Love and Chaos Part 9(K) Chris 2

13th October 2021

Winter in Berlin 2021 – Berlin.de
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Part Nine. Berlin. Sylvester 1995 -1996

“She stood you up ! Silke ! Here ! And you kissed, you sonofa…. You should see where she lives, and the shampoo … neon blue, and what a fragrance, designer alltheway, nonea that Schlecker (1) sheiss ! Did ya phone her ? Now, Pimms … no, but have a butcher’s, take a gander at this my friend.” (2)

Thus, Hurricane Chris, back in Rodenbergstrasse, coat still on, hat down over eyes, gloves thrown in different compass points of the room. Thus, Hurricane Chris, a vortex of verbosity, several topics covered in one seemingly endless bombastic tirade, no pause for breath or thought. Now, Hurricane Chris bending and rummaging through travel bags, an auspicious, “Ahhhhhhh, voila !”

Behold, a bottle, one metric-litre, of the finest port, according to Chris, Duty-Free had to offer, who went into pointer dog hunt mode, searching out suitable vessels.

“No port glasses ? Oh, that’s positively Dickensian.” Finally, an intermission for Richard to get a word, but probably no more, into the proceedings.

“Port is quintessentially Dicke …” Almost four words.

“Oh, it’s Melanie, everything, all of a sudden, is ‘Dickensian’. Now, what we need are comma glasses. Hhmmm, OK, these Biberkopf beakers will have to suffice, I want to hear your news, Silke, man ! And ya … where, where did ya kiss her ?”

Richard looked around him:

“Pretty much around here,” pointing to the floor.

“Very funny, no port for you, ya damn kissaholic, I mean, you know what I mean. Anatomy !”

“The lips.”

Chris nearly went into orbit:

“The lips ! Silke ! The lips ! Man … man. Silke, on the lips. And … ?”

“And ?”

“And … ? How was it ?”

“It was … nice.”

Chris thought, amateur dramatic style, finger stroking chin.

“Hhhmmm, nice or … nicccccccceeeee ?”

“It was nice.”

“Oh. Yeah, well, go figure.”

Chris shook his head, and seemed to be pondering the deepest of mysteries. Suddenly, he snapped back to the more pressing business of port, leaving behind the disappointing smoochings of Silke (with the Bond-girl legs).

He continued:

“Stood you up, hey ?”

“And I’ll tell you all about it, but first, we drink, then you tell me about Melanie, I still can’t believe … never mind, then I’ll tell you all that didn’t happen. Which won’t take long. A heads up; nothing happened.”

Chris concurred. They clinked their totally inappropriate glasses, appropriated from Cafe Biberkopf, Chris took off his outer layers as the Öfen had been stoked all day and the room was snug in the extreme, and the catching up began.

“So she’s living at Clapham Junction, near that store Arding and Hobbs …”

“Arding and Hobbs, Arding and Hobbs,” sang Richards to Chris’ utter bemusement until the memory of distant Christmas TV adverts came back.

“Oh, yes, yes, I never, OK, so, Mel’s got this great pad, I mean, Man, it’s so new, so clean, got an intercom, security gates … washing machine.”

“No !”

“Check out my jumper, no, don’t, it’s already been Berlined, oh, it’s only Berlin, and we have port ! Drink up. Prost !”

“And you didn’t go home ?”

“Well, I planned, but everything was booked, booked or fucking hell, do you have any idea how expensive everything is ? Train to Stafford was more than the flight to Berlin. Then when I saw the flat, I just crashed, I mean, I was ex…haus..tttedddd. I couldn’t move. Bag down, shower … hot water, even the water felt …”

“Wetter ?”

“Cleaner. And the shampoo ! My friend, we have accustomed ourselves to a bargain bin basement lifestyle. Port excepted. Man, this port is beautiful.”

“Yes, it’s like Zola. I love Zola, but I’ve hardly read any. Port is exquisite, we can get it here, I guess, but we don’t. Bumped into Danny Boy on Christmas. Gave me this.”

Richard reached over and held up a Penguin Classic edition of Zola’s ‘L’ Assommoir’, black spine, Degas painting on the cover.

“That looks right up my street, some knackered old slapper drowning her miseries. So, Mel, great pad … ”

“How can she afford it on just a grant ?”

“Ah, the plot … mutates. Sister. Sister avec boyfriend. Boyfriend has one of those jobs. Ditto sister. Merchant banker, him, project manager with development portfolio, her. No fucking clue any which way, me. Landed Mel with a part-time gig as managerial consultant.”

“The only part of that that made any sense to me was, ‘No fucking clue.”

Chris threw his hands up;

“I know, I asked, I asked again, I tried making diagrams, zilch.”

“German chef syndrome. You ask the name, it doesn’t take, you try again, you know, you just know, you can’t ask a third time. So you call him Yorckstrasse, and that really pisses him off. So, Mel graduates next summer ?”

“In reality, yes. In her noggin she’s already Erasmus professor at Harvard, Cambridge being somewhat beneath her.”

“Oh …,” exclaimed Richard as a loud firecracker exploded nearby. “She’s coming to stay … here ?”

“Well I can’t invite her to Rigaer 78, can I ? Can I ? No, she’s too busy. Maybe a weekend visit, but that was her just … ”

“Being herself. Now, what the Dickens ?”

“Oh, that, well one day there was a buzz and the intercom was slightly distorted, which incurred her wrath, ‘Oh, how Dickensian.’ Another day the washing machine didn’t spin, you guessed it, ‘How Dickensian.’ Seems someone had lent her some TV drama, ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, I believe, on video.”

“Ya mean she didn’t even read the book ? Kids ! You’re waiting to hear about the date, right ?”

Chris nodded and refilled the glasses. Richard sat back to compose himself. Meanwhile Chris had found the Ritters;

“This chocolate is fucking gorgeous. Ok, the floor is yours. You saw me off at the airport, oh, I forgot, ya dumped me at the U-Bahn … ”

“After which I returned home, picking up the pastry, cookin’ the coffee. Suddenly, bang, bang, bang on the door. Enter Silke, legs and all, hug, exchange of body warmth, increase of heart rate. We natter for an hour or so, she just lives over Stargarder now, we drink, we talk, we smoke, we laugh … we kiss. Once. Long but not too long. Lips closed. No invitation for a follow up. It was, I believed, a taste of things to come. So, we are at Kottbusser Tor, by which I mean I was, and I’m making my way through the drunks and bums and the, ‘Haben Sie Kleingeld, bittes ?’ (3) heading for the right exit, get to the bar, I’m early, of course, get a drink, Campari and soda … and casually wait. Bar’s getting busy, Saturday night before Christmas. I look around, take my drink, sit where I can see the door, just waiting for her to arrive. Make a point of not checking my watch, but this is Berlin …”

“Clocks everywhere.”

“And they are ticking away. S’OK, weather’s terrible, delay on the U-Bahn, I know, it’s Berlin there are never delays on the U-Bahn. She’s putting on special make up, or a dress or … so I wait. I allow her thirty minutes, no problem. It’s now forty-five minutes. I’m sippin’ that Campari as slow as possible. Now it’s an hour. I need the bathroom.”

“Do you stay or do you go ?”

“Oh, I had to go, big time ! All that soda. But if I go and she comes, she may think I’ve gone or stood her up. So I stay. Ten minutes pass. I could have gone five times. Finally, just had to go, but I saw a payphone. Gave her a call.”

“Yeah, and … ?”

“Had it all prepared, ‘Guten Abend, darf ich mit Johanna sprechen, bitte ?’ That’s good isn’t it ? Apparently not. Barbaric baritone belchings from hell, and phone slammed down.”

“Not a good sign.”

“Not a good sign. More port, please. Cheers. Ah, this is heavenly. So, I walk back, expecting Johanna to be there, beaming, radiant, apologetic … Nothing. My glass had been taken, new people in my seat. I checked my watch. Over ninety minutes late. I check outside. Dark, bitter, empty, depressing. Only one thing for it.”

“To Alex, to Samariterstraße, to the Czar Bar, to hell with women.”

“I went out to call her the next day. She has no way to contact me and maybe something came up. Several coats on, phone card and coins, slippin’ and a sliddin’ my way across Schönhauser Allee. Got my patter worked out. ‘Entschuldigen Sie bitte, es tut mir lied …’ As far as I got. Really belligerent death threats, I’m sure. Phone slammed down, eardrum gone for a Burton. And that was that.”

They sat and drank in silence. Richard continued:

“We’re both thinking it. Right ? This time last year … ”

“I was with Monika, you were up to no good with Gabi, chasing Lorelai with Silke on the backburner. Arizona Al, the coolest dude ever. Melanie fucked off and nobody cared how or if she got home. Oh, got ya this.” Chris went into another bag and gave Richard a paper bag covering a paperback.

“Feynman ! ‘Six Easy Pieces,’ incredible. Thanks so much.”

They clinked and finished the port.

“You know,” Richard started, “We could go out it you want. Czar Bar ? Maybe just local, maybe try Silke ?”

“No, I’m really tired. I saw some beer in the fridge. That will be OK. One or two, then I really gotta sleep. I’m exhausted.”

Thus, to the sound of fireworks and cheers, two Englishmen spent what would be their last ever Silvester together in Berlin. Within a year, one would no longer be living in Germany, the other would be on his way to achieving a modicum of fame.

Across town, Daniel was drinking Champagne, not German Sket or Prosecco, genuine Champagne out of a crystal glass that cost more than his weekly rent. He was, undoubtedly, on his way to achieve rather more than just a modicum of fame.

Across the Channel, Alan was at his parent’s home having a marathon film night. He didn’t care for the chiming of Big Ben and the linking of arms for ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ He had gone through his video collection and watched F.W.Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’, and was now waiting for Janet Leigh to take that shower in ‘Psycho.’ ‘La Dolce Vita’ was special, that could wait until tomorrow so, after Hitchcock, he thought Truffaut’s ‘La Mariée Était en Noir,’ would be a perfect conclusion.

Across the Atlantic, Eric was on a bus heading into Manhattan. He wanted to see the ball drop for real. Naturally, the crowds were so dense he didn’t get anywhere near, but at least he was in New York, the centre of the Universe. Where else was the night brighter than the day, where else could you buy anything at anytime ? Where else could you go into any bookshop and find exactly what you were looking for, and then some.

Back in Berlin, Jake was both out of his head, and functioning as sole barman, with the occasional help from Peter. The French were in full force, Claude singing, showing off his new girlfriend, a very cute German lady in a very cute peaked cap. Marc, the eagle-headed chap responsible for creating a gravel-based installation, was with his girlfriend, an ice-blonde German who looked stunning, Johan was talking with his brother, and everybody within earshot. For the German contingent, Robert was making his usual proclamation and initiating some old friends from Heidelberg into serial vodka drinking. Thomas and Stefan were holding their own, and even planning some kind of musical collaboration with York T, who tonight had tied different colour papers in his hair. Sascha was performing some weird dance or mating ritual with Iris, his girlfriend, while Olga was shouting at Jake for being too slow with the Bloody Marys. Boris, now with short hair and dark rings under the eyes, was leaning against a wall, making small talk with some newly-arrived Russians.

