Love and Chaos Part 4(A)Richard 1

15th December 2020

Berlin 2020 but looking much the same as the 1990s. Photo by Martin O’ Shea

Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994

Gabi helped Monika carry the glasses across the road from the bar to the small park where Richard, on his first night back in Berlin, was being inducted into The Gang.

He sat on the brick wall that surrounded the park, as Silke pointed to the large rotunda that rose above the trees on the slope behind them.

“It used to be a water tower, then the Nazi’s used it to torture prisoners. Now it’s flats for Yuppies.”

Silke had short, spiky, blonde hair, which was striking enough, but tonight, in the hot Berlin evening, she wore a skimpy vest and shorts, showing legs which Richard couldn’t help but comment on; loudly,

“Man, she’s got Bond-girl legs.”

Chris felt obliged to look them up and down, apprising them with an expert eye, before concurring.

“And ? You like Silke’s legs, too ?” Asked Monika.

“No, my Darling. Only yours.” They kissed, then Chris turned to Richard, and raised an eyebrow.

Gabi smiled at Richard, and they clinked glasses, and she tried a few, faltering words in English, before giving up in a fit of giggles that charmed Richard to the heart. Of all the women he had suddenly and miraculously been introduced to, it was probably Gabi he would choose, though Silke was all woman, no mistake, and Gabi’s friend, Lorelei, who now began speaking to him, in near perfect English, was equally beautiful.

Andreas walked back to the group, from the bar with the ‘best toilets’, running a hand through his curly, brown hair. He walked over to Silke, grabbed her and kissed her. Richard took this to mean that Silke was off the market. Chris smiled and began the saga.

“So you see, Andreas is with Silke. They’re a pretty incestuous bunch of motherfuckers, but I’ll try to hip you in to what’s what. Not so much a ‘Who’s Who’, more of a ‘Who’s done Who’. Andreas’ best friend is Tommy, the little guy over there, flirting with those two tourists. Silke used to be with Tommy’s brother. Andreas used to be with Gabi. Kind of. They had what is called here, a ‘kissing thing’. Gabi and Lorelei both live in the west, with their boyfriends.”

“Oh, shit!”

“Not so fast, Gunga Din; they both hate their boyfriends and want to leave them. Gabi is even thinking of renting a flat here and having a weekend lover. Or renting a weekend lover, who knows ?”

Richard re-enacted a scene from London, hoping that Chris would remember it. He raised his hand.

“I accept the job, sight unseen. Except I have seen … so fucking cute.”

“I’ll put Monika on the case. Oh, more, the plot thickens. Here’s Nice Guy Kai. Kai used to go out with Andreas’ sister, back in Köln.”

Nice Guy Kai was greeted by all, kisses and hugs. With his peroxide blonde hair and goatee, he was the rock star of the Group.

Richard was just beaming. There seemed to be cafés and bars everywhere, full of people drinking and laughing. Waiters, white shirted in some bars, casually attired in others, buzzed around taking orders, delivering drinks. Behind, the trees of the small park gave a relaxing, calming ambience, blocking out all the concrete blocks to the south.

It was an area unknown to him, somewhere tucked away in Prenzlauer Berg, attractive buildings with balconies and decorated doorways, flowers and colour.

People strolled past, two, threes or individuals. Girls cycled past wearing short skirts, lovers held hands and kissed. Strangers said ‘Hello’ to each other and smiled. People were alive and happy. It was so different to the London he had just left and when Richard looked at Chris, he knew that he didn’t need to say a word. Chris understood everything.

“This is your first evening in Berlin ?” Lorelei asked. Chris smiled and went to join Monika, leaving Richard to work his magic.

The Gang coalesced as the evening darkened, speaking in German, various hands pointing in various directions.

Andreas explained to the new comer,


“We have to stop drinking outside, now. It used to be possible to drink all night, but the neighbours all complained,” pointing to the rows of windows above all the bars. “So the bars will only serve people sitting inside.”

More talk and opinions. Kai left with a young girl he had just met, and soon after, a decision was reached. Tommy would borrow a bicycle from a new guy that had turned up, Gert, who was with Jo, his English girlfriend, and go to a store and buy as many bottles of beer as he could carry. Everyone began going through their pockets or purses to find coins.

Chris looked over and saw Richard still talking with Lorelei. He caught his eye, and gave a wink.

