Despite his naivety, when he woke up and saw that Chris’ bed was empty, Richard knew what had happened.
He felt uncomfortable, not to mention a little jealous. Once again, everyone else was hooking up, making connections, getting off. Everyone was making love, while he was merely making notes. Even New Year’s Eve, in clubs full of drunken girls, half on them on ‘E’, the kissing drug, he ended up crashing on Arizona Al’s floor. This wasn’t exactly the life he had envisioned for himself.
But there was little time for self pity as, shortly after he had washed and made his first coffee, there was a knock at the door, a knock that indicated it was Monika.
He let her in, and she was so apologetic, asking him to forgive her, and it wasn’t fair that he should have to suffer. She came for business, armed with fresh croissants and a pile of newspapers.
“We look through these until we find Chris a job, OK ? He is in the bath ?”
“No, he is, er . . . out. But he should be back soon. Would you like coffee ?”
They sat in the kitchen and that, reflecting back, was the mistake that lead to Armageddon.
Had they sat in the main room, Chris would have seen them and spoken accordingly. Instead, he saw an empty room, but heard movement in the kitchen.
“Ah, what a night. Unbelievable. So refreshing to have some good old, down and dirty sex. Hot AND heavy. And not have to beg for it, either.”
Richard physically felt his heart stop.
The time between Chris saying those fatal words and realising that Monika was there, hardly more than two or three seconds, seemed endless.
Chris stood in the doorway, attracted by the smell of fresh coffee and croissants but the sight of Monika was so unexpected that he stood there, frozen, petrified.
Richard swept past him, grabbed a book, some money and his coat, and was out of the house and down the stairs before Chris could fully comprehend the extent of the situation.
That the relationship was over was a given. Just how much suffering she was going to inflict was the only uncertainty.
Richard went to The Anker, but the cute waitress wasn’t working, so after a quick coffee, he moved on, further along Stargarder Strasse, past the Imbiss with the deep fried cauliflower, to another bar with a cute waitress who was working, but didn’t appear to recognize him at all. But, by now, Richard saw this as standard procedure.
He read some, looked around, checked his watch and came to the conclusion that he would have to stay out of the house all day. He could hardly phone and ask if it were safe to come home. Then what would Monika think of him ? How awkward would it be when they met again which, Berlin being more like a large town than a big city, they were bound to do, especially working in such close proximity.
He walked around for a bit, then decided to see a movie but even the earliest was hours away.
He tried calling on Arizona Al, but no answer and Berlin in February is not usually ideal for strolling aimlessly around. In the end he decided to get an U-Bahn to Alex, then take a long S-Bahn journey. It would keep him warm and kill time.
And that is how he spent his Sunday. And it was a stroll in the park compared to Chris and Monika’s.
Monika’s first reaction was sheer shock. She sat, not believing what she had heard, softly repeating it. When she stood up, it was with defiance and she stood in front of Chris, just looking at him. Then, spontaneously, she hit him, with all her force, a punch to his chest. It appeared to surprise both of them. Then she hit him again, and was about to punch him a third time, when he caught her hand. She made a scream and he let go and they backed away, Monika cursing in German. She picked up her things and left.
Chris let out a sigh of relief. It could have gone much worse.
Then Monika returned, banging on the door and he had to let her in.
The fight was now really about to start.
She fired questions at him, shouting, spitting in his face with anger and frustration. She brought up all she had done for him, all he hadn’t done for her and kept asking, over and over, to describe in detail his night, what ‘down and dirty sex’ was, how to do it, and wanted to know about each and every time they had made love, how it had been, what was it she had been doing wrong.
She was relentless and Chris, with an almighty hangover was in no condition to argue. He also couldn’t help smiling, partly from still being drunk, partly from fear which, naturally, didn’t help the situation.
He tried to calm her by suggesting some tea, but she picked up a cup and threw it, and it caught Chris on the cheek.
That act subdued her and brought the initial hysteria to a close.
Chris made drinks in silence, not feeling like smiling so much, now. Monika paced up and down.
She then demanded to know all about the girl and Chris found himself making up a story, how he had seen her a few times and she was a nurse, who lived with her parents, rather than the truth, that he had only met her the night before, as he had simulated oral sex with Arizona Al on stage at a club called The Monkey’s Arse.
After came the subject of their sex life, and what did he mean by having to ‘beg’ for it ?
Then a list of all the sacrifices she had made, up to and including that very morning, as she was prepared to give up her free day to help him find a new job.
Just when Chris though she had calmed down, the anger and hatred returned and he instinctively covered his face, making her laugh.
“What a man, what a fucking little man you are. How could I waste such time on a fucking Smurf like you. Arschloch !”
Monika began looking around the room, collecting things of hers, cursing all the time and throwing things around.
“Ja, you just sit there like a fucking mouse.”
She went into the bathroom and Chris was glad of the momentary peace, even thinking about leaving the flat, and cursing the fact that he was too high up to jump out of this kitchen window, an action that had precipitated the whole scene.
It would be nearly an hour before she left, more tears and accusations, shouting and punching. Chris wondered where the hell Richard was.
“Well, you Arschloch, I’m going, why don’t you go to your filthy squat bar and pick up another fucking, dirty whore-cunt ?”
Several hours later, in a filthy Czar Bar, Chris looked around, but there were no women, dirty or otherwise.
“Hey, Man, thanks for coming with me,” he said to Richard as they sat on the end stools, further from the door, in front of the annex with the store room and toilet.
“No problem. Could use a drink.”
“Mustn’t overdo it, though. One, still got a hangover from last night. Two, shell shock from the Monika. It’s like having the bends. Three, work tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Gotta find me a job and that is gonna be work.”
Seeing Chris’ sense of humour return, Richard ventured a joke of his own,
“Still, on the plus side, you won’t have to buy her a Valentine’s card.”
Chris was unfortunately drinking at the time and, laughing, beer began pouring out of his nose. Jake the barman was suitably impressed and, over a round of vodkas, got to hear the story.
“Ever noticed the initials of Valentine’s Day are V.D. ? Either of you expecting any ?”
“Cards or the clap ?” asked Richard.
“No, just death threats,” answered Chris.
“Stick around here. Sunday’s normally quiet but if it gets busy, I could use a hand. Hey, we’ll see how it works out, OK ?”
Chris agreed, but shared Richard’s scepticism, as it was after Midnight and there were only two other people in there apart from them, neither of whom looked as if they were going to be running Jake off his feet.
Then the door opened, and a man known to them only by sight came in, drenched from the rain that been falling with increasing ferocity all evening.
He stood there, hair soaked, dripping, rain falling off his jacket, jeans, gloves, nose.
“Hey, Mr Jake,” he called out in a heavy French accent, “Vodka. Hey, you two, too. Hey, Salut, come on, have a vodka with me. Women, fucking hell, Man. Have I got a story to tell . . . “
Richard knocked the worst of the snow from his boots and entered the bar immediately seeing, and hearing, Chris and Arizona Al at a far table.
He ordered a coffee as he walked over to them, and began the process of taking off the layers of clothing.
It was only mid afternoon, but all lights were on. The day, seen through the large glass panes, was gray and bitter, people walked along quickly, heads down and wrapped up against the cold.
“Look what I got,” he said, opening his bag and taking out three second hand paperbacks. He put them on the table, Chris taking them straight up,
“Let’s see . . . ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’, hhmmm, ‘The Trial’, Kafka, and, ah, Dickens, ‘Tale of Two Cities’. Which one you gonna read first ?”
“Think I’ll have a bash at Kafka. Everyone’s always talking about it. You read it ?”
“Long time ago. Al ?”
“Err, what’s that ? Kafka ? No, who’s he ?”
Richard explained about the Czech writer, as best he could, only knowing what he had read in the introduction on the U-Bahn ride.
“Oh, yeah, cool, could give that a go, yeah, something different. Been meaning to ask you guys about books. Like to maybe borrow some, if that’s no biggie ?”
“Here,” said Richard, offering the Memoirs. “Thought it was something German, name like Siegfried Sassoon, but turns out he’s as English as can be.”
“Yeah, the fox hunting bit may have been a clue, what ?” said Chris with a wink at Al, before asking him, “You read Generation X ?”
“Err, no, no, don’t think so.”
Richard had brought it from London, and they had read and reread it many times between them. Chris was all for going home and getting it immediately, but Al told him that later would be OK.
“It legitimizes our whole existence,” continued Richard, “for example, I’m no longer a hopeless loser, I’m a McJober. We,” indicating Chris and himself, “are occupational slummers. You, Al, are retro, neo, rock star, throwback . . . something.”
“Actually,” corrected Chris, “I’m taking an occupational sabbatical.”
“Yeah, how’s the job hunt going ?” asked Arizona, trying to get the conversation back to something he could understand.
Richard laughed to himself, having heard all of Chris’ descriptions of sordid, Dickensian working conditions.
“I’ve got an interview, meeting thing tomorrow at some pasta restaurant in Yorckstrasse, so at least I’ll get some decent grub. But, fucking hell, some of the places . . . I went to one, out past Dahlem and there was no sink in the kitchen. They were showing me how to take the plates and shit out to a big barrel in the yard, and wash them with a hose. Then I went to a brewery bar on the Ku’ Damm. Took one fucking look and thought fuck that. Enormous kitchen and about ten chefs, all screaming at each other and at the Spülers, who just stood there, heads down, as frying pans were flying around, fat was flying, food was flying, bottles . . . lucky not to be decapitated. Lucky not to be employed there.”
Richard enjoyed the embellishments Chris had made since he first heard that anecdote, when it had featured a mere four chefs. He then spoke up, as much to clear his name as anything.
“Of course, I offered to let him go back to Biberkopf . . . “
“Yes, but then what ? I have a much better chance of finding something than you. Besides . . . Monika’s not happy with me being just a . . . “
Arizona waited for the completion of the sentence, but was forced to ask,
“You and Monika not so tight ? I thought you were solid.”
Chris let out a whistle,
“No, sir, not by a long chalk. Trouble at mill.”
He knew that Arizona would have no idea what he was talking about, so he clarified.
“I don’t know, Al. You should know, you’re been around women. What should I do ? First, every thing’s fine, great, she’s the love of my life, next thing, she’s a bloody Tasmanian Devil, a force of destruction. Hurricane Monika. Not a house left standing.”
