It started out intended only for my classmates and professor, but in the spirit of “warum nicht”, that propensity for basically say, “Yes, why not?” to everything and everyone, the birthday party I planned for my 33rd birthday rather got out of hand.
My classmates would have been considered a unique group of people in many other cities except Berlin, for this refresher German class had over a dozen nationalities alone: Argentinian, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian, Native American, Russian, Uzbek, Chinese, Nigerian, Mozambiquan (spelling, I don’t know about that one!), Bulgarian, Panamanian, Turkish and Mongolian!
Suffice it to say, as the various holidays passed in December, I knew my birthday was upcoming 7 January, but I’d never done anything for it. Except for a dozen red roses left on my doorstep by an occasional lover one night when I was on patrol, several years in the past, I’d never had anyone recognize it either. I was surprised at my roommate’s reaction when I mentioned this to her.
“How very terrible! Why of course you have to have a party!“
And she commenced to plan. Yes, this is the same high-spirited, beautiful lady with whom I’d shared many adventures as mentioned in posts “The Goose God Cometh Forth” (where I dropped the Christmas goose and nearly set the flat on fire) and “A Sweat Lodge in Germany” (where at a very spooky castle we had a Native American cleansing ceremony).
“At least your classmates!” She was adamant. And this I could agree on although I am very, very much the person who does not like to be the centre of attention at any time. Yet I issued some invitations and received half a dozen immediate acceptances along with mein Lehrer (teacher) Herr Baum’s smiling assent.
I, of course, included a couple of very good friends I’d met in Berlin, a lovely couple, then merely engaged to each other whom I mention in “Underground Berlin Lounges & Catwalks”. And on the spur of the moment, a Swedish online contact I’d been chatting with for a few weeks. He was a nice guy in his early forties, comfortable in life, but always eager, in his words, of traveling to have some fun.
I love to cook, but not necessarily entertain because I’m not a talker, but I had a few ideas in mind to keep the evening going, and my friend was a consummate hostess.
Planning a party in Berlin, Germany is very different than in most cities of the US where one has their own transportation and several stores to choose from, besides larger refrigerators to store perishable goods in and rental facilities, etc. I decided on making a full dinner with examples of all kinds of American cuisine: Gumbo (sans shellfish, for I’m allergic), enchiladas with fresh salsa and all the side items, fried fish with hushpuppies and fries, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, baked turnips and more!
But we lived on the six floor, no elevator. No car. And for special items not widely found then in Germany: okra, black-eyed peas, flour tortillas and spices, it meant an exhaustive Search & Rescue Operation. It might have helped if I’d decided a party weeks ahead of time, but as it was, I had six days.
After living at this particular location a few months, with no problem I could run up all seven double flights (though we lived on the “6th” floor, in Germany what is considered the 1st floor in the US is called zero, actually it’s 14 counting all) with my average backpack full of goods, but now, not only walking to procure the items but strapping on two backpacks (front and back) with several handsacks of groceries, and making five or six should trips a day? Not to mention the colas, beer and liquor? We have the filled plastic crates which hold nine bottles, and you can only carry one at a time. So that added three more round trips a few blocks walk to a market and then back home…and upstairs.
Even I was nearing exhaustion by the third day. And then where could I store everything? We had a very small half filing cabinet sized fridge. My friend laughed, grabbed a few bags and headed first towards the living room which had a balcony. Since the temperature was at freezing or at nights, well below, that is where most things stayed. Anything else, and we started using the window sills off the bedrooms which were wide enough to accommodate the flower pots and the like.
And so to begin prepping the dishes. At that time in Berlin, unless you went to expense shops like those at KaDeWe, the famous international department store which haa a specialty grocery of popular goods from other countries, things like the tortillas had to be made the “old-fashioned” way. More work. I’d run out of pots, pans and boilers to use, so C. started borrowing from neighbors. I labored day and night, but it was a labor of pure joy. I wanted to present the best, and at that moment, I loved everybody.
Every pot, pan, dish and glass had been utilized or laid out for usage. Paperplates, plastic cups and utensils aren’t often used by many Germans because of waste and damage to the environment. You can use and reuse crockery, but only sporadic use of non-perishable is supported, and I lived in an über “green” home. So this meant more borrowing and procurement.
I’d collected Anders, my Swedish friend from the airport, taking a long, if much needed rest while traveling by bus and then train to find him at Tegel airport, but one thing I’d not considered was I didn’t have time to entertain him before the party, as I was still tying up loose ends. C. took him underwing and flew away into the city, but this turned out to have startling results. For you see, she got rather carried away and started inviting people who struck her fancy. Anybody and everybody.
