“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 ?”
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 ?”
“’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.
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, 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.
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 . . . “
“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.
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 ?”
“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.
Alan sat alone at the small desk, hunched over a tiny film viewer, watching and rewatching a section of film. The wall was covered with thin strips of film of varying length. The top of each one had a piece of white paper, giving information that anyone but Alan would find incomprehensible.
He turned the handle, watching magnified images pass through the tiny monitor. He consulted his notes and selected the best takes from each scene, then the exact frame to be cut. He marked the frame with the puncher on the monitor. Carefully, lovingly, he removed the film from the cog wheels and held it up to see the tiny indentation. He aligned this on the spokes of his film cutter and guillotined the end. The selected piece was then labelled and stuck on the wall, at a precise point, between the scenes coming immediately before and after it.
Alan picked up the film curled on the table, held it up against the light, squinting as he saw with his eye where the next scene began.
He ran this piece of film through the monitor to find the exact spot where it should begin.
So he spent the whole evening, editing his short film.
He loved everything about making films. He loved getting the initial idea, the casting and telling the actors about the story and the style he intended to use. He loved the filming, meeting up, drinking take-out coffee, preparing shots. Now he loved the end stage, the editing and splicing. He was alone, peaceful, and had complete control over the images.
He couldn’t wait to run the rough cut through the monitor, make the final micro cuts, then play it through the projector, and see his work on the cinemascope that was the bedroom wall.
He laughed to himself when he looked at the projector. He had told Vincent about needing a better quality one, and the actor had suggested the flea market by Tacheles.
Sure enough, on the muddy wasteland there were two or three tables that had old cine equipment. Alan asked one stall holder the price of an exquisite machine and was ignored. Vincent came over and winked at Alan. He picked up the projector and then put it down. He asked the price of a totally different item, appeared uninterested and seemed to wonder off. The Stall holder sat down, back to his wurst roll. Vincent walked away; clutching the projector. Alan saw and was shocked, but played along. He stayed looking at some bits, then slowly turned and walked away at a very casual pace, showing that his hands were clearly empty and that he had absolutely no connection whatsoever with that other gentleman.
This acting lark was really easy, he thought to himself. Procuring equipment apparently posed no problems. Now for presentation.
Vincent had said that the film could be shown in the bars all over east Berlin. It was no problem to organise movie nights, and he mentioned some bars in Friedrichshain where he was known. One named Kinski stood out.
Alan still couldn’t believe it; actors, equipment, a processing studio and venues in which to screen. An audience ready and open to new work.
Alan was spending a lot of time on the close-ups of Julie. He had deliberately shot more than was required. He slowly turned the handle, so that no individual frame would stay too long under the lamp and burn.
He told himself that he was just admiring her beauty. Looking for her best angles, and deciding that all angles were her best.
He had several new scripts ready. The money for film stock and processing could easily be earned and Vincent had introduced him to a number of actors, would-be actors and people who had agreed to take part in the no-budget films.
His plans began to get more elaborate, longer films, dialogue, screenings at festivals. All was possible. He simply had to make it happen, stay focused. Berlin was his.
He followed these thoughts with others of a more personal nature, until he remembered he was on a deadline. The film could get it’s premier next Friday, if it was ready.
Alan got back to work, passing over the image of Julie with a gentle sigh.
But Alan hadn’t been prepared for the nerves. He had always imagined this moment, the screening of his first film, showing his work, his ideas, to a public of strangers.
The experience was different.
The venue, an official bar, was run by a group of young people but looked and felt like some of the more organised squat bars.
Vincent enjoyed the attention, the hugs and slightly exaggerated greetings, and Alan tried to get some of his energy and confidence. More and more people were coming into the bar, a large cine screen already in place, the projector protected. When Alan made some tests for focus, there was always someone to make rabbit-ear shadows on the screen. It got a little tired after ten or eleven times.
The time approached, as far as bars like this kept to schedules, and Vincent looked at Alan and suggested they had better start soon, or everyone would be too drunk to care.
But no Julie.
“Ja, sometimes rehearsals go on longer, maybe they had to do some new scenes. It is next week, things need working on.” Vincent referred to a play that Julie was in, a radical reworking of Baal, as Julie had described it, with a hint that radical was a very polite and optimistic description.
“Come, we show it now, then later, if she comes.”
Vincent, without waiting for a response, whistled to the bar man, who turned off the music. He put in a tape that Alan had prepared. The lights went down, to sounds of claps, cheers and whoops.
Alan’s heart froze. He was almost paralysed with fear. He reached out for Vincent’s beer and took a swig that drained the bottle. Then he hit the switch. The sound of the motor turning, a beam of light hitting the large screen. He indicated to the bar man to play the cassette, and as the first image of Vincent, in Close-Up appeared, five foot tall on the screen, the melancholic notes of Debussy poured into the room.
There were immediate claps and wolf whistles, followed by a general hushing.
Julie was next up, but the sight of her, in a short dress, sitting on the grass, just caused more and more screams. But this was good. Alan felt Vincent put his arm around him. He kept it there for the entire film.
The entire film was little over five minutes and got a further two minutes of non-stop applause. Alan beamed. His nerves, totally gone, he knew he would never again be nervous, his ideas were good, his films would get better and better. He would be a film director. He was a film director.
By the next screening, demanded by the audience, Alan was too tipsy to gauge the reaction. He had been congratulated by friends and strangers. Others had come up and pleaded with him to be in his next film. Others asked where else he was screening, had he heard about certain festivals, other Berlin venues ? Until the beer hampered his senses, he made a note of everyone, very clear, with name and contact number or address.
When Julie finally appeared, very apologetic, he greeted her, and she was noticed and lauded by the drinkers, not allowed to pay for her Sekt.
She apologised for missing it, leading Alan to suggest that she come over tomorrow and have a private screening. To his amazement, she accepted the offer and they set a time.
Vincent asked about the play and they spoke about the director, who changed his mind scene to scene, demanded re-writes, re-casting, costume changes. The actors now came in holding out their hands for new instructions, an in-joke being, ‘what was wrong with the last re-write ?’
“Not like Alan,” she said, patting him on the shoulder and leaving her arm there. “So, tell me, how was the film, tonight ?”
Vincent spoke, but Julie was looking at Alan. They smiled at each other.
The following night, Julie appeared exactly on time, as if she had arrived early and was counting down to when she could knock on the door.
She really liked the film, the style and the camera work. She was a little shy about seeing herself, but viewed it professionally and made tiny criticisms, all of which Alan dismissed.
Over coffee, Julie was relaxed enough to speak openly about the play. She had considered it a breech of professional conduct to be critical of a production, but she felt it was going to be a disaster. When asked why, she took her time and chose her words carefully,
“For one thing, there are too many people. The cast should have been cut, and actors doubling up. We never have a rehearsal with everyone there, always someone having to stand-in, and it’s hard to work up an reaction to someone reading a script without emotion.
“Then the constant script changes. We learn a part overnight, and find it’s been cut. Most of the actors don’t accept this and half an hour gets wasted when everyone shouts out their opinion.
“And we all have to work as well, there is no way we will get anything out this, financially. Not that it matters. But most of us work and have to give up our spare time. Can’t bear to see it so un-productive. There, enough moaning.”
