Jake poured four shots and made the introductions. The newcomer was Johan, a Frenchman who had served in the army in the north west of Berlin and stayed on. After the first round of vodkas and a second, for luck, Johan began,
“I thought, yeah, nice day, I cycle to work, I borrow Claude’s bike. I have to go and show a new man what to do, right ? This new man, my God he is how ? Less than useless, then I leave and see the fucking rain, Man. So I get the U-Bahn. Fucking hell, the U-Bahn, weird people. Then I get on the U5 at Alex and go to the special section for bikes and I stand the bike and fix my hair and I can feel someone looking at me, so I turn and it’s a woman, Man, fucking beautiful, do you understand Jake ?”
Jake was leaning on the bar, hat over eyes and nodding.
“No. You don’t. I mean she was . . . ah, Man, like really beautiful. OK, so I look at her, she looks away, but then she looks back at me. Now, I look away. But I look back. And we do this for two stops. And then we look at each other at the same time, and she smiled at me, Man, and I know, I know, you know ?”
“Yeah,” Jake again.
“But then I’m thinking, fucking hell, don’t get off at Weberweise, no go on, go on. And she stays. And now we are looking at each other and smiling and you know, then comes Rathaus and we’re both on and I think, this is it, I just have to get off with her and (here Johan made a long kissing noise). But then I think, oh no, fucking hell, Man, no, no. I have Claude’s bike and he needs it back tonight. So we get to Samariter Strasse and I have to get off. So I give her this look, like, hey, baby, sorry, come on, another time, OK. And I get off and the doors close and you know what she did ? She make with this (here Johan stuck up a middle finger) and make a face like this (here Johan made a very good impression of a shrew). Women. Fucking hell.”
“I think that calls for another round. Jake, if you’d be so kind,” offered Chris, who then proceeded to tell his story, editing and embellishing as he saw fit, tailoring it to the needs of his audience.
Not to be left out, Richard, made loquacious by vodka, told an abridged version of his pointless pursuit of Lorelei.
Jake shuffled back from serving other customers, as business had started to pick up and selected a new CD. He felt that the night had a Nick Cave vibe to it, and played ‘The Weeping Song’.
“Who needs a vodka ?” All hands up. Jake poured, then started to tell his story. As he was about to start, A large German shouted out his order and Jake screamed back in fluent German. The German raised his hand in apology and waited.
“You think you got it bad, I’ll tell you a story. It’s my thirtieth birthday, and I’m working in a McDonald’s in Michigan. Some arsehole in a suit comes in and asks for me, then hands me some papers, ‘You’ve been served’. My wife was divorcing me. Then the manager who was half my age with a squeaky voice and squeaky acne calls me over and tells me not to waste time, and to get back to work. Someone had taken a McShit in the crapper and it had blocked the pipes.”
Jake went over to serve the German and the three contemplated the just-told tale. Johan sucked in his cheeks and proclaimed Jake the winner. The prize, unsurprisingly, was a vodka.
“Yeah, it was the squeaky acne that got my vote,” declared Richard.
By this time, all determination to leave early and sober had been left far behind. The bar was busy, Jake constantly serving and changing CD’s as the mood took him. At one stage, having run out of cleanish shot glasses, he asked Chris to go and collect some, then gave him the key to the storage room, where there was a small sink.
This was rewarded with free drinks, so Chris was pleased to help. Then Jake needed a ‘quick piss’ and Chris covered the bar. Jake pointed to the large blackboard with the range of drinks and prices. Chris enjoyed being behind the bar, as opposed to under it, he quipped, so much that he stayed there and helped out Jake for the rest of the night. And Jake, knowing about him needing work, offered him work for the whole of his next shift, the following Wednesday.
Thus, within a day and a half of jumping out of a pasta restaurant window, Chris had landed on his feet, helping out in an east Berlin squat bar.
“Only in Berlin,” he enthused.
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on. And not a bad way to get a job. Just turn up at the site, get absolutely vodka drunk . . . ”
“And get offered a position,” concluded Chris, as they shook hands. Then he made an executive decision. It was time for more vodka.
Despite his naivety, when he woke up and saw that Chris’ bed was empty, Richard knew what had happened.
He felt uncomfortable, not to mention a little jealous. Once again, everyone else was hooking up, making connections, getting off. Everyone was making love, while he was merely making notes. Even New Year’s Eve, in clubs full of drunken girls, half on them on ‘E’, the kissing drug, he ended up crashing on Arizona Al’s floor. This wasn’t exactly the life he had envisioned for himself.
But there was little time for self pity as, shortly after he had washed and made his first coffee, there was a knock at the door, a knock that indicated it was Monika.
He let her in, and she was so apologetic, asking him to forgive her, and it wasn’t fair that he should have to suffer. She came for business, armed with fresh croissants and a pile of newspapers.
“We look through these until we find Chris a job, OK ? He is in the bath ?”
“No, he is, er . . . out. But he should be back soon. Would you like coffee ?”
They sat in the kitchen and that, reflecting back, was the mistake that lead to Armageddon.
Had they sat in the main room, Chris would have seen them and spoken accordingly. Instead, he saw an empty room, but heard movement in the kitchen.
“Ah, what a night. Unbelievable. So refreshing to have some good old, down and dirty sex. Hot AND heavy. And not have to beg for it, either.”
Richard physically felt his heart stop.
The time between Chris saying those fatal words and realising that Monika was there, hardly more than two or three seconds, seemed endless.
Chris stood in the doorway, attracted by the smell of fresh coffee and croissants but the sight of Monika was so unexpected that he stood there, frozen, petrified.
Richard swept past him, grabbed a book, some money and his coat, and was out of the house and down the stairs before Chris could fully comprehend the extent of the situation.
That the relationship was over was a given. Just how much suffering she was going to inflict was the only uncertainty.
Richard went to The Anker, but the cute waitress wasn’t working, so after a quick coffee, he moved on, further along Stargarder Strasse, past the Imbiss with the deep fried cauliflower, to another bar with a cute waitress who was working, but didn’t appear to recognize him at all. But, by now, Richard saw this as standard procedure.
He read some, looked around, checked his watch and came to the conclusion that he would have to stay out of the house all day. He could hardly phone and ask if it were safe to come home. Then what would Monika think of him ? How awkward would it be when they met again which, Berlin being more like a large town than a big city, they were bound to do, especially working in such close proximity.
He walked around for a bit, then decided to see a movie but even the earliest was hours away.
He tried calling on Arizona Al, but no answer and Berlin in February is not usually ideal for strolling aimlessly around. In the end he decided to get an U-Bahn to Alex, then take a long S-Bahn journey. It would keep him warm and kill time.
And that is how he spent his Sunday. And it was a stroll in the park compared to Chris and Monika’s.
Monika’s first reaction was sheer shock. She sat, not believing what she had heard, softly repeating it. When she stood up, it was with defiance and she stood in front of Chris, just looking at him. Then, spontaneously, she hit him, with all her force, a punch to his chest. It appeared to surprise both of them. Then she hit him again, and was about to punch him a third time, when he caught her hand. She made a scream and he let go and they backed away, Monika cursing in German. She picked up her things and left.
Chris let out a sigh of relief. It could have gone much worse.
Then Monika returned, banging on the door and he had to let her in.
The fight was now really about to start.
She fired questions at him, shouting, spitting in his face with anger and frustration. She brought up all she had done for him, all he hadn’t done for her and kept asking, over and over, to describe in detail his night, what ‘down and dirty sex’ was, how to do it, and wanted to know about each and every time they had made love, how it had been, what was it she had been doing wrong.
She was relentless and Chris, with an almighty hangover was in no condition to argue. He also couldn’t help smiling, partly from still being drunk, partly from fear which, naturally, didn’t help the situation.
He tried to calm her by suggesting some tea, but she picked up a cup and threw it, and it caught Chris on the cheek.
That act subdued her and brought the initial hysteria to a close.
Chris made drinks in silence, not feeling like smiling so much, now. Monika paced up and down.
She then demanded to know all about the girl and Chris found himself making up a story, how he had seen her a few times and she was a nurse, who lived with her parents, rather than the truth, that he had only met her the night before, as he had simulated oral sex with Arizona Al on stage at a club called The Monkey’s Arse.
After came the subject of their sex life, and what did he mean by having to ‘beg’ for it ?
Then a list of all the sacrifices she had made, up to and including that very morning, as she was prepared to give up her free day to help him find a new job.
Just when Chris though she had calmed down, the anger and hatred returned and he instinctively covered his face, making her laugh.
“What a man, what a fucking little man you are. How could I waste such time on a fucking Smurf like you. Arschloch !”
Monika began looking around the room, collecting things of hers, cursing all the time and throwing things around.
“Ja, you just sit there like a fucking mouse.”
She went into the bathroom and Chris was glad of the momentary peace, even thinking about leaving the flat, and cursing the fact that he was too high up to jump out of this kitchen window, an action that had precipitated the whole scene.
It would be nearly an hour before she left, more tears and accusations, shouting and punching. Chris wondered where the hell Richard was.
“Well, you Arschloch, I’m going, why don’t you go to your filthy squat bar and pick up another fucking, dirty whore-cunt ?”
Several hours later, in a filthy Czar Bar, Chris looked around, but there were no women, dirty or otherwise.
“Hey, Man, thanks for coming with me,” he said to Richard as they sat on the end stools, further from the door, in front of the annex with the store room and toilet.
“No problem. Could use a drink.”
“Mustn’t overdo it, though. One, still got a hangover from last night. Two, shell shock from the Monika. It’s like having the bends. Three, work tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Gotta find me a job and that is gonna be work.”
Seeing Chris’ sense of humour return, Richard ventured a joke of his own,
“Still, on the plus side, you won’t have to buy her a Valentine’s card.”
Chris was unfortunately drinking at the time and, laughing, beer began pouring out of his nose. Jake the barman was suitably impressed and, over a round of vodkas, got to hear the story.
“Ever noticed the initials of Valentine’s Day are V.D. ? Either of you expecting any ?”
“Cards or the clap ?” asked Richard.
“No, just death threats,” answered Chris.
“Stick around here. Sunday’s normally quiet but if it gets busy, I could use a hand. Hey, we’ll see how it works out, OK ?”
