“So I met this guy at Café Radetzky and we’re having a good talk, and he’s, you know, cool an’ all, digs the right music, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve met him before. So we’re talking and I say where I’m from and, you know, the usual, what I’m doing in Berlin an’ all, when he stops me and says, ‘Hey it’s so cool to meet another dude from Arizona, because I met a real crazy shithead from there a coupla weeks back, and he was just out of it, talking non stop about nothing, and he had all this hair and beard and shit’. And I suddenly realized; he was talking about me ! Yeah, I hadn’t cut my hair, and I had this Fu Manchu thing going on, and that’s where I knew him from … some bar I’d been to, totally out of it. I’m gonna have to stop doin’ that kinda shit.“
Chris turned his head away, so as to wink at Richard. They were meeting in a Café on a late Summer afternoon.
“But, you know, so much of Berlin is hidden, it’s like I can see tourists coming here and going to the usual sights …”
“Which won’t take long,” interrupted Chris.
“… right, an Arch, an old sports stadium, a bit of old Wall, the Death Star.”
Both Richard and Chris laughed at Al’s description of the TV Tower, a giant, glass globe surmounting a tall, fluted concrete tower.
“Then going home and wondering why Berlin’s got such a reputation, when nothing appears to be happening. But you know what ? It’s not that things happen in Hinterhof’s, things happen in the hinter of Hinterhof’s. In basements, behind closed doors, over disused shops. When I was first here and didn’t know where to go, I’d just look for cool people and follow them, see where they’re going. Found some great bars that way.”
Richard glanced over at Chris, who waved him in.
“But … didn’t you ever end up just following people home, sometimes ?”
Chris followed through,
“And they didn’t mind ?”
“Well, they thought it was a little odd, guess, but … no, not really. Oh, I did ask one guy where the hip bars were and he told me to ‘piss off!’ ”
Chris thought for a minute.
“Are you sure ? Could he have been saying, ‘Pass auf ‘ ?”
“Well, it was a ways back. But … yeah, ‘spose. Why ?”
“It means listen, pay attention, watch out. He was probably about to give you directions …”
“Oh, man ! I ask him to get some place, he says, ‘OK, dude, listen up’ and I just walk away. What must he’d a thought of me ?”
“That you were a crazy shithead ?” joked Richard.
The subject moved from general rubbish to women, Al approving of Lorelei, describing her as ‘bodacious’, then onto work, which was why Al had requested this get together.
“OK, just a heads-up, there’s gonna be some changes at the studio. They’ll gonna be laying a lot of people off, making some big changes.”
“No ! Shit. I like it there.”
“You should be all right, but they’re changing the schedule, the whole ‘come as you are, go whenever the fuck’ routine. Good thing, too, ‘sa crazy way to runa business. They want people putting in minimum twenty hours a week, and booking in. Get these guys coming in, hour or two, costs more to keep track of them. There’s at least one big project coming up, and they’re gonna need staff they can rely on. I mean, costs are still low in Berlin, but there’s always talk of shipping the work to some Third World place, and pay ‘em Jack shit. And they’re getting heavy on the paperwork, too, no more casual work, everyone’s gotta have their Lohnsteurkarte’s and Angemälden … you got those yet, Richy ?”
Al was the only person who could say ‘Richy’ and not make it sound like an insult.
“No. Got nothing yet.”
“Wait. I’ve got an idea,” said Chris. “They need full timers; cool. And I’ve got all the bloody German paperwork. But I can’t do both jobs. If I do the Studio, forty hours, I won’t need the washing-up shit. Then Richy, er, Richard can have it. No paperwork, no questions, cash in hand, free beer, cute waitresses … “
“What, like Ully ?”
“With the thing, yes, I know, but there are others.”
Al followed the conversation as if it were a tennis match, but with the players hitting some unusual, suspect backhanders.
“Yeah, like, whatever happened to Hannah ? She was gorgeous.”
“Left. Got a proper job. Never saw her again.”
“I know. To think … I almost got her to come out with us. I think Melanie scared her off.”
“I think so, too. Marina’s leaving. Did I tell you ? Leaving Berlin.”
“Yeah, that Arschloch Ross is doing some building project in Köln. Maybe just for six months, but … we won’t see her again, either.”
“What about Claudia ?”
“Hardly ever see her. She comes in when I’m not there, or … I think she has other jobs.” Chris sought to bring Al back into the conversation. “You know her, Al, Claudia. I stayed with her when I first got here.”
“Claudia … nope, don’t think so.”
“Yes, German girl, really foxy, Irish accent, walks like a cat, looks like she’s just woke up. I introduced you to her. A few times.”
“No, pullin’ a blank. What about her ?”
“I don’t know. Richard, what about her ?”
“That’s what I asked you ?”
“I don’t know. Al, what about Claudia ?”
“Which one’s Claudia … ?”
And so the afternoon wore on. Chris left for work, promising to ask Walter if Richard could take his job, knowing that not only would they not care, they probably wouldn’t even notice, one Spüler being pretty much like any other.
Al and Richard went to get some cheap food, then Al promised to take him to some bars around the southern end of Schönhauser Allee that he had discovered by the ‘follow the cool guy’ method.
At the same time as Chris got to work, Ross entered a bar in Köln, along with some new colleagues. He spoke about the job opportunities in Berlin, but said that he wanted both a new challenge and to live in a city that had a higher standard of living.
The next day, one of his new colleagues told some Irish friends over lunch break about Berlin. One of these was leaving soon for London, where he would work on a building site and tell his new mates about Germany. One of these left to go to another site, where he told his new mates on tea break. One of these workers was a young man called Daniel Roth who had left school with three low grade qualifications (though he would denounce these when asked) much to the chagrin of his teachers who couldn’t understand how so intelligent a boy would refuse to study. Daniel had been working around building sites for five years, making a living, but finally waking up to the fact that the only person he was hurting by his rebellion was himself.
Throughout the afternoon, Daniel pumped the new man for information, making him repeat all he had heard, about work, paperwork, the practicalities about living in Berlin and how to actually go about finding a job there.
At the end of the shift, Daniel was invited to the pub and was expected to accept. Instead, he told his mates that he had a hot bird that he wanted to shag before he lost interest, and he was excused.
Instead, he went directly to his small, local library, and though the stock was limited, he managed to pick up a history of modern Germany, a guide book to Berlin and a basic German language course.
Before he went to sleep, he had taught himself the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ in German and had started to conjugate them. Then he began inventing a story about the woman he had spent the night with, because his work mates would be expecting it and would want to hear all the details.
It was the last Saturday in August, and after warming up in a few bars on the Prenzlauer Berg – Mitte border, The Gang headed down in two cars to The Imer club.
As to be expected, there was absolutely no sign that one of the hottest underground scenes of east Berlin was behind the semi-derelict, four storey building that, defiantly, stood solitary on wasteland. Tilted wooden fences and wire meshing lay to one side, suggesting a long gone, unsuccessful used-car lot. The other side faded away into nothingness, bland, nondescript empty buildings.
The pavement in front was barely adequate for two slim people to walk side by side, and most cars, heading to or from Rosenthaler Platz, sped by, oblivious.
Monika, in her car, and Gabi, punishing the suspension in hers, found parking spaces not too far away and The Gang walked to the only beacon of light on the otherwise dark street, in the slightly surreal shadow of the TV Tower.
The small, single door was open and threw out yellow nicotine-stained light. A couple of young guys worked the door, one taking the money, the other stamping people’s hands. Immediately inside, there was a staircase leading up to one dance floor at the top of the building, and some steps leading down to the basement.
Chris and Richard merely followed Monika and the girls up, looking around at the crumbling paint, exposed wires, flyers, peeling posters, young, and not so young people, giving random, “Hey, how ya doing ?” s to those who caught their eye.
At the first landing, Chris smiled broadly, put his arm around Richard and said,
“Look at this joint; it’s a temple of slack.” Richard had to smile and agree. Upstairs, Monika had her favourite place. It was a large very comfortable sofa that sat four or five people, and was placed on the top landing, outside the blue-lit dance floor. Often, several people were accommodated on it, with girls sitting on boys’ laps, often a precursor to more intimate unions.
Tonight, however, it was occupied by a shabby-looking bunch of teenagers. Silke went up to them and, pointing to Richard, got them all to get up and offer the sofa over.
A small guy, already with a receding hairline, and round glasses, smiled and apologised and proffered the seat with a long bow. Richard played along, striding calmly to the chair, then clicking his fingers and demanding, ‘Beer !’
Chris explained; Silke had said the sofa was reserved, and that Richard was a V.I.P.
“Typical Deutsch. Speak to them in a stern voice, preferably in a uniform, and they’ll do anything. Absolutely, motherfuckin’ anything. It’s a regular Captain of Köpenick.”
Richard took the cue, and, shouting about the music, asked the story.
