26th July 2021
Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995
Richard hadn’t really spent much time with either of Jake’s Russian flatmates, Sergei and Micha, so wasn’t sure what to expect when Chris told him that Serge wanted a meeting with them.
When they ran the Czar Bar, their choice of unlistenable music and uncharismatic service deterred all but the hardcore. They also closed very early, and often Richard would arrive after work, only to find Jake making an ad hoc bar to cater for the drinkers who were, in many cases, only just waking up. Squatting a squat bar, as Jake put it. Ad nauseam.
Yet they were both friendly and had a reasonable command of English, certainly not learnt from their Death Metal bands. Micha was small, tiny in fact, but was quite solid, with a rather unexpected quirk of suddenly breaking into a breakdance routine. Sergei was of a more serious demeanour, being something of a musician, classically trained on the clarinet, which he refused to play in front of anybody, but whose tones could occasionally be heard in the Hof of the squat house. He would also alternate between a bushy, almost religious zealot-like beard with curly locks, and a completely shaven head. At this moment, in the Berlin winter, he opted for the later, a decision that lead Richard to consider him crazy. But, they had something in common; after being alone for a long time, they both now had girlfriends.
Johanna was known, at least by sight, by a few people, though she had yet to return to the bar. Serge’s girlfriend, however, had made a more ostentatious arrival.
It had been mid week, Andrei making the bar alone, though Boris lent a hand when needed. Andrei also had a new girlfriend, German, and there seemed to be no animosity over the Olga situation. Richard arrived some time before two. There were only about fifteen people in the bar, all men, except one small dark-haired girl who was clearly drunk, or something. She began jumping onto the tables and dancing, enticing some of the men to tell her to strip. She didn’t understand the words, being, as Richard later learned, Spanish, but understood the meaning, and began to comply. Sergie rushed up and tried to stop her, making her put her clothes back on, and pleading with her to step down. No sooner had he succeeded in this, than she began again, different table, same routine, same applause from the clientele.
Eventually, Sergei managed to get her upstairs, to his flat, which impressed Richard. He naively believed Serge only wanted to get her out of the bar for her own protection.
The show over, Richard took a beer and began speaking to Boris about music and women. Boris was happy with Olga, and could see how happy Richard was, now he had met a German girl. They took another beer together, and a vodka, and Richard asked about Chris and Jake. They were off to another squat bar, checking out some band.
Then the back door opened and the Spanish girl rushed in, naked, and began running around the bar, jumping on the chairs and tables, dancing away to the music. When she tired of that, she began walking around the room, sitting on men’s laps, kissing them. Sergei appeared, looking very distraught, totally at a loss. She moved over to Boris, kissed him, then another man and then another, before dancing again. Richard felt uncomfortable and asked Andrei if he shouldn’t do something, but Andrei just shrugged. Suddenly, the girl began crying and making loud, high-pitched screams. A couple of the drunken men began imitating her and laughing but Richard and Boris told them to shut up, and, with Andrei backing them, their commands were heeded. Sergei came over, covered her with his long coat, and, putting his arm around her, led her away again.
Some time later, Chris and Jake arrived.
“Did we miss anything ?” asked Chris.
“No, usual night in the Czar Bar,” was the reply.
The next week, at Biberkopf, Josef came in to the kitchen, and with a scowl slammed the phone down. Richard didn’t care; he had friends and a girlfriend. Chris on the line,
“Hey, you ain’t got nothing on tomorrow, right ? Daytime ?”
“What’s on yer mind ?”
“Sergie wants a meeting with us ?”
“Sergei ? What about ?”
“Well, he’s kinda got this, idea, kinda . . . thing he wants us to, you know, like . . . “
“You don’t know, do ya ?”
“Yeah, but it’s . . . you’ll see.”
“What kinda meeting ? Do we need suits ? Should we take minutes ? Where is it ?“
“Your place. Around one, one-thirty ?”
Next morning, Richard went to to the local Spar, picked up some water, tea-bags, fruit juice, then went to the baker to get some Berliners, or doughnuts. Then he waited.
Sometime after two, there was a knock.
Sergie’s idea, which he expressed in a straightforward manner, was to stage a play in one of the spaces in Rigaer Strasse. Richard nodded, looking over at Chris, wondering how it affecting them, when Sergie delivered the punchline;
“And I want you to write it,” he said, pointing between the two of them, “as it is in English.”
Chris just held a wide grin, enjoying seeing Richard trying to hold a polite smile amidst his confusion, not to say utter panic. He managed to splurt out that he, they, had never written anything, had no idea how to write or what to write about about. They had studied Physics, Science, they wrote in equations.
“Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter,” said Sergei with a dismissive wave of his hand. Chris clarified;
“He has the idea, ideas, just needs us to put it into a script.”
