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 Margot. 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.

Love and Chaos Part 7(C) Chris 1

30th May 2021

The East German punks who helped bring down the Berlin Wall | Dazed
Berlin music Scene. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. May 1995

Chris and Richard met Daniel at the small kiosk situated in one of the exit tunnels of Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn. Daniel was looking at the window display which had miniature bottles of cheap and nasty looking hooch, labels and brands he had never seen before, alcohol he had never seen before.

They greeted and went straight to the club, a slight embarrassment at meeting away from the Czar Bar, as if that were their only common ground. The club was quite small, quite dark, one stage to the right, the bar opposite, and that was where they all headed.

By now, Richard and Chris could recognize many faces. Willem Dafoe was there, smiling broadly at each and every thing. Arizona Al was in another discussion with technicians about sound levels, but came over to say, “Hi,” and to meet Daniel,

“Cool, fresh blood, it’s getting kinda stale around here,” he admitted. ”Oh, Dude, listen, you can’t come onstage and blow me tonight, it’s a more conservative joint, here,” then he was dragged away by Bryan on a matter of the utmost urgency.

Daniel stood with his mouth open, not exactly sure what he was getting involved in.

Again, the room was half full at most when the first act went on. A petite, visibly terrified French girl played guitar and sang to the floorboards. Her between song banter was monosyllabic and mumbled, but she charmed everyone, winning them over with her nervousness and talent which was unmistakable, just hidden by a cloak of shyness.

But it was downhill after that. Singer-songwriters came and went, some bands played, more solo artists. Willem Dafoe played the exact same set with the exact same mannerisms and orchestrated spontaneity as before.

Bryan ‘Moonface’ came up to the bar with a young lady, and was speaking to her about Kafka, specifically ‘Metamorphosis’,

“It’s about a man who wakes up one morning and he’s been turned into a woman.”

“Oh, that sounds cool.”

Daniel exclaimed, “Fuck me,” loud enough to get Bryan’s attention, but ‘Moonface’ was too busy impressing his new friend with his broad knowledge of World Literature.

Richard and Chris played ‘name the influence’ as some bands were ripping off R.E.M., others Nirvana, while one electronic combo tried a reversal of Big Black, by playing a loud, Grunge song on keyboards and drum machines. It was a novelty for half a minute, but unfortunately went on for several.

Daniel wasn’t having as much fun as his companions. He had been expecting a great evening, but, despite the ever flowing beer, he was bored and that made him angry and frustrated. Which, of course, just made Richard and Chris laugh even more.

He got louder with his abuse and thought nothing of talking over an acoustic set. By the time Arizona went on, Daniel had just about had enough, but stayed because Al was the main reason they were there, although the sexualised parting words still played in his mind.

Tonight, Arizona Al announced, he was going to try some ‘mellow, chill-out vibes’. The absence of a guitar alarmed Richard, and Chris had a very bad feeling, which was confirmed by the opening note which continued without variation, while Arizona gradually added more single notes, together with some indistinct sound effects.

Daniel simply turned his back to the stage and ordered three vodkas. Arizona was now on his second song, a variation of the first, with even less going on.

Daniel turned to Chris,

“You enjoying this shit ?”

“Not at all.”

“Czar Bar open ?”

“Yep. Andrei working. And Olga.”

“Olga ?” asked Richard.

“Let’s go,” said Daniel, finishing his beer and walking out. Chris and Richard followed, both giving a wave to Arizona as he played on, with a surprised and hurt look on his face. Richard was already on damage control, telling Chris that they could say that their friend had to get a connection. Chris shrugged his shoulders,

“Or we could just say that he was shit.”

“Yeah, you could.”

Daniel was asking how to get to the bar. Chris explained,

“We’ll take the U-Bahn and change at Alex. U5. Five stops, total.”

Walking to the U5 platform, Daniel put his arms around the two others,

“Right, we need to get laid tonight. Agreed ?”

“Not even a question,” replied Chris.

“Tonight ?” repeated Richard, “anytime this decade would work for me.”

