Love and Chaos Part 6(A) Chris 1

6th May 2021

Photo by Martin O’Shea 2021

Part Six

Berlin. January 1995

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. You’re always talking about him. You read this one ?”

“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 gangbusters, Dude. When you kissed Monika, her face was just pure evil. 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 curtailed, 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 Kreuzberg. 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.

Love and Chaos Part 2(I) Richard 2

3rd December 2020

Image by Harald Ansorge from the music video ‘dwot’. Watch, like and subscribe on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxJBbyKLlp0

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

It wasn’t just the flat, but the whole of Berlin that would seem quiet after Nuno 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 lose 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 Chris as host.

The host 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 the fuck 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, an’ 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, with 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 he didn’t explain why.

“I’m sure Chris will help us,” she said. Richard merely nodded, the irony undetected.

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 bearable, 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 model: thick cascading blonde hair, sapphire-blue eyes (he knew that was a cliché , but it was true), long lashed, a full, sensual mouth and a dream of a body, every inch a beauty queen. It also amazed everyone 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, put their stinky arms around me, try and kiss me with beer breathe, 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 are 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 lady, 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;

“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 Golds. 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 (or would have had to shake every winner’s hand). What Richard didn’t know was that Owens also missed out on a handshake by the US 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 Georg 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 One, which Richard, with all his spare time, had half finished. 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 gave Richard the army coat that he’d more or less requisitioned. On the flight, Richard 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 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. I’m back in London: now what ?

Love and Chaos Part 2(H) Chris 2

2nd December 2020

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

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

Chris, leaving Ute’s flat, decided to take the S-Bahn four stops east from Shönhauser Allee instead of the quicker U-Bahn, to get home. He needed to be above ground, to be able to look out of windows, see sky and open spaces. He felt so claustrophobic.

He would get out at Storkower Strasse and have a long walk through an elevated, covered tunnel that straddled a errie concrete wasteland full of disused factories. At the end, just a short walk to Rigaer Strasse, the Czar Bar end, and a slow stroll to number 16. This would be his only time to himself and he intended to make the most of it.

He genuinely loved having his friends to visit, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Why did they all have to come at once ? Though he remained positive about his flat’s shortcomings, he knew it wasn’t adequate to deal with the needs of people used to basic western standards. Again, one guest at a time would have been fine, but there had been four recently and even now there were still two people crashing on his floor. He thought of Samuel Johnson’s famous aphorism, how guests are like fish; they begin to smell after three days, but in a flat with no bathroom, those three days dwindled to one.

But the resentment he felt lead to guilt. He hadn’t been so pleasant to Melanie or Will and had hardly seen Nuno so far. Then he began to justify his feelings. Will had merely used the flat as a base for further travelling, basically a free hotel. All he had heard about was how they were economizing to pay for the rest of their trip. They hadn’t even offered to buy any groceries.

Nuno was being too much trouble. Ute wouldn’t even speak about him, and he wasn’t welcome back at Biberkopf, so what to do ? It’s not as if they were especially close. Another one just after a cheap holiday. Then again, he had almost beaten the crap out of Ross and for that, he should surely be awarded freedom of the city, or at least the flat.

Richard was happy doing his own thing. He was here for the whole month, so he couldn’t expect Chris to spend every night with him. Besides, they needed time apart, so that they could have things to talk about.

In many ways, this was the best his life had been, and as he walked along the street, covered with rubbish and dog shit, walking past punks and drunks, he thought what a comment that was on his life so far.

He was still in the initial euphoria of a new relationship, thinking Ute the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Certainly the sweetest.

This was the over-riding sensation, the factor that allowed him to deal with all the negative aspects. She was his first really serious girlfriend. All the others had been short-term affairs and it was always the girl that had broken up with him. Now he was scared that the pattern would continue and that Ute would find a reason to leave.

He thought about how happy they were together, but just as he was believing that everything could actually work out, that the guests would soon be gone and that he and Ute had a future, something happened to throw it all into doubt.

That morning, Chris had gone out to buy some bread and food. When he returned, letting himself in with the borrowed key, he heard Ute on the phone. She was speaking emotionally, upset over something, but she stopped as she heard Chris. He was able to understand her say something to the effect of ‘I can’t speak now. We speak later.’

Ute had very pale skin, but now she flushed from her neck up. She walked into the kitchen saying she’ll make coffee.

He asked who she had been speaking to. She replied that it was no one, an old friend.

They breakfasted in silence, then he left, heading north on the U2 for the S-Bahn connection.