Chris agreed, but shared Richard’s scepticism, as it was after Midnight and there were only two other people in there apart from them, neither of whom looked as if they were going to be running Jake off his feet.
Then the door opened, and a man known to them only by sight came in, drenched from the rain that been falling with increasing ferocity all evening.
He stood there, hair soaked, dripping, rain falling off his jacket, jeans, gloves, nose.
“Hey, Mr Jake,” he called out in a heavy French accent, “Vodka. Hey, you two, too. Hey, Salut, come on, have a vodka with me. Women, fucking hell, Man. Have I got a story to tell . . . “
Arizona Al had been at the club since late afternoon, setting up, sound checking, greeting acquaintances, sippin’ beer but mostly just hanging around and waiting.
The door to the club had been locked. Someone turned up, but didn’t have the key. He went to call a friend who should have the key. He returned after fifteen minutes, unable to reach him.
Other people came and went, all trying the door, surprised that it wouldn’t open under their special handle-turning techniques.
One fellow artist arrived, with acoustic guitar strapped to his back. He resembled the actor Wilhem Dafoe in ‘Platoon’, even wearing a white headband in the same manner of the actor in that film. He smiled, (he also had an impossibly wide mouth), tried the door and asked when it would be open.
“Yo ! Bryan ! Get yer arse over here,” Arizona called to a man who had just walked into the Hof from the street.
Bryan was medium height and stocky, and walked with real determination, as if he were always on a life or death mission.
Bryan looked at the door, wondering why no one had bothered to open it. He keep shaking it, until Willem Dafoe told him that he thought it was locked. Bryan had a very round face and hair that stuck out at all angles. His normal expression was one of complete shock at whatever was happening.
Bryan therefore appeared completely shocked at finding the door locked.
Two young men arrived, pushing a trolley loaded with beer crates, and there were sundry cries in German, but no key.
Then an American girl arrived, wearing a floral dress underneath a heavy army coat, and long red leather boots. She knew most of the people that were waiting outside as, by now, quite a crowd had built up. Willem Dafoe took out his guitar and strummed some chords, one or two men moved closer and moved their heads in rhythm. Another began singing, but it was a different song in a different key.
Finally Horst arrived, taking his time crossing the Hof, walking with a swagger, clearly stoned. He also tried the door, then stood back, smiling to himself, thinking. “Ahhh.” He mumbled something in German, causing some curses, some laughter. Melissa, the American, translated. He had forgotten the key.
Within twenty minutes, the door was opened and the musicians and technicians and hangers-on and friends, and friends of friends and a few drunks, began pouring in.
A van backed into the Hof, people jumped out, shouting and laughing, and from the back doors, various amplifiers and boxes of cables were carried inside, Bryan seeming to be everywhere but doing nothing.
Arizona got his alloted time to soundcheck. Tonight he had decided to do what he called his ‘unplugged’ set, by which he meant just playing electric guitar and singing. Then he saw Jacques, Melissa’s French Canadian boyfriend, and called him over.
Jacques was a very pleasant chap, tall and cumbersome, with enormous feet that always found things to bump into and knock over, as if possessed by a will of their own, a pair of unruly dogs, forever going off chasing cats and rabbits.
They conferred and it was decided that Jacques would accompany him on one or two songs. They had done some stuff together before, Arizona singing, while Jacques intoned as counterpoint.
Arizona was shooed off stage as Willem Dafoe had to run through his list and the soundman had to change the levels for his acoustic guitar and adjust the mike stand, as Willem was barely five foot two on tiptoes.
People carried full beer crates in and empty ones out, Horst slumped at the bar, taking instructions from his staff. Melissa liaised between artists, walking around with pen and paper, trying to work out a schedule that meet with approval, a thankless task, as half the bands wanted to go on last, the other half preferring first.
Bryan appeared, and helped out Melissa with the indisputable assertion that they couldn’t all go on last, and after proclaiming this piece of sage wisdom, promptly found another problem to solve. Or create.
Typically, the gig was nowhere near ready by the advertised opening time, and several people had entered the bar, walking past the admission desk that no one was working. Some staff suggested they should all be thrown out, some said they should stay, but pay, some said they should stay, not pay, but not be allowed to buy drinks, some one else, quite possibly Bryan, suggested they should pay, and then be made to leave. In all events, nothing happened and because of this, most of them left, anyway.
Melissa, pleading, like an over-eager actress of the Method school, appealed to the room, that someone needs to be on the door. This led to discussions as to who’s turn it was, who wanted to do it and then, when a volunteer was found, no one knew where the cash box was. There wouldn’t be enough change for the bar and the door, as the entrance was an inconvenient three Marks, and everyone would be paying with five-Mark coins.
The obvious suggestion was to raise the entrance to five Marks, but this was vetoed. Bryan thought that anyone who had the exact change should get in free, but failed to see the flaw in his solution.
By now more people were coming in, as no one had closed the door.
It was at this point that Richard and Chris arrived, not noticing the desk or even knowing about the admission fee.
They saw Arizona Al in a crowd of people, and went up to him to say Hi, then left him to ‘get his shit together’, as Chris put it, and planted themselves at the bar, where they intended to stay all night.
The subject of Monika naturally dominated the conversation and Chris, despite the bravado and carefree attitude, was really scared that he had lost her. He opened up to Richard that there had been conversations about work and getting more settled in Berlin, maybe going on a language course and getting a proper respectable job.
“What’s the probability of any of the above happening ?” asked Richard.
Chris drank quietly, and Richard was reminded of the time in London just before he was set to leave for Berlin. He was about to ask him if he had any regrets about leaving the UK, when Bryan popped up behind the bar, starred at both of them in turn, then went off to join the crowd around Arizona.
“What in the name of fuck . . . ?” began Chris, more electroshocked than recalled back to life.
“Where did that goddamn thing come from ?”
“Fucking Cheshire Cat face, out of nowhere.”
“Oh, look, he’s a friend of Al’s,” said Richard, indicating the two of them in an embrace. There was quite a crowd in the centre and both of them noticed a number of very attractive girls. Willem Dafoe was dwarfed by an icy blonde in cocktail dress, who held a Sekt glass without ever drinking from it, and maintaining an aloof distance from everyone.
Melissa was running around stressed, as the running order was still in a state of flux. To end the impasse, and making it clear it was an immense favour he was doing, Willem deigned to open proceedings.
He walked on stage to the applause of the organisers and fellow artists, and complete indifference of everyone else. Until, that is, the icy blonde joined him. She took up position at the back of the stage, and, with a disparaging look at the Mike stand, made a willing young man adjust it up to her height, and bring it the necessary inches closer to her mouth, rather than have to walk towards it.
She was pure class.
Willem Dafoe began playing. The first song was a slow ballad of no apparent melody. He would hit a chord, then sing, following it by a gentle up-down strumming and lots of moaning. He hit another chord, thought about hitting another, but hung his hand in the air and turned his head to the side, before letting it fall across the strings. Meanwhile, the icy blonde was making some kind of droning background noise.
The ‘song’ finished some minutes later. The solitary voice of Melissa could be heard, saying,
Then the other performers clapped, some worried that the opening act had set too high a standard.
The second song had a different title, but was pretty much the same, from tunelessness to theatricality to Melissa’s not so convincing appraisal.
When the third number started, showing no indication of variance, Chris turned to Richard and, appropriating the famous line from the movie ‘Jaws’, said,
“We’re gonna need a bigger bar.” Then he raised his hand to get the barman’s attention, “Alcohol !”
A woman singer songwriter was next, listenable for a song or two, but she also outstayed her welcome. After she finished, a section of the crowd left, and this pattern was repeated for each subsequent act. Friends came to lend support, then, duty done, made a beeline for the door. Quickly.
“When the fuck’s that cunt on ?” asked Chris, his tolerance worn away by ineptitude.
“Look, there he is again. What the fuck is he doing ? I mean, really ! What the fuck is he doing ?”
Richard was referring to Bryan who was criss-crossing the room, appearing behind the mixing desk, the bar, the stage and all points in-between. Now he was standing in the centre of the room, was wasn’t very full, shouting to the mixing desk. The man behind the desk did nothing, the volume of the between-set music changed not an iota, but Bryan was happy, giving the thumbs-up sign.
“Oh, thank fuck, he’s going on,” said Chris, seeing Arizona getting up on stage and plugging in his guitar.
The house music cut abruptly, Arizona introduced himself and made some comments as the sound level rose and fell and fed-back. Bryan naturally appeared and shouted.
When the last of the feedback had faded, Arizona began and played a mid tempo number, jiving around as he played. Richard and Chris were both happily surprised as it was quite good. After the song, while people were still clapping, Arizona announced that it was a cover, of a little known American band from Phoenix. The next songs were his own but failed to elicit the same response, or, by the fourth number, any response, bar Richard and Chris at the bar.
Chris lent over,
“This is terrible. He’s dying up there.”
“I know. Now what the fuck’s happening ?”
Jacques plodded on-stage, unknown to Arizona, who had his back to him, and when he turned around to face the audience, was nearly knocked over. Chris covered his face with his hands and let out a moan, that everyone heard.
They performed two numbers. In the first, Jacques merely stood in back, and made some backing vocals, repeating key lines of the lyrics. In the second, the two engaged in a kind of comedy routine for introduction, about what to do in Berlin, and Jacques suggesting they go to the Thursday Bar, a well known alternative music venue bar, also in south Prenzlauer Berg, but Arizona said that they couldn’t go there, causing Jacques to inquire why not and being told by Arizona that today was Saturday and therefore . . . not open.
“I’ve gotta do something. This is worse than I imagined.”
Richard had no idea what Chris was planning, and at that point, neither had Chris, but something had to be done, and a far, far better thing than what they were being subjected to now.
Jacques left the stage and there was an assumption that the set was over, so there was a ripple of applause, but that immediately died when Arizona began a new number. Richard felt Chris push past him and walk towards the stage, then vanish.
Arizona began playing, when suddenly, at the very back of the stage, Richard could see Chris, moving from left to right in profile, in measured, theatrical steps, pausing before each new stride.
Arizona was unaware.
Chris turned, froze, then began walking in the same mechanical manner towards him.
