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(D) Boris 1

1st June 2021

Ostkreuz früher und heute
Ostkreuz S-Bahn station, with the “Teutonic water tower.” Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. May 1995

Chris took Daniel to meet the Russians at their squat in a remote area of disused offices and railway shunting yards. The area looked like a post-apocalyptic film set: large empty streets save for a few burnt out cars. The buildings all with broken windows, doors hanging off rusted hinges, half derelict and foreboding.

They alighted at Ostkreuz, a major intersection S-Bahn station with several different levels and platforms confusingly set out with various exits leading to metal walkways and staircases.

Daniel noticed the Teutonic water tower, resembling a Prussian army helmet, and desperately tried to memorise other landmarks, in case he should need to come back alone, but he was lost even before he had left the station.

Chris had been here several times now, helping the Russians with carrying stock to the bar, and one or two social calls, and knew that finding the building was just the first problem. The next was getting in.

The address was Pfarrstrasse, but the entrance was actually on the street around the corner, Kaskelstrasse. The building took up a whole block, dozens of flats that had been left to decay and were now squatted.

Chris tried the street door, but knew it was always locked and even the idea of an intercom was laughable.

The first time Andrei had been waiting for him, looking out of a window, and he threw down a bunch of keys. The second time, Chris had to wait for someone to arrive, then, in German, explain who he was and why he was here. Despite living in a squat of his own and having to go over to Richard’s flat to shower, Chris still looked and dressed several notches above the squatters here, who were proudly unkempt, unwashed and untrusting.

Chris shouted up and they waited, shouted again and continued waiting. Daniel looked around, uneasily, not sure what he was doing here, wherever ‘here’ was.

He was experiencing the Czar Bar syndrome. Plans and ideas were expounded, inspired by the atmosphere and the vodka, but when they came to be implemented, there was a sudden lack of enthusiasm, a frequent lack of memory.

For five minutes they waited, and Daniel was prepared to put it down to a good idea that hadn’t panned out, when Chris saw Boris walking towards them with a plastic bag, obviously containing beer cans.

Daniel had met Andrei, Olga and Sascha, but Chris had pointed out that Boris would be the heart of any band, he was the musician, the one who would lift them out of the rehearsal room and onto the stage and then . . .

But Daniel wasn’t prepared for the voice.

Boris was tall and reserved, with dark, tangled, curled hair which he kept meticulously clean with his own home-made shampoo of beer and eggs. Chris even joked if the beers were for them or his hair.

“Ah, yes, yes, the beers, yes is for both, hahahaha.”

The voice was incredibly deep, an accent perfect for a late night horror program voice-over.

Boris let them in and they walked up three long steep flights of stairs, then along a corridor, where he opened another door. Inside, there was a lot of noise and activity.

The door opened straight onto a kitchen area, a large table in the centre of the room. Around this sat Sascha and his German girlfriend, Trudi, who was playing with her black and blue dyed hair. Andrei was shouting in Russian and Olga was screaming back, but they both stopped when they saw the guests, Olga going over and offering her hand to be kissed.

Another long-haired man was in the background, opening some packets of food. Daniel pointed to him and said to Chris,

“He looks like Charlie George,” referring to the Arsenal footballer from the early 1970s.

Boris was a big English football fan and amazed Daniel by picking up on the reference. Their friendship was assured. And the poor Russian, with no German or English, was forever after known as Charlie George.

The three potential band members, Boris, Andrei and Sascha, all had good albeit basic English. Of the three, Andrei was the one the others turned to, in order to clarify or translate a difficult word. However, their German was only basic, at best. Olga was doing well in her new language, but had no English. Trudi was quite fluent in English, when she spoke, which was hardly ever. She professed having zero desire to learn Russian.

“It is hard language to learn,” sympathised Boris. “But it used to be much worse. In English, you have one flower, then another word for two flowers . . . In Russian, too, we had same, but then we had another word for three flowers. After the Revolution, they say we going to make easier . . . “

“Yeah,” Daniel jumped in, “no more flowers!”

