Berlin: Strange Like the Music of the Doors
by Chloe Caldwell
“Everyday in Berlin is Saturday,” the melting pot of people at the park tell me. No, everyday is an existential crisis, I would like to correct them. I smile. I nod. I take a sip of my 65-cent Sternburg beer and I pretend to love Berlin like everyone else.
They tell me this to comfort me. But I see it as a warning and I begin to dread Saturdays.
“Have fun in Berlin!” the two girls I met at the bar yell to me as they leave. No! I want to yell back. The girls are so friendly. They remind me of my old self. I would be friends with them if I were in New York. They write their email addresses down in my journal and add: email me for fun in Berlin! Uh-huh.
Christian On The Second Floor
My friend Skye and I sublet a room at 30 Boxhagner Strasse. While buying beer across the street at the Kiosk one night we meet the guy that lives the floor below us. We sing Suzanne Vega to him:
My name is Christian. I live on the second floor. I live upstairs from you. Yes I think you’ve seen me before.
The three of us become instantaneously inseparable because the three of us are inconsolably depressed. The week before Christian met us his girlfriend left him and he tried to kill himself and woke up in a hospital. Even though it’s summer, we stay inside most days and pass joints back and forth. Sometimes we watch three movies a day. Movies like: Sid and Nancy, Wristcutters: A Love Story, and Suburbia. Christian feeds us Kinder chocolate bars and gummy candy called Happy Cola. He says he can’t be bothered to cook anymore. I feel fat. We eat fruit salad every day, sometimes twice. When three miserable people make fruit salad it consists of one apple and one banana. Once we ate it with a grapefruit. Once.
I stare out the window in Christian’s apartment like if I do it long enough I will forget or remember things. In the corner of his bedroom you can take a step up to an alcove with windows for walls and can see three different street corners. There I stare, stoned, at dogs off of leashes, purple dreadlocks, pink and blue sky, electric blue rat-tails, red mohawks. Camouflage shorts and black sweatshirts. Beers and babies in hands. Couples in hand. I talk in my head to New York. New York, I am hoping for an experience that pre-dates you—that cancels you out. I know I won’t have this experience if I keep staring out the window growing a beer gut but I have no reason to stop. In the kitchen I can hear a German man making pasta. I remember feeling like I’d attempted suicide and failed. Like I’d thrown my life off of a bridge to drown it but it fucking floated.
Say the name of a drug you want in Berlin and it will be in your hand the same day. The park is full of strange men and women. We give them all nicknames: Is that the Tunisian PCP guy? Is that the demon Nazi guy? Hey, there’s white shirt dance man. Is that the punk? We don’t know their names and they don’t know ours. But until the pre-dawn we all sit together in a circle lit with tea lights and dogs and hash and guitars and bottles.
Skye and I are sitting on the swings at night when a girl with long brown hair, about thirty years old, comes up to us.
“Would you like to share my speed with me?”
We blow speed off of the History book that she uses in her classroom. “I’m a teacher now you know?” she kept saying. “So don’t tell anyone I do speed.”
We talked about communism and the upcoming German elections. She mostly preached. She was disturbed we didn’t speak much German.
“But you know that we can speak English right?” she asked.
“I’m aware of that.”
“I’m doing speed now because my mom died,” she said.
Pain is universal.
It’s five in the evening and Skye and I have just woken up even though we went to bed at midnight. Seventeen hours. Getting up to do nothing is hard. The sun is gentle and we are in the kitchen. I am staring out the window at The Kiosk. I stare at the three guys who have grown up in Berlin. I like to imagine what they talk about. They stand there nursing beers from the afternoon until dawn. I never see them arrive and I never see them leave. Skye is sitting on the windowsill smoking a cigarette. Berlin is compressed of all the days off that we wished for in New York. They make me want to die.
“I’m thinking about making tea,” I say to Skye.
“I’m thinking about going back to New York,” she says.
“…I’m thinking about that too.”
I clean a woman named Stephanie Frasco’s flat once a week and spend the money I earn on beer and speed. I like Stephanie more than anyone else I have met in Germany because I can scrub her toilet and she overpays me in euros. She is from Los Angeles and smokes Marlboro lights and simultaneously does yoga and talks on her headset. She has a Buddha statue from Target. She can’t clean her own toilet. Her life seems sad to me. One morning while I am still on acid, I go to the computer to email her that I won’t be able to make it. She’d sent me an email that she loved my eager attitude and earnesty, and could I start coming three days a week? I couldn’t even write back because I couldn’t figure out how to use a keyboard and Christian had turned into an evil white bunny rabbit that I thought was conspiring against me.