“Hey, man, can I ask you something ?” then without waiting for permission, Arizona continued, “what was the deal with that Melanie chick ?”
Richard sat up, hoping that at last, he may know the full story.
Chris did in fact look at him as he began, but now didn’t care and was happy to get it all out in the open.
“I don’t know. As you can see, when it comes to women, I’m at a bit of a loss.”
“She was into you like a train, Dude. When you kissed Monika, her face was just pure evil. Hate in them there eyes. Queen of death.”
“Yeah ! That’s her. ‘Queen of Death’”
“All that black doesn’t help,” added Richard.
“She some kind of Antichrist or something ?” asked Arizona.
“Atheist,” said Richard, presuming Al has used the wrong word. “We had a discussion about her beliefs one morning. She told me there was no God. But atheists are like joggers; you never see a happy one.”
“And you couldn’t argue with her. She’s always right.” said Chris.
“Especially when she’s wrong,” concluded Richard. Arizona was more interesting in the background than the word games.
“But did you ever like, date or fool around ?”
“Yeah, you ever take her out to second base ?” asked Richard.
“Get to second base, asshole. If you’re gonna go Yankee on my arse, at least get it right !”
Arizona tried to get the answer. Chris refocused.
“No, no, well, yeah, OK, kinda kissed and shit, but I wasn’t really into it. Breaks down like this; I was working in a café, bussing tables ‘n’ shit. OK, I was pouring coffee and working the till, whatever, and Melanie also worked there.”
“And Will was a regular customer ?” interrupted Richard.
“I’ll get to that bloody old nuisance in a moment.” Chris shook his head and took a strong hit of caffeine. “So, we’re both students, Mel and me, but never meet on campus, because I’m doing heavy macho stuff and she’s into waste of time, book reading or flower arranging, I dunno, chick subjects. But, you know, there ain’t much a-happ’ning on the home front, and we get on, and one night we go to the movies. Then, afterwards, as we’re saying ‘goodbye’ she comes up to me and gives me a massive hug, really hung in there, got her moneys worth. That should have been a sign.”
“Oh, I get it. A clingy-thingy.” Said Arizona.
“I hear you, Man.”
“But you were never together ?” clarified Richard.
“No, course not. So we kissed a bit, well, you know, vodka will do that to ya. But then I pulled down the portcullis. Told her I wasn’t into anything physical. Childhood trauma and all. I expected her to run like the clappers, but, oh no, she has to add her own Freudian fuckups. Unable to . . . you know.”
Arizona nodded, slowly, sagely. He knew.
“But she was coming on like you were soul mates an’ all,” Richard explained, “such talk, like you have the best hands in history. Let me see. Hold up those Germans.”
Chris wasn’t exactly sure of that Cockney slang, but held out his hands for inspection.
Richard made a dismissive snort,
“They’re nothing to write home about. Now, Will; what’s his problem.”
“Where do I start ? He’s just some old fart who’d come in, buy one coffee and stay all day. Couldn’t shift the fucker. The sort that works out how much he’s saving on electricity. Sniffing around young students.”
“Male or female ?”
“I don’t think he was even bothered. In fact . . . Yes, sonofabitch, he came on to me. Few times. Cheeky bugger. Thought he was just being . . . ”
“HEY !” exclaimed Arizona, who had been looking at some flyers on the table, “whatdoyaknow ? ‘The Wiggling Kellys’.”
There were a few seconds of silence, as Chris’s story had been prematurely hacked, and they would have to adjust to the verbal jet-lag, as a new, wholly unrelated tale was going to unfold.
“Ha, those girls. They were my backing band.”
Neither Chris nor Richard were willing to delay the story, so they indicated with their eyes that he should continue, without pause, with Richard holding up his coffee cup, and three fingers, to the waitress, whom he naturally found cute. He had already checked her left hand and noticed the absence of a ring.
“Yeah, they were backing me at the ‘So Was ?’ (So what ?) club in Kreutzberg. Ya been there ? It’s got this long kinda walkway catwalk stage, so it’s great for rocking out on. I’d met these two girls some time before and they’re real hot, groupie types, and they’re asking about venues and how to go about getting a band together, and I’m all, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, just trying to decide which one I wanna connect with, ya dig ? So I told them about this gig and they were asking do I need backing singers, and I’m thinking, well, no, but, hang on here, what better way to turn ’em on, play the rock star card, so I say, well, I don’t know, maybe, let’s see what ya got.”
Laughter and claps of approval.
“Yeah, I’m one one cool motherfucker when it calls for it, I know, so they do a number, in the bar, and, what can I say ? OK, can hold a tune, just, but they start dancing to it.”
“Wiggling ?” asked Richard, with excitement.
“Oh, yeah, they had the moves, you know what I’m saying ? So I thought, hang back, if they sing, they’ll fuck up the songs, but if they dance …”
“Fucking genius ! I’ve got a lot to learn from you,” Chris gushed.
“Sure ’nuff, Grasshopper. So comes the gig, I’m playing, and doing my stuff, I just had guitar and drum machine, and I start to walk up the stage. The girls see this, and next time, they walk with me, one each side, dancing away. So it goes. Every time I move up the stage, they come with me, and the audience are going crazy. I thought it’ld be a tough crowd, lot of biker leather in there. So I play another, and another, each time, loud screams. Then I go over to change a rhythm track and strum a few chords, but the audience are still going wild, even more so, then I look up and see the girls still dancing. Then the fucking PA motherfucka cuts my amp line and starts playing Techno shit, and the girls keep dancing, the audience going even crazier.”
“So . . . what did you do ?” Richard was forced to inquire.
“Just packed up my equipment, took a beer and watched the show. Gave them the name, too. From 90210. You guys get that in England ?”
They both denied knowledge of it. Arizona continued,
“Yeah, I had a lot of afternoons at home in the early Nineties. So there’s this character called Kelly, and in the opening credits, she wiggles off. Man, you gotta see it. OK, gotta split. Oh, shit, Man, nearly forgot. Got a few gigs coming up.”
“Cool !” from Richard
“Rock on !” from Chris.
“Yeah, you’ll be there, right ? ‘Cause ain’t nothing worse than playing to an empty hall.”
“Of course. Even take the night off, if I have to. Chris ?”
“Absolutely. I’m so there. One question . . . “
“No, The Wiggling Kellys will not be there. Got their own gigs. Playing the, hey, check it out, they’ve got another gig at the ‘So Was ?’. Hah. Never asked me back. OK, out of here. Tschüs.”
After he left, Richard turned to Chris,
“I’m glad we know him. Oh, shit, he’s coming back.”
Arizona returned, holding out a cassette.
“You guys still play tapes, right ? Here’s a copy of some of my old stuff. Yeah, you may be into it. Give it a listen.”
He left again. Chris put the tape in his bag and Richard checked his watch.
“OK, gotta split soon, myself. You back at the flat tonight ?”
“Yeah, gotta stay sober for the interview, meeting thing.”
“Why you sweating it ? You’re a sure thing because, one, they really need a Spüler, and, two, they really need a Spüler. Another coffee ? Then I’ll have to go.”
Left alone, Chris read a bit of Dickens, starting in on the introduction, but couldn’t really concentrate. It was only an unskilled job, paying a basic wage, but money went a long way. A full week’s work would cover his rent and travel for the month, and there would be free food, as well.
But the job meant so much more. He still hadn’t told Monika about the studio closing and was terrified of her running into Al and him telling her. He had to get something, or he would certainly get something from his girlfriend who would instantly become his ex-girlfriend.
Arizona Al stood in his doorway open mouthed as, one after another, beautiful young women filed past him and walked into his flat.
After Melanie had entered, Chris just had to hang back and look at Arizona, who was only just recovering the power of speech, though what he was saying was hardly intelligible.
The girls, dressed for a party and then some, were taking over, lifting things up, investigating corners, opening cupboards.
No objections was raised.
Arizona’s flat was larger than Chris’ and most of the living room was taken up with keyboards, guitars, microphones, wires and cables.
Monika began pretending to play one keyboard, while Lorelei took up a guitar and began moving like a rock chick, strumming away. Gabi, not to be left out, picked up a bottle, in preference to an actual mic, and started belting out some numbers.
With the men joining in by clapping, only Melanie remained outside the clique, but nobody noticed.
Chris finished up with some extra claps,
“So, Al, do you have anything to drink ?”
“Errr, well, I dunno, errr ..”
“Ya don’t do ya ? What a rock ‘n’ roller you are,” laughed Chris.
“I thought we were going out, otherwise, I’d a gotten something in.”
“All I’m gonna say is that Sylvester in Arizona . . . think I’ll pass.”
Then Gabi, after a little private conversation with Lorelei, said,
“Yes, we must go, but . . . first ?”
“All right!” said Chris
“Let’s go!” added Richard.
“What ?” asked Al.
Monika repeated her mime and Al seemed a little shocked, but thought it over and agreed.
Monika took him into the bathroom first, then Chris, Lorelei and Gabi went in with Richard, Melanie again abstaining.
Richard had tried cocaine once or twice before, but apart from the thrill of sniffing through a large denomination bank note, hadn’t really felt any effect. Even before, in Chris’, he couldn’t really say he got any kick.
This time, however, was different. For a start, being alone in a small room with Gabi was incredibly erotic. Gabi, despite her angelic and rather bourgeois appearance, was totally at home in a stranger’s bathroom, her delicate fingers dividing the small pile into two thin white lines. She bent down first, the cramped space meaning that they were touching all the time. She passed the note to Richard and after he had snorted, she showed him some extra touches. The first was to get a little drop of water on the finger and to snort, thus catching any stray bits of powder. Then she showed him how to scoop up any particles from the seat, and rubbed his teeth with it, then, using the same finger, inserted it deep into her own mouth and rubbed it along her gums, finishing up with a lick of the lips.
The temptation to just grab and kiss her was overwhelming, and he could have blamed the drugs, the Sekt or the occasion, she may have even liked it, but, instead, he did nothing, and they went back to the main room.
Still, with his heart beating faster and maintaining a good feeling from the Sekt, he began thinking more about Gabi. It may be a cure to get over one unrequited relationship, by embarking upon another.
