant Ofen and recline with some light Proust reading.

Chris came home, bursting into the room with an energetic, ‘let’s go get ‘em’ smile, only to loose it seconds later.

“Where the fuck’s Nuno ?”

The tone seemed to be asking ‘what have YOU done with poor Nuno ?’ and Chris didn’t seem very impressed when he heard that the Portuguese had left. Richard emphasized the beauty of the American, exaggerating somewhat, and skipped over the part about Nuno’s disappointment of him as host.

Chris remained silent, regretting the lost opportunity but also glad that it was one thing less to worry about. He offered to make coffee, and when he came back, both the room and the atmosphere was warmer. No longer were there bags dumped around, blocking available space. Richard spoke about walking along the streets with a drunken Nuno, trying to keep him out of the perilous cycle lanes at the edge of the pavement, and pointed to where Nuno had fallen, inches from the sharp edge of the pallet.

“How did you get him up ?”

Again, Richard could only reply that he had no idea.

Chris began opening up, speaking about his worries over Ute and her continual retinue of psychopathic ex-boyfriends. After coffee, he brought up the subject of a loan. But he had over-estimated Richard’s finances. Two hundred Marks was all he had in checks.

“I’m paid every night at Biberkopf, so I’ll come back and give you money, so you’ll be OK for the next day.”

Richard agreed, suggesting they go to a bank immediately. Chris strained to think:

“Not sure if they’re open.”

“Why, don’t close for lunch, do they ?”

“It’s not that … this is Berlin, don’t forget. Banks don’t keep banking hours.”

Richard couldn’t believe it, but it proved to be true. The first bank was closed, but had posted its random opening hours on the door. Not open until mid morning the next day. They got lucky with the third bank along Karl Marx Allee, Richard warned to bring all his paperwork with him.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the flat, reading and catching up with the World Service. Even Chris knew it would have been inappropriate to borrow all Richard’s money and then invite him out with it.

Instead, they both went to Biberkopf, where Richard could sit and read and drink coffee and maybe get a bit of food and a few beers for a special price. And when Chris got paid, he gave it all to Richard, then half of that went straight to Silvio who ran Kinski that night.

The next day, Chris had to go to the studio, then to Biberkopf, so Richard was planning a day of sight-seeing with his limited funds, which actually was adequate for his itinerary. But two things happened to alter his plans.

That day, the temperature had dropped further, to an impossible to believe minus 25, but, even worse, Melanie reappeared.

Now it was Richard’s turn to experience the ominous ‘thump on the door’.

He opened it with trepidation, prepared to face the dreaded Herr Holtzengraff.

Instead, the small, leather-clad figure of Melanie, with small backpack. No explanations, as she marched into the flat, flinging her bag onto the couch. Richard took a deep breathe and went to make coffee, wishing he’d had alcohol in the house.

He knew that Melanie was unable to keep quiet for long, and, over coffee and candles in the kitchen, the story came out.

Somewhere outside of Szczecin, heading back towards Germany, the bike had skidded on some ice and Melanie and Will had been thrown off. Luckily, they had chosen small, country roads, so there had been no other traffic. They appeared to have suffered more from shock than actual physical harm, though Melanie assured Richard that she had bruises in her more delicate places.

The bike had some minor damages, so Will was going to stay in Poland fixing them and Melanie decided to get the train straight to Berlin. Will may turn up, may not, but by the way she said it, Richard wasn’t expecting him. He kept this to himself. There had been enough skating on thin ice.

“Where’s Chris ? Is he still with that pretend artist ?”

Richard sipped his coffee to buy time and control his response. He confirmed that Chris was still together with Ute, who was really nice. The temperature took another drastic fall.

However, being back in Berlin, without Will and sitting in a warmish kitchen with hot coffee relaxed her, and she began telling stories about her travels, then gave him a packet of Russian cigarettes that she had picked up. Richard examined them. Small and thick, but the most distinctive feature was that half the length was the filter. He smoked one, offered one to Melanie, who also smoked one, and they passed time by drinking and smoking and talking.

But Melanie had another piece of good news; she had no money. The train ticket had taken up the last of her savings and she wasn’t sure how’d she’d get back home. Richard understood that this implicitly confirmed that Will would not be making a guest appearance. He also found himself having to apologise for not having any money to help her with, though without explaining why.

“I’m sure Chris will help us,” she said. Richard merely nodded.

Thankfully, Melanie was tired after her travels and elected to stay in that evening, maybe sleep early and go out with Chris when he came back. So they had a little food and relaxed in the main room, Richard tending the Ofen every half hour. He was tired and cold and also took a rest, waiting for Chris. But that night, Chris didn’t come home which meant he had only a few Marks to provide for two people.

If one evening alone with Melanie had been Ok, Richard wasn’t sure how a whole day would be, especially as there was little money in the house and inches of snow, still falling, outside.

“Maybe we can go to Biberkopf, score some money off Chris ?” was her suggestion. There seemed little alternative and at least Chris would be aware that Melanie was back in town.

At the bar, which was fairly busy, they took a far table and Richard was delighted to see that Hannah was working as waitress tonight. He had met her the last time he’d been there, reading and waiting for Chris to finish. It had been her night off and she’d popped in to check her schedule and have a quick drink. They began talking and she had stayed over an hour. Richard was amazed. She was like a glamour model, thick, flowing, blonde hair, bright, blue eyes, long lashed, a full, sensual mouth and a dream of a body, every inch a beauty queen. It also amazed every one else in the bar, as she had a reputation as an ice maiden, at best, arrogant, stuck-up bitch, at worst.

“I just don’t want to speak to every brainless drunk, or have men ‘accidentally’ brush past me, so they say I have an attitude. Arschlochs,” she had confided to him.

Now she waved and came over, Richard over-eager to introduce Melanie as Chris’ friend.

“She’s pretty,” admitted Melanie after she had left to get their beers, though she said it as if she were describing the most repulsive and vilest of beggars.

Even better than seeing Hannah, or a close second, was Chris’s reaction, just moments later. He came along the corridor from the kitchen, to go to the cellar whose entrance was in a corner of the bar. He automatically looked up, did a double-take as he saw Richard at an unfamiliar table, then a treble-take when he saw Melanie sitting next to him.


After a quick recap of events, Chris told them to order what they liked and he’d cover it from his wages.

Richard found it hard to concentrate on Melanie’s endless babel, as he managed to catch Hannah’s eye once or twice, each time followed by a smile.

