Love and Chaos Part 2(I) Richard 2

3rd December 2020

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

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

It wasn’t just the flat, but the whole of Berlin that seemed quieter after Nuno had left. Richard had really enjoyed hanging out with him, and seeing east Berlin through his eyes. He recalled Nuno’s expressions as he experienced first hand what it was like to live here; boiling pots of water for washing, chopping wood for heating, drinking in squat bars. He remembered the first time Nuno had used the toilet, the morning after the jazz club night, with Nuno struggling to articulate the ordeal;

“Don’t go in there … you will die ! Why … why is it … like … ?”

“The plateau ? Who knows ? To make people’s lives even worse.”

The resulting Nuno laugh.

Naturally, it would be Nuno that would meet a young, American girl and go off to Paris with her, while Richard would be trying to light the recalcitrant Ofen and recline with some light Proust reading.

Chris came home, bursting into the room with an energetic, ‘let’s go get ‘em’ smile, only to loose it seconds later.

“Where the fuck’s Nuno ?”

The tone seemed to be asking ‘what have YOU done with poor Nuno ?’ and Chris didn’t seem very impressed when he heard that the Portuguese had left. Richard emphasized the beauty of the American, exaggerating somewhat, and skipped over the part about Nuno’s disappointment of him as host.

Chris remained silent, regretting the lost opportunity but also glad that it was one thing less to worry about. He offered to make coffee, and when he came back, both the room and the atmosphere was warmer. No longer were there bags dumped around, blocking available space. Richard spoke about walking along the streets with a drunken Nuno, trying to keep him out of the perilous cycle lanes at the edge of the pavement, and pointed to where Nuno had fallen, inches from the sharp edge of the pallet.

“How did you get him up ?”

Again, Richard could only reply that he had no idea.

Chris began opening up, speaking about his worries over Ute and her continual retinue of psychopathic ex-boyfriends. After coffee, he brought up the subject of a loan. But he had over-estimated Richard’s finances. Two hundred Marks was all he had in checks.

“I’m paid every night at Biberkopf, so I’ll come back and give you money, so you’ll be OK for the next day.”

Richard agreed, suggesting they go to a bank immediately. Chris strained to think:

“Not sure if they’re open.”

“Why, don’t close for lunch, do they ?”

“It’s not that … this is Berlin, don’t forget. Banks don’t keep banking hours.”

Richard couldn’t believe it, but it proved to be true. The first bank was closed, but had posted its random opening hours on the door. Not open until mid morning the next day. They got lucky with the third bank along Karl Marx Allee, Richard warned to bring all his paperwork with him.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the flat, reading and catching up with the World Service. Even Chris knew it would have been inappropriate to borrow all Richard’s money and then invite him out with it.

Instead, they both went to Biberkopf, where Richard could sit and read and drink coffee and maybe get a bit of food and a few beers for a special price. And when Chris got paid, he gave it all to Richard, then half of that went straight to Silvio who ran Kinski that night.

The next day, Chris had to go to the studio, then to Biberkopf, so Richard was planning a day of sight-seeing with his limited funds, which actually was adequate for his itinerary. But two things happened to alter his plans.

That day, the temperature had dropped further, to an impossible to believe minus 25, but, even worse, Melanie reappeared.

Now it was Richard’s turn to experience the ominous ‘thump on the door’.

He opened it with trepidation, prepared to face the dreaded Herr Holtzengraff.

Instead, the small, leather-clad figure of Melanie, with small backpack. No explanations, as she marched into the flat, flinging her bag onto the couch. Richard took a deep breathe and went to make coffee, wishing he’d had alcohol in the house.

He knew that Melanie was unable to keep quiet for long, and, over coffee and candles in the kitchen, the story came out.

Somewhere outside of Szczecin, heading back towards Germany, the bike had skidded on some ice and Melanie and Will had been thrown off. Luckily, they had chosen small, country roads, so there had been no other traffic. They appeared to have suffered more from shock than actual physical harm, though Melanie assured Richard that she had bruises in her more delicate places.

The bike had some minor damages, so Will was going to stay in Poland fixing them and Melanie decided to get the train straight to Berlin. Will may turn up, may not, but by the way she said it, Richard wasn’t expecting him. He kept this to himself. There had been enough skating on thin ice.

“Where’s Chris ? Is he still with that pretend artist ?”

Richard sipped his coffee to buy time and control his response. He confirmed that Chris was still together with Ute, who was really nice. The temperature took another drastic fall.

However, being back in Berlin, without Will and sitting in a warmish kitchen with hot coffee relaxed her, and she began telling stories about her travels, then gave him a packet of Russian cigarettes that she had picked up. Richard examined them. Small and thick, but the most distinctive feature was that half the length was the filter. He smoked one, offered one to Melanie, who also smoked one, and they passed time by drinking and smoking and talking.

But Melanie had another piece of good news; she had no money. The train ticket had taken up the last of her savings and she wasn’t sure how’d she’d get back home. Richard understood that this implicitly confirmed that Will would not be making a guest appearance. He also found himself having to apologise for not having any money to help her with, though without explaining why.

“I’m sure Chris will help us,” she said. Richard merely nodded.

Thankfully, Melanie was tired after her travels and elected to stay in that evening, maybe sleep early and go out with Chris when he came back. So they had a little food and relaxed in the main room, Richard tending the Ofen every half hour. He was tired and cold and also took a rest, waiting for Chris. But that night, Chris didn’t come home which meant he had only a few Marks to provide for two people.

If one evening alone with Melanie had been Ok, Richard wasn’t sure how a whole day would be, especially as there was little money in the house and inches of snow, still falling, outside.

“Maybe we can go to Biberkopf, score some money off Chris ?” was her suggestion. There seemed little alternative and at least Chris would be aware that Melanie was back in town.

At the bar, which was fairly busy, they took a far table and Richard was delighted to see that Hannah was working as waitress tonight. He had met her the last time he’d been there, reading and waiting for Chris to finish. It had been her night off and she’d popped in to check her schedule and have a quick drink. They began talking and she had stayed over an hour. Richard was amazed. She was like a glamour model, thick, flowing, blonde hair, bright, blue eyes, long lashed, a full, sensual mouth and a dream of a body, every inch a beauty queen. It also amazed every one else in the bar, as she had a reputation as an ice maiden, at best, arrogant, stuck-up bitch, at worst.

“I just don’t want to speak to every brainless drunk, or have men ‘accidentally’ brush past me, so they say I have an attitude. Arschlochs,” she had confided to him.

Now she waved and came over, Richard over-eager to introduce Melanie as Chris’ friend.

“She’s pretty,” admitted Melanie after she had left to get their beers, though she said it as if she were describing the most repulsive and vilest of beggars.

Even better than seeing Hannah, or a close second, was Chris’s reaction, just moments later. He came along the corridor from the kitchen, to go to the cellar whose entrance was in a corner of the bar. He automatically looked up, did a double-take as he saw Richard at an unfamiliar table, then a treble-take when he saw Melanie sitting next to him.


After a quick recap of events, Chris told them to order what they liked and he’d cover it from his wages.

Richard found it hard to concentrate on Melanie’s endless babel, as he managed to catch Hannah’s eye once or twice, each time followed by a smile.

By eleven o’clock, the bar began to quieten down, and spaces opened up at the bar. Chris made some fleeting appearances and there was the not surprising decision to go to Kinski’s. Richard made sure Hannah was within earshot and then asked her if she’d like to come along.

“Thank you, but I have to stay until one, maybe later. And it’s in the east and I don’t like to go there.”

“Oh, it’s too far from your home ?”

“Yes, and it’s full of Proles. I’ve been there once. I got a taxi to Alexanderplatz and came straight back. Many people were afraid to go there, in case they rebuilt The Wall.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen tonight, Dear,” added Melanie with rather too much sarcastic delight.

“Yes, I think you are right. Sorry.”

With that, Hannah moved away and out of Richard’s fantasy life. The idea of a woman like that in a flat like Chris’ was ridiculous in the extreme. It was probably for the best.

Jens was working the bar, and as soon as they entered, they were assailed with cries of, “geschlossen, Feuer Abend!” (Closed, Last Orders!), so Chris took them to the Czar Bar. It was even grottier than last time.

Tonight, two men worked the bar, or rather one took the drink orders, the other was slumped on a chair in a corner, sometimes resting his head on the bar, sometimes jerking awake, only to slump again. They were playing some kind of Death Metal in an indistinguishable language and one of the denim-clad, unwashed drinkers was shouting along to it. Several dogs were running around, being screamed at when they decided to lift a leg or worse. Again, lots of people just sat alone, clutching a beer for company, a Teutonic version of Degas’ ‘L’Absinthe’.

Around the bar sat the bearded man who had run the bar last time, still with the hat covering half his face. He sat drinking shots of vodka and shouting in loud, repetitive German to the barman, inviting him to drink along, an invitation that was generally accepted. Chris went to get beers and had a little conversation with the vodka drinker, declining a vodka himself.


Melanie was less impressed than Nuno had been, clearly uncomfortable. As the CD finished, a commotion was heard from across the room in a little annex where the toilet was. It was obviously engaged, much to the chagrin of a short-haired, blonde punk, who kicked the door, then marched outside. Tonight, the shutter over the main window was up, and Melanie and Richard were able to follow her with their eyes as she walked into the gutter, undid her belt, pulled down her jeans and squatted in the road. Within seconds, she was back inside.

“That’s very impressive,” said Richard, “anyone that can expose themselves in this weather has my admiration.”

“You’re easily impressed.”

“Always been my problem.”

“One of them.”

At this point, Chris brought the beers over, but was gone after only a minute or two, to talk to someone he recognized. Melanie began speaking about films.

“I should be an editor, because I know exactly how a film should be cut, how long a take should be, what set-ups work best.”

Before Richard could respond, or be obliged to say something, Chris returned;

“Jake wants to have a vodka with us.”

“All right,” said Richard.

“Which one’s Jake ?” asked Melanie.

“Not the one who pissed on the Strasse, I hope.” Chris had missed that little scenario, so had no idea to whom or what Richard was alluding.

“Jake, the bar man, the one who was working last time.”

“You‘ve been here before ?” inquired Melanie of Richard. He immediately pointed to Chris;

“He made me.”

“You two are just speaking bullshit, aren’t you ? Come on, let get vodka-ed.”

“I don’t think I want one. You two boys go.”

They both cringed at that comment, but went all the same.


Two vodkas later, Richard began to see the appeal of this bar. He had thought Kinski was a dramatic, underground alternative, but this bar made Kinski’s look like a Home Counties family pub on a Sunday afternoon.

Suddenly, the second barman sprang to life with a loud exclamation in Russian. He wiped drool from his mouth and reached inside his coat for a cigarette, spitting on the floor and rinsing his mouth with a fresh beer. Chris called for another round of vodka, but then Melanie tapped him on the shoulder, with all the force she could muster, to inform him that she wanted to go.

“So ? Go. Go, capital ‘G’, capital ‘O’ GO! Like Dexter Gordon. GO!”

“I need the keys.”

“Maybe we should, after this round,” suggested Richard.

“Look at you two, what a couple of Beat legends. You want to go, why don’t you go, fuck off, fuck off back to shitty London. Go !”

Jake lifted up his head and raised his glass high;

“Here’s to shitty London,” and downed the shot in one.

“Come on,” said Richard, seeing that Melanie was fighting back tears, “one more for the road. OK, two, two more. Jake, you in ?”

“Am I in ? “ he answered his own question by laughing.


The ruse however, worked. It gave Chris more drinking time whilst giving a time frame for Melanie.

Soon they were outside, swaying home, the walk seeming to take forever in the bitter wind and snow and the uncertain motions of locomotion influenced by vodka.

In the flat, Chris fell asleep immediately, barely bothering to undress. Melanie got a blanket and managed to lay next to him, while Richard returned to the sleeping bag on the floor. He was looking forward to going home.

Richard awoke first, and knew he was unlikely to go back to sleep, so he used the private time to wash and get dressed. After a quick coffee, he left the flat, with just a bag and guidebook, deciding to see something of Berlin’s free sights.