At least he would have time to spend with Nuno, which could be just what he needed, a red-blooded Latin view of things. Richard would probably come along. Chris wished he’d go and get his own life, not invade other people’s. But then he couldn’t be rude to Richard, because there was another problem. He hadn’t paid Frau Holtzengraff the extra money. She had let October slide, provided he pay double by the end of November. But he had been taking Ute out and been forced to socialise with his guests, so knew that there was no way he could afford an additional two hundred Marks. He also knew that Richard had at least that amount in travellers checks.

He would have to turn on the charm. Otherwise, he would be truly fucked.

Love and Chaos Part 2(D) Will 1

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

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

It was five past eight when Will and Melanie turned up at the flat. Richard had stayed in all evening, waiting for them, and had been engaged in chopping wood for the Ofen when they banged on the door, both of them ensconced in leather motorcycle gear and looking faintly ridiculous. Richard, however, knew he was in no position to pass judgement, standing with a flimsy hacksaw over an unyielding pallet. He explained what he was doing, indicating the Ofen and the inappropriate tools he had for the job, for, in addition to the aforementioned and pretty much useless saw, he also had a hammer and a Philips-head screwdriver in his arsenal.

“I think that’s the secret, you get hot by chopping the wood, not from burning it.”

Melanie gave a sneering laugh, and when Richard thought back, he remembered this as the first time he suspected that she was laughing at and not with him.

Chris was working tonight and wouldn’t be back until at least one o’clock, and as he said this, Richard felt the room get a touch colder. Still, he played the host, showing them the flat, and accepting all their sarcasm good-naturedly, apologising as if it were his own apartment. Will went into detail about how easy it was to find the street, yet nearly impossible to find the actual flat, tucked away in its dark corner.

He had some soup ready and warmed it for them, making the kitchen as hospitable as possible with the ambient candle lighting and the blue gas jet from the cooker, left on to give heat. There was wine and beer in the house and they chose the former, a rather low quality bottle that Richard had happily picked up from a Turkish Imbiss for a pittance, (imagine, he told himself, going to a fish and chip shop in London, and being able to buy wine,) and which became the next target for criticism. Not that it stopped them from finishing the bottle.

Richard told them about the great bar they went to, saying that Kinski would be open after ten, and silently counted the minutes until they could go there. He asked their plans.

“Mel’s been here before, so I’m expecting her to know all the places to go and all that’s worth seeing.”

Mel just nodded, while Richard knew that her experience of east Berlin was of a solitary day-trip, and all the places that existed then were probably closed down, while the new places, the squat bars, would have been inconceivable. Will continued in his affected manner, exuding a studied sense of world-weariness, leaning back in his chair, and speaking into the air, rather than addressing his comments to people directly.

“We’ll hang for a couple of days, suss the scene, then move on. Want to get to Warsaw, take a look around, see how they’re embracing the new post-Communist freedom. Freedom ? Ha, right. Poor buggers.”

Eventually, it was time to leave. Philipp was making the bar, but it was quite busy, the distorted guitars sounding even worse, or better, through the faulty CD system. Richard found the music very irritating, mainly because he found the company difficult, and strained to think of anything to say. Chris was the link between them and he wouldn’t be here for hours. Therefore, the only solution was to enjoy himself in the bar, as the novelty of ordering drinks past eleven hadn’t worn off yet. That also gave him a topic.

“Mate,” started Will, with a theatrical sigh, “I could take you to places in Bavaria where everyone’s in bed by ten o’clock.”

Not knowing how to respond, Richard got up to get more drinks. He returned all too quickly, sat down and looked at his watch, when salvation happened in the shape of Shoulder.

A large, impressively powerful hand crashed down on Richard’s own shoulder, with such a grip, that he jumped.

“Ahhh, you’re back. And you sent me that postcard of a painting about nothing! I am never having my hair cut ever again, all Friseur, all barbers, are in the head, verrückt, crazy. And … I will tell you why.”

At that point, Shoulder, as was his style, leant over and rested his arm on Will, who was stunned into a very uncomfortable silence.

Shoulder spoke with quite a deep German accent but otherwise looked nothing like his tall, Aryan friends, being rather short and stocky, his build accentuated by the tight, ‘artist-in-residence’ jumpers he wore. His complexion, which was very dark, and his large, hooked nose actually made him look more like some long-lost Inca and, along with his idiosyncratic communication style of non-sequiturs and gesticulations, Shoulder created such an impression that Mel and Will were shocked, for once keeping their thoughts to themselves. For the first time since his arrival, Richard felt happy, truly happy and so … sit back, drink the Jim Beam and enjoy the show. He wasn’t disappointed.

