“I couldn’t believe it, fucking hell, man, you know what this crazy bitch woman say ?”
Richard arrived at the Czar Bar just as Johan was delivering these festive felicitations. Jake gave him a nod and Daniel beckoned him over to a free bar stool. It was mid afternoon, there was a mild, happy vibe, no drunken madness, just the buzz of an easy beer or two, or so. And then there was Johan. He was holding court, gesticulating, slamming his bottle down before drinking from it. Daniel turned to Richard;
“’ere’s what you’ve missed. Johan and his girlfriend have split up.”
“No ! When ?”
Richard asked why and wasn’t prepared for the answer, which Johan himself supplied;
“The whores of Amsterdam !”
The five or six men around the bar laughed. Peter, the one time possible Poseidon, was leaning quietly on the end of the bar and there were a couple of Germans Richard recognised, who smiled at him, raising their bottles. When the laughter died, Daniel was able to elucidate.
“’im and ‘is bird were watching TV last night, and they saw some old clip of Jacques Brel singing ‘Amsterdam’.”
Johan took over;
“Yeah, and he . . .“ here Johan acted out the performance, sans need to exaggerate gestures and expressions. “And this girl, this fucking crazy bitch woman, she say, ‘why he all excited, he only sing about prostitutes ?’ So . . . that it, you know, I tell her, man, she have to go !”
Jake was busy with the tapes and CD’s, looking for some Brel, or at least a Bowie version of ‘Amsterdam’, but the closest he found was Tom Waits, so he played that. He got a fresh beer, made sure everyone was OK for drinks, then called out;
“Hey, Peter, watch the bar, I’ll be right back.” Jake went out the back door and immediately the cry went up for free vodkas, but Peter desisted, taking his new job very seriously. Except when he changed the CD and, selecting a new one, turned it over in his hands, asking;
“Which side do I play ?” then he opened his mouth, missing teeth and all, and laughed.
When Jake returned, Johan and one of the Germans lifted their arms and cried out in happy surprise. Richard turned to see Jake with a guitar.
“I couldn’t find a version on tape, and it’s Christmas, so what the fuck ?”
He turned off the music, tuned up a bit, then began slowly strumming the chords to Amsterdam. His voice was dusky and strained, a little affected but was in tune, and got stronger as the song went on.
When he finished, the bar applauded and demanded more, but instead, Jake turned the music back on, put the guitar in a corner and opened the vodka. Richard stuck with beer, which he drank very slowly.
More people came in, more drinks were poured and the bar split into small groups as Johan joined some French friends, and the Germans left to play Flipper.
Richard called Jake over and congratulated him on his playing. Jake dismissed it with a wave, and launched into an explanation of what the song was really about;
“Yeah, there’s this sailor, and he’s surrounded by the filth of the world, where love is nothing more than a cheap, sordid fuck and people spend all their time just trying to obliterate their minds . . .”
“Sounds like this place,” added Daniel with a laugh, but Jake ignored him, focusing on Richard,
“But this sailor has beauty in his heart, he wants a pure woman, a pure love, he has dreams and ideals and despite everyone trying to drag him down to the gutter, he remains true to himself. And must therefore be alone. Always. Vodka !”
As they clinked Richard, still abstaining from the Stoli, noticed a sadness in Jake’s eyes and understood that Jake was referring more to himself than to any Brel song. Just as Jake often wore a heavy beard to cover up his spots, rashes and eczema, so he adopted a gruff persona to cover up a scarred heart.
At this time, Jake was on at least a bottle of vodka per day, often more. Yet he was legendary in Rigaerstrasse. No one could ever recall seeing Jake sober; alternately, no one had ever seen him hopelessly drunk. He always managed to work to the end. Boris may complain of the mess he left, but the bar was always cleared of sleeping drunks, doors always locked. Chris had lost count of how many times he had been helped up the stairs of his squat by Jake. But also, in all that time, no one had ever seen Jake in a relationship. There had been some usual drunken kisses with drunken squatters, but even these had dried up over the last years. Not that Jake didn’t appreciate women, he always had a comment to make about any woman he saw, never lewd, always respectful judgements.
He had been on his own so long, that he had almost accepted that he always would be despite this being painful and anathema to his romantic spirit, a spirit that longed to take a woman to his bed just to hold her, to love her and feel her love back. He still had faint hopes that he would find someone. Then he remembered his flat. His appearance. Any optimism was crushed. And as it was crushed, a new bottle was opened.
Richard, still refusing vodka, began to leave. He took a look around, thinking that he wouldn’t be back for a long time. He said his goodbyes, responded to Jake’s, “Don’t be a stranger,” with a nod and a commitment to return. Then Daniel stopped him.
“Wait a tic, I’ll walk with ya a bit. Could use some air.”
They walked to Danziger Str, Daniel asking about Johanna.
Richard turned and made the universal sign for ‘no idea’. Daniel put his arm around him then turned the conversation back to himself.
“Me piece comes out in the new year. She wants me to ‘ave a go at poetry, now,” he explained, referring to Jeanette, the editor of Savage Revolt. “Says there’s lots of poetry nights, open mic things around town. Be good to get exposure.”
“Yeah, sounds good.”
“Ya reckon ? Poetry ? Fuck me, I don’t read that faggot shit.”
“It doesn’t have to be all flowers and clouds, you know. Hey, what’s this ?” Richard had seen a small poster for a production of Rimbaud. “And look, it’s in English.”
“Oh, I dunno, it’s some theatre thing. Vincent, yeah ? Jake kinda knows ‘im.”
“Any good ?”
“Only met ‘im once. Right arrogant prick. Total wanker.”
“No, the theatre ?”
“’Season in Hell’. Sounds cheerful. Fancy going ? Mid January.”
“Might as well. ‘ho are these other fucks ? Julie . . . Re . . . torree ? Alan Francis ? Never ‘eard of ’em.”
“I’ll tell Chris. He’ll be up for it. Maybe Jake.” Daniel just snorted. “Yeah. Maybe not.”
“Right, you coming back to the bar, then ?”
“No, think I’ll have an easy evening.” Instead, they found an open Imbiss, had some dreadful fatty food and returned to the bar.
Richard woke up, hungover, headache, hungry, sick and sickened. The fridge was almost empty, the coffee almost gone. This couldn’t continue. The New Year was coming and it had to be different. For Richard’s physical and mental health, it had to be different.
Richard hadn’t really spent much time with either of Jake’s Russian flatmates, Sergei and Micha, so wasn’t sure what to expect when Chris told him that Serge wanted a meeting with them.
When they ran the Czar Bar, their choice of unlistenable music and uncharismatic service deterred all but the hardcore. They also closed very early, and often Richard would arrive after work, only to find Jake making an ad hoc bar to cater for the drinkers who were, in many cases, only just waking up. Squatting a squat bar, as Jake put it. Ad nauseam.
Yet they were both friendly and had a reasonable command of English, certainly not learnt from their Death Metal bands. Micha was small, tiny in fact, but was quite solid, with a rather unexpected quirk of suddenly breaking into a breakdance routine. Sergei was of a more serious demeanour, being something of a musician, classically trained on the clarinet, which he refused to play in front of anybody, but whose tones could occasionally be heard in the Hof of the squat house. He would also alternate between a bushy, almost religious zealot-like beard with curly locks, and a completely shaven head. At this moment, in the Berlin winter, he opted for the later, a decision that lead Richard to consider him crazy. But, they had something in common; after being alone for a long time, they both now had girlfriends.
Johanna was known, at least by sight, by a few people, though she had yet to return to the bar. Serge’s girlfriend, however, had made a more ostentatious arrival.
It had been mid week, Andrei making the bar alone, though Boris lent a hand when needed. Andrei also had a new girlfriend, German, and there seemed to be no animosity over the Olga situation. Richard arrived some time before two. There were only about fifteen people in the bar, all men, except one small dark-haired girl who was clearly drunk, or something. She began jumping onto the tables and dancing, enticing some of the men to tell her to strip. She didn’t understand the words, being, as Richard later learned, Spanish, but understood the meaning, and began to comply. Sergie rushed up and tried to stop her, making her put her clothes back on, and pleading with her to step down. No sooner had he succeeded in this, than she began again, different table, same routine, same applause from the clientele.
Eventually, Sergei managed to get her upstairs, to his flat, which impressed Richard. He naively believed Serge only wanted to get her out of the bar for her own protection.
The show over, Richard took a beer and began speaking to Boris about music and women. Boris was happy with Olga, and could see how happy Richard was, now he had met a German girl. They took another beer together, and a vodka, and Richard asked about Chris and Jake. They were off to another squat bar, checking out some band.
Then the back door opened and the Spanish girl rushed in, naked, and began running around the bar, jumping on the chairs and tables, dancing away to the music. When she tired of that, she began walking around the room, sitting on men’s laps, kissing them. Sergei appeared, looking very distraught, totally at a loss. She moved over to Boris, kissed him, then another man and then another, before dancing again. Richard felt uncomfortable and asked Andrei if he shouldn’t do something, but Andrei just shrugged. Suddenly, the girl began crying and making loud, high-pitched screams. A couple of the drunken men began imitating her and laughing but Richard and Boris told them to shut up, and, with Andrei backing them, their commands were heeded. Sergei came over, covered her with his long coat, and, putting his arm around her, led her away again.
Some time later, Chris and Jake arrived.
“Did we miss anything ?” asked Chris.
“No, usual night in the Czar Bar,” was the reply.
The next week, at Biberkopf, Josef came in to the kitchen, and with a scowl slammed the phone down. Richard didn’t care; he had friends and a girlfriend. Chris on the line,
“Hey, you ain’t got nothing on tomorrow, right ? Daytime ?”
“What’s on yer mind ?”
“Sergie wants a meeting with us ?”
“Sergei ? What about ?”
“Well, he’s kinda got this, idea, kinda . . . thing he wants us to, you know, like . . . “
“You don’t know, do ya ?”