He choose to go and see the Olympic Stadium, far away in the west, penultimate stop on the red U2 line. The journey there should be at least an hour. On the way, he read his guide. This was the famous stadium built for the 1936 Olympics and where Jesse Owens won three Gold’s. Richard now had some context for that famous piece of footage showing The Führer walking out in disgust. He, of course, declined to shake the athlete’s hand. What Richard didn’t know was that Owens also missed out on a handshake by his own President, when he returned to The States.

The stadium was open for tours, but he couldn’t afford to spend the admission, so walked around the outside. Behind, leading off to snow covered woods, a military jeep passed him, with two soldiers. They may well have been British and as such, would have thought nothing of seeing a compatriot taking a stroll in the snow.

There were two other sights in the area that seemed to be of interest. One was the Corbusierhaus, designed in the late 1950’s as an model example of urban living, but Richard wasn’t sure if he found it or not. He certainly saw something, yet couldn’t believe that the nondescript complex in front of him warranted such attention. It appeared to be just another concrete block of cheap housing.

The book also mentioned a sculpture collection, the George-Kolbe-Museum, but as it was a ten minute walk along a wide and otherwise featureless road, and as he probably wouldn’t be able to go in, he decided to head back, slowly making his way to the U-Bahn station, and waited for his train.

It had been less than thrilling, maybe, but he had seen one famous building and, more importantly, had some time to himself, even if he had to walk in the snow in sub zero temperatures to get it.

He arrived back at the flat at mid afternoon, knowing from experience that after Two-Thirty, it would only get colder and colder. And when he got there, Chris was stressed and Melanie was out.

There was only time for a coffee and a smoke before Chris left. He said he was going to the studio, but Richard wasn’t sure if he believed him, or even cared. Melanie returned later that evening. Chris had come through for her, she said, paying for her coach ticket to London. It left early evening of the following day. Chris didn’t make it back to say goodbye.

Richard spent most of the remainder of his time alone, going out sight-seeing, to the large Jewish cemetery in Weissensee and the memorial at Plötzensee, where political prisoners were killed, including 89 from the July 20th Bomb Plot. He walked around the local Volkspark, checking out the collection of political statues and memorials and made it to the giant monument to Ernst Thälmann, a Communist murdered in Buchenwald.

Chris did come back for Richard’s last night and they went straight to Kinski’s and had a great time. But for Richard, it was the cliché of too little, too late.

Chris came with him to the airport, insisting on holding the 1000 page Proust Volume 1, which Richard had half finished with all his spare time. Chris reassured him that he’d send over the money, or hold it until Richard came back. The silence that followed this comment showed that both of them understood that it may be a while before they met again.

At least the plane was on time, and Chris had given Richard the army coat that he’d requisitioned. He reflected on his trip. Chris had a new life, a flat, job and girlfriend and all these friends from the past were just that; from the past.

One piece of uplifting news came when the Co-Pilot announced the ground temperature. For the first time in weeks, it would be above zero. After they landed at London’s City Airport, his bag was one of the first off, and he took it and made his way to the exit. Until a uniformed man asked Richard to follow him. It took half an hour for the Inspector to go through the bag carefully, then check his wallet, asking if he had any drugs, pornography or weapons. The bag only had museum guides and dirty laundry, the Inspector informing him that he personally had no time for culture or galleries, “if I can’t eat it, I don’t care about it.” The delay meant that Richard had missed one bus and had no money for a taxi, so he had to wait in the cold London evening.

He had been waiting to come back, and now he was home. Then it hit him. So I’m back in London: Now what ?

Love and Chaos Part 2(H) Chris 2

2nd December 2020

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

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

Chris decided to take the S-Bahn four stops east from Shönhauser Allee instead of the usual, quicker U-Bahn, to get home. He needed to be above ground, to be able to look out of windows, see sky and open spaces. He felt so claustrophobic.

He would get out at Storkower Strasse and have a long walk through an elevated, covered tunnel that straddled a concrete wasteland full of disused factories. At the end, just a short walk to Rigaer Strasse, the Czar Bar end, and a slow stroll to number 16. This would be his only time to himself and he intended to make the most of it.

He genuinely loved having his friends to visit, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Why did they all have to come at once ? Though he remained positive about his flat’s shortcomings, he knew it wasn’t adequate to deal with the needs of people used to basic western standards. Again, one guest at a time would have been fine, but there had been four recently and even now there were still two people crashing on his floor. He thought of Samuel Johnson’s famous aphorism, how guests are like fish; they begin to smell after three days, but in a flat with no bathroom, those three days dwindled to one.

But the resentment he felt lead to guilt. He hadn’t been so pleasant to Melanie or Will and had hardly seen Nuno. Then he began to justify his feelings. Will had merely used the flat as a base for further travelling, basically a free hotel. All he had heard about was how they were economizing to pay for the rest of their trip. They hadn’t even offered to buy any groceries.

Nuno had just been too much trouble. Ute wouldn’t even speak about him, and he wasn’t welcome back at Biberkopf, so what to do ? It’s not as if they were especially close. Another one just after a cheap holiday. Then again, he had almost beaten the crap out of Ross and for that, he should surely be awarded freedom of the city, or at least the flat.

Richard was happy doing his own thing. He was here for the whole month, so he couldn’t expect Chris to spend every night with him. Besides, they needed time apart, so that they could have things to talk about.

In many ways, this was the best his life had been, and as he walked along the street, covered with rubbish and dog shit, walking past punks and drunks, he thought what a comment that was on his life so far.

He was still in the initial euphoria of a new relationship, thinking Ute the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Certainly the sweetest.

This was the over-riding sensation, the factor that allowed him to deal with all the negative aspects. She was his first really serious girlfriend. All the others had been short-term affairs and it was always the girl that had broken up with him. Now he was scared that the pattern would continue and that Ute would find a reason to leave.

He thought about how happy they were together, but just as he was believing that everything could actually work out, that the guests would soon be gone and that he and Ute had a future, something happened to throw it all into doubt.

That morning, Chris had gone out to buy some bread and food. When he returned, letting himself in with the borrowed key, he heard Ute on the phone. She was speaking emotionally, upset over something, but she stopped as she heard Chris. He was able to understand her say something to the effect of ‘I can’t speak now. We speak later.’

Ute had very pale skin, but now she flushed from her neck up. She walked into the kitchen saying she’ll make coffee.

He asked who she had been speaking to. She replied that it was no one, an old friend.

They breakfasted in silence, then he left.

At least he would have time to spend with Nuno, which could be just what he needed, a red-blooded Latin view of things. Richard would probably come along. Chris wished he’d go and get his own life, not invade other people’s. But then he couldn’t be rude to Richard, because there was another problem. He hadn’t paid Frau Holtzengraff the extra money. She had let October slide, provided he pay double by the end of November. But he had been taking Ute out and been forced to socialize with his guests, so knew that there was no way he could afford an additional two hundred Marks. He also knew that Richard had at least that amount in travellers checks.

He would have to turn on the charm. Otherwise, he would be truly fucked.

Love and Chaos Part 2(G) Nuno 1

1st December 2020

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

Richard waited at Tegal for the late afternoon flight from London, and saw Nuno emerge from passport control with a large canvass bag effortlessly slung over his shoulder. He seemed to be capable of only two expressions; menacing inquisition, and unrestrained joviality. He wore the first when he came out into the small crowd that congregated around the gate, and changed into the second, the second he saw Richard.

This is going to be pure pleasure, compared to the recent guests, thought Richard, as the hulking mass of Nuno approached, arms open wide and smile even broader.

“You can’t believe it, can you ? I’m here, I’m here !”

But as soon as there was contact, Richard suspected that the bonhomie was induced not just by visiting Berlin in winter. The smell of alcohol was overpowering and Nuno made no effort to hide the fact, immediately producing a half bottle of Johnnie Walker Red from his coat pocket and offering it to Richard. It was, of course, accepted.

Richard repeated the journey that Chris had taken him on; bus, U-Bahn, S-Bahn, back to U-Bahn. Nuno leaned against the cheap wood panelling of the train, staggering, trying to keep balance with the jolting, and defying anyone to challenge him, looking as if he were here to take Berlin by the scruff of its scruffy, unwashed neck and shake some sense into it.

There was an attempt at commentary on Richard’s side, telling the newcomer a little about this singular, schizophrenic city, but it obviously wasn’t sinking in, and the best thing would be to get home and get coffee.

There were the usual explanations starting from the U-Bahn at the Rathaus, how things worked, what to expect.

And then Nuno was in the flat, dominating the living room, throwing the bag down, and offering the last dregs of whisky to Richard. He looked around, pointed to the Ofen, then laughed, as he recalled being told about collecting wood at two in the morning, and burning it inside the house.

After coffee, they decided to eat, and went to a restaurant near the U-Bahn, that looked half-way decent for this part of Berlin. Richard knew he had made a wise choice when the waitress appeared, with her chestnut hair, great figure and cover-girl looks. He also realised that Nuno had some natural magnetism that drew women, and the waitress found every excuse to keep returning to their table. It was the best service Richard ever experienced in Berlin.

So, in keeping with the surroundings, and to impress the waitress, who introduced herself as Anna, they ordered Camparis and Soda, then, to show that they were red-blooded males, ordered the Grill Platter for two, a respectable homage to a medieval banquet, a huge, silver tray overloaded with various meat selections and garnished with roast potatoes and carrots and an overdose of parsley.

Nuno was in the house and the poor platter stood no chance.

Anna, who was happy to increase Richard’s German vocabulary by making him repeat the word for ashtray, glass, cutlery and so on, asked them what their plans were, were they going out dancing ? Richard mentioned a Jazz club in Prenzlauer Berg he wanted to check out and it wasn’t until he was in the club, some hours later, that he began to consider that she may have been asking to come along. Ordinarily, he was sure Nuno would have caught such an overture, but was numbed by the whisky. Damn that Johnnie Walker. Have to go back, some time, and make amends.

The Jazz club was a disappointment. It was situated, like so much in Berlin, not on the street, but in an unlit back yard, with no discernible means of ingress or egress. Thankfully, a light flashed on the first floor, and some people came down an iron staircase, so they knew where to go.

After paying a relatively high cover charge, they got a table and two beers. The band, instead of being a wild, hot bebop combo, as Richard had automatically presumed, were a group of young white boys with electric bass, drums, keyboard and acoustic guitar. And singer, a short-haired, very camp man, who scatted his way through the American songbook, screeching into unnecessary high notes at the drop of a high-hat.

The idea was to stay for an hour or so, then head over to Schöneberg where Chris was working, and go out from there. Then it seemed that all the drinking suddenly and violently caught up with Nuno. The head sagged, the body lost its muscular form and the eyes were off into infinity. Time to leave.

Outside, Richard thought of getting a Strassebahn, but then became aware that he had under-estimated the size of his problem, for Nuno could barely stand. He held onto Nuno, one hand on his elbow, the other around and supporting him, but if he fell, they would both be going down. Hard.

Richard hailed a taxi, then tried to force Nuno into it, who, by this time, had developed an attack of hiccups and appeared to be about to vomit. The driver was naturally concerned and was going to drive off until he understood that Richard was also coming.

Half supporting, half carrying Nuno, Richard got him back into the flat and into the main room. He left him to undress and went to make coffee. In the kitchen he heard an almighty thump and ran back to find Nuno, fallen onto the floor, just missing the edge of the table/pallet by inches. Attempts to wake him were futile, but he couldn’t be left where he was. Richard took a deep breathe and got him up, moved him to the sofa and let him fall gently onto it. From there, he was able to lift his legs and swing them over, without much effort. He made some tiny adjustments, to make sure Nuno was on safely, then covered him with blankets, took off his shoes and went back to drink his coffee.

It had been quite a night and, as he wasn’t expecting Chris to return, he too turned in, wearing an extra jumper as the Ofen had long gone out and the room was quite literally freezing.

