Richard smiled at a group of children who were setting off firecrackers on the street. He was walking back from the phone box, ineffectively-gloved hands as deep as possible in jacket pocket, shoulders hunched together, wooly hat covering as much face as possible, said face facing down, avoiding the skin-scraping sandpaper hail.
Lot’s wife would have had no problem; turning back against the blizzard would be impossible. Lot’s wife survives, Lot’s daughters wouldn’t have got Lot Czar-bared, and maybe the world would have been a better place. Yes, Richard had found a King James version of the Bible, and had decided that Genesis was populated by some seriously demented people. Chris would love it.
Apropos of Chris, Richard made a detour along Wichertstrasse to get some food in. The street, parallel to Rodenberg, was more commercial, having several stores. A small German-language school, admonishing Richard every time he walked past, a small Spar market, a Waschcentre and shops to be filed under ‘miscellaneous’. Into Spar, grabbing a wire basket and loading up with the new staple food; a frozen fish pie that was reasonable and actually delicious. The Spar home-brand pizza was a sorry item, but 99 Pfennings, you couldn’t go (far) wrong. 99 Pfennings German Camembert (Camembert-style), brown bread, some tomatoes for colour, certainly not for taste, giant sausage, beer, Sekt and Ritter’s chocolate bars. The packing was great, the variety of flavours were great, they tasted fucking great. In the spirit of Christmas, you could forgive the Germans so much, for producing such heavenly chocolate, and the beer wasn’t bad either. The women … some of the women … were breathtaking.
Gabi. Why didn’t he make a play for Gabi ? She was so far out of his league, there would have been nothing to lose. This time last year, he was together with her, alone, in a locked bathroom. But that was last year. This year is ending with more Teutonic screaming from an unknown male on Johanna’s number. So that is that. Johanna can go to hell with the rest of 1995. Two dates, a building up of critical mass and then … and then.
Chris was flying back today. He should have some Physics books. Maybe something on String Theory. At least Stephen Hawking’s ‘Brief History of Time,’ that was thin enough. Pimms, maybe, Stilton, unlikely, gossip unquestionably. Chocolate, well, that’s covered.
Several hours later, the flat remarkably toasty from continual offerings to the Öfen, a thumping on the door. Laden with cases, nose and ears red from imminent frostbite, smiling ear to frozen ear stood Chris;
“Recalled to life, recalled to active duty, the beer goes on, the beat goes on, Berlin goes on !”
“I know,” Richard replied then, to change the subject, pointed to his new CD player. “What do you think ?”
“Very nice. All you need now are some CD’s.”
“One thing at a time.”
“Yeah,” Chris added, “don’t want to rush things.”
Chris had arrived at Richard’s with a bag of cakes which they had demolished. Fresh coffee perpetually brewed in the kitchen. They took turns making it, and keeping the Ofen stoked. The kitchen door open, gas rings and fire lit to the max, to combat the Berlin winter.
The reason Chris was here was to see when Richard was flying home, so was surprised when he learnt that Richard intended to spend Christmas in Berlin. Chris, however, had to get away. His life depended on it.
Despite the fun of working in the bar, the sense of rebellion he felt by living in a squat, paying no rent or taxes, and a steady supply of one-night stands, he had also experienced the other, less glamorous side.
He felt wretched all the time. Truly wretched trying to keep up with Jake and failing miserably, waking up with Baustelle headaches, frequent vomiting and an increasing sense of paranoia. He rarely felt relaxed, always sure he had done something terrible, but exactly what always eluded him. The only cure seemed to be to get drunk. The cycle continued.
Winter in the squat was no fun, the Ofen inefficient, and he was always too drunk after returning from the bar to spend time lighting it. Burning down the squat house wouldn’t go down too well with the other squatters.
He was wearing clothes far longer than they ought to have been worn, knowing full well that he smelt, but, as he justified, it was only Berlin, and what was the point in wearing fresh, clean clothes if he was only going to the Czar Bar.
He was also imitating Jake’s eating habits, which comprised of fast food exclusively, either burgers or something deep fried from the local Turkish Imbiss. He could feel the spots multiplying on his face.
As for the women, he was getting used to finding an unattractive malodorous naked body snoring next to him, when he was sure he had gone to bed with a far cuter angel, just hours before. The speed at which the women got up, dressed and left indicated that they, too, were less than impressed with their conquest.
To balance this, he would often go to Richard’s, take a bath, spend time in a warm flat, and sleep a little, without having to worry about being woken by some screaming in the Hof, or someone knocking on his door, barging in, shouting in loud German and expecting him to be as lively as he was when working.
Today, there was another purpose; a new travel agents had opened on Richard’s street, and Chris wanted to see if they should book their tickets together.
“So, it’s getting serious ?”
“Yes, it is. You’re right, there are only so many times a guy can play ‘Monster’. I need some new CD’s”
They walked to the travel agents, looking at the posters of sunny, tropical resorts, while the very tall owner, with a very receding hairline ending in very long hair, scrutinised his computer, with almost comic intensity, to find a flight.
“Nice guy,” said Chris, after having bought his ticket. “I especially liked the John Lennon glasses.”
Richard agreed and they walked a little down Schönhauser Allee. They went into one of the Überraschung shops, a ‘surprise’ store filled with household goods at cheap prices, made by companies with very similar names and logos of established brands. They marvelled at the packets of cheap shirts, endless shelves of crockery and gaudy kitsch items that defied description, wondering how such items got designed, manufactured and sold, wondering who would buy them, when a small albeit very well-built old woman barged in between them to grab the last remaining flower pot-vase-thing.
They soon lost enthusiasm for their constitutional, and returned home. Richard left Chris in the flat, to go to work. He felt a bit relieved, as Chris had mentioned checking out universities back home, or at least some courses. He thought about how things were changing. It was now Chris who seemed lost, having no purpose remaining in Berlin. It was now Richards’s turn to be happy, to be in a relationship. This thought made the job bearable. That and the expectation that in Johanna he had found what he had always been looking for; someone beautiful, intelligent, kind and . . . he was allowing himself to believe, falling in love with him.
Pfefferberg on Schönhauser Allee, Prenzlauer Berg. Google Images
Berlin. August 1995
Life, thought Alan, is incredible. Degree attained, a prestigious job in the City, networking with the movers and shakers, the future investors and producers. A year of being, a year of nothingness. No script, no contacts, no cast of characters, no crew, no shakers, but at least a move.
Now, thought Alan, I am a Putzfrau (cleaning woman), but I have more disposable income. No exorbitant London rents, travel passes, food, the NFT membership, however, had been essential. And I’ve found my cast of characters; I am surrounded by actors and artists. My dreams are no longer abstract plans, but actual possibilities.