The room was full of nervous excitement, Chris jumping around, Lorelei and Gabi trying on some of Arizona’s coats, when Melanie opened her bag and pulled out a little notebook, which she opened and passed to Richard.
“These are some notes for my dissertation, if you want to read them.”
As she put the book directly in his hand, and out of an embarrassed politeness, Richard began scanning the pages, once again drawn away from the core. Once again, he noticed that Chris all but ignored her.
Al was putting the finishing touches to his outfit, despite Chris’ suggestions that he really ‘mix it up’ tonight, and went with crocodile skin shoes, green cords and, over layers of vaguely Medieval-looking jerkins, wore a black coat/cloak and lopsided hat, that had everyone wondering where he could possibly have unearthed ?
“Hey, look what I found,” he said, holding a bottle of Cognac. “Found it under my bed. Who’d like some ?”
The general consensus was that they should be leaving. Monika asked to use the phone to book taxis, but Al had a better idea.
“No, Man, we can ride the trolley. Be fun, all the young dudes dressed up. Straight ride to Warschauer Str.”
Ten minutes later, The Gang were waiting, along with a crowd of other people, at the Strassebahn stop on Eberswalder Str, where an impromptu party of sorts was taking place, strangers passing around bottles of Sekt or cans of beer, some were singing, others dancing, some jumping up and down, either to the beat or simply to keep warm.
The Gang, with the exception of Melanie, joined in, Richard extending his arm to take in the scene,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Chris jumped around, pretending to be taking pictures with an invisible camera and everyone joined in, striking poses, some girls blowing kisses, which didn’t impress Monika, and she made him stop.
A loud cheer arose when the yellow light of the Strassebahn appeared out of the misty black, mixing with the continual beeps and honks of cars, and distant fireworks and firecrackers. It became, as Arizona had predicted, a party on tracks, the passengers hanging off the poles and draping themselves over the seats, men offering their laps to previously unknown girls, one or two men swinging from the hand straps.
At every stop, at least one person took it upon himself to announce the station, while others mimicked the sharp, loud beeps that indicated doors closing.
By journey’s end, nearly everyone had joined in, announcing the stops and beeping, so much so, that the old and sober driver kept looking back into his vehicle, wondering how it was possible to have so much fun in a tram, his bemused shake of the head seeming to say, “Kids !”
From Warschauer Str, they walked along Boxhagener Str and turned right into Simon Dach Str.
Gabi had the address and Richard was happy to follow her, wondering if the intimacy of the bathroom would be repeated. At the same time, he was doing his best not to look too much at Lorelei who without any effort, was just looking sensational. But he knew the futility of those thoughts.
There was a moment of confusion, as Gabi realised she had the wrong or incomplete address and Arizona suggested that they just follow people and see where they ended up. Eventually, Gabi turned up another piece of paper that gave the correct location.
The first stop was a combination party / exhibition of local artists. It took place on the top floor of a converted studio, overlooking the dark, slightly ominous rail tracks of Warschaeur Str.
It was one large, open room, with photos and painting hanging up, some metal objects placed strategically, or randomly, and a band area. As they entered, they saw three men with headphones standing behind banks of equipment, playing some mellow Techno. Neither Chris nor Richard were especially keen on the music in general, and couldn’t understand how people could buy the records and play that at home, but tonight, everything seemed to fall into place and they, perhaps inadvertently, began moving to the beat, causing Richard to reiterate,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Causing Chris to reply,
“Berlin goes on, the beat goes on!”
Arizona overheard and joined them,
“Yeah, you know, I’m starting to really get into this Techno scene. If Bowie were here, he’d be mixing Techno into his stuff.”
Richard noticed that Melanie had sat down on some steps and that Monika had gone over to her with two glasses and was trying to start a conversation. Even from his distance, he could see that Melanie was only answering in monosyllables and had refused the drink.
Gabi and Lorelei were dancing, which led to a sudden increase of men onto the dance floor. The Gang took a cursory look at the art work.
One set of photos were of famous sights in Berlin, but shot through a green filter, ‘to challenge society’s perception of the colour green’, the artist explained. Another section grabbed Arizona’s attention. In a small enclave, one wall had various items cut in half and glued into it. The opposite wall has similar items, but whereas the first had noticeably German items, the second had iconic American ones.
In the German wall was half a football, in the other, half an American football. Half a can of German beer was mirrored by half a can of an American brand and so on.
The artist, an elder man with grey hair and beard, wearing a peace necklace and sandals, was showing Arizona around. Al especially liked the toy Trabant and it’s antithesis, half a toy Cadillac.
The Techno finished and four men began setting up, more keyboards and amplifiers and some unusual hybrids of instruments.
One of the four seemed to be significantly older than the rest, one of whom was very thin and tall, another short and fat, the last hobbling around on crutches.
After an endless vortex of activity, with them all changing position and plugging various wires into various sockets, they began to play.
Gabi made an immediate face of disgust at the experimental noise that it took four deadly earnest and focused men to produce.
Monika made gestures to Lorelei and Chris, then came over to Richard to shout in his ear,
“OK, Richard, now we go!”
The Gang walked up to the U-Bahn to catch the U 5 to Alex. Next stop was a club in Kreutzberg. The U Bahns were running and would be, all night, but not so frequently and they had a long wait on the U 8 platform for their connection. So long, that, as they looked at the station clocks, they knew that they had no chance getting to the club by Midnight. In fact, they celebrated the New Year on the platform, hugging, kissing and shaking hands, to the outside sounds that managed to penetrate down. Chris took Monika and gave her a long kiss. Melanie looked on, in disgust, and said, perhaps louder than intended, perhaps not,
“Oh, that’s not allowed.”
And then the train came.
They got out at Moritzplatz, the men again happy to just follow the girls, Melanie tagging along and Richard was getting increasingly irritated at being her chaperone.
The club was a red-lit bar, with tables around the side and a large bar in the centre. In the back was the dance floor which was dark and smoky and exciting and inviting and promising.
Richard sat down, beers arrived and then, another invitation. Monika sat next to him, after a similar conspiracy with Gabi and Chris, and asked him,
“Ah, Richard, would you like to take half an ‘E’ with me ?”
Monika handed him half a tablet, already prepared, which he washed down with a swig of beer.
“This will make me want to kiss people, right ?” he asked.
“And will they kiss me back ?”
Monika smiled and shrugged her shoulder.
She then went on to Melanie, who again rejected the offer.
Richard sat back and thought about Gabi on ‘E’ and how the New Year could get off to a worse start than kissing her all night.
He began to feel himself smiling, and was unable to control it, nor did he want to, as everybody else seemed to be smiling. Except Melanie. He asked her how she was.
“Pretty bored, actually.”
There was a mass movement towards the back room for dancing, with Arizona electing to sit with Melanie. As Richard went into the back, he turned and thought he saw her offer Al a small notebook to read.
By now, the pill had kicked in and it seemed as if everyone was on the same vibe, half as many people kissing as dancing.
Chris came over, put his arm around Richard, gave him a kiss on the cheek and shouted,
“More beer.” It was a demand, rather than a question.
Back at the table, smiling at all around, strangers sharing a similar high, Richard shouted at Melanie,
“C’mon, Mel, shake your money maker !”
“What does that mean ?” she asked, not hiding her contempt, hatred and anger.
But it was too late for Richard to care and everyone was relieved when she decided to leave. There were one or two concerned questions about her knowing the way, with Chris not hiding the fact that as long as she went, he didn’t care where she ended up.
Some time later, it being hard to gauge with the constant dark lighting and drug and alcohol highs, The Gang began to disperse. Gabi and Lorelei headed back to the west, after prolonged Hugs and kisses. Chris then was staying nearby with Monika, so it as just Arizona and Richard.
After another and final beer, Mexican, as homage to Al’s South-Western roots, which they sipped slowly and really enjoyed, they thought about leaving, both having to get back north of the river, to Prenzlauer Berg.
They spoke constantly, and could have stayed in the bar, which by now was thinning out, all night, or at least until the ‘E’ wore off, but decided to go. Should they happen to stumble upon a bar, on the way, there was no reason why they shouldn’t go in.
Arizona admired the reasoning, and they left, shocked by the early morning light, but after their eyes got acclimatised, they felt refreshed on the empty, light blue streets, with a fresh wind blowing them along to the U Bahn as they stepped through a tangle of old streamers and firework cases and bottles and cigarette packets and cans.
On the U 2 from Alex, during a momentary lull in the conversation, as Arizona looked around at the other casualties of the night, Richard turned to him and said,
“It’s all right for you. I’ve Melanie to go back to!”
Arizona doubled up in laughter, which proved infectious as most of the other awake passengers joined in, most of them having no idea why they were laughing.
Arizona reached over and slapped Richard on the knee,
“Ya wanna crash at my place ?”
“Oh, man . . . can I ?”
Al’s laughter doubled.
At the same time on Chausser Strasse in Wedding, Daniel Roth was walking home with two English work mates and a Dutch bricklayer.
Of the four, it was only Daniel who was new to the city, having only arrived two days earlier, and he was due to start work on the Second, by which time, he calculated, his hangover may just be over.
“Yeah, I was in bed when The Wall came down. I’d been out the night before, didn’t get back until seven or eight, and just crashed the whole day.
“Finally got up late at night and went to make some coffee and what do you know ? Got no milk. So I’m thinking, ‘Scheisse ! Gotta go out.’ And I’m feeling like day-old shit, and I’m looking like shit and I smell like shit, but, you know, just go to the store and get some milk, no biggie.
“Now, I didn’t put the TV on, or the radio, I’m just focused on my little world which has a serious milk crises going on.
“I’m on the streets, and yeah, I hear all this noise and cars beeping and shouting, but I just think that a football team’s won, don’t really think too much about anything, but, as I get to the main road, it’s full of people, and flags and banners and these … I don’t know what, cars, there’s all these fucking Trabi’s (Trabants) and it’s true, they only came in two colours; sky blue or spermy white. Sorry, but it’s true, these fuckin’ cum-mobiles crawling along the street.
“Then I’m in the store and it’s usually pretty quiet, but tonight, it’s full, full of people picking up tins of soup, or bananas, and waving them around. But these people … it wasn’t like they were from another country, it was like they were from another planet.