Alan told her it was OK, he liked to hear an actor’s perspective and asked for tips. Julie thought for a little while, then began, tentatively,
“If I can make one tiny suggestion, it would be . . . how ? OK, just to be more confident. You know what you want. The actors don’t. It is up to you to tell them, what to do, not to get their suggestions. Because most actors will just suggest endless Close-Ups of themselves.”
There was a slight pause before Alan and then Julie laughed
“So I should follow Mr Hitchcock’s advise and treat actors like cattle ?”
“I didn’t say that !”
The conversation continued effortlessly. Alan said that despite the weather getting colder, there was still enough light to film in October. Julie laughed and said,
“Not for much longer. You’ll have to start directing theatre, because you won’t be able to film outside until April or May.”
Alan had never thought of this, but, of course he had an immediate cinema reference point.
“Like Ingmar Bergman ?” he said referring to the Swedish film and theatre director. “He would keep the same group of actors for both. Must have helped to develop a close working experience. Well ? Would you like to do some theatre with me ?”
“You have something ?”
“Well . . . I just might.”
As autumn once again became winter, there were other changes over Berlin. Alan would start to study theatre from the books available to him. Julie would start to get more and more attention for her craft. Daniel would rethink what medium he should use for his artistic expression. Chris would be very careful about what women he would fall in love with. A lost music student would search for direction. A Philosophy student would find his first semester harder than he ever imagined and would consider changing courses. And Richard would fall in love with a German girl who would make him happier than he had ever been, until, that too, went horribly wrong.
Daniel knew the days of Sawhead The Bear were numbered. Their manager had disappeared. The guitarist was having an affair with the bass player’s girlfriend. The drummer was simply on another planet. Daniel was the only one taking it seriously and was now being held back by their lack of ambition, enthusiasm and professionalism.
Daniel had gone to The Russians one Saturday afternoon, only to be told that there was no gig that night. Or, maybe there was, but no one knew, and it hadn’t been advertised.
“Didn’t you see Jake ?” Daniel asked Andrei.
“For sure, but he too drunk to talk. He keep say me what I do wrong, so I don’t listen. I play music very loud.”
“Shall we go now and ask ?”.
But there was no answer from either Andrei or Sascha.
“Fucking hell, I come all this fucking way and . . . where’s Boris ? Another fucker gone AWOL ?” Daniel knew better than to ask where Olga was.
“What the fuck’s wrong ?” Daniel asked, sick of the apathy. Sascha answered that they were tired of playing the same bar and the same songs. The night in the new squat bar was good, but . . .
“Fucking hell, all we gotta do is find new places, then. As for new songs, we have to fucking write them. I’ve got a bunch of new lyrics, but we never get around to fucking working on them. Let’s do one, now, come on, get your fucking bass on.”
“I don’t have any new music,” Andrei said.
“Fuck all that shit, I’ve got a bass line. I’ve got this whole new song worked out. Listen,” and Daniel opened a notebook and read aloud,
The rat in the corner is my only guest ‘Cause the mice have split and the cat gone quit I guess you could say things ain’t at their best But things’ll be OK, they’ll be all right In the morning.
Oh, I can drink and pretend to be Content with life and happy Like any person in any bar But don’t look too deep, don’t peer too far Inside.
Silence. Finally Sascha asked,
“Ahhh, Dan, Daniel . . . what is ‘peer’ ?”
Andrei laughed, then Boris came into the room, looking anywhere but at his bass player. Daniel told Andrei what to play, humming a bass line, a simple jazzy pattern. Then he suggested some ideas for Sascha.
“Hey, Boris, I thought, instead of playing along, strumming, just play lead, crank up the distortion and riff away in the gaps. Come on, let’s give it a go.”
After two or three slow, half-hearted attempts, the song was getting into shape, Boris liking the total freedom, and understood exactly what Daniel wanted.
Daniel was really impressed by his guitarist and just wondered why he couldn’t always be so inspired. Then Olga came home. Andrei called out and she popped her head in, quickly spoke in Russian and went back to the kitchen to clean her teeth. Daniel suddenly understood why Boris was so relaxed.
Then he suggested a band meeting, in the Czar Bar, as he was hoping that there would be girls there who had come to see him, and as he wasn’t playing, he could spent more time with them.
Not so many girls tonight, however Daniel was very happy to see Richard.
“Where the fuck is Laughing Boy ?” he asked. Richard couldn’t believe he didn’t know the story. He couldn’t believe Andrei or Boris hadn’t told him. Once he was updated, Daniel explained that maybe Boris and Andrei were having their own version of the Chris – Johan – Veronica triangle.
“Oh, fuck !”
“Yes,” agreed Daniel, “Oh, fuck.”
“That’s why I’m here, see what’s going down. Gauge the depth of shit that Chris has plunged into. Head first. He thinks Johan’s gonna kill him. He’s absolutely fucking certain Claude is going to kill him. I want to speak with Jake before it gets too busy.”
“Or you pass out again. Fucking lightweight.”
“Not tonight. Got work to do. And you ? You playing or what ?”
“Thought I was, ah, fuck it, long story. I tried calling your number, but the line’s dead.”
Richard passed over the number of Biberkopf.
“Yeah, that’s gone, didn’t want to keep paying for it, so got rid,” he explained, apologetically, the implication being that no one called him anyway. He also gave Daniel his address.
“No intercom, or funny business, just walk in, through to the Hof and up the stairs, Mister. You’ll get some old Krauts stare at you, but I’m sure you’re used to that.”
“Not yet. Those fuckers really gawk, don’t they ? Still have to stop myself from asking them, ‘What the fuck’s your problem ?’ Apart from being a German cunt, that is.”
Daniel them began losing interest in Richard as he saw a couple of girl fans and went over, putting an arm around each one.
Jake wandered over to Richard, between customers, asking when Chris was coming back.
“Johan’s not going to do anything. He’s pissed, he’s real pissed, but he won’t touch Chris. He’s not violent, never even seen him angry.”
“Yeah, Claude’s gonna fucking kill him !” then Jake let out a splutter of laughter that amused and confused Richard who was further confused when Jake had a suggestion,
“Hey, Rich, you wanna give me a hand here ?”
“Yeah, need someone I can trust. You know the prices, don’t you ? Then go gather glasses, wash a few . . .”
“Fuck, Jake, more washing up ?”
“Ah, not too fancy, just get the dregs out, wet them. Come on, get your arse behind the bar.”
Richard left as the sun was already up and doing it’s best to shed some hope and colour. He got a commitment from the band to play any new gig that Chris could organise. He got word directly from Johan (who had come in looking wrecked, but had done a very amusing double take seeing Richard pouring vodkas behind the bar) that Chris was in no physical danger. He got an unexpected wage from Jake. And he was sober. He had considered this work and approached it seriously. He had refused each and every vodka. He had, however, accepted every vodka-inspired kiss, though ‘every’ was actually just one. One more than usual.
On the way home, he went into a bakery and picked up different sorts of croissants and rolls and two take-out coffees. Whatever else was wrong with Berlin, rather with his life in Berlin, the smell of fresh croissants and take out coffee in polystyrene cups was one of life’s genuine pleasures. Walking home in the early morning in a straight line was not only a novelty but a further pleasure. It was October, another malicious Berlin winter was coming. But not today.
