Love and Chaos Part 8(F) Chris 2

29th June 2021

The model for Cafe Biberkopf, Steglitz, south west Berlin. Google Images

Part Eight. Berlin. September 1995

Richard decided to go straight home after work, a rare event, as he usually took two night buses to get to Friedrichshain, to get to the Czar Bar, to get blind drunk.

As he entered the Hof, he looked up and saw his lights on. Chris was there.

He came in, expecting warm greetings, shouts of, “Hey, how ya doin’ ?” and such like. The odds were against Richard returning home early and sober, so it was quite an event.

But Chris was sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and looking nervous, even scared. Richard also noticed Chris’ bag in the room, full of clothes.

He didn’t wait for Richard to ask, but offered two words that explained everything,

“Johan knows.”

It had begun at the Sawhead concert. Playing a different bar with different bands had created a festival feeling amongst the band members and their entourage.

Chris had been telling everyone about the concert. He had asked Arizona Al to appear, and to bring his own posse.

Another new person was Carla, Veronica’s friend, who had just arrived in Berlin.

Chris and Richard went to the Russian’s house mid afternoon on the Saturday to help them move the equipment. This time, it was only the drum kit and guitars, as the bar had their own P.A. System and amps.

The drinking began early, but it was controlled, just beers to maintain the natural high.

As they were setting up, they could sense that it was going to be special; a lot of people were milling around, either bar workers, their friends, other bands, their friends, other squatters, passers-by, those who were curious about the event, those who themselves were merely curious.

One such was a man who was very tall, slightly cross-eyed, and wore a suit of fluffy fabric with a pattern that resembled a Dalmatian dog. He had bits of coloured paper tied to strands of his hair, and wanted to play. Apparently, he was a one-man band named Necrophilia, and played Goth-Death-Experimental-Electronics.

The bill was a little light and he was told that if he could get his equipment here within an hour, he could go on, after Arizona Al and before Perry Coma. Chris had insisted that Sawhead The Bear close the show. They were the main event.

Daniel now dressed the part. He had a long black leather coat, more like a cloak, and wore large sunglasses, always. He had spent a lot of time with Arizona Al, gathering tips. Daniel appreciated that Arizona was the kind of guy who could throw on any old thing, and look so naturally cool. Daniel mentioned this to Richard,

“Undoubtedly, but you have heard him ?” came the uncharacteristically cynical reply.

The bar had a front room, long and deep, but the stage area, much larger and square, was reached by a corridor, guarded by two squatters acting as security. It was decided to charge 2 Marks entrance, to be split between the acts. The bar was expecting to make a killing.

Jake allowed Chris to go on the understanding that after Sawhead played, he would bring the entire audience back to the Czar Bar so they too could make a killing, in the name of vodka.

There was the usual controlled and semi-controlled and completely uncontrolled anarchy when it came to sound checking. The man on the controls was part of the Heidelberg contingent that had descended on east Berlin, a group of ten or so young men from that western university town. His name was Thomas, a sensible-looking young man with a real job and career, working as an audio engineer for a radio station.

Thomas approached this gig with the same level of professionalism as to his normal work. Unfortunately, the bands didn’t and it proved impossible to assemble all members of a band at the same time.

Daniel was too busy talking to some women who had arrived, and even suggested that Chris should stand in to test the mic level. Thomas said no to Pavel, who told Chris, who told Andrei who marched out to get Daniel to rehearse, to drag him by force, if necessary. Daniel tore himself away, predicting that tonight would be his first Berlin three-some.

The only one who matched Thomas for professionalism was Arizona Al, who turned up early, with just his acoustic guitar. He was told he’d only have time for two numbers, and he was happy with that.

Necrophilia appeared, a large keyboard under his arm and began setting up while Arizona played. The sounds he produced made everyone listening think that the mics were set too high and were feeding back, but Thomas nodded his head and understood that this was part of the act. Thomas also seemed to be the only one who appreciated it, as well.

Perry Coma swaggered in, acting as if they owned the place and, being the local band, they kind of did.

Boris listened to them for a while, checking out the guitarist, but soon walked away, seeing no competition there.

He conferred with Andrei and Sascha then asked Daniel if he could do an extended solo in one of the songs, but Daniel wasn’t too happy, and said that they can’t start messing around with the songs now. Boris knew that Daniel just didn’t want anyone else getting any attention, and was not going to be told how and when to play.

