Love and Chaos Part 9(D) Julie 1

30th July 2021

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Julie gravely wanted the run to be over, doubting if the cast would hold together for the projected three nights. There were times when she doubted the cast would even hold it together for the first night. She thought of an expression that Alan had taught her; Brecht would be ‘turning over in his grave,’ and smiled, calmly applying make-up in a vortex of disorder.

The actor playing Baal was walking in diagonal paths up and down the room, bellowing out his vocal exercises. Another actor, playing Johannes, was in a side room, running around in circles, reciting all his lines as quickly as possible. He first tried this without shoes, but had slid into a wall, and had almost broken his hand. An older woman, playing Emilie had found an old, out-of-tune piano, and was irritating everyone by singing in an equally out-of-tune voice.

Most of the other men were simply in the bar, half-in or half-out of costume, drinking beer and speaking loudly, half-sober or half-drunk. One proclaimed to the young barmaid, that he would go straight from the bar to the stage as, (here implication) he had so much talent, he didn’t need to warm-up. The part was beneath him, anyway.

The Assistant Director was desperately trying to get the lighting man to focus on the job, giving him the cues when the lights should go on and off, but instead, the technician was brusquely dismissive, as the week before there had been a performance with thirty-seven light changes, executed perfectly. The A.D. looked at the desk which was a mass of wires and sockets and beer cans and ash and Rizlas, and visibly abandoned all hope.

The Director was everywhere, shouting at everyone, making elaborate theatrical gestures of what he presumed were indications of artistic genius. He held the script as a weapon, thumping it on occasion, clutching it to his breast on others. He was angry at the cast, some of who still hadn’t appeared. The theatre manager kept coming in, asking them when they would be going on, but really to catch a look at Julie.

The Director was now making a laboured display of appearing to remain calm under insurmountable pressure, and asked the manager if the bar staff could change the music from Portishead to the Kurt Weill tape, to set the mood. The manager said he would, immediately. Nothing changed. Portishead prevailed.

The theatre was on the top floor of the third Hof of a backstreet off Warschauer Str. Alan was glad to have Vincent as guide because he would never have found it. Vincent was very dismissive of the whole project, mainly because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been asked, and had already decided it was a doomed production, but he was going, magnanimously, to support Julie.

Alan enjoyed being with Vincent in that it got him noticed and introduced to all the creative people in east Berlin, and many attractive women, who warmed to him when they heard he was a director. Yet he resisted all the subtle and blatant temptations of Berlin, remaining focused and sober.

In the bar, Vincent was performing, ordering beers, running his hand through his hair, calling out to people he recognised, explaining that he was here to see Julie, to support this little effort, no, he wouldn’t be performing tonight, yes, he knew what a massive disappointment that was for everyone.

Alan looked through the crudely photocopied program and saw Julie’s photo. He tried reading, but the German was too hard for him. He had asked his sister to send over an English translation of the play, which he had read and re-read, in preparation.

He had wanted to take a seat in the front row but, being with Vincent, had to sit in the back. That helped him decide to return, alone, which he did. Every night.

The play was unbalanced; some of the actors were quite good, some appalling, and at times there appeared to be no direction at all. Some of the minor characters forgot their lines, or spoke over each other, and decided to turn this into part of the show, turning to the audience and laughing. Vincent translated;

“He said he was being, ‘Very Brechtian.’ Verdammt Arschloch.”

But even with little German, and without bias, it was obvious to Alan that Julie was the only one on stage who merited being there. The difference between her and the rest of the cast was simply embarrassing.

Afterwards, a crowd of people had commandeered a corner of the bar, actors, their friends and various people on the fringes of the Berlin scene. Some girls were taking photographs of the cast, and a greasy young man was interviewing the director for a local paper, circulation in double figures.

Alan was elated when Julie sat next to him. Despite her well-founded reservations, she knew she had performed well, and was glowing with a natural high. She even allowed herself to be photographed and took several glasses of Sekt. She got up to kiss various people and waved and smiled. Alan found everything enchanting. Yet he was very uncomfortable when Vincent approached and, after embracing and complimenting, sat with his arm around her. It was uncomfortable that she let him keep it there.

Julie waved to one of the actors who was just leaving. She explained to Alan;

“We call him Matthäus, after some footballer. It is because on the first day, he arrived in a tracksuit, and thought we were all going to do lots of exercises. He started stretching and everything. It was so funny.”

Julie thought that the first night mistakes could be addressed, but they just intensified over the next two nights. Some actors were not just late, they failed to appear at all, and the Director wanted to make changes to the script, almost leading to a fight between him and the main actor. Matthäus was now ignoring everyone but Julie, simply not willing to waste his time on anyone else. The Assistant Director had either been sacked, or had quit depending on what story one chose to believe, and the actress playing Johanna had gone home with the theatre manager, just to get away from the actor playing Johannes, who had been seen smashing empty beer bottles in the car park, the previous evening. And the bar staff still played Portishead.

Four days later, Julie met Alan for a coffee. He had a copy of the local paper with the review. Kelly had translated for him, and it was generally supportive, though only Julie, in the role of Sophie, received a namecheck. Only Matthäus sent her a congratulatory note.

She was still glowing, though now it was more from relief. She had changed her hairstyle, which Alan complimented her on.

“Yes, it was an experience, but I don’t think I would want to go through it again.”

Alan showed her the paper and was surprised that she covered her face when he pointed out her name. Instead, he asked her what was wrong and what she, as an actress would want from a theatre piece. He already had an idea.

“It was too big, too many people. We never had a full rehearsal. I often had to read lines with a stand-in. It is hard, it is impossible to build up the character and the . . . “

“Inter-action ?”