Arizona was sensing an increase in audience interest, so began dancing a bit as he played. As Chris copied his motions, in his own singular style, the crowd clapped and laughed, inspiring Arizona to cut loose and skip around. Everyone was at least looking at the stage, and mostly smiling, except Bryan who looked completely bewildered, not to say shocked.
That’s when Arizona noticed Chris, but, like a true professional, carried on playing. Chris then stood in front of Arizona and sank to his knees, making gestures towards Arizona’s guitar that in his naivety, Richard at first failed to comprehend. Then he thought back to watching Bowie with Mick Ronson on guitar, Jim Morrison with Robbie Krieger, and understood.
It had certainly livened up the performance, and people presumed it was all part of the act. Chris was more than happy to stand on stage with Arizona Al and take the applause.
Later, at a table, Arizona told of his initial thoughts on seeing Chris coming towards him,
“You know, what with the lights and shit, and my eyesight being bad, I couldn’t see who or what it was, then when you began pulling that faggot Ziggy Stardust shit, I thought, OK, motherfucker, you wanna play, I’ll play, suck on this, arsehole!”
There were several people around them, including Melissa and Jacques, Bryan and a couple of German girls who had stumbled in, attracted by the noise.
“Yeah, thinking of adding some Nirvana covers to my set, couldn’t do it before because everyone was doing it, but, you know, it’ll be a year since Kurt blew himself away, time’s ripe. But I don’t wanna play the obvious ones, you know, thought I’d go for some cuts of the last album, as that was the direction he was going in.”
“Good idea,” agreed Richard. “What songs ?”
“’Numb’, ‘Black-Shaped Box’. You know ?”
Neither Richard nor Chris had the heart (shaped box) to correct him. Not that it mattered either way to the two girls. They sat down when Melissa and Jacques left and began speaking in English.
Richard thought that here were two girls and two guys without girlfriends, but the girls were quite blatant in their interest for the performers, the performers only, whose stage antics had obviously made quite an impression.
Feeling tired, and like a third-wheel, as usual, Richard decided to leave, telling Chris he’ll see him later, and congratulating Arizona on a great gig.
The girls suggested Jägermeister shots, a German digestif spirit. This was followed by more beers and more shots and before long, Arizona and Chris were enjoying the time honoured tradition of the rock ‘n’ roll groupie.
Arizona was the first to leave, with his new friend, while Chris was determined to drink more Jägermeister, furious that no one had told him before about this wonderful new drink.
After some more shots and beers, he too went back with his first fan.
They got a taxi on Invalidenstrasse and kissed all the way, the driver, working weekend nights in Berlin, quite used to it.
Chris followed the girl into her apartment building, up the stairs in the Vor Haus (front house) and went inside with her. She left him in her kitchen as she went to the bathroom and told him to help himself to a drink. He found some wine, but no corkscrew, and walked into the hall to ask her where one may be found. He passed a door, slightly ajar and did a double take and refocus as, through the gap, he could see a topless Arizona Al, sitting up in bed, smoking, and staring back at him.
The ‘Enigma Variations’ of 1899 heralded the arrival of Edward Elgar, a young English composer who would not only surpass his teachers and rivals, but would restore international acclaim to British music. He was the greatest native composer since Purcell.
He overcame prejudice against his humble background, and his own discomfort in society as, for twenty years, he composed symphonies, oratorios and concertos that rank among the major works of Twentieth Century Music.
However, the sonic assault of his ‘Cello Concerto’ of 1919 was to be his last masterpiece. Shortly after, his wife died and he withdrew from public life, convinced that his art was old-fashioned, in comparison to the Modernist compositions coming from over The Channel.
That Elgar could be a part of the establishment, yet also a ‘down to earth’, ‘man of the people’ is attested to in the following anecdote.
William Walton, as a young music student, met the elder composer, and was so overawed by being in the presence of so great a man, that he was unable to speak. Elgar immediately put him at ease, by asking him if he knew who had won that afternoon’s big horse race.
Walton was befriended and encouraged by Siegfried Sassoon and The Sitwells, and wrote a musical interpretation of Edith Sitwell’s ‘Facades’. There was a society performance where the music played while the poetess recited through a megaphone.
In November 1935, the year after Elgar’s death, Walton’s First Symphony was finally premiered, ‘finally’ as it was started in England in 1932 and was scheduled to make its first appearance the following year.
It is dedicated to Baroness Imma von Doernberg, a young widow the composer had met in 1929.
By 1931, The Composer and The Baroness were living together in Switzerland, though Walton later returned to England and began work on the symphony.
Work on it was interrupted as Walton returned to Switzerland to be with the Baroness who had fallen ill, and they continued their often tempestuous relationship.
Aside from these personal problems, Walton was also lacking inspiration and canvassed his friends’ opinions as how to finish the symphony.
The on-off relationship finally ended in 1934, when the Baroness left The Composer for a Hungarian Doctor.
The symphony is regarded as an important addition to the canon of British music. It begins very softly, as if arriving through an early morning, country mist, before erupting into moments of intense drama, and sensual beauty.
Walton was still a relative newcomer to the music scene, when his First Symphony was being composed, whereas Vaughan Williams was a ‘grand old man’ when he began composing his Sixth Symphony.
This remarkable composition has all the energy and iconoclastic disregard of a young composer, anxious to make his mark by flaunting all conventions.
Three movements run as one, the quiet moments being just as uncomfortable as the loud, with their sense of foreboding. Yet it is the fourth movement that sets the symphony apart and on which its reputation rests: the entire section is played pianissimo. An early critic wrote of the finale as,
“… devoid of all warmth and life, a hopeless wandering through a dead world … “.
The Composer denied it had anything to do with the battlefields of Europe, the death camps of Poland, the post-atomic cityscape of Hiroshima.
Adapting folk melodies of one’s own country is known as Nationalism in music. Hearing that Ralph Vaughan Williams was a ‘Nationalist’ composer, the Hamburg University offered him an honorary degree in 1938. After much debate, he decided to accept, using the occasion to send a letter stating,
“I am strongly opposed to the present government in Germany, especially with regards to its treatment of artists and scholars … and my first instinct is to refuse … “
Hitler banned the music of Vaughan Williams later that same year.
Richard was in the bathroom, trying to get his hair to do something presentable, when he heard someone shouting, in English, from the Hof,
“RECALLED TO LIFE ! RECALLED TO LIFE !”
Having just finished ‘The Tale Of Two Cities’, he instantly recognised the quote, and the speaker could only be Chris.
Sure enough, within seconds, there was the sound of key in lock, the door opening and Chris bounding in, repeating his phrase, with a wide smile.
“Hey, I’m coming, too ! Couldn’t miss Al’s gig.”
They embraced and whooped it up.
“What about work ?” asked Richard, having gone with Monika as she had driven Chris to work in Yorckstrasse, some hours previously.
“I raged against the washing-up machine. I threw down my tea towel, pointed at the head chef and said, ‘fuck you ! I won’t do what you tell me !’”
“Well . . . OK, not exactly. I jumped out the window and legged it.”
“You’re gonna hafta fill me in here, Dude, c’mon, full story.”
“So I’m at work, and it’s Saturday and you’re going out tonight with my girlfriend, not sure how I feel about that, but by the by, everyone’s going to have fun . . . “
“No, we’re going to see Al. Have you heard Al ?”
“A minor point, I’m working and I get sent to get something, I don’t even know what it is, some long piece of meat, about two metres long, who the fuck knows where it comes from, real ‘Naked Lunch’ food. Anyway, I forget what it is I’m going for and I have to ask somebody . . . “
“I hate having to ask somebody.”
“. . . and I completely forget the fucking chef’s name. I know it’s something like Randy, Roderick, Reginald, but they’re not sounding too German, so I’m in the fridge, suddenly it comes to me. I run out, stand in the middle of the kitchen and shout out, ‘RUDOLPH!’ like, you know, as in reindeer. Everyone looks at me, then goes back to work.”
“Guessing his name wasn’t Rudolph, then.”
“Guessing you could be right. Randolf.”
“Ah, much more German.”
“I just thought, fuck this ! I’m standing in the middle of a greasy, pasta-stinking kitchen calling out for a red-nosed, possibly fictional, animal. And not even drunk. The sink is right by the window, looks out onto the street.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Future reference. You ever start a kitchen, don’t ever give the Spüler clean sight of escape.”
“Well, you just did your duty.”
“Absolutely. I mean, fucking hell, washing-up for a living, screw me.”
“Yes. Pretty rough, isn’t it. Monika should be here soon.”
Soon enough, the knock on the door. Richard opened it and he hugged Monika. She asked him,
“Ah, question, shall we go straight there, or would you like we go to another bar first ? Get a bit drunk ?”
At that point, Monika stopped. She had just seen Chris come out from the living room. He stood by the door, smiling,
“Liebling ! (Darling)”
“And . . . what is ?”
“I left the job. I’ll get another.”
“And, when ? You have something ?”
Monika walked into the room and into the kitchen, Chris expected to follow.
“Er, it’s OK, I’m just gonna put some blue shit on my face,” said Richard, trying to be tactful, and referring to a face pack he’d picked up at Zoo Station. Chris had no idea what he was talking about, but did know that he was in for a rather unpleasant meeting.
The bathroom wall backed onto the kitchen, so the voices were quite clear, especially the female one, which sounded somewhat angry. Richard turned on the taps and began humming to himself.
After a series of very animated, though muffled screams, Richard heard heavy footsteps, followed by the front door slamming shut.
He came out of the bathroom, with the face pack on. Chris just gave him a look, an intake of breath and shake of the head. Then he looked at Richard more intensely,
“You’ve got blue shit all over your face.”
“You going like that ?”
“Naw, thought I’d wash it off, first.”
“Cool. Ummm . . . don’t think Monika will be joining us, tonight.”
Gabi was on the merry-go-round. She fell onto the red, leather sofa, holding her head and knowing that all would be well, if only she could get the room to stop spinning.
Monika sat next to Gabi and instinctively began stroking her hair, while Lorelei went to the bar to get water, and another round of Voudinis for those still standing.
Silke waited impatiently. When Lorelei returned, she grabbed the vodka and bitter lemon drink and handed one to Monika,
“Come, Prost!” She emptied her glass in one go.
