Monday, November 8, 2010

GERMANY, CHAPTER 5: The Ballhaus and The Roller Disco

"Do you have anything gayer?" I asked the fraulein.

Before we left, I mentioned to Scott Bourne that we were going to Berlin.

“Let me know if you want a contact,” Scott wrote, “good friend lives there and would roll you around and take you out for a beer.

Do you get this? “You should meet my friend!” I don’t think I’ve ever taken anybody up on it. “New friends” is not on the list. A wheel of parmigiano reggiano is. But I always politely take the friend’s info, promise to look them up, and then promptly throw it out. For some reason I contacted Scott’s friend in Berlin. “Maybe he has cheese,” I must have thought.

The emails between Julian Dykmans and myself were normal enough, so when he suggested we meet at a strange place called “The Ballhaus” for beers and some of the “best schnitzel in town,” I said, sure.

“Hey! All right!” he wrote back. “Nine pm at the Clärchens Ballhaus. Reserved under the name Dykmans. This is funny, like a blind date… To recognize us, here is a pic...”
At the bottom of the email was a grainy picture of an attractive couple sharing a good laugh. They didn’t look like psychos, but then psychos never look like psychos. Which makes it hard for normal people to be normal because the most psychotic psycho always looks super normal. He said something else at the bottom that I didn’t pay much attention to at the time, “You feeling the be-bop evening? Better put on your dancing shoes!”

Julian may have been normal, but the Clarchens Ballhaus was anything but. “What a strange place,” I said as we entered the gates into a large, open courtyard where people were seated at tables, drinking, and eating. Some had spilled onto the street and were smoking cigarettes by the light of the bare bulbs hung from the trees. The courtyard garden had a wild character to it. Whoever cared for it, cared for it only occasionally, if at all. The five-story building didn’t necessarily stand out from its neighbors, it looked like an ordinary apartment building, but there was something strange about it. It felt as if it had suffered under the Nazis, then the communists, but now was the home of a vegetarian, nudist commune.

We stumbled into the dark, narrow, wood paneled foyer and were instantly transported back in time, into a world that I see in Kafka’s stories. Old men dressed in tuxedos with bushy white curlicue mustaches looked as if they had lived in the ancient cloakroom their entire lives. They took our coats and our money. It was very crowded. There was barely room for their bushy eyebrows. Even if I understood German I don’t think I would have been able to hear what they were saying, and they were upset at me for not understanding, so I just handed over some money and in return I received some tickets. I farted in the small, crowded foyer. Another old man in a tuxedo found the name “Dykmans” amongst the scribbles on a crumpled sheet of paper he kept close to his chest. He instructed us to follow him through a narrow pair of curtains. 

German rockabilly for the senior crowd at the Ballhaus.

Inside it was dark and loud, the ceilings were high and the floor was packed with people of all ages dancing and drinking and shouting. Disco balls and tinsel curtains sent sparkles all over the ballroom. Another old ghost in a tuxedo led us to a table in a corner. I wanted to protest because we couldn’t see the action on the floor very well from there, but I later learned that all the good tables have been reserved for centuries by the elderly Germans who come every weekend to let their hair—what little they have left of it—down. My father would have protested, and spit on the floor, but we sat down and took in our surroundings.

I had to use the restroom, but was scared to cross the packed dance floor. I tried to get a piggyback ride at the edge of the dance floor to ensure safe passage to the bathrooms, but I didn’t know how to say “piggyback ride” in German. “Me? (I pointed to myself) I’ll get on your back? (I pointed to the old lady’s back and pantomimed mounting her) Ja? Piggy back ride? Ja?” I’m not sure if the fraulein was telling me to beat it, or if she was trying to tell me there was a saddle in a nearby cupboard, when I heard someone yelling my name in my ear, “DAVE!” It was Julian’s wife, Lou. She gave me a kiss on each cheek and I abandoned the migration. I showed her where Tania and I were sitting. Julian soon joined us. It was like a blind date. I had no idea who these people were.

Julian, I learned, is an old European pro skater. He’s been in the scene for a long time and everyone in Europe knows who he is. He now runs a company called Antiz. On top of being a dashing skateboarder, he’s an interesting fellow off the board. I’d liken him to something of a Euro Ed Templeton, both in age and hobbies. Although, to my knowledge, Julian does not paint nude boys. 
Lou, Julian, pizza, schnitzel.
We ordered beers, schnitzels, and pizzas. We discussed the state of skateboarding, in particular the professional skateboarder’s responsibility to himself and to skateboarding. We agreed that some skaters take more than their fair share of stickers. The food was delicious, but the Ballhaus was so loud I think it was affecting my taste buds. Apparently the tongue is connected to the ears? I had to resist a strange urge to squirt lemon on Tania’s pizza. We soon realized conversation was impossible with all the dancing and the be-bop and so we were forced to abandon ourselves to enjoying the noise. Julian and Lou danced, while we watched. 

