Paul, Berlin 1987
Now that the search for my father was going so well I felt able to relax and become a tourist for a few days. This was Berlin after all, full of history and… gayness. It came as a shock to my English reserve to find myself passing gay bookshops and even coffee shops with smart young Germans sitting in the sun with an early morning coffee and Danish pastry. In most coffee shops the patrons were a mix of boy-girl couples, but in the occasional one, the couples were all males. At first I had wondered why some had no girls but then realised… these were gay couples. The very occasional couple were actually holding hands, discretely perhaps, but definitely holding hands.
‘This is going to work!’ I thought.
‘If Ben and I can’t make it in England as a couple, we can always migrate to Berlin. We could be open and happy here!’
Then I thought of the complications of parents left behind in England, and it took a bit off the shine of my day.
You may be wondering how I was coping without Ben… This was after all the longest we had been separated since we met when his mother died. My sex-life had reverted to a more childish pattern… constant unwanted erections, a fascination for the beautiful young men I found all around me during the day, and then the comfort of my right-handed best friend at bedtime. It really couldn’t last!
I had been gay long before Ben and I became a couple, so I was used to the idea of a huge difference between wanting Ben, the love of my life and desiring the cute bum of a passing cyclist. One was love and the other was… well, just me feeling horny. I knew what horny was and I knew it wasn’t satisfied by thinking of Ben, that just seemed to make things worse.
That was when I had my clever idea… it’s wonderful (or do I mean alarming) what separation and outrageous hormones can make you think is a clever idea.
I decided that what Berlin could offer for Saturday distraction was… a gay nightclub, relax with a few drinks and watch a floorshow, flirt with some cute young men, and then when I was ready… return to my hotel for a leisurely… well you get my drift.
My “Rough Guide” told me how to find the district where Berlin’s gay nightlife was to be found, but it didn’t help much when it came to choosing a night-club. Instead, I came to rest in a bar, because bars are much less complicated when it comes to choosing. Actually I chose the one I did because it was on the side of the street that had the warmth of the evening sun. Coincidentally it also had a large number of young men of late-high-school or early-university age. I sat down and ordered a coffee and a mixed plate of cheese and wurst. I hadn’t been drunk often (well almost never… actually never) but I did know it would be much more painful next day if I did it on an empty stomach.
As the sun began to set, the pace hotted up and the tables began to fill.
“May I join you? All the tables are taken, and it’s very smoky inside the bar!” It took a moment for my brain to cope with his German.
“Yes, of course… please do. I’m sorry, I think I was nearly asleep!” I hastened to catch up.
It wasn’t helped by the fact that he was absolutely gorgeous! The boy was tall, slim, dark and really stylish. He was probably my age, still at school but not a boy, definitely a young man.
I stretched out my hand… “Paul, I’m English. I hope my German is OK.” Instead of taking it he stood up straight, sort of almost bowed and then while I was scrambling to my feet he in turn held out his hand and said “My name is Heinz. Your German is excellent. It is better than my English.”
“In that case perhaps you will allow me to practise my German on you.” I replied with a smile, and an almost sort of bow. We returned to our drinks… well my coffee and his beer. He noticed my coffee…
“You are not drinking?” He said. I pointed to my coffee.
“That is not drinking! It is Saturday night, and that…” He gestured at my cooling coffee… “That is not drinking!”
He attracted the waiter… “Two beers please!” The waiter smiled and asked whether he meant large or small beers.
“Large of course, it’s Saturday evening and we are young and alone in Berlin!” The waiter laughed and went off to find some large beers. My goodness they were large, at least two English pints, presumably litre-steins. They were stoneware and it took two hands just to lift mine. So that’s how we passed the first hour of the evening. By the time I finished my beer I was feeling cheerful. So I rashly followed his lead and ordered another two beers. I wasn’t a complete idiot so I ordered a large stein for him and a small one for myself. I shrugged an apology…
“Forgive me, I am English… we aren’t famous for staying sober!” I said.