Finally the day arrived, and groaning with the weight of so much food, our single dining table was loaded to the max. One counter was a virtual “bottle shop” and the other held utensils, glasses and plates. Having warned the neighbors again that it might get loud, my sixty-something friend C. produced a stereo system and speakers which even a DJ might envy, and we started the party rocking with her favorite genre: trance!
The soon to be worn out doorbell began to ring. And ring. Manning the speaker, since it was near the kitchen doorway, I played go-between. Hier ist Claus! a voice would announce, and I’d buzz him in, though neither C. or I knew anyone named Claus, but what the hell. Come on up! And person, after person, after smiling and sometimes already inebriated person, all the rooms began to fill. Matthias! Joachim! Birgit! and a pair of guys I didn’t know by name, but as I’d hurried out on a last minute to buy a crate of wine, they’d been friendly to me as I stood in queue, so they’d dropped by as well.
I’d first thought I cooked too much, and had actually held a large pot of Hoppin’ John, steamed rice and cornbread back, but in just over an hour, the table had been cleared, but as we were nearing the bottom of litres of rum by then, everyone was in high spirits and not particularly concerned.
Time for fun, but I was feeling overwhelmed. I’d never had a party like this before, though I’d catered events, spent many wild nights with guys on the force, and usually ghosted in the corner of my older sister’s many shindigs. I tried to escape to a bedroom, but C. found me out, pulling me back into the crowd. It was the only time I’d come close to being embarrassed in my life, for I was hugged, and patted on the back, kissed and given gifts and smiled upon in a way I’d never received. Being me, I could only endure this for a few minutes before I returned to the kitchen, which was good in a way, for I’d left the peas cooking and might have burned them through inattention.
In the living room and my bedroom, whose connecting doors were thrown open, there was dancing which I came back to watch from the hall, yet inevitably, C. dragged me back in again, scolding me for neglecting my guests. Drawing everyone’s attention, she began a crazy dedication dance with the local homeless man Joachim, to the tune of an American guitarist who’d had a strange and silly argument with my friend André (mentioned in my entry Cold Memories) over whose partner I was to be for the night and who got the last of the fried fish.
I think C.’s and Joachim wild whirling, which later took out the guitar player when they crashed into him, was the highlight of the evening. The laughter which followed the mishap broke free the last of everyone’s reserves, and I couldn’t stop laughing myself as it was so typical, so unexpected and so very, very C. She picked herself up and said, “Ta-dah!” bowing for the crowd.
But it was getting late, and a weekday night and some people had to go: first was my professor, the lovely Herr Baum who kissed me on the mouth and said, “I like you. I really like you,” which was a great compliment from someone of his more reserved generation. Then my good friends, one of whom was a teacher and had an early morning appointment with a class of kindergarteners. She was so very beautiful to me, a survivor of a childhood ailment which twisted her spine, but witty, intelligent, and determined, I found her absolutely brilliant, and her fiancé, a very lucky man. A few others I didn’t know in the first place, but they were hugged and thanked just the same. Which left mostly my classmates, the homeless man (who had eaten the weight of large dog and was still going), Anders, a couple of personal friends, and a very high mystery man named Claus who had to be put out later as he attempted erotic massage on anyone who stopped moving for a second or two.
Midnight rolled around, and everyone headed back to the kitchen in waves, dishing through the Hoppin’ John and whatever else that could be found in the kitchen. Like a queen atop a parade float, C. was hurling packages of sliced meats to anyone who wanted them, slicing up bread for sandwiches, finding pickles in previously unseen cupboards and liberally pouring wine. And now it was cocktail time, and the music was changed to ambient and downbeat n’bass. Newly satiated, everyone found pillows, divans, couches and this time the massages were of mutual respect, the ultimate relaxation. Conversation on memories, secret things never before revealed, silly things, and hopes and dreams, the last bottle of rum was finished, and the next thing I knew there was a troll crashing through a forest.
I awoke slowly, cautiously, finding myself on a bed with four other people. Two of them were awake and giggling quietly, as I sat up voicing a question, C. and her friend pointed across the room to Anders, asleep on one of the couches whose snores seemed to visibly shake the walls.
The morning after. Spilled wine across the floor, cigarette butts in the bathroom, more dishes than I’ve seen at the restaurant I’d worked in, stacked up on the stove, sitting on the floor and spilling onto the landing outside the front door, which was open.
I found a bed only occupied by one and went back to sleep.