Both complained to Chris,

“Fucking hell,” he moaned to Richard, “all I get are problems. Not one fucking thank you for getting the gig, for bringing in people, making sure they get paid, go on last . . . Veronica ! Bella !”

Veronica and a friend walked in, nervously looking around. She saw Chris and walked over, taking a kiss on the cheek. She introduced Carla, and Richard ordered drinks. Suddenly the evening took an almighty upswing.

The concert began with Arizona Al, who commanded the stage, made two or three thumps on the floor for a time beat and launched into Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’. He had the crowd from the first strum. He followed it by an original number, but the good feeling initiated kept up. As he walked off, he was patted and cheered, and there were unanimous calls for an encore.

Chris and Richard were amazed. Why hadn’t he played like that before ? They were going to have to reassess their whole opinion of him. He was simply amazing, and to improve things further, Arizona came over to them, which raised the profile of Chris and Richard in the eyes of everyone. Especially two very beautiful Italian girls.

Necrophilia played next. And it was bad. So bad and so noisy that it was funny. Both girls laughed, charming the men.

Thankfully, the performance was over in ten minutes, as the entire room had cleared. The bar made good business.

Next up were Angry Black Men, an attempt at hip hop, some Germans dressed as they thought angry black men dressed in the hoods of New York. They got the crowd going, had some good beats, but the pretend accents caused laughter from the native English speakers.

After a small intermission, Perry Coma played and their fans marched down the front, and began jumping up and down, pogoing, throwing beer and spitting as the band played a distorted hybrid of punk and Death Metal.

A couple of singer-songwriters did an unplugged set that nobody pain much attention to, then it was time for Sawhead The Bear.

The Czar Bar contingent screamed and shouted out. Daniel made sure he entered the stage last, wanting the band to be playing, but they just stood around, lost, waiting for their singer.

Daniel stood, back to the audience, then thumped his foot, twice. Richard looked over at Chris and mouthed ‘Arizona Al !’ and Chris nodded.

They got a great reception and their set was getting tighter, but they played such a wide selection of music, it weakened their impact. One song was pure Indie Pop, the next, a country song, followed by Boris playing a funky guitar pattern. It was their covers that got the best response.

They played an encore which was a much looser version of a song played earlier. Now Boris wasn’t going to be restrained, and launched into a lengthy solo, turning his back to Daniel. But it was shit hot. He was on fire. He allowed himself one look into the audience and focused on Olga. Andrei finished the song early and unplugged his bass. He walked off the stage and took a fresh beer. Daniel stayed behind to get all the applause.

Chris pulled himself away from Veronica, saying he had to see to, “My band.” There was stress on, “My band.”

After their equipment was packed up, there was a little spat. Daniel wanted to go straight up to the bar, where he had two women waiting. The band said they needed help to get the drums and guitars home. Daniel said that they could do it without his help, it was their stuff, not his.

Chris didn’t want anything to spoil the evening. He found a solution. Everything could be stored upstairs, in Pavel’s room, where it would be safe. They could collect it tomorrow afternoon. All they had to do now was wait for the money, then go to the Czar Bar.

Agreement and fresh beers.

The reason Chris was so happy was a piece of news Veronica had let slip; Johan had left that day. He wasn’t in Berlin.


The girls had another effect on them; they steadied the drinking. Despite being in a bar most of the evening, they were tipsy but no more. The walk in the cold air to the Czar Bar took fifteen minutes, and sobered them further. The girls walked slowly, but that wasn’t a problem.

The Czar Bar was in full swing and got renewed energy from the influx of new people. Chris had to work but spent every spare second looking at or talking to Veronica.

The girls finally got tired long before the night was anywhere close to ending. Richard held Carla’s hand and told her how happy he was to meet her, desperately playing up the polite Englishman angle. He gave her two kisses on the cheek, and their hands remained touching until she walked away, with a wave.

Chris also got an innocent kiss on the cheek, but there was a little whisper between them.

After the girls had gone, Chris smiled, shook Richard’s hand, and poured them and Jake a well-deserved vodka. Then the night began to fade to blackout.

The next night, with Carla sleeping, Veronica went to Chris’ room, to borrow a book. She stayed for an hour.

This was repeated several times over the next two weeks.

On the Wednesday following the gig, Richard got a call at work. Chris reminded him that he and Jake had the bar that night and that he should come over. Carla had been asking about him.

The worst of the Summer was over and although the garden was still open, it was quiet, the people there drinking rather than ordering food; less food, less washing up.

