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A Knight in Berlin

The hostel in Former East Berlin, “The Mitte” is a great one despite the five flights of stairs you have to drag yourself up and down in order to get there. They have a fantastic staff, friendly, knowledgeable. No question, seemingly, is a stupid one.
The staff is comprised of the usual suspects: stoners, beatniks and expatriates. Best of all though, they have liter-sized bottles of Beck’s behind the counter for 2DM. It was a second such bottle of the evening that I was sucking back when the following chat took place:
“So, the Kreuzberg area is a cool spot, huh?” I asked.
“Depends what you’re looking for.”
“How about the cat houses?”
“None that I know of.”
“What about the Nazis?”
“Fuck the Nazis! Those guys are a bunch of pussies. They’re afraid to go into Kreuzberg because all the Turks there will kick their asses.”
“The place is like Brooklyn. Very territorial. Sure, you don’t want to go into Lichtenberg after dark especially if you’re brown like you, but generally there not as many as you think.”
“Yeah, maybe I’ll head over tomorrow.”
“What are you up to tonight then?”
“Probably head down to Oranienburger, see what’s happening; get drunk.”
“Yeah, well, there’s plenty of places for that around there.”
“Maybe see the Trocales Gallery as a nightcap.”
“Now that’s cool. They’re always open. Old bombed out building left over from the war, just like everything else on this side. But this one, downstairs, I mean way in the fuck in the bottom, many floors down, where it’s dark, and the old people used to hide from the planes, that’s where the artists display their stuff. It’s a bit odd, their shit; you need to be very drunk for that scene. Or better yet, high.”
“Oh yes, baby, I’m your Knight in White Satin. Anything you want, just let me know. No request unreasonable.” And he looked at me with mischief and desire in his eyes. It was the first and only time I have ever wanted a man.
“RICKY! PHONE! STOP FLIRTING!” somebody shouted from within the office behind the counter.
“Gotta go.” Ricky grabbed his smokes from the countertop and darted off. “Bye for now.”
Others stomped in and out, brushing snow off their shoulders. It’s snowing? I got off my barstool, went to the window and, Christ, sure enough, snow dusted the evening sky. I’m a city boy from East Los Angeles. I have never seen snow, nor have I ever been to the mountains right after it had snowed to play and frolic. Me, gawking out a five-story window here, now, on a nervous and freezing night in Berlin, was the first time I had seen actual snow fall.
The music from the club downstairs started up-indecipherable, rancid, bellowing, no beat, no groove, a hacking noise, really-and it shook the building all the way to the fifth floor. “What the fuck is that?” I asked aloud.
“Club for the older folks,” somebody mentioned as he walked out with a bottle of wine in his hand.
Just then two girls approached the counter. One tall and blonde, the other shorter and brunette, both pretty, and, pretty fucking young. They smiled at me. The blonde waved over one of the counter kids and asked about where they could get a quiet drink and pulled out their street maps.
Others meandered about. I was pleasantly buzzed with my two liters of Beck’s and smokes and felt it was time to head out. It was near ten. First though, a trip to the hallway cigarette machine, a quick piss, and a useless splash of cologne. I also got my gloves and Guinness Brewery cap.
I stomped down the five flights of stairs, around and around and around; sure, that’s the easy part, try crawling up these fucking things at 5 am; head full of booze, bone chilling cold, disoriented, the shakes coming on earlier than usual…
I stopped at the exit, looked up at the snow falling harder than before. I tilted my face and let the powder settle over me, then zipped up tight, adjusted my hat and gloves, and stamped out to the street: time for a drink.
“We saw you upstairs. Where you going?” I swung around, my right arm cocked and ready to strike whoever just said that. Of course, though, it was the blonde and the brunette huddled together under an awning.
“Hello,” I said.
“We didn’t know where to go,” the blonde said while the brunette was absolutely beaming at me. “It’s snowing, we heard you coming down, so we wanted to wait and…”
“See where you go, Maybe we could go too.”
“What if I was headed to a brothel? Would you still come with me then?” I said, smiling, stepping closer.
“You don’t look like a man who goes to those kinds of places,” the brunette said.
Inside, deep, deep inside, I had to scream with laughter at that one.<!–page–>
“You look like a gentleman who escorts two pretty ladies on their first night in Berlin,” added the blonde.
“Really? Wow, I should look in the mirror more often.” They giggled.
“Actually,” I continued, “ this is my first evening out. I got in last night but I didn’t want to do anything. This city is huge. I never imagined it to be so big, you know? I was a little turned-around.”
“Yes, that is how we feel now,” the blonde said and they looked at each other.
“I don’t mind. Come on. There’s supposed to be a street down here where we can get a drink. It has tons of pubs and restaurants, so I’ve been told. I’ll buy you ladies a pint.”