“Yeah, but it’s . . . you’ll see.”
“What kinda meeting ? Do we need suits ? Should we take minutes ? Where is it ?“
“Your place. Around one, one-thirty ?”
Next morning, Richard went to to the local Spar, picked up some water, tea-bags, fruit juice, then went to the baker to get some Berliners, or doughnuts. Then he waited.
Sometime after two, there was a knock.
Sergie’s idea, which he expressed in a straightforward manner, was to stage a play in one of the spaces in Rigaer Strasse. Richard nodded, looking over at Chris, wondering how it affecting them, when Sergie delivered the punchline;
“And I want you to write it,” he said, pointing between the two of them, “as it is in English.”
Chris just held a wide grin, enjoying seeing Richard trying to hold a polite smile amidst his confusion, not to say utter panic. He managed to splurt out that he, they, had never written anything, had no idea how to write or what to write about about. They had studied Physics, Science, they wrote in equations.
“Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter,” said Sergei with a dismissive wave of his hand. Chris clarified;
“He has the idea, ideas, just needs us to put it into a script.”
“Yes, exactly, exactly.”
Richard made coffee and offered the cakes, to buy time, but there was no stopping Sergei, and in between mouthfuls of pastry, washed down by large gulps of burning coffee, he did his best to explain.
Every so often, Richard would look over at Chris, but most times Chris just shrugged his shoulders, or nodded encouragingly at the Russian.
It seemed to be a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and an American Indie film. Peter, the old squatter, who did indeed look like a classical actor gone to seed, would be some kind of Greek God, looking down on proceedings. Richard mentioned that with Peter’s alleged nautical background (no one really knew anything about him, but the received wisdom was that he had been a sailor of the ‘girl in every port’ variety), he could be Poseidon, complete with trident and conch shell. Chris already had a pad and pencil ready. Sergei rocked back and forth, slapping his thigh, crying out;
“Yes, write it down, write it down.”
He repeated this order, accompanied by laughs and slaps, every time he liked a suggestion, which seemed to happen every time a suggestion was made.
It was decided that Peter would be Poseidon, with a shirtless Robert of the, “Shit on a stick,” as a kind of cup-bearer, though a vodka bottle-bearer would be more apt. The idea of getting these two together, outside of the Czar Bar, for rehearsals was so far beyond the realms of possibility that it wasn’t even funny, but Richard went along with it, as Sergei described even more elaborate scenarios, with an apparently endless cast.
Chris made various suggestions about who could play what part, all of which elicited the same response of laughing and slapping.
It seemed to Richard that the plot went something like this: Peter, or Poseidon, would make an opening speech about the nature of love and life, maybe with a song (a sea-shanty, Richard offered, which caused Sergei to clutch his sides with mirth) before being lured back to sleep by the vodka bottle. He would be on a platform above the main stage, decorated with sea motifs.
On the main stage, which would resemble an American diner, a bunch of young characters would enter. They were all in relationships with each other and would talk about love. Already Richard was concerned, but politely listened.
It soon became apparent that there was no plot, and that Sergei had merely disconnected ideas, partly developed, at best. Not only would they have to write the dialogue, they would have to come up with the story as well.
Richard felt himself losing patience. He was listening to Chris mention people as possible actors, knowing that even if they did agree, they would never actually learn their parts, rehearse or even remember agreeing to it in the first place. He also found it hard to concentrate as he was thinking about Johanna. They were going out again on the weekend, and he felt, rather he hoped, that the relationship was about to turn more intimate. So far he had to be content with hand-holding and kisses on the cheek.
Still Sergei continued, but then a twist occurred that made Richard want to stop the meeting, which he could tell was a waste of time.
The idea for the second act was that a group of totally new actors come on stage, and pretty much repeat all that had happened in the first.
“And what about the other characters ?” asked Richard, “where are they ?”
“And they come back later ?”
“No, they gone. Now, we have the new people.”
“But . . . “ Richard was at a loss, and even Chris, who had been strangely enthusiastic was quiet.
Chris was hoping that Sergei would come up with a better explanation than just simply, ‘they gone’, but was losing hope, nor could he quickly think of a feasible solution. But he really wanted this to work, and had already planned to ignore all of Sergei’s half-arsed nonsense and make his own play. With help from Richard.
The catalyst was hearing that Daniel would be having a piece published in ‘Savage Revolt’, thanks to a suggestion from Chris, credit for which he was not shy in proclaiming.
Chris had enjoyed his spell as band manager, but was resentful that it had only brought him stress, while Daniel had lived the rock star life. At least for the few weeks of the band’s existence. Daniel had become a local star, impressing the women, while Chris remained just a barman, always to be in Jake’s yawing shadow. Sergei was offering Chris his chance to move centre stage. He had even thought about taking a part, as well as directing. But he was genuinely shocked at Richard’s reaction.
“You can’t introduce characters, get the audience interested in them, then never show or mention them again.”
“Yes,” corrected Sergei, “we have new characters, now the audience interest in them.”
Chris tried to smooth things over;
“We can talk about this later.”
Richard continued arguing with Sergei, neither giving in. Then Richard asked where would all the new actors come from.
“Inez knows people. She is actress.” Sergei told them about his girlfriend’s acting experience and Richard resisted the temptation to say that he had caught one of her performances. It was obvious Sergei was only doing this as a way to provide an opportunity for her, so Richard, in love himself, understood, and kept his thoughts private.
Chris took this as a good sign and was already thinking about ways to simplify the script, believing the play was going to happen as much as Richard new it never would.
And Richard was right. Inez left Sergei before the week was out. Rumour had it that Sergei caught her in bed, or sleeping bag on the floor, with Micha, and she, like the play, was never heard of or mentioned again.
Alan sat alone at the small desk, hunched over a tiny film viewer, watching and rewatching a section of film. The wall was covered with thin strips of film of varying length. The top of each one had a piece of white paper, giving information that anyone but Alan would find incomprehensible.
He turned the handle, watching magnified images pass through the tiny monitor. He consulted his notes and selected the best takes from each scene, then the exact frame to be cut. He marked the frame with the puncher on the monitor. Carefully, lovingly, he removed the film from the cog wheels and held it up to see the tiny indentation. He aligned this on the spokes of his film cutter and guillotined the end. The selected piece was then labelled and stuck on the wall, at a precise point, between the scenes coming immediately before and after it.
Alan picked up the film curled on the table, held it up against the light, squinting as he saw with his eye where the next scene began.
He ran this piece of film through the monitor to find the exact spot where it should begin.
So he spent the whole evening, editing his short film.
He loved everything about making films. He loved getting the initial idea, the casting and telling the actors about the story and the style he intended to use. He loved the filming, meeting up, drinking take-out coffee, preparing shots. Now he loved the end stage, the editing and splicing. He was alone, peaceful, and had complete control over the images.
He couldn’t wait to run the rough cut through the monitor, make the final micro cuts, then play it through the projector, and see his work on the cinemascope that was the bedroom wall.
He laughed to himself when he looked at the projector. He had told Vincent about needing a better quality one, and the actor had suggested the flea market by Tacheles.
Sure enough, on the muddy wasteland there were two or three tables that had old cine equipment. Alan asked one stall holder the price of an exquisite machine and was ignored. Vincent came over and winked at Alan. He picked up the projector and then put it down. He asked the price of a totally different item, appeared uninterested and seemed to wonder off. The Stall holder sat down, back to his wurst roll. Vincent walked away; clutching the projector. Alan saw and was shocked, but played along. He stayed looking at some bits, then slowly turned and walked away at a very casual pace, showing that his hands were clearly empty and that he had absolutely no connection whatsoever with that other gentleman.
This acting lark was really easy, he thought to himself. Procuring equipment apparently posed no problems. Now for presentation.
Vincent had said that the film could be shown in the bars all over east Berlin. It was no problem to organise movie nights, and he mentioned some bars in Friedrichshain where he was known. One named Kinski stood out.
Alan still couldn’t believe it; actors, equipment, a processing studio and venues in which to screen. An audience ready and open to new work.
Alan was spending a lot of time on the close-ups of Julie. He had deliberately shot more than was required. He slowly turned the handle, so that no individual frame would stay too long under the lamp and burn.
He told himself that he was just admiring her beauty. Looking for her best angles, and deciding that all angles were her best.
He had several new scripts ready. The money for film stock and processing could easily be earned and Vincent had introduced him to a number of actors, would-be actors and people who had agreed to take part in the no-budget films.
His plans began to get more elaborate, longer films, dialogue, screenings at festivals. All was possible. He simply had to make it happen, stay focused. Berlin was his.
He followed these thoughts with others of a more personal nature, until he remembered he was on a deadline. The film could get it’s premier next Friday, if it was ready.
Alan got back to work, passing over the image of Julie with a gentle sigh.
But Alan hadn’t been prepared for the nerves. He had always imagined this moment, the screening of his first film, showing his work, his ideas, to a public of strangers.
The experience was different.
The venue, an official bar, was run by a group of young people but looked and felt like some of the more organised squat bars.
Vincent enjoyed the attention, the hugs and slightly exaggerated greetings, and Alan tried to get some of his energy and confidence. More and more people were coming into the bar, a large cine screen already in place, the projector protected. When Alan made some tests for focus, there was always someone to make rabbit-ear shadows on the screen. It got a little tired after ten or eleven times.
The time approached, as far as bars like this kept to schedules, and Vincent looked at Alan and suggested they had better start soon, or everyone would be too drunk to care.
But no Julie.
“Ja, sometimes rehearsals go on longer, maybe they had to do some new scenes. It is next week, things need working on.” Vincent referred to a play that Julie was in, a radical reworking of Baal, as Julie had described it, with a hint that radical was a very polite and optimistic description.
“Come, we show it now, then later, if she comes.”