Boris had a laugh as disconcerting as his voice, but it was starting to grow on Daniel.

Charlie George brought some dried fish over, and invited Chris and Daniel to take one. They did, then watched how the others picked them up and slapped them hard onto the table, so hard that is caused some empty beer cans to topple over. Andrei saw their bemusement,

“It to make sure they dead.”

Then the vodka came out.

Some hours later, Daniel and a distinctly tipsy Chris left to walk under the railway bridges and along the wastelands to get the Czar Bar opened.

It had been decided that a new band should be formed, and that Daniel should come over on Saturday for a first rehearsal. Walking with Chris, he knew he would never be able to find it again, but Chris wasn’t listening. He was planning.

His income was directly proportional to the amount of customers, or rather, how much they drank, or rather, how much they paid for how much they drank. His expenses were drastically reduced, needing no rent or daily travel money, but he still wanted to be able to buy larger items, or have enough to fly home, if needed, to complete the degree which, by degrees, was seeming less and less probable.

He thought of the stage in the Czar Bar, how it was going to waste, as the only people who used it were themselves wasted, spread out and sleeping, until Jake would unceremoniously kick them up, then out.

The answer was obvious; a house band. Gigs, concerts. Get a whole new crowd in, not just the usual ragbag assortment of punks and squatters and shitkickers, a word he had heard Jake use, and was now part of his daily vocabulary.

What was better, and economically advantageous, was that it would have to be on the nights that he and Jake worked, as neither Boris nor Andrei would want to work and play, and Micha and Serge, the other Russians who got a night or two per week, were unlikely to want the extra effort it would involve.

His enthusiasm to tell Jake made him walk along at such a pace, that Daniel had a hard time keeping up.

Daniel was both excited, and on a nice alcohol buzz, but was concerned over an issue or two. While he was sure he would be able to come up with lyrics, he had never sung before and was wondering if he had any ability. Another point was that, as he sat quietly around the table, getting to know his new friends, and impressing them by his knowledge of Russian authors and of St Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospect, he had noticed how Olga looked at Andrei and then at Boris, and the loving way that Boris gazed upon Olga. There was going to be trouble there, he thought. But, until that happened, he was going to get a band started and, according to Chris who had already appointed himself manager, they had a guaranteed residency lined up.

Arsenal legend Charlie George in the early 1970s

Love and Chaos Part 6(I) Jake 1

19th May 2021

The 7 Best Punk Bars In Berlin
A typical Berlin punk bar. Google Images

Part Six. Berlin. February 1995

Jake was born in Iowa and spent his life in the Mid-West, living first in Illinois, then trying his luck in Wisconsin, in Ohio and finally in Michigan.

He had played in bands, more in garages than on stages, deciding he’d be better off as a solo performer, then changing his bachelor life for that of married man, before his wife decided that she’d be better off, back as a solo performer.

As he had disclosed, without exaggeration or embellishment, he had been working in the fast food sector at the time his wife informed him, by proxy, that his services were no longer required.

What he didn’t say, and what would have made a dramatic and popular coda to his story was the fact that after his young supervisor requested he get back to work, Jake went over to him, picked him up and attempted to deep fry his head. He was deterred by some tall Black co-workers, who later wondered why the hell they had stepped in to save the skinny white guy’s arse.

Jake, predicting that this wasn’t the path to career advancement, left the building. He felt finished in the US and, after taking care of his legal formalities, and totally disregarding other responsibilities, decided to check out his family’s east European roots.

With just one backpack, one guitar and limited funds, he landed in Krakow, in post-Communist Poland.

