Love and Chaos Part 9(C) Sergei 1

26th July 2021

Berlin winter. Photo by Martin O’Shea.

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 ?”

“They gone.”

“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.

Love and Chaos Part 9(A) Daniel 1

11th July 2021

An alternative travel guide to Charlottenburg, Berlin: discover hidden,  quirky and unique sights and experiences
Charlottenburg District in west Berlin. Google Images

Part Nine

Berlin. November 1995

Daniel was pleased to see Chris back, working with Jake, but he was not going to let the chance for some serious winding-up slip by.

Chris had seen Johan once or twice. The meetings on the street were frosty, but as Jake had predicted, Johan was not the sort to hit anyone, even if they had stolen his girlfriend.

“Well, more like you borrowed her, not stole,” clarified Daniel, with a blatant lack of sensitivity. “Least you got some action.”

“And reaction.”

“What’s wrong with Richard ? Not gay, is he ?”

“No, he’s not gay.”

“Why ain’t I ever seen him with a girl then ?”

“He’s just unlucky, that’s all. Or, I’m starting to think, very lucky.”

Daniel laughed.

“You know what ? You could be a comedian. Really. You’re a funny geezer.”

“Yeah, right. Anyway, what you up to now ? Band getting back together ?” Chris asked ironically.

“Somehow can’t see that happening. You heard the latest ?”

“Hey, I work here. I get extra shifts because Boris isn’t here, a-haha. I see Andrei working alone, a-haha. I put two and two together, a-haha. I put Boris and Olga together. A-haha.”

“Yeah, official. They fucked off to Russia, and came back married.”

“Married ?”

“Yeah, rings and all. Andrei perplexed and pole-axed. Sascha just finds it all very funny. Charley George was best man, apparently.”

“No more Sawhead, I take it ?”

“Thank fuck ! Turned into a right pig’s ear. Last concert, fucking hell !”

“Yeah, were you really gonna hit Sascha ?”

“Well I weren’t gonna fucking hit Andrei ! No, think I’ll start writing, don’t have to depend on other people. Pen, paper, bingo !”

“Interesting, interesting. There was a friend of Arizona’s who writes for some magazine. Ex-pat thing. What’s it called ? Something quite cool. Ah, yeah, ‘Savage Revolt’. You should try them.”

“Yeah, all right. You got a copy ?”

“No, but can probably get one. Anyway, something to think about.”

On the following Saturday, both Daniel and Richard were there early and, along with Jake, had a long talk about Berlin, bands and booze. And women.

Daniel had found the magazine and had called the editor,

“Some knackered old septic. Bored, middle-aged, housewife type. Rich housewife type.”

“Errr, I don’t know what that cockney shit, ‘knackered’ means,” Jake interrupted.

Chris explained, both literal and general definitions; extremely tired, often after excessive sexual activity.

“Oh, haven’t been knackered for a long time, hahaha. What the fuck is ‘septic ?’ ”

“One of your lot, American; septic tank, Yank. Anyway, she said if I could get something to her by next Friday she’d see about publishing it in the next edition.”

“Any ideas, yet ?” asked Richard.

“Not your love life, that’s for sure. Fucking blank page, mate. What about her then ? Over at that table ?”

Daniel indicated a young girl with a Louise Brooks bob dressed in black sitting at a table next to a man who just looked out of place.

“Oh, she’s been in a few times. Nice. Pretty,” said Jake.

“Yeah, different man each time,” from Chris.

“Don’t mean nothing. Hey, she’s looking over.”

Richard had noticed her since she had first come in, but seeing as she was in company, dismissed any possibility of anything happening. Ever.

Now he looked over. The girl was looking slowly around, smiling at something her friend was saying, a kind of fixed smile, polite. Then she looked at Richard, and their eyes meet. They both held the look. It was Richard who looked away first, but when he looked back, she was still looking at him. Now she smiled and looked away.

Some time later, she stood up to leave, or so it appeared. Her friend left, but the girl walked to the toilet, passing behind Daniel. As she did so, she looked at Richard and gave a little, but wonderful smile. Again, they looked into each other’s eyes. Then she was gone.

Richard didn’t hear anything Daniel said. His heart raced, his breathing was erratic.

Daniel was speaking about authors, Dickens in particular, when the girl came back and stood next to Richard, to order a new drink.

Richard almost had to get up and walk away; she smelt incredible. How was that even possible in the Czar Bar ? She got her beer then looked over,

“Dickens ? Sorry, but I heard you talk about him. He’s one of my favourite authors. Hello, I’m Johanna.”

Daniel then performed a manoeuvre that was copied for many months afterwards. He stood up from his stool and, walking backwards, invited the girl to have his seat, as he disappeared into the mass of bodies.

Richard was glad he’d had some vodka, also glad he hadn’t had so much vodka. His first instinct was to order more, but Chris refused, saying it was too early. Richard understood. He had scared away Carla with his drunkenness. Let him spend at least one evening with this new woman.

From Dickens, they spoke about Berlin, London, (which she hadn’t visited but wanted to), life as a student in Germany (she studied business) and everything else.

Richard found her easy to speak to, and she found him interesting, funny and polite.

After an hour she had to go, but gave him her phone number and an invitation to call,

“Thank you. You are so kind. It was nice to just sit and talk to someone. Please call me.”

And she gave him a kiss. On the cheek.

She couldn’t have been gone more than two seconds before Daniel, Chris and Jake descended on Richard with a barrage of questions.

Richard, now able to drink vodka freely, which he did, merely held the phone number up, before putting it safely away.

Daniel pretended to write the number down, making Chris laugh, which in turn made Jake laugh, which had a knock-on effect on Richard.

Once he reached a certain level, Richard refused any more vodka. He also left as soon as the S-Bahns were running.

By the Friday deadline, Daniel had written a short story as he had been instructed.

Jeanette, the bored, middle-aged housewife who organised the magazine, welcomed him into her west Berlin apartment, the largest by far Daniel had yet seen. He was shown through several rooms, all with high ceilings and elaborate furnishings.

He waited in what appeared to have been a once elegant reception room while she prepared tea. One whole wall was a bookcase. He got up and looked at all the titles.

Jeanette carried the silver tea service and asked, ‘Lemon or cream ?’ Daniel resisted all temptation to be sarcastic or obnoxious. He liked his surroundings. Anyone that lived like this could do him a lot of good. He was charming and polite, the whole visit.

He left with a handshake and a promise that his work would be evaluated carefully, and a decision made by the time Daniel was invited to place a telephone call.

He thought back to a time in London. His east London office had a job in Hammersmith, west London. As he was driven from Stepney, through the City and towards the west, past Westminster and into Fulham, Daniel looked out of the window and couldn’t believe it was the same city. It was a class apart. It was a world apart.

He felt the same now, walking to the nearest U-Bahn station, looking around at the houses, going past the bistros and cocktail bars, watching the luxury cars gliding up and down the street.

He didn’t want to leave. He went into a café, with aproned waiters, and ordered a coffee. He couldn’t afford much more, so he made it last, and looked out onto the plush, swanky street.

Love and Chaos Part 8(H) Alan 2

6th July 2021

CAFE CINEMA, Berlin - Mitte (Borough) - Restaurant Reviews, Photos & Phone  Number - Tripadvisor
A typical Berlin art bar, showing films, staging poetry slams etc. This one is in Berlin Mitte, from Google Images

Part Eight. Berlin. October 1995

Alan sat alone at the small desk, hunched over a tiny film viewer, watching and rewatching a section of film. The wall was covered with thin strips of film of varying length. The top of each one had a piece of white paper, giving information that anyone but Alan would find incomprehensible.