Vincent, without waiting for a response, whistled to the bar man, who turned off the music. He put in a tape that Alan had prepared. The lights went down, to sounds of claps, cheers and whoops.
Alan’s heart froze. He was almost paralysed with fear. He reached out for Vincent’s beer and took a swig that drained the bottle. Then he hit the switch. The sound of the motor turning, a beam of light hitting the large screen. He indicated to the bar man to play the cassette, and as the first image of Vincent, in Close-Up appeared, five foot tall on the screen, the melancholic notes of Debussy poured into the room.
There were immediate claps and wolf whistles, followed by a general hushing.
Julie was next up, but the sight of her, in a short dress, sitting on the grass, just caused more and more screams. But this was good. Alan felt Vincent put his arm around him. He kept it there for the entire film.
The entire film was little over five minutes and got a further two minutes of non-stop applause. Alan beamed. His nerves, totally gone, he knew he would never again be nervous, his ideas were good, his films would get better and better. He would be a film director. He was a film director.
By the next screening, demanded by the audience, Alan was too tipsy to gauge the reaction. He had been congratulated by friends and strangers. Others had come up and pleaded with him to be in his next film. Others asked where else he was screening, had he heard about certain festivals, other Berlin venues ? Until the beer hampered his senses, he made a note of everyone, very clear, with name and contact number or address.
When Julie finally appeared, very apologetic, he greeted her, and she was noticed and lauded by the drinkers, not allowed to pay for her Sekt.
She apologised for missing it, leading Alan to suggest that she come over tomorrow and have a private screening. To his amazement, she accepted the offer and they set a time.
Vincent asked about the play and they spoke about the director, who changed his mind scene to scene, demanded re-writes, re-casting, costume changes. The actors now came in holding out their hands for new instructions, an in-joke being, ‘what was wrong with the last re-write ?’
“Not like Alan,” she said, patting him on the shoulder and leaving her arm there. “So, tell me, how was the film, tonight ?”
Vincent spoke, but Julie was looking at Alan. They smiled at each other.
The following night, Julie appeared exactly on time, as if she had arrived early and was counting down to when she could knock on the door.
She really liked the film, the style and the camera work. She was a little shy about seeing herself, but viewed it professionally and made tiny criticisms, all of which Alan dismissed.
Over coffee, Julie was relaxed enough to speak openly about the play. She had considered it a breech of professional conduct to be critical of a production, but she felt it was going to be a disaster. When asked why, she took her time and chose her words carefully,
“For one thing, there are too many people. The cast should have been cut, and actors doubling up. We never have a rehearsal with everyone there, always someone having to stand-in, and it’s hard to work up an reaction to someone reading a script without emotion.
“Then the constant script changes. We learn a part overnight, and find it’s been cut. Most of the actors don’t accept this and half an hour gets wasted when everyone shouts out their opinion.
“And we all have to work as well, there is no way we will get anything out this, financially. Not that it matters. But most of us work and have to give up our spare time. Can’t bear to see it so un-productive. There, enough moaning.”
Alan told her it was OK, he liked to hear an actor’s perspective and asked for tips. Julie thought for a little while, then began, tentatively,
“If I can make one tiny suggestion, it would be . . . how ? OK, just to be more confident. You know what you want. The actors don’t. It is up to you to tell them, what to do, not to get their suggestions. Because most actors will just suggest endless Close-Ups of themselves.”
There was a slight pause before Alan and then Julie laughed
“So I should follow Mr Hitchcock’s advise and treat actors like cattle ?”
“I didn’t say that !”
The conversation continued effortlessly. Alan said that despite the weather getting colder, there was still enough light to film in October. Julie laughed and said,
“Not for much longer. You’ll have to start directing theatre, because you won’t be able to film outside until April or May.”
Alan had never thought of this, but, of course he had an immediate cinema reference point.
“Like Ingmar Bergman ?” he said referring to the Swedish film and theatre director. “He would keep the same group of actors for both. Must have helped to develop a close working experience. Well ? Would you like to do some theatre with me ?”
“You have something ?”
“Well . . . I just might.”
As autumn once again became winter, there were other changes over Berlin. Alan would start to study theatre from the books available to him. Julie would start to get more and more attention for her craft. Daniel would rethink what medium he should use for his artistic expression. Chris would be very careful about what women he would fall in love with. A lost music student would search for direction. A Philosophy student would find his first semester harder than he ever imagined and would consider changing courses. And Richard would fall in love with a German girl who would make him happier than he had ever been, until, that too, went horribly wrong.
Julie Retoré sat on the grass, looking into her small compact mirror, and adding some more lipstick.
She could feel Alan standing behind her, moving ever so slightly, so as to get the reflection of her mouth in the shot. He called out and she began the scene.
Julie smiled to herself as she heard the motor of the small Super 8 camera twirl. To her it didn’t matter. It was still cinema.
Alan was well organised and worked quickly, consulting a clipboard and telling the actors what to do next. He was shooting in sequence, so they could follow the action and change reactions more naturally.
Of her co-star, Julie wasn’t so sure. She knew about Vincent, had once seen him reciting the poems of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and was looking forward to working together. He was quite the local star in the bars and theatres of east Berlin. The only problem was that he knew it. He was good and he knew it. He was striking to look at and he knew it. Girls tended to stop and look at him and he really knew that.
Vincent was taking over the shoot, advising Alan how to set-up, what angle to use, even how Julie should act. Not wanting to cause a scene or to speak out of place, she kept her peace, but resented him for spoiling what otherwise had been a very pleasant day.
Alan shouted, ‘Cut’ and she relaxed, looked at her director and smiled, asking him how she was. He gave a very flattering answer, which she knew was exaggerated, but when Vincent joined in and appeared genuinely impressed, she blushed slightly, and looked away, hiding her embarrassed smile.
She liked the story and liked helping a new director. She sensed he was a little withdrawn, but once he got started on a subject close to him, he relaxed and actually there was a problem to stop him talking. She found it charming, and refreshing that he was speaking about other people’s work and ideas, not just his own.
Her need to act had already brought her into contact with many artists who began every sentence with either ‘I’, ‘Me’ or ‘My’.
Alan had the whole film planned out, from the location (even noting where the nearest public toilets were and the cafes with good coffee) the position of the sun, for light, the style of clothing and the music.
She found all this very impressive and told him so when they had met to discuss the film.
Étude No 1 opens with a Close-Up of The Man. He sits, thinking, uncertainty on his face. It cuts to The Woman, arranging her hair. The Man now appears in Medium shot, sitting on the grass. He looks over, then back, and down. The next shot is from behind The Woman, applying make-up.
The Man is thinking over his relationship, wondering if it is working, what he is doing, having an existential crises. The Woman goes behind him, ruffles his hair and tries to cheer her up. He gets up and walks away, carrying her shoes, as if to get her follow him.
There are some fast, inter-cut scenes, showing their faces, until finally, The Woman puts her arm around The Man’s waist and he puts his around her shoulders and they walk away.
This would be accompanied by Debussy’s ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’.
“That sounds lovely,” she said, a mere hint of German in her English.
She also asked if it would be in Black & White. He said he would like to, but only had colour film and didn’t even know if he could even get Black & White film for Super 8.
“Of course you can. And you can get it processed here, in Berlin.”
“Yes, my friend made a short film. Very quick. Same week, I think. I’ll phone him and ask, but I am sure.”
“Oh, yes, so much better. As Fellini said, ‘Cinema has two colours: black and white.’”
Julie laughed and Alan just took it as a sign that he was in the right place, the only city in Europe that had a studio to develop that film stock. And that here he was, in a café, discussing films with a beautiful intelligent young woman who loved cinema as much as he did.
During the filming, there was some discussion over the ending. Vincent suggested a whole new climax, totally against the spirit.
“Not only does this man have a giant ego”, she thought, “he’s proud of it, and thinks his ego is bigger than anybody else’s.”
Vincent’s idea was nonsensical, clearly just thought up. She spoke up, siding with Alan and saying that they should keep to the script that they had all decided upon and agreed to.
“I’m just trying to make it better, otherwise the audience won’t know what happens,” he said back, more than a hint of malice in the voice.
“That’s why it works,” she answered, calmly, “the power comes from the open ending. The audience will have to think for themselves. And they will, they will ask each other ‘what do you think happens ?’ No, I like it and we should do it that way.”
Despite making a gesture indicating that he no longer cared, Vincent went along with it, but made a poor first take. Julie whispered something to him, and the second take was much better. Alan only had enough money and film for a maximum of two takes.
After being thanked and told how good he was, Vincent relaxed, and began laughing and dominating the conversation. As they walked back to the S-Bahn station, he put his arm around Julie.
Although she couldn’t see him, Julie could sense that Alan wanted to shout, “Cut !”
While Alan Francis was having the time of his life in Berlin, Chris and Richard were about to have their worst.
Richard’s summer was destroyed by his job. He was starting an hour earlier and finishing an hour later, but the extra money was no compensation. Most nights, after working seven hours straight, he went straight to the Czar Bar, and drank as much as he could.
In Chris, in Berlin as in London, he had a willing drinking partner.
Regarding Monika’s request, Richard had dreaded passing on the cease and desist, thinking it too personal, and he really didn’t want to get involved.
He decided to do it at the first opportunity, to get it out of the way, and, to his surprise and relief, found that Chris took it very well, even nonchalantly. But the reason he did so would lead to even bigger problems.
“It’s Veronica,” Chris explained. “Can’t stop thinking about her. Even if I could, I see her all the time.”
“Veronica ? Johan’s Veronica ? Oh, shit !”
“Yeah, oh shit ! I love Johan. I do.”
“Just love Veronica more.”
“It’s not funny.”
“I know. Well, what you gonna do ?”
Chris threw his hands in the air, signifying his lack of ideas.
What he did was to drink. A lot.
