Love and Chaos Part 6(B) Monika 1

7th May 2021

Bullet holes still visible on buildings in east Berlin. Photo by Martin O’Shea

Part Six. Berlin. January 1995

Gabi was on the merry-go-round. She fell onto the red, leather sofa, holding her head and knowing that all would be well, if only she could get the room to stop spinning.

Monika sat next to Gabi and instinctively began stroking her hair, while Lorelei went to the bar to get water, and another round of Voudinis for those still standing.

Silke waited impatiently. When Lorelei returned, she grabbed the vodka and bitter lemon drink and handed one to Monika,

“Come, Prost!” She emptied her glass in one go.

The four girls were getting a lot of attention from a group of men in the Nollendorfplatz bar, but before they could make their move, Silke fixed them with an angry start and a stern,

“Ja ? Was ?” (Yes ? What ?) which, quite understandably, deterred them.

Silke continued her post mortem of her relationship with Andreas. He didn’t know yet, but she was about to end it. She had made a lot of allowances and had carried him, financially, for just too long.

“Can you believe it ? I told him not to worry about Weihnachten (Christmas), we’ll have a little celebration when I get back. And what ? He fucks off to Turkey. With what money ? He’d been saving up. All the time I was paying for him, drinks and food and cinema. Scheiße ! Arschloch !”(shit, asshole).

Gabi was talked out about Sebastian, punctuating her tale of misery with shots of Voudini, and, as there had been a lot of misery, there had been a lot of shots.

Lorelei had joined in lamenting about not having a man, there seemingly being none around, while Monika had felt disturbingly empathetic as she listened to Silke’s catalogue of complaints.

Monika was known to have continual on-off affairs, so it was no surprise to her friends that she had broken up, than got back together, with Chris.

Tonight, inspired by vodka and the general mood, she let rip about Chris. There was no progress there. There had been such magic at the beginning, but, half a year later, there were in the same place. It felt like a holiday romance, that Chris could leave at any time and feel no remorse. It was this obsession that was keeping her from really committing, as well as her conviction that he was interested in other women and it would only be a matter of time before he cheated on her.

At another time, Gabi would have explained that maybe he sensed her not being fully open, and would encourage her to give more of herself, but now she was just making soft noises of distress.

Silke appreciated the solidarity, women who deserve better than the no-hopers they has wasted time on.

Lorelei mainly remained quiet. She was also glad that this bar had red lighting, because when she heard that Andreas may soon be available, she felt herself blush.

Back in Prenzlauer Berg, Richard had just come home and found Chris standing by the CD player. A tape of flat, plodding keyboard music, with some unmelodious attempt at singing, was playing.

They looked at each other.

Richard raised his eyebrows.

Chris let out a desperate sigh.

They both shrugged their shoulders.

“I just thought it’ld be more like Beefheart, or Ry Cooder, or some wild desert music. Not that I’ve heard Beefheart or Ry Cooder, or wild desert music, but . . .”

“I know,” agreed Chris. “So. What do we do ?”

“We could say the tape got mangled.”

“Yeah. I’d quite happily mangle it. No, need something better. We have to see the fucker. Live. In concert. This . . . cack !”

“Oh, shit, I’d forgotten. Man, this is awful.”

“Tell me about it, I’ve been listening to it for half an hour. Waiting for ‘the good song’. It never came.”

“No,” Richard clarified, “I mean the situation. How do you tell someone that you hate their stuff. It’s his whole life, whole identity.”

“How can a guy look so fucking cool, and make . . . this ?”

“Did Monika hear it ?”

“Not for long. She turned it straight off. ‘That music is depressing and unnecessary.’ Absolutely right.”

“So . . . what do we do ?”

“Drink, obviously,” suggested Chris. There were four beers in the fridge but even they couldn’t help. They talked over the music, and before long, had quite forgotten it was even there.

“A brothel,” said Richard, out of the blue.

“OK. What ?”

“Remember that shop next to Rigaer 16 ? All that junk in the window, none of it making sense ?”

“I’ve been here nearly two years, but less and less about this city makes sense.”