The four girls were getting a lot of attention from a group of men in the Nollendorfplatz bar, but before they could make their move, Silke fixed them with an angry start and a stern,
“Ja ? Was ?” (Yes ? what ?) which, quite understandably, deterred them.
Silke continued her post mortem of her relationship with Andreas. He didn’t know yet, but she was about to end it. She had made a lot of allowances and had carried him, financially, for just too long.
“Can you believe it ? I told him not to worry about Weihnachten (Christmas), we’ll have a little celebration when I get back. And what ? He fucks off to Turkey. With what money ? He’d been saving up. All the time I was paying for him, drinks and food and cinema. Scheiße ! Arschloch !”(shit, asshole).
Gabi was talked out about Sebastian, punctuating her tale of misery with shots of Voudini, and, as there had been a lot of misery, there had been a lot of shots.
Lorelei had joined in lamenting about not having a man, there seemingly being none around, while Monika had felt disturbingly empathetic as she listened to Silke’s catalogue of complaints.
Monika was known to have continual on-off affairs, so it was no surprise to her friends that she had broken up, than got back together, with Chris.
Tonight, inspired by vodka and the general mood, she let rip about Chris. There was no progress there. There had been such magic at the beginning, but, half a year later, there were in the same place. It felt like a holiday romance, that Chris could leave at any time and feel no remorse. It was this obsession that was keeping her from really committing, as well as her conviction that he was interested in other women and it would only be a matter of time before he cheated on her.
At another time, Gabi would have explained that maybe he sensed her not being fully open, and would encourage her to give more of herself, but now she was just making soft noises of distress.
Silke appreciated the solidarity, women who deserve better than the no-hopers they has wasted time on.
Lorelei mainly remained quiet. She was also glad that this bar had red lighting, because when she heard that Andreas may soon be available, she felt herself blush.
Back in Prenzlauer Berg, Richard had just come home and found Chris standing by the CD player. A tape of flat, plodding keyboard music, with some unmelodious attempt at singing, was playing.
They looked at each other.
Richard raised his eyebrows.
Chris let out a desperate sigh.
They both shrugged their shoulders.
“I just thought it’ld be more like Beefheart, or Ry Cooder, or some wild desert music. Not that I’ve heard Beefheart or Ry Cooder, or wild desert music, but . . .”
“I know,” agreed Chris. “So. What do we do ?”
“We could say the tape got mangled.”
“Yeah. I’d quite happily mangle it. No, need something better. We have to see the fucker. Live. In concert. This . . . cack !”
“Oh, shit, I’d forgotten. Man, this is awful.”
“Tell me about it, I’ve been listening to it for half an hour. Waiting for ‘the good song’. It never came.”
“No,” Richard clarified, “I mean the situation. How do you tell someone that you hate their stuff. It’s his whole life, whole identity.”
“How can a guy look so fucking cool, and make . . . this ?”
“Did Monika hear it ?”
“Not for long. She turned it straight off. ‘That music is depressing and unnecessary.’ Absolutely right.”
“So . . . what do we do ?”
“Drink, obviously,” suggested Chris. There were four beers in the fridge but even they couldn’t help. They talked over the music, and before long, had quite forgotten it was even there.
“A brothel,” said Richard, out of the blue.
“OK. What ?”
“Remember that shop next to Rigaer 16 ? All that junk in the window, none of it making sense ?”
“I’ve been here nearly two years, but less and less about this city makes sense.”
“There’s a joke, a New York joke. You know what a Mohel is ? He’s the guy that performs the circumcision. OK, there’s this man, walking along Fifth Avenue, and he’s looking for a jewellers, to get his watch repaired. Suddenly he sees a shop window with a large, elegant clock, so he goes in, up to the counter and takes off his watch. ‘Can you fix this ?’ he asks. The shop owner says, ‘No, I’m a mohel, not a watchmaker.’ The first man then asks, ‘If you’re a mohel, why do you have a clock in the window ?’ to which the mohel replies, ‘Nu, what should I have in the window ?’ So, it must be a brothel, because . . . ”
“Yeah, what should they have in a window, yeah. Maybe it’s a mohel’s ?”
“In Berlin ? I somehow doubt it.”
Chris stifled a laugh and mulled over some thoughts.
“So, or nu, this circumcision lark . . . you, er . . . “
“Hhhmm. Still hurt ?”
“A little, but I can always tell when it’s going to rain.”
Several hours later, Alan Francis was on the London Tube, heading for a job interview.
Just before Christmas, he had had his first preliminary assessment.
He felt that he had done a good job and was expecting a pay rise, or promotion, or at least an offer for him to go on an executive trainee course, which he would have to refuse, as he would soon be making films.
Instead, he got a character assassination. Everything from his attitude to his appearance was brought up and found wanting.
He took it all with barely a word in his defence, secretly planning a new job. As soon as possible.
Richard knocked the worst of the snow from his boots and entered the bar immediately seeing, and hearing, Chris and Arizona Al at a far table.
He ordered a coffee as he walked over to them, and began the process of taking off the layers of clothing.
It was only mid afternoon, but all lights were on. The day, seen through the large glass panes, was gray and bitter, people walked along quickly, heads down and wrapped up against the cold.
“Look what I got,” he said, opening his bag and taking out three second hand paperbacks. He put them on the table, Chris taking them straight up,
“Let’s see . . . ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’, hhmmm, ‘The Trial’, Kafka, and, ah, Dickens, ‘Tale of Two Cities’. Which one you gonna read first ?”
“Think I’ll have a bash at Kafka. Everyone’s always talking about it. You read it ?”
“Long time ago. Al ?”
“Err, what’s that ? Kafka ? No, who’s he ?”
Richard explained about the Czech writer, as best he could, only knowing what he had read in the introduction on the U-Bahn ride.
“Oh, yeah, cool, could give that a go, yeah, something different. Been meaning to ask you guys about books. Like to maybe borrow some, if that’s no biggie ?”
“Here,” said Richard, offering the Memoirs. “Thought it was something German, name like Siegfried Sassoon, but turns out he’s as English as can be.”
“Yeah, the fox hunting bit may have been a clue, what ?” said Chris with a wink at Al, before asking him, “You read Generation X ?”
“Err, no, no, don’t think so.”
Richard had brought it from London, and they had read and reread it many times between them. Chris was all for going home and getting it immediately, but Al told him that later would be OK.
“It legitimizes our whole existence,” continued Richard, “for example, I’m no longer a hopeless loser, I’m a McJober. We,” indicating Chris and himself, “are occupational slummers. You, Al, are retro, neo, rock star, throwback . . . something.”
“Actually,” corrected Chris, “I’m taking an occupational sabbatical.”
“Yeah, how’s the job hunt going ?” asked Arizona, trying to get the conversation back to something he could understand.
Richard laughed to himself, having heard all of Chris’ descriptions of sordid, Dickensian working conditions.
“I’ve got an interview, meeting thing tomorrow at some pasta restaurant in Yorckstrasse, so at least I’ll get some decent grub. But, fucking hell, some of the places . . . I went to one, out past Dahlem and there was no sink in the kitchen. They were showing me how to take the plates and shit out to a big barrel in the yard, and wash them with a hose. Then I went to a brewery bar on the Ku’ Damm. Took one fucking look and thought fuck that. Enormous kitchen and about ten chefs, all screaming at each other and at the Spülers, who just stood there, heads down, as frying pans were flying around, fat was flying, food was flying, bottles . . . lucky not to be decapitated. Lucky not to be employed there.”
Richard enjoyed the embellishments Chris had made since he first heard that anecdote, when it had featured a mere four chefs. He then spoke up, as much to clear his name as anything.
“Of course, I offered to let him go back to Biberkopf . . . “
“Yes, but then what ? I have a much better chance of finding something than you. Besides . . . Monika’s not happy with me being just a . . . “
Arizona waited for the completion of the sentence, but was forced to ask,
“You and Monika not so tight ? I thought you were solid.”
Chris let out a whistle,
“No, sir, not by a long chalk. Trouble at mill.”
He knew that Arizona would have no idea what he was talking about, so he clarified.
“I don’t know, Al. You should know, you’re been around women. What should I do ? First, every thing’s fine, great, she’s the love of my life, next thing, she’s a bloody Tasmanian Devil, a force of destruction. Hurricane Monika. Not a house left standing.”
“Hey, man, can I ask you something ?” then without waiting for permission, Arizona continued, “what was the deal with that Melanie chick ?”
Richard sat up, hoping that at last, he may know the full story.
Chris did in fact look at him as he began, but now didn’t care and was happy to get it all out in the open.
“I don’t know. As you can see, when it comes to women, I’m at a bit of a loss.”
“She was into you like a train, Dude. When you kissed Monika, her face was just pure evil. Hate in them there eyes. Queen of death.”
“Yeah ! That’s her. ‘Queen of Death’”
“All that black doesn’t help,” added Richard.
“She some kind of Antichrist or something ?” asked Arizona.
“Atheist,” said Richard, presuming Al has used the wrong word. “We had a discussion about her beliefs one morning. She told me there was no God. But atheists are like joggers; you never see a happy one.”
“And you couldn’t argue with her. She’s always right.” said Chris.
“Especially when she’s wrong,” concluded Richard. Arizona was more interesting in the background than the word games.
“But did you ever like, date or fool around ?”
“Yeah, you ever take her out to second base ?” asked Richard.
“Get to second base, asshole. If you’re gonna go Yankee on my arse, at least get it right !”
Arizona tried to get the answer. Chris refocused.
“No, no, well, yeah, OK, kinda kissed and shit, but I wasn’t really into it. Breaks down like this; I was working in a café, bussing tables ‘n’ shit. OK, I was pouring coffee and working the till, whatever, and Melanie also worked there.”
“And Will was a regular customer ?” interrupted Richard.
“I’ll get to that bloody old nuisance in a moment.” Chris shook his head and took a strong hit of caffeine. “So, we’re both students, Mel and me, but never meet on campus, because I’m doing heavy macho stuff and she’s into waste of time, book reading or flower arranging, I dunno, chick subjects. But, you know, there ain’t much a-happ’ning on the home front, and we get on, and one night we go to the movies. Then, afterwards, as we’re saying ‘goodbye’ she comes up to me and gives me a massive hug, really hung in there, got her moneys worth. That should have been a sign.”