Back in west Berlin, in Steglitz, an adorable young lady named Nadeem was at a small party, having one, and only one, glass of Sekt. Her closest friend, who could have been a supermodel if she were taller, couldn’t believe Nadeem was single. Everybody was chasing her. The friend was adamant that the time was right for Nadeem to be caught.

Chris was already snoring while Richard began reading Feynman’s lectures. The port was gone, the beer was gone, the chocolate was long gone.

Fireworks and explosions, laughing, clinking and drinking, hugging and kissing.

Welcome to 1996.

Notes

(1) Schlecker was a low-budget chemist chain. They sold a lot of own brand items. The company went bankrupt in 2012: https://www.ft.com/content/049ef850-0248-11e6-99cb-83242733f755

(2) Both are British slang meaning ‘have a look.’

(3) Do you have any small change, please ? A request for money from homeless

Love and Chaos. Part 9(H) Jake 1

27th September 2021

Photograph by Martin O’Shea 2020

Part Nine. Berlin. Christmas Day 1995

“I couldn’t believe it, fucking hell, man, you know what this crazy bitch woman say ?”

Richard arrived at the Czar Bar just as Johan was delivering these festive felicitations. Jake gave him a nod and Daniel beckoned him over to a free bar stool. It was mid afternoon, there was a mild, happy vibe, no drunken madness, just the buzz of an easy beer or two, or so. And then there was Johan. He was holding court, gesticulating, slamming his bottle down before drinking from it. Daniel turned to Richard;

“’ere’s what you’ve missed. Johan and his girlfriend have split up.”

“No ! When ?”

“Last night.”

Richard asked why and wasn’t prepared for the answer, which Johan himself supplied;

“The whores of Amsterdam !”

The five or six men around the bar laughed. Peter, the one time possible Poseidon, was leaning quietly on the end of the bar and there were a couple of Germans Richard recognised, who smiled at him, raising their bottles. When the laughter died, Daniel was able to elucidate.

“’im and ‘is bird were watching TV last night, and they saw some old clip of Jacques Brel singing ‘Amsterdam’.”

Johan took over;

“Yeah, and he . . .“ here Johan acted out the performance, sans need to exaggerate gestures and expressions. “And this girl, this fucking crazy bitch woman, she say, ‘why he all excited, he only sing about prostitutes ?’ So . . . that it, you know, I tell her, man, she have to go !”

Jake was busy with the tapes and CD’s, looking for some Brel, or at least a Bowie version of ‘Amsterdam’, but the closest he found was Tom Waits, so he played that. He got a fresh beer, made sure everyone was OK for drinks, then called out;

“Hey, Peter, watch the bar, I’ll be right back.” Jake went out the back door and immediately the cry went up for free vodkas, but Peter desisted, taking his new job very seriously. Except when he changed the CD and, selecting a new one, turned it over in his hands, asking;

“Which side do I play ?” then he opened his mouth, missing teeth and all, and laughed.

When Jake returned, Johan and one of the Germans lifted their arms and cried out in happy surprise. Richard turned to see Jake with a guitar.

“I couldn’t find a version on tape, and it’s Christmas, so what the fuck ?”

He turned off the music, tuned up a bit, then began slowly strumming the chords to Amsterdam. His voice was dusky and strained, a little affected but was in tune, and got stronger as the song went on.

When he finished, the bar applauded and demanded more, but instead, Jake turned the music back on, put the guitar in a corner and opened the vodka. Richard stuck with beer, which he drank very slowly.

More people came in, more drinks were poured and the bar split into small groups as Johan joined some French friends, and the Germans left to play Flipper.

Richard called Jake over and congratulated him on his playing. Jake dismissed it with a wave, and launched into an explanation of what the song was really about;

“Yeah, there’s this sailor, and he’s surrounded by the filth of the world, where love is nothing more than a cheap, sordid fuck and people spend all their time just trying to obliterate their minds . . .”

“Sounds like this place,” added Daniel with a laugh, but Jake ignored him, focusing on Richard,

“But this sailor has beauty in his heart, he wants a pure woman, a pure love, he has dreams and ideals and despite everyone trying to drag him down to the gutter, he remains true to himself. And must therefore be alone. Always. Vodka !”

As they clinked Richard, still abstaining from the Stoli, noticed a sadness in Jake’s eyes and understood that Jake was referring more to himself than to any Brel song. Just as Jake often wore a heavy beard to cover up his spots, rashes and eczema, so he adopted a gruff persona to cover up a scarred heart.

At this time, Jake was on at least a bottle of vodka per day, often more. Yet he was legendary in Rigaerstrasse. No one could ever recall seeing Jake sober; alternately, no one had ever seen him hopelessly drunk. He always managed to work to the end. Boris may complain of the mess he left, but the bar was always cleared of sleeping drunks, doors always locked. Chris had lost count of how many times he had been helped up the stairs of his squat by Jake. But also, in all that time, no one had ever seen Jake in a relationship. There had been some usual drunken kisses with drunken squatters, but even these had dried up over the last years. Not that Jake didn’t appreciate women, he always had a comment to make about any woman he saw, never lewd, always respectful judgements.

He had been on his own so long, that he had almost accepted that he always would be despite this being painful and anathema to his romantic spirit, a spirit that longed to take a woman to his bed just to hold her, to love her and feel her love back. He still had faint hopes that he would find someone. Then he remembered his flat. His appearance. Any optimism was crushed. And as it was crushed, a new bottle was opened.

Richard, still refusing vodka, began to leave. He took a look around, thinking that he wouldn’t be back for a long time. He said his goodbyes, responded to Jake’s, “Don’t be a stranger,” with a nod and a commitment to return. Then Daniel stopped him.

“Wait a tic, I’ll walk with ya a bit. Could use some air.”

They walked to Danziger Str, Daniel asking about Johanna.

Richard turned and made the universal sign for ‘no idea’. Daniel put his arm around him then turned the conversation back to himself.

“Me piece comes out in the new year. She wants me to ‘ave a go at poetry, now,” he explained, referring to Jeanette, the editor of Savage Revolt. “Says there’s lots of poetry nights, open mic things around town. Be good to get exposure.”

“Yeah, sounds good.”

“Ya reckon ? Poetry ? Fuck me, I don’t read that faggot shit.”

“It doesn’t have to be all flowers and clouds, you know. Hey, what’s this ?” Richard had seen a small poster for a production of Rimbaud. “And look, it’s in English.”

“Oh, I dunno, it’s some theatre thing. Vincent, yeah ? Jake kinda knows ‘im.”

“Any good ?”

“Only met ‘im once. Right arrogant prick. Total wanker.”

“No, the theatre ?”

“Doubt it.”

“’Season in Hell’. Sounds cheerful. Fancy going ? Mid January.”

“Might as well. ‘ho are these other fucks ? Julie . . . Re . . . torree ? Alan Francis ? Never ‘eard of ’em.”

“I’ll tell Chris. He’ll be up for it. Maybe Jake.” Daniel just snorted. “Yeah. Maybe not.”

“Right, you coming back to the bar, then ?”

“No, think I’ll have an easy evening.” Instead, they found an open Imbiss, had some dreadful fatty food and returned to the bar.

Richard woke up, hungover, headache, hungry, sick and sickened. The fridge was almost empty, the coffee almost gone. This couldn’t continue. The New Year was coming and it had to be different. For Richard’s physical and mental health, it had to be different.

Love and Chaos Part 9(C) Sergei 1

26th July 2021

Berlin winter. Photo by Martin O’Shea.

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Richard hadn’t really spent much time with either of Jake’s Russian flatmates, Sergei and Micha, so wasn’t sure what to expect when Chris told him that Serge wanted a meeting with them.

When they ran the Czar Bar, their choice of unlistenable music and uncharismatic service deterred all but the hardcore. They also closed very early, and often Richard would arrive after work, only to find Jake making an ad hoc bar to cater for the drinkers who were, in many cases, only just waking up. Squatting a squat bar, as Jake put it. Ad nauseam.

Yet they were both friendly and had a reasonable command of English, certainly not learnt from their Death Metal bands. Micha was small, tiny in fact, but was quite solid, with a rather unexpected quirk of suddenly breaking into a breakdance routine. Sergei was of a more serious demeanour, being something of a musician, classically trained on the clarinet, which he refused to play in front of anybody, but whose tones could occasionally be heard in the Hof of the squat house. He would also alternate between a bushy, almost religious zealot-like beard with curly locks, and a completely shaven head. At this moment, in the Berlin winter, he opted for the later, a decision that lead Richard to consider him crazy. But, they had something in common; after being alone for a long time, they both now had girlfriends.

Johanna was known, at least by sight, by a few people, though she had yet to return to the bar. Serge’s girlfriend, however, had made a more ostentatious arrival.

It had been mid week, Andrei making the bar alone, though Boris lent a hand when needed. Andrei also had a new girlfriend, German, and there seemed to be no animosity over the Olga situation. Richard arrived some time before two. There were only about fifteen people in the bar, all men, except one small dark-haired girl who was clearly drunk, or something. She began jumping onto the tables and dancing, enticing some of the men to tell her to strip. She didn’t understand the words, being, as Richard later learned, Spanish, but understood the meaning, and began to comply. Sergie rushed up and tried to stop her, making her put her clothes back on, and pleading with her to step down. No sooner had he succeeded in this, than she began again, different table, same routine, same applause from the clientele.

Eventually, Sergei managed to get her upstairs, to his flat, which impressed Richard. He naively believed Serge only wanted to get her out of the bar for her own protection.

The show over, Richard took a beer and began speaking to Boris about music and women. Boris was happy with Olga, and could see how happy Richard was, now he had met a German girl. They took another beer together, and a vodka, and Richard asked about Chris and Jake. They were off to another squat bar, checking out some band.

Then the back door opened and the Spanish girl rushed in, naked, and began running around the bar, jumping on the chairs and tables, dancing away to the music. When she tired of that, she began walking around the room, sitting on men’s laps, kissing them. Sergei appeared, looking very distraught, totally at a loss. She moved over to Boris, kissed him, then another man and then another, before dancing again. Richard felt uncomfortable and asked Andrei if he shouldn’t do something, but Andrei just shrugged. Suddenly, the girl began crying and making loud, high-pitched screams. A couple of the drunken men began imitating her and laughing but Richard and Boris told them to shut up, and, with Andrei backing them, their commands were heeded. Sergei came over, covered her with his long coat, and, putting his arm around her, led her away again.

Some time later, Chris and Jake arrived.

“Did we miss anything ?” asked Chris.

“No, usual night in the Czar Bar,” was the reply.

The next week, at Biberkopf, Josef came in to the kitchen, and with a scowl slammed the phone down. Richard didn’t care; he had friends and a girlfriend. Chris on the line,

“Hey, you ain’t got nothing on tomorrow, right ? Daytime ?”

“What’s on yer mind ?”

“Sergie wants a meeting with us ?”

“Sergei ? What about ?”

“Well, he’s kinda got this, idea, kinda . . . thing he wants us to, you know, like . . . “

“You don’t know, do ya ?”

“Yeah, but it’s . . . you’ll see.”