Berlin; he loved Berlin. Immediately. Here was a city with real atmosphere, a city to be lived in, to feel alive, every inch a film set
People spoke to you. Neighbours, shop keepers, people on the street. You could go up to anyone in a bar and start talking.
He had been in the city less than a month but was already planning on extending his stay and finding another room, or even his own flat. Such plans were ludicrous in London; a cleaner having his own flat.
Alan was not going to let anything go to waste. Every experience would be stored for reference. Every time he rode the S-Bahn, or an elevated U-Bahn, he took in all the sights, mentally framing them, he took in all the beautiful women in their summer dresses, tilting his inner lens, Dutch angles capturing German angels. He listened to the symphony of this city, he was a man with a movie camera.
Alan tried articulating these thoughts, and many others, writing to his sister. He decided to use the letters as a writing exercises, to make his views lucid. He wasn’t sure if he succeeded.
Where to start ? You were right about Berlin – why didn’t I come last year ? All that time wasted, nothing to show for it. Not anymore – I have seen a camera I like (and can afford !) and will buy it tomorrow.
Kelly is so sweet – she’s really looked after me. I’ve met so many new people. You were right about Vincent – girls love him – what a great actor he’ll be (in my films, I mean !) so charismatic.
The room is big and light – not too girly, with a computer and even some books in English (Nasti – the girl whose room I’m subletting, is a geography student and has to study in English, no text-books in German, apparently).
Kelly got me the first job. I’m up at 5:30 and go to an Irish bar near Tacheles, the arts centre, and clean for about 2 hours. The bar owner is a splendid Irish man called Patrick (no, I’m not making this up). He set me up with another bar where I work for the next two hours. I can walk from one bar to the other.
I get home around noon, in time for lunch – coffee, rolls with jam or honey, some fruit, and start planing my films !
I saw Vincent perform – all in German, so I couldn’t understand it – but he held the stage well and kept the audience’s attention, quite an achievement ! Yes – bars here are very different – any space can open, stock up with crates and sell beer. As you would eloquently say, “It’s bonkers !”
Yes – I have been a little tipsy, sometimes – everyone buys me beers, even when I tell them I don’t want one – they think it’s English politeness !!
Have meet lots of girls ! All very nice. Kelly will take me to somewhere nearby – the Pepperberg (????) – something like Pepper Mountain (???)
I hear there are some second hand bookshops around – really need to find them – read my collection over and over. Went to a special English bookshop but it is SO EXPENSIVE !!!! Books at twice the cover price. Located in a horrid area as well, very bleak, drab, overwhelmingly depressing, decades of failed dreams etched in the brickwork.
Could you save my life and send over my ‘Bazin’ ??? I have two slim volumes (not too much postage – OH, and my ‘Godard on Godard’ – how could I have forgotten THAT !!!)
Brilliant idea of yours – maybe you can pop over at some point ? How is the job ? Won’t ask about London because I don’t care !!!
Lots of love
Next evening, a Friday, Kelly, along with some friends, took Alan from their flat near the Wasserturm and walked to the Pfefferberg.
This was a huge arts complex, whose classical façade dominated the southern stretch of Schönhauser Allee. Paying the entrance at street level, Kelly took Alan up the steps to a wide, open beer garden. People sat on the walls and looked down to the street below, or danced in the centre. Buildings arranged around the courtyard were opened and housed temporary exhibitions of paintings, or were hosting poetry slams.
Alan looked around, so tempted to lift his fingers to his eyes and make a camera shape and pan left to right. What a location, he thought. He couldn’t resist; he made the camera shape and paned left to right.
Through his fingers he spotted Vincent, with some girls, and they came over, Vincent very tall and flamboyant, dwarfing Alan who was under average height.
“So Herr Direktor, did you buy the camera today ?” he asked.
Alan smiled and slowly nodded,
“And projector and three film cartridges.”
“You’re still on your first beer ?” Kelly asked him, concerned that he wasn’t having a good time.
Alan lifted it up and showed that if was over half full. Also, he didn’t smoke, and was starting to believe that he may be the only person in Berlin who didn’t. Then he met another non-smoker who came up and introduced herself.
“They told me I shouldn’t speak to you, because you only talk about cinema. Well, I love cinema too. Hello. My name’s Julie.”
Potsdamer Platz, the centre of Berlin, in 1995. Google Images
Part Seven. Berlin. June 1995
Josef, the new barman, came into the kitchen and slammed the phone down, barking at Richard that it was for him, his mouth salivating with contempt. Richard thought fuck Josef, and he really meant it.
He answered, expecting Chris to invite him to the bar, but instead it was Monika inviting him to Café Haller.
Hardly able to wait for his unspeakable shift to finish, he finally walked to the bar, both curious and nervous. He had thought about what could Monika possibly want. Probably to just see him, have a drink and renew the friendship; just because she was no longer seeing Chris, didn’t mean that they had to stop seeing each other. Maybe she had news of a new job for him; even another Spüler job would get him out of the awful Biberkopf and there would be a novelty period before that monotony set in. Or . . . possibly, there was news of Lorelei. He tried to dismiss that idea, but he couldn’t, and that was why he entered the bar both hoping and fearing that Lorelei would be working. He would only need to see her once to fall in love all over again. He would get his heart broken all over again, but even the remote possibility was worth the risk.
But, no Lorelei, and it was some seconds before he saw Monika. She smiled, but it lacked warmth. Richard’s heart sank. He felt she blamed him, and, in a way, he had lied to her, as well.
There was some small talk about work, before Monika got to the point. Could he tell Chris to stop calling her. It was a demand, not a question.
Richard told her that he knew nothing about this, that Chris hadn’t told him. Then he thought back to the concert, the way Chris kept looking at every one coming in.
“Did he invite you to a concert on Saturday ?” he asked.
“Ah, yes, in the shitty Czar Bar. You really think we want to go to a bar that has no water in the toilet ? Women need to wash their hands.”
Richard gestured that he understood. Then he asked if he could speak openly. He apologised for that Sunday morning, explaining that he really had left the club without Chris and didn’t know where he was. He said that he suspected that Chris may have crashed at Arizona Al’s, though this was somewhat disingenuous. Monika suddenly turned gentle and friendly, as if she were dying to finally speak about it and clear the air. She said she didn’t blame Richard at all, but had felt sorry for him caught in-between.
The conversation continued, both saying sorry and how they had missed each other. They caught each other up with the gossip.
Silke was now seeing a new man. Andreas was furious and hurt that she had a new boyfriend so soon after splitting up. Nice Guy Kai was seeing a journalist and appeared happy, though in no hurry to enter into a committed relationship. Gabi was now dating a lawyer and was talking about moving in with him. Lorelei had found someone who often worked in Munich, so she was considering a relocation. Richard appreciated her sensitivity when speaking about her. He knew his eyes gave away his pain.
