After the initial German bar experience, we figured out pretty quickly that the kind, noble people of Berlin viewed drinking as a harmless practice. It was the land of beer and Schnitzel, Dionysus, and since I was a devout vegetarian and couldn’t participate in the latter, I had no choice but to go double time on the former.
That’s right, mate: I had no choice. Oceans and continents and language barriers couldn’t keep us apart then, love, and our romance was taken to hitherto unattainable heights. I may have been there physically with Yorick and Franky, but I was with you in spirit(s), Dionysus.
I was a literal kid in a proverbial candy shop.
I drank booze here, I drank booze there, I drank booze real debonair. On the train, on the bus, and nobody seemed to raise a fuss. I drank in cars, I drank in bars, I drank in parks out under the stars. I waved to cops while I got sauced, straight from the bottle, and got real lost. But I never really lost my way, because in Berlin I was with you night and day.
Ah, it’s enough to make a dry dipsomaniac wax poetic about his wasted youth, Dionysus.
Aunt Germane lived in the Charlottenburg sector of Berlin. It was a nice part of town. Therefore, it was a little too tame for my tastes. I had spent my entire life in “nice” areas, and I couldn’t stand them. Of course Berlin nice is more desirable than Orange County nice, but I was a prurient, drunken, punk rock teenager, and by god I wanted to find some fucking action. Where were all the punk kids? The bohemians? The radical leftists who squatted in bombed out buildings that hadn’t been renovated since the war?
As it turns out, they were hanging out in Kreuzberg. All minus the bombed out buildings bit–as it turns out, my grasp of history was a little off at that point. I hadn’t yet been to college, after all.
Kreuzberg was this radical part of town that was all bars and pizza joints and record stores and thrift shops and punx and psychos and bohemians and rock ‘n’ rollers and expatriates. I had arrived, Dionysus; I had finally found the party I was looking for.
We spent most of our time over in Kreuzberg once we discovered it. Because that’s what it felt like, for me at least: a discovery. That place existed only for me, Dionysus. As far as I knew, it never existed before I got there and stopped existing once I left. It was my own personal playground. I was willing to share with the other kids of course, but it was still mine.
I’ve always been that way–grabbing onto things and claiming them as my own. I used to do the same thing with bands I listened to in high school: they were my bands. My fucking bands. Even though I wasn’t in them and had no right or claim to them at all. And then later on, girls would become my fucking girls. Except they weren’t ever my fucking girls and they usually did a pretty thorough job of reminding me of this point by sleeping around or leaving me or other such things (that I realize now I totally fucking deserved–and then some).
But that’s what Kreuzberg was to me: my fucking place.
I never told the locals this, naturally. That would have only complicated things, and for the most part, we seemed to be well received by them. In fact, there was a trick I figured out pretty quickly that helped facilitate this process.
Whenever I would be somewhere (typically a bar) and somebody (typically the bartender) would notice my accent and ask if I was American, I would respond thusly:
“Unfortunately yes, although I believe that George W. Bush is a sadistic, rat-eyed fuck who deserves to suffer through a million Hooked On Phonics lectures and choke to death on a million pretzels in order to finish the job his father could not. Also, his wife, despite being a librarian (which is a kind and noble profession), is not very attractive.”
I got a lot of free drinks out of that one, Dionysus.
So in my head Berlin belonged to me, but the reality of the situation was likely that my friends and I were merely tolerated by the locals, who treated us as a sort of novelty. We were un-American Americans, and we did our best to illustrate that point.
But we were still young dumb products of suburbanization at heart, Dionysus. And sometimes, we couldn’t help but act accordingly. Especially if we were drinking (which we typically were).
Yorick was far and away the most practical out of the three of us, and possessed more common sense than me and Franky combined. There is simply no way we would have been able to navigate Berlin’s intricate subway system* or locate destinations or order beer in German without him in the beginning. In fact, there’s a good chance that Franky and I would still be stuck riding some never-ending S-Bahn loop today if he hadn’t been around. But Yorick also had a real wild side to him. It wasn’t necessarily destructive, although destruction was a distinct possibility when this part of himself came out to play (typically lured by liquor and egged on by knuckleheads like me and Franky). This side didn’t come out very often, but when it did, it was entirely unexpected, irreverently chaotic, and usually funny as hell.
We were coming home from a night of drinking in Kreuzberg. It was about one in the morning, and we were walking home to Aunt Germane’s from the subway station, which was only about two blocks distance. We were fully taking advantage of those European cultural differences and, therefore, were walking with open tall cans of beer that we were drinking from. As I mentioned, the fine denizens of Berlin didn’t seem to be as uptight as the people where we were from; drinking in public wasn’t taboo in the slightest. At least, that’s how it seemed to us, and we acted accordingly.
Between the subway station and Aunt Germane’s was an area where a bunch of taxis would congregate. The cab drivers would line their cars up along the curb and then hang around with one another, chit chatting and awaiting prospective fares. On this particular night, there were a half dozen or so cabbies doing just this. As we approached them, Yorick looked at me and Franky, tall can in hand, a devilishly telling grin beginning to dance across his face.
“Wanna see something crazy?”
It was, I suppose, a rhetorical question, because I didn’t even have the time to think about whether or not I, in fact, wanted to see something crazy. What Yorick was really conveying was that he was about to do something crazy and I, by virtue of being present, was about to witness it.
Yorick ran up to the first taxi in the parked line, around which the cab drivers were chatting, and with a wild warcry, let his tall can fly.
It ricocheted off the windshield, sending cheap beer cascading in every direction, including on some of the unsuspecting cabbies. Before they or I could figure out what was going on, Yorick and Franky were off like rockets, leaving nothing save dust clouds and laughter in their wake.
