Love and Chaos Part 4(I) Arizona Al 1

21st January 2021

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With Jeff, the inspiration for Arizona Al, Humannplatz, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin 1994

Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994

“So I met this guy at Café Radetzky and we’re having a good talk, and he’s, you know, cool an’ all, digs the right music, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve met him before. So we’re talking and I say where I’m from and, you know, the usual, what I’m doing in Berlin an’ all, when he stops me and says, ‘Hey it’s so cool to meet another dude from Arizona, because I met a real crazy shithead from there a coupla weeks back, and he was just out of it, talking non stop about nothing, and he had all this hair and beard and shit’. And I suddenly realized; he was talking about me ! Yeah, I hadn’t cut my hair, and I had this Fu Manchu thing going on, and that’s where I knew him from … some bar I’d been to, totally out of it. I’m gonna have to stop doin’ that kinda shit.“

Chris turned his head away, so as to wink at Richard. They were meeting in a Café on a late Summer afternoon.

“But, you know, so much of Berlin is hidden, it’s like I can see tourists coming here and going to the usual sights …”

“Which won’t take long,” interrupted Chris.

“… right, an Arch, an old sports stadium, a bit of old Wall, the Death Star.”

Both Richard and Chris laughed at Al’s description of the T.V. Tower, a giant, glass globe surmounting a tall, fluted concrete tower.

“Then going home and wondering why Berlin’s got such a reputation, when nothing appears to be happening. But you know what ? It’s not that things happen in Hinterhof’s, things happen in the hinter of Hinterhof’s. In basements, behind closed doors, over disused shops. When I was first here and didn’t know where to go, I’d just look for cool people and follow them, see where they’re going. Found some great bars that way.”

Richard glanced over at Chris, who waved him in.

“But … didn’t you ever end up just following people home, sometimes ?”

“Oh, yep.”

Chris followed through,

“And they didn’t mind ?”

“Well, they thought it was a little odd, guess, but … no, not really. Oh, I did ask one guy where the hip bars were and he told me to ‘piss off!’ ”

Chris thought for a minute.

“Are you sure ? Could he have been saying, ‘Pass auf ‘ ?”

“Well, it was a ways back. But … yeah, ‘spose. Why ?”

“It means listen, pay attention, watch out. He was probably about to give you directions …”

“Oh, man ! I ask him to get some place, he says, ‘OK, dude, listen up’ and I just walk away. What must he’d a thought of me ?”

“That you were a crazy shithead ?” joked Richard.

The subject moved from general rubbish to women, Al approving of Lorelei, describing her as ‘bodacious’, then onto work, which was why Al had requested this get together.

“OK, just a heads-up, there’s gonna be some changes at the studio. They’ll gonna be laying a lot of people off, making some big changes.”

“No ! Shit. I like it there.”

“You should be all right, but they’re changing the schedule, the whole ‘come as you are, go whenever the fuck’ routine. Good thing, too, ‘sa crazy way to runa business. They want people putting in minimum twenty hours a week, and booking in. Get these guys coming in, hour or two, costs more to keep track of them. There’s at least one big project coming up, and they’re gonna need staff they can rely on. I mean, costs are still low in Berlin, but there’s always talk of shipping the work to some Third World place, and pay ‘em Jack shit. And there getting heavy on the paperwork, too, no more casual work, everyone’s gotta have their Lohnsteurkarte’s and Angemälden … you got those yet, Richy ?”

Al was the only person who could say ‘Richy’ and not make it sound like an insult.

“No. Got nothing yet.”

“Wait. I’ve got an idea,” said Chris. “They need full timers; cool. And I’ve got all the bloody German paperwork. But I can’t do both jobs. If I do the Studio, forty hours, I won’t need the washing-up shit. Then Richy, er, Richard can have it. No paperwork, no questions, cash in hand, free beer, cute waitresses … “

“What, like Ully ?”

“With the thing, yes, I know, but there are others.”

Al followed the conversation as if it were a tennis match, but with the players hitting some unusual, suspect backhanders.

“Yeah, like, whatever happened to Hannah ? She was gorgeous.”

“Left. Got a proper job. Never saw her again.”

“I know. To think … I almost got her to come out with us. I think Melanie scared her off.”

“I think so, too. Marina’s leaving. Did I tell you ? Leaving Berlin.”

“No !”

“Yeah, that Arschloch Ross is doing some building project in Köln. Maybe just for six months, but … we won’t see her again, either.”

“What about Claudia ?”

“Hardly ever see her. She comes in when I’m not there, or … I think she has other jobs.” Chris sought to bring Al back into the conversation. “You know her, Al, Claudia. I stayed with her when I first got here.”

“Claudia … nope, don’t think so.”

“Yes, German girl, really foxy, Irish accent, walks like a cat, looks like she’s just woke up. I introduced you to her. A few times.”

“No, pullin’ a blank. What about her ?”

“I don’t know. Richard, what about her ?”

“That’s what I asked you ?”

“I don’t know. Al, what about Claudia ?”

“Which one’s Claudia … ?”

And so the afternoon wore on. Chris left for work, promising to ask Walter if Richard could take his job, knowing that not only would they not care, they probably wouldn’t even notice, one Spüler being pretty much like any other.

Al and Richard went to get some cheap food, then Al promised to take him to some bars around the southern end of Schönhauser Allee that he had discovered by the ‘follow the cool guy’ method.

At the same time as Chris got to work, Ross entered a bar in Köln, along with some new colleagues. He spoke about the job opportunities in Berlin, but said that he wanted both a new challenge and to live in a city that had a higher standard of living.

The next day, one of his new colleagues told some Irish friends over lunch break about Berlin. One of these was leaving soon for London, where he would work on a building site and tell his new mates about Germany. One of these left to go to another site, where he told his new mates on tea break. One of these workers was a young man called Daniel Roth who had left school with three low grade qualifications, much to the chagrin of his teachers who couldn’t understand how so intelligent a boy would refuse to study. Daniel had been working around building sites for five years, making a living, but finally waking up to the fact that the only person he was hurting by his rebellion was himself.

Throughout the afternoon, Daniel pumped the new man for information, making him repeat all he had heard, about work, paperwork, the practicalities about living in Berlin and how to actually go about finding a job there.

At the end of the shift, Daniel was invited to the pub and was expected to accept. Instead, he told his mates that he had a hot bird that he wanted to shag before he lost interest, and he was excused.

Instead, he went directly to his small, local library, and though the stock was limited, he managed to pick up a history of modern Germany, a guide book to Berlin and a basic German language course.

Before he went to sleep, he had taught himself the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ in German and had started to conjugate them. Then he began inventing a story about the woman he had spent the night with, because his work mates would be expecting it and would want to hear all the details.

Love and Chaos Part 4(G) Monika 1

9th January 2020

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

Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994

Silke was quite fond of Chris. Despite thinking him a little immature and attention-grabbing, not to mention hard work when he began his drunken monologues in English, she knew how good he was for Monika. At least in the short term.

Gabi thought he was very cute, though had certain reservations, namely the way that he looked at her, usually after they’ve been drinking, appearing very interested in what was under her clothes. But Monika was happy, when, that is, she was happy.

Lorelei was convinced that Chris would be true to Moni, but was rather upset that he didn’t seem as attracted to her, as he clearly was to Gabi and Silke. Not that she was at all interested, but it does a girl’s vanity no harm to have admirers. The ideal situation would be for Chris to pay her more notice, Richard to pay her far, far less and for Andreas to break up with Silke. At this moment, none of the above seemed likely.

Silke brought the discussion to a conclusion, as they had so many other matters on the agenda.

“Oh, so, he has contact with an old girlfriend. I have old boyfriends I sometimes see.”

“What does Andreas think about that ?” Asked Lorelei.

“Doesn’t care. How could he ? He has hundreds of ex-girlfriends crawling around.”

That answer made Lorelei go very quiet. Gabi agreed with Silke, reminding Monika of a incident last Christmas.

“When we went home. And who did you see at the club ? Ralf ? Ex-boyfriend. And what happened ?”

“OK, a Christmas fuck. It was nice. And ? It was cold, and at least I knew him, knew what to expect. Saves going through all that time talking to a new guy, just to find out he’s an idiot.”

“All guys are idiots unless proven otherwise.” Advice from Silke.

“But would you do it again ? I mean, this year, if you went back home ?” Lorelei returned to the conversation.

“You mean would she let tourists into her Vienna Woods ?”

Gabi screamed in embarrassed laughter, not sure where Silke got her sewer-mouth from, but enjoying it, nevertheless.

“No, not if I’m still together with Chris. No, no way.”

“Yeah, you say that, but see what happened after two Jägermeister’s, and Ralf comes up, ‘Hey baby, want a piece of prime, Austrian …’ “

“SILKE !”

Lorelei then turned to her and asked,

“And you ? Would you ever cheat on Andreas ?”

“What makes you think I haven’t ?” she replied with a wink. Gabi lowered her eyes and drank her cocktail through its straw. Monika also recalled an occasion, or two, when Silke had strayed.

“Yes, so, Monika, the trick now is to get back with Chris, but to make him apologize. For everything.”

“Oh, that,” said Monika, “is going to be easy.”

The girls went on to talk about several other related or tangent subjects, but the conversation had reminded Monika of Ralf, and how she came to meet him.