By eleven o’clock, the bar began to quieten down, and spaces opened up at the bar. Chris made some fleeting appearances and there was the not surprising decision to go to Kinski’s. Richard made sure Hannah was within earshot and then asked her if she’d like to come along.

“Thank you, but I have to stay until one, maybe later. And it’s in the east and I don’t like to go there.”

“Oh, it’s too far from your home ?”

“Yes, and it’s full of Proles. I’ve been there once. I got a taxi to Alexanderplatz and came straight back. Many people were afraid to go there, in case they rebuilt The Wall.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen tonight, Dear,” added Melanie with rather too much sarcastic delight.

“Yes, I think you are right. Sorry.”

With that, Hannah moved away and out of Richard’s fantasy life. The idea of a woman like that in a flat like Chris’ was ridiculous in the extreme. It was probably for the best.

Jens was working the bar, and as soon as they entered, they were assailed with cries of, “geschlossen, Feuer Abend!” (Closed, Last Orders!), so Chris took them to the Czar Bar. It was even grottier than last time.

Tonight, two men worked the bar, or rather one took the drink orders, the other was slumped on a chair in a corner, sometimes resting his head on the bar, sometimes jerking awake, only to slump again. They were playing some kind of Death Metal in an indistinguishable language and one of the denim-clad, unwashed drinkers was shouting along to it. Several dogs were running around, being screamed at when they decided to lift a leg or worse. Again, lots of people just sat alone, clutching a beer for company, a Teutonic version of Degas’ ‘L’Absinthe’.

Around the bar sat the bearded man who had run the bar last time, still with the hat covering half his face. He sat drinking shots of vodka and shouting in loud, repetitive German to the barman, inviting him to drink along, an invitation that was generally accepted. Chris went to get beers and had a little conversation with the vodka drinker, declining a vodka himself.


Melanie was less impressed than Nuno had been, clearly uncomfortable. As the CD finished, a commotion was heard from across the room in a little annex where the toilet was. It was obviously engaged, much to the chagrin of a short-haired, blonde punk, who kicked the door, then marched outside. Tonight, the shutter over the main window was up, and Melanie and Richard were able to follow her with their eyes as she walked into the gutter, undid her belt, pulled down her jeans and squatted in the road. Within seconds, she was back inside.

“That’s very impressive,” said Richard, “anyone that can expose themselves in this weather has my admiration.”

“You’re easily impressed.”

“Always been my problem.”

“One of them.”

At this point, Chris brought the beers over, but was gone after only a minute or two, to talk to someone he recognized. Melanie began speaking about films.

“I should be an editor, because I know exactly how a film should be cut, how long a take should be, what set-ups work best.”

Before Richard could respond, or be obliged to say something, Chris returned;

“Jake wants to have a vodka with us.”

“All right,” said Richard.

“Which one’s Jake ?” asked Melanie.

“Not the one who pissed on the Strasse, I hope.” Chris had missed that little scenario, so had no idea to whom or what Richard was alluding.

“Jake, the bar man, the one who was working last time.”

“You‘ve been here before ?” inquired Melanie of Richard. He immediately pointed to Chris;

“He made me.”

“You two are just speaking bullshit, aren’t you ? Come on, let get vodka-ed.”

“I don’t think I want one. You two boys go.”

They both cringed at that comment, but went all the same.


Two vodkas later, Richard began to see the appeal of this bar. He had thought Kinski was a dramatic, underground alternative, but this bar made Kinski’s look like a Home Counties family pub on a Sunday afternoon.

Suddenly, the second barman sprang to life with a loud exclamation in Russian. He wiped drool from his mouth and reached inside his coat for a cigarette, spitting on the floor and rinsing his mouth with a fresh beer. Chris called for another round of vodka, but then Melanie tapped him on the shoulder, with all the force she could muster, to inform him that she wanted to go.

“So ? Go. Go, capital ‘G’, capital ‘O’ GO! Like Dexter Gordon. GO!”

“I need the keys.”

“Maybe we should, after this round,” suggested Richard.

“Look at you two, what a couple of Beat legends. You want to go, why don’t you go, fuck off, fuck off back to shitty London. Go !”

Jake lifted up his head and raised his glass high;

“Here’s to shitty London,” and downed the shot in one.

“Come on,” said Richard, seeing that Melanie was fighting back tears, “one more for the road. OK, two, two more. Jake, you in ?”

“Am I in ? “ he answered his own question by laughing.


The ruse however, worked. It gave Chris more drinking time whilst giving a time frame for Melanie.

Soon they were outside, swaying home, the walk seeming to take forever in the bitter wind and snow and the uncertain motions of locomotion influenced by vodka.

In the flat, Chris fell asleep immediately, barely bothering to undress. Melanie got a blanket and managed to lay next to him, while Richard returned to the sleeping bag on the floor. He was looking forward to going home.

Richard awoke first, and knew he was unlikely to go back to sleep, so he used the private time to wash and get dressed. After a quick coffee, he left the flat, with just a bag and guidebook, deciding to see something of Berlin’s free sights.

He choose to go and see the Olympic Stadium, far away in the west, penultimate stop on the red U2 line. The journey there should be at least an hour. On the way, he read his guide. This was the famous stadium built for the 1936 Olympics and where Jesse Owens won three Gold’s. Richard now had some context for that famous piece of footage showing The Führer walking out in disgust. He, of course, declined to shake the athlete’s hand. What Richard didn’t know was that Owens also missed out on a handshake by his own President, when he returned to The States.

The stadium was open for tours, but he couldn’t afford to spend the admission, so walked around the outside. Behind, leading off to snow covered woods, a military jeep passed him, with two soldiers. They may well have been British and as such, would have thought nothing of seeing a compatriot taking a stroll in the snow.

There were two other sights in the area that seemed to be of interest. One was the Corbusierhaus, designed in the late 1950’s as an model example of urban living, but Richard wasn’t sure if he found it or not. He certainly saw something, yet couldn’t believe that the nondescript complex in front of him warranted such attention. It appeared to be just another concrete block of cheap housing.

The book also mentioned a sculpture collection, the George-Kolbe-Museum, but as it was a ten minute walk along a wide and otherwise featureless road, and as he probably wouldn’t be able to go in, he decided to head back, slowly making his way to the U-Bahn station, and waited for his train.

It had been less than thrilling, maybe, but he had seen one famous building and, more importantly, had some time to himself, even if he had to walk in the snow in sub zero temperatures to get it.