Richard was trying to summon the courage to get out of his bag in the morning, when Nuno got up and lit a Malboro cigarette, which made Richard feel slightly sick. He got up and went to make coffee and to sit around the cooker’s gas ring, until he could face the daunting task of washing in a tiny sink in a chilling room.

After several coffees and as best a wash as possible, he waited for Nuno. He had seen many drunks before, had been out of control himself, far too many times for comfort, but there was something about last night that disturbed him. The answer came soon enough. Raphaela, Nuno’s girlfriend of the past four years, had just left him and had returned to Portugal.

Nuno couldn’t apologise enough, although he had no idea what he had done. He only vaguely recollected the restaurant, but couldn’t place the waitress, appearing hurt when he heard how attractive she was, and the face he pulled when he heard he had been to a Jazz club just made Richard burst out laughing. Then Richard told him about falling and nearly cracking his head.


“How did you lift me ?”

Richard was blank, as the enormity of his task sank in.

“I don’t know,” was the best he could offer.

Once again, Chris came home in the afternoon, immaculate, and had a big embrace with Nuno, saying that he had waited so long at his bar for them, that in the end it had been easier to stay with Ute, a clear fabrication, but one that Richard let go. To make up for last night, Nuno accepted the offer to go to work with Chris, as Ute would be there as well, and Richard wanted to go to the cinema anyway.

They went to Alex and showed Nuno some of the sights in the immediate vicinity, before going into a bar for cognac and coffee then separating, Chris and Nuno taking the S-Bahn to Friedrich Strasse, Richard to walk to the Zeughaus [the German History Museum], which had a small cinema attached and currently showing a retrospective of early Antonioni films.

When the movie ended, Richard slowly made his way home, needing an early night and enjoying some peace and an alcohol-free evening with Proust.

Nuno made sure that Chris’s evening wouldn’t be so passive.

It had begun innocently enough, as Nuno took the nearest bar stool to the kitchen, tucked away down a small corridor, but clearly audible in the quiet bar. Ute made him feel very welcome, asking him about London and his impression of Berlin. Chris had to work, and Nuno indicated that it was no problem for him to stay in a bar drinking for five hours. It just became a problem for everybody else.

Typically, the night was busy, some regular crowds turning up and ordering food at the same time, throwing the east German chef into a near paroxysm of frustration and anger and disbelief. When Chris managed to slip away for a cigarette break, he found Nuno altered, non-communicative, distant.

It wasn’t until just before midnight that Chris could finish and join his girlfriend and friend at the bar and by this time, Ute had had enough of him. Chris found him demanding more beer, then, after the barman half filled the glass, to allow the head to settle for a few minutes, Nuno screamed out,

“Hey, where’s my fucking beer ?”


“Nuno, Nuno, hey, it’s OK, they always pour it like that.”

“I don’t care, I want my beer and I want it now!”

Chris saw Walter speaking angrily to Florian, the barman, who soon came over and spoke to Chris,

“Chris, I’m sorry, but Walter says that your friend has to go. Now.”

Chris felt a cold wave of panic, not knowing how he was going to accomplish that, when, as usual, Marina solved the problem. Temporarily, at least.

She had heard that Nuno was expected and came in to check Ross, inevitably, with her. Marina suggested they all go to another bar.

Outside, Ute declined to come along, saying that Chris should spend time with his friend, then, after Chris failed to take the hint, bluntly told him that she didn’t ever want to see Nuno again and got into her car and drove home.

Nuno, meanwhile, was all over Marina, harmlessly laughing and making in-jokes that didn’t amuse Ross at all.

The four walked to an Irish bar a street or two away and ordered four Guinesses. Inside, Ross called out to an extremely tall Irishman, and beckoned him over.

“This is Brian. He’s the best person I’ve met in Berlin. He’s brilliant.”

Brian stood there, beaming. Chris asked what he did, but totally misheard Ross’s answer above the loud music and pub din, hearing that Brian collected children. This did sound brilliant, commendable, as Chris had visions of the gentle giant going to remote villages with medical supplies, vaccinating the young and saving lives, or placing east European orphans with loving families in the west. But Ross was pointing to the wall behind him, which was covered in Americana, especially car license plates from different states. The penny finally dropped.

“Oh, you collect car-tags ?”

“Yes,” was the brilliant reply. Then Marina let out one of her trademark laughs. She was having a real calming effect on Nuno, who had settled down and seemed to be enjoying himself. He said one or two comments and again, the same reaction, louder, from Marina. Some people, probably known to them, looked over, knowing that sound so well, but Ross wasn’t impressed and reprimanded her,

Mari- naaaa!” with a stern look. Nuno immediately turned on him,

“Hey, what the fuck is that ? Why do you speak to her like that ? You have no idea how to treat this beautiful woman. “

“Well, Nuno, I think you should stop drinking and mind your own business.”

General mayhem, as Marina tried to calm everyone down, Nuno shouted, Ross shouted back, Brian just made noises and Chris restrained the urge to smile. Suddenly Nuno got up and grabbed Ross, pulling him to his feet and raised a fist, when several men around the bar intervened and shuffled him to the door, quite gently in the circumstances, pushing him out, and telling him that he was welcome back tomorrow, but that he’d better sleep it off tonight.

Ross took out his anger at Marina, saying what lovely friends she had, obviously including Chris in his comment, and went to a corner with Brian, with various locals coming up and patting his shoulder, saying that the other fellow was lucky and that Ross would have pummelled him.

Marina made a helpless gesture and Chris was left to get Nuno home, cursing Richard for not being there, and selfishly going to the cinema, instead.

However, the explosion of testosterone and adrenaline had a sobering effect on Nuno, and the long journey home by night buses was pretty painless. Nuno began explaining about Raphaela.

Having told them both about his situation, Nuno slowed his drinking and became great company for Richard as Chris was either at work, or with Ute. The next night, Richard took him to an English-language film at the large Odeon cinema at Schöneberg. Afterwards, they found a bar and sat talking.

They laughed about the primitiveness of the flat, and the cold unrelenting weather. They began speaking of the USA. Why on earth had they come to Berlin ? Why hadn’t they gone to Florida, or California. They began talking about travelling together, Nuno expressing an interest in seeing Chicago, a city he had always been drawn to.

Another man began looking over, and Richard seemed to recognise him.

“Excuse me, I heard you mention Chicago. Are you American ?”

“No, I’m English, but, more to the point, do you have a shower in your apartment ?”

It had become something of a joke, to ask strangers about their bathroom situation. Klaus, the guy at the bar, recognised Richard from Bar Biberkopf [where Chris worked] and went on to explain about the flats in the east, and how there must have been a communal wash-room. He also told them about The Wall, how it made West Berlin an island surrounding by the DDR and how difficult it could be for West Germans to enter the east, having to use special papers and enter at certain border points.

After this bar, Nuno and Richard found another, just before the S-Bahn entrance, an old-style Berlin bar run by an old Turkish man and his young assistant, who was much more interested in chatting to the two ladies who were the bar’s only other customers. Before long, Nuno also got speaking to them, and flirting, while Richard sat and had a quiet whisky, glad to see Nuno happier.

Then they got back to Friedrichshain and went to Café Kinski, where Chris had arranged to meet them. After a quick beer, Chris decided that because Philipp was working, they should try their luck at the Czar Bar, so they walked down Rigaerstrasse, past the first squat bars, to a residential section, then onto a more fitting section of squatted buildings. Chris entered a door that, naturally, showed no sign of life. Inside was something of a shock, even to Richard.

The Czar Bar was a large open space, whitewashed, but had grey stone and concrete showing through. And no heating. To the left of the door was a makeshift bar. Behind the bar was a large dresser, used to store glasses and the bottles of vodka or tequila. Under the counter were crates of beer, evident when the barman bent down out of sight and re-emerged with three bottles for Chris. The barman was covered with a bushy beard and battered 1940’s-style hat, drawn over his eyes.

But what gave the bar it lost-souls atmosphere were the drinkers. It was as if every other squat bar had spewed out their dregs and forced them to come here. There were some repellent punks, some unattractive girls with painful-looking piercings, and people who looked as if they had simply just given up.

Everyone seemed to be drinking alone, there was no background noise, just some old Tom Waits songs coming from a cheap cassette player.


One man, dressed in old, dark trousers and a cheap jacket over a moth-eaten jumper, was perched on a precarious bar stool, the kind of chair that Shoulder may well have made. It was very tall and thin, incredibly top-heavy with a solid metal back but only a small, circular base. The man began swaying, the chair began lifting off the ground. Eventually, he toppled over and crashed onto the concrete floor, and lay there, unmoving. Nobody went to help him, nobody even seemed to acknowledge him. Richard asked Nuno if they should lift him.

“No, I’m not touching that !”

Nuno, in fact, was very unimpressed by the bar and wanted to leave. On the way home, he turned to Richard;

“Would you fuck any of those women in there ?”

Then Chris surprised them both. He informed them that he wasn’t staying in the flat, but would gather a few items of clothing and stay with Ute.

Over coffee, Nuno was upset.

“What the fuck is this ? He invites me over and then doesn’t see me ! Yes, I know I was bad, but … What is wrong with him ?” Then he began speaking about Raphaela. “We used to live together, eat together, sleep together, shit together … not really shit together, you know … ? “

They decided that they should spend the next day sightseeing, as Nuno was keen to see Checkpoint Charlie which he merely referred to as ‘Charlie’. Being so cold, every day seeming to drop more and more degrees, they decided to go to the gallery by Museum Island. It should at least be heated.

After spending the afternoon there, they were deciding what to do next, when a young women with long hair and designer glasses came up to them. She pointed to Richard’s guide, surprised that there could be a whole book on Berlin, as she had one that covered the whole of Europe that, she insisted, wasn’t much bigger.

All three agreed to take a coffee and Nancy told her story, about planning to come to Europe over Summer with her boyfriend, but he had changed his mind, and made excuses why they should go later, something about cheaper flights and less tourists, which did make sense. However, the boyfriend’s real motive was to stay and keep seeing another girl. Nancy only found out three weeks ago, so she took his car, sold it and bought the airline ticket with the money.

She had landed in London, then toured Europe by train and stayed in the cheapest possible accommodation. She was currently in a six-bed dorm in Kreutzberg, which alarmed the two men, but seemed totally natural to her.

Tomorrow she would leave for Paris. Nuno lit up. He had always wanted to go there. He began asking her about costs, where she would stay, how much she expected to spend. Did she mind him coming along, too ? Of course not, and there was a telling exchange in the eyes.

Nuno then asked the key question;

“Does your dorm have a shower ?”

It did, and a spare bed or two as at least one occupant was checking out.

With unbelievable speed, Nuno & Richard were in the dorm, Nuno checking in and insisting that Richard take first shower. As he was drying himself, he heard a wall-shaking, Nuno laugh.

“Hey, Richard, listen to this …. She’s from Chicago !”

All three went for a final drink. Nuno hugged Richard, thanking him for everything. They exchanged addresses, then Richard went back to Friedrichshain alone.

Three months later, in London, he got a postcard, ’Greetings From Chicago’.

He never heard from Nuno again.

Love and Chaos Part 2(F) Firefly

Part Two

Firefly was on her bed, gracefully meditating. The Spartan room had a faint Asian ambience from the Chinese lamp and some posters with Mandarin script. She liked atmosphere and had various coloured bulbs which she lit at night, as if recreating the neon-drenched streets of Hong Kong.

One point was apparent; this was a one-person apartment.

Firefly had just completed another ‘identification’ for which she was well paid and now she was free. There would be more work, that was guaranteed, and it would come to her. No time to get bored.

She merely had to go to one of her known hang-outs and if anyone wanted her and followed the accepted protocol, she was for hire.

So it gave her a shock when, on that warm, summer morning, there were four thundering knocks on her door.

She jumped up, then slowed her breathing to regain composure. She let out an exclamation sounding like “waaayyyyy!”

She moved to the door, keeping one hand free to take a knife that was inconspicuously hanging behind a leather coat. Then she opened the door. The light from the large windows almost blinded her, but she could see a large figure, all in black, the face hidden by a Chinese mask depicting a dragon, standing in front of her. He appeared to be clenching something up high, but before Firefly could act, he dropped his hand and there was a loud crack and a cloud of thick, slightly perfumed smoke.