“What kinda meeting ? Do we need suits ? Should we take minutes ? Where is it ?“

“Your place. Around one, one-thirty ?”

Next morning, Richard went to to the local Spar, picked up some water, tea-bags, fruit juice, then went to the baker to get some Berliners, or doughnuts. Then he waited.

Sometime after two, there was a knock.

Sergie’s idea, which he expressed in a straightforward manner, was to stage a play in one of the spaces in Rigaer Strasse. Richard nodded, looking over at Chris, wondering how it affecting them, when Sergie delivered the punchline;

“And I want you to write it,” he said, pointing between the two of them, “as it is in English.”

Chris just held a wide grin, enjoying seeing Richard trying to hold a polite smile amidst his confusion, not to say utter panic. He managed to splurt out that he, they, had never written anything, had no idea how to write or what to write about about. They had studied Physics, Science, they wrote in equations.

“Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter,” said Sergei with a dismissive wave of his hand. Chris clarified;

“He has the idea, ideas, just needs us to put it into a script.”

“Yes, exactly, exactly.”

Richard made coffee and offered the cakes, to buy time, but there was no stopping Sergei, and in between mouthfuls of pastry, washed down by large gulps of burning coffee, he did his best to explain.

Every so often, Richard would look over at Chris, but most times Chris just shrugged his shoulders, or nodded encouragingly at the Russian.

It seemed to be a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and an American Indie film. Peter, the old squatter, who did indeed look like a classical actor gone to seed, would be some kind of Greek God, looking down on proceedings. Richard mentioned that with Peter’s alleged nautical background (no one really knew anything about him, but the received wisdom was that he had been a sailor of the ‘girl in every port’ variety), he could be Poseidon, complete with trident and conch shell. Chris already had a pad and pencil ready. Sergei rocked back and forth, slapping his thigh, crying out;

“Yes, write it down, write it down.”

He repeated this order, accompanied by laughs and slaps, every time he liked a suggestion, which seemed to happen every time a suggestion was made.

It was decided that Peter would be Poseidon, with a shirtless Robert of the, “Shit on a stick,” as a kind of cup-bearer, though a vodka bottle-bearer would be more apt. The idea of getting these two together, outside of the Czar Bar, for rehearsals was so far beyond the realms of possibility that it wasn’t even funny, but Richard went along with it, as Sergei described even more elaborate scenarios, with an apparently endless cast.

Chris made various suggestions about who could play what part, all of which elicited the same response of laughing and slapping.

It seemed to Richard that the plot went something like this: Peter, or Poseidon, would make an opening speech about the nature of love and life, maybe with a song (a sea-shanty, Richard offered, which caused Sergei to clutch his sides with mirth) before being lured back to sleep by the vodka bottle. He would be on a platform above the main stage, decorated with sea motifs.

On the main stage, which would resemble an American diner, a bunch of young characters would enter. They were all in relationships with each other and would talk about love. Already Richard was concerned, but politely listened.

It soon became apparent that there was no plot, and that Sergei had merely disconnected ideas, partly developed, at best. Not only would they have to write the dialogue, they would have to come up with the story as well.

Richard felt himself losing patience. He was listening to Chris mention people as possible actors, knowing that even if they did agree, they would never actually learn their parts, rehearse or even remember agreeing to it in the first place. He also found it hard to concentrate as he was thinking about Johanna. They were going out again on the weekend, and he felt, rather he hoped, that the relationship was about to turn more intimate. So far he had to be content with hand-holding and kisses on the cheek.

Still Sergei continued, but then a twist occurred that made Richard want to stop the meeting, which he could tell was a waste of time.

The idea for the second act was that a group of totally new actors come on stage, and pretty much repeat all that had happened in the first.

“And what about the other characters ?” asked Richard, “where are they ?”

“They gone.”

“And they come back later ?”

“No, they gone. Now, we have the new people.”

“But . . . “ Richard was at a loss, and even Chris, who had been strangely enthusiastic was quiet.


Chris was hoping that Sergei would come up with a better explanation than just simply, ‘they gone’, but was losing hope, nor could he quickly think of a feasible solution. But he really wanted this to work, and had already planned to ignore all of Sergei’s half-arsed nonsense and make his own play. With help from Richard.

The catalyst was hearing that Daniel would be having a piece published in ‘Savage Revolt’, thanks to a suggestion from Chris, credit for which he was not shy in proclaiming.

Chris had enjoyed his spell as band manager, but was resentful that it had only brought him stress, while Daniel had lived the rock star life. At least for the few weeks of the band’s existence. Daniel had become a local star, impressing the women, while Chris remained just a barman, always to be in Jake’s yawing shadow. Sergei was offering Chris his chance to move centre stage. He had even thought about taking a part, as well as directing. But he was genuinely shocked at Richard’s reaction.

“You can’t introduce characters, get the audience interested in them, then never show or mention them again.”

“Yes,” corrected Sergei, “we have new characters, now the audience interest in them.”

Chris tried to smooth things over;

“We can talk about this later.”

Richard continued arguing with Sergei, neither giving in. Then Richard asked where would all the new actors come from.

“Inez knows people. She is actress.” Sergei told them about his girlfriend’s acting experience and Richard resisted the temptation to say that he had caught one of her performances. It was obvious Sergei was only doing this as a way to provide an opportunity for her, so Richard, in love himself, understood, and kept his thoughts private.

Chris took this as a good sign and was already thinking about ways to simplify the script, believing the play was going to happen as much as Richard new it never would.

And Richard was right. Inez left Sergei before the week was out. Rumour had it that Sergei caught her in bed, or sleeping bag on the floor, with Micha, and she, like the play, was never heard of or mentioned again.

Love and Chaos Part 9(B) Johanna 1

19th July 2021

Part Nine. Berlin.

Johanna brushed her short blonde hair and checked her watch. She hated being late, and she hated waiting. Richard, her date, waited nervously outside the cinema. Chain smoking. Throwing away cigarettes half smoked. Lighting up fresh ones. Walking up and down, battling the cold, battling his anxiety. Johanna arrived sheltered by a scarf. She removed it and smiled at her date. She took his arm and they went inside.

A movie followed by drinks in a bar. Predictable. Safe. Richard was a safe and predictable man. Johanna had chosen the film, after she took him to a light and lively bar. This spacious corner Kneipe was popular with students, bench seats and large tables where they could count out their small coins hoping it amounted to the price of a beer. Music played, old-time waltzes. People sang, laughed, shouted. Sometimes Johanna had to move closer to Richard to be heard. The chilling night walk to the station, a shared journey as far as Alexanderplatz. Richard insisted on waiting with her for her connection. She found that sweet. She kissed his cheek goodbye, held his hand before she got onto the train. Smiled and waved as the train pulled away.

Johanna thought about how pleasant the evening had been. She would certainly see Richard again. If he called. After that, she thought no more, not wanting to expect anything. She didn’t want one more disappointment, one more man who seemed so different, so ideal, only to have all her illusions painfully shattered, be left permanently damaged. It had happened too often. The chances of finding someone who would love, respect and look after her were zero. So Johanna believed.

‘A cry for help’. Johanna hated that expression. A meaningless banality uttered by those who could never conceive pain. Real physical pain. Real emotional pain. A rationalisation, a way of tying up with one neat thread, the thousands of multiplying loose ends. The psychologically scarring, unanswerable questions. Johanna tried to kill herself. She wasn’t crying for help. She was crying for death. The cry was from her own demons imploring her. The agony she was in would never end, the crying, the calling was never going to end.

While her family asked the ‘why ?’ question, Johanna had one of her own; why was she alive ? Worse than ‘the cry for help’ was the, ‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ dictum, as if someone was watching over her. She spat on that fallacy. If anyone was watching, it was with a sadistic grin, not a protecting hand. Failure. She was alive and would have to account to her inconsolable parents and clueless doctors if she were to regain the freedom she needed. The freedom to try again. The freedom to succeed.

A list of easily acceptable motives; boyfriend trouble, pressure of work, lack of fulfilment in her life. Easily remedied. As quickly as she had been admitted, she was discharged, returned to her parent’s suburban house. Searching for university courses. Her parents were sure she’d meet a nice man at college, and all would be well. Johanna’s placid smile always dropped when the subject of men came up. She believed that had she confessed the real reason behind her suicide attempt, she would have sickened and repulsed the doctors, who would thereafter treat her as filth, too contemptible and contaminating for their sanitised wards, sanitised words, sanitised world.

Teenage dramas common to many pretty girls. Suddenly being very popular with boys, who wanted one thing from her. She had once been cornered by three teenage boys who had succeeded in removing and keeping her panties as ‘proof’ of their conquest. She was just grateful that they hadn’t gone any further. Her first serious boyfriend had been sleeping around with her other friends. When discovered, claimed it was a test to see if he really loved her. A confused inexperienced teenager, Johanna knew this was no test of love. The boyfriends that followed were faceless. They pressured her for sex, then dropped her after their few minutes of glory.

Word had gotten around that she was anyone’s for the asking. Time to leave school, look for work. The adult world. Shops were always hiring pretty young girls. Her parents knew she had more independence than academic ability. They felt proud, chose to feel proud, of their daughter making her own life. They arranged for her to stay in a shared house in Wilmersdorf that belonged to an old family friend, Herr Schulz. He appeared very friendly to Johanna, very attentive, offering to drive her wherever she needed to go. She found his slits of eyes and joined eyebrows charming, as if he were a creature from a fairy tale. But it wasn’t long before that tale took a very adult twist.

Still being very young and inexperienced, Johanna had difficulty managing her money. Buying clothes without making sure she had covered her rent. The first time, Herr Schultz smiled, patted her knee and told her not to worry. The next time he playfully spanked her, but she wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Knowing that she would not be able to pay on time, Herr Schultz took Johanna to her room and screamed at her. He told her how much money she was costing him, how many bills he had, how she was destroying his business, endless abuse that paralysed her with fear. He then calmly, in a professional way, offered her a choice of services that she could perform to pay her debts.

Frustrated at her lack of response, he grabbed her hand, used it to open his fly and showed her what to do. Grotesque sounds and expressions as his pleasure increased. The smell. She was sick when it was over. Repeatedly washing, scrubbing her hand. That was just the start. Johanna was still on the lowest wages. Herr Schultz began improving the house, all of which added expense to the rent. When he threatened her with sending her home and telling her parents that she had been bringing too many boys back, she went along with his next demand. She stripped, got into bed, and after preparing him for the condom, allowed him to do what he wanted. Emotionally, she felt nothing, barely blinked, didn’t move. She refused to cry out in pain, to shed tears, to show any life. As soon as he was satisfied, she left the bed, locking herself in the bathroom until he was gone. This was the way it was going to be. And it was. Until she met Marcus.

Marcus was a driver at work. She only saw him two or three times a week, but he was so different to anyone else she had known. He was confident, strong, a real Alpha-male, always centre of attention. He noticed her and told her, rather than asked her, that he would take her out. She felt that someone so powerful could protect her. Johanna was determined to keep him interested, allowed him to sleep with her that first night. Her nightmare with Herr Schultz had at least taught her what men want. Marcus got the benefit of her unsentimental education. He was used to taking what he wanted, and wasn’t prepared for her, a wild sex-fiend in a demure body. Johanna began bringing him home when she knew the landlord would be there, and it worked. He collected the rent and left her in peace.

