Saturday 9 August 2014

Ich bin Fremd hier #18

Red was as often going to parties as she was hosting them at our flat. Often before I left in the morning she would stumble out of her room in nothing but a cloud of smoke and underclothes and tell me drowsily that there would be a party in the flat that evening and therefore I should make my way home from work speedily. I dutifully make my way speedily home and upon entering the flat on such occasions I would be as likely to see thirty people crammed into the little sitting room as I would just her and her ex-boyfriend bent intently over a game or Carcassonne.

Regarding the external parties that Red went to, she would similarly call upon Smokie and I to attend or, if failing that, at least join for dancing afterwards. The first time I joined a flat party of one of her friends, engulfed by German that I couldn’t understand, I stifled my silence and awkwardness by drinking and smoking heavily. The smoking had no discernible effect but the drinking led to the other harbouring serious doubts as to whether I would get in to Fritz Club (similar to the best worst clubs that you can find in any ex-industrial city in the UK). The bouncers apparently thought I was on drugs and commanded the rest with me not to allow me to fall asleep inside. Red seemed pleased by the whole thing and told me that this is just what happened to Henri every time they went out. In fact, she told me, he would often provoke the bouncers by placing a tik-tak at the end of his tongue when approaching the entrance. Fritz pleased neither me nor Smokie, though perhaps for different reasons. We left after some strained dancing and a couple of cigarettes and headed towards Warschauerstraße. We found a bar there and I collapsed into a voluptuous sofa, reeling in the smoke and techno and half-wondering whether Smokie was tiring of my company or not. Phantoms from the Irish Pub rose in front of me and Smokie roused me into greeting them and I believed we may even  have ended up playing a couple of them at fußball. Not for long though. I soon stumbled home with Smokie at my side.  

Other times we planned to join Red for dancing ended better. One of the best times was towards the end of October and Smokie and I met at Frankfurter Tor to later meet Red at a flat-party nearby. She wasn’t responding to our texts so we ended up buying a bottle of Martini Vanilla and drinking it in a cash machine kiosk so to escape the cold. In the Geldautomat Eingang we sat and played a game which had something to do with naming Hollywood actors and a lot to do with drinking. Looking back I always find it remarkable and how well Smokie and I got on, despite the tools of communication at our disposal being so few. I don’t think it was entirely down to drink, though undoubtedly, on occasion, this helped.

At some point – again, it could have been following a commanding text from Red – we left the bank and jumped on the M10 to Warschauerstraße, once again. In those months, nights kept ending up there. Slipping and stumbling down into Suicide Circus we made our way through the night to one of the bars. We turned our noses up at paying 10€ to enter one black doorway but thought it a damn good rate to enter another, and so presently found ourselves on the edges of a gigantic dance floor, which appeared to expand and shrink in waves as we looked upon it. Perhaps because of this disconcerting appearance, we didn’t look at it for long but headed in and began to dance amidst the throng. Wrapped in the generous spirit of alcohol, we loved everyone we danced and fell against, and believed that they loved us back.   

Electro Swing was playing. Off this I had little prior experience, but loved it almost instantaneously. Fuelled by the Martini Vanilla we swayed and spun in the crowd, like we were in a fancy barn dance, reeling under the high rafters overhead. Tugged along by a current in the crowd, somehow we soon found ourselves up against the DJ booth (though it wasn’t so much of a booth as platform, slightly raised from the floor). Immersed in the electro-swing and slave to my romantic imagination, I found myself in a variety of different scenarios, dancing wildly on the beaches of Anda Lucia, the ball rooms of Victorian London and down cobbled streets in Paris. Yet I didn’t stay long in each, and upon returning to our existence in Berlin at that moment, I saw that there was really nowhere better to be. I don’t know where Smokie was in her mind – and if she was dancing through as many ages and cities ad myself – but she seemed content nonetheless, her eyes half closed and a smile across her face, gyrating with the rest of us.  