At eighteen, she became acquainted with a man who used to travel around on business, and regularly stayed over in Vienna, her hometown. She was drawn to older men, the local boys holding no interest for her, and even liked the fact that he was married and lived in Linz. They would meet, usually on Fridays at her favorite club and either go to his hotel, or her small place. And it worked fine, she got the excitement but none of the domestic boredom. All the time, she told herself that it was just for fun, no deeper emotions, and she continued telling herself this while she waited for his call or letters and deterred other men from asking her out. And she continued telling herself that it was only fun, as they began to discuss his getting a flat in the city where she could stay and he could visit, and she promised not to see anybody else, and he told about how his marriage was over and that he was, since meeting her, thinking of divorce, and she continued the illusion as she prepared to move in with him, and began telling her close friends that she was not only moving in with, but probably going to marry him when his divorce became final. Then she finally conceded and realized how lucky she was, to fall in love with her first serious boyfriend, who loved her so much that he would end his marriage.

And then came the letter.

The man had been offered promotion and was taking a position in Hannover. His wife would be joining him, and it was a chance for him to save his marriage.

Monika had a hard time believing men after that.

Several weeks later, in desperation, Gabi had insisted that they go to a new club, just for a drink or two. Monika turned that one or two into seven or eight and woke up next to a stranger whose name she didn’t even bother to ask.

Some weeks later, at another bar, she ran into him again, and he remembered the effect tequila had on her.

That was the scope of their relationship. Random meetings in bars and drunken sex. Monika had no chance of being hurt, because she didn’t care about him and didn’t care if she hurt him.

She told herself that she was cold, but Gabi refused to accept that, pointing out that no one who was such a true friend could be frigid. She was just defensive. But Gabi did agree about something. Vienna was way too small for them, and when Gabi was accepted at a Berlin university, Monika planned to leave, too. She would just stay away from married men.

IELTS: Getting across the line: how to boost your vocabulary, plus class games.

5th January 2021

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Obviously, teachers don’t want to overwhelm the students with an unmanageable amount of new language. Far better to serve up bite-size pieces, then practice, practice and practice. When the language has become second nature to the students, move onwards and upwards.

The first step is to elevate your language; replace basic common or garden verbs with ‘better‘ ( that is, low-frequency) words.

For example, the verb ‘try’. Instead, we can have:

endeavour

To keep trying, not giving up, we can use:

persevere or persist

Let’s take these new words out for a spin:

This year, I shall endeavour to learn Vietnamese. I’ve tried before but gave up as it was simply too hard. However, this time I’m going to persevere.

Can you think of an idiom that could be used to show someone planning to work much harder ?

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Onwards and upwards:

buy:

purchase

get a qualification or certificate by hard work and study:

attain // achieve

to get something without the need for work or study:

obtain (you can obtain the application form in room 7A)

say / said:

exclaim // express // remark (add -ed to form past tense)

use:

utilise (utilize USA) / apply

to eat, consume or do a lot of something:

devour (He devoured the whole pizza by himself // She loves reading, she absolutely devours books)

Transform this simple sentence into something more IELTS-like:

Sarah said that if she gets an ‘A’, her father will buy her a new iPhone.

Tony says he wants to get a visa which he can buy at the UK Embassy, so he can use his English skills in London.

Mary really wants to buy the ‘Fargo’ box set. She said it was the best TV show in years and she plans to watch all the episodes in one day !

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Similarly, boost your lexical resources with regards to adjectives.

basic:

fundamental // elementary

hard:

difficult // challenging

tasty:

delicious // mouth-watering // scrumptious

experience:

broaden my horizons // real-life knowledge // culture shock

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Signpost language: (To help the listener or reader follow you)

Firstly / To begin with / I’d like to start by …

Secondly / additionally / another factor is …

What’s more / furthermore / not forgetting

Obviously / clearly / it is evident that …

Moving on / I’d like to change the topic / Let’s turn to …

Finally / all in all / all things considered

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Class Games:

Put students into small teams. One teams challenges the other(s) to form a sentence using as many new L-FWs as they can. Award bonus points for the appropriate use of idioms or fixed expressions.

Students challenge each other to find a L-FW for a basic, prosaic verb or adjective. Teams are allowed a fixed time, say one minute, and are allowed to use a thesaurus such as here:

https://www.thesaurus.com/

Then the group has to use the new word in an IELTS-style sentence by which I mean, an introduction, a signpost word or phrase and, obviously, a suitable idiom (examples – ‘put’, ‘big’, ‘interesting’, ‘watch’, ‘boring’, ‘eat’)

Teams are given a mix of L-FWs, idioms & signpost language. After a short preparation time, they have to construct an inspiring, fascinating and jaw-droppingly brilliant sentence. Piece of cake, n’est ce-pas ?

One student from each group starts answering an IELTS question (travel, food, study, neighbourhood). At a given point, the teacher stops the student and another group has to continue, and so on. Monitor the correct utilisation of signpost language as well as fluency, not forgetting the all-important pronunciation features.

Quick Fire / Rapid Fire Round

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What is the correct word:

To get a certificate after study ?

Delicious food is …

London is brass monkeys in January so _______ bring warm clothes.

A L-FW for ‘use’

Strange behaviour – he is acting _______

Istanbul is famous for its covered market, known as a __________

Nose, jaw, mouth … use these features in phrases

Moving from Europe to Asia will undoubtedly result in a degree of ________ _____.

The unspeakably greedy child ______ all the doughnuts !

Actor Mark Hamill basically disagreed with everything in the film script.

Two words that mean to keep trying

To watch someone or something very closely

Two words for difficult

Signpost language to be used as a conclusion

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Love and Chaos Part 4(F) Chris 2

2nd January 2021

Photo by Niall Keohane. Follow Niall on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flatwoundonfilm/

Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994

Monika was happy as she’d found a Parkplatz close to where Chris lived. They got out of the car, smiling and joking with each other, and walked, arms around each other, to the street door.

Monika worried about Richard, who had been alone for two nights, while Chris had stayed in Kreutzberg, but Chris told her that he was all right. Inside, Chris opened the Briefkaste and sorted out letters from adverts and junk.

Monika saw a letter addressed by hand. She inquired who it was from.

“It’s from Hamburg.”

The smiles quickly faded.

Chris rang the bell, before opening the door, just in case Richard had managed to get Lorelei or anyone else back, but found him alone, reading. Monika gave a curt greeting and went straight into the kitchen.

Chris asked how he’d spend his time, trying to give the illusion of some kind of normalcy, and what he thought of the book he was reading, Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’.

Then he pointed to the brown phone on the floor.

“The East German chef was furious when he heard I had a phone.”

“Yeah. Why ?”

“Oh, because it took him over two years to get one, under the old system. He had to put his name down and join the waiting list and, you know … wait. Over two years. Then I turn up, a Spüler, and an Ausländer (foreigner) to boot, and get a flat with a phone.”

“Everything … OK ? We still on for tonight ? The movie ? Winona dancing ?”

“Yeah. I think.”

“Anyway, I was just about to go out, get some sun, walk around a bit, read some. I may be gone for a couple of hours.”

Richard said goodbye to Monika and left the flat, walking through Prenzlauer Berg to the Thälmann park where he found some shade and read about The Lost Generation in Twenties Spain.

Back in Chris’ kitchen, Guernica was about to be recreated. Monika knew that the letter was from Ute and Chris was scared to open it, even though he knew it would just be harmless questions about the flat.

“So, don’t you want to open your love letter ?”

“It’s not a love letter. You know that.”

“No, I don’t know anything. I know you move into her flat, have all her shit here and get letters from her.”

“Her friend’s flat. How can you be jealous, after last night ?”

“Maybe you just fuck me while she is in Hamburg. So, when is she coming back ?”

“She’s not.”

“And you miss her ? You want her to come back ?”

“Of course not. I don’t even care, we’re finished, it’s over, understand ?”

“I know she left you. Maybe you still have feelings for her.”

“No, we are just friends now, c’mon, you know that.”

“You have many letters from her ?”

“No. Not many.”

“But others ?”

“Yes, of course.”

“ ‘Of course’ ? Oh, now I understand, you keep writing to her so you can get back together and just use me.”

“What ? What is wrong with you ?”

“No, what is wrong with you ?”

“Listen, if you’re going to argue, can you do it in German ?”

“You can’t speak German.”

“Exactly.”

“Oh, that is so very funny, fucking idiot. Open the letter.”

“No, it’s private.”

Chris knew that wasn’t the best response he could have given.

“Ah, so you have private things going on. Maybe I should leave. It’s been a fun summer fling, but now it can be over.”

“Right, sit there and listen.” Chris opened the letter and read it aloud. It was very innocuous, asking him how he was, how the flat was, was he paying the bills all right, was he still at Biberkopf ? But she signed it ‘Love Ute’ and wrote three kisses at the bottom with a little heart symbol. Monika seized on that blatant sign of affection and the argument gathered fresh momentum and followed its own illogical logic.

When Richard returned, late in the afternoon, Monika had long gone. They had planned to go to the Babylon Cinema in Kreutzberg all together, by car, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, they took the U-Bahn and Chris made sure Richard followed closely, as the cinema was in a back street, and Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn was on a busy intersection with exits at all points of the compass. The ground level, from the lower U 8 to the elevated U 1, was also a popular hang out for drunks and junkies and punks and Penne’s (beggars) who would buy cheap beer and spirits from the kiosks on the platform and have an unofficial social club on BVG (Berlin Transport Authority) property.

Chris pointed out that though it may look seedy and dangerous, he had never been bothered by anyone there, and that the BVG constantly patrolled the area with guard dogs that looked as if they’d much rather be chasing balls than breaking them.

The cinema was another Berlin experience that Richard loved. London’s cinemas were mostly franchised, staff all in the same uniform, décor the same, smell the same. Here, they were more like private clubs, looking like old cinemas that had been taken over by squatters, or squatted spaces that had been turned into cinemas.