For a time, she was something close to happy, though she never was able to predict what mood Marcus would be in. He’d either be very rough with her, foregoing any sort of foreplay, and leaving her bruised and sore, or would be completely docile and indifferent to her body. Nothing surprised her about men. Her own moods altered from gregariousness to complete detachment, from contentment, to deepest depression. Why should men be any different ? Hindsight. In hindsight it was obvious. Erratic behaviour, nervousness, sweating. Johanna’s mental state was controlled by unpredictable internal forces. Marcus’ was dependent on external. She hadn’t even realised that her boyfriend was on drugs. Another reason to detest herself soon followed.

One Saturday morning, she was woken by Marcus who barged into her room, demanding money. She had just woken up and pointed to her bag, naively thinking that it was to pay a taxi. Marcus threw the bag down in disgust when he saw how little she had. He began rambling, muttering incoherent words to himself, walking up and down the room. He looked over at her, in bed, stopped his disturbing movements. He told her to wait. Two men came into the room. One took a look at her and seemed pleased, the other looked around, opening drawers, picking up her possessions. She looked at Marcus, who moved over to her and told her it was all right, before he grabbed her arms and pinned her down.

The first man pulled down his trousers, threw back the bedclothes and had her panties off before she could even think. He was finished very quickly. All the time, Marcus, with one hand over her mouth, the other holding her down, was telling her that everything was going to be OK. The second man’s turn. He made sure she saw him, made her see the hatred in his eyes. He preferred to bite and slap her, made sure he caused her as much pain as possible, her muffled cries only encouraging him. He stopped and demanded that she finish him off with her mouth, to the approving applause of his friend. Marcus assisted, grabbing her long hair and forcing her onto him. The man screamed out, grabbed her chin and made her look at him. He demanded, ‘Swallow, bitch !’ As an encore he slapped her face and spat on her.

She fell back on the bed. Lifeless, not physically there as if she were above the room, looking down on the shell of a body that she knew was her own, yet alien to her. She could hear distorted voices, the men talking. Something was exchanged. Marcus laughed. Why weren’t they leaving ? Marcus was offering them a drink ? After some time, minutes or hours, probably only seconds, they left. The second man gave Marcus a friendly slap on the face, telling him he was a lucky man, before acting out his recent conquest. They all laughed. All except Johanna. Marcus immediately began preparing himself, jumping on the bed next to the immobile Johanna. He relaxed, lay back, and was in his own world.

At some point, Johanna began moving. She knew she had to wash herself and painfully made her way to he bathroom. Only then did the first realisation crack the shock and soft tears flowed faster, as she tore at her hair, vomited in the sink and began throwing herself against the walls, a terror-stricken animal in a tiny cage. She saw the razor blade.

Johanna woke up in hospital, wrists restrained, tubes in her arm, the contemptuous eyes of a male nurse watching over her. His eyebrows reminded her of Herr Schultz and she tried crying out, but no sound came. She never knew how she got there. The police wanted to know about her boyfriend. One of them said that she should have just died. A total waste of their time looking after silly girls who make a big performance if their boyfriend forget to bring them flowers. Stupid bitches.

Johanna was kept on suicide watch. Couldn’t be left alone, couldn’t lock the bathroom, couldn’t take a bath without being observed. She would have to give a reason before she could leave. What could the doctors do, anyway ? Nothing could be undone. Ever. The only help she got was from Günther, a fellow patient and another failed suicide. It was obvious to her that he was gay, so was the only man she felt safe with. Her own father had led her to Herr Schultz and, in turn, to Marcus.

Günther explained how the system worked. The sessions with the psychiatrists, the group talks. The correct responses. Nobody really cared, anyway. The first time Johanna had heard someone else express her sentiments. She bonded with him. The only professional interest seemed to come from a young medical student who saw patterns in her behaviour that seemed to indicate a certain condition. He asked to be allowed to study her, but case studies on opposite-sex subjects were discouraged. No qualified doctor had time to listen to over-enthusiastic amateur speculations regurgitated from recently-read textbooks.

Johanna followed the advice. Back to the suburbs, with Günther’s phone number. Only the thought of seeing him again kept her from repeating the attempt, that and her mother’s pathetic act of finding reasons to come into her room to check up on her. Night and day. Externally, Johanna tried to alter as much as she could. Her hair, always long, was now cut into a boyish bob. She was obsessed with washing, showering several a day, in a room that now had no lock. No control over when the memories would come back. She became a different person, unrecognisable. She would scream abuse. She fell in hysterical crying fits. Once she grabbed the largest kitchen knife and spat demonically, stabbing an imaginary Marcus, over and over.

Johanna had to see two or three psychiatrists, neither of which inspired Johanna to open up. Her history of abuse was too painful and sickening for anyone else to hear. She would deal with it her own way. Her look already altered. She cut off all contact with everyone who knew her. Her parents encouraged her to go back to school, get some professional qualifications. There were several business courses that could be of practical use. And she choose denial. She tried to block out everything that had happened to her, to project it onto an imaginary friend. She wanted to believe it worked. Denial hadn’t a chance.

By the autumn of 1995 she had started on her course and was doing well. Living at home and travelling into Berlin. She became an avid reader, losing herself in long books. By studying. By spending so much time studying, she hoped to block out the past. But it always attacked her, especially when she was alone. She was generally alone. To protect herself from herself, she started accepting offers to go out. Invitations were constant. She gave nothing of herself, no encouragement. She always made sure that she never dated anyone more than twice. Avoid the implied sex after the third date. She only really felt comfortable with Günther, who was now living in Friedrichshain, not exactly the epicentre of gay Berlin. He was quite taken by a certain squat bar he had discovered, and his vivid description made Johanna curious to see it.

She felt quite relaxed there, and was amazed at the lack of sexual tension. She could just relax and drink with her friend, no one came up and tried to join them, or start trying to pick her up. One night she looked over and saw a tall young man who seemed both at home and totally out of place. She could sense something about him. When he looked over she smiled at him. It was no surprise that he looked away, not in arrogance, but out of nervousness. Johanna decided that she would like to meet him. Something about him told her that he was different.

Love and Chaos Part 9(A) Daniel 1

11th July 2021

Royalty-free Berlin, Charlottenburg photos free download | Pxfuel
Charlottenberg, West Berlin. Google royalty-free photos.

Part Nine

Berlin. November 1995

Daniel was pleased to see Chris back, working with Jake, but he was not going to let the chance for some serious winding-up slip by.

The relationship with Veronica was over. Their last evening together at Richard’s had been mechanical and emotionless. Nothing was said but it was obvious, all passion was dead.

Chris had seen Johan once or twice. The meetings on the street were frosty, but as Jake had predicted, Johan was not the sort to hit anyone, even if they had stolen his girlfriend.

“Well, more like you borrowed her, not stole,” clarified Daniel, with a blatant lack of sensitivity. “Least you got some action.”

“And reaction.”

“What’s wrong with Richard ? Not gay, is he ?”

“No, he’s not gay.”

“Why ain’t I ever seen him with a girl then ?”

“He’s just unlucky, that’s all. Or, I’m starting to think, very lucky.”

Daniel laughed.

“You know what ? You could be a comedian. Really. You’re a funny geezer.”

“Yeah, right. Anyway, what you up to now ? Band getting back together ?” Chris asked ironically.

“Somehow can’t see that happening. You heard the latest ?”

“Hey, I work here. I get extra shifts because Boris isn’t here, a-haha. I see Andrei working alone, a-haha. I put two and two together, a-haha. I put Boris and Olga together. A-haha.”

“Yeah, official. They fucked off to Russia, and came back married.”

“Married ?”

“Yeah, rings and all. Andrei perplexed and pole-axed. Sascha just finds it all very funny. Charley George was best man, apparently.”

“No more Sawhead, I take it ?”

“Thank fuck ! Turned into a right pig’s ear. Last concert, fucking hell !”

“Yeah, were you really gonna hit Sascha ?”

“Well I weren’t gonna fucking hit Andrei ! No, think I’ll start writing, don’t have to depend on other people. Pen, paper, bingo !”

“Interesting, interesting. There was a friend of Arizona’s who writes for some magazine. Ex-pat thing. What’s it called ? Something quite cool. Ah, yeah, ‘Savage Revolt’. You should try them.”

“Yeah, all right. You got a copy ?”

“No, but can probably get one. Anyway, something to think about.”

On the following Saturday, both Daniel and Richard were there early and, along with Jake, had a long talk about Berlin, bands and booze. And women.

Daniel had found the magazine and had called the editor,

“Some knackered old septic. Bored, middle-aged, housewife type. Rich housewife type.”

“Errr, I don’t know what that cockney shit, ‘knackered’ means,” Jake interrupted.

Chris explained, both literal and general definitions; extremely tired, often after excessive sexual activity.

“Oh, haven’t been knackered for a long time, hahaha. What the fuck is ‘septic ?’ ”

“One of your lot, American; septic tank, Yank. Anyway, she said if I could get something to her by next Friday she’d see about publishing it in the next edition.”

“Any ideas, yet ?” asked Richard.

“Not your love life, that’s for sure. Fucking blank page, mate. What about her then ? Over at that table ?”

Daniel indicated a young girl with a Louise Brooks bob dressed in black sitting at a table next to a man who just looked out of place.

“Oh, she’s been in a few times. Nice. Pretty,” said Jake.

“Yeah, different man each time,” from Chris.

“Don’t mean nothing. Hey, she’s looking over.”

Richard had noticed her since she had first come in, but seeing as she was in company, dismissed any possibility of anything happening. Ever.

Now he looked over. The girl was looking slowly around, smiling at something her friend was saying, a kind of fixed smile, polite. Then she looked at Richard, and their eyes meet. They both held the look. It was Richard who looked away first, but when he looked back, she was still looking at him. Now she smiled and looked away.

Some time later, she stood up to leave, or so it appeared. Her friend left, but the girl walked to the toilet, passing behind Daniel. As she did so, she looked at Richard and gave a little, but wonderful smile. Again, they looked into each other’s eyes. Then she was gone.

Richard didn’t hear anything Daniel said. His heart raced, his breathing was erratic.

Daniel was speaking about authors, Dickens in particular, when the girl came back and stood next to Richard, to order a new drink.

Richard almost had to get up and walk away; she smelt incredible. How was that even possible in the Czar Bar ? She got her beer then looked over,

“Dickens ? Sorry, but I heard you talk about him. He’s one of my favourite authors. Hello, I’m Johanna.”

Daniel then performed a manoeuvre that was copied for many months afterwards. He stood up from his stool and, walking backwards, invited the girl to have his seat, as he disappeared into the mass of bodies.

Richard was glad he’d had some vodka, also glad he hadn’t had so much vodka. His first instinct was to order more, but Chris refused, saying it was too early. Richard understood. He had scared away Carla with his drunkenness. Let him spend at least one evening with this new woman.