“There’s a joke, a New York joke. You know what a Mohel is ? He’s the guy that performs the circumcision. OK, there’s this man, walking along Fifth Avenue, and he’s looking for a jewellers, to get his watch repaired. Suddenly he sees a shop window with a large elegant clock, so he goes in, up to the counter and takes off his watch. ‘Can you fix this ?’ he asks. The shop owner says, ‘No, I’m a mohel, not a watchmaker.’ The first man then asks, ‘If you’re a mohel, why do you have a clock in the window ?’ to which the mohel replies, ‘Nu, what should I have in the window ?’ So, it must be a brothel, because . . . ”

“Yeah, what should they have in a window, yeah. Maybe it’s a mohel’s ?”

“In Berlin ? I somehow doubt it.”

Chris stifled a laugh and mulled over some thoughts.

“So, or nu, this circumcision lark . . . you, er . . . “

“A-humm.”

“Hhhmm. Still hurt ?”

“A little, but I can always tell when it’s going to rain.”

Several hours later, Alan Francis was on the London Tube, heading for a job interview.

Just before Christmas, he had had his first preliminary assessment.

He felt that he had done a good job and was expecting a pay rise, or promotion, or at least an offer for him to go on an executive trainee course, which he would have to refuse, as he would soon be making films.

Instead, he got a character assassination. Everything from his attitude to his appearance was brought up and found wanting.

He took it all with barely a word in his defence, secretly planning a new job. As soon as possible.

Love and Chaos Part 6(A) Chris 1

6th May 2021

Photo by Martin O’Shea 2021

Part Six

Berlin. January 1995

Richard knocked the worst of the snow from his boots and entered the bar immediately seeing, and hearing, Chris and Arizona Al at a far table.

He ordered a coffee as he walked over to them, and began the process of taking off the layers of clothing.

It was only mid afternoon, but all lights were on. The day, seen through the large glass panes, was gray and bitter, people walked along quickly, heads down and wrapped up against the cold.

“Look what I got,” he said, opening his bag and taking out three second hand paperbacks. He put them on the table, Chris taking them straight up,

“Let’s see . . . ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’, hhmmm, ‘The Trial’, Kafka, and, ah, Dickens, ‘Tale of Two Cities’. Which one you gonna read first ?”

“Think I’ll have a bash at Kafka. You’re always talking about him. You read this one ?”

“Long time ago. Al ?”

“Err, what’s that ? Kafka ? No, who’s he ?”

Richard explained about the Czech writer, as best he could, only knowing what he had read in the introduction on the U-Bahn ride.

“Oh, yeah, cool, could give that a go, yeah, something different. Been meaning to ask you guys about books. Like to maybe borrow some, if that’s no biggie ?”

“Here,” said Richard, offering the Memoirs. “Thought it was something German, name like Siegfried Sassoon, but turns out he’s as English as can be.”

“Yeah, the fox hunting bit may have been a clue, what ?” said Chris with a wink at Al, before asking him, “You read Generation X ?”

“Err, no, no, don’t think so.”

Richard had brought it from London, and they had read and reread it many times between them. Chris was all for going home and getting it immediately, but Al told him that later would be OK.


“It legitimizes our whole existence,” continued Richard, “for example, I’m no longer a hopeless loser, I’m a McJober. We,” indicating Chris and himself, “are occupational slummers. You, Al, are retro, neo, rock star, throwback . . . something.”

“Actually,” corrected Chris, “I’m taking an occupational sabbatical.”

“Yeah, how’s the job hunt going ?” asked Arizona, trying to get the conversation back to something he could understand.

Richard laughed to himself, having heard all of Chris’ descriptions of sordid, Dickensian working conditions.

“I’ve got an interview, meeting thing tomorrow at some pasta restaurant in Yorckstrasse, so at least I’ll get some decent grub. But, fucking hell, some of the places. I went to one, out past Dahlem, and there was no sink in the kitchen. They were showing me how to take the plates and shit out to a big barrel in the yard, and wash them with a hose. Then I went to a brewery bar on the Ku’ Damm. Took one fucking look and thought fuck that. Enormous kitchen and about ten chefs, all screaming at each other and at the Spülers, who just stood there, heads down, as frying pans were flying around, fat was flying, food was flying, bottles . . . lucky not to be decapitated. Lucky not to be employed there.”

Richard enjoyed the embellishments Chris had made since he first heard that anecdote, when it had featured a mere four chefs. He then spoke up, as much to clear his name as anything.

“Of course, I offered to let him go back to Biberkopf . . . “

“Yes, but then what ? I have a much better chance of finding something than you. Besides . . . Monika’s not happy with me being just a . . . “

Arizona waited for the completion of the sentence, but was forced to ask,

“You and Monika not so tight ? I thought you were solid.”