Honestly, I would’ve been stupid to blow them off. Normally, I don’t like dead weight, especially if they don’t know what they’re doing, but fuck it. It’s only on the road that I get this type of action.
I never have to try here, never have to ask an attractive woman to join me for anything because they always invite themselves. Sure, they’re lonely or scared-it takes a lot of balls to hit the road backpacking as a single woman-so maybe they see me as a security measure.
Maybe they figure I won’t try anything. But more often than not I get free drinks out of it, or smokes, or free eats, or a night dancing, and sometimes if we get drunk enough we get to a little fooling around in a dark corner somewhere. Who knows?
“So, where you girls from?” I asked as we made our way down the dark and isolated street. Right next door a bombed out building that had not been rebuilt swayed in the wind. Chain link fences the only barriers. “I am from Sweden,” the blonde said. “We travel together.”
“I’m American.”
“Yes, we know,” they laughed. “But what city?”
“Los Angeles.”
“Ooooh, where’s it’s warm all the time, huh?” the brunette cooed.
“Most of the time, yeah.”
“That is so nice, to go to the beach every day where it is sunny and you get to swim in the ocean.”
“Oh yeah, I’m at the beach everyday. But I prefer this climate. This is the first time I’ve been in snow.”
“Do you not have snow in your country?” the blonde asked.
“Yes,” I had to chuckle.
“Ok, who cares about weather? Where is it we are going?” the brunette asked and wiped snow off her face. I had let the snow rest on me and she reached over and wiped it off my head.
“I don’t know, but I think we’re going in the right direction,” I said, motioning ahead, pretending that I knew where we were going.
“We’re only here for one night,” Blonde said and I brushed up against her as we sidestepped a puddle of snowy mud. There were more cars further this way, more life.
“Yes, and we are hungry, where can we eat?” Brunette asked excitedly.
“There’s a McDonald’s at the far end of this street by the U-Bahn.”
“Perfect,” they said in unison.<!–page–>
Only one night, huh? Maybe they’re looking for a bit of fun. The brunette’s not afraid of me. She’s younger. The blonde is obviously the boss. But you also have to be careful too because a lot of these beauties, sometimes, can turn out to be lipstick lesbians, in which case, I’d be wasting my time.
We passed a few more shelled out buildings, and, looking deep into the recesses of their destruction, you can feel the disturbances in the air around them. Christ we annihilated this city, but more so in Dresden I kept hearing.
And so here, now, as two Swedes and an American stumble by, almost sixty years later, you can still feel the rip in time that was left. You can sense it at any of the concentration camps in and around the country too. It’s a sensation you can’t shake. It lingers. Suffocating. Scared the fuck out of me the previous night as I tried to find the hostel.
“This looks like something,” I said as we finally came to a Y-intersection. Yellow trolley cars sped past, each with different destinations illuminated up top. I could spend another month here and I still wouldn’t figure them out. Trolleys and night buses anywhere are always nightmares. Even the locals can’t get them straight. Insane Turkish, Pakistani, and Afghani taxi drivers pinballed their way between pedestrians on the road.
“Look, there is plenty places to go,” Brunette said.
“It looks like a street in Sweden, where there are lots and lots of bars.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Yes, we drink much because there is nothing for the young people to do and it is night for a long time.”
“My heart goes out to you,” I said.
The street had over a dozen bars and cafes on this side. Across were more. Some had doormen outside dressed like GQ models and were charging covers so to hell with those places. Having to “dress up” and pay to drink is not in my temperament. Some bars had too many Americans, some had too many thugs (you want the local flavor but you don’t want to have to fight your way out), and some were just right.
“This looks good,” Blonde said. The menu outside listed BECK’S at 3,50 DM. Not bad.
I held the door. The snow had stopped by the time we reached this part of town. As we walked in we caught the disgruntled looks of people from those tables nearest the door because we also let in the cold.
A furnace blast washed over me and I had to chuck the jacket, gloves, and hat. The girls did the same. A table was waiting. “I’ll get the drinks. What do you want?”
“Whatever you want,” Blonde leered and so did Brunette.
At the bar the black, mid-thirties, bored, barmaid grabbed our beers and did not say thank you or smile. I also grabbed a whiskey.
“You like whiskey too?” Blonde asked.
“Takes away the chill.”
“What chill?” Brunette offered.
I settled in. German-rave-techno piped in but at a soothing volume allowing room for talk. “So how old are you anyway?”  I asked Blonde.
“I am 20.”
“And I am almost 18.”
“Excuse me?”
“I’m 18.”
“You girls still going to school then?”
“I start my second year at university in summer,” Blonde said.
“And I start university this fall,” Brunette said.
“Wow, you’re barely starting? Christ, you got a long way, and you’re traveling before you do, that’s the way to go. Good for you, sweetie.”