The Girl From Barcelona Who Speaks Chinese
I have fallen in love with a girl named Tau, rhyming with cow. Tau would consider herself a freegan if she considered herself anything but she doesn’t believe in considering. She has dark eyelashes and olive skin. Small boned but not bony. She reminds me of a beautiful child. Tau lives in a place called The Caravan with fifteen other people. There is one bedroom with fifteen mattresses. The door of The Caravan is spray painted green and orange and reads: WELCOME. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOOD FOR YOU. The other side of the door says: YOU ARE WELCOME EVERYDAY AND ON SATURDAY. I am sometimes in love with my female friends but I never want to touch them the way I wanted to touch Tau. When I sat next to her one evening, our bare knees, shoulders and arms touching, I felt like a man: completely infatuated with her face and body.
Tau says shaving is shameful. She doesn’t shave her armpits or legs. Tau says she hasn’t watched a television in three years. Tau says she found photography at age thirteen and believed that it was all she needed. She says she thinks she conceives life differently from others and she wants to actually bring this difference to reality. Tau speaks Spanish, English, Chinese and German. I speak English. I told Tau I don’t believe in privacy anymore. She told me I am easier to talk to than my brother. Tau told me she wants to live in a glass house where people can watch her have sex, brush her teeth and eat breakfast. Are we crazy and we don’t know it? She asked me, grinning.
“Christian?” I ask. He is getting dressed for therapy. He is in a good mood because his therapist is really hot and “keen on chemicals and putting them together like LEGO blocks,” and he was going to get some “high-end Prozac type feel good shit.”
“If you were to kill yourself, how would you do it?”
“With a bang.”
“With a gun?”
“Guns are hard to get here in Germany and shit…but yeah.”
My brother and I are laying across from each other on couches in West Berlin. I am looking at the clock that runs backwards and thinking about how that clock is like my life, regressing.
“Trev, where would you want you choose to have your ashes scattered?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. But wherever you do it, plant tomatoes. Then I could live inside tomatoes. That would be cool.”
Skye can’t sleep and I hear her click her lighter and her Camel Light wafts in the hot air.
“If you were to die tomorrow, what would you want it to read on your grave?”
“I don’t know. Maybe something like, ‘I wasn’t fucking stupid, dude. I was just curious.’”
Was pretty much the same as American Acid except it lasted longer and felt stronger. My heels were black and I thought they could never be white again.
“Trips aren’t supposed to last longer than twelve hours,” Christian told me from the computer desk.
“How long has it been?” I asked.
“Eighteen hours. Oh, don’t DO THAT MAN!”
“I am talking to Backpack Man. He has these creepy fingers he is waving to me and shit?”
“I’m seeing flamingoes.”
Hours, (minutes?) later, Christian was on his side, his back to me. His shoulders were trembling.
Oh, fuck, I thought. I am tripping with a crying German man. But I didn’t ask him if he was crying because I didn’t know what to do if he was crying.
Hours, (minutes?) passed and I became curious.
“Hey, were you crying before?”
“No. I was laughing at this pear.”
I cannot describe the enormous relief I felt that I wasn’t hallucinating the pear. I didn’t even ask where or how he was seeing it. I didn’t open my eyes. I didn’t want to see it. I had seen enough. But then ten minutes later I got curious again.
“You said were laughing at this pear? Where?”
“Yeah, I know. Where are you seeing it?
“This pear. What pear?”
“Are you fucking with me? This pear. I don’t know how to pronounce it in English.”
“No, man, you know when you are scared and shit? Dispear.”
“Despair! Oh my god. I thought you were laughing at this pear.”
“I was laughing in despair.”
As we came down, we watched The Simpsons in German and I couldn’t stop laughing. We lit tea lights. Then I took the best shower of my life while Christian went to the Kiosk to get frozen pizzas with shrimp on them. We smoked joints and ate it in bed. I counted on my fingers. I was leaving Berlin in two days.
I kept my Metro card in the right pocket of my leather jacket the four months that I was in Berlin. I rubbed it like a worry stone. I obsessively checked for it. I just wanted to get back to Metro card land. The night before I left Berlin, Skye told me to take her Metro card. Then I had two. The morning I left, my brother told me to take his Metro card. I had three. When I got to Penn Station, they all had insufficient funds. When I got to Penn station, it was after midnight and I missed my train back upstate and the next trains didn’t begin until six in the morning. When I got to Penn Station, I realized I had nowhere to go in New York and no cell phone. When I got to Penn Station, I had to spend the night there, which was worse than any bad acid trip.
Chloe Caldwell is a non-fiction writer living in New York. Her forthcoming book of essays, “Legs Get Led Astray” will be published in April 2012 by Future Tense Books. Excerpts from it are to be found on The Rumpus, Freerange Non-fiction and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood. You can learn more at www.chloecaldwell.com
Art by Margarita Korol.