“Man, what a blast. There was this unemployed Dude, tailor or shoemaker, I don’t fucking know, candlestick maker, who gets hold of a uniform, an old, army uniform. He sees a group of soldiers marching up and down, Unter Den Linden, I think, and calls out, ‘Yo, GI’s, get yer arses over here. Follow me’, and he marches them down to Köpenick.”
“Oh, somewhere in the eastern suburbs. So, they get there, he goes up to the Town Hall, where the lolly was stashed, and demands that they hand it over. Which they did.”
“Hey, maybe we should try it.”
“We got the seats. Let’s not push our luck.”
Monika and Gabi returned, managing to clasp several beer bottles between them. Richard, as V.I.P. got his first and made the toast, smiling. But it was all image. Inside he was feeling awful and just saw the night ending in an alcoholic blackout. It would be preferable.
It had been two weeks since The Gang had gone out, following the minor melt-down of last weekend. He sensed a coldness on Lorelei’s part, when they met and this was amplified at the first café. Richard had entered and had taken a seat at the bar. Lorelei came in after, but took the stool furthest away from him. There was playing hard to get and there was blatant message and he knew exactly what she was saying to him. He just wasn’t able to accept it.
After the first beer, the girls all went into the dance room and began their moves. Again, Monika smiled and waved to people, some she knew, others she just recognized from the scene.
The DJ was a Black American in his early forties, and he carried real authority in his voice. When he told people not to sit on the stairs, they moved, when he demanded people dance, they danced.
Monika shouted in Chris’ ear and he then beckoned Richard over. They were heading downstairs, to check out the smaller Red Room.
This basement room was packed as people danced to heavy Techno. Chris and Richard simply moved to the incessant beat, in between sips of beer. Silke had found Andreas, who was dancing with Lorelei. Gabi ran into some friends from university and called Monika over. They were introduced, but the names vaporized in the noise. Nice Guy Kai turned up, standing in a doorway, looking cool, along with Gert and his new American girlfriend.
Monika later showed Richard the ‘Chill Out’ Room, a short distance along a corridor, whose thick, carpeted walls dampened the pounding, thumping rhythm. There were some armchairs and another, smaller sofa arranged in a semi circle, with a Seventies-style projection of coloured oil discs rotating on a wall, which reminded Richard of his local cinema which had used them in his childhood … a world away.
They spent the evening, into the early hours, alternating between floors. Monika asked Richard if he would dance with Gabi, as she was too shy to dance alone, so a small group formed and Richard did his best to impress her with his steps and to ignore Lorelei, which was hard as she was in his every thought, and the beer was only making him more maudlin.
Soon after, Gabi wanted to leave and took Lorelei with her. Instead of the usual hugs and kisses that occurred with every greeting or departure, Lorelei barely waved to him. Then she was gone.
Later, Monika wanted to leave, and Andreas and Silke had long since vanished. Gert’s girlfriend was looking for Gert, who had disappeared.
Chris and Richard went back upstairs, where the music had shifted away from pure dance, to Sixties and Classic R ‘n’ B, the DJ now strutting his stuff around the dance floor. The room was barely a third full, plenty of space at the bar, which is exactly where Richard went, ordering two large Jack Daniels.
He went off into a corner and sat, starring at the floor, slowing sipping the whisky. Then, as if on cue, the DJ played ‘I Want You’ by The Beatles. It was such an incongruous song for a Berlin Techno club, that Richard couldn’t help but take it personally. He continued looking down, almost unable to deal with the rejection that was all he ever got from women.
Then something caught his eye, a sight so peculiar that he was dragged out of his self-loathing and depression and, after he had realized just what this extraordinary performance was, actually smiled. And then laughed. Then began to feel better. A little.
There was some dog-like creature, ‘walking’ around the dance floor, tracing a circle and occasionally stopping to sniff people. In intimate places. Except, as Richard saw, it wasn’t a dog. It was Chris. Even more strange was the reaction he got. Everyone laughed and played along. One man scratched behind Chris’ ear, a young party girl rubbed his belly, to which he demonstrated approval by shaking his right leg in the air. Then he continued on his tour of duty. It wasn’t long before someone fell over him and crashed to the floor. The innocent, totally confused raver got up with an aggressive stance and seemed prepared to hit the culprit, but his friends pointed to the lunatic who carried on walking and sniffing, and he ended up laughing and shaking his head. When Chris was directly in front of Richard he stopped, absolutely motionless, petrified on the floor just inches away. Suddenly, the head turned, he looked him in the eye, winked, and continued, now an accepted part of the dance floor, whose arrival was anticipated and applauded.
The Black DJ looked dumbfounded, and stood, open-mouthed, a ‘now I’ve seen everything in this kooky place’ expression, and seemed about to remonstrate, loudly, but evidently couldn’t think of anything, and just went back to his glass of vodka tonic, knowing when he was beaten. He played the original Rufus Thomas version of ‘Walking The Dog’, joining in by whistling into the Mic. Afterwards, he could be seen gesturing to the bar staff, pointing at his depleted cocktail.
It was over an hour later that they began the long walk home, the sun also risen. Richard was far from feeling good; the hang-over already building up, the exhaustion, then the indescribable pain of loving someone that doesn’t love back, a constant weight on the chest obstructing breathing, and that was just the pain that could be verbalised. But he hadn’t said a word about how he felt to Chris and Chris hadn’t asked. Obviously, he hadn’t needed to. And instead of making sympathetic sounds and clichéd words of support, he had got down on all fours, like a dog, and made a complete arse of himself, and Richard knew exactly why.
He would never thank Chris for this, but he wouldn’t forget it either.
They walked up the sloping Kastanienallee, the full length, the elevated U2 line cutting across the horizon, an occasional early morning train passing, either helping people start the new day, or end the previous one.
It had been a great month, in many ways, but perhaps now it was time to go home. The money was running out and unless he found a job, it wouldn’t even be a choice.
But only three days later, he had a complete change of mind. And it was Arizona Al who was the catalyst.
Monika was happy as she’d found a Parkplatz close to where Chris lived. They got out of the car, smiling and joking with each other, and walked, arms around each other, to the street door.
Monika worried about Richard, who had been alone for two nights, while Chris had stayed in Kreutzberg, but Chris told her that he was all right. Inside, Chris opened the Briefkaste and sorted out letters from adverts and junk.
Monika saw a letter addressed by hand. She inquired whom it was from.
“It’s from Hamburg.”
The smiles quickly faded.
Chris rang the bell, before opening the door, just in case Richard had managed to get Lorelei or anyone else back, but found him alone, reading. Monika gave a curt greeting and went straight into the kitchen.
Chris asked how he’d spend his time, trying to give the illusion of some kind of normalcy, and what he thought of the book he was reading, Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’.
Then he pointed to the brown phone on the floor.
“The East German chef was furious when he heard I had a phone.”
“Yeah. Why ?”
“Oh, because it took him over two years to get one. Under the old system he had to put his name down and join the waiting list and, you know … wait. Over two years. Then I turn up, a Spüler, and an Ausländer (foreigner) to boot, and get a flat with a phone.”
“Everything … OK ? We still on for tonight ? The movie ? Winona dancing ?”
“Yeah. I think.”
“Anyway, I was just about to go out, get some sun, walk around a bit, read some. I may be gone for a couple of hours.”
Richard said goodbye to Monika and left the flat, walking through Prenzlauer Berg to the Thälmann park where he found some shade and read about The Lost Generation in Twenties Spain.
Back in Chris’ kitchen, Guernica was about to be recreated. Monika knew that the letter was from Ute and Chris was scared to open it, even though he knew it would just be harmless questions about the flat.
“So, don’t you want to open your love letter ?”
“It’s not a love letter. You know that.”
“No, I don’t know anything. I know you move into her flat, have all her shit here and get letters from her.”
“Her friend’s flat. How can you be jealous, after last night ?”
“Maybe you just fuck me while she is in Hamburg. So, when is she coming back ?”
“And you miss her ? You want her to come back ?”
“Of course not. I don’t even care, we’re finished, it’s over, understand ?”
“I know she left you. Maybe you still have feelings for her.”
“No, we are just friends now, c’mon, you know that.”
“You have many letters from her ?”
“No. Not many.”
“But others ?”
“Yes, of course.”
“ ‘Of course’ ? Oh, now I understand, you keep writing to her so you can get back together and just use me.”
“What ? What is wrong with you ?”
“No, what is wrong with you ?”
“Listen, if you’re going to argue, can you do it in German ?”
“You can’t speak German.”
“Oh, that is so very funny, fucking idiot. Open the letter.”
“No, it’s private.”
Chris knew that wasn’t the best response he could have given.
“Ah, so you have private things going on. Maybe I should leave. It’s been a fun summer fuck, but now it can be over.”
“Right, sit there and listen.” Chris opened the letter and read it aloud. It was very innocuous, asking him how he was, how the flat was, was he paying the bills all right, was he still at Biberkopf ? But she signed it ‘Love Ute’ and wrote three kisses at the bottom with a little heart symbol. Monika seized on that blatant sign of affection and the argument gathered fresh momentum and followed its own illogical logic.