“So, how come you have a different accent than her,” I asked Brunette. “I thought you were both from Sweden.”
“I never said I was from Sweden. I’m Bosnian.”
“Really? You’re my first.” I said and she smiled and held it.
“I survived the war!” she then shouted and thrust a fist in the air.
“I had no idea the Bosnian women were so beautiful.”
“There’s a lot you Americans don’t know about us. And, I’m 17, thank you.”
“Even better.”<!–page–>
“I have a stud in my tongue,” Blonde cut in, jealous, wanting attention. “Do you have one?”
“None that I recall,” and returned my attention to the blonde.
“My boyfriend dared me to get them.”
“Boyfriend, huh? So where is he,” I looked behind me, pretending to be scared.
“Don’t be silly,” she laughed. “He is at home.”
“He should be here with you.”
“Show him your stud,” Brunette said.
Blonde stuck her tongue out and sure enough, she had one of them barbell studs. “Cool. Where are the others?”
Blonde unbuttoned her shirt from the bottom, then up to and stopping at a lacy, white bra. Instant erection. She showed me her belly button piercing and wiggled her tummy like a belly dancer and we laughed at that.
“And the third one?” I looked at her and she glanced down into her lap. I licked my lips and Brunette said, “Show him” and things got very quiet.
Blonde reached for the top button of her jeans, unfastened it, then the next one. I could see the red of her g-string panties.
Then stopped.
“I can’t,” she shook her head. “No, you silly” Blonde said and the girls squealed together as Blonde buttoned back up.
Fuck it; I’m here to get drunk, anyway. I shook my head and headed to the bar for more drinks. But it was cool, they paid attention to me, laughed at my stupid jokes, accepted my hospitality, and all it cost me was four beers. Besides, maybe a few more drinks and I can get the rest of her jeans off. There was a line though so I had to wait longer than I wanted.
“This will be our lasts drinks,” Blonde said as I returned.
Oh Goddammit! I gave them time to think. Never give them time to think. But I needed another drink. “What?” I said, sounding hurt.
“Yes,” Brunette gave the excuse. “We have to get up early, we have a train.” It was almost midnight. “Sorry, we stay for a few more minutes.”
Fine, they’ve already made the rules. Now what?  No use talking them out of it. Screw it. I’ll make my own fun then. Seek out new adventure. New women. New trouble.
But what else do you talk about while you’re waiting to finish your beer? You’re certainly not going to leave the thing half empty then politely excuse yourself from the table. Those drinks are paid for, pal.
School? I did that. Some interesting stuff about the Swede’s schooling system and the moonshine their kids make. Pleasant conversation, but now that expectation is gone. That thing you thought would get you sex with two other women at the same time is simply not there. Damn, that happens too many times to me.
Blonde was scraping the label off the bottle. How long had she been doing that? A person only does that when it’s time to go, or when they’re bored. “Well,” Blonde began, “we better go now.”
“Yes,” Brunette echoed.
“Oh come on, ladies, it’s still early. Just one more,” I heard myself begging. “You sure?”
Blonde laughed and stood up. “Maybe you can escort us back to hostel?”
I looked out the window: it was snowing again, harder this time. How long had we been here? Did I only have a couple of drinks or was it more? Brunette reached out to shake my hand. I took it and kissed it and she grabbed my hand and made a grand gesture in doing the same in return. “Well,” Blonde smiled, and Brunette beamed at me. I was thoroughly in lust.
Now, did they have some something in mind? Maybe they didn’t want to be out in the streets until dawn but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t stay up late in their room entertaining an indecent stranger.
Or maybe they were trying to get me to escort them back and that was it, a quick peck on the cheek. I’d be stuck barely after midnight at the hostel and I’d have to walk all the way back in the snow to get to the boozing again.
No, fuck that, I’m no gentleman, I’m staying here; I’m not going anywhere. Of course, I could just ask them what they had in mind. But if I did that they might be offended that I was thinking of such debauchery.
“I think I’ll stick around, try out a few more pubs,” I announced.
Yes, it’s official: I am a drunk.<!–page–>
“Oh, ok.” Blonde said. And was she disappointed? No, that’s my ego talking. But Brunette looked dejected. Was she? No. Maybe. I don’t know.
As they left the table Brunette took my hand again and locked eyes. She said, “Come, let’s walk back.”
I don’t want to go back. It’s too fucking early. I want to drink more goddammit! No woman’s gonna tell me what to do again. I make my own decisions. Good or bad. Besides, what if it’s bullshit? What if not?
“No, I’ll hang out here for another beer then go find a whiskey place. Ricky at the hostel mentioned that the “Oscar Wilde” is a pretty cool Irish pub, I’ll find that. You come with me.”
