Love and Chaos Part 1(M) Steffi 1

20th November 2020

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

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

It became very clear, as the evening wore on, that Steffi was here to do Chris, and if Richard happened to be in the same room, so be it. As he later summarised, he could have been sitting there, stark-bollock naked and she still wouldn’t have acknowledged him. Her position, it may be discerned, was that of a woman on a mission, part of which may well have involved the missionary position.

Steffi, who also worked at the studio and was reasonably new to Berlin, followed Chris, and introductions were made. She threw herself into the room, entirely at home, and sat on the floor, removing her light denim jacket and revealing a charming, loose blouse that in turn revealed more than was decent. She shouted out, in her whiney, Australian accent,

“Got anything to drink ?”

Chris returned with a bottle of cheap vodka drink, a 20% blend of the spirit with blackcurrant, and three glasses. He poured, passed them around and they clinked. In a flash, Steffi had downed her drink. The two men looked at each other.

“Hey, steady on, it’s still early.”

“Ah, you Poms, all wimps, c’mon, drink up.”

They did, and poured the second round. A Repetition. Steffi was quite small, but hardly delicate, she filled out her jeans to straining point and sometimes her top rose up, showing a series of stomachs that appeared to have sampled the delights of German cuisine. Chris spoke up, wanting to leave a bit of time between the second and imminent third round.

“You hair looks good, now.”

He was referring to her dye-job. Her hair, hanging limply past her shoulders, was a deep-purple, mauve, brown concoction. When Richard looked closely, he was sure that her forehead, as it met the hairline, was also purple-mauve. Chris later confirmed this. He had seen her the morning after her unaided attempt, and she had, indeed, managed to dye most of her forehead, neck and ears.

“Yeah, thanks. Seen any more good films ? Chris took me to a French film. It was great. Real intellectual stuff. Where’s the drinks ? What’s wrong with you ?”

“Just need more ice.”

Chris excused himself and went into the kitchen, clearly meaning Richard to follow. The hint was taken and the two conversed by the fridge. Chris spoke,

“What are we going to do ?” He indicated the bottle that was rapidly emptying.

“I don’t know, but I can’t keep up with her. I’ll be dead.”

“Me too !”

“You went out with her ?”

“No ! Well, yes, yes, we went … out, but I didn’t go … out with her.”

“Does she know that ?”

“Yes, when we were in bed, I told her … “

“You went to bed with her ?”

“No ! Well, yes, yes, I went to bed, no, we were in the same bed together, but I made it clear, the Berlin Wall exists down the centre.”

“Looks like that Wall’s also fallen.”

“What are you two up to ? I’m dying of thirst out here. Where’s my drink ?”

Chris whispered,

“She’s from the Outback where it’s bold and brash … just like her.”

“Yeah, you couldn’t have left her out back ?”

“Alcohol !”

The third round was duly poured and consumed. Richard felt that he had to recuse himself, citing his flight the following day.

“Oh, you’re leaving tomorrow. Good.”

Then something happened. At first, Steffi became very quiet. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, opposite the men who were on the coach. They were having a little private conversation and listening to the radio playing some request show. Slowly, Steffi began tilting to her right, then toppled right over, and, adopting the foetal position, fell asleep on the floor. Snoring followed.

The men let out a relieved laugh, and went into the kitchen to slowly finish the bottle before turning to the beers, drinking away, very respectfully, by candle-light, with the faint background of 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll hits. Over an hour passed, pleasantly enough, and it was decided that Richard would come back, as soon as he’d saved enough. They did basic costings and realised that the biggest expense would be the airfare. He could stay rent-free, just help out on food and the beer money. Richard predicted that he could make it back in early November, but that they should look into the possibility of his moving here, as well. Chris would ask about a job at the studio …

Then it happened.

The first rumblings were ominous enough, so much so, that they rose from the kitchen and caught the whole performance live.