He grinned… “Your football supporters are famous for not staying sober!” He joked. I was beginning to enjoy his company. To be honest I had been enjoying it for some time! Ben certainly wasn’t forgotten, he was never far from my mind… but this was not a romance, it was a completely natural conversation between two gay young men. I was enjoying the naturalness of it… being able to sit at a street café, in full view… we were quite obviously homosexuals, and nobody cared!
“What are you doing in Berlin?” He asked.
I explained briefly that my father had been a teenager in Germany in the 1940s, and I was curious to find out what I could of his life at that time.
“They were difficult times… we are taught at school that they were bad times. I do not envy you your search!”
Then to my surprise, he leaned across and took my hand. It wasn’t an overtly sexual act. It was more that he wanted to express sympathy for the difficult times that our parents must have shared… we were the same age after all. I withdrew my hand gently, ostensibly to raise my stein. It was nice to hold hands… That was the problem. It was nice that we could do it so openly without attracting comment… but holding hands was not within the narrow range of naughtiness that I was allowing myself.
Our beers were finished. He offered me another, but I said that what I had already drunk was still working and I could feel myself getting more drunk… even while not drinking. He laughed and said that was perfect. Without drinking, we could continue to get more and more drunk while we looked for a nightclub. Now that did lie in my narrow range… a nightclub was what I had come out looking for, and now I had a native guide.
To my English eye there was something slightly funny about the sight of several hundred gay Berlin teenagers trying to be… well explicitly gay I suppose. There were a crowd dressed in black leather. Dressed in perfectly presented black leather they were a Hugo Boss parody of Hell’s Angel. Then there were slightly camp kids in pastel shades; pale green, lilac and pale yellow. The colours clashed… who said gay boys made natural style choices? But, a very large number were simply “smart casual” and I felt at home amongst them.
From the gay club at home I was used to a crowd of gay boys, but… this was slightly different. These were not schoolboys seeking reassurance and company. These were young men, aggressively or shyly on-the-pull. There would be a lot of belts unbelted, a lot of zips unzipped and a lot of empty foil packets placed carefully in waste-bins tonight. This was Berlin and I was promising myself that although I was here to enjoy myself, I would not do anything I could not bear to remember in the morning…
“Will you still respect me in the morning is best said to your reflection in a mirror.” I remember my father saying that to me… it was one of the last conversations we had.
We found a table and put our drinks to reserve our places.
“Would you like to dance?” He asked.
Now believe it or not I had never danced with another boy. I had danced with girls… protective camouflage at school. The gay club had offered many things but not dancing… no license for music as I recall. So I was at a bit of a loss as to what was expected of me as we moved onto the floor.
It seemed more athletic, perhaps more gymnastic than I remembered from dancing with girls. There seemed to be a competitive air to it. The rhythms were exciting, the exercise extreme. Shirts quickly became opened down the front. An attractively large number of boys shed their shirt completely. For some reason it seemed to be the ones with perfect musculature that were affected by the heat. I pulled my shirt out of my waistband and undid its buttons… English reserve and decorum kept it in place… not to mention that living out of a suitcase meant that I couldn’t risk losing it. My new friend lost his… well he put it with his beer.
That was how we were when the lights dimmed very gently and the band changed to a slower more romantic beat.
He took me in his arms. It was such a natural move that I didn’t see it coming and felt no immediate need to resist. He held me to him as we swayed gently in place. My head nestled in the crook of his shoulder. He smelled pleasantly of shampoo, cologne and… boy.
We danced gently for a few numbers and then he moved a hand under my shirt and played with my nipple.
“I have a boyfriend… I’m sorry, I would love to… I really need to but…” I managed to say, while stilling the movement of his hand.
“You may not want to, but I think you need to… You miss your boyfriend I think!”
“Yes, I miss him, and I need him this moment.”
“Later you will do it for yourself, and it is the waste of this moment that you will remember while you do it!” He smiled gently.