“Ja, danke, inter-action. The Director wanted a different actor for every part, but we could easily have played other small parts. Then with so many people, and many of them only having one scene …”

“They get bored and start drinking.”

“Genau ! (exactly). People try to rehearse, and I just hear other actors laughing in the background, sometimes speaking louder than the actors. When we say to be not so loud, they get angry, and leave. But, when it worked, it was . . . just wonderful.”

“So you would do some more theatre ?”

“Ja, of course. But not with so many. It is just too impossible.”

Richard put a copy of Rimbaud on the table.

“’A Season in Hell’. Do you know it ?”

“I know the name but I haven’t read it. OK, what part do I have ?” Julie asked as she took some coffee, hiding the smile.

When her office manager asked her why she was reading poetry, Julie explained that her boyfriend was taking a course and that she was reading it to keep him company. This of course backfired, as her manager made disparaging comments about students and their financial insecurity, and if he needed her to help him, maybe he wasn’t intelligent enough to be a student in the first place. He would look at her with a meaningful nod, then leave her to ponder his sage words.

The fictitious boyfriend was meant to serve two purposes; one to explain how she spent her free time, the other to deter the men in the office from hitting on her. Neither was successful. She still had to listen to the senior staff talk about how empty their lives were, before they asked her to take coffee with them, or found pretexts where she may have to stay behind after work.

Other people asked her what she and the boyfriend had done, where he had taken her, what their plans were. Julie did her unstimulating work, but didn’t feel close to anyone there, certainly didn’t want to share anything of her personal life. She couldn’t even think of anyone from the office coming to see her, or discussing rehearsing and acting.

Even though the new piece was to be in Friedrichshain, and she worked in Charlottenburg, west Berlin, she was still scared that someone may, just possibly, see her name on the handmade posters Kelly was making up for the new piece. The fact that they would only go up in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreutzberg didn’t really calm her. She insisted her name be much smaller than Vincent’s, justifying it as he had a larger role, but Alan over-ruled her, reminding her that she now was a name, referring to the newspaper piece. Vincent didn’t seem to appreciate that so much, but knew that if it generated interest, in would work out well for him, too.

Before rehearsals started, Julie has been quite forceful, saying that Alan was the director and that he would have final say, but that any mistakes would ultimately be down to him, if the actors followed his instructions. This was a notice to Vincent not to try taking over, and to boost Alan’s confidence. Of the two, it was Alan who, in her opinion, had a real future. He put the project first.

Alan had finished the script, adapting the poem for the two actors. Vincent would open and close the performance, but the central piece would be Julie’s, a monologue from the Ravings 1 section of the poem, ‘The Foolish Virgin / The Infernal Bridegroom’

Vincent had booked a space, the usual bar where he performed, for three nights in early January. There would be a week to rehearse, then a break, as both Alan and Julie would leave Berlin for Christmas.

Julie was excited by the part, and loved hearing Alan talk, watching how this normally quiet, almost withdrawn man suddenly became so animated, gesturing and almost falling over his words as idea stumbled over idea.

Alan knew he could trust both of them to learn their parts and to rehearse. He couldn’t even imagine how Julie had coped with the shambles of Baal. The only problem was the situation with Vincent, his actor, and Kelly, his flatmate. Vincent was a very attractive man, and got a lot of attention, but recently his indiscretions hadn’t been so discrete, and in such a small city like Berlin, it was only a matter of time before Kelly found out.

But, for the moment, Alan had the cast for his first play, Vincent had a new piece to talk about and Julie had another part she hoped to keep secret from the people in the office.

Love and Chaos Part 9(B) Johanna 1

19th July 2021

Part Nine. Berlin.

Johanna brushed her short blonde hair and checked her watch. She hated being late, and she hated waiting. Richard, her date, waited nervously outside the cinema. Chain smoking. Throwing away cigarettes half smoked. Lighting up fresh ones. Walking up and down, battling the cold, battling his anxiety. Johanna arrived sheltered by a scarf. She removed it and smiled at her date. She took his arm and they went inside.

A movie followed by drinks in a bar. Predictable. Safe. Richard was a safe and predictable man. Johanna had chosen the film, after she took him to a light and lively bar. This spacious corner Kneipe was popular with students, bench seats and large tables where they could count out their small coins hoping it amounted to the price of a beer. Music played, old-time waltzes. People sang, laughed, shouted. Sometimes Johanna had to move closer to Richard to be heard. The chilling night walk to the station, a shared journey as far as Alexanderplatz. Richard insisted on waiting with her for her connection. She found that sweet. She kissed his cheek goodbye, held his hand before she got onto the train. Smiled and waved as the train pulled away.

Johanna thought about how pleasant the evening had been. She would certainly see Richard again. If he called. After that, she thought no more, not wanting to expect anything. She didn’t want one more disappointment, one more man who seemed so different, so ideal, only to have all her illusions painfully shattered, be left permanently damaged. It had happened too often. The chances of finding someone who would love, respect and look after her were zero. So Johanna believed.

‘A cry for help’. Johanna hated that expression. A meaningless banality uttered by those who could never conceive pain. Real physical pain. Real emotional pain. A rationalisation, a way of tying up with one neat thread, the thousands of multiplying loose ends. The psychologically scarring, unanswerable questions. Johanna tried to kill herself. She wasn’t crying for help. She was crying for death. The cry was from her own demons imploring her. The agony she was in would never end, the crying, the calling was never going to end.