Chris let out a whistle,

“No, sir, not by a long chalk. Trouble at mill.”

He knew that Arizona would have no idea what he was talking about, so he clarified.

“I don’t know, Al. You should know, you’re been around women. What should I do ? First, every thing’s fine, great, she’s the love of my life, next thing, she’s a bloody Tasmanian Devil, a force of destruction. Hurricane Monika. Not a house left standing.”

“Hey, man, can I ask you something ?” then without waiting for permission, Arizona continued, “what was the deal with that Melanie chick ?”

Richard sat up, hoping that at last, he may know the full story.

Chris did in fact look at him as he began, but now didn’t care and was happy to get it all out in the open.

“I don’t know. As you can see, when it comes to women, I’m at a bit of a loss.”

“She was into you like gangbusters, Dude. When you kissed Monika, her face was just pure evil. Queen of death.”

“Yeah ! That’s her. ‘Queen of Death’”

“All that black doesn’t help,” added Richard.

“She some kind of Antichrist or something ?” asked Arizona.

“Atheist,” said Richard, presuming Al has used the wrong word. “We had a discussion about her beliefs one morning. She told me there was no God. But atheists are like joggers; you never see a happy one.”

“And you couldn’t argue with her. She’s always right.” said Chris.

“Especially when she’s wrong,” concluded Richard. Arizona was more interesting in the background than the word games.

“But did you ever like, date or fool around ?”

“Yeah, you ever take her out to second base ?” asked Richard.

“Get to second base, asshole. If you’re gonna go Yankee on my arse, at least get it right !”

Arizona tried to get the answer. Chris refocused.

“No, no, well, yeah, OK, kinda kissed and shit, but I wasn’t really into it. Breaks down like this; I was working in a café, bussing tables ‘n’ shit. OK, I was pouring coffee and working the till, whatever, and Melanie also worked there.”

“And Will was a regular customer ?” interrupted Richard.

“I’ll get to that bloody old nuisance in a moment.” Chris shook his head and took a strong hit of caffeine. “So, we’re both students, Mel and me, but never meet on campus, because I’m doing heavy macho stuff and she’s into waste of time, book reading or flower arranging, I dunno, chick subjects. But, you know, there ain’t much a-happ’ning on the home front, and we get on, and one night we go to the movies. Then, afterwards, as we’re saying ‘goodbye’ she comes up to me and gives me a massive hug, really hung in there, got her moneys worth. That should have been a sign.”

“Oh, I get it. A clingy-thingy.” Said Arizona.

“I hear you, Man.”

“But you were never together ?” clarified Richard.

“No, course not. So we kissed a bit, well, you know, vodka will do that to ya. But then I pulled down the portcullis. Told her I wasn’t into anything physical. Childhood trauma and all. I expected her to run like the clappers, but, oh no, she has to add her own Freudian fuckups. Unable to . . . you know.”

Arizona nodded, slowly, sagely. He knew.

“But she was coming on like you were soul mates an’ all,” Richard explained, “such talk, like you have the best hands in history. Let me see. Hold up those Germans.”

Chris wasn’t exactly sure of that Cockney slang, but held out his hands for inspection.

Richard made a dismissive snort,

“They’re nothing to write home about. Now, Will; what’s his problem.”

“Where do I start ? He’s just some old fart who’d come in, buy one coffee and stay all day. Couldn’t shift the fucker. The sort that works out how much he’s saving on electricity. Sniffing around young students.”

“Male or female ?”

“I don’t think he was even bothered. In fact . . . Yes, sonofabitch, he came on to me. Few times. Cheeky bugger. Thought he was just being . . . ”

“HEY !” exclaimed Arizona, who had been looking at some flyers on the table, “whatdoyaknow ? ‘The Wiggling Kellys’.”

There were a few seconds of silence, as Chris’s story had been prematurely curtailed, and they would have to adjust to the verbal jet-lag, as a new, wholly unrelated tale was going to unfold.

“Ha, those girls. They were my backing band.”

Neither Chris nor Richard were willing to delay the story, so they indicated with their eyes that he should continue, without pause, with Richard holding up his coffee cup, and three fingers, to the waitress, whom he naturally found cute. He had already checked her left hand and noticed the absence of a ring.