On the floor, a little way in front of the sofa, was a pallet, the kind used in factories to transport goods. It served as a table, of sorts, maybe in the Japanese style, with imagination, or maybe Shoulder could have viewed it as a perfect accompaniment to his conceptual chair, ‘a table ? What do you want a table for ?’


Chris had put various everyday items on it, and Richard had taken one side for his passport and airline ticket. In the very centre of the pallet was a large blue-painted metal bucket, to be used for carrying coal, or briquettes from the cellar to put in the Ofen. Chris had used this for collecting all his small coins, bronze Pfennings and silver Marks.

Steffi had begun to make sounds of demonic intensity, a bastard hybrid of belch and hiccup, as she raised herself, resting on her knees and knuckles. In this dignified position, she crawled over to the bucket, put her head in and emptied her stomach.

“This is so far outside my frame of experience,” said Richard.

“I had a lot of money in that bucket. Let’s have a beer.”

It was another hour before Steffi emerged, and they could hear her cleaning up in the toilet. She came into the kitchen, with a lack of self-consciousness that they could only applaud, and asked for a beer.

“I don’t think that’s the best thing for you. Have some water.”

Steffi clearly liked being looked after by Chris and allowed herself to be taken back inside, where they sat and passed the evening, Steffi drinking tea while the men finished off the beers. They decided to stay in and anyway, Jens was working the bar tonight, or ‘Geschlossen’ as they called him due to the fact that the once or twice they had gone there around One in the morning, the bleached-blonde barman had barked out, “Geschlossen !” or ‘closed’ at them, despite the bar being half full and other people seemingly having no difficulty in procuring drinks.

One small incident occurred as they were getting ready to sleep. It was decided, by Chris, that he would take the floor and leave the other two on the couch. While Richard was next to Steffi with very little breathing space, she called out to Chris to join them, as there was plenty of room. Chris declined and gave a very poor impression of a man already asleep and not to be disturbed.

The packing took no time at all, and all three went out for a breakfast in a normal-looking, locals bar. They ordered refills of coffee as they started on the plates of meat and cheese and rolls. It seemed as if Steffi was also going to come to the airport, but, to the delight of the men, she changed her mind and decided to go home instead. She asked Chris what he was doing that evening. He made up a story about helping a friend in Steglitz, a Bezirk in the South West of the city.

They travelled with her as far as Alex, where she changed for the line to Kreutzberg, and they for the S-Bahn.

The journey was slightly melancholic, but they only had to think of the previous night to raise a smile. Anyway, Richard would work and save to fly back. Chris parted from him at the airport gate with a:

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bucket of vomit to deal with.”

He waved and walked away. Richard kept his word, he worked and booked his ticket for early November. Only six weeks had passed since he left, but when he returned, the whole situation was different and he next left, not planning an immediate return, but convinced that he would never come back ever again.

Love and Chaos Part 1(L) Shoulder 1

19th November 2020

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

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

Shoulder sat down next to Richard, turning the chair around, striding it like a horse, arms waving, fingers pointing, head constantly turning. Richard realised that the metal figure hanging outside could well be a self-portrait.

Both Chris and Silvio, who were also sitting around the table, had trouble containing their laughter. It was Chris who finally had to interrupt the artist as he was half-way through a monologue, the subject of which hadn’t yet made itself known,

“Hey, Shoulder, this is Richard, from London.”

“Yes, I know, I was speaking to him last week.”

“No, you haven’t met him. You were speaking to me last week.”

Shoulder screwed up his eyes, in an expression of pantomime incredulity. He turned to Richard and stared at him.

“Is that true ?”

“Yeah. So, how are you ?”

“Ah, a philosopher. I studied philosophy. I saw another student on the U-Bahn once and I said to him, like you just did, ‘how are you ?’ and he said ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Hey ! Philipp, come and join us.”

