The Last Dance over the Berlin Wall
PART 1 - 1984
‘The border remains a very sensitive area and the East Germans continue to be wary of subversive activities and illegal entries or exits. The authorities are renowned for their Prussian thoroughness, so it would be foolish to try to play tricks.’
Berlitz Travel Guide, 1984
Klaus continued to watch the white flakes drifting down to the control strip of deserted land when Dietrich’s Kalashnikov clattered to the floor behind him.
‘Scheiße,’ said Dietrich.
‘Okay?’ Klaus asked, picking up his binoculars. It was careless of Dietrich, he couldn’t help thinking. Klaus wore his rifle across his chest so he wouldn’t drop it.
‘Fine,’ Dietrich said. ‘Except my fingers have frozen.’
Klaus didn’t help him; it was bad enough that one of them was rummaging around the watchtower floor. Although, now that it was snowing, only a madman would attempt to cross. Naturally, only madmen and Americans would attempt to cross the Berlin Wall at any time. Between the two 3.4 metre high walls protecting the Deutsche Demokratische Republik were rolls of barbed wire and antitank barricades, and the whole area was wired with alarms.
However, madmen did exist. Not here, but other sections of the border had been recently violated. Only a month ago, on 25 December, a man had been spotted near the outer wall in Pankow. He was shot at, of course, arrested and taken to hospital, but later died. He was from the DDR. There had been no incidents so far in 1984 but it was only the beginning of February. Klaus knew he needed to be vigilant, though he dreaded the time he would have to shoot someone.
Only when Dietrich was upright again, with the rifle slung over his shoulder, did Klaus pour some coffee from his thermos flask. He had to admit the heaters under the wooden seats beneath the watchtower windows were not very effective. He took several sips and passed the cup to Dietrich.
‘Thanks. It is too cold tonight.’
Klaus agreed even though he liked the cold. It kept him awake, and the snowflakes dancing under the arc lights gave him something to watch, other than rabbits and the occasional nocturnal visitor to an apartment. Some parts of the border were narrower than others and here the houses on each side of the Wall were so close it looked as if you could jump from East to West. But, naturally, you couldn’t. The houses on the East marked the border so the apartments on the ground floor were boarded up. Several of the other apartments on the third and fourth floor appeared inhabited though. A pair of trousers hung from the small balcony on one of them. He could easily peer into the windows if he wanted. Not that he did, particularly. Besides, it looked like there had been a power failure in the East and Dietrich was watching the West.
Klaus knew a small percentage of the people in the West were rich, that they could afford things he could only dream of. He had been warned of that. From other watchtowers, he had seen people getting out of large shining Mercedes, arriving home laden with shopping bags from KaDeWe. He had seen their brightly lit rooms, big televisions, sofas and large dining tables with bowls of real fruit even in winter (although his Postenführer – the one in charge – had suggested they were plastic). He had seen bookcases full of books and heard telephones that rang.
But he had also seen the true film documentaries about the bright lights, cafés, restaurants, nightclubs and casinos of West Berlin, while people slept in doorways wrapped in newspaper. And he had peeked into apartments without curtains or lampshades, without carpets or rugs, without even beds. Once, he had accidentally focused on one room where five people were living: three men and two women together. They all looked thin and pale. One girl’s hair was all knotted and another one had the sides of her head shaved. Maybe she had come out of hospital. He had watched them sharing a cigarette.
He felt some sympathy for these people in the West; the homeless, the unemployed, people existing without the support of the State. After all, they weren’t Americans. They were Germans. It wasn’t fair how some of them could have so much while others could have so little. It must cause such envy and hatred.
‘Dietrich?’ he said, letting his binoculars hang around his neck but they banged against his rifle so he picked them up again.
‘Have you ever had to shoot anyone crossing from the West?’
‘From the West? No.’
Klaus hesitated. Most of them happily talked about shooting and Dietrich seemed quite laid-back. Too laid-back perhaps.
‘Don’t you think it would be difficult? I mean, you can’t blame people for wanting to come to our democratic socialist state, can you?’
