Love and Chaos Part 2(B) Chris 1

23rd November 2020

Image by Harald Ansorge

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

“Richard … hey, I’m so sorry,” laughed Chris. “This is Ute.”

She put her hand out, and Richard quickly sat up, automatically patted down his hair, and said ‘Hello’. He attempted to rise, but was weighed down by blankets and clothes. He was the one who had been waiting all day, yet it was he that felt he had to apologise, for his appearance.

“What happened to you? Been bashing people?”

“No, not yet,” he replied with a little too much acid in the voice. He continued, toning down his manner, “Some idiot knocked me with his bag at Stadmitte. Hey, good to see you. At last. Hi Ute, vie gehts ?”

“Oh, you can German ?”

“Yeah. I know, ’Vie gehts ?’, ‘Geschlossen’, ‘Eine Turkische Pizza, bitte.’ All the important words.”

Ute spoke with genuine concern,

“And what is with your eye ? You need something for it ?”

“No, no, it’ll be all right.”

Chris stood there, hiding his guilt behind a wide smile that strained his jaw muscles. He suggested that they all go to Kinski’s, and after Richard gathered himself together, they left the flat.

Chris had woken late that morning in Ute’s Mitte flat, the Ofen still radiating heat. He was in a warm bed, next to a hot woman and was going to make the most of it.

After making love again, Ute rolled a joint, sparked up and passed it over to Chris.

“Don’t you have to go and meet Richard ? What time is his flight ?”

For Chris to be on time, he would have had to get up and leave immediately which he felt, considering his surrounding, was a ludicrous thing to do.

“No, he has keys. He knows his way around Berlin.”

“You sure ? I can drive you there. I’m free all day ?”

“No, don’t worry, he’ll be OK, my Darling ! You are so sweeeeetttt.”

They finished the joint and went back to sleep. When they eventually woke, dressed and got into Ute’s car, it was already late evening.

Jens was working the bar, and the Café was half full, but not with anyone Richard recognised. The music was some generic sub Sonic Youth guitar noise, played too loudly to make conversation easy.

Chris, still with his embarrassed smile, got the drinks while Richard sat and made small talk with Ute. She was small, with dark blonde hair, tied back in a ponytail.

After a beer, she got up to leave, and Richard discretely averted his eyes, while they kissed.

She left the bar, and Chris turned to Richard,

“Wow, what a girl ! I can’t believe I’m with her. Really ! Hey, was it OK, to get to the flat ? It’s just been crazy the last couple of weeks”

“Yeah, it was … if I’d have known, it would have been better. “

“Sorry, sorry. Tonight, the drinks are on me.’

“Oh, you better believe it. If we’re allowed to drink here with that bastard working. Don’t think he likes us.”

“Yeah, bit of a prick, isn’t he ? We’ll be OK. If, not, there’s plenty more bars. Quite a few down the end of this street.”

“Been exploring ?”

“In the interests of science. Gaptooth took me to one, run by Russians. The Czar Bar. Pretty rough in there.”

“What, fights ?”

“No, everyone’s too pissed to fight. It’s just … oh, you’ll see. Pretty basic. You don’t want to go to the toilet in there.”

“Well, I might.”

“No, trust me, you wouldn’t. So, Ute … what do you think ?”


“Yeah, she’s all right.”

“ ‘All right ‘ ? Are you blind ?”

“Half blind ! I’m joking with you. Getting my own back for waiting in a cold flat all day. Hey, what is with the weather ? It’s bloody freezing.”

“No, it’s not.”

“It fucking well is !”

“No, don’t say that. I used to and everyone says, ‘no, wait until it gets really cold.’”

“It’s going to get colder ?” Chris just nodded. “Shit. What do we do ? I only have a few jumpers.”

“Don’t worry about that, got it covered. You can borrow my stuff.”

“That army coat’s good. Fur lining.”

“Going to need it.”

“Because this isn’t cold, wait until it gets really cold.”

“It’s like some kind of pride thing with them, ‘we can survive the cold’. How was Tempelhof ? Did you see the eagles ? And the Luftbrucke ?”

“On the corners ? Yeah. Looks like something out of a war movie.”

“Yeah, the Nazis built it, it’s one of the few Nazi buildings still in Berlin. Speer designed it. The Americans took it over and then had a problem about the eagles, because apart from the Nazi connotations, the eagle is also an American symbol, so they left them. Then they used Tempelhof for the airlift, dropping food and fuel over Berlin.”