When Richard returned, late in the afternoon, Monika had long gone. They had planned to go to the Babylon Cinema in Kreutzberg all together, by car, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen.
Instead, they took the U-Bahn and Chris made sure Richard followed closely, as the cinema was in a back street, and Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn was on a busy intersection with exits at all points of the compass. The ground level, from the lower U8 to the elevated U1, was also a popular hang out for drunks and junkies and punks and Penne’s (beggars) who would buy cheap beer and spirits from the kiosks on the platform and have an unofficial social club on BVG (Berlin Transport Authority) property.
Chris pointed out that though it may look seedy and dangerous, he had never been bothered by anyone there, and that the BVG constantly patrolled the area with guard dogs that looked as if they’d much rather be chasing balls than breaking them.
The cinema was another Berlin experience that Richard loved. London’s cinemas were mostly franchised, staff all in the same uniform, décor the same, smell the same. Here, they were more like private clubs, looking like old cinemas that had been taken over by squatters, or squatted spaces that had been turned into cinemas.
The Babylon was reached by coming out of the north-west exit and walking through a arch behind some shops and Imbisses, under a large block of flats that imposed itself like a Colossus, straddling Adalbertstr.
The twin-screen cinema looked quite conventional from the outside, a marquee with film titles in red lettering, glass displays with film posters, stills and handwritten screening times.
Inside was a small vestibule, with posters for forthcoming films and reviews from the papers of current movies. The ticket desk was to the left, a counter with a display case showing the sweets and beers available. Tonight, the clerk had brought her son along, and the young boy was happily sitting on the counter, removing the lids from people’s beer bottles.
They bought the tickets and obligatory beers, tipping the lad, and walked into the main hall, which had flyers and adverts on one side and free postcards on the other. Richard used the bathroom, a graffiti-ed stool whose window opened-out onto the houses next door.
The hall was full of people, this being the busiest night, and the film had created a real buzz. The cinema door opened, people moved in. Chris liked middle row, middle seats and they got these, sat back and prepared themselves for a burst of pure Slackerdom.
Some adverts followed, then, with no censorship card that opens every film in England, the sights and sounds of Generation X embraced them and they surrendered themselves to ‘Reality Bites’, as Chris forgot how his current reality actually sucked.
They just waited for the scene that Richard had seen in a trailer, where Winona and her friends start dancing up and down in a convenience store slash gas station. It surpassed all expectation.
They sat through the end credits, smiling as four girls slinked up the aisle, dancing to the music, and humming ‘My Sharona’ the soundtrack to the store dance.
Afterwards, there was no discussion, they just had to go to a bar, and found a quiet bench in a Kreutzberg bar. Two beers ordered, two Jack Daniels to go with them.
Winona dominated the conversation, as they slipped in more and more Americanisms, even sports references and metaphors that they didn’t fully understand. They should be in America, not tired, old Europe. Everyone had so much energy and life and excitement and money, even the poor people. The sports were so much more colourful, the scores were far higher, there were cheerleaders. And all the women were Über-cute. The decision was taken; they had to get American girlfriends, cheerleaders, then go back with them to the States.
Which brought them back to the events of the afternoon. Chris thanked Richard for his diplomacy and apologised for any awkwardness. He had witnessed just one part of an on-going conflict. Monika didn’t trust Chris. She accused him of still loving Ute and was just waiting to be dumped by him.
“All of which is pure bullshit, man. I’m crazy about her, like, totally wacko, eyes-poppin’ out of the head crazy. But she won’t believe me. It’s all about the flat, an’ Ute’s stuff.”
“So you going move out ?”
“If that’s what it takes, but ain’t gonna solve the problem. Just be something else. Besides, I love that flat. D’you remember Rigaer Str ?”
“Like I could forget.”
“And it’s real hard to get hold of a flat, here. I only got it by luck.”
“You see, your mistake was in overdoing the heartache in the first place. What got you Monika, now creeps up to bite ya in the touche.”
“Shot by my own gun, gawddammit !”
“Could of course get dumped by Monika and use that to get a new chick.”
“I don’t want a new chick. I want Monika. Just …”
“Right on. De-quirked.”
“Well, good luck with that.”
“So can’t you come up with anything ?”
“If I could I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, I’d be with Lorelei, or Gabi. Or both. Like, what’s with Lorelei ? I think I may have played my hand too soon.”
“Time out, Brother, is the Monika situation solved ? C’mon, focus, don’t drop the ball on this.”
Just then, Elvis came on the bar’s sound system, singing ‘Suspicious Minds’. Chris threw down his beer mat,
“Oh, very funny, Elvis!”
“So where did she go tonight ? Monika, that is ?”
“To see the film ! With Silke, I think, I dunno. But German version. Can you imagine ?”
“Winona, dubbed into Kraut ? Oh, man !”
“Tell me about it. It’ll blow over. Always does. Problem is, it always blows up again, right in my face. Screw it, more beers. So, what’s the deal with Lorelei ? Progress report.”
Towards the end of August, Gabi had her birthday and this year it fell on a Saturday. On the same day, there was a street festival in Kreutzberg, so they planned to meet at Monika’s flat for a birthday brunch.
It was Richard’s first time at Monika’s and he also realized that since he had been back, Chris had spent most nights at his own flat. He began to think about Melanie’s revelation in that Soho pub.
Monika had placed a large table at the centre of the room. The windows were open letting sunlight in and helping waft the cigarette smoke out.
Silke was already there, impatiently waiting for Gabi before she started drinking. Chris went into the kitchen to greet Monika, while Richard bummed a cigarette from Silke. Andreas turned up with beers, saying that Nice Guy Kai would be at the Fest, as would Gert, possibly Tommy and some other names unknown to Richard.
“Gert’s girlfriend’s gone back to England, hasn’t she ?” asked Silke.
“Yeah, but he’s OK. He was seeing an American girl on the side,” answered Andreas.
Gabi, meanwhile, was cursing and thumping the steering wheel, driving around the block looking for a parking space. She eventually found one and backed into it, almost smashing the exhaust on the curb.
Lorelei had driven with Gabi so often that she thought nothing of it. They walked the short distance to the flat, both dressed in light blouses and short skirts.
Inside, Monika gave Gabi a bouquet of flowers and Andreas opened the Sekt and poured. There was cold meat and smoked salmon, fresh rolls and salad, cheeses and Quark. And cake.
Gabi was allowed to choose the music, high-energy dance numbers and extended remixes.
Monika decided to change, seeing how Gabi and Lorelei were dressed, and Silke also decided she had to rethink her outfit and asked to borrow some of Monika’s clothes.
Inspired by the party atmosphere and the Sekt, Richard asked if he could watch her change.
“Ten Marks. Fifteen and I smile.”
“Honey, I won’t be looking at your smile.”
Soon after, the men were sent out and walked to the Fest, while the girls got ready. Two long streets in between Kottbusser Damm and Urbanstr were closed off. All the bars along the roads were open and had set up extra benches and tables, already over-crowded. Vendors sold soft drinks and beers, as well as Brotchen and Wurst (bread rolls and sausage).
There were public tables set up for people to bring their own food and drink, and some people brought along guitars.
Music was everywhere, either from portable CD players, from bars, from the buskers or from a stage where local bands had been invited to play.
Chris looked around, hoping to spot Arizona Al. Andreas saw Nice Guy Kai, standing on a bench, waving frantically. They made their way over, and got seats, ordering beers all around.
Back at the flat, the girls had opened another bottle of Sekt and were finishing their make-up.
“Today we find you a man, Gabi. You, too, Lorelei,” predicted Silke.
“Good idea !” the Birthday Girl agreed and Lorelei also smiled, looking forward to the party.
The girls all looked great, individually, but collectively, every male head turned, in lust, every female, in envy.
It amazed Richard; Berlin was still so new and mysterious to him, a European capital city, yet the girls managed to find them without any trouble. As they arrived, some people left, so there were seats available. He found himself talking to Gert, about England and London, which he compared unfavourably with his new home.
“Oh, the Tubes, so many people, crammed in, and you can’t look at anyone, just stand there and find a corner of floor to stare at. And you can’t leave anything, it’ll be stolen. London – love thy neighbour, but lock thy doors.”
Chris was talking with Monika, stroking her hair, and sharing private jokes. Gabi was on the look out for men and Lorelei seemed quite happy next to Andreas and Kai.
After more drinking and smoking, the party went off into small groups. The girls went looking at some hand-made jewellery stalls, Andreas and Kai found some friends, Gert went to the bathroom and vanished, so Chris wandered around with Richard.