They walked down the escalators and waited on the platform. Daniel took out his cigarettes and passed them around.

“So, pussy action. What’s the deal ? Chris, you must get a nice bit of snatch, working the bar, hey ?”

“Have you been in the Czar Bar ?”

“Yeah, fair enough. Thought they’d be a few more girls in, tonight. Not much doing, was there ? Couple of knackered old slappers. I’d have liked that French bird, but she’d scarpered. ‘Bout you, Rich ?”

“Going through a fallow period. Got the seed, but no where to plant it.”

“We’re both going through an adjustment,” Chris intervened. “I was dumped by my girlfriend and Richard . . . “ the later himself completed the ellipsis,

“Is hung up on a girl who just isn’t interested,”

Daniel turned to him,

“Didn’t you have any other girlfriends ?”

“No. I was saving myself for her.”

“Ah, well, that’s the problem. To get a girl, you have to have a girl.”

“Thanks, Buddha, great advice.”

“Naw, listen. It’s like an auction. You put a piece up, no one’s interested, it gets tossed. Pun intended. But, someone likes it, others get interested. Get it ?”

“So,” asked Richard, trying to follow the logic, “if Lorelei had known I had a girlfriend, she’d have been more interested ?”

“Couldn’t have been less interested,” quipped Chris.

“Oy, shut it, you,” threatened Daniel.


“Oh, I see, he can get away with the insults, but I say something and I get the ‘I can kill you with one fingernail’ shit ?”

“Yeah. He’s not a plonker like you,” clarified Daniel with a subtle wink at Richard.

“He has a point, there, he has several points there,” added Richard. Daniel continued,

“You just gotta get a girl first, any girl. You can do that, can’t ya ?” Richard just shrugged. “Fuck me,” concluded Daniel.

“He may have to. Oh, come on, that was funny. OK, I know, I’ll shut it.” Chris walked off a little down the platform.

On the train, they continued the seminar, Daniel giving advice to Richard, and then learnt why Chris was dumped.

“She heard you say she were shit in bed ? Fuck, that’s hard. Now, tonight; I know that Al’s yer pal and all that guff, but . . . fucking hell, what a stinking pile of shit. I’ve heard some wank in my time, but that . . . “

“It’s part of the Berlin scene,” began Richard. “Anybody can get up and do something.”

“Problem is,” continued Chris, “most people do and most people aren’t overburdened with talent.”

“Not tonight, anyway,” laughed Daniel. “Thanks, guys, for taking me. Load of bollocks, but still thanks.”

They all laughed. Chris, followed by Richard, began to give more sage Berlin advice,

“Never presume that because it’s office hours, offices will be open.”

“Don’t touch Schultheiss beer. I know the logo is real inviting, but your stomach won’t thank you for it.”

Chris picked up the slack,

“Following on from there, don’t ever drink from the tap, despite all the assurances,”

“He’s right. May as well just drink out of the toilet bowl.”

More laughter. Then Daniel returned to the former subject of performing in Berlin.

“I mean, I could do better than that.”

“Well, then,” challenged Richard, “do it.”


“Yeah, but I don’t know any musicians, or anybody, just you two tossers.”

“But we know people,” argued Richard

“Oh, yeah, like that guy with the fucking pumpkin head ? No, thanks. Man turning into a woman. Fucking idiot.”

“No,” said Chris calmly. “The Russians. Andrei is a bass player. Boris is a fucking wild hot gypsy guitarist. Another guy who lives with them, Sascha, is a drummer. They’ve all played in bands, always looking for a singer. We’ll see some, if not all, of them tonight. Time to put up or shut up. Or are you just all talk ?”

“Mouthy little sod, ain’t ya ?”

“Yeah,” replied Chris with a swagger. “I am.”

Love and Chaos Part 7(A) Stefan 1

26th May 2021

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – suemtravels
Berlin Philharmonic. Google Images

Part Seven

Berlin. Spring 1995

It wasn’t just that Stefan wanted to be a conductor; he wanted to be a great conductor.