“Oh, I get it. A clingy-thingy.” Said Arizona.
“I hear you, Man.”
“But you were never together ?” clarified Richard.
“No, course not. So we kissed a bit, well, you know, vodka will do that to ya. But then I pulled down the portcullis. Told her I wasn’t into anything physical. Childhood trauma and all. I expected her to run like the clappers, but, oh no, she has to add her own Freudian fuckups. Unable to . . . you know.”
Arizona nodded, slowly, sagely. He knew.
“But she was coming on like you were soul mates an’ all,” Richard explained, “such talk, like you have the best hands in history. Let me see. Hold up those Germans.”
Chris wasn’t exactly sure of that Cockney slang, but held out his hands for inspection.
Richard made a dismissive snort,
“They’re nothing to write home about. Now, Will; what’s his problem.”
“Where do I start ? He’s just some old fart who’d come in, buy one coffee and stay all day. Couldn’t shift the fucker. The sort that works out how much he’s saving on electricity. Sniffing around young students.”
“Male or female ?”
“I don’t think he was even bothered. In fact . . . Yes, sonofabitch, he came on to me. Few times. Cheeky bugger. Thought he was just being . . . ”
“HEY !” exclaimed Arizona, who had been looking at some flyers on the table, “whatdoyaknow ? ‘The Wiggling Kellys’.”
There were a few seconds of silence, as Chris’s story had been prematurely hacked, and they would have to adjust to the verbal jet-lag, as a new, wholly unrelated tale was going to unfold.
“Ha, those girls. They were my backing band.”
Neither Chris nor Richard were willing to delay the story, so they indicated with their eyes that he should continue, without pause, with Richard holding up his coffee cup, and three fingers, to the waitress, whom he naturally found cute. He had already checked her left hand and noticed the absence of a ring.
“Yeah, they were backing me at the ‘So Was ?’ (So what ?) club in Kreutzberg. Ya been there ? It’s got this long kinda walkway catwalk stage, so it’s great for rocking out on. I’d met these two girls some time before and they’re real hot, groupie types, and they’re asking about venues and how to go about getting a band together, and I’m all, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, just trying to decide which one I wanna connect with, ya dig ? So I told them about this gig and they were asking do I need backing singers, and I’m thinking, well, no, but, hang on here, what better way to turn ’em on, play the rock star card, so I say, well, I don’t know, maybe, let’s see what ya got.”
Laughter and claps of approval.
“Yeah, I’m one one cool motherfucker when it calls for it, I know, so they do a number, in the bar, and, what can I say ? OK, can hold a tune, just, but they start dancing to it.”
“Wiggling ?” asked Richard, with excitement.
“Oh, yeah, they had the moves, you know what I’m saying ? So I thought, hang back, if they sing, they’ll fuck up the songs, but if they dance …”
“Fucking genius ! I’ve got a lot to learn from you,” Chris gushed.
“Sure ’nuff, Grasshopper. So comes the gig, I’m playing, and doing my stuff, I just had guitar and drum machine, and I start to walk up the stage. The girls see this, and next time, they walk with me, one each side, dancing away. So it goes. Every time I move up the stage, they come with me, and the audience are going crazy. I thought it’ld be a tough crowd, lot of biker leather in there. So I play another, and another, each time, loud screams. Then I go over to change a rhythm track and strum a few chords, but the audience are still going wild, even more so, then I look up and see the girls still dancing. Then the fucking PA motherfucka cuts my amp line and starts playing Techno shit, and the girls keep dancing, the audience going even crazier.”
“So . . . what did you do ?” Richard was forced to inquire.
“Just packed up my equipment, took a beer and watched the show. Gave them the name, too. From 90210. You guys get that in England ?”
They both denied knowledge of it. Arizona continued,
“Yeah, I had a lot of afternoons at home in the early Nineties. So there’s this character called Kelly, and in the opening credits, she wiggles off. Man, you gotta see it. OK, gotta split. Oh, shit, Man, nearly forgot. Got a few gigs coming up.”
“Cool !” from Richard
“Rock on !” from Chris.
“Yeah, you’ll be there, right ? ‘Cause ain’t nothing worse than playing to an empty hall.”
“Of course. Even take the night off, if I have to. Chris ?”
“Absolutely. I’m so there. One question . . . “
“No, The Wiggling Kellys will not be there. Got their own gigs. Playing the, hey, check it out, they’ve got another gig at the ‘So Was ?’. Hah. Never asked me back. OK, out of here. Tschüs.”
After he left, Richard turned to Chris,
“I’m glad we know him. Oh, shit, he’s coming back.”
Arizona returned, holding out a cassette.
“You guys still play tapes, right ? Here’s a copy of some of my old stuff. Yeah, you may be into it. Give it a listen.”
He left again. Chris put the tape in his bag and Richard checked his watch.
“OK, gotta split soon, myself. You back at the flat tonight ?”
“Yeah, gotta stay sober for the interview, meeting thing.”
“Why you sweating it ? You’re a sure thing because, one, they really need a Spüler, and, two, they really need a Spüler. Another coffee ? Then I’ll have to go.”
Left alone, Chris read a bit of Dickens, starting in on the introduction, but couldn’t really concentrate. It was only an unskilled job, paying a basic wage, but money went a long way. A full week’s work would cover his rent and travel for the month, and there would be free food, as well.
But the job meant so much more. He still hadn’t told Monika about the studio closing and was terrified of her running into Al and him telling her. He had to get something, or he would certainly get something from his girlfriend who would instantly become his ex-girlfriend.
Arizona Al stood in his doorway open mouthed as, one after another, beautiful young women filed past him and walked into his flat.
After Melanie had entered, Chris just had to hang back and look at Arizona, who was only just recovering the power of speech, though what he was saying was hardly intelligible.
The girls, dressed for a party and then some, were taking over, lifting things up, investigating corners, opening cupboards.
No objections was raised.
Arizona’s flat was larger than Chris’ and most of the living room was taken up with keyboards, guitars, microphones, wires and cables.
Monika began pretending to play one keyboard, while Lorelei took up a guitar and began moving like a rock chick, strumming away. Gabi, not to be left out, picked up a bottle, in preference to an actual mic, and started belting out some numbers.
With the men joining in by clapping, only Melanie remained outside the clique, but nobody noticed.
Chris finished up with some extra claps,
“So, Al, do you have anything to drink ?”
“Errr, well, I dunno, errr ..”
“Ya don’t do ya ? What a rock ‘n’ roller you are,” laughed Chris.
“I thought we were going out, otherwise, I’d a gotten something in.”
“All I’m gonna say is that Sylvester in Arizona . . . think I’ll pass.”
Then Gabi, after a little private conversation with Lorelei, said,
“Yes, we must go, but . . . first ?”
“All right!” said Chris
“Let’s go!” added Richard.
“What ?” asked Al.
Monika repeated her mime and Al seemed a little shocked, but thought it over and agreed.
Monika took him into the bathroom first, then Chris, Lorelei and Gabi went in with Richard, Melanie again abstaining.
Richard had tried cocaine once or twice before, but apart from the thrill of sniffing through a large denomination bank note, hadn’t really felt any effect. Even before, in Chris’, he couldn’t really say he got any kick.
This time, however, was different. For a start, being alone in a small room with Gabi was incredibly erotic. Gabi, despite her angelic and rather bourgeois appearance, was totally at home in a stranger’s bathroom, her delicate fingers dividing the small pile into two thin white lines. She bent down first, the cramped space meaning that they were touching all the time. She passed the note to Richard and after he had snorted, she showed him some extra touches. The first was to get a little drop of water on the finger and to snort, thus catching any stray bits of powder. Then she showed him how to scoop up any particles from the seat, and rubbed his teeth with it, then, using the same finger, inserted it deep into her own mouth and rubbed it along her gums, finishing up with a lick of the lips.
The temptation to just grab and kiss her was overwhelming, and he could have blamed the drugs, the Sekt or the occasion, she may have even liked it, but, instead, he did nothing, and they went back to the main room.
Still, with his heart beating faster and maintaining a good feeling from the Sekt, he began thinking more about Gabi. It may be a cure to get over one unrequited relationship, by embarking upon another.
The room was full of nervous excitement, Chris jumping around, Lorelei and Gabi trying on some of Arizona’s coats, when Melanie opened her bag and pulled out a little notebook, which she opened and passed to Richard.
“These are some notes for my dissertation, if you want to read them.”
As she put the book directly in his hand, and out of an embarrassed politeness, Richard began scanning the pages, once again drawn away from the core. Once again, he noticed that Chris all but ignored her.
Al was putting the finishing touches to his outfit, despite Chris’ suggestions that he really ‘mix it up’ tonight, and went with crocodile skin shoes, green cords and, over layers of vaguely Medieval-looking jerkins, wore a black coat/cloak and lopsided hat, that had everyone wondering where he could possibly have unearthed ?
“Hey, look what I found,” he said, holding a bottle of Cognac. “Found it under my bed. Who’d like some ?”
The general consensus was that they should be leaving. Monika asked to use the phone to book taxis, but Al had a better idea.
“No, Man, we can ride the trolley. Be fun, all the young dudes dressed up. Straight ride to Warschauer Str.”
Ten minutes later, The Gang were waiting, along with a crowd of other people, at the Strassebahn stop on Eberswalder Str, where an impromptu party of sorts was taking place, strangers passing around bottles of Sekt or cans of beer, some were singing, others dancing, some jumping up and down, either to the beat or simply to keep warm.
The Gang, with the exception of Melanie, joined in, Richard extending his arm to take in the scene,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Chris jumped around, pretending to be taking pictures with an invisible camera and everyone joined in, striking poses, some girls blowing kisses, which didn’t impress Monika, and she made him stop.
A loud cheer arose when the yellow light of the Strassebahn appeared out of the misty black, mixing with the continual beeps and honks of cars, and distant fireworks and firecrackers. It became, as Arizona had predicted, a party on tracks, the passengers hanging off the poles and draping themselves over the seats, men offering their laps to previously unknown girls, one or two men swinging from the hand straps.