“You are right… perhaps if you were a stranger or it was anonymous then it would be different… but I like you, we have become friends… that is why it would be wrong for us… it is too romantic. I need sex, but I cannot risk romance. I need to be able to face myself, and Ben, in the morning.” I laughed… “Actually it’s the afternoon, his plane arrives after lunch… he is flying in from Munich tomorrow.”
“In that case, we should dance as friends for a little longer… and then I shall solve your problem for you in a very Berlin way… a way that involves no romance, nothing but analytical solution!”
I had no idea what he had in mind, but I was too drunk to care and he was a delightful dancer, a perfect companion, and… drop-dead gorgeous. We danced on until it was past midnight. In the slow numbers I could feel his excitement and I am sure he could feel mine.
“It is time for us to spank the monkey, or beat the bishop or whatever you call it in Berlin.” I said… It felt like time to head for bed and my right-handed friend.
“Yes exactly…” He said… “We need a sauna!” and that’s what we did… the alcohol was still working its way through and I remember three glasses of schnapps in the small bar at the sauna. After that it gets a bit vague.
The sauna was very clean, very German, very formal… in the reception and dressing area. Through a door and short corridor was… mayhem. We had been offered towels at reception, but here… none, just bare skin. It was a large room with padded benches for seating and a heavily padded floor that resulted in hilarious tangles as drunken teenagers fell over on its unstable surface.
There was a very cute blond sitting quietly, looking shy. I swear Heinz tripped me. I totalled the blond, arms and legs everywhere. I apologised profusely. Was it with this moment in mind that my German master at school had said how useful it was to be able to apologise!
I lay sprawled across him, and as I came to terms with the fact that I was lying in the embrace of the cutest kid in the room Heinz crouched down and whispered… “Is this anonymous enough for you?… Good-luck… enjoy!”
So I did. We didn’t exchange names, but we did cuddle. I could see that around us other random couples were embracing, kissing, stroking backs and flanks. There was soft music but almost no conversation. Like gay men everywhere, conversation seemed a too-intimate intrusion in what was essentially men relieving their needs in company. We knew what we needed, there seemed no need to discuss it. We knew nothing of each other outside this moment. We had no need to.
His hand snaked between us and he grasped me. I gasped and glanced around… no-one was taking any notice, but nevertheless this was the first time that I had ever been groped where there were others to see what was happening. I was English and I was shy.
He saw my reaction and said… “Come!”
He stood quickly, holding me by the hand… this time I was happy to hold hands… He was drop-dead gorgeous and I didn’t know him. “Come.” He drew me towards… I knew they existed, I had read of them, but… a Dark-Room.
It was painted black, the furniture was black and there was just the light from the door. He drew me in… not all the way, I wanted to be able to see him… he was the cutest boy I had ever lain with. For a moment I felt guilty, but Ben was in Munich… I was in Berlin and a beautiful boy was willing to relieve my frustration… provided I relieved his… so we did.
He had no reason to know of my love for Ben, or the limitations on what I felt able to do. He had no need to. He sucked me and I tossed him off. When we had achieved a mutual orgasm I was left with more of a problem than he had… he smiled and swallowed! Then he reached into the darkness, felt around and handed me tissues to clean us up. The tissues were black!
We lay there in a gentle cuddle for ten minutes or so, while our heart rates returned to normal. Then he kissed me, on the lips! We had just moved beyond the borders of my narrow range of things that weren’t Ben-prohibited. I didn’t say anything. I returned his kiss, chastely, and then made to get up from the soft floor. He rose too, and took my hand to return to the outside, to the noise and music. Heinz was waiting for me-us.
“Are you feeling better?” He asked in German. My partner of a few minutes earlier looked startled.
“His boyfriend is in Munich until tomorrow.” Heinz said. “This poor soul was in such a state, I promised to find a nice stranger to sort him out… He wouldn’t have lasted until tomorrow otherwise!” Then he laughed and my companion smiled.
“I am pleased to have been of service to you!” He said with a smile.
