A Berlin story – Rosa’s café on the corner.

Rosa’s was a local café and bar nominally run by two blokes. One is the meeter and greeter who has that easy Bavarian charm. The other one is less ebullient but knows how to tend bar which is what he does most of the time, albeit a bit sullenly. They’re what was termed warm brothers in Berliner slang, meaning homosexual. Berlin has always been easy about such things. It’s a bar and restaurant frequented only by locals, so once I’d got used to the regular faces, I felt safe there. Any new faces would stick out.

I’d done my new face time there and had been accepted by the regulars. I’d get a wave or a nod when I come in there for a late drink or hoping the kitchen is still working so I can get a meal or at least a sandwich. I do like good food but beyond the survival fry up basics, cooking isn’t something I’ve ever been interested in. The food there is good and actually very creative for a suburban place. The cook is the mum of one of the brothers, her only child, so when he decided to try his luck in Berlin after a few entrepreneurial disasters back home, she moved northwards to be with him. The incurable condition of parenthood.

Her husband had cardiac arrested early in their marriage, there weren’t going to be any grandchildren, she could really cook and I think she probably had a better head for business than her personable son. We’d become acquainted about the time AIDS had been publicised in its usual responsible fashion by the media. It was deadly, incurable and you could catch it if you came within ten paces of a queer – the usual circulation increasing scare mongering. Suddenly, their little profitable bar and restaurant business dropped off a cliff. No more local regulars except me and an occasional blow in who didn’t know the business was being run by two of the untouchables.

Instead of my usual table way in the interior of the thing with my back to a wall and one eye on the door, I took to eating at a window table in the front. No drift past trade goes into a restaurant that’s empty at meal times. The business survived until things came back to some sort of normal but I suspect it was because of her keeping it afloat using her life savings and the remains of Hubbie’s life insurance windfall. Since she was only cooking for one customer who invariably ordered a pepper steak, she was driven out of hiding in the kitchen to find out about the single consumer of her culinary expertise.

In the way of such casual acquaintanceships, we became easy friends. She was a country woman who in her manner reminded me very much of my mother but not in her appearance. My mother was taller, blonde and ice blue-eyed. She’s short, dark and pear shaped. Somewhere in her sixties. Good working hands and sharp country eyes that didn’t miss a thing. We fell into the habit of her joining me after I’d eaten. I was invariably the last diner of an evening, so it was clocking off time for her as well. I’d tip a nod at the surly brother and two glasses of the decent Riesling would arrive. Out would come my pack of smokes and she’d accept one which I’d light for her. That’d be the only cigarette and drink she’d have that day, and we’d settle down to completing the crossword in the Berliner Morgenpost.

Everybody in Berlin read the Post. She’d spotted my copy was always folded to the puzzles page and a half completed crossword. Like I said, sharp country eyes. She took to doing the crossword herself and I taught her the finer points of crosswording. We’d often compare notes about whichever word was escaping us. Did you get 17 across? Hmm, which meant yes but you’ll have to say pretty please before I give you the answer.

She remarked that I sounded like a Preusse but there was something else there in the way I spoke. Perhaps you’re from Silesia? She was quietly fishing. I lived in a world of lies, deceit, betrayal, mendacity and being very careful. Every word out of your mouth was considered. A work a day environment. Information was something you obtained, not something you ever gave out. Rosa’s was somewhere out of that loop so I stayed silent rather than doing the usual lying. It didn’t deter her though, she’d occasionally have another stab at my origins. It’s a very country people thing – trying to establish some link between you and somebody they know.

Her last intuitive guess was Lusatia, which in part is Germany’s equivalent of the Everglades. It’s border land between Germany and Poland, nobody wants it, it even has its own vanishing language and people who’re also doing a slow disappearing act. A large part of it is all reeds, water and swamps. Totally unfarmable and very few people live there because there’s simply no way to make a decent living in the damn place. No one in their right mind goes there but I’d stumbled upon it as a young man wandering around the parts of Europe less well travelled.

It has a lot of untouched wildlife which is unique to that environment. I recall finding a caterpillar on my rucksack after sleeping by the margin of a lake. It was a fluorescent electric blue and I’d never in my life seen anything like it before. It also contains wild hogs and innocent deer but there’s also wolves who’ve never seen a human being but are very interested in deer. The similarities to my world are inescapable. I give her a grudging nod and we get back to hacking the crossword. Her curiosity is finally settled and the subject is closed.

She weaned me off a survival diet of pepper steaks via more daring things such as goulash and salt potatoes, which is pure Berlin via Dalmatia and I heartily recommend by the way. There’s a week in Germany called Spargelwoche (asparagus week) where the whole country seems to go into a kind of asparagus shark feeding frenzy eating the stuff. She’s cooking up a storm of asparagus dishes for the locals but I tell her I hate the stuff – it’s hard, chewy and tasteless.

Not the way we grow it she retorts, slightly offended. The trick is in the way it’s cultivated. As soon as it pokes its head out of the soil with a bit of stalk, we pile up the earth to cover the stalk. Every time it grows more, the stalk is covered up with more soil. That’s why it’s white and tender. I agree to try her creation of the night and it’s lovely. Not a plate but a bowl with a top layer salad dressed with her light vinaigrette sauce, a second one of criss-crossed white tender asparagus stalks with a different heavier sauce and finally a bedrock layer of pork medallions she’s aggressively tenderised with a mallet. By the time you get down to it, the remains of two subtle handmade sauces have by now drenched them.