“Someone’s been reading up.”

“Too cold to do anything else. Well, nearly anything else.”

“By which we segue way back into Ute. So, what’s the story ?”

“First … more drinks.”

Chris knew how to set up dramatic tension and took his time, going to the toilet, buying cigarettes from the machine and getting two more beers, creating sufficient expectation for the story, which was known to Richard only in barest outline. Chris had the stage and knew how to keep it.

He began filling in the background. Marina now worked at a bar in Schöneberg, the co-owner was her aunt, not really an aunt, but, well, it was complex, and the Spüler (the washer-uper), had quit, or been asked to leave, because he had fought with one of the cooks, threatening to put his head into the deep-fat fryer, so there was an immediate opening and the job paid cash, every night, 12 Marks per hour, working from seven till round about midnight. With the studio in the afternoon, and then five days a week at the Bar Biberkopf, Chris was making the best money of his life. Richard commended him then tried to steer him back on course.

“Right, yes, Ute. So I’m working one night, and I get there early, have a coffee, maybe ten, fifteen minutes before seven, create a good impression by my timekeeping, because my actual work isn’t going to impress anyone. Sitting along the bar are two girls. I kinda recognised one, she was one of the barman’s girlfriends, but the other one … wow !”

“Ute ?”

“You betcha ! Then they get up to play pool, and we’re making eye contact, she hits a great pot, OK, pure luck, but what the heck, gives me a chance to say, ‘great pot’. She smiled and did this curtsey … I was gone, daddy, gone, knocked out, loaded.”

Chris still seemed mesmerised by the memory of it, as he took a long drag on his cigarette and stared into the distance. Richard coughed.

“What ? Oh, yeah, so, just when I’m about to make my move, play it all cool, the cook comes out and shouts at me, ‘ain’t you working tonight ?’ because it’s like four seconds after seven. Then Ute looked up, made a gesture of pity, and smiled at me. She smiled at me.”

“Ah, I love it when women smile at me.”

“You know what I mean, then ?”

“Theoretically.”

“You think I can work after that ? I’m putting old food in the sink, plates in the trash. I’m just thinking about Ute, and when I can take a break, so as to see her. And, of course, tonight’s really busy, restaurant’s filling up, plates piling up. Then the cook sends me to get some shit in the cellar, which means going back into the bar, so I see her, I play it all cool, she looks over and … another smile. So, that’s it, I’m beaming, Cheshire Cat smile, all night. Not so the cook.”

“Not happy ?”

“The German work ethic don’t apply to cooks, ’cause those fuckers hate having to do shit. He’s getting more and more orders, getting more and more angry, starts kicking the fridge, the pots …“

“You ?”

“I’ve learnt to get outter the way. Point is, I have to keep working, so I can’t mossey into the bar. Now I panic; what if she leaves and I never see her again ? Eventually, I get a break and get some food.”

“What’s it like ?”

“Well, it’s the same as customer food, so it’s pretty grim. But I eat it at the bar … next to Ute. And after I finish, she gives me a cigarette. Gauloise. Blue. Now I’m thinking what to do, should I stay after work and have a drink, or play it cool and leave, but I want her to know, without knowing too much … you follow ?”

“All the way.”

“So, later, I’m about to leave, when I see Ute sitting on the first bar stool, and I have to get my money, so I’m about to go up to her, make my move, when Georg comes over, and starts stroking her hair.”

“And Georg is … ?”

“Oh, yeah, he’s the barman that night. Now, Germans are more physical, they’re always touching each other, you know, it can be kind of, ‘Whoa, Nelly, this isn’t a petting zoo,’ so I don’t read too much into it, but then he whispered something in her ear, and she laughs.”

“That’s not good.”

“It’s a disaster. I mean, touch away, but making her laugh. I knew something was up.”

“So you … what ?”

“What could I do ? Hey, Johnny Cash, ‘what could I do ?’ Life’s a piece of piss for a Spüler named Chris. I got my money and left, hoping that Ute would follow me out with her eyes.”

“And did she ?”

“Well, how do I know ? I had my back to her. Anyway, I hit Kinski’s and I hit it hard that night. Probably why I had the fire and almost died.”

At this point, as Richard could have predicted, Chris broke off, ostensibly to take a drink and light a new cigarette, but really to build excitement. Richard refused to ask, waiting to see how long it would take Chris to follow up. Then Chris recognised some new people who had walked in, and began speaking to them. But if Richard was curious, he knew that Chris must be equally anxious to get to finish his ever-evolving tale.

