Love and Chaos. Part 9(F) Richard 1

14th August 2021

Berlin Christmas Markets Walking Tour
Berlin at Christmas. Google Images

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Chris spent Friday evening at Rodenberg Strasse, abstaining from alcohol, and reading until Richard returned from Steglitz, after which they shared a couple of easy beers. The music was constant but soft, limited to Richard’s few CDs. The next morning, Chris was flying back to London and Richard had all day to fret about his date with Johanna.

In the morning, dark and bitter, Richard, light and optimistic, walked with Chris up Schönhauser Allee to the Strassenbahn (tram) stop on Wisbyerstrasse, slushing through the snow, head down, shoulders hunched up. Chris tried moving from foot to foot to keep warm, but almost slipped on the treacherous ice. Before too long, the faint smoky glow of an approaching tram, doors opening with an hangover-splitting shriek but the inviting warmth of a heated vehicle.

Richard was travelling as far as Osloer Strasse the northern terminus of the U 9 Line. From there, Chris had a mere two stops to the interchange with the U 6, then four more to get the airport bus.

“So, tea, naturally, now, drinks … what do you have in mind ?”

“How about some Pimms ?”

“Didn’t know you liked Pimms.”

“Don’t know if I do. Never tried it. Just sounds so English. Ah, forget it. Everything’s cheaper here. Suppose Stilton’s out of the question.”

“I’m not bringing sodding Stilton back in my bag, I’ll get arrested. Books ?”

Richard named some Physics text books.

“Man, those things weigh a ton. All right, let me see. Oh, here we are. Sure you don’t wanna come to the airport, it’ll be fun.”

Richard said goodbye to Chris and watched him descend into the U-Bahn station. Just then, a Strassenbahn appeared, heading back east, and he jumped on, buying some croissants on the way back to his flat. As the coffee was brewing, there was a knock on the door, heavy, forceful, determined.

So Chris had missed the flight, or gotten the date wrong, or forgotten his passport. He pulled his door open, prepared to shout mock obscenities and bemoan the lack of Pimms when he was momentarily silenced. Completely blank for a second or two, and then a warm but confused,

“Silke !”

Standing outside his door, in tight black jeans, a very figure-hugging jacket, and boots that were far too sensual for the ice and muck of Berlin streets, was Silke who, in character, walked straight in and hugged Richard.

“Gehts ? Hey, long time, why don’t you phone, did you forget me ? Was ist ? Coffee ?”

Richard followed her into his own kitchen and, yes, she did look absolutely fantastic in jeans. He allowed himself this unexpected pleasure.

“But, er, Chris isn’t here. He’s just left for the airport.”

“Ja, und ? I speak with you. Oh, croissants, can I have ?”

“For sure. You speak with me. Wow. It’s a Christmas miracle.”

“Ah, mensch, bullshit. So was is with you ? Tell me.”

Naturally, there really wasn’t that much for Richard to tell. Same job, same life, same old Czar Bar. Chris, same job, same life, same old Czar Bar. Except for Johanna, about whom Silke was very curious.

“She lives where ?”

“Is it Marzahn ? Somewhere in the east.”

“Marzahn, schiess ! Have you been there ?”

“No, we always … ‘always’, twice, meet in town. Kreuzberg. In fact, we’re meeting tonight. Third date. Anyway, what’s with you ? Monika said you had a new man.”

“When was this ? You saw Monika ?”

Richard told her about meeting Monika in summer, without elaborating, not that there was any need for restraint. Silke knew everything.

“Ah, so, you know Gabi lives with a lawyer. Is a nice Hausfrau now, never meets. Lorelai went to …”

“I know, Munich.”

“Nein, England. She met a student and now lives in … let me think … Brighton ? Is it nice ?”

“Probably nicer than Marzahn. A student, hey ? What do ya know ?”

“Now we are neighbours.”