At some point I looked up behind me to the DJ booth and saw to my surprise that looming down upon me were two trombones, a saxophone, a trumpet and French horn. There they were! In real life, the musicians from my fantasies bopping up on the platform next to the DJ who spinning under them. This place had become more wondrous than any other fantasy and I danced with new energy. The brass musicians played their instruments with an earnestness cast across their faces that made the whole scene that much more authentic, and that much more worthy of the love for humanity and music and my own body that I felt.  

Of course, these things never last and it was only a matter of time before I notice a looming, shuffling figure make its way closer to Smokie’s side. A man, and through the darkness and drunkeness I saw him old, ugly and slimy too. As the light momentarily splashed over his face, I saw him to be all this things still. I didn’t want to act protective over Smokie: I was aware that it wasn’t my prerogative and she likely didn’t require it. I decided that I would interfere if I had to, but otherwise I would let things play out as she let them. (This, I believe, is a good philosophy to have in most scenarios that one is confronted with in life. Unless something that you find distasteful directly affects you one way or another, let it be. Let it be until your conscience or your personal dignity rises up to a summit that you cannot disregard, or to a point that will torture you in weeks to come. Ensure that you are realistic and honest about these things, and do not let momentary passion disorientate you. But when it does come, when it sits undeniably in front of you, act. Act decisively, and truly.  But before that happens, give the world the benefit of the doubt, and let it be.)

I felt vindicated in the course of action I took – by which I mean, none – when the man soon lolloped away and Smokie and I returned to one another. In peace with the crowd and the DJ and the brass cinquette. And yet, about fifteen minutes later the dark figure returned and this time with renewed vigour. He grinded up against Smokie, and she, being polite, obliging, and made generous from the alcohol, responded mildly, and dignified him by not rejecting him out right. In fact, it seemed to me at the time, she to put my philosophy to work, and allowed him free-reign with her and let the whole thing play. Nevertheless I knew how often the world would often let itself down and so I kept one eye on the pair of them and the other up in the skies and upon the booth. I was sure that she was as irked by the shadow’s persistence as I was growing to be, so it came as rather a shock when, while I was lunging back in one of my more energetic dance floor writhes, her face suddenly loomed in front of me – a tangled damp fringe hanging over her drooping face – and said, ‘wir gehen jetzt, also, bis Morgen …’ and in two seconds the two of them had disappeared.

I stood in shock for a few moments but not for any longer because the crowd was surging round me once more and falling in to the space that Smokie and the shadow had vacated. A girl asked me for a lighter, I handed mine over, rolled a cigarette for myself and took a swig of her beer. We were then dancing together and then I with someone else and she with someone else, and then the four of us together and then I thought I felt a shadow of my own looming upon me when the DJ abruptly broke off and pointing up into rafters the cinquette began playing ‘The Bare Necessities’ from The Jungle Book. The Berlin youth when ecstatic, and whoops and cries rose up in the air, heads flung back and open mouth were thrown open at the high roof.
Smokie never reappeared. I hadn’t expected her to and was on to much of a high to be concerned. Eventually – regrettably, inevitably - it broke off and I made my way back to Marzahn.

Smokie turned up at about midday the next day. Her hair was drooped and tangled like the backend of a Shih Tzu. She was a little apologetic, but more hung-over. She had also lost her phone and thought he had stolen it.

That morning I received an email from the techie company who I had interviewed for a couple of weeks before asking me to start an internship on November 1st, about ten days away. What news! The pay was awful but better than I would receive in London for an internship and better than two evenings a week at the Irish Pub. I related the exciting news to the girls that evening. Smokie was too groggy to care but Red’s eyes flashed. ‘Where? In Berlin?’

The news wasn’t hard to break to Garth of the Pub Crawl, who was instead surprised that it had taken me this long to find another job.  He said that it was now almost confirmed that he would be working with the slick Turk in the shisha bar. In those last days of October I worked a couple more times on the Crawl. Nothing of interest happened at all. The absurdity and bright characters that had sparkled along that track since Leo and the two girls first entered the hostel that first week Berlin had utterly dissipated. This season was over, and both Garth and I, the remaining two going through the motions at Frankfurter Tor, were aware that this had been strung out as far as it would go. At one of the hostels at Alexanderplatz on my last shift I called Erik and told him that I would soon be leaving the Irish Pub. He took the news moodily and just asked me to tell him when my final day would be.