Firefly coughed and wiped her eyes, the knife in hand, but the man had vanished. There was the faint sound of steps, then the street door closing.

On the floor, a large envelope. Slowly, Firefly picked it up and took it inside.

“Waaayyyyy!” She was intrigued.

As she guessed, it was a new commission. Normally, she would have been too suspicious of any deviation or unorthodox approach, but this was different, different in a way she couldn’t define.

The envelope contained just two items. A photo and money.

She picked up the head shot and studied it. No one she recognised. She would start immediately.

She hit play on her small cassette player and a piece of bubble-gum Asian pop filled the room. Firefly danced around, changing into a new black top and fixing her make-up, putting on small boots with heels. Before leaving, a look at herself in a mirror, fixing the one hair out of place. Then, photo in her small, shoulder bag, to work.

The first dive-bars proved fruitless, but it was still early and Firefly hadn’t expected much. It served to eliminate some options and to kill time until The Fatman could be reached.

She toured the cafés of Kreutzberg on the look-out, allowing herself to be seen. The word would filter through the disparate strata of her world. Firefly was onto someone and that someone had better watch out. His time was up.

By the time she could visit The Casbah Club, the sun long set over the Europa Center, she knew she would be expected. Nevertheless, she approached the bar, hips swinging in her tight skirt and asked for a meeting. The large barman made the merest gesture of acknowledgement, a hint of a raised eyebrow, a barely perceptible flick of his index finger and without the slightest urgency, disappeared behind a doorway.

Firefly sensed she was being watched, not officially, that she took for granted, information being as deadly as weapons, but by a man out for a good time.

She could hear him walking up to her. He was probably some minor crook, or drug runner, or wannabe. He dangled a cigarette out of the side of his mouth, even when he spoke. He asked Firefly if she wanted a drink. Without looking at him, she gave a short but definite shake of her head. The man asked again, then again, before making his mistake. He put his arm around her.

Suddenly, his head was smashed down on the bar, his nose loudly snapping as Firefly with a swift motion, drove her elbow into it. The man fell to the floor, blood streaming through the fingers he covered his nose with, making an unearthly, high-pitch wine.

The barman stood in the doorway and beckoned Firefly. She stepped over and swayed through. The barman looked at her as she passed, then picked up the man with one hand and showed him the back exit.

The Fatman already knew about this.

“Making friends ?” he casually asked, with a flick of a fly-swatter.

“I don’t need friends. Here.” Firefly threw down the photo. The Fatman didn’t move his eyes away from her.

“Oh, really, everybody needs friends. Even you, my dear. All those hot, lonely nights …”

“Fatman. Do you know him ?”

It was only then that he deigned to stretch out his fat fingers and lift the photo, an effort that seemed to cause him some effort. His stifling office was decorated in a mixture of Middle-Eastern styles, heavy rugs, tiled walls, a fug of sweat and sweet odours from the various hookah pipes and cigarettes.


The Fatman himself wore a fez and a suit that may, at one time, have fitted him perfectly, but now it appeared ready to burst its seams. The white shirt was clearly and grotesquely oily and soiled. Rumour, (because people here liked to keep all personal information to a minimum while allowing any stories, the more colourful the better, to swell to fanciful heights), had it that The Fatman made his fortune with girls and drugs in Morocco, then moved on to selling information to interested parties all over the Arab world. How he came to be in West Berlin was never satisfactorily explained, the most common rationale being that he had murdered a very minor member of the Arabian monarchy and suddenly found himself persona non grata in the Levant.

His appearance did lend itself to the idea of a once noble life turned seedy, but there was no sloppiness in his work. He studied the photo with the utmost care.

Firefly gestured behind her. She knew that there would be someone sucking on a pipe out of her view, one of The Fatman’s assassins.

The Fatman chuckled to himself.

“My dear, if only I could impress upon you the benefits of a merger, a combining of our resources. Why, Berlin would be ours. My contacts, your irrefutable charms … Ahmed.”

From the shadows, a dark, swarthy man, dressed in Bedouin attire stepped out. He looked at Firefly, who returned his gaze, then looked at the picture. Without a word, he shook his head, once, but with real vigour, then faded back into the darkened recesses of the room.

“Come on Fatman, name your price.”

“Ah, no, no … why such crassness ? It would be a pleasure for me to be of service to you, in any way … “

“Who is he ?”

“That, I can’t tell you. What I can say is that he doesn’t gamble, do drugs or have any particular sexual peccadillo. If he did, I would know of it and I can tell you, this man doesn’t move in those circles.”

“Waaayyyyy.” Firefly knew what to believe and believed The Fatman. She turned to leave.

“Oh, wait. Won’t you stay ? I have couscous ?”

But Firefly had already disappeared.

There were other contacts and sources of information, but Firefly was a little disturbed that The Fatman couldn’t place him. He may not know where, but generally what the subject was involved in, and therefore which areas to search.

Firefly tried other bars and dives, from high end villas to the lowest, junkie streets around Zoo, she spent time at private members clubs talking to those involved in politics and economics, and time at other kinds of clubs catering to any depravity that could be paid for. The same response. Person unknown.
Firefly scouted The KittyKatt bar, recognising some high-level politicians and industrialists who favoured the golden shower approach to relaxation, as well as several informants who could barely contain their good fortune at having stumbled over some valuable blackmail material.

She placed the photo in front of the eyes of one she knew, a particularly unpleasant character who seemed to be enjoying one performance a little too much in the suspected privacy of his booth. Firefly warned him not to touch the photo and he knew her well enough to comply. But no clues.

She left the bar, standing in the quiet street that showed no evidence of any bar, let alone sex club in its leafy respectability. She decided that the night was over. She would have to rethink. It would be a challenge and she had yet to fail any assignment.

Logic: The face was ‘normal’, it showed no scars or signs of an underworld lifestyle. The skin was smooth, eyes bright. Hair neat but not pampered. From this she concluded that he wasn’t a drug user or heavy drinker. No debauchery. Not a high level job. A hit man ? possible. Those guys are chosen for their invisibility, neither too tall or small, no distinguishing marks and so forth. But there is always a give-away coldness in the eyes, which the photo didn’t show. If anything, he appeared pleasant looking.

A political ? Could be. An idealist wanting to cause trouble ? The situation in Berlin may be far from ideal, but it creating a good lifestyle for many people, people who were happy with the way things stood and would resist any change.

As Firefly pondered these, she walked into a large, underground series of tunnels connecting with U-Bahn platforms and stores. She was alone, her boots echoing against the tiles. Then, somewhere ahead, more footsteps, a beat after hers. Firefly kept walking, straining to see in the sickly, artificial light. The figure got closer, walking straight, the steps, a determined pulse. Firefly already had a hand on her gun, inside her jacket pocket and ready for action. She showed no emotion, nor adjusted her pace. A figure could be discerned. A man. Smartly dressed, arms by the side, walking, looking ahead, past Firefly.

He got closer, never taking his eyes away from some fixed point in the distance.

Then they passed. He walked on, and away. Firefly stood, mouth open , turning to watch him, barely suppressing a “waaayyyyy,” as his footsteps got fainter and fainter. She couldn’t believe her luck. It was the man in the photo.

After that, it was easy. She followed him, on foot, then by taxi, to his house, even more surprised to find that he lived very near her, a street or two away. She remembered all the clichés about looking too hard when the object is under one’s nose.

She noted the house number, and could see from outside, what floor and which door the man entered. After a few days, she could predict the man’s routine, what time he left, how long he stayed out, when he came home.

All she had to do was wait for the masked man to return, then give him the address. But she was curious. Who was he ? What had he done that made someone hire her in such a fashion ? And why was he completely off the radar as far as Berlin was concerned ?


She decided to find out. After all, she had been given no directive one way or the other, and surely the more information, the better.

The next day, watching the man leave and thinking that he would be away some time, if his previous habits were continued, she broke into his flat.

Nothing special, at first glance. A little drab; faded paint, dour colours. A TV, music centre, some books. In the bedroom, enough clothes to suggest that he had been here some time, or that he was here on a permanent basis. Enough bits around to show that it was a lived-in flat, but still, nothing exceptional. She searched the cupboards and drawers, looking for files, weapons, drugs, books of contacts, photos. Nothing. Until she opened a bedroom cupboard and looked into a box. Inside, neatly folded, was a black, Chinese-style shirt, with matching trousers and on top on those, staring straight back at her, was a mask of a dragon.

“Waaayyyyy.” Firefly barely had time to process this information, when she heard the key in the door. She sprang up, looking for a place to hide, until she was stopped by a voice from the hallway.

“Firefly … ?”

Tony had occasionally thought about going up to the prostitutes and offering to pay just to talk to them, but then he saw how such a proposition would pan out. His innocent albeit desperate attempt to connect with another human, or more specifically, a woman, would be interpreted as a specific desire from the girl’s list of services.

A persuasive pimp would appear and Tony would have to extricate himself from a situation even he could barely explain.

He thought one or two of the girls, all of whom seemed to be dressed in low-cut tops and short pants of bright-coloured imitation leather, no matter the season, recognized him, but dismissed even that idea. He was just a figure who was only of interest as a potential John.

One dark-haired woman followed him with her eyes, taking him for one of the men too morale or scared to actually take a girl, but enjoyed looking, all the same. Why else would he be here ?

Tony kept walking. Why was he here, two o’clock on a Wednesday
morning ? The answer was as simple as it was painful for him to articulate: loneliness.

Loneliness compounded by insomnia. Despite the office job, the regular hours, the full work-load and its accompanying boredom, Tony was unable to sleep more than an hour or two at a time. He would wake and start thinking; how he was always alone, how, it seemed, he would always be alone. He knew it was futile to try to sleep after those thoughts and rather than fight it, he would get up and walk around the city, hoping to tire himself that way.

This proved to be the most satisfactory way. He had previously tried reading, then watching T.V. but it was all in German, and he couldn’t follow it, not that it ever appeared to be worth following. The radio was little better, either Radio-Free, or The World Service. So he dressed and prowled the early hour streets.

He had to admit, he liked the atmosphere. It was certainly different from his native Ohio. There was life here, maybe seedy and edgy, but people were living. Bars were open, groups drank and laughed, couple found convenient doorways, police cars took sharp bends and screeched away, buses swept stops clean of leather punks, and suited business men hailed glowing taxis, off into the Berlin night. Yes, it was life, but for Tony, he would always be a viewer. It was no more real or accessible to him than a movie. No matter where, at his American office with English-speaking staff, or in the middle of this city’s incredible nightlife, he would always be an observer, never a participant. He even called his lifeless flat ‘the waiting room’ as he was waiting for his life to start.

And while he was waiting, something happened. Without knowing quite when or how, that spring Tony became obsessed with a girl.

He had seen her several times, on his nightly excursions. He hadn’t thought about her one way or another. Maybe subconsciously, he knew, despite her provocative outfit, she was no working girl, probably a girl going clubbing, maybe employed at a bar, either way, no one with whom he could have any contact.

One time he saw her up close and her perfect features only reinforced his admittance that here was another beautiful girl out of his reach. And she was breathtakingly beautiful.

He forgot all about her until one evening, on the way home from work, he saw her. It seemed so out of context, seeing her at this time that he began following her. When he found out that she lived only a few streets from him, he found himself strangely happy.

That night, when he woke up, he had her face in his thoughts and there the face stayed, night after night. He now began going out, not just on aimless walks, but in the hope of seeing her. It took some time, but one night, he saw her again. She was going into a bar. It looked pretty sleazy, some tough looking characters outside, but they stepped aside as she walked up. He walked past and heard the men speak. He had just enough German to make out what there were saying: the girl was known as Firefly.

After that, Tony began going to the bar. He would never have dreamt of being in such a bar, but now his obsession easily overcame his fear. Also, being American gave him a certain cache. He was seen as a source of dollars, and that made him welcome anywhere.