He arrived back at the flat at mid afternoon, knowing from experience that after Two-Thirty, it would only get colder and colder. And when he got there, Chris was stressed and Melanie was out.

There was only time for a coffee and a smoke before Chris left. He said he was going to the studio, but Richard wasn’t sure if he believed him, or even cared. Melanie returned later that evening. Chris had come through for her, she said, paying for her coach ticket to London. It left early evening of the following day. Chris didn’t make it back to say goodbye.

Richard spent most of the remainder of his time alone, going out sight-seeing, to the large Jewish cemetery in Weissensee and the memorial at Plötzensee, where political prisoners were killed, including 89 from the July 20th Bomb Plot. He walked around the local Volkspark, checking out the collection of political statues and memorials and made it to the giant monument to Ernst Thälmann, a Communist murdered in Buchenwald.

Chris did come back for Richard’s last night and they went straight to Kinski’s and had a great time. But for Richard, it was the cliché of too little, too late.

Chris came with him to the airport, insisting on holding the 1000 page Proust Volume 1, which Richard had half finished with all his spare time. Chris reassured him that he’d send over the money, or hold it until Richard came back. The silence that followed this comment showed that both of them understood that it may be a while before they met again.

At least the plane was on time, and Chris had given Richard the army coat that he’d requisitioned. He reflected on his trip. Chris had a new life, a flat, job and girlfriend and all these friends from the past were just that; from the past.

One piece of uplifting news came when the Co-Pilot announced the ground temperature. For the first time in weeks, it would be above zero. After they landed at London’s City Airport, his bag was one of the first off, and he took it and made his way to the exit. Until a uniformed man asked Richard to follow him. It took half an hour for the Inspector to go through the bag carefully, then check his wallet, asking if he had any drugs, pornography or weapons. The bag only had museum guides and dirty laundry, the Inspector informing him that he personally had no time for culture or galleries, “if I can’t eat it, I don’t care about it.” The delay meant that Richard had missed one bus and had no money for a taxi, so he had to wait in the cold London evening.

He had been waiting to come back, and now he was home. Then it hit him. So I’m back in London: Now what ?

Love and Chaos Part 2(H) Chris 2

2nd December 2020

Photo by Pete Flatwound. Follow Pete on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flatwoundonfilm/

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

Chris decided to take the S-Bahn four stops east from Shönhauser Allee instead of the usual, quicker U-Bahn, to get home. He needed to be above ground, to be able to look out of windows, see sky and open spaces. He felt so claustrophobic.

He would get out at Storkower Strasse and have a long walk through an elevated, covered tunnel that straddled a concrete wasteland full of disused factories. At the end, just a short walk to Rigaer Strasse, the Czar Bar end, and a slow stroll to number 16. This would be his only time to himself and he intended to make the most of it.

He genuinely loved having his friends to visit, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Why did they all have to come at once ? Though he remained positive about his flat’s shortcomings, he knew it wasn’t adequate to deal with the needs of people used to basic western standards. Again, one guest at a time would have been fine, but there had been four recently and even now there were still two people crashing on his floor. He thought of Samuel Johnson’s famous aphorism, how guests are like fish; they begin to smell after three days, but in a flat with no bathroom, those three days dwindled to one.

But the resentment he felt lead to guilt. He hadn’t been so pleasant to Melanie or Will and had hardly seen Nuno. Then he began to justify his feelings. Will had merely used the flat as a base for further travelling, basically a free hotel. All he had heard about was how they were economizing to pay for the rest of their trip. They hadn’t even offered to buy any groceries.

Nuno had just been too much trouble. Ute wouldn’t even speak about him, and he wasn’t welcome back at Biberkopf, so what to do ? It’s not as if they were especially close. Another one just after a cheap holiday. Then again, he had almost beaten the crap out of Ross and for that, he should surely be awarded freedom of the city, or at least the flat.

Richard was happy doing his own thing. He was here for the whole month, so he couldn’t expect Chris to spend every night with him. Besides, they needed time apart, so that they could have things to talk about.

In many ways, this was the best his life had been, and as he walked along the street, covered with rubbish and dog shit, walking past punks and drunks, he thought what a comment that was on his life so far.

He was still in the initial euphoria of a new relationship, thinking Ute the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Certainly the sweetest.

This was the over-riding sensation, the factor that allowed him to deal with all the negative aspects. She was his first really serious girlfriend. All the others had been short-term affairs and it was always the girl that had broken up with him. Now he was scared that the pattern would continue and that Ute would find a reason to leave.

He thought about how happy they were together, but just as he was believing that everything could actually work out, that the guests would soon be gone and that he and Ute had a future, something happened to throw it all into doubt.

That morning, Chris had gone out to buy some bread and food. When he returned, letting himself in with the borrowed key, he heard Ute on the phone. She was speaking emotionally, upset over something, but she stopped as she heard Chris. He was able to understand her say something to the effect of ‘I can’t speak now. We speak later.’

Ute had very pale skin, but now she flushed from her neck up. She walked into the kitchen saying she’ll make coffee.

He asked who she had been speaking to. She replied that it was no one, an old friend.

They breakfasted in silence, then he left.

At least he would have time to spend with Nuno, which could be just what he needed, a red-blooded Latin view of things. Richard would probably come along. Chris wished he’d go and get his own life, not invade other people’s. But then he couldn’t be rude to Richard, because there was another problem. He hadn’t paid Frau Holtzengraff the extra money. She had let October slide, provided he pay double by the end of November. But he had been taking Ute out and been forced to socialize with his guests, so knew that there was no way he could afford an additional two hundred Marks. He also knew that Richard had at least that amount in travellers checks.

He would have to turn on the charm. Otherwise, he would be truly fucked.

Love and Chaos Part 2(G) Nuno 1

1st December 2020

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

Richard waited at Tegal for the late afternoon flight from London, and saw Nuno emerge from passport control with a large canvass bag effortlessly slung over his shoulder. He seemed to be capable of only two expressions; menacing inquisition, and unrestrained joviality. He wore the first when he came out into the small crowd that congregated around the gate, and changed into the second, the second he saw Richard.

This is going to be pure pleasure, compared to the recent guests, thought Richard, as the hulking mass of Nuno approached, arms open wide and smile even broader.

“You can’t believe it, can you ? I’m here, I’m here !”

But as soon as there was contact, Richard suspected that the bonhomie was induced not just by visiting Berlin in winter. The smell of alcohol was overpowering and Nuno made no effort to hide the fact, immediately producing a half bottle of Johnnie Walker Red from his coat pocket and offering it to Richard. It was, of course, accepted.