To change the atmosphere, he was about to ask her about her love life, when a man in shirt and tie walked out of the kitchen and came over and kissed Monika.
It was Carsten, an old boyfriend of hers that had come back into her life . . . sort of . . . maybe . . .
Carsten stayed for a beer and Monika explained that Carsten ran a club in Wilmersdorf, and knew the chef (1) at Haller.
Carsten knocked on the table, (2) shook Richard’s hand and gave Monika a slightly exaggerated goodbye kiss.
After he had gone, Monika shrugged,
“Ja, Richard, I don’t know, I am alone, he is alone, it is nice. But . . . Ja, we see. We see. You drink something ?”
They stayed until the bar closed.
“And, Richard . . . how do you get home ?”
“Ah, mist (bullshit) I drive you.” It was a generous offer, really out of her way.
The journey from Steglitz to Prenzlauer Berg gave them more time to speak. Richard asked to go through the city and was amazed at how Potsdamer Platz was changing. The route was now totally different from his last trip here. New roundabouts and traffic lights amidst the wooden walkways, the iron-wire fences, the giant water pipes that spanned the roads. Tiny red lights suspended in the darkness of the night, warned planes of the ever-present cranes.
And empty roads, only an occasional night bus, or car. Almost no neon, sometimes no street lamps. Richard mentioned the fact that they were in a main European capital, yet there was hardly any light. They could well have been in some provincial village.
“And, um, Richard, I ask you something ? If it’s OK ?”
“You still think about Lorelei.”
“Yes, but it’s getting better. Now it’s down to about ninety-six per cent of the time. The other four per cent I’m thinking about not thinking about Lorelei.”
“And you have no one else you like ?”
“No. Not yet. I’m sure I will.”
“No one at work ?”
“I’m the Spüler . . . I don’t count. I liked one new girl, Jolande, you know her ? But, well, she wised up. As for the others . . . even Ully looks down at me. Her, with the thing. My fault, really, me and Chris. We were there one night, she was working, and we were kinda flirting with her. Because she does have quite a nice body. Very nice, in fact. But . . . anyway, she’s now walking around like she’s Claudia Schiffer. Now, a girl like Claudia Schiffer. That would get my mind off Lorelei. But I don’t think they exist. She’s probably been genetically modified. If so, here’s to genetics.“
“Ah, you haven’t seen Nadeem. New waitress at Haller.”
“Oh, very cute. All the men want to fuck her. Even I want to fuck her.”
Richard got out by the U-Bahn on Schönhauser Allee, hoping to get some fast food and cheap beer from one of the Imbisses. A young girl was there, slighty tipsy, and they began a short conversation. Then Richard paid and went home.
He later wondered what would have happened if he had asked the girl to come back with him.
But, he didn’t, and once more he went to bed, alone.
Arizona Al had been at the club since late afternoon, setting up, sound checking, greeting acquaintances, sippin’ beer but mostly just hanging around and waiting.
The door to the club had been locked. Someone turned up, but didn’t have the key. He went to call a friend who should have the key. He returned after fifteen minutes, unable to reach him.
Other people came and went, all trying the door, surprised that it wouldn’t open under their special handle-turning techniques.
One fellow artist arrived, with acoustic guitar strapped to his back. He resembled the actor Willem Dafoe in ‘Platoon’, even wearing a white headband in the same manner of the actor in that film. He smiled, (he also had an impossibly wide mouth), tried the door and asked when it would be open.
“Yo ! Bryan ! Get yer arse over here,” Arizona called to a man who had just walked into the Hof from the street.
Bryan was medium height and stocky, and walked with real determination, as if he were always on a life or death mission.
Bryan looked at the door, wondering why no one had bothered to open it. He keep shaking it, until Willem Dafoe told him that he thought it was locked. Bryan had a very round face and hair that stuck out at all angles. His normal expression was one of complete shock at whatever was happening.
Bryan therefore appeared completely shocked at finding the door locked.
Two young men arrived, pushing a trolley loaded with beer crates, and there were sundry cries in German, but no key.
Then an American girl arrived, wearing a floral dress underneath a heavy army coat, and long red leather boots. She knew most of the people that were waiting outside as, by now, quite a crowd had built up. Willem Dafoe took out his guitar and strummed some chords, one or two men moved closer and moved their heads in rhythm. Another began singing, but it was a different song in a different key.
Finally Horst arrived, taking his time crossing the Hof, walking with a swagger, clearly stoned. He also tried the door, then stood back, smiling to himself, thinking. “Ahhh.” He mumbled something in German, causing some curses, some laughter. Melissa, the American, translated. He had forgotten the key.
Within twenty minutes, the door was opened and the musicians and technicians and hangers-on and friends, and friends of friends and a few drunks, began pouring in.
A van backed into the Hof, people jumped out, shouting and laughing, and from the back doors, various amplifiers and boxes of cables were carried inside, Bryan seeming to be everywhere but doing nothing.
Arizona got his alloted time to soundcheck. Tonight he had decided to do what he called his ‘unplugged’ set, by which he meant just playing electric guitar and singing. Then he saw Jacques, Melissa’s French Canadian boyfriend, and called him over.
Jacques was a very pleasant chap, tall and cumbersome, with enormous feet that always found things to bump into and knock over, as if possessed by a will of their own, a pair of unruly dogs, forever going off chasing cats and rabbits.
They conferred and it was decided that Jacques would accompany him on one or two songs. They had done some stuff together before, Arizona singing, while Jacques intoned as counterpoint.
Arizona was shooed off stage as Willem Dafoe had to run through his list and the soundman had to change the levels for his acoustic guitar and adjust the mike stand, as Willem was barely five foot two on tiptoes.
People carried full beer crates in and empty ones out, Horst slumped at the bar, taking instructions from his staff. Melissa liaised between artists, walking around with pen and paper, trying to work out a schedule that meet with approval, a thankless task, as half the bands wanted to go on last, the other half preferring first.
Bryan appeared, and helped out Melissa with the indisputable assertion that they couldn’t all go on last, and after proclaiming this piece of sage wisdom, promptly found another problem to solve. Or create.
Typically, the gig was nowhere near ready by the advertised opening time, and several people had entered the bar, walking past the admission desk that no one was working. Some staff suggested they should all be thrown out, some said they should stay, but pay, some said they should stay, not pay, but not be allowed to buy drinks, some one else, quite possibly Bryan, suggested they should pay, and then be made to leave. In all events, nothing happened and because of this, most of them left, anyway.
