Love and Chaos Part 4(I) Arizona Al 1

21st January 2021

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With Jeff, the inspiration for Arizona Al, Humannplatz, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin 1994

Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994

“So I met this guy at Café Radetzky and we’re having a good talk, and he’s, you know, cool an’ all, digs the right music, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve met him before. So we’re talking and I say where I’m from and, you know, the usual, what I’m doing in Berlin an’ all, when he stops me and says, ‘Hey it’s so cool to meet another dude from Arizona, because I met a real crazy shithead from there a coupla weeks back, and he was just out of it, talking non stop about nothing, and he had all this hair and beard and shit’. And I suddenly realized; he was talking about me ! Yeah, I hadn’t cut my hair, and I had this Fu Manchu thing going on, and that’s where I knew him from … some bar I’d been to, totally out of it. I’m gonna have to stop doin’ that kinda shit.“

Chris turned his head away, so as to wink at Richard. They were meeting in a Café on a late Summer afternoon.

“But, you know, so much of Berlin is hidden, it’s like I can see tourists coming here and going to the usual sights …”

“Which won’t take long,” interrupted Chris.

“… right, an Arch, an old sports stadium, a bit of old Wall, the Death Star.”

Both Richard and Chris laughed at Al’s description of the T.V. Tower, a giant, glass globe surmounting a tall, fluted concrete tower.

“Then going home and wondering why Berlin’s got such a reputation, when nothing appears to be happening. But you know what ? It’s not that things happen in Hinterhof’s, things happen in the hinter of Hinterhof’s. In basements, behind closed doors, over disused shops. When I was first here and didn’t know where to go, I’d just look for cool people and follow them, see where they’re going. Found some great bars that way.”

Richard glanced over at Chris, who waved him in.

“But … didn’t you ever end up just following people home, sometimes ?”

“Oh, yep.”

Chris followed through,

“And they didn’t mind ?”

“Well, they thought it was a little odd, guess, but … no, not really. Oh, I did ask one guy where the hip bars were and he told me to ‘piss off!’ ”

Chris thought for a minute.

“Are you sure ? Could he have been saying, ‘Pass auf ‘ ?”

“Well, it was a ways back. But … yeah, ‘spose. Why ?”

“It means listen, pay attention, watch out. He was probably about to give you directions …”

“Oh, man ! I ask him to get some place, he says, ‘OK, dude, listen up’ and I just walk away. What must he’d a thought of me ?”

“That you were a crazy shithead ?” joked Richard.

The subject moved from general rubbish to women, Al approving of Lorelei, describing her as ‘bodacious’, then onto work, which was why Al had requested this get together.

“OK, just a heads-up, there’s gonna be some changes at the studio. They’ll gonna be laying a lot of people off, making some big changes.”

“No ! Shit. I like it there.”

“You should be all right, but they’re changing the schedule, the whole ‘come as you are, go whenever the fuck’ routine. Good thing, too, ‘sa crazy way to runa business. They want people putting in minimum twenty hours a week, and booking in. Get these guys coming in, hour or two, costs more to keep track of them. There’s at least one big project coming up, and they’re gonna need staff they can rely on. I mean, costs are still low in Berlin, but there’s always talk of shipping the work to some Third World place, and pay ‘em Jack shit. And there getting heavy on the paperwork, too, no more casual work, everyone’s gotta have their Lohnsteurkarte’s and Angemälden … you got those yet, Richy ?”

Al was the only person who could say ‘Richy’ and not make it sound like an insult.

“No. Got nothing yet.”

“Wait. I’ve got an idea,” said Chris. “They need full timers; cool. And I’ve got all the bloody German paperwork. But I can’t do both jobs. If I do the Studio, forty hours, I won’t need the washing-up shit. Then Richy, er, Richard can have it. No paperwork, no questions, cash in hand, free beer, cute waitresses … “

“What, like Ully ?”

“With the thing, yes, I know, but there are others.”

Al followed the conversation as if it were a tennis match, but with the players hitting some unusual, suspect backhanders.

“Yeah, like, whatever happened to Hannah ? She was gorgeous.”

“Left. Got a proper job. Never saw her again.”

“I know. To think … I almost got her to come out with us. I think Melanie scared her off.”

“I think so, too. Marina’s leaving. Did I tell you ? Leaving Berlin.”

“No !”

“Yeah, that Arschloch Ross is doing some building project in Köln. Maybe just for six months, but … we won’t see her again, either.”

“What about Claudia ?”

“Hardly ever see her. She comes in when I’m not there, or … I think she has other jobs.” Chris sought to bring Al back into the conversation. “You know her, Al, Claudia. I stayed with her when I first got here.”

“Claudia … nope, don’t think so.”

“Yes, German girl, really foxy, Irish accent, walks like a cat, looks like she’s just woke up. I introduced you to her. A few times.”

“No, pullin’ a blank. What about her ?”

“I don’t know. Richard, what about her ?”

“That’s what I asked you ?”

“I don’t know. Al, what about Claudia ?”

“Which one’s Claudia … ?”

And so the afternoon wore on. Chris left for work, promising to ask Walter if Richard could take his job, knowing that not only would they not care, they probably wouldn’t even notice, one Spüler being pretty much like any other.

Al and Richard went to get some cheap food, then Al promised to take him to some bars around the southern end of Schönhauser Allee that he had discovered by the ‘follow the cool guy’ method.

At the same time as Chris got to work, Ross entered a bar in Köln, along with some new colleagues. He spoke about the job opportunities in Berlin, but said that he wanted both a new challenge and to live in a city that had a higher standard of living.

The next day, one of his new colleagues told some Irish friends over lunch break about Berlin. One of these was leaving soon for London, where he would work on a building site and tell his new mates about Germany. One of these left to go to another site, where he told his new mates on tea break. One of these workers was a young man called Daniel Roth who had left school with three low grade qualifications, much to the chagrin of his teachers who couldn’t understand how so intelligent a boy would refuse to study. Daniel had been working around building sites for five years, making a living, but finally waking up to the fact that the only person he was hurting by his rebellion was himself.

Throughout the afternoon, Daniel pumped the new man for information, making him repeat all he had heard, about work, paperwork, the practicalities about living in Berlin and how to actually go about finding a job there.

At the end of the shift, Daniel was invited to the pub and was expected to accept. Instead, he told his mates that he had a hot bird that he wanted to shag before he lost interest, and he was excused.

Instead, he went directly to his small, local library, and though the stock was limited, he managed to pick up a history of modern Germany, a guide book to Berlin and a basic German language course.

Before he went to sleep, he had taught himself the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ in German and had started to conjugate them. Then he began inventing a story about the woman he had spent the night with, because his work mates would be expecting it and would want to hear all the details.

Love and Chaos Part 1(I) Richard 3

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

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What ?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good deal. Isn’t that illegal ?”

“Probably.“

“How do you know where to find them ?”

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

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

“Oh, yes.”

“And they don’t get caught ?”

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

“They do ?”

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

“I’m going to love it here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, I see.”

“You don’t do you ?”

“Not at all.”

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

“And the bathroom is … ?”

“No bathroom.”

“Shower ?”

“No shower.”

“Then where do you … wash ?”

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

“Never mind. Let’s have a drink.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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