Richard repeated the journey that Chris had taken him on; bus, U-Bahn, S-Bahn, back to U-Bahn. Nuno leaned against the cheap wood panelling of the train, staggering, trying to keep balance with the jolting, and defying anyone to challenge him, looking as if he were here to take Berlin by the scruff of its scruffy, unwashed neck and shake some sense into it.

There was an attempt at commentary on Richard’s side, telling the newcomer a little about this singular, schizophrenic city, but it obviously wasn’t sinking in, and the best thing would be to get home and get coffee.

There were the usual explanations starting from the U-Bahn at the Rathaus, how things worked, what to expect.

And then Nuno was in the flat, dominating the living room, throwing the bag down, and offering the last dregs of whisky to Richard. He looked around, pointed to the Ofen, then laughed, as he recalled being told about collecting wood at two in the morning, and burning it inside the house.

After coffee, they decided to eat, and went to a restaurant near the U-Bahn, that looked half-way decent for this part of Berlin. Richard knew he had made a wise choice when the waitress appeared, with her chestnut hair, great figure and cover-girl looks. He also realised that Nuno had some natural magnetism that drew women, and the waitress found every excuse to keep returning to their table. It was the best service Richard ever experienced in Berlin.

So, in keeping with the surroundings, and to impress the waitress, who introduced herself as Anna, they ordered Camparis and Soda, then, to show that they were red-blooded males, ordered the Grill Platter for two, a respectable homage to a medieval banquet, a huge, silver tray overloaded with various meat selections and garnished with roast potatoes and carrots and an overdose of parsley.

Nuno was in the house and the poor platter stood no chance.

Anna, who was happy to increase Richard’s German vocabulary by making him repeat the word for ashtray, glass, cutlery and so on, asked them what their plans were, were they going out dancing ? Richard mentioned a Jazz club in Prenzlauer Berg he wanted to check out and it wasn’t until he was in the club, some hours later, that he began to consider that she may have been asking to come along. Ordinarily, he was sure Nuno would have caught such an overture, but was numbed by the whisky. Damn that Johnnie Walker. Have to go back, some time, and make amends.

The Jazz club was a disappointment. It was situated, like so much in Berlin, not on the street, but in an unlit back yard, with no discernible means of ingress or egress. Thankfully, a light flashed on the first floor, and some people came down an iron staircase, so they knew where to go.

After paying a relatively high cover charge, they got a table and two beers. The band, instead of being a wild, hot bebop combo, as Richard had automatically presumed, were a group of young white boys with electric bass, drums, keyboard and acoustic guitar. And singer, a short-haired, very camp man, who scatted his way through the American songbook, screeching into unnecessary high notes at the drop of a high-hat.

The idea was to stay for an hour or so, then head over to Schöneberg where Chris was working, and go out from there. Then it seemed that all the drinking suddenly and violently caught up with Nuno. The head sagged, the body lost its muscular form and the eyes were off into infinity. Time to leave.

Outside, Richard thought of getting a Strassebahn, but then became aware that he had under-estimated the size of his problem, for Nuno could barely stand. He held onto Nuno, one hand on his elbow, the other around and supporting him, but if he fell, they would both be going down. Hard.

Richard hailed a taxi, then tried to force Nuno into it, who, by this time, had developed an attack of hiccups and appeared to be about to vomit. The driver was naturally concerned and was going to drive off until he understood that Richard was also coming.

Half supporting, half carrying Nuno, Richard got him back into the flat and into the main room. He left him to undress and went to make coffee. In the kitchen he heard an almighty thump and ran back to find Nuno, fallen onto the floor, just missing the edge of the table/pallet by inches. Attempts to wake him were futile, but he couldn’t be left where he was. Richard took a deep breathe and got him up, moved him to the sofa and let him fall gently onto it. From there, he was able to lift his legs and swing them over, without much effort. He made some tiny adjustments, to make sure Nuno was on safely, then covered him with blankets, took off his shoes and went back to drink his coffee.

It had been quite a night and, as he wasn’t expecting Chris to return, he too turned in, wearing an extra jumper as the Ofen had long gone out and the room was quite literally freezing.

Richard was trying to summon the courage to get out of his bag in the morning, when Nuno got up and lit a Malboro cigarette, which made Richard feel slightly sick. He got up and went to make coffee and to sit around the cooker’s gas ring, until he could face the daunting task of washing in a tiny sink in a chilling room.

After several coffees and as best a wash as possible, he waited for Nuno. He had seen many drunks before, had been out of control himself, far too many times for comfort, but there was something about last night that disturbed him. The answer came soon enough. Raphaela, Nuno’s girlfriend of the past four years, had just left him and had returned to Portugal.

Nuno couldn’t apologise enough, although he had no idea what he had done. He only vaguely recollected the restaurant, but couldn’t place the waitress, appearing hurt when he heard how attractive she was, and the face he pulled when he heard he had been to a Jazz club just made Richard burst out laughing. Then Richard told him about falling and nearly cracking his head.


“How did you lift me ?”

Richard was blank, as the enormity of his task sank in.

“I don’t know,” was the best he could offer.

Once again, Chris came home in the afternoon, immaculate, and had a big embrace with Nuno, saying that he had waited so long at his bar for them, that in the end it had been easier to stay with Ute, a clear fabrication, but one that Richard let go. To make up for last night, Nuno accepted the offer to go to work with Chris, as Ute would be there as well, and Richard wanted to go to the cinema anyway.

They went to Alex and showed Nuno some of the sights in the immediate vicinity, before going into a bar for cognac and coffee then separating, Chris and Nuno taking the S-Bahn to Friedrich Strasse, Richard to walk to the Zeughaus [the German History Museum], which had a small cinema attached and currently showing a retrospective of early Antonioni films.

When the movie ended, Richard slowly made his way home, needing an early night and enjoying some peace and an alcohol-free evening with Proust.

Nuno made sure that Chris’s evening wouldn’t be so passive.

It had begun innocently enough, as Nuno took the nearest bar stool to the kitchen, tucked away down a small corridor, but clearly audible in the quiet bar. Ute made him feel very welcome, asking him about London and his impression of Berlin. Chris had to work, and Nuno indicated that it was no problem for him to stay in a bar drinking for five hours. It just became a problem for everybody else.