Chris woke up when Richard opened the door, despite efforts to be quiet.
The real shock for Chris was seeing Richard, after all night in the bar, hair straight, eyes focused, looking well, not spouting nonsense or laughing at everything.
They breakfasted together and Richard filled him in.
“So, it’s cool with Johan ?”
“No, not by a long chalk, Mush. He’s really torn up. But he’ll be all right. You’ll be OK.”
“So . . . do you think I can go back ?”
“I’d still give it a week or two. Now, the band. You’re gonna have to get them work, before hell breaks loose.”
“That bad ? What’s wrong now ?”
And Richard told him all the gossip along with a few conjectures of his own. Chris laughed, but he was using the funny anecdotes as a cover. He was relieved that Richard seemed to be staying sober.
At the earliest acceptable time, Chris called Arizona Al. He was hoping for some leads. Arizona was glad to repay him. He was taking part in another concert night in some back room club in a back street in the back of Mitte. He’d have to check, but was sure that Sawhead could get on the bill. They even had a bit of a name. A bit.
When Chris returned to the flat, he was surprised to see Daniel outside, looking up and down the street.
“I forgot the fucking number. Had it written down, but lost the paper. And that work number.”
When he entered the flat with Chris, Richard recognized, and smelt, that Daniel had on the same clothes as last night, and within five minutes, Daniel was telling them of his latest sexual conquest.
Chris was glad to change the subject and mentioned that there could be a new gig in Mitte next Saturday.
“Fucking Aces. We getting paid ?”
This lead Daniel to talk about his job. He had been missing work; first the odd day, then two days, now he regularly worked only three days a week. He was on his last warning. It was only due to a sympathetic foreman, also from London, that he was able to keep the job. Daniel didn’t really care, imagining that he could move in with the Russians, work in a bar and play more gigs, maybe three a week, and start getting money that way.
Chris looked at Daniel and nodded in a vague, non-committal way but felt Richard staring at him. He said that it was all possible, what Daniel had projected. But then Daniel said something else,
“Can’t expect someone of my talent to work that shit for much longer. I need time to work on my lyrics. Need energy for my girls. Know what I mean ? No, don’t suppose you two do.”
After Daniel had left, explaining how he needed a shower because his whole body stank of pussy, Richard and Chris looked at each other, wordless. When they did speak, after minutes or head-shaking and intakes of breathe, many references were made to Dr Frankenstein and his creation.
The gig was confirmed. Chris went over to the Russians, giving them all the details. This time they had use of a van to transport their equipment.
Daniel had also arranged his own transport, deciding that he should be driven to and from the concert. He had convinced a workmate, with a car, to drive him, boasting of the amount of women he always attracted.
The Russians would make their own way there, while Richard and Chris would be picked up on Karl-Liebknecht Straße, by the bus stop outside the Marienkirche.
The following Saturday, to get some air and kill some time, Richard and Chris walked to the open air crafts street market by the Bode Museum. They checked out the films being shown by the Zeughaus cinema, and wandered up Unter Den Linden. Chris was dreading Richard suggesting that they go for a drink, and was relieved when they walked past bar after bar without being dragged in.
Chris brought two cheap and quite awful coffees from an Imbiss and they made their way to the pick-up point.
Crossing the main road by subway, they heard a solo busker at the end of the tunnel, his voice and guitar echoing against the tiles and making them smile as they recognized the piece; ‘Swan Swan H’ by R.E.M. which was played well.
Chris, as he approached, began nodding his head, and Richard quietly joined in with the lyrics, getting louder as the busker smiled to encourage him. Chris then began lifting his arms and suddenly, twirling around, he did a waltz with an imaginary partner.
When he obstructed an elderly couple with his artistic expression, the Busker laughed and blew his words, but Richard only gained in confidence.
They gave him all their loose change and went to wait for their ride.
The good feeling soon dispersed when the car pulled over. Daniel was in the passenger seat, wearing sunglasses, and didn’t even look or speak to them as they climbed in the back seat. The driver introduced himself as Martin and asked for directions. Chris made a joke about not being exactly sure, and Daniel let out an expression of frustration and anger. Richard made a sign to Chris to let it go and they headed to Rosenthaler Platz.
Chris had a street map unfolded before him and was trying to follow the route. He found the street, but not the club. The whole area looked nondescript, residential. Then Richard spotted a familiar face,
“Look, there’s Bryan. Pull over and ask him.”
They called to him and as Daniel wound down his window, Bryan thrust his head in, making the driver recoil in terror. They got directions. It was the right street, but the entrance to the club was around the corner, through some doors. Of course. This was Berlin, why should anything be straightforward ?
Martin was still in shock,
“What the fuck was that for a thing ?”
“Does have rather a large bonce, doesn’t he ?” stated Richard.
“Did you see that head ?” asked Martin, “It filled the whole window.”
Chris was just giggling. He was sick of this bloody band, and was in the mood for dancing and drinking.
There followed the usual madness of dozens of musicians coming and going and demanding and asking and singing and showing off and smoking and drinking and sitting around and jumping about and hugging and greeting and kissing and joking and posing and posing and posing.
Arizona Al turned a corner, a keyboard over his back. Richard and Chris looked at each other and their hearts sank. Daniel went up to him, arms outstretched and kissed him on the cheek. Arizona took some time before he recognized him. “Oh, yeah, right, Sawhead, right, yeah, I remember, wow, how you doing, man ?”
The night was actually well organised and well attended. The main band was an electronic trio from Norway, a band who had released some records and a couple of CDs that were displayed by the entrance.
Some local media moguls were there, journalists from newspapers nobody knew existed, people from local radio, and some professional musicians whom Arizona Al recognized by sight and was slightly in awe of, one being a Russian guitarist who had, allegedly, jammed with Keith Richards. He pointed him out to Chris, saying that Sawhead could really make some good contacts tonight.
Unfortunately, the tensions within the band came out onstage and it was to be their last ever gig.
They were put on early which Daniel complained about, even threatening to pull out completely. The organisers told him OK, leave, and he had to back down. Andrei and Boris simply couldn’t look at each other, and Richard was glad he came with Daniel, as that short journey was Mardi Gras compared to what the ride from Ostkreuz must have been.
Again, Daniel wanted to make an entrance and had instructed the band to start playing before he walked on, expecting to get his own applause. Boris and Andrei were past caring, but Sascha, supposed to count them in, just sat behind his kit, waiting for Daniel. Daniel gestured to him but Sascha seemed to think that he was waving, and kept waving back. Again, Daniel had to come on and wait for the band to start.
One of Daniel’s main concerns was the music. He was aiming for a Rock, Indie-Pop sound and encouraged Boris to use his effect pedals to fill out and make his guitar heavier. But Boris preferred a clear, pure sound. Usually. Tonight, he was being more . . . experimental.
