Beyond the pines
Pension Shéira was located on the top floor of a
massive turn of the century apartment building that somehow had escaped
Allied carpet bombing during the war.
An ancient lift deposited one on the fifth floor directly
outside a large milk glass-paned door.
This led directly into a murky lounge filled with half a
dozen armchairs meant for guests, but also doubling as Madame's living
room. On the walls hung signed photographs of 1920s theatrical celebrities
such as Max Reinhardt and Marlene Dietrich, augmented by more recent ones
from the fifties.
Another glass-paned door led into Madam's bedroom, resembling
an antique dealer's storeroom full of accumulated junk, and an enormous
double bed in the midst of it. This Madam apparently shared with a young
Moroccan she was said to have picked up on nocturnal wanderings in the
Ahmed was what Germans call a Hausfreund, or live-in lover,
as well as general factotum. After preparing breakfast for guests, and
tidying their rooms, he would put his slippered feet up in the lounge
and spend the rest of the day watching television.
Late at night subdued giggles and sounds of splashing issuing
from the large bath adjacent to Madam's bedroom, used also by guests,
told their own story.
At the end of a long and narrow corridor, off the lounge,
was the room Raoul occupied. The corner room was large and airy, with
balcony overlooking Kurfürstendamm, unfortunately at a major intersection,
with traffic lights down below.
The noise of traffic, in particular of cars starting up
again when the lights changed, went on into the early hours of the morning.
Since there was no air-conditioning, and windows had to be kept open in
the mid-August heat, one didn't get much sleep.
Not that we really minded.
During daytime rehearsals at the Kunstakademie I took photos
of scenery and actors with an old Leica Nellie had given me. In the evenings
we would usually eat at a Ku-damm restaurant called The Drugstore, like
one on the Champs Elysées.
For late-night snacks we went across the road to a hot-dog
stand selling the ever-popular and strongly flavored Curry-Wurst.
Every time Raoul spotted a girl in a mini-skirt, the latest
craze, he would yell Mini-Rock! at the top of his voice. Shoulder-length
hair, as worn by two Dutch boys having attached themselves the Living
Theater, was something not seen before either, and just as scandalous
to some. One of them, with angelic face framed by long straight hair,
looked like Jesus.
Back at Madam Shéira's actors and groupies would
gather in Raoul's room. Someone would roll a joint and pass it round.
Raoul preferred hashish. After taking a few quick drags from a small pipe,
sucking in air like a man drowning, he would hand it to me.
Unfortunately smoking pot, and in particular hashish, for
me had unpleasant side effects. Slinking off to some corner I would watch
the others talking and laughing, about me I thought.
What about my filmmaking? Rather than joining the Film Institute,
as planned, I decided to get a 16-mm camera and start filming right away.
It was here that Jesse Owens had won the hundred meters,
setting a new world record. But Hitler refused to shake his hand because
Owens happened to be black..
Waiting to cross into Communist East Berlin at check-point
Friedrichstraße, an underground and railway station in the center,
I surrendered my passport to be inspected in some office. Suddenly I heard
my name called, and an official came over to pull me out of the queue
of other West Germans.
I was afraid they were going to question me, on account
of the Bolex.
Silly though it seems, this stratagem was employed by the
East Berlin authorities to emphasize that East Germany was a proper state,
something the government at Bonn and its western allies strenuously denied.
"Have fun filming," the official handing my passport
back said with a smile.
Judith, the daughter of a Rabbi who'd escaped the Nazis,
was born in Germany she told me. But, she laughed, she'd had her 'Jewish
nose' fixed anyway, by plastic surgery.
Though married to Julian, who was gay, Judith had taken
one of the boys in the company, conveniently lodged next-door, for a lover.
I don't think Julian really minded.
As for Raoul and me, the revived affair was of short duration.
One day a cute blond kid Raoul had met in Munich turned up. Henceforth
Wolfgang shared our bed, fortunately big enough. Such were the trials
and tribulations of a groupie.
I put up with them only because desperate to join the Living
Theater. However shortly before Christmas they left, for Italy, without