Dietrich shrugged. ‘It would be strange to jump the Wall from the West. But, we have our orders. It is not about where people want to go, it is about the violation of our border. We don’t want to be invaded by Americans, do we?’ Dietrich laughed.
‘Of course not,’ Klaus said quickly, wondering why Dietrich was laughing, ‘but I mean for the Germans. It must be terrible for them, living in the West.’
‘Perhaps, but more people attempt to cross from our side to the West. Why do you think that is?’
‘Propaganda, naturally,’ Klaus said, repeating what he’d been told. ‘They see the Western television which shows the luxury items and the high life of the few and they think that everyone lives like that!’ Klaus had never seen Western television until recently as they couldn’t pick up ARD or ZDF where he lived.
‘I suppose so,’ Dietrich said. ‘But don’t you ever want to see for yourself?’
Klaus knew that this was dangerous territory. He was surprised at Dietrich – unless he was testing him? He must be careful what he said. He didn’t want to be reported.
‘Well, from what I have seen, no, not really. I mean, perhaps for the day, but I would hate to have to live there. I don’t see why anyone would want to.’
They fell silent again and watched the snowflakes spotting the dark buildings on either side of the Wall.
‘How long have you been here?’ Dietrich asked him.
‘Three months. And you?’
‘Just over a year,’ Dietrich said.
‘Where are you from?’
‘Leipzig. And you?’
‘Dresden is a good city. I visited once.’
Klaus liked it but he’d never really been anywhere else before his military service. All his family lived in Dresden. His father was a successful engineer and his mother worked in a nursery. His sister, Olga, was still at school. She was doing very well and it was hoped that she would go to university. She would be the first one in the family. It should be him, really, being the eldest and the boy, but, he had to admit, she was much smarter than he was.
‘Hey, Klaus, a woman is undressing… Come and have a look! A wall stripper!’
Klaus hesitated. Dietrich, as the Postenführer, was responsible for their watch, but their Commander would be furious if he found out. And what if it were a trick? Could Dietrich be testing him again? But a wall stripper? He had heard other guards talk about them. He double checked that there was no movement his side and went to join Dietrich. He focused his binoculars on a bedroom window on the fifth floor to the right of the watchtower. A young woman, early twenties, with dark curly hair down to her shoulders, a pale face, red lips and with long curvy silky legs was standing beneath a naked bulb facing the window. The curtains were open. Either she had forgotten to draw them or… Klaus imagined the alternative as she unbuttoned a long, white shirt.
‘Ach, yes…’ Dietrich said.
The shirt slipped to the floor where she left it. Standing in only a pair of white lace knickers and bra and dancing up and down, she stretched upwards revealing the dark hair beneath her white arms. Then she folded her arms behind her back and unhooked her bra strap.
‘My God,’ Klaus whispered.
Her breasts were huge. Klaus had never seen anything like them. They were like giant snowballs, smooth, perfectly round snowballs. She was beautiful, a goddess, a beautiful snow goddess whom Klaus wanted to marry. He was sure of it. He ran his binoculars up and down her body, fiddling with the focus, trying to get closer. He fiddled so much the figure that bent over and stepped out of her knickers and emerged completely naked was blurred, but there were two of her. By the time Klaus had got her back into focus he was erect and she was walking towards the window. Klaus didn’t know where to look most.
When she got to the window, she stopped and reached across for the curtains. Then, as if she had a second thought, she let go of one side with her right hand and turned towards them and stuck up her middle finger before slamming the curtains shut.
Dietrich laughed while the world slowly collapsed around Klaus. She wouldn’t marry him, she would never know him, never meet him. She hated him. It wasn’t fair. His erection shrivelled like a popped balloon.
‘Isn’t she something? Did you see those tits? Imagine. Scheiße.’
They both fell silent, both imagining. Klaus didn’t trust himself to speak. This sort of thing didn’t happen every night and he knew he was lucky, but that didn’t help. In fact, it somehow made it worse. His binoculars kept wandering to the West, to Dietrich’s side, towards the lit bedroom, but the curtains remained firmly closed. Only a chink of light reminded him of the woman inside. He might as well be on the moon.