People stood around in small groups, dogs ran around, children laughed and looked to make new friends. There were women with piercings and tattoos, some wearing their hair in dreadlocks, some wearing old dungarees. There were men of all ages, some in shirts, some in tie-dye T-shirts, some topless in the Berlin sun. No one was without either a drink, a cigarette, or a joint. People were free and easy, knowing that they were not being judged for being themselves, but were allowed to be as they wanted.
Suddenly Chris put his hands around his mouth and bellowed out. Up ahead, a startled Arizona Al stopped in his tracks, and appeared to jump with fright. Next to him was another man, tall and thin, with a cowboy hat and string tie. Al saw Chris and went up to him.
“Yo, man, you’re here, cool. Hey, Richard, what’s happening ? This is my buddy, Bill.”
“Ah, Boston Bill,” proclaimed Chris.
“Buffalo Bill ?” suggested Richard
“No, I’m from Nebraska”
“See, man, no one knows where the fuck Nebraska is, you should go with Boston Bill, it’s way cool. He’s a drummer, we’ve gigged together, messed around on a couplea tracks.”
“Cool,” echoed Chris, “Right, this way, more drinks !”
Monika had run into some neighbours and Andreas was feeling rather affectionate towards Silke. Without doing anything, Kai had a swarm of teenage girls around him, jokingly asking for his autograph, but just as a pretext to speak to him. Gabi and Lorelei had found a quiet, shaded bench and were talking and smoking.
The Fest was getting busier, more and more people turned up, more and more beers were thrown down. An all-girl band took the stage and Chris went to investigate and check them out. He was quite impressed, not a patch on the idealized quartet of Monika and the girls, but still cute. He looked for the others, and laughed as he saw Richard and Al standing next to each other, twisting away to the music, clicking fingers and smoking.
Evening came and what was left of The Gang met up, newcomers being introduced. Gabi wanted to go into Mitte, to a quiet restaurant, then to a club. The girls were going with, Andreas going home because he had to get up early for work, (at which point Silke let out a loud ironic laugh) and Kai had to get back to be with his latest ‘fan’.
Chris decided to stay with Al and Richard at the Street Party, as Bill had mentioned there was a vintage comedy double bill at the cinema on the Kottbusser Damm.
Until the movies started, the four men stood around, slowing down their drinking, just people watching, talking and smoking.
Chris had managed to involve himself in conversation with some strangers and was repeating his Harpo Marx routine, grabbing their hands and putting it under his raised leg. It was unlikely that anyone understood the reference, but it looked so unusual, if not downright weird, even by Berlin standards, that it got a great laugh, and soon, Al predicted, people would be doing it all over Berlin.
Richard found himself talking to a very attractive woman with a short blond bob, and found himself desperately inventing details to impress her, and couldn’t believe that she was still listening to him and hadn’t just run away. When she finally left, together with her boyfriend, Bill came over and gave a ‘oh, well’ shrug of the shoulders.
“Couldn’t help over-hearing. You were laying it on real thick, Dude.”
“I know. And she was listening to me. Why, oh why, didn’t I move here before ?”
Bill wasn’t used to rhetorical questions and asked back,
“I don’t know. Why ?”
Slowly, it darkened; the Fest had been losing people since late afternoon. Chris and Richard went to get a quick bite at an Imbiss, while Al went with Bill to pick up his bike which he’d left chained to a post somewhere in Kreuzberg.
After their Currywurst and chips, they went to the Moviemento cinema, and saw there was a collection of miscellaneous shorts followed by Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’.
They bought tickets and sat through two Laurel & Hardy movies, which they deemed the funniest films ever made. In one, the two play removal men, transporting a piano up a mountain, across a high, rope bridge and into a house that has a white horse running loose inside it. The day’s drinking was taking its toll and they floated in and out of consciousness. Both were awake to see Oliver Hardy on all fours with a piano on his back and then the horse jumping on, too. They almost choked with laughter.
The lights came on for a short break before the next short film, so they left to buy beers at the desk.
In the foyer, they saw Al and Bill and insisted that they walk in with them, when the lights dimmed, and forego the formality of buying tickets. It wasn’t as if the staff couldn’t see what was happening, but they, too, were having a party of their own, and they simply didn’t care.
The next film was about a man about to get married. He has just been falsely informed that his bride to be had a wooden leg. The actor had a priceless silent-movie comedy face; beady, close-set eyes, a squashed cauliflower of a nose and thin strands of hair, combed any which way.
In the film, someone, somehow, has placed a cane between the bride and groom. When the groom reaches over, during the prayer, to feel his bride’s leg, he feels the wooden stick. Back to the face, with an expression of shock that caused a universal outburst of laughter, and Bill to spill half his beer down his light blue shirt.
During the main intermission, the two Americans left.
The two Englishmen lasted about fifteen minutes of ‘Modern Times’ before falling asleep and snoring, waking up when the film ended and the house lights suddenly coming on.
Chris led Richard to Schönleinstr. U-Bahn and, changing to the U2 at Alex, they rode home along with all the other drinkers and ravers and shouters and laughers.
They had fleeting images of fat men and horses and wooden legs, but mostly of a tall, thin American in cowboy hat and string tie, wearing a shirt with a massive beer puddle.
At the same time, in a club in Mitte, Gabi was having a kissing thing with a man from Munich, Monika was flirting with some men from Wedding and Lorelei was talking to Tommy, but thinking about Andreas and wondering if there was any possibility of being with him and remaining friends with Silke.
It was at the end of the day that they were first seen. The farm hands, their pitches and scythes, were gathering. Animals into their pens, herded. Backs were rubbed, and arms stretched. If only the day’s hardships and troubles could so easily alleviated, be. The House of Religion began it’s bells to chime and to its evening service, the villagers drew.
Little Lotte claimed it was her. Her brother asserted no, falsehood, it was he. The scrofulous old maid, desperate for recognition, said it was she, the crippled tinker, till his dying die, would brook no argument, for he was the one, the one who, on that cold, windy evening, did first, the strangers, see.
They appeared, no matter who first spied them, on the southern hill, overlooking the settlement, four curious figures, encumbered by implements ill defined.
First one, then two, then more and more, the villages, their tasks abandoned, looked towards the hill, following the little finger of Lotte and the crooked staff of the tinker.
A vision for the eyes, strange indeed, but now other senses assaulted, were. As if by accord, both common and rare, they took up their singular burdens and did, by bow and breathe, sounds quite unknown, make.
The entire village, motionless, were. Enraptured, captivated, held by forces both mysterious and mystic. All faced south, and tried to make rational, sounds so obscure. A melody at times hauntingly beautiful, at others, beautifully haunting, did the entire vale, fill, a music of such power, that even the beasts of the field were tamed into submission.
Then, with a solitary low note hanging in the air, the music faded.
But nobody dare move.
Slowly, did heads turn and the grey, bearded leader of religion his way to the hill, made. The younger men did their leader follow, picking up their tools as arms, because nothing inspires fear more than the unknown.
There they stood, four figures, framed against the greying clouds, holding shapes unearthly in appearance and sound.
Now they walked, as one creature, down the hill, in line, with calmness divine. Down they walked, showing no ill will, and discerning who was held in highest esteem, to the bearded one, words of introduction were made.
But mistrust was still in the air, their strange appearance did their strange sound, match.
Disconcerting were these concert makers, when as a quartet, taken, though, when up close, viewed, not one of the four was particularly abject to the eye.
The first, it was true, was of a height taller than most, the second was rotund, the third showing advance in years and the fourth, a leg impaired.
But, though disguised by accent harsh, the language was the same, and the hand proffered in good faith, was heartily, by the leader shook.
Weapons fell as smiles rose, as the men, as men do, clasped hands and patted shoulders, and the young maidens as maidens do, coyly peeked, then blushed and hid, only to return and peek once more.
To the House of Religion, did they move, where their story would be made known to all.
As could be told by their voices, without words, travelled long and far, these strangers had. The tall one began their tale.
When young, no taller than Little Lotte (who smiled so brightly at being singled out) they were summoned, from poor country homes, to the court of a cultured nobleman, with varied tastes and experience, but music, paramount to him, was.
From his distant journeys, he brought back masters of music of esoteric origin. It was his command that this music be reproduced at his court, for the glory of all, and due to the technical virtuosity involved, the only way was to find minds untainted and fresh, to instruct.
But, how cruel can Fate be ? Having spent their youth in study and practise, having acquired skill and ingenuity far beyond their years, having performed but a score of times, the nobleman did pass away and with him, was his court divided and impoverished. There was no place for the musicians who, to earn their bread, from town to town, village to village, forced to wander, were.
Though unsaid, all felt the cold winds of winter and the scorching heat of summer, the days of empty stomachs, the nights bereft of love. The whole village, by a wave of melancholy, infected, were.
Then the second man, of proud girth, did comment make, and all laughed as joy was restored. The Leader proclaimed, they were here and here they must stay. No ! No objections, harvest was good, water pure, houses warm and women … were they not the embodiment of all things Heavenly ? And, though he could not for certain say, if the Duke was made aware and approved of their art, then their future was surely safe.