By busking for tourists, Jake was able to survive, and also to imbibe as much as he liked, due to the incredibly low prices of alcohol. He moved onto Prague, with its large American ex-pat community and found various jobs, helping in bars, shops, being a guide (‘making up most of the facts for fat tourists who didn’t care, anyway’) until he heard that Berlin, just a five-hour train ride away, was even cheaper, with squat houses, and more possibilities.

In 1991, Jake arrived with some names and addresses. He found a number of bars in Friedrichshain and played for drinks. He made most money by playing Neil Young’s ‘Rockin in the Free World’ by The Wall for the remaining American GIs.

The Czar Bar was then a strictly Russian affair, and one vodka-soaked night there was a Slavic stand off when one Russian man accused another of sleeping with his girlfriend, causing a defiant denial and indignation, despite it all being true and everybody knowing it, most people even seeing it, as it had occurred in a dark corner of the bar. The immediate problem was that the two men were supposed to be working together.

As this clearly was not a good idea, Jake, who happened to be there, offered to take over. That night, the Russian cuckold helped himself to his own vodka and sat sulking, sporadically bursting out curses and threats in Russian.

Veterans of the Czar Bar point out that this was the only time that Jake could have been referred to as ‘the sober one’.

Nearly four years later, Jake’s world had shrunk to the bar, the beer shop, Burger King on Karl Marx Allee and his squat flat, next door to the bar.

It was at said flat that Chris arrived at around five in the evening.

He knocked. And a second time. It wasn’t until the fifth knock, when he was on the verge of leaving, that there were rumblings inside, rumblings that morphed into noises that metamorphosed into curses. The door opened and two bulging, red eyes appeared in a forest of facial hair. The hat was, as usual, on, at some impossible angle.

Jake inquired what Chris wanted, then grumbled and mumbled and opened the door to let him in and shuffled back to his room, scratching and pulling at his ripped unholy long johns.

Chris had lived on Rigaer Str, had drunk in all manner of squat bars, and met drunks and junkies on the streets, the streets full of shit and vomit, piss-stained and encrusted with frozen mucus, but nothing had prepared him for Jake’s flat.

There was no furnishings to speak of; all walls were bare, as were all the floors, which had several boards missing. There was little light as it was dark out, and most of the windows were either boarded up after being broken, or had too much stuff piled in from of them. Single bulbs hung like condemned men from noose-like wires.

But most of all, it was the smell. It appeared as if Jake had kept every bit of garbage, and had maybe gone out and collected more. It was piled up against doors, pouring out of rooms, covering the floor. There were cartons, bottles, cans, wrappings, ring-pulls, fast food boxes (grease-streaked and discoloured), papers, flyers, adverts, letters, and a whole, miscellaneous section that defied description.

Chris was rooted to the spot. He didn’t feel safe moving, it was surely a health hazard just breathing.

Jake called out something to the effect that he’d be ready in a minute. Sure enough, he reeled out of his room (from which Chris turned his face), swayed forward, putting on his thick, leather coat and checking his wallet.

“Yeah, Micha and Serge were out, or they’d have let you in.”


Chris couldn’t believe that two other people shared the space.

Jake went down the steps and opened the back door to the bar. The fug hit Chris immediately. Old beer, old stale sweat and tobacco smoke rushed out like a deranged Jinn, one with severe body odour to boot.

Jake was immune, and opened the storage room, taking out the trolley and loading it with empty crates and making a quick inventory. There was a note left for him; Andrei and Olga, who had worked the previous night, had run out of vodka, and borrowed a bottle of his.

“See how fucking clueless they are ? It’s the Czar Bar for fuck’s sake and they had no vodka.”

Chris was starting to think that this may not be the best idea he’d ever had. Drinking in the bar was one thing, actually working there . . .

Jake took Chris to the beer store, around the next corner. He barked in German, placing his order.

“Wednesday, probably not too busy, it’ll be a slow start but’ll pick up by four, five . . . yeah, better make it an extra case of Becks, two bottles of Tequila, gimme a bottle of that whisky as well, six, no, sev, er, eight vodkas, yeah, nine. Nine. That’ll be us covered, hahahaaha.”