The Babylon was reached by coming out of the north-west exit and walking through a arch behind some shops and Imbisses, under a large block of flats that imposed itself like a Colossus, over Adalbertstr.

The twin-screen cinema looked quite conventional from the outside, a marquee with film titles in red lettering, glass displays with film posters, stills and handwritten screening times.

Inside was a small vestibule, with posters for forthcoming films and reviews from the papers of current movies. The ticket desk was to the left, a counter with a display case showing the sweets and beers available. Tonight, the clerk had brought her son along, and the young boy was happily sitting on the counter, removing the lids from people’s beer bottles.


They bought the tickets and obligatory beers, tipping the lad, and walked into the main hall, which had flyers and adverts on one side and free postcards on the other. Richard used the bathroom, a graffiti-ed stool whose window opened-out onto the houses next door.

The hall was full of people, this being the busiest night, and the film had created a real buzz. The cinema door opened, people moved in. Chris liked middle row, middle seats and they got these, sat back and prepared themselves for a burst of pure Slacker entertainment.

Some adverts followed, then, with no censorship card that opens every film in England, the sights and sounds of Generation X embraced them and they surrendered themselves to ‘Reality Bites’, as Chris forgot how his current reality actually sucked.

They just waited for the scene that Richard had seen in a trailer, where Winona and her friends start dancing up and down in a convenience store-gas station. It surpassed all expectation.

They sat through the end credits, smiling as four girls slinked up the aisle, dancing to the music and humming ‘My Sharona’ the soundtrack to the store dance.

Afterwards, there was no discussion, they just had to go to a bar, and found a quiet bench in a Kreutzberg bar. Two beers ordered, two Jack Daniels to go with them.

Winona dominated the conversation, as they slipped in more and more Americanisms, even sports references and metaphors that they didn’t fully understand. They should be in America, not tired, old Europe. Everyone had so much energy and life and excitement and money, even the poor people. The sports were so much more colourful, the scores were far higher, there were cheerleaders. And all the women were Über-cute. The decision was taken; they had to get American girlfriends, cheerleaders, then go back with them to the States.

Which brought them back to the events of the afternoon. Chris thanked Richard for his diplomacy and apologised for any awkwardness. He had witnessed just one part of an on-going conflict. Monika didn’t trust Chris. She accused him of still loving Ute and was just waiting to be dumped by him.

“All of which is pure bullshit, man. I’m crazy about her, like, totally wacko, eyes-poppin’ out of the head crazy. But she won’t believe me. It’s all about the flat, an’ Ute’s stuff.”

“So you going move out ?”

“If that’s what it takes, but ain’t gonna solve the problem. Just be something else. Besides, I love that flat. D’you remember Rigaer Str ?”


“Like I could forget.”

“And it’s real hard to get hold of a flat, here. I only got it by luck.”

“You see, your mistake was in overdoing the heartache in the first place. What got you Monika, now creeps up to bite ya in the touche.”

“Shot by my own gun, gawddammit !”

“Could of course get dumped by Monika and use that to get a new chick.”

“I don’t want a new chick. I want Monika. Just …”

“Modified.”

“Right on. De-quirked.”

“Well, good luck with that.”

“So can’t you come up with anything ?”

“If I could I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, I’d be with Lorelei, or Gabi. Or both. Like, what’s with Lorelei ? I think I may have played my hand too soon.”

“Time out, Brother, is the Monika situation solved ? C’mon, focus, don’t drop the ball on this.”

Just then, Elvis came on the bar’s sound system, singing ‘Suspicious Minds’. Chris threw down his beer mat,

“Oh, very funny, Elvis!”

“So where did she go tonight ? Monika, that is ?”

“To see the film ! With Silke, I think, I dunno. But German version. Can you imagine ?”

“Winona, dubbed into Kraut ? Oh, man !”

“Tell me about it. It’ll blow over. Always does. Problem is, it always blows up again, right in my face. Screw it, more beers. So, what’s the deal with Lorelei ? Progress report.”

“Well that won’t take long.”

“Shit!”

“In spades.”

Love and Chaos Part 4(A)Richard 1

15th December 2020

Berlin 2020 but looking much the same as the 1990s. Photo by Martin O’ Shea

Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994

Gabi helped Monika carry the glasses across the road from the bar to the small park where Richard, on his first night back in Berlin, was being inducted into The Gang.

He sat on the brick wall that surrounded the park, as Silke pointed to the large rotunda that rose above the trees on the slope behind them.

“It used to be a water tower, then the Nazi’s used it to torture prisoners. Now it’s flats for Yuppies.”

Silke had short, spiky, blonde hair, which was striking enough, but tonight, in the hot Berlin evening, she wore a skimpy vest and shorts, showing legs which Richard couldn’t help but comment on; loudly,

“Man, she’s got Bond-girl legs.”

Chris felt obliged to look them up and down, apprising them with an expert eye, before concurring.

“And ? You like Silke’s legs, too ?” Asked Monika.

“No, my Darling. Only yours.” They kissed, then Chris turned to Richard, and raised an eyebrow.

Gabi smiled at Richard, and they clinked glasses, and she tried a few, faltering words in English, before giving up in a fit of giggles that charmed Richard to the heart. Of all the women he had suddenly and miraculously been introduced to, it was probably Gabi he would choose, though Silke was all woman, no mistake, and Gabi’s friend, Lorelei, who now began speaking to him, in near perfect English, was equally beautiful.

Andreas walked back to the group, from the bar with the ‘best toilets’, running a hand through his curly, brown hair. He walked over to Silke, grabbed her and kissed her. Richard took this to mean that Silke was off the market. Chris smiled and began the saga.

“So you see, Andreas is with Silke. They’re a pretty incestuous bunch of motherfuckers, but I’ll try to hip you in to what’s what. Not so much a ‘Who’s Who’, more of a ‘Who’s done Who’. Andreas’ best friend is Tommy, the little guy over there, flirting with those two tourists. Silke used to be with Tommy’s brother. Andreas used to be with Gabi. Kind of. They had what is called here, a ‘kissing thing’. Gabi and Lorelei both live in the west, with their boyfriends.”

“Oh, shit!”

“Not so fast, Gunga Din; they both hate their boyfriends and want to leave them. Gabi is even thinking of renting a flat here and having a weekend lover. Or renting a weekend lover, who knows ?”

Richard re-enacted a scene from London, hoping that Chris would remember it. He raised his hand.

“I accept the job, sight unseen. Except I have seen … so fucking cute.”

“I’ll put Monika on the case. Oh, more, the plot thickens. Here’s Nice Guy Kai. Kai used to go out with Andreas’ sister, back in Köln.”

Nice Guy Kai was greeted by all, kisses and hugs. With his peroxide blonde hair and goatee, he was the rock star of the Group.

Richard was just beaming. There seemed to be cafés and bars everywhere, full of people drinking and laughing. Waiters, white shirted in some bars, casually attired in others, buzzed around taking orders, delivering drinks. Behind, the trees of the small park gave a relaxing, calming ambience, blocking out all the concrete blocks to the south.

It was an area unknown to him, somewhere tucked away in Prenzlauer Berg, attractive buildings with balconies and decorated doorways, flowers and colour.

People strolled past, two, threes or individuals. Girls cycled past wearing short skirts, lovers held hands and kissed. Strangers said ‘Hello’ to each other and smiled. People were alive and happy. It was so different to the London he had just left and when Richard looked at Chris, he knew that he didn’t need to say a word. Chris understood everything.

“This is your first evening in Berlin ?” Lorelei asked. Chris smiled and went to join Monika, leaving Richard to work his magic.

The Gang coalesced as the evening darkened, speaking in German, various hands pointing in various directions.

Andreas explained to the new comer,


“We have to stop drinking outside, now. It used to be possible to drink all night, but the neighbours all complained,” pointing to the rows of windows above all the bars. “So the bars will only serve people sitting inside.”

More talk and opinions. Kai left with a young girl he had just met, and soon after, a decision was reached. Tommy would borrow a bicycle from a new guy that had turned up, Gert, who was with Jo, his English girlfriend, and go to a store and buy as many bottles of beer as he could carry. Everyone began going through their pockets or purses to find coins.

Chris looked over and saw Richard still talking with Lorelei. He caught his eye, and gave a wink.

Tommy soon returned, cycling along the pavement like a madman, screaming out and making ‘ding-ding’ bell sounds with his mouth. Somehow, he had managed to buy and transport enough beers for everyone.

Monika came over to Richard. They had only met hours before, but they felt a certain affinity, although Richard sensed a slight hardness about her. She was very friendly, yet lacked the easy charm of Ute. Maybe she was exactly what Chris needed.

“Käthe was very pretty. But she is going to stay with her boyfriend ?”

Monika had met them earlier when they, Käthe and boyfriend, had dropped him off in Berlin and been invited inside Chris’ new flat for a beer. The fact that they both preferred non-alcoholic drinks turned Chris off them immediately.

“Yes, and anyway, she lives miles away, some place near … Cottbus ?”

“Ah, wie schade! (what a shame). “

“Chris seems to be getting real good in German, nichts wahr ? (isn’t that right ?)”

“Umm, Ja. So you need A German girl to help to speak German.”

Richard was very close to saying that there were other needs he had in mind, but checked himself.

After the beers there was more discussion. Some people began leaving, but the core of Richard, Chris, Monika, Gabi and Lorelei preferred to go to another bar.

