Love and Chaos Part 6(L) Daniel 1

25th May 2021

Fischladen - Samariterkiez - Rigaer Str. 83
A Friedrichshain convenience. Google Images

Part Six. Berlin. April 1995

Though he was pretty immune to odours, Jake sometimes found it necessary to open the door and air out the bar while they were setting up.

The day had shown the first signs of a summer that promised to be warm and loving, a reward for surviving the harsh unrelenting Berlin winter.

Jake was sweeping in the back, by the stage, and Chris was behind the bar, stacking empty beer bottles in crates and getting tonight’s beer ready, when four builders walked in, the first asking in a north-English accent,

“You open, Mate ?” then sitting down before getting an answer.

Chris looked over at Jake who nodded.

“Sure. What can I get you ?” he asked, stressing his own Midlands accent.

“Fuck me, another one,” said the second man in his thick Irish brogue.

“Lot of us about, Paddy,” answered the third man, a thin, wiry Brummie with flecks of white paint in his hair.

“What’ve ya got, Mate ?” asked the fourth man, Daniel Roth.

Chris brought up a selection of bottles; Becks, Flensburger, Veltins and the Czech Staropramen.

“Give us a Becks. What d’you fuckers want ?” asked the Northerner.

“Do you not have no Guinness ? Fuck me. Go on, then, I’ll have to have a Flensburger, won’t I,” from the Irishman. The Brummie also chose a Becks and Daniel took a Staropramen.

“Look at that poncey twat, always gotta be different,” was the Northerner’s reaction to Daniel’s order.

They joked around insulting each other for a couple of rounds, then decided to leave.

The Northerner came back from the toilet, laughing,

“You oughtter see what it’s got writ in there: ‘Where is your Vortex ?’ (1) Too fucking right. I’ve been in some shite-holes in my time but this … Ah, no offence, Mate.”

Chris waved the insult away, suddenly remembering exactly why he had left England.

After they left, Jake was about to close the door, when he stopped and picked up a book that was on the floor. He held it out to Chris,

“This yours ? Lassa …’L’Assa moee …’ by . . . Emily Zola.”

“No, not mine. Sure as hell ain’t gonna belong to those thick-as-shit navies.”

Just then, Daniel came back in, looking for his book.

“Emile. It’s Emile, not Emily. And I wouldn’t insult builders, if I were you,” he said, looking at Chris, who was starting to lose the colour in his face, ”because those guys will pick you up with one hand and throw you against that back wall, there. Yeah, the book’s mine. We’re not all troglodytes, you know ? You can ‘ave it when I’m finished, all right ?”

“Yeah. Yeah, thanks.”

“You closing up then ?” Daniel asked.

Jake laughed, dispelling the tension and explained the opening hours. Daniel laughed.

“Well, maybe I’ll shoot by, later. Yeah, I know those guys are as thick as shit, but, they’re my mates, right ? And that ‘Vortex’ … Wyndham Lewis ?”

Chris nodded. He had written it one drunken night, inspired by a lecture from Melanie about how the cranes of the Baustelles (building sites) resembled Vorticist paintings. Jake had never noticed the graffiti.

But then Jake woke up a little,

“Hey, I wouldn’t insult builders if I were you.”

“Yeah, but the good thing is half the time they don’t even know they’re being insulted.” Daniel laughed at his own comment, realising the amount of truth in it. “Right then. See ya later.”

Later was still very early, just after ten o’clock and the bar was almost empty. Daniel sat on the first stool, by the door, and took another Czech beer. Chris looked at Jake and by mutual consent, agreed it was vodka time, though for Jake, it was always vodka time.


Chris poured one for Daniel, as a way of burying the hatchet. They talked about what they were doing in Berlin, where they came from and how much better life was here. Chris asked him where he lived,

“Wedding,” replied Daniel. This was an industrial Bezirk north of the centre, not renowned for its beauty. Not renowned for anything in fact.

“It must have been the only place in the West where people actually jumped The Wall into East Berlin,” he joked of his new neighbourhood.

Daniel was very impressed by both Chris and Jake living in squats and running the bar. But he began to be less impressed by the people that slowly started coming in, all neighbours and locals.