I felt bound to apologise…
“I am sorry, you must have thought me selfish. I needed it, but I love my boyfriend… so it could not be a romantic time for me. Heinz promised to find me a stranger… Heinz is now a friend, so I couldn’t do it with him! But you… I didn’t know you and you were so cute… it was easy… I am so grateful!”
He said his name was Karl and that he was pleased to have helped, that I was cute too and he was pleased that Heinz had thrown me at him, but…
“Shall you bring Ben to meet us tomorrow… It would be an adventure for him too… Berlin is an eye-opener for you English boys.”
That was true and quite an idea… I didn’t know if I could risk upsetting Ben. I said so.
“If I think Ben would enjoy it, and if you were discrete then perhaps tomorrow night… but he may just want to spend all night in bed!”
“Rubbish, you can do that afterwards!” They chorused.
“Maybe, maybe. But only if I think there is no risk of upsetting Ben… he is my whole world. I have had to be so careful to keep this evening in bounds that I could feel happy about. I hope that I can tell him about this as an adventure. I am so very grateful to both of you.”
They looked very pleased with themselves… they had made the English boy happy between them. Now the English boy simply needed to sleep off the alcohol, and then face himself in the mirror in the morning.
I managed to get up and breakfasted (coffee and Danish again, the hotel breakfast room had finished long ago).
I went to the airport to meet Ben as he flew in from Munich. After he and his father had searched for relatives at Auschwitz in Poland they had flown to Munich to look for them in the records at Dachau. Disappointed with only finding lists of relatives and the dates of their deaths… but no survivors, they had at last admitted defeat.
Ben was also being a bit moody. He was depressed by the touring of concentration camps and also by finding no survivors. It didn’t help that this was the longest that the two of us had been separated since his mother died. His father recognised what was wrong and quietly urged him to give up on their search and come help me with mine. Solomon returned to London alone.
At the airport I had time for another snack and to mentally prepare for what I anticipated would be a playful-puppy style meeting… I wasn’t wrong, but even so I wasn’t really prepared for him.
He was easy to spot. He was the one with just a rucksack, running alongside the moving pavements. He was eagerly searching the faces of the people waiting to greet relatives. When he spotted me his face lit up and he rushed across the polished stone floor and slid into me. I grabbed him to avoid falling over. The hug to avoid falling turned into… well a hug… and then in the middle of the airport concourse… he kissed me! A few passing Germans smiled and one winked. I was sorry to be blond, my blushes could have been used to stop traffic! But nothing could deter Ben!
To avoid scandal I hurried him towards the exit, delighting in but hoping no one could see that he had absolutely refused to let go of my hand.
“Let’s take a taxi! I don’t trust you to behave on a train!” I said… he grinned.
Can we be alone in a Youth Hostel?” He asked.
“No! That’s why I’ve taken a cheap hotel for a couple of nights… just till I tire you out!”
Later, we were lying naked on the hotel room double bed.
“Well, tell me what you have been up to in Berlin… You look tired. Was Saturday a heavy night?”
If I was going to tell him then he had given me the perfect intro…
“Berlin is incredible!” I said.
“The young gay couples in the coffee shops and bars… you will have to see them… it’s…”
“Incredible!” Ben finished for me… “Yes, I want to see it all before we leave!” Then he paused…
“Well go on… did you get your rocks off? I can’t believe you didn’t… I know you too well! A fortnight without me… you must have been climbing the walls… I know I was!”
“Well…” I said enigmatically
“Well indeed… I know you too well!” Then he stopped and screwed his brows up the way he does when he’s thinking. “I know what you did… You wouldn’t risk feeling romantic… so you went looking for a stranger to simply get you off!”
“Right… So was it a park or a night-club?” He asked.
“It was a sauna.” I said very quietly.
“I knew it… I knew it… go on tell me… was it sordid… was he ugly?” He was bouncing up and down with excitement, and he had the most impressive… sign of excitement.