“So, I get my milk, but I have to queue to pay for it, and the queue just isn’t moving, everyone’s talking and shouting, and I’m thinking what the fuck’s this ? It was more like we had been invaded by them, and now we’re going have to spend all day queueing for bread and potatoes.
“OK, I know history can’t stop, just so as I can get some milk, but come on, wait until I’m sober.
“Then at home I put on the TV for background, and it’s on every channel. I was a part of history, the streets of Berlin, November ‘89, and just wished they’d all fuck off back over The Wall. Come back tomorrow.”
Richard took over directing the car, along Karl Marx Allee, then up into the western part of Rigaer Str.
Café Kinski was full and they got the only free table. Tommy held court, shouting loudly, easily projecting over Rage Against The Machine (Philipp was working and gave Richard a cursory nod).
There was an asymmetrical dynamic to the group, two girls and three boys and Anna appeared to be pulling towards Richard. Karin and Tommy had already staked their claims on each other.
However, Richard was in love with someone else, and stepped aside for Andreas, who wasn’t sure where he was with Silke, and within an hour, the two Germans had gone back with the two Danes. Richard had more beer, then made his way home, alone.
Two weeks later, he wished he had chased Anna, as one night of pleasure may have saved him months of pain.
“So I met this guy at Café Radetzky and we’re having a good talk, and he’s, you know, cool an’ all, digs the right music, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve met him before. So we’re talking and I say where I’m from and, you know, the usual, what I’m doing in Berlin an’ all, when he stops me and says, ‘Hey it’s so cool to meet another dude from Arizona, because I met a real crazy shithead from there a coupla weeks back, and he was just out of it, talking non stop about nothing, and he had all this hair and beard and shit’. And I suddenly realized; he was talking about me ! Yeah, I hadn’t cut my hair, and I had this Fu Manchu thing going on, and that’s where I knew him from … some bar I’d been to, totally out of it. I’m gonna have to stop doin’ that kinda shit.“
Chris turned his head away, so as to wink at Richard. They were meeting in a Café on a late Summer afternoon.
“But, you know, so much of Berlin is hidden, it’s like I can see tourists coming here and going to the usual sights …”
“Which won’t take long,” interrupted Chris.
“… right, an Arch, an old sports stadium, a bit of old Wall, the Death Star.”
Both Richard and Chris laughed at Al’s description of the T.V. Tower, a giant, glass globe surmounting a tall, fluted concrete tower.
“Then going home and wondering why Berlin’s got such a reputation, when nothing appears to be happening. But you know what ? It’s not that things happen in Hinterhof’s, things happen in the hinter of Hinterhof’s. In basements, behind closed doors, over disused shops. When I was first here and didn’t know where to go, I’d just look for cool people and follow them, see where they’re going. Found some great bars that way.”
Richard glanced over at Chris, who waved him in.
“But … didn’t you ever end up just following people home, sometimes ?”
Chris followed through,
“And they didn’t mind ?”
“Well, they thought it was a little odd, guess, but … no, not really. Oh, I did ask one guy where the hip bars were and he told me to ‘piss off!’ ”
Chris thought for a minute.
“Are you sure ? Could he have been saying, ‘Pass auf ‘ ?”
“Well, it was a ways back. But … yeah, ‘spose. Why ?”
“It means listen, pay attention, watch out. He was probably about to give you directions …”
“Oh, man ! I ask him to get some place, he says, ‘OK, dude, listen up’ and I just walk away. What must he’d a thought of me ?”
“That you were a crazy shithead ?” joked Richard.
The subject moved from general rubbish to women, Al approving of Lorelei, describing her as ‘bodacious’, then onto work, which was why Al had requested this get together.
“OK, just a heads-up, there’s gonna be some changes at the studio. They’ll gonna be laying a lot of people off, making some big changes.”
“No ! Shit. I like it there.”
“You should be all right, but they’re changing the schedule, the whole ‘come as you are, go whenever the fuck’ routine. Good thing, too, ‘sa crazy way to runa business. They want people putting in minimum twenty hours a week, and booking in. Get these guys coming in, hour or two, costs more to keep track of them. There’s at least one big project coming up, and they’re gonna need staff they can rely on. I mean, costs are still low in Berlin, but there’s always talk of shipping the work to some Third World place, and pay ‘em Jack shit. And there getting heavy on the paperwork, too, no more casual work, everyone’s gotta have their Lohnsteurkarte’s and Angemälden … you got those yet, Richy ?”
Al was the only person who could say ‘Richy’ and not make it sound like an insult.
“No. Got nothing yet.”
“Wait. I’ve got an idea,” said Chris. “They need full timers; cool. And I’ve got all the bloody German paperwork. But I can’t do both jobs. If I do the Studio, forty hours, I won’t need the washing-up shit. Then Richy, er, Richard can have it. No paperwork, no questions, cash in hand, free beer, cute waitresses … “
“What, like Ully ?”
“With the thing, yes, I know, but there are others.”
Al followed the conversation as if it were a tennis match, but with the players hitting some unusual, suspect backhanders.
“Yeah, like, whatever happened to Hannah ? She was gorgeous.”
“Left. Got a proper job. Never saw her again.”
“I know. To think … I almost got her to come out with us. I think Melanie scared her off.”
“I think so, too. Marina’s leaving. Did I tell you ? Leaving Berlin.”
“Yeah, that Arschloch Ross is doing some building project in Köln. Maybe just for six months, but … we won’t see her again, either.”
“What about Claudia ?”
“Hardly ever see her. She comes in when I’m not there, or … I think she has other jobs.” Chris sought to bring Al back into the conversation. “You know her, Al, Claudia. I stayed with her when I first got here.”
“Claudia … nope, don’t think so.”
“Yes, German girl, really foxy, Irish accent, walks like a cat, looks like she’s just woke up. I introduced you to her. A few times.”
“No, pullin’ a blank. What about her ?”
“I don’t know. Richard, what about her ?”
“That’s what I asked you ?”
“I don’t know. Al, what about Claudia ?”
“Which one’s Claudia … ?”
And so the afternoon wore on. Chris left for work, promising to ask Walter if Richard could take his job, knowing that not only would they not care, they probably wouldn’t even notice, one Spüler being pretty much like any other.
Al and Richard went to get some cheap food, then Al promised to take him to some bars around the southern end of Schönhauser Allee that he had discovered by the ‘follow the cool guy’ method.
At the same time as Chris got to work, Ross entered a bar in Köln, along with some new colleagues. He spoke about the job opportunities in Berlin, but said that he wanted both a new challenge and to live in a city that had a higher standard of living.
The next day, one of his new colleagues told some Irish friends over lunch break about Berlin. One of these was leaving soon for London, where he would work on a building site and tell his new mates about Germany. One of these left to go to another site, where he told his new mates on tea break. One of these workers was a young man called Daniel Roth who had left school with three low grade qualifications, much to the chagrin of his teachers who couldn’t understand how so intelligent a boy would refuse to study. Daniel had been working around building sites for five years, making a living, but finally waking up to the fact that the only person he was hurting by his rebellion was himself.
Throughout the afternoon, Daniel pumped the new man for information, making him repeat all he had heard, about work, paperwork, the practicalities about living in Berlin and how to actually go about finding a job there.
At the end of the shift, Daniel was invited to the pub and was expected to accept. Instead, he told his mates that he had a hot bird that he wanted to shag before he lost interest, and he was excused.
Instead, he went directly to his small, local library, and though the stock was limited, he managed to pick up a history of modern Germany, a guide book to Berlin and a basic German language course.
Before he went to sleep, he had taught himself the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ in German and had started to conjugate them. Then he began inventing a story about the woman he had spent the night with, because his work mates would be expecting it and would want to hear all the details.
Silke was quite fond of Chris. Despite thinking him a little immature and attention-grabbing, not to mention hard work when he began his drunken monologues in English, she knew how good he was for Monika. At least in the short term.
Gabi thought he was very cute, though had certain reservations, namely the way that he looked at her, usually after they’ve been drinking, appearing very interested in what was under her clothes. But Monika was happy, when, that is, she was happy.
Lorelei was convinced that Chris would be true to Moni, but was rather upset that he didn’t seem as attracted to her, as he clearly was to Gabi and Silke. Not that she was at all interested, but it does a girl’s vanity no harm to have admirers. The ideal situation would be for Chris to pay her more notice, Richard to pay her far, far less and for Andreas to break up with Silke. At this moment, none of the above seemed likely.
Silke brought the discussion to a conclusion, as they had so many other matters on the agenda.
“Oh, so, he has contact with an old girlfriend. I have old boyfriends I sometimes see.”
“What does Andreas think about that ?” Asked Lorelei.
“Doesn’t care. How could he ? He has hundreds of ex-girlfriends crawling around.”
That answer made Lorelei go very quiet. Gabi agreed with Silke, reminding Monika of a incident last Christmas.
“When we went home. And who did you see at the club ? Ralf ? Ex-boyfriend. And what happened ?”
“OK, a Christmas fuck. It was nice. And ? It was cold, and at least I knew him, knew what to expect. Saves going through all that time talking to a new guy, just to find out he’s an idiot.”
“All guys are idiots unless proven otherwise.” Advice from Silke.
“But would you do it again ? I mean, this year, if you went back home ?” Lorelei returned to the conversation.
“You mean would she let tourists into her Vienna Woods ?”
Gabi screamed in embarrassed laughter, not sure where Silke got her sewer-mouth from, but enjoying it, nevertheless.
“No, not if I’m still together with Chris. No, no way.”
“Yeah, you say that, but see what happened after two Jägermeister’s, and Ralf comes up, ‘Hey baby, want a piece of prime, Austrian …’ “
Lorelei then turned to her and asked,
“And you ? Would you ever cheat on Andreas ?”
“What makes you think I haven’t ?” she replied with a wink. Gabi lowered her eyes and drank her cocktail through its straw. Monika also recalled an occasion, or two, when Silke had strayed.
“Yes, so, Monika, the trick now is to get back with Chris, but to make him apologize. For everything.”
“Oh, that,” said Monika, “is going to be easy.”
The girls went on to talk about several other related or tangent subjects, but the conversation had reminded Monika of Ralf, and how she came to meet him.
