Love and Chaos Part 4(A)Richard 1

15th December 2020

Berlin 2020 but looking much the same as the 1990s. Photo by Martin O’ Shea

Part Four. Berlin. Summer 1994

Gabi helped Monika carry the glasses across the road from the bar to the small park where Richard, on his first night back in Berlin, was being inducted into The Gang.

He sat on the brick wall that surrounded the park, as Silke pointed to the large rotunda that rose above the trees on the slope behind them.

“It used to be a water tower, then the Nazi’s used it to torture prisoners. Now it’s flats for Yuppies.”

Silke had short, spiky, blonde hair, which was striking enough, but tonight, in the hot Berlin evening, she wore a skimpy vest and shorts, showing legs which Richard couldn’t help but comment on; loudly,

“Man, she’s got Bond-girl legs.”

Chris felt obliged to look them up and down, apprising them with an expert eye, before concurring.

“And ? You like Silke’s legs, too ?” Asked Monika.

“No, my Darling. Only yours.” They kissed, then Chris turned to Richard, and raised an eyebrow.

Gabi smiled at Richard, and they clinked glasses, and she tried a few, faltering words in English, before giving up in a fit of giggles that charmed Richard to the heart. Of all the women he had suddenly and miraculously been introduced to, it was probably Gabi he would choose, though Silke was all woman, no mistake, and Gabi’s friend, Lorelei, who now began speaking to him, in near perfect English, was equally beautiful.

Andreas walked back to the group, from the bar with the ‘best toilets’, running a hand through his curly, brown hair. He walked over to Silke, grabbed her and kissed her. Richard took this to mean that Silke was off the market. Chris smiled and began the saga.

“So you see, Andreas is with Silke. They’re a pretty incestuous bunch of motherfuckers, but I’ll try to hip you in to what’s what. Not so much a ‘Who’s Who’, more of a ‘Who’s done Who’. Andreas’ best friend is Tommy, the little guy over there, flirting with those two tourists. Silke used to be with Tommy’s brother. Andreas used to be with Gabi. Kind of. They had what is called here, a ‘kissing thing’. Gabi and Lorelei both live in the west, with their boyfriends.”

“Oh, shit!”

“Not so fast, Gunga Din; they both hate their boyfriends and want to leave them. Gabi is even thinking of renting a flat here and having a weekend lover. Or renting a weekend lover, who knows ?”

Richard re-enacted a scene from London, hoping that Chris would remember it. He raised his hand.

“I accept the job, sight unseen. Except I have seen … so fucking cute.”

“I’ll put Monika on the case. Oh, more, the plot thickens. Here’s Nice Guy Kai. Kai used to go out with Andreas’ sister, back in Köln.”

Nice Guy Kai was greeted by all, kisses and hugs. With his peroxide blonde hair and goatee, he was the rock star of the Group.

Richard was just beaming. There seemed to be cafés and bars everywhere, full of people drinking and laughing. Waiters, white shirted in some bars, casually attired in others, buzzed around taking orders, delivering drinks. Behind, the trees of the small park gave a relaxing, calming ambience, blocking out all the concrete blocks to the south.

It was an area unknown to him, somewhere tucked away in Prenzlauer Berg, attractive buildings with balconies and decorated doorways, flowers and colour.

People strolled past, two, threes or individuals. Girls cycled past wearing short skirts, lovers held hands and kissed. Strangers said ‘Hello’ to each other and smiled. People were alive and happy. It was so different to the London he had just left and when Richard looked at Chris, he knew that he didn’t need to say a word. Chris understood everything.

“This is your first evening in Berlin ?” Lorelei asked. Chris smiled and went to join Monika, leaving Richard to work his magic.

The Gang coalesced as the evening darkened, speaking in German, various hands pointing in various directions.

Andreas explained to the new comer,


“We have to stop drinking outside, now. It used to be possible to drink all night, but the neighbours all complained,” pointing to the rows of windows above all the bars. “So the bars will only serve people sitting inside.”

More talk and opinions. Kai left with a young girl he had just met, and soon after, a decision was reached. Tommy would borrow a bicycle from a new guy that had turned up, Gert, who was with Jo, his English girlfriend, and go to a store and buy as many bottles of beer as he could carry. Everyone began going through their pockets or purses to find coins.