He turned the handle, watching magnified images pass through the tiny monitor. He consulted his notes and selected the best takes from each scene, then the exact frame to be cut. He marked the frame with the puncher on the monitor. Carefully, lovingly, he removed the film from the cog wheels and held it up to see the tiny indentation. He aligned this on the spokes of his film cutter and guillotined the end. The selected piece was then labelled and stuck on the wall, at a precise point, between the scenes coming immediately before and after it.

Alan picked up the film curled on the table, held it up against the light, squinting as he saw with his eye where the next scene began.

He ran this piece of film through the monitor to find the exact spot where it should begin.

So he spent the whole evening, editing his short film.

He loved everything about making films. He loved getting the initial idea, the casting and telling the actors about the story and the style he intended to use. He loved the filming, meeting up, drinking take-out coffee, preparing shots. Now he loved the end stage, the editing and splicing. He was alone, peaceful, and had complete control over the images.

He couldn’t wait to run the rough cut through the monitor, make the final micro cuts, then play it through the projector, and see his work on the cinemascope that was the bedroom wall.

He laughed to himself when he looked at the projector. He had told Vincent about needing a better quality one, and the actor had suggested the flea market by Tacheles.

Sure enough, on the muddy wasteland there were two or three tables that had old cine equipment. Alan asked one stall holder the price of an exquisite machine and was ignored. Vincent came over and winked at Alan. He picked up the projector and then put it down. He asked the price of a totally different item, appeared uninterested and seemed to wonder off. The Stall holder sat down, back to his wurst roll. Vincent walked away; clutching the projector. Alan saw and was shocked, but played along. He stayed looking at some bits, then slowly turned and walked away at a very casual pace, showing that his hands were clearly empty and that he had absolutely no connection whatsoever with that other gentleman.

This acting lark was really easy, he thought to himself. Procuring equipment apparently posed no problems. Now for presentation.

Vincent had said that the film could be shown in the bars all over east Berlin. It was no problem to organise movie nights, and he mentioned some bars in Friedrichshain where he was known. One named Kinski stood out.

Alan still couldn’t believe it; actors, equipment, a processing studio and venues in which to screen. An audience ready and open to new work.

And Julie.

Alan was spending a lot of time on the close-ups of Julie. He had deliberately shot more than was required. He slowly turned the handle, so that no individual frame would stay too long under the lamp and burn.

He told himself that he was just admiring her beauty. Looking for her best angles, and deciding that all angles were her best.

He had several new scripts ready. The money for film stock and processing could easily be earned and Vincent had introduced him to a number of actors, would-be actors and people who had agreed to take part in the no-budget films.

His plans began to get more elaborate, longer films, dialogue, screenings at festivals. All was possible. He simply had to make it happen, stay focused. Berlin was his.

He followed these thoughts with others of a more personal nature, until he remembered he was on a deadline. The film could get it’s premier next Friday, if it was ready.

Alan got back to work, passing over the image of Julie with a gentle sigh.

But Alan hadn’t been prepared for the nerves. He had always imagined this moment, the screening of his first film, showing his work, his ideas, to a public of strangers.

The experience was different.

The venue, an official bar, was run by a group of young people but looked and felt like some of the more organised squat bars.

Vincent enjoyed the attention, the hugs and slightly exaggerated greetings, and Alan tried to get some of his energy and confidence. More and more people were coming into the bar, a large cine screen already in place, the projector protected. When Alan made some tests for focus, there was always someone to make rabbit-ear shadows on the screen. It got a little tired after ten or eleven times.

The time approached, as far as bars like this kept to schedules, and Vincent looked at Alan and suggested they had better start soon, or everyone would be too drunk to care.

But no Julie.

“Ja, sometimes rehearsals go on longer, maybe they had to do some new scenes. It is next week, things need working on.” Vincent referred to a play that Julie was in, a radical reworking of Baal, as Julie had described it, with a hint that radical was a very polite and optimistic description.

“Come, we show it now, then later, if she comes.”

Vincent, without waiting for a response, whistled to the bar man, who turned off the music. He put in a tape that Alan had prepared. The lights went down, to sounds of claps, cheers and whoops.

Alan’s heart froze. He was almost paralysed with fear. He reached out for Vincent’s beer and took a swig that drained the bottle. Then he hit the switch. The sound of the motor turning, a beam of light hitting the large screen. He indicated to the bar man to play the cassette, and as the first image of Vincent, in Close-Up appeared, five foot tall on the screen, the melancholic notes of Debussy poured into the room.

There were immediate claps and wolf whistles, followed by a general hushing.

Julie was next up, but the sight of her, in a short dress, sitting on the grass, just caused more and more screams. But this was good. Alan felt Vincent put his arm around him. He kept it there for the entire film.

The entire film was little over five minutes and got a further two minutes of non-stop applause. Alan beamed. His nerves, totally gone, he knew he would never again be nervous, his ideas were good, his films would get better and better. He would be a film director. He was a film director.

By the next screening, demanded by the audience, Alan was too tipsy to gauge the reaction. He had been congratulated by friends and strangers. Others had come up and pleaded with him to be in his next film. Others asked where else he was screening, had he heard about certain festivals, other Berlin venues ? Until the beer hampered his senses, he made a note of everyone, very clear, with name and contact number or address.


When Julie finally appeared, very apologetic, he greeted her, and she was noticed and lauded by the drinkers, not allowed to pay for her Sekt.

She apologised for missing it, leading Alan to suggest that she come over tomorrow and have a private screening. To his amazement, she accepted the offer and they set a time.

Vincent asked about the play and they spoke about the director, who changed his mind scene to scene, demanded re-writes, re-casting, costume changes. The actors now came in holding out their hands for new instructions, an in-joke being, ‘what was wrong with the last re-write ?’

“Not like Alan,” she said, patting him on the shoulder and leaving her arm there. “So, tell me, how was the film, tonight ?”

Vincent spoke, but Julie was looking at Alan. They smiled at each other.

The following night, Julie appeared exactly on time, as if she had arrived early and was counting down to when she could knock on the door.

She really liked the film, the style and the camera work. She was a little shy about seeing herself, but viewed it professionally and made tiny criticisms, all of which Alan dismissed.

Over coffee, Julie was relaxed enough to speak openly about the play. She had considered it a breech of professional conduct to be critical of a production, but she felt it was going to be a disaster. When asked why, she took her time and chose her words carefully,

“For one thing, there are too many people. The cast should have been cut, and actors doubling up. We never have a rehearsal with everyone there, always someone having to stand-in, and it’s hard to work up an reaction to someone reading a script without emotion.

“Then the constant script changes. We learn a part overnight, and find it’s been cut. Most of the actors don’t accept this and half an hour gets wasted when everyone shouts out their opinion.

“And we all have to work as well, there is no way we will get anything out this, financially. Not that it matters. But most of us work and have to give up our spare time. Can’t bear to see it so un-productive. There, enough moaning.”

Alan told her it was OK, he liked to hear an actor’s perspective and asked for tips. Julie thought for a little while, then began, tentatively,

“If I can make one tiny suggestion, it would be . . . how ? OK, just to be more confident. You know what you want. The actors don’t. It is up to you to tell them, what to do, not to get their suggestions. Because most actors will just suggest endless Close-Ups of themselves.”

There was a slight pause before Alan and then Julie laughed

“So I should follow Mr Hitchcock’s advise and treat actors like cattle ?”

“I didn’t say that !”

The conversation continued effortlessly. Alan said that despite the weather getting colder, there was still enough light to film in October. Julie laughed and said,

“Not for much longer. You’ll have to start directing theatre, because you won’t be able to film outside until April or May.”

Alan had never thought of this, but, of course he had an immediate cinema reference point.

“Like Ingmar Bergman ?” he said referring to the Swedish film and theatre director. “He would keep the same group of actors for both. Must have helped to develop a close working experience. Well ? Would you like to do some theatre with me ?”

“You have something ?”

“Well . . . I just might.”