From Dickens, they spoke about Berlin, London, (which she hadn’t visited but wanted to), life as a student in Germany (she studied business) and everything else.

Richard found her easy to speak to, and she found him interesting, funny and polite.

After an hour she had to go, but gave him her phone number and an invitation to call,

“Thank you. You are so kind. It was nice to just sit and talk to someone. Please call me.”

And she gave him a kiss. On the cheek.

She couldn’t have been gone more than two seconds before Daniel, Chris and Jake descended on Richard with a barrage of questions.

Richard, now able to drink vodka freely, which he did, merely held the phone number up, before putting it safely away.

Daniel pretended to write the number down, making Chris laugh, which in turn made Jake laugh, which had a knock-on effect on Richard.

Once he reached a certain level, Richard refused any more vodka. He also left as soon as the S-Bahns were running.

By the Friday deadline, Daniel had written a short story as he had been instructed.

Jeanette, the bored, middle-aged housewife who organised the magazine, welcomed him into her west Berlin apartment, the largest by far Daniel had yet seen. He was shown through several rooms, all with high ceilings and elaborate furnishings.

He waited in what appeared to have been a once elegant reception room while she prepared tea. One whole wall was a bookcase. He got up and looked at all the titles.

Jeanette carried the silver tea service and asked, ‘Lemon or cream ?’ Daniel resisted all temptation to be sarcastic or obnoxious. He liked his surroundings. Anyone that lived like this could do him a lot of good. He was charming and polite, the whole visit.

He left with a handshake and a promise that his work would be evaluated carefully, and a decision made by the time Daniel was invited to place a telephone call.

He thought back to a time in London. His east London office had a job in Hammersmith, west London. As he was driven from Stepney, through the City and towards the west, past Westminster and into Fulham, Daniel looked out of the window and couldn’t believe it was the same city. It was a class apart. It was a world apart.

He felt the same now, walking to the nearest U-Bahn station, looking around at the houses, going past the bistros and cocktail bars, watching the luxury cars gliding up and down the street.

He didn’t want to leave. He went into a café, with aproned waiters, and ordered a coffee. He couldn’t afford much more, so he made it last, and looked out onto the plush, swanky street.

Love and Chaos Part 8(F) Chris 2

29th June 2021

The model for Cafe Biberkopf, Steglitz, south west Berlin. Google Images

Part Eight. Berlin. September 1995

Richard decided to go straight home after work, a rare event, as he usually took two night buses to get to Friedrichshain, to get to the Czar Bar, to get blind drunk.

As he entered the Hof, he looked up and saw his lights on. Chris was there.

He came in, expecting warm greetings, shouts of, “Hey, how ya doin’ ?” and such like. The odds were against Richard returning home early and sober, so it was quite an event.

But Chris was sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and looking nervous, even scared. Richard also noticed Chris’ bag in the room, full of clothes.

He didn’t wait for Richard to ask, but offered two words that explained everything,

“Johan knows.”

It had begun at the Sawhead concert. Playing a different bar with different bands had created a festival feeling amongst the band members and their entourage.

Chris had been telling everyone about the concert. He had asked Arizona Al to appear, and to bring his own posse.

Another new person was Carla, Veronica’s friend, who had just arrived in Berlin.

Chris and Richard went to the Russian’s house mid afternoon on the Saturday to help them move the equipment. This time, it was only the drum kit and guitars, as the bar had their own P.A. System and amps.

The drinking began early, but it was controlled, just beers to maintain the natural high.

As they were setting up, they could sense that it was going to be special; a lot of people were milling around, either bar workers, their friends, other bands, their friends, other squatters, passers-by, those who were curious about the event, those who themselves were merely curious.

One such was a man who was very tall, slightly cross-eyed, and wore a suit of fluffy fabric with a pattern that resembled a Dalmatian dog. He had bits of coloured paper tied to strands of his hair, and wanted to play. Apparently, he was a one-man band named Necrophilia, and played Goth-Death-Experimental-Electronics.

The bill was a little light and he was told that if he could get his equipment here within an hour, he could go on, after Arizona Al and before Perry Coma. Chris had insisted that Sawhead The Bear close the show. They were the main event.

Daniel now dressed the part. He had a long black leather coat, more like a cloak, and wore large sunglasses, always. He had spent a lot of time with Arizona Al, gathering tips. Daniel appreciated that Arizona was the kind of guy who could throw on any old thing, and look so naturally cool. Daniel mentioned this to Richard,

“Undoubtedly, but you have heard him ?” came the uncharacteristically cynical reply.

The bar had a front room, long and deep, but the stage area, much larger and square, was reached by a corridor, guarded by two squatters acting as security. It was decided to charge 2 Marks entrance, to be split between the acts. The bar was expecting to make a killing.

Jake allowed Chris to go on the understanding that after Sawhead played, he would bring the entire audience back to the Czar Bar so they too could make a killing, in the name of vodka.

There was the usual controlled and semi-controlled and completely uncontrolled anarchy when it came to sound checking. The man on the controls was part of the Heidelberg contingent that had descended on east Berlin, a group of ten or so young men from that western university town. His name was Thomas, a sensible-looking young man with a real job and career, working as an audio engineer for a radio station.

Thomas approached this gig with the same level of professionalism as to his normal work. Unfortunately, the bands didn’t and it proved impossible to assemble all members of a band at the same time.

Daniel was too busy talking to some women who had arrived, and even suggested that Chris should stand in to test the mic level. Thomas said no to Pavel, who told Chris, who told Andrei who marched out to get Daniel to rehearse, to drag him by force, if necessary. Daniel tore himself away, predicting that tonight would be his first Berlin three-some.

The only one who matched Thomas for professionalism was Arizona Al, who turned up early, with just his acoustic guitar. He was told he’d only have time for two numbers, and he was happy with that.

Necrophilia appeared, a large keyboard under his arm and began setting up while Arizona played. The sounds he produced made everyone listening think that the mics were set too high and were feeding back, but Thomas nodded his head and understood that this was part of the act. Thomas also seemed to be the only one who appreciated it, as well.

Perry Coma swaggered in, acting as if they owned the place and, being the local band, they kind of did.

Boris listened to them for a while, checking out the guitarist, but soon walked away, seeing no competition there.

He conferred with Andrei and Sascha then asked Daniel if he could do an extended solo in one of the songs, but Daniel wasn’t too happy, and said that they can’t start messing around with the songs now. Boris knew that Daniel just didn’t want anyone else getting any attention, and was not going to be told how and when to play.

Both complained to Chris,

“Fucking hell,” he moaned to Richard, “all I get are problems. Not one fucking thank you for getting the gig, for bringing in people, making sure they get paid, go on last . . . Veronica ! Bella !”

Veronica and a friend walked in, nervously looking around. She saw Chris and walked over, taking a kiss on the cheek. She introduced Carla, and Richard ordered drinks. Suddenly the evening took an almighty upswing.

The concert began with Arizona Al, who commanded the stage, made two or three thumps on the floor for a time beat and launched into Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’. He had the crowd from the first strum. He followed it by an original number, but the good feeling initiated kept up. As he walked off, he was patted and cheered, and there were unanimous calls for an encore.

Chris and Richard were amazed. Why hadn’t he played like that before ? They were going to have to reassess their whole opinion of him. He was simply amazing, and to improve things further, Arizona came over to them, which raised the profile of Chris and Richard in the eyes of everyone. Especially two very beautiful Italian girls.

Necrophilia played next. And it was bad. So bad and so noisy that it was funny. Both girls laughed, charming the men.

Thankfully, the performance was over in ten minutes, as the entire room had cleared. The bar made good business.

Next up were Angry Black Men, an attempt at hip hop, some Germans dressed as they thought angry black men dressed in the hoods of New York. They got the crowd going, had some good beats, but the pretend accents caused laughter from the native English speakers.

After a small intermission, Perry Coma played and their fans marched down the front, and began jumping up and down, pogoing, throwing beer and spitting as the band played a distorted hybrid of punk and Death Metal.

A couple of singer-songwriters did an unplugged set that nobody pain much attention to, then it was time for Sawhead The Bear.

The Czar Bar contingent screamed and shouted out. Daniel made sure he entered the stage last, wanting the band to be playing, but they just stood around, lost, waiting for their singer.

Daniel stood, back to the audience, then thumped his foot, twice. Richard looked over at Chris and mouthed ‘Arizona Al !’ and Chris nodded.

They got a great reception and their set was getting tighter, but they played such a wide selection of music, it weakened their impact. One song was pure Indie Pop, the next, a country song, followed by Boris playing a funky guitar pattern. It was their covers that got the best response.

They played an encore which was a much looser version of a song played earlier. Now Boris wasn’t going to be restrained, and launched into a lengthy solo, turning his back to Daniel. But it was shit hot. He was on fire. He allowed himself one look into the audience and focused on Olga. Andrei finished the song early and unplugged his bass. He walked off the stage and took a fresh beer. Daniel stayed behind to get all the applause.

Chris pulled himself away from Veronica, saying he had to see to, “My band.” There was stress on, “My band.”

After their equipment was packed up, there was a little spat. Daniel wanted to go straight up to the bar, where he had two women waiting. The band said they needed help to get the drums and guitars home. Daniel said that they could do it without his help, it was their stuff, not his.

Chris didn’t want anything to spoil the evening. He found a solution. Everything could be stored upstairs, in Pavel’s room, where it would be safe. They could collect it tomorrow afternoon. All they had to do now was wait for the money, then go to the Czar Bar.

Agreement and fresh beers.

The reason Chris was so happy was a piece of news Veronica had let slip; Johan had left that day. He wasn’t in Berlin.


The girls had another effect on them; they steadied the drinking. Despite being in a bar most of the evening, they were tipsy but no more. The walk in the cold air to the Czar Bar took fifteen minutes, and sobered them further. The girls walked slowly, but that wasn’t a problem.

The Czar Bar was in full swing and got renewed energy from the influx of new people. Chris had to work but spent every spare second looking at or talking to Veronica.

The girls finally got tired long before the night was anywhere close to ending. Richard held Carla’s hand and told her how happy he was to meet her, desperately playing up the polite Englishman angle. He gave her two kisses on the cheek, and their hands remained touching until she walked away, with a wave.

Chris also got an innocent kiss on the cheek, but there was a little whisper between them.

After the girls had gone, Chris smiled, shook Richard’s hand, and poured them and Jake a well-deserved vodka. Then the night began to fade to blackout.

The next night, with Carla sleeping, Veronica went to Chris’ room, to borrow a book. She stayed for an hour.

This was repeated several times over the next two weeks.

On the Wednesday following the gig, Richard got a call at work. Chris reminded him that he and Jake had the bar that night and that he should come over. Carla had been asking about him.

The worst of the Summer was over and although the garden was still open, it was quiet, the people there drinking rather than ordering food; less food, less washing up.

The new chef appeared to be much better, albeit very messy. He made Richard a special dinner every night, on a giant plate, and would return from the cellar with a glint in his eye. He carried a large bucket full of onions and packets of spice and milk and put this in a far corner of the kitchen. He then got two ice cream glasses. He went back to the corner and there was the unmistakable hiss of a bottle of gassy alcohol being opened. He made a ‘pssss’ sound to Richard and beckoned him over, handing him a glass of expensive Sekt. After they had drunk, the chef, Jürgen, hid the piccolo bottle deep in the trash bin.