“One time, I was in Italy, I was fucking an Italian girl, so I went there and she says, (here he affected a ludicrously inaccurate accent of an Italian woman) ‘oh, bambino, you are so beuono, mi-oo, but babeeeeee, can’t we have another lover with us ?’ So I think, Ahh, schön, zwei Mädchen, danke, (‘beautiful, two girls, thanks’) because, here I will tell you why. I thought, Italy, cooking and singing and pasta and women with big, big, biiigggggg, breasts (here Shoulder held out his hands, far from his body, as if struggling to contain said features.) But my baby had small breasts, (here he turned to Will, looked him right in the eye, then punched him, playfully, but with real force, in the chest,) you know what I mean ! Small … (here he looked up, saw Melanie, starred at her chest, all femininity suppressed under tight, black tops) … like you. And she couldn’t cook ! So, I think, I’ll have a nice mama with big, biiggggg breasts, but she say to me, (back to the accent,) oh, no, my babeee, I mean two men. What ! (back to starring at Melanie,) Why do all you women want that ? I have a one-penis policy. I have to leave. Now, (turning back to Will,) at this time, I had all beard and hair and … (miming a face with improbably wild growth of hair,) so, I go to hairshop. ‘Piacere ! Hello, What’s up, Brother ? Take off all the shit. Si, I miei capelli sono dritti al naturale, my head is of course straight, no bumps. Yes, I am from Germany, hallelujah.’ Don’t forget, I have been up all night, many night, fucking, so I am tired like a monkey, and I close my eyes, and clip, clip, clip, I sleep. I wake up. I hear them laughing. Then I see in the mirror. They cut my hair and shave off my beard, but they comb my head over and leave a little Hitler moustache. And they won’t cut it off ! I have to pay a litre of Lira and walk through the town. More. Last week I go to German barber, (turning back to Will) yes, remember, last week, you were here and we were speaking about clown make-up ?”

Here Richard could get a word in, repeating a familiar scene.

“No, Shoulder, it’s his first night here, you haven’t met him before.”

“Yes, he likes big breasts and motorbikes.”

The latter reference spread confusion, being so accurate, and allowed them to gloss over the former. Shoulder merely carried on his interminable tale,
“And he wouldn’t cut my hair!’

“Because of the Hitler thing ?” asked Will, desperate to make sense of the situation.

“No, because of this …” Shoulder had been wearing a woollen beanie hat, which he now took off, and in doing so, covered the table with white dust, dust which hung in the air, before falling into their drinks and over their clothes. And then, his act over, Shoulder got up and left, supporting himself on Richard’s shoulder and whispering in his ear,

“His keys,” before shuffling off to harass Philipp.

Richard was unable to decipher the message, until he looked over and saw that Will had his keys, with the Suzuki fob, on the table.

Unfortunately, the two guests hadn’t appreciated the performance as much as Richard, both finding it somewhat offensive and, claiming fatigue after their journey, asked to go back to the flat, where they drank the rest of the beer and waited for Chris. And waited.

The couch could easily sleep three, if not four people, (lengthways) but Richard preferred his sleeping bag on the floor, after making space, propping the procured pallet against the wall and moving the new rucksacks aside. By three o’clock, everyone was exhausted, but didn’t want to go to sleep, only to be woken by a buoyant Chris who would no doubt burst in with fresh bottles and energy. But it didn’t happen. Chris finally showed up at lunchtime, freshly showered and with clean ironed clothes, while the other three looked like refugees, unwashed and walking around in mismatched clothing for warmth, not fashion.

“What the fuck is this ? Look at you fucking, useless people !”

Chris said this with a smile, but there was a harshness in the tone that was telling. Seeing him so clean only highlighted their own state, and the awareness that they smelt unwashed increased their vulnerability. Melanie broke the silence :

“And where have you been ?”

“Ute’s,” was the only response, as Chris left the room immediately, claiming that he was going to make coffee. Will made a show of allowing Melanie use of the toilet sink first, then Richard, and, as they emerged, as clean as possible, they joined Chris in the kitchen.


Richard didn’t take it personally, thinking that Chris had invited people over when he had been alone, and now that they had all come, at the same time, he must have felt invaded. He didn’t want to think that not only were they now not required, but they were actually not wanted.

Will was the last to join them, oblivious to any vibe, and stood drinking, not seeing the lack of space for him at the small table as a symbol of any sorts. He suggested going out for lunch.

“I’m not hungry.” Melanie responded to Chris’ proclamation by saying that they were, and if he knew a good restaurant.