As autumn once again became winter, there were other changes over Berlin. Alan would start to study theatre from the books available to him. Julie would start to get more and more attention for her craft. Daniel would rethink what medium he should use for his artistic expression. Chris would be very careful about what women he would fall in love with. A lost music student would search for direction. A Philosophy student would find his first semester harder than he ever imagined and would consider changing courses. And Richard would fall in love with a German girl who would make him happier than he had ever been, until, that too, went horribly wrong.

Love and Chaos Part 8(C) Chris 1

17th June 2021

R84 // houseproject in berlin
Berlin squat bar. Google Images

Part Eight. Berlin. August 1995

While Alan Francis was having the time of his life in Berlin, Chris and Richard were about to have their worst.

Richard’s summer was destroyed by his job. He was starting an hour earlier and finishing an hour later, but the extra money was no compensation. Most nights, after working seven hours straight, he went straight to the Czar Bar, and drank as much as he could.

In Chris, in Berlin as in London, he had a willing drinking partner.

Regarding Monika’s request, Richard had dreaded passing on the cease and desist, thinking it too personal, and he really didn’t want to get involved.

He decided to do it at the first opportunity, to get it out of the way, and, to his surprise and relief, found that Chris took it very well, even nonchalantly. But the reason he did so would lead to even bigger problems.

“It’s Veronica,” Chris explained. “Can’t stop thinking about her. Even if I could, I see her all the time.”

“Veronica ? Johan’s Veronica ? Oh, shit !”

“Yeah, oh shit ! I love Johan. I do.”

“Just love Veronica more.”

“It’s not funny.”

“I know. Well, what you gonna do ?”

Chris threw his hands in the air, signifying his lack of ideas.

What he did was to drink. A lot.

Initially, he was daunted by Jake and his capacity for alcohol. Now he tried to match him. As a consequence, Jake had to close up alone as Chris would be passed out, somewhere in the bar. He would go to gather shot glasses, or empty bottles and just not return. Jake at first didn’t mind, even found it amusing, but as it happened every shift, the joke was wearing pretty thin.

Yet, Jake couldn’t deny that Chris was good for business. He got the crowd laughing and drinking, and the weekly Sawhead The Bear concerts had brought in a lot of new people and made a significant increase in takings. The band could even get a small fee as well as free drinks.

On balance, Jake tolerated Chris’ drunken behaviour and laughed at his more outrageous antics, laughed at Chris’ pathetic hopeless doomed attempts to keep up with him. Yet, Chris did have some ‘marketing’ ideas which were proving doubly beneficial.

One such innovation was to offer free vodka shots to any woman, provided it be administered mouth to mouth, either by Jake or Chris. Surprisingly, they both got takers, though when Johan asked for a free shot, Chris declined.

“Ah, you fucking English, so scared of love!” Johan laughed, as he ordered a whole row of vodkas for friends and anyone else who happened to be seated around the bar.

Chris, of course, was hoping that Veronica would take him up on his offer, but she hardly drank, preferring orange juice or maybe a single beer, and she didn’t seem willing to try a free vodka.

Daniel, meanwhile, was living something of a double life. He worked hard all week, maybe had a beer or two with workmates just to be sociable, and made it to Ostkreuz once or twice. Saturdays, he rehearsed with the band (Micha and Serge agreed to work the lucrative Friday evenings so both Andrei and Boris would be fresh for the gig) then played the concert, after which he always went off with a new woman and reappeared on Sunday, to give a graphic account of the experience and to hang out, before returning to his normal weekday existence, normal that is by Berlin standards.

One Sunday, Chris had requested that Richard meet him in another squat bar, one tucked away south of Karl Marx Allee. Chris was going to see Pavel, a Czech squatter who was responsible for the bar. Maybe Sawhead The Bear could play there, get them out of the Czar bar; different venue, different audience.

Richard didn’t know the bar or the area, so was a little late, a little hungover and very pissed off at the thought of another week working as a Steglitz Spüler.

He walked up the metal steps and saw Chris at the bar.

“Yeah, all set, Sawhead play here next Saturday. Only they want some more bands, make a whole night of it. I mentioned Arizona Al.”

“Fuck, you sure ?” asked Richard, ”he’s not exactly . . . “

“Any fucking good, yeah, I know, but give the fucker a song or two. Either him or those fucking cunts from the first Sawhead gig.”

“Maybe we could get The Wiggling Kellys ?”

“I’d like to see them,” Chris agreed. “They’ve got a band or two here, some bozos called Perry Coma. Death ballads, I guess.”

Richard suddenly got a laughing fit. Chris thought it was due to his joke, but, when Richard finally got his breathe back and wiped the tears away, he explained,

“Did I hear you use the word, ‘bozo’ ?”

“ssss . . . bozo-sssssss. Plural, as in more than one of them, Bozo and his bozo friends. Whole place is run by bozos. Whole fucking city is full of bozos. We, my friend, are in one bozo-friendly environment.”

“Perry Coma’s kinda funny too.”

“They don’t even know they’re being funny. They’ve got no fucking idea some guy’s actually called Perry Como.”

Richard had a feeling that they were here and not the Czar Bar for other reasons, as well.

“Yeah, OK, just couldn’t face Danny going on tonight about how he pulled and what he did and what she did and how many times he did what he did and how much she liked what he did when he did what he did to her.”

The beer that Richard was drinking went all over the bar and poured out of his nose.

“That guy certainly has the moves,” he said, wiping the beer away as best he could. “I could learn a lot from him. I know he’s a singer, but he’s not especially attractive or has a sparkling personality. Nice enough guy, but, I mean . . . ?”

“Exactly, I know what you mean. He’s a bit of a yob. A thug. But, everytime he gets talking to a woman, whatever he says, it works, ’cause next thing you know, his tongue’s down her throat and his hands are homing in on the good stuff.”

“Oh, thanks, I needed that. Haven’t had a laugh like this for . . . I don’t even know. Work’s fucked. Bunch a fucking cunts, all of them. Have to leave, got to find something else. Anything else.”

“Yeah, do it.”

“I have to. Can’t stay here, otherwise. Have to leave.”

“And do what ?”

“Well, that’s the fucking problem. No matter how bad it is here, it’s a quantum leap from what it would or will be back in London.”

“You boys shouldn’t be so cynical.”

The boys stopped talking and laughing and turned around. A punk squatter with her hair in pigtails, and ripped tights sat down between them. Her accent, despite her clothing, placed her from the Home Counties, somewhere close to London but not too close.

Richard asked her what she meant, but she refused to elaborate, instead choosing to criticise the music.

“Oh, Nirvana; are people still listening to him ? He’s dead, move on, get over it. I fucking hate Nirvana.”

“Really ?” asked Chris incredulously,

“Hate them.”

“Why ?” demanded Richard.

“Because my name’s Polly, and those unwashed bastards have fucked up my life.”

And then, right on cue, a tall, unwashed bastard walked in, saw her and asked,

“Hello, Polly, want a cracker ?”

“Fuck off!”

Polly soon got bored of her two compatriots, even though Richard was wondering if she was hitting on him, and left because he wasn’t responding. He asked Chris for his views. Chris puffed himself up, before pontificating,

“Uuummmm . . . hard to say. Don’t think so. Would you like to fuck her ?”

“Wouldn’t mind. Not my first choice, but, hey . . . she was kinda cute.”

“Uuummmm … Nice rack. Breasts.”

“I know what a rack is. OK, I thought a ‘rack’ was ass.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s breasts,” and Chris looked around, searching for anyone American-looking. ”I’ll ask Jake. He’s a Godsend. He understands all the R.E.M. lyrics. Who the fuck’s Mr Fred Blassie, and why is he such bad eater ? Just ask Jake.”

“Cool. I could have pulled that Polly. Oh, who am I kidding ? I tell you, next time Daniel goes to work, I’m gonna be right there, making notes. Any more about Veronica ?”