While other boys had pictures of German football teams or American movie starlets on their walls, Stefan had carefully cut-out photos of Toscanini, Böhm, Furtwängler & Claudio Abbado.

All his studies were focused towards this irresistible aim, augmented by lessons in composition. Rounding out his education, he played both cello and piano, and was reasonably knowledgeable about most instruments of the orchestra.

In the last year of music college, Stefan, for his final exam, was given a selection of pieces from which to choose. He smiled at the first piece on the list: Elgar’s ‘Cello Concerto’.

Stefan had an affinity with Twentieth Century music, and the cello, so what could be better ? Not only would he pass, for that wasn’t in question, but he would excel, win first prize and be offered further studies with a master and get offered a small, yet prestigious appointment.

The reality was somewhat different.

Stefan didn’t win the first prize; he wasn’t even mentioned for a commendation. He passed, but without merit. One examiner concluded that his conducting was ‘workman-like’. The orchestra knew when to start and when to stop, but those parametres notwithstanding, they did what they wanted, ignorant or indifferent to the increasingly desperate swirls of the baton.

The general consensus was that he lacked colour and command. And presence. No amount of teaching could impart that. He could acquit himself adequately in a minor regional, that is to say, amateur orchestra, but no sign of future greatness was detected. That was the official verdict, and Stefan, sensitive and withdrawn, lacked the temperament to go against his teachers. They had spoken, he had acquiesced.

By the spring of 1995, Stefan had envisioned having an apartment in Charlottenburg and a pied a terre in Mitte, of being the youngest conductor of the world’s finest orchestras, and signed to a prestigious record label.

By the spring of 1995, Stefan was sharing a small flat in Kreuzberg with a boyhood friend from Heidelberg. The conducting was never going to happen, nor was he even going to play in the most modest of orchestras. Over the coming months, he failed every audition, while he couldn’t get anyone interested in even looking at his compositions. Finally, by his own estimation, getting as low as a musician could go, he would advertise his services as piano teacher.

However, he also made a commitment to perform whenever and wherever, be it pianist, cellist or, “Even the damn viola.” As such, and cellists being rare among the squat bars and underground art centres, Stefan had been invited to play at several events, approaching each performance with professionalism and vigour, despite the inexplicable nonsense he had to endure. He mostly received bemused apathy, occasionally laughter.

Stefan had to rethink his future, entirely. It had to be in music, for he had no training or passion for anything else, and he knew he had something to offer. He just didn’t know what, or how to access it.

But, for the moment, it was impossible for him to think. His dream had been shattered.

Love and Chaos Part 6(L) Daniel 1

25th May 2021

Fischladen - Samariterkiez - Rigaer Str. 83
A Friedrichshain convenience. Google Images

Part Six. Berlin. April 1995

Though he was pretty immune to odours, Jake sometimes found it necessary to open the door and air out the bar while they were setting up.

The day had shown the first signs of a summer that promised to be warm and loving, a reward for surviving the harsh unrelenting Berlin winter.

Jake was sweeping in the back, by the stage, and Chris was behind the bar, stacking empty beer bottles in crates and getting tonight’s beer ready, when four builders walked in, the first asking in a north-English accent,

“You open, Mate ?” then sitting down before getting an answer.

Chris looked over at Jake who nodded.

“Sure. What can I get you ?” he asked, stressing his own Midlands accent.

“Fuck me, another one,” said the second man in his thick Irish brogue.

“Lot of us about, Paddy,” answered the third man, a thin, wiry Brummie with flecks of white paint in his hair.

“What’ve ya got, Mate ?” asked the fourth man, Daniel Roth.

Chris brought up a selection of bottles; Becks, Flensburger, Veltins and the Czech Staropramen.

“Give us a Becks. What d’you fuckers want ?” asked the Northerner.

“Do you not have no Guinness ? Fuck me. Go on, then, I’ll have to have a Flensburger, won’t I,” from the Irishman. The Brummie also chose a Becks and Daniel took a Staropramen.