He talked to one or two drinkers, their defences let down by alcohol and learnt some things, adding to the information by listening every time he heard the word ‘Firefly’. He walked in certain areas where there was more possibility of her being and he always ended up on her street. She returned home once or twice while he held his vigil, always alone and that gave Tony a happiness he could barley contain.

Little by little, aided by alcohol and dollar bills, Tony knew all he needed to. All he had to do now was to contrive a way that they could meet. What would happen then was unknown, but Tony had to make himself as interesting to her as she was as captivating to him.

The sleepless night were now spent forming a plan, something that would hook her, appeal to her; romance and mystery.

Then he thought of the perfect plan. He executed it, now all he had to do was to return to ‘The waiting Room’ and wait.

But there was one miscalculation. His very ordinariness. He knew that he was invisible as far as most people, let alone beautiful girls, were concerned. The people in the bars he had briefly spoken to hadn’t thought too much about him, hadn’t committed him to memory. He followed Firefly’s progress, watched her show his photo to someone he had shared wine with some weeks past, only to see a genuine shake of the head.

“Then I knew that I had to present myself to you. When I saw you go into the tunnel, I ran to another entrance and hoped you wouldn’t turn off. I saw you in the distance, so I had a chance to get my breathe back. I didn’t look at you, that was so hard, and I felt my heart was going to burst. I went straight home. You would follow me, find out where I live. Then I thought I should establish a pattern of behaviour. I knew you would be curious. The Chinese mask would get your interest, as well as the fact that no one knew me. Not so flattering. I had spoken to several of your contacts. Anyway, it was only a question of time before you would come here and find the mask. Yes. It was I who hired you. And why ? Easy. I’m in love with you. This was the only way I could think of to get to talk to you.”

Tony didn’t know what to do now. He wasn’t sure whether or not to take her hand, to carry on speaking or let her respond. But Firefly was silent. She wasn’t looking at him, and was keeping her thought to herself. If Tony had looked closely, he would have seen her trying to control her breathing.

Slowly, Firefly stood up. She walked out of the room, into the hall and out of the front door, which she closed gently, but with a finality that wasn’t lost on Tony.

He had at least tried.

There was a small Chinese restaurant near Tony’s flat. He had seen Firefly go there once or twice, so now he took his lunch there every day. One afternoon, several weeks after the confession in his apartment, the autumn turning relentlessly into winter, two men were talking at a corner table. They had finished eating and were cleaning their mouths with toothpicks, in-between slurps of cheap beer from cans. Tony froze, his soup spoon halfway to his mouth when he heard one of them mention Firefly.

“Yeah. Not been seen. Dead, they say.”

“Bullshit. No way is she dead.”

“Well, where is she ? Her flat’s empty. Someone else living there now.”

Tony knew that was true. He had seen the middle-aged man moving in.

“Doesn’t mean she’s dead. Must have moved on.”

“I heard she was on a special mission. Asked too many questions. High up. If she moved, she would have cleared out the flat, taken her things with her. She just vanished and that sounds like a hit to me.”

“Yeah, you could be right.”

Tony couldn’t finish his lunch. He went back to work and gave notice, then booked a flight home.

Two weeks later, Tony waited for the taxi to take him to the airport on the pavement, with just one suitcase. When it arrived, he got in quickly, as if he couldn’t wait to leave, and looked straight ahead as the taxi pulled away.

If he had turned to take a final look at his old neighbourhood, he would have seen the entrance to a Hof opposite. If he had exceptional eyesight, he may have seen a small figure looking out.

The figure stretched to full height as the taxi sped away. It may have been the cold, but the beautiful young girl with perfect features had a tear slowly falling down her cheek. It was followed by a second and then a third.

Love and Chaos Part 2(E) Firefly Prologue

Part Two

One night, after the departure of Melanie and Will, and before the arrival of Nuno, Chris and Richard were having a drink with Silvio in Kinski, talking about women. Behind them, sitting around a table, some young German men were also talking about women. One of them was speaking of a girl he had been on a few dates with, but was, so far, unable to make the relationship physical. He asked his friends for advice. After some joking and teasing, one man, some years older than the others, sat back, lit up a cigarette and began a story:

“She’s like the girl who was afraid of love. You know that story ? It’s pre-Wende, ’86, ’87. West Berlin, real Cold War scene, spies and gangsters, underworld criminals, informants, government sponsored prostitution, hit men, an unbelievable, crazy scene, no rules; anything could happen and most things did.

“There was this girl, Firefly, who was … well, guess you’d call her a P.I. She was the one to go to if you wanted to find someone. If that person was in West Berlin, no matter where, she’d be onto him. “

“And she would take them out ?”

“Not usually her scene. She’d find the target and relay the info. Not to say that she hadn’t … anyway, she was one tough lady. No one messed with her, or if they did, only once.

“What made her even more iconic was her outfit. She’d dress like some goth-queen; short skirt, black tights, leather jackets, boots. Legend has it she was quite small, platinum blonde, incredibly cute.”

“And afraid of nothing except love, right ?”

“It started one hot, summer morning. Firefly was on her bed; tight, black shorts, skimpy vest top. Suddenly, there was a loud thumping on her door …

Love and Chaos Part 2(D) Will 1

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

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

It was five past eight when Will and Melanie turned up at the flat. Richard had stayed in all evening, waiting for them, and had been engaged in chopping wood for the Ofen when they banged on the door, both of them ensconced in leather motorcycle gear and looking faintly ridiculous. Richard, however, knew he was in no position to pass judgement, standing with a flimsy hacksaw over an unyielding pallet. He explained what he was doing, indicating the Ofen and the inappropriate tools he had for the job, for, in addition to the aforementioned and pretty much useless saw, he also had a hammer and a Philips-head screwdriver in his arsenal.

“I think that’s the secret, you get hot by chopping the wood, not from burning it.”

Melanie gave a sneering laugh, and when Richard thought back, he remembered this as the first time he suspected that she was laughing at and not with him.

Chris was working tonight and wouldn’t be back until at least one o’clock, and as he said this, Richard felt the room get a touch colder. Still, he played the host, showing them the flat, and accepting all their sarcasm good-naturedly, apologising as if it were his own apartment. Will went into detail about how easy it was to find the street, yet nearly impossible to find the actual flat, tucked away in its dark corner.

He had some soup ready and warmed it for them, making the kitchen as hospitable as possible with the ambient candle lighting and the blue gas jet from the cooker, left on to give heat. There was wine and beer in the house and they chose the former, a rather low quality bottle that Richard had happily picked up from a Turkish Imbiss for a pittance, (imagine, he told himself, going to a fish and chip shop in London, and being able to buy wine,) and which became the next target for criticism. Not that it stopped them from finishing the bottle.

Richard told them about the great bar they went to, saying that Kinski would be open after ten, and silently counted the minutes until they could go there. He asked their plans.

“Mel’s been here before, so I’m expecting her to know all the places to go and all that’s worth seeing.”

Mel just nodded, while Richard knew that her experience of east Berlin was of a solitary day-trip, and all the places that existed then were probably closed down, while the new places, the squat bars, would have been inconceivable. Will continued in his affected manner, exuding a studied sense of world-weariness, leaning back in his chair, and speaking into the air, rather than addressing his comments to people directly.

“We’ll hang for a couple of days, suss the scene, then move on. Want to get to Warsaw, take a look around, see how they’re embracing the new post-Communist freedom. Freedom ? Ha, right. Poor buggers.”

Eventually, it was time to leave. Philipp was making the bar, but it was quite busy, the distorted guitars sounding even worse, or better, through the faulty CD system. Richard found the music very irritating, mainly because he found the company difficult, and strained to think of anything to say. Chris was the link between them and he wouldn’t be here for hours. Therefore, the only solution was to enjoy himself in the bar, as the novelty of ordering drinks past eleven hadn’t worn off yet. That also gave him a topic.

“Mate,” started Will, with a theatrical sigh, “I could take you to places in Bavaria where everyone’s in bed by ten o’clock.”

Not knowing how to respond, Richard got up to get more drinks. He returned all too quickly, sat down and looked at his watch, when salvation happened in the shape of Shoulder.

A large, impressively powerful hand crashed down on Richard’s own shoulder, with such a grip, that he jumped.

“Ahhh, you’re back. And you sent me that postcard of a painting about nothing! I am never having my hair cut ever again, all Friseur, all barbers, are in the head, verrückt, crazy. And … I will tell you why.”

At that point, Shoulder, as was his style, leant over and rested his arm on Will, who was stunned into a very uncomfortable silence.

Shoulder spoke with quite a deep German accent but otherwise looked nothing like his tall, Aryan friends, being rather short and stocky, his build accentuated by the tight, ‘artist-in-residence’ jumpers he wore. His complexion, which was very dark, and his large, hooked nose actually made him look more like some long-lost Inca and, along with his idiosyncratic communication style of non-sequiturs and gesticulations, Shoulder created such an impression that Mel and Will were shocked, for once keeping their thoughts to themselves. For the first time since his arrival, Richard felt happy, truly happy and so … sit back, drink the Jim Beam and enjoy the show. He wasn’t disappointed.

“One time, I was in Italy, I was fucking an Italian girl, so I went there and she says, (here he affected a ludicrously inaccurate accent of an Italian woman) ‘oh, bambino, you are so beuono, mi-oo, but babeeeeee, can’t we have another lover with us ?’ So I think, Ahh, schön, zwei Mädchen, danke, (‘beautiful, two girls, thanks’) because, here I will tell you why. I thought, Italy, cooking and singing and pasta and women with big, big, biiigggggg, breasts (here Shoulder held out his hands, far from his body, as if struggling to contain said features.) But my baby had small breasts, (here he turned to Will, looked him right in the eye, then punched him, playfully, but with real force, in the chest,) you know what I mean ! Small … (here he looked up, saw Melanie, starred at her chest, all femininity suppressed under tight, black tops) … like you. And she couldn’t cook ! So, I think, I’ll have a nice mama with big, biiggggg breasts, but she say to me, (back to the accent,) oh, no, my babeee, I mean two men. What ! (back to starring at Melanie,) Why do all you women want that ? I have a one-penis policy. I have to leave. Now, (turning back to Will,) at this time, I had all beard and hair and … (miming a face with improbably wild growth of hair,) so, I go to hairshop. ‘Piacere ! Hello, What’s up, Brother ? Take off all the shit. Si, I miei capelli sono dritti al naturale, my head is of course straight, no bumps. Yes, I am from Germany, hallelujah.’ Don’t forget, I have been up all night, many night, fucking, so I am tired like a monkey, and I close my eyes, and clip, clip, clip, I sleep. I wake up. I hear them laughing. Then I see in the mirror. They cut my hair and shave off my beard, but they comb my head over and leave a little Hitler moustache. And they won’t cut it off ! I have to pay a litre of Lira and walk through the town. More. Last week I go to German barber, (turning back to Will) yes, remember, last week, you were here and we were speaking about clown make-up ?”

Here Richard could get a word in, repeating a familiar scene.

“No, Shoulder, it’s his first night here, you haven’t met him before.”

“Yes, he likes big breasts and motorbikes.”

The latter reference spread confusion, being so accurate, and allowed them to gloss over the former. Shoulder merely carried on his interminable tale,
“And he wouldn’t cut my hair!’

“Because of the Hitler thing ?” asked Will, desperate to make sense of the situation.

“No, because of this …” Shoulder had been wearing a woollen beanie hat, which he now took off, and in doing so, covered the table with white dust, dust which hung in the air, before falling into their drinks and over their clothes. And then, his act over, Shoulder got up and left, supporting himself on Richard’s shoulder and whispering in his ear,

“His keys,” before shuffling off to harass Philipp.

Richard was unable to decipher the message, until he looked over and saw that Will had his keys, with the Suzuki fob, on the table.

Unfortunately, the two guests hadn’t appreciated the performance as much as Richard, both finding it somewhat offensive and, claiming fatigue after their journey, asked to go back to the flat, where they drank the rest of the beer and waited for Chris. And waited.