Chris let out a long sigh,


“She’s an art student.”

“Another one ! What is with you and … Is she more Ute or Melanie ?”

“No ! Not like Melanie, not like that sphincter-mouthed, Ninja Turtle. A real art student. Actually draws and paints, not just reads books and regurgitates other people’s opinions. She showed me some of her paintings.”

“’Sphincter-mouthed’ ? Didn’t you kiss her ?”

“No ! No, no, well . . . yes, but . . .”

“OK, back to the art. Any good ? Her paintings ?”

“What do I know, I’m a science student. No, they were good. Abstract, but with . . . form.”

Richard laughed and ordered more beers. Chris carried on,

“She’s got a friend coming, too, Italian girl called Carla. Another student.”

“Is she cute ?”

“Is she cute ? What, like that fucking Psycho Polly ? Is she cute ? She’s a friend of Veronica’s, she’s an art student, she’s fucking Italian, yes, she’s fucking cute. Something else, too. I happen to know that Johan is going away soon, back to France. For two weeks. Maybe more. Think that calls for a vodka.”

They got more drinks and toasted Veronica and Carla (sight unseen).

What they didn’t know was that soon, they would both act in such a way that Richard would be afraid to go to work, and Chris would be afraid to go back to Rigaer Strasse.

Love and Chaos Part 8(A) Alan 1

14th June 2021

Pfefferberg in Berlin | there you can read more: www.pfeffer… | Flickr

Pfefferberg on Schönhauser Allee, Prenzlauer Berg. Google Images

Part Eight

Berlin. August 1995

Life, thought Alan, is incredible. Degree attained, a prestigious job in the City, networking with the movers and shakers, the future investors and producers. A year of being, a year of nothingness. No script, no contacts, no cast of characters, no crew, no shakers, but at least a move.


Now, thought Alan, I am a Putzfrau (cleaning woman), but I have more disposable income. No exorbitant London rents, travel passes, food, the NFT membership, however, had been essential. And I’ve found my cast of characters; I am surrounded by actors and artists. My dreams are no longer abstract plans, but actual possibilities.

Berlin; he loved Berlin. Immediately. Here was a city with real atmosphere, a city to be lived in, to feel alive, every inch a film set

People spoke to you. Neighbours, shop keepers, people on the street. You could go up to anyone in a bar and start talking.

He had been in the city less than a month but was already planning on extending his stay and finding another room, or even his own flat. Such plans were ludicrous in London; a cleaner having his own flat.

Alan was not going to let anything go to waste. Every experience would be stored for reference. Every time he rode the S-Bahn, or an elevated U-Bahn, he took in all the sights, mentally framing them, he took in all the beautiful women in their summer dresses, tilting his inner lens, Dutch angles capturing German angels. He listened to the symphony of this city, he was a man with a movie camera.

Alan tried articulating these thoughts, and many others, writing to his sister. He decided to use the letters as a writing exercises, to make his views lucid. He wasn’t sure if he succeeded.

Dear Sis,

Where to start ? You were right about Berlin – why didn’t I come last year ? All that time wasted, nothing to show for it. Not anymore – I have seen a camera I like (and can afford !) and will buy it tomorrow.

Kelly is so sweet – she’s really looked after me. I’ve met so many new people. You were right about Vincent – girls love him – what a great actor he’ll be (in my films, I mean !) so charismatic.

The room is big and light – not too girly, with a computer and even some books in English (Nasti – the girl whose room I’m subletting, is a geography student and has to study in English, no text-books in German, apparently).

Kelly got me the first job. I’m up at 5:30 and go to an Irish bar near Tacheles, the arts centre, and clean for about 2 hours. The bar owner is a splendid Irish man called Patrick (no, I’m not making this up). He set me up with another bar where I work for the next two hours. I can walk from one bar to the other.

I get home around noon, in time for lunch – coffee, rolls with jam or honey, some fruit, and start planing my films !

I saw Vincent perform – all in German, so I couldn’t understand it – but he held the stage well and kept the audience’s attention, quite an achievement ! Yes – bars here are very different – any space can open, stock up with crates and sell beer. As you would eloquently say, “It’s bonkers !”

Yes – I have been a little tipsy, sometimes – everyone buys me beers, even when I tell them I don’t want one – they think it’s English politeness !!

Have meet lots of girls ! All very nice. Kelly will take me to somewhere nearby – the Pepperberg (????) – something like Pepper Mountain (???)

I hear there are some second hand bookshops around – really need to find them – read my collection over and over. Went to a special English bookshop but it is SO EXPENSIVE !!!! Books at twice the cover price. Located in a horrid area as well, very bleak, drab, overwhelmingly depressing, decades of failed dreams etched in the brickwork.

Could you save my life and send over my ‘Bazin’ ??? I have two slim volumes (not too much postage – OH, and my ‘Godard on Godard’ – how could I have forgotten THAT !!!)

Brilliant idea of yours – maybe you can pop over at some point ? How is the job ? Won’t ask about London because I don’t care !!!

Lots of love

Alan

Next evening, a Friday, Kelly, along with some friends, took Alan from their flat near the Wasserturm and walked to the Pfefferberg.

This was a huge arts complex, whose classical façade dominated the southern stretch of Schönhauser Allee. Paying the entrance at street level, Kelly took Alan up the steps to a wide, open beer garden. People sat on the walls and looked down to the street below, or danced in the centre. Buildings arranged around the courtyard were opened and housed temporary exhibitions of paintings, or were hosting poetry slams.

Alan looked around, so tempted to lift his fingers to his eyes and make a camera shape and pan left to right. What a location, he thought. He couldn’t resist; he made the camera shape and paned left to right.

Through his fingers he spotted Vincent, with some girls, and they came over, Vincent very tall and flamboyant, dwarfing Alan who was under average height.

“So Herr Direktor, did you buy the camera today ?” he asked.

Alan smiled and slowly nodded,

“And projector and three film cartridges.”

“You’re still on your first beer ?” Kelly asked him, concerned that he wasn’t having a good time.

Alan lifted it up and showed that if was over half full. Also, he didn’t smoke, and was starting to believe that he may be the only person in Berlin who didn’t. Then he met another non-smoker who came up and introduced herself.

“They told me I shouldn’t speak to you, because you only talk about cinema. Well, I love cinema too. Hello. My name’s Julie.”

Love and Chaos Part 7(J) Alan 1

11th June 2021

Part Seven. London. July 1995

This was not how things were supposed to be. Alan was meant to be making contacts, writing scripts, raising funds, shooting test footage, hanging out in cafés discussing Neo-Realism and the Nouvelle Vague, dissecting scripts and camera set-ups, meeting gorgeous actresses, he was meant to be making cinema.

Instead, he was working forty hours a week and spending an extra ten hours on the Tube. Most of his money went on a bedsit that he hated, and travel money, which he resented. He went to the cinema on Mondays when it was cheaper, but often fell asleep half way through a film.

He was twenty-two but felt old and exhausted. It was a time when he should be energetic and enthusiastic, but he saw his life fading away, not in great, dramatic spurts, but like a slow puncture, the air irreparably escaping.

He hated his life, his job, London. He was barely surviving and had spent a whole year since graduating with absolutely nothing to show for it.

But he couldn’t see any way out, except to make a great film and have it shown at festivals and from there be offered a chance to make a real film.

This great film needed to be written and cast and shot and printed and edited and screened. So far, a scattering of disconnected ideas and theories. Nothing else.

It was his sister that offered a way out.

He loved his older sister, she was probably his closest friend, though he bemoaned her taste in cinema. While he was at the National Film Theatre, seeing old Black and White subtitled art films, she’d be in the multi-screens with popcorn and giant Cokes immediately forgetting the film she had just seen.

She agreed to differ about their taste in film. He didn’t.