Initially, he was daunted by Jake and his capacity for alcohol. Now he tried to match him. As a consequence, Jake had to close up alone as Chris would be passed out, somewhere in the bar. He would go to gather shot glasses, or empty bottles and just not return. Jake at first didn’t mind, even found it amusing, but as it happened every shift, the joke was wearing pretty thin.
Yet, Jake couldn’t deny that Chris was good for business. He got the crowd laughing and drinking, and the weekly Sawhead The Bear concerts had brought in a lot of new people and made a significant increase in takings. The band could even get a small fee as well as free drinks.
On balance, Jake tolerated Chris’ drunken behaviour and laughed at his more outrageous antics, laughed at Chris’ pathetic hopeless doomed attempts to keep up with him. Yet, Chris did have some ‘marketing’ ideas which were proving doubly beneficial.
One such innovation was to offer free vodka shots to any woman, provided it be administered mouth to mouth, either by Jake or Chris. Surprisingly, they both got takers, though when Johan asked for a free shot, Chris declined.
“Ah, you fucking English, so scared of love!” Johan laughed, as he ordered a whole row of vodkas for friends and anyone else who happened to be seated around the bar.
Chris, of course, was hoping that Veronica would take him up on his offer, but she hardly drank, preferring orange juice or maybe a single beer, and she didn’t seem willing to try a free vodka.
Daniel, meanwhile, was living something of a double life. He worked hard all week, maybe had a beer or two with workmates just to be sociable, and made it to Ostkreuz once or twice. Saturdays, he rehearsed with the band (Micha and Serge agreed to work the lucrative Friday evenings so both Andrei and Boris would be fresh for the gig) then played the concert, after which he always went off with a new woman and reappeared on Sunday, to give a graphic account of the experience and to hang out, before returning to his normal weekday existence, normal that is by Berlin standards.
One Sunday, Chris had requested that Richard meet him in another squat bar, one tucked away south of Karl Marx Allee. Chris was going to see Pavel, a Czech squatter who was responsible for the bar. Maybe Sawhead The Bear could play there, get them out of the Czar bar; different venue, different audience.
Richard didn’t know the bar or the area, so was a little late, a little hungover and very pissed off at the thought of another week working as a Steglitz Spüler.
He walked up the metal steps and saw Chris at the bar.
“Yeah, all set, Sawhead play here next Saturday. Only they want some more bands, make a whole night of it. I mentioned Arizona Al.”
“Fuck, you sure ?” asked Richard, ”he’s not exactly . . . “
“Any fucking good, yeah, I know, but give the fucker a song or two. Either him or those fucking cunts from the first Sawhead gig.”
“Maybe we could get The Wiggling Kellys ?”
“I’d like to see them,” Chris agreed. “They’ve got a band or two here, some bozos called Perry Coma. Death ballads, I guess.”
Richard suddenly got a laughing fit. Chris thought it was due to his joke, but, when Richard finally got his breathe back and wiped the tears away, he explained,
“Did I hear you use the word, ‘bozo’ ?”
“ssss . . . bozo-sssssss. Plural, as in more than one of them, Bozo and his bozo friends. Whole place is run by bozos. Whole fucking city is full of bozos. We, my friend, are in one bozo-friendly environment.”
“Perry Coma’s kinda funny too.”
“They don’t even know they’re being funny. They’ve got no fucking idea some guy’s actually called Perry Como.”
Richard had a feeling that they were here and not the Czar Bar for other reasons, as well.
“Yeah, OK, just couldn’t face Danny going on tonight about how he pulled and what he did and what she did and how many times he did what he did and how much she liked what he did when he did what he did to her.”
The beer that Richard was drinking went all over the bar and poured out of his nose.
“That guy certainly has the moves,” he said, wiping the beer away as best he could. “I could learn a lot from him. I know he’s a singer, but he’s not especially attractive or has a sparkling personality. Nice enough guy, but, I mean . . . ?”
“Exactly, I know what you mean. He’s a bit of a yob. A thug. But, everytime he gets talking to a woman, whatever he says, it works, ’cause next thing you know, his tongue’s down her throat and his hands are homing in on the good stuff.”
“Oh, thanks, I needed that. Haven’t had a laugh like this for . . . I don’t even know. Work’s fucked. Bunch a fucking cunts, all of them. Have to leave, got to find something else. Anything else.”
“Yeah, do it.”
“I have to. Can’t stay here, otherwise. Have to leave.”
“And do what ?”
“Well, that’s the fucking problem. No matter how bad it is here, it’s a quantum leap from what it would or will be back in London.”
“You boys shouldn’t be so cynical.”
The boys stopped talking and laughing and turned around. A punk squatter with her hair in pigtails, and ripped tights sat down between them. Her accent, despite her clothing, placed her from the Home Counties, somewhere close to London but not too close.
Richard asked her what she meant, but she refused to elaborate, instead choosing to criticise the music.
“Oh, Nirvana; are people still listening to him ? He’s dead, move on, get over it. I fucking hate Nirvana.”
“Really ?” asked Chris incredulously,
“Why ?” demanded Richard.
“Because my name’s Polly, and those unwashed bastards have fucked up my life.”
And then, right on cue, a tall, unwashed bastard walked in, saw her and asked,
“Hello, Polly, want a cracker ?”
Polly soon got bored of her two compatriots, even though Richard was wondering if she was hitting on him, and left because he wasn’t responding. He asked Chris for his views. Chris puffed himself up, before pontificating,
“Uuummmm . . . hard to say. Don’t think so. Would you like to fuck her ?”
“Wouldn’t mind. Not my first choice, but, hey . . . she was kinda cute.”
“Uuummmm … Nice rack. Breasts.”
“I know what a rack is. OK, I thought a ‘rack’ was ass.”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s breasts,” and Chris looked around, searching for anyone American-looking. ”I’ll ask Jake. He’s a Godsend. He understands all the R.E.M. lyrics. Who the fuck’s Mr Fred Blassie, and why is he such bad eater ? Just ask Jake.”
“Cool. I could have pulled that Polly. Oh, who am I kidding ? I tell you, next time Daniel goes to work, I’m gonna be right there, making notes. Any more about Veronica ?”
Chris let out a long sigh,
“She’s an art student.”
“Another one ! What is with you and … Is she more Ute or Melanie ?”
“No ! Not like Melanie, not like that sphincter-mouthed, Ninja Turtle. A real art student. Actually draws and paints, not just reads books and regurgitates other people’s opinions. She showed me some of her paintings.”
“’Sphincter-mouthed’ ? Didn’t you kiss her ?”
“No ! No, no, well . . . yes, but . . .”
“OK, back to the art. Any good ? Her paintings ?”
“What do I know, I’m a science student. No, they were good. Abstract, but with . . . form.”
Richard laughed and ordered more beers. Chris carried on,
“She’s got a friend coming, too, Italian girl called Carla. Another student.”
“Is she cute ?”
“Is she cute ? What, like that fucking Psycho Polly ? Is she cute ? She’s a friend of Veronica’s, she’s an art student, she’s fucking Italian, yes, she’s fucking cute. Something else, too. I happen to know that Johan is going away soon, back to France. For two weeks. Maybe more. Think that calls for a vodka.”
They got more drinks and toasted Veronica and Carla (sight unseen).
What they didn’t know was that soon, they would both act in such a way that Richard would be afraid to go to work, and Chris would be afraid to go back to Rigaer Strasse.
The first thing Daniel saw as he entered the Russian’s kitchen was Olga sitting naked in the large sink, preserving her dignity by an arm across her breasts. Neither Andrei nor Sascha paid her any attention and Daniel, after first consigning the image to memory, discretely looked away and walked into the next room where Sawhead The Bear rehearsed. Boris, who had been behind Daniel, followed some seconds later.
There was a palpable tension in the air. The first gig was the following evening, and although Daniel had dismissed all the other bands he had seen as ‘utter shite’, he was feeling the nerves.
The other members were going through their own emotions. Andrei had worked the previous night and was finding it hard to even hold his bass, let alone play it. Boris was quieter than usual and was taking his time tuning up. Sascha was smiling behind his drum kit, trying to twirl his sticks, a trick he had never and would never master.
One thing that had amazed Daniel was the musical knowledge the Russians possessed. He had imagined them being subjected to nothing but patriotic work songs, but they knew bands as diverse as The Ramones, Genesis, The Move and The Breeders. They had quite an impressive collection of records which they had brought from Moscow, impressive in its diversity, as Punk records sat next to Progressive Rock acts or American Country. They hadn’t been able to choose the records that had come their way, so were grateful and curious about any western music.
Unfortunately, Daniel thought, this eclecticism manifested itself in the music they played. They would make an adequate covers band, but when it came to writing their own material, there was work to be done.
They had six originals and were going to pad out the set by playing some of their favourite songs. Once they had decided upon their favourite songs.
The whole afternoon drudged by, with only three cover songs anywhere close to being ready. Daniel knew it wasn’t working.
Boris was the real musician, but he was playing without inspiration or excitement. Andrei’s bass was meant to pin the whole sound down, but it sounded sleepy and lethargic, while Sascha was always going to be the fun guy of the band, the one with the smile and the drum kit, without necessarily the ability to play it.
Daniel had first identified this weakness, but sought to turn it into an attribute, politely requesting that he stop trying to play complex fills, and just keep a steady beat, like The Velvet Underground. Sascha had smiled and happily complied.
Then every time the band seemed to get into a groove, Charlie George or someone would walk in and ask something, and the band would stop to answer.
After another insipid run through of a Ramones song, Daniel threw down his mic and exploded,
“What the fuck is this ? It’s supposed to be the fucking Ramones, energy, aggression, power, anger, rock and fucking roll. Not this limp-wristed shit. What the fuck’s wrong ? Hey ? If you don’t fucking pick it up, I’ll find a proper band that actually want to play. I’ll tell you something else, if this is how it’s going to be, I ain’t playing tomorrow. Don’t want to fucking embarrass myself with you wankers.”