Tommy soon returned, cycling along the pavement like a madman, screaming out and making ‘ding-ding’ bell sounds with his mouth. Somehow, he had managed to buy and transport enough beers for everyone.

Monika came over to Richard. They had only met hours before, but they felt a certain affinity, although Richard sensed a slight hardness about her. She was very friendly, yet lacked the easy charm of Ute. Maybe she was exactly what Chris needed.

“Käthe was very pretty. But she is going to stay with her boyfriend ?”

Monika had met them earlier when they, Käthe and boyfriend, had dropped him off in Berlin and been invited inside Chris’ new flat for a beer. The fact that they both preferred non-alcoholic drinks turned Chris off them immediately.

“Yes, and anyway, she lives miles away, some place near … Cottbus ?”

“Ah, wie schade! (what a shame). “

“Chris seems to be getting real good in German, nichts wahr ? (isn’t that right ?)”

“Umm, Ja. So you need A German girl to help to speak German.”

Richard was very close to saying that there were other needs he had in mind, but checked himself.

After the beers there was more discussion. Some people began leaving, but the core of Richard, Chris, Monika, Gabi and Lorelei preferred to go to another bar.

Monika drove Chris and Richard, followed by the two girls. They were heading into Mitte. Monika said that there was a bar that was only open on Fridays and was a good place to hang out.

As Richard had expected of Berlin, it was no ordinary bar. Again, no sign from the street, except the inordinate amount of people coming and going, or just standing around, drinking.

Monika led the way through the arched front house, which opened into a large court, or Hof. It was full of people, dancing to a DJ playing mid-tempo Techno. Some coloured lights were strung up, in a rather half-arsed way, but it didn’t matter to Richard. Chris put his arm around him and they shouted a few sentences in each other’s ears, fighting the volume of the beat.

The bar was another improvised wooden counter in an adjoining low building, half-derelict, half the windows broken.

The choices were limited to beers, cheap wines, vodka and rum. Monika took Richard into the bar, placed her order and leant against the bar, moving to the Techno. She turned to Richard. He felt compelled to confess.

“I’m in love with Lorelei.”

Monika laughed, but in a friendly way. She put her arm on his.

“She has a boyfriend, but it is over. They never go out together. Every weekend, Gabi and her drive over. It’s much more fun in the east.”

“Yes, it is!”

Gabi and Monika joined the dancers, Chris walked around, speaking to complete strangers, sometimes making them dance, against their wishes, sometimes just going up to them and staring them in the face, before grabbing their arm and then hooking it under his calf. Chris knew, of course, that Richard was watching.

Lorelei moved over to Richard.

“What’s he doing ?”

“It’s an old Harpo Marx routine. From ‘Duck Soup’, I believe. You know the Marx Brothers ?”

Richard described the act and then they began speaking effortlessly about anything else that came into their heads. They sat on a log that was just big enough for two, provided those two didn’t mind touching legs, and shared a beer.

Gabi came over. She was getting tired and was going home, if Lorelei wanted a lift. Monika was also thinking of leaving and began looking for Chris, who soon showed himself, trying to teach some ballroom moves to a group of young ravers.

Richard got a hug and a kiss from all three women, the kiss from Lorelei lasting just that little bit longer than a mere social gesture.

“And then there were two,” said Chris, leaning on Richard for support.

They stayed until the sun rose, then began the slow walk back home.

They were both, naturally, swaying all over the pavement. At one point, a car was driving too slowly for their liking, so Richard pulled out his wallet, opening it and flashed it to the driver.

“N.Y.P.D. C’mon, let’s move it, you in the blue car!”

“So, what do you think ? Should have moved here before, hey ?”

“Lorelei is beautiful.”

“I know.”

“I really wanna fuck her.”

“I know.”

Within half an hour, they had made it back home. There were two mattresses already prepared, on the floor, a fridge full of food, clean clothes ready and shampoos in the bathroom.

They threw off their outer clothes and crashed. They were asleep within seconds.

The last image Richard had was of Lorelei’s face. She was, indeed, beautiful.

At the moment they fell asleep, in a flat on the border of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, an English woman woke up and went into the kitchen to get some bottled water. Gert, her boyfriend was snoring loudly. She looked out of the street window, seeing the unmistakable TV Tower silhouetted against a morning sky of pure blue.