But there was a delay in getting paid, as giving the Spüler his money was the lowest priority of the staff, so much so that he missed a connection and had to wait nearly half an hour for the next night bus.

When he got to the bar, he was in the mood for drinking and drinking hard. He took three vodkas in the first ten minutes. Carla joined him for one, looked surprised at his second and horrified at his third. Chris laughed, and jokingly mentioned that he should perhaps slow down.

So Richard asked Jake instead.

He next memory was waking up, semi-undressed at home. Half of his money was gone, spent in the bar. He couldn’t sleep but couldn’t move either. He stayed in bed, hoping to get some sleep. After this proved impossible, he made coffee after coffee and smoked the remainder of his cigarettes.

Tonight it was the east German chef. And the staff he hated. He felt like having a drink before going into work, but didn’t want a Nuremberg Part II. Then a blurred flashback; he had a vague recollection of Carla tapping him on the shoulder, telling him he drank too much.

Carla, witnessing Richard’s drunken transformation, was no longer interested in even seeing him again, let alone starting any kind of relationship.

Veronica was unhappy with Johan, had been for a long time, was sure he was seeing other women, but was still in love with him. She was fond of Chris, and tried convincing herself that he could be the new man. But she was unwilling to listen; she knew herself too well.

Chris was also having misgivings. He was in love with Veronica and now had her. He told himself that Johan would understand, and that he and Veronica could be together. But . . .

One Friday afternoon, going to visit Richard and bumping into him on Schönhauser Allee, as he was returning with two bottles of wine, he opened up.

Richard’s main priority was getting the wine open, and Chris knew better than to start his story before Richard had taken a drink.

“Just one or two, set me up for work,” Richard explained.

“Oh, I hear that,” replied Chris before speaking about Veronica,

“I just don’t know. I love her. Really, I’m crazy about her. Been wanting her for . . . ever. “

“But ?”

“I don’t know. Something’s not right.”

“The sex ?”

Chris was surprised by Richard’s bluntness, but saw that he was already well into his second glass. And he had got the point. Chris finished his wine, poured some more and began,


“I’m not even sure if I . . . I mean, if she . . . you know ?”

“Pop goes the weasel ?” Richard confused Chris further by launching into an exaggerated Bob Dylan voice and saying, “Ya mean she’s a slow train coming ?”

Chris laughed, then followed it up,

“She says she does, but . . . “

“You mean you asked her ?”

“Of course.”

“Why ‘of course’ ? You got some kinda satisfaction guarantee ?”

“Well, yeah, pretty much. No complaints so far. I used to blow Monika’s mind. And she would blow my mind.”

“Well, come on, there’s a lot of pressure. You’re not able to be relaxed, right ? She’s your friend’s girl. Lucky you can get it up at all.”

“Hey, it’s up, man, I’m the fucking TV Tower, I’m the Siegessäule. Nothing wrong with . . . that end of things. No collapsing new building there.”

“Glad to hear it. But she must have a lot of stress. She obviously needs things to be sorted. Away from Rigaer Str . . . Oh, I get it. You want to borrow my flat.”

“I’ll wash the sheets.”

“Oh, fuck, man, I don’t want the details. Damn right you will though. So when do you want to . . . you want to tonight, don’t you ?”

“I want to right now, man !”

“Can’t help you there, Mush. Another drink, or will it interfere with your TV Tower reception ?”

Richard then got the giggles and went to work in a good mood. It lasted about twenty minutes in the nine circles of Biberkopf’s Kitchen.

Chris borrowed the flat twice more over the next week.

Richard had no idea what had deterred Carla. He was in the bar one night, Andrei working alone, when she came in, saw Richard, avoided eye contact and left. Richard kept drinking, asking, perhaps too much, where Olga was.

The next time Andrei saw him, the Russian was worried,

“Hey, Richard what happen to you ? You were . . . “ and he waved a hand in front of his face. “I don’t know if you get home.”

Sascha joined in,

“Yes, you got a taxi home.”

“You were there ?” he asked Sascha. “I got a taxi home ? No, that doesn’t sound right.”

“And you were trying to kiss that girl,” Sascha broke out into uncontrollable laughter.

But Richard had no idea what had happened in the bar, whom he had seen, or talked to, or tried to kiss, or anything.

But he was back the next night, drinking until he passed out on the bar. This time Chris and Jake were working. He woke up sometime after six and Jake gave him a lot of ice tea to drink.

After he had staggered out, refusing the offer of crashing over, Jake spoke to Chris, also very concerned, as to his mind, there was no question; Richard was an alcoholic and heading for a different sort of crash.

Chris thought he should do something, but had no idea what.

Two days later, Chris was going to work the bar again. He walked along Rigaer Str, thinking how to approach Richard, when a violent scream made his heart stop. It was Claude, shouting at him from across the street and pointing a finger like a loaded gun,

“You ! You fucking boy ! You fucking boy !”

Chris, totally pale and sweating, ran into Carla, outside of the street door to the squat. She told him. Johan was back and was having a serious talk with Veronica. It was nasty. Carla was afraid to go inside.

Jake walked past, on his way to the beer shop. Chris told him what had happened. Jake just nodded and said,

“Go.”

Chris ran upstairs and packed as much as he could, then ran out, ran all the way to the Storkower S-Bahn, looking back all the time.

Meanwhile, Richard, confronted with a never-ending pile of plates and work, accepted that getting drunk wasn’t helping the workload, it only made it infinitely worse. He was feeling truly awful, all the time.

If he carried on he would end up like the drunks prowling Berlin’s streets, looking in bins, smoking old dog ends, huddling around Imbisses to buy cheap grain alcohol and asking people, “Kleingeld, bitte.”

Not how he wanted to be.

He decided to go straight home, waiting at Zoo Station for a later bus, destination Prenzlauer Berg, not Friedrichshain, sobriety not stupor.

That was when he saw the lights on in his flat, and hoped that Chris had brought some wine with him.

Love and Chaos Part 8(C) Chris 1

17th June 2021

R84 // houseproject in berlin
Berlin squat bar. Google Images

Part Eight. Berlin. August 1995

While Alan Francis was having the time of his life in Berlin, Chris and Richard were about to have their worst.

Richard’s summer was destroyed by his job. He was starting an hour earlier and finishing an hour later, but the extra money was no compensation. Most nights, after working seven hours straight, he went straight to the Czar Bar, and drank as much as he could.

In Chris, in Berlin as in London, he had a willing drinking partner.

Regarding Monika’s request, Richard had dreaded passing on the cease and desist, thinking it too personal, and he really didn’t want to get involved.

He decided to do it at the first opportunity, to get it out of the way, and, to his surprise and relief, found that Chris took it very well, even nonchalantly. But the reason he did so would lead to even bigger problems.

“It’s Veronica,” Chris explained. “Can’t stop thinking about her. Even if I could, I see her all the time.”

“Veronica ? Johan’s Veronica ? Oh, shit !”

“Yeah, oh shit ! I love Johan. I do.”

“Just love Veronica more.”

“It’s not funny.”

“I know. Well, what you gonna do ?”

Chris threw his hands in the air, signifying his lack of ideas.

What he did was to drink. A lot.

Initially, he was daunted by Jake and his capacity for alcohol. Now he tried to match him. As a consequence, Jake had to close up alone as Chris would be passed out, somewhere in the bar. He would go to gather shot glasses, or empty bottles and just not return. Jake at first didn’t mind, even found it amusing, but as it happened every shift, the joke was wearing pretty thin.

Yet, Jake couldn’t deny that Chris was good for business. He got the crowd laughing and drinking, and the weekly Sawhead The Bear concerts had brought in a lot of new people and made a significant increase in takings. The band could even get a small fee as well as free drinks.

On balance, Jake tolerated Chris’ drunken behaviour and laughed at his more outrageous antics, laughed at Chris’ pathetic hopeless doomed attempts to keep up with him. Yet, Chris did have some ‘marketing’ ideas which were proving doubly beneficial.

One such innovation was to offer free vodka shots to any woman, provided it be administered mouth to mouth, either by Jake or Chris. Surprisingly, they both got takers, though when Johan asked for a free shot, Chris declined.

“Ah, you fucking English, so scared of love!” Johan laughed, as he ordered a whole row of vodkas for friends and anyone else who happened to be seated around the bar.

Chris, of course, was hoping that Veronica would take him up on his offer, but she hardly drank, preferring orange juice or maybe a single beer, and she didn’t seem willing to try a free vodka.

Daniel, meanwhile, was living something of a double life. He worked hard all week, maybe had a beer or two with workmates just to be sociable, and made it to Ostkreuz once or twice. Saturdays, he rehearsed with the band (Micha and Serge agreed to work the lucrative Friday evenings so both Andrei and Boris would be fresh for the gig) then played the concert, after which he always went off with a new woman and reappeared on Sunday, to give a graphic account of the experience and to hang out, before returning to his normal weekday existence, normal that is by Berlin standards.

One Sunday, Chris had requested that Richard meet him in another squat bar, one tucked away south of Karl Marx Allee. Chris was going to see Pavel, a Czech squatter who was responsible for the bar. Maybe Sawhead The Bear could play there, get them out of the Czar bar; different venue, different audience.

Richard didn’t know the bar or the area, so was a little late, a little hungover and very pissed off at the thought of another week working as a Steglitz Spüler.

He walked up the metal steps and saw Chris at the bar.

“Yeah, all set, Sawhead play here next Saturday. Only they want some more bands, make a whole night of it. I mentioned Arizona Al.”

“Fuck, you sure ?” asked Richard, ”he’s not exactly . . . “

“Any fucking good, yeah, I know, but give the fucker a song or two. Either him or those fucking cunts from the first Sawhead gig.”

“Maybe we could get The Wiggling Kellys ?”

“I’d like to see them,” Chris agreed. “They’ve got a band or two here, some bozos called Perry Coma. Death ballads, I guess.”

Richard suddenly got a laughing fit. Chris thought it was due to his joke, but, when Richard finally got his breathe back and wiped the tears away, he explained,

“Did I hear you use the word, ‘bozo’ ?”

“ssss . . . bozo-sssssss. Plural, as in more than one of them, Bozo and his bozo friends. Whole place is run by bozos. Whole fucking city is full of bozos. We, my friend, are in one bozo-friendly environment.”

“Perry Coma’s kinda funny too.”

“They don’t even know they’re being funny. They’ve got no fucking idea some guy’s actually called Perry Como.”

Richard had a feeling that they were here and not the Czar Bar for other reasons, as well.

“Yeah, OK, just couldn’t face Danny going on tonight about how he pulled and what he did and what she did and how many times he did what he did and how much she liked what he did when he did what he did to her.”

The beer that Richard was drinking went all over the bar and poured out of his nose.

“That guy certainly has the moves,” he said, wiping the beer away as best he could. “I could learn a lot from him. I know he’s a singer, but he’s not especially attractive or has a sparkling personality. Nice enough guy, but, I mean . . . ?”