“No, it wasn’t sordid, and he wasn’t ugly… He was cute and kind. He knew I was having problems feeling guilty about you. He was very gentle. All he got was to be tossed off… I stopped him kissing me. He was doing it to me, but I was thinking about you. I’m not sure I was fair to him… I feel quite bad about that. He was so nice about it, when Heinz explained to him, about you.”
“When Heinz explained about me… Who the heck is Heinz?” I was now in such deep water.
“Look, it’s seven o-clock, we need to eat. So why don’t we go to the bar that I went to last night. That’s where it all started… we could dance. I could even take you to the sauna afterwards. I was pretty drunk but I think I could find it again.”
Ben was like a kid with a new toy. We got dressed again… all this had happened while we were having another very rough, very intense love? We had missed each other and both of us were over-excited by my explanation of anonymous sex with a stranger… a very cute stranger.
The outside tables at the bar were filling. The sun was setting but was still pleasantly warm. We sat and I ordered two large beers. I had forgotten that Ben had just arrived from Munich where the bier-Keller was practically invented. He was less impressed than I had been by the size of the steins, although he had the honesty to admit that his father had only approved small ones for him.
I ordered food and we started to prepare a solid foundation for “Ben’s night of sordid adventure”, well that’s how he termed it! I had really enjoyed dancing with a boy the previous night and so that was what we did next. Ben too was astonished at the sight of Berlin’s high-schoolers in close embrace swaying gently to the music. The sight of what we had been missing at home… and perhaps what we were about to leave behind in Germany made him sad.
We were dancing slowly to a gentle folksong when I realised and said… “Are you crying?”
“No!” He sniffed theatrically… “But you are!”
I hadn’t realised, but he was right, I was. Whether it was happiness for what we had, or sadness for what we were about to lose, I couldn’t say… and it didn’t matter.
As we danced, a hand tapped me on the shoulder and a voice said quietly in heavily accented English…
“Excuse me. Please may I dance with Ben?”
It was Heinz, grinning like a fool.
He had clearly been doing English homework. He told me later that he had wanted to say the important bits in English so that Ben would be clear about the previous night.
I said… “But you didn’t know we would be here!”
“Oh yes I did… How could you resist showing Ben? There is nothing you would keep from him. I don’t know you well but I know you better than that!” He led us back to his table, his arms around both our waists. Waiting there with an equally broad grin was Karl.
“You see my generosity… I only threw you at him temporarily… I had my eye on him… I saw him enter. That was why I tripped you… before anyone else could get to him! I planned to take him home after you had finished with him.”
Was there nothing I did that hadn’t been pre-planned by someone else?
We danced. Heinz with me, and Ben with Karl. Karl seemed very taken with Ben. Then we had more than a few more drinks. That was when Karl said, in carefully rehearsed English…
“Ben, would you like to take me to the sauna?”
Ben’s head whipped round towards Karl, and then back to look at me.
“What ? and Paul with Heinz?” He had a startled rabbit look about him.
Heinz cut in…
“Well Paul is my size and you are Karl’s size, and Karl has already had Paul… so yes it would be nice for you to have sex with Karl. Paul didn’t have sex with me last night because he was uncertain that you would approve. Now you can watch that it is only sex… no romance! It is just Berlin-style honest drunken sex.”
Ben and I said in unison… “Well, it would be an adventure!” and then “But only sex!”
Heinz said very seriously… “I have a suggestion… We should agree now that we will not exchange phone numbers or addresses. We are strangers… That is important for this situation. We shall never meet again after tonight. Karl and I shall not come here or the sauna for two weeks. If you and Ben wish to that is good, we want you to have fun. But, Karl and I will be elsewhere. We are strangers and we shall remain strangers. Agreed?”
Then he said, very seriously…
“To be clear… Karl is now my boyfriend… I only loan him to you so that we can all enjoy a single night of adventure. Also… there will be no fucking… one day his bottom will be mine… one day!”
