An East Berlin tale November 16, 2005Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Yesterday evening, I stood waiting for the S-Bahn on my journey home. It was freezing and the wait was long and dreary. There was some pretty good people-gazing to be done, and some fairly good eavesdropping. This helps while away the minutes, and those minutes fly by even more quickly if any human beauty enters the field of vision. To my joy, this happened. As is so often the case with me, this took the shape of a man a good ten years younger than myself with a clearly eastern European appearance. We were both in chav winter hats, our eyes met and a flicker of comprehension seemed to be exchanged. I knew he couldn’t be a woofter, so I suppose the comprehension from my point of view was simply that I had clocked a tormented Slavic (or so I thought) soul and he had clocked simply that I had clocked. As we waited on, our eyes met a few more times, in the least flirtatious way possible.
A minor ripple of excitement went along the platform as we all collectively thought our train had arrived, only for us to be thwarted with the comprehension it wasn’t. But this had us all huddled more closely together and here my Osteuropäer took his chance. “Ты, это, русский знаешь?” I answered that I did. “Этот едет до Alexander-Pushkin-Platz?” Did he mean Alexanderplatz, I asked, for even the Ossies, for all their fraternal generosity, hadn’t named a square Alexander-Pushkin-Platz to the best of my knowledge. “Ой, да, этот, Александерпляц.” It did, I explained, the novelty at speaking Russian to a stranger beginning to wear off and thoughts of how to get home with my life and my wallet beginning to overwhelm.
The right train drew up. My pal got on next to me and I resigned myself to Russian small talk for the journey. The oddest thing for me was that, for the first time ever, I had been mistaken for a Russian. Maybe it was the hat, or the thought that me catching his eye a couple of times was acknowledgement of the complicity of Russian souls, when really I just fancied him. I eventually explained that I was English, he that he was not in fact Russian, but from Moldova. He explained that he had been thrown off the Cologne-Dresden train for not having a ticket – if you’re going to be thrown off, get thrown off in Berlin, I suppose – and now asked if he could use my mobile to phone a friend (though not in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire sense). Why had he come to Germany, I asked. “Да, в Молдавии, бля, одна херня, одна бедность.” Whatcha gonna do in Berlin, I asked. “Да, учиться, правда, не знаю на кого.” My interlocutor was a handsome thug, and looked clean, yet he stank like someone who’d had too many gins – though it must have been vodka – and had the bodily fragrance of someone who had only the most distant of relationships with a bar of soap. He looked at me with an aggression utterly out of place in the friendlyish chit-chat we were having and the like of which I have only ever experienced in my time in Russia. Once he knew he was dealing with a foreigner, he was primed for the slightest offence, ready to spring at the least opportunity. But I’ve played that game pretty frequently in my time and avoided any topic I thought might be dangerous.
We talked about London, and England, and St. Petersburg, and Moscow, and Dresden, and Cologne, and Berlin, and Germany. All did fairly well on our ad hoc scale. Only Moldova came in for a bollocking at every turn. How was he allowed to stay in Germany, I asked, straying onto the most dangerous territory I would allow myself, casting caution to the wind as I began to think he in fact thought I was all right for a foreign poof and wasn’t going to bother to steal my phone and wallet. “Как ты сюда попал?” “По еврейской линии,” he answered, to my amazement. “They don’t make Jews like they used to,” I thought to myself, and wondered whether his link to Judaism was as tenuous as that of half the Russians who’ve recently emigrated to Israel.
I liked my thug, all in all. Here he was, drifting around Germany, ringing a friend late evening to say he’d been thrown off a train and could he come and stay. No shame. Just the facts. And he was here to try and better himself; the means were the only worry. “У вас бумажные паспорта?” he asked. Who could ask whether British passports were laminated or just papery but for some young naive thug with only the vaguest idea of how he was going to feed himself tomorrow? He was just like Danila in Брат, happy to slit my throat if I’d told him that, yes, British passports were nice and crappy and papery and he could easily stick his photo over mine, or, as the case turned out, to shake my hand warmly and friendlily as he said good bye to me at Alexanderplatz and thanked me for all my help. Yet knowing that he was being met by a friend (who’d rung my mobile back, thinking I was his friend, with a, “Ну, это, ты тут бля?”), and erring on the side of caution, I chose to miss my stop, also the feted Alexander-Pushkin-Platz, and stay on till Friedrichstraße and get the tram home from there…