14th August 2021
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,
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.