The new chef appeared to be much better, albeit very messy. He made Richard a special dinner every night, on a giant plate, and would return from the cellar with a glint in his eye. He carried a large bucket full of onions and packets of spice and milk and put this in a far corner of the kitchen. He then got two ice cream glasses. He went back to the corner and there was the unmistakable hiss of a bottle of gassy alcohol being opened. He made a ‘pssss’ sound to Richard and beckoned him over, handing him a glass of expensive Sekt. After they had drunk, the chef, Jürgen, hid the piccolo bottle deep in the trash bin.

But there was a delay in getting paid, as giving the Spüler his money was the lowest priority of the staff, so much so that he missed a connection and had to wait nearly half an hour for the next night bus.

When he got to the bar, he was in the mood for drinking and drinking hard. He took three vodkas in the first ten minutes. Carla joined him for one, looked surprised at his second and horrified at his third. Chris laughed, and jokingly mentioned that he should perhaps slow down.

So Richard asked Jake instead.

He next memory was waking up, semi-undressed at home. Half of his money was gone, spent in the bar. He couldn’t sleep but couldn’t move either. He stayed in bed, hoping to get some sleep. After this proved impossible, he made coffee after coffee and smoked the remainder of his cigarettes.

Tonight it was the east German chef. And the staff he hated. He felt like having a drink before going into work, but didn’t want a Nuremberg Part II. Then a blurred flashback; he had a vague recollection of Carla tapping him on the shoulder, telling him he drank too much.

Carla, witnessing Richard’s drunken transformation, was no longer interested in even seeing him again, let alone starting any kind of relationship.

Veronica was unhappy with Johan, had been for a long time, was sure he was seeing other women, but was still in love with him. She was fond of Chris, and tried convincing herself that he could be the new man. But she was unwilling to listen; she knew herself too well.

Chris was also having misgivings. He was in love with Veronica and now had her. He told himself that Johan would understand, and that he and Veronica could be together. But . . .

One Friday afternoon, going to visit Richard and bumping into him on Schönhauser Allee, as he was returning with two bottles of wine, he opened up.

Richard’s main priority was getting the wine open, and Chris knew better than to start his story before Richard had taken a drink.

“Just one or two, set me up for work,” Richard explained.

“Oh, I hear that,” replied Chris before speaking about Veronica,

“I just don’t know. I love her. Really, I’m crazy about her. Been wanting her for . . . ever. “

“But ?”

“I don’t know. Something’s not right.”

“The sex ?”

Chris was surprised by Richard’s bluntness, but saw that he was already well into his second glass. And he had got the point. Chris finished his wine, poured some more and began,


“I’m not even sure if I . . . I mean, if she . . . you know ?”

“Pop goes the weasel ?” Richard confused Chris further by launching into an exaggerated Bob Dylan voice and saying, “Ya mean she’s a slow train coming ?”

Chris laughed, then followed it up,

“She says she does, but . . . “

“You mean you asked her ?”

“Of course.”

“Why ‘of course’ ? You got some kinda satisfaction guarantee ?”

“Well, yeah, pretty much. No complaints so far. I used to blow Monika’s mind. And she would blow my mind.”

“Well, come on, there’s a lot of pressure. You’re not able to be relaxed, right ? She’s your friend’s girl. Lucky you can get it up at all.”

“Hey, it’s up, man, I’m the fucking TV Tower, I’m the Siegessäule. Nothing wrong with . . . that end of things. No collapsing new building there.”

“Glad to hear it. But she must have a lot of stress. She obviously needs things to be sorted. Away from Rigaer Str . . . Oh, I get it. You want to borrow my flat.”

“I’ll wash the sheets.”

“Oh, fuck, man, I don’t want the details. Damn right you will though. So when do you want to . . . you want to tonight, don’t you ?”

“I want to right now, man !”

“Can’t help you there, Mush. Another drink, or will it interfere with your TV Tower reception ?”

Richard then got the giggles and went to work in a good mood. It lasted about twenty minutes in the nine circles of Biberkopf’s Kitchen.

Chris borrowed the flat twice more over the next week.

Richard had no idea what had deterred Carla. He was in the bar one night, Andrei working alone, when she came in, saw Richard, avoided eye contact and left. Richard kept drinking, asking, perhaps too much, where Olga was.

The next time Andrei saw him, the Russian was worried,

“Hey, Richard what happen to you ? You were . . . “ and he waved a hand in front of his face. “I don’t know if you get home.”

Sascha joined in,

“Yes, you got a taxi home.”