Chris looked over and saw Richard still talking with Lorelei. He caught his eye, and gave a wink.

Tommy soon returned, cycling along the pavement like a madman, screaming out and making ‘ding-ding’ bell sounds with his mouth. Somehow, he had managed to buy and transport enough beers for everyone.

Monika came over to Richard. They had only met hours before, but they felt a certain affinity, although Richard sensed a slight hardness about her. She was very friendly, yet lacked the easy charm of Ute. Maybe she was exactly what Chris needed.

“Käthe was very pretty. But she is going to stay with her boyfriend ?”

Monika had met them earlier when they, Käthe and boyfriend, had dropped him off in Berlin and been invited inside Chris’ new flat for a beer. The fact that they both preferred non-alcoholic drinks turned Chris off them immediately.

“Yes, and anyway, she lives miles away, some place near … Cottbus ?”

“Ah, wie schade! (what a shame). “

“Chris seems to be getting real good in German, nichts wahr ? (isn’t that right ?)”

“Umm, Ja. So you need A German girl to help to speak German.”

Richard was very close to saying that there were other needs he had in mind, but checked himself.

After the beers there was more discussion. Some people began leaving, but the core of Richard, Chris, Monika, Gabi and Lorelei preferred to go to another bar.

Monika drove Chris and Richard, followed by the two girls. They were heading into Mitte. Monika said that there was a bar that was only open on Fridays and was a good place to hang out.

As Richard had expected of Berlin, it was no ordinary bar. Again, no sign from the street, except the inordinate amount of people coming and going, or just standing around, drinking.

Monika led the way through the arched front house, which opened into a large court, or Hof. It was full of people, dancing to a DJ playing mid-tempo Techno. Some coloured lights were strung up, in a rather half-arsed way, but it didn’t matter to Richard. Chris put his arm around him and they shouted a few sentences in each other’s ears, fighting the volume of the beat.

The bar was another improvised wooden counter in an adjoining low building, half-derelict, half the windows broken.

The choices were limited to beers, cheap wines, vodka and rum. Monika took Richard into the bar, placed her order and leant against the bar, moving to the Techno. She turned to Richard. He felt compelled to confess.

“I’m in love with Lorelei.”

Monika laughed, but in a friendly way. She put her arm on his.

“She has a boyfriend, but it is over. They never go out together. Every weekend, Gabi and her drive over. It’s much more fun in the east.”

“Yes, it is!”

Gabi and Monika joined the dancers, Chris walked around, speaking to complete strangers, sometimes making them dance, against their wishes, sometimes just going up to them and staring them in the face, before grabbing their arm and then hooking it under his calf. Chris knew, of course, that Richard was watching.

Lorelei moved over to Richard.

“What’s he doing ?”

“It’s an old Harpo Marx routine. From ‘Duck Soup’, I believe. You know the Marx Brothers ?”

Richard described the act and then they began speaking effortlessly about anything else that came into their heads. They sat on a log that was just big enough for two, provided those two didn’t mind touching legs, and shared a beer.

Gabi came over. She was getting tired and was going home, if Lorelei wanted a lift. Monika was also thinking of leaving and began looking for Chris, who soon showed himself, trying to teach some ballroom moves to a group of young ravers.

Richard got a hug and a kiss from all three women, the kiss from Lorelei lasting just that little bit longer than a mere social gesture.

“And then there were two,” said Chris, leaning on Richard for support.

They stayed until the sun rose, then began the slow walk back home.

They were both, naturally, swaying all over the pavement. At one point, a car was driving too slowly for their liking, so Richard pulled out his wallet, opening it and flashed it to the driver.

“N.Y.P.D. C’mon, let’s move it, you in the blue car!”

“So, what do you think ? Should have moved here before, hey ?”

“Lorelei is beautiful.”

“I know.”

“I really wanna fuck her.”

“I know.”

Within half an hour, they had made it back home. There were two mattresses already prepared, on the floor, a fridge full of food, clean clothes ready and shampoos in the bathroom.