While her family asked the ‘why ?’ question, Johanna had one of her own; why was she alive ? Worse than ‘the cry for help’ was the, ‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ dictum, as if someone was watching over her. She spat on that fallacy. If anyone was watching, it was with a sadistic grin, not a protecting hand. Failure. She was alive and would have to account to her inconsolable parents and clueless doctors if she were to regain the freedom she needed. The freedom to try again. The freedom to succeed.

A list of easily acceptable motives; boyfriend trouble, pressure of work, lack of fulfilment in her life. Easily remedied. As quickly as she had been admitted, she was discharged, returned to her parent’s suburban house. Searching for university courses. Her parents were sure she’d meet a nice man at college, and all would be well. Johanna’s placid smile always dropped when the subject of men came up. She believed that had she confessed the real reason behind her suicide attempt, she would have sickened and repulsed the doctors, who would thereafter treat her as filth, too contemptible and contaminating for their sanitised wards, sanitised words, sanitised world.

Teenage dramas common to many pretty girls. Suddenly being very popular with boys, who wanted one thing from her. She had once been cornered by three teenage boys who had succeeded in removing and keeping her panties as ‘proof’ of their conquest. She was just grateful that they hadn’t gone any further. Her first serious boyfriend had been sleeping around with her other friends. When discovered, claimed it was a test to see if he really loved her. A confused inexperienced teenager, Johanna knew this was no test of love. The boyfriends that followed were faceless. They pressured her for sex, then dropped her after their few minutes of glory.

Word had gotten around that she was anyone’s for the asking. Time to leave school, look for work. The adult world. Shops were always hiring pretty young girls. Her parents knew she had more independence than academic ability. They felt proud, chose to feel proud, of their daughter making her own life. They arranged for her to stay in a shared house in Wilmersdorf that belonged to an old family friend, Herr Schulz. He appeared very friendly to Johanna, very attentive, offering to drive her wherever she needed to go. She found his slits of eyes and joined eyebrows charming, as if he were a creature from a fairy tale. But it wasn’t long before that tale took a very adult twist.

Still being very young and inexperienced, Johanna had difficulty managing her money. Buying clothes without making sure she had covered her rent. The first time, Herr Schultz smiled, patted her knee and told her not to worry. The next time he playfully spanked her, but she wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Knowing that she would not be able to pay on time, Herr Schultz took Johanna to her room and screamed at her. He told her how much money she was costing him, how many bills he had, how she was destroying his business, endless abuse that paralysed her with fear. He then calmly, in a professional way, offered her a choice of services that she could perform to pay her debts.

Frustrated at her lack of response, he grabbed her hand, used it to open his fly and showed her what to do. Grotesque sounds and expressions as his pleasure increased. The smell. She was sick when it was over. Repeatedly washing, scrubbing her hand. That was just the start. Johanna was still on the lowest wages. Herr Schultz began improving the house, all of which added expense to the rent. When he threatened her with sending her home and telling her parents that she had been bringing too many boys back, she went along with his next demand. She stripped, got into bed, and after preparing him for the condom, allowed him to do what he wanted. Emotionally, she felt nothing, barely blinked, didn’t move. She refused to cry out in pain, to shed tears, to show any life. As soon as he was satisfied, she left the bed, locking herself in the bathroom until he was gone. This was the way it was going to be. And it was. Until she met Marcus.

Marcus was a driver at work. She only saw him two or three times a week, but he was so different to anyone else she had known. He was confident, strong, a real Alpha-male, always centre of attention. He noticed her and told her, rather than asked her, that he would take her out. She felt that someone so powerful could protect her. Johanna was determined to keep him interested, allowed him to sleep with her that first night. Her nightmare with Herr Schultz had at least taught her what men want. Marcus got the benefit of her unsentimental education. He was used to taking what he wanted, and wasn’t prepared for her, a wild sex-fiend in a demure body. Johanna began bringing him home when she knew the landlord would be there, and it worked. He collected the rent and left her in peace.

For a time, she was something close to happy, though she never was able to predict what mood Marcus would be in. He’d either be very rough with her, foregoing any sort of foreplay, and leaving her bruised and sore, or would be completely docile and indifferent to her body. Nothing surprised her about men. Her own moods altered from gregariousness to complete detachment, from contentment, to deepest depression. Why should men be any different ? Hindsight. In hindsight it was obvious. Erratic behaviour, nervousness, sweating. Johanna’s mental state was controlled by unpredictable internal forces. Marcus’ was dependent on external. She hadn’t even realised that her boyfriend was on drugs. Another reason to detest herself soon followed.

One Saturday morning, she was woken by Marcus who barged into her room, demanding money. She had just woken up and pointed to her bag, naively thinking that it was to pay a taxi. Marcus threw the bag down in disgust when he saw how little she had. He began rambling, muttering incoherent words to himself, walking up and down the room. He looked over at her, in bed, stopped his disturbing movements. He told her to wait. Two men came into the room. One took a look at her and seemed pleased, the other looked around, opening drawers, picking up her possessions. She looked at Marcus, who moved over to her and told her it was all right, before he grabbed her arms and pinned her down.

The first man pulled down his trousers, threw back the bedclothes and had her panties off before she could even think. He was finished very quickly. All the time, Marcus, with one hand over her mouth, the other holding her down, was telling her that everything was going to be OK. The second man’s turn. He made sure she saw him, made her see the hatred in his eyes. He preferred to bite and slap her, made sure he caused her as much pain as possible, her muffled cries only encouraging him. He stopped and demanded that she finish him off with her mouth, to the approving applause of his friend. Marcus assisted, grabbing her long hair and forcing her onto him. The man screamed out, grabbed her chin and made her look at him. He demanded, ‘Swallow, bitch !’ As an encore he slapped her face and spat on her.