And it began immediately. While Daniel was trying to introduce the first song, and speaking a lot more than was necessary, Boris began playing, his overdrive pedal switched to the max and it screamed out of every speaker and made the audience jump back, cover their ears, leave. Sascha found a point to join in and Andrei, clearly relishing a pissing contest with his rival, turned up his bass and began playing. He was aiming simply for volume, not for rhythm and it threw Sascha, who now began trying to follow his bass player. Daniel was completely lost and had no idea what song his band were playing. All his ideas about changing the name to Daniel Roth and Sawhead The Bear vanished, as he believed his backing band were deliberately trying to sabotage him.
Boris and Andrei were standing on opposite sides of the stage, looking away. Sascha was looking at everybody for some kind of indication or instruction. Daniel sang any lyrics he thought would fit, but couldn’t be heard, anyway.
Chris looked at Richard who looked at Arizona Al who looked at Bryan Moonface. People who didn’t know the band walked away, dismissing them as first timers at best, a joke band, at worse.
Daniel could see people leave en mass. Some girls he had winked at earlier, telling them how great his band were, just laughed at him as they turned to talk to other musicians.
Throwing down his mic, Daniel went up to Boris, to shake him, but was shrugged off. When he tried again, the look of absolute hate in Boris’ eyes made him step back. Daniel then went over to Andrei and began shouting. The bass player simply ignored him. But Daniel had to find a target, and when Sascha smiled at him like this was a great, rocking band, Daniel dived across the drum kit to strangle him.
There was a sound of a bass crashing to the floor, then deafening feedback. Daniel was lifted up, one-handed, by Andrei who looked him in the eye, wagged his finger ‘No!’ then half pushed, half threw him off the stage.
Daniel walked out. Sascha began shouting at Andrei, who packed up his bass. Boris kept on playing until the sound guys cut his amp.
Chris didn’t care. Daniel had left. The Russians were going their separate ways. But the bar was well stocked, the women were gorgeous and, as he said to Richard,
“Just when you think things can’t get any worse, we still have to listen to Arizona Al.”
In tandem, Richard and Chris delivered the by now obligatory,
“We’re gonna need a bigger bar,” line.
They stayed until the Norwegian band came on, and after five minutes of electronic music that didn’t appeal to them at all, they left.
They walked home, deciding to break the monotony of the walk by going into one or two bars along the way. Richard only drank, only seemed to want to drink, beer, but these were conventional, local bars, no truck with vodka madness, leg-cocking canines and, “Shit on a stick.” Being away from the Czar Bar was having a positive effect. Chris just wished it had been a better evening. But he also realised, through all the fear and worry, he hadn’t once thought about Veronica.
Richard decided to go straight home after work, a rare event, as he usually took two night buses to get to Friedrichshain, to get to the Czar Bar, to get blind drunk.
As he entered the Hof, he looked up and saw his lights on. Chris was there.
He came in, expecting warm greetings, shouts of, “Hey, how ya doin’ ?” and such like. The odds were against Richard returning home early and sober, so it was quite an event.
But Chris was sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and looking nervous, even scared. Richard also noticed Chris’ bag in the room, full of clothes.
He didn’t wait for Richard to ask, but offered two words that explained everything,
It had begun at the Sawhead concert. Playing a different bar with different bands had created a festival feeling amongst the band members and their entourage.
Chris had been telling everyone about the concert. He had asked Arizona Al to appear, and to bring his own posse.
Another new person was Carla, Veronica’s friend, who had just arrived in Berlin.
Chris and Richard went to the Russian’s house mid afternoon on the Saturday to help them move the equipment. This time, it was only the drum kit and guitars, as the bar had their own P.A. System and amps.
The drinking began early, but it was controlled, just beers to maintain the natural high.
As they were setting up, they could sense that it was going to be special; a lot of people were milling around, either bar workers, their friends, other bands, their friends, other squatters, passers-by, those who were curious about the event, those who themselves were merely curious.
One such was a man who was very tall, slightly cross-eyed, and wore a suit of fluffy fabric with a pattern that resembled a Dalmatian dog. He had bits of coloured paper tied to strands of his hair, and wanted to play. Apparently, he was a one-man band named Necrophilia, and played Goth-Death-Experimental-Electronics.
The bill was a little light and he was told that if he could get his equipment here within an hour, he could go on, after Arizona Al and before Perry Coma. Chris had insisted that Sawhead The Bear close the show. They were the main event.
Daniel now dressed the part. He had a long black leather coat, more like a cloak, and wore large sunglasses, always. He had spent a lot of time with Arizona Al, gathering tips. Daniel appreciated that Arizona was the kind of guy who could throw on any old thing, and look so naturally cool. Daniel mentioned this to Richard,
“Undoubtedly, but you have heard him ?” came the uncharacteristically cynical reply.
The bar had a front room, long and deep, but the stage area, much larger and square, was reached by a corridor, guarded by two squatters acting as security. It was decided to charge 2 Marks entrance, to be split between the acts. The bar was expecting to make a killing.
Jake allowed Chris to go on the understanding that after Sawhead played, he would bring the entire audience back to the Czar Bar so they too could make a killing, in the name of vodka.
There was the usual controlled and semi-controlled and completely uncontrolled anarchy when it came to sound checking. The man on the controls was part of the Heidelberg contingent that had descended on east Berlin, a group of ten or so young men from that western university town. His name was Thomas, a sensible-looking young man with a real job and career, working as an audio engineer for a radio station.
Thomas approached this gig with the same level of professionalism as to his normal work. Unfortunately, the bands didn’t and it proved impossible to assemble all members of a band at the same time.
Daniel was too busy talking to some women who had arrived, and even suggested that Chris should stand in to test the mic level. Thomas said no to Pavel, who told Chris, who told Andrei who marched out to get Daniel to rehearse, to drag him by force, if necessary. Daniel tore himself away, predicting that tonight would be his first Berlin three-some.
The only one who matched Thomas for professionalism was Arizona Al, who turned up early, with just his acoustic guitar. He was told he’d only have time for two numbers, and he was happy with that.
Necrophilia appeared, a large keyboard under his arm and began setting up while Arizona played. The sounds he produced made everyone listening think that the mics were set too high and were feeding back, but Thomas nodded his head and understood that this was part of the act. Thomas also seemed to be the only one who appreciated it, as well.
Perry Coma swaggered in, acting as if they owned the place and, being the local band, they kind of did.
Boris listened to them for a while, checking out the guitarist, but soon walked away, seeing no competition there.
He conferred with Andrei and Sascha then asked Daniel if he could do an extended solo in one of the songs, but Daniel wasn’t too happy, and said that they can’t start messing around with the songs now. Boris knew that Daniel just didn’t want anyone else getting any attention, and was not going to be told how and when to play.
Both complained to Chris,
“Fucking hell,” he moaned to Richard, “all I get are problems. Not one fucking thank you for getting the gig, for bringing in people, making sure they get paid, go on last . . . Veronica ! Bella !”
Veronica and a friend walked in, nervously looking around. She saw Chris and walked over, taking a kiss on the cheek. She introduced Carla, and Richard ordered drinks. Suddenly the evening took an almighty upswing.
The concert began with Arizona Al, who commanded the stage, made two or three thumps on the floor for a time beat and launched into Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’. He had the crowd from the first strum. He followed it by an original number, but the good feeling initiated kept up. As he walked off, he was patted and cheered, and there were unanimous calls for an encore.