“Look at that poncey twat, always gotta be different,” was the Northerner’s reaction to Daniel’s order.

They joked around insulting each other for a couple of rounds, then decided to leave.

The Northerner came back from the toilet, laughing,

“You oughtter see what it’s got writ in there: ‘Where is your Vortex ?’ (1) Too fucking right. I’ve been in some shite-holes in my time but this … Ah, no offence, Mate.”

Chris waved the insult away, suddenly remembering exactly why he had left England.

After they left, Jake was about to close the door, when he stopped and picked up a book that was on the floor. He held it out to Chris,

“This yours ? Lassa …’L’Assa moee …’ by . . . Emily Zola.”

“No, not mine. Sure as hell ain’t gonna belong to those thick-as-shit navies.”

Just then, Daniel came back in, looking for his book.

“Emile. It’s Emile, not Emily. And I wouldn’t insult builders, if I were you,” he said, looking at Chris, who was starting to lose the colour in his face, ”because those guys will pick you up with one hand and throw you against that back wall, there. Yeah, the book’s mine. We’re not all troglodytes, you know ? You can ‘ave it when I’m finished, all right ?”

“Yeah. Yeah, thanks.”

“You closing up then ?” Daniel asked.

Jake laughed, dispelling the tension and explained the opening hours. Daniel laughed.

“Well, maybe I’ll shoot by, later. Yeah, I know those guys are as thick as shit, but, they’re my mates, right ? And that ‘Vortex’ … Wyndham Lewis ?”

Chris nodded. He had written it one drunken night, inspired by a lecture from Melanie about how the cranes of the Baustelles (building sites) resembled Vorticist paintings. Jake had never noticed the graffiti.

But then Jake woke up a little,

“Hey, I wouldn’t insult builders if I were you.”

“Yeah, but the good thing is half the time they don’t even know they’re being insulted.” Daniel laughed at his own comment, realising the amount of truth in it. “Right then. See ya later.”

Later was still very early, just after ten o’clock and the bar was almost empty. Daniel sat on the first stool, by the door, and took another Czech beer. Chris looked at Jake and by mutual consent, agreed it was vodka time, though for Jake, it was always vodka time.


Chris poured one for Daniel, as a way of burying the hatchet. They talked about what they were doing in Berlin, where they came from and how much better life was here. Chris asked him where he lived,

“Wedding,” replied Daniel. This was an industrial Bezirk north of the centre, not renowned for its beauty. Not renowned for anything in fact.

“It must have been the only place in the West where people actually jumped The Wall into East Berlin,” he joked of his new neighbourhood.

Daniel was very impressed by both Chris and Jake living in squats and running the bar. But he began to be less impressed by the people that slowly started coming in, all neighbours and locals.

One such was Robert, a wild, crazy-looking German who sat next to him and proclaimed, without apparent cause or reason,

“Shit on a stick!”

The phrase was repeated endlessly throughout the night. Another large, almost obese customer nursed a solitary beer for hours and engaged in an animated conversation with himself. Squatters brought their dogs in and they snarled and barked, making their owners bark and snarl even louder than their pets in a vain attempt to make them stop. Jake barked louder than anyone, when he saw a dog about to defecate.

Then there was Peter. He was the father of the bar, a man in his mid fifties, with long yet stylish white hair and beard. He was very tall and looked as if he could have been a movie star in far distant days. He had travelled, was possibly an ex-sailor, and had been in Berlin longer than anyone could remember. He took a beer, then rested against a wall, observing proceedings. His only contribution was to raise his bottle to his lips and blow sharply, creating a shrill, resonating note, said note descending in pitch as he drank the beer.

Chris kept an eye on Daniel. He wasn’t looking quite so at home now.

Then the French arrived.

Johan had a group of friends who had either been in the army with him, or had come over to enjoy a cheaper, freer life.

They bounded in, Johan, Claude and several others, singing and shouting, Johan screaming out for vodka. Chris included Daniel in the communal drinking, despite his protests,

“I’ve got to fucking work, tomorrow. Fucking . . . OK, but last one.”