It was during one of these harangues that she casually mentioned an offer from Berlin that she’d have to decline. Kelly, her friend in Berlin, had a spare room, as her flatmate was going travelling the whole summer, and wondered if she would like to rent it. However having just started a new job, Jo Francis thought it best to try to build a career, rather than have fun; besides, she had ‘done’ Berlin.

“Maybe you should go,” she said to Alan, in an off-hand, flippant way. Then she sat up. “Yes, maybe you should. Kelly’s boyfriend is an actor. Does readings and performances, based on some old French poems.”

“Rimbaud ?”

“Rambo ? Are you bonkers ?”

“No . . . the symbolist poet, the . . . how is it possible we are from the same gene pool ?”

“Well, the milkman was awfully sweet, I’ve been told.”

“Very droll. But . . . an actor ? What’s he like ?”

“Stunning. Long flowing hair, big old army coat, all brass and ribbon. Always wears boots. Good idea in Berlin. Lots of dog poop. “

“How much is the rent ?”

Alan heard the amount needed.

“Per week ?”

“No, Sweetheart, per month. Can probably get work there, too. Vincent, oh, that is the boyfriend . . . “

“I know, flowing hair and boots.”

“Yes, really yummy ! Vincent knows just everybody. Would you like me to write to her.”

“Could you call instead ?”

“Oh, you’re all enthusiastic, how adorable.”

After booking his flight, with money borrowed from his sister, Alan went into Fordham’s Books & Tapes and picked up a ‘Complete Rimbaud’, ‘Poems of Villon’ and an anthology of French poets from Nerval to Valery. Naturally, he had to visit the Cinema section, where he found ‘Godard on Godard’ in paperback. Finally, on the ground floor, Alan found the ‘Rough Guide to Berlin,’ the illustrated cover showing a decidedly European cafe scene, very cinematic. What better omen ?

Without even meeting Vincent, he decided that he would be his actor, a Belmondo to his Godard, a Mastroiani to his Fellini.

Now, all he needed was an idea.

Love and Chaos Part 7(I) Monika 1

10th June 2021

Potsdamer Platz, the centre of Berlin, in 1995. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. June 1995

Josef, the new barman, came into the kitchen and slammed the phone down, barking at Richard that it was for him, his mouth salivating with contempt. Richard thought fuck Josef, and he really meant it.

He answered, expecting Chris to invite him to the bar, but instead it was Monika inviting him to Café Haller.

Hardly able to wait for his unspeakable shift to finish, he finally walked to the bar, both curious and nervous. He had thought about what could Monika possibly want. Probably to just see him, have a drink and renew the friendship; just because she was no longer seeing Chris, didn’t mean that they had to stop seeing each other. Maybe she had news of a new job for him; even another Spüler job would get him out of the awful Biberkopf and there would be a novelty period before that monotony set in. Or . . . possibly, there was news of Lorelei. He tried to dismiss that idea, but he couldn’t, and that was why he entered the bar both hoping and fearing that Lorelei would be working. He would only need to see her once to fall in love all over again. He would get his heart broken all over again, but even the remote possibility was worth the risk.

But, no Lorelei, and it was some seconds before he saw Monika. She smiled, but it lacked warmth. Richard’s heart sank. He felt she blamed him, and, in a way, he had lied to her, as well.

There was some small talk about work, before Monika got to the point. Could he tell Chris to stop calling her. It was a demand, not a question.

Richard told her that he knew nothing about this, that Chris hadn’t told him. Then he thought back to the concert, the way Chris kept looking at every one coming in.

“Did he invite you to a concert on Saturday ?” he asked.

“Ah, yes, in the shitty Czar Bar. You really think we want to go to a bar that has no water in the toilet ? Women need to wash their hands.”

Richard gestured that he understood. Then he asked if he could speak openly. He apologised for that Sunday morning, explaining that he really had left the club without Chris and didn’t know where he was. He said that he suspected that Chris may have crashed at Arizona Al’s, though this was somewhat disingenuous. Monika suddenly turned gentle and friendly, as if she were dying to finally speak about it and clear the air. She said she didn’t blame Richard at all, but had felt sorry for him caught in-between.

The conversation continued, both saying sorry and how they had missed each other. They caught each other up with the gossip.

Silke was now seeing a new man. Andreas was furious and hurt that she had a new boyfriend so soon after splitting up. Nice Guy Kai was seeing a journalist and appeared happy, though in no hurry to enter into a committed relationship. Gabi was now dating a lawyer and was talking about moving in with him. Lorelei had found someone who often worked in Munich, so she was considering a relocation. Richard appreciated her sensitivity when speaking about her. He knew his eyes gave away his pain.

To change the atmosphere, he was about to ask her about her love life, when a man in shirt and tie walked out of the kitchen and came over and kissed Monika.

It was Carsten, an old boyfriend of hers that had come back into her life . . . sort of . . . maybe . . .

Carsten stayed for a beer and Monika explained that Carsten ran a club in Wilmersdorf, and knew the chef (1) at Haller.

Carsten knocked on the table, (2) shook Richard’s hand and gave Monika a slightly exaggerated goodbye kiss.

After he had gone, Monika shrugged,

“Ja, Richard, I don’t know, I am alone, he is alone, it is nice. But . . . Ja, we see. We see. You drink something ?”

They stayed until the bar closed.

“And, Richard . . . how do you get home ?”

“Night bus.”

“Ah, mist (bullshit) I drive you.” It was a generous offer, really out of her way.

The journey from Steglitz to Prenzlauer Berg gave them more time to speak. Richard asked to go through the city and was amazed at how Potsdamer Platz was changing. The route was now totally different from his last trip here. New roundabouts and traffic lights amidst the wooden walkways, the iron-wire fences, the giant water pipes that spanned the roads. Tiny red lights suspended in the darkness of the night, warned planes of the ever-present cranes.

And empty roads, only an occasional night bus, or car. Almost no neon, sometimes no street lamps. Richard mentioned the fact that they were in a main European capital, yet there was hardly any light. They could well have been in some provincial village.

“And, um, Richard, I ask you something ? If it’s OK ?”

“Sure.”

“You still think about Lorelei.”

“Yes, but it’s getting better. Now it’s down to about ninety-six per cent of the time. The other four per cent I’m thinking about not thinking about Lorelei.”

“And you have no one else you like ?”

“No. Not yet. I’m sure I will.”

“No one at work ?”

“I’m the Spüler . . . I don’t count. I liked one new girl, Jolande, you know her ? But, well, she wised up. As for the others . . . even Ully looks down at me. Her, with the thing. My fault, really, me and Chris. We were there one night, she was working, and we were kinda flirting with her. Because she does have quite a nice body. Very nice, in fact. But . . . anyway, she’s now walking around like she’s Claudia Schiffer. Now, a girl like Claudia Schiffer. That would get my mind off Lorelei. But I don’t think they exist. She’s probably been genetically modified. If so, here’s to genetics.“

“Ah, you haven’t seen Nadeem. New waitress at Haller.”

“Cute ?”

“Oh, very cute. All the men want to fuck her. Even I want to fuck her.”

Richard got out by the U-Bahn on Schönhauser Allee, hoping to get some fast food and cheap beer from one of the Imbisses. A young girl was there, slighty tipsy, and they began a short conversation. Then Richard paid and went home.

He later wondered what would have happened if he had asked the girl to come back with him.

But, he didn’t, and once more he went to bed, alone.

(1) In German, chef can mean cook or owner.

(2) A sign in Germany that one is leaving.

Love and Chaos Part 7(G) Richard 1

7th June 2021

Part Seven. Berlin. June 1995

At some point between the end of May and the beginning of June, Richard Marshall was struck by a severe case of the Berlin paranoia, and apart from the journey to and from work, he was practically unable to leave his flat.

The causes were easy to ascertain; one was not speaking German. This meant that all but the most basic transactions required a translator or he would be, and feel, utterly helpless.