“Yes, exactly, exactly.”
Richard made coffee and offered the cakes, to buy time, but there was no stopping Sergei, and in between mouthfuls of pastry, washed down by large gulps of burning coffee, he did his best to explain.
Every so often, Richard would look over at Chris, but most times Chris just shrugged his shoulders, or nodded encouragingly at the Russian.
It seemed to be a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and an American Indie film. Peter, the old squatter, who did indeed look like a classical actor gone to seed, would be some kind of Greek God, looking down on proceedings. Richard mentioned that with Peter’s alleged nautical background (no one really knew anything about him, but the received wisdom was that he had been a sailor of the ‘girl in every port’ variety), he could be Poseidon, complete with trident and conch shell. Chris already had a pad and pencil ready. Sergei rocked back and forth, slapping his thigh, crying out;
“Yes, write it down, write it down.”
He repeated this order, accompanied by laughs and slaps, every time he liked a suggestion, which seemed to happen every time a suggestion was made.
It was decided that Peter would be Poseidon, with a shirtless Robert of the, “Shit on a stick,” as a kind of cup-bearer, though a vodka bottle-bearer would be more apt. The idea of getting these two together, outside of the Czar Bar, for rehearsals was so far beyond the realms of possibility that it wasn’t even funny, but Richard went along with it, as Sergei described even more elaborate scenarios, with an apparently endless cast.
Chris made various suggestions about who could play what part, all of which elicited the same response of laughing and slapping.
It seemed to Richard that the plot went something like this: Peter, or Poseidon, would make an opening speech about the nature of love and life, maybe with a song (a sea-shanty, Richard offered, which caused Sergei to clutch his sides with mirth) before being lured back to sleep by the vodka bottle. He would be on a platform above the main stage, decorated with sea motifs.
On the main stage, which would resemble an American diner, a bunch of young characters would enter. They were all in relationships with each other and would talk about love. Already Richard was concerned, but politely listened.
It soon became apparent that there was no plot, and that Sergei had merely disconnected ideas, partly developed, at best. Not only would they have to write the dialogue, they would have to come up with the story as well.
Richard felt himself losing patience. He was listening to Chris mention people as possible actors, knowing that even if they did agree, they would never actually learn their parts, rehearse or even remember agreeing to it in the first place. He also found it hard to concentrate as he was thinking about Johanna. They were going out again on the weekend, and he felt, rather he hoped, that the relationship was about to turn more intimate. So far he had to be content with hand-holding and kisses on the cheek.
Still Sergei continued, but then a twist occurred that made Richard want to stop the meeting, which he could tell was a waste of time.
The idea for the second act was that a group of totally new actors come on stage, and pretty much repeat all that had happened in the first.
“And what about the other characters ?” asked Richard, “where are they ?”
“And they come back later ?”
“No, they gone. Now, we have the new people.”
“But . . . “ Richard was at a loss, and even Chris, who had been strangely enthusiastic was quiet.
Chris was hoping that Sergei would come up with a better explanation than just simply, ‘they gone’, but was losing hope, nor could he quickly think of a feasible solution. But he really wanted this to work, and had already planned to ignore all of Sergei’s half-arsed nonsense and make his own play. With help from Richard.
The catalyst was hearing that Daniel would be having a piece published in ‘Savage Revolt’, thanks to a suggestion from Chris, credit for which he was not shy in proclaiming.
Chris had enjoyed his spell as band manager, but was resentful that it had only brought him stress, while Daniel had lived the rock star life. At least for the few weeks of the band’s existence. Daniel had become a local star, impressing the women, while Chris remained just a barman, always to be in Jake’s yawing shadow. Sergei was offering Chris his chance to move centre stage. He had even thought about taking a part, as well as directing. But he was genuinely shocked at Richard’s reaction.
“You can’t introduce characters, get the audience interested in them, then never show or mention them again.”
“Yes,” corrected Sergei, “we have new characters, now the audience interest in them.”
Chris tried to smooth things over;
“We can talk about this later.”
Richard continued arguing with Sergei, neither giving in. Then Richard asked where would all the new actors come from.
“Inez knows people. She is actress.” Sergei told them about his girlfriend’s acting experience and Richard resisted the temptation to say that he had caught one of her performances. It was obvious Sergei was only doing this as a way to provide an opportunity for her, so Richard, in love himself, understood, and kept his thoughts private.
Chris took this as a good sign and was already thinking about ways to simplify the script, believing the play was going to happen as much as Richard new it never would.
And Richard was right. Inez left Sergei before the week was out. Rumour had it that Sergei caught her in bed, or sleeping bag on the floor, with Micha, and she, like the play, was never heard of or mentioned again.