Melissa, pleading, like an over-eager actress of the Method school, appealed to the room, that someone needs to be on the door. This led to discussions as to who’s turn it was, who wanted to do it and then, when a volunteer was found, no one knew where the cash box was. There wouldn’t be enough change for the bar and the door, as the entrance was an inconvenient three Marks, and everyone would be paying with five-Mark coins.
The obvious suggestion was to raise the entrance to five Marks, but this was vetoed. Bryan thought that anyone who had the exact change should get in free, but failed to see the flaw in his solution.
By now more people were coming in, as no one had closed the door.
It was at this point that Richard and Chris arrived, not noticing the desk or even knowing about the admission fee.
They saw Arizona Al in a crowd of people, and went up to him to say Hi, then left him to ‘get his shit together’, as Chris put it, and planted themselves at the bar, where they intended to stay all night.
The subject of Monika naturally dominated the conversation and Chris, despite the bravado and carefree attitude, was really scared that he had lost her. He opened up to Richard that there had been conversations about work and getting more settled in Berlin, maybe going on a language course and getting a proper respectable job.
“What’s the probability of any of the above happening ?” asked Richard.
Chris drank quietly, and Richard was reminded of the time in London just before he was set to leave for Berlin. He was about to ask him if he had any regrets about leaving the UK, when Bryan popped up behind the bar, starred at both of them in turn, then went off to join the crowd around Arizona.
“What in the name of fuck . . . ?” began Chris, more electroshocked than recalled back to life.
“Where did that goddamn thing come from ?”
“Fucking Cheshire Cat face, out of nowhere.”
“Oh, look, he’s a friend of Al’s,” said Richard, indicating the two of them in an embrace. There was quite a crowd in the centre and both of them noticed a number of very attractive girls. Willem Dafoe was dwarfed by an icy blonde in cocktail dress, who held a Sekt glass without ever drinking from it, and maintaining an aloof distance from everyone.
Melissa was running around stressed, as the running order was still in a state of flux. To end the impasse, and making it clear it was an immense favour he was doing, Willem deigned to open proceedings.
He walked on stage to the applause of the organisers and fellow artists, and complete indifference of everyone else. Until, that is, the icy blonde joined him. She took up position at the back of the stage, and, with a disparaging look at the mic stand, made a willing young man adjust it up to her height, and bring it the necessary inches closer to her mouth, rather than have to walk towards it.
She was pure class.
Willem Dafoe began playing. The first song was a slow ballad of no apparent melody. He would hit a chord, then sing, following it by a gentle up-down strum and lots of moaning. He hit another chord, thought about hitting another, but hung his hand in the air and turned his head to the side, before letting it fall across the strings. Meanwhile, the icy blonde was making some kind of droning background noise.
The ‘song’ finished some minutes later. The solitary voice of Melissa could be heard, saying,
Then the other performers clapped, some worried that the opening act had set too high a standard.
The second song had a different title, but was pretty much the same, from tunelessness to theatricality to Melissa’s not so convincing appraisal.
When the third number started, showing no indication of variance, Chris turned to Richard and, appropriating the famous line from the movie ‘Jaws’, said,
“We’re gonna need a bigger bar.” Then he raised his hand to get the barman’s attention, “Alcohol !”
A woman singer songwriter was next, listenable for a song or two, but she also outstayed her welcome. After she finished, a section of the crowd left, and this pattern was repeated for each subsequent act. Friends came to lend support, then, duty done, made a beeline for the door. Quickly.
“When the fuck’s that cunt on ?” asked Chris, his tolerance worn away by ineptitude.
“Look, there he is again. What the fuck is he doing ? I mean, really ! What the fuck is he doing ?”
Richard was referring to Bryan who was criss-crossing the room, appearing behind the mixing desk, the bar, the stage and all points in-between. Now he was standing in the centre of the room, was wasn’t very full, shouting to the mixing desk. The man behind the desk did nothing, the volume of the between-set music changed not an iota, but Bryan was happy, giving the thumbs-up sign.
“Oh, thank fuck, he’s going on,” said Chris, seeing Arizona getting up on stage and plugging in his guitar.
The house music cut abruptly, Arizona introduced himself and made some comments as the sound level rose and fell and fed-back. Bryan naturally appeared and shouted.
When the last of the feedback had faded, Arizona began and played a mid tempo number, jiving around as he played. Richard and Chris were both happily surprised as it was quite good. After the song, while people were still clapping, Arizona announced that it was a cover, of a little known American band from Phoenix. The next songs were his own but failed to elicit the same response, or, by the fourth number, any response, bar Richard and Chris at the bar.
Chris lent over,
“This is terrible. He’s dying up there.”
“I know. Now what the fuck’s happening ?”
Jacques plodded on-stage, unknown to Arizona, who had his back to him, and when he turned around to face the audience, was nearly knocked over. Chris covered his face with his hands and let out a moan, that everyone heard.
They performed two numbers. In the first, Jacques merely stood in the back, and made some backing vocals, repeating key lines of the lyrics. In the second, the two engaged in a kind of comedy routine for introduction, about what to do in Berlin, and Jacques suggesting they go to the Thursday Bar, a well known alternative music venue bar, also in south Prenzlauer Berg, but Arizona said that they couldn’t go there, causing Jacques to inquire why not and being told by Arizona that today was Saturday and therefore . . . not open.
“I’ve gotta do something. This is worse than I imagined.”
Richard had no idea what Chris was planning, and at that point, neither had Chris, but something had to be done, and a far, far better thing than what they were being subjected to now.
Jacques left the stage and there was an assumption that the set was over, so there was a ripple of applause, but that immediately died when Arizona began a new number. Richard felt Chris push past him and walk towards the stage, then vanish.
Arizona began playing, when suddenly, at the very back of the stage, Richard could see Chris, moving from left to right in profile, in measured, theatrical steps, pausing before each new stride.
Arizona was unaware.
Chris turned, froze, then began walking in the same mechanical manner towards the singer.
Arizona was sensing an increase in audience interest, so began dancing a bit as he played. As Chris copied his motions, in his own singular style, the crowd clapped and laughed, inspiring Arizona to cut loose and skip around. Everyone was at least looking at the stage, and mostly smiling, except Bryan who looked completely bewildered, not to say shocked.
That’s when Arizona noticed Chris, but, like a true professional, carried on playing. Chris then stood in front of Arizona and sank to his knees, making gestures towards Arizona’s guitar that in his naivety, Richard at first failed to comprehend. Then he thought back to watching Bowie with Mick Ronson on guitar, Jim Morrison with Robbie Krieger, and understood.
It had certainly livened up the performance, and people assumed it was all part of the act. Chris was more than happy to stand on stage with Arizona Al and take the applause.