The snow stopped but Berlin remained white, unusually bright. Klaus looked up at the moon glaring at him from behind a hole in the clouds. He imagined it to be white, barren and empty like the strip of land below. He dipped his binoculars. On the Western side, a very tall man with blue hair shaped like a sickle and wearing a black leather jacket was walking towards the Wall carrying a table. Behind him, a giant woman, in a square fur hat and an old-fashioned, long, black coat, tapered at the waist, followed. She was speaking to him and laughing loudly as they came closer to the border. Klaus thought she spoke English. They could be Americans, although they looked more like Martians.
‘I see them.’
Dietrich picked up his Very light pistol and went towards the door. The Westerners disappeared from view as they approached the Wall. They looked fairly desperate but they wouldn’t, would they?
A black glove appeared on the tubular top of the Wall, groping at the lumps of frozen snow. Then it let go of the snow and waved at them. Klaus felt his stomach yo-yo down to his boots and back. How could the man have got up there? There must have been two tables. Or a ladder.
‘Hold your fire,’ Dietrich said.
Klaus held: they weren’t allowed to fire into the West or until the border was violated.
‘Shouldn’t we alert the patrollers?’ Klaus said. Surely this counted as a breach of security? Another glove pawed at the ice on top of the Wall. Then, slowly, the fan of blue spiky hair appeared, bobbing up above the Wall like a kite.
Klaus aimed his Kalashnikov at the target. A face floated up. A young white face with the sides of his head shaved. Dietrich pressed the button that would alert their Commander and fired his Very pistol above the border. The flare wheezed through the white night. The man shouted and the face tumbled down. For a second, Klaus thought that Dietrich had hit him but then he saw the two giant violators racing away. They stopped at the end of the street and looked back, holding onto each other. The girl put a can of something to her mouth and drank. Perhaps they couldn’t see the watchtower, but they were staring straight at him. Klaus looked through his binoculars and saw their pale faces and wild hair under the streetlight. They were young, his age maybe. She was beautiful but she had a chain of earrings around her nose and ear. They turned to each other and smiled or laughed – he couldn’t tell. The fools. They began kissing in the street as the snow started to fall again, like ash, before sinking into the shadows as the patrollers arrived with the Commander.
Dietrich explained what had happened and pointed to the area of the Wall that had been violated. The area was declared safe and the Commander praised their action. Klaus took the opportunity to go and piss against the inner wall while the patrollers were there.
‘I wonder what kind of lives they have?’ Klaus said, once the patrollers had gone.
‘Who knows,’ Dietrich said. ‘But that’s the first time I’ve ever known someone violating the border from the West.’
Klaus didn’t see why Dietrich should be so surprised, but he had to admit the man had looked mad. ‘Did you see his hair!’ Klaus chuckled.
Dietrich shrugged. ‘Don’t you watch television? They are punks. That is a Mohican, like the Indian tribes in America.’
Klaus wasn’t sure if he saw the connection. ‘So? What are they?’
‘They are people who believe in anarchy.’
Klaus was going to ask what anarchy was exactly and if the Indian tribes were anarchists but felt he’d asked too many questions. Besides, he knew anarchy involved anti-social behaviour.
‘Hey, look,’ Dietrich said.
Klaus looked again towards the woman’s bedroom. She had put a lamp in the window. For a second, Klaus burned at the thought of her naked behind the curtains, lying on the bed picking at a bowl of cherries. He imagined himself lying next to her, watching her take the pips out of her mouth. But there in the window above the lamp hung a white banner. On it was written, ‘ass holes’.
As Klaus tipped out the last of his coffee, he suddenly felt homesick.
Alice laughed as they hid in the shadows of a large wooden doorway of a grit-grey Berlin building somewhere in Neukölln. She thought they were near Peter’s apartment but she wasn’t sure. They were clutching each other, wanting each other. She slugged more Schultheiss from her can. She had warned him. He was madder than she was. Amazingly mad. He claimed he was a dancer. A dancer who ate fire and juggled. That, in itself, was bizarre. But what kind of man tries to climb the Berlin Wall so he could see some stupid rabbits?