At every stop, at least one person took it upon himself to announce the station, while others mimicked the sharp, loud beeps that indicated doors closing.
By journey’s end, nearly everyone had joined in, announcing the stops and beeping, so much so, that the old and sober driver kept looking back into his vehicle, wondering how it was possible to have so much fun in a tram, his bemused shake of the head seeming to say, “Kids !”
From Warschauer Str, they walked along Boxhagener Str and turned right into Simon Dach Str.
Gabi had the address and Richard was happy to follow her, wondering if the intimacy of the bathroom would be repeated. At the same time, he was doing his best not to look too much at Lorelei who without any effort, was just looking sensational. But he knew the futility of those thoughts.
There was a moment of confusion, as Gabi realised she had the wrong or incomplete address and Arizona suggested that they just follow people and see where they ended up. Eventually, Gabi turned up another piece of paper that gave the correct location.
The first stop was a combination party / exhibition of local artists. It took place on the top floor of a converted studio, overlooking the dark, slightly ominous rail tracks of Warschaeur Str.
It was one large, open room, with photos and painting hanging up, some metal objects placed strategically, or randomly, and a band area. As they entered, they saw three men with headphones standing behind banks of equipment, playing some mellow Techno. Neither Chris nor Richard were especially keen on the music in general, and couldn’t understand how people could buy the records and play that at home, but tonight, everything seemed to fall into place and they, perhaps inadvertently, began moving to the beat, causing Richard to reiterate,
“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on!”
Causing Chris to reply,
“Berlin goes on, the beat goes on!”
Arizona overheard and joined them,
“Yeah, you know, I’m starting to really get into this Techno scene. If Bowie were here, he’d be mixing Techno into his stuff.”
Richard noticed that Melanie had sat down on some steps and that Monika had gone over to her with two glasses and was trying to start a conversation. Even from his distance, he could see that Melanie was only answering in monosyllables and had refused the drink.
Gabi and Lorelei were dancing, which led to a sudden increase of men onto the dance floor. The Gang took a cursory look at the art work.
One set of photos were of famous sights in Berlin, but shot through a green filter, ‘to challenge society’s perception of the colour green’, the artist explained. Another section grabbed Arizona’s attention. In a small enclave, one wall had various items cut in half and glued into it. The opposite wall has similar items, but whereas the first had noticeably German items, the second had iconic American ones.
In the German wall was half a football, in the other, half an American football. Half a can of German beer was mirrored by half a can of an American brand and so on.
The artist, an elder man with grey hair and beard, wearing a peace necklace and sandals, was showing Arizona around. Al especially liked the toy Trabant and it’s antithesis, half a toy Cadillac.
The Techno finished and four men began setting up, more keyboards and amplifiers and some unusual hybrids of instruments.
One of the four seemed to be significantly older than the rest, one of whom was very thin and tall, another short and fat, the last hobbling around on crutches.
After an endless vortex of activity, with them all changing position and plugging various wires into various sockets, they began to play.
Gabi made an immediate face of disgust at the experimental noise that it took four deadly earnest and focused men to produce.
Monika made gestures to Lorelei and Chris, then came over to Richard to shout in his ear,
“OK, Richard, now we go!”
The Gang walked up to the U-Bahn to catch the U 5 to Alex. Next stop was a club in Kreutzberg. The U Bahns were running and would be, all night, but not so frequently and they had a long wait on the U 8 platform for their connection. So long, that, as they looked at the station clocks, they knew that they had no chance getting to the club by Midnight. In fact, they celebrated the New Year on the platform, hugging, kissing and shaking hands, to the outside sounds that managed to penetrate down. Chris took Monika and gave her a long kiss. Melanie looked on, in disgust, and said, perhaps louder than intended, perhaps not,
“Oh, that’s not allowed.”
And then the train came.
They got out at Moritzplatz, the men again happy to just follow the girls, Melanie tagging along and Richard was getting increasingly irritated at being her chaperone.
The club was a red-lit bar, with tables around the side and a large bar in the centre. In the back was the dance floor which was dark and smoky and exciting and inviting and promising.
Richard sat down, beers arrived and then, another invitation. Monika sat next to him, after a similar conspiracy with Gabi and Chris, and asked him,
“Ah, Richard, would you like to take half an ‘E’ with me ?”
Monika handed him half a tablet, already prepared, which he washed down with a swig of beer.
“This will make me want to kiss people, right ?” he asked.
“And will they kiss me back ?”
Monika smiled and shrugged her shoulder.
She then went on to Melanie, who again rejected the offer.
Richard sat back and thought about Gabi on ‘E’ and how the New Year could get off to a worse start than kissing her all night.
He began to feel himself smiling, and was unable to control it, nor did he want to, as everybody else seemed to be smiling. Except Melanie. He asked her how she was.
“Pretty bored, actually.”
There was a mass movement towards the back room for dancing, with Arizona electing to sit with Melanie. As Richard went into the back, he turned and thought he saw her offer Al a small notebook to read.
By now, the pill had kicked in and it seemed as if everyone was on the same vibe, half as many people kissing as dancing.
Chris came over, put his arm around Richard, gave him a kiss on the cheek and shouted,
“More beer.” It was a demand, rather than a question.
Back at the table, smiling at all around, strangers sharing a similar high, Richard shouted at Melanie,
“C’mon, Mel, shake your money maker !”
“What does that mean ?” she asked, not hiding her contempt, hatred and anger.
But it was too late for Richard to care and everyone was relieved when she decided to leave. There were one or two concerned questions about her knowing the way, with Chris not hiding the fact that as long as she went, he didn’t care where she ended up.
Some time later, it being hard to gauge with the constant dark lighting and drug and alcohol highs, The Gang began to disperse. Gabi and Lorelei headed back to the west, after prolonged Hugs and kisses. Chris then was staying nearby with Monika, so it as just Arizona and Richard.
After another and final beer, Mexican, as homage to Al’s South-Western roots, which they sipped slowly and really enjoyed, they thought about leaving, both having to get back north of the river, to Prenzlauer Berg.
They spoke constantly, and could have stayed in the bar, which by now was thinning out, all night, or at least until the ‘E’ wore off, but decided to go. Should they happen to stumble upon a bar, on the way, there was no reason why they shouldn’t go in.
Arizona admired the reasoning, and they left, shocked by the early morning light, but after their eyes got acclimatised, they felt refreshed on the empty, light blue streets, with a fresh wind blowing them along to the U Bahn as they stepped through a tangle of old streamers and firework cases and bottles and cigarette packets and cans.
On the U 2 from Alex, during a momentary lull in the conversation, as Arizona looked around at the other casualties of the night, Richard turned to him and said,
“It’s all right for you. I’ve Melanie to go back to!”
Arizona doubled up in laughter, which proved infectious as most of the other awake passengers joined in, most of them having no idea why they were laughing.
Arizona reached over and slapped Richard on the knee,
“Ya wanna crash at my place ?”
“Oh, man . . . can I ?”
Al’s laughter doubled.
At the same time on Chausser Strasse in Wedding, Daniel Roth was walking home with two English work mates and a Dutch bricklayer.
Of the four, it was only Daniel who was new to the city, having only arrived two days earlier, and he was due to start work on the Second, by which time, he calculated, his hangover may just be over.
Chris emptied his Brief Kaste, threw away the Werbung (adverts) and took the envelope upstairs. He recognized the handwriting at once, and the British stamp only confirmed that here was another letter from Melanie.
He had promised Richard that he’d go to a travel agents with him, help book his ticket to London, but had just received some bad news from the studio: there would be no more work in the new year. The studio was closing down.
It had created a surreal atmosphere. Anyone who turned up got paid, but nobody was doing any work. People just sat around, drinking coffee and smoking. The room was full of uncertainty, worrying how rents would be paid, some wondering whether they would return to Berlin after their visits home for Christmas.
Chris kept this from Richard, but asked him if he knew what the situation was at Biberkopf, as he could take over the shifts while Richard was away.
The flight was booked with Chris insisting that Richard get back in time for New Year’s Eve, ‘Sylvester’, in Germany.
“You just wouldn’t believe it, it’s like a war zone, people throwing bangers, fireworks, everyone out drinking on the streets. You’ll love it. Hey, new year, new start. It’ll be OK, you know.’
“You sure about that ?”
“Yes. I am.” An optimistic answer from Chris who would start the new year unemployed. He knew that if he told Richard, then Richard would immediately give up the Biberkopf job, insist on giving it back to Chris and would therefore have an excuse to stay in London.
On Christmas Day, Chris fixed himself a breakfast of smoked salmon, day old rolls, some tangerines, and several cups of coffee.
Monika was at her sister’s, just outside Leipzig, Gabi back in Vienna. Silke was in Bavaria, Kai incommunicado and Andreas had somehow found the money to go to Turkey. Lorelei was staying in Berlin, but Chris was sensitive enough not to mention her, or to blatantly not mention her. Tommy was visiting family in Aachen, in the west of Germany and Gert had naturally disappeared somewhere.
In the early afternoon, Chris went for a walk, enjoying the freedom of being totally alone in his city. The roads were almost empty, only an occasional car passing by and beeping hello. The shops were all shut, even the Imbisses had closed, or so it seemed. A side street off Schönhauser Allee had two fluttering flags, showing that at least one fast food joint was open. Chris made a note of it, should he require a Christmas kebab.
With no direction or purpose, Chris turned into Danziger Str and thought he’d walk to Friedrichshain. He walked along this notoriously tedious road, smoking, strolling, feeling quite happy. For the moment. The shit was going to hit the fan, so he may as well enjoy this anomaly of peace and quiet.
In four days time, both Monika and Melanie would arrive in Berlin. Melanie was arriving early evening and expected to be met at Tegal airport. Monika was driving, probably arriving late evening. The next day, the 30th, Richard arrived back, same time flight as Melanie, but he could make his own way home. Chris could stay at Monika’s, leaving Richard with Melanie. That image made him laugh out loud.
Then, how would Monika react to Melanie ? Melanie to Monika ? How would Richard be ? Chris knew he was in a lot of pain, more than he could help him with, and just hoped that his break in London would give him the distance he needed.