At eighteen, she became acquainted with a man who used to travel around on business, and regularly stayed over in Vienna, her hometown. She was drawn to older men, the local boys holding no interest for her, and even liked the fact that he was married and lived in Linz. They would meet, usually on Fridays at her favorite club and either go to his hotel, or her small place. And it worked fine, she got the excitement but none of the domestic boredom. All the time, she told herself that it was just for fun, no deeper emotions, and she continued telling herself this while she waited for his call or letters and deterred other men from asking her out. And she continued telling herself that it was only fun, as they began to discuss his getting a flat in the city where she could stay and he could visit, and she promised not to see anybody else, and he told about how his marriage was over and that he was, since meeting her, thinking of divorce, and she continued the illusion as she prepared to move in with him, and began telling her close friends that she was not only moving in with, but probably going to marry him when his divorce became final. Then she finally conceded and realized how lucky she was, to fall in love with her first serious boyfriend, who loved her so much that he would end his marriage.
And then came the letter.
The man had been offered promotion and was taking a position in Hannover. His wife would be joining him, and it was a chance for him to save his marriage.
Monika had a hard time believing men after that.
Several weeks later, in desperation, Gabi had insisted that they go to a new club, just for a drink or two. Monika turned that one or two into seven or eight and woke up next to a stranger whose name she didn’t even bother to ask.
Some weeks later, at another bar, she ran into him again, and he remembered the effect tequila had on her.
That was the scope of their relationship. Random meetings in bars and drunken sex. Monika had no chance of being hurt, because she didn’t care about him and didn’t care if she hurt him.
She told herself that she was cold, but Gabi refused to accept that, pointing out that no one who was such a true friend could be frigid. She was just defensive. But Gabi did agree about something. Vienna was way too small for them, and when Gabi was accepted at a Berlin university, Monika planned to leave, too. She would just stay away from married men.
It was at the end of the day that they were first seen. The farm hands, their pitches and scythes, were gathering. Animals into their pens, herded. Backs were rubbed, and arms stretched. If only the day’s hardships and troubles could so easily alleviated, be. The House of Religion began it’s bells to chime and to its evening service, the villagers drew.
Little Lotte claimed it was her. Her brother asserted no, falsehood, it was he. The scrofulous old maid, desperate for recognition, said it was she, the crippled tinker, till his dying die, would brook no argument, for he was the one, the one who, on that cold, windy evening, did first, the strangers, see.
They appeared, no matter who first spied them, on the southern hill, overlooking the settlement, four curious figures, encumbered by implements ill defined.
First one, then two, then more and more, the villages, their tasks abandoned, looked towards the hill, following the little finger of Lotte and the crooked staff of the tinker.
A vision for the eyes, strange indeed, but now other senses assaulted, were. As if by accord, both common and rare, they took up their singular burdens and did, by bow and breathe, sounds quite unknown, make.
The entire village, motionless, were. Enraptured, captivated, held by forces both mysterious and mystic. All faced south, and tried to make rational, sounds so obscure. A melody at times hauntingly beautiful, at others, beautifully haunting, did the entire vale, fill, a music of such power, that even the beasts of the field were tamed into submission.
Then, with a solitary low note hanging in the air, the music faded.
But nobody dare move.
Slowly, did heads turn and the grey, bearded leader of religion his way to the hill, made. The younger men did their leader follow, picking up their tools as arms, because nothing inspires fear more than the unknown.
There they stood, four figures, framed against the greying clouds, holding shapes unearthly in appearance and sound.
Now they walked, as one creature, down the hill, in line, with calmness divine. Down they walked, showing no ill will, and discerning who was held in highest esteem, to the bearded one, words of introduction were made.
But mistrust was still in the air, their strange appearance did their strange sound, match.
Disconcerting were these concert makers, when as a quartet, taken, though, when up close, viewed, not one of the four was particularly abject to the eye.
The first, it was true, was of a height taller than most, the second was rotund, the third showing advance in years and the fourth, a leg impaired.
But, though disguised by accent harsh, the language was the same, and the hand proffered in good faith, was heartily, by the leader shook.
Weapons fell as smiles rose, as the men, as men do, clasped hands and patted shoulders, and the young maidens as maidens do, coyly peeked, then blushed and hid, only to return and peek once more.
To the House of Religion, did they move, where their story would be made known to all.
As could be told by their voices, without words, travelled long and far, these strangers had. The tall one began their tale.
When young, no taller than Little Lotte (who smiled so brightly at being singled out) they were summoned, from poor country homes, to the court of a cultured nobleman, with varied tastes and experience, but music, paramount to him, was.
From his distant journeys, he brought back masters of music of esoteric origin. It was his command that this music be reproduced at his court, for the glory of all, and due to the technical virtuosity involved, the only way was to find minds untainted and fresh, to instruct.
But, how cruel can Fate be ? Having spent their youth in study and practise, having acquired skill and ingenuity far beyond their years, having performed but a score of times, the nobleman did pass away and with him, was his court divided and impoverished. There was no place for the musicians who, to earn their bread, from town to town, village to village, forced to wander, were.
Though unsaid, all felt the cold winds of winter and the scorching heat of summer, the days of empty stomachs, the nights bereft of love. The whole village, by a wave of melancholy, infected, were.
Then the second man, of proud girth, did comment make, and all laughed as joy was restored. The Leader proclaimed, they were here and here they must stay. No ! No objections, harvest was good, water pure, houses warm and women … were they not the embodiment of all things Heavenly ? And, though he could not for certain say, if the Duke was made aware and approved of their art, then their future was surely safe.
That happy note struck, a feast was arranged, and though poor in substance, did in good spirit and cheer, abound.
And, indeed, it was within the passing of only three days, that messenger did appear, demanding acquaintance with the strangers of whom rumour did resound.
They needed no forced command, but with pleasure did take up instruments and begin to play. Performance proved, nay, surpassed all expectation, and back to court did messenger speed. Before nightfall, he did return, requesting their company by the grace of The Duke.
A quick farewell with shakes and pats and waves, and a tear or two from Little Lotte.
Then almost as quickly and suddenly as they had appeared, where they gone.
The court was no great distance hence, and to it did they travel by coach and liveried horse. Thundering across arched bridge, they raced to the castle, high on the hill, a commanding presence whose power was felt further than could even be seen from its summit on a clear day.
But no time to stop and admire, to work were they immediately put. A banquet, this time the genuine article, was taking place, and divers coaches filled the yard. Servants in rich attire lined corridors, rich, intricate tapestries hung off every wall, and laughter and talking rippled from the central room.
Tables of exquisite design were over-flowing with food and drink of every description, men and women dressed in such garments as defied all imagination. The poor itinerant musicians were ashamed to look up, dazed by such splendour. But their appearance provoked the same reaction. An immediate silence. All eyes upon the newcomers, unique.
From the top table, the grandest chair, the most elaborately dressed man, The Duke, himself, summoned them closer.
They walked, eyes still lowered, but, like all men, couldn’t help but be drawn towards the lady next to The Duke. She was young, with hair of honey gold, eyes of deepest, purest blue and lips like roses. She was perhaps, them most beautiful women any man had seen.
The Duke need merely clap, and the musicians knew their duty. With no consultation, the tall man took up his bow and played a note, then the others joined in.
And while they played, nobody spoke. And when they had finished, there was silence.
Everyone looked towards The Duke. He rose, majestically, raised his hands and with all magnanimity, did cause thunderous applause to echo around the stately room. His example followed and exceeded, all rose and cheered approval before The Duke spoke. By decree, the musicians will be staying as guests, then enter his service, where, for providing music for entertainment, they would be lavishly rewarded.
Cheers went up, applause, shouts and they even allowed themselves to raise their eyes from the ground and look at the eyes of all the young women devouring them, and even, though fleetingly, cast a furtive glance at the lady by The Duke, for she was the most beautiful of all.
So they lived, playing for parties and composing music in The Duke’s honour.
One day they were ordered to appear before him. They looked at each other, each one feeling the same palpitations, the cold sweet of pure fear. Slowly, to the chamber did they go, announced by court guard.
Within seconds did their fear subside. The Duke, in fact, did appear nervous and searched in vain for words correct. His wife, he explained, had decided she would like to add music to her list of accomplishments. Though he was an educated and sophisticated man, and knew that such talents came not overnight, but by lifetime of practise and devotion, loved his young wife more than life, so had consented to her wish, as he did to everything she, of him, asked.
The musicians, took no time to confer, the elder of them saying it would be a honour for them, and that they would do their best to instruct the young lady in all the skills she should desire.
The lady being young and impatient, the lessons began that very day.
But the lady, by her entourage of maidens, accompanied was. In the chamber, away from the guidance of the men, did give way to the foibles of their youth, giggling, whispering, pointing and, before end of lesson, in normal tones did speak.
Of progress was there but little. Nor was any made on subsequent days.
Back into the presence of The Duke, were the musicians ordered.
Now the elder virtuoso did venture to speak. ‘Twas such a pity that talent so evident should remain undeveloped. When asked to expand, the fourth, lame and bent, did make known the distracting influence of the young ladies who, not being of the same elegance, were not able to appreciate the art.
The tall and the rotund were forced to agree, and bemoan the waste of a gift so rare.
Then did The Duke think. With respect, did his cast his eye over the four. One tall and lean, awkward in co-ordination and protruding teeth. One over-weight and bearded, shining from sweet. Another old and toothless, perhaps lacking both desire and ability, and one who dragged a useless leg around. He could risk breaking court protocol, in the service of his wife’s advancement.
So it was arranged, the four would have the honour of private audience with the beautiful and gifted wife.
But The Duke, other troubles, did face. On the council of his young bride, who saw weakness and possibility in a neighbouring duchy, did The Duke an army raise.
Success came swift, until first one, then another setback experienced were. Now both armies were entrenched with gain on neither side.
But rumour moved fast, and told of succour asked and received, another army marching forth and defeat looking certain. The Duke must, to other lands go, requesting help and offering spoil.
Thus, after but a week of private tutoring, The Duke, with retinue, left the castle, but the lessons did continue.
The young bride was in centre, sat, the Sun around which the satellites did wander. Hair of honey-gold, eyes blue as ocean, lips as red roses.
