Love and Chaos. Part Nine (F) Richard 1

14th August 2021

Berlin Christmas Markets Walking Tour
Berlin at Christmas. Google Images

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Chris spent Friday evening at Rodenberg Strasse, abstaining from alcohol, and reading until Richard returned from Steglitz, after which they shared a couple of easy beers. The music was constant but soft, limited to Richard’s few CDs. The next morning, Chris was flying back to London and Richard had all day to fret about his date with Johanna.

In the morning, dark and bitter, Richard, light and optimistic, walked with Chris up Schönhauser Allee to the Strassenbahn (tram) stop on Wisbyerstrasse, slushing through the snow, head down, shoulders hunched up. Chris tried moving from foot to foot to keep warm, but almost slipped on the treacherous ice. Before too long, the faint smoky glow of an approaching tram, doors opening with an hangover-splitting shriek but the inviting warmth of a heated vehicle.

Richard was travelling as far as Osloer Strasse the northern terminus of the U 9 Line. From there, Chris had a mere two stops to the interchange with the U 6, then four more to get the airport bus.

“So, tea, naturally, now, drinks … what do you have in mind ?”

“How about some Pimms ?”

“Didn’t know you liked Pimms.”

“Don’t know if I do. Never tried it. Just sounds so English. Ah, forget it. Everything’s cheaper here. Suppose Stilton’s out of the question.”

“I’m not bringing sodding Stilton back in my bag, I’ll get arrested. Books ?”

Richard named some Physics text books.

“Man, those things weigh a ton. All right, let me see. Oh, here we are. Sure you don’t wanna come to the airport, it’ll be fun.”

Richard said goodbye to Chris and watched him descend into the U-Bahn station. Just then, a Strassenbahn appeared, heading back east, and he jumped on, buying some croissants on the way back to his flat. As the coffee was brewing, there was a knock on the door, heavy, forceful, determined.

So Chris had missed the flight, or gotten the date wrong, or forgotten his passport. He pulled his door open, prepared to shout mock obscenities and bemoan the lack of Pimms when he was momentarily silenced. Completely blank for a second or two, and then a warm but confused,

“Silke !”

Standing outside his door, in tight black jeans, a very figure-hugging jacket, and boots that were far too sensual for the ice and muck of Berlin streets, was Silke who, in character, walked straight in and hugged Richard.

“Gehts ? Hey, long time, why don’t you phone, did you forget me ? Was ist ? Coffee ?”

Richard followed her into his own kitchen and, yes, she did look absolutely fantastic in jeans. He allowed himself this unexpected pleasure.

“But, er, Chris isn’t here. He’s just left for the airport.”

“Ja, und ? I speak with you. Oh, croissants, can I have ?”

“For sure. You speak with me. Wow. It’s a Christmas miracle.”

“Ah, mensch, bullshit. So was is with you ? Tell me.”

Naturally, there really wasn’t that much for Richard to tell. Same job, same life, same old Czar Bar. Chris, same job, same life, same old Czar Bar. Except for Johanna, about whom Silke was very curious.

“She lives where ?”

“Is it Marzahn ? Somewhere in the east.”

“Marzahn, schiess ! Have you been there ?”

“No, we always … ‘always’, twice, meet in town. Kreuzberg. In fact, we’re meeting tonight. Third date. Anyway, what’s with you ? Monika said you had a new man.”

“When was this ? You saw Monika ?”

Richard told her about meeting Monika in summer, without elaborating, not that there was any need for restraint. Silke knew everything.

“Ah, so, you know Gabi lives with a lawyer. Is a nice Hausfrau now, never meets. Lorelai went to …”

“I know, Munich.”

“Nein, England. She met a student and now lives in … let me think … Brighton ? Is it nice ?”

“Probably nicer than Marzahn. A student, hey ? What do ya know ?”

“Now we are neighbours.”

“Who ? You’re moving to Brighton. Why’s everyone going to bloody Brighton ?”

“Nein, you and me. I have a new apartment in Greifenhagener Strasse. Just go over Stargarder. By the Cafe Ankhor. You know it ?”

“Yes, remarkably cute waitress who couldn’t care tuppence for me. What else is new ?”

Silke, being unfamiliar with this rhetoric, actually began explaining what was new.

“Aber, ja, Monika, who knows ? I think she is tired. Too many stupid jobs, stupid men. I told her to go back to university. I’m going to. Is there more coffee ?”

An hour or so later, Silke got ready to leave. She made Richard promise to visit her, it was only five minutes away. They hugged and as they did so, they kissed. It was natural. For Richard, it was nice, very, very nice.

Around the same time, Chris was getting ready to board the flight to London. He was pinching himself, remembering to say Lufthansa, not Luftwaffe, and was looking forward to a high of 4 degrees.

Around the same time, in the north Berlin Bezirk of Wedding, Daniel was putting on his coats to call Jeanette. He had his Pfennings and Marks counted out, weighing down his jeans. The telephone that accepted cards was open-air and he would freeze his ears, while the coin-box was in a booth. It would still be freezing but not fatally.

Around the same time, ‘Rough Guide’ clutched in gloved hands, Alan Francis was walking along Danziger Strasse. He would have to move out soon, but Kelly had a room organised for him, across Schönhauser Allee. He saw a cinema over the main road and took it as an auspicious omen. He went to investigate his new neighbourhood.

Around the same time, although on EST, Eric Schwartz threw John Stuart Mill across the room, grabbed a Sam Adams, and planned on, in the morning, hitting a punch bag instead of the books. After Eric had finished Sam Adams Volume II, he felt better and reflected that making people happy, that is, tipsy, was undoubtedly for the greater good. By Volume III, he was wishing that the good people of Boston had tipped John Stuart Mill into the harbour instead of tea and by Volume IV he no longer cared, and was watching whatever was on late night TV.