“Yeah, they were backing me at the ‘So Was ?’ (So what ?) club in Kreuzberg. Ya been there ? It’s got this long kinda walkway catwalk stage, so it’s great for rocking out on. I’d met these two girls some time before and they’re real hot, groupie types, and they’re asking about venues and how to go about getting a band together, and I’m all, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, just trying to decide which one I wanna connect with, ya dig ? So I told them about this gig and they were asking do I need backing singers, and I’m thinking, well, no, but, hang on here, what better way to turn ’em on, play the rock star card, so I say, well, I don’t know, maybe, let’s see what ya got.”

Laughter and claps of approval.

“Yeah, I’m one one cool motherfucker when it calls for it, I know, so they do a number, in the bar, and, what can I say ? OK, can hold a tune, just, but they start dancing to it.”

“Wiggling ?” asked Richard, with excitement.

“Oh, yeah, they had the moves, you know what I’m saying ? So I thought, hang back, if they sing, they’ll fuck up the songs, but if they dance …”

“Fucking genius ! I’ve got a lot to learn from you,” Chris gushed.

“Sure ’nuff, Grasshopper. So comes the gig, I’m playing, and doing my stuff, I just had guitar and drum machine, and I start to walk up the stage. The girls see this, and next time, they walk with me, one each side, dancing away. So it goes. Every time I move up the stage, they come with me, and the audience are going crazy. I thought it’ld be a tough crowd, lot of biker leather in there. So I play another, and another, each time, loud screams. Then I go over to change a rhythm track and strum a few chords, but the audience are still going wild, even more so, then I look up and see the girls still dancing. Then the fucking PA motherfucka cuts my amp line and starts playing Techno shit, and the girls keep dancing, the audience going even crazier.”

“So . . . what did you do ?” Richard was forced to inquire.

“Just packed up my equipment, took a beer and watched the show. Gave them the name, too. From ‘90210’. You guys get that in England ?”

They both denied knowledge of it. Arizona continued,

“Yeah, I had a lot of afternoons at home in the early Nineties. So there’s this character called Kelly, and in the opening credits, she wiggles off. Man, you gotta see it. OK, gotta split. Oh, shit, Man, nearly forgot. Got a few gigs coming up.”

“Cool !” from Richard

“Rock on !” from Chris.

“Yeah, you’ll be there, right ? ‘Cause ain’t nothing worse than playing to an empty hall.”

“Of course. Even take the night off, if I have to. Chris ?”

“Absolutely. I’m so there. One question . . . “

“No, The Wiggling Kellys will not be there. Got their own gigs. Playing the, hey, check it out, they’ve got another gig at the ‘So Was ?’. Hah. Never asked me back. OK, out of here. Tschüs.”

After he left, Richard turned to Chris,

“I’m glad we know him. Oh, shit, he’s coming back.”

Arizona returned, holding out a cassette.

“You guys still play tapes, right ? Here’s a copy of some of my old stuff. Yeah, you may be into it. Give it a listen.”

He left again. Chris put the tape in his bag and Richard checked his watch.

“OK, gotta split soon, myself. You back at the flat tonight ?”

“Yeah, gotta stay sober for the interview, meeting thing.”

“Why you sweating it ? You’re a sure thing because, one, they really need a Spüler, and, two, they really need a Spüler. Another coffee ? Then I’ll have to go.”

Left alone, Chris read a bit of Dickens, starting in on the introduction, but couldn’t really concentrate. It was only an unskilled job, paying a basic wage, but money went a long way. A full week’s work would cover his rent and travel for the month, and there would be free food, as well.

But the job meant so much more. He still hadn’t told Monika about the studio closing and was terrified of her running into Al and him telling her. He had to get something, or he would certainly get something from his girlfriend who would instantly become his ex-girlfriend.

Love and Chaos Part 5(C) Richard 1

29th March 2021

Unter Den Linden, Berlin 2020 . Photo by Martin O’ Shea

Part Five. Berlin. Autumn 1994

Just after half past ten, Fabulous Florian walked into the kitchen and handed the cordless bar phone to Richard.

“It’s Chris,” he said before twirling around and heading back to the bar.

“Hello, Chris ?”

“Yeah, hi. Do you know the Ecke Bar ? Meet me there after work. I’ll be waiting.”

Richard memorized the address and Chris reminded him that the U-bahn run all night, as it was a Friday.”