It was Richard who put an end to the impasse, wanting to get the story out of the way, so that they could get on with the serious drinking, because after the day he had spent, he was in the mood to get seriously drunk. He also knew that his non-story with Claire was a pathetic non-starter and Chris had lived enough for the both of them.

“To recap, Ute is with Georg, you drown you sorrows and end up in a ring of fire. Tonight’s session is brought to you by the songs of Johnny Cash.”

“What do you want to hear first ? The Ute saga, how our hero killed the evil beast and saved the princess, or how I battled the all-consuming fire, representing the flames of my passion ? Pretty symbolic stuff, hey ?”

“Don’t get cocky ! Get on with it. Tell me in chronological order. So, you come here, get hammered, go home and … ?”

“And start a fire in the Ofen. You’ve seen all the wood in the flat ?”

“Couldn’t miss it, Noah. You building an ark or something ?”

“Hey, 5th of November, how about that ? Oh, we can look out for more wood, later.”

“Sounds fun.”

“So, I’m getting the Ofen working, got to sit there, burning paper and small bits of wood, to get it started, then bigger pieces, but not too big, or it’ll just put out the flame, and I’m falling asleep, but got to get the Ofen working or I’ll die from exposure, so I keep putting more wood in, opening the vents slowly, let air in, more paper, wood, finally, it’s going, roaring fire and I can start to feel the heat. I load it up and put in a big piece of wood, so big it sticks half way out. I’m thinking that it’ll burn for an hour or so, and that’ll be enough. I just crash, clothes on, shoes on, the works. Next thing I know, I’m woken by the sound of cracking, like logs on a fire. There’s black smoke in the room. There’s a fucking fire outside of the Ofen.”

“What did you do ? Weren’t you still drunk ?”

“Not for long. Nothing like a forest fire in the house to sober a guy up. Well, I panicked, of course, then ran out of the house. I was fully clothed, so it was OK.”

“But the fire .. ?”

“Still raging, yeah. So I have to go back in and put it out, but I’ve got no bucket now, because it was full of purple vomit, so I pick up the log and try to get it into the Ofen.”

“Wasn’t it hot ?”

“Fucking burning ! I scorched my hands, so I put on the gloves, picked it up quickly and carefully and shoved it in, stamping out the flames on the floor … the log had fallen onto some wood and paper and ignited them. Then I had to open the windows, because the room’s full of black smoke, so all the heat goes in seconds and it’s Siberia in there. “

“Fucking Hell ! You were so lucky. The paper fire. Could have had a Django situation.”

“Which is ?”

“Django Reinhardt, the Gipsy guitarist. When he was young, he fell asleep in his caravan and a candle fell onto some paper flowers his wife had made. Whole thing goes up, he gets injured, gets burnt so badly that he’s unable to use two fingers of his left hand. Then he goes on to be one of the greatest guitar players the world’s ever known.”

“So … what’s your point ? ”

“That you were lucky.”

“I was lucky, yeah. The next day’s Saturday, which means that I’m not working, I won’t be back at Biberkopf until Monday and I don’t even know when or if I’ll ever see Ute’s again. Anyway, I close the windows in the morning, and just stay in bed, or couch to be precise, under blankets, because I’m really hung over. By evening, I’m up and decide to see a movie at Babylon, we’ll have to go, by the way, nice cinema, English films, you can get a beer, and I get there early and choose my place, middle row, middle seat. It’s Saturday, so it’s busy and it’s not so large, it’s filling up. I begin to notice that all seats are taken except the ones directly around me.”

“Odd.”

“Very. And it’s only when there are absolutely no more seats available that people sit next to me, and even then, they’re on the edge of the seat, leaning away.’

“Well, living without a shower, you have to overcompensate with the deodorant. Just a tip.”

“It was the bloody coat. All my clothes in fact. My hair. I stank like an old bonfire.”

“Pretty embarrassing.”

“Yeah, well, it’s only Berlin. Everyone stinks. After walking around for a day or two, the smell filtered out of the coat, and I tried to open the windows a bit, but it was too savage. Right fire story over, on to Ute. And, once again, Marina to the rescue.”

“That woman is your lifeline.”

“Yeah, I had a situation with Ross about that.”

“Oh, he found out about … or … what ?”