After the meal and over our postprandial Riesling and cigarette, she asks me did I like the dish. I’ve changed my mind about asparagus I tell her, it was delicious. She preens a bit and deservedly so, but missed her slip. I’d always known she’d knew I was a wrong ‘un but thought she’d pegged me as one of the Gehlen mob, but her unconscious use of we throughout her passionate detailed asparagus cultivation description revealed that at some point she worked out that I wasn’t a German at all.

This night I’m just sitting at my table staring at the large untouched Irish whiskey I ordered. Both my hands rest on the table either side of it. I’m thinking about things and waiting for someone and as the minutes tick by, the possibility of them ever turning up diminishes with every minute. I see one of the brothers heading into the kitchen. He’s been watching me and looks worried. Super slick observant me is beyond caring.

Rosa emerges from the kitchen and asks me what I’m eating tonight. I’m okay thank you. Not even a pepper steak? That sarky remark raises a smile from me. I’d long ago realised I was one of her irregular regulars. There’d always be a plate over a plate with some grub on it in case I’d turn up that evening. She was mothering me. Since I’m not eating, she takes a seat and two glasses of Riesling arrive and we light up. I’m dull and unresponsive company.

Are you okay, she asks. I tell her I’m okay, just a bad day at the office, and realise that’s the first lie I’ve ever told her and immediately sort out some words in my head to say I’m having some difficulties without worrying her. It’s interrupted. In the distance I hear the alarms of the Rettungswehr, the rescue force, thundering into our local neighbourhood and screeching to a stop very close by and all the alarms and flashing lights being turned off. There won’t be much for them to rescue, just a body and lots of fresh blood and brain matter on concrete. The body will get shipped to the coroner and all the residual blood and bits will get mopped off the concrete next morning by some minimal wage slow in the head retard with a bucket and a mop. I can already see him mopping away listlessly.

With that, the last traces of someone I’d become very fond of will disappear.

I feel a touch on the back of my hand. She’s rubbing it in an instinctive comforting gesture and to get my attention. God is good, she tells me. I wonder if I’ve been saying things aloud rather than thinking them. On balance, I decide I haven’t, it’s just that she’s also heard all the sirens going off, read the effect on me and has put a shrewd two and two together and decided that whatever unusual excitement is going on in the neighbourhood that evening, I’m somehow connected to it.

She tells me, if you go through the kitchen door, there’s a back way out that leads out onto a service alley for the whole block. Take the left, it runs on for ages but in the end it’ll get you safely out of the area.

I’m sitting opposite her but I’m in that personal white light wordless zone where I’m just watching myself think. There are several voices at work in my head. One, the eternal survivour, is saying stand up, get those fucking legs working and put a lot of distance between here and somewhere else, anywhere else. Another tired voice is talking to me. You went off mission for once, tried to be kind to someone and it just went sideways. It happens. Another angry and enraged voice is just saying the word fuckit over and over.

I’m disengaged, dispassionate and just watching the contending factions within me fighting it out.

I come out of my fugue and see she’s been watching me. Survivour man has won the debate, so I start to react. For no accountable reason, I lift her hand and kiss it and say gnädige Frau. It’s a very old German compliment, perhaps a reference to my deceased credentials of being a Preusse. It’s an honourific and you’ll get a lot of translations of it but I’d always felt it to mean gracious lady, which she certainly is. Standing, I rub the back of her hand before heading for the kitchen door. We both know that gesture means bye bye forever.

It’s an hour or so later and I’m leaning on the rail of a bridge over the Havel or Spree, I can’t recall which. There’s a part moon and its reflection is dancing off the waters dappled by the steady autumn wind that’s blowing into my face. I’m looking at it and thinking but I’m also quietly letting drop into the river the keys to an apartment I’ll never go near again.

This is how the little worlds we create for ourselves end.

©Pointman

Related articles by Pointman:

Berlin stories.

Comments
6 Responses to “A Berlin story – Rosa’s café on the corner.”
  1. Michael Roberts says:

    A shiver still running down my back.

    Like

  2. beththeserf says:

    Excellent…’This is how the little worlds we create for ourselves end.”

    Like

  3. yarpos says:

    Great read, thanks

    Like

  4. AHA says:

    Hauntingly beautiful, Pointy.

    Like

  5. circe says:

    Thank you Pointy. I’d so love to know what led up to you staring at that shot of whisky. The picture heading up the piece is perfect. The invisible man blending in.

    Like

  6. another ian says:

    Very O/T but too good to miss IMO

    “Rebranding Fail, Kamala Harris’ Handlers Create Extreme Cringe Video, Wait Til You See the Name of The Production Company She Used
    October 8, 2021 | Sundance | 263 Comments”

    https://theconservativetreehouse.com/blog/2021/10/08/rebranding-fail-kamala-harris-creates-extreme-cringe-video-wait-til-you-see-the-name-of-the-production-company-she-used/

    “Last point, and no I’m not kidding, this official White House video production; presented to improve the public image of Kamala Harris; was created by a production company called “Sinking Ship Entertainment“. [link] I’m serious, you cannot make this stuff up.”

    And

    “Just in time for Christmas”

    Link at

    http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/2021/10/08/just-in-time-for-christmas/

    Like

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