23rd December 2020
Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994
Chris wore a cotton top with white and purple horizontal stripes, faded black jeans and Converse All Star sneakers. Richard wore his slim-cut blue Levi’s and a light, dull-green, woollen jumper with brown leather waistcoat that Chris had picked up from one of Berlin’s many second-hand clothes stores. They looked cool and felt cool, Richard thinking he looked a little like Kurt Cobain on the ‘Unplugged’ show, and planned to grow his hair out. Possibly bleach it.
They met Monika at a bar for brunch at the area Richard now knew as the Wasserturm, or Water Tower. The Sunday afternoon pavements were covered with chairs and tables, children running and dogs hunting stray food. All the bars were busy, but Monika had saved two seats and waved to them.
Richard had been in Berlin for just over a week and had been out drinking with Chris nearly every night. The previous Friday, The Gang had meet up, this time going around the bars in the northern part of Prenzlauer Berg, around Schönhauser Allee U-Bahn, where Chris lived. Gabi had driven over with Lorelei, both seeming relieved to be away from their boyfriends. Andreas was there with Silke and Nice Guy Kai. Some other friends had turned up, and it seemed that Monika knew every waitress and barman in Berlin and that all the women were really cute, and all the men were really friendly. Richard mentioned this to Andreas;
“You haven’t been here long. Just wait.”
There was only one downer. How to behave to Lorelei, because there was no sense in hiding it; he was totally in love. Meeting her caused all the emotions to collide like a ‘super-charged particle accelerator’ as he himself described it. There was the initial excitement that almost caused his heart to burst, the gasping for air, as the tension grabbed him by the throat. Then came the terrifying doubts, wondering how she felt and how he should act and react to her. How to play it cool, when he just wanted to go over and confess his love and throw himself at her cute little, painted toenailed feet. And he wanted to kiss her so much, he thought he would go crazy.
The subject of today’s lunchtime summit.
“You know how I think it went ?” asked Chris, referring to the previous evening, “Brilliantly. She digs you. Big time.”
“But the boyfriend ?”
“No, I don’t think you have to worry. They are like flatmates. They share a bed, but make nothing.”
Richard thanked Monika for the information, before Chris continued,
“And she laughed at all your jokes. Even the ones I didn’t even get.”
“She was just being polite.”
“Oh, right. C’mon, she’s into you like a train.”
“I hope so.”
Monika silently ate her lunch, then was relieved to be able to change the subject.
“Oh, next Saturday, Erika is giving a performance. I said we’d go.”
“Yeah, cool. Who’s Erika ?”
“Barmaid slash performance artist. Does … kinda improvised … what would you say, Moni ?”
“Exactly ! She … ah, you’ll see. Oh, Arizona may come. He wants to hang out with us.”
“Arizona ? Oh, from your studio. Don’t think I met him last time.”
“No, he’s cool. Little bit older than us, mid-thirties. Bit of a character. You’ll see.”
After a lunch of sausage and eggs, fruit and the obligatory Sekt, Monika left, as she had to get home to work on some dress she was making. One of several ways she earned money. Chris explained, as they took a stroll,
“Some mornings she gets up and cleans a bar, sometimes works the door in a club, sometimes hands out flyers, sometimes does check-out in a small supermarket, sometimes does dressmaking, alterations, sometimes does haircuts . . . you know.”
“How do you keep up ?”
“It’s not easy. I need something like a periodic table, like all those chemistry dorks used to have on their walls.”
They walked up Rykestr, turning around and seeing the TV Tower loom over the Wasserturm, through the trees of the park. Then a turn into the main Danziger Str, and one block east to the Ernst Thälmann park with its massive statue.
“These girls are amazing,” said Richard. “Silke, Gabi, Moni … Lorelei. Oh, man ! They should form a band. Just look at them: Moni with short, black hair, Silke; spikey, Gabi; curly, dirty blond and Lorelei’s luscious locks. Forget All Saints, it would be the hottest chick band, ever !”
“I know. Amazing, isn’t it ? I thought after Ute, that’s it. But it worked out just fine.”
“Advice, c’mon, spill; how do I get Lorelei ? What moves did you pull on Moni ?”
“Oh, it was a breeze, baby, couldn’t be easier. Ute dumped me. There I was, allein in einer grossen Stadt (alone in a big city), got a shitty job, no money, live in squalor and just lost the love of my life. Began going out with some of the Biberkopf staff after work, drinking. At one bar, I meet Monika. She asks why I’m looking so sad. Got so much sympathy … that, my friend, is how to get women.”
“Act all pathetic and make them pity you ?”
“Hey, I’m the one with the girlfriend, remember ?”
“But I’ve got no one to dump me.”
“Well, that can be easily solved.”