She fell back on the bed. Lifeless, not physically there as if she were above the room, looking down on the shell of a body that she knew was her own, yet alien to her. She could hear distorted voices, the men talking. Something was exchanged. Marcus laughed. Why weren’t they leaving ? Marcus was offering them a drink ? After some time, minutes or hours, probably only seconds, they left. The second man gave Marcus a friendly slap on the face, telling him he was a lucky man, before acting out his recent conquest. They all laughed. All except Johanna. Marcus immediately began preparing himself, jumping on the bed next to the immobile Johanna. He relaxed, lay back, and was in his own world.

At some point, Johanna began moving. She knew she had to wash herself and painfully made her way to he bathroom. Only then did the first realisation crack the shock and soft tears flowed faster, as she tore at her hair, vomited in the sink and began throwing herself against the walls, a terror-stricken animal in a tiny cage. She saw the razor blade.

Johanna woke up in hospital, wrists restrained, tubes in her arm, the contemptuous eyes of a male nurse watching over her. His eyebrows reminded her of Herr Schultz and she tried crying out, but no sound came. She never knew how she got there. The police wanted to know about her boyfriend. One of them said that she should have just died. A total waste of their time looking after silly girls who make a big performance if their boyfriend forget to bring them flowers. Stupid bitches.

Johanna was kept on suicide watch. Couldn’t be left alone, couldn’t lock the bathroom, couldn’t take a bath without being observed. She would have to give a reason before she could leave. What could the doctors do, anyway ? Nothing could be undone. Ever. The only help she got was from Günther, a fellow patient and another failed suicide. It was obvious to her that he was gay, so was the only man she felt safe with. Her own father had led her to Herr Schultz and, in turn, to Marcus.

Günther explained how the system worked. The sessions with the psychiatrists, the group talks. The correct responses. Nobody really cared, anyway. The first time Johanna had heard someone else express her sentiments. She bonded with him. The only professional interest seemed to come from a young medical student who saw patterns in her behaviour that seemed to indicate a certain condition. He asked to be allowed to study her, but case studies on opposite-sex subjects were discouraged. No qualified doctor had time to listen to over-enthusiastic amateur speculations regurgitated from recently-read textbooks.

Johanna followed the advice. Back to the suburbs, with Günther’s phone number. Only the thought of seeing him again kept her from repeating the attempt, that and her mother’s pathetic act of finding reasons to come into her room to check up on her. Night and day. Externally, Johanna tried to alter as much as she could. Her hair, always long, was now cut into a boyish bob. She was obsessed with washing, showering several a day, in a room that now had no lock. No control over when the memories would come back. She became a different person, unrecognisable. She would scream abuse. She fell in hysterical crying fits. Once she grabbed the largest kitchen knife and spat demonically, stabbing an imaginary Marcus, over and over.

Johanna had to see two or three psychiatrists, neither of which inspired Johanna to open up. Her history of abuse was too painful and sickening for anyone else to hear. She would deal with it her own way. Her look already altered. She cut off all contact with everyone who knew her. Her parents encouraged her to go back to school, get some professional qualifications. There were several business courses that could be of practical use. And she choose denial. She tried to block out everything that had happened to her, to project it onto an imaginary friend. She wanted to believe it worked. Denial hadn’t a chance.

By the autumn of 1995 she had started on her course and was doing well. Living at home and travelling into Berlin. She became an avid reader, losing herself in long books. By studying. By spending so much time studying, she hoped to block out the past. But it always attacked her, especially when she was alone. She was generally alone. To protect herself from herself, she started accepting offers to go out. Invitations were constant. She gave nothing of herself, no encouragement. She always made sure that she never dated anyone more than twice. Avoid the implied sex after the third date. She only really felt comfortable with Günther, who was now living in Friedrichshain, not exactly the epicentre of gay Berlin. He was quite taken by a certain squat bar he had discovered, and his vivid description made Johanna curious to see it.

She felt quite relaxed there, and was amazed at the lack of sexual tension. She could just relax and drink with her friend, no one came up and tried to join them, or start trying to pick her up. One night she looked over and saw a tall young man who seemed both at home and totally out of place. She could sense something about him. When he looked over she smiled at him. It was no surprise that he looked away, not in arrogance, but out of nervousness. Johanna decided that she would like to meet him. Something about him told her that he was different.

Love and Chaos Part 7(E) Ragno Prologue

2nd June 2021

The Stassi HQ, east Berlin. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. Summer 1995

One night in the Czar Bar, a tall thin man walked in, ordered a beer and, the bar stools all being occupied, stood quietly against a wall and drank alone.

Chris didn’t like the look of him from the start. He was older, probably mid-forties, possibly more. Even in the poor light of the bar, his skin was visibly pockmarked, from disease, drug abuse or both.

He had heard Germans talking about ex-Stasi (the East German Secret Police) informers and knew the incredible statistics; as many as one in four people gave information and spied on their neighbours. The forty odd years of the DDR had generated as much paperwork and files as the rest of German history combined.

This man, alone, out of place, was, Chris decided, a clear ex-informer, probably here to spy on the bar and the customers, to close it down, gather names, prosecute for all the illegal activities.

When he had finished his beer, he walked over to the bar and put the empty bottle carefully on the counter. Chris snarled,

“Another ?”

The man shook his head, and said, in English but with a soft accent,

“No, thank you.” Then he smiled. It was a smile of serenity and peace, that completely disarmed Chris who instantly changed his opinion. “Tchüss, Jake,” he said as he left.

“Ah, yeah, tchüss, Ragno,” answered Jake as he put empty bottles into a crate with one hand and pulled out three more beers with the other.

“Who was that ?”