Chris knew that Jake wasn’t joking, and that Jake would certainly have consumed at least one bottle of vodka himself, before the night was over, maybe before the bar had even opened.

While Jake began setting up, Chris gave it a cursory sweep, made sure the toilet was at least presentable (i.e. flushed) and collected last nights ashtrays and bottles, putting the empties in Andrei’s crates.

The first beers were already opened as Jake gave Chris some beginners’ tips. This solely consisted of not allowing any credit, because the creditor and debtor would both be too drunk to remember it the next day.

Then they went to Burger King and Jake told him stories of cleaning toilets in McDonalds and they both agreed that the burgers they were eating were some of the best they’d ever had.

It was way after one o’clock when Richard arrived, straight from work, to celebrate Chris’ new job. The very first stool, by the door, was empty, so he took it and gave Chris his shoulder bag to put behind the bar. Before they could have any conversation, Jake, on his umpteenth vodka, came over and extended his hand, booming out above Tom Waits,

“Hey, Richard, what brings you here ?”

“The night bus,” he replied, but only Chris found that amusing.

Jake found it an excuse for a vodka.

Chris was doing well, collecting glasses and bottles and serving the customers immediately. He got into some conversations with people he had previously only known by sight, many of them living in one of the squatted houses either side of the bar.

After returning from the toilet, Richard saw his seat taken by a woman, but as the next one became free, he sat there and they began talking. Then drinking. Having a friend and flatmate as barman was having benefits. Richard had yet to pay for anything and when he offered, Chris just shot him a wink and, with a wink, poured him another shot. His new friend also enjoyed this privilege. Then Richard began a kissing thing, Chris discreetly moving away down the bar, casting an approving eye from time to time.

Jake, however, was proving less fun to work with than to drink with. He allowed Chris to choose the music, then changed it every time, before the first track had finished. He gave instructions, repeated them, then got into a bad mood for no apparent reason and returned to a good mood, hugging Chris, equally without obvious cause.

Richard was kissing and stroking his friend, only for her to say that she had a boyfriend (he resisted the urge to call Chris over and make some reference to the perennial boyfriend problem) but was tempted to go home with him, yet everytime he appeared to have won her over, she pulled back. He didn’t press her, but just thought he better kiss her while he has the chance. So he did.

As Jake forecast, the bar was crowded by four o’clock. The Czar Bar, as Chris later surmised, is where all drunks and punks and skunks end up. When other bars spew out their customers, they end up here. Especially when Jake is working.

Richard gave a last kiss to his friend, as she had to leave. He never did find out her name. He never did see her again.

Chris introduced him to several new people and three or four times, there were communal vodka sessions, where everyone around the bar had a shot of vodka. Then came the business of finding out who was paying for it.

Richard saw Johan again, this time with a small and very pretty blonde girl with glasses, and all three, along with Chris and Jake took a shot. The girl was Veronica, Johan’s new girlfriend.

Eventually, the bar began closing. Richard had spent some time asleep on the counter and several people around the bar were being woken up and kicked out.

All locked up, Jake opened three fresh beers, as if he were ready to start all over, played one of his favourite Neil Young CD’s and sorted out the money. He was pleased; it had been a busy night. He handed Chris two fifty Mark notes.

“It’ll be more on weekends. Gotta get more girls in here, because if we have girls, we’ll get more men.”

They made some drunken suggestions, then fatigue overtook them. Richard knew he had to work that evening and would still be hungover.

Chris and Richard left and were hit by the unforgiving morning light which momentarily blinded them, making them squint.

Staggering wildly around the street, Chris recommending that they take the U-Bahn, because it stopped at Alex, then the U2, which terminated just one station past their’s at Vintastr. should they fall asleep.

At Alex, both of them indeed asleep, they were woken by some of the other passengers and, heading to the U2 line, they found a croissant shop and bought several pastry items, as they smelt so damn good.