That happy note struck, a feast was arranged, and though poor in substance, did in good spirit and cheer, abound.
And, indeed, it was within the passing of only three days, that messenger did appear, demanding acquaintance with the strangers of whom rumour did resound.
They needed no forced command, but with pleasure did take up instruments and begin to play. Performance proved, nay, surpassed all expectation, and back to court did messenger speed. Before nightfall, he did return, requesting their company by the grace of The Duke.
A quick farewell with shakes and pats and waves, and a tear or two from Little Lotte.
Then almost as quickly and suddenly as they had appeared, where they gone.
The court was no great distance hence, and to it did they travel by coach and liveried horse. Thundering across arched bridge, they raced to the castle, high on the hill, a commanding presence whose power was felt further than could even be seen from its summit on a clear day.
But no time to stop and admire, to work were they immediately put. A banquet, this time the genuine article, was taking place, and divers coaches filled the yard. Servants in rich attire lined corridors, rich, intricate tapestries hung off every wall, and laughter and talking rippled from the central room.
Tables of exquisite design were over-flowing with food and drink of every description, men and women dressed in such garments as defied all imagination. The poor itinerant musicians were ashamed to look up, dazed by such splendour. But their appearance provoked the same reaction. An immediate silence. All eyes upon the newcomers, unique.
From the top table, the grandest chair, the most elaborately dressed man, The Duke, himself, summoned them closer.
They walked, eyes still lowered, but, like all men, couldn’t help but be drawn towards the lady next to The Duke. She was young, with hair of honey gold, eyes of deepest, purest blue and lips like roses. She was perhaps, them most beautiful women any man had seen.
The Duke need merely clap, and the musicians knew their duty. With no consultation, the tall man took up his bow and played a note, then the others joined in.
And while they played, nobody spoke. And when they had finished, there was silence.
Everyone looked towards The Duke. He rose, majestically, raised his hands and with all magnanimity, did cause thunderous applause to echo around the stately room. His example followed and exceeded, all rose and cheered approval before The Duke spoke. By decree, the musicians will be staying as guests, then enter his service, where, for providing music for entertainment, they would be lavishly rewarded.
Cheers went up, applause, shouts and they even allowed themselves to raise their eyes from the ground and look at the eyes of all the young women devouring them, and even, though fleetingly, cast a furtive glance at the lady by The Duke, for she was the most beautiful of all.
So they lived, playing for parties and composing music in The Duke’s honour.
One day they were ordered to appear before him. They looked at each other, each one feeling the same palpitations, the cold sweet of pure fear. Slowly, to the chamber did they go, announced by court guard.
Within seconds did their fear subside. The Duke, in fact, did appear nervous and searched in vain for words correct. His wife, he explained, had decided she would like to add music to her list of accomplishments. Though he was an educated and sophisticated man, and knew that such talents came not overnight, but by lifetime of practise and devotion, loved his young wife more than life, so had consented to her wish, as he did to everything she, of him, asked.
The musicians, took no time to confer, the elder of them saying it would be a honour for them, and that they would do their best to instruct the young lady in all the skills she should desire.
The lady being young and impatient, the lessons began that very day.
But the lady, by her entourage of maidens, accompanied was. In the chamber, away from the guidance of the men, did give way to the foibles of their youth, giggling, whispering, pointing and, before end of lesson, in normal tones did speak.
Of progress was there but little. Nor was any made on subsequent days.
Back into the presence of The Duke, were the musicians ordered.
Now the elder virtuoso did venture to speak. ‘Twas such a pity that talent so evident should remain undeveloped. When asked to expand, the fourth, lame and bent, did make known the distracting influence of the young ladies who, not being of the same elegance, were not able to appreciate the art.
The tall and the rotund were forced to agree, and bemoan the waste of a gift so rare.
Then did The Duke think. With respect, did his cast his eye over the four. One tall and lean, awkward in co-ordination and protruding teeth. One over-weight and bearded, shining from sweet. Another old and toothless, perhaps lacking both desire and ability, and one who dragged a useless leg around. He could risk breaking court protocol, in the service of his wife’s advancement.
So it was arranged, the four would have the honour of private audience with the beautiful and gifted wife.
But The Duke, other troubles, did face. On the council of his young bride, who saw weakness and possibility in a neighbouring duchy, did The Duke an army raise.
Success came swift, until first one, then another setback experienced were. Now both armies were entrenched with gain on neither side.
But rumour moved fast, and told of succour asked and received, another army marching forth and defeat looking certain. The Duke must, to other lands go, requesting help and offering spoil.
Thus, after but a week of private tutoring, The Duke, with retinue, left the castle, but the lessons did continue.
The young bride was in centre, sat, the Sun around which the satellites did wander. Hair of honey-gold, eyes blue as ocean, lips as red roses.
As honey is from bees who sting, oceans swallow and drown and roses have thorns that pierce flesh, so the young lady did shout at and berate her instructors.
Then did change occur. First one, then another, did their garments discard, and appearance alter. Protruding teeth were plucked, revealing a healthy set, padding around another’s middle part removed was, another shook off signs of his advanced years, the last stretched a leg and demonstrated an agility quite unsuspected.
Despite such a metamorphosis, still the young lady had no idea who they were or why they were here, but a cry, heart-rending did she let out. Yet, on the strict orders of The Duke, they was no one to hear it.
Then did cloudy fear and terror cross the sunny countenance, as colour drained from wilted lips.
She turned to the second of the group, a healthy man, fit and lean, no longer constrained by fat, but clean.
And she remembered.
It had begun, many years before, in a small, poor collection of huts, too small to be village, too poor to be of importance. The low-lying ditch seemed always covered in fog, to be. Out of the mist, one discernible sight, one distant beacon of hope. The Castle so far away, on the hill.
The girl had to get there, but how ? No background, no attributes except a radiant beauty that would all too soon, lost be, working the land, and giving birth.
She must cultivate skills and learning to get her out of her hopelessness. There, in her birthplace, was a man famed for his culinary skill. No matter what scant source, he could turn all into a feast, with flavour abundant. He had knowledge of plants and herbs and knew how the taste to extract.
To him, the girl went, wanting to learn, but sensed a reticence on his part. The secrets came from and must go to, his family. So, an easy answer, she would be his, offer herself, be his wife, if he would first divulge.
So he did, secrets old and new, the knowledge of the fields was hers. But, before they could be for eternity joined, did the girl disappear.
The man, lost his skill, his will and sickness could he not escape. No longer able to provide for the people, was he by them, chased out, like an animal, to roam the lands.
The girl, meanwhile, had moved on to the next settlement.
The people here were plentiful and able to hunt in all weathers, for one knew the secret of turning animal hide into warm, protective garment.
Now the lady turned to one before her, formerly old and withered, now young and with renewed energy, filled. A second recognition beheld her.
To this large settlement, did her services in food preparation, offer.
Received was she, well by one and all, promising to impart her knowledge, but looking for a partner, she made it known.
By now, had she start to bloom, and many an eye in her direction turned. With such a choice, she told the one gifted with material that it was he, she desired.
The man was overcome, emotions he had never known. But first, all she asked was a show of trust. How did he make clothes so fine and grand out of such base material ?
The answers gushed forth, as he thought of his new life, he clothing, his wife feeding the settlement, starting a family and making it into a village for the betterment of all.
Yet, once more, after learning all that she could, she vanished, destroying a heart so true. As the heart suffered, so did the fingers, no more able to sew and stitch, and his worth being no more, was forced to find abode anew.
The Lady now turned to a man who before could barely walk, but was reminded of a man who had rode as if he and animal were one.
The Girl was now able to progress to a small village where her skills were of such high value, that she had to turn suitors away. She made it clear that her virtue was of importance utmost, and could not be even seen with a man, unchaperoned. How awkward, therefore, to find herself come across a young man, whilst out in the field gathering herbs. Awkward enough that she felt compelled to flee, but, in so doing, did twist an ankle so pretty and delicate, that the youth gladly offered her his mount to carry her back.
Oh, how proudly he rode, such a skill would serve any lucky young lady in good stead. With his command over the animals, surely this was a sign, divine, that he was to be her master. If only he would teach her, then could they together, ride. But, of course, such a secret would surely be reserved for one who would share life and bed.
Upon that spot, did Youth propose and Girl accept. Lessons began at once, how to tame, to ride, to sport.
But, once again, after she had learned all she could, into the very air did she disappear. The poor Youth, refusing all food and kind word, lay himself down to die. ‘Twas only the sound of his grieving horse that restored him, but no better would he get. No riding now, to deliver news, but to towns to procure alcohol and drink himself into stupor. So his life continued, till he was replaced and forced to leave the village, never to return.
Finally, The Lady, to the last one, looked.
A girl, so talented in providing food, warmth and riding was now able to have her choice among the bachelors of the town she had come to. But he heart was still in one place; The Castle whose shadow now extended over her new home, a town so close, that The Duke frequently passed through, and who would surely notice one so new and fair.