Silence. Boris starred at the floor and shrugged his shoulders, while Andrei just stood looking at Daniel. Daniel was quite a big guy, he worked on building sites and could easily take care of himself, was handy with his fists, but against Andrei . . .
He wouldn’t have had a hope in hell.
So he was relieved when Andrei finally spoke, and was apologetic,
“You right, today I play shit, I play like . . . “ he searched for the words and ended up by making gestures to convey his lack of energy. Sascha came up with some words in Russian that made them all laugh, even Daniel, as the tension had finally been broken. Andrei took up his bass,
“OK, one more time, come on, one, two, three, four . . .”
They launched into ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ all guns blazing, Boris thrashing the chords out, Andrei threatening to snap the thick, bass strings and Sascha doing an admirable job keeping not only a steady beat, but adding some high-hat crashes, as well as screaming out the ‘hey-ho, let’s go’ refrain.
Daniel walked with Boris to the Czar Bar, offering to help him set up. It gave them a chance to talk. They smiled as the nearer to Rigaer Str they got, the more flyers they saw advertising their first gig. Chris had made a collage of some photos of Giacometti sculptures and text that conveyed all the necessary information.
‘Man Pointing, Band Playing’ read the headline, then the address and approximate time. They were scheduled to appear at eleven.
Daniel mentioned the gig, the rehearsal, the practicalities of getting the equipment to and from the bar, and, finally, about Olga. However loquacious Boris had become on all matters to do with the band, he remained tight-lipped on that subject. Daniel took the hint and changed the subject.
The plan was to get a taxi to take the drum kit and amps to the bar, as all attempts to borrow a van, or elicit help had fallen through. Daniel also hinted, with delicacy, that Boris may want to take it easy tonight with the vodkas. Boris agreed and kept to his word.
The following day, Chris arrived at the Russians house only half an hour later than he had promised. By now, Daniel was used to Berlin timekeeping, and wasn’t too worried.
The taxi was hired and Sascha immediately got in and waited to go, before Daniel physically dragged him out and made him help loading up. As there was no space, only Daniel drove along, the rest walking, Andrei and Sascha spending the whole time moaning about why Daniel got to ride and they didn’t.
Chris had the key to the bar, Jake telling him to be back in time for them to stock up. Jake was predicting a busy night and he wanted to be prepared.
Outside the bar, Daniel guarded the equipment and gave out some small flyers to some passing women.
The setting up took a long time, lots of discussions where the sockets were, who was going to stand where, and Sascha appearing very unhappy with his drum stool.
Chris told them to carry on, while he went to the store with Jake.
Jake began playing a CD, loudly, just as the band were finally ready to start sound checking. He also lost patience, wondering how they could have spent so much time and not achieved anything, saying that he had to set the bar up.
Chris arranged a compromise. They would get the bar set up, while the band had a beer and took five. When the bar was ready, Jake could go and eat, and the band would have time to get their levels set.
The beers did the trick. It was also a little victory for Jake, as he was secretly a little envious and wanted to be part of a band again. The setting up was all finished within ten minutes and Jake left.
The band began rehearsing. Chris said who needed to be higher or lower, though he had little if any experience. Daniel had equated his Physics studies with acoustics and sound engineering, and there was nobody else anyway.
Unfortunately, Jake had left the back door unlocked and a stream of people poured in, stood around, looked and listened, asked what was going on, who the band were and made suggestions about sound levels and where the amps should go. Andrei then left the stage, arguing with the two other Russians, before walking out of the door and going home.
Daniel and Chris looked at each other, wondering if there was even going to be a gig. Before they could clarify, two new men walked in, one a brash Middle-Eastern looking man, the other, a lank-haired, bug-eyed, old hippy sort.
Brash Man shouted out,
“There is a gig tonight – we want to play.”
“Another time, mate, we’re busy,” said Chris.
“No, we want a gig. We can use your equipment.”
“The fuck you will,” answered Daniel, “You heard him, you ain’t fucking playing, this is our gig, now fuck off.”
Hippy Sort spoke,
“Hey, man, that isn’t cool, we are all musicians, we should share and help each other. Hey, Boris, wie gehts ?”
Boris and Sascha both recognized Joe, a regular and long term squatter, and said hello back. Boris had some words with Sascha in Russian, then turned to Daniel,
“Maybe it is good they here. They play first, we go on after.”
“Well, let’s face it,” Daniel spoke, looking at Chris, ”how fucking good can they be ? If they’re shit, we’ll sound better.”
“If they’re shit, we’ll have no fucking customers and I’ll make no fucking money.”
Joe began speaking to Boris. He was talking about what they needed. The Russians were happy to lend their equipment; it would just mean altering the mic stand, and Boris explained this to Daniel.
“And would someone mind telling me where the fuck our bass player is ?” implored Daniel. Brash Man answered,
“You need bass player ? I am bass player, I play with you.”
Boris took over,
“Andrei forgot his lucky jacket. He go get it.”
“Lucky, fucking jacket, fuck me!”
Chris had to laugh at Daniel’s outburst. Then Jake returned,
“Who are all these fucking idiots ? Get them out of my bar.”
Chris explained the situation, as best he could, when another set of squatters walked in, asking the same set of questions.
“Right, everyone that doesn’t work here, or is playing here, fuck off, now !” Joe and Brash Man didn’t move. Joe preempted Jake by telling him that there were also playing tonight. Then Brash Man asked about wages.
“Errrr . . . wages ? Nothing, fucking nothing.”
“Hey, Jake, come on, let’s give them free beer,” said Chris.
“Two free beers each. Nothing else.”
Brash Man looked at Joe, and got the nod.
“Good. Can we have them now ?”
At that point, Andrei returned, wearing a hairy furry waistcoat.
Everyone was silent as they looked at him. Andrei realised he was being scrutinized,
“What ?” was all he said.
The bar was busier than usual, much busier, much earlier. It had become the place to start the evening, that Saturday, not where to end up when all else was closed. Jake and Chris were kept constantly busy, and happy that there were more women here than they had ever seen.
Then the first band walked on stage. Aside from Joe, who played his own guitar, a lovely shiny red semi-acoustic, and Brash Man who had brought his own bass, there was a third member, a thin, emaciated man, with a Rasta-style hat and marijuana symbols stitched to his denim jacket. He played bongos. Apparently.
They had a long discussion on stage, Brash Man not surprisingly being the leader. They began sound checking and talking and appeared about to start, when they abruptly stopped for Brash Man to tune up.
The audience who were curious, without being especially excited, quickly began losing interest, and there were shouts for them to get on and play. Then when they got around to playing, there were calls for them to stop.
Their music could probably best be described as Free Jazz . . . with bongos. The discussions about the mic stand were moot, as their set was entirely instrumental. Brash Man played repetitive patterns on his bass, no doubt believing he was creating hypnotic ragas, while Joe doodled about on guitar. The bongos were just there. Unfortunately.
The positive vibe in the bar was draining away. Casual visitors began leaving, others asked for the CD to be put back on. Still the band played. Richard walked in, knowing that it would never start on time, but pulled a Munch ‘Scream’ face at Chris when he heard the support band.
Daniel was livid, pointing to all the people either standing outside, or walking away,
“They’re going to think that these arseholes are Sawhead. Chris, you got to get those wankers off.”
Chris agreed and Jake was thinking along the same lines. Andrei was drinking his beer allowance freely and Boris appeared to be slightly shaking with nerves.
The piece of music finally came to an end. No applause, but there was a definite sense of relief. Jake went over and indicted that their beer was ready. But the hint wasn’t taken and another dirge was about to get under way.
Jake just unplugged the amps and shouted at Chris to hit the CD player. Joe was offended and weakly protested, but Jake didn’t even notice. The bongo player didn’t seem to care either way, but Brash Man insisted on finishing his piece, with or without amplification. Jake left him to it.
After half an hour, during which Jake decided to serve drinks and play music as a means of audio disinfectant, Sawhead The Bear walked onstage, cheered by the locals. They had all the awkwardness of a new band, unsure and unready, except, of course, Sascha, who couldn’t wait to launch into the first song. He looked at his band mates, tapped his sticks and shouted in his high-pitched, laughing voice,
“One, two, three, four . . . ”
Thirty minutes later, they came off stage heroes.
The band commandeered the last stools, by the Flipper room, and got hand shakes, pats, hugs, kisses and a lot of vodka. Richard had his arm around Daniel and told him how impressed he was by the singing and the lyrics. Olga was with some Russian girlfriends who tried flirting with Boris, but he just keep looking at Olga. She kept looking back. Trudi made sure Sascha didn’t speak to any other girls. Then Richard allowed Daniel to mingle, as lots of girls were waiting around, and it wasn’t for the comforts of the Czar Bar.
He was glad it had been a success. If this kept up, Chris would have a real income and a real life here. But he was already thinking that his time was Berlin was coming to an end.
Chris was thinking too, that this was only the beginning. They could play the bar at least once a week. Then other clubs in other parts of Berlin. He could really manage them, get them a recording contract.
Jake was wondering if he had enough beer, as Sawhead The Bear were on free drinks and those bastards could really put it away.
Richard noticed one more thing. Chris was constantly watching the door and was constantly disappointed by whoever came in.
It wasn’t just that Stefan wanted to be a conductor; he wanted to be a great conductor.
While other boys had pictures of German football teams or American movie starlets on their walls, Stefan had carefully cut-out photos of Toscanini, Böhm, Furtwängler & Claudio Abbado.
All his studies were focused towards this irresistible aim, augmented by lessons in composition. Rounding out his education, he played both cello and piano, and was reasonably knowledgeable about most instruments of the orchestra.
In the last year of music college, Stefan, for his final exam, was given a selection of pieces from which to choose. He smiled at the first piece on the list: Elgar’s ‘Cello Concerto’.
Stefan had an affinity with Twentieth Century music, and the cello, so what could be better ? Not only would he pass, for that wasn’t in question, but he would excel, win first prize and be offered further studies with a master and get offered a small, yet prestigious appointment.