Back in Berlin, Richard was reflecting on his day. He had seen Chris back to the UK safely. Soberly. He had caught a Strassenbahn immediately. Silke had miraculously reappeared in his life, the lady with Bond-girl legs, and S&M fetish boots, and tonight he was meeting Johanna. The year was ending very well.

Love and Chaos Part 1(E) Richard 2

Much-loved travel bookshop Stanfords is fundraising for survival
Picture of travel bookshop, Google Images

Part One. London. Spring 1993

Chris liked effects. He liked startling and surprising and shocking people. It had cost him at least one job, and made strangers treat him with caution, as they dismissed his humour as a sign of immaturity and his behaviour as borderline psychotic. But the humour was noticeably absent when he met Richard for their farewell drink. In its place was an irritability and nervousness that itself was shocking and surprising.

For the sake of Auld Lang Syne, as Richard put it, they decided to meet in the Soho pub they used to go to in the Fordham days. Chris was late and arrived flushed and agitated. Being in no mood for small talk or self-perpetuating puns, he got himself a drink and began explaining.

“I went to get my final pay packet; I’d asked them if it could be in cash because I’m leaving in two days. So I go to the office, and waiting there, with the manager and Russell, are two company lawyers. They say that they’ve been going over the stock and that there are certain inconsistencies. So much alcohol unaccounted for. Before I have a chance to think up a good lie, they tell me that I’ll get my wages, but not my holiday pay and that if I wish to seek redress, I should feel free to consult with my own solicitor. Fucking wankers !”

“Shit ! Did they have proof, or …”

“I don’t know, but they ain’t gonna blame Sophie Bloody-Twatface are they ? Well, I did it, so, yeah, guilty, fine, then they start going on about how they should really call the police and make it a matter of record, but thought that this was the better solution. Not for me. Bring the police in, just give me my money. Time they get here, I’ll be long gone. Never coming back to this shit-hole, either.”

There followed a few minutes of silent drinking, Chris staring at a patch of English pub carpet, almost without blinking. Richard nervously tried to think of something, but after an awkward interlude that Chris showed no signs of breaking, he finished his beer and went to the bar, returning with two double whiskys. Chris took the glass and drank, but his spirits were still at a depth that Richard had never seen before. Still, he allowed him this anomaly. He had never quite accepted that Chris really was going to Germany, with no German, no job, no place to stay and now, evidently, no money. Then suddenly, Chris picked up.

“Wasn’t even good wine. Bloody shit. Think they made it themselves. Nuno wouldn’t touch it. Use it as mouthwash. He’d pour it over his boots to give them a shine. Fuck ! I was counting on that money. Shit !”

Nuno was one of a number of people that were known to Richard merely by name and by anecdote. Marina he had never met, and she was already back in Berlin. Trying to lighten the atmosphere and to genuinely help, Richard offered some money, Chris declined, but accepted that he could ask if he were in trouble. Richard thought about saying that he could always come back home and return to university, but somehow sensed that that wasn’t the way to go. Instead he asked about the travel plan which seemed unnecessarily complex.

“Train to Harwich, wherever that is. I asked the clerk, ‘Is that in England ?’ and she smiled one of those forced, what an idiot efforts. Then boat to the Hook of Holland, from there to Rotterdam, onto Hamburg, then train to Berlin. Zoo Station. Get mugged by the children of Bahnhof Zoo. Another thing I know about Berlin. Full of junkie teenagers who’d stab you for a quick fix. “

“And Marina’s going to meet you there ?”

“No, at a café a few blocks away. I’ve got the address and directions. She’ll try to have something organised for me. Maybe a place to stay for a few days.”

But then Chris trailed off, as if he were only now facing up to his decision, like a bad joke that had imploded on its perpetrator. The mood didn’t improve, the alcohol just bloating them and making the evening tense and hazy. They parted warmly enough but Richard was left wondering if he would ever see Chris again, a feeling that would return over the coming years.

That being the case, he actually felt pleased by Chris’ letter, not Chris being in trouble, but that he was in contact and needed Richard’s help. He calculated that he could spare fifty to seventy pounds and set about finding out the quickest way to get it to Berlin. He had heard about people wiring money in films but had no idea how one went about it. He asked at a Post Office and it seemed quite straightforward, provided one had certain information, which he didn’t. With no bank details to transfer money to, he was left with simply posting it and hoping it got there. Converting to Deutsch Marks would take more time, so Richard put three twenty pound notes into an envelope, sellotaped the flap several times, wrote over the tape for security and sent it, to an address which, at the time, meant absolutely nothing to him:

Chris Pearson
Bei Holtzengraff
Rigaer Str 16
10247 Berlin

It seemed somehow too little information for a European capital and the second line, beginning ‘Bei’ was a total mystery. He could have asked Melanie, who was still in London, but they had no plans to meet, and without Chris, if may have seemed rather false, not quite right.

A reply came two weeks later. The emergency was over, Marina had saved the day. He had his own flat: kitchen, bathroom and living room, and a job in a film studio. He had stayed with Claudia, a friend of Marina’s, right by where the Wall stood and had already found his local bar. Chris wrote,

“Can’t describe it, only its nothing like an English bar, thank fuck. Lots of people speak English. Work is all English speakers. Very different from London, people look happy! CHEAP !!! Beer, cigarettes, food – all cheap! Get your arse over here. “

There was no thank you for the money, but there was an invitation and that was even better. Richard planned how long he would have to work to be able to save up for the trip. It would be a few months. Nevertheless, the next day, he went out on his lunch break to the nearest bookshop and bought the Rough Guide to Berlin. He accepted that he wouldn’t be at university in September.