“No, but I know some bad ones.” It was a feeble joke, but it broke the tension. Richard mentioned meeting Shoulder. Will said that if that arsehole came up to the table again, he’d leave. Chris picked up on the cue, to ask him when he was leaving.

“Day after tomorrow, or the next day. Two or three days should do it for Berlin, get the low-down.”

“Yeah, well I’ll be working most of the time. Maybe Richard can take you out.”

“That’s nice, we come to see you and you won’t be here,” said Melanie.

“Hey ! I gotta work. All right ?” No one said anything.

One by one, they finished their coffees, washing up their cups immediately. Richard mentioned that he knew some bars that had a lunch menu and they agreed, glad to get out and Chris glad to get them out. As they were leaving, Richard whispered to Chris, asking if he was OK. He nodded and gave a little smile.

After lunch, Richard suggested that they go for a walk around Alex, but this only led to discussions about the weather, which, in truth, would be a factor, as it was bitter, and already getting dark. Instead, they decided to stay in the bar and order cognac with coffee and just talk. Richard had his guidebook with him and they discussed the merits and demerits of it, the lack of photos or colour maps, the lack of detail on the maps that were included, the layout, which made it more like a novel. Richard pointed out some of the more unusual museums that were hidden among the suburbs of Berlin, a dog museum, a hairdressing museum, which reminded him of Shoulder’s stories and an Ofen museum, apparently a collection of different types of the devise. Melanie said that they had to go, just for the kitsch factor.

They stayed until early evening and went back, all hoping that Chris would be out. In the Hof, Richard pointed up to the window, which was black, showing no one in. They tacitly agreed to stay in and go to the bar later, all being tired from the previous evening and the cold, which forced one to walk with hunched shoulders, heads down.

“So, what have you been doing since you got here ?” asked Melanie.

Richard stood up from the pallet he was trying to dismember and said,

“This.”

“You must have done something.”

“Well, Chris works a lot, the studio, or the bar. Sometimes he stays with Ute.” Again, Richard saw a change come over Melanie. Keen to change the subject, he continued, “I want to get to the museums. Museum Island, has three or four different ones.”

“Yes, you must go to the Pergamon. The alter’s rather plain, but there’s a Roman gateway that’s outstanding.”

“Maybe tomorrow,” suggested Will, who was now helping Richard to chop the pallet into pieces small enough to fit into the Ofen. Getting the flat warm was a lengthy process, one which required constant attention.

“I’ve been walking around a bit, getting to know the area. Some nice parks. Lots of small statues and interesting things. I like going places that are just different. I want to see Ernst Thälmann, too.”

“Who’s that ?” asked Melanie, disturbed that there was somebody she hadn’t heard of.

“It’s a statue, apparently a giant Soviet-type thing in Prenzlauer Berg, just up the road by Strassebahn. Then, at nights, we’ve been to the Cafe Kinski and, on the way, back, pissed out of our minds, we go looking for wood. This was a Godsend, keep us going for weeks. Hopefully.”

“Just find it on the streets ?” asked Will.

“Yeah. Oh, we check it first. Make sure it’s dry, not too dusty. No dog shit. I’m becoming quite the connoisseur.”

They killed time, for that was all that they could do, by reading and drinking tea. Richard was starting in on Volume One of Proust, which caught Melanie’s eye and she launched into an impromptu review, of sorts, explaining why she wouldn’t read it, accompanied by an expression reminiscent of someone suddenly aware of an unpleasant smell, while sucking bitter lemons. She, in turn, was reading a modern fiction, which she was actually enjoying, but qualified that by saying that she had found it second-hand, and only brought it along due to its compact size.

At ten o’clock, precisely, that fact known by the chimes of the BBC World Service and a pre-war sounding jingle, Richard felt Will staring at him, indicating that it was now time for the bar to open, but Richard didn’t want to say that it was Berlin and that squat bar opening times were perhaps not as reliable as Big Ben (and anyway, Melanie no doubt would have said that Big Ben was the name of the bell, not the tower as most people suspected,) so he put his book down and began the process of dressing to go out. Extra jumpers, coat, gloves, scarf, boots. Melanie, meanwhile showed no sign of moving. Automatically, Richard said,

“Chris won’t be back for hours, yet.”

“Oh, I’m not waiting for him. I want to finish this book, then I can leave it here, reduce weight. I might come, later.”

Outside, Richard guessed that she was just tired and wanted an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep.

“Naw, she just wants to take a shit and’s too embarrassed with us in the house. Might take a dump, myself, in the bar, if that’s all right with you.”