“Who ? You’re moving to Brighton. Why’s everyone going to bloody Brighton ?”

“Nein, you and me. I have a new apartment in Greifenhagener Strasse. Just go over Stargarder. By the Cafe Ankhor. You know it ?”

“Yes, remarkably cute waitress who couldn’t care tuppence for me. What else is new ?”

Silke, being unfamiliar with this rhetoric, actually began explaining what was new.

“Aber, ja, Monika, who knows ? I think she is tired. Too many stupid jobs, stupid men. I told her to go back to university. I’m going to. Is there more coffee ?”

An hour or so later, Silke got ready to leave. She made Richard promise to visit her, it was only five minutes away. They hugged and as they did so, they kissed. It was natural. For Richard, it was nice, very, very nice.

Around the same time, Chris was getting ready to board the flight to London. He was pinching himself, remembering to say Lufthansa, not Luftwaffe, and was looking forward to a high of 4 degrees.

Around the same time, in the north Berlin Bezirk of Wedding, Daniel was putting on his coats to call Jeanette. He had his Pfennings and Marks counted out, weighing down his jeans. The telephone that accepted cards was open-air and he would freeze his ears, while the coin-box was in a booth. It would still be freezing but not fatally.

Around the same time, ‘Rough Guide’ clutched in gloved hands, Alan Francis was walking along Danziger Strasse. He would have to move out soon, but Kelly had a room organised for him, across Schönhauser Allee. He saw a cinema over the main road and took it as an auspicious omen. He went to investigate his new neighbourhood.

Around the same time, although on EST, Eric Schwartz threw John Stuart Mill across the room, grabbed a Sam Adams, and planned on, in the morning, hitting a punch bag instead of the books. After Eric had finished Sam Adams Volume II, he felt better and reflected that making people happy, that is, tipsy, was undoubtedly for the greater good. By Volume III, he was wishing that the good people of Boston had tipped John Stuart Mill into the harbour instead of tea and by Volume IV he no longer cared, and was watching whatever was on late night TV.

Back in Berlin, Richard was reflecting on his day. He had seen Chris back to the UK safely. Soberly. He had caught a Strassenbahn immediately. Silke had miraculously reappeared in his life, the lady with Bond-girl legs, and S&M fetish boots, and tonight he was meeting Johanna. The year was ending very well.

Love and Chaos Part 6(J) Chris 2

22nd May 2021

City Getting Blander': Berlin Clears One of its Last Remaining Squats - DER  SPIEGEL
The famous Tacheles art center and bastion of squat. Google Images.

Part Six. Berlin. March 1995

Richard was happy to see Chris sitting at the end of the bar in Biberkopf. Happy, but not surprised. The previous Saturday, it had been Chris’ idea to go to some clubs in Mitte. The reason given was to have a break from the Czar Bar, but Richard knew that Chris was hoping to see Monika.

They had gone to several bars and clubs around Rosenthaler Platz but had just watched other people dance, rather than join in. Going out clubbing was going to be very different without the Gang.

Chris took an immediate dislike to a girl from New Zealand, whom he found loud and brash and not entirely pretty. She was dancing with a German theatre student (they surmised) who was wearing a white polo neck tucked into white jeans, held up with black braces. Chris took an instant dislike to him too.

The dreaded twosome began dancing, acting out some scenario that had her pretending to slap him, and him turning away in agony, with mechanical movements.

“Look the fuck at that. Robot dancing. Fucking hell, what is this, nineteen seventy-four ?”

“Do you think,” asked Richard, trying to salvage the evening, “that in some parallel universe, there are robots who go out, get lubricated, and start people dancing ?”

“Yes. I’m sure that’s exactly what happens.”

Richard felt his joke deserved better than that, but he knew the underlying cause. Chris was devastated over losing Monika. Considering the way the break up happened, there was little chance of a reconciliation.