Typically, the night was busy, some regular crowds turning up and ordering food at the same time, throwing the east German chef into a near paroxysm of frustration and anger and disbelief. When Chris managed to slip away for a cigarette break, he found Nuno altered, non-communicative, distant.

It wasn’t until just before midnight that Chris could finish and join his girlfriend and friend at the bar and by this time, Ute had had enough of him. Chris found him demanding more beer, then, after the barman half filled the glass, to allow the head to settle for a few minutes, Nuno screamed out,

“Hey, where’s my fucking beer ?”


“Nuno, Nuno, hey, it’s OK, they always pour it like that.”

“I don’t care, I want my beer and I want it now!”

Chris saw Walter speaking angrily to Florian, the barman, who soon came over and spoke to Chris,

“Chris, I’m sorry, but Walter says that your friend has to go. Now.”

Chris felt a cold wave of panic, not knowing how he was going to accomplish that, when, as usual, Marina solved the problem. Temporarily, at least.

She had heard that Nuno was expected and came in to check Ross, inevitably, with her. Marina suggested they all go to another bar.

Outside, Ute declined to come along, saying that Chris should spend time with his friend, then, after Chris failed to take the hint, bluntly told him that she didn’t ever want to see Nuno again and got into her car and drove home.

Nuno, meanwhile, was all over Marina, harmlessly laughing and making in-jokes that didn’t amuse Ross at all.

The four walked to an Irish bar a street or two away and ordered four Guinesses. Inside, Ross called out to an extremely tall Irishman, and beckoned him over.

“This is Brian. He’s the best person I’ve met in Berlin. He’s brilliant.”

Brian stood there, beaming. Chris asked what he did, but totally misheard Ross’s answer above the loud music and pub din, hearing that Brian collected children. This did sound brilliant, commendable, as Chris had visions of the gentle giant going to remote villages with medical supplies, vaccinating the young and saving lives, or placing east European orphans with loving families in the west. But Ross was pointing to the wall behind him, which was covered in Americana, especially car license plates from different states. The penny finally dropped.

“Oh, you collect car-tags ?”

“Yes,” was the brilliant reply. Then Marina let out one of her trademark laughs. She was having a real calming effect on Nuno, who had settled down and seemed to be enjoying himself. He said one or two comments and again, the same reaction, louder, from Marina. Some people, probably known to them, looked over, knowing that sound so well, but Ross wasn’t impressed and reprimanded her,

Mari- naaaa!” with a stern look. Nuno immediately turned on him,

“Hey, what the fuck is that ? Why do you speak to her like that ? You have no idea how to treat this beautiful woman. “

“Well, Nuno, I think you should stop drinking and mind your own business.”

General mayhem, as Marina tried to calm everyone down, Nuno shouted, Ross shouted back, Brian just made noises and Chris restrained the urge to smile. Suddenly Nuno got up and grabbed Ross, pulling him to his feet and raised a fist, when several men around the bar intervened and shuffled him to the door, quite gently in the circumstances, pushing him out, and telling him that he was welcome back tomorrow, but that he’d better sleep it off tonight.

Ross took out his anger at Marina, saying what lovely friends she had, obviously including Chris in his comment, and went to a corner with Brian, with various locals coming up and patting his shoulder, saying that the other fellow was lucky and that Ross would have pummelled him.

Marina made a helpless gesture and Chris was left to get Nuno home, cursing Richard for not being there, and selfishly going to the cinema, instead.

However, the explosion of testosterone and adrenaline had a sobering effect on Nuno, and the long journey home by night buses was pretty painless. Nuno began explaining about Raphaela.

Having told them both about his situation, Nuno slowed his drinking and became great company for Richard as Chris was either at work, or with Ute. The next night, Richard took him to an English-language film at the large Odeon cinema at Schöneberg. Afterwards, they found a bar and sat talking.

They laughed about the primitiveness of the flat, and the cold unrelenting weather. They began speaking of the USA. Why on earth had they come to Berlin ? Why hadn’t they gone to Florida, or California. They began talking about travelling together, Nuno expressing an interest in seeing Chicago, a city he had always been drawn to.

Another man began looking over, and Richard seemed to recognise him.

“Excuse me, I heard you mention Chicago. Are you American ?”

“No, I’m English, but, more to the point, do you have a shower in your apartment ?”

It had become something of a joke, to ask strangers about their bathroom situation. Klaus, the guy at the bar, recognised Richard from Bar Biberkopf [where Chris worked] and went on to explain about the flats in the east, and how there must have been a communal wash-room. He also told them about The Wall, how it made West Berlin an island surrounding by the DDR and how difficult it could be for West Germans to enter the east, having to use special papers and enter at certain border points.

After this bar, Nuno and Richard found another, just before the S-Bahn entrance, an old-style Berlin bar run by an old Turkish man and his young assistant, who was much more interested in chatting to the two ladies who were the bar’s only other customers. Before long, Nuno also got speaking to them, and flirting, while Richard sat and had a quiet whisky, glad to see Nuno happier.

Then they got back to Friedrichshain and went to Café Kinski, where Chris had arranged to meet them. After a quick beer, Chris decided that because Philipp was working, they should try their luck at the Czar Bar, so they walked down Rigaerstrasse, past the first squat bars, to a residential section, then onto a more fitting section of squatted buildings. Chris entered a door that, naturally, showed no sign of life. Inside was something of a shock, even to Richard.

The Czar Bar was a large open space, whitewashed, but had grey stone and concrete showing through. And no heating. To the left of the door was a makeshift bar. Behind the bar was a large dresser, used to store glasses and the bottles of vodka or tequila. Under the counter were crates of beer, evident when the barman bent down out of sight and re-emerged with three bottles for Chris. The barman was covered with a bushy beard and battered 1940’s-style hat, drawn over his eyes.

But what gave the bar it lost-souls atmosphere were the drinkers. It was as if every other squat bar had spewed out their dregs and forced them to come here. There were some repellent punks, some unattractive girls with painful-looking piercings, and people who looked as if they had simply just given up.

Everyone seemed to be drinking alone, there was no background noise, just some old Tom Waits songs coming from a cheap cassette player.


One man, dressed in old, dark trousers and a cheap jacket over a moth-eaten jumper, was perched on a precarious bar stool, the kind of chair that Shoulder may well have made. It was very tall and thin, incredibly top-heavy with a solid metal back but only a small, circular base. The man began swaying, the chair began lifting off the ground. Eventually, he toppled over and crashed onto the concrete floor, and lay there, unmoving. Nobody went to help him, nobody even seemed to acknowledge him. Richard asked Nuno if they should lift him.