Yet her manners were not up to court standard, nor could she yet read. But there was a young teacher.
Once more, she chanced advances that advanced her chances. First, did she learn to read and with the tall young man, whose shyness was quite painful to see, did great progress make.
Now to other purposes. He was special adviser to the court, in matters of translation. She decided she would be his secretary. She asked, over and over, adjusting her dress, shaking out her hair, but could not break down his defences. A fortress around his heart, had he constructed, unable to believe that any woman, let alone a beauty, could ever want him.
The Castle was a hallowed building, admittance through it’s doors, a rare privilege. But not to a wife ? The Girl asked, reaching for a volume of romance verse, suggesting they read together, and their fingers touched, underlining words of love. One more fortress down.
Promising to be his and his alone, for evermore, she made him make her a lover’s promise: to bring her along to the next Castle visit. It would be the correct move, for The Duke to be informed of any changes in the life of so valued a servant.
The visit followed shortly after, some vernacular text needing translation. The Girl went along and The Youth listened to his assignment. No suspicions were aroused when he was allowed to retire to a study and his bride to be asked to remain, only pride that The Duke approved of his choice.
The unfortunate Youth had no idea what transpired between them, only that The Girl remained in The Castle after he was sent home, and that the next morning, scarcely after sunrise, was he awoken by armed guard and banished. No books was he allowed, just the clothes he wore, some bread, and a warning was he given that dare he ever to show his face again, it would be removed from the rest of his body.
Now that face was before her, hatred in his and all the other eyes.
And she had brought her downfall on herself.
She was aware that there was a Prince allied to the next Duchy. Any conflict there would bring The Prince into the fray, a Prince with such an army at his command, that he could not but help prove victorious. A Prince, as of yet, unwed. A Prince, destined to become King of a great land, in need of a Queen with knowledge of cooking, sewing, sportsmanship, reading, writing and his special weakness, music.
But as she mused on these thwarted plans, the Musicians began, in one movement, to disassemble their singular instruments, and reveal sharp knives, blades that glistened in the sunlight that poured through the stained glass windows which were soon to be stained with the blood of the treacherous Lady.
Although she was powerless, not once did she ask for mercy, but, they said, with a sly smile accepted her fate. It was over very quickly. None of the four had the heart for the kill, nor considered her death justifying damnation. Instead, four slashes across her face were traced, not fatal, but causing permanent scar and rendering a once beautiful face, hideous.
As she covered her wounds, she had another memory. She recalled the first man, the one with the art of cooking. He also could create music, from the finely worked bone of an animal, from blades of grass between his lips, from a piece of string, pulled taut, from horse hair over tight wire.
She let out a scream, but it was covered by a general Pandemonium. Trumpets blasted, messengers screamed, The Castle was in uproar. There had been a terrible battle, forces of another Prince had entered the fray. It was slaughter. The beloved Duke had fallen on the field. All was lost.
In such confusion, the Musicians could their escape, easily make. They simply vanished, as mysteriously as they had arrived. There are no records of any of them ever being seen again.
As for The Lady ? She was imprisoned in a remote tower in the north of the country, prey to the elements of that harsh climate, freezing in winter, burning in summer, empty of belly and alone both night and day.
After a time, she was forgotten completely, and it wasn’t until some years later that her skeleton was discovered. It is said that the skull appeared to be smiling, as if planning one final scheme …
Chris wore a cotton top with white and purple horizontal stripes, faded black jeans and Converse All Star sneakers. Richard wore his slim-cut blue Levi’s and a light, dull-green, woollen jumper with brown leather waistcoat that Chris had picked up from one of Berlin’s many second-hand clothes stores. They looked cool and felt cool, Richard thinking he looked a little like Kurt Cobain on the ‘Unplugged’ show, and planned to grow his hair out. Possibly bleach it.
They met Monika at a bar for brunch at the area Richard now knew as the Wasserturm, or Water Tower. The Sunday afternoon pavements were covered with chairs and tables, children running and dogs hunting stray food. All the bars were busy, but Monika had saved two seats and waved to them.
Richard had been in Berlin for just over a week and had been out drinking with Chris nearly every night. The previous Friday, The Gang had meet up, this time going around the bars in the northern part of Prenzlauer Berg, around Schönhauser Allee U-Bahn, where Chris lived. Gabi had driven over with Lorelei, both seeming relieved to be away from their boyfriends. Andreas was there with Silke and Nice Guy Kai. Some other friends had turned up, and it seemed that Monika knew every waitress and barman in Berlin and that all the women were really cute, and all the men were really friendly. Richard mentioned this to Andreas;
“You haven’t been here long. Just wait.”
There was only one downer. How to behave to Lorelei, because there was no sense in hiding it; he was totally in love. Meeting her caused all the emotions to collide like a ‘super-charged particle accelerator’ as he himself described it. There was the initial excitement that almost caused his heart to burst, the gasping for air, as the tension grabbed him by the throat. Then came the terrifying doubts, wondering how she felt and how he should act and react to her. How to play it cool, when he just wanted to go over and confess his love and throw himself at her cute little, painted toenailed feet. And he wanted to kiss her so much, he thought he would go crazy.
The subject of today’s lunchtime summit.
“You know how I think it went ?” asked Chris, referring to the previous evening, “Brilliantly. She digs you. Big time.”
“But the boyfriend ?”
“No, I don’t think you have to worry. They are like flatmates. They share a bed, but make nothing.”
Richard thanked Monika for the information, before Chris continued,
“And she laughed at all your jokes. Even the ones I didn’t even get.”
“She was just being polite.”
“Oh, right. C’mon, she’s into you like a train.”
“I hope so.”
Monika silently ate her lunch, then was relieved to be able to change the subject.
“Oh, next Saturday, Erika is giving a performance. I said we’d go.”
“Yeah, cool. Who’s Erika ?”
“Barmaid slash performance artist. Does … kinda improvised … what would you say, Moni ?”
“Exactly ! She … ah, you’ll see. Oh, Arizona may come. He wants to hang out with us.”
“Arizona ? Oh, from your studio. Don’t think I met him last time.”
“No, he’s cool. Little bit older than us, mid-thirties. Bit of a character. You’ll see.”
After a lunch of sausage and eggs, fruit and the obligatory Sekt, Monika left, as she had to get home to work on some dress she was making. One of several ways she earned money. Chris explained, as they took a stroll,
“Some mornings she gets up and cleans a bar, sometimes works the door in a club, sometimes hands out flyers, sometimes does check-out in a small supermarket, sometimes does dressmaking, alterations, sometimes does haircuts . . . you know.”
“How do you keep up ?”
“It’s not easy. I need something like a periodic table, like all those chemistry dorks used to have on their walls.”
They walked up Rykestr, turning around and seeing the TV Tower loom over the Wasserturm, through the trees of the park. Then a turn into the main Danziger Str, and one block east to the Ernst Thälmann park with its massive statue.
“These girls are amazing,” said Richard. “Silke, Gabi, Moni … Lorelei. Oh, man ! They should form a band. Just look at them: Moni with short, black hair, Silke; spikey, Gabi; curly, dirty blond and Lorelei’s luscious locks. Forget All Saints, it would be the hottest chick band, ever !”
“I know. Amazing, isn’t it ? I thought after Ute, that’s it. But it worked out just fine.”
“Advice, c’mon, spill; how do I get Lorelei ? What moves did you pull on Moni ?”
“Oh, it was a breeze, baby, couldn’t be easier. Ute dumped me. There I was, allein in einer grossen Stadt (alone in a big city), got a shitty job, no money, live in squalor and just lost the love of my life. Began going out with some of the Biberkopf staff after work, drinking. At one bar, I meet Monika. She asks why I’m looking so sad. Got so much sympathy … that, my friend, is how to get women.”
“Act all pathetic and make them pity you ?”
“Hey, I’m the one with the girlfriend, remember ?”
“But I’ve got no one to dump me.”
“Well, that can be easily solved.”
“Could always leak it that I was dumped in London … came here to forget my pain … ?”
“See … now you’re thinking. And that, Amigo, calls for a drink.”
Chris had taken some days off from Biberkopf to be with Richard, but was now working five nights a week, as well as occasional days at the studio. The following Saturday, after seeing Erika’s performance, Lorelei asked Richard,
“What do you do all day ?”
They had meet at a new café in one of Prenzlauer Berg’s back streets. It was the familiar converted shop space, a plain room with large, wooden tables, and just candles and ashtrays for decoration. Soundgarden on the CD player. The barman with two or three friends at the bar. It was very quiet, but was still very early for Berlin.
The gang, on the night of Erika’s show, was without Silke, who was working, but with Nice Guy Kai and one of his new girlfriends.
From the bar, they drove to Kreutzberg, Pearl Jam pounding out of Monika’s car stereo as she twisted and turned around Alexanderplatz.