She had to tell her brother about Berlin. He had finished University and, as far as she knew, didn’t have a job lined up. He would love it here. It was very cinematic, which he would appreciate, as all he ever spoke about was cinema. Gert gave an extra loud snort, which brought her back to reality. She wouldn’t be able to sleep with that noise going on. She went to the other room and got some paper and a pen and began writing;

‘Dear Alan, …’

Love and Chaos Part 1(I) Richard 3

Magnificent views of Berlin from air balloon. - Picture of HiFlyer Berlin -  Tripadvisor
Berlin showing the TV Tower and Cathedral – Google Images

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

Richard had a romantic view of flying, very much inspired by glamour shots from the Sixties showing immaculate film stars and bejewelled starlets posing next to uniformed stewardesses of the Pan Am or B.O.A.C. line. Therefore he chose a dark-charcoal pin-striped suit for his flight to Berlin. The jacket was taken from him on the plane to be hung up, and when another attendant tried to find the owner, she seemed surprised that he was sitting in economy and not in business. Richard liked that. He had decided that the way to go was with ‘style’.

The co-pilot had already pointed out, as they prepared to make the descent, that anyone familiar with Berlin should be able to follow the roads that led up to the Brandenburg Gate. Richard strained to look out of the window, but could only see cloud. Not matter, he would see it soon enough.

Heathrow had been large and busy and involved queuing and waiting. Tegal, by contrast seemed so much smaller. His bag arrived quickly and after a brief passport check, he walked out into the airport, looked around and saw the smiling face of Chris. They shouted and shock hands. Chris took the bag and they went to wait for the bus in the late summer sun. There was little skyline, Tegal being tucked away in the north west of the city, but Chris did point to a faint glimmer on the horizon, which, when Richard strained his eyes, turned out to be the Mercedes symbol on the Europa Centre.

They smoked and smiled, Chris almost overflowing with things to say and Richard having so many questions, mainly wanting Chris to explain all the information that he had been sending over the Spring and Summer.

Chris had told him not to buy any duty-free; it was all cheaper in Berlin. Something about the Vietnamese Mafia. A lot of talk about Cafe Kinski and squat bars. A list of character names; Marina, Ross, Claudia, Simon, Luke.

The bus arrived and Chris showed how to punch the ticket to validate it, (deciding not to risk travelling black for so long a journey). They drove to Kurt-Schumacher- Platz U-Bahn station, most of the bus alighting for their connections. The station was typical of many in Berlin, dark, dirty, dusty, one platform with trains arriving either side and, seemingly, everybody smoking. Chris pointed out the initial differences; there would rarely be a ticket office, but ticket vending machines. The trains were indicated by their end stops, not by direction, there were no ticket barriers, so, Richard surmised, people could travel without tickets ?

“Yeah, but they do have plain clothes inspectors who issue on-the-spot fines. If you get enough of them, you have to officially apologise to the Minister of Transport.”

“What ?”

“All true. I was speaking to someone in Kinski, I’ll take you there tonight, and she was saying that when she lived in the DDR, that’s the old East Germany, standing for Deutsche Democratic Republic, the ‘Democratic’ bit being an example of German humour, and more of that oxymoron later, she bunked the fare and got caught so many times, that she had to go to some office and formally say sorry. Now, I’ve only been here a few months, but I’ve realised that the German bureaucratic system is a master-work of incomprehensibility. You know those pictures by, Eischer, is it ?”

“All those staircases that appear to go down, but when you follow them, they end up back where they started ?”

“Spot on, yeah, like that, only, more so, I tell you, it’s put a whole new perspective on Kafka. Can really dig him, now. No wonder, I’m living it.”

“So what was the emergency you first wrote about ?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you tonight. Here’s our train. We get off at FriedrichStrasse, the old border station.”

The train was very basic, with wooden bench seats and no frills. It looked to Richard like a do-it-yourself construction. There were a number of small, unobtrusive adverts periodically displayed, and it gave Richard a sense of travelling back in time. While other metro systems were upgrading, getting lighter and brighter for the new millennium, still several years away, Berlin’s appeared to be frozen in the Cold War era, and Richard, in his suit, tried to exude a façade of cool British agent sent behind the Curtain on a top secret mission, which would naturally involve smuggling a Russian beauty to safety.

