29th December 2020
Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994
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, which were 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, it won’t be your smile I’ll be looking at.”
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. 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 and 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 Kreutzberg.
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 came 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.