Just after one o’clock, Richard got out a stop earlier than usual, Eberswalder Str, and walked up Pappelallee, with it’s tramlines and sporadic neon bar lights, until he came to Raumerstr, finding the Ecke Bar, which was on an Ecke (corner).

The bar was full and noisy, but Chris was maintaining an oasis of silence in a small table near the back, near the bar. He was noticeably drunk, but without his usual cheer. His head was hung forward, his whole body seemed heavy, a burden to have to carry around.

He looked up as Richard arrived, made an attempt at a wave, and beckoned him down, spitting out an order for two beers to the barman.

“What the fuck’s wrong ?”

“It’s Monika. She’s dumped me.”

“No !”

“Oh, don’t you start.”

“No, I mean … how ? When … ?”

“This afternoon. I came back from work, all happy, you know, just done a week’s work, in a studio, helping make a movie, feeling pretty cool, and the phone rings. Can I meet her ? So I go over to Kreutzberg, and we meet in some bar, bit upmarket, and then she hits me with it. WHAM ! Right in the kister. Out of the blue, no build up, just, it’s over. Fuck off.”

The drinks came and the barman asked,

“Alles klar ?” but Richard didn’t know if he meant was Chris OK, or did he have the money to pay.

“So … no reason ? Did she say anything else ?”

“Yeah, no stopping her, a whole list of lover’s complaints. That I’ve no ambition, we’re not going anywhere, I’m not committed, I can’t let go of the past; I fucking emigrated, for fuck’s sake. I must still love Ute, which I don’t, thing is, don’t think I ever really loved her in the first place, she was just company, you know ? Good lay and friendly, but I can’t say that because it’ll be, ‘Oh, a better fuck than me ?’ I know I can’t win, then all other stuff, don’t do what I say, haven’t got some piece of paper, yet, some tax slip, because every time I fucking go there, it’s fucking closed. When it is open, you have to have every single piece of fucking paper you’ve ever been given in your life, or else, ‘Nein! Raus ! (get out)’. Then back to looking at Silke’s legs. Why fucking not ? Got great, fucking legs, I’d fuck her fucking legs. But she didn’t pick up on Gabi.”

“Gabi ? Don’t say you and Gabi … ?”

“No, fucking hell. Wouldn’t mind. Have you seen Gabi ?”

“Of course, she’s beaut … “

“Have you seen Gabi ? I’d fuck her … every way possible and make up a few new moves. Thought I’d catch hell over Gabi.”

“Why ?”

“All happened two or three months back. Went to a party at the Pfefferberg, all got totally blasted, Moni & Gabi can’t drive, so decided that could both stay over at my place. Anyway, many hours later, I wake up, all groggy and half-pissed still, and, upside down from my sleeping bag on the floor, I see Monika getting dressed, bending over and pulling on her long boots. So I smiled. Probably a gooey-eyed, ‘come back to bed’ smile. But she kinda stopped and turned away and pulled the other boot on real quick, and left the flat. Then it hit me. Monika wasn’t wearing boots. I’d been staring at Gabi. She must have thought I’d been watching her all the time. Which leads to another point; what exactly did I miss ? Well, that’s gonna cut me up, now. Gorgeous Gabi, naked … behind my head, and I sleep through it. Monika ? She was sleeping, snoring away. ”

The next hour was spent going over the details of the break up, getting vaguer and vaguer with each sip of beer. Then the whiskys arrived, the jolly, old whiskys. Chris was planning, and succeeding, in drinking himself into oblivion, so Richard was quite relieved when two guys took the seats next to them, asking, in English, if they were free.

Richard began speaking to the newcomers, introducing himself and quite proudly stating that he wasn’t visiting, but now lived in Berlin. He was rather embarrassed about his job, but they told him that it was the money that mattered, not the work. One was short with long hair, and was called Ignaz, the other, tall and thin was Burkhardt.

By now, Chris had slumped down and was sleeping on the table. Richard thought it was time to get him home. After another drink.

Ignaz was a metalworker but Burkhardt’s job interested Richard; he owned a small record store. He immediately asked for a job.

“I’m sorry, it’s only enough for me. You should come by, sometime. Buy some records.”

Shortly afterwards, Richard said goodbye, and moved over to wake up Chris. He shook him gently, then harder, then harder still. The only reaction was a faint murmur followed by some unintelligible words. Chris then stretched out, resting his head on the table, his arms hanging by his side. Richard began to think that he may have a problem.