“Oh, Ragno. Haven’t seen him for a while. Good guy. No problems, has his beer then goes.”

“So we ain’t gonna get rich off him ?”

“He’s got a young girlfriend, so . . . “

“Ah,” said Chris, “yeah, why would he get drunk if he’s got a babe waiting for him. Fuck, how does he do it ? Face like that ?”

“No, he’s a nice guy. Well, I dunno, he had a young girlfriend. Not sure if they’re still together.”

Robert, in apparent apropos of nothing, let out a,

“Shit on a stick !” while Peter lifted a half empty beer bottle to his lips and momentarily silenced the bar with an amazingly pure note.

Chris wanted to know a little more about Ragno, but a round of vodkas was ordered and by the time the bar had quietened down, he had forgotten all about him.

Love and Chaos Part 7(B) Daniel 1

28th May 2021

U-Bahnhof Hönow, Berlin-Hellersdorf, Hönower Weiherkette, HEP [Bahnhof]
Hönow U-Bahn station, end of the U5 line. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. May 1995

Daniel Roth had waited a week before returning to the Czar Bar. He brought two workmates with him, for support, perhaps, but after they saw that they had come all that way just to sit in a squat bar with uncomfortable stools and a depressing lack of women, they left.

Boris, another Russian who lived in the same squat as Andrei and Olga, was working that night. Before long, Chris walked in, unshaven and unwashed. He walked past Daniel, not seeing him, and sat on the end seat, next to where Boris was leaning. They spoke a little, and Chris ordered a beer before seeing Daniel and ordering three vodkas.

“No, no fucking vodka ! Fucked me up, last time.”

Chris kept the smile to himself.

“Really ? How so ?”

Daniel didn’t answer, but hesitated a question of his own.

“I hope I, er didn’t do . . . anything too . . . I hope I wasn’t out of order, last week. Had a bit too much. Hadn’t eaten and it was a har . . . “

Chris waved it away and invited him over.

“All right, but no fucking vodka!”

“Enough, already, no vodka. Wimp!”

“You what ?”

“Just saying, one minute it’s all, ‘I’ll pick you up with one finger and throw you through the window’, the next it’s, ‘oh, please, no vodka’.”

Daniel looked at Chris without blinking and Chris began thinking he may have overstepped the mark.

Daniel then turned to Boris,

“Three vodkas.”

Chris laughed.

Predictably, these were the first of many. Chris was getting acclimatized and Boris drank without any apparent effect whatsoever.

Daniel, on his fifth vodka, kept apologising for his behaviour and Chris did nothing to allay his fears that he had behaved appallingly. Finally, more to stop Daniel repeat himself, he told him that nothing had happened. Daniel had sung, shouted, screamed, but so had everybody else.

“You’re just doing the ‘Newman Shuffle’,” he explained. “People come in here the first time, drink too much vodka and have a melt down. Then they come back, heads down, shuffle in to face the music. Bet that’s how you walked in, all hunched over.”

“Fuck off!”

“But you don’t realise; this is the Czar Bar. Everyone freaks out, it’s expected, it’s almost the law. And if you really do make scandal, so what ? The next night, it’ll be somebody else, and your indiscretion will be forgotten.”

“Ah, you like big words, hey ? What are you ? Fucking student ?”

“Not any more. But I ain’t the one walking ’round with fucking Emily Zola.”

Daniel laughed and ordered more vodkas, Chris smiling at how quickly he had slipped into the pattern of Czar Bar life. Chris’ comical attempt at Cockney could not pass without comment,

“No need to start dropping your accent. This ain’t England.”

Chris, as being the senior in terms of Berlin life, expounded,

“No, this is Berlin. Just be yourself. Or be who you want to be.”

That last sentence stuck with Daniel.

Before the night descended into vodka madness, Daniel was asking about places to go. He always seemed to go to the same bars in Wedding, with his workmates, and most of these were not so far removed from the East End pubs he has left behind. Picking up on this piece of personal history,

“Ah, gangsters, rippers and wide-boys; the charming myths about the East End,” said Chris.

“The only charming myth about the East End is the myth that the East End is charming.”

Chris liked that turn of phrase and commended Daniel on it, then enquired about his academic background, as Chris still had some vague thoughts about switching from Physics to Literature.

“No, Mate, left school with a boot up the arse and fuck all else. Always read, though. Just couldn’t see why I had to listen to some deadbeat dickhead, when I could learn much more from Tolstoy or Dickens or Shakespeare. I can add and subtract and all that bollocks, but I don’t need Calculus, so fuck Maths. Geography, I know the capitals and rivers and mountains, if not, I’ll look them up, or fucking go there. Chemistry, I know good speed from shit, so that’s covered. History ? I’ll go to a museum or read a book of my own choice, not have some fucking Marxist ideology shoved down my throat. Games ? P.E. ? Fuck that, stand around with your dick frozen off so some old perv can get his jollies looking at you ? It’s the East End, we know how to fucking run. Physics ? Fuck that . . . “

Chris laughed, adding,

“Fuck Physics. Actually . . . I did.”

As for going to new places, Chris had a suggestion. Arizona Al was playing another gig in Mitte on Saturday, and both he and Richard were going, out of obligation. Daniel was invited and Chris wrote down the instructions and made a suggestion where to meet. He also wrote Richard’s phone number down.

Daniel thanked him with a vodka, and was introduced to new people as the bar filled up.

Several hours later, Daniel Roth was shaken awake at Hönow station.

“Oh, fucking hell,” he exclaimed. “Not again.”