“No, he doesn’t know anything. How true. No, I mean, I was at the bar one night, before my shift and Marina’s working, so Ross pops in, and he sits there, with his beer, all pompous, all, ‘keeping an eye on my lassie’, when, just to have something to say to him as much as anything, I call Marina my fixer, you know, one who fixes things.”

“I know.”

“Well, he looks at me all blank. Says nothing. Then he goes all aggressive, and asks , ‘what ?’ So I repeat, repeat and clarify, two-pronged attack. ‘Oh’, he says, ‘I thought you said she was a Vixer.’ Which means ‘wanker’. If anyone was a wanker, it sure wasn’t Marina. Well, he fucks off, and I get a few seconds of Marina time and try to get the low-down on Ute. Marina saw through it immediately, all smiling and stroking my arm.”

“That petting zoo can stay open twenty-four hours.”

“Well, er … I’ve moved on from Marina. Lovely girl, but … I think it’s just seeing her with that arsehole. It’s killed the passion. Still lovely and great and all, but no romantic feelings.”

“And still great breasts.”

Chris wasn’t quite sure how to respond, having a faint recollection of a late night conversation about Marina’s attributes.

“Yeah, anyway, she’s my man on the inside. Here’s the deal. Ute’s an art student. Single. Georg … bit of a situation; he’s smitten, big time, he thinks he’s onto the real deal. No dice.”

“That’ll be the letter where you told me she’d dumped the boyfriend.”

“Right. Only they never were going out. Now, things are working in parallel. Walter, the owner, has made the schedule so that George now works mainly weekends. Ute comes in only on weekdays. I arrive early to spend time with Ute, because she sometimes comes with her friend after college. Sometimes without her friend.”

Here Chris winked before continuing,

“So we’re hanging out, talking, smoking, drinking. She lives in Mitte, and one night, I stay behind to have a drink, all free, by the way, and she offers me a lift home, because Schöneberg is miles away, and I invite her for a drink. Not here, I thought I’d better suggest a normal bar, but she says, ‘no’, prefers these kind of joints, and takes me to one she knows, in some back street. We’re getting on really well. Then she invited me to a movie. She comes to pick me up and, ring those bells, she turns up in this stunning, black number. She meant business and was taking no prisoners. And so … unconditional surrender.”

“What was the movie ?”

“Ah, who cares ? Now, to go back a bit. Georg. Nice guy, I like him. He’s not so big, but he works out, does karate, I think, something that involves kicking people and breaking wood. We were in the changing room once, and we took his shirt off, and even his muscles had muscles. Not the guy you want to fuck with.”


“Or steal a girl from.”

“She never was his girl. But, smalltown Berlin, Georg’s found out about me and Ute … and that night, we’re working together.”

“Doesn’t sound good.”

“I get to work, and there’s just … this vibe, like an electric fence or one of those freaky, bug-zapping, blue lights they have in kitchens, normal kitchens that is, because what they use in Biberkopf is a roll of Sellotape, which gets encrusted with squirming flies. Georg’s looking mean and slamming people’s drinks down. Also, not entirely sober.“

This seemed a good point for fresh beers.

“Where was I ? Oh, right. I’m in the kitchen, and we have all the noise of my machine, water running, the cooker with eight rings a-blazing, soup a-boiling, chips a-frying, and so on, plus the radio’s always on. Plus background noise of a busy bar slash restaurant. Yet … yet, above all this din, I hear it. The cook hears it, even stops working and pokes his fat head out of the kitchen. Massive screaming match between Georg and Walter. Unfortunately, no subtitles. I’d have loved to pick up a carrot and nonchalantly chew on it, inquiring of a bilingual passer-by what was happening, but thought it best to keep working, because they’d find someway of blaming me. Bang, sound of door slamming. Georg went into the changing room. Puts his coat on, comes out, slams the door again and … that’s it … Haven’t seen him since.”

“Did you find out what they argued about ?”

“Georg blamed Walter for destroying his life, Walter accused him of being a no-good alcoholic. And so on. Couple of massive German customers stand up, gather around, but do nothing, just stand there, all serious, probably hoping for free drinks. Quite a night. So, that’s what you’ve missed. One more thing, Melanie’s coming over. Should be here in a couple of days and bringing a friend with her.”

“Will ?”

“Yes. How did you know ?”