“Oh, you’ll be OK.” Chris winked at Jake.


By the time Richard arrived, desperately in need of alcohol, Daniel was swaying, smiling, singing, screaming. He was totally Czar-bared,

“Fuck you and your dry wall !”

“Eh, Jake, fucking hell, ‘ho is this man ?” asked Johan amused.

“Shit on a stick !” from Robert

“What’s wrong with continental breakfast ?” screamed out Peter, defying anyone to supply an answer.

Daniel, recalled back to life, laughed at Peter’s question and repeated it. Several times. It was at that point that Chris introduced him to Richard.

Picking up seamlessly on Chris’ lead, Richard insisted that the new friendship be cemented with a vodka. Daniel burst into song.

The whole bar, inspired by the French, took a vodka, Daniel almost drinking his shot before the communal toast and being restrained by Robert,

“Shit on your vodka!”

The madness continued. Daniel, in moments of lucidity, threatening to leave and get the last U-Bahn (long since gone) but he was now having longer periods of silence, head drooping, dropping, drooling, until he finally lay his head on the bar and slept.

Chris, who had been abstaining from the vodkas, had triumphed and he celebrated his victory by throwing crumpled cigarette boxes and old lemon peel at Daniel’s head, much to the amusement of Johan, bewilderment of Richard and apathy of everybody else.

After three-thirty, the bar began getting a little quieter, having been visited by a policemen who stood in the door and told them to keep the music down.

Another wonderful thing about Berlin. Here was a totally illegal bar in a squatted building and all the Police do is ask them to turn down the music. Having said that, a request from a German Policeman is pretty much an order, and was complied with. For a time..

Most of the French gone, the bar started to wind down. Richard was able to speak about his day, or rather his shift. He had worked with a new chef who was incredibly lazy, and some new bar staff who were incredibly boring. The novelty of being a Spüler had long worn off. But before Richard could complain further, Daniel woke up and staggered out of the door, no doubt determined to get the last U-Bahn.


Chris let out a celebratory cheer,

“Revenge !”

“Excuse me ?”

“Ah, never mind. Vodka ! Jake ? Vodka ?”

Jake stared uncomprehending. Wobbling around in the confined space behind the bar, he demanded of Chris,

“Do you have to ask ?”

The three drank and talked about the exit of Daniel.

“It’s amazing,” began Richard, “ people come in here, upright, homo erectus, sit at the bar, drink, drink again, and then, after the passage of time, they crawl out on all fours, to lie in a ball on the pavement, like single-cell pond life. It’s like watching evolution in reverse.”

His observation resulted in more vodka.

Richard left several hours later, making the mistake of going by S-Bahn. It involved a longer walk to the station, including a lengthy walk along the covered, elevated tunnel of Storkower Strasse, but was only a ten minute journey. The disadvantage was that if one slept, one was liable to find oneself in some distant suburb.

Richard woke up at Adlershof and took some time to adjust. He jumped off. Not only had he gone all the way to the northern terminus, he had come back on the same train and was now in south – east Berlin. The TV Tower, which should always be on his left, travelling home, was way off and to his right.

He knew that he didn’t have enough time to get home, get adequate sleep and return to work feeling anything close to well.

He worked yet another shift with a killer hangover.

However, it was more than Daniel Roth did. He didn’t make it into work. He had gotten on the first U-Bahn, but unfortunately the wrong one. He fell onto the train from Alexanderplatz, and was woken up by the guard at Hönow, in the east, the very distant east.

Chris, meanwhile, got his wages from Jake and merely had to fumble his way to the next door and up some stairs, where he fell into a deep and trouble free sleep.

(1) Vortex is the name of a household cleaning product in the UK

Love and Chaos Part 6(K) Richard 2

23rd May 2021

Wilkommen in der 78
A squatted house in Berlin’s Rigaer Strasse. Google Images

Part Six. Berlin. March 1995

“Ironic, isn’t it ?” asked Chris. “All that time Monika asked, told, me to move, now, after I dumped her, I’m leaving this flat.”