“Could always leak it that I was dumped in London … came here to forget my pain … ?”
“See … now you’re thinking. And that, Amigo, calls for a drink.”
Chris had taken some days off from Biberkopf to be with Richard, but was now working five nights a week, as well as occasional days at the studio. The following Saturday, after seeing Erika’s performance, Lorelei asked Richard,
“What do you do all day ?”
They had meet at a new café in one of Prenzlauer Berg’s back streets. It was the familiar converted shop space, a plain room with large, wooden tables, and just candles and ashtrays for decoration. Soundgarden on the CD player. The barman with two or three friends at the bar. It was very quiet, but was still very early for Berlin.
The gang, on the night of Erika’s show, was without Silke, who was working, but with Nice Guy Kai and one of his new girlfriends.
From the bar, they drove to Kreutzberg, Pearl Jam pounding out of Monika’s car stereo as she twisted and turned around Alexanderplatz.
Another Hinterhof, south of the river. A mixture of junk and broken furniture, some sorry-looking plants, broken glass, empty beer crates and cigarette butts. Twenty or so people, standing around, drinking, smoking, laughing, shouting.
Erika’s show was through one of the doors that led off into a basement, but was locked. It was Berlin, performances were not expected to start on time.
The Gang all got another drink, passed around cigarettes and talked. Richard was unable to get any idea of what the performance would involve, but enjoyed seeing the individual reactions, Andreas and Kai appearing very cynical, Monika supportive and Chris nonsensical.
A man walked into the Hof, alone, dressed in leather trousers, with a mauve T-shirt and bottle-green, velvet jacket. He wore yellow-tinted glasses, had thick sideburns and a four-day growth of beard. He looked around, then waved to Chris.
Introductions were made, then a door opened and people began paying the entrance and descending into the converted performance space.
Inside, the walls were painted bright orange with various murals showing scenes derived from Bruegel and Bosch; sinners being devoured by demons, or put into lakes of fire. Arizona Al was somewhat taken aback and was particularly struck by one group in a corner, showing four men who appeared to be musicians, though their instruments were more like weapons. There was a blond woman next to them, who appeared to be in severe discomfort. He pointed it out to Chris and asked what it was.
“Don’t know. Kinda spooky, isn’t it ?”
“Yeah, like, man, what’s going on ? This some kinda devil-freak joint ?”
Chris was about to mention the illustration to the others, when the background music abruptly cut out. People began turning to face the small, central stage area, and moving forward.
Erika marched onto the stage, commanding everyone’s attention. She had curly, auburn hair, which was moused and thick. Her face was brightly made-up, thick, red lips and long lashes. She wore a black and white basque, fishnet stockings and high heels.
She made sure everyone was looking at her, before walking around the stage, striking a pose, and clicking her fingers. On cue, the music began, Marlene Dietrich numbers, which she mimed along to, or acted out.
During ‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’, she was joined onstage by a friend, also in lingerie, but with short, brown hair and a few layers less of make-up. They performed a mime about falling in love and raising a happy family, Erika taking the male role.
The opening line, about a young man who had never been kissed, brought sighs of sympathy from Gabi and Lorelei, and made Richard feel uncomfortable, in case The Gang thought it applied to him.
Arizona Al, like Chris, Richard, Kai and all the other men in the audience, was just enjoying the sight of what he referred to as “Two smokin’ babes,” cavorting around.
After twenty minutes, the show was over and Eighties German pop music helped to clear the space.
Outside, people got drinks from a bar area and stood around in small groups. That was when Lorelei asked Richard how he spent his days.
“I get up early, fix myself breakfast, and go back to bed. I read a lot, walk around, wait for Chris to come back, then go to the local bars. Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about you.”
Lorelei smiled, then turned away.
Erika came up to them, dressed as she had been on stage, but with a leather jacket now over her shoulders.
They all told her how much they had enjoyed the show.
“Very nice,” said Chris, with a knowing glance at Monika.
Al introduced himself, then had some questions about the practicalities of performing, whom to ask, how much could be made.
“Yeah, don’t want to monopolize you, know you got a lot of people to see, just one more question, don’t know if you’d know, but there’s this picture in the corner, it’s like four dudes and some blonde chick and, I don’t know, it’s kinda … weird, you know, like … “
He made a gesture of terror and fear. The others had all stopped talking to hear, and see, Al’s own performance, knowing that Erika only had basic English. She was silent for some seconds, trying to process the inquiry, then she understood, and looked to Kai for confirmation.
“Oh, Ja, that’s based on an old German folk … “
“Legend. Folk tale.” Kai to her aid.
“Genau (exactly) a folk legend.” Kai took over,
“It’s from the Medieval times, from the Black Forest area. It’s called The Concert Of Grotesques. Do you know it ? It’s a great story … “