After half an hour, he was at Rigaer Str and thought he’d try Café Kinski. It was locked, but there were people inside, so it was probably a private party. He walked on, past more squat bars, squat houses, negotiating the piles of dog shit on the street and the distinctive odours of shit and piss and vomit and sweat and fumes and fast food. He felt at home.
After walking along the Strasse he saw a light above the door of the Czar Bar. It was open.
Coming from the left, there was a large, single pane window, with the Cyrillic ‘bap’ (bar) painted along the lower edge. The window was usually crammed with junk, but it was still possible to see inside, see who was working.
Chris peaked in and saw a figure in a fedora, twisting around, reaching for some glasses and a bottle of vodka. Tidings of comfort and joy.
The Czar bar was entered by walking up a step, into a sheltered vestibule, both sides plastered with flyers and stickers, flapping and peeling off. The door was solid, bottle green, also covered in small posters. Immediately inside was a thick black curtain, which had to be brushed aside.
The bar had changed a lot since Chris dragged an unimpressed Nuno and a repulsed Melanie here. A year ago. A lifetime ago.
There was now a more permanent looking bar, stretching from the door and curving around to the flipper (pinball) room. There were pallets below the bar, making a step up to the tall stools that were bolted down. Drunks may continue to fall, but the chairs would remain standing.
Above the bar, was a flat surface reaching to the ceiling, giving the bar the appearance of a kiosk. Behind the bar was the large dresser, now with more bottles and glasses, and a CD system, playing early Neil Young.
Around the room were placed round tables and along the walls, two old sofas. Chris looked into the far recess of the bar and saw that there was actually a stage, reached by four or five steps.
The room had also been painted; it was now a dull, deep orange, and with the main shutter down, and low wattage bulbs, it could easily have been late evening, not afternoon.
Chris took a seat at the bar, next to some Germans who looked half-way pissed already, but smiled at him warmly. He smiled back.
“Heeeeyyy, Chris, welcome back. Haven’t seen you around here for a while,” said Jake the Barman, extending a hand for a complex series of shakes.
“I was here last month.”
“You were ? Where was I ?”
Chris pointed to the end stool,
“Oh, right, I wasn’t working, I’m only out of it when I’m not working, yeah, Yuri was work .. no, let me … Micha ? Hell, I don’t know, what the fuck does it matter, hey ? Oh, Merry Christmas, can I get you a Christmas cocktail ?”
“What’s in it ?”
“Vodka and … vodka.”
“OK, I’ll have a double.”
This made Jake laugh, and they drank together, Jake introducing him to everyone who came in. By evening, Chris was very tipsy, and the bar, which was also looking tipsy, was full. Tom Waits had at some point replaced Neil Young.
A small, well built man with a dark beard and moustache came in and rested both elbows on the bar, staring intensely at Jake.
“Jake. Vodka,” he barked in German. Jake was having difficulty controlling his eyes, which were scanning the room, back and forth, and he was also trying to dance along to the music, but he managed to open a new vodka, pick up three shot glasses in one hand and pour the vodka to the very top of the glasses without spilling a drop. He spoilt this achievement by licking the drips off the bottle.
“Claude … Chris. Chris. Claude,” said Jake, making the introductions. Claude turned the intense gaze on Chris, looking him right in the eyes from across the bar. Then he raised his glass, said, ‘Santé’, and downed it in one gulp. He let out a vodka sigh, shook his head, slapped himself once or twice and clicked his fingers.
“Jake. Noch drei mehr (three more).” Jake repeated the process, Claude repeated his ritual of sighing and slapping, then slammed down some money on the counter and left.
Chris had no recollection of leaving, or getting home, or indeed, buying his Christmas Döner, but did find the tell-tale tin foil in his dustbin, along with small chunks of meat and purple cabbage that he kept discovering around his flat over the next days.
On the 28th, Monika called, saying she couldn’t wait to see him. It was then that he told her about Melanie arriving.
The line went dead.
But not for long.
There followed a lengthy conversation with accusations and insinuations, despite all of Chris’ assertions that she was, and always had been, a friend and nothing more. Why should Monika know so many men, and Chris not be allowed any female friends ? Monika easily countered that by mentioning all the ladies of The Gang. Then Chris had a moment of inspired genius,
“All right, it’s for Richard. You know he’s heartbroken.” Monika went silent. Chris pressed on, amazed by his brilliance and enjoying the previously unknown sensation of being victor in an argument’
“And why ? I’m not blaming anyone, here, but, well, all I’m gonna say is that Lorelei is your friend. That’s all. I’ll say no more. If Melanie can help him, be a friend to him, then … yeah, it’s good she’s coming.”
He realized his ending was weak, and knew not to press his point, not to allow Monika too much of a chance for a killer comeback.
It ended with Monika telling him what a great friend he was to Richard and how much she really loved him.
He didn’t tell her about losing his job and not knowing how he would pay the rent in February.
On the 30th, Richard arrived back in Berlin. He knew that it would take some time before he felt better, or normal, or whatever was the correct word for recovering from a broken heart, but he was determined to get over Lorelei.
As he passed through passport control, he was greeted by Chris, making high-pitch whistle noises, pretending he was blowing into a party streamer. Next to him was Melanie. Chris, through an exaggerated smile said,
“Look … it’s Melanie !”
“So I see.’
Chris had taken precautions, making sure he had a half bottle of vodka with him for the journey back.
At the flat, they sorted out the sleeping arrangements. Monika wouldn’t be back until late, so she would come over tomorrow and they would all go out. It was all planned.
Richard had brought back some books, an old Sunday Times, some English crumpets, Marmite, and a couple of new CD’s.
“Hey … look.” He held up the ‘Reality Bites’ soundtrack and ‘Monster’ by REM.
Chris whooped and grabbed the soundtrack and played it. As soon as the first song, ‘My Sharona’ came on, Melanie began complaining,
“Oh, The Knack, so brainless,” and other disparaging remarks.
There was a definite vibe in the room, and Chris thought the best way to dispel it was to go out drinking. Richard wanted to change his shoes, and put on an old pair of boots. He withdrew his foot, rapidly, as it was obstructed by something. He reached in and pulled out what he presumed was an old piece of rotten cardboard, and threw it away, without giving it a second thought, this was Berlin, after all, but Chris was amazed, not to say perturbed that kebab meat was still turning up.
The celebrations for Sylvester began early, and even from the flat in the Hinterhof, with windows closed, they could hear intermittent explosions as soon as they woke.
Chris was up first, and went out, looking to find any shops, so as to have Sekt and possibly food when Monika arrived.
Melanie and Richard sat drinking coffee together. They compared this flat with it’s gas heater in the kitchen and bathroom, to the flat in Rigaer Str. They talked about that November, motor bike crashes and walking around Berlin in the snow. Richard remembered going all the way to the museum at Karlshort, where the Germans signed the unconditional surrender in may 1945, and finding it closed, but seeing a genuine Russian soldier walking along the road, a rather small specimen, with bright red, dripping nose and hat with ear flaps. Melanie brought up the fire and worried about Chris burning his hands,
“He has the most beautiful hands of any man, ever.”
Richard was also curious how Monika and Melanie would get on.
“I’m going to like Monika, I know,” she said, “we’ll probably go off together and have a good time, a good chat, and bitch all about Chris.”
Richard wasn’t so certain.
Around eight o’clock, there was a furious thumping on the door. Chris opened it, and from the main room, Richard and Melanie could hear him greet Monika, as well as hearing other female voices. Richard recognized Lorelei and took the next seconds to compose himself.
Then Monika, Gabi and Lorelei came in, all smiles and hugs. Melanie kept back, while they all hugged and kissed, then extended a hand to the three women. Richard put on the soundtrack CD, and as the opening drums and bass pounded out, Monika began jumping around and dancing, followed first by Chris, then Richard, then Gabi, then Lorelei.
There was a babel of languages as they tried to decide what to do. Chris had bought some Sekt and insisted the only way to start an evening was with a bottle of Sekt. Richard nodded sagely at this piece of received wisdom and Gabi backed him up. There only being four glasses, the men drank out of cups.
“OK, listen, we’ll go to Arizona Al’s, first. He’s at Eberswalder Str, we can walk there. Then … where’s the first party ?”
Monika answered him,
“Friedrichshain, near Simon Dach Str. There will be … seven of us, no ? Ja, seven, so we need two taxis.”
Then Gabi coughed suggestively. Monika picked up the hint.
“Ah, point, would anyone like a little … something … nice … hahaha ?” She put the back of one finger to one nostril and sniffed through the other one.
Chris lit up,
“Yeah, let’s go!”
“OK, anybody need the toilet first ? Richard ?” asked Monika.
“Are you sure ?”
“What am I ? Six years old ?”
Monika laughed and led Chris into the bathroom. Shortly afterwards, Chris quoting another line from ‘Pulp Fiction’, screamed,
“I say, Goddamn!”
Richard was next, and took the rolled up fifty Mark note, sniffing the trail of white powder off the toilet lid. Monika came back and asked Melanie, who just shook her head.
Finally, they were good to go.
Walking down Schönhauser Allee, Melanie began to fall behind the others and Richard, not wishing to leave her out, walked along with her, listening to her observations, while wishing he were part of that chain up ahead, as they all walked with linked arms, and Lorelei, in three-quarter length coat and black boots, was looking more beautiful than ever.
Chris arrived home a little after three in the morning, being quiet, but not too quiet, hoping that if Richard were awake, he could tell him about the new look Czar Bar and how he had seen Jake, Gaptooth and a new German who looked exactly like David Hockney.
He opened the door to the main room, the light from the hall casting a dramatic beam straight up to Richard, arms sprawled, head at an awkward angle, half undressed, not moving, a quilt partially covering him but not a sound.
Chris’ heart stopped. He immediately sobered up and ran to the body, reaching for the pulse and holding his hand in front of the nostrils. The wrist pulsated, the back of Chris’ hand was chilled by breathe.
He got up and looked in the kitchen, turning on the light without any danger of waking Richard. There, on the table, were seven or eight cans of cheap beer, most of them empty and crushed. Then he looked in the bin, and there were three of four more empties.
Chris walked back into the room and did his best to make Richard comfortable, taking off the one shoe he still wore, his watch, in case he caught himself, and put the quilt fully over him, as the Ofen was going out and the room was getting cold.