The reality was somewhat different.
Stefan didn’t win the first prize; he wasn’t even mentioned for a commendation. He passed, but without merit. One examiner concluded that his conducting was ‘workman-like’. The orchestra knew when to start and when to stop, but those parametres notwithstanding, they did what they wanted, ignorant or indifferent to the increasingly desperate swirls of the baton.
The general consensus was that he lacked colour and command. And presence. No amount of teaching could impart that. He could acquit himself adequately in a minor regional, that is to say, amateur orchestra, but no sign of future greatness was detected. That was the official verdict, and Stefan, sensitive and withdrawn, lacked the temperament to go against his teachers. They had spoken, he had acquiesced.
By the spring of 1995, Stefan had envisioned having an apartment in Charlottenburg and a pied a terre in Mitte, of being the youngest conductor of the world’s finest orchestras, and signed to a prestigious record label.
By the spring of 1995, Stefan was sharing a small flat in Kreuzberg with a boyhood friend from Heidelberg. The conducting was never going to happen, nor was he even going to play in the most modest of orchestras. Over the coming months, he failed every audition, while he couldn’t get anyone interested in even looking at his compositions. Finally, by his own estimation, getting as low as a musician could go, he would advertise his services as piano teacher.
However, he also made a commitment to perform whenever and wherever, be it pianist, cellist or, “Even the damn viola.” As such, and cellists being rare among the squat bars and underground art centres, Stefan had been invited to play at several events, approaching each performance with professionalism and vigour, despite the inexplicable nonsense he had to endure. He mostly received bemused apathy, occasionally laughter.
Stefan had to rethink his future, entirely. It had to be in music, for he had no training or passion for anything else, and he knew he had something to offer. He just didn’t know what, or how to access it.
But, for the moment, it was impossible for him to think. His dream had been shattered.
Though he was pretty immune to odours, Jake sometimes found it necessary to open the door and air out the bar while they were setting up.
The day had shown the first signs of a summer that promised to be warm and loving, a reward for surviving the harsh unrelenting Berlin winter.
Jake was sweeping in the back, by the stage, and Chris was behind the bar, stacking empty beer bottles in crates and getting tonight’s beer ready, when four builders walked in, the first asking in a north-English accent,
“You open, Mate ?” then sitting down before getting an answer.
Chris looked over at Jake who nodded.
“Sure. What can I get you ?” he asked, stressing his own Midlands accent.
“Fuck me, another one,” said the second man in his thick Irish brogue.
“Lot of us about, Paddy,” answered the third man, a thin, wiry Brummie with flecks of white paint in his hair.
“What’ve ya got, Mate ?” asked the fourth man, Daniel Roth.
Chris brought up a selection of bottles; Becks, Flensburger, Veltins and the Czech Staropramen.
“Give us a Becks. What d’you fuckers want ?” asked the Northerner.
“Do you not have no Guinness ? Fuck me. Go on, then, I’ll have to have a Flensburger, won’t I,” from the Irishman. The Brummie also chose a Becks and Daniel took a Staropramen.
“Look at that poncey twat, always gotta be different,” was the Northerner’s reaction to Daniel’s order.
They joked around insulting each other for a couple of rounds, then decided to leave.
The Northerner came back from the toilet, laughing,
“You oughtter see what it’s got writ in there: ‘Where is your Vortex ?’ (1) Too fucking right. I’ve been in some shite-holes in my time but this … Ah, no offence, Mate.”
Chris waved the insult away, suddenly remembering exactly why he had left England.
After they left, Jake was about to close the door, when he stopped and picked up a book that was on the floor. He held it out to Chris,
“No, not mine. Sure as hell ain’t gonna belong to those thick-as-shit navies.”
Just then, Daniel came back in, looking for his book.
“Emile. It’s Emile, not Emily. And I wouldn’t insult builders, if I were you,” he said, looking at Chris, who was starting to lose the colour in his face, ”because those guys will pick you up with one hand and throw you against that back wall, there. Yeah, the book’s mine. We’re not all troglodytes, you know ? You can ‘ave it when I’m finished, all right ?”
“Yeah. Yeah, thanks.”
“You closing up then ?” Daniel asked.
Jake laughed, dispelling the tension and explained the opening hours. Daniel laughed.
“Well, maybe I’ll shoot by, later. Yeah, I know those guys are as thick as shit, but, they’re my mates, right ? And that ‘Vortex’ … Wyndham Lewis ?”
Chris nodded. He had written it one drunken night, inspired by a lecture from Melanie about how the cranes of the Baustelles (building sites) resembled Vorticist paintings. Jake had never noticed the graffiti.
But then Jake woke up a little,
“Hey, I wouldn’t insult builders if I were you.”
“Yeah, but the good thing is half the time they don’t even know they’re being insulted.” Daniel laughed at his own comment, realising the amount of truth in it. “Right then. See ya later.”
Later was still very early, just after ten o’clock and the bar was almost empty. Daniel sat on the first stool, by the door, and took another Czech beer. Chris looked at Jake and by mutual consent, agreed it was vodka time, though for Jake, it was always vodka time.
Chris poured one for Daniel, as a way of burying the hatchet. They talked about what they were doing in Berlin, where they came from and how much better life was here. Chris asked him where he lived,
“Wedding,” replied Daniel. This was an industrial Bezirk north of the centre, not renowned for its beauty. Not renowned for anything in fact.
“It must have been the only place in the West where people actually jumped The Wall into East Berlin,” he joked of his new neighbourhood.
Daniel was very impressed by both Chris and Jake living in squats and running the bar. But he began to be less impressed by the people that slowly started coming in, all neighbours and locals.
One such was Robert, a wild, crazy-looking German who sat next to him and proclaimed, without apparent cause or reason,
“Shit on a stick!”
The phrase was repeated endlessly throughout the night. Another large, almost obese customer nursed a solitary beer for hours and engaged in an animated conversation with himself. Squatters brought their dogs in and they snarled and barked, making their owners bark and snarl even louder than their pets in a vain attempt to make them stop. Jake barked louder than anyone, when he saw a dog about to defecate.
Then there was Peter. He was the father of the bar, a man in his mid fifties, with long yet stylish white hair and beard. He was very tall and looked as if he could have been a movie star in far distant days. He had travelled, was possibly an ex-sailor, and had been in Berlin longer than anyone could remember. He took a beer, then rested against a wall, observing proceedings. His only contribution was to raise his bottle to his lips and blow sharply, creating a shrill, resonating note, said note descending in pitch as he drank the beer.
Chris kept an eye on Daniel. He wasn’t looking quite so at home now.
Then the French arrived.
Johan had a group of friends who had either been in the army with him, or had come over to enjoy a cheaper, freer life.
They bounded in, Johan, Claude and several others, singing and shouting, Johan screaming out for vodka. Chris included Daniel in the communal drinking, despite his protests,
“I’ve got to fucking work, tomorrow. Fucking . . . OK, but last one.”
“Oh, you’ll be OK.” Chris winked at Jake.
By the time Richard arrived, desperately in need of alcohol, Daniel was swaying, smiling, singing, screaming. He was totally Czar-bared,
“Fuck you and your dry wall !”
“Eh, Jake, fucking hell, ‘ho is this man ?” asked Johan amused.
“Shit on a stick !” from Robert
“What’s wrong with continental breakfast ?” screamed out Peter, defying anyone to supply an answer.
Daniel, recalled back to life, laughed at Peter’s question and repeated it. Several times. It was at that point that Chris introduced him to Richard.
Picking up seamlessly on Chris’ lead, Richard insisted that the new friendship be cemented with a vodka. Daniel burst into song.
The whole bar, inspired by the French, took a vodka, Daniel almost drinking his shot before the communal toast and being restrained by Robert,
“Shit on your vodka!”
The madness continued. Daniel, in moments of lucidity, threatening to leave and get the last U-Bahn (long since gone) but he was now having longer periods of silence, head drooping, dropping, drooling, until he finally lay his head on the bar and slept.
Chris, who had been abstaining from the vodkas, had triumphed and he celebrated his victory by throwing crumpled cigarette boxes and old lemon peel at Daniel’s head, much to the amusement of Johan, bewilderment of Richard and apathy of everybody else.
After three-thirty, the bar began getting a little quieter, having been visited by a policemen who stood in the door and told them to keep the music down.
Another wonderful thing about Berlin. Here was a totally illegal bar in a squatted building and all the Police do is ask them to turn down the music. Having said that, a request from a German Policeman is pretty much an order, and was complied with. For a time..
Most of the French gone, the bar started to wind down. Richard was able to speak about his day, or rather his shift. He had worked with a new chef who was incredibly lazy, and some new bar staff who were incredibly boring. The novelty of being a Spüler had long worn off. But before Richard could complain further, Daniel woke up and staggered out of the door, no doubt determined to get the last U-Bahn.
Chris let out a celebratory cheer,
“Excuse me ?”
“Ah, never mind. Vodka ! Jake ? Vodka ?”
Jake stared uncomprehending. Wobbling around in the confined space behind the bar, he demanded of Chris,
“Do you have to ask ?”
The three drank and talked about the exit of Daniel.
“It’s amazing,” began Richard, “ people come in here, upright, homo erectus, sit at the bar, drink, drink again, and then, after the passage of time, they crawl out on all fours, to lie in a ball on the pavement, like single-cell pond life. It’s like watching evolution in reverse.”
His observation resulted in more vodka.
Richard left several hours later, making the mistake of going by S-Bahn. It involved a longer walk to the station, including a lengthy walk along the covered, elevated tunnel of Storkower Strasse, but was only a ten minute journey. The disadvantage was that if one slept, one was liable to find oneself in some distant suburb.
Richard woke up at Adlershof and took some time to adjust. He jumped off. Not only had he gone all the way to the northern terminus, he had come back on the same train and was now in south – east Berlin. The TV Tower, which should always be on his left, travelling home, was way off and to his right.