“Goodnight, James,” Blonde said, and I forgot if they hugged me, or gave me that peck on the cheek after all. I don’t remember giving them my name, or if I got theirs. I remember them walking through the door and seeing Brunette from Bosnia waving at me and they were gone.
I ordered another whiskey and beer-back and leaned against the bar, lit a cigarette, and realized: oh fuck, not again. Did I misread that one too? Jesus, what a idiot.
I made my way down the street and spent the next few hours popping into every single pub along the boulevard trying to forget my annual fuck up, grabbing a drink, and drinking in the scene from each, including some twisted disco where a German woman tore me away from the bar and my Vodka and spun me around the dance floor to “I Love the Night Life” while other young German men watched but didn’t say anything.
The woman breathed into my face, “I am sorry to bother you. I am sorry that you meet German girl who is stupid drinker.” I pushed my hard-on against her ass as I turned her around but she became incensed and pushed me away. She then promptly went up to another man at the bar and pulled the same stunt.
The doormen said goodnight as I stumbled out and I soon found myself across the street floating up the rickety staircase of a war torn and graffiti strewn building: The Trocales Gallery.
Signs posted in German lead the way but I was following a small group of equally drunk but good Germans as they made their way into this building, then down and into a courtyard of sorts.
We were out in the dark of an abandoned yard with a fire going in a trashcan and the signs lead back into another part of the building and more stairs down; dust everywhere, chunks of plaster, spilt motor oil, sheets of mangled chicken wire, and muddy puddles of water.
And then we hiked over a small chasm that lead to other another stairwell, down again, then back up, then down, then around a maze of bent and twisted support beams then through a doorway and finally into a room as big as an airport terminal.
So damn quiet, with more building materials splattered everywhere. A bomb went off here, several, I supposed. Total disarray. Walls blown apart. Knocked over tables. Busted furniture. Charred wreckage from another life. It looked like the basement of my aunt’s house, after the fire that killed her, after we went in to help clean up. There was still a charge in the air.
I tried to keep up with the group ahead of me, they didn’t seem to mind I was tagging along, and then there were the bodies. I don’t think they were real. But splotches of blood, or red paint were on the walls, the floors, and on the dummies. I hope they were dummies. Some were eviscerated, various body parts wearing jeans and flannel shirts.
We sloshed through massive potholes of oily and orange mud while up above mannequins of metal and rubber with no faces hung from the ceilings, and my head was swimming. The air was stifling cold. No air. I began to panic. Breathing hard.  <!–page–>
I looked for a way out and saw that the other Germans were already making toward the exit and I scampered blindly, trampling over “bodies”, knocking my knees into a wheel barrel, catching my balance on a buckled support beam with faces of demons spray painted on it and I quick-stepped my way across the room.
I smelled gasoline and smoke and burnt plastic. Far away I heard the voices in the stairwells and I hightailed it.
Once out I remember standing at the edge of a field, ordering some nasty meat-concoction from an Argentinean food cart. Beyond that, I could see the shadows of humans darting back and forth, rudderless, and I could hear the pounding of that German techno and assumed it was an underground club.
The cook in the wagon grinned at me as she prepared the food and she tried speaking to me in Portuguese and I tried replying in Spanish but it was all fucked up and made no sense.
I paid five dollars for two slices of bread and a half-cooked pile of red mush. I took a bite and threw the thing in the weeds and saw another food wagon selling chips and happily wolfed those down with one last beer. Locals came out for their post 4 am feeding and I found myself staggering back to the hostel.
Half way up I heard a door bang open and three locals crawled out of one of their off-the-boulevard pubs. From behind me they start shouting, cursing. My heart raced. I heard shuffled steps getting closer. I walked faster myself and I heard them laughing. As I passed the next bombed-out building I picked up a chunk of concrete and ran.
I lost them; thankfully, as I turned into the hostel lot then jogged up the five flights of stairs in darkness but quit half way, and used the hand railing to help with the rest of the climb. Of course I couldn’t get the house key to fit in the door once I got to it.
I heard the night porter snickering on the other side and I barked “open up goddamn you” and he did and I fell into his arms, pushed past him and called him a miserable fuck. He laughed and reeked of weed and I found my room, which smelled like a few people were fucking while I was gone and I screamed “YOU BLOODY FUCKING SAVAGES!”  Then passed out.
Next morning I hear the activity in the breakfast room and bathrooms. I get up, swing open the door and the Brunette from Bosnia is standing in the hallway, showered, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
She smiles and looks down at my crotch and I look and I see I’m half hard with morning wood. She giggles and says, “Did you have fun drinking last night without us?”
“Um, yeah….it was…interesting,” I manage.
“Good. We have to go now. Bye,” and she looks again and darts off.
“No, hey, let me buy you a coffee at the front counter,” I plead like a moron, but she’s already turned the corner and is indeed gone.

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