He stoked up the Ofen and went to sit in the kitchen, taking one of the remaining beers and calmly drinking until his heart could return to a normal rhythm.
It had stirred up a painful memory, one that had haunted his childhood.
At eight or nine, Chris had found his elder sister on the bathroom floor, vomiting and screaming. Not knowing what to do, he just cried and went to hold her, joining in her screams.
And then he felt her slip away.
He sat with her until his parents came home, who told him that she had eaten too many sweets and was now sleeping, aware that this simply wasn’t true, that something very, very bad had happened, but not knowing why or what, except that he really did know what, but would never know why.
Sitting in his Berlin kitchen, sipping the gassy, tasteless beer, his heart still pounding, Chris was unaware that he was crying.
Richard had seemed so happy. He had been dancing around the flat, not complaining about the sudden drop in temperature which would mean another six months of chopping wood, wearing coats indoors and going into the cellar for briquettes.
He had caused a minor sensation at work, by thanking the staff when they brought him dirty plates and singing along to the radio. He was speaking to Chris about Biberkopf one night at the Ankor.
“It’s always on the same station,” he said of the work radio, ”and they only have about fifty records, which they play in various sequences. There’s a few classics, a few modern hits, and a whole bunch of shit. As for those new Elton John songs, postcards and that bloody cat …”
“That’s not Elton John. I know who you mean and it’s some American asshole.”
“Really ? Well, whatdoyaknow ? Oh, I heard that Crash Test Dummies song, you know the one ? Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm ? Fucking freaky goddamn lyrics, kids with weird birthmarks, and white hair. Never heard it before, but there was this drunk guy in London who was humming it on the tube, late one night. Actually it’s a really good song. Can’t stop humming it, myself. Oh, and what’s that Bryan Ferry song about Berlin ? Non-stop Berlin ?”
Chris looked puzzled, then understood.
“Oh, I know what you mean and every word is wrong ! Nearly every word. It’s ‘Don’t Stop The Dance’.”
“Think I prefer my version.”
“Me, too. More appropriate.”
And they burst into an impromptu rendition, much to the surprise of the cute, ginger-haired waitress, who clearly wasn’t impressed.
“I was thinking,” began Richard, “we should have a culture night, The Gang. I was looking through Tip at work, (Tip is one of two listing magazines, the other being Zitty. Both cover a two week period and come out alternate weeks. Tip is the glossier of the two) and there are so many concerts going on. Classical concerts and Opera. Looks quite cheap, too.”
Chris leant back, drank some beer and thought. “All right. Yeah. The Opera. Let’s go.”
He got up and went to the magazine rack, taking the copy of Zitty (which was favoured by the alternative scene) and opened it to the music pages.
“Here, the Komische Oper, ‘Strange, or funny Opera’. They perform in German, I think. Yeah. Hey, look … Thursday and, yeah, great, Saturday, Carmen by Bizet. I could dig that.”
“You know Bizet never went to Spain ?”
“Would that be true ?”
“Aye, it would.”
“Well, I say. I’m gonna file that under ‘interesting but also boring facts’.”
“Well, you do what ya gotta do.”
The following Saturday, Monika, Chris, Gabi, Lorelei, Arizona Al and Richard all met in the foyer of the theatre. Arizona was last to arrive, and turned up in knee length purple boots, dark green velvet trousers, an old, brown leather flying jacket, and floppy hat, a thin, wooden instrument strung across his back.
He bounded into the theatre, jumping up the steps. He got quite a few interested and happy looks, and even gave a small performance, singing ‘Ring of Fire’ on his curious contraption.
“Hey, like my dulcimer ? Pretty cool, hey ? I did some busking on the U-Bahn earlier and made enough to pay for my ticket.”
The coat-check girl was also amused by the dulcimer as Arizona handed it to her, along with his hat and slightly effeminate, small shoulder bag.
Richard had the tickets and led them into the auditorium, finding the six seats, and was a little put out that Arizona sat down next to Lorelei, leaving him on the outside.
They all looked around the hall, admiring the décor and the atmosphere. The musicians could be heard tuning up, but were out of sight. Arizona Al lifted himself up, straining to see where the music was coming from, and turning to Richard, asked him,
“Hey, where’s the orchestra ?”
“In the pit.”
Arizona couldn’t contain himself, but jumped up and down in his seat, pounding the arms of the chair and inadvertently bashing into Lorelei.
“Hey, listen up, man, I just asked Richard where the orchestra was, and he said, ‘in the pit’. Orchestra pit ! I never knew what that meant before !”
They all enjoyed the show, Arizona especially, who watched it with a child’s innocence, and Richard was continuously nudged, poked and slapped.
After, they went to a bar in the old Nikolaiviertal, one of the oldest areas of Berlin, recently made over and gentrified, but still retaining a definite charm, due to the river Spree forming the western border, and the imposing, brick, twin-spired Nikolaikirche dominating the cobbled-streets of quaint shops and bars.
Gabi meet a friend, Heike, who worked in stage design and had also seen the new production of Carmen.
Chris said, “Oh, hey, did you know, Bizet, the guy who wrote it, never even went to Spain ? Isn’t that just the craziest ?”
The Gang all found this very interesting, and when Richard turned to look at Chris, he saw him lower his eyes and hastily take a long gulp of beer.
Before Richard left for work on Monday, he met Chris, just back from the studio.
“Arizona had a great time. Told me he made a connection with Heike.”
“Oh, you mean they got on well ?” asked Richard.
“No, dude, he fucked her. Twice, apparently. Said it was his first … ‘connection’ in Berlin.”
“Ah, yes, he broke his duck.”
“He wants to go out with us, again.”
“I bet he does. We’re not his pimps, you know.”
“You mean procurers ? Never mind. You know what’s opening this week ? Pulp Fiction ! The new Tarantino !”
“Man, I’ve been counting the days, big time.”
“We can all go, Saturday. It’ll be at the Odeon, English version with Kraut text.”
“I have to get to my terrible job now, but you get The Gang onto it. That is your mission, should you choose to accept it.”
Chris saluted, as Richard made his way to the elevated U-Bahn station and waited on the chilly platform for the westbound train.
So Arizona had made his first conquest. Chris had already been with a couple of girls, but, so far, Richard had struck out. But he was waiting. Lorelei had left her boyfriend. Maybe he had at least some small part in her decision ? She had sent over messages, had come to the Opera and he was sure she was expecting him to sit next to her. At the end of the night, she had kissed him on the cheek, and held his arm. He took all this as a sign that he only had to be patient and the girl he was so in love with would be his.
However, only Arizona, Chris, Monika and Richard made it to the cinema. Gabi wanted to see it in German and Lorelei was going with her.
Again, Richard was next to Arizona in the cinema but, once he realized Lorelei wasn’t coming, due to a choice of languages, he sat back, swigged his beer and waited for the excitement to begin. They had been surprised at the cast: John Travolta ? Bruce Willis ?
But from the opening scenes in the diner, and the title music, they knew they were in for one hell of a ride.
The twist contest took place, Richard digging Arizona in the ribs,
“Hey, this cat can really dance.”
Arizona jumped up and pointed to the T-shirt Tarantino was wearing in the kitchen scene, as he recognized the logo and began telling a story about it, making Richard miss untold lines.
The highlight of the night, however, occurred in the last diner scene. The Samuel L. Jackson character has a wallet embossed with the legend, ‘Bad Motherfucker’. The German translation for this, when it appeared, full screen in a classic Tarantino close-up, was, ‘Böser Schwarzer Mann’ (Angry Black Man.)The entire cinema erupted into spontaneously laughter, a reaction that Tarantino himself would have loved.
From that point on, they re-enacted lines of dialogue and added new words to their vocabulary.
Every time a customer ordered mayonnaise with chips, Richard let out an, ‘Errrchh, they fuckin’ drown ‘em in that shit, I seen ‘em do it!’, to the total mystery of the east German chef.
One night Richard got a call at work. It was Lorelei. She said that Monika was over at the nearby Café Haller, and was wondering if he wanted to come over, when he’d finished his shift.
He worked at double speed the remainder of the evening.
As clean and fresh as possible after a five hour shift in a hot kitchen, he walked over to the bar where Lorelei was working. She was finishing up her shift, adding up her dockets, and gave Richard a hug, as he cried out how good it was to see her.
As he looked over, he saw Monika waving from a far table. Next to her was a man in a leather jacket. Lorelei explained that it was ‘only’ Werner, a really nice, harmless customer, who was keeping Monika company and keeping the leeches away. She told him to go sit, and she’d send a beer over, and gave him such a lovely smile and wink.
Monika stood up to hug and kiss Richard and Lorelei came over to sit next to Werner. He appeared to be in his mid thirties and had tight, curly hair that looked one moment blonde, the next brown. He had rather protruding eyes and slightly buck teeth, but was very friendly and pleasant, the kind of guy you can always depend on to help move furniture, or pick you up from a distant location.
Richard tried speaking in German, which was improving, but still very basic. Lorelei said that it was cute to hear him, so he continued, as long as possible. At one point, he saw Werner look at him, with the kind of look that said, ‘how can two fucks like us be with two beautiful women like these ?’
Before Richard had finished his first beer, Werner said he had to leave, and Richard shook his hand like he was an old friend.
And then it all went wrong.
Lorelei looked at Richard, smiled and got up as well.
Richard thought that he would be leaving with Lorelei.
Instead, she turned to him and held out her hand. They shook, then she went over to Monika, kissed her goodbye, and left. With Werner.
Richard slumped down, feeling lifeless and humiliated and just plain lost.
“I’m never going to be with Lorelei, am I ?” was his rhetorical question.
Monika looked at him with real concern, but didn’t know what to say, and began to feel both uncomfortable and genuinely hurt, as if she could not only sense, but physically feel his pain.
She offered to drive him home, and suggested they go somewhere to drink in Prenzlauer Berg. He agreed and she almost had to help him out of the bar and into her car.
As they drove, Richard thanked her for everything, and told her that he’d be all right. He asked her to drop him by an U-Bahn station, where there would be an Imbiss open and he could buy some beer. It was better if he were alone, but he told Monika that Chris was at home.
She let him out and he waved her on. He didn’t want her to see him buying as many cans as he could carry.