“No, I’m not touching that !”

Nuno, in fact, was very unimpressed by the bar and wanted to leave. On the way home, he turned to Richard;

“Would you fuck any of those women in there ?”

Then Chris surprised them both. He informed them that he wasn’t staying in the flat, but would gather a few items of clothing and stay with Ute.

Over coffee, Nuno was upset.

“What the fuck is this ? He invites me over and then doesn’t see me ! Yes, I know I was bad, but … What is wrong with him ?” Then he began speaking about Raphaela. “We used to live together, eat together, sleep together, shit together … not really shit together, you know … ? “

They decided that they should spend the next day sightseeing, as Nuno was keen to see Checkpoint Charlie which he merely referred to as ‘Charlie’. Being so cold, every day seeming to drop more and more degrees, they decided to go to the gallery by Museum Island. It should at least be heated.

After spending the afternoon there, they were deciding what to do next, when a young women with long hair and designer glasses came up to them. She pointed to Richard’s guide, surprised that there could be a whole book on Berlin, as she had one that covered the whole of Europe that, she insisted, wasn’t much bigger.

All three agreed to take a coffee and Nancy told her story, about planning to come to Europe over Summer with her boyfriend, but he had changed his mind, and made excuses why they should go later, something about cheaper flights and less tourists, which did make sense. However, the boyfriend’s real motive was to stay and keep seeing another girl. Nancy only found out three weeks ago, so she took his car, sold it and bought the airline ticket with the money.

She had landed in London, then toured Europe by train and stayed in the cheapest possible accommodation. She was currently in a six-bed dorm in Kreutzberg, which alarmed the two men, but seemed totally natural to her.

Tomorrow she would leave for Paris. Nuno lit up. He had always wanted to go there. He began asking her about costs, where she would stay, how much she expected to spend. Did she mind him coming along, too ? Of course not, and there was a telling exchange in the eyes.

Nuno then asked the key question;

“Does your dorm have a shower ?”

It did, and a spare bed or two as at least one occupant was checking out.

With unbelievable speed, Nuno & Richard were in the dorm, Nuno checking in and insisting that Richard take first shower. As he was drying himself, he heard a wall-shaking, Nuno laugh.

“Hey, Richard, listen to this …. She’s from Chicago !”

All three went for a final drink. Nuno hugged Richard, thanking him for everything. They exchanged addresses, then Richard went back to Friedrichshain alone.

Three months later, in London, he got a postcard, ’Greetings From Chicago’.

He never heard from Nuno again.

Love and Chaos Part 2(F) Firefly

Part Two

Firefly was on her bed, gracefully meditating. The Spartan room had a faint Asian ambience from the Chinese lamp and some posters with Mandarin script. She liked atmosphere and had various coloured bulbs which she lit at night, as if recreating the neon-drenched streets of Hong Kong.

One point was apparent; this was a one-person apartment.

Firefly had just completed another ‘identification’ for which she was well paid and now she was free. There would be more work, that was guaranteed, and it would come to her. No time to get bored.

She merely had to go to one of her known hang-outs and if anyone wanted her and followed the accepted protocol, she was for hire.

So it gave her a shock when, on that warm, summer morning, there were four thundering knocks on her door.

She jumped up, then slowed her breathing to regain composure. She let out an exclamation sounding like “waaayyyyy!”

She moved to the door, keeping one hand free to take a knife that was inconspicuously hanging behind a leather coat. Then she opened the door. The light from the large windows almost blinded her, but she could see a large figure, all in black, the face hidden by a Chinese mask depicting a dragon, standing in front of her. He appeared to be clenching something up high, but before Firefly could act, he dropped his hand and there was a loud crack and a cloud of thick, slightly perfumed smoke.

Firefly coughed and wiped her eyes, the knife in hand, but the man had vanished. There was the faint sound of steps, then the street door closing.

On the floor, a large envelope. Slowly, Firefly picked it up and took it inside.

“Waaayyyyy!” She was intrigued.

As she guessed, it was a new commission. Normally, she would have been too suspicious of any deviation or unorthodox approach, but this was different, different in a way she couldn’t define.

The envelope contained just two items. A photo and money.

She picked up the head shot and studied it. No one she recognised. She would start immediately.

She hit play on her small cassette player and a piece of bubble-gum Asian pop filled the room. Firefly danced around, changing into a new black top and fixing her make-up, putting on small boots with heels. Before leaving, a look at herself in a mirror, fixing the one hair out of place. Then, photo in her small, shoulder bag, to work.

The first dive-bars proved fruitless, but it was still early and Firefly hadn’t expected much. It served to eliminate some options and to kill time until The Fatman could be reached.

She toured the cafés of Kreutzberg on the look-out, allowing herself to be seen. The word would filter through the disparate strata of her world. Firefly was onto someone and that someone had better watch out. His time was up.

By the time she could visit The Casbah Club, the sun long set over the Europa Center, she knew she would be expected. Nevertheless, she approached the bar, hips swinging in her tight skirt and asked for a meeting. The large barman made the merest gesture of acknowledgement, a hint of a raised eyebrow, a barely perceptible flick of his index finger and without the slightest urgency, disappeared behind a doorway.

Firefly sensed she was being watched, not officially, that she took for granted, information being as deadly as weapons, but by a man out for a good time.

She could hear him walking up to her. He was probably some minor crook, or drug runner, or wannabe. He dangled a cigarette out of the side of his mouth, even when he spoke. He asked Firefly if she wanted a drink. Without looking at him, she gave a short but definite shake of her head. The man asked again, then again, before making his mistake. He put his arm around her.

Suddenly, his head was smashed down on the bar, his nose loudly snapping as Firefly with a swift motion, drove her elbow into it. The man fell to the floor, blood streaming through the fingers he covered his nose with, making an unearthly, high-pitch wine.

The barman stood in the doorway and beckoned Firefly. She stepped over and swayed through. The barman looked at her as she passed, then picked up the man with one hand and showed him the back exit.

The Fatman already knew about this.

“Making friends ?” he casually asked, with a flick of a fly-swatter.

“I don’t need friends. Here.” Firefly threw down the photo. The Fatman didn’t move his eyes away from her.

“Oh, really, everybody needs friends. Even you, my dear. All those hot, lonely nights …”

“Fatman. Do you know him ?”