One such was Robert, a wild, crazy-looking German who sat next to him and proclaimed, without apparent cause or reason,

“Shit on a stick!”

The phrase was repeated endlessly throughout the night. Another large, almost obese customer nursed a solitary beer for hours and engaged in an animated conversation with himself. Squatters brought their dogs in and they snarled and barked, making their owners bark and snarl even louder than their pets in a vain attempt to make them stop. Jake barked louder than anyone, when he saw a dog about to defecate.

Then there was Peter. He was the father of the bar, a man in his mid fifties, with long yet stylish white hair and beard. He was very tall and looked as if he could have been a movie star in far distant days. He had travelled, was possibly an ex-sailor, and had been in Berlin longer than anyone could remember. He took a beer, then rested against a wall, observing proceedings. His only contribution was to raise his bottle to his lips and blow sharply, creating a shrill, resonating note, said note descending in pitch as he drank the beer.

Chris kept an eye on Daniel. He wasn’t looking quite so at home now.

Then the French arrived.

Johan had a group of friends who had either been in the army with him, or had come over to enjoy a cheaper, freer life.

They bounded in, Johan, Claude and several others, singing and shouting, Johan screaming out for vodka. Chris included Daniel in the communal drinking, despite his protests,

“I’ve got to fucking work, tomorrow. Fucking . . . OK, but last one.”

“Oh, you’ll be OK.” Chris winked at Jake.


By the time Richard arrived, desperately in need of alcohol, Daniel was swaying, smiling, singing, screaming. He was totally Czar-bared,

“Fuck you and your dry wall !”

“Eh, Jake, fucking hell, ‘ho is this man ?” asked Johan amused.

“Shit on a stick !” from Robert

“What’s wrong with continental breakfast ?” screamed out Peter, defying anyone to supply an answer.

Daniel, recalled back to life, laughed at Peter’s question and repeated it. Several times. It was at that point that Chris introduced him to Richard.

Picking up seamlessly on Chris’ lead, Richard insisted that the new friendship be cemented with a vodka. Daniel burst into song.

The whole bar, inspired by the French, took a vodka, Daniel almost drinking his shot before the communal toast and being restrained by Robert,

“Shit on your vodka!”

The madness continued. Daniel, in moments of lucidity, threatening to leave and get the last U-Bahn (long since gone) but he was now having longer periods of silence, head drooping, dropping, drooling, until he finally lay his head on the bar and slept.

Chris, who had been abstaining from the vodkas, had triumphed and he celebrated his victory by throwing crumpled cigarette boxes and old lemon peel at Daniel’s head, much to the amusement of Johan, bewilderment of Richard and apathy of everybody else.

After three-thirty, the bar began getting a little quieter, having been visited by a policemen who stood in the door and told them to keep the music down.

Another wonderful thing about Berlin. Here was a totally illegal bar in a squatted building and all the Police do is ask them to turn down the music. Having said that, a request from a German Policeman is pretty much an order, and was complied with. For a time..

Most of the French gone, the bar started to wind down. Richard was able to speak about his day, or rather his shift. He had worked with a new chef who was incredibly lazy, and some new bar staff who were incredibly boring. The novelty of being a Spüler had long worn off. But before Richard could complain further, Daniel woke up and staggered out of the door, no doubt determined to get the last U-Bahn.


Chris let out a celebratory cheer,

“Revenge !”

“Excuse me ?”

“Ah, never mind. Vodka ! Jake ? Vodka ?”

Jake stared uncomprehending. Wobbling around in the confined space behind the bar, he demanded of Chris,

“Do you have to ask ?”

The three drank and talked about the exit of Daniel.

“It’s amazing,” began Richard, “ people come in here, upright, homo erectus, sit at the bar, drink, drink again, and then, after the passage of time, they crawl out on all fours, to lie in a ball on the pavement, like single-cell pond life. It’s like watching evolution in reverse.”

His observation resulted in more vodka.

Richard left several hours later, making the mistake of going by S-Bahn. It involved a longer walk to the station, including a lengthy walk along the covered, elevated tunnel of Storkower Strasse, but was only a ten minute journey. The disadvantage was that if one slept, one was liable to find oneself in some distant suburb.