Ben and I nodded. I was very touched that the two German boys had thought through how to make it possible for us to have one magical night of… free-love… no! free-sex. It was so very Weimar. I expected Kurt Weill or Lili Marleen to strike up at any moment. I was so grateful to Heinz and Karl for their kindness. Without thinking, I leaned across and kissed Heinz. Ben thought for a moment, and then kissed Karl, and so our adventure began!
The sauna was a little less crowded than the previous night. We were also there a little earlier and a trifle less drunk. We tried the hot tub, fending off wandering hands from other users, particularly a rather florid middle aged man that put me in mind of a much younger Herr Rohme, the grocer in Hamburg.
When he wouldn’t or couldn’t take no for an answer I quietly suggested that we move on. I suggested the steam room, but Heinz had been there before and said that we didn’t want to be sweaty for the Dark Room. So we went to the bar had a cold drink and then I pretended not to notice when Karl took Ben by the hand and led him off in the direction of the Dark Room. I turned and smiled at Heinz…
“Thank you for arranging this for Ben”
“Actually, I arranged it for myself.” He said. “I wanted you very badly last night, but I knew that my only chance to enjoy you was if Ben was with you to approve. If that didn’t work then it was impossible.”
I was astonished that someone could think things through so clearly and leaned forward and kissed him.
This was no chaste “Thank you” kiss. This was me saying that I wanted to enjoy everything, all the sex that he had to offer, and then, at the end of the evening we would walk away, and make love, not sex, with our real loves. The kiss went on, his tongue found mine and I his. He held me and excited me and…
Then we went to the Dark Room.
“We have arranged, Karl has taken Ben to the right hand corner. We should go the other way… unless you wish to watch?”
“No, I don’t think I could watch them doing it… that would be too weird!”
“I agree.” He said “I too do not wish to see Ben having Karl. We have only danced… I too have not had Karl yet.”
I felt that Heinz was too good to be true.
We settled into a dark corner and he reached for me. “I see that you are circumcised… Are you?”
“No.” I smiled in the darkness, some things never change. “No, not Jewish… Ben is but I am not.”
After that things took their natural course. We cuddled and kissed and did almost all the things that two boys will do to give each other pleasure. We missed out on the grunting and moans and slapping of flesh against buttocks that marked the passion of many other couples. After coming close to the edge a few times, Heinz said…
“I think the others have returned to the bar, so perhaps we should…” Then he reversed positions and we took each other in a classic sixty-nine.
When we joined Karl and Ben in the bar they were looking flustered but unembarrassed.
“Was he as good as I said?” I asked Karl.
“You are perfectly matched.” He replied with a quiet smile.
Then he said… “Ben is Jewish… it was most interesting… having no foreskin is… interesting!”
Forty years after the war… that was it… it was just interesting that he was circumcised, in this new Berlin.
To end things on an almost formal level, we finally went to a coffee shop. Sitting there, Heinz said…
“Well, this is the end of your evening. I hope it gave you the release that you needed. Perhaps you now can be sure that you are the perfect match for each other.”
“Yes, it has been perfect, pure uncomplicated sex with a stranger… perhaps it is a pity that…”
“No!” Heinz cut in sharply… “No addresses, no phone calls, no holidays together! It would not work. This only works because we shall never see each other again. You can remember it as a fantasy or a dream. You can replay it together in bed. You have nothing to be jealous or ashamed of… only repeating it could do that.”
He was right of course.
A few minutes later he nodded to Karl and Karl stood up. He said in very careful English…
“Thank you for a perfect evening. We ask you to be happy together, and to remember us.”
I was crying when I hugged them both. Other patrons of the coffee shop looked sad, no-one looked shocked or disapproving.
“Thank you… Yes, it has been perfect” I said. “Enjoy your lives.”
Karl grinned and lightened the mood… “Live long and prosper!” He raised his hand in sardonic salute.
We watched them until they turned the corner, hand in hand. Then Ben and I held each other while we cried.
The other patrons smiled gently, looked the other way and went back to their conversations.
I said… “They were remarkable young men. I’m glad we knew them”
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