Love and Chaos Part 6(K) Richard 2

23rd May 2021

Wilkommen in der 78
A squatted house in Berlin’s Rigaer Strasse. Google Images

Part Six. Berlin. March 1995

“Ironic, isn’t it ?” asked Chris. “All that time Monika asked, told, me to move, now, after I dumped her, I’m leaving this flat.”

Richard was going to question some of the points, namely about Chris dumping Monika, but let it slide. He was helping Chris pack up, and trying to contain his excitement about having his own flat.

“After all, we can’t live together forever,” said Chris.

“Like Laurel and Hardy. Besides, they’d be no room for a horse in here. Be fun trying.”

“Think of the mess. You need to think things through.”

Richard laughed. They sorted out the books, not by ownership, but by who had read what.

Richard kept ‘The Soft Machine’ by William Burroughs and Chris took the short stories by Kafka. After devouring ‘The Trial’, Richard had toured the English language bookshops and second-hand stores for more of his work. They had collected a good sample of literature from these moments of serendipity. Chris eyed the library and exclaimed,

“Fucking hell. Just look at these titles: ‘Bleak House’. ‘Dead Souls’.”

Richard continued the list

“’Heart of Darkness’,’The End Of The Affair’, ‘The Plague’.”

“’Slaughterhouse 5′, ‘Death In The afternoon’”

“’Life Is Elsewhere’, ‘Memoirs From The House Of The Dead’, ‘Critique Of Pure Reason’. Hhmmm . . . must be your one.”

“Well I don’t want it.”

“Sure ? Could get you a lot of points, walking around museums, holding it ?”

Chris thought about museums full of impressionable young female students. He grabbed the book.

They walked to the U-Bahn station, Richard to go to work, Chris to get the adjacent S-Bahn to Storkower Strasse.

Some of the Czar Bar locals had asked Chris why he hadn’t move into a squat, especially as he was now an honourary squatter by dint of working in the Czar Bar. Jake’s squat became the model for how he imagined all such flats to look, but it was Johan who gave him a different perspective, as he too was a squatter, yet always managed to appear clean and respectable. At least by comparison.

The houses either side of the Czar Bar were squatted. There was an organized community with meetings, rules and (Chris later discovered) endless plenums and interminable meetings. Rooms were allocated to newcomers only after careful consultation. Free vodkas were a persuasive argument.

One night Johan was drinking and Chris working, when some men walked in and sat with Johan. They were Josef and Klaus, two men who had been living in the squat the longest and were the men to see about moving in. Johan told them about Chris needing a place to stay, how he had to go all the way back to Prenzlauer Berg after a whole night’s work (all of four S-Bahn stops) and, assisted by the aforementioned free vodka, they agreed to hold a plenum.

This word would come to haunt Chris, as every time there was a decision to made about absolutely anything … anything … someone would raise their hand and shout ‘plenum’, and everyone would have to gather around and hear the merits of whatever piece of nonsense was being discussed. But this first time, it gave him a chance of moving in, moving on.

Johan lived in Rigaer 77, and had a room in the Hinter Hof. The 77 squat also ran a bar of its own, the Temple du Merde, but it opened just on special occasions, and as the entrance was nothing more than a thin, rusted iron door, most people were oblivious of its existence.

It was in this building, not Jake’s, to the other side, into which Chris moved. He had a small room in the left-hand side of the Hof. The ground floor had ateliers, for the artists, and there was a constant coming and going and banging and shouting and screaming and smoking and drinking and generally a whole lot of nothing being accomplished, while a whole world of plans were being made.

Chris had the use of a kitchen, and there was a toilet on the floor below, but there was no bathroom. Yes, he was back in Rigaer Str.

Richard was eager to get home, to what was now his own flat.

Chris hadn’t always managed to pay his share of the rent, but as it was so cheap, it wasn’t a problem and anyway Chris had allowed Richard many nights of drinking, either free or, at most, a nominal charge.

Now he sat, listening to music and reading. He could sleep when he wanted and not worry about waking up, or being woken up by Chris.


It was quiet. Peaceful. Somewhat boring.

He was both tired, after work, but mentally active and knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Chris wasn’t working tonight, that he knew, but he would certainly be in the Czar Bar. And maybe Olga would be there.

He put his shoes and coat back on and headed to the bar.

Love and Chaos Part 6(J) Chris 2

22nd May 2021

City Getting Blander': Berlin Clears One of its Last Remaining Squats - DER  SPIEGEL
The famous Tacheles art center and bastion of squat. Google Images.

Part Six. Berlin. March 1995

Richard was happy to see Chris sitting at the end of the bar in Biberkopf. Happy, but not surprised. The previous Saturday, it had been Chris’ idea to go to some clubs in Mitte. The reason given was to have a break from the Czar Bar, but Richard knew that Chris was hoping to see Monika.

They had gone to several bars and clubs around Rosenthaler Platz but had just watched other people dance, rather than join in. Going out clubbing was going to be very different without the Gang.

Chris took an immediate dislike to a girl from New Zealand, whom he found loud and brash and not entirely pretty. She was dancing with a German theatre student (they surmised) who was wearing a white polo neck tucked into white jeans, held up with black braces. Chris took an instant dislike to him too.

The dreaded twosome began dancing, acting out some scenario that had her pretending to slap him, and him turning away in agony, with mechanical movements.

“Look the fuck at that. Robot dancing. Fucking hell, what is this, nineteen seventy-four ?”

“Do you think,” asked Richard, trying to salvage the evening, “that in some parallel universe, there are robots who go out, get lubricated, and start people dancing ?”

“Yes. I’m sure that’s exactly what happens.”

Richard felt his joke deserved better than that, but he knew the underlying cause. Chris was devastated over losing Monika. Considering the way the break up happened, there was little chance of a reconciliation.

