Chris spent Friday evening at Rodenberg Strasse, abstaining from alcohol, and reading until Richard returned from Steglitz, after which they shared a couple of easy beers. The music was constant but soft, limited to Richard’s few CDs. The next morning, Chris was flying back to London and Richard had all day to fret about his date with Johanna.
In the morning, dark and bitter, Richard, light and optimistic, walked with Chris up Schönhauser Allee to the Strassenbahn (tram) stop on Wisbyerstrasse, slushing through the snow, head down, shoulders hunched up. Chris tried moving from foot to foot to keep warm, but almost slipped on the treacherous ice. Before too long, the faint smoky glow of an approaching tram, doors opening with an hangover-splitting shriek but the inviting warmth of a heated vehicle.
Richard was travelling as far as Osloer Strasse the northern terminus of the U 9 Line. From there, Chris had a mere two stops to the interchange with the U 6, then four more to get the airport bus.
“So, tea, naturally, now, drinks … what do you have in mind ?”
“How about some Pimms ?”
“Didn’t know you liked Pimms.”
“Don’t know if I do. Never tried it. Just sounds so English. Ah, forget it. Everything’s cheaper here. Suppose Stilton’s out of the question.”
“I’m not bringing sodding Stilton back in my bag, I’ll get arrested. Books ?”
Richard named some Physics text books.
“Man, those things weigh a ton. All right, let me see. Oh, here we are. Sure you don’t wanna come to the airport, it’ll be fun.”
Richard said goodbye to Chris and watched him descend into the U-Bahn station. Just then, a Strassenbahn appeared, heading back east, and he jumped on, buying some croissants on the way back to his flat. As the coffee was brewing, there was a knock on the door, heavy, forceful, determined.
So Chris had missed the flight, or gotten the date wrong, or forgotten his passport. He pulled his door open, prepared to shout mock obscenities and bemoan the lack of Pimms when he was momentarily silenced. Completely blank for a second or two, and then a warm but confused,
Standing outside his door, in tight black jeans, a very figure-hugging jacket, and boots that were far too sensual for the ice and muck of Berlin streets, was Silke who, in character, walked straight in and hugged Richard.
“Gehts ? Hey, long time, why don’t you phone, did you forget me ? Was ist ? Coffee ?”
Richard followed her into his own kitchen and, yes, she did look absolutely fantastic in jeans. He allowed himself this unexpected pleasure.
“But, er, Chris isn’t here. He’s just left for the airport.”
“Ja, und ? I speak with you. Oh, croissants, can I have ?”
“For sure. You speak with me. Wow. It’s a Christmas miracle.”
“Ah, mensch, bullshit. So was is with you ? Tell me.”
Naturally, there really wasn’t that much for Richard to tell. Same job, same life, same old Czar Bar. Chris, same job, same life, same old Czar Bar. Except for Johanna, about whom Silke was very curious.
“She lives where ?”
“Is it Marzahn ? Somewhere in the east.”
“Marzahn, schiess ! Have you been there ?”
“No, we always … ‘always’, twice, meet in town. Kreuzberg. In fact, we’re meeting tonight. Third date. Anyway, what’s with you ? Monika said you had a new man.”
“When was this ? You saw Monika ?”
Richard told her about meeting Monika in summer, without elaborating, not that there was any need for restraint. Silke knew everything.
“Ah, so, you know Gabi lives with a lawyer. Is a nice Hausfrau now, never meets. Lorelai went to …”
“I know, Munich.”
“Nein, England. She met a student and now lives in … let me think … Brighton ? Is it nice ?”
“Probably nicer than Marzahn. A student, hey ? What do ya know ?”
“Now we are neighbours.”
“Who ? You’re moving to Brighton. Why’s everyone going to bloody Brighton ?”
“Nein, you and me. I have a new apartment in Greifenhagener Strasse. Just go over Stargarder. By the Cafe Ankhor. You know it ?”
“Yes, remarkably cute waitress who couldn’t care tuppence for me. What else is new ?”
Silke, being unfamiliar with this rhetoric, actually began explaining what was new.
“Aber, ja, Monika, who knows ? I think she is tired. Too many stupid jobs, stupid men. I told her to go back to university. I’m going to. Is there more coffee ?”
An hour or so later, Silke got ready to leave. She made Richard promise to visit her, it was only five minutes away. They hugged and as they did so, they kissed. It was natural. For Richard, it was nice, very, very nice.
Around the same time, Chris was getting ready to board the flight to London. He was pinching himself, remembering to say Lufthansa, not Luftwaffe, and was looking forward to a high of 4 degrees.
Around the same time, in the north Berlin Bezirk of Wedding, Daniel was putting on his coats to call Jeanette. He had his Pfennings and Marks counted out, weighing down his jeans. The telephone that accepted cards was open-air and he would freeze his ears, while the coin-box was in a booth. It would still be freezing but not fatally.
Around the same time, ‘Rough Guide’ clutched in gloved hands, Alan Francis was walking along Danziger Strasse. He would have to move out soon, but Kelly had a room organised for him, across Schönhauser Allee. He saw a cinema over the main road and took it as an auspicious omen. He went to investigate his new neighbourhood.
Around the same time, although on EST, Eric Schwartz threw John Stuart Mill across the room, grabbed a Sam Adams, and planned on, in the morning, hitting a punch bag instead of the books. After Eric had finished Sam Adams Volume II, he felt better and reflected that making people happy, that is, tipsy, was undoubtedly for the greater good. By Volume III, he was wishing that the good people of Boston had tipped John Stuart Mill into the harbour instead of tea and by Volume IV he no longer cared, and was watching whatever was on late night TV.
Back in Berlin, Richard was reflecting on his day. He had seen Chris back to the UK safely. Soberly. He had caught a Strassenbahn immediately. Silke had miraculously reappeared in his life, the lady with Bond-girl legs, and S&M fetish boots, and tonight he was meeting Johanna. The year was ending very well.
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, finally Lorelei. 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’d gotten 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 dukes. 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 them 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 onto 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. Richard found himself next to Lorelai, who was holding herself against the merciless cold. Instinctively, he took off his coat and put it over her shoulders. Gabi thought it was incredibly sweet and chivalric.
Next stop was a club in Kreuzberg. The U-Bahns were running and would be, all night, but not so frequently, and they had a long wait on the U8 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 ?”
“Of course.” A confident voice masking that he had never even dreamt of taking such a pill before.
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. Then he thought about Lorelai on ‘E’. What better night to kiss ?
He began to feel himself smiling, and was unable to control it, nor did he want to, as everybody else was smiling. Everyone 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 hissed, 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. They had been dancing, smiling, hugging, but for Richard the only kiss was the friendly slobber on his cheek from Chris.
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 U2 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.