Love and Chaos Part 1(L) Shoulder 1

19th November 2020

Photo by Pete Flatwound. Follow Pete on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flatwoundonfilm/

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

Shoulder sat down next to Richard, turning the chair around, striding it like a horse, arms waving, fingers pointing, head constantly turning. Richard realised that the metal figure hanging outside could well be a self-portrait.

Both Chris and Silvio, who were also sitting around the table, had trouble containing their laughter. It was Chris who finally had to interrupt the artist as he was half-way through a monologue, the subject of which hadn’t yet made itself known,

“Hey, Shoulder, this is Richard, from London.”

“Yes, I know, I was speaking to him last week.”

“No, you haven’t met him. You were speaking to me last week.”

Shoulder screwed up his eyes, in an expression of pantomime incredulity. He turned to Richard and stared at him.

“Is that true ?”

“Yeah. So, how are you ?”

“Ah, a philosopher. I studied philosophy. I saw another student on the U-Bahn once and I said to him, like you just did, ‘how are you ?’ and he said ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Hey ! Philipp, come and join us.”

Shoulder, of course, wasn’t his real name, but Chris wasn’t able to catch the correct appellation and felt that while asking for a name to be repeated once was acceptable, twice was too much. He was, what may be termed, ‘a character’, or ‘a force of nature’. He dominated every conversation with the sheer power of his enthusiasm, his never-ending gestures and ever-changing expressions.

He called for Philipp to join them, but Philipp preferred to stand alone, looking on, leaning against a wall and swaying slightly, eyes off into the distance. Shoulder clearly decided that Richard was a long-lost friend he had never actually met, and focused all his attention on him, for the rest of the evening. He explained about Philipp,

“He misses the old east, yeah, we’re all Ossies, all from the DDR. Now I work in, you know the Schloss at Charlottenburg, yeah, nice building, yeah, you been
there ? No ? You must, or maybe not, I don’t care, I have a studio near there. Many friends have moved to the west and so we don’t see each other so much. I come here, but it’s a long way. We all used to meet three times a week, drink, smoke, joke. Now … “

He made a gesture of hopelessness,

“So I have a joke for you that you will like. A man comes home, you like Surrealism, yes ?”

Richard nodded,

“after a holiday and he looks around. And can’t believe it … everything in his house, everything, the light bulbs, the windows, the toilet paper, the stains on the walls, the walls, everything, has been stolen. And replaced by an exact replica. The man’s flatmate comes home. The man says to him, in panic, ‘what has happened. Everything has been stolen but replaced by an exact replica ?’ And the flatmate says …… ‘who are you ?’ Hahahahahaaha!”

Shoulder told endless stories, leaning first on Richard, then alternating and leaning on Silvio, to his other side. Eventually Philipp came and sat down, pulling his chair a little distance apart, but clinking his bottle against everybody’s. Richard saw this as a sign that he, too, was accepted. It felt very good.

Shoulder began describing his new work, a kind of psychological chair. Rather than being a mere piece of furniture, it represented a challenge, a philosophical proposition to man: ‘why do you want to sit down ? Do you want to sit down ? A symbol of all the poor people in the world who have nothing to sit down upon. It was rather hard to follow, but the tagline stayed in Richard’s mind:

“Most people sit down to think. But with this chair, you have to think how to sit down”.

When Richard was back in London, he went to the Tate Gallery, and bought a postcard of a Vorticist painting by Wyndham Lewis; geometric lines, bold colours, force, power and energy. He sent it to Shoulder in Berlin. He knew he’d appreciate it.

They had been a number of girls he had spoken to in the Cafe, either up at the bar, or people who had shared their table when it was busy. Being English was a great bonus, as people were interested in why he was in this part of Berlin and what he thought of the city. He tried a few flirty moves, but nothing panned out. For either of them. Chris still had vague hopes of Marina or Claudia, or, when he had taken a few shots of Bourbon, both. Richard was curious as to the extent of his relationship with Marina, but was, as he reminded himself, ‘ too British to ask.’ Yet one night, Chris, in Kinski, did say that she had beautiful breasts. That told Richard all he needed to know, and was happy for whatever conquest Chris had made, yet puzzled as to why women like Marina always stayed with men like Ross.

But the person that left the biggest impression was the young lady he met on his final night.

Chris and Richard had just finished eating and were about to have a mellow drink before the farewell bash at the Cafe, when there was a heart stopping thump on the door. Both had visions of a middle-aged, German woman with a beefy bastard in tow, ready to beat them to the proverbial pulp. The reality was far worse. Chris left the room and as he opened the front door, Richard could hear,

“Oh, Steffi. What are you doing here ?”