“Exactly, I know what you mean. He’s a bit of a yob. A thug. But, everytime he gets talking to a woman, whatever he says, it works, ’cause next thing you know, his tongue’s down her throat and his hands are homing in on the good stuff.”

“Oh, thanks, I needed that. Haven’t had a laugh like this for . . . I don’t even know. Work’s fucked. Bunch a fucking cunts, all of them. Have to leave, got to find something else. Anything else.”

“Yeah, do it.”

“I have to. Can’t stay here, otherwise. Have to leave.”

“And do what ?”

“Well, that’s the fucking problem. No matter how bad it is here, it’s a quantum leap from what it would or will be back in London.”

“You boys shouldn’t be so cynical.”

The boys stopped talking and laughing and turned around. A punk squatter with her hair in pigtails, and ripped tights sat down between them. Her accent, despite her clothing, placed her from the Home Counties, somewhere close to London but not too close.

Richard asked her what she meant, but she refused to elaborate, instead choosing to criticise the music.

“Oh, Nirvana; are people still listening to him ? He’s dead, move on, get over it. I fucking hate Nirvana.”

“Really ?” asked Chris incredulously,

“Hate them.”

“Why ?” demanded Richard.

“Because my name’s Polly, and those unwashed bastards have fucked up my life.”

And then, right on cue, a tall, unwashed bastard walked in, saw her and asked,

“Hello, Polly, want a cracker ?”

“Fuck off!”

Polly soon got bored of her two compatriots, even though Richard was wondering if she was hitting on him, and left because he wasn’t responding. He asked Chris for his views. Chris puffed himself up, before pontificating,

“Uuummmm . . . hard to say. Don’t think so. Would you like to fuck her ?”

“Wouldn’t mind. Not my first choice, but, hey . . . she was kinda cute.”

“Uuummmm … Nice rack. Breasts.”

“I know what a rack is. OK, I thought a ‘rack’ was ass.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s breasts,” and Chris looked around, searching for anyone American-looking. ”I’ll ask Jake. He’s a Godsend. He understands all the R.E.M. lyrics. Who the fuck’s Mr Fred Blassie, and why is he such bad eater ? Just ask Jake.”

“Cool. I could have pulled that Polly. Oh, who am I kidding ? I tell you, next time Daniel goes to work, I’m gonna be right there, making notes. Any more about Veronica ?”

Chris let out a long sigh,


“She’s an art student.”

“Another one ! What is with you and … Is she more Ute or Melanie ?”

“No ! Not like Melanie, not like that sphincter-mouthed, Ninja Turtle. A real art student. Actually draws and paints, not just reads books and regurgitates other people’s opinions. She showed me some of her paintings.”

“’Sphincter-mouthed’ ? Didn’t you kiss her ?”

“No ! No, no, well . . . yes, but . . .”

“OK, back to the art. Any good ? Her paintings ?”

“What do I know, I’m a science student. No, they were good. Abstract, but with . . . form.”

Richard laughed and ordered more beers. Chris carried on,

“She’s got a friend coming, too, Italian girl called Carla. Another student.”

“Is she cute ?”

“Is she cute ? What, like that fucking Psycho Polly ? Is she cute ? She’s a friend of Veronica’s, she’s an art student, she’s fucking Italian, yes, she’s fucking cute. Something else, too. I happen to know that Johan is going away soon, back to France. For two weeks. Maybe more. Think that calls for a vodka.”

They got more drinks and toasted Veronica and Carla (sight unseen).

What they didn’t know was that soon, they would both act in such a way that Richard would be afraid to go to work, and Chris would be afraid to go back to Rigaer Strasse.

Love and Chaos Part 7(H) Daniel 2

8th June 2021

“Man Pointing, Band Playing”

Part Seven. Berlin. June 1995

The first thing Daniel saw as he entered the Russian’s kitchen was Olga sitting naked in the large sink, preserving her dignity by an arm across her breasts. Neither Andrei nor Sascha paid her any attention and Daniel, after first consigning the image to memory, discretely looked away and walked into the next room where Sawhead The Bear rehearsed. Boris, who had been behind Daniel, followed some seconds later.

There was a palpable tension in the air. The first gig was the following evening, and although Daniel had dismissed all the other bands he had seen as ‘utter shite’, he was feeling the nerves.

The other members were going through their own emotions. Andrei had worked the previous night and was finding it hard to even hold his bass, let alone play it. Boris was quieter than usual and was taking his time tuning up. Sascha was smiling behind his drum kit, trying to twirl his sticks, a trick he had never and would never master.

One thing that had amazed Daniel was the musical knowledge the Russians possessed. He had imagined them being subjected to nothing but patriotic work songs, but they knew bands as diverse as The Ramones, Genesis, The Move and The Breeders. They had quite an impressive collection of records which they had brought from Moscow, impressive in its diversity, as Punk records sat next to Progressive Rock acts or American Country. They hadn’t been able to choose the records that had come their way, so were grateful and curious about any western music.

Unfortunately, Daniel thought, this eclecticism manifested itself in the music they played. They would make an adequate covers band, but when it came to writing their own material, there was work to be done.

They had six originals and were going to pad out the set by playing some of their favourite songs. Once they had decided upon their favourite songs.

The whole afternoon drudged by, with only three cover songs anywhere close to being ready. Daniel knew it wasn’t working.

Boris was the real musician, but he was playing without inspiration or excitement. Andrei’s bass was meant to pin the whole sound down, but it sounded sleepy and lethargic, while Sascha was always going to be the fun guy of the band, the one with the smile and the drum kit, without necessarily the ability to play it.

Daniel had first identified this weakness, but sought to turn it into an attribute, politely requesting that he stop trying to play complex fills, and just keep a steady beat, like The Velvet Underground. Sascha had smiled and happily complied.

Then every time the band seemed to get into a groove, Charlie George or someone would walk in and ask something, and the band would stop to answer.

After another insipid run through of a Ramones song, Daniel threw down his mic and exploded,

“What the fuck is this ? It’s supposed to be the fucking Ramones, energy, aggression, power, anger, rock and fucking roll. Not this limp-wristed shit. What the fuck’s wrong ? Hey ? If you don’t fucking pick it up, I’ll find a proper band that actually want to play. I’ll tell you something else, if this is how it’s going to be, I ain’t playing tomorrow. Don’t want to fucking embarrass myself with you wankers.”

Silence. Boris starred at the floor and shrugged his shoulders, while Andrei just stood looking at Daniel. Daniel was quite a big guy, he worked on building sites and could easily take care of himself, was handy with his fists, but against Andrei . . .

He wouldn’t have had a hope in hell.

So he was relieved when Andrei finally spoke, and was apologetic,

“You right, today I play shit, I play like . . . “ he searched for the words and ended up by making gestures to convey his lack of energy. Sascha came up with some words in Russian that made them all laugh, even Daniel, as the tension had finally been broken. Andrei took up his bass,

“OK, one more time, come on, one, two, three, four . . .”

They launched into ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ all guns blazing, Boris thrashing the chords out, Andrei threatening to snap the thick, bass strings and Sascha doing an admirable job keeping not only a steady beat, but adding some high-hat crashes, as well as screaming out the ‘hey-ho, let’s go’ refrain.

Daniel walked with Boris to the Czar Bar, offering to help him set up. It gave them a chance to talk. They smiled as the nearer to Rigaer Str they got, the more flyers they saw advertising their first gig. Chris had made a collage of some photos of Giacometti sculptures and text that conveyed all the necessary information.

‘Man Pointing, Band Playing’ read the headline, then the address and approximate time. They were scheduled to appear at eleven.

Daniel mentioned the gig, the rehearsal, the practicalities of getting the equipment to and from the bar, and, finally, about Olga. However loquacious Boris had become on all matters to do with the band, he remained tight-lipped on that subject. Daniel took the hint and changed the subject.

The plan was to get a taxi to take the drum kit and amps to the bar, as all attempts to borrow a van, or elicit help had fallen through. Daniel also hinted, with delicacy, that Boris may want to take it easy tonight with the vodkas. Boris agreed and kept to his word.

The following day, Chris arrived at the Russians house only half an hour later than he had promised. By now, Daniel was used to Berlin timekeeping, and wasn’t too worried.

The taxi was hired and Sascha immediately got in and waited to go, before Daniel physically dragged him out and made him help loading up. As there was no space, only Daniel drove along, the rest walking, Andrei and Sascha spending the whole time moaning about why Daniel got to ride and they didn’t.

Chris had the key to the bar, Jake telling him to be back in time for them to stock up. Jake was predicting a busy night and he wanted to be prepared.

Outside the bar, Daniel guarded the equipment and gave out some small flyers to some passing women.

The setting up took a long time, lots of discussions where the sockets were, who was going to stand where, and Sascha appearing very unhappy with his drum stool.

Chris told them to carry on, while he went to the store with Jake.

Jake began playing a CD, loudly, just as the band were finally ready to start sound checking. He also lost patience, wondering how they could have spent so much time and not achieved anything, saying that he had to set the bar up.

Chris arranged a compromise. They would get the bar set up, while the band had a beer and took five. When the bar was ready, Jake could go and eat, and the band would have time to get their levels set.

The beers did the trick. It was also a little victory for Jake, as he was secretly a little envious and wanted to be part of a band again. The setting up was all finished within ten minutes and Jake left.

The band began rehearsing. Chris said who needed to be higher or lower, though he had little if any experience. Daniel had equated his Physics studies with acoustics and sound engineering, and there was nobody else anyway.

Unfortunately, Jake had left the back door unlocked and a stream of people poured in, stood around, looked and listened, asked what was going on, who the band were and made suggestions about sound levels and where the amps should go. Andrei then left the stage, arguing with the two other Russians, before walking out of the door and going home.

Daniel and Chris looked at each other, wondering if there was even going to be a gig. Before they could clarify, two new men walked in, one a brash Middle-Eastern looking man, the other, a lank-haired, bug-eyed, old hippy sort.

Brash Man shouted out,

“There is a gig tonight – we want to play.”

“Another time, mate, we’re busy,” said Chris.

“No, we want a gig. We can use your equipment.”

“The fuck you will,” answered Daniel, “You heard him, you ain’t fucking playing, this is our gig, now fuck off.”

Hippy Sort spoke,

“Hey, man, that isn’t cool, we are all musicians, we should share and help each other. Hey, Boris, wie gehts ?”

Boris and Sascha both recognized Joe, a regular and long term squatter, and said hello back. Boris had some words with Sascha in Russian, then turned to Daniel,

“Maybe it is good they here. They play first, we go on after.”

“Well, let’s face it,” Daniel spoke, looking at Chris, ”how fucking good can they be ? If they’re shit, we’ll sound better.”

“If they’re shit, we’ll have no fucking customers and I’ll make no fucking money.”

Joe began speaking to Boris. He was talking about what they needed. The Russians were happy to lend their equipment; it would just mean altering the mic stand, and Boris explained this to Daniel.

“And would someone mind telling me where the fuck our bass player is ?” implored Daniel. Brash Man answered,

“You need bass player ? I am bass player, I play with you.”

Boris took over,

“Andrei forgot his lucky jacket. He go get it.”