Chris and Richard were amazed. Why hadn’t he played like that before ? They were going to have to reassess their whole opinion of him. He was simply amazing, and to improve things further, Arizona came over to them, which raised the profile of Chris and Richard in the eyes of everyone. Especially two very beautiful Italian girls.
Necrophilia played next. And it was bad. So bad and so noisy that it was funny. Both girls laughed, charming the men.
Thankfully, the performance was over in ten minutes, as the entire room had cleared. The bar made good business.
Next up were Angry Black Men, an attempt at hip hop, some Germans dressed as they thought angry black men dressed in the hoods of New York. They got the crowd going, had some good beats, but the pretend accents caused laughter from the native English speakers.
After a small intermission, Perry Coma played and their fans marched down the front, and began jumping up and down, pogoing, throwing beer and spitting as the band played a distorted hybrid of punk and Death Metal.
A couple of singer-songwriters did an unplugged set that nobody pain much attention to, then it was time for Sawhead The Bear.
The Czar Bar contingent screamed and shouted out. Daniel made sure he entered the stage last, wanting the band to be playing, but they just stood around, lost, waiting for their singer.
Daniel stood, back to the audience, then thumped his foot, twice. Richard looked over at Chris and mouthed ‘Arizona Al !’ and Chris nodded.
They got a great reception and their set was getting tighter, but they played such a wide selection of music, it weakened their impact. One song was pure Indie Pop, the next, a country song, followed by Boris playing a funky guitar pattern. It was their covers that got the best response.
They played an encore which was a much looser version of a song played earlier. Now Boris wasn’t going to be restrained, and launched into a lengthy solo, turning his back to Daniel. But it was shit hot. He was on fire. He allowed himself one look into the audience and focused on Olga. Andrei finished the song early and unplugged his bass. He walked off the stage and took a fresh beer. Daniel stayed behind to get all the applause.
Chris pulled himself away from Veronica, saying he had to see to, “My band.” There was stress on, “My band.”
After their equipment was packed up, there was a little spat. Daniel wanted to go straight up to the bar, where he had two women waiting. The band said they needed help to get the drums and guitars home. Daniel said that they could do it without his help, it was their stuff, not his.
Chris didn’t want anything to spoil the evening. He found a solution. Everything could be stored upstairs, in Pavel’s room, where it would be safe. They could collect it tomorrow afternoon. All they had to do now was wait for the money, then go to the Czar Bar.
Agreement and fresh beers.
The reason Chris was so happy was a piece of news Veronica had let slip; Johan had left that day. He wasn’t in Berlin.
The girls had another effect on them; they steadied the drinking. Despite being in a bar most of the evening, they were tipsy but no more. The walk in the cold air to the Czar Bar took fifteen minutes, and sobered them further. The girls walked slowly, but that wasn’t a problem.
The Czar Bar was in full swing and got renewed energy from the influx of new people. Chris had to work but spent every spare second looking at or talking to Veronica.
The girls finally got tired long before the night was anywhere close to ending. Richard held Carla’s hand and told her how happy he was to meet her, desperately playing up the polite Englishman angle. He gave her two kisses on the cheek, and their hands remained touching until she walked away, with a wave.
Chris also got an innocent kiss on the cheek, but there was a little whisper between them.
After the girls had gone, Chris smiled, shook Richard’s hand, and poured them and Jake a well-deserved vodka. Then the night began to fade to blackout.
The next night, with Carla sleeping, Veronica went to Chris’ room, to borrow a book. She stayed for an hour.
This was repeated several times over the next two weeks.
On the Wednesday following the gig, Richard got a call at work. Chris reminded him that he and Jake had the bar that night and that he should come over. Carla had been asking about him.
The worst of the Summer was over and although the garden was still open, it was quiet, the people there drinking rather than ordering food; less food, less washing up.
The new chef appeared to be much better, albeit very messy. He made Richard a special dinner every night, on a giant plate, and would return from the cellar with a glint in his eye. He carried a large bucket full of onions and packets of spice and milk and put this in a far corner of the kitchen. He then got two ice cream glasses. He went back to the corner and there was the unmistakable hiss of a bottle of gassy alcohol being opened. He made a ‘pssss’ sound to Richard and beckoned him over, handing him a glass of expensive Sekt. After they had drunk, the chef, Jürgen, hid the piccolo bottle deep in the trash bin.
But there was a delay in getting paid, as giving the Spüler his money was the lowest priority of the staff, so much so that he missed a connection and had to wait nearly half an hour for the next night bus.
When he got to the bar, he was in the mood for drinking and drinking hard. He took three vodkas in the first ten minutes. Carla joined him for one, looked surprised at his second and horrified at his third. Chris laughed, and jokingly mentioned that he should perhaps slow down.
So Richard asked Jake instead.
He next memory was waking up, semi-undressed at home. Half of his money was gone, spent in the bar. He couldn’t sleep but couldn’t move either. He stayed in bed, hoping to get some sleep. After this proved impossible, he made coffee after coffee and smoked the remainder of his cigarettes.
Tonight it was the east German chef. And the staff he hated. He felt like having a drink before going into work, but didn’t want a Nuremberg Part II. Then a blurred flashback; he had a vague recollection of Carla tapping him on the shoulder, telling him he drank too much.
Carla, witnessing Richard’s drunken transformation, was no longer interested in even seeing him again, let alone starting any kind of relationship.
Veronica was unhappy with Johan, had been for a long time, was sure he was seeing other women, but was still in love with him. She was fond of Chris, and tried convincing herself that he could be the new man. But she was unwilling to listen; she knew herself too well.
Chris was also having misgivings. He was in love with Veronica and now had her. He told himself that Johan would understand, and that he and Veronica could be together. But . . .
One Friday afternoon, going to visit Richard and bumping into him on Schönhauser Allee, as he was returning with two bottles of wine, he opened up.
Richard’s main priority was getting the wine open, and Chris knew better than to start his story before Richard had taken a drink.
“Just one or two, set me up for work,” Richard explained.
“Oh, I hear that,” replied Chris before speaking about Veronica,
“I just don’t know. I love her. Really, I’m crazy about her. Been wanting her for . . . ever. “
“I don’t know. Something’s not right.”
“The sex ?”
Chris was surprised by Richard’s bluntness, but saw that he was already well into his second glass. And he had got the point. Chris finished his wine, poured some more and began,
“I’m not even sure if I . . . I mean, if she . . . you know ?”
“Pop goes the weasel ?” Richard confused Chris further by launching into an exaggerated Bob Dylan voice and saying, “Ya mean she’s a slow train coming ?”
Chris laughed, then followed it up,
“She says she does, but . . . “
“You mean you asked her ?”
“Why ‘of course’ ? You got some kinda satisfaction guarantee ?”
“Well, yeah, pretty much. No complaints so far. I used to blow Monika’s mind. And she would blow my mind.”
“Well, come on, there’s a lot of pressure. You’re not able to be relaxed, right ? She’s your friend’s girl. Lucky you can get it up at all.”
“Hey, it’s up, man, I’m the fucking TV Tower, I’m the Siegessäule. Nothing wrong with . . . that end of things. No collapsing new building there.”