The train was too loud for easy conversation, so there were exchanges of glances and laughs. The other passengers were mainly dressed very casually, many unshaven men, women without make-up, some punk types, some pensioners with giant laundry-type bags, some school boys and a girl with a Walkman who caught Richard’s eye. She also got out at Freidrichstrasse, but was soon lost in the crowd. Richard would remember her as the first woman in Berlin whom he liked, but who disappeared out of his life without ever entering it.

Friedrich Strasse was a maze of subterranean corridors, stairs, tunnels and levels. Richard doubted he ever would have emerged without Chris acting Virgil to his Dante. To get to the over ground S-Bahn, they had to exit to street level and enter the main building. Once above ground, Chris made straight for a group of Oriental men, none taller than 5ft 2, and asked for something. One of the men went away and returned with a carrier-bag from which he pulled out a carton of West cigarettes. Chris handed over a coin and received two packets. He gave a formal nod goodbye and they moved on.

“There, the Vietnamese Mafia. They sell cigarettes half-price.”

“Good deal. Isn’t that illegal ?”

“Probably.“

“How do you know where to find them ?”

“Oh, they’re always there. You’ll find them all over, same patch, same prices. It’s very well organised.”

“But, and forgive me if I’m being slow, but if they are always in the same place, wouldn’t the Police know where to find them ?’

“Oh, yes.”

“And they don’t get caught ?”

“Hummm … don’t know. Maybe one or two, but, it’s … well, it’s Berlin. Black market cigarettes, squatters, unofficial free public transport, girls that actually come up and speak to you.”

“They do ?”

“You can count on it. You’ve gonna like it here.”

“I’m going to love it here.”

They rode the S-Bahn the two stops to Alexanderplatz and it seemed as if all the sights were pretty much concentrated in that small section of Berlin. Under Den Linden, the main thoroughfare of the east could be seen in between streaks of blurred buildings. Chris listed the sights, various churches, a cathedral, a synagogue.

At Alex they changed to the U 5, descending several levels and twisting past corridors that all showed signs of continual or imminent or necessary renovation. From there is was just four short stops. They got out at Rathaus Friedrichshain.

“You see that this station is tiled blue, the others are orange, so it’s a sign to get out. It’s not like London, with the station’s name everywhere, here it’s just once, centre of the platform, so it’s easy to get lost or confused. Come on, let’s go.”

Chris showed Richard the correct exit of the four to use and they emerged half way down Karl Marx Allee, a long, straight, busy road leading from Alexanderplatz straight to Moscow, or so it seemed.

Either side of this wide street were identical examples of Stalinist architecture. The buildings were a uniform height, five or six stories tall, with lines of windows comprised of two long, oblong panes below two small square panes, white frames between, giving the effect of rows and rows of Christian crosses or war graves.

This particular area was somewhat grandiose, with two towers, green domed on white columns standing either side of the Allee. Where Chris and Richard came out, there was a large concreted area, with a department store and some stone steps, low and regal, leading up to a columned area. The pattern was repeated on the south side, giving symmetry, order and a certain overblown pomposity that Richard could already sense was somewhat incongruous to the actual character of the area.

Chris took Richard along the Allee to a small colonnade next to a bank. On top on the columns were some figures whose characteristics had eroded with time, and a large clock that was fixed on Three minutes past Five. A first observation from Richard; there seemed to be clocks everywhere.

They cut through the columns and up the side road that led to Rigaer Str. Behind the columns were residential blocks, car parks and a small shop or two. They got to the top, Chris indicating the squat bar opposite, then turned right and walked to the swing doors with the painted street name and number. Richard paused a little at the shop window, with it’s mysterious display and impenetrable nets, looked at Chris, who looked back and gave a tiny nod. Richard nodded back, as if all necessary information had been communicated. Chris appreciated having someone who was on the same wavelength as him, because despite the benefits and excitements of his new town, he had also been very lonely.

Richard saw the painted street-sign and let out an exclamation. Chris opened the door for him, then pointed out the post-box with Holtzengraff in a top corner compartment and Pearson sellotaped underneath it. Things were becoming clearer.

The first signs were positive; the hall was bright and airy, a room appeared straight ahead and the kitchen to the right. It had large windows, though the only view was the blank wall and the dustbins down below. They went into the main room, fair sized with a high ceiling and another large window. In the corner was a large tiled object, with a flute leading into the ceiling. There were various pieces of wood on the floor and some small implements like screwdrivers and a hacksaw.