He shopped in the small Spar store, being able to pick up items and see the price on the till display, but he couldn’t open a bank account, pay a bill, understand why a train had stopped in a tunnel, why a street was closed, read any official letters or get a proper job.

Biberkopf was now a painful, humiliating ordeal, more and more work from the lazy chef, and being all but ignored by all other members of staff. He was certain that Walter, the owner, looked right through him as if he wasn’t even there. Jolande, the cute waitress, had recently started seeing a customer who drove an expensive car, and now she barely acknowledged his presence. He responded in the only way he knew how; by being completely silent and refusing to speak to anyone, creating an impenetrable wall that kept everyone out. He was good at keeping things in.

There were also sleepless nights worrying about his interrupted studies, and it now being too late to get onto a course when term started in September. He would have to wait another year.

There was also the certainty that he would never meet a woman, that he would go to bed alone and wake up alone every day for the rest of his life.

He didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, or rather, felt that he simply couldn’t.

After about three weeks he knew he had to snap out of it, or leave Berlin. He also knew that the life he had here was far better than one he could expect back in London, but washing up for a living was hardly living. The Orwellian honeymoon period was well over.

He was thinking about this, standing by a giant, industrial pot of potatoes that he had to peel, when he put his mind to a problem posed by Chris and Daniel; what to name the band.

He thought of some tag lines, based around the fact that three of them were from Russia, coming up with things like ‘Country & Eastern’ and such like. Then he threw the potato he was peeling into the sink of greasy water and smiled. He ordered a beer from the first waitress who came into the kitchen and though it took an eternity to arrive, he didn’t mind. He had the band’s name. It gave him a reason to go to the Czar Bar where, even if Chris wasn’t working, he’d be drinking. That had become a certainty.

Chris knew all about the paranoia, having experienced it himself.

He’d spoken to others and it was quite common, a sense of homelessness mixed with a feeling of having no home, being unwanted and uncared for. A realisation that he would never understand the language and would be cheated and laughed at and insulted. Most of the time, Chris had been with Marina or Claudia, then his own Ute, and then Monika, who would help him.

But he had his own freakouts. He had once turned a plastic bag inside out, because it had English writing on it and he felt it marked him out as a target for fascists and skinheads.

His answer to Richard was to drink. Richard had noticed that Chris’ answer to everything now seemed to be to drink.

As expected, Chris was holding court, on his favoured end stool, Andrei listening to him while Olga was busy with customers.

“Richard !” cried Chris, immediately ordering him a beer and vodka. Richard welcomed them, knowing that there would be many more before he staggered home.

After the initial moments of hysteria, when Chris filled him in on what he had missed over the last weeks, Richard made an announcement concerning the band. Chris called Andrei back, as it affected him directly.

“The name of the band is,” said Richard, copying Chris’ talent for building excitement, “Sawhead The Bear.”

“YES!” screamed Chris, eyes lighting up. Andrei looked puzzled,

“What is ‘Sawhead’ ?” Chris had a reply ready,

“Nothing ! Everything ! Doesn’t matter. What a great name, what a perfect name, it is the only name for the band. Well, drinks all round, vodka ! Hey, Jake, just in time, you must be able to smell vodka.”

Jake swayed over to them,

“Yeah, I can smell something!”

Andrei was busy translating, as best he could, the nonsensical ‘Sawhead’ into Russian. Olga looked even more puzzled and turned to Richard, going up close to him and asking him something in German, but he didn’t listen, he just wanted to grab her, but Andrei, being built like the Kremlin, probably would have raised an objection.

Chris meanwhile told him what Olga had wanted, namely, how on earth he came up with such a peculiar name ?

“I was at work,” was all he said, and Chris understood,

“Making the Camembert ?” he asked, referring to one of the nightly duties, covering the half blocks of cheese in egg and breadcrumbs, ready for deep-frying.

“Potatoes.”

Chris winced.

The remainder of the night was spent toasting the new band name, with Andrei greeting each new customer with,

“Yes, Sawhead ?”

Needless to say, both Richard and Chris awoke with very sore heads. Chris suddenly understood the band name. As he was getting dressed, he looked out of the window and saw Johan’s girlfriend, Veronica, walk across the Hof and enter the door of her boyfriend’s block.

He suddenly understood something else, as well. Even with a thumping sore head, Veronica was a sight for sore eyes.

Love and Chaos Part 7(F) Ragno 1

3rd June 2021

Berlin Was Built on Nightlife, Now Under Threat From Gentrification
Berlin club scene. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. Early – Mid 1990s

Ragno Bicceri put down the telephone receiver. He had just said the final goodbye to the girl he loved, a girl he loved so much that it scared him. A girl that he couldn’t live without except now, she was gone; there was no longer any reason to live.

He lifted the phone and left it off the hook.

He tried to control his nerves, but he could actually hear his heart pounding after feeling numb. For a few agonising seconds, he had stopped breathing, his heart had stopped beating.

Not knowing what to do, he left his flat, hoping the walk would give him some kind of clarity, some purpose, some idea.

Everything was altered.

He couldn’t process the various sounds or sights. They were elsewhere, somehow not of this time and place. Or he was. He could see himself, as if he were a totally separate entity, walking aimlessly, pointlessly, no point in existing.

He had hoped that he would be able to get his heart rate down, get air into his lungs, but he felt exactly the same. He was in such pain and had no idea how to cure it.

Then came the idea. He went back home. There was a half bottle of brandy. He also got his aspirin out and saw that there were enough.

He was unable to sit down, but had to get up and walk around his room, corner to corner, with all the futility of a trapped animal, desperately trying to escape from it’s snare.

Finally, the draw of the alcohol and aspirin made him sit. He undid the bottle and began counting out the pills.

One of the office girls had jokingly asked him what was the last film he had seen, then offered a suggestion, a film from the early 80s. Ragno laughed it off, but knew there was an element of truth in it; he hadn’t been to the cinema for years. Apart from bars, he hadn’t really been anywhere in years.

There was a big new film that everyone was talking about, and he said he would go and see it. The young office girl teased that she would ask him about it, so he’d better keep his word. The possibility that she may have been hinting for a date never occurred to him.

He went to the mid-week screening, deciding that it would be quieter, no teenagers or couples kissing.

He sat through the film, optimistically at first, but soon began to lose interest. It was a Hollywood movie; the star was popular with young women, evidently more to do with his looks than his talent.

Not wanting to leave at the same time as everyone else, Ragno waited for the credits then left. As he did so, he noticed a purse on the floor. He looked up and saw the young woman who had sat further along his row leave the cinema. He caught up with her in the foyer and handed it to her.

She was so surprised and pleased, that she insisted on buying him a drink.

The girl was in her early twenties, twenty-five at most and Ragno, twenty years older, smiled and said that it wasn’t necessary.

But the girl looked so hurt, that when she asked again, he conceded.

Luisa, the girl, was twenty two. She was charming and very attractive, and Ragno was very happy when he asked her if she would like another drink, and she accepted.

She shared his opinion about the film, and they laughed at how bad it was. They spoke about music and she wrote down a list of her favourite bands, and unsurprisingly, none of the names meant anything to him.

Before long, they began speaking a little about themselves. Luisa explained that she was single, allowing Ragno to make a compliment, unable to believe that a girl so sweet could be alone.

Luisa promised she would explain . . . maybe . . . after another drink. Ragno smiled. He hadn’t been in the company of any woman for a long time. In the company of an attractive young girl . . . he couldn’t remember when. He couldn’t really remember if.

For the last three months, Luisa had been alone. Alone and scared.

“The thing I am afraid of most is loneliness.”

That short sentence conveyed so much to Ragno. He understood what she was saying. He sensed her shame at having done things that she had regretted, even as she had been doing them. He could feel her self-loathing and disgust. And he felt himself being drawn to her. He knew where these feelings were heading and had to stop them. Now.