It was only then that he deigned to stretch out his fat fingers and lift the photo, an effort that seemed to cause him some effort. His stifling office was decorated in a mixture of Middle-Eastern styles, heavy rugs, tiled walls, a fug of sweat and sweet odours from the various hookah pipes and cigarettes.


The Fatman himself wore a fez and a suit that may, at one time, have fitted him perfectly, but now it appeared ready to burst its seams. The white shirt was clearly and grotesquely oily and soiled. Rumour, (because people here liked to keep all personal information to a minimum while allowing any stories, the more colourful the better, to swell to fanciful heights), had it that The Fatman made his fortune with girls and drugs in Morocco, then moved on to selling information to interested parties all over the Arab world. How he came to be in West Berlin was never satisfactorily explained, the most common rationale being that he had murdered a very minor member of the Arabian monarchy and suddenly found himself persona non grata in the Levant.

His appearance did lend itself to the idea of a once noble life turned seedy, but there was no sloppiness in his work. He studied the photo with the utmost care.

Firefly gestured behind her. She knew that there would be someone sucking on a pipe out of her view, one of The Fatman’s assassins.

The Fatman chuckled to himself.

“My dear, if only I could impress upon you the benefits of a merger, a combining of our resources. Why, Berlin would be ours. My contacts, your irrefutable charms … Ahmed.”

From the shadows, a dark, swarthy man, dressed in Bedouin attire stepped out. He looked at Firefly, who returned his gaze, then looked at the picture. Without a word, he shook his head, once, but with real vigour, then faded back into the darkened recesses of the room.

“Come on Fatman, name your price.”

“Ah, no, no … why such crassness ? It would be a pleasure for me to be of service to you, in any way … “

“Who is he ?”

“That, I can’t tell you. What I can say is that he doesn’t gamble, do drugs or have any particular sexual peccadillo. If he did, I would know of it and I can tell you, this man doesn’t move in those circles.”

“Waaayyyyy.” Firefly knew what to believe and believed The Fatman. She turned to leave.

“Oh, wait. Won’t you stay ? I have couscous ?”

But Firefly had already disappeared.

There were other contacts and sources of information, but Firefly was a little disturbed that The Fatman couldn’t place him. He may not know where, but generally what the subject was involved in, and therefore which areas to search.

Firefly tried other bars and dives, from high end villas to the lowest, junkie streets around Zoo, she spent time at private members clubs talking to those involved in politics and economics, and time at other kinds of clubs catering to any depravity that could be paid for. The same response. Person unknown.
Firefly scouted The KittyKatt bar, recognising some high-level politicians and industrialists who favoured the golden shower approach to relaxation, as well as several informants who could barely contain their good fortune at having stumbled over some valuable blackmail material.

She placed the photo in front of the eyes of one she knew, a particularly unpleasant character who seemed to be enjoying one performance a little too much in the suspected privacy of his booth. Firefly warned him not to touch the photo and he knew her well enough to comply. But no clues.

She left the bar, standing in the quiet street that showed no evidence of any bar, let alone sex club in its leafy respectability. She decided that the night was over. She would have to rethink. It would be a challenge and she had yet to fail any assignment.

Logic: The face was ‘normal’, it showed no scars or signs of an underworld lifestyle. The skin was smooth, eyes bright. Hair neat but not pampered. From this she concluded that he wasn’t a drug user or heavy drinker. No debauchery. Not a high level job. A hit man ? possible. Those guys are chosen for their invisibility, neither too tall or small, no distinguishing marks and so forth. But there is always a give-away coldness in the eyes, which the photo didn’t show. If anything, he appeared pleasant looking.

A political ? Could be. An idealist wanting to cause trouble ? The situation in Berlin may be far from ideal, but it creating a good lifestyle for many people, people who were happy with the way things stood and would resist any change.

As Firefly pondered these, she walked into a large, underground series of tunnels connecting with U-Bahn platforms and stores. She was alone, her boots echoing against the tiles. Then, somewhere ahead, more footsteps, a beat after hers. Firefly kept walking, straining to see in the sickly, artificial light. The figure got closer, walking straight, the steps, a determined pulse. Firefly already had a hand on her gun, inside her jacket pocket and ready for action. She showed no emotion, nor adjusted her pace. A figure could be discerned. A man. Smartly dressed, arms by the side, walking, looking ahead, past Firefly.

He got closer, never taking his eyes away from some fixed point in the distance.

Then they passed. He walked on, and away. Firefly stood, mouth open , turning to watch him, barely suppressing a “waaayyyyy,” as his footsteps got fainter and fainter. She couldn’t believe her luck. It was the man in the photo.

After that, it was easy. She followed him, on foot, then by taxi, to his house, even more surprised to find that he lived very near her, a street or two away. She remembered all the clichés about looking too hard when the object is under one’s nose.

She noted the house number, and could see from outside, what floor and which door the man entered. After a few days, she could predict the man’s routine, what time he left, how long he stayed out, when he came home.

All she had to do was wait for the masked man to return, then give him the address. But she was curious. Who was he ? What had he done that made someone hire her in such a fashion ? And why was he completely off the radar as far as Berlin was concerned ?


She decided to find out. After all, she had been given no directive one way or the other, and surely the more information, the better.

The next day, watching the man leave and thinking that he would be away some time, if his previous habits were continued, she broke into his flat.

Nothing special, at first glance. A little drab; faded paint, dour colours. A TV, music centre, some books. In the bedroom, enough clothes to suggest that he had been here some time, or that he was here on a permanent basis. Enough bits around to show that it was a lived-in flat, but still, nothing exceptional. She searched the cupboards and drawers, looking for files, weapons, drugs, books of contacts, photos. Nothing. Until she opened a bedroom cupboard and looked into a box. Inside, neatly folded, was a black, Chinese-style shirt, with matching trousers and on top on those, staring straight back at her, was a mask of a dragon.

“Waaayyyyy.” Firefly barely had time to process this information, when she heard the key in the door. She sprang up, looking for a place to hide, until she was stopped by a voice from the hallway.

“Firefly … ?”

Tony had occasionally thought about going up to the prostitutes and offering to pay just to talk to them, but then he saw how such a proposition would pan out. His innocent albeit desperate attempt to connect with another human, or more specifically, a woman, would be interpreted as a specific desire from the girl’s list of services.

A persuasive pimp would appear and Tony would have to extricate himself from a situation even he could barely explain.

He thought one or two of the girls, all of whom seemed to be dressed in low-cut tops and short pants of bright-coloured imitation leather, no matter the season, recognized him, but dismissed even that idea. He was just a figure who was only of interest as a potential John.