Later, at a table, Arizona told of his initial thoughts on seeing Chris coming towards him,
“You know, what with the lights and shit, and my eyesight being bad, I couldn’t see who or what it was, then when you began pulling that faggot Ziggy Stardust shit, I thought, OK, motherfucker, you wanna play, I’ll play, suck on this, arsehole!”
There were several people around them, including Melissa and Jacques, Bryan and a couple of German girls who had stumbled in, attracted by the noise.
“Yeah, thinking of adding some Nirvana covers to my set, couldn’t do it before because everyone was doing it, but, you know, it’ll be a year since Kurt blew himself away, time’s ripe. But I don’t wanna play the obvious ones, you know, thought I’d go for some cuts of the last album, as that was the direction he was going in.”
“Good idea,” agreed Richard. “What songs ?”
“’Numb’, ‘Black-Shaped Box’. You know ?”
Neither Richard nor Chris had the heart (shaped box) to correct him. Not that it mattered either way to the two girls. They sat down when Melissa and Jacques left and began speaking in English.
Richard thought that here were two girls and two guys without girlfriends, but the girls were quite blatant in their interest for the performers, the performers only, whose stage antics had obviously made quite an impression.
Feeling tired, and like a third-wheel, as usual, Richard decided to leave, telling Chris he’ll see him later, and congratulating Arizona on a great gig.
The girls suggested Jägermeister shots, a German digestif spirit. This was followed by more beers and more shots and before long, Arizona and Chris were enjoying the time honoured tradition of the rock ‘n’ roll groupie.
Arizona was the first to leave, with his new friend, while Chris was determined to drink more Jägermeister, furious that no one had told him before about this wonderful new drink.
After some more shots and beers, he too went back with his first fan.
They got a taxi on Invalidenstrasse and kissed all the way, the driver, working weekend nights in Berlin, quite used to it.
Chris followed the girl into her apartment building, up the stairs in the Vor Haus (front house) and went inside with her. She left him in her kitchen as she went to the bathroom and told him to help himself to a drink. He found some wine, but no corkscrew, and walked into the hall to ask her where one may be found. He passed a door, slightly ajar and did a double take and refocus as, through the gap, he could see a topless Arizona Al, sitting up in bed, smoking, and staring back at him.
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 then 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 . . . “
“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.
Arizona Al stood in his doorway open mouthed as, one after another, beautiful young women filed past him and walked into his flat.
After Melanie had entered, Chris just had to hang back and look at Arizona, who was only just recovering the power of speech, though what he was saying was hardly intelligible.
The girls, dressed for a party and then some, were taking over, lifting things up, investigating corners, opening cupboards.
No objections was raised.
Arizona’s flat was larger than Chris’ and most of the living room was taken up with keyboards, guitars, microphones, wires and cables.
Monika began pretending to play one keyboard, while Lorelei took up a guitar and began moving like a rock chick, strumming away. Gabi, not to be left out, picked up a bottle, in preference to an actual mic, and started belting out some numbers.
With the men joining in by clapping, only Melanie remained outside the clique, but nobody noticed.
Chris finished up with some extra claps,
“So, Al, do you have anything to drink ?”
“Errr, well, I dunno, errr ..”
“Ya don’t do ya ? What a rock ‘n’ roller you are,” laughed Chris.
“I thought we were going out, otherwise, I’d a gotten something in.”
“All I’m gonna say is that Sylvester in Arizona . . . think I’ll pass.”
Then Gabi, after a little private conversation with Lorelei, said,
“Yes, we must go, but . . . first ?”
“All right!” said Chris
“Let’s go!” added Richard.
“What ?” asked Al.
Monika repeated her mime and Al seemed a little shocked, but thought it over and agreed.
Monika took him into the bathroom first, then Chris, finally Lorelei. Gabi went in with Richard, Melanie again abstaining.
Richard had tried cocaine once or twice before, but apart from the thrill of sniffing through a large denomination bank note, hadn’t really felt any effect. Even before, in Chris’, he couldn’t really say he’d gotten any kick.
This time, however, was different. For a start, being alone in a small room with Gabi was incredibly erotic. Gabi, despite her angelic and rather bourgeois appearance, was totally at home in a stranger’s bathroom, her delicate fingers dividing the small pile into two thin white dukes. She bent down first, the cramped space meaning that they were touching all the time. She passed the note to Richard and after he had snorted, she showed him some extra touches. The first was to get a little drop of water on the finger and to snort, thus catching any stray bits of powder. Then she showed him how to scoop up any particles from the seat, and rubbed his teeth with it, then, using the same finger, inserted it deep into her own mouth and rubbed it along her gums, finishing up with a lick of the lips.
The temptation to just grab and kiss her was overwhelming, and he could have blamed the drugs, the Sekt or the occasion, she may have even liked it, but, instead, he did nothing, and they went back to the main room.
Still, with his heart beating faster and maintaining a good feeling from the Sekt, he began thinking more about Gabi. It may be a cure to get over one unrequited relationship, by embarking upon another.
The room was full of nervous excitement, Chris jumping around, Lorelei and Gabi trying on some of Arizona’s coats, when Melanie opened her bag and pulled out a little notebook, which she opened and passed to Richard.
“These are some notes for my dissertation, if you want to read them.”
As she put the book directly in his hand, and out of an embarrassed politeness, Richard began scanning the pages, once again drawn away from the core. Once again, he noticed that Chris all but ignored her.
Al was putting the finishing touches to his outfit, despite Chris’ suggestions that he really ‘mix it up’ tonight, and went with crocodile skin shoes, green cords and, over layers of vaguely Medieval-looking jerkins, wore a black coat/cloak and lopsided hat, that had everyone wondering where he could possibly have unearthed ?
“Hey, look what I found,” he said, holding a bottle of Cognac. “Found it under my bed. Who’d like some ?”
The general consensus was that they should be leaving. Monika asked to use the phone to book taxis, but Al had a better idea.
“No, Man, we can ride the trolley. Be fun, all the young dudes dressed up. Straight ride to Warschauer Str.”
Ten minutes later, The Gang were waiting, along with a crowd of other people, at the Strassebahn stop on Eberswalder Str, where an impromptu party of sorts was taking place, strangers passing around bottles of Sekt or cans of beer, some were singing, others dancing, some jumping up and down, either to the beat or simply to keep warm.
The Gang, with the exception of Melanie, joined in, Richard extending his arm to take in the scene,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Chris jumped around, pretending to be taking pictures with an invisible camera and everyone joined in, striking poses, some girls blowing kisses, which didn’t impress Monika, and she made him stop.
A loud cheer arose when the yellow light of the Strassebahn appeared out of the misty black, mixing with the continual beeps and honks of cars, and distant fireworks and firecrackers. It became, as Arizona had predicted, a party on tracks, the passengers hanging off the poles and draping themselves over the seats, men offering their laps to previously unknown girls, one or two men swinging from the hand straps.