The final day came around fast. Before I started I decided to squeeze in a café for the ‘Top Berlin Cafés’ app that I was writing. The café was just off the Ku’damm and despite scrawling down a map of my own and asking directions when there, I never found it. Eventually I gave up hope of coming across it and simply tried to find anything I could make out to be one of the top cafés in the city. As I rushed further in and out of streets and passed H&M’s and jewellery stores I came to the great KaDeWe, and in a moment of fukit headed towards a little stall with the bright reds letters ‘Vivo’ and ‘Kaffee’ flickering out. I am not sure if it was even a café, but whatever it was, Viva sat – indeed, I presume it still sits - in Wittenburgerplatz, right in front of the grand doorway to the great KaDeWe. The ‘Kaufhaus des Westerns’ – the Department Store of the West – is the largest department store in Europe, save for Harrods in London, and attracts 40,000 to 50,000 visitors every day. As Paris never looks so good from inside the Eiffel Tower, so this infamous giant of shopping, I was to discover, is best viewed from a comfortable seat in Viva. Viva is everzthing that KaDeWe is not: small, plastic, tacky, cheap, and smelling of fat. Here I sat nonetheless, in the cold, wrapped up in my Easter-chick yellow puffer jacket, gazing at the striking widow displays of KaDeWe and watching the great doors to the kingdom, watching the wretched and exhausted and exuberant customers emerge. It was dusk. I was sitting on a comfortable red chair, munching on a slice of Viva’s best pizza with a blanket over my legs.

My last shift at the Irish Pub passed without incident. The only thing that marks it out in my mind is that I was surprised to feel a little sad to be leaving the place. I was working with the stoned Stefan, who drifted about me behind the bar, humming to himself and making us cocktails of his own invention. I didn’t make a thing about leaving, but instead in smoking breaks told them that there was a chance I would be working there less because I was starting an internship. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t tell them I was leaving for good. I suppose I didn’t want the intention, or any kind of fuss and awkward, forced goodbyes. Either way, I shook Erik’s hand at 2am, and left ‘Iris Pu ’ and the people within it forever.

A few days before my internship began I met Garth at the steps of Frankfurter Tor to hand back my Pub Crawl badge. It was cold and we shuffled our feet and small talked for a little before we wished each other luck, said that we would meet for a beer some time, and then turned and went our separate ways. Due to my large capacity for sentimentality, I shortly spun round and turned back to the steps – the steps outside HUMANA where the promoters for the Pub Crawl would meet the Pub Crawl leader in the past.
To these steps I had come in my second week in the city; keen to prove myself and secure employment in the city. One way or another, it had happened. It is never as strong or clean as what we believe it could be, but always brighter looking back upon it than it ever was. Before the Irish Pub, I had thought to myself, maybe, in a year or two years’ time, when walking down Karl-Marx-Allee with visitors to the city, I will point over to those steps and say, ‘There - that is where I used to sit with the other Pub Crawl promoters and wait for Garth. That was my first job in Berlin.’ Of course, not everything is about jobs; flats and people and drinking make up as much of our lives, if not much more, but jobs can come and go quick and often shine bright and are easy to quantify. So, yes, I do, and will continue to love walking past those steps at Frankfurter Tor, and say – mainly to myself, as I am yet to have many visitors here -  ‘There, that is where I used to sit with the other Pub Crawl promoters and wait for Garth. That was my first job in Berlin.’

Huddled up in the cold I sat there at that moment. It was dark, as it had never been when Mo and Leo and the Bulgarian had met with us there. It was dark and cold now. I took out the hard end of a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese and began munching on both. Garth had long disappeared from the scene of the disbanded Pub Crawl, and I sat on the steps at Frankfurter Tor and thought,

‘Well then, that’s that.’
Bertie Digby Alexander
Berlin 2014

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