But, when he said goodbye and she gave him a soft kiss on the cheek, he was defenceless. She told him that she enjoyed speaking to him that he made he feel secure, safe that she could tell him anything.

He nodded and made her a promise; he would never tell anything she had told him. Whatever happened, he would share it with no one.

She asked for his phone number and he wrote it down, not expecting to ever hear from her again.

But she called the following night. Half an hour after her call, Ragno was in a bar, waiting for her.

They began meeting two, three times a week. She sometimes worked in Köln (Cologne), so she suggested they make the most of her time in Berlin. Other nights, there were phone calls, increasingly frequent, increasingly lengthy.

Ragno had been totally honest from the beginning. About his age, his job, (a dead-end office job in a factory), and that he was married. He just hadn’t seen or heard from his wife for three years.

Luisa found him easy to speak to and trustworthy. She even liked that he was older. She had had enough of men of her own age. Now she wanted maturity and experience, someone who would just talk and listen, and not suddenly make a leap or try to get her into bed, with or without her consent.

She loved his voice, his accent. Even speaking in German couldn’t disguise those soft Italian tones. He loved her laugh. He made it his mission to make her laugh as often as possible. He made it his job to be there for her and help her, how ever he could.

Just by being there, just by listening, Luisa felt him helping. No one had ever just listened to her before.

No one had ever spoken to him before, not like this.

But Ragno was worried.

He had told himself that at his age, he would be a father figure, an avuncular friend to give advice and to comfort when this precious butterfly got hurt.

He tried to exclude romantic ideas about her. That would be too ludicrous. He wouldn’t even think about it. He would be a friend until . . . until she met someone, someone her own age, someone who would make her happy, someone who would get all the love this beautiful girl was so desperate to give. Ragno was already jealous of this someone.

But he was mature and experienced enough to know one thing. There is nothing so attractive and sensual as honesty. Nothing more erotic that to open yourself to another person, to let them in, to see you emotionally naked, to tell them your story, your ideas, your dreams, your desires.

It was Luisa who said it first.

One late night phone conversation when neither one was truly expressing themselves, so anxious to say but not to say what they were feeling.

“I’m falling in love with you.”

The effect these words had on Ragno were indescribable. He hadn’t felt anything like it for many years. He hadn’t felt this intensity ever.

He tore down his walls. He stopped hiding and stood without his defences. He told her that he had already fallen in love with her.

That night they both slept calmly.

They said that they wanted to be with each other, to sleep in each other’s arms. They couldn’t be together, Luisa was in Köln, working, but would come back to Berlin the following weekend.

Until then, there were constant phone calls.

Ragno was confident enough to tell her how much he wanted her, wanted to undress her and kiss her. Luisa encouraged him to keep talking. He did.

But they both had a past they were ashamed of. Luisa had hinted several times that she had done things that would drive him away. He said that he couldn’t change her past, but could forgive it. It was the present that now mattered. And their future.

It was never spoken, but they knew they had to share before they became lovers.

One night, in Ragno’s flat, he began.

His main fear was rejection. Emotional, sexual. He had been with only a handful of women in his life. He had gone years without being with a woman. He had tried, but he just didn’t seem to appeal to women. He was the kind that women want as a friend. He was sweet and kind. Not someone who was worthy of being taken into a bed and loved, and fucked.

So he had accepted it. He had married the first woman who had agreed to date him. By this time, he was already in his late thirties.

Then came a familiar pattern. She began going out, alone. She began coming home later and later. Soon she began coming home at eight or nine in the morning, telling stories about falling asleep in bars, or going to new underground bars that stayed open all night. It was Berlin. It was possible. So he chose to believe.

One night she just didn’t come back. Some days later, she entered the flat while he was working, took as much as she could carry and left a brief note.

Nothing since, though he constantly expected a divorce request by post.

Luisa sat on his lap and kissed him. He wasn’t finished, though.

“There’s something else, my Beauty. I was an addict. I know it now. I never considered it then, but it was true. I thought an addict was someone who woke up shaking and had to inject himself in order to function. I was never like that, so I convinced myself I was OK. But I began taking drugs. Anything I could get. Uppers. Speed. Anything to feel good. I’d spend my wages on drugs, go to bars where I knew I could get some. Then try to get girls by sharing my drugs. Even then, nothing. They’d share my drugs, then leave. And, of course, I did some things. As far as I can remember. Mostly I was in clubs, where everyone was stoned or drunk, but I got into fights, began screaming at people, pushing people. Probably tried to pick up women. Became one of those awful men that harass women. And, or course, on drugs, I could drink all night and, well, I did. Began missing work, missed out on some promotions. Began getting high at work. Thinking that nobody would notice. Of course, they all did. I had to stop. The way I chose to was, how can I say ? Something like Zen, or Buddhism. To free myself of desire. I wanted to feel a woman’s love so much, but it wasn’t possible, not for me. If I could just accept this, I would no longer want it, and therefore no longer have to take anything to kill the pain. So, that is what I did. I told myself that I would never be attractive to or attracted by a woman. I would never again go through all the agony of not being wanted, not being desired, not even being seen. I would never suffer when I saw women I like go with other men. It maybe wasn’t ideal, but, it worked . . . until . . .”

“Until . . . ?”

“I met you. And I tried to fight it, and to push you away and to tell myself that nothing would ever happen, but . . .”

They kissed, deeply, warmly. Luisa stroked his hair and gave him the softest kisses on his head. Then she nestled her head against his neck. She had her own story to tell, but couldn’t bear to look at Ragno as she spoke, in case the love in his eyes turned to disgust, or hatred.

“Me too … with drugs. I could never be alone. I did what I had to do to get company. It was easy. I didn’t always go home with them. But most of the time. I thought they would like me. But that didn’t happen. I was used for one night. Then felt even more alone. And I hated myself. Told myself I wouldn’t ever do it again. But I was back. Then someone gave me some coke. First time I felt nothing. But after a time . . . I would do anything to get it. Or do anyone. I won’t tell you, but . . . I can’t even say it. I would do whatever they asked me. Anywhere. To anyone.”

Ragno had been gently stroking her hair, but Luisa felt him stop. She could also feel his heart. It had been beating increasingly fast. The stroking continued, as he kissed her head.

“This was all long ago. But every time I go to a bar, I have a panic attack that someone will recognize me. That’s why I like to go to local bars, with you. If I go to a club, it is a certainty that some people will know me. That’s why I looked for work in Köln. I wanted to move there. Start over. Not know anyone. Never come back to Berlin. Then I had a boyfriend and I stopped. And at first he was so sweet to me and he really helped. I didn’t want to go out, or to drink or take drugs. I didn’t feel lonely anymore. Then something happened. We were out one night and having a nice time, just laughing and he was kissing me and holding me. He went to the toilet, but when he came back, he had changed. Totally. He was all cold. Wouldn’t touch me, wouldn’t even look at me. When I tried to hold him, he pushed me away, but, he was hard. He hurt me. I began crying. He said, ‘shut up you fucking slut!’ I would have preferred he shoot me or stab me. We walked out. He never said what happened, but someone must have recognized me and told him. After that, he wouldn’t sleep with me or touch me. He looked at me with hate. I asked him, I begged him to kill me, it would be kinder. I asked him to tell me, but he wouldn’t. I told him everything, but he wouldn’t listen and he threw things at me. Then he came over and began punching me and he wouldn’t stop. But I didn’t scream. I deserved it, and wanted more, I wanted him to punch and kick and strangle me, I wanted this life to be over.