Shoulder, of course, wasn’t his real name, but Chris wasn’t able to catch the correct appellation and felt that while asking for a name to be repeated once was acceptable, twice was too much. He was, what may be termed, ‘a character’, or ‘a force of nature’. He dominated every conversation with the sheer power of his enthusiasm, his never-ending gestures and ever-changing expressions.

He called for Philipp to join them, but Philipp preferred to stand alone, looking on, leaning against a wall and swaying slightly, eyes off into the distance. Shoulder clearly decided that Richard was a long-lost friend he had never actually met, and focused all his attention on him, for the rest of the evening. He explained about Philipp,

“He misses the old east, yeah, we’re all Ossies, all from the DDR. Now I work in, you know the Schloss at Charlottenburg, yeah, nice building, yeah, you been
there ? No ? You must, or maybe not, I don’t care, I have a studio near there. Many friends have moved to the west and so we don’t see each other so much. I come here, but it’s a long way. We all used to meet three times a week, drink, smoke, joke. Now … “

He made a gesture of hopelessness,

“So I have a joke for you that you will like. A man comes home, you like Surrealism, yes ?”

Richard nodded,

“after a holiday and he looks around. And can’t believe it … everything in his house, everything, the light bulbs, the windows, the toilet paper, the stains on the walls, the walls, everything, has been stolen. And replaced by an exact replica. The man’s flatmate comes home. The man says to him, in panic, ‘what has happened. Everything has been stolen but replaced by an exact replica ?’ And the flatmate says …… ‘who are you ?’ Hahahahahaaha!”

Shoulder told endless stories, leaning first on Richard, then alternating and leaning on Silvio, to his other side. Eventually Philipp came and sat down, pulling his chair a little distance apart, but clinking his bottle against everybody’s. Richard saw this as a sign that he, too, was accepted. It felt very good.

Shoulder began describing his new work, a kind of psychological chair. Rather than being a mere piece of furniture, it represented a challenge, a philosophical proposition to man: ‘why do you want to sit down ? Do you want to sit down ? A symbol of all the poor people in the world who have nothing to sit down upon. It was rather hard to follow, but the tagline stayed in Richard’s mind:

“Most people sit down to think. But with this chair, you have to think how to sit down”.

When Richard was back in London, he went to the Tate Gallery, and bought a postcard of a Vorticist painting by Wyndham Lewis; geometric lines, bold colours, force, power and energy. He sent it to Shoulder in Berlin. He knew he’d appreciate it.

They had been a number of girls he had spoken to in the Cafe, either up at the bar, or people who had shared their table when it was busy. Being English was a great bonus, as people were interested in why he was in this part of Berlin and what he thought of the city. He tried a few flirty moves, but nothing panned out. For either of them. Chris still had vague hopes of Marina or Claudia, or, when he had taken a few shots of Bourbon, both. Richard was curious as to the extent of his relationship with Marina, but was, as he reminded himself, ‘ too British to ask.’ Yet one night, Chris, in Kinski, did say that she had beautiful breasts. That told Richard all he needed to know, and was happy for whatever conquest Chris had made, yet puzzled as to why women like Marina always stayed with men like Ross.

But the person that left the biggest impression was the young lady he met on his final night.

Chris and Richard had just finished eating and were about to have a mellow drink before the farewell bash at the Cafe, when there was a heart stopping thump on the door. Both had visions of a middle-aged, German woman with a beefy bastard in tow, ready to beat them to the proverbial pulp. The reality was far worse. Chris left the room and as he opened the front door, Richard could hear,

“Oh, Steffi. What are you doing here ?”

Love and Chaos Part 1(K) Chris 4

18th November 2020

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

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

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

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

“Ah, that would be nice.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Ja,” answered Chris, “naturlische.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was the emergency, then ?”

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

“Mrs … Holtzengraff ?”

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

“Useful.”

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

“So what happened ?”

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

“Really ?”

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

“Yeah, what do you do exactly ?”