Monika drove Chris and Richard, followed by the two girls. They were heading into Mitte. Monika said that there was a bar that was only open on Fridays and was a good place to hang out.

As Richard had expected of Berlin, it was no ordinary bar. Again, no sign from the street, except the inordinate amount of people coming and going, or just standing around, drinking.

Monika led the way through the arched front house, which opened into a large court, or Hof. It was full of people, dancing to a DJ playing mid-tempo Techno. Some coloured lights were strung up, in a rather half-arsed way, but it didn’t matter to Richard. Chris put his arm around him and they shouted a few sentences in each other’s ears, fighting the volume of the beat.

The bar was another improvised wooden counter in an adjoining low building, half-derelict, half the windows broken.

The choices were limited to beers, cheap wines, vodka and rum. Monika took Richard into the bar, placed her order and leant against the bar, moving to the Techno. She turned to Richard. He felt compelled to confess.

“I’m in love with Lorelei.”

Monika laughed, but in a friendly way. She put her arm on his.

“She has a boyfriend, but it is over. They never go out together. Every weekend, Gabi and her drive over. It’s much more fun in the east.”

“Yes, it is!”

Gabi and Monika joined the dancers, Chris walked around, speaking to complete strangers, sometimes making them dance, against their wishes, sometimes just going up to them and staring them in the face, before grabbing their arm and then hooking it under his calf. Chris knew, of course, that Richard was watching.

Lorelei moved over to Richard.

“What’s he doing ?”

“It’s an old Harpo Marx routine. From ‘Duck Soup’, I believe. You know the Marx Brothers ?”

Richard described the act and then they began speaking effortlessly about anything else that came into their heads. They sat on a log that was just big enough for two, provided those two didn’t mind touching legs, and shared a beer.

Gabi came over. She was getting tired and was going home, if Lorelei wanted a lift. Monika was also thinking of leaving and began looking for Chris, who soon showed himself, trying to teach some ballroom moves to a group of young ravers.

Richard got a hug and a kiss from all three women, the kiss from Lorelei lasting just that little bit longer than a mere social gesture.

“And then there were two,” said Chris, leaning on Richard for support.

They stayed until the sun rose, then began the slow walk back home.

They were both, naturally, swaying all over the pavement. At one point, a car was driving too slowly for their liking, so Richard pulled out his wallet, opening it and flashed it to the driver.

“N.Y.P.D. C’mon, let’s move it, you in the blue car!”

“So, what do you think ? Should have moved here before, hey ?”

“Lorelei is beautiful.”

“I know.”

“I really wanna fuck her.”

“I know.”

Within half an hour, they had made it back home. There were two mattresses already prepared, on the floor, a fridge full of food, clean clothes ready and shampoos in the bathroom.

They threw off their outer clothes and crashed. They were asleep within seconds.

The last image Richard had was of Lorelei’s face. She was, indeed, beautiful.

At the moment they fell asleep, in a flat on the border of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, an English woman woke up and went into the kitchen to get some bottled water. Gert, her boyfriend was snoring loudly. She looked out of the street window, seeing the unmistakable TV Tower silhouetted against a morning sky of pure blue.

She had to tell her brother about Berlin. He had finished University and, as far as she knew, didn’t have a job lined up. He would love it here. It was very cinematic, which he would appreciate, as all he ever spoke about was cinema. Gert gave an extra loud snort, which brought her back to reality. She wouldn’t be able to sleep with that noise going on. She went to the other room and got some paper and a pen and began writing;

‘Dear Alan, …’

Subject Index: People & Photographs used in ESL Classes

4th December 2020

People

Alice in Wonderland (book and picture) // Young Learners 4 // 26th October 2019

Archimedes // Adult Professionals. Mechanics. Theme: Archimedes // 26th February 2020

Buzz Aldrin // Young Learners 5 // 10th November 2019

Louis Armstrong // Young Learners, Level 2 // 1st June 2019

Art: Dali, Dada, Surrealism // Adult Speaking Class, level 3: Dali, Dada & Surrealism // 23rd April 2020

Asian salesgirls (mobiles) // Adult C, L 1 // 20th February 2019

David Bowie // Young Learners 4 // 16th November 2019

Isabard Kingdom Brunel // Adult Professionals / Mechanics Part 2 // 23rd January 2020

Fillipo Brunelleschi // Adult professionals // architecture

Robert Capa // Adult Speaking Class, Level 3. Theme: War Museum

Captain Cook // Young Learners 5 // 10th November 2019

Tom Cruise // Young Teens // 17th January 2019

Salvador Dali // Young Teens // 27th February 2019

Salvador Dali // Adult C, L 3 // 23rd September 2019

Dali & his art // Young Learners 4 // 26th October 2019

Dali // Adult Speaking Class, level 3: Dali, Dada & Surrealism // 23rd April 2020

Charles Dickens // Adult Speaking Class, Level 3

Fyodor Dostoevsky // Adult Speaking Class, Level 3. Theme: Crime & Punishment

Nguyen Du (‘Tale of Kieu’) // Young Teens // 17th January 2019

Le Duan // Adult Speaking Class, level 3: April 30th // 5th April 2020

Bob Dylan // Adult C, L 3 // 3rd December 2019 /// Adult C, L 3 / // 19th August 2019

Guy Fawkes // Adult C, L 3 // 5th November 2019

Guy Fawkes // Young Learners 5 // 10th November 2019

Alfred Hitchcock // Adult C, L 3 // 12 November 2019

Sherlock Homes // Adult C, L 3 // 12 November 2019

Lê Hoàng Hùng // Adult C, L 3 // 12 November 2019

James I // Young Learners 5 // 10th November 2019

The Joker (Heath Ledger) // Young Teens // 27th February 2019

Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Pham Nhat Vuong //Adult C, L 3 //5th Nov 2019

Scarlett Johannsson // IELTS // What do you like this film ? // 6th April 2020

Kenny Jones // IELTS 5-6.5 // 25th September 2019

Franz Kafka // Adult C, L 3 // 23rd September 2019

Franz Kafka // IELTS 5-6.5 // 25th September 2019

Dr Henry Kissinger // Adult Speaking Class, level 3: April 30th // 5th April 2020

Stanley Kubrick // Young Learners 4 // 16th November 2019

Christopher Lee // Adult C, L 1 // 2 January 2019

Bela Legosi // Adult C, L 1 // 2 January 2019

John Lennon // Adult C, L 3 // 23rd September 2019

John Lennon // IELTS 5-6.5 // 25th September 2019

Wyndham Lewis // Adult C, L 1 // 12 & 19 December 2018

George Mallory // Young Learners 5 // 10th November 2019

Sir Ian McKellen // Adult C, L 1 // 5th March 2019

Man from Taured // Adult C, L 3 // 12 November 2019

Ho Chi Minh // Adult C, L 3 // 23rd September 2019

Ho Chi Minh // IELTS 5-6.5 // 25th September 2019

Wei Minzhi // IELTS 5-6.5 // 25th September 2019

Kim Phuc // Adult Speaking Class, level 3: April 30th // 5th April 2020

Peter O’Toole on Letterman // Young Teens // 17th January 2019

Marco Polo // Young Learners 5 // 10th November 2019

Elvis Presley // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2

REM // Adult Speaking Class, Level 1: information // 16th April 2020

Mies van der Rohe // Adult professionals // architecture

Shakespeare // Adult Speaking Class, Level 3

Ringo Starr // Adult C, L 1 // 5th March 2019

T-ara // Adult C, L 3 // 23rd September 2019

Tchaikovsky // Adult C, L 3 // 4th December 2019

Theseus & the Minotaur // Young Learners 5 // 6th October 2019

Tsai Ing-wen // Taiwan: Listening Extra 12th April 2020

Alan Turing // Young Learners 5 // 17th November 2019

Vlad The impalor // Adult C, L 1 // 2 January 2019

Christop Waltz // Adult C, L 1 // 26th February 2019

Ludwig Wittgenstein // IELTS // 28th January 2019

Natalie Wood // Adult C, L 3 // 15 August 2019 \ 12 November 2019

Photos

Alcimbado // Young Learners 1 // 26th May 2019

Animals // KG 1 // 2nd March 2019

Architectural styles // Adult Speaking Class, level 2 // 9th January 2020

Art // Adult Speaking Class, level 3: Art // 13th April 2020

Asian icons // Adult C, L 3 // 15th August 2019

Bad note-taking // Teenagers // 12th January 2019

Basquet // Teenagers: Architecture & Mythology // 13th March 2020

John Bercow // Young Learners 1 // 13th April 2019

Siddharta, the Buddha // IELTS: Hello, India // 24th January 2020

David Carradine (Kill Bill) // Young Learners 1 // 24th April 2019

Henri Cartier-Bresson // Young Learners 4 // 26th October 2019

Marc Chagall // Young Learners, Level 1 // 26th May 2019

Marc Chagall // KG 1 // 7th December 2019

Kalpana Chawla (Indian astronaut) // IELTS: Hello, India // 24th January 2020

Child proteges // Young Learners, Level 4 // 1st June 2019

Chimp feeding tiger // Adult Speaking Class, Level 1:What do you need ? // 21st May 2020

John Constable // Teenagers: Architecture & Mythology // 13th March 2020

Christmas, Germany // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2

Christmas, UK // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2

Christmas, UK – food // Adult Speaking Class, Level 3: food // 19th April 2020

Corona virus in Vietnam // IELTS 4 – 5 // Implementing precautions // 25th March 2020

Countries // Young Learners, Level 5 // 29th August 2019

Cute Japanese cafe Travel talk // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2: Travel talk // 5th May 2020