He knew that he didn’t have enough time to get home, get adequate sleep and return to work feeling anything close to well.
He worked yet another shift with a killer hangover.
However, it was more than Daniel Roth did. He didn’t make it into work. He had gotten on the first U-Bahn, but unfortunately the wrong one. He fell onto the train from Alexanderplatz, and was woken up by the guard at Hönow, in the east, the very distant east.
Chris, meanwhile, got his wages from Jake and merely had to fumble his way to the next door and up some stairs, where he fell into a deep and trouble free sleep.
(1) Vortex is the name of a household cleaning product in the UK
Arizona Al stood in his doorway open mouthed as, one after another, beautiful young women filed past him and walked into his flat.
After Melanie had entered, Chris just had to hang back and look at Arizona, who was only just recovering the power of speech, though what he was saying was hardly intelligible.
The girls, dressed for a party and then some, were taking over, lifting things up, investigating corners, opening cupboards.
No objections was raised.
Arizona’s flat was larger than Chris’ and most of the living room was taken up with keyboards, guitars, microphones, wires and cables.
Monika began pretending to play one keyboard, while Lorelei took up a guitar and began moving like a rock chick, strumming away. Gabi, not to be left out, picked up a bottle, in preference to an actual mic, and started belting out some numbers.
With the men joining in by clapping, only Melanie remained outside the clique, but nobody noticed.
Chris finished up with some extra claps,
“So, Al, do you have anything to drink ?”
“Errr, well, I dunno, errr ..”
“Ya don’t do ya ? What a rock ‘n’ roller you are,” laughed Chris.
“I thought we were going out, otherwise, I’d a gotten something in.”
“All I’m gonna say is that Sylvester in Arizona . . . think I’ll pass.”
Then Gabi, after a little private conversation with Lorelei, said,
“Yes, we must go, but . . . first ?”
“All right!” said Chris
“Let’s go!” added Richard.
“What ?” asked Al.
Monika repeated her mime and Al seemed a little shocked, but thought it over and agreed.
Monika took him into the bathroom first, then Chris, finally Lorelei. Gabi went in with Richard, Melanie again abstaining.
Richard had tried cocaine once or twice before, but apart from the thrill of sniffing through a large denomination bank note, hadn’t really felt any effect. Even before, in Chris’, he couldn’t really say he’d gotten any kick.
This time, however, was different. For a start, being alone in a small room with Gabi was incredibly erotic. Gabi, despite her angelic and rather bourgeois appearance, was totally at home in a stranger’s bathroom, her delicate fingers dividing the small pile into two thin white dukes. She bent down first, the cramped space meaning that they were touching all the time. She passed the note to Richard and after he had snorted, she showed him some extra touches. The first was to get a little drop of water on the finger and to snort, thus catching any stray bits of powder. Then she showed him how to scoop up any particles from the seat, and rubbed his teeth with it, then, using the same finger, inserted it deep into her own mouth and rubbed it along her gums, finishing up with a lick of the lips.
The temptation to just grab and kiss her was overwhelming, and he could have blamed the drugs, the Sekt or the occasion, she may have even liked it, but, instead, he did nothing, and they went back to the main room.
Still, with his heart beating faster and maintaining a good feeling from the Sekt, he began thinking more about Gabi. It may be a cure to get over one unrequited relationship, by embarking upon another.
The room was full of nervous excitement, Chris jumping around, Lorelei and Gabi trying on some of Arizona’s coats, when Melanie opened her bag and pulled out a little notebook, which she opened and passed to Richard.
“These are some notes for my dissertation, if you want to read them.”
As she put the book directly in his hand, and out of an embarrassed politeness, Richard began scanning the pages, once again drawn away from the core. Once again, he noticed that Chris all but ignored her.
Al was putting the finishing touches to his outfit, despite Chris’ suggestions that he really ‘mix it up’ tonight, and went with crocodile skin shoes, green cords and, over layers of vaguely Medieval-looking jerkins, wore a black coat/cloak and lopsided hat, that had everyone wondering where he could possibly have unearthed ?
“Hey, look what I found,” he said, holding a bottle of Cognac. “Found it under my bed. Who’d like some ?”
The general consensus was that they should be leaving. Monika asked to use the phone to book taxis, but Al had a better idea.
“No, Man, we can ride the trolley. Be fun, all the young dudes dressed up. Straight ride to Warschauer Str.”
Ten minutes later, The Gang were waiting, along with a crowd of other people, at the Strassebahn stop on Eberswalder Str, where an impromptu party of sorts was taking place, strangers passing around bottles of Sekt or cans of beer, some were singing, others dancing, some jumping up and down, either to the beat or simply to keep warm.
The Gang, with the exception of Melanie, joined in, Richard extending his arm to take in the scene,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Chris jumped around, pretending to be taking pictures with an invisible camera and everyone joined in, striking poses, some girls blowing kisses, which didn’t impress Monika, and she made him stop.
A loud cheer arose when the yellow light of the Strassebahn appeared out of the misty black, mixing with the continual beeps and honks of cars, and distant fireworks and firecrackers. It became, as Arizona had predicted, a party on tracks, the passengers hanging off the poles and draping themselves over the seats, men offering their laps to previously unknown girls, one or two men swinging from the hand straps.
At every stop, at least one person took it upon himself to announce the station, while others mimicked the sharp, loud beeps that indicated doors closing.
By journey’s end, nearly everyone had joined in, announcing the stops and beeping, so much so, that the old and sober driver kept looking back into his vehicle, wondering how it was possible to have so much fun in a tram, his bemused shake of the head seeming to say, “Kids !”
From Warschauer Str, they walked along Boxhagener Str and turned right into Simon Dach Str.
Gabi had the address and Richard was happy to follow her, wondering if the intimacy of the bathroom would be repeated. At the same time, he was doing his best not to look too much at Lorelei who without any effort, was just looking sensational. But he knew the futility of those thoughts.
There was a moment of confusion, as Gabi realised she had the wrong or incomplete address and Arizona suggested that they just follow people and see where they ended up. Eventually, Gabi turned up another piece of paper that gave the correct location.
The first stop was a combination party / exhibition of local artists. It took place on the top floor of a converted studio, overlooking the dark, slightly ominous rail tracks of Warschaeur Str.
It was one large, open room, with photos and painting hanging up, some metal objects placed strategically, or randomly, and a band area. As they entered, they saw three men with headphones standing behind banks of equipment, playing some mellow Techno. Neither Chris nor Richard were especially keen on the music in general, and couldn’t understand how people could buy the records and play them at home, but tonight, everything seemed to fall into place and they, perhaps inadvertently, began moving to the beat, causing Richard to reiterate,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Causing Chris to reply,
“Berlin goes on, the beat goes on!”
Arizona overheard and joined them,
“Yeah, you know, I’m starting to really get into this Techno scene. If Bowie were here, he’d be mixing Techno into his stuff.”
Richard noticed that Melanie had sat down on some steps and that Monika had gone over to her with two glasses and was trying to start a conversation. Even from his distance, he could see that Melanie was only answering in monosyllables and had refused the drink.
Gabi and Lorelei were dancing, which led to a sudden increase of men onto the dance floor. The Gang took a cursory look at the art work.
One set of photos were of famous sights in Berlin, but shot through a green filter, ‘to challenge society’s perception of the colour green’, the artist explained. Another section grabbed Arizona’s attention. In a small enclave, one wall had various items cut in half and glued onto it. The opposite wall has similar items, but whereas the first had noticeably German items, the second had iconic American ones.
In the German wall was half a football, in the other, half an American football. Half a can of German beer was mirrored by half a can of an American brand and so on.
The artist, an elder man with grey hair and beard, wearing a peace necklace and sandals, was showing Arizona around. Al especially liked the toy Trabant and it’s antithesis, half a toy Cadillac.
The Techno finished and four men began setting up, more keyboards and amplifiers and some unusual hybrids of instruments.
One of the four seemed to be significantly older than the rest, one of whom was very thin and tall, another short and fat, the last hobbling around on crutches.
After an endless vortex of activity, with them all changing position and plugging various wires into various sockets, they began to play.
Gabi made an immediate face of disgust at the experimental noise that it took four deadly earnest and focused men to produce.
Monika made gestures to Lorelei and Chris, then came over to Richard to shout in his ear,
“OK, Richard, now we go!”
The Gang walked up to the U-Bahn to catch the U 5 to Alex. Richard found himself next to Lorelai, who was holding herself against the merciless cold. Instinctively, he took off his coat and put it over her shoulders. Gabi thought it was incredibly sweet and chivalric.
Next stop was a club in Kreuzberg. The U-Bahns were running and would be, all night, but not so frequently, and they had a long wait on the U8 platform for their connection. So long, that, as they looked at the station clocks, they knew that they had no chance getting to the club by Midnight. In fact, they celebrated the New Year on the platform, hugging, kissing and shaking hands, to the outside sounds that managed to penetrate down. Chris took Monika and gave her a long kiss. Melanie looked on, in disgust, and said, perhaps louder than intended, perhaps not,
“Oh, that’s not allowed.”
And then the train came.
They got out at Moritzplatz, the men again happy to just follow the girls, Melanie tagging along and Richard was getting increasingly irritated at being her chaperone.
The club was a red-lit bar, with tables around the side and a large bar in the centre. In the back was the dance floor which was dark and smoky and exciting and inviting and promising.
Richard sat down, beers arrived and then, another invitation. Monika sat next to him, after a similar conspiracy with Gabi and Chris, and asked him,
“Ah, Richard, would you like to take half an ‘E’ with me ?”
“Of course.” A confident voice masking that he had never even dreamt of taking such a pill before.
Monika handed him half a tablet, already prepared, which he washed down with a swig of beer.
“This will make me want to kiss people, right ?” he asked.