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

“But then it all worked out … ?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So we boil pots ?”

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

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

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

“No, I really don’t.”

“Haha. You will.”

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

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

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

“Claudia ! Hey !”

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

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

She barely glanced over then went back to Chris, making some small talk and in-jokes about work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Chaos Part 1(J) The Divine Poet From Florence

17th November 2020

Dante Alighieri – Wikipedia tiếng Việt
Dante Alighieri

Part One

The Divine Poet From Florence

When Dante in years was but shy of nine,
to his father’s friend he went, celebrating May Day.
There seeing a girl he would wish, “be mine.”

But our young poet had no words to say,
though strange, new emotions filled the nascent artist’s head.
To fall in love, first sight, happened that way.

This delicate, pure angel, clothed in shades of red,
of love and pain both, would cause him tears,
“Now is my bliss made manifest”, he later said.

Entering into an unknown world, tender feelings, trembling fears
Though never a thought of the sacred marriage bed,
To her he ventured no word, for nine years.

In Florence, matters of the heart were left, unsaid
Our eloquent poet, inexperienced youth, smitten and struck dumb,
would later write sweetest words, that any lover read.

‘Behold, a god stronger than I that is come
to bear rule over me.” Words he later wrote.
Of all Christian virtues, this seraph is the sum.

Upon this paragon of innocence, young Dante would dote
But courtly love dictated she proffer not a glance,
yet celestial choirs, he did hear, sounding love’s note.

Beatrice was our young angel, Dante made no advance
but circled Florence, praying, of Beatrice, just a sight
following her sweet footsteps, hoping for just a chance.

He raised the worthy child up to heavenly heights.
Her beauty showed her virtue, pale skin, fair hair.
Her presence guided both working days and dreaming nights.

Feeling beatific knowing that his love had been there
He felt he should bow and kiss the ground,
When angels called and myriad flowers filled the air.

Yet he was to hear, a far, sweeter sound
When after nine years, he spied his cherished Muse
who, upon seeing Dante, did stop and turn around.

White dressed, but Dante saw flowers of all hues
she spoke with grace, with ineffable courtesy and charm.
Dante saw this providence as something he mustn’t lose.

He wrote all night till fatigue paralysed his arm,
then descended into dreams he knew so well.
A nebulous figure holding Beatrice, but meaning no harm.

She held a burning object, he would later tell
‘Behold thy heart.” The Vision said, making Beatrice eat
Before Paradise is Purgatory, before Purgatory, Infernal Hell.

After this they were destined rarely to ever meet.
Dante’s love was pure, and would forever remain chaste.
But fond memories of that salutation, on Florentine street.

Marriages were political, not to be made in haste,
they married different people and went their separate way
But Dante wouldn’t let this inspiration go to waste.

His marriage sailed stormy waters, the ship sailed away
to be trapped among the ice. Then Beatrice died.
To honour her, sought he, greater words to say.

His Beatrice gone, Dante wouldn’t drift with the tide,
but studied and wrote, to proclaim her name, far.
His new life where his love need not hide.

So when looking at the firmament, black as tar
search for two lights, whose flame shall shine eternal
as Dante placed his Beatrice, a wondrous, glowing star.

Love and Chaos Part 1(I) Richard 3

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

Part One. Berlin. September 1993

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What ?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good deal. Isn’t that illegal ?”

“Probably.“

“How do you know where to find them ?”

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

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

“Oh, yes.”

“And they don’t get caught ?”

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

“They do ?”

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

“I’m going to love it here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, I see.”

“You don’t do you ?”

“Not at all.”

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

“And the bathroom is … ?”

“No bathroom.”

“Shower ?”

“No shower.”

“Then where do you … wash ?”

