If you stand on top of the Teufelsberg in Berlin and look out into the distance, all you’d see is a carpet of tree tops. Green landscapes that seem to spread out into the mist.
Imagine though, that you start to run along the sides of the derelict works of this old listening station, a relic of the Cold War that is now left to the winters and the rains. With all the energy of your legs, and your mind, bent on jumping from the Teufelsberg into the realms of air.
The atmosphere around Teufelsberg was once full of signals, vibrations, and radio waves that spread above and below the tree tops. The air is full of these invisible waves that once intercepted and captured information. What was being said, who was planning what, and what people had done.
As you spring away from the walls of that old relic, you sail above the trees towards the city of Berlin. That place where things happen. You hear the sounds of a city that is never asleep. The voices of present and past vibrate through its streets. The deeds of men and women, the sighs of love, found and lost. Berlin is the fluxus of life.
If you do this thing, fly, then you could do many things just as astonishing. You are probably a person who is down to earth, you would never entertain any such idea that allowed your mind to wander among the spheres of the unknown. You are sensible. But when you run and then fly, you can see the things that you have missed. Your mind no longer weighed down by the cumbersome worries of everyday life. But a mind that picks you up and carries you to those twilight places where darkness and light meet, formed in the cracks of time, a place where things happen.
In Berlin, long ago, at five O’clock on a Saturday morning, a bar was robbed by three men. It all went to plan, and the men left the bar with a bag full of the night’s takings.
In those days, bars stayed open as long as they liked. So long as somebody spent one hour cleaning the bar at around six in the morning, they could then remove the stool that was blocking the open doorway, and allow morning customers to enter and eat breakfast with a beer.
At five O’clock in the morning, in a popular bar that served people who liked to drink one beer after another, didn’t like an empty glass, and had a bar maid who encouraged them, the register was full with cash. Yola the barmaid, had already emptied the till three times that night. She took the cash down into the cellar and shoved the bundles of notes, and bags of change into the old safe that was kept in the corner part of the cellar.
As I mentioned, the robbery went well. The three men came into the bar, then sat down at a table in the corner. They spoke quietly for a short while, looked around the bar and noticed which customers were already out for the count, heads down, snoozing on their folded arms, and which customers were wide awake and alert. One of them got up and walked over to the bar. He stood next to me. I listened to him speak to Yola.
He ordered three hot teas, paid immediately, then sat down. The men drank their tea in silence. After ten minutes the larger one of the three stood up an ordered another tea, he then went to the back of the bar where the toilets are situated.
A moment later, Yola asked me to watch the bar. She had to go to the store room, also at the back of the bar, and get fresh tea bags. I obliged, and drank my Hefe Weissenbier. I’d just finished a gruelling taxi shift, and all I needed was to drink a few beers and listen to good music. You have to wind-down a little after a night out on the streets of Berlin.
The bar had an excellent juke box with a classic selection of the best rock, prog-rock, and number one hits of the seventies, and eighties. I kept my eye on the gap that led to the space behind the bar and the cash register. Then I went over to the juke box and put a coin in the slot, selected “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, and four more eighties rock songs that would wake up the bar. I think one of them was Van Halen’s, “Jump”.
On my way back to the bar where my drink was, I noticed that the man who had gone to the toilets was now standing next to the toilet door, he had his arm extended and gripped Yola’s arm. She was a small woman, petite, but feisty. Nobody messed her around. Yola could put rowdy customers in their place in the way a boxing referee splits two unruly fighters. Customers always quietened down when they heard her voice cut through the din of the bar.
Yola spent three years in a prison cell, long ago. She told me it was horrible. It was an Eastern European prison, she lived in that part of the world back then. A man had befriended her. She liked him, and she thought he was legitimate until the day came when he forced her onto the street. He used violence to get her out there. She was on the street every night, until one day she realized that there would be no end to it. The street had been chosen for her by a brutal man. She made a decision that if she didn’t do something about her situation, then she’s be forced to be a prostitute till the end of her working days. Yola searched about, asked people, and finally managed to find what she was looking for. A gun.
As she explained to me what happened that night, I listened in quiet shock to her story.
The next time she was supposed to go out onto the street and make money for the man, she just stayed in the flat where he had put her. He was nothing too big, no heavy contacts that he could rely on, and not a respected member of a gang. He was a chancer who wanted to exploit anybody he could, and make money off them. He didn’t care for people, but he knew how to trick and swindle others into believing his stories.
Yola waited at the flat. Finally, the man came looking and entered through the front door. She wasn’t sure if he’d be alone. She wanted to keep the element of surprise, so the gun stayed in her bag. She’d planned to make an excuse of looking for something when she finally needed to pull the gun out. He came into the room, alone.
The pimp grabbed her, then dragged her by the hair out into the street. She hadn’t expected this much violence, she had banked on him trying to persuade her to go out and work, but the sheer force of his rage, the pain of being grabbed by the hair and led down into the street had taken her resolve away. She felt that the chance to pull the gun had passed, and her simple but deadly plan was foiled.
He took her to the spot where she always waited for customers. The night was cold and wet, it was starting to rain again. Yola knew if she complied with his bullying, she would never again find enough determination to end this nightmare. She opened her bag, and with hand hidden under the flap, fingers wrapped tightly around the gun grip, she told the man she had bought him a present. He smiled at her for the first time, and took a step towards her. Yola pulled the gun up and fired two bullets. The bullets hit his knees, just as she wanted them to do. He fell onto the floor in pain. Yola had no compassion for him, she walked away. She knew he wasn’t going to die, but she felt good that she’d dealt with her problem.
Yola was arrested, and sentenced to three years in a Polish prison. She told me it was a gruesome place to be, hard and merciless people ran the place. She doesn’t regret shooting the pimp who tried to ruin her life. The prison time she did for the deed gives her nightmares. And like I said, she’s a tough woman, but she has a heart.
I stood close to the bar, and called up to Yola and asked her if she was ok. She told me that the man wasn’t bothering her, then she shook his hand away from her arm. I heard the rattle of keys, and watched as she slipped one of the keys from the ring and handed it to him.
I didn’t think that was normal. They hadn’t greeted each other when he entered the bar with his companions. So, as far as I was concerned, he wasn’t her friend.
The man took the key and pushed it into his pocket. Yola came back to the bar, and smiled at me. She had a glint in her eye that I’d never seen before.