As honey is from bees who sting, oceans swallow and drown and roses have thorns that pierce flesh, so the young lady did shout at and berate her instructors.
Then did change occur. First one, then another, did their garments discard, and appearance alter. Protruding teeth were plucked, revealing a healthy set, padding around another’s middle part removed was, another shook off signs of his advanced years, the last stretched a leg and demonstrated an agility quite unsuspected.
Despite such a metamorphosis, still the young lady had no idea who they were or why they were here, but a cry, heart-rending did she let out. Yet, on the strict orders of The Duke, they was no one to hear it.
Then did cloudy fear and terror cross the sunny countenance, as colour drained from wilted lips.
She turned to the second of the group, a healthy man, fit and lean, no longer constrained by fat, but clean.
And she remembered.
It had begun, many years before, in a small, poor collection of huts, too small to be village, too poor to be of importance. The low-lying ditch seemed always covered in fog, to be. Out of the mist, one discernible sight, one distant beacon of hope. The Castle so far away, on the hill.
The girl had to get there, but how ? No background, no attributes except a radiant beauty that would all too soon, lost be, working the land, and giving birth.
She must cultivate skills and learning to get her out of her hopelessness. There, in her birthplace, was a man famed for his culinary skill. No matter what scant source, he could turn all into a feast, with flavour abundant. He had knowledge of plants and herbs and knew how the taste to extract.
To him, the girl went, wanting to learn, but sensed a reticence on his part. The secrets came from and must go to, his family. So, an easy answer, she would be his, offer herself, be his wife, if he would first divulge.
So he did, secrets old and new, the knowledge of the fields was hers. But, before they could be for eternity joined, did the girl disappear.
The man, lost his skill, his will and sickness could he not escape. No longer able to provide for the people, was he by them, chased out, like an animal, to roam the lands.
The girl, meanwhile, had moved on to the next settlement.
The people here were plentiful and able to hunt in all weathers, for one knew the secret of turning animal hide into warm, protective garment.
Now the lady turned to one before her, formerly old and withered, now young and with renewed energy, filled. A second recognition beheld her.
To this large settlement, did her services in food preparation, offer.
Received was she, well by one and all, promising to impart her knowledge, but looking for a partner, she made it known.
By now, had she start to bloom, and many an eye in her direction turned. With such a choice, she told the one gifted with material that it was he, she desired.
The man was overcome, emotions he had never known. But first, all she asked was a show of trust. How did he make clothes so fine and grand out of such base material ?
The answers gushed forth, as he thought of his new life, he clothing, his wife feeding the settlement, starting a family and making it into a village for the betterment of all.
Yet, once more, after learning all that she could, she vanished, destroying a heart so true. As the heart suffered, so did the fingers, no more able to sew and stitch, and his worth being no more, was forced to find abode anew.
The Lady now turned to a man who before could barely walk, but was reminded of a man who had rode as if he and animal were one.
The Girl was now able to progress to a small village where her skills were of such high value, that she had to turn suitors away. She made it clear that her virtue was of importance utmost, and could not be even seen with a man, unchaperoned. How awkward, therefore, to find herself come across a young man, whilst out in the field gathering herbs. Awkward enough that she felt compelled to flee, but, in so doing, did twist an ankle so pretty and delicate, that the youth gladly offered her his mount to carry her back.
Oh, how proudly he rode, such a skill would serve any lucky young lady in good stead. With his command over the animals, surely this was a sign, divine, that he was to be her master. If only he would teach her, then could they together, ride. But, of course, such a secret would surely be reserved for one who would share life and bed.
Upon that spot, did Youth propose and Girl accept. Lessons began at once, how to tame, to ride, to sport.
But, once again, after she had learned all she could, into the very air did she disappear. The poor Youth, refusing all food and kind word, lay himself down to die. ‘Twas only the sound of his grieving horse that restored him, but no better would he get. No riding now, to deliver news, but to towns to procure alcohol and drink himself into stupor. So his life continued, till he was replaced and forced to leave the village, never to return.
Finally, The Lady, to the last one, looked.
A girl, so talented in providing food, warmth and riding was now able to have her choice among the bachelors of the town she had come to. But he heart was still in one place; The Castle whose shadow now extended over her new home, a town so close, that The Duke frequently passed through, and who would surely notice one so new and fair.
Yet her manners were not up to court standard, nor could she yet read. But there was a young teacher.
Once more, she chanced advances that advanced her chances. First, did she learn to read and with the tall young man, whose shyness was quite painful to see, did great progress make.
Now to other purposes. He was special adviser to the court, in matters of translation. She decided she would be his secretary. She asked, over and over, adjusting her dress, shaking out her hair, but could not break down his defences. A fortress around his heart, had he constructed, unable to believe that any woman, let alone a beauty, could ever want him.
The Castle was a hallowed building, admittance through it’s doors, a rare privilege. But not to a wife ? The Girl asked, reaching for a volume of romance verse, suggesting they read together, and their fingers touched, underlining words of love. One more fortress down.
Promising to be his and his alone, for evermore, she made him make her a lover’s promise: to bring her along to the next Castle visit. It would be the correct move, for The Duke to be informed of any changes in the life of so valued a servant.
The visit followed shortly after, some vernacular text needing translation. The Girl went along and The Youth listened to his assignment. No suspicions were aroused when he was allowed to retire to a study and his bride to be asked to remain, only pride that The Duke approved of his choice.
The unfortunate Youth had no idea what transpired between them, only that The Girl remained in The Castle after he was sent home, and that the next morning, scarcely after sunrise, was he awoken by armed guard and banished. No books was he allowed, just the clothes he wore, some bread, and a warning was he given that dare he ever to show his face again, it would be removed from the rest of his body.
Now that face was before her, hatred in his and all the other eyes.
And she had brought her downfall on herself.
She was aware that there was a Prince allied to the next Duchy. Any conflict there would bring The Prince into the fray, a Prince with such an army at his command, that he could not but help prove victorious. A Prince, as of yet, unwed. A Prince, destined to become King of a great land, in need of a Queen with knowledge of cooking, sewing, sportsmanship, reading, writing and his special weakness, music.
But as she mused on these thwarted plans, the Musicians began, in one movement, to disassemble their singular instruments, and reveal sharp knives, blades that glistened in the sunlight that poured through the stained glass windows which were soon to be stained with the blood of the treacherous Lady.
Although she was powerless, not once did she ask for mercy, but, they said, with a sly smile accepted her fate. It was over very quickly. None of the four had the heart for the kill, nor considered her death justifying damnation. Instead, four slashes across her face were traced, not fatal, but causing permanent scar and rendering a once beautiful face, hideous.
As she covered her wounds, she had another memory. She recalled the first man, the one with the art of cooking. He also could create music, from the finely worked bone of an animal, from blades of grass between his lips, from a piece of string, pulled taut, from horse hair over tight wire.
She let out a scream, but it was covered by a general Pandemonium. Trumpets blasted, messengers screamed, The Castle was in uproar. There had been a terrible battle, forces of another Prince had entered the fray. It was slaughter. The beloved Duke had fallen on the field. All was lost.
In such confusion, the Musicians could their escape, easily make. They simply vanished, as mysteriously as they had arrived. There are no records of any of them ever being seen again.
As for The Lady ? She was imprisoned in a remote tower in the north of the country, prey to the elements of that harsh climate, freezing in winter, burning in summer, empty of belly and alone both night and day.
After a time, she was forgotten completely, and it wasn’t until some years later that her skeleton was discovered. It is said that the skull appeared to be smiling, as if planning one final scheme …
“So one of the chefs tells me to clean out the large, vegetable freezer and I’m in there, scraping frozen crap off the shelves and sweeping up lumps of … I don’t know what. Then, this other chef appears, young guy, tall and gormless, carrying a clipboard. It’s part of his job to make routine checks on the temperatures, every day, same time. Now, the door’s open because, right, I’m in there, doing their shitty work. Gormless looks at the temperature gauge and, naturally, it’s way up, and he freaks out. This has never happened before, it’s an anomaly, except, of course, he wouldn’t know what an anomaly was, because he’s a chef, and of all the qualifications needed for that job, intelligence ain’t one of them. “
“So,” asked Melanie, unaccustomed to keeping quiet for long, “you’re saying he’s not too bright ?”
“As two short planks. Now, here’s the rub; he has to think.”
“In spades, and he really does, no bullshit, man, stand there, gob wide-open, dribble trickling down, you can hear the spokes turning, slow, slow, then … light bulb above the head, he comes up with a solution, though he’s probably more used to sniffing solutions that in coming up with them. Be that as it may, he says, proud as Punch, ‘I’ve gotta closer door, Mate.’ And proceeds to do same.”
“What did you do ?”
“I objected, of course. I’m in a bloody freezer, in just a T-shirt, and he wants to close the door on me. Apart from the fact that the temperature is going to go down to minus Twenty-Five or whatever, the perishing light will go out ! They’ll go back to get some peas, and find me frozen like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’.”
“The situations you find yourself in,” joked Melanie as Richard once again got the sense that she was laughing explicitly at him, not his anecdote.
“But he wouldn’t be told. I tried to explain the law of manslaughter to him, and that being a fucking moron was no defence. No avail. So I just left it. I mean, the freezer’s working, everything is stone cold and the only reason the gauge is up is because the door’s open. Use some initiative; fake the temperature. But no, he can’t do that, has to carry out his orders, do his duty. Then his girlfriend walked past and gave one of those, ’look what I have to put up with’ expressions, deep intake off breathe, then followed by the,’But I love him all the same, the big lumock’ look.”
“What’s she like ?”
“Not bad, kinda cute. OK, bit on the chubby side, but good features. Lovely eyes. Too good for him. What I should have done was to hit him on the head with a bag of frozen cauliflower. We got time for one more, or shall we go ?”
For the past month or so, Richard had been meeting up with Melanie and seeing movies or just having a drink. This evening, they were in a small pub by Leicester Square, before going to see a film based in post-war Berlin. It was a disappointing mess of a co-production, with a British actor giving a one-dimensional portrayal of an American, an American actor giving an unconvincing, stiff-upper lipped rendition of a Englishman and an Italian beauty attempting to be an ugly German. But, at one point during the film, there was an interior scene showing a room with an Ofen. Richard and Melanie poked each other on the leg and laughed. They left as soon as the film finished, heading straight back to the pub. They covered the usual topics: Richard’s awful job, awful love-life, awful everything. It seemed to cheer Melanie up.