They threw off their outer clothes and crashed. They were asleep within seconds.

The last image Richard had was of Lorelei’s face. She was, indeed, beautiful.

At the moment they fell asleep, in a flat on the border of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, an English woman woke up and went into the kitchen to get some bottled water. Gert, her boyfriend was snoring loudly. She looked out of the street window, seeing the unmistakable TV Tower silhouetted against a morning sky of pure blue.

She had to tell her brother about Berlin. He had finished University and, as far as she knew, didn’t have a job lined up. He would love it here. It was very cinematic, which he would appreciate, as all he ever spoke about was cinema. Gert gave an extra loud snort, which brought her back to reality. She wouldn’t be able to sleep with that noise going on. She went to the other room and got some paper and a pen and began writing;

‘Dear Alan, …’

Love and Chaos Part 3(A) Richard 1

5th December 2020

Photo by Pete Flatwound. Follow Pete on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flatwoundonfilm/

Part Three. London. Spring 1994

“So one of the chefs tells me to clean out the large, vegetable freezer and I’m in there, scraping frozen crap off the shelves and sweeping up lumps of … I don’t know what. Then, this other chef appears, young guy, tall and gormless, carrying a clipboard. It’s part of his job to make routine checks on the temperatures, every day, same time. Now, the door’s open because, right, I’m in there, doing their shitty work. Gormless looks at the temperature gauge and, naturally, it’s way up, and he freaks out. This has never happened before, it’s an anomaly, except, of course, he wouldn’t know what an anomaly was, because he’s a chef, and of all the qualifications needed for that job, intelligence ain’t one of them. “

“So,” asked Melanie, unaccustomed to keeping quiet for long, “you’re saying he’s not too bright ?”

“As two short planks. Now, here’s the rub; he has to think.”

“Ouch !”

“In spades, and he really does, no bullshit, man, stand there, gob wide-open, dribble trickling down, you can hear the spokes turning, slow, slow, then … light bulb above the head, he comes up with a solution, though he’s probably more used to sniffing solutions that in coming up with them. Be that as it may, he says, proud as Punch, ‘I’ve gotta closer door, Mate.’ And proceeds to do same.”

“What did you do ?”

“I objected, of course. I’m in a bloody freezer, in just a T-shirt, and he wants to close the door on me. Apart from the fact that the temperature is going to go down to minus Twenty-Five or whatever, the perishing light will go out ! They’ll go back to get some peas, and find me frozen like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’.”

“The situations you find yourself in,” joked Melanie as Richard once again got the sense that she was laughing explicitly at him, not his anecdote.

“But he wouldn’t be told. I tried to explain the law of manslaughter to him, and that being a fucking moron was no defence. No avail. So I just left it. I mean, the freezer’s working, everything is stone cold and the only reason the gauge is up is because the door’s open. Use some initiative; fake the temperature. But no, he can’t do that, has to carry out his orders, do his duty. Then his girlfriend walked past and gave one of those, ’look what I have to put up with’ expressions, deep intake off breathe, then followed by the,’But I love him all the same, the big lumock’ look.”

“What’s she like ?”

“Not bad, kinda cute. OK, bit on the chubby side, but good features. Lovely eyes. Too good for him. What I should have done was to hit him on the head with a bag of frozen cauliflower. We got time for one more, or shall we go ?”

For the past month or so, Richard had been meeting up with Melanie and seeing movies or just having a drink. This evening, they were in a small pub by Leicester Square, before going to see a film based in post-war Berlin. It was a disappointing mess of a co-production, with a British actor giving a one-dimensional portrayal of an American, an American actor giving an unconvincing, stiff-upper lipped rendition of a Englishman and an Italian beauty attempting to be an ugly German. But, at one point during the film, there was an interior scene showing a room with an Ofen. Richard and Melanie poked each other on the leg and laughed. They left as soon as the film finished, heading straight back to the pub. They covered the usual topics: Richard’s awful job, awful love-life, awful everything. It seemed to cheer Melanie up.

“No regrets about leaving the record store ? I mean, it was regular work.”

“Not really. Couldn’t go back there, anyway, they would have sacked me for taking off too much time. And for what ? Berlin in Winter. Barely even saw Chris.”