The couch could easily sleep three, if not four people, (lengthways) but Richard preferred his sleeping bag on the floor, after making space, propping the procured pallet against the wall and moving the new rucksacks aside. By three o’clock, everyone was exhausted, but didn’t want to go to sleep, only to be woken by a buoyant Chris who would no doubt burst in with fresh bottles and energy. But it didn’t happen. Chris finally showed up at lunchtime, freshly showered and with clean ironed clothes, while the other three looked like refugees, unwashed and walking around in mismatched clothing for warmth, not fashion.

“What the fuck is this ? Look at you fucking, useless people !”

Chris said this with a smile, but there was a harshness in the tone that was telling. Seeing him so clean only highlighted their own state, and the awareness that they smelt unwashed increased their vulnerability. Melanie broke the silence :

“And where have you been ?”

“Ute’s,” was the only response, as Chris left the room immediately, claiming that he was going to make coffee. Will made a show of allowing Melanie use of the toilet sink first, then Richard, and, as they emerged, as clean as possible, they joined Chris in the kitchen.


Richard didn’t take it personally, thinking that Chris had invited people over when he had been alone, and now that they had all come, at the same time, he must have felt invaded. He didn’t want to think that not only were they now not required, but they were actually not wanted.

Will was the last to join them, oblivious to any vibe, and stood drinking, not seeing the lack of space for him at the small table as a symbol of any sorts. He suggested going out for lunch.

“I’m not hungry.” Melanie responded to Chris’ proclamation by saying that they were, and if he knew a good restaurant.

“No, but I know some bad ones.” It was a feeble joke, but it broke the tension. Richard mentioned meeting Shoulder. Will said that if that arsehole came up to the table again, he’d leave. Chris picked up on the cue, to ask him when he was leaving.

“Day after tomorrow, or the next day. Two or three days should do it for Berlin, get the low-down.”

“Yeah, well I’ll be working most of the time. Maybe Richard can take you out.”

“That’s nice, we come to see you and you won’t be here,” said Melanie.

“Hey ! I gotta work. All right ?” No one said anything.

One by one, they finished their coffees, washing up their cups immediately. Richard mentioned that he knew some bars that had a lunch menu and they agreed, glad to get out and Chris glad to get them out. As they were leaving, Richard whispered to Chris, asking if he was OK. He nodded and gave a little smile.

After lunch, Richard suggested that they go for a walk around Alex, but this only led to discussions about the weather, which, in truth, would be a factor, as it was bitter, and already getting dark. Instead, they decided to stay in the bar and order cognac with coffee and just talk. Richard had his guidebook with him and they discussed the merits and demerits of it, the lack of photos or colour maps, the lack of detail on the maps that were included, the layout, which made it more like a novel. Richard pointed out some of the more unusual museums that were hidden among the suburbs of Berlin, a dog museum, a hairdressing museum, which reminded him of Shoulder’s stories and an Ofen museum, apparently a collection of different types of the devise. Melanie said that they had to go, just for the kitsch factor.

They stayed until early evening and went back, all hoping that Chris would be out. In the Hof, Richard pointed up to the window, which was black, showing no one in. They tacitly agreed to stay in and go to the bar later, all being tired from the previous evening and the cold, which forced one to walk with hunched shoulders, heads down.

“So, what have you been doing since you got here ?” asked Melanie.

Richard stood up from the pallet he was trying to dismember and said,

“This.”

“You must have done something.”

“Well, Chris works a lot, the studio, or the bar. Sometimes he stays with Ute.” Again, Richard saw a change come over Melanie. Keen to change the subject, he continued, “I want to get to the museums. Museum Island, has three or four different ones.”

“Yes, you must go to the Pergamon. The alter’s rather plain, but there’s a Roman gateway that’s outstanding.”

“Maybe tomorrow,” suggested Will, who was now helping Richard to chop the pallet into pieces small enough to fit into the Ofen. Getting the flat warm was a lengthy process, one which required constant attention.

“I’ve been walking around a bit, getting to know the area. Some nice parks. Lots of small statues and interesting things. I like going places that are just different. I want to see Ernst Thälmann, too.”

“Who’s that ?” asked Melanie, disturbed that there was somebody she hadn’t heard of.

“It’s a statue, apparently a giant Soviet-type thing in Prenzlauer Berg, just up the road by Strassebahn. Then, at nights, we’ve been to the Cafe Kinski and, on the way, back, pissed out of our minds, we go looking for wood. This was a Godsend, keep us going for weeks. Hopefully.”

“Just find it on the streets ?” asked Will.

“Yeah. Oh, we check it first. Make sure it’s dry, not too dusty. No dog shit. I’m becoming quite the connoisseur.”

They killed time, for that was all that they could do, by reading and drinking tea. Richard was starting in on Volume One of Proust, which caught Melanie’s eye and she launched into an impromptu review, of sorts, explaining why she wouldn’t read it, accompanied by an expression reminiscent of someone suddenly aware of an unpleasant smell, while sucking bitter lemons. She, in turn, was reading a modern fiction, which she was actually enjoying, but qualified that by saying that she had found it second-hand, and only brought it along due to its compact size.

At ten o’clock, precisely, that fact known by the chimes of the BBC World Service and a pre-war sounding jingle, Richard felt Will staring at him, indicating that it was now time for the bar to open, but Richard didn’t want to say that it was Berlin and that squat bar opening times were perhaps not as reliable as Big Ben (and anyway, Melanie no doubt would have said that Big Ben was the name of the bell, not the tower as most people suspected,) so he put his book down and began the process of dressing to go out. Extra jumpers, coat, gloves, scarf, boots. Melanie, meanwhile showed no sign of moving. Automatically, Richard said,

“Chris won’t be back for hours, yet.”

“Oh, I’m not waiting for him. I want to finish this book, then I can leave it here, reduce weight. I might come, later.”

Outside, Richard guessed that she was just tired and wanted an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep.

“Naw, she just wants to take a shit and’s too embarrassed with us in the house. Might take a dump, myself, in the bar, if that’s all right with you.”

Richard indicated that he was totally fine with the proposition.

It seemed to Richard as if they were shit outter luck again, as soon as he saw Jens at the end of the bar. It was quite busy, so must have opened earlier than usual, probably so Jens could call ‘geschlossen!’ early.

Richard ordered two beers, which were collected, opened and passed to him without comment, save the amount. He had to control himself from screaming ‘what’s your fucking problem ?’ but took a deep breathe and just thought about the cheap price. He took them back to their table, as Will, who was removing some of the outer garments, made his excuses, informing Richard that he should feel free to start without him, as he would be some time.

Richard, naturally, needed no second telling, and had finished the bottle before Will returned, giving the thumbs- up sign.

The pool table area was quite loud, as there was a group of young men playing a sort of tournament, and there was laughing and screaming and playful mock-fighting.

Richard, after he had got Will’s attention, began speaking about their tour and Melanie, hoping that he hadn’t spoken out of line when he accused her of waiting for Chris.

“He’s a real prick-teaser, that guy. Puts her through the ringer and I have to do the clearing up.”

Will then went on to talk about his travels, how he had been in southern Germany, but not Berlin, and mentioned a number of uneventful anecdotes which he seemed convinced were highly relevant and informative. When Richard asked about his work, he explained that he worked nights in a hospital because he liked the quiet, and was unable to deal with people, anymore. All the time, he was looking over at the pool game, perhaps envying the liveliness and fun they obviously were all having, and suggested that they change seats and move to a table by the front window, in front of the players, adding that it would be easier for Melanie to spot them, should she deign to turn up.

They moved and were more or less ignored, until one almost backed into Will with his cue, but was very apologetic. Will made a point of speaking in loud English, and it aroused the curiosity of several guys who introduced themselves and began a conversation.

Walking around the bar was a tall, skinny, long-haired man with round glasses and a distant gaze, who started moving around the pool table, at first asking for a light, then a cigarette, then a beer, then money.

He was politely dealt with, but he persisted in bothering the players, holding one player’s cue as he lined up a shot. One of the men, Mathius, who wore a white polo-necked jumper tucked into his jeans, took hold of the man, and led him outside, with some harsh words in German. Another smaller guy, who wore a blue bandana and mimed guitar solos on his cue, backed him up, and they returned to the game. The man came back in, cursing away and making threatening gestures. Again, he was taken outside and pushed into the street. This only made it worse, for he came back in and began shouting face to face with Mathius. The next thing, Mathius had him on the pool table, arms around his throat, then lifting one to threaten him with a fist. Instead, he lifted him up, roughly pushed him and finally Jens came over and officially barred him from returning. At that point, Melanie turned up, asking what she had missed.

Richard now sat with her, as Will was up and in deep conversation with some of his new friends. Some time after one, Chris appeared, and said sorry for the morning. It appeared as if the studio job was ending and it wasn’t sure if there would be new projects or, as fellow worker Arizona Al predicted, the whole shebang was about to up sticks and hitch over to Japan. Or it may have been Korea. Taiwan ?

Melanie was extra pleased by this more familiar side of Chris, and smiled and found any excuse to touch his arm. Who, she wanted to know, was ‘Arizona Al’ ?

“He’s a guy called Al who’s from Arizona. Cool guy, little bit odd, musician, I think. He works the copy-machine.”

“What, full-time ? That’s all he does ?”

“It’s a full-time job. They’re copying shit left and right and someone always fucks up the machine, so they put one guy on it, permanent. He hangs out there, drinking herbal tea, singing to himself. He told me about going to the Hansa Studio, and touching the piano Bowie used on ‘Heroes’.”

“Cool. Have to meet him.”

The mood must have been infectious, as even Jens was smiling and no one was refused a drink. Around three, they left the bar and walked the short distance home, Chris and Richard conditioned to seek out good wood from among the street debris. Will managed to get Richard’s attention.

“Chris can be an A-One bullshiter, but I think he’ll be OK here. All the stuff he talks about doing, I can see it, now, it’s possible in this city. I’m gonna have to consider a relocation. That Mathius is a cool guy. I’ve invited him to London and I hope he comes. The guy in the bandana, too. Learnt a lot, tonight. Got the handle on the political set-up. Yeah, look forward to coming back.”

He and Melanie left two days later and Chris, in Kinski that night, with beer and Jim Beam, beamed as he informed Richard of another guest, heading over later that week.

Richard thought that it would be a whole different dynamic with Nuno, and he was right, only not in the way that he was hoping.

Love and Chaos Part 2(C) The Knock On The Door

24th November 2020

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke from a dream with the words of Kubla Khan flowing, demanding to be transcribed and he immediately collected his ink and paper, no less his thoughts, which were racing through those ancient, mythical, mysterious lands.

His hand, desperate to record those indescribably, wondrous images, not knowing where they would lead him, his mind, knowing he mustn’t a moment waste, compelled him to write, write, write …

And then the wretched Man from Purlock.

A matter of pressing business, must be attended to, forthwith. Coleridge tried to dissuade him, entreating him to return at a later time, but requests and pleas wouldn’t move this persistent Man from Purlock. He decreed that Pleasure Domes, stately or otherwise, could wait, they would still be there after satisfactory conclusion of matter at hand, which must be gone into with the greatest care.

Still The Poet attempted swift conclusion of conversation, but unlike the distorted, other-world time of the vision, the minutes now dragged heavy-weighted, Xanadu receding, shapes blurring, demands to be left in peace to regain the inspiration holding no truck with this intractable Man from Purlock.

And when finally The Poet could return to his desk and thoughts, try as he might, no further impression was vouchsafed him. The poem remained unfinished.

DGA Quarterly Magazine | Winter 2006 | Shot to Remember - Amadeus
From the film ‘Amadeus’ by Milos Foreman 1984

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart increasingly felt unable to trust a soul. His genius which had promised so much, had proved to be a curse, a Faustian pact that was rapidly drawing to its inevitable, diabolical finale.

He had hoped the spirituality of his music would elevate him and his audience. Instead he was rooted amongst worldly pettiness, of insidious jealousy and bitter hatred. Far from reaching the Parthenon of the gods, he would sink as surely as his Don Giovanni.

There was no doubt that there was a conspiracy against him. Would he meet his end by swift blade, or slow poison, left to die like a dog.