“No regrets about leaving the record store ? I mean, it was regular work.”
“Not really. Couldn’t go back there, anyway, they would have sacked me for taking off too much time. And for what ? Berlin in Winter. Barely even saw Chris.”
This was the link Melanie was waiting for, and she barely listened to the rest of his speach.
“I can understand what Will meant, now, about not being able to work with people. I mean, my job really is shit, but at least I don’t have to deal with … the public. Book shops and classical music, sounds like ‘green and pleasant land’ material, but it’s the Mean Streets. In Fordham’s I devised a theory. People were in a bad mood because they came in to buy books that they couldn’t find, couldn’t afford and didn’t want. As for the Classical Music lot … I tell you, you won’t find a more arrogant bunch of self-loving Arschlochs than music students. Makes me miss my old physics gang. “
If Richard hoped Melanie would take up this cue, he was mistaken.
“Speaking of Chris, I got a letter from him recently. Are you still in touch ? You know he’s moved, now, and got a new girlfriend ? Oh, yes, much better by the sounds of it. I didn’t like Ute at all. I knew it wouldn’t last.”
This was all news to Richard, who hadn’t heard from Berlin since he left, the previous November. Melanie brought him up to speed, taking secret pleasure in being the one with the information.
Ute had decided to go back to Hamburg, possibly having something to do with the suspicious phone calls and letters that periodically arrived and which she read privately and hid at the back of a cupboard. Chris seemed somehow prepared, as if expecting it. Soon after, he was in love with a new woman. Her name was Monika and she was Austrian.
“She doesn’t stand any nonsense, by the sounds of it. She’ll keep Chris in line. My kind of girl. That’s what you need, a good, strong, Germanic girl.”
Richard was very close to admitting that right now he’d settle for any kind of girl, but didn’t want to give Melanie too much ammunition.
“So he’s still at the restaurant ?“
“Oh, yes, he says they’ll probably make him a chef before long.”
“Please, no more talk about chefs.”
“And the new place. In Prenzlauer Berg.”
“Oh, that’s much better. The flat in Rigaer Strasse … I’ve tried telling people about it and no one believes me.”
“I know, they look at me and think how could someone like me possibly spend time there.”
“Quite. Oh, there was something else weird happen after you left. Every night, about six o’clock for an hour, the water from the toilet sink had an electric charge.”
“There you are, trying to wash yourself, two inches at a time, and no cheap cracks, Lady, and suddenly … the water gives you an electric shock. Only in Berlin. Still … “
“What, you miss it ?”
“Yeah. Sometimes. I don’t know. I’ve never lived there. Maybe November was especially bad. The weather. Chris being preoccupied. So, Monika … ? “
Richard enjoyed these after-work evenings and found Melanie good company. She introduced him to a lot of films and authors he wouldn’t otherwise have know, and got him out of the bedsit. The film about Berlin, and the conversation about Chris had provoked conflicting thoughts about that city. The November nightmares began to fade, as the good times of September asserted themselves; amazing squat bars, friendly, open people, an easier pace of life. U-bahns that arrived on time. A population less than half of London’s. Women, girls, young ladies. Hannah. Maybe she was still at the bar … or Monika … she must have friends. Maybe it was time to re-open diplomatic ties between London and Berlin.
It wasn’t just the flat, but the whole of Berlin that seemed quieter after Nuno had left. Richard had really enjoyed hanging out with him, and seeing east Berlin through his eyes. He recalled Nuno’s expressions as he experienced first hand what it was like to live here; boiling pots of water for washing, chopping wood for heating, drinking in squat bars. He remembered the first time Nuno had used the toilet, the morning after the jazz club night, with Nuno struggling to articulate the ordeal;
“Don’t go in there … you will die ! Why … why is it … like … ?”
“The plateau ? Who knows ? To make people’s lives even worse.”
The resulting Nuno laugh.
Naturally, it would be Nuno that would meet a young, American girl and go off to Paris with her, while Richard would be trying to light the recalcitrant Ofen and recline with some light Proust reading.
Chris came home, bursting into the room with an energetic, ‘let’s go get ‘em’ smile, only to loose it seconds later.
“Where the fuck’s Nuno ?”
The tone seemed to be asking ‘what have YOU done with poor Nuno ?’ and Chris didn’t seem very impressed when he heard that the Portuguese had left. Richard emphasized the beauty of the American, exaggerating somewhat, and skipped over the part about Nuno’s disappointment of him as host.
Chris remained silent, regretting the lost opportunity but also glad that it was one thing less to worry about. He offered to make coffee, and when he came back, both the room and the atmosphere was warmer. No longer were there bags dumped around, blocking available space. Richard spoke about walking along the streets with a drunken Nuno, trying to keep him out of the perilous cycle lanes at the edge of the pavement, and pointed to where Nuno had fallen, inches from the sharp edge of the pallet.
“How did you get him up ?”
Again, Richard could only reply that he had no idea.
Chris began opening up, speaking about his worries over Ute and her continual retinue of psychopathic ex-boyfriends. After coffee, he brought up the subject of a loan. But he had over-estimated Richard’s finances. Two hundred Marks was all he had in checks.
“I’m paid every night at Biberkopf, so I’ll come back and give you money, so you’ll be OK for the next day.”
Richard agreed, suggesting they go to a bank immediately. Chris strained to think:
“Not sure if they’re open.”
“Why, don’t close for lunch, do they ?”
“It’s not that … this is Berlin, don’t forget. Banks don’t keep banking hours.”
Richard couldn’t believe it, but it proved to be true. The first bank was closed, but had posted its random opening hours on the door. Not open until mid morning the next day. They got lucky with the third bank along Karl Marx Allee, Richard warned to bring all his paperwork with him.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the flat, reading and catching up with the World Service. Even Chris knew it would have been inappropriate to borrow all Richard’s money and then invite him out with it.
Instead, they both went to Biberkopf, where Richard could sit and read and drink coffee and maybe get a bit of food and a few beers for a special price. And when Chris got paid, he gave it all to Richard, then half of that went straight to Silvio who ran Kinski that night.
The next day, Chris had to go to the studio, then to Biberkopf, so Richard was planning a day of sight-seeing with his limited funds, which actually was adequate for his itinerary. But two things happened to alter his plans.
That day, the temperature had dropped further, to an impossible to believe minus 25, but, even worse, Melanie reappeared.
Now it was Richard’s turn to experience the ominous ‘thump on the door’.
He opened it with trepidation, prepared to face the dreaded Herr Holtzengraff.
Instead, the small, leather-clad figure of Melanie, with small backpack. No explanations, as she marched into the flat, flinging her bag onto the couch. Richard took a deep breathe and went to make coffee, wishing he’d had alcohol in the house.
He knew that Melanie was unable to keep quiet for long, and, over coffee and candles in the kitchen, the story came out.
Somewhere outside of Szczecin, heading back towards Germany, the bike had skidded on some ice and Melanie and Will had been thrown off. Luckily, they had chosen small, country roads, so there had been no other traffic. They appeared to have suffered more from shock than actual physical harm, though Melanie assured Richard that she had bruises in her more delicate places.
The bike had some minor damages, so Will was going to stay in Poland fixing them and Melanie decided to get the train straight to Berlin. Will may turn up, may not, but by the way she said it, Richard wasn’t expecting him. He kept this to himself. There had been enough skating on thin ice.
“Where’s Chris ? Is he still with that pretend artist ?”
Richard sipped his coffee to buy time and control his response. He confirmed that Chris was still together with Ute, who was really nice. The temperature took another drastic fall.
However, being back in Berlin, without Will and sitting in a warmish kitchen with hot coffee relaxed her, and she began telling stories about her travels, then gave him a packet of Russian cigarettes that she had picked up. Richard examined them. Small and thick, but the most distinctive feature was that half the length was the filter. He smoked one, offered one to Melanie, who also smoked one, and they passed time by drinking and smoking and talking.
But Melanie had another piece of good news; she had no money. The train ticket had taken up the last of her savings and she wasn’t sure how’d she’d get back home. Richard understood that this implicitly confirmed that Will would not be making a guest appearance. He also found himself having to apologise for not having any money to help her with, though without explaining why.
“I’m sure Chris will help us,” she said. Richard merely nodded.
Thankfully, Melanie was tired after her travels and elected to stay in that evening, maybe sleep early and go out with Chris when he came back. So they had a little food and relaxed in the main room, Richard tending the Ofen every half hour. He was tired and cold and also took a rest, waiting for Chris. But that night, Chris didn’t come home which meant he had only a few Marks to provide for two people.
If one evening alone with Melanie had been Ok, Richard wasn’t sure how a whole day would be, especially as there was little money in the house and inches of snow, still falling, outside.
“Maybe we can go to Biberkopf, score some money off Chris ?” was her suggestion. There seemed little alternative and at least Chris would be aware that Melanie was back in town.
At the bar, which was fairly busy, they took a far table and Richard was delighted to see that Hannah was working as waitress tonight. He had met her the last time he’d been there, reading and waiting for Chris to finish. It had been her night off and she’d popped in to check her schedule and have a quick drink. They began talking and she had stayed over an hour. Richard was amazed. She was like a glamour model, thick, flowing, blonde hair, bright, blue eyes, long lashed, a full, sensual mouth and a dream of a body, every inch a beauty queen. It also amazed every one else in the bar, as she had a reputation as an ice maiden, at best, arrogant, stuck-up bitch, at worst.
“I just don’t want to speak to every brainless drunk, or have men ‘accidentally’ brush past me, so they say I have an attitude. Arschlochs,” she had confided to him.
Now she waved and came over, Richard over-eager to introduce Melanie as Chris’ friend.
“She’s pretty,” admitted Melanie after she had left to get their beers, though she said it as if she were describing the most repulsive and vilest of beggars.
Even better than seeing Hannah, or a close second, was Chris’s reaction, just moments later. He came along the corridor from the kitchen, to go to the cellar whose entrance was in a corner of the bar. He automatically looked up, did a double-take as he saw Richard at an unfamiliar table, then a treble-take when he saw Melanie sitting next to him.