At every stop, at least one person took it upon himself to announce the station, while others mimicked the sharp, loud beeps that indicated doors closing.
By journey’s end, nearly everyone had joined in, announcing the stops and beeping, so much so, that the old and sober driver kept looking back into his vehicle, wondering how it was possible to have so much fun in a tram, his bemused shake of the head seeming to say, “Kids !”
From Warschauer Str, they walked along Boxhagener Str and turned right into Simon Dach Str.
Gabi had the address and Richard was happy to follow her, wondering if the intimacy of the bathroom would be repeated. At the same time, he was doing his best not to look too much at Lorelei who without any effort, was just looking sensational. But he knew the futility of those thoughts.
There was a moment of confusion, as Gabi realised she had the wrong or incomplete address and Arizona suggested that they just follow people and see where they ended up. Eventually, Gabi turned up another piece of paper that gave the correct location.
The first stop was a combination party / exhibition of local artists. It took place on the top floor of a converted studio, overlooking the dark, slightly ominous rail tracks of Warschaeur Str.
It was one large, open room, with photos and painting hanging up, some metal objects placed strategically, or randomly, and a band area. As they entered, they saw three men with headphones standing behind banks of equipment, playing some mellow Techno. Neither Chris nor Richard were especially keen on the music in general, and couldn’t understand how people could buy the records and play them at home, but tonight, everything seemed to fall into place and they, perhaps inadvertently, began moving to the beat, causing Richard to reiterate,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Causing Chris to reply,
“Berlin goes on, the beat goes on!”
Arizona overheard and joined them,
“Yeah, you know, I’m starting to really get into this Techno scene. If Bowie were here, he’d be mixing Techno into his stuff.”
Richard noticed that Melanie had sat down on some steps and that Monika had gone over to her with two glasses and was trying to start a conversation. Even from his distance, he could see that Melanie was only answering in monosyllables and had refused the drink.
Gabi and Lorelei were dancing, which led to a sudden increase of men onto the dance floor. The Gang took a cursory look at the art work.
One set of photos were of famous sights in Berlin, but shot through a green filter, ‘to challenge society’s perception of the colour green’, the artist explained. Another section grabbed Arizona’s attention. In a small enclave, one wall had various items cut in half and glued onto it. The opposite wall has similar items, but whereas the first had noticeably German items, the second had iconic American ones.
In the German wall was half a football, in the other, half an American football. Half a can of German beer was mirrored by half a can of an American brand and so on.
The artist, an elder man with grey hair and beard, wearing a peace necklace and sandals, was showing Arizona around. Al especially liked the toy Trabant and it’s antithesis, half a toy Cadillac.
The Techno finished and four men began setting up, more keyboards and amplifiers and some unusual hybrids of instruments.
One of the four seemed to be significantly older than the rest, one of whom was very thin and tall, another short and fat, the last hobbling around on crutches.
After an endless vortex of activity, with them all changing position and plugging various wires into various sockets, they began to play.
Gabi made an immediate face of disgust at the experimental noise that it took four deadly earnest and focused men to produce.
Monika made gestures to Lorelei and Chris, then came over to Richard to shout in his ear,
“OK, Richard, now we go!”
The Gang walked up to the U-Bahn to catch the U 5 to Alex. Richard found himself next to Lorelai, who was holding herself against the merciless cold. Instinctively, he took off his coat and put it over her shoulders. Gabi thought it was incredibly sweet and chivalric.
Next stop was a club in Kreuzberg. The U-Bahns were running and would be, all night, but not so frequently, and they had a long wait on the U8 platform for their connection. So long, that, as they looked at the station clocks, they knew that they had no chance getting to the club by Midnight. In fact, they celebrated the New Year on the platform, hugging, kissing and shaking hands, to the outside sounds that managed to penetrate down. Chris took Monika and gave her a long kiss. Melanie looked on, in disgust, and said, perhaps louder than intended, perhaps not,
“Oh, that’s not allowed.”
And then the train came.
They got out at Moritzplatz, the men again happy to just follow the girls, Melanie tagging along and Richard was getting increasingly irritated at being her chaperone.
The club was a red-lit bar, with tables around the side and a large bar in the centre. In the back was the dance floor which was dark and smoky and exciting and inviting and promising.
Richard sat down, beers arrived and then, another invitation. Monika sat next to him, after a similar conspiracy with Gabi and Chris, and asked him,
“Ah, Richard, would you like to take half an ‘E’ with me ?”
“Of course.” A confident voice masking that he had never even dreamt of taking such a pill before.
Monika handed him half a tablet, already prepared, which he washed down with a swig of beer.
“This will make me want to kiss people, right ?” he asked.
“And will they kiss me back ?”
Monika smiled and shrugged her shoulder.
She then went on to Melanie, who again rejected the offer.
Richard sat back and thought about Gabi on ‘E’ and how the New Year could get off to a worse start than kissing her all night. Then he thought about Lorelai on ‘E’. What better night to kiss ?
He began to feel himself smiling, and was unable to control it, nor did he want to, as everybody else was smiling. Everyone except Melanie. He asked her how she was,
“Pretty bored, actually.”
There was a mass movement towards the back room for dancing, with Arizona electing to sit with Melanie. As Richard went into the back, he turned and thought he saw her offer Al a small notebook to read.
By now, the pill had kicked in and it seemed as if everyone was on the same vibe, half as many people kissing as dancing.
Chris came over, put his arm around Richard, gave him a kiss on the cheek and shouted,
“More beer.” It was a demand, rather than a question.
Back at the table, smiling at all around, strangers sharing a similar high, Richard shouted at Melanie,
“C’mon, Mel, shake your money maker !”
“What does that mean ?” she hissed, not hiding her contempt, hatred and anger.
But it was too late for Richard to care and everyone was relieved when she decided to leave. There were one or two concerned questions about her knowing the way, with Chris not hiding the fact that as long as she went, he didn’t care where she ended up.
Some time later, it being hard to gauge with the constant dark lighting and drug and alcohol highs, The Gang began to disperse. Gabi and Lorelei headed back to the west, after prolonged hugs and kisses. Chris then was staying nearby with Monika, so it as just Arizona and Richard. They had been dancing, smiling, hugging, but for Richard the only kiss was the friendly slobber on his cheek from Chris.
After another and final beer, Mexican, as homage to Al’s South-Western roots, which they sipped slowly and really enjoyed, they thought about leaving, both having to get back north of the river, to Prenzlauer Berg.
They spoke constantly, and could have stayed in the bar, which by now was thinning out, all night, or at least until the ‘E’ wore off, but decided to go. Should they happen to stumble upon a bar, on the way, there was no reason why they shouldn’t go in.