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

“Never mind. Let’s have a drink.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Chaos Part 1(H) Chris 3

16th November 2020

Berlin Rigaer Str in Friedrichschain early 1990s

Part One. Berlin. Spring – Summer 1993

The flat situation was solved by the combined efforts of the German girls. Marina knew a woman through an ex-boyfriend, who had a shop near where Claudia lived. Claudia had been in touch with her and was monitoring a flat she owned in a different Bezirk, or area, of Berlin. It was actually free immediately and Claudia negotiated a fair rent, provided the landlady, a Frau Holtzengraff, could also get an ‘under-the-table’ gratuity.

Five days after arriving in Berlin, Marina was helping Chris move to his new, permanent base in the eastern Bezirk of Friedrichshain.

She told him about the costs, but didn’t pry into how much he actually had with him, expecting him to be able to cover the first few weeks. Although she earned a modest amount, Ross had a good wage and her parents were comfortably off, so she had never really known what is was like to be without money or financial aid. Therefore she had no conception that Chris may really be in difficulty.

They were met on the street outside Rigaer Strasse 16 by the stocky figure of Fr Holtzengraff, a middle-aged woman wrapped in a thick, fake-fur coat, despite the late spring weather, and an unsuccessful blonde hair-dye job.

Rigaer 16 was painted in white across the two large wooden swing doors that opened for vehicles. The right hand one also had a conventional inward-opening door. They walked in and the first dozen or so paces were under cover, making it hard to see the names on the post-boxes fixed to the right-hand wall.

The flat was on the fourth floor, through a courtyard that was small and oblong, framed by three sides of the house and a large intimidating blank wall. A door in the far corner of the yard led to the stairs . Marina kept a smile on, but was clearly seeing the flat for the first time and trying to remain optimistic. Chris, meanwhile, was amazed. Here was a real artist’s flat, a place where he could read and write and compose and get German girls to pose nude for him.

Marina talked in German and then asked Chris for the first month’s rent. He could just about cover it, but it would leave him with almost nothing. He got a receipt and there was more German, Marina nodding and interjecting, “Ja, ja, alles klar,” – yes, yes, everything’s all right.

“Then Claudia will help with the other.” Chris nodded, not at all sure what the other was, but knowing that now was not the time for schoolboy humour. The keys were handed over, directions given to the U-Bahn and shops, and then Fr Holtzengraff gave Marina a hug and left. Chris put it down to Marina’s personality, that everybody who met her would be compelled to hug her within minutes.

Marina had to work that afternoon, so she left him, making sure he knew the tram or Strassebahn that would take him to his work in Prenzlauer Berg, the next Bezirk to the west. He watched her drive off and then he was alone. He noticed a kind of shop next door. The paintwork was faded but still reasonably clean. There was a glass door, with a heavy net curtain behind it and a main window, also netted, but, along the window-shelf were a strange collection of miscellaneous items: an old football boot, a ceramic tiger, some kind of metal-working implement, an old fob-style watch, a plastic gnome or elf. Chris looked at the display and tried the door, but it was closed.

He looked up and down the street. It terminated at the western end in a roundabout, close to the tram stop. Diagonally across the street was a squatted building. Some punks were carrying empty beer crates out. Opposite him was another squat house, the whole front daubed in slogans and banners. Several similar buildings led off to the eastern end, which seemingly went on into infinity.

Chris tested the street keys, then the letterbox, or Brief Kaste key. Then he went upstairs to unpack, before making his first solo trip to work.

Luke was another Englishman working at the studio, very much a ‘what you see is what you get’ bloke. He had a London accent and laughed, loudly, at his own jokes, which was helpful as his jokes were generally not particularly funny. His skin showed that he had had more than a few drinks in his time and had probably tried several different drugs, several times. He worked next to Chris and took it upon himself to act as guide to Berlin. He told Chris that he could get paid on the Friday if he asked in time. He was, in fact, full of very useful and pertinent information and friendly, but was also very full of himself and Chris found him a little over-bearing.

Not too pushy, however, that Chris would refuse the offer of a beer after work. He mentioned that his funds were low, but Luke dismissed it, saying that it could be his shout next time.