Just over an hour after leaving the Mitte club, they were back in the Czar Bar, agreeing that they belonged here, with the squatters, punks, hard-core alcoholics, Tom Waits and Nick Cave, not with the would-be beautiful people and Euro Disco.

Having worked there with Jake, Chris was now well known and accepted. He knew nearly everyone by name, and gave Richard the low-down, who was worth knowing, who was best to avoid.

Tonight, it was Andrei and Olga working. Andrei resembled a Viking marauder, more than a Slav, with long blonde hair and a long blonde beard. He wasn’t especially tall, but made up for it by having an amazing girth. He was, quite simply, not a man to mess with. Occasionally some idiot with suicidal tendencies would venture his luck, but it was a short-lived enterprise. With Andrei it was one strike and you’re out. His girlfriend, Olga, was tall and slim, with blonde hair and a majestic bearing, looking like a Russian princess (Revolution notwithstanding). It was painfully easy to fall in love with her. So, of course, Richard did.

Apart from her beauty, she possessed two talents, highly prized. One was that she made the best Bloody Marys . . . ever. It was a remarkable sight to see giant, unwashed, street-fighting men sipping her concoction through a delicate straw.

The second talent was her voice. She would accompany herself on guitar, simple but effective picking, and out of her thin frame came the voice of an angel. An angel, however, with a distinct liking for tequila.

As there was barely a night without someone coming in with a guitar and playing, whether they were requested to or not, and as Olga loved the attention, so deserved, she often gave an impromptu concert .

This night, however, there was a little tension between her and her boyfriend. Richard sensed this, but Chris, drinking quickly and encouraging Richard to do same, was too busy with his own problems.

Then Jake arrived, making all attempts at conversation useless. He bombarded Chris and Richard with a detailed account of the awful food he had just eaten at a late night Imbiss. When he left to use the toilet, Chris said,

“What a fucking voice. Like a foghorn.”

“Yeah, Foghorn Leghorn.”

This unexpected, though remarkably apt comment, together with the beers and vodka, put them into a laughing fit, that continued as Jake returned. He naturally was curious as to the cause. Richard was in the mood for mischief.

“We were speaking about favourite cartoon characters. I used to love Foghorn Leghorn, but we can’t remember his catchphrase.”

Jake stepped up, puffing out his chest and strutting around,

“I say I saw a, saw a, I say, I saw a chicken”

It was too much. Richard was having difficulty breathing and Chris all but fell off his chair. Jake took this as a positive sign, and continued, with appropriate chicken and rooster movements.

Olga was looking at Richard and laughing, knowing he was the instigator.

“Hey, Olga gets it.”

“No, she’s from Moscow, she doesn’t know what the fuck a Foghorn Leghorn is,” Chris argued.

But after that, memories became hazy; there were snatches of Jake strutting around the bar, greeting bemused newcomers with the catchphrase and ordering drinks in the galline manner.

Richard woke up some time Sunday afternoon, having no idea how they had arrived home. He got into a panic and checked his possessions. Travel ticket, watch, wallet, even some money left. All was well with the world and what wasn’t could wait.

The next day Chris was at Richard’s work, joking with the bar staff. Matias was making the bar, a moustachioed bodybuilder type, who had a hands-on policy with regards to the female staff. Ully was being her pleasant self, obviously not too concerned with making large tips and a new girl, Jolande, was also working. Richard described her as that rarest of creatures, a German with a sense of humour.

Seeing that Chris was a friend of Richard’s, she made some jokes with him, and hid his beer when he went into the kitchen to say, “Hi,” to the chef.

Unfortunately, she was the world’s worst at keeping a joke, and couldn’t help bursting out laughing after only a few seconds. But she earned points for the effort.

Later, as she walked into the kitchen, Chris heard a high-pitch shriek, and saw Jolande running out, chased by Richard who, by the position of his hands, had just grabbed her sides.

“What are you doing to her ?” laughed Chris.

“Tickling her, of course,” was the reply, as natural as possible.

After Richard’s shift, they sat and drank together, Jolande joining them as she ate her meal. Chris appeared happy and relaxed, but was clearly looking more cheerful than he actually felt.

By tacit agreement, they took the night buses to the Czar Bar.

Micha and Serge had the bar, and they tended to close relatively early. They didn’t exactly draw the crowds either, playing continuous Death Metal. Though they changed the CD’s periodically, the noise remained the same.

Walking along Rigaer Str, in the early hours, the outdoor lamp of The Czar Bar was usually the only beacon, though hardly of hope, as there may well have hung a sign above the door, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter’. No one here gets out sober.

They opened the door, pushed aside the curtain and found two bar stools easily. The bar was mainly empty, the few drinkers dispersed to all corners.

After ordering two Becks and two vodkas, Chris got straight to the point.

“I have to win Monika back.”

He was expecting an evening of planning and scheming. He wasn’t prepared for Richard’s answer,

“Why ?”

It almost knocked Chris off his stool. When he finally spoke, it was defensive,

“I thought you liked Monika ?”

“I did. Do. But you and her together . . . I don’t think so.”

“Wow. Like . . . shit ! You mean it ?”

“Oh, yeah. Lovely girl, and you’re . . . OK, I suppose, but the two of you ? How many fights did you have ? How many times did you break up and get back together ? How many times did you come to me and ask what the fuck to do ?”

“You want individual figures or a combined total ?”

“C’mon. Every time you had to pay rent, it was problems.”

Chris knew only too well, as he had to walk to the flat of Ute’s friend, thus remaining in indirect contact with his ex-girlfriend.