And what did I do, Dionysus? Why, I kept walking, naturally. I maintained the same slow, steady, sauced strut that I had going before Yorick showed me something crazy.
It’s funny: I metaphorically ran away from everything I possibly could for a very, very long time. Relationships, responsibilities, consequences, criminal charges: run run run. But whenever I was put in a situation that demanded actual, literal running, I always fucking froze. It’s much like those dreams in which you’re being beset by wild dogs or demons or monsters and you just can’t get your fucking stems rolling, no matter how badly you want to. This instance was just like that, except it wasn’t wild dogs or demons or monsters, it was rabid cabbies.
My brilliant plan of playing it cool didn’t work very well, which became readily apparent when I found myself surrounded by six or seven angry men. They were yelling at me in German, which I didn’t understand, and pointing in the direction in which my erstwhile companions had gone.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying. I’m just getting off the subway and going back to my aunt’s flat after a day of touristing. I saw what happened and I’m just as shocked and appalled as you are. I’ve never seen those kids before. They got off the subway with me but I don’t know them.”
The cabbies had surrounded me, and I feared that perhaps there was going to be some kind of retaliatory action coming my way. A beating, most likely. Maybe worse. Oh, what a way to check out! At the hands of irate foreign taxi drivers!
Headstone: R.I.P. It Up, Rateval.
“If anybody asks you if you want to see something crazy, say no.”
At least one of them spoke English, as he spoke to me.
“Those were your friends! You were talking to them! We saw you! Where did they go? Tell us! You Americans think you can do whatever you want!”
I was pleading with him at this point to calm down. I tried reasoning with him: if I had been accomplice to such a wanton, reckless, and destructive act, then surely I would have beat as hasty a retreat as the other two offending individuals. However, as I was unquestionably and wholeheartedly innocent, I had merely continued at my usual pace, surprised as the rest of them at the unchecked craziness I had just bore witness to.
But they weren’t buying it, Dionysus.
They inched ever closer, and I was certain that I was to be administered a harsh beating at the hands of these unruly and sorely mistaken cabbies. If only there were some impartial, sane third party present to talk some sense into these impetuous lunatics!
And that’s about the time the cops showed up. A lot of cops, Dionysus: like seven or eight of them.
That’s it, I thought. I am most definitely going to be shuffled off to some dark European gulag, to live out the rest of my days in sordid solitude.
I’d read Solzhenitsyn, Dionysus–Soviet Russia, modern day Germany, it was all the same to me. It was curtains, mate. And all over one, crazy tall can of cheap beer.
A cop approached and tried to calm the drivers down. He turned to me and said something in German.
“I don’t speak German. I’m vacationing from California and I just got off the subway to go to my aunt’s and some drunken miscreant, most likely a Frenchman, possibly British, threw something at this gentleman’s taxi. I didn’t really see much because I wasn’t with them and was just minding my own business.”
The cop’s eyes lit up as he replied.
“You are from California?”
“Yes, I’m from Orange County.”
His eyes grew ever wider.
“Like the television series? The O.C.?”
I stared at him in equal parts confusion and amazement. What game was he trying to play here? Was it a crime in and of itself to be from that abysmal corner of the world? Was he somehow a fan of that deplorable show? I couldn’t make his angle out for the life of me.
“Uh, yeah. Like that.”
His tone was increasingly cordial.
“It is very different here, ja? Are you enjoying your trip?”
I answered honestly.
“Yes it is quite different here. I am enjoying myself immensely. Berlin is a fine town.”
He smiled and nodded.
“I am glad. So, you do not know these boys who threw this beer can? They seem to think you do.”
I answered dishonestly.
“No, I never saw them before getting off the subway tonight.”
The moment of truth. I was sweating like crazy. I suddenly found myself wondering if they had any English language books in German prison libraries.
“All right. Well, enjoy the rest of your trip.”
I stared at him. It was a trap. It had to be a trap. He was looking for an excuse to lay into me with his flashlight or add resisting arrest to my charges or something. I knew how cops thought, man– There was simply no way that was it.
“Is that it?”
“Yes, you can go. Enjoy our city!”
I walked off into the night, the clearly unsatisfied cab drivers screaming at the cop in German (about how I was guilty and a liar and a criminal, no doubt). Yorick and Franky were waiting for me in front of Aunt Germane’s building, laughing hysterically. They had witnessed the entire proceedings from a hiding spot nearby.
“Why didn’t you run?!” Yorick asked in between chuckles.
“Why did you throw a fucking beer can at a taxi?!” I retorted, not amused in the slightest.
“Well, I did ask you if you wanted to see something crazy…”**
And the moral of the story is: Silence can often be interpreted as affirmation, and German cops are way nicer than their American counterparts.
</3 Sir Rateval Hurtlinge
*In hindsight it was very practical and easy to navigate, but I for one was too drunk, unaware, and unaccustomed to mass transit to figure it out.
**Yorick would ask me the same question again about two years later. Coincidentally, we were also drunk and it also involved taxis. Except this time, at Yorick’s cue, we would ditch out of a moving taxi in San Diego in order to avoid paying the fare. On this occasion, I actually ran, until I came to a wooden fence that I was too drunk to jump over. Spurred on by fear and flashbacks of those German cabbies, I punched the mother fucker down. That’s right, Dionysus: I literally punched this wooden fence until it fell over. Everybody thought it was pretty funny when we surveyed the damage in the morning, but I felt pretty lousy. I likely ruined that cabby’s night and some property owner’s morning.