Just as he was obsessing over such thoughts, he was startled by a heavy pounding of his door. Opening, he was confronted by a tall, dark, masked man who held out the commission.

Mozart was to write a Requiem.

Not only would he die, they would humiliate him, make him know exactly what fate had in store. And in such a fitting way, make him compose music for his own death.

For there was no question. Death had paid him a visit and Mozart knew it wouldn’t be long before they were to meet again.

Ludwig van Beethoven, it is said, was starting work on his fifth symphony, when his landlady knocked on his door, one, two three, four, which gave him the immortal opening that heralded the piece and which, many years later, was broadcast over occupied Europe, four notes that proclaimed that the Allies were on their way, the darkness was over.

It was Fate, knocking on the door …

BEETHOVEN: THE KNOCK OF FATE | Looking for Things To Do? Kuala Lumpur's  best Events Calendar | KL100

Love and Chaos Part 2(B) Chris 1

23rd November 2020

Image by Harald Ansorge

Part Two. Berlin. November 1993

“Richard … hey, I’m so sorry,” laughed Chris. “This is Ute.”

She put her hand out, and Richard quickly sat up, automatically patted down his hair, and said ‘Hello’. He attempted to rise, but was weighed down by blankets and clothes. He was the one who had been waiting all day, yet it was he that felt he had to apologise, for his appearance.

“What happened to you? Been bashing people?”

“No, not yet,” he replied with a little too much acid in the voice. He continued, toning down his manner, “Some idiot knocked me with his bag at Stadmitte. Hey, good to see you. At last. Hi Ute, vie gehts ?”

“Oh, you can German ?”

“Yeah. I know, ’Vie gehts ?’, ‘Geschlossen’, ‘Eine Turkische Pizza, bitte.’ All the important words.”

Ute spoke with genuine concern,

“And what is with your eye ? You need something for it ?”

“No, no, it’ll be all right.”

Chris stood there, hiding his guilt behind a wide smile that strained his jaw muscles. He suggested that they all go to Kinski’s, and after Richard gathered himself together, they left the flat.

Chris had woken late that morning in Ute’s Mitte flat, the Ofen still radiating heat. He was in a warm bed, next to a hot woman and was going to make the most of it.

After making love again, Ute rolled a joint, sparked up and passed it over to Chris.

“Don’t you have to go and meet Richard ? What time is his flight ?”

For Chris to be on time, he would have had to get up and leave immediately which he felt, considering his surrounding, was a ludicrous thing to do.

“No, he has keys. He knows his way around Berlin.”

“You sure ? I can drive you there. I’m free all day ?”

“No, don’t worry, he’ll be OK, my Darling ! You are so sweeeeetttt.”

They finished the joint and went back to sleep. When they eventually woke, dressed and got into Ute’s car, it was already late evening.

Jens was working the bar, and the Café was half full, but not with anyone Richard recognised. The music was some generic sub Sonic Youth guitar noise, played too loudly to make conversation easy.

Chris, still with his embarrassed smile, got the drinks while Richard sat and made small talk with Ute. She was small, with dark blonde hair, tied back in a ponytail.

After a beer, she got up to leave, and Richard discretely averted his eyes, while they kissed.

She left the bar, and Chris turned to Richard,

“Wow, what a girl ! I can’t believe I’m with her. Really ! Hey, was it OK, to get to the flat ? It’s just been crazy the last couple of weeks”

“Yeah, it was … if I’d have known, it would have been better. “

“Sorry, sorry. Tonight, the drinks are on me.’

“Oh, you better believe it. If we’re allowed to drink here with that bastard working. Don’t think he likes us.”

“Yeah, bit of a prick, isn’t he ? We’ll be OK. If, not, there’s plenty more bars. Quite a few down the end of this street.”

“Been exploring ?”

“In the interests of science. Gaptooth took me to one, run by Russians. The Czar Bar. Pretty rough in there.”

“What, fights ?”

“No, everyone’s too pissed to fight. It’s just … oh, you’ll see. Pretty basic. You don’t want to go to the toilet in there.”

“Well, I might.”

“No, trust me, you wouldn’t. So, Ute … what do you think ?”


“Yeah, she’s all right.”

“ ‘All right ‘ ? Are you blind ?”

“Half blind ! I’m joking with you. Getting my own back for waiting in a cold flat all day. Hey, what is with the weather ? It’s bloody freezing.”

“No, it’s not.”

“It fucking well is !”

“No, don’t say that. I used to and everyone says, ‘no, wait until it gets really cold.’”

“It’s going to get colder ?” Chris just nodded. “Shit. What do we do ? I only have a few jumpers.”

“Don’t worry about that, got it covered. You can borrow my stuff.”

“That army coat’s good. Fur lining.”

“Going to need it.”

“Because this isn’t cold, wait until it gets really cold.”

“It’s like some kind of pride thing with them, ‘we can survive the cold’. How was Tempelhof ? Did you see the eagles ? And the Luftbrucke ?”

“On the corners ? Yeah. Looks like something out of a war movie.”

“Yeah, the Nazis built it, it’s one of the few Nazi buildings still in Berlin. Speer designed it. The Americans took it over and then had a problem about the eagles, because apart from the Nazi connotations, the eagle is also an American symbol, so they left them. Then they used Tempelhof for the airlift, dropping food and fuel over Berlin.”

“Someone’s been reading up.”

“Too cold to do anything else. Well, nearly anything else.”

“By which we segue way back into Ute. So, what’s the story ?”

“First … more drinks.”

Chris knew how to set up dramatic tension and took his time, going to the toilet, buying cigarettes from the machine and getting two more beers, creating sufficient expectation for the story, which was known to Richard only in barest outline. Chris had the stage and knew how to keep it.

He began filling in the background. Marina now worked at a bar in Schöneberg, the co-owner was her aunt, not really an aunt, but, well, it was complex, and the Spüler (the washer-uper), had quit, or been asked to leave, because he had fought with one of the cooks, threatening to put his head into the deep-fat fryer, so there was an immediate opening and the job paid cash, every night, 12 Marks per hour, working from seven till round about midnight. With the studio in the afternoon, and then five days a week at the Bar Biberkopf, Chris was making the best money of his life. Richard commended him then tried to steer him back on course.

“Right, yes, Ute. So I’m working one night, and I get there early, have a coffee, maybe ten, fifteen minutes before seven, create a good impression by my timekeeping, because my actual work isn’t going to impress anyone. Sitting along the bar are two girls. I kinda recognised one, she was one of the barman’s girlfriends, but the other one … wow !”

“Ute ?”

“You betcha ! Then they get up to play pool, and we’re making eye contact, she hits a great pot, OK, pure luck, but what the heck, gives me a chance to say, ‘great pot’. She smiled and did this curtsey … I was gone, daddy, gone, knocked out, loaded.”

Chris still seemed mesmerised by the memory of it, as he took a long drag on his cigarette and stared into the distance. Richard coughed.

“What ? Oh, yeah, so, just when I’m about to make my move, play it all cool, the cook comes out and shouts at me, ‘ain’t you working tonight ?’ because it’s like four seconds after seven. Then Ute looked up, made a gesture of pity, and smiled at me. She smiled at me.”

“Ah, I love it when women smile at me.”

“You know what I mean, then ?”

“Theoretically.”

“You think I can work after that ? I’m putting old food in the sink, plates in the trash. I’m just thinking about Ute, and when I can take a break, so as to see her. And, of course, tonight’s really busy, restaurant’s filling up, plates piling up. Then the cook sends me to get some shit in the cellar, which means going back into the bar, so I see her, I play it all cool, she looks over and … another smile. So, that’s it, I’m beaming, Cheshire Cat smile, all night. Not so the cook.”

“Not happy ?”

“The German work ethic don’t apply to cooks, ’cause those fuckers hate having to do shit. He’s getting more and more orders, getting more and more angry, starts kicking the fridge, the pots …“

“You ?”

“I’ve learnt to get outter the way. Point is, I have to keep working, so I can’t mossey into the bar. Now I panic; what if she leaves and I never see her again ? Eventually, I get a break and get some food.”

“What’s it like ?”

“Well, it’s the same as customer food, so it’s pretty grim. But I eat it at the bar … next to Ute. And after I finish, she gives me a cigarette. Gauloise. Blue. Now I’m thinking what to do, should I stay after work and have a drink, or play it cool and leave, but I want her to know, without knowing too much … you follow ?”

“All the way.”

“So, later, I’m about to leave, when I see Ute sitting on the first bar stool, and I have to get my money, so I’m about to go up to her, make my move, when Georg comes over, and starts stroking her hair.”

“And Georg is … ?”

“Oh, yeah, he’s the barman that night. Now, Germans are more physical, they’re always touching each other, you know, it can be kind of, ‘Whoa, Nelly, this isn’t a petting zoo,’ so I don’t read too much into it, but then he whispered something in her ear, and she laughs.”

“That’s not good.”

“It’s a disaster. I mean, touch away, but making her laugh. I knew something was up.”

“So you … what ?”

“What could I do ? Hey, Johnny Cash, ‘what could I do ?’ Life’s a piece of piss for a Spüler named Chris. I got my money and left, hoping that Ute would follow me out with her eyes.”

“And did she ?”

“Well, how do I know ? I had my back to her. Anyway, I hit Kinski’s and I hit it hard that night. Probably why I had the fire and almost died.”

At this point, as Richard could have predicted, Chris broke off, ostensibly to take a drink and light a new cigarette, but really to build excitement. Richard refused to ask, waiting to see how long it would take Chris to follow up. Then Chris recognised some new people who had walked in, and began speaking to them. But if Richard was curious, he knew that Chris must be equally anxious to get to finish his ever-evolving tale.

It was Richard who put an end to the impasse, wanting to get the story out of the way, so that they could get on with the serious drinking, because after the day he had spent, he was in the mood to get seriously drunk. He also knew that his non-story with Claire was a pathetic non-starter and Chris had lived enough for the both of them.

“To recap, Ute is with Georg, you drown you sorrows and end up in a ring of fire. Tonight’s session is brought to you by the songs of Johnny Cash.”

“What do you want to hear first ? The Ute saga, how our hero killed the evil beast and saved the princess, or how I battled the all-consuming fire, representing the flames of my passion ? Pretty symbolic stuff, hey ?”

“Don’t get cocky ! Get on with it. Tell me in chronological order. So, you come here, get hammered, go home and … ?”

“And start a fire in the Ofen. You’ve seen all the wood in the flat ?”

“Couldn’t miss it, Noah. You building an ark or something ?”

“Hey, 5th of November, how about that ? Oh, we can look out for more wood, later.”

“Sounds fun.”

“So, I’m getting the Ofen working, got to sit there, burning paper and small bits of wood, to get it started, then bigger pieces, but not too big, or it’ll just put out the flame, and I’m falling asleep, but got to get the Ofen working or I’ll die from exposure, so I keep putting more wood in, opening the vents slowly, let air in, more paper, wood, finally, it’s going, roaring fire and I can start to feel the heat. I load it up and put in a big piece of wood, so big it sticks half way out. I’m thinking that it’ll burn for an hour or so, and that’ll be enough. I just crash, clothes on, shoes on, the works. Next thing I know, I’m woken by the sound of cracking, like logs on a fire. There’s black smoke in the room. There’s a fucking fire outside of the Ofen.”

“What did you do ? Weren’t you still drunk ?”

“Not for long. Nothing like a forest fire in the house to sober a guy up. Well, I panicked, of course, then ran out of the house. I was fully clothed, so it was OK.”

“But the fire .. ?”

“Still raging, yeah. So I have to go back in and put it out, but I’ve got no bucket now, because it was full of purple vomit, so I pick up the log and try to get it into the Ofen.”

“Wasn’t it hot ?”

“Fucking burning ! I scorched my hands, so I put on the gloves, picked it up quickly and carefully and shoved it in, stamping out the flames on the floor … the log had fallen onto some wood and paper and ignited them. Then I had to open the windows, because the room’s full of black smoke, so all the heat goes in seconds and it’s Siberia in there. “

“Fucking Hell ! You were so lucky. The paper fire. Could have had a Django situation.”