“You were there ?” he asked Sascha. “I got a taxi home ? No, that doesn’t sound right.”

“And you were trying to kiss that girl,” Sascha broke out into uncontrollable laughter.

But Richard had no idea what had happened in the bar, whom he had seen, or talked to, or tried to kiss, or anything.

But he was back the next night, drinking until he passed out on the bar. This time Chris and Jake were working. He woke up sometime after six and Jake gave him a lot of ice tea to drink.

After he had staggered out, refusing the offer of crashing over, Jake spoke to Chris, also very concerned, as to his mind, there was no question; Richard was an alcoholic and heading for a different sort of crash.

Chris thought he should do something, but had no idea what.

Two days later, Chris was going to work the bar again. He walked along Rigaer Str, thinking how to approach Richard, when a violent scream made his heart stop. It was Claude, shouting at him from across the street and pointing a finger like a loaded gun,

“You ! You fucking boy ! You fucking boy !”

Chris, totally pale and sweating, ran into Carla, outside of the street door to the squat. She told him. Johan was back and was having a serious talk with Veronica. It was nasty. Carla was afraid to go inside.

Jake walked past, on his way to the beer shop. Chris told him what had happened. Jake just nodded and said,

“Go.”

Chris ran upstairs and packed as much as he could, then ran out, ran all the way to the Storkower S-Bahn, looking back all the time.

Meanwhile, Richard, confronted with a never-ending pile of plates and work, accepted that getting drunk wasn’t helping the workload, it only made it infinitely worse. He was feeling truly awful, all the time.

If he carried on he would end up like the drunks prowling Berlin’s streets, looking in bins, smoking old dog ends, huddling around Imbisses to buy cheap grain alcohol and asking people, “Kleingeld, bitte.”

Not how he wanted to be.

He decided to go straight home, waiting at Zoo Station for a later bus, destination Prenzlauer Berg, not Friedrichshain, sobriety not stupor.

That was when he saw the lights on in his flat, and hoped that Chris had brought some wine with him.

Love and Chaos Part 8(D) Richard 1

21st June 2021

U-Bahnhof Walther-Schreiber-Platz, Berlin-Friedenau, Schloßstraße,  Bundesallee, Rheinstraße [Bahnhof]
U9 Line for Cafe Biberkopf, Berlin Steglitz. Google Images

Part Eight. Berlin. August 1995

The shift began as normal. Richard arrived early, tried to order a coffee from one of the waitresses and when it finally arrived, plonked down in front of him, spilling over the side, he had no time to drink, but took it into the kitchen. He made space on a metal shelf, and looked down at all the plates, piled up, stacked on top of each other, taking up the entire work surface. As he did so, a waitress appeared and smashed more plates down, so that some small saucers fell onto the floor and crashed.

The restaurant had been serving since breakfast and no one had bothered to wash a thing. Metal egg-cups encrusted with yoke, bits of dry toast, muesli cemented onto bowls; and the beat goes on, Berlin goes on, work goes on.

Then a new waitress entered, holding up a fork and barking away in German. She clearly wanted new cutlery. Richard held out his watch to indicate that it was five to six, he wasn’t working yet, wasn’t even changed. She continued shouting in German, while Richard muttered, not too softly,

“Who won the fucking War, ya Nazi cocksucker.”

The extra work load generated by the Summer, when the garden was open and had an additional twenty tables, had proved too much for the lazy chef, who had left. The east German chef remained, and a temporary chef filled in as well. Temporary chef was quiet and efficient but tended to treat Richard as a drone worker, not a person worthy of respect or even thought. And he tuned the grease-encrusted radio to a Techno station. All night there was a heavy, unrelenting beat that Richard found impossible to tune out.

Yet, it was a challenge, and Richard threw all the plates into the sink after scraping away the debris, got some cutlery washed, filled and emptied the machine and had cleared the surface within his first half hour.

But then it got busy. The chef demanded help with making side salads and Richard grabbed a handful of lettuce and vegetables and flung them into the saucer, then got shouted at because there were no clean plates.

“Well, I’ve been doing your fucking job and not mine, ya fucking dickhead.” The chef had no English, but understood the tone, and replied with mutterings of his own, rising to shouts and screams.

The washing up kept coming and Richard still had all the other jobs to attend to. The chef needed more Camembert made, so Richard had to get his hands covered in egg and breadcrumbs, then parsley chopped, then things brought up from the cellar.