Another Hinterhof, south of the river. A mixture of junk and broken furniture, some sorry-looking plants, broken glass, empty beer crates and cigarette butts. Twenty or so people, standing around, drinking, smoking, laughing, shouting.
Erika’s show was through one of the doors that led off into a basement, but was locked. It was Berlin, performances were not expected to start on time.
The Gang all got another drink, passed around cigarettes and talked. Richard was unable to get any idea of what the performance would involve, but enjoyed seeing the individual reactions, Andreas and Kai appearing very cynical, Monika supportive and Chris nonsensical.
A man walked into the Hof, alone, dressed in leather trousers, with a mauve T-shirt and bottle-green, velvet jacket. He wore yellow-tinted glasses, had thick sideburns and a four-day growth of beard. He looked around, then waved to Chris.
Introductions were made, then a door opened and people began paying the entrance and descending into the converted performance space.
Inside, the walls were painted bright orange with various murals showing scenes derived from Bruegel and Bosch; sinners being devoured by demons, or put into lakes of fire. Arizona Al was somewhat taken aback and was particularly struck by one group in a corner, showing four men who appeared to be musicians, though their instruments were more like weapons. There was a blond woman next to them, who appeared to be in severe discomfort. He pointed it out to Chris and asked what it was.
“Don’t know. Kinda spooky, isn’t it ?”
“Yeah, like, man, what’s going on ? This some kinda devil-freak joint ?”
Chris was about to mention the illustration to the others, when the background music abruptly cut out. People began turning to face the small, central stage area, and moving forward.
Erika marched onto the stage, commanding everyone’s attention. She had curly, auburn hair, which was moused and thick. Her face was brightly made-up, thick, red lips and long lashes. She wore a black and white basque, fishnet stockings and high heels.
She made sure everyone was looking at her, before walking around the stage, striking a pose, and clicking her fingers. On cue, the music began, Marlene Dietrich numbers, which she mimed along to, or acted out.
During ‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’, she was joined onstage by a friend, also in lingerie, but with short, brown hair and a few layers less of make-up. They performed a mime about falling in love and raising a happy family, Erika taking the male role.
The opening line, about a young man who had never been kissed, brought sighs of sympathy from Gabi and Lorelei, and made Richard feel uncomfortable, in case The Gang thought it applied to him.
Arizona Al, like Chris, Richard, Kai and all the other men in the audience, was just enjoying the sight of what he referred to as “Two smokin’ babes,” cavorting around.
After twenty minutes, the show was over and Eighties German pop music helped to clear the space.
Outside, people got drinks from a bar area and stood around in small groups. That was when Lorelei asked Richard how he spent his days.
“I get up early, fix myself breakfast, and go back to bed. I read a lot, walk around, wait for Chris to come back, then go to the local bars. Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about you.”
Lorelei smiled, then turned away.
Erika came up to them, dressed as she had been on stage, but with a leather jacket now over her shoulders.
They all told her how much they had enjoyed the show.
“Very nice,” said Chris, with a knowing glance at Monika.
Al introduced himself, then had some questions about the practicalities of performing, whom to ask, how much could be made.
“Yeah, don’t want to monopolize you, know you got a lot of people to see, just one more question, don’t know if you’d know, but there’s this picture in the corner, it’s like four dudes and some blonde chick and, I don’t know, it’s kinda … weird, you know, like … “
He made a gesture of terror and fear. The others had all stopped talking to hear, and see, Al’s own performance, knowing that Erika only had basic English. She was silent for some seconds, trying to process the inquiry, then she understood, and looked to Kai for confirmation.
“Oh, Ja, that’s based on an old German folk … “
“Legend. Folk tale.” Kai to her aid.
“Genau (exactly) a folk legend.” Kai took over,
“It’s from the Medieval times, from the Black Forest area. It’s called The Concert Of Grotesques. Do you know it ? It’s a great story … “
Lorelei rested her head in her hands, elbows on the café table, and slowly shook her head, lightly brushing away some strands of her wavy brown hair that had fallen over her almond-shaped, chestnut-coloured eyes.
“It’s not working with Robert. I have to leave, I have to leave !”
Silke, without finishing her mouthful of roll, agreed,
“Yes, we’ve been saying this for ages. Why are you still with him ?”
“But it’s such a nice flat,” added Gabi, between delicate spoonfuls of yoghurt and muesli.
“So she moves to the east. We have nice flats here, too.”
Gabi didn’t answer Monika. She may enjoy partying in the east, but there was no way she would ever live there.
“I know a guy who may let me stay with him.”
“Yeah, I bet I can guess the rent,” said Silke, making her meaning clear by using a banana as visual aid. The others laughed, though only Monika found it truly funny. Gabi was worried that other people may see (they did; the level of conversation dropped noticeably).
“No, he’s gay.”
“Oh, yes, listen,” began Silke, “when it comes to that, men don’t care how they get it. Man, woman, appliance “
United chorus of disapproval. Silke stood her ground,
“When I worked at that doctor’s reception, you couldn’t believe how many men came in with bits of vacuum cleaner hanging off their dicks.”
Gabi tried sshhh-ing her, but Monika’s laugh drowned it. Lorelei was wondering how the conversation had taken such a turn, then remembered that Silke was there.
Monika returned the tangent subject back to the main topic.
“I know a secret.”
The girls immediately quietened down, and leant forward. Monika waited, building tension, a little trick she had inadvertently picked up from Chris.
“What do you think of Richard ?”
“Chris’ friend ?” asked Silke.
“Seemed nice. I couldn’t say much to him. I tried, but I just forgot all my English,” explained Gabi. “He was speaking to Lori, a lot. He was funny, no ?”
“Yeah,” admitted Lorelei, sensing all eyes on her, and feeling herself blush, “he’s nice. Interesting. I couldn’t understand everything. He listened to me, as well”
“Marry him !” demanded Silke.
“I thought you didn’t believe in marriage ?” from Gabi.
“I don’t, not for me,” Silke laughed back, “but when does Robert ever listen to her ? Just, ‘Where is my wurst ? Where is my big, fat, juicy wurst … “
“Silke !” Gabi remonstrated, but knowing that she was only encouraging her. Monika tried again.
“Because I think he likes you.”
“He’s nice. Very friendly.”
“Ah, shit, woman, wake up, he wants to fuck you.”
Monika didn’t deny Silke’s assertion, though tried to tone it down,
“I think he is interested in you.”
“But she has a boyfriend,” objected Gabi, genuinely shocked.
“Yes, and ? One that doesn’t screw her. What use is that ? That’s what vibrators are for. Don’t leave stinky socks around, or fart-up the bed, either.”
“You would like a vibrator that makes farting noises ?” asked Monika, making alternate buzzing and farting noises.
Even Silke found that too much, and threw her napkin at Monika, who was too busy laughing to defend herself.
Lorelei was feeling a little uncomfortable and was hoping the conversation would veer off into another direction, but Gabi asked,
“And, Lori … do you like Richard ?”
Silence over the table.
“Yes. I like him … but not like that.”
“Now, Andreas screws me whenever I want it, which is always. He doesn’t do much else.”
“Still no job ?” inquired Monika about Silke’s special friend.
“Ah, man, he has some stupid ideas about selling old records at the Sunday market. Records. Nobody plays records anymore. He makes ten, twenty Marks and thinks he’s a big business man. I’d dump him if he wasn’t such a great fuck.”
“And what is with you and Sebastian ?” asked Monika to Gabi. She responded by shaking her head and making a gesture of hopelessness.
“It’s comfortable. Safe. It’s just not going anywhere.”
“So it’s going down the toilet ! What’s it like with an Englishman, Moni ? What do they say ? A stiff upper dick ?”
“Ach ! It’s going well. It’s good Richard is here, gives me a break. When they are together, I can’t keep up. Just talk, talk, talk. Can’t even tell who’s talking. They sound the same, blah, blah, blah. I’m not sure they ever get to a point. They use the same words and expressions. Just as my English gets good, they start all American slang and bullshit.”
“And the other thing ?” asked Gabi. Monika finished her coffee and sighed.
“Yes. Still a problem. An issue. He doesn’t understand. Just because he’s not in her flat, it’s her friend’s, but she keeps all her shit there. She’ll have to get them sometime.” For the first time, there was silence. Monika always got upset speaking about Ute and the flat.
Lorelei tried helping,
“But he loves you. That is obvious. You are lucky.”
“Yes, I know, but … ah, I go there and I can feel her. Smell her. I just … don’t like it.”
“So ? Move to Prenzlauer Berg or let him move in with you.”
“No !,” responded Silke to Gabi’s suggestion, “she’s got to have her freedom, somewhere to go after they fight. Make him move to Kreutzberg.”
“I’m looking out for places. So if you hear of anything … “
“Yeah, sure. And you, Gabi ? Found a love-shack ?”
“What about Richard ?”
“Well … don’t know. Won’t be able to speak to him.”