“Lucky, fucking jacket, fuck me!”

Chris had to laugh at Daniel’s outburst. Then Jake returned,


“Who are all these fucking idiots ? Get them out of my bar.”

Chris explained the situation, as best he could, when another set of squatters walked in, asking the same set of questions.

Jake exploded,

“Right, everyone that doesn’t work here, or is playing here, fuck off, now !” Joe and Brash Man didn’t move. Joe preempted Jake by telling him that there were also playing tonight. Then Brash Man asked about wages.

“Errrr . . . wages ? Nothing, fucking nothing.”

“Hey, Jake, come on, let’s give them free beer,” said Chris.

“Two free beers each. Nothing else.”

Brash Man looked at Joe, and got the nod.

“Good. Can we have them now ?”

“Fuck off!”

At that point, Andrei returned, wearing a hairy furry waistcoat.

Everyone was silent as they looked at him. Andrei realised he was being scrutinized,

“What ?” was all he said.

The bar was busier than usual, much busier, much earlier. It had become the place to start the evening, that Saturday, not where to end up when all else was closed. Jake and Chris were kept constantly busy, and happy that there were more women here than they had ever seen.

Then the first band walked on stage. Aside from Joe, who played his own guitar, a lovely shiny red semi-acoustic, and Brash Man who had brought his own bass, there was a third member, a thin, emaciated man, with a Rasta-style hat and marijuana symbols stitched to his denim jacket. He played bongos. Apparently.

They had a long discussion on stage, Brash Man not surprisingly being the leader. They began sound checking and talking and appeared about to start, when they abruptly stopped for Brash Man to tune up.

The audience who were curious, without being especially excited, quickly began losing interest, and there were shouts for them to get on and play. Then when they got around to playing, there were calls for them to stop.


Their music could probably best be described as Free Jazz . . . with bongos. The discussions about the mic stand were moot, as their set was entirely instrumental. Brash Man played repetitive patterns on his bass, no doubt believing he was creating hypnotic ragas, while Joe doodled about on guitar. The bongos were just there. Unfortunately.

The positive vibe in the bar was draining away. Casual visitors began leaving, others asked for the CD to be put back on. Still the band played. Richard walked in, knowing that it would never start on time, but pulled a Munch ‘Scream’ face at Chris when he heard the support band.

Daniel was livid, pointing to all the people either standing outside, or walking away,

“They’re going to think that these arseholes are Sawhead. Chris, you got to get those wankers off.”

Chris agreed and Jake was thinking along the same lines. Andrei was drinking his beer allowance freely and Boris appeared to be slightly shaking with nerves.

The piece of music finally came to an end. No applause, but there was a definite sense of relief. Jake went over and indicted that their beer was ready. But the hint wasn’t taken and another dirge was about to get under way.

Jake just unplugged the amps and shouted at Chris to hit the CD player. Joe was offended and weakly protested, but Jake didn’t even notice. The bongo player didn’t seem to care either way, but Brash Man insisted on finishing his piece, with or without amplification. Jake left him to it.

After half an hour, during which Jake decided to serve drinks and play music as a means of audio disinfectant, Sawhead The Bear walked onstage, cheered by the locals. They had all the awkwardness of a new band, unsure and unready, except, of course, Sascha, who couldn’t wait to launch into the first song. He looked at his band mates, tapped his sticks and shouted in his high-pitched, laughing voice,

“One, two, three, four . . . ”

Thirty minutes later, they came off stage heroes.

The band commandeered the last stools, by the Flipper room, and got hand shakes, pats, hugs, kisses and a lot of vodka. Richard had his arm around Daniel and told him how impressed he was by the singing and the lyrics. Olga was with some Russian girlfriends who tried flirting with Boris, but he just keep looking at Olga. She kept looking back. Trudi made sure Sascha didn’t speak to any other girls. Then Richard allowed Daniel to mingle, as lots of girls were waiting around, and it wasn’t for the comforts of the Czar Bar.

He was glad it had been a success. If this kept up, Chris would have a real income and a real life here. But he was already thinking that his time was Berlin was coming to an end.

Chris was thinking too, that this was only the beginning. They could play the bar at least once a week. Then other clubs in other parts of Berlin. He could really manage them, get them a recording contract.

Jake was wondering if he had enough beer, as Sawhead The Bear were on free drinks and those bastards could really put it away.

Richard noticed one more thing. Chris was constantly watching the door and was constantly disappointed by whoever came in.

Soon after, he found out why.

Love and Chaos Part 7(G) Richard 1

7th June 2021

Part Seven. Berlin. June 1995

At some point between the end of May and the beginning of June, Richard Marshall was struck by a severe case of the Berlin paranoia, and apart from the journey to and from work, he was practically unable to leave his flat.

The causes were easy to ascertain; one was not speaking German. This meant that all but the most basic transactions required a translator or he would be, and feel, utterly helpless.

He shopped in the small Spar store, being able to pick up items and see the price on the till display, but he couldn’t open a bank account, pay a bill, understand why a train had stopped in a tunnel, why a street was closed, read any official letters or get a proper job.

Biberkopf was now a painful, humiliating ordeal, more and more work from the lazy chef, and being all but ignored by all other members of staff. He was certain that Walter, the owner, looked right through him as if he wasn’t even there. Jolande, the cute waitress, had recently started seeing a customer who drove an expensive car, and now she barely acknowledged his presence. He responded in the only way he knew how; by being completely silent and refusing to speak to anyone, creating an impenetrable wall that kept everyone out. He was good at keeping things in.

There were also sleepless nights worrying about his interrupted studies, and it now being too late to get onto a course when term started in September. He would have to wait another year.

There was also the certainty that he would never meet a woman, that he would go to bed alone and wake up alone every day for the rest of his life.

He didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, or rather, felt that he simply couldn’t.

After about three weeks he knew he had to snap out of it, or leave Berlin. He also knew that the life he had here was far better than one he could expect back in London, but washing up for a living was hardly living. The Orwellian honeymoon period was well over.

He was thinking about this, standing by a giant, industrial pot of potatoes that he had to peel, when he put his mind to a problem posed by Chris and Daniel; what to name the band.

He thought of some tag lines, based around the fact that three of them were from Russia, coming up with things like ‘Country & Eastern’ and such like. Then he threw the potato he was peeling into the sink of greasy water and smiled. He ordered a beer from the first waitress who came into the kitchen and though it took an eternity to arrive, he didn’t mind. He had the band’s name. It gave him a reason to go to the Czar Bar where, even if Chris wasn’t working, he’d be drinking. That had become a certainty.

Chris knew all about the paranoia, having experienced it himself.

He’d spoken to others and it was quite common, a sense of homelessness mixed with a feeling of having no home, being unwanted and uncared for. A realisation that he would never understand the language and would be cheated and laughed at and insulted. Most of the time, Chris had been with Marina or Claudia, then his own Ute, and then Monika, who would help him.

But he had his own freakouts. He had once turned a plastic bag inside out, because it had English writing on it and he felt it marked him out as a target for fascists and skinheads.

His answer to Richard was to drink. Richard had noticed that Chris’ answer to everything now seemed to be to drink.

As expected, Chris was holding court, on his favoured end stool, Andrei listening to him while Olga was busy with customers.

“Richard !” cried Chris, immediately ordering him a beer and vodka. Richard welcomed them, knowing that there would be many more before he staggered home.

After the initial moments of hysteria, when Chris filled him in on what he had missed over the last weeks, Richard made an announcement concerning the band. Chris called Andrei back, as it affected him directly.

“The name of the band is,” said Richard, copying Chris’ talent for building excitement, “Sawhead The Bear.”

“YES!” screamed Chris, eyes lighting up. Andrei looked puzzled,

“What is ‘Sawhead’ ?” Chris had a reply ready,

“Nothing ! Everything ! Doesn’t matter. What a great name, what a perfect name, it is the only name for the band. Well, drinks all round, vodka ! Hey, Jake, just in time, you must be able to smell vodka.”

Jake swayed over to them,

“Yeah, I can smell something!”

Andrei was busy translating, as best he could, the nonsensical ‘Sawhead’ into Russian. Olga looked even more puzzled and turned to Richard, going up close to him and asking him something in German, but he didn’t listen, he just wanted to grab her, but Andrei, being built like the Kremlin, probably would have raised an objection.

Chris meanwhile told him what Olga had wanted, namely, how on earth he came up with such a peculiar name ?

“I was at work,” was all he said, and Chris understood,

“Making the Camembert ?” he asked, referring to one of the nightly duties, covering the half blocks of cheese in egg and breadcrumbs, ready for deep-frying.

“Potatoes.”

Chris winced.

The remainder of the night was spent toasting the new band name, with Andrei greeting each new customer with,

“Yes, Sawhead ?”

Needless to say, both Richard and Chris awoke with very sore heads. Chris suddenly understood the band name. As he was getting dressed, he looked out of the window and saw Johan’s girlfriend, Veronica, walk across the Hof and enter the door of her boyfriend’s block.

He suddenly understood something else, as well. Even with a thumping sore head, Veronica was a sight for sore eyes.

Love and Chaos Part 7(E) Ragno Prologue

2nd June 2021

The Stassi HQ, east Berlin. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. Summer 1995

One night in the Czar Bar, a tall thin man walked in, ordered a beer and, the bar stools all being occupied, stood quietly against a wall and drank alone.

Chris didn’t like the look of him from the start. He was older, probably mid-forties, possibly more. Even in the poor light of the bar, his skin was visibly pockmarked, from disease, drug abuse or both.

He had heard Germans talking about ex-Stasi (the East German Secret Police) informers and knew the incredible statistics; as many as one in four people gave information and spied on their neighbours. The forty odd years of the DDR had generated as much paperwork and files as the rest of German history combined.

This man, alone, out of place, was, Chris decided, a clear ex-informer, probably here to spy on the bar and the customers, to close it down, gather names, prosecute for all the illegal activities.

When he had finished his beer, he walked over to the bar and put the empty bottle carefully on the counter. Chris snarled,

“Another ?”

The man shook his head, and said, in English but with a soft accent,

“No, thank you.” Then he smiled. It was a smile of serenity and peace, that completely disarmed Chris who instantly changed his opinion. “Tchüss, Jake,” he said as he left.

“Ah, yeah, tchüss, Ragno,” answered Jake as he put empty bottles into a crate with one hand and pulled out three more beers with the other.

“Who was that ?”

“Oh, Ragno. Haven’t seen him for a while. Good guy. No problems, has his beer then goes.”

“So we ain’t gonna get rich off him ?”

“He’s got a young girlfriend, so . . . “

“Ah,” said Chris, “yeah, why would he get drunk if he’s got a babe waiting for him. Fuck, how does he do it ? Face like that ?”

“No, he’s a nice guy. Well, I dunno, he had a young girlfriend. Not sure if they’re still together.”

Robert, in apparent apropos of nothing, let out a,

“Shit on a stick !” while Peter lifted a half empty beer bottle to his lips and momentarily silenced the bar with an amazingly pure note.

Chris wanted to know a little more about Ragno, but a round of vodkas was ordered and by the time the bar had quietened down, he had forgotten all about him.