Richard was going to question some of the points, namely about Chris dumping Monika, but let it slide. He was helping Chris pack up, and trying to contain his excitement about having his own flat.

“After all, we can’t live together forever,” said Chris.

“Like Laurel and Hardy. Besides, they’d be no room for a horse in here. Be fun trying.”

“Think of the mess. You need to think things through.”

Richard laughed. They sorted out the books, not by ownership, but by who had read what.

Richard kept ‘The Soft Machine’ by William Burroughs and Chris took the short stories by Kafka. After devouring ‘The Trial’, Richard had toured the English language bookshops and second-hand stores for more of his work. They had collected a good sample of literature from these moments of serendipity. Chris eyed the library and exclaimed,

“Fucking hell. Just look at these titles: ‘Bleak House’. ‘Dead Souls’.”

Richard continued the list

“’Heart of Darkness’,’The End Of The Affair’, ‘The Plague’.”

“’Slaughterhouse 5′, ‘Death In The afternoon’”

“’Life Is Elsewhere’, ‘Memoirs From The House Of The Dead’, ‘Critique Of Pure Reason’. Hhmmm . . . must be your one.”

“Well I don’t want it.”

“Sure ? Could get you a lot of points, walking around museums, holding it ?”

Chris thought about museums full of impressionable young female students. He grabbed the book.

They walked to the U-Bahn station, Richard to go to work, Chris to get the adjacent S-Bahn to Storkower Strasse.

Some of the Czar Bar locals had asked Chris why he hadn’t move into a squat, especially as he was now an honourary squatter by dint of working in the Czar Bar. Jake’s squat became the model for how he imagined all such flats to look, but it was Johan who gave him a different perspective, as he too was a squatter, yet always managed to appear clean and respectable. At least by comparison.

The houses either side of the Czar Bar were squatted. There was an organized community with meetings, rules and (Chris later discovered) endless plenums and interminable meetings. Rooms were allocated to newcomers only after careful consultation. Free vodkas were a persuasive argument.

One night Johan was drinking and Chris working, when some men walked in and sat with Johan. They were Josef and Klaus, two men who had been living in the squat the longest and were the men to see about moving in. Johan told them about Chris needing a place to stay, how he had to go all the way back to Prenzlauer Berg after a whole night’s work (all of four S-Bahn stops) and, assisted by the aforementioned free vodka, they agreed to hold a plenum.

This word would come to haunt Chris, as every time there was a decision to made about absolutely anything … anything … someone would raise their hand and shout ‘plenum’, and everyone would have to gather around and hear the merits of whatever piece of nonsense was being discussed. But this first time, it gave him a chance of moving in, moving on.

Johan lived in Rigaer 77, and had a room in the Hinter Hof. The 77 squat also ran a bar of its own, the Temple du Merde, but it opened just on special occasions, and as the entrance was nothing more than a thin, rusted iron door, most people were oblivious of its existence.

It was in this building, not Jake’s, to the other side, into which Chris moved. He had a small room in the left-hand side of the Hof. The ground floor had ateliers, for the artists, and there was a constant coming and going and banging and shouting and screaming and smoking and drinking and generally a whole lot of nothing being accomplished, while a whole world of plans were being made.

Chris had the use of a kitchen, and there was a toilet on the floor below, but there was no bathroom. Yes, he was back in Rigaer Str.

Richard was eager to get home, to what was now his own flat.

Chris hadn’t always managed to pay his share of the rent, but as it was so cheap, it wasn’t a problem and anyway Chris had allowed Richard many nights of drinking, either free or, at most, a nominal charge.

Now he sat, listening to music and reading. He could sleep when he wanted and not worry about waking up, or being woken up by Chris.


It was quiet. Peaceful. Somewhat boring.

He was both tired, after work, but mentally active and knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Chris wasn’t working tonight, that he knew, but he would certainly be in the Czar Bar. And maybe Olga would be there.

He put his shoes and coat back on and headed to the bar.