After a quick recap of events, Chris told them to order what they liked and he’d cover it from his wages.
Richard found it hard to concentrate on Melanie’s endless babel, as he managed to catch Hannah’s eye once or twice, each time followed by a smile.
By eleven o’clock, the bar began to quieten down, and spaces opened up at the bar. Chris made some fleeting appearances and there was the not surprising decision to go to Kinski’s. Richard made sure Hannah was within earshot and then asked her if she’d like to come along.
“Thank you, but I have to stay until one, maybe later. And it’s in the east and I don’t like to go there.”
“Oh, it’s too far from your home ?”
“Yes, and it’s full of Proles. I’ve been there once. I got a taxi to Alexanderplatz and came straight back. Many people were afraid to go there, in case they rebuilt The Wall.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen tonight, Dear,” added Melanie with rather too much sarcastic delight.
“Yes, I think you are right. Sorry.”
With that, Hannah moved away and out of Richard’s fantasy life. The idea of a woman like that in a flat like Chris’ was ridiculous in the extreme. It was probably for the best.
Jens was working the bar, and as soon as they entered, they were assailed with cries of, “geschlossen, Feuer Abend!” (Closed, Last Orders!), so Chris took them to the Czar Bar. It was even grottier than last time.
Tonight, two men worked the bar, or rather one took the drink orders, the other was slumped on a chair in a corner, sometimes resting his head on the bar, sometimes jerking awake, only to slump again. They were playing some kind of Death Metal in an indistinguishable language and one of the denim-clad, unwashed drinkers was shouting along to it. Several dogs were running around, being screamed at when they decided to lift a leg or worse. Again, lots of people just sat alone, clutching a beer for company, a Teutonic version of Degas’ ‘L’Absinthe’.
Around the bar sat the bearded man who had run the bar last time, still with the hat covering half his face. He sat drinking shots of vodka and shouting in loud, repetitive German to the barman, inviting him to drink along, an invitation that was generally accepted. Chris went to get beers and had a little conversation with the vodka drinker, declining a vodka himself.
Melanie was less impressed than Nuno had been, clearly uncomfortable. As the CD finished, a commotion was heard from across the room in a little annex where the toilet was. It was obviously engaged, much to the chagrin of a short-haired, blonde punk, who kicked the door, then marched outside. Tonight, the shutter over the main window was up, and Melanie and Richard were able to follow her with their eyes as she walked into the gutter, undid her belt, pulled down her jeans and squatted in the road. Within seconds, she was back inside.
“That’s very impressive,” said Richard, “anyone that can expose themselves in this weather has my admiration.”
“You’re easily impressed.”
“Always been my problem.”
“One of them.”
At this point, Chris brought the beers over, but was gone after only a minute or two, to talk to someone he recognized. Melanie began speaking about films.
“I should be an editor, because I know exactly how a film should be cut, how long a take should be, what set-ups work best.”
Before Richard could respond, or be obliged to say something, Chris returned;
“Jake wants to have a vodka with us.”
“All right,” said Richard.
“Which one’s Jake ?” asked Melanie.
“Not the one who pissed on the Strasse, I hope.” Chris had missed that little scenario, so had no idea to whom or what Richard was alluding.
“Jake, the bar man, the one who was working last time.”
“You‘ve been here before ?” inquired Melanie of Richard. He immediately pointed to Chris;
“He made me.”
“You two are just speaking bullshit, aren’t you ? Come on, let get vodka-ed.”
“I don’t think I want one. You two boys go.”
They both cringed at that comment, but went all the same.
Two vodkas later, Richard began to see the appeal of this bar. He had thought Kinski was a dramatic, underground alternative, but this bar made Kinski’s look like a Home Counties family pub on a Sunday afternoon.
Suddenly, the second barman sprang to life with a loud exclamation in Russian. He wiped drool from his mouth and reached inside his coat for a cigarette, spitting on the floor and rinsing his mouth with a fresh beer. Chris called for another round of vodka, but then Melanie tapped him on the shoulder, with all the force she could muster, to inform him that she wanted to go.
“So ? Go. Go, capital ‘G’, capital ‘O’ GO! Like Dexter Gordon. GO!”
“I need the keys.”
“Maybe we should, after this round,” suggested Richard.
“Look at you two, what a couple of Beat legends. You want to go, why don’t you go, fuck off, fuck off back to shitty London. Go !”
Jake lifted up his head and raised his glass high;
“Here’s to shitty London,” and downed the shot in one.
“Come on,” said Richard, seeing that Melanie was fighting back tears, “one more for the road. OK, two, two more. Jake, you in ?”
“Am I in ? “ he answered his own question by laughing.
The ruse however, worked. It gave Chris more drinking time whilst giving a time frame for Melanie.
Soon they were outside, swaying home, the walk seeming to take forever in the bitter wind and snow and the uncertain motions of locomotion influenced by vodka.
In the flat, Chris fell asleep immediately, barely bothering to undress. Melanie got a blanket and managed to lay next to him, while Richard returned to the sleeping bag on the floor. He was looking forward to going home.
Richard awoke first, and knew he was unlikely to go back to sleep, so he used the private time to wash and get dressed. After a quick coffee, he left the flat, with just a bag and guidebook, deciding to see something of Berlin’s free sights.
He choose to go and see the Olympic Stadium, far away in the west, penultimate stop on the red U2 line. The journey there should be at least an hour. On the way, he read his guide. This was the famous stadium built for the 1936 Olympics and where Jesse Owens won three Gold’s. Richard now had some context for that famous piece of footage showing The Führer walking out in disgust. He, of course, declined to shake the athlete’s hand. What Richard didn’t know was that Owens also missed out on a handshake by his own President, when he returned to The States.
The stadium was open for tours, but he couldn’t afford to spend the admission, so walked around the outside. Behind, leading off to snow covered woods, a military jeep passed him, with two soldiers. They may well have been British and as such, would have thought nothing of seeing a compatriot taking a stroll in the snow.
There were two other sights in the area that seemed to be of interest. One was the Corbusierhaus, designed in the late 1950’s as an model example of urban living, but Richard wasn’t sure if he found it or not. He certainly saw something, yet couldn’t believe that the nondescript complex in front of him warranted such attention. It appeared to be just another concrete block of cheap housing.
The book also mentioned a sculpture collection, the George-Kolbe-Museum, but as it was a ten minute walk along a wide and otherwise featureless road, and as he probably wouldn’t be able to go in, he decided to head back, slowly making his way to the U-Bahn station, and waited for his train.
It had been less than thrilling, maybe, but he had seen one famous building and, more importantly, had some time to himself, even if he had to walk in the snow in sub zero temperatures to get it.
He arrived back at the flat at mid afternoon, knowing from experience that after Two-Thirty, it would only get colder and colder. And when he got there, Chris was stressed and Melanie was out.
There was only time for a coffee and a smoke before Chris left. He said he was going to the studio, but Richard wasn’t sure if he believed him, or even cared. Melanie returned later that evening. Chris had come through for her, she said, paying for her coach ticket to London. It left early evening of the following day. Chris didn’t make it back to say goodbye.
Richard spent most of the remainder of his time alone, going out sight-seeing, to the large Jewish cemetery in Weissensee and the memorial at Plötzensee, where political prisoners were killed, including 89 from the July 20th Bomb Plot. He walked around the local Volkspark, checking out the collection of political statues and memorials and made it to the giant monument to Ernst Thälmann, a Communist murdered in Buchenwald.
Chris did come back for Richard’s last night and they went straight to Kinski’s and had a great time. But for Richard, it was the cliché of too little, too late.
Chris came with him to the airport, insisting on holding the 1000 page Proust Volume 1, which Richard had half finished with all his spare time. Chris reassured him that he’d send over the money, or hold it until Richard came back. The silence that followed this comment showed that both of them understood that it may be a while before they met again.
At least the plane was on time, and Chris had given Richard the army coat that he’d requisitioned. He reflected on his trip. Chris had a new life, a flat, job and girlfriend and all these friends from the past were just that; from the past.
One piece of uplifting news came when the Co-Pilot announced the ground temperature. For the first time in weeks, it would be above zero. After they landed at London’s City Airport, his bag was one of the first off, and he took it and made his way to the exit. Until a uniformed man asked Richard to follow him. It took half an hour for the Inspector to go through the bag carefully, then check his wallet, asking if he had any drugs, pornography or weapons. The bag only had museum guides and dirty laundry, the Inspector informing him that he personally had no time for culture or galleries, “if I can’t eat it, I don’t care about it.” The delay meant that Richard had missed one bus and had no money for a taxi, so he had to wait in the cold London evening.
He had been waiting to come back, and now he was home. Then it hit him. So I’m back in London: Now what ?
One night, after the departure of Melanie and Will, and before the arrival of Nuno, Chris and Richard were having a drink with Silvio in Kinski, talking about women. Behind them, sitting around a table, some young German men were also talking about women. One of them was speaking of a girl he had been on a few dates with, but was, so far, unable to make the relationship physical. He asked his friends for advice. After some joking and teasing, one man, some years older than the others, sat back, lit up a cigarette and began a story:
“She’s like the girl who was afraid of love. You know that story ? It’s pre-Wende, ’86, ’87. West Berlin, real Cold War scene, spies and gangsters, underworld criminals, informants, government sponsored prostitution, hit men, an unbelievable, crazy scene, no rules; anything could happen and most things did.
“There was this girl, Firefly, who was … well, guess you’d call her a P.I. She was the one to go to if you wanted to find someone. If that person was in West Berlin, no matter where, she’d be onto him. “
“And she would take them out ?”
“Not usually her scene. She’d find the target and relay the info. Not to say that she hadn’t … anyway, she was one tough lady. No one messed with her, or if they did, only once.
“What made her even more iconic was her outfit. She’d dress like some goth-queen; short skirt, black tights, leather jackets, boots. Legend has it she was quite small, platinum blonde, incredibly cute.”
“And afraid of nothing except love, right ?”
“It started one hot, summer morning. Firefly was on her bed; tight, black shorts, skimpy vest top. Suddenly, there was a loud thumping on her door …