Richard indicated that he was totally fine with the proposition.

It seemed to Richard as if they were shit outter luck again, as soon as he saw Jens at the end of the bar. It was quite busy, so must have opened earlier than usual, probably so Jens could call ‘geschlossen!’ early.

Richard ordered two beers, which were collected, opened and passed to him without comment, save the amount. He had to control himself from screaming ‘what’s your fucking problem ?’ but took a deep breathe and just thought about the cheap price. He took them back to their table, as Will, who was removing some of the outer garments, made his excuses, informing Richard that he should feel free to start without him, as he would be some time.

Richard, naturally, needed no second telling, and had finished the bottle before Will returned, giving the thumbs- up sign.

The pool table area was quite loud, as there was a group of young men playing a sort of tournament, and there was laughing and screaming and playful mock-fighting.

Richard, after he had got Will’s attention, began speaking about their tour and Melanie, hoping that he hadn’t spoken out of line when he accused her of waiting for Chris.

“He’s a real prick-teaser, that guy. Puts her through the ringer and I have to do the clearing up.”

Will then went on to talk about his travels, how he had been in southern Germany, but not Berlin, and mentioned a number of uneventful anecdotes which he seemed convinced were highly relevant and informative. When Richard asked about his work, he explained that he worked nights in a hospital because he liked the quiet, and was unable to deal with people, anymore. All the time, he was looking over at the pool game, perhaps envying the liveliness and fun they obviously were all having, and suggested that they change seats and move to a table by the front window, in front of the players, adding that it would be easier for Melanie to spot them, should she deign to turn up.

They moved and were more or less ignored, until one almost backed into Will with his cue, but was very apologetic. Will made a point of speaking in loud English, and it aroused the curiosity of several guys who introduced themselves and began a conversation.

Walking around the bar was a tall, skinny, long-haired man with round glasses and a distant gaze, who started moving around the pool table, at first asking for a light, then a cigarette, then a beer, then money.

He was politely dealt with, but he persisted in bothering the players, holding one player’s cue as he lined up a shot. One of the men, Mathius, who wore a white polo-necked jumper tucked into his jeans, took hold of the man, and led him outside, with some harsh words in German. Another smaller guy, who wore a blue bandana and mimed guitar solos on his cue, backed him up, and they returned to the game. The man came back in, cursing away and making threatening gestures. Again, he was taken outside and pushed into the street. This only made it worse, for he came back in and began shouting face to face with Mathius. The next thing, Mathius had him on the pool table, arms around his throat, then lifting one to threaten him with a fist. Instead, he lifted him up, roughly pushed him and finally Jens came over and officially barred him from returning. At that point, Melanie turned up, asking what she had missed.

Richard now sat with her, as Will was up and in deep conversation with some of his new friends. Some time after one, Chris appeared, and said sorry for the morning. It appeared as if the studio job was ending and it wasn’t sure if there would be new projects or, as fellow worker Arizona Al predicted, the whole shebang was about to up sticks and hitch over to Japan. Or it may have been Korea. Taiwan ?

Melanie was extra pleased by this more familiar side of Chris, and smiled and found any excuse to touch his arm. Who, she wanted to know, was ‘Arizona Al’ ?

“He’s a guy called Al who’s from Arizona. Cool guy, little bit odd, musician, I think. He works the copy-machine.”

“What, full-time ? That’s all he does ?”

“It’s a full-time job. They’re copying shit left and right and someone always fucks up the machine, so they put one guy on it, permanent. He hangs out there, drinking herbal tea, singing to himself. He told me about going to the Hansa Studio, and touching the piano Bowie used on ‘Heroes’.”

“Cool. Have to meet him.”

The mood must have been infectious, as even Jens was smiling and no one was refused a drink. Around three, they left the bar and walked the short distance home, Chris and Richard conditioned to seek out good wood from among the street debris. Will managed to get Richard’s attention.

“Chris can be an A-One bullshiter, but I think he’ll be OK here. All the stuff he talks about doing, I can see it, now, it’s possible in this city. I’m gonna have to consider a relocation. That Mathius is a cool guy. I’ve invited him to London and I hope he comes. The guy in the bandana, too. Learnt a lot, tonight. Got the handle on the political set-up. Yeah, look forward to coming back.”

He and Melanie left two days later and Chris, in Kinski that night, with beer and Jim Beam, beamed as he informed Richard of another guest, heading over later that week.

Richard thought that it would be a whole different dynamic with Nuno, and he was right, only not in the way that he was hoping.