“I know, it was a constant pain. And the work. When I left the Noodle Nuthouse, you hugged me, she almost cut my balls off. She wanted me to stay a Spüler. And then she hated that I was only a Spüler. Frauen !”

“What we need . . . is a new drink. The shots are gonna act too quickly.”

“I don’t think these bastards carry Pimms.”

“What we need is . . . “ Richard looked at the unimpressive, shabby collection of bottles. “Tequila. Tequila ? What goes with tequila ?”

“Cactus-smelling vomit. Wouldn’t mind a Run ‘n’ Coke.”

“Can’t see rum. Or Coke.”

“We’re gonna have to stick to beer and vodka, aren’t we ?”

“Looks like it,” agreed Richard.

There was a thud on the back door, then some keys desperate to find the lock. The door opened and something could be heard dragging itself in. Micha and Serge turned to each other and exchanged curses in Russian.

After some uncomfortable sounds, resembling a man being tossed from side to side in the corridors of a ship in a heavy storm, Jake appeared, somehow remaining upright in the entrance between vestibule and bar. He saw Chris and Richard and greeted them, hugging Chris from behind, but forgetting to let go.

Serge spoke in German, Jake answered and then stopped, as if suspended. He remained like this for some minutes, as the Russians started to close the bar, packing up the crates and chasing the drinkers out.

Richard began to leave, but Chris stopped him.

More talk between The Russians and Jake, then they left, shaking their heads and muttering. Jake screamed after them, half German, half English,

“Kein angst, alles klar (don’t worry, it’s all right) I’ll lock up. Ich habe der Schlüssel (I have the key.) You go to bed.” Then he turned to his two guests,

“You two guys need a drink ? ‘Cause I might have something in back. Don’t know, have to check. Have to check.”

Yet Jake remained standing and Chris had to lead him to the store room. Once inside, he made a series of pleasantly surprised sounds and returned, armed with beer bottles and a half bottle of Stolichnaya.

The remainder of the night was spent with Chris speaking about Monika, Richard speaking about Olga and Jake just speaking.

When Richard began working that night, he still had a hangover, which gradually faded, thanks to the endless coffees he drank. By the time his shift was over, he was in the mood for a drink, and, as luck would have it, Chris was helping Jake in the Czar Bar that night.

Love and Chaos Part 6 (D) Three English Portraits

9th May 2021

Sir Edward Elgar OM, GCVO
William Walton: albums, songs, playlists | Listen on Deezer
Sir William Walton OM
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Ralph Vaughan Williams - Wikipedia
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM

The ‘Enigma Variations’ of 1899 heralded the arrival of Edward Elgar, a young English composer who would not only surpass his teachers and rivals, but would restore international acclaim to British music. He was the greatest native composer since Purcell.

He overcame prejudice against his humble background, and his own discomfort in society as, for twenty years, he composed symphonies, oratorios and concertos that rank among the major works of Twentieth Century Music.

However, the sonic assault of his ‘Cello Concerto’ of 1919 was to be his last masterpiece. Shortly after, his wife died and he withdrew from public life, convinced that his art was old-fashioned, in comparison to the Modernist compositions coming from over The Channel.

That Elgar could be a part of the establishment, yet also a ‘down to earth’, ‘man of the people’ is attested to in the following anecdote.

William Walton, as a young music student, met the elder composer, and was so overawed by being in the presence of so great a man, that he was unable to speak. Elgar immediately put him at ease, by asking him if he knew who had won that afternoon’s big horse race.

Walton was befriended and encouraged by Siegfried Sassoon and The Sitwells, and wrote a musical interpretation of Edith Sitwell’s ‘Facades’. There was a society performance where the music played while the poetess recited through a megaphone.

In November 1935, the year after Elgar’s death, Walton’s First Symphony was finally premiered, ‘finally’ as it was started in England in 1932 and was scheduled to make its first appearance the following year.

It is dedicated to Baroness Imma von Doernberg, a young widow the composer had met in 1929.

By 1931, The Composer and The Baroness were living together in Switzerland, though Walton later returned to England and began work on the symphony.

Work on it was interrupted as Walton returned to Switzerland to be with the Baroness who had fallen ill, and they continued their often tempestuous relationship.

Aside from these personal problems, Walton was also lacking inspiration and canvassed his friends’ opinions as how to finish the symphony.

The on-off relationship finally ended in 1934, when the Baroness left The Composer for a Hungarian Doctor.

The symphony is regarded as an important addition to the canon of British music. It begins very softly, as if arriving through an early morning, country mist, before erupting into moments of intense drama, and sensual beauty.

Walton was still a relative newcomer to the music scene, when his First Symphony was being composed, whereas Vaughan Williams was a ‘grand old man’ when he began composing his Sixth Symphony.

This remarkable composition has all the energy and iconoclastic disregard of a young composer, anxious to make his mark by flaunting all conventions.

Three movements run as one, the quiet moments being just as uncomfortable as the loud, with their sense of foreboding. Yet it is the fourth movement that sets the symphony apart and on which its reputation rests: the entire section is played pianissimo. An early critic wrote of the finale as,

“… devoid of all warmth and life, a hopeless wandering through a dead world … “.

The Composer denied it had anything to do with the battlefields of Europe, the death camps of Poland, the post-atomic cityscape of Hiroshima.

Adapting folk melodies of one’s own country is known as Nationalism in music. Hearing that Ralph Vaughan Williams was a ‘Nationalist’ composer, the Hamburg University offered him an honorary degree in 1938. After much debate, he decided to accept, using the occasion to send a letter stating,

“I am strongly opposed to the present government in Germany, especially with regards to its treatment of artists and scholars … and my first instinct is to refuse … “

Hitler banned the music of Vaughan Williams later that same year.