Several beers later, Chris staggered onto the Strassebahn to get home and it wasn’t until he was walking along Rigaer Str that he realised that he had forgotten to buy a ticket, but he hadn’t been checked and had therefore saved a DM or two.

His rent was paid for the month, and he hadn’t spent anything getting drunk or getting back home. Berlin was going to be cheaper than he imagined. He continued to feel that way until a week later, when Fr Holtzengraff accompanied by a very mean-looking Herr Holtzengraff, pounded on his door, then opened it, catching him in just T-shirt and boxers and demanded, in gruff, blood-curdling German, “Geld!” which he recognised as ‘money’. Waving the receipt had no effect and it was only after chanting, “Claudia, ja. Marina, ja, kein problem” that they turned to leave, amidst finger wagging and black looks of a ‘this is your one and only chance’ complexion.

After they had left, he smoked the last cigarette in the box and walked into the kitchen, burning off nervous energy, as he promptly turned and walked back into the main room, trying to calm his nerves. After he had smoked down to the filter, he got some paper and wrote to Richard.

Love and Chaos Part 1(G) Claudia

15th November 2020

Part One. Berlin. Spring 1993

It still came as a surprise to Claudia that she should have an English boyfriend, whom she had met in her home town of Berlin. Not only that, but they would work, and live, together. And be happy.

She and Marina had been friends for years, probably because they were so different. While Marina was collected and inoffensive, Claudia was spontaneous and blunt, speaking first, unapologetic for any hurt she may have unwittingly caused.

Marina’s sensuality came as something of a surprise, slowly revealing itself through an accumulation of subtle nuances, Claudia’s was full-on and immediate. Her wavy hair, dyed jet black, hung on her shoulders, which were usually bare, exposing a dark bra strap. The loose white T-shirts were low cut and several large pendants or necklaces swayed enticingly around her neck. The jeans were always tight, the bare feet displaying freshly painted toenails, blood red. She gave the impression that her clothes had just been slung on, and generally that is what happened, but the clothes had been carefully selected for maximum effect beforehand.

As students, Marina and Claudia had thought of travelling to London to improve their limited English. Claudia hadn’t liked the city and when she met a fellow German girl at their hostel who was going on to Ireland, she had decided to join her. Marina stayed alone, spending her days in museums and galleries and learning English. When they met again, in Berlin, they would converse in English to practise, Marina in a mannered, polite, formal way, Claudia in a rough drawl, littered with expressions and vernacular.

Neither had yet started on a career path, but earned money in various ways, Marina working in shops or waitressing, Claudia in various offices, filing and photocopying. A customer at a bar where Marina was working told about a film studio that was employing people to paint film cells for animation movies, Marina passed it on to Claudia and she went to work there part time, preferring to spilt her jobs, to divide the boredom as she put it. There she met Simon, a law student from Hampshire, taking the ‘year off’ before settling down to a lifetime of briefs and suits, who had the flat in Ackerstrasse. The two seemed to have nothing in common, yet within six weeks, Claudia had packed up and moved from her western flat in Schöneberg to go slumming in the east ‘where the Proles are’ as she charmingly explained.

Simon of course was crazy about the flat, which was ludicrously cheap by his standards and so atmospheric, and even more ecstatic about Claudia who was surprisingly low maintenance. She was, he told his friends in letters home, ‘amazingly laid-back and mellow’.

Chris would have agreed with this description. She took him to a local bar and spoke to him freely, as if they were old friends, not two people who had only met that day. He still couldn’t believe that this woman was going to let him stay in her flat for a week, it was an offer of help so beyond his experience. It also helped take his mind off Marina, who was clearly going to be with Ross for some time.

Chris got two beers from the bar, Claudia saying it would be good practice for his German, and they clinked and drank from the bottle. He carefully brought up Ross, without expressing an opinion. He hoped to gauge her opinion.