Just over an hour after leaving the Mitte club, they were back in the Czar Bar, agreeing that they belonged here, with the squatters, punks, hard-core alcoholics, Tom Waits and Nick Cave, not with the would-be beautiful people and Euro Disco.

Having worked there with Jake, Chris was now well known and accepted. He knew nearly everyone by name, and gave Richard the low-down, who was worth knowing, who was best to avoid.

Tonight, it was Andrei and Olga working. Andrei resembled a Viking marauder, more than a Slav, with long blonde hair and a long blonde beard. He wasn’t especially tall, but made up for it by having an amazing girth. He was, quite simply, not a man to mess with. Occasionally some idiot with suicidal tendencies would venture his luck, but it was a short-lived enterprise. With Andrei it was one strike and you’re out. His girlfriend, Olga, was tall and slim, with blonde hair and a majestic bearing, looking like a Russian princess (Revolution notwithstanding). Falling in love with her was painfully easy so, of course, Richard did.

Apart from her beauty, she possessed two talents, highly prized. One was that she made the best Bloody Marys . . . ever. It was a remarkable sight to see giant, unwashed, street-fighting men sipping her concoction through a delicate straw.

The second talent was her voice. She would accompany herself on guitar, simple but effective picking, and out of her thin frame came the voice of an angel. An angel, however, with a distinct liking for tequila.

As there was barely a night without someone coming in with a guitar and playing, whether they were requested to or not, and as Olga loved the attention, so deserved, she often gave an impromptu concert .

This night, however, there was a little tension between her and her boyfriend. Richard sensed this, but Chris, drinking quickly and encouraging Richard to do same, was too busy with his own problems.

Then Jake arrived, making all attempts at conversation useless. He bombarded Chris and Richard with a detailed account of the awful food he had just eaten at a late night Imbiss. When he left to use the toilet, Chris said,

“What a fucking voice. Like a foghorn.”

“Yeah, Foghorn Leghorn.”

This unexpected, though remarkably apt comment, together with the beers and vodka, put them into a laughing fit, that continued as Jake returned. He naturally was curious as to the cause. Richard was in the mood for mischief.

“We were speaking about favourite cartoon characters. I used to love Foghorn Leghorn, but we can’t remember his catchphrase.”

Jake stepped up, puffing out his chest and strutting around,

“I say I saw a, saw a, I say, I saw a chicken”

It was too much. Richard was having difficulty breathing and Chris all but fell off his chair. Jake took this as a positive sign, and continued, with appropriate chicken and rooster movements.

Olga was looking at Richard and laughing, knowing he was the instigator.

“Hey, Olga gets it.”

“No, she’s from Moscow, she doesn’t know what the fuck a Foghorn Leghorn is,” Chris argued.

But after that, memories became hazy; there were snatches of Jake strutting around the bar, greeting bemused newcomers with the catchphrase and ordering drinks in the galline manner.

Richard woke up some time Sunday afternoon, having no idea how they had arrived home. He got into a panic and checked his possessions. Travel ticket, watch, wallet, even some money left. All was well with the world and what wasn’t could wait.

The next day Chris was at Richard’s work, joking with the bar staff. Matias was making the bar, a moustachioed bodybuilder type, who had a hands-on policy with regards to the female staff. Ully was being her pleasant self, obviously not too concerned with making large tips and a new girl, Jolande, was also working. Richard described her as that rarest of creatures, a German with a sense of humour.

Seeing that Chris was a friend of Richard’s, she made some jokes with him, and hid his beer when he went into the kitchen to say, “Hi,” to the chef.

Unfortunately, she was the world’s worst at keeping a joke, and couldn’t help bursting out laughing after only a few seconds. But she earned points for the effort.

Later, as she walked into the kitchen, Chris heard a high-pitch shriek, and saw Jolande running out, chased by Richard who, by the position of his hands, had just grabbed her sides.

“What are you doing to her ?” laughed Chris.

“Tickling her, of course,” was the reply, as natural as possible.