Love and Chaos Part 1(K) Chris 4

18th November 2020

LLOYD'S BEWARE THE BLOG: KLAUS KINSKI: Krimi's, Cowboys, Vampires and Mad  Men in German Cinema
German actor Klaus Kinski (Google Images)

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

Chris couldn’t wait to take Richard to his local bar, Cafe Kinski, and to show him how he was already a part of this underground community. They left the house and walked for two or three minutes until Chris stopped Richard outside what appeared to be a closed store front. Chris pointed up. Perched on the top corner of the first floor, looking down on them, was a metal sculpture of a man wearing a hat, fingers pointing outwards. Although the creation was obviously comprised of scrap metal and junk, the figure seemed not only animated, but actually smiling.

“That’s from Shoulder. Maybe he’ll be in, later.”

“Ah, that would be nice.”

Cafe Kinski was one of the more up-market squat bars, especially by Rigaer Strasse standards. There were two sections, a deep room that ended up at the bar, and the main room which had a pool table. There were round tables throughout, with various, non-matching chairs. All tables had candles in bottles, heavy ashtrays and multiple stains and chips. Hanging from the ceiling was a video beamer and another beamer projected an image of the actor Klaus Kinski onto a wall near the bar. Chris was right, it was nothing like an English pub, more like a student bar at university, an observation Richard made shortly after entering.

“Only without the self-righteousness and high bullshit factor,” replied Chris.

The building was all squatted. On the ground floor was the bar, which occupied a former shop space and next to it, another closed shop that was boarded up and awaiting repair. There were four floors of houses above, all occupied, all squated. Three or four of the squatters ran the bar. The system was that whoever was working went to the stores in the afternoon to buy beer in crates, spirits and whatever else they thought would sell. Then they would clean the bar, rarely more than a token sweep and clearing away of ashtrays and bottles, a pretence of cleaning the toilets, and then open around ten o’clock. They closed when the last customer left, or simply when they felt like it.

Chris led Richard straight to the bar and opened his arms, smiling at the barman, who was equally enthusiastic.


“Hi, Silvio, wie gehts (‘how are you ?’). This is my friend Richard, from London.”

“Ah, Ja, hello. Welcome to Berlin. Beer ?”

“Ja,” answered Chris, “naturlische.”

Silvio was slighter taller than them, with short frizzy hair tucked under a John Lennon cap, leather jacket over a T-shirt with German text and old dark jeans, dusty and worn. He also had a permanent smile.

They spoke about Richard’s first impressions of Berlin and had a shot of Jim Beam. Richard got his money out, totally happy to pay so little for so much.

“No,” said Silvio, firmly, hand out, “first we drink, then you pay.”

Around eleven, the bar began getting busier, the music became louder and Chris suggested they move away from the high bar stools to a nearby table.

“Look at this … eleven-fifteen and people are only just starting to go out drinking.”

“What a life, and I’m being serious. I could get to like it.”

“What have you got back home ? Really ? Shit job, high rent, eleven o’clock closing. When you can afford to drink in pubs, which is never.”

“Can’t argue with that. I decided to postpone college for another year. With you out of the way, I may actually have a chance to save up some cash. Which, of course, I’ll blow by coming over here. Do you realise, that if we drink enough, I’ll actually save money by coming to Berlin, rather than going out drinking in London ?”

“Let’s put it to the test. More beers.”

After Chris had returned with fresh beers, pausing for a little chat with a large man with long hair sitting at the bar, Richard thought it best to get some answers before the night got much older.

“What was the emergency, then ?”

“Oh, that, yeah, really scared the crap out of me.” Chris went into detail about his first week, staying with Marina, then Claudia, before getting this flat. “What hadn’t been explained to me was that in addition to the month’s rent, I had to throw her a bung. Rents are so cheap in Berlin, but there aren’t that many empty flats, so it’s a seller’s market. If you have a flat to rent, you see who’s got the most cash, and rent it to them, for a one-off payment. Totally illegal, totally universal. But the landlady …”

“Mrs … Holtzengraff ?”

“Right, she knew Marina, somehow, and has a shop near Claudia, so they worked out a deal. Only thing was, they didn’t tell me.”

“Useful.”

