HELLO TO BERLIN, 1973 – Part Two

The young English filmmaker meets a man – and a woman…

(Part of an early draft of novel Friends & Enemies not included in published version)

Shortly after arrival in West Berlin, I found myself a small flat.

I had spent the first few nights in my friend Dieter’s room at a Moabit commune and would have preferred to move in there. But Dieter, on a trip to Moscow to research revolutionary posters, had notified the other communards that he was returning with a new woman called Sasha. She would become the commune’s sixth member and six was the maximum allowed under its constitution. Dieter and I had met in London in 1968 and got on well  – as friends and as people with similar artistic interests. So, on his return from Moscow, it was to him I turned for advice on a film I had dreamt up while driving to Berlin. We arranged to meet at an alternative bar in Kreuzberg. I arrived early and surveyed the low-lit interior with approval: dilapidated sofas, longhaired students, a handful of pensioners – the serious but comfortable feel only Germans can achieve.

Wie geht’s?”

Dieter, with ankle-length Afghan coat and Trotsky-style beard, appeared from nowhere and, embraced me.

“You like the bar?”

“Excellent!” I replied, a little overpowered by the Russian greeting. “West Berlin is amazing. And you? Safely back from the steppes?”

Wunderschoen! Unglaublich! You have to go!”

We took our drinks to a sofa and as Dieter recounted his Russian adventures, enthused about his new Austrian girlfriend and informed me of an upcoming revolutionary poster exhibition at the Academy of Arts in Bellevue, I sipped my beer and listened. Then we turned to my film idea. Dieter was impressed by the discipline of the schema and sympathetic to the notion of exposing the manipulative nature of cinema, but wondered whether it might all be a little too serious. I acknowledged the risk, but felt the games I planned to play with sound would give an audience room to chuckle.

We had just moved on to Dziga Vertov and the revolutionary minimalists, when a woman threw herself onto the sofa and wrapped her arms around Dieter.

Schaetzchen!” she sighed, burying her face in his shoulder. “Du bist es.”

Dieter returned the embrace and winked at me.

“An old friend?” I mouthed, in English.

“Never met her before,” Dieter whispered, as the woman closed her eyes and began to snore. “Tell you what,” he added, reverting to German, “Let’s change places. I promised to give Sasha a call. See if she wants to join us.”

Lifting the figure from his shoulder Dieter eased along the sofa allowing me to slip into the vacated space. The woman was repositioned and Dieter, putting a finger to his lips, disappeared. I stared at the slumbering form. What should I do? Wake her or let sleeping strangers lie? She wore an open-necked top of crushed velvet, flared trousers and platform shoes. Her black hair was cut close to the head, her make up dominated by dark mascara, her body slim but not skinny. She sighed and let her hand slip between my legs. I felt myself blush. Stay calm. Dieter would know what to do.

But when he returned, he did not refer to the woman.

“Problem at the commune,” he grimaced.

“Oh dear,” I said. “Can I help?”

Dieter shook his head.

“The others don’t like the way Sasha has arranged my room.”

“But it’s your room?’

“What’s mine is theirs, what’s theirs is mine. You know. I’d better go. Sorry. I’ll take you to East Berlin next week. Someone I’d like you to meet there. Tschuess!”

I tried shifting the hand on my crotch. The woman moaned. I tried extricating myself from the arm on my shoulder. She moaned again. I glanced around. Two pensioners were observing the scene with a mixture of prurience and fascination. What would he do next? What would she do next? I turned back, emptied my glass and decided to leave sleeping beauty asleep. I would slip out, walk home and start work on my film. I began to disentangle myself with more determination and had just managed to cast off, when the woman awoke, jumped up, grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the door.

Kom’ Schatz! We’re going home!”

Her action was so sudden and the grip so tight, I had no choice but to follow. The pensioners smiled, a man winked, but most drinkers took no notice.

“Excuse me,” I said, when we were outside. “I don’t know your name?”

“Mathilde, Dummkopf!” she replied. “You have the car?”

“I walked here.”

She shook her head in disbelief, hailed a taxi and dragged me inside. I did not resist.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“With you, Dummkopf!” she replied.

I raised my eyebrows and gave the driver an address. Mathilde re-assumed her slumped position on my shoulder and went to sleep.

When the taxi stopped, she awoke, told me to pay and then pulled me out of the car and across to the building’s front door.

“Wouldn’t you be better off at home?” I asked.

“I am home!” she said. “I pee and then we make love, yes?”

Was she a hooker with a clever line or just representative of the bohemian lifestyle that – according to Dieter – flourished in West Berlin? As I had never slept with a prostitute and was new to Berlin, I could not answer either question and decided to go with the flow. The here and now was what I had come to experience, and worrying about someone’s motives, past identity or future intent did not seem appropriate.

I let her into my flat and showed her to the bathroom. I went to the living room and collapsed on the sofa. I heard the toilet flush and a door slam. Then silence. I crept into the hallway. Perhaps she had gone to sleep and would disappear from my life in the morning as quickly as she had entered it in the night – the drama of the evening coming to a quiet but satisfactory end without any need for the conventional climactic bed scene. We would talk in the morning; something might develop, it might not. I found a sleeping bag, cleaned my teeth and emptied my bladder. Then I stopped. I should check on her first. People who were drunk or under the influence of drugs could choke on their vomit; Jimi Hendrix had died that way. I opened the door to my bedroom.

Mathilde lay naked – legs apart, staring at me.

“Well?’ she said. “Zur Sache, Schaetzchen – down to business!”

Sex completed (lovemaking seemed the wrong word for the one-sided but pleasurable wrestling match she subjected me to), I found myself pinioned beneath a snoring Mathilde now back in sleeping beauty mode.

Schlaf schoen!” I mumbled and closed my eyes.

But a combination of delayed shock and sexual exhaustion kept me awake. I opened my eyes and thought of my film; of my friend Dieter and the invitation to go to East Berlin; and then – for no particular reason – of my father. Had I been conceived in a frantic battle like the one just experienced with Mathilde, or in a serene moment of lovemaking? I couldn’t imagine my father being serene or frantic – my mother, yes, but not my father. He had been such a cautious man; a civil servant, working out his days until the pension was due then dieing too soon to collect it. I yawned and wondered whether my mother had known other lovers before him. I imagined her in Berlin, in the thirties, ignoring the Nazis and having a good time. I closed my eyes again and smelt the alcohol on Mathilde’s breath – vodka or brandy or both. In bed in Berlin, September 1973. Now it was my turn.

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