Richard woke up at Adlershof and took some time to adjust. He jumped off. Not only had he gone all the way to the northern terminus, he had come back on the same train and was now in south – east Berlin. The TV Tower, which should always be on his left, travelling home, was way off and to his right.

He knew that he didn’t have enough time to get home, get adequate sleep and return to work feeling anything close to well.

He worked yet another shift with a killer hangover.

However, it was more than Daniel Roth did. He didn’t make it into work. He had gotten on the first U-Bahn, but unfortunately the wrong one. He fell onto the train from Alexanderplatz, and was woken up by the guard at Hönow, in the east, the very distant east.

Chris, meanwhile, got his wages from Jake and merely had to fumble his way to the next door and up some stairs, where he fell into a deep and trouble free sleep.

(1) Vortex is the name of a household cleaning product in the UK

Love and Chaos Part 6(F) Monika 2

11th May 2021

Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, with the Wasserturm in the background. Photo by Martin O’Shea 2021

Part Six. Berlin. February 1995

Despite his naivety, when he woke up and saw that Chris’ bed was empty, Richard knew what had happened.

He felt uncomfortable, not to mention a little jealous. Once again, everyone else was hooking up, making connections, getting off. Everyone was making love, while he was merely making notes. Even New Year’s Eve, in clubs full of drunken girls, half on them on ‘E’, the kissing drug, he ended up crashing on Arizona Al’s floor. This wasn’t exactly the life he had envisioned for himself.

But there was little time for self pity as, shortly after he had washed and made his first coffee, there was a knock at the door, a knock that indicated it was Monika.

He let her in, and she was so apologetic, asking him to forgive her, and it wasn’t fair that he should have to suffer. She came for business, armed with fresh croissants and a pile of newspapers.

“We look through these until we find Chris a job, OK ? He is in the bath ?”

“No, he is, er . . . out. But he should be back soon. Would you like coffee ?”

They sat in the kitchen and that, reflecting back, was the mistake that lead to Armageddon.

Had they sat in the main room, Chris would have seen them and spoken accordingly. Instead, he saw an empty room, but heard movement in the kitchen.

“Ah, what a night. Unbelievable. So refreshing to have some good old, down and dirty sex. Hot AND heavy. And not have to beg for it, either.”

Richard physically felt his heart stop.

The time between Chris saying those fatal words and realising that Monika was there, hardly more than two or three seconds, seemed endless.

Chris stood in the doorway, attracted by the smell of fresh coffee and croissants but the sight of Monika was so unexpected that he stood there, frozen, petrified.

Richard swept past him, grabbed a book, some money and his coat, and was out of the house and down the stairs before Chris could fully comprehend the extent of the situation.

That the relationship was over was a given. Just how much suffering she was going to inflict was the only variable.

Richard went to The Anker, but the cute waitress wasn’t working, so after a quick coffee, he moved on, further along Stargarder Strasse, past the Imbiss with the deep fried cauliflower, to another bar with a cute waitress who was working, but didn’t appear to recognize him at all. But, by now, Richard saw this as standard procedure.

He read some, looked around, checked his watch and came to the conclusion that he would have to stay out of the house all day. He could hardly phone and ask if it were safe to come home. Then what would Monika think of him ? How awkward would it be when they met again which, Berlin being more like a large town than a big city, they were bound to do.

He walked around for a bit, then decided to see a movie but even the earliest was hours away.

He tried calling on Arizona Al, but no answer and Berlin in February is not usually ideal for strolling aimlessly around. In the end he decided to get an U-Bahn to Alex, then take a long S-Bahn journey. It would keep him warm and kill time.

And that is how he spent his Sunday. It was a stroll in the park compared to Chris’ and Monika’s.

Monika’s first reaction was sheer shock. She sat, not believing what she had heard, softly repeating it. When she stood up, it was with defiance and she stood in front of Chris, just looking at him. Then, spontaneously, she hit him, with all her force, a punch to his chest. It appeared to surprise both of them. Then she hit him again, and was about to punch him a third time, when he caught her hand. She made a scream and he let go and they backed away, Monika cursing in German. She picked up her things and left.

Chris let out a sigh of relief. It could have gone much worse.