“Maybe they did, but there was so much to take in, it must have slipped my mind. Until a week later. I’m all alone, got a bit of a hang-over, night before, I’d met Shoulder actually, anyway, thump on the door, and before I can answer, she’s barged in, with her minder, a reel beefy bastard, and she’s screaming at me in German. Now, I understand nothing and I’m there in my boxer shorts and grungy T-shirt, kind of vulnerable, hoping my old John Thomas doesn’t slip out, and I’m just saying that I’ll check with Marina or Claudia.”

“So what happened ?”

“She knew she was getting nowhere, and I’m waving my rent slip at her, and I’m getting nowhere, so she leaves, slams the door and I can hear her all down the stairs. She called me an English cunt.”

“Really ?”

“I don’t know. I’d lay money on it, though. Anyway, I go to work … “

“Yeah, what do you do exactly ?”

“Paint cartoons, but I’ll just finish this story, then we can move on to Claudia the Cat, who I see later that day. I tell her and what’s happened and then she explains that Fr Holzkopf, that’s Wood-head, wanted her five hundred Marks. Which I didn’t have.”

“But then it all worked out … ?”

“Thanks to Marina. She’s taken care of everything. She told Queen Bitch that I’ve just moved here, and so I could pay an extra Hundred Marks a months for five months. Here’s to Marina. Let’s go have another drink with Silvio. Silvio ! Jim Beams, three …”

They were the last to leave, making Silvio more intoxicated that he would have preferred to be in the process. As the night had been fairly quiet, they had moved back to the stools in front of the bar and made Silvio join in with their every round. Most people greeted Chris and he introduced them all to Richard, including the large man to whom he had spoken earlier. He was Russian, and his main feature was a prominent gap in between his front teeth, to which Chris drew Richard’s attention.

“Look at that ! Isn’t it magnificent. ‘Mind the gap!’ ” The chap, henceforth known as ‘Gaptooth’ smiled good naturedly, and displayed his dental disposition on demand.

The next thing Richard knew, he was on the floor of the flat, in a burrowed sleeping bag, with a vague recollection of staggering home, singing ‘Fall On Me’ by R.E.M., the two of them somehow managing the three-part harmonies. He looked up, saw Chris totally crashed on the couch, and decided to try to go back to sleep.

Some hours later, he woke again, to the sound of Chris lighting the first cigarette of the day. Richard sat up and they said their ‘Good mornings’, Chris throwing the packet of West over to him.

“Oh, not sure I can, not first thing. Pretty rough, these.”

“Yeah, real eastern. Pure propaganda. Call it ‘West’ and make it gross, thus associating all things western with nausea and death. Very subtle. How do you feel ?”

“Not too bad. I’ll be better after a sh …”

“You going to say ‘shower’ or ‘shit’ ? “

“Either. But … so what do you do for … ?”

“Ablutions ? As best I can. Oh, one more thing … no hot water in the kitchen.”

“So we boil pots ?”

“Yes. If I had any. I’ve got a kind of large mug come small saucepan and the kettle. You’ve seen the toilet ?”

“Yeah, I meant to ask about that … what’s the situation. I mean … it’s kind of … a ledge ?”

“The plateau. Don’t mention that in the tourist brochures. It’s for examination of … you know.”

“No, I really don’t.”

“Haha. You will.”

Chris had to go to work later that day to pick up some wages and give in his proposed schedule for the next days, so Richard went with him, catching the Strassebahn from Bersarinplatz up to where it terminated, all along Danziger Strasse and past the main intersection with Prenzlauer Berg’s Schonhauser Allee. From there, it was a short walk along a deserted and empty Bernauer Strasse, turning off into some side streets to get to the studio.

They walked to the staff room, where Chris made two coffees and said hello to two or three people. Everyone was very casual and relaxed, dressed unlike anything Richard imagined office staff would wear. There was a mixture of accents, but all conversations were in English. Suddenly, Chris’s face lit up.

A girl of medium height in a loose fitting top and tight jeans shuffled into the room.

“Claudia ! Hey !”

“Oh, hello. I thought you were having a friend over ?”

“I am … he’s over there. Richard, this is Claudia.”

She barely glanced over then went back to Chris, making some small talk and in-jokes about work.

“You know Simon, don’t you ?” She pointed to a tall, well-built young man sitting opposite, who had been speaking with a slight upper-class accent to some of the other staff. He looked up, raised a hand and carried on talking. Richard picked up on the relationship between Claudia and Chris; Chris would try to make jokes, make her laugh, and she would talk down to him, like a slightly simple sibling. He chose to keep this realisation to himself.