The waitresses demanded more cutlery or cups, then wanted candlesticks washed and de-waxed.

Just after nine, Richard shouted to the radio to,

“Shut the fuck up!” and went over to retune it to a Classical station. “Doing my fucking head it, that fucking inane shit ! Fuck’s sake!”

Some time later, a waitress brought the chef a beer. Richard hadn’t even been asked. Not that he wanted or had time for a beer, or a piss, but it would have shown some respect to have been asked. He went to the bar, waited for Josef to see him, then asked for a bottle of water.

“WAIT!”

Richard knew that if he had been holding a bottle, he would have smashed it around the barman’s head.

Instead, he walked away, down into the cellar, and found a bottle of whisky. He picked it up,

“Ah, fuck, it’s only J&B, fucking blend !” but it didn’t stop him from opening the top and taking an almighty swig. He looked at the bottle, surprised and impressed by the amount of space between top and whisky level,

“I’ll just piss in it to refill it,” he thought, but before he did so, took another giant swig. After that, work got a little easier. For a while.

But the buzz of the whiskey soon wore off, leaving a thirst for more and a decreased tolerance for the way he was being treated.

The chef left and Richard, looking around, saw the cooking brandy. It was pretty poor quality, the kind that gets sold in quarter bottles at Imbisses and kiosks on the street to alcoholics who have found a few old coins, but, like them, Richard didn’t care. It was alcohol.

He remembered starting work on the potatoes, but nothing much else.

Except one thing.

He recalled, vaguely, going into the bar and pointing his finger accusingly at all the staff, equating them with the Hitler Youth and warning them that he would be meeting them all again in Nuremberg.


Then he sat on the corner counter in the kitchen, put his head against the tea-towels which were kept on a shelf, and crashed out.

He awoke in his own bed with that feeling. That heart-stopping feeling upon waking. No idea what he had done, but knew it was bad. Very, very bad.

Chris came over in the afternoon, and Richard asked him to phone in and say he couldn’t work, due to a sudden flu, but would be back tomorrow … if,

“Stake out the situation, put feelers out, get the vibe . . . find out if I still have a job there.”

Chris laughed, closed the kitchen door and made the call. He returned, wide-smiled.

“OK, I’ll cover you tonight, could use the extra dosh. Seven hours at twelve Marks an hour, nice. Spoke to Walter. Hopes you are feeling better. Then I’ll come back here. Could use a sober night myself.”

Around two-thirty Chris returned, absolutely not wide-smiling. He crashed in, threw his bag across the room, and let out an uninterrupted flow of abuse.

“I know,” was all Richard said, still suffering.

“All right. Where to start. Now, what we want,” he began, knowing that Richard would like the ‘Hard Times’ reference, “is facts. OK, breaks down like this: you’re all right. Yes, go back tomorrow, no one’s gonna say Jack. Seems you got a little overwrought. Walter had a go at the staff, he’s a god guy, telling them not to treat you like scheiße, to do some of their own washing up, keep the work area clear, help out. How’s that ? It was Walter who drove you to Zoo for the night bus. Oh, Nuremberg, man, so funny, would loved to have seen that.”

“Oohhhhhh, mannn ! I thought I dreamt that ! Shit, shit, shit, shit ! Shit on a stick !”

“Don’t worry, most of them didn’t even understand it. One of the customers had to explain.”

“Well, fuck, have you seen Josef ? Wouldn’t he have made such a fucking great Nazi ? He’d be the guy in the black suit, with the Death’s-head emblem.”

“Oh, the temporary chef has gone.”

“Because of me ?”

“No, got a new guy. You’ll see him tomorrow.”


“What’s he like ?”

“Hhhmmm . . . how to . . . you’ll see. Tomorrow.”

Richard was glad that Chris was there and had covered the work situation. But only weeks later, Chris would not be visiting the flat, but hiding out there, scared for his life.

Love and Chaos Part 1(K) Chris 4

18th November 2020

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

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

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

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

“Ah, that would be nice.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Ja,” answered Chris, “naturlische.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was the emergency, then ?”

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

“Mrs … Holtzengraff ?”

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

“Useful.”

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

“So what happened ?”

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

“Really ?”

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

“Yeah, what do you do exactly ?”

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

“But then it all worked out … ?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So we boil pots ?”

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

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

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

“No, I really don’t.”

“Haha. You will.”

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

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

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

“Claudia ! Hey !”

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

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

She barely glanced over before focusing on Chris, making some small talk and in-jokes about work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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