Cute McDonalds girl // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2

Benedict Cumberbatch photobomb // Teenagers // 20th January 2019

Daisy & Anna // Beginners’ English Part 4

Julie Delpy // Adult Class, Level 3: Generally speaking // 28th April 2020

Dynamo (magician) on bus Travel talk // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2: Travel talk // 5th May 2020

Families // Adult C, L 3 // 7th November 2019

Food: English breakfast // Adult Speaking Class, Level 1

Food (UK, USA, Korea, Sweden) // Young Learners 3 // 13th July 2019

Gandhi // IELTS: Hello, India // 24th January 2020

Gym equipment // Adult Speaking Class, Level 3. Theme: Health // 27th January 2020

Hamley’s toy shop // Young Learners 2 // 26th April 2019

Kitchen items // Beginners’ English Part 4

Kraftwerk // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2: Describing clothes // 19th March 2020

Interesting buildings // Young Learners 3 // 13th July 2019

Jazz stars // Young Learners 1 // 24th April 2019

Jun Ji-hyun // Young Learners 2 // 1st June 2019

Las Vegas hotels // Adult Speaking Class, Level 1: information // 16th April 2020

London history and architecture // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2: London // 18th April 2020

Lost in Translation // IELTS // What do you like this film ? // 6th April 2020

Wyndham Lewis // Teenagers: Architecture & Mythology // 13th March 2020

May Day – Nigeria, Hawaii, USSR, UK //Adult Speaking Class, Level 2: May Day // 5th May 2020

Nelson Mandela // Adult Speaking Class, Level 2: Describing clothes // 19th March 2020

‘Man Pointing’ // Young Learners 4 // 26th October 2019

Market research call centre // Adult C, L 3 // 8th January 2019

Mike the Monkey as animals // KG 1 // 7th December 2019

Ho Chi Minh’s house // Adult C, L 3 // 4th December 2019

National Museum, Seoul // Adult Speaking Class, Level 1: information // 16th April 2020

Noble laureates // IELTS // Writing exercises // re-arrange poor writing // 12th May 2020

Kim Phuc // Adult Speaking Class, level 3: April 30th // 5th April 2020

Ngo Than Van (Veronica Ngo) // IELTS // 14th January 2019

Nicholas ‘Elvis’ (friend) // Young Learners 4 // 1st May 2019

Robert de Niro // Beginners’ English, Part 2

Pete (friend) on bass // Young Learners 4 // 22nd June 2019

Pete with Kenny Jones // IELTS 5-6.5 // 25th September 2019

Poland (Krakow) // Adult Speaking Class, level 2

Ms Quynh (friend) // Young Learners 4 // 26th October 2019

Rock stars // Adult Speaking Class, L 3: Describing people // 27th May 2020

Ronaldinho // Young Learners 2 // 1st June 2019

Russia // Adult C, L 3 // 4th December 2019

Seurat ‘Sunday Grande Jatte // Young Learners 1 // 16th March 2019

Shops // Young Learners 3 // 3rd August 2019

Shopping – compound nouns // IELTS // 7th January 2019

Shopping in Viet Nam // IELTS // 10th April 2019

Signs (Indonesia) // Young Learners 4 // 22nd June 2019

Signs (Singapore) // 21st August 2019

Sleeping student // Young Learners 4 // 22nd June 2019

Sleeping student // Young Learners 5 // 25th August 2019

Nicola Sturgeon // IELTS 4 – 5 // Implementing precautions // 25th March 2020

‘t’ words // KG 1 // 5th May 2019

Tutankhamun // Young Learners 2 // 1st June 2019

UK (beach, breakfast, pub) // Adult C, L 2 // 27th May 2019

Vietnam // Young Learners 5 // 25th August 2019

Vietnam – famous Vietnamese // IELTS // 14th January 2019

Vietnamese folk painting // Young Learners 1 // 26th May 2019

Vietnamese karaoke // Young Learners 3 // 17th August 2019

Vietnamese police stopping cyclists // Adult C, L 1 // 5th March 2019

Vietnam traditional industries // IELTS // 30th July 2019

Vietnam war and related // Adult Speaking Class, level 3: April 30th // 5th April 2020

Wedding dresses // Adult Speaking Class. Theme: Love & marriage Part 2

Mark Wiens // Young Learners 2 // 25th August 2019

Harri Won // IELTS // 7th January 2019

Thay Paul photos

Bangkok (Al & Alison) // Adult Speaking Class, Level 3, Part 4 // 27th January 2020

Berlin 1990s // Young Learners 4 // 9th November 2019

Drinking coffee (Singapore) // Adult Speaking Class, Level 1

Driving (fairground) // Young Learners 4 // 9th November 2019

Elephant // Young Learners 3 // 7th September 2019

Elephant // Young Learners, Level 4 // 9th November 2019

Elephant // Young Learners, Level 5 // 25th August 2019

Playing guitar // Young Learners, Level 4 // 9th November 2019

With friends // Young Learners, Level 4 // 7th December 2019

With Martin (London) // Adult Speaking Class, Level 1

With students (Ha Noi) // Young Learners, Level 5 // 27th October 2019

With students (Ha Noi) // Adult Class, Level 3: Generally speaking // 28th April 2020

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 decided to take the S-Bahn four stops east from Shönhauser Allee instead of the usual, 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 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. 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 had just been 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.

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 socialize 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 1(I) Richard 3

Magnificent views of Berlin from air balloon. - Picture of HiFlyer Berlin -  Tripadvisor
Berlin showing the TV Tower and Cathedral – Google Images

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

Richard had a romantic view of flying, very much inspired by glamour shots from the Sixties showing immaculate film stars and bejewelled starlets posing next to uniformed stewardesses of the Pan Am or B.O.A.C. line. Therefore he chose a dark-charcoal pin-striped suit for his flight to Berlin. The jacket was taken from him on the plane to be hung up, and when another attendant tried to find the owner, she seemed surprised that he was sitting in economy and not in business. Richard liked that. He had decided that the way to go was with ‘style’.

The co-pilot had already pointed out, as they prepared to make the descent, that anyone familiar with Berlin should be able to follow the roads that led up to the Brandenburg Gate. Richard strained to look out of the window, but could only see cloud. Not matter, he would see it soon enough.

Heathrow had been large and busy and involved queuing and waiting. Tegal, by contrast seemed so much smaller. His bag arrived quickly and after a brief passport check, he walked out into the airport, looked around and saw the smiling face of Chris. They shouted and shock hands. Chris took the bag and they went to wait for the bus in the late summer sun. There was little skyline, Tegal being tucked away in the north west of the city, but Chris did point to a faint glimmer on the horizon, which, when Richard strained his eyes, turned out to be the Mercedes symbol on the Europa Centre.

They smoked and smiled, Chris almost overflowing with things to say and Richard having so many questions, mainly wanting Chris to explain all the information that he had been sending over the Spring and Summer.

Chris had told him not to buy any duty-free; it was all cheaper in Berlin. Something about the Vietnamese Mafia. A lot of talk about Cafe Kinski and squat bars. A list of character names; Marina, Ross, Claudia, Simon, Luke.

The bus arrived and Chris showed how to punch the ticket to validate it, (deciding not to risk travelling black for so long a journey). They drove to Kurt-Schumacher- Platz U-Bahn station, most of the bus alighting for their connections. The station was typical of many in Berlin, dark, dirty, dusty, one platform with trains arriving either side and, seemingly, everybody smoking. Chris pointed out the initial differences; there would rarely be a ticket office, but ticket vending machines. The trains were indicated by their end stops, not by direction, there were no ticket barriers, so, Richard surmised, people could travel without tickets ?

“Yeah, but they do have plain clothes inspectors who issue on-the-spot fines. If you get enough of them, you have to officially apologise to the Minister of Transport.”

“What ?”

“All true. I was speaking to someone in Kinski, I’ll take you there tonight, and she was saying that when she lived in the DDR, that’s the old East Germany, standing for Deutsche Democratic Republic, the ‘Democratic’ bit being an example of German humour, and more of that oxymoron later, she bunked the fare and got caught so many times, that she had to go to some office and formally say sorry. Now, I’ve only been here a few months, but I’ve realised that the German bureaucratic system is a master-work of incomprehensibility. You know those pictures by, Eischer, is it ?”

“All those staircases that appear to go down, but when you follow them, they end up back where they started ?”

“Spot on, yeah, like that, only, more so, I tell you, it’s put a whole new perspective on Kafka. Can really dig him, now. No wonder, I’m living it.”

“So what was the emergency you first wrote about ?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you tonight. Here’s our train. We get off at FriedrichStrasse, the old border station.”

The train was very basic, with wooden bench seats and no frills. It looked to Richard like a do-it-yourself construction. There were a number of small, unobtrusive adverts periodically displayed, and it gave Richard a sense of travelling back in time. While other metro systems were upgrading, getting lighter and brighter for the new millennium, still several years away, Berlin’s appeared to be frozen in the Cold War era, and Richard, in his suit, tried to exude a façade of cool British agent sent behind the Curtain on a top secret mission, which would naturally involve smuggling a Russian beauty to safety.

The train was too loud for easy conversation, so there were exchanges of glances and laughs. The other passengers were mainly dressed very casually, many unshaven men, women without make-up, some punk types, some pensioners with giant laundry-type bags, some school boys and a girl with a Walkman who caught Richard’s eye. She also got out at Freidrichstrasse, but was soon lost in the crowd. Richard would remember her as the first woman in Berlin whom he liked, but who disappeared out of his life without ever entering it.