One dark-haired woman followed him with her eyes, taking him for one of the men too morale or scared to actually take a girl, but enjoyed looking, all the same. Why else would he be here ?

Tony kept walking. Why was he here, two o’clock on a Wednesday
morning ? The answer was as simple as it was painful for him to articulate: loneliness.

Loneliness compounded by insomnia. Despite the office job, the regular hours, the full work-load and its accompanying boredom, Tony was unable to sleep more than an hour or two at a time. He would wake and start thinking; how he was always alone, how, it seemed, he would always be alone. He knew it was futile to try to sleep after those thoughts and rather than fight it, he would get up and walk around the city, hoping to tire himself that way.

This proved to be the most satisfactory way. He had previously tried reading, then watching T.V. but it was all in German, and he couldn’t follow it, not that it ever appeared to be worth following. The radio was little better, either Radio-Free, or The World Service. So he dressed and prowled the early hour streets.

He had to admit, he liked the atmosphere. It was certainly different from his native Ohio. There was life here, maybe seedy and edgy, but people were living. Bars were open, groups drank and laughed, couple found convenient doorways, police cars took sharp bends and screeched away, buses swept stops clean of leather punks, and suited business men hailed glowing taxis, off into the Berlin night. Yes, it was life, but for Tony, he would always be a viewer. It was no more real or accessible to him than a movie. No matter where, at his American office with English-speaking staff, or in the middle of this city’s incredible nightlife, he would always be an observer, never a participant. He even called his lifeless flat ‘the waiting room’ as he was waiting for his life to start.

And while he was waiting, something happened. Without knowing quite when or how, that spring Tony became obsessed with a girl.

He had seen her several times, on his nightly excursions. He hadn’t thought about her one way or another. Maybe subconsciously, he knew, despite her provocative outfit, she was no working girl, probably a girl going clubbing, maybe employed at a bar, either way, no one with whom he could have any contact.

One time he saw her up close and her perfect features only reinforced his admittance that here was another beautiful girl out of his reach. And she was breathtakingly beautiful.

He forgot all about her until one evening, on the way home from work, he saw her. It seemed so out of context, seeing her at this time that he began following her. When he found out that she lived only a few streets from him, he found himself strangely happy.

That night, when he woke up, he had her face in his thoughts and there the face stayed, night after night. He now began going out, not just on aimless walks, but in the hope of seeing her. It took some time, but one night, he saw her again. She was going into a bar. It looked pretty sleazy, some tough looking characters outside, but they stepped aside as she walked up. He walked past and heard the men speak. He had just enough German to make out what there were saying: the girl was known as Firefly.

After that, Tony began going to the bar. He would never have dreamt of being in such a bar, but now his obsession easily overcame his fear. Also, being American gave him a certain cache. He was seen as a source of dollars, and that made him welcome anywhere.

He talked to one or two drinkers, their defences let down by alcohol and learnt some things, adding to the information by listening every time he heard the word ‘Firefly’. He walked in certain areas where there was more possibility of her being and he always ended up on her street. She returned home once or twice while he held his vigil, always alone and that gave Tony a happiness he could barley contain.

Little by little, aided by alcohol and dollar bills, Tony knew all he needed to. All he had to do now was to contrive a way that they could meet. What would happen then was unknown, but Tony had to make himself as interesting to her as she was as captivating to him.

The sleepless night were now spent forming a plan, something that would hook her, appeal to her; romance and mystery.

Then he thought of the perfect plan. He executed it, now all he had to do was to return to ‘The waiting Room’ and wait.

But there was one miscalculation. His very ordinariness. He knew that he was invisible as far as most people, let alone beautiful girls, were concerned. The people in the bars he had briefly spoken to hadn’t thought too much about him, hadn’t committed him to memory. He followed Firefly’s progress, watched her show his photo to someone he had shared wine with some weeks past, only to see a genuine shake of the head.

“Then I knew that I had to present myself to you. When I saw you go into the tunnel, I ran to another entrance and hoped you wouldn’t turn off. I saw you in the distance, so I had a chance to get my breathe back. I didn’t look at you, that was so hard, and I felt my heart was going to burst. I went straight home. You would follow me, find out where I live. Then I thought I should establish a pattern of behaviour. I knew you would be curious. The Chinese mask would get your interest, as well as the fact that no one knew me. Not so flattering. I had spoken to several of your contacts. Anyway, it was only a question of time before you would come here and find the mask. Yes. It was I who hired you. And why ? Easy. I’m in love with you. This was the only way I could think of to get to talk to you.”

Tony didn’t know what to do now. He wasn’t sure whether or not to take her hand, to carry on speaking or let her respond. But Firefly was silent. She wasn’t looking at him, and was keeping her thought to herself. If Tony had looked closely, he would have seen her trying to control her breathing.

Slowly, Firefly stood up. She walked out of the room, into the hall and out of the front door, which she closed gently, but with a finality that wasn’t lost on Tony.

He had at least tried.

There was a small Chinese restaurant near Tony’s flat. He had seen Firefly go there once or twice, so now he took his lunch there every day. One afternoon, several weeks after the confession in his apartment, the autumn turning relentlessly into winter, two men were talking at a corner table. They had finished eating and were cleaning their mouths with toothpicks, in-between slurps of cheap beer from cans. Tony froze, his soup spoon halfway to his mouth when he heard one of them mention Firefly.

“Yeah. Not been seen. Dead, they say.”

“Bullshit. No way is she dead.”

“Well, where is she ? Her flat’s empty. Someone else living there now.”

Tony knew that was true. He had seen the middle-aged man moving in.

“Doesn’t mean she’s dead. Must have moved on.”

“I heard she was on a special mission. Asked too many questions. High up. If she moved, she would have cleared out the flat, taken her things with her. She just vanished and that sounds like a hit to me.”

“Yeah, you could be right.”

Tony couldn’t finish his lunch. He went back to work and gave notice, then booked a flight home.

Two weeks later, Tony waited for the taxi to take him to the airport on the pavement, with just one suitcase. When it arrived, he got in quickly, as if he couldn’t wait to leave, and looked straight ahead as the taxi pulled away.

If he had turned to take a final look at his old neighbourhood, he would have seen the entrance to a Hof opposite. If he had exceptional eyesight, he may have seen a small figure looking out.

The figure stretched to full height as the taxi sped away. It may have been the cold, but the beautiful young girl with perfect features had a tear slowly falling down her cheek. It was followed by a second and then a third.