When Richard woke up around three-fifteen, he found several bags of half-eaten, cold stodge in the kitchen. He put on coffee and went to wash.

Chris was still sleeping. He was out.

Love and Chaos Part 6(G) Johan 1

13th May 2021

May be an image of 1 person
French Johan, Berlin mid 1990s

Part Six. Berlin. February 1995

Jake poured four shots and made the introductions. The newcomer was Johan, a Frenchman who had served in the army in the north west of Berlin and stayed on. After the first round of vodkas and a second, for luck, Johan began,

“I thought, yeah, nice day, I cycle to work, I borrow Claude’s bike. I have to go and show a new man what to do, right ? This new man, my God he is how ? Less than useless, then I leave and see the fucking rain, Man. So I get the U-Bahn. Fucking hell, the U-Bahn, weird people. Then I get on the U5 at Alex and go to the special section for bikes and I stand the bike and fix my hair and I can feel someone looking at me, so I turn and it’s a woman, Man, fucking beautiful, do you understand Jake ?”

Jake was leaning on the bar, hat over eyes and nodding.

“Yeah.”

“No. You don’t. I mean she was . . . ah, Man, like really beautiful. OK, so I look at her, she looks away, but then she looks back at me. Now, I look away. But I look back. And we do this for two stops. And then we look at each other at the same time, and she smiled at me, Man, and I know, I know, you know ?”

“Yeah,” Jake again.

“But then I’m thinking, fucking hell, don’t get off at Weberweise, no go on, go on. And she stays. And now we are looking at each other and smiling and you know, then comes Rathaus and we’re both on and I think, this is it, I just have to get off with her and (here Johan made a long kissing noise). But then I think, oh no, fucking hell, Man, no, no. I have Claude’s bike and he needs it back tonight. So we get to Samariter Strasse and I have to get off. So I give her this look, like, hey, baby, sorry, come on, another time, OK. And I get off and the doors close and you know what she did ? She make with this (here Johan stuck up a middle finger) and make a face like this (here Johan made a very good impression of a shrew). Women. Fucking hell.”

“I think that calls for another round. Jake, if you’d be so kind,” offered Chris, who then proceeded to tell his story, editing and embellishing as he saw fit, tailoring it to the needs of his audience.

Not to be left out, Richard, made loquacious by vodka, told an abridged version of his pointless pursuit of Lorelei.


Jake shuffled back from serving other customers, as business had started to pick up and selected a new CD. He felt that the night had a Nick Cave vibe to it, and played ‘The Weeping Song’.

“Who needs a vodka ?” All hands up. Jake poured, then started to tell his story. As he was about to start, A large German shouted out his order and Jake screamed back in fluent German. The German raised his hand in apology and waited.

“You think you got it bad, I’ll tell you a story. It’s my thirtieth birthday, and I’m working in a McDonald’s in Michigan. Some arsehole in a suit comes in and asks for me, then hands me some papers, ‘You’ve been served’. My wife was divorcing me. Then the manager who was half my age with a squeaky voice and squeaky acne calls me over and tells me not to waste time, and to get back to work. Someone had taken a McShit in the crapper and it had blocked the pipes.”

Jake went over to serve the German and the three contemplated the just-told tale. Johan sucked in his cheeks and proclaimed Jake the winner. The prize, unsurprisingly, was a vodka.

“Yeah, it was the squeaky acne that got my vote,” declared Richard.

By this time, all determination to leave early and sober had been left far behind. The bar was busy, Jake constantly serving and changing CD’s as the mood took him. At one stage, having run out of cleanish shot glasses, he asked Chris to go and collect some, then gave him the key to the storage room, where there was a small sink.