“Which is ?”

“Django Reinhardt, the Gipsy guitarist. When he was young, he fell asleep in his caravan and a candle fell onto some paper flowers his wife had made. Whole thing goes up, he gets injured, gets burnt so badly that he’s unable to use two fingers of his left hand. Then he goes on to be one of the greatest guitar players the world’s ever known.”

“So … what’s your point ? ”

“That you were lucky.”

“I was lucky, yeah. The next day’s Saturday, which means that I’m not working, I won’t be back at Biberkopf until Monday and I don’t even know when or if I’ll ever see Ute’s again. Anyway, I close the windows in the morning, and just stay in bed, or couch to be precise, under blankets, because I’m really hung over. By evening, I’m up and decide to see a movie at Babylon, we’ll have to go, by the way, nice cinema, English films, you can get a beer, and I get there early and choose my place, middle row, middle seat. It’s Saturday, so it’s busy and it’s not so large, it’s filling up. I begin to notice that all seats are taken except the ones directly around me.”

“Odd.”

“Very. And it’s only when there are absolutely no more seats available that people sit next to me, and even then, they’re on the edge of the seat, leaning away.’

“Well, living without a shower, you have to overcompensate with the deodorant. Just a tip.”

“It was the bloody coat. All my clothes in fact. My hair. I stank like an old bonfire.”

“Pretty embarrassing.”

“Yeah, well, it’s only Berlin. Everyone stinks. After walking around for a day or two, the smell filtered out of the coat, and I tried to open the windows a bit, but it was too savage. Right fire story over, on to Ute. And, once again, Marina to the rescue.”

“That woman is your lifeline.”

“Yeah, I had a situation with Ross about that.”

“Oh, he found out about … or … what ?”

“No, he doesn’t know anything. How true. No, I mean, I was at the bar one night, before my shift and Marina’s working, so Ross pops in, and he sits there, with his beer, all pompous, all, ‘keeping an eye on my lassie’, when, just to have something to say to him as much as anything, I call Marina my fixer, you know, one who fixes things.”

“I know.”

“Well, he looks at me all blank. Says nothing. Then he goes all aggressive, and asks , ‘what ?’ So I repeat, repeat and clarify, two-pronged attack. ‘Oh’, he says, ‘I thought you said she was a Vixer.’ Which means ‘wanker’. If anyone was a wanker, it sure wasn’t Marina. Well, he fucks off, and I get a few seconds of Marina time and try to get the low-down on Ute. Marina saw through it immediately, all smiling and stroking my arm.”

“That petting zoo can stay open twenty-four hours.”

“Well, er … I’ve moved on from Marina. Lovely girl, but … I think it’s just seeing her with that arsehole. It’s killed the passion. Still lovely and great and all, but no romantic feelings.”

“And still great breasts.”

Chris wasn’t quite sure how to respond, having a faint recollection of a late night conversation about Marina’s attributes.

“Yeah, anyway, she’s my man on the inside. Here’s the deal. Ute’s an art student. Single. Georg … bit of a situation; he’s smitten, big time, he thinks he’s onto the real deal. No dice.”

“That’ll be the letter where you told me she’d dumped the boyfriend.”

“Right. Only they never were going out. Now, things are working in parallel. Walter, the owner, has made the schedule so that George now works mainly weekends. Ute comes in only on weekdays. I arrive early to spend time with Ute, because she sometimes comes with her friend after college. Sometimes without her friend.”

Here Chris winked before continuing,

“So we’re hanging out, talking, smoking, drinking. She lives in Mitte, and one night, I stay behind to have a drink, all free, by the way, and she offers me a lift home, because Schöneberg is miles away, and I invite her for a drink. Not here, I thought I’d better suggest a normal bar, but she says, ‘no’, prefers these kind of joints, and takes me to one she knows, in some back street. We’re getting on really well. Then she invited me to a movie. She comes to pick me up and, ring those bells, she turns up in this stunning, black number. She meant business and was taking no prisoners. And so … unconditional surrender.”

“What was the movie ?”

“Ah, who cares ? Now, to go back a bit. Georg. Nice guy, I like him. He’s not so big, but he works out, does karate, I think, something that involves kicking people and breaking wood. We were in the changing room once, and we took his shirt off, and even his muscles had muscles. Not the guy you want to fuck with.”


“Or steal a girl from.”

“She never was his girl. But, smalltown Berlin, Georg’s found out about me and Ute … and that night, we’re working together.”

“Doesn’t sound good.”

“I get to work, and there’s just … this vibe, like an electric fence or one of those freaky, bug-zapping, blue lights they have in kitchens, normal kitchens that is, because what they use in Biberkopf is a roll of Sellotape, which gets encrusted with squirming flies. Georg’s looking mean and slamming people’s drinks down. Also, not entirely sober.“

This seemed a good point for fresh beers.

“Where was I ? Oh, right. I’m in the kitchen, and we have all the noise of my machine, water running, the cooker with eight rings a-blazing, soup a-boiling, chips a-frying, and so on, plus the radio’s always on. Plus background noise of a busy bar slash restaurant. Yet … yet, above all this din, I hear it. The cook hears it, even stops working and pokes his fat head out of the kitchen. Massive screaming match between Georg and Walter. Unfortunately, no subtitles. I’d have loved to pick up a carrot and nonchalantly chew on it, inquiring of a bilingual passer-by what was happening, but thought it best to keep working, because they’d find someway of blaming me. Bang, sound of door slamming. Georg went into the changing room. Puts his coat on, comes out, slams the door again and … that’s it … Haven’t seen him since.”

“Did you find out what they argued about ?”

“Georg blamed Walter for destroying his life, Walter accused him of being a no-good alcoholic. And so on. Couple of massive German customers stand up, gather around, but do nothing, just stand there, all serious, probably hoping for free drinks. Quite a night. So, that’s what you’ve missed. One more thing, Melanie’s coming over. Should be here in a couple of days and bringing a friend with her.”

“Will ?”

“Yes. How did you know ?”

Love and Chaos Part 2(A) Richard 1

22nd 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 Two. London & Berlin. September – November 1993

One of the surprises Richard received upon his return to London was an invitation to a dinner party at Melanie’s. She informed him that Nuno, the chef that had worked with Chris and Marina, was also coming and bringing his girlfriend, Raphaela.

It took place the following Saturday and Melanie seemed very interested in hearing about Chris and his new life. All about his new life, and kept asking about Marina, but seemed vexed with every answer, especially when Nuno eulogised about how wonderful and cute she was.

Among the other guests was a rather serious and intense man, some years older than Richard, called Will, who, like Chris and Melanie, was from the Midlands. After the dinner, which was a pretty indifferent affair, the party broke into small groups and Will sought out Richard to hear more about Berlin.

“Yeah, we’re thinking of passing through, Mel and me. Mel and I. Never know which to use.”

Instead of enlightening him, Richard asked:

“Oh, where are you headed ?”

“Russia, if we can get in. If not, Poland, tour around a bit, get the crack. Probably hang out in Berlin. Use it as homebase.”

“How are you getting there ? Train, or … ?”

“No, got my hog.” He pulled out some keys with a Suzuki fob. “Do the whole ‘On The Road’ thing. Are you going back there ?”

Richard explained how he planned to, soon as possible then Will explained how he had met Mel and Chris, both of whom were working in a café he would pose in [Richard mentally amended to ‘pose in’]. They saw the books he was reading and came over and talked to him, giving him free coffee refills. All three began hanging out, going to movies and gigs and laughing at the other students who were all so pretentious and opinionated. Richard admitted that he didn’t know too much about Chris’ life pre-London.

“Yeah,“ started Will, “I’ve been through the scenes with him. Mel, too, been there, done that, the whole fucking spectrum of emotions. Sorry, didn’t mean to lapse into the vernacular. Yeah, we’re been through it all.”

He didn’t elaborate, and Richard told him he’d probably see him in Berlin and went over to talk to Nuno.

The contrast was striking. Nuno was pure Latin, tall and dark-complexioned, thick eyebrows and large expressive eyes that appeared to be deep in thought, then sparkled into life, as he smiled. He seemed a bit lost here, not knowing anyone apart from his girlfriend and Melanie. Raphaela was simply gorgeous, also dark, but delicate and sensual.

Richard introduced himself, and they spoke, naturally, about Chris and Berlin. Nuno also expressed an interest in coming over. Richard looked at the wine and recognised the label as being from the store. He mentioned to Nuno that he thought it tasted familiar and then he saw the full extent of the Nuno smile, with a slap on his back for emphasis.

The night finished with Melanie making Richard promise to call her, to go for a drink, or see a movie.

Back at work, Richard had a slight problem getting more time off. He was only allowed a further two weeks but wanted four, so decided to book the two he could have and then deal with the consequences when he got back. A new girl started, Claire, and they got on well, sometimes even taking lunch together, and then one day she casually dropped ‘the boyfriend’ into the conversation. The next day, Richard used his lunch break to go to a travel agent and book a ticket to Berlin … for four weeks.

He reduced expenses as best he could, only occasionally buying a bottle of wine to drink at home. He somehow kept putting off the call to Melanie.

After buying a packet of air-mail letters, Richard would write to Chris two or three times a week. It came as no surprise that of the two, Chris was the one with the news, of developments, of things happening.

First, he had a new, part-time job in the bar where Marina worked, doing the washing up. He underlined how much he earned, and the fact that he was allowed, even encouraged, to drink on duty. The studio work was patchy, and it was rumoured that the whole operation might close down.

He had met a German girl at work, then, a week later, he wrote that things were looking good, but she had a boyfriend, (of course), then, later that week, that she had dumped the boyfriend, then, the following week, that they were going to a movie, then, finally, that they were together. Oh, and that there had been a fire in the flat, but everything’s OK.

The second flight to Berlin was from London’s City Airport, to Berlin’s Tempelhof, just south of the centre. This airport was even smaller, being mostly used for inland flights, and he cleared passport control and picked up his bag remarkably quickly, which he took as a good sign for the visit. He had written to Chris that the arrival time would coincide with lunch, so they could go to the Cinema Café, a bar they had seen but not gone into, at Hackerscher Markt, and drink their way home before having a reunion bash at Kinski’s.

He thought over these ideas as he waited for Chris. And waited. He walked around the airport which was basically one large open space, with check-in desks around the side, mostly closed, then walked outside, looking around the car park for any sign of his friend.

And he waited. Eventually, after half an hour, he decided to go the the flat alone. Chris had cut him a set of keys, so that was no problem. Still, it was disconcerting. He surmised that Chris had been called into work and had no way of contacting him.

Richard took the U-Bahn, and as he left one train, to change lines, he got a knock in the eye from a bag that a man had slung over his shoulders. The man didn’t even look back, let alone apologise.

He continued his journey, frequently wiping his weeping eye with his handkerchief, and this time, when he left the station, at Rathaus Friedrichshain, the late blue of summer had been replaced by the unrelenting grey of winter. It was several degrees colder than London and even though he was dressed in coat and jumpers, he felt a sharp chill.

At the flat, there was no note, but it showed more signs of life, more clothes, tapes, a lot more wood next to the Ofen, an extra chair and the kitchen now had two large cooking pots. But there was still no light.

Richard waited for an hour, then left to get some lunch at the Imbiss, taking his time and expecting to see the wide, apologetic smile of Chris when he returned, but as the door was double-locked, he knew he would still have to wait.

By late afternoon it was dark and the lights had to go on. He went out again, to eat, but it was now so cold, that he got back inside as quickly as he could. By mid evening he was tired from his early start, so thought he’d try and get a rest, but it was too cold to sleep. He put a blanket over him , but it had no effect. He got up, put on a jumper that was lying on a chair, and tried again, but still the cold pierced through. Finally, he put on a green, army-style coat that was hanging in the hall. He threw the blanket over his head and, cold and angry, fell into a light, disturbed sleep. He thought he heard some rumblings and poked his head out from the blanket. And that was how, confused by sleep, contorted by the cold, hair amiss and eye bruised and streaming, Richard made his first impression on Ute.