Friedrich Strasse was a maze of subterranean corridors, stairs, tunnels and levels. Richard doubted he ever would have emerged without Chris acting Virgil to his Dante. To get to the over ground S-Bahn, they had to exit to street level and enter the main building. Once above ground, Chris made straight for a group of Oriental men, none taller than 5ft 2, and asked for something. One of the men went away and returned with a carrier-bag from which he pulled out a carton of West cigarettes. Chris handed over a coin and received two packets. He gave a formal nod goodbye and they moved on.

“There, the Vietnamese Mafia. They sell cigarettes half-price.”

“Good deal. Isn’t that illegal ?”

“Probably.“

“How do you know where to find them ?”

“Oh, they’re always there. You’ll find them all over, same patch, same prices. It’s very well organised.”

“But, and forgive me if I’m being slow, but if they are always in the same place, wouldn’t the Police know where to find them ?’

“Oh, yes.”

“And they don’t get caught ?”

“Hummm … don’t know. Maybe one or two, but, it’s … well, it’s Berlin. Black market cigarettes, squatters, unofficial free public transport, girls that actually come up and speak to you.”

“They do ?”

“You can count on it. You’ve gonna like it here.”

“I’m going to love it here.”

They rode the S-Bahn the two stops to Alexanderplatz and it seemed as if all the sights were pretty much concentrated in that small section of Berlin. Under Den Linden, the main thoroughfare of the east could be seen in between streaks of blurred buildings. Chris listed the sights, various churches, a cathedral, a synagogue.

At Alex they changed to the U 5, descending several levels and twisting past corridors that all showed signs of continual or imminent or necessary renovation. From there is was just four short stops. They got out at Rathaus Friedrichshain.

“You see that this station is tiled blue, the others are orange, so it’s a sign to get out. It’s not like London, with the station’s name everywhere, here it’s just once, centre of the platform, so it’s easy to get lost or confused. Come on, let’s go.”

Chris showed Richard the correct exit of the four to use and they emerged half way down Karl Marx Allee, a long, straight, busy road leading from Alexanderplatz straight to Moscow, or so it seemed.

Either side of this wide street were identical examples of Stalinist architecture. The buildings were a uniform height, five or six stories tall, with lines of windows comprised of two long, oblong panes below two small square panes, white frames between, giving the effect of rows and rows of Christian crosses or war graves.

This particular area was somewhat grandiose, with two towers, green domed on white columns standing either side of the Allee. Where Chris and Richard came out, there was a large concreted area, with a department store and some stone steps, low and regal, leading up to a columned area. The pattern was repeated on the south side, giving symmetry, order and a certain overblown pomposity that Richard could already sense was somewhat incongruous to the actual character of the area.

Chris took Richard along the Allee to a small colonnade next to a bank. On top on the columns were some figures whose characteristics had eroded with time, and a large clock that was fixed on Three minutes past Five. A first observation from Richard; there seemed to be clocks everywhere.

They cut through the columns and up the side road that led to Rigaer Str. Behind the columns were residential blocks, car parks and a small shop or two. They got to the top, Chris indicating the squat bar opposite, then turned right and walked to the swing doors with the painted street name and number. Richard paused a little at the shop window, with it’s mysterious display and impenetrable nets, looked at Chris, who looked back and gave a tiny nod. Richard nodded back, as if all necessary information had been communicated. Chris appreciated having someone who was on the same wavelength as him, because despite the benefits and excitements of his new town, he had also been very lonely.

Richard saw the painted street-sign and let out an exclamation. Chris opened the door for him, then pointed out the post-box with Holtzengraff in a top corner compartment and Pearson sellotaped underneath it. Things were becoming clearer.

The first signs were positive; the hall was bright and airy, a room appeared straight ahead and the kitchen to the right. It had large windows, though the only view was the blank wall and the dustbins down below. They went into the main room, fair sized with a high ceiling and another large window. In the corner was a large tiled object, with a flute leading into the ceiling. There were various pieces of wood on the floor and some small implements like screwdrivers and a hacksaw.

“Oh, yeah. The Ofen.” Chris explained in a dismissive tone, knowing that Richard would be as mystified as he had been by this mediaeval-looking contraption.

“Ah, of course,” said Richard, playing along, “the Ofen.”

“It’s really good. Get some good heat out of it. Save money on heating.”

“Ah, I see.”

“You don’t do you ?”

“Not at all.”

Chris continued the tour. Before this room, there was a side door for the toilet where Richard saw a minute sink, suitable only for washing one hand at a time, and that behind the toilet, there was a wire meshing through which a storage area could be seen. The fact that he could be using said appliance and have someone behind him enter and rummage around wasn’t very comforting, but when he came out of the toilet and walked into the kitchen, his face dropped even further. He looked around before asking,

“And the bathroom is … ?”

“No bathroom.”

“Shower ?”

“No shower.”

“Then where do you … wash ?”

Chris pulled the expression that Richard knew well, an exaggerated smile, display of teeth and an intake of breath that produced a high-pitch whine.

“Never mind. Let’s have a drink.”

Chris had bought some provisions and they ate rolls with cheese, tomatoes, salami, beer and Quark. Chris pre-emptied Richard’s question.

“Don’t even ask,” he began, referring to the Quark, a white semi-solid substance like cream cheese, or yoghurt, or crème fraiche, “ comes in all sorts of flavours, most of them, true, being the same. I can’t get no answer as to what it is and believe me, I’ve asked, it just … is. Prost! Cheers!”

After lunch, they went sight-seeing, talking non-stop to the U-Bahn, Chris explaining that Rathaus, which he pronounced ‘rat-house’ meant town hall, and that he’d also learnt another German word, ‘Smuck’ which meant jewellery. If all German words were so ridiculous, he’d have the language down in no time.

They took the U 5 back to Alex, and got out there, planning to walk to the Brandenburg Gate. They decided, first of all, to go up the TV Tower, so bought tickets and went to queue for the lift. At the top, Chris showed him the Gate, from up high, still a mere dot. Then he pointed out his area, and the twin towers were visible. The buildings seen from the S Bahn lay before them as well as the sights slightly more to the west, the Angel on the Siegersauler, the Reichtstag, the S Bahn snaking it’s way to Zoo.

They continued on foot past the Cathedral and the Zeughaus, the statue of Fredrik the Great on horseback and The Opera House, all down to The Gate.

Brandenburg Gate was one of the few sights known to the two back in London and it was impressive while still being a little anti-climatic. More interesting were the rows of souvenir sellers all of whom seemed to be of Indian origin, all carrying trays full of DDR items: watches, hats with the hammer and sickle insignia, belt buckles, also with the symbol, badges, stamps, coins, model Trabants, gas-masks, binoculars and similar items.

Chris suggested they go for a drink and walked back towards Alex, passing the Russian embassy with a large bust of Lenin dumped unceremoniously on the front grass. They crossed the Friedrichstrasse intersection, Chris pointing the way towards Checkpoint Charlie, then on to a small beer garden just before the Opera. Chris went to get two beers and Richard sat and looked around. A few tables away sat a young, blonde girl, wearing only a yellow vest and denim shorts, writing post-cards and drinking a large beer. There was something very right about that image and he was going to smile at her when she looked up, but, unfortunately, she never did.

Just after Chris returned and they were on their second gulp, there was a commotion from the main road. A man who appeared to be in his early fifties and wearing a white shirt, open to the chest, was marching along, screaming in German, trailed by his very embarrassed and much smaller wife, who desperately tried to calm and quiet him. It was all nonsense to Richard who was quite enjoying the scene, until the man began raising his arm in the Nazi salute and the word ‘Hitler’ could be clearly discerned, loudly and frequently. The wife used both hands to pull the arm down, but it was a losing battle, and the man carried on, marching away until the street sounds obliterated him.

The awkwardness pervaded the whole café, a smile or two, a distant laugh, but mostly an uncomfortable silence. Richard and Chris just dismissed it as a random lunatic and London wasn’t short of those, either.

At this point, the blonde girl looked up, but it didn’t seem appropriate now to smile.

Love and Chaos Part 1(F) Chris 2

14th November 2020

Berlin Zoo and Surrounding Areas - The Elephant Gate
Berlin Zoo Station. Google Images

Part One. Berlin. Spring 1993

Despite travelling for a day, with little sleep or food, Chris felt elated as the train entered the western suburbs of Berlin, a sensation he had simply never known before. For the first time, he wasn’t scared, but knew that he had made the right choice. He felt that he had left nothing, and nothing had ever worked out. He never had the feeling that he was in the right place, doing the right thing.

Now, as he looked out of the train window, he saw people on the streets, cars, yellow buses, giant ‘U’s indicating underground stations, white letter on deep blue background, and blocks of flats, only four or five stories tall; long, ordered roads, small side squares, he saw, for the first time, Berlin.

The train corridor was filling up, Zoologische Garten was next stop. Some unshaven lads were smoking, an elderly lady screamed at them to step aside, a middle-aged man in leather pants and jacket walked past holding an open beer can, two teenage girls appeared eating something out of tin foil.

Chris had read and re-read the instructions, but stepping out onto the platform was still disconcerting. All signs, naturally, were in German, and everyone but him knew exactly which of the many exits to use. People streamed past, all with a determination he envied. He walked to the platform centre where there was a large map and studied the signs leading to various streets. He recognized his one, followed it and emerged, finally, out of the main doors, by the large bus terminal. It was as Marina had said; he’d see a large tower with the Mercedes sign, the Europa Center. From the station, he had to go south on Joachimstaler Strasse, and to his left, before Europa they’d be the ruined shell of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church. Keep walking and on the corner of the Ku’ Damm was a bar. He should get a table outside, order a coffee or Sekt (he had no idea what a Sekt was) and wait.