Then Monika returned, banging on the door and he had to let her in.

The fight was now really about to start.

She fired questions at him, shouting, spitting in his face with anger and frustration. She brought up all she had done for him, all he hadn’t done for her and kept asking, over and over, to describe in detail his night, what ‘down and dirty sex’ was, how to do it, and wanted to know about each and every time they had made love, how it had been, what was it she had been doing wrong.

She was relentless and Chris, with an almighty hangover was in no condition to argue. He also couldn’t help smiling, partly from still being drunk, partly from fear which, naturally, didn’t help the situation.

He tried to calm her by suggesting some tea, but she picked up a cup and threw it, and it caught Chris on the cheek.

That act subdued her and brought the initial hysteria to a close.

Chris made drinks in silence, not feeling like smiling so much, now. Monika paced up and down.

She then demanded to know all about the girl and Chris found himself making up a story, how he had seen her a few times and she was a nurse, who lived with her parents, rather than the truth, that he had only met her the night before, as he had simulated oral sex with Arizona Al on stage at a club called The Monkey’s Arse.

After came the subject of their sex life, and what did he mean by having to ‘beg’ for it ?

Then a list of all the sacrifices she had made, up to and including that very morning, as she was prepared to give up her free day to help him find a new job.

Just when Chris though she had calmed down, the anger and hatred returned and he instinctively covered his face, making her laugh.

“What a man, what a fucking little man you are. How could I waste such time on a fucking Smurf like you. Arschloch !”

Monika began looking around the room, collecting things of hers, cursing all the time and throwing things around.

“Ja, you just sit there like a fucking mouse.”

She went into the bathroom and Chris was glad of the momentary peace, even thinking about leaving the flat, and cursing the fact that he was too high up to jump out of this kitchen window, an action that had precipitated the whole scene.

It would be nearly an hour before she left, more tears and accusations, shouting and punching. Chris wondered where the hell Richard was.

“Well, you Arschloch, I’m going, why don’t you go to your filthy squat bar and pick up another fucking, dirty whore-cunt ?”

Several hours later, in a filthy Czar Bar, Chris looked around, but there were no women, dirty or otherwise.

“Hey, Man, thanks for coming with me,” he said to Richard as they sat on the end stools, further from the door, in front of the annex with the store room and toilet.

“No problem. Could use a drink.”

“Mustn’t overdo it, though. One, still got a hangover from last night. Two, shell shock from the Monika. It’s like having the bends. Three, work tomorrow.”

“Work ?”

“Yeah. Gotta find me a job and that is gonna be work.”

Seeing Chris’ sense of humour return, Richard ventured a joke of his own,

“Still, on the plus side, you won’t have to buy her a Valentine’s card.”

Chris was unfortunately drinking at the time and, laughing, beer began pouring out of his nose. Jake the barman was suitably impressed and, over a round of vodkas, got to hear the story.

“Ever noticed the initials of Valentine’s Day are V.D. ? Either of you expecting any ?”

“Cards or the clap ?” asked Richard.

“No, just death threats,” answered Chris.

“Stick around here. Sunday’s normally quiet but if it gets busy, I could use a hand. Hey, we’ll see how it works out, OK ?”

Chris agreed, but shared Richard’s scepticism, as it was after Midnight and there were only two other people in there apart from them, neither of whom looked as if they were going to be running Jake off his feet.

Then the door opened, and a man known to them only by sight came in, drenched from the rain that been falling with increasing ferocity all evening.

He stood there, hair soaked, dripping, rain falling off his jacket, jeans, gloves, nose.

“Hey, Mr Jake,” he called out in a heavy French accent, “Vodka. Hey, you two, too. Hey, Salut, come on, have a vodka with me. Women, fucking hell, Man. Have I got a story to tell . . . “

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. 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, clutching beer bottles.

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-assed 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, not that I’ve read him, but 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 and tunnels at several 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 U5, descending several levels and twisting past corridors that all showed signs of continual or imminent or imperative renovation. From there, just four short stops before 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 five minutes past eight. Richard noted that 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 its 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, walking 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 U5 back to Alex, and got out, 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 its 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 postcards and drinking a large beer. There was something so 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.