This was rewarded with free drinks, so Chris was pleased to help. Then Jake needed a ‘quick piss’ and Chris covered the bar. Jake pointed to the large blackboard with the range of drinks and prices. Chris enjoyed being behind the bar, as opposed to under it, he quipped, so much that he stayed there and helped out Jake for the rest of the night. And Jake, knowing about him needing work, offered him work for the whole of his next shift, the following Wednesday.

Thus, within a day and a half of jumping out of a pasta restaurant window, Chris had landed on his feet, helping out in an east Berlin squat bar.

“Only in Berlin,” he enthused.

“The beat goes on, Berlin goes on. And not a bad way to get a job. Just turn up at the site, get absolutely vodka drunk . . . ”

“And get offered a position,” concluded Chris, as they shook hands. Then he made an executive decision. It was time for more vodka.

Love and Chaos Part 6(F) Monika 2

11th May 2021

Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, with the Wasserturm in the background. Photo by Martin O’Shea 2021

Part Six. Berlin. February 1995

Despite his naivety, when he woke up and saw that Chris’ bed was empty, Richard knew what had happened.

He felt uncomfortable, not to mention a little jealous. Once again, everyone else was hooking up, making connections, getting off. Everyone was making love, while he was merely making notes. Even New Year’s Eve, in clubs full of drunken girls, half on them on ‘E’, the kissing drug, he ended up crashing on Arizona Al’s floor. This wasn’t exactly the life he had envisioned for himself.

But there was little time for self pity as, shortly after he had washed and made his first coffee, there was a knock at the door, a knock that indicated it was Monika.

He let her in, and she was so apologetic, asking him to forgive her, and it wasn’t fair that he should have to suffer. She came for business, armed with fresh croissants and a pile of newspapers.

“We look through these until we find Chris a job, OK ? He is in the bath ?”

“No, he is, er . . . out. But he should be back soon. Would you like coffee ?”

They sat in the kitchen and that, reflecting back, was the mistake that lead to Armageddon.

Had they sat in the main room, Chris would have seen them and spoken accordingly. Instead, he saw an empty room, but heard movement in the kitchen.

“Ah, what a night. Unbelievable. So refreshing to have some good old, down and dirty sex. Hot AND heavy. And not have to beg for it, either.”

Richard physically felt his heart stop.

The time between Chris saying those fatal words and realising that Monika was there, hardly more than two or three seconds, seemed endless.

Chris stood in the doorway, attracted by the smell of fresh coffee and croissants but the sight of Monika was so unexpected that he stood there, frozen, petrified.

Richard swept past him, grabbed a book, some money and his coat, and was out of the house and down the stairs before Chris could fully comprehend the extent of the situation.

That the relationship was over was a given. Just how much suffering she was going to inflict was the only variable.

Richard went to The Anker, but the cute waitress wasn’t working, so after a quick coffee, he moved on, further along Stargarder Strasse, past the Imbiss with the deep fried cauliflower, to another bar with a cute waitress who was working, but didn’t appear to recognize him at all. But, by now, Richard saw this as standard procedure.

He read some, looked around, checked his watch and came to the conclusion that he would have to stay out of the house all day. He could hardly phone and ask if it were safe to come home. Then what would Monika think of him ? How awkward would it be when they met again which, Berlin being more like a large town than a big city, they were bound to do.

He walked around for a bit, then decided to see a movie but even the earliest was hours away.

He tried calling on Arizona Al, but no answer and Berlin in February is not usually ideal for strolling aimlessly around. In the end he decided to get an U-Bahn to Alex, then take a long S-Bahn journey. It would keep him warm and kill time.

And that is how he spent his Sunday. It was a stroll in the park compared to Chris’ and Monika’s.

Monika’s first reaction was sheer shock. She sat, not believing what she had heard, softly repeating it. When she stood up, it was with defiance and she stood in front of Chris, just looking at him. Then, spontaneously, she hit him, with all her force, a punch to his chest. It appeared to surprise both of them. Then she hit him again, and was about to punch him a third time, when he caught her hand. She made a scream and he let go and they backed away, Monika cursing in German. She picked up her things and left.