There were more pushes and shoves, an attempt at a fireman’s lift, something resembling the Heinlich manoeuvre, a temptation to adopt a police choke-hold, and finally, an open-armed gesture of defeat.

The two Germans laughed, Ignaz saying goodbye and wishing Richard luck. Richard told Burkhardt about the reason for Chris’ incapacity. Burkhardt offered help.

Between them, by inserting their arms under Chris’s shoulders, they lifting Chris and carried him out of the bar, without drawing excessive attention to themselves. Outside, they had to face the main problem: how to get him home.

A taxi drove past, but seeing the inert figure supported by two less than sober characters, continued driving.

“We could go to the main road, but … “

Richard agreed. Even there, it could be a long wait for another taxi, and there was no way he could Chris on and then off a StrasseBahn.

“My apartment is just over the road, over there,” said Burkhardt, pointing at a block visible behind the trees of a small park. “You can stay at my place. Crash ? “

“Yeah, crash, good word. You sure it’s no trouble ?”

“No, it’s fine. It’s not luxury, but it’s OK for one night.”

Richard thanked him and they tried to move across the cobbled road, but moved back onto the pavement when they realized that they would end up breaking their backs and dropping Chris, not that that would wake him up.

“Here, we must make a … I don’t know the word in English … we … put our arms around each other and then we put our arm under him and lift him …”

“In a cradle. Good idea.”

They linked arms, forming a space for Chris to fall into and, resembling a Goya painting, they carried the drunken, wounded lover into the park and up to the third floor of the house, where Chris was dumped onto a couch and covered with a thin blanket. Burkhardt made coffee to go with the half bottle of brandy he had, as they decided that the exercise had sobered them up and a nightcap was thoroughly deserved.

Since moving to Berlin, Richard had been living through “the best of times.” Summer, however, was over, and for Richard, “the worst of times,” was just around the Ecke.

The Drunken Mason (1786) by Francisco Goya

Love and Chaos Part 5(B) Chris 1

23rd March 2021

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

Part Five

Berlin. Autumn 1994

“I just don’t know what to do. One minute everything’s fine the next, Armageddon, four horsemen charging through the flat.”

“Still doesn’t like that it’s Ute’s flat ?”

“Her friend’s flat ! C’mon, I’ve been with her six months, doesn’t she get it, yet ?”

Chris had taken Richard out drinking, ostensibly to celebrate, but another argument with Monika had dampened the atmosphere.

They had walked, without purpose, along Stargarder Strasse, taking a random right turn into one of the side streets that leads into Danziger Str (which they had christened the most boring street in the world, after they had once taken an interminable Strassebahn journey along it’s interminable characterless length).

They saw another new bar that had emerged overnight and which may go on to be a legend, or closed and forgotten by winter. Being still mild, they decided to sit on the wooden benches outside, against the large, single pane of glass, facing the street. Knowing how suddenly the Berlin summer turns into Autumn, this could well be their last chance for open air drinking.

There were only a few other drinkers at a table on the other side of the door, and some individuals inside. The waitress had curly blonde hair and was friendly, so it would do.

The celebration was due to the fact that Chris had managed to orchestrate the job switch. Last night, a Friday, had been his last shift. He would work at the studio full time, or at least twenty-five hours a week, starting Monday, the same day that Richard would begin washing-up, Monday to Friday, seven till midnight.

It wasn’t until Richard began working that he could really consider himself living in Berlin and the timing couldn’t have been better; he was just about out of money. Chris would have to pay for tonight’s session.

Once again, a projected evening out with The Gang had splintered into sub-sects along partisan lines. While the girls discussed if Monika should leave Chris, he was desperately trying to explain the latest argument, but was unable to give a reason himself.

“I just don’t know how it starts. We’re talking, suddenly, one wrong word, or look, and all hell breaks loose. I can’t even repeat the conversations, they are so banal. I know there is a language barrier, but, hey, c’mon, it’s not that. It’s not even the flat. No matter what I do, it’s wrong, no matter what I say … “

“Wrong ?”

“Right. I mean, you’re right, I’m wrong. Obviously. I’m always wrong. Have you heard her ? Every time I say something, ‘No !’ whatever, doesn’t matter, ‘No !’ Sky is blue, “No !’ ‘Course, we know it’s not blue, it’s just the only colour that filters through, ‘No !’ Darling, I love you,’ No !’, Monika, ‘No !’ Bloody tin-pot dictator.”