After Chris had collected his money and wrote out his schedule, they left and walked to the nearest U Bahn and from there to Alex, where they again walked around, drank a bit, then drank a bit more.

The evening was spent in Cafe Kinski, with Philipp working. This time, the atmosphere was different, Philipp being quiet and withdrawn almost to the point of autism, choosing not to make eye contact or any banter with most customers, just filling the drink orders and barking out the price.

It was a busier night, louder music, as Philipp was very fond of Rage Against The Machine, played loudly. A heated pool game was also in progress.

Once again, they were among the last to leave, but as Philipp tended to close early, they regrettably found themselves vaguely sober, and so decided to walk around.

The post-beer hunger kicked in so, after they crossed Karl Marx Allee, Chris showed Richard a small Imbiss that was opened most of the night, and sold turkish pizza and pizza slices for a Mark or two. The radio was always on, playing what may well have been the exact same song on a permanent maddening loop, a high tempo, Turkish-disco-sounding instrumental. Chris began moving to it, with a rather peculiar belly dance thrown in. The staff just ignored him and carried on turning over the kebab meat and spooning oil over the salads, a vain attempt to make them look freshish.

On the way home, eating turkish pizzas, which were circles of dough, covered in spices and herbs, rolled up and wrapped in foil so as to be eaten by hand, Richard observed,

“You dance like that in London, you’d get you face smashed in.”

“I danced like that in London, I’d deserve to have my face smashed in. But no complaints here, hey, and what have they got to complain about ? Didn’t see them wearing a hair net. As for their fingers, no telling where they’re been. Nowhere near soap, that’s for sure.”

As they got back to Rigaer Strasse, they heard music coming from the squat bar on the opposite corner to the flat. They decided to go in.

The bar had no given name, and was just known by the address, Rigaer 13. It was reached by a side door, and then down a short flight of steps. This bar was simply a square, plain room with an improvised bar area, frequented mainly by punks. Chris vaguely knew the barman and ordered two beers.

They got a table and smoked, several times being asked for cigarettes by other patrons. After another beer, they decided that it was time to leave, Chris working the next afternoon.

Both of them had been a little concerned over the visit, for while they had worked together and socialised, they had never shared a room for longer than a night, and the limited amenities could have strained things further. However, with Chris’ enthusiasm for Berlin and his interest in showing it to Richard, and Richard’s easy-going nature and willingness to be impressed, the time passed quickly and without problem.

The only entertainment in the flat was an old radio-cassette. which was either tuned to American Forces Network or the BBC World Service, along with a small collection of tapes, some of which Chris had brought with him: Dylan’s ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ by Nanci Griffith being the most played.

The lack of central heating wasn’t such an issue until the last days of the visit, when the temperature seemed to drop overnight.

The washing took some time, but even that was cause for laughter, not complaint. Richard tended to wash in the afternoons, when Chris would be at work, and it could take up to an hour, boiling the kettle enough times, blending it with the right amount of cold water, especially when washing the hair and not wanting to either burn or freeze the head. This was, of course, done by candlelight as the kitchen had no lighting of any sort and the toilet sink was too little to be of any practical purpose.

On Richard’s penultimate day, they went for brunch at Marina’s. Richard was enamoured by Mainar, who corresponded not in the least with his mental image, picturing her as possessing long, blonde hair, possibly braided. At the same time, he was repulsed by Ross, who didn’t seem to want them there, and kept asking what time they planned on leaving.

Mercifully, Ross had to go to work, and the atmosphere lightened considerably, with Chris singing along to all the songs that Marina now had chance to play.

They left late afternoon, as Marina had to get ready. She’d gotten a job at a bar-restaurant again, knowing the owner through some convoluted connection.

Back in Friedrichshain, they went to a local Spar store, bought some food and beer. Richard felt a little embarrassed as the drove a trolley loaded with victuals and bottles, while everyone else had hand-baskets containing three or four sad items. Richard passed one shelf, which had bunches of root vegetables wrapped together by elastic bands, all of them looking wrinkled and tired and pitiful.

That night was spent, naturally, in Cafe Kinski, where Richard told Silvio he’d be back soon. He had an idea of Berlin, saw how Chris lived and planned to return.

He had travelled around on his own, while Chris worked, and knew the U-Bahn system, could buy a cheap snack at an Imbiss and had picked up a few words of German.

There were two other people he met on his last two nights; a sculptor called Shoulder and a monster called Steffi.