This was the link Melanie was waiting for, and she barely listened to the rest of his speach.

“I can understand what Will meant, now, about not being able to work with people. I mean, my job really is shit, but at least I don’t have to deal with … the public. Book shops and classical music, sounds like ‘green and pleasant land’ material, but it’s the Mean Streets. In Fordham’s I devised a theory. People were in a bad mood because they came in to buy books that they couldn’t find, couldn’t afford and didn’t want. As for the Classical Music lot … I tell you, you won’t find a more arrogant bunch of self-loving Arschlochs than music students. Makes me miss my old physics gang. “

If Richard hoped Melanie would take up this cue, he was mistaken.

“Speaking of Chris, I got a letter from him recently. Are you still in touch ? You know he’s moved, now, and got a new girlfriend ? Oh, yes, much better by the sounds of it. I didn’t like Ute at all. I knew it wouldn’t last.”

This was all news to Richard, who hadn’t heard from Berlin since he left, the previous November. Melanie brought him up to speed, taking secret pleasure in being the one with the information.

Ute had decided to go back to Hamburg, possibly having something to do with the suspicious phone calls and letters that periodically arrived and which she read privately and hid at the back of a cupboard. Chris seemed somehow prepared, as if expecting it. Soon after, he was in love with a new woman. Her name was Monika and she was Austrian.

“She doesn’t stand any nonsense, by the sounds of it. She’ll keep Chris in line. My kind of girl. That’s what you need, a good, strong, Germanic girl.”

Richard was very close to admitting that right now he’d settle for any kind of girl, but didn’t want to give Melanie too much ammunition.

“So he’s still at the restaurant ?“

“Oh, yes, he says they’ll probably make him a chef before long.”

“Please, no more talk about chefs.”

“And the new place. In Prenzlauer Berg.”

“Oh, that’s much better. The flat in Rigaer Strasse … I’ve tried telling people about it and no one believes me.”

“I know, they look at me and think how could someone like me possibly spend time there.”

“Quite. Oh, there was something else weird happen after you left. Every night, about six o’clock for an hour, the water from the toilet sink had an electric charge.”

“No !”

“There you are, trying to wash yourself, two inches at a time, and no cheap cracks, Lady, and suddenly … the water gives you an electric shock. Only in Berlin. Still … “

“What, you miss it ?”

“Yeah. Sometimes. I don’t know. I’ve never lived there. Maybe November was especially bad. The weather. Chris being preoccupied. So, Monika … ? “

Richard enjoyed these after-work evenings and found Melanie good company. She introduced him to a lot of films and authors he wouldn’t otherwise have know, and got him out of the bedsit. The film about Berlin, and the conversation about Chris had provoked conflicting thoughts about that city. The November nightmares began to fade, as the good times of September asserted themselves; amazing squat bars, friendly, open people, an easier pace of life. U-bahns that arrived on time. A population less than half of London’s. Women, girls, young ladies. Hannah. Maybe she was still at the bar … or Monika … she must have friends. Maybe it was time to re-open diplomatic ties between London and Berlin.

Love and Chaos Part 1(H) Chris 3

16th November 2020

Berlin Rigaer Str in Friedrichschain early 1990s

Part One. Berlin. Spring – Summer 1993

The flat situation was solved by the combined efforts of the German girls. Marina knew a woman through an ex-boyfriend, who had a shop near where Claudia lived. Claudia had been in touch with her and was monitoring a flat she owned in a different Bezirk, or area, of Berlin. It was actually free immediately and Claudia negotiated a fair rent, provided the landlady, a Frau Holtzengraff, could also get an ‘under-the-table’ gratuity.

Five days after arriving in Berlin, Marina was helping Chris move to his new, permanent base in the eastern Bezirk of Friedrichshain.

She told him about the costs, but didn’t pry into how much he actually had with him, expecting him to be able to cover the first few weeks. Although she earned a modest amount, Ross had a good wage and her parents were comfortably off, so she had never really known what is was like to be without money or financial aid. Therefore she had no conception that Chris may really be in difficulty.