He was a little behind schedule, spending more time twisting the corridors of the station, than on the streets, but he was here, one suitcase, one wallet (with a less than impressive amount of Deutsch Marks), and no reason to be anywhere else.

Marina had said that the waitress would come to him, would speak English and may be cute. The waiter did indeed come to his table, but he spoke English begrudgingly and couldn’t by any stretch be deemed ‘cute’, none of which mattered; the coffee arrived reasonably quickly, was reasonably good and was reasonably over-priced.

He hoped he wasn’t too much of a sight, and wished he’d shaven on the boat when he’d had the chance. The worst part for him had been the very first step, leaving his bedsit and taking the Tube to the mainline station. From there it had improved, slightly, though the train ride through miles of dreary, depressing London suburbia was only inspirational in a negative way: what could be
worse ? The boat was where he first felt some indefinable happiness, as if leaving England was restoring him to youth and health and hope. Then came the confusion of Holland, and the realisation that he had Pounds and Marks but no Dutch money, so couldn’t buy any food or drink there. The trip to Hamburg was one of prolonged suspense, as he was in a limbo of sorts, but it got him into Germany for the final leg, and a ride that reinforced the image of German efficiency and timekeeping.

He ordered a second coffee and then a beer, as he saw many people drinking alcohol freely in the mid-day sun. He immediately sensed the relaxation in the atmosphere, none of the stress and anxious restlessness of London. Then he felt two hands over his eyes.

“Chris ! You’re here.”

Marina jumped in front of him, bounced up and down once or twice and hugged him. Chris stood up but wasn’t sure how affectionate he was supposed, or allowed, to be and gave her a feeble kiss on the lips, which she returned after a slight hesitancy, but with the passion of friendship and nothing else.

Chris though she looked fantastic, even more so than in London, with her sparkling brown eyes and curly brown hair. He loved the way she took command, raising a delicate hand to summon the waiter and then dismissing him with a charming smile.

She explained how thing were, speaking in her animated style, with hand gestures and a myriad of subtle inflexions. The first night he would be staying with her and Ross, her boyfriend. The ‘B’ word. Chris thought back to Richard and his routine. He had known about the boyfriend in London, but he had been hundreds of miles away, now Chris would have to see him, and be aware that this night it would be the boyfriend that would take Marina to bed.

He kept these emotions under control as Marina continued, and smiled hearing how busy she had been on his behalf. Tomorrow, he could stay with her oldest friend, Claudia. She had an English boyfriend, but he would be away for a week, so she had space. They knew a landlady who had a flat that should be free in a week, possibly sooner and Claudia could also get him a job at a studio where she did some part time work.

“Well, then,” said Chris, clapping his hands, “we should drink Champagne.”

He was joking, but Marina was already in action. She softly bit her lip, an action that drove Chris wild, and raised a finger for the waiter, followed by a smile that could disarm the meanest of souls. She ordered a bottle of something.

“Not Champagne. Even better. And German !”

The Sekt arrived with all pomp, an ice bucket and two flutes. The waiter poured, stern-faced, with his right arm, his left tucked way behind his back in an attitude that Chris felt had to be excruciating. He finished pouring, gave a curt nod with the merest soupcon of a smile, then left. Marina picked up her glass, Chris his and they toasted,

“Prost!” the German ‘cheers’

“Sekt. Do you like it ?”

“Oh, this is Sekt. Yeah. And a whole bottle. Can we afford it ?”

Marina laughed, with her hearty, open-mouthed, unaffected manner.

“This isn’t London. Learn to live. Learn to have fun.”

“It won’t be easy. How do we get to your house ? Tube ?”

“Car.”

“But you’ve been drinking ?”

Marina raised her left shoulder slightly, turned out her bottom lip and tilted her head.

“Ja. Und ?”

Chris laughed and they slowly killed off the bottle, as Marina talked about everything and nothing and Chris, as long as he was looking at her, didn’t care either way.


The evening at Marina’s was uneventful, as he was tired from the journey and the afternoon drinking. Marina had laid out a towel, some soap, a new toothbrush and prepared some food while he washed. As far as Chris was concerned, everything was fine, more than fine, wonderful. Until Ross came home.

In much the same way that he knew he was going to Berlin, it hadn’t been until he had quit work, given notice on his room and found himself at passport control, that it really sank in. Now it wasn’t until he physically saw Ross that he accepted that Marina had a boyfriend. And he hated him.

He was a boorish Glaswegian, working as project manager on a construction site. He was fond of his own voice and of showing who was boss in the house. Throughout the evening, he constantly reprimanded Marina when he felt she was being too silly or childish, or if they seemed about to embark on a lover’s spat. Chris hoped and hoped that they would. He envisioned jumping into her car and the both of them moving into this new flat. But it would never be. She deferred to Ross every time.

The unforgivable occurred as they were making arrangement for going to bed. Marina had slipped away to get an extra blanket and Ross had slapped her on the backside and winked at Chris.

“I feel like an early night, tonight,” which he illustrated with an unbuckling of his belt.

Left alone in the main room, Chris tiptoed to the kitchen, found a half bottle of wine, uncorked it and gulped freely. He reasoned that he needed to sleep and didn’t want to be disturbed by any noise.

What he was disturbed by actually pleased him. Around six-thirty, Ross began getting washed and dressed and made no concession to the sleeping guest, shouting out to Marina entirely superfluous comments. If these had no effect, Ross went over to Chris and shook him, telling him it was nice to meet him and that they should do brunch, soon.

The front door closed and although Chris wanted more than anything to jump up and onto Marina, he resisted the temptation and soon after, the Berlin chorus began.

Somewhere in the neighbourhood, a cacophony of industrial noise rose up, a mix of drills, shouts, electric whirls and buzzes, hammering, thumping, heavy vehicles and heavy machinery.

Rubbing sleep from her eyes and emerging from her room still in her nightie, Marina greeted him with a smile, the light in her distant room back-lighting her like an angel. She told him to rest with a laugh, then said that the noise stopped in half an hour. Meanwhile, she would wash, dress and go out to buy breakfast.

Chris’ first Berlin breakfast was quite a feat to live up to. Fresh bread rolls, various jams, cheeses, meat slices, smoked salmon, eggs, fruit, yoghurt, coffee, orange juice and Sekt. And Marina.

Many, many mornings, as he fished around for the remnants of a coffee packet, smoking a left-over cigarette butt and taking an aspirin, he would think back to this Elysian feast.

Then it was back in the car, Marina again laughing at Chris’ solitary bag. They drove through Berlin, and Marina pointed out various sights along the way and gave a potted history lesson, most of it prefixed by “I’m not really sure but I think ….” and similar disclaimers. Chris looked everywhere, trying to absorb everything, as they sang along to tapes of R.E.M. and Nirvana.

In half an hour, there were in the old East Berlin and the change from Marina’s area was striking. Here the buildings were all dark brown, with flaking stucco. The balconies had few plants, but flimsy washing lines displaying drab items of clothing. The roads were cobbled, the air had a strange smell, which he would later recognise as a blend of briquette dust and smoke and soot and stale beer and the fumes of thousands of cigarettes. The parked cars were old models, many Trabants, there were no signs of street life and every other block seemed to be a wasteland of scrubs and dust and broken furniture. Every residential block seemed to be undergoing renovation, with temporary wooden walkways and covered tunnels leading into the blackness of inner courtyards, scaffolding, large plastic sheets that flapped incessantly and puddles of mud and sand.

Chris loved it.

They got out and went up to a block in Ackerstrasse, Marina pointing to where the Wall had been and gesturing the path it took. There was no intercom as in Marina’s flat, here the doors were open and the temperature inside felt ten degrees cooler immediately. There were rusty metal boxes hanging off the walls, graffiti covered, for people’s letters. Marina pointed out Claudia’s and led him through a door, out into a back courtyard, which had some bicycle racks and dustbins, into another block. They climbed bare, dusty stairs to the third floor and Marina knocked on a door that had faint music coming from behind. After a short pause it opened and Claudia came out, giving Marina a big hug and Chris a hug almost as warm.

The flat, which had looked so dour from the outside was transformed inside. It had a small kitchen but two medium bedrooms and a large living room with tall, green plants. The ceilings were high and there was decorative panelling with what appeared to be cherubs and flower motifs. The flat, like Claudia, seemed very open, clothes were all over, books and LP’s on the floor, papers and magazines likewise.

They were invited into the kitchen for coffee and Claudia began rolling a cigarette, asking Chris if he smoked. He did and willing accepted the proffered gift. Claudia had a certain feline sexuality in her movements, which interested Chris. When the water boiled, instead of standing up, she seemed to stretch into the space and to slink over to the stove, propelled by first one shoulder, then the other.

It was certainly low-tech in comparison with all the western devices of yesterday.

“So, Chris, do you speak any German ?“

He admitted that he knew very little, and Claudia gave a discouraging shake of disapproval, that worried him.

“You’ll have to learn. Everyone speaks English, anyway, but you’ll get a better job. And understand all the sodding paperwork.”

Chris let out a laugh at her English. She had learnt in Ireland and had a strong Irish accent, that really threw him. He later understood that although her manner could be a bit abrasive, she was as lovely as Marina.