Chris let out a sigh of relief. It could have gone much worse.

Then Monika returned, banging on the door and he had to let her in.

The fight was now really about to start.

She fired questions at him, shouting, spitting in his face with anger and frustration. She brought up all she had done for him, all he hadn’t done for her and kept asking, over and over, to describe in detail his night, what ‘down and dirty sex’ was, how to do it, and wanted to know about each and every time they had made love, how it had been, what was it she had been doing wrong.

She was relentless and Chris, with an almighty hangover was in no condition to argue. He also couldn’t help smiling, partly from still being drunk, partly from fear which, naturally, didn’t help the situation.

He tried to calm her by suggesting some tea, but she picked up a cup and threw it, and it caught Chris on the cheek.

That act subdued her and brought the initial hysteria to a close.

Chris made drinks in silence, not feeling like smiling so much, now. Monika paced up and down.

She then demanded to know all about the girl and Chris found himself making up a story, how he had seen her a few times and she was a nurse, who lived with her parents, rather than the truth, that he had only met her the night before, as he had simulated oral sex with Arizona Al on stage at a club called The Monkey’s Arse.

After came the subject of their sex life, and what did he mean by having to ‘beg’ for it ?

Then a list of all the sacrifices she had made, up to and including that very morning, as she was prepared to give up her free day to help him find a new job.

Just when Chris though she had calmed down, the anger and hatred returned and he instinctively covered his face, making her laugh.

“What a man, what a fucking little man you are. How could I waste such time on a fucking Smurf like you. Arschloch !”

Monika began looking around the room, collecting things of hers, cursing all the time and throwing things around.

“Ja, you just sit there like a fucking mouse.”

She went into the bathroom and Chris was glad of the momentary peace, even thinking about leaving the flat, and cursing the fact that he was too high up to jump out of this kitchen window, an action that had precipitated the whole scene.

It would be nearly an hour before she left, more tears and accusations, shouting and punching. Chris wondered where the hell Richard was.

“Well, you Arschloch, I’m going, why don’t you go to your filthy squat bar and pick up another fucking, dirty whore-cunt ?”

Several hours later, in a filthy Czar Bar, Chris looked around, but there were no women, dirty or otherwise.

“Hey, Man, thanks for coming with me,” he said to Richard as they sat on the end stools, further from the door, in front of the annex with the store room and toilet.

“No problem. Could use a drink.”

“Mustn’t overdo it, though. One, still got a hangover from last night. Two, shell shock from the Monika. It’s like having the bends. Three, work tomorrow.”

“Work ?”

“Yeah. Gotta find me a job and that is gonna be work.”

Seeing Chris’ sense of humour return, Richard ventured a joke of his own,

“Still, on the plus side, you won’t have to buy her a Valentine’s card.”

Chris was unfortunately drinking at the time and, laughing, beer began pouring out of his nose. Jake the barman was suitably impressed and, over a round of vodkas, got to hear the story.

“Ever noticed the initials of Valentine’s Day are V.D. ? Either of you expecting any ?”

“Cards or the clap ?” asked Richard.

“No, just death threats,” answered Chris.

“Stick around here. Sunday’s normally quiet but if it gets busy, I could use a hand. Hey, we’ll see how it works out, OK ?”

Chris agreed, but shared Richard’s scepticism, as it was after Midnight and there were only two other people in there apart from them, neither of whom looked as if they were going to be running Jake off his feet.

Then the door opened, and a man known to them only by sight came in, drenched from the rain that been falling with increasing ferocity all evening.

He stood there, hair soaked, dripping, rain falling off his jacket, jeans, gloves, nose.

“Hey, Mr Jake,” he called out in a heavy French accent, “Vodka. Hey, you two, too. Hey, Salut, come on, have a vodka with me. Women, fucking hell, Man. Have I got a story to tell . . . “