They were met on the street outside Rigaer Strasse 16 by the stocky figure of Fr Holtzengraff, a middle-aged woman wrapped in a thick, fake-fur coat, despite the late spring weather, and an unsuccessful blonde hair-dye job.

Rigaer 16 was painted in white across the two large wooden swing doors that opened for vehicles. The right hand one also had a conventional inward-opening door. They walked in and the first dozen or so paces were under cover, making it hard to see the names on the post-boxes fixed to the right-hand wall.

The flat was on the fourth floor, through a courtyard that was small and oblong, framed by three sides of the house and a large intimidating blank wall. A door in the far corner of the yard led to the stairs . Marina kept a smile on, but was clearly seeing the flat for the first time and trying to remain optimistic. Chris, meanwhile, was amazed. Here was a real artist’s flat, a place where he could read and write and compose and get German girls to pose nude for him.

Marina talked in German and then asked Chris for the first month’s rent. He could just about cover it, but it would leave him with almost nothing. He got a receipt and there was more German, Marina nodding and interjecting, “Ja, ja, alles klar,” – yes, yes, everything’s all right.

“Then Claudia will help with the other.” Chris nodded, not at all sure what the other was, but knowing that now was not the time for schoolboy humour. The keys were handed over, directions given to the U-Bahn and shops, and then Fr Holtzengraff gave Marina a hug and left. Chris put it down to Marina’s personality, that everybody who met her would be compelled to hug her within minutes.

Marina had to work that afternoon, so she left him, making sure he knew the tram or Strassebahn that would take him to his work in Prenzlauer Berg, the next Bezirk to the west. He watched her drive off and then he was alone. He noticed a kind of shop next door. The paintwork was faded but still reasonably clean. There was a glass door, with a heavy net curtain behind it and a main window, also netted, but, along the window-shelf were a strange collection of miscellaneous items: an old football boot, a ceramic tiger, some kind of metal-working implement, an old fob-style watch, a plastic gnome or elf. Chris looked at the display and tried the door, but it was closed.

He looked up and down the street. It terminated at the western end in a roundabout, close to the tram stop. Diagonally across the street was a squatted building. Some punks were carrying empty beer crates out. Opposite him was another squat house, the whole front daubed in slogans and banners. Several similar buildings led off to the eastern end, which seemingly went on into infinity.

Chris tested the street keys, then the letterbox, or Brief Kaste key. Then he went upstairs to unpack, before making his first solo trip to work.

Luke was another Englishman working at the studio, very much a ‘what you see is what you get’ bloke. He had a London accent and laughed, loudly, at his own jokes, which was helpful as his jokes were generally not particularly funny. His skin showed that he had had more than a few drinks in his time and had probably tried several different drugs, several times. He worked next to Chris and took it upon himself to act as guide to Berlin. He told Chris that he could get paid on the Friday if he asked in time. He was, in fact, full of very useful and pertinent information and friendly, but was also very full of himself and Chris found him a little over-bearing.

Not too pushy, however, that Chris would refuse the offer of a beer after work. He mentioned that his funds were low, but Luke dismissed it, saying that it could be his shout next time.

Several beers later, Chris staggered onto the Strassebahn to get home and it wasn’t until he was walking along Rigaer Str that he realised that he had forgotten to buy a ticket, but he hadn’t been checked and had therefore saved a DM or two.

His rent was paid for the month, and he hadn’t spent anything getting drunk or getting back home. Berlin was going to be cheaper than he imagined. He continued to feel that way until a week later, when Fr Holtzengraff accompanied by a very mean-looking Herr Holtzengraff, pounded on his door, then opened it, catching him in just T-shirt and boxers and demanded, in gruff, blood-curdling German, “Geld!” which he recognised as ‘money’. Waving the receipt had no effect and it was only after chanting, “Claudia, ja. Marina, ja, kein problem” that they turned to leave, amidst finger wagging and black looks of a ‘this is your one and only chance’ complexion.

After they had left, he smoked the last cigarette in the box and walked into the kitchen, burning off nervous energy, as he promptly turned and walked back into the main room, trying to calm his nerves. After he had smoked down to the filter, he got some paper and wrote to Richard.