Fishing in Beirut

April 15, 2010

Part 7: Berlin, July 2001 (scene 3)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 7 : Berlin — fishinginbeirut @ 09:30

They got the U-7 at Neukolln, Karl Marx Strasse bustling and full. At Berliner Strasse, they changed for the U-9 to the Ku-damm. The Mexicans were already playing the red restaurant on the right.
The Mexicans were the competition, two guitars and a violin. Their bellies forced the guitars to be played at chest level. The strings on these instruments were older than the street they were serenading, and flapped about tunelessly as the chords were plucked.
Frank lit a cigarette and watched them. They were sweating in the German summer heat. The Berlin sewer smell rose up violently, making diners cough and Dev complain.
They’d wait half an hour before playing here. After one performance it needed time for the clientele to change. They moved across the road and set up at another restaurant, effortlessly stealing The Mexicans next port of call.
The place was half-empty, and Frank tuned up. The Behanser wandered off during the first song, leaving him alone to play guitar. Dev sat in front with his bodhran, and Pd slapped his thigh while he sang.
Frank felt light in his head from the sun’s rays. The chords to these songs could be done without even a thought. So Long Marianne, Lime Tree Arbour, these were the set staples. Adapted to be played at cafes, beer gardens, and bars.
The Mexicans in turn leapfrogged them, and the two groups continued around the Ku-damm in this manner, overtaking one another, pausing, and doing so again. They stopped for beer on several occasions.
Stretching in a restaurant they had just hit, they laughed when The Mexicans huffed up and started playing. Frank smiled at finally catching their act. They performed for the customers impassively, staring ahead like they were dead or waiting for a bus. The Behanser let a belly laugh but it didn’t ruffle them.
As evening descended, they waited for Dev to drain his glass and got the tram to Prenzlauerberg. There was a square surrounded by restaurants, known as Kollwitzplatz. Here they shared sangria with an English busker named Jason, who told stories of Anderlecht, Paris, and Sevilla. He was maybe forty, with a scraggly ponytail and booming voice. He welcomed the company, and gave a sense of being utterly alone.
Then they started. Touring the restaurants, blasting out the same set. It was difficult sometimes to imbue it with any effort. However, it was this or working, singing or the sites, and so they sang, happily. Dev sat on the ground like a beggar or a Buddha.
In a bar at four in the morning they met Martin. An Irishman in an Irish bar in Neukolln. He was thirty-five, from Belfast, and played piano in five star Berlin hotels. The Behanser and Frank invited him back to the flat. He sat at the Bluthner grand, playing Mozart. He launched into Beethoven’s Fifth to make them laugh.
“You boys are wicked,” said Martin. “You’re brand new.”
His thick Northern accent was screaming for mimicry.
Dev tripped over a flashing lamp stolen from a construction site, reaching in vain for something but no one knew what. He just stretched out from his seat, then stood up leaning forward. He tripped on the lamp as he lunged at a shadow on the wall.
“Sit down you moron,” said Frank.
“There’s a fucking shadow on the wall like the ghost of a girl.”
They all looked, thick smoke obscuring everything, cigarette papers and butts littering the floor. There was no shadow or girl determinable.
A carton of sangria had spilled that night or previously, soaking the threadbare carpet, the smell mixing with the smoke. Dev dropped a roach in a can of Kuppers. Frank spied a pack of painkillers on the table and ate the six that remained in it. They combined with the smoke and the drink and made his body quite numb. He saw The Behanser stand up, but slowly, like underwater. Martin laughed, sounding as though from somewhere else.
“Play fucking piano,” mumbled Pd. “I’ll sing something Irish if somebody plays.”
Martin hit A minor and followed with F. As soon as he moved to G they knew what was coming.
True you ride the finest horse, I’ve ever seen,
Standing sixteen one or two, with eyes wild and green.
The Behanser removed a block of hash from his anorak.
As dawn broke they played charades, miming the titles of films that never existed. Pd took an hour and then gave up
“What the fuck was that?” shouted Dev. “What fuckin’ film were you doing?”
“If you can’t guess it, it’s fitting you’ll never know.”
They sparred back and forth for a while, each claiming the other’s turns were inventions.
The pointless exchange was finally ended with whiskey.


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