“Glad to hear it. But she must have a lot of stress. She obviously needs things to be sorted. Away from Rigaer Str . . . Oh, I get it. You want to borrow my flat.”
“I’ll wash the sheets.”
“Oh, fuck, man, I don’t want the details. Damn right you will though. So when do you want to . . . you want to tonight, don’t you ?”
“I want to right now, man !”
“Can’t help you there, Mush. Another drink, or will it interfere with your TV Tower reception ?”
Richard then got the giggles and went to work in a good mood. It lasted about twenty minutes in the nine circles of Biberkopf’s Kitchen.
Chris borrowed the flat twice more over the next week.
Richard had no idea what had deterred Carla. He was in the bar one night, Andrei working alone, when she came in, saw Richard, avoided eye contact and left. Richard kept drinking, asking, perhaps too much, where Olga was.
The next time Andrei saw him, the Russian was worried,
“Hey, Richard what happen to you ? You were . . . “ and he waved a hand in front of his face. “I don’t know if you get home.”
Sascha joined in,
“Yes, you got a taxi home.”
“You were there ?” he asked Sascha. “I got a taxi home ? No, that doesn’t sound right.”
“And you were trying to kiss that girl,” Sascha broke out into uncontrollable laughter.
But Richard had no idea what had happened in the bar, whom he had seen, or talked to, or tried to kiss, or anything.
But he was back the next night, drinking until he passed out on the bar. This time Chris and Jake were working. He woke up sometime after six and Jake gave him a lot of ice tea to drink.
After he had staggered out, refusing the offer of crashing over, Jake spoke to Chris, also very concerned, as to his mind, there was no question; Richard was an alcoholic and heading for a different sort of crash.
Chris thought he should do something, but had no idea what.
Two days later, Chris was going to work the bar again. He walked along Rigaer Str, thinking how to approach Richard, when a violent scream made his heart stop. It was Claude, shouting at him from across the street and pointing a finger like a loaded gun,
“You ! You fucking boy ! You fucking boy !”
Chris, totally pale and sweating, ran into Carla, outside of the street door to the squat. She told him. Johan was back and was having a serious talk with Veronica. It was nasty. Carla was afraid to go inside.
Jake walked past, on his way to the beer shop. Chris told him what had happened. Jake just nodded and said,
Chris ran upstairs and packed as much as he could, then ran out, ran all the way to the Storkower S-Bahn, looking back all the time.
Meanwhile, Richard, confronted with a never-ending pile of plates and work, accepted that getting drunk wasn’t helping the workload, it only made it infinitely worse. He was feeling truly awful, all the time.
If he carried on he would end up like the drunks prowling Berlin’s streets, looking in bins, smoking old dog ends, huddling around Imbisses to buy cheap grain alcohol and asking people, “Kleingeld, bitte.”
Not how he wanted to be.
He decided to go straight home, waiting at Zoo Station for a later bus, destination Prenzlauer Berg, not Friedrichshain, sobriety not stupor.
That was when he saw the lights on in his flat, and hoped that Chris had brought some wine with him.
Julie Retoré sat on the grass, looking into her small compact mirror, and adding some more lipstick.
She could feel Alan standing behind her, moving ever so slightly, so as to get the reflection of her mouth in the shot. He called out and she began the scene.
Julie smiled to herself as she heard the motor of the small Super 8 camera twirl. To her it didn’t matter. It was still cinema.
Alan was well organised and worked quickly, consulting a clipboard and telling the actors what to do next. He was shooting in sequence, so they could follow the action and change reactions more naturally.
Of her co-star, Julie wasn’t so sure. She knew about Vincent, had once seen him reciting the poems of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and was looking forward to working together. He was quite the local star in the bars and theatres of east Berlin. The only problem was that he knew it. He was good and he knew it. He was striking to look at and he knew it. Girls tended to stop and look at him and he really knew that.
Vincent was taking over the shoot, advising Alan how to set-up, what angle to use, even how Julie should act. Not wanting to cause a scene or to speak out of place, she kept her peace, but resented him for spoiling what otherwise had been a very pleasant day.
Alan shouted, ‘Cut’ and she relaxed, looked at her director and smiled, asking him how she was. He gave a very flattering answer, which she knew was exaggerated, but when Vincent joined in and appeared genuinely impressed, she blushed slightly, and looked away, hiding her embarrassed smile.
She liked the story and liked helping a new director. She sensed he was a little withdrawn, but once he got started on a subject close to him, he relaxed and actually there was a problem to stop him talking. She found it charming, and refreshing that he was speaking about other people’s work and ideas, not just his own.
Her need to act had already brought her into contact with many artists who began every sentence with either ‘I’, ‘Me’ or ‘My’.
Alan had the whole film planned out, from the location (even noting where the nearest public toilets were and the cafes with good coffee) the position of the sun, for light, the style of clothing and the music.
She found all this very impressive and told him so when they had met to discuss the film.
Étude No 1 opens with a Close-Up of The Man. He sits, thinking, uncertainty on his face. It cuts to The Woman, arranging her hair. The Man now appears in Medium shot, sitting on the grass. He looks over, then back, and down. The next shot is from behind The Woman, applying make-up.
The Man is thinking over his relationship, wondering if it is working, what he is doing, having an existential crises. The Woman goes behind him, ruffles his hair and tries to cheer her up. He gets up and walks away, carrying her shoes, as if to get her follow him.
There are some fast, inter-cut scenes, showing their faces, until finally, The Woman puts her arm around The Man’s waist and he puts his around her shoulders and they walk away.
This would be accompanied by Debussy’s ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’.
“That sounds lovely,” she said, a mere hint of German in her English.
She also asked if it would be in Black & White. He said he would like to, but only had colour film and didn’t even know if he could even get Black & White film for Super 8.
“Of course you can. And you can get it processed here, in Berlin.”
“Yes, my friend made a short film. Very quick. Same week, I think. I’ll phone him and ask, but I am sure.”
“Oh, yes, so much better. As Fellini said, ‘Cinema has two colours: black and white.’”
Julie laughed and Alan just took it as a sign that he was in the right place, the only city in Europe that had a studio to develop that film stock. And that here he was, in a café, discussing films with a beautiful intelligent young woman who loved cinema as much as he did.
During the filming, there was some discussion over the ending. Vincent suggested a whole new climax, totally against the spirit.
“Not only does this man have a giant ego”, she thought, “he’s proud of it, and thinks his ego is bigger than anybody else’s.”
Vincent’s idea was nonsensical, clearly just thought up. She spoke up, siding with Alan and saying that they should keep to the script that they had all decided upon and agreed to.
“I’m just trying to make it better, otherwise the audience won’t know what happens,” he said back, more than a hint of malice in the voice.
“That’s why it works,” she answered, calmly, “the power comes from the open ending. The audience will have to think for themselves. And they will, they will ask each other ‘what do you think happens ?’ No, I like it and we should do it that way.”
Despite making a gesture indicating that he no longer cared, Vincent went along with it, but made a poor first take. Julie whispered something to him, and the second take was much better. Alan only had enough money and film for a maximum of two takes.
After being thanked and told how good he was, Vincent relaxed, and began laughing and dominating the conversation. As they walked back to the S-Bahn station, he put his arm around Julie.