Arizona admired the reasoning, and they left, shocked by the early morning light, but after their eyes got acclimatised, they felt refreshed on the empty, light blue streets, with a fresh wind blowing them along to the U-Bahn as they stepped through a tangle of old streamers and firework cases and bottles and cigarette packets and cans.
On the U2 from Alex, during a momentary lull in the conversation, as Arizona looked around at the other casualties of the night, Richard turned to him and said,
“It’s all right for you. I’ve Melanie to go back to!”
Arizona doubled up in laughter, which proved infectious as most of the other awake passengers joined in, most of them having no idea why they were laughing.
Arizona reached over and slapped Richard on the knee,
“Ya wanna crash at my place ?”
“Oh, man . . . can I ?”
Al’s laughter doubled.
At the same time on Chausser Strasse in Wedding, Daniel Roth was walking home with two English work mates and a Dutch bricklayer.
Of the four, it was only Daniel who was new to the city, having only arrived two days earlier, and he was due to start work on the Second, by which time, he calculated, his hangover may just be over.
Chris emptied his Brief Kaste, threw away the Werbung (adverts) and took the envelope upstairs. He recognized the handwriting at once, and the British stamp only confirmed that here was another letter from Melanie.
He had promised Richard that he’d go to a travel agents with him, help book his ticket to London, but had just received some bad news from the studio: there would be no more work in the new year. The studio was closing down.
It had created a surreal atmosphere. Anyone who turned up got paid, but nobody was doing any work. People just sat around, drinking coffee and smoking. The room was full of uncertainty, worrying how rents would be paid, some wondering whether they would return to Berlin after their visits home for Christmas.
Chris kept this from Richard, but asked him if he knew what the situation was at Biberkopf, as he could take over the shifts while Richard was away.
The flight was booked with Chris insisting that Richard get back in time for New Year’s Eve, ‘Sylvester’, in Germany.
“You just wouldn’t believe it, it’s like a war zone, people throwing bangers, fireworks, everyone out drinking on the streets. You’ll love it. Hey, new year, new start. It’ll be OK, you know.’
“You sure about that ?”
“Yes. I am.” An optimistic answer from Chris who would start the new year unemployed. He knew that if he told Richard, then Richard would immediately give up the Biberkopf job, insist on giving it back to Chris and would therefore have an excuse to stay in London.
On Christmas Day, Chris fixed himself a breakfast of smoked salmon, day old rolls, some tangerines, and several cups of coffee.
Monika was at her sister’s, just outside Leipzig, Gabi back in Vienna. Silke was in Bavaria, Kai incommunicado and Andreas had somehow found the money to go to Turkey. Lorelei was staying in Berlin, but Chris was sensitive enough not to mention her, or to blatantly not mention her. Tommy was visiting family in Aachen, in the west of Germany and Gert had naturally disappeared somewhere.
In the early afternoon, Chris went for a walk, enjoying the freedom of being totally alone in his city. The roads were almost empty, only an occasional car passing by and beeping hello. The shops were all shut, even the Imbisses had closed, or so it seemed. A side street off Schönhauser Allee had two fluttering flags, showing that at least one fast food joint was open. Chris made a note of it, should he require a Christmas kebab.
With no direction or purpose, Chris turned into Danziger Str and thought he’d walk to Friedrichshain. He walked along this notoriously tedious road, smoking, strolling, feeling quite happy. For the moment. The shit was going to hit the fan, so he may as well enjoy this anomaly of peace and quiet.
In four days time, both Monika and Melanie would arrive in Berlin. Melanie was arriving early evening and expected to be met at Tegal airport. Monika was driving, probably arriving late evening. The next day, the 30th, Richard arrived back, same time flight as Melanie, but he could make his own way home. Chris could stay at Monika’s, leaving Richard with Melanie. That image made him laugh out loud.
Then, how would Monika react to Melanie ? Melanie to Monika ? How would Richard be ? Chris knew he was in a lot of pain, more than he could help him with, and just hoped that his break in London would give him the distance he needed.
After half an hour, he was at Rigaer Str and thought he’d try Café Kinski. It was locked, but there were people inside, so it was probably a private party. He walked on, past more squat bars, squat houses, negotiating the piles of dog shit on the street and the distinctive odours of shit and piss and vomit and sweat and fumes and fast food. He felt at home.
After walking along the Strasse he saw a light above the door of the Czar Bar. It was open.
Coming from the left, there was a large, single pane window, with the Cyrillic ‘bap’ (bar) painted along the lower edge. The window was usually crammed with junk, but it was still possible to see inside, see who was working.
Chris peaked in and saw a figure in a fedora, twisting around, reaching for some glasses and a bottle of vodka. Tidings of comfort and joy.
The Czar bar was entered by walking up a step, into a sheltered vestibule, both sides plastered with flyers and stickers, flapping and peeling off. The door was solid, bottle green, also covered in small posters. Immediately inside was a thick black curtain, which had to be brushed aside.
The bar had changed a lot since Chris dragged an unimpressed Nuno and a repulsed Melanie here. A year ago. A lifetime ago.
There was now a more permanent looking bar, stretching from the door and curving around to the flipper (pinball) room. There were pallets below the bar, making a step up to the tall stools that were bolted down. Drunks may continue to fall, but the chairs would remain standing.
Above the bar, was a flat surface reaching to the ceiling, giving the bar the appearance of a kiosk. Behind the bar was the large dresser, now with more bottles and glasses, and a CD system, playing early Neil Young.
Around the room were placed round tables and along the walls, two old sofas. Chris looked into the far recess of the bar and saw that there was actually a stage, reached by four or five steps.
The room had also been painted; it was now a dull, deep orange, and with the main shutter down, and low wattage bulbs, it could easily have been late evening, not afternoon.
Chris took a seat at the bar, next to some Germans who looked half-way pissed already, but smiled at him warmly. He smiled back.
“Heeeeyyy, Chris, welcome back. Haven’t seen you around here for a while,” said Jake the Barman, extending a hand for a complex series of shakes.
“I was here last month.”
“You were ? Where was I ?”
Chris pointed to the end stool,
“Oh, right, I wasn’t working, I’m only out of it when I’m not working, yeah, Yuri was work .. no, let me … Micha ? Hell, I don’t know, what the fuck does it matter, hey ? Oh, Merry Christmas, can I get you a Christmas cocktail ?”
“What’s in it ?”
“Vodka and … vodka.”
“OK, I’ll have a double.”
This made Jake laugh, and they drank together, Jake introducing him to everyone who came in. By evening, Chris was very tipsy, and the bar, which was also looking tipsy, was full. Tom Waits had at some point replaced Neil Young.
A small, well built man with a dark beard and moustache came in and rested both elbows on the bar, staring intensely at Jake.