“He’s a fucking nacker.”

Chris laughed and knew that it was going to be all right between them. After a few beers he started forming ideas about how their relationship would develop, but when she spent time talking about Simon and how he was extending his sabbatical so as to stay longer in Berlin, he got the hint.

She told him not to get too drunk, because she had arranged for him to start work tomorrow.

“What, no interview ?”

“No ! Can you hold a brush ?”

“Never tried. Think so.”

“Well, then. I told them you were an art major.”

“What ? “

“Haha, look at you. It’s nothing, easy work. Idiot work, just that it’s in a studio so it sounds cool.”

“What time do I start ? Nine ? Nine-Thirty ?”

“What time do you want to start ?”

“Is this even a real job ?”


“ ‘Course. You go in when you want, work for as long as you want, leave. Get paid by the hour, so you can choose.”

“Hey ! Not really what I’m used to in London.”

“I’m going in about Ten-Thirty, Eleven-Thirty, One … you know ? You can come with me.”

“So that means we have time for another drink ?”

“There’s always time for another drink.”

And Chris thought that here was another wonderful woman who would never be his.

Love and Chaos Part 1(F) Chris 2

14th November 2020

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

Part One. Berlin. Spring 1993

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chris ! You’re here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not Champagne. Even better. And German !”

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

“Prost!” the German ‘cheers’

“Sekt. Do you like it ?”

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

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

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

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

“Car.”

“But you’ve been drinking ?”

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

“Ja. Und ?”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris loved it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Chaos Part 1(E) Richard 2

Much-loved travel bookshop Stanfords is fundraising for survival
Picture of travel bookshop, Google Images

Part One. London. Spring 1993

Chris liked effects. He liked startling and surprising and shocking people. It had cost him at least one job, and made strangers treat him with caution, as they dismissed his humour as a sign of immaturity and his behaviour as borderline psychotic. But the humour was noticeably absent when he met Richard for their farewell drink. In its place was an irritability and nervousness that itself was shocking and surprising.

For the sake of Auld Lang Syne, as Richard put it, they decided to meet in the Soho pub they used to go to in the Fordham days. Chris was late and arrived flushed and agitated. Being in no mood for small talk or self-perpetuating puns, he got himself a drink and began explaining.

“I went to get my final pay packet; I’d asked them if it could be in cash because I’m leaving in two days. So I go to the office, and waiting there, with the manager and Russell, are two company lawyers. They say that they’ve been going over the stock and that there are certain inconsistencies. So much alcohol unaccounted for. Before I have a chance to think up a good lie, they tell me that I’ll get my wages, but not my holiday pay and that if I wish to seek redress, I should feel free to consult with my own solicitor. Fucking wankers !”

“Shit ! Did they have proof, or …”

“I don’t know, but they ain’t gonna blame Sophie Bloody-Twatface are they ? Well, I did it, so, yeah, guilty, fine, then they start going on about how they should really call the police and make it a matter of record, but thought that this was the better solution. Not for me. Bring the police in, just give me my money. Time they get here, I’ll be long gone. Never coming back to this shit-hole, either.”

There followed a few minutes of silent drinking, Chris staring at a patch of English pub carpet, almost without blinking. Richard nervously tried to think of something, but after an awkward interlude that Chris showed no signs of breaking, he finished his beer and went to the bar, returning with two double whiskys. Chris took the glass and drank, but his spirits were still at a depth that Richard had never seen before. Still, he allowed him this anomaly. He had never quite accepted that Chris really was going to Germany, with no German, no job, no place to stay and now, evidently, no money. Then suddenly, Chris picked up.

“Wasn’t even good wine. Bloody shit. Think they made it themselves. Nuno wouldn’t touch it. Use it as mouthwash. He’d pour it over his boots to give them a shine. Fuck ! I was counting on that money. Shit !”