Although she couldn’t see him, Julie could sense that Alan wanted to shout, “Cut !”
The shift began as normal. Richard arrived early, tried to order a coffee from one of the waitresses and when it finally arrived, plonked down in front of him, spilling over the side, he had no time to drink, but took it into the kitchen. He made space on a metal shelf, and looked down at all the plates, piled up, stacked on top of each other, taking up the entire work surface. As he did so, a waitress appeared and smashed more plates down, so that some small saucers fell onto the floor and crashed.
The restaurant had been serving since breakfast and no one had bothered to wash a thing. Metal egg-cups encrusted with yoke, bits of dry toast, muesli cemented onto bowls; and the beat goes on, Berlin goes on, work goes on.
Then a new waitress entered, holding up a fork and barking away in German. She clearly wanted new cutlery. Richard held out his watch to indicate that it was five to six, he wasn’t working yet, wasn’t even changed. She continued shouting in German, while Richard muttered, not too softly,
“Who won the fucking War, ya Nazi cocksucker.”
The extra work load generated by the Summer, when the garden was open and had an additional twenty tables, had proved too much for the lazy chef, who had left. The east German chef remained, and a temporary chef filled in as well. Temporary chef was quiet and efficient but tended to treat Richard as a drone worker, not a person worthy of respect or even thought. And he tuned the grease-encrusted radio to a Techno station. All night there was a heavy, unrelenting beat that Richard found impossible to tune out.
Yet, it was a challenge, and Richard threw all the plates into the sink after scraping away the debris, got some cutlery washed, filled and emptied the machine and had cleared the surface within his first half hour.
But then it got busy. The chef demanded help with making side salads and Richard grabbed a handful of lettuce and vegetables and flung them into the saucer, then got shouted at because there were no clean plates.
“Well, I’ve been doing your fucking job and not mine, ya fucking dickhead.” The chef had no English, but understood the tone, and replied with mutterings of his own, rising to shouts and screams.
The washing up kept coming and Richard still had all the other jobs to attend to. The chef needed more Camembert made, so Richard had to get his hands covered in egg and breadcrumbs, then parsley chopped, then things brought up from the cellar.
The waitresses demanded more cutlery or cups, then wanted candlesticks washed and de-waxed.
Just after nine, Richard shouted to the radio to,
“Shut the fuck up!” and went over to retune it to a Classical station. “Doing my fucking head it, that fucking inane shit ! Fuck’s sake!”
Some time later, a waitress brought the chef a beer. Richard hadn’t even been asked. Not that he wanted or had time for a beer, or a piss, but it would have shown some respect to have been asked. He went to the bar, waited for Josef to see him, then asked for a bottle of water.
Richard knew that if he had been holding a bottle, he would have smashed it around the barman’s head.
Instead, he walked away, down into the cellar, and found a bottle of whisky. He picked it up,
“Ah, fuck, it’s only J&B, fucking blend !” but it didn’t stop him from opening the top and taking an almighty swig. He looked at the bottle, surprised and impressed by the amount of space between top and whisky level,
“I’ll just piss in it to refill it,” he thought, but before he did so, took another giant swig. After that, work got a little easier. For a while.
But the buzz of the whiskey soon wore off, leaving a thirst for more and a decreased tolerance for the way he was being treated.
The chef left and Richard, looking around, saw the cooking brandy. It was pretty poor quality, the kind that gets sold in quarter bottles at Imbisses and kiosks on the street to alcoholics who have found a few old coins, but, like them, Richard didn’t care. It was alcohol.
He remembered starting work on the potatoes, but nothing much else.
Except one thing.
He recalled, vaguely, going into the bar and pointing his finger accusingly at all the staff, equating them with the Hitler Youth and warning them that he would be meeting them all again in Nuremberg.
Then he sat on the corner counter in the kitchen, put his head against the tea-towels which were kept on a shelf, and crashed out.
He awoke in his own bed with that feeling. That heart-stopping feeling upon waking. No idea what he had done, but knew it was bad. Very, very bad.
Chris came over in the afternoon, and Richard asked him to phone in and say he couldn’t work, due to a sudden flu, but would be back tomorrow … if,
“Stake out the situation, put feelers out, get the vibe . . . find out if I still have a job there.”
Chris laughed, closed the kitchen door and made the call. He returned, wide-smiled.
“OK, I’ll cover you tonight, could use the extra dosh. Seven hours at twelve Marks an hour, nice. Spoke to Walter. Hopes you are feeling better. Then I’ll come back here. Could use a sober night myself.”
Around two-thirty Chris returned, absolutely not wide-smiling. He crashed in, threw his bag across the room, and let out an uninterrupted flow of abuse.
“I know,” was all Richard said, still suffering.
“All right. Where to start. Now, what we want,” he began, knowing that Richard would like the ‘Hard Times’ reference, “is facts. OK, breaks down like this: you’re all right. Yes, go back tomorrow, no one’s gonna say Jack. Seems you got a little overwrought. Walter had a go at the staff, he’s a god guy, telling them not to treat you like scheiße, to do some of their own washing up, keep the work area clear, help out. How’s that ? It was Walter who drove you to Zoo for the night bus. Oh, Nuremberg, man, so funny, would loved to have seen that.”
“Oohhhhhh, mannn ! I thought I dreamt that ! Shit, shit, shit, shit ! Shit on a stick !”
“Don’t worry, most of them didn’t even understand it. One of the customers had to explain.”
“Well, fuck, have you seen Josef ? Wouldn’t he have made such a fucking great Nazi ? He’d be the guy in the black suit, with the Death’s-head emblem.”
“Oh, the temporary chef has gone.”
“Because of me ?”
“No, got a new guy. You’ll see him tomorrow.”
“What’s he like ?”
“Hhhmmm . . . how to . . . you’ll see. Tomorrow.”
Richard was glad that Chris was there and had covered the work situation. But only weeks later, Chris would not be visiting the flat, but hiding out there, scared for his life.
While Alan Francis was having the time of his life in Berlin, Chris and Richard were about to have their worst.
Richard’s summer was destroyed by his job. He was starting an hour earlier and finishing an hour later, but the extra money was no compensation. Most nights, after working seven hours straight, he went straight to the Czar Bar, and drank as much as he could.
In Chris, in Berlin as in London, he had a willing drinking partner.
Regarding Monika’s request, Richard had dreaded passing on the cease and desist, thinking it too personal, and he really didn’t want to get involved.
He decided to do it at the first opportunity, to get it out of the way, and, to his surprise and relief, found that Chris took it very well, even nonchalantly. But the reason he did so would lead to even bigger problems.
“It’s Veronica,” Chris explained. “Can’t stop thinking about her. Even if I could, I see her all the time.”
“Veronica ? Johan’s Veronica ? Oh, shit !”
“Yeah, oh shit ! I love Johan. I do.”
“Just love Veronica more.”
“It’s not funny.”
“I know. Well, what you gonna do ?”
Chris threw his hands in the air, signifying his lack of ideas.
What he did was to drink. A lot.
Initially, he was daunted by Jake and his capacity for alcohol. Now he tried to match him. As a consequence, Jake had to close up alone as Chris would be passed out, somewhere in the bar. He would go to gather shot glasses, or empty bottles and just not return. Jake at first didn’t mind, even found it amusing, but as it happened every shift, the joke was wearing pretty thin.