At this, Richard couldn’t hold-in his laughter any longer, and almost choked on his beer, which, naturally, set Chris off on a laughing fit of his own. Richard had noticed that the angrier Chris got, the funnier he became, and it was hard to lend a sympathetic ear while listening to Chris’ inventory of abuse, his serious countenance only making it funnier.

The waitress walked past, so they ordered more beers, an action repeated four or five times.

The young curly-haired blonde girl was returning with more beers for them, on a large tray with several other drinks, as the bar was getting busier. Meanwhile, three other men were now sitting opposite Chris and Richard.

She walked to the side of the bench and balanced the tray on her right hand, leaving her left free to hand out the bottles and glasses.

And then it happened.

Richard jumped up as a Glass of Coke and something went over his jeans. This initial spill was enough to upset the whole equilibrium and in a microsecond, the entire tray had fallen, and although most of it fell on the table or floor, Richard got his right leg and waist soaked in an unsavoury cocktail of alcohol and sticky fizzy drinks.

The men opposite jumped back, avoiding the streams of liquid, and Chris had been covered by Richard, who was now doing his best to comfort the waitress, holding her hand and telling her it was all right. She began to dry him with a small bar towel, while Chris and another man were constructing intricate sluices for the alcohol to flow away, using beer mats, approaching the subject as if it were a major hydraulics project.

Still the waitress apologised, not that Richard could understand much of it, and he held out his hands to calm her, then asked the way to the Toilette, where he did his best to dry up, using paper towels. There was no hot-air dryer.

When he came out, he found Chris relocated at the bar, with two fresh beers. The waitress was seen outside, still mopping. The barman, who was probably the owner, also apologised, Richard again waving it away, as he did when the waitress returned and started her routine all over.

“I’m kinda liking the attention,” he said to Chris, with a wink, because the waitress was getting cuter by the minute.

He was also glad that The Gang hadn’t gone out, as he didn’t really want to see Lorelei, except, of course, that he really, really did.

The highlight of the evening was yet to come. When they asked for the Rechnung (the check), they were only charged for the last two beers. The waitress was still apologising as they left.

Outside, Chris said,

“Good thing, too. I only had enough for two or three beers.”

“So … I don’t have much money, either … what were you going to do ?”

Chris shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and walked on.

“Damn, I should have asked her out,” exclaimed Richard.

“She wouldn’t have said ’No !’ Unlike another German girl we know.”

“Quite right. She would have been morally obliged to say ‘Yes’”

The exchanged a knowing glance, and nodded to each other.


“Anyway,’ said Chris, “too late now.”

“I could always go back and … “

“No, you had the chance …”


“And blew it. Damn, she was cute.”

“They’ll be others.”

“Doubtless.”

“Maybe a new waitress at Biberkopf. There’s always Ully.”

“With the thing ?”

“Wouldn’t notice with the lights out.”

“You probably would.”

“You’re probably right. You know what ya shoulda done ?”

“What ?”

“Asked out that waitress.”

“Damn, she was cute … “

Love and Chaos Part 2(G) Nuno 1

1st December 2020

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“How did you lift me ?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had begun innocently enough, as Nuno took the nearest bar stool to the kitchen, tucked away down a small corridor, but clearly audible in the quiet bar. Chris had to work, and Nuno indicated that it was no problem for him to stay in a bar drinking for five hours. It just became a problem for everybody else.

Typically, the night was busy, some regular crowds turning up and ordering food at the same time, throwing the east German chef into a near paroxysm of frustration and anger and disbelief. When Chris managed to slip away for a cigarette break, he found Nuno altered, non-communicative, distant. Around nine Ute arrived, met Nuno and made him feel very welcome, asking about his impressions of Berlin. More drinks.

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

“Hey, where’s my fucking beer ?”


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

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

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

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

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

Knowing that Nuno was expected, Marina, along with Ross, inevitably, suggested, after a brief private conversation with Walter, they all go to another bar.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, you collect car-tags ?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“No, I’m not touching that !”

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

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

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

Over coffee, Nuno was upset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuno then asked the key question;

“Does your dorm have a shower ?”

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

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

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

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

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

He never heard from Nuno again.