Nuno was one of a number of people that were known to Richard merely by name and by anecdote. Marina he had never met, and she was already back in Berlin. Trying to lighten the atmosphere and to genuinely help, Richard offered some money, Chris declined, but accepted that he could ask if he were in trouble. Richard thought about saying that he could always come back home and return to university, but somehow sensed that that wasn’t the way to go. Instead he asked about the travel plan which seemed unnecessarily complex.

“Train to Harwich, wherever that is. I asked the clerk, ‘Is that in England ?’ and she smiled one of those forced, what an idiot efforts. Then boat to the Hook of Holland, from there to Rotterdam, onto Hamburg, then train to Berlin. Zoo Station. Get mugged by the children of Bahnhof Zoo. Another thing I know about Berlin. Full of junkie teenagers who’d stab you for a quick fix. “

“And Marina’s going to meet you there ?”

“No, at a café a few blocks away. I’ve got the address and directions. She’ll try to have something organised for me. Maybe a place to stay for a few days.”

But then Chris trailed off, as if he were only now facing up to his decision, like a bad joke that had imploded on its perpetrator. The mood didn’t improve, the alcohol just bloating them and making the evening tense and hazy. They parted warmly enough but Richard was left wondering if he would ever see Chris again, a feeling that would return over the coming years.

That being the case, he actually felt pleased by Chris’ letter, not Chris being in trouble, but that he was in contact and needed Richard’s help. He calculated that he could spare fifty to seventy pounds and set about finding out the quickest way to get it to Berlin. He had heard about people wiring money in films but had no idea how one went about it. He asked at a Post Office and it seemed quite straightforward, provided one had certain information, which he didn’t. With no bank details to transfer money to, he was left with simply posting it and hoping it got there. Converting to Deutsch Marks would take more time, so Richard put three twenty pound notes into an envelope, sellotaped the flap several times, wrote over the tape for security and sent it, to an address which, at the time, meant absolutely nothing to him:

Chris Pearson
Bei Holtzengraff
Rigaer Str 16
10247 Berlin
GERMANY / DEUTSCHELAND

It seemed somehow too little information for a European capital and the second line, beginning ‘Bei’ was a total mystery. He could have asked Melanie, who was still in London, but they had no plans to meet, and without Chris, if may have seemed rather false, not quite right.

A reply came two weeks later. The emergency was over, Marina had saved the day. He had his own flat: kitchen, bathroom and living room, and a job in a film studio. He had stayed with Claudia, a friend of Marina’s, right by where the Wall stood and had already found his local bar. Chris wrote,

“Can’t describe it, only its nothing like an English bar, thank fuck. Lots of people speak English. Work is all English speakers. Very different from London, people look happy! CHEAP !!! Beer, cigarettes, food – all cheap! Get your arse over here. “

There was no thank you for the money, but there was an invitation and that was even better. Richard planned how long he would have to work to be able to save up for the trip. It would be a few months. Nevertheless, the next day, he went out on his lunch break to the nearest bookshop and bought the Rough Guide to Berlin. He accepted that he wouldn’t be at university in September.

Love and Chaos Part 1(D) Marina 1

13th November 2020

Part One. London. Spring 1993

“So what’s wrong with you ?”

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

“Boyfriend trouble.”

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

“All the girls I like have got boyfriends.”

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

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

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

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

But now Richard was going to talk about girls.

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

“But …”

“There’s also Douglas. The boyfriend.”

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

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

“Who did you like ?”

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

“Which one’s that ?”

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

“Always a good sign.”

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

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

“I volunteer for the job, sight unseen.”

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

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

“There you are. What happened ?”

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

“Not good … but … yeah, maybe …”

“What … “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Holiday ?”

“No, to live.”

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

“So, what do you know about Berlin ?”

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

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

“Sauerkraut. Great food in general”

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

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

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

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

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

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

DON’T MENTION MARINA !!!

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

Richard – in trouble – please send money.