“I was on the floor and he stood back and kicked me in . . . he kicked me. I thought I would die. And I felt happy. But in pain, such pain. First it was numb, but soon, each second, it hurt more and more. Then I screamed and began crying and couldn’t stop. I was hysterical. That stopped him. I don’t blame him because I know how hurt he was. I still don’t blame him. I only blame myself. But even worse, he knelt down and began calling me all names. Then he spat in my face and packed my bags. I was still on the floor in agony. He picked me up and threw me out, down the stairs. I still felt I deserved it and that I was glad it was out. I went to my parents. I must have put them through hell. I took it all out on them. Wouldn’t answer any of their questions. Made them think the worst, enjoyed torturing them. It made me stronger, that I could hurt someone. So I just wanted to hurt everyone. Of course, the only people I had around me were family and old friends. And I made them all suffer. Yes, suffer and I loved the power.”

Luisa was unable to continue. She was crying so much, but Ragno knew the best he could do was to just hold her. He did. After nearly half an hour of constant crying, Luisa fell asleep, on his lap. Ragno may have slept once or twice, but soon awoke, and carried on with his job, his job to comfort and love her, to kiss her all night, to stroke her hair, to rest her head under his, his lips never to stop kissing, so she would feel his love, feel safe, feel worthy, feel.

Ragno wanted this night to last forever. But day was breaking. Luisa would at some point wake up, get off his lap and leave. It was possible that they would never share such a moment again, and Ragno panicked. She may feel so dirty and ashamed that she would be unable to face him. He thought back to some of her words. She was fond of saying that people must learn to enjoy the present. Not to make impossible plans, but to appreciate that everything dies, so make the most of happiness.

Luisa stirred. She woke up, looked at Ragno, but instead of jumping up and away, she snuggled into him and he held her tighter. She responded and kissed his neck. Then she asked to use his shower. When she returned, wearing a towel, she kissed him, then looked into his eyes. He looked into hers and she smiled and nodded. He took off her towel.

As they made love, Ragno felt it was such an emotional, spiritual moment. He loved her so softly, like she was the most precious, delicate, angelic girl. He kissed her all over and made her cum twice before he entered her, and when he did, holding her hands, he was so gentle, that she couldn’t hold back the tears.

As for Ragno, he felt what it was to be in love. He felt what it was like to be loved back, to be needed and wanted and cherished.

For Luisa, she learnt what it felt like to be respected and loved. And loved. And loved. She felt safe.

They had moments of fear, when small misunderstandings seemed about to destroy everything. Luisa spoke German and English, Ragno Italian, basic English and good, very good German, but he wasn’t fluent. He often missed nuances and inflexions, took jokes seriously, didn’t understand references or know that a number of words had several different meanings in different contexts.

He had complimented Luisa on the amount of love she had to offer. It was abundantly clear that she was the kind of girl that stays friends forever. The kind who loves helping people, that need to be needed. Ragno mentioned this one day on the phone, when she called from Köln.

Luisa had managed to find some work, albeit piecemeal, in Köln but not enough to sustain moving to the city. She knew this was going to be a difficult conversation, but it would be honest. As they were honest with each other, Ragno would understand.

Her old boyfriend had called. Despite all their history, she had loved him, and said that love never dies. How could it ? And she knew that as a way of making up for her past, she must offer herself to whoever needs her. If anyone were lonely, or lost or confused, she would go to that person and love them.

Ragno was silent.

Luisa continued. The boyfriend was having trouble and needed her.

Ragno felt his throat tightening, wasn’t sure if he could even speak.

“So, you’re going to . . . go to him ?”

“No, he’s here. In Köln.”

“But . . . what about us ?”

“I still love you. But you’re not here and I have to love people, so . . .”

“Luisa, please, listen, what are you saying ?”

“I’ll still be here for you, Sweetness, but now he needs me.”

“I’m supposed to be OK with this ?”

“Oh, you’re being silly. There is love enough for both of you. I go to Berlin and love you, now he needs me.”

“Are you really … ? You’re going to sleep with him ?”

“You know me, know I have to give my love, I have enough to give.”

“Please, Luisa, answer me ! Are you going to sleep with him ?”


But, again, Luisa spoke on a different subject and showed no sign of answering the question. He stressed how important it was, but she began on a totally new subject. Ragno interrupted,

“Then . . . it’s over. I can’t see you anymore.”

“What ? Why ?”

“You really have to ask ? How can you do this to me ? Are you just out for revenge ? Are you trying to get back at men ? Well, if so, you can stop, now. You’ve won.”

“Wait, look, I didn’t say anything . . .”

“No. Exactly, I asked and asked . . .”

“But I didn’t say . . . “

“I gave you two, three chances, to tell me, but I got the answer. You didn’t give me a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but you answered. I can’t do this. I can’t. Goodbye. I wish I didn’t love you. I really do.”

Ragno put the phone down, having said the final goodbye to the girl he loved.

She would call back, so he lifted the receiver off the hook.

He looked at the brandy and poured out a large glass. He looked at it, but didn’t yet drink.

She was in Köln. Working. Wouldn’t be back until the weekend.

How would that be ? She’d come here, and no answer at the door, or phone. Have to ask the neighbours. No, no one’s seen or heard him.

Soon have to call the Politzei to smash the door down. And she would see him. In front of the phone. Empty bottle of alcohol, empty container of pills. And she would suffer for the rest of her life.

Ragno took the glass and lifted it to his mouth, but the smell made him stop.

Did he really want to do this ?

He kept the glass raised while he thought.

What had she meant ? How, how, how could she mean this ? He had told her how vulnerable and damaged he was. It wasn’t possible. But she hadn’t denied it. Hadn’t confirmed it. Why had she toyed with him, though ? What sadistic pleasure did she get from that ? But she was so sweet and loving, how could she really mean it ? And so sensitive. Or was it all an act ? But why act ? No one would go to all this trouble just to hurt him.

He sat and asked himself question after question.

He put the glass down.

He put the phone back on the receiver.

Less than two minutes later, the phone rang. He didn’t answer.

Love and Chaos Part 7(E) Ragno Prologue

2nd June 2021

The Stassi HQ, east Berlin. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. Summer 1995

One night in the Czar Bar, a tall thin man walked in, ordered a beer and, the bar stools all being occupied, stood quietly against a wall and drank alone.

Chris didn’t like the look of him from the start. He was older, probably mid-forties, possibly more. Even in the poor light of the bar, his skin was visibly pockmarked, from disease, drug abuse or both.

He had heard Germans talking about ex-Stasi (the East German Secret Police) informers and knew the incredible statistics; as many as one in four people gave information and spied on their neighbours. The forty odd years of the DDR had generated as much paperwork and files as the rest of German history combined.

This man, alone, out of place, was, Chris decided, a clear ex-informer, probably here to spy on the bar and the customers, to close it down, gather names, prosecute for all the illegal activities.

When he had finished his beer, he walked over to the bar and put the empty bottle carefully on the counter. Chris snarled,

“Another ?”

The man shook his head, and said, in English but with a soft accent,

“No, thank you.” Then he smiled. It was a smile of serenity and peace, that completely disarmed Chris who instantly changed his opinion. “Tchüss, Jake,” he said as he left.

“Ah, yeah, tchüss, Ragno,” answered Jake as he put empty bottles into a crate with one hand and pulled out three more beers with the other.

“Who was that ?”

“Oh, Ragno. Haven’t seen him for a while. Good guy. No problems, has his beer then goes.”

“So we ain’t gonna get rich off him ?”

“He’s got a young girlfriend, so . . . “

“Ah,” said Chris, “yeah, why would he get drunk if he’s got a babe waiting for him. Fuck, how does he do it ? Face like that ?”

“No, he’s a nice guy. Well, I dunno, he had a young girlfriend. Not sure if they’re still together.”

Robert, in apparent apropos of nothing, let out a,

“Shit on a stick !” while Peter lifted a half empty beer bottle to his lips and momentarily silenced the bar with an amazingly pure note.

Chris wanted to know a little more about Ragno, but a round of vodkas was ordered and by the time the bar had quietened down, he had forgotten all about him.