“And will they kiss me back ?”
Monika smiled and shrugged her shoulder.
She then went on to Melanie, who again rejected the offer.
Richard sat back and thought about Gabi on ‘E’ and how the New Year could get off to a worse start than kissing her all night. Then he thought about Lorelai on ‘E’. What better night to kiss ?
He began to feel himself smiling, and was unable to control it, nor did he want to, as everybody else was smiling. Everyone except Melanie. He asked her how she was,
“Pretty bored, actually.”
There was a mass movement towards the back room for dancing, with Arizona electing to sit with Melanie. As Richard went into the back, he turned and thought he saw her offer Al a small notebook to read.
By now, the pill had kicked in and it seemed as if everyone was on the same vibe, half as many people kissing as dancing.
Chris came over, put his arm around Richard, gave him a kiss on the cheek and shouted,
“More beer.” It was a demand, rather than a question.
Back at the table, smiling at all around, strangers sharing a similar high, Richard shouted at Melanie,
“C’mon, Mel, shake your money maker !”
“What does that mean ?” she hissed, not hiding her contempt, hatred and anger.
But it was too late for Richard to care and everyone was relieved when she decided to leave. There were one or two concerned questions about her knowing the way, with Chris not hiding the fact that as long as she went, he didn’t care where she ended up.
Some time later, it being hard to gauge with the constant dark lighting and drug and alcohol highs, The Gang began to disperse. Gabi and Lorelei headed back to the west, after prolonged hugs and kisses. Chris then was staying nearby with Monika, so it as just Arizona and Richard. They had been dancing, smiling, hugging, but for Richard the only kiss was the friendly slobber on his cheek from Chris.
After another and final beer, Mexican, as homage to Al’s South-Western roots, which they sipped slowly and really enjoyed, they thought about leaving, both having to get back north of the river, to Prenzlauer Berg.
They spoke constantly, and could have stayed in the bar, which by now was thinning out, all night, or at least until the ‘E’ wore off, but decided to go. Should they happen to stumble upon a bar, on the way, there was no reason why they shouldn’t go in.
Arizona admired the reasoning, and they left, shocked by the early morning light, but after their eyes got acclimatised, they felt refreshed on the empty, light blue streets, with a fresh wind blowing them along to the U-Bahn as they stepped through a tangle of old streamers and firework cases and bottles and cigarette packets and cans.
On the U2 from Alex, during a momentary lull in the conversation, as Arizona looked around at the other casualties of the night, Richard turned to him and said,
“It’s all right for you. I’ve Melanie to go back to!”
Arizona doubled up in laughter, which proved infectious as most of the other awake passengers joined in, most of them having no idea why they were laughing.
Arizona reached over and slapped Richard on the knee,
“Ya wanna crash at my place ?”
“Oh, man . . . can I ?”
Al’s laughter doubled.
At the same time on Chausser Strasse in Wedding, Daniel Roth was walking home with two English work mates and a Dutch bricklayer.
Of the four, it was only Daniel who was new to the city, having only arrived two days earlier, and he was due to start work on the Second, by which time, he calculated, his hangover may just be over.
Finally, just before lunch time on Sunday afternoon, Chris woke up, got out of bed and showered. Richard was finishing off his Hemingway, then emptied the fridge in preparing two plates, using all the remaining bits of food.
“Ah, a moveable feast !” joked Chris.
“You OK ?”
“No. Not really.”
Richard didn’t know how to help. Usually they would just drink, but that had only sent Chris into oblivion from which he had returned, yet the pain remained.
“Well, anything, I can do, just ask. Probably won’t be much, but … well, let me know.”
Richard knew that it wasn’t the time or place for his own dog-dance.
Instead, he made up a pretext for going out, so as to give Chris some space.
Left alone, Chris sat and smoked, numbing his mind with the BBC World Service, re-tuning when the news came on in German.
He envied Richard a little. He had Chris to fall back on, to answer his questions and to explain the mysterious workings of this schizophrenic city. Despite being the capital of the newly re-united Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, Berlin still had so many traces of it’s recent, Eastern Block past. Opening hours were seemingly arbitrary, queueing systems non-existent, food often unidentifiable.
The public telephones all worked and he had never seen any vandalism, which was taken as read in England, but they had an irritating choice of being either card operated, or coin, only rarely both. By now, he knew the pattern in his area, but had been caught out, trying to call Monika, happy to find a phone, only to realize he only had coins for a card machine, or vise-versa.
Then there was the paranoia. This was caused by not understanding enough of the language and being confronted by important-looking letters, or notices, or announcements, or street talk, and always having to ask what it meant, and if alone, a sense of powerlessness and vulnerability.
There was one final custom in Berlin that was going to have an immediate effect. The shop opening hours. All shops, with barely a few exceptions, closed all weekend. Food shopping had to be done on Friday mornings, or the only choice would be take out food or restaurants.
Chris looked at the phone, willing it to ring but refusing to call Monika, and smoked his last cigarette. Having to buy more was a good reason to go out and he walked to a street vending machine to buy more smokes, the Vietnamese not working the U-Bahn on Sundays.
But then his spirits lifted slightly. Where else would he find a city with cigarettes available by machine on the street. They wouldn’t last five minutes back home.
He opened the packet of Golden American’s, not his usual brand, but it was from a vending machine, he had to make allowances, and flicked his lighter. The flame flickered and went out and he had to cover it with his hand to keep it burning. He turned up his collar. The air was getting chilly. Winter was on its way.
Richard came back as it was getting dark, and found Chris in much the same position as when he’d left him, sitting in the kitchen, chain-smoking, starring off into space.
But now they were starting to get hungry.
They waited a little, staving off the hunger with cigarettes and coffee, but eventually they had to get food.
Not having the money or mood for a restaurant, their only choice was to find an Imbiss. This is usually not a problem. They were ubiquitous in Berlin, and there were some in Stargarder Strasse, some by the U-Bahn, and in most of the neighbouring streets.
Tonight, they all seemed to be closed.
It took a little time, but by a very circuitous route, they ended up in a Turkish Imbiss on Stargarder. The kebabs, however, were finished. All meat, in fact, was out. All that was left, before the staff emptied the displays to prepare for the new week, were pitiful salads or large, yellow objects.
They looked at each other, their hunger taking precedence over their judgement, and they cleaned out the large, yellow-object tray. They were wrapped in tin-foil and put into a thin plastic bag.
On the way home, more curious than famished, they took their first bites.
Pure, deep-fried fat, barely warm.
Then Chris let out a sound of disgust.
“What the … ?”
Richard echoed the sentiment.
“In the name of … ?”
Hidden in the centre, amidst layers of cold, stodgy fat, were florets of cold, barely cooked cauliflower.
There was silence in the flat. They studied their plates, examining this alien food. Grease oozed out when they prodded the lumpen mass.
Chris slowly put his plate down, took a fresh cigarette and said,
“Fuck this, I’m going for some real food. Not this … fucking, old … Socialist shit. This Commie crap. Mush for the masses. Fuckin’ … I mean, school dinners had nothing on this, this … Cack ! That’s what it is. Cack ! Hello, Mr Imbiss Man, I’d like some cack, please. And, yes, my good man, pile up the cack and put more cack on top. Don’t stop there, give me a side order of …’ “
“Good idea, side order of cack. And, to pass the time, while you’re filling my order, give me a glass of cack. Fucking hell. All right, you wait here, I’ll bring back some proper food.”
Richard waited. Nearly an hour later, Chris returned. He held out a bag, with a bottle clearly delineated.
“OK, here’s the bad news; I could only get Bells Whiskey.”
By the time Richard left for work the following day, he still had a hangover.
Chris hadn’t made it into the studio at all.
One of the first thing that caught Richard’s eye when he began working at Bar Biberkopf was that the crockery, cutlery and glasses matched the ones in Chris’ flat. Sometimes his own naïvety amazed even himself.
He thought back to his early days at café Kinski. A man had sat at the bar, skinning up a joint, in front of Silvio, and this had shocked him, thinking how could he be so blatant, right in front of the barman. He learnt, soon enough, that joints were almost as common as cigarettes.
The work was pretty easy, if not tedious and mind-numbing. In addition to cleaning plates (which a machine did), there were minor preparation jobs, such as peeling vegetables or fetching things from the cellar.
The staff were generally friendly, though no one to match Hannah’s beauty. And he was slowly learning German, albeit kitchen terms and swear words.
The benefit was cash in hand (every night), access to alcohol, free food and, apparently, home furnishings.
On Wednesday night, he got home around one-thirty, the journey requiring two night buses, and found Chris in an even deeper depression.
Richard decided to take him to The Anchor on Stargarder, opposite the red brick GethsemaneKirche, hoping it would still be open and that the cute little waitress would be working. It was, she wasn’t.
Fearing that it would soon be ‘Feure Abend’ (last orders), Chris ordered four beers and two large whiskys.
The next day Chris again missed work, and while Richard was out buying food, he had an idea. He checked his change, making sure he had enough large coins, and went to the coin pay phone. He called Melanie.
When he returned home that night, he found Chris in a much better mood, and there was a bottle of Sekt waiting, which Richard was grateful for, as the whisky drinking was starting to take its toll.
“Melanie phoned. Out of the blue. Can you believe that ? We had a really good talk and … well, dig this, ya ready ? I’m back with Monika.”
“Sekt ! Open the bloody bottle, let me hear that cork pop.”
Chris told how Melanie had helped and, afterwards, he felt strong enough to call Monika. They talked for nearly an hour and decided to get back together.
“Oh,” said Chris, “one more thing. Lorelei’s left her stupid boyfriend and has moved in with some old fruit. Also, there’s an art student, music student open-house event, gathering, thing, on Saturday, and we’re all going. Lorelei sans boyfriend.”
Chris raised his eyebrows up and down several times.
“Just pour the Sekt.”
Richard hid his smile by his ex-Biberkopf Sekt glass.