Julian and Lou dancing in the center of the Elderly Sea. Below is the Easy Rider.

I have developed an interest in old people dancing, and I can say that some of the most wonderful elderly dancers in the world are to be found in Germany. We had one of Germany’s finest on the dance floor right in front of us. I’ll call him “Easy Rider” because his dancing style consisted of gripping an imaginary pair of “ape hangers” and steering his invisible motorcycle in tight circles around the floor. ER was not afraid to show his affection for younger women. ER touched/groped women in a casual manner not permitted to younger men. I made a mental note of his style for future use.

“A friend of ours is having a party at a roller disco,” Julian announced. “Would you and Tania like to join us?” We were still jetlagged and wanted nothing more than to go to bed, but the idea of visiting a German roller disco sounded like the worst possible thing we could do, so we said yes. Julian said something about a 200 meter track—I’m not sure what a meter is, but 200 of them sounded big. I pictured banked corners and the like. Perhaps even a loop. But in reality, the roller disco was a small room, about the size of a high school gym, with a stage and a bar flanking a wood floor that was filled with people on roller skates going in circles while listening to disco music. Roller skates were surely a form of torture or public humiliation during the Dark Ages, no? Yet we had to pay to strap a pair of those things on our feet. The disco, on the other hand, was free. I would have preferred Bach’s cello concertos.

“Do you have anything gayer than this?” I asked the fraulein behind the counter when she handed me my skates. They were bright, sparkly blue, but I thought I could do better. She didn’t seem to understand my English. “Maybe something white or pink? Weiss?” I know “white” in German because of all the wine. “Nien weiss? Okay. Well these will be fine. Danke.” In hindsight, I don’t think one could find a gayer pair of skates.
Tania drinks her beer at the bar where you're supposed. She got cool Converse roller skates.
“You’re really good!” Lou said to me after I took my first spin around the rink in my big gay skates. Tania agreed. I was impressing the ladies with my roller skating skills, just like in elementary school when I was well known for being the only boy able to skate backwards. I ordered a beer at the bar, put my arm around Tania, and began to explain the secrets of my roller skating skills. I compared myself to the American negroes that were in the videos projected on the walls. My what talent. I was inspired to take another spin when a great commotion occurred on the floor in front of us. It was Lou. She had snuck off while I was talking and caused a crash.

There was a great pile of Germans writhing on the floor. It’s hard to tell the difference between German men and women, but I think it was mostly men. It was quite a pileup*. All caused by a spilt beer. Lou spilled the beer. She was trying to bring it to Julian when she was grabbed by a falling German who pulled her, and her beer, to the floor. There’s a reason why beverages are not allowed on the roller disco floor: roller skates and beer don’t mix. Lou was given a tongue lashing by a German man she won’t soon forget. 

A German Roller Disco employee mops up Lou's mess. The angry German man who cussed her out is in the purple shirt in the center.

“ICH HAT BUMSEN MIT EIN HUHN!” the man yelled at Lou. I’m not sure what he was saying, but he was very angry. He sounded like Hitler. I’m glad I didn’t know what he was saying because if I had I would have given him a swift kick in the schnitzel. Lou, however, was very calm and apologetic, “Ja, ja, ja,” and calmly weathered his storm. She did, after all, deserve a short lecture on the dangers of roller skating under the influence, but the German fellow went a little too far.

“He said I was stupid,” Lou told us after he left, “and that I should be the one cleaning up the mess. He also called me a stupid American.” Lou is Swiss. So that makes him a stupid German. But it made me stupid mad.

“Why I oughtta!” I said through clinched teeth. I scanned the floor for the scoundrel, but he was nowhere to be found. “How dare he!” How can you call someone stupid while wearing roller skates? I’m glad I couldn’t find him because I can’t even fight when I’m not wearing roller skates.

But my beer was on a railing above the roller rink floor. German beer is delicious, but there are so many other ways to enjoy it. I gave my cup a little nudge. Oops. Such a stupid American. “Entschuldige!”

* I have co-written a play with my friend Caleb Plowman called, The Four Ball Pileup. It’s a rather long script, the action taking place over the course of five acts, but the gist of the story is that two nude men in a locker room collide as they turn the same corner and their penises and scrotums become ensnared. The scene in the roller disco, with all those men and women piled upon each other, has inspired me to begin writing the sequel, The Eleven Ball Pileup.

Roller skating to disco gets Julian amped.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Mackenzie just showed this to us ! i love being reminded of good times and crushing humiliations on a blog! Right on Dave, it felt like I was there. Thanks for siding with me on the Roller disco debacle, now i can be confident that OUR take on the matter will go down in History (bloggers = Victors! gnar gnar) Kisses to Tania ! xx