‘Are you sure you’re not hurt?’ she asked, stroking his leather jacket.
‘No, I’m not hurt. Are you?’ He kissed her gently on the cheek.
She felt her face tingle as she gripped his leather jacket with her freezing woollen fingers and stared into his eyes, trying not to spill beer over him. He had blue irises, a shade lighter than his Mohican, and long, dark lashes. She had noticed them zip from side to side as he was thinking, then they would freeze like a bird locked onto its prey. His nose was Roman, his lips soft and his body was as solid as corrugated iron, as supple as plasticine, and he bounced like a tennis ball. When they had fired flares, he had leapt from her shoulders and rolled onto the pavement, leaving her standing on the table not knowing what to do.
‘They could have shot you,’ Alice whispered.
‘But they didn’t,’ he said, brushing his face against her stinging eyes. Her eyelashes melted.
Johnny was different from other men she knew and yet she wasn’t sure what it was that was different. He was serious, yet he made her laugh. He talked with his hands, yet his face was a blank white page at times. No marks, no freckles, no lines, nothing that told of his life. There were moments when she had no idea what he was thinking. He said he was from London, yet he spoke without a Cockney accent. She’d tried to ask him earlier on the U-Bahn about his past and he told her that his father had run off before he’d even known him and that his mother had died four years ago of cancer.
Perhaps that’s what made him different. He was alone in the world. Like her. Just like her. They were perfect for each other. Both outcasts. Paddling outside of the mainstream. Both unique, special, invincible. She slugged some more beer and laughed again.
She had met him in Gossips a few weeks ago over New Year in London. It was a Goth night and black fishing nets and dark curtains haunted the walls and ceilings while Bauhaus groaned in the background. When the barman slipped her a double vodka and orange, she purred appreciatively and settled down on a stool next to Johnny. She began telling him about Berlin, about how you could buy cheap vodka in Friedrichstraße, in the East, and then get back on the train to West Berlin.
‘It’s the most alternative city in the world. I mean, can you imagine? A city sliced in half and surrounded by a fucking wall? You know, from West Berlin whichever direction you go, you have to go East. It is bang in the middle of East Germany, the DDR. The Russians control the East and the French, Americans and Brits control West Berlin. It’s weird seeing tanks thundering through the middle of a city, but there are so many squats and collectives, so much underground stuff going on. I’m working with a fantastic theatre company. You know, Bowie spends a lot of time there. And Lou Reed. You’d love it,’ she said, wiping her nose. ‘It’s so different.’
He half smiled out of the left side of his mouth and those birdlike eyes stared into hers. Not knowing where to look, her gaze slid down to the bar where she began to shred a Stella beer mat. He offered her a cigarette and lit it for her. She looked over at a stick-shaped girl with dark bushy hair who was glaring at her.
‘It could be just what I need,’ he said, thoughtfully, before mouthing a smoke ring. ‘I’m looking for something new in dance, something radical, something that hasn’t been done before.’
‘There’s a great dance scene. Radical, in fact.’ She knew nothing about the dance scene but she was sure it would be. ‘I’m going back in a couple of days’ time. You should come and visit,’ she said. Three times. Well, Bauhaus were loud. He may not have heard her. She didn’t mention the fact that she had nowhere to live – she would look for somewhere when she went back.
She found her stool inching closer to his, captivated by this beautiful man. He put his hand beneath her chin and she gazed into those blue eyes. They had stopped flickering. He stared through her as if she were transparent. She closed her eyes, wishing him to kiss her, felt his breath against her lips, and then she found herself dripping wet and the stick-shaped girl yelling at her, and him, that she was a fucking slut and that he was the biggest living piece of shit in London. She was so skinny Alice thought about picking her up and tossing her outside but she was already flipping towards the door like tumbleweed in high winds.