“Jake. Vodka,” he barked in German. Jake was having difficulty controlling his eyes, which were scanning the room, back and forth, and he was also trying to dance along to the music, but he managed to open a new vodka, pick up three shot glasses in one hand and pour the vodka to the very top of the glasses without spilling a drop. He spoilt this achievement by licking the drips off the bottle.
“Claude … Chris. Chris. Claude,” said Jake, making the introductions. Claude turned the intense gaze on Chris, looking him right in the eyes from across the bar. Then he raised his glass, said, ‘Santé’, and downed it in one gulp. He let out a vodka sigh, shook his head, slapped himself once or twice and clicked his fingers.
“Jake. Noch drei mehr (three more).” Jake repeated the process, Claude repeated his ritual of sighing and slapping, then slammed down some money on the counter and left.
Chris had no recollection of leaving, or getting home, or indeed, buying his Christmas Döner, but did find the tell-tale tin foil in his dustbin, along with small chunks of meat and purple cabbage that he kept discovering around his flat over the next days.
On the 28th, Monika called, saying she couldn’t wait to see him. It was then that he told her about Melanie arriving.
The line went dead.
But not for long.
There followed a lengthy conversation with accusations and insinuations, despite all of Chris’ assertions that she was, and always had been, a friend and nothing more. Why should Monika know so many men, and Chris not be allowed any female friends ? Monika easily countered that by mentioning all the ladies of The Gang. Then Chris had a moment of inspired genius,
“All right, it’s for Richard. You know he’s heartbroken.” Monika went silent. Chris pressed on, amazed by his brilliance and enjoying the previously unknown sensation of being victor in an argument’
“And why ? I’m not blaming anyone, here, but, well, all I’m gonna say is that Lorelei is your friend. That’s all. I’ll say no more. If Melanie can help him, be a friend to him, then … yeah, it’s good she’s coming.”
He realized his ending was weak, and knew not to press his point, not to allow Monika too much of a chance for a killer comeback.
It ended with Monika telling him what a great friend he was to Richard and how much she really loved him.
He didn’t tell her about losing his job and not knowing how he would pay the rent in February.
On the 30th, Richard arrived back in Berlin. He knew that it would take some time before he felt better, or normal, or whatever was the correct word for recovering from a broken heart, but he was determined to get over Lorelei.
As he passed through passport control, he was greeted by Chris, making high-pitch whistle noises, pretending he was blowing into a party streamer. Next to him was Melanie. Chris, through an exaggerated smile said,
“Look … it’s Melanie !”
“So I see.’
Chris had taken precautions, making sure he had a half bottle of vodka with him for the journey back.
At the flat, they sorted out the sleeping arrangements. Monika wouldn’t be back until late, so she would come over tomorrow and they would all go out. It was all planned.
Richard had brought back some books, an old Sunday Times, some English crumpets, Marmite, and a couple of new CDs for the CD player that Ute had left in the flat.
“Hey … look.” He held up the ‘Reality Bites’ soundtrack and ‘Monster’ by REM.
Chris whooped and grabbed the soundtrack and played it. As soon as the first song, ‘My Sharona’ came on, Melanie began complaining,
“Oh, The Knack, so brainless,” and other disparaging remarks.
There was a definite vibe in the room, and Chris thought the best way to dispel it was to go out drinking. Richard wanted to change his shoes, and put on an old pair of boots. He withdrew his foot, rapidly, as it was obstructed by something. He reached in and pulled out what he presumed was an old piece of rotten cardboard, and threw it away, without giving it a second thought, this was Berlin, after all, but Chris was amazed, not to say perturbed that kebab meat was still turning up.
The celebrations for Sylvester began early, and even from the flat in the Hinterhof, with windows closed, they could hear intermittent explosions as soon as they woke.
Chris was up first, and went out, looking to find any shops, so as to have Sekt and possibly food when Monika arrived.
Melanie and Richard sat drinking coffee together. They compared this flat with it’s gas heater in the kitchen and bathroom, to the flat in Rigaer Str. They talked about that November, motor bike crashes and walking around Berlin in the snow. Richard remembered going all the way to the museum at Karlshort, where the Germans signed the unconditional surrender in may 1945, and finding it closed, but seeing a genuine Russian soldier walking along the road, a rather small specimen, with bright red, dripping nose and hat with ear flaps. Melanie brought up the fire and worried about Chris burning his hands,
“He has the most beautiful hands of any man, ever.”
Richard was also curious how Monika and Melanie would get on.
“I’m going to like Monika, I know,” she said, “we’ll probably go off together and have a good time, a good chat, and bitch all about Chris.”
Richard wasn’t so certain.
Around eight o’clock, there was a furious thumping on the door. Chris opened it, and from the main room, Richard and Melanie could hear him greet Monika, as well as hearing other female voices. Richard recognized Lorelei and took the next seconds to compose himself.
Then Monika, Gabi and Lorelei came in, all smiles and hugs. Melanie kept back, while they all hugged and kissed, then extended a hand to the three women. Richard put on the soundtrack CD, and as the opening drums and bass pounded out, Monika began jumping around and dancing, followed first by Chris, then Richard, then Gabi, then Lorelei.
There was a babel of languages as they tried to decide what to do. Chris had bought some Sekt and insisted the only way to start an evening was with a bottle of Sekt. Richard nodded sagely at this piece of received wisdom and Gabi backed him up. There only being four glasses, the men drank out of cups.
“OK, listen, we’ll go to Arizona Al’s, first. He’s at Eberswalder Str, we can walk there. Then … where’s the first party ?”
Monika answered him,
“Friedrichshain, near Simon Dach Str. There will be … seven of us, no ? Ja, seven, so we need two taxis.”
Then Gabi coughed suggestively. Monika picked up the hint.
“Ah, point, would anyone like a little … something … nice … hahaha ?” She put the back of one finger to one nostril and sniffed through the other one.
Chris lit up,
“Yeah, let’s go!”
“OK, anybody need the toilet first ? Richard ?” asked Monika.
“Are you sure ?”
“What am I ? Six years old ?”
Monika laughed and led Chris into the bathroom. Shortly afterwards, Chris quoting another line from ‘Pulp Fiction’, screamed,
“I say, Goddamn!”
Richard was next, and took the rolled up fifty Mark note, sniffing the trail of white powder off the toilet lid. Monika came back and asked Melanie, who just shook her head.
Finally, they were good to go.
Walking down Schönhauser Allee, Melanie began to fall behind the others and Richard, not wishing to leave her out, walked along with her, listening to her observations, while wishing he were part of that chain up ahead, as they all walked with linked arms, and Lorelei, in three-quarter length coat and black boots, was looking more beautiful than ever.
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.”
“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.”
“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.