The girls soon talked about the plan. He could start work tomorrow and there was certainly a flat available in a day or two, in Friedrichshain, a ten-minute drive away, Marina informed him. They had some food, more coffee, more cigarettes and talked about London, and how they had met, and stolen bottles and about the interrogation that Chris embellished to such an extent, that both girls fell silent in fear and trembling. Chris liked this and noted the effect a powerful story could have on his audience, especially when he cast himself as victim.

Claudia told Chris to choose more music when the tape finished, so he ejected the live Bauhaus tape and rummaged through a disorganised collection of tapes with inscrutable labels and CD’s, most of which were in the wrong sleeves. He suspected that the Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac CD’s were her boyfriend’s contributions, the Siouxsie, Sisters Of Mercy and Depeche Mode, her own. He took his time, knowing that the tone of his relationship with Claudia would be set by his choice. He made an exclamation of pleasant surprise and inserted a tape. The female voice of German band X Mal Deutschland filled the kitchen and it had the desired effect. Claudia approved. So he had good taste in music. A good start.

Love and Chaos Part 1(D) Marina 1

13th November 2020

Part One. London. Spring 1993

“So what’s wrong with you ?”

Richard put down his glass, took a deep sigh and said,

“Boyfriend trouble.”

Chris had known him long enough to know that this wasn’t some belated confession, but rather the preamble to a skit that Richard had been preparing the whole day, if not longer. Without prompting, Richard delivered the tagline;

“All the girls I like have got boyfriends.”

Chris grabbed his drink, thus avoiding the cue to make a cymbal-crash. While he appreciated these jokes, he didn’t want to seem overly impressed, in case Richard felt encouraged to make nothing but.

He knew he was no match for Richard in word games, having already conceded that point back at Fordham’s. It was near the beginning of Chris’ tenure. Richard would pass by his desk, while he was alone, and call out, “Hello, chaps,” then happily wander off. Chris gave the raised eyebrow but this was a very ineffectual comeback. After the greeting became a regular fixture, and Chris was unable to counter it, he shouted back one time,

“There’s only one of me,” to which Richard answered, immediately,

“Oh, gentlemen, don’t both speak at once !”

But now Richard was going to talk about girls.

“So there’s Neeva, from Newcastle. Lovely lass.”

“But …”

“There’s also Douglas. The boyfriend.”

“ Also working there ? You’ll be able to keep tabs on the situation.”

“True, but it seems solid. Didn’t get anywhere at Fordham’s.”

“Who did you like ?”

“All of them. But with Neeva … well, something’s possible. We all went out last Saturday, it was Gerald’s last day.”

“Which one’s that ?”

“Well he’s called Gerald, that’s all you need to know, going into stock broking, or merchant banking … anyway, we’re at the pub, I’m next to Neeva, who seems to have a low tolerance for alcohol,”

“Always a good sign.”

“And we’re talking. She’s saying how she wishes she was a tall blond goddess, which, of course, is cue for me to tell her how great looking she really is, then somehow she’s telling me how she likes to stretch out in front of a fire and just be stroked all night, like a cat.”

Chris stuck his hand up in the air, getting the attention of everyone around him in the West End pub.

“I volunteer for the job, sight unseen.”

“Hands off. Next thing I know, she’s whispering in my ear, ‘I think you’re fucking gorgeous, actually.’ ”

Chris, gave an encouraging nod, raised his glass and took a drink.

“There you are. What happened ?”

“That’s it. Nothing. She went to the bathroom, came back, then she and Doug left. Together.”

“Not good … but … yeah, maybe …”

“What … “

“Maybe, just maybe, things aren’t too great with Doug the thug. Maybe she’d putting out feelers, see if you’d be interested, if and when …”

“I’ll drink to that. So how’s your place ?”

Chris had the job, but was sent to a branch in Kensington. With Richard working in the City, they decided to meet half way, usually drinking in small pubs in side roads off Oxford Street. Neither was entirely happy with their new positions, Richard’s managerial status merely meaning that he was responsible for staff rotas, while Chris found the food and drink industry to be non-stop, with the store having only quieter periods, never quiet. The wages were similar, but both had more work and a much tighter environment. There were understandably nostalgic about Fordham’s.

“My place ? It’s Kensington. The customers are snobs, the delivery people are snobs, the bloody window cleaner is a snob. The staff ? All got three names; Sophie Fawcett-Brown. Belinda Newington-Heathcoat. Even the staff are snobs. To me. I was driven there, after the interview, by Russell …”

Richard groaned. He remembered the man from his time with the company, Russell being tall and very blond, almost albino, with large square glasses, an upper class voice and no discerning qualities whatsoever. He was never exactly sure what is was that Russell did.

“And we’re driving through Knightsbridge and he asking me if I know this area. Bloody snob, he knows I’m not from London, but just had to play his stupid one-upmanship games. I’m looking for something else.”

“This is London. Everybody’s looking for something else.”

They meet only once or twice a week, now, as it had become too expensive. Chris was devastated how quickly money just went, and Richard was constantly using his savings to finance the drinking sessions. They began to meet at each other’s bedsits and go to local pubs, or even just buy a small bottle of whisky from an off-license. On one of these nights, Chris visiting Richard, he spoke about his plans for the September term.

“Don’t think I’ll be doing Physics anymore. Think I’ll change to English Lit. Melanie thinks it’s a good idea. And she can help. She’s read every book ever written.”

Richard wasn’t sure how to react. It seemed such a drastic and spontaneous action. Chris justified his decision, explaining how he wasn’t really getting much out of his course and needed a new direction. Yet, Chris seemed happy, as if he were keeping something back for surprise. The opportunity soon came when the half bottle of Teachers was drained. Chris went to his rucksack and pulled out two bottles of French beer, but before Richard could show his delight, Chris topped this act by pulling out two wine bottles.

“I didn’t tell you. My branch has an alcohol license.”

“And you got a staff discount ?” but even while Richard was asking the innocent question, Chris’ eyes told the answer.

It was the start of a new ritual. Richard would buy a small whisky, Chris would arrive with beer and wine. Chris chose the evening before a free day, while Richard was forced to go to work with a determination never to drink again, a resolution that evaporated by lunch time.

This situation suited Richard as he could get drunk at home and not have to spend so much money. His room had a spare coach which Chris slept on, then made his way home later in the morning. Once or twice a month they met up with Melanie, though Richard sensed a slight reticence on Chris’ part and a certain holding back of information.

Another side effect of the home drinking was that Richard was alienated from Chris’ other friends, not knowing anyone at the branch where he worked. There had been mention of Nuno, a Portuguese chef, and a new German girl Chris spoke well of, but he wasn’t prepared for the news Chris broke one night.

The whisky was finished and the topic of their workday, likewise. No mention had been made of either of their returns to college. The beers came out and quickly vanished, then the wine. They opened both, clinked and drank from their bottles. They enjoyed the semblance of decadence. While they were speaking about nothing in particular, Chris said,

“I’m moving to Berlin,” then took a long swig, averting his eyes from Richard, who, duly surprised, wanted to know more but knew that Chris would only tell him when he was ready. Thankfully, when Chris began speaking, it was sometimes hard to stop him, and he spoke about Marina, the German girl.

Marina was from what had been West Berlin and had come to London for a break, improve her English, see the sights. Apparently, Chris had been out with her a few times, friendly, platonic dates, but had started to be drawn to her. Very drawn to her.

“We were in this pub and I guess I may have been talking a little loudly, and the tequila slammers didn’t help, when this pouncey barman comes over and asks me to be quiet. One of those, ‘I’m not really a barman,’ sorts, ‘I’m an actor’ pricks.’ But I’ve been drinking tequila, so I’m just dying for a Mexican stand-off, and I slam down my second, it’s a pub for fuck’s sake, over he comes, over comes another barman, young, bald bastard, then the manager. Well, Marina can’t believe it. ‘This would never happen in Berlin’ she said, so I told her, ‘I’m coming to Berlin,’ and she said, ‘good.’ So that’s it. I’m going to Berlin.”

“Holiday ?”

“No, to live.”

Richard knew that, at least this evening, with the wine already half gone, he couldn’t put up an argument, nor would he want to. He could only face going into work because he knew it was for a specific time period then he’d be back studying. How so many people could live this life was beyond him, so he totally appreciated Chris’ idea, even if it were to remain merely a nice thought.

“So, what do you know about Berlin ?”

“Nothing !” replied Chris, defiantly. “No, wait … the Brandenburg Gate. Olympic Stadium. The Wall. Nazi’s burning books.”

“Sounds great. Grey. Rain. Men with short hair in long, leather coats, just standing on street corners, like robots.”

“Sauerkraut. Great food in general”

“Uummm … no, I’m all out. Got nothing.”

“Me neither. Oh. Marina. That’s the only reason I need.”

“Ah, I see. Here’s to Marina. Maybe I can meet her soon. ?”

They clinked and finished the wine and spent the remainder of their evening making bad German jokes. Richard wasn’t sure how much to believe, but when he met Chris the following week near China Town, he understood that it was all quite serious.

“Let’s not mention Berlin to Melanie. Could be a bit tricky.”

“OK,” said Richard. Speaking about Berlin while they were still sober proved that Chris really did intend to go. Chris, however, broke his own rule, during the second round of drinks, and Melanie was surprisingly supportive. She, of course, had been there, back in the late Eighties, had stood on the platform by the Wall, had taken a day trip into the East and had stories and advice on what to do and see. Richard began to get interested, but had to contain a smile as Chris wrote in a little notebook under the table, which he passed to him,

DON’T MENTION MARINA !!!

It was the last time the three of them drank together in London. Within a month, Richard had received the first letter from Berlin.

Richard – in trouble – please send money.