“Believe me, that is a bonus, not a problem. OK, it’s your birthday soon. We’ll buy you a giant dildo,” promised Silke.
“That farts and says, ‘where’s my beer ?’” added Monika
They all laughed and continued their lunch, except Lorelei, who rested her head in her hands and stared at the table, lost in thought.
Gabi helped Monika carry the glasses across the road from the bar to the small park where Richard, on his first night back in Berlin, was being inducted into The Gang.
He sat on the brick wall that surrounded the park, as Silke pointed to the large rotunda that rose above the trees on the slope behind them.
“It used to be a water tower, then the Nazi’s used it to torture prisoners. Now it’s flats for Yuppies.”
Silke had short, spiky, blonde hair, which was striking enough, but tonight, in the hot Berlin evening, she wore a skimpy vest and shorts, showing legs which Richard couldn’t help but comment on; loudly,
“Man, she’s got Bond-girl legs.”
Chris felt obliged to look them up and down, apprising them with an expert eye, before concurring.
“And ? You like Silke’s legs, too ?” asked Monika.
“No, my Darling. Only yours.” They kissed, then Chris turned to Richard, and raised an eyebrow.
Gabi smiled at Richard, and they clinked glasses, and she tried a few, faltering words in English, before giving up in a fit of giggles that charmed Richard to the heart. Of all the women he had suddenly and miraculously been introduced to, it was probably Gabi he would choose, though Silke was all woman, no mistake, and Gabi’s friend, Lorelei, who now began speaking to him, in near perfect English, was equally beautiful.
Andreas walked back to the group, from the bar with the ‘best toilets’, running a hand through his curly, brown hair. He walked over to Silke, grabbed her and kissed her. Richard took this to mean that Silke was off the market. Chris smiled and began the saga.
“So you see, Andreas is with Silke. They’re a pretty incestuous bunch of motherfuckers, but I’ll try to hip you in to what’s what. Not so much a ‘Who’s Who’, more of a ‘Who’s done Who’. Andreas’ best friend is Tommy, the little guy over there, flirting with those two tourists. Silke used to be with Tommy. Andreas used to be with Gabi. Kind of. They had what is called here, a ‘kissing thing’. Gabi and Lorelei both live in the west, with their boyfriends.”
“Not so fast, Gunga Din; they both hate their boyfriends and want to leave them. Gabi is even thinking of renting a flat here and having a weekend lover. Or renting a weekend lover, who knows ?”
Richard re-enacted a scene from London, hoping that Chris would remember it. He raised his hand.
“I accept the job, sight unseen. Except I have seen … so fucking cute.”
“I’ll put Monika on the case. Oh, more, the plot thickens. Here’s Nice Guy Kai. Kai used to go out with Andreas’ sister, back in Köln.”
Nice Guy Kai was greeted by all, kisses and hugs. With his peroxide blonde hair and goatee, he was the rock star of the Group.
Richard was just beaming. There seemed to be cafés and bars everywhere, full of people drinking and laughing. Waiters, white shirted in some bars, casually attired in others, buzzed around taking orders, delivering drinks. Behind, the trees of the small park gave a relaxing, calming ambience, blocking out all the concrete blocks to the south.
It was an area unknown to him, somewhere tucked away in Prenzlauer Berg, attractive buildings with balconies and decorated doorways, flowers and colour.
People strolled past, two, threes or individuals. Girls cycled past wearing short skirts, lovers held hands and kissed. Strangers said ‘Hello’ to each other and smiled. People were alive and happy. It was so different to the London he had just left and when Richard looked at Chris, he knew that he didn’t need to say a word. Chris understood everything.
“This is your first evening in Berlin ?” Lorelei asked. Chris smiled and went to join Monika, leaving Richard to work his magic.
The Gang coalesced as the evening darkened, speaking in German, various hands pointing in various directions.
Andreas explained to the new comer,
“We have to stop drinking outside, now. It used to be possible to drink all night, but the neighbours all complained,” pointing to the rows of windows above all the bars. “So the bars will only serve people sitting inside.”
More talk and opinions. Kai left with a young girl he had just met, and soon after, a decision was reached. Tommy would borrow a bicycle from a new guy that had turned up, Gert, who was with Jo, his English girlfriend, and go to a store and buy as many bottles of beer as he could carry. Everyone began going through their pockets or purses to find coins.
Chris looked over and saw Richard still talking with Lorelei. He caught his eye, and gave a wink.
Tommy soon returned, cycling along the pavement like a madman, screaming out and making ‘ding-ding’ bell sounds with his mouth. Somehow, he had managed to buy and transport enough beers for everyone.
Monika came over to Richard. They had only met hours before, but they felt a certain affinity, although Richard sensed a slight hardness about her. She was very friendly, yet lacked the easy charm of Ute. Maybe she was exactly what Chris needed.
“Käthe was very pretty. But she is going to stay with her boyfriend ?”
Monika had met them earlier when they, Käthe and boyfriend, had dropped him off in Berlin and been invited inside Chris’ new flat for a beer. The fact that they both preferred non-alcoholic drinks turned Chris off them immediately.
“Yes, and anyway, she lives miles away, some place near … Cottbus ?”
“Ah, wie schade! (what a shame). “
“Chris seems to be getting real good in German, nichts wahr ? (isn’t that right ?)”
“Umm, Ja. So you need a German girl to help to speak German.”
Richard was very close to saying that there were other needs he had in mind, but checked himself.
After the beers there was more discussion. Some people began leaving, but the core of Richard, Chris, Monika, Gabi and Lorelei preferred to go to another bar.
Monika drove Chris and Richard, followed by the two girls. They were heading into Mitte. Monika said that there was a bar that was only open on Fridays and was a good place to hang out.
As Richard had expected of Berlin, it was no ordinary bar. Again, no sign from the street, except the inordinate amount of people coming and going, or just standing around, clutching beer bottles.
Monika led the way through the arched front house, which opened into a large court, or Hof. It was full of people dancing to a DJ playing mid-tempo Techno. Some coloured lights were strung up, in a rather half-assed way, but it didn’t matter to Richard. Chris put his arm around him and they shouted a few sentences in each other’s ears, fighting the volume of the beat.
The bar was another improvised wooden counter in an adjoining low building, half-derelict, half the windows broken.
The choices were limited to beers, cheap wines, vodka and rum. Monika took Richard into the bar, placed her order and leant against the bar, moving to the Techno. She turned to Richard. He felt compelled to confess.
“I’m in love with Lorelei.”
Monika laughed, but in a friendly way. She put her arm on his.
“She has a boyfriend, but it is over. They never go out together. Every weekend, Gabi and her drive over. It’s much more fun in the east.”
“Yes, it is!”
Gabi and Monika joined the dancers, Chris walked around, speaking to complete strangers, sometimes making them dance, against their wishes, sometimes just going up to them and staring them in the face, before grabbing their arm and then hooking it under his calf. Chris knew, of course, that Richard was watching.
Lorelei moved over to Richard.
“What’s he doing ?”
“It’s an old Harpo Marx routine. From ‘Duck Soup’, I believe. You know the Marx Brothers ?”
Richard described the act and then they began speaking effortlessly about anything else that came into their heads. They sat on a log that was just big enough for two, provided those two didn’t mind touching legs, and shared a beer.
Gabi came over. She was getting tired and was going home, if Lorelei wanted a lift. Monika was also thinking of leaving and began looking for Chris, who soon showed himself, trying to teach some ballroom moves to a group of young ravers.
Richard got a hug and a kiss from all three women, the kiss from Lorelei lasting just that little bit longer than a mere social gesture.
“And then there were two,” said Chris, leaning on Richard for support.
They stayed until the sun rose, then began the slow walk back home.
They were both, naturally, swaying all over the pavement. At one point, a car was driving too slowly for their liking, so Richard pulled out his wallet, opening it and flashed it to the driver.
“N.Y.P.D. C’mon, let’s move it, you in the blue car!”
“So, what do you think ? Should have moved here before, hey ?”
“Lorelei is beautiful.”
“I really wanna fuck her.”
Within half an hour, they had made it back home. There were two mattresses already prepared, on the floor, a fridge full of food, clean clothes ready and shampoos in the bathroom.
They threw off their outer clothes and crashed. They were asleep within seconds.
The last image Richard had was of Lorelei’s face. She was, indeed, beautiful.
At the moment they fell asleep, in a flat on the border of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, an English woman woke up and went into the kitchen to get some bottled water. Gert, her boyfriend was snoring loudly. She looked out of the street window, seeing the unmistakable TV Tower silhouetted against a morning sky of pure blue.
She had to tell her brother about Berlin. He had finished University and, as far as she knew, didn’t have a job lined up. He would love it here. It was very cinematic, which he would appreciate, as all he ever spoke about was cinema. Gert gave an extra loud snort, which brought her back to reality. She wouldn’t be able to sleep with that noise going on. She went to the other room and got some paper and a pen and began writing;