“Oh, yeah. The Ofen.” Chris explained in a dismissive tone, knowing that Richard would be as mystified as he had been by this mediaeval-looking contraption.

“Ah, of course,” said Richard, playing along, “the Ofen.”

“It’s really good. Get some good heat out of it. Save money on heating.”

“Ah, I see.”

“You don’t do you ?”

“Not at all.”

Chris continued the tour. Before this room, there was a side door for the toilet where Richard saw a minute sink, suitable only for washing one hand at a time, and that behind the toilet, there was a wire meshing through which a storage area could be seen. The fact that he could be using said appliance and have someone behind him enter and rummage around wasn’t very comforting, but when he came out of the toilet and walked into the kitchen, his face dropped even further. He looked around before asking,

“And the bathroom is … ?”

“No bathroom.”

“Shower ?”

“No shower.”

“Then where do you … wash ?”

Chris pulled the expression that Richard knew well, an exaggerated smile, display of teeth and an intake of breath that produced a high-pitch whine.

“Never mind. Let’s have a drink.”

Chris had bought some provisions and they ate rolls with cheese, tomatoes, salami, beer and Quark. Chris pre-emptied Richard’s question.

“Don’t even ask,” he began, referring to the Quark, a white semi-solid substance like cream cheese, or yoghurt, or crème fraiche, “ comes in all sorts of flavours, most of them, true, being the same. I can’t get no answer as to what it is and believe me, I’ve asked, it just … is. Prost! Cheers!”

After lunch, they went sight-seeing, talking non-stop to the U-Bahn, Chris explaining that Rathaus, which he pronounced ‘rat-house’ meant town hall, and that he’d also learnt another German word, ‘Smuck’ which meant jewellery. If all German words were so ridiculous, he’d have the language down in no time.

They took the U 5 back to Alex, and got out there, planning to walk to the Brandenburg Gate. They decided, first of all, to go up the TV Tower, so bought tickets and went to queue for the lift. At the top, Chris showed him the Gate, from up high, still a mere dot. Then he pointed out his area, and the twin towers were visible. The buildings seen from the S Bahn lay before them as well as the sights slightly more to the west, the Angel on the Siegersauler, the Reichtstag, the S Bahn snaking it’s way to Zoo.

They continued on foot past the Cathedral and the Zeughaus, the statue of Fredrik the Great on horseback and The Opera House, all down to The Gate.

Brandenburg Gate was one of the few sights known to the two back in London and it was impressive while still being a little anti-climatic. More interesting were the rows of souvenir sellers all of whom seemed to be of Indian origin, all carrying trays full of DDR items: watches, hats with the hammer and sickle insignia, belt buckles, also with the symbol, badges, stamps, coins, model Trabants, gas-masks, binoculars and similar items.

Chris suggested they go for a drink and walked back towards Alex, passing the Russian embassy with a large bust of Lenin dumped unceremoniously on the front grass. They crossed the Friedrichstrasse intersection, Chris pointing the way towards Checkpoint Charlie, then on to a small beer garden just before the Opera. Chris went to get two beers and Richard sat and looked around. A few tables away sat a young, blonde girl, wearing only a yellow vest and denim shorts, writing post-cards and drinking a large beer. There was something very right about that image and he was going to smile at her when she looked up, but, unfortunately, she never did.

Just after Chris returned and they were on their second gulp, there was a commotion from the main road. A man who appeared to be in his early fifties and wearing a white shirt, open to the chest, was marching along, screaming in German, trailed by his very embarrassed and much smaller wife, who desperately tried to calm and quiet him. It was all nonsense to Richard who was quite enjoying the scene, until the man began raising his arm in the Nazi salute and the word ‘Hitler’ could be clearly discerned, loudly and frequently. The wife used both hands to pull the arm down, but it was a losing battle, and the man carried on, marching away until the street sounds obliterated him.

The awkwardness pervaded the whole café, a smile or two, a distant laugh, but mostly an uncomfortable silence. Richard and Chris just dismissed it as a random lunatic and London wasn’t short of those, either.

At this point, the blonde girl looked up, but it didn’t seem appropriate now to smile.