Yet, Jake couldn’t deny that Chris was good for business. He got the crowd laughing and drinking, and the weekly Sawhead The Bear concerts had brought in a lot of new people and made a significant increase in takings. The band could even get a small fee as well as free drinks.
On balance, Jake tolerated Chris’ drunken behaviour and laughed at his more outrageous antics, laughed at Chris’ pathetic hopeless doomed attempts to keep up with him. Yet, Chris did have some ‘marketing’ ideas which were proving doubly beneficial.
One such innovation was to offer free vodka shots to any woman, provided it be administered mouth to mouth, either by Jake or Chris. Surprisingly, they both got takers, though when Johan asked for a free shot, Chris declined.
“Ah, you fucking English, so scared of love!” Johan laughed, as he ordered a whole row of vodkas for friends and anyone else who happened to be seated around the bar.
Chris, of course, was hoping that Veronica would take him up on his offer, but she hardly drank, preferring orange juice or maybe a single beer, and she didn’t seem willing to try a free vodka.
Daniel, meanwhile, was living something of a double life. He worked hard all week, maybe had a beer or two with workmates just to be sociable, and made it to Ostkreuz once or twice. Saturdays, he rehearsed with the band (Micha and Serge agreed to work the lucrative Friday evenings so both Andrei and Boris would be fresh for the gig) then played the concert, after which he always went off with a new woman and reappeared on Sunday, to give a graphic account of the experience and to hang out, before returning to his normal weekday existence, normal that is by Berlin standards.
One Sunday, Chris had requested that Richard meet him in another squat bar, one tucked away south of Karl Marx Allee. Chris was going to see Pavel, a Czech squatter who was responsible for the bar. Maybe Sawhead The Bear could play there, get them out of the Czar bar; different venue, different audience.
Richard didn’t know the bar or the area, so was a little late, a little hungover and very pissed off at the thought of another week working as a Steglitz Spüler.
He walked up the metal steps and saw Chris at the bar.
“Yeah, all set, Sawhead play here next Saturday. Only they want some more bands, make a whole night of it. I mentioned Arizona Al.”
“Fuck, you sure ?” asked Richard, ”he’s not exactly . . . “
“Any fucking good, yeah, I know, but give the fucker a song or two. Either him or those fucking cunts from the first Sawhead gig.”
“Maybe we could get The Wiggling Kellys ?”
“I’d like to see them,” Chris agreed. “They’ve got a band or two here, some bozos called Perry Coma. Death ballads, I guess.”
Richard suddenly got a laughing fit. Chris thought it was due to his joke, but, when Richard finally got his breathe back and wiped the tears away, he explained,
“Did I hear you use the word, ‘bozo’ ?”
“ssss . . . bozo-sssssss. Plural, as in more than one of them, Bozo and his bozo friends. Whole place is run by bozos. Whole fucking city is full of bozos. We, my friend, are in one bozo-friendly environment.”
“Perry Coma’s kinda funny too.”
“They don’t even know they’re being funny. They’ve got no fucking idea some guy’s actually called Perry Como.”
Richard had a feeling that they were here and not the Czar Bar for other reasons, as well.
“Yeah, OK, just couldn’t face Danny going on tonight about how he pulled and what he did and what she did and how many times he did what he did and how much she liked what he did when he did what he did to her.”
The beer that Richard was drinking went all over the bar and poured out of his nose.
“That guy certainly has the moves,” he said, wiping the beer away as best he could. “I could learn a lot from him. I know he’s a singer, but he’s not especially attractive or has a sparkling personality. Nice enough guy, but, I mean . . . ?”
“Exactly, I know what you mean. He’s a bit of a yob. A thug. But, everytime he gets talking to a woman, whatever he says, it works, ’cause next thing you know, his tongue’s down her throat and his hands are homing in on the good stuff.”
“Oh, thanks, I needed that. Haven’t had a laugh like this for . . . I don’t even know. Work’s fucked. Bunch a fucking cunts, all of them. Have to leave, got to find something else. Anything else.”
“Yeah, do it.”
“I have to. Can’t stay here, otherwise. Have to leave.”
“And do what ?”
“Well, that’s the fucking problem. No matter how bad it is here, it’s a quantum leap from what it would or will be back in London.”
“You boys shouldn’t be so cynical.”
The boys stopped talking and laughing and turned around. A punk squatter with her hair in pigtails, and ripped tights sat down between them. Her accent, despite her clothing, placed her from the Home Counties, somewhere close to London but not too close.
Richard asked her what she meant, but she refused to elaborate, instead choosing to criticise the music.
“Oh, Nirvana; are people still listening to him ? He’s dead, move on, get over it. I fucking hate Nirvana.”
“Really ?” asked Chris incredulously,
“Why ?” demanded Richard.
“Because my name’s Polly, and those unwashed bastards have fucked up my life.”
And then, right on cue, a tall, unwashed bastard walked in, saw her and asked,
“Hello, Polly, want a cracker ?”
Polly soon got bored of her two compatriots, even though Richard was wondering if she was hitting on him, and left because he wasn’t responding. He asked Chris for his views. Chris puffed himself up, before pontificating,
“Uuummmm . . . hard to say. Don’t think so. Would you like to fuck her ?”
“Wouldn’t mind. Not my first choice, but, hey . . . she was kinda cute.”
“Uuummmm … Nice rack. Breasts.”
“I know what a rack is. OK, I thought a ‘rack’ was ass.”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s breasts,” and Chris looked around, searching for anyone American-looking. ”I’ll ask Jake. He’s a Godsend. He understands all the R.E.M. lyrics. Who the fuck’s Mr Fred Blassie, and why is he such bad eater ? Just ask Jake.”
“Cool. I could have pulled that Polly. Oh, who am I kidding ? I tell you, next time Daniel goes to work, I’m gonna be right there, making notes. Any more about Veronica ?”
Chris let out a long sigh,
“She’s an art student.”
“Another one ! What is with you and … Is she more Ute or Melanie ?”
“No ! Not like Melanie, not like that sphincter-mouthed, Ninja Turtle. A real art student. Actually draws and paints, not just reads books and regurgitates other people’s opinions. She showed me some of her paintings.”
“’Sphincter-mouthed’ ? Didn’t you kiss her ?”
“No ! No, no, well . . . yes, but . . .”
“OK, back to the art. Any good ? Her paintings ?”
“What do I know, I’m a science student. No, they were good. Abstract, but with . . . form.”
Richard laughed and ordered more beers. Chris carried on,
“She’s got a friend coming, too, Italian girl called Carla. Another student.”
“Is she cute ?”
“Is she cute ? What, like that fucking Psycho Polly ? Is she cute ? She’s a friend of Veronica’s, she’s an art student, she’s fucking Italian, yes, she’s fucking cute. Something else, too. I happen to know that Johan is going away soon, back to France. For two weeks. Maybe more. Think that calls for a vodka.”
They got more drinks and toasted Veronica and Carla (sight unseen).
What they didn’t know was that soon, they would both act in such a way that Richard would be afraid to go to work, and Chris would be afraid to go back to Rigaer Strasse.