After Richard’s shift, they sat and drank together, Jolande joining them as she ate her meal. Chris appeared happy and relaxed, but was clearly looking more cheerful than he actually felt.

By tacit agreement, they took the night buses to the Czar Bar.

Micha and Serge had the bar, and they tended to close relatively early. They didn’t exactly draw the crowds either, playing continuous Death Metal. Though they changed the CD’s periodically, the noise remained the same.

Walking along Rigaer Str, in the early hours, the outdoor lamp of The Czar Bar was usually the only beacon, though hardly of hope, as there may well have hung a sign above the door, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter’. No one here gets out sober.

They opened the door, pushed aside the curtain and found two bar stools easily. The bar was mainly empty, the few drinkers dispersed to all corners.

After ordering two Becks and two vodkas, Chris got straight to the point.

“I have to win Monika back.”

He was expecting an evening of planning and scheming. He wasn’t prepared for Richard’s answer,

“Why ?”

It almost knocked Chris off his stool. When he finally spoke, it was defensive,

“I thought you liked Monika ?”

“I did. Do. But you and her together . . . I don’t think so.”

“Wow. Like . . . shit ! You mean it ?”

“Oh, yeah. Lovely girl, and you’re . . . OK, I suppose, but the two of you ? How many fights did you have ? How many times did you break up and get back together ? How many times did you come to me and ask what the fuck to do ?”

“You want individual figures or a combined total ?”

“C’mon. Every time you had to pay rent, it was problems.”

Chris knew only too well, as he had to walk to the flat of Ute’s friend, thus remaining in indirect contact with his ex-girlfriend.

“I know, it was a constant pain. And the work. When I left the Noodle Nuthouse, you hugged me, she almost cut my balls off. She wanted me to stay a Spüler. And then she hated that I was only a Spüler. Frauen !”

“What we need . . . is a new drink. The shots are gonna act too quickly.”

“I don’t think these bastards carry Pimms.”

“What we need is . . . “ Richard looked at the unimpressive, shabby collection of bottles. “Tequila. Tequila ? What goes with tequila ?”

“Cactus-smelling vomit. Wouldn’t mind a rum ‘n’ Coke.”

“Can’t see rum. Or Coke.”

“We’re gonna have to stick to beer and vodka, aren’t we ?”

“Looks like it,” agreed Richard.

There was a thud on the back door, then some keys desperate to find the lock. The door opened and something could be heard dragging itself in. Micha and Serge turned to each other and exchanged curses in Russian.

After some uncomfortable sounds, resembling a man being tossed from side to side in the corridors of a ship in a heavy storm, Jake appeared, somehow remaining upright in the entrance between vestibule and bar. He saw Chris and Richard and greeted them, hugging Chris from behind, but forgetting to let go.

Serge spoke in German, Jake answered and then stopped, as if suspended. He remained like this for some minutes, as the Russians started to close the bar, packing up the crates and chasing the drinkers out.

Richard began to leave, but Chris stopped him.

More talk between The Russians and Jake, then they left, shaking their heads and muttering. Jake screamed after them, half German, half English,

“Kein angst, alles klar (don’t worry, it’s all right) I’ll lock up. Ich habe der Schlüssel (I have the key.) You go to bed.” Then he turned to his two guests,

“You two guys need a drink ? ‘Cause I might have something in back. Don’t know, have to check. Have to check.”

Yet Jake remained standing and Chris had to lead him to the store room. Once inside, he made a series of pleasantly surprised sounds and returned, armed with beer bottles and a half bottle of Stolichnaya.

The remainder of the night was spent with Chris speaking about Monika, Richard speaking about Olga and Jake just speaking.

When Richard began working that night, he still had a hangover, which gradually faded, thanks to the endless coffees he drank. By the time his shift was over, he was in the mood for a drink, and, as luck would have it, Chris was helping Jake in the Czar Bar that night.