Berlin, Saturday March 20th 2021
Dominic lay back on the couch and nestled into the curve of Johann’s body. He felt a warm glow of contentment settle on him, like the warmth of the sun on a spring morning. Johann had cooked them a traditional German meal of stuffed pork and dumplings, followed by apple strudel, washed down with a bottle of champagne.
They were celebrating. It was a year since Dominic and Johann had locked down together in Berlin when the pandemic struck. As for most people, it had been the strangest year of Dominic’s life, and it was one he would have preferred not to live through. But, as he reflected on it now, the lock down with Johann had changed Dominic’s life forever.
In a good way.
True, the pandemic had forced them to live a strange, new life. He and Johann dutifully washed their hands regularly and wore facemasks. They kept a social distance whenever they were outside the apartment, and reluctantly gave up socialising. In their working lives as lawyers, they had got used to video conferencing, and discovered the new etiquette of online meetings.
But when the pandemic caused their worlds to freeze, it forced them to radically rethink their approach to life, and question the values they had held pre-pandemic.
Dominic was still grieving the death of his husband Jonathan when he first met Johann in 2019. The immediate attraction that he felt for this handsome lawyer was coupled with guilt. Guilt that he still loved his late husband, even as he was developing strong emotions for the new man in his life.
Fortunately, Johann was patient with Dominic and understood his conflict. Johann himself had experienced the powerful emotion of grief, and knew how it could come and go at the most unpredictable moments. The two men grew closer emotionally, and Dominic was relieved when his sense of guilt diminished.
It remained a long-distance affair, with Johann visiting Dominic in Oxford and Dominic visiting Johann in Berlin. That all changed the moment of lock down in March 2020. Dominic had been in Berlin, and it seemed practical for him to stay.
A practical decision, but not one without risk.
“You’re a long way away,” Johann whispered in his ear. “Are you thinking about your Great-Uncle Simon again?”
“No, not this time.” Dominic snuggled closer into Johann. “I was thinking about us.”
“All good, I hope?”
“On the whole, yes,” Dominic replied. He felt the crook of Johann’s arm tighten around his throat, and he grabbed it with both hands. “Alright. All good. It’s been wonderful, my darling. Now, stop strangling me.”
Johann laughed and relaxed his arm. “That’s better. You must treat your landlord with respect. Especially after he cooked you such a perfect dinner tonight.”
“It was perfect.” Dominic turned to kiss Johann. “I was just thinking. This has been perfect too. Lockdown. I feel almost guilty saying it. When you hear of so many people having a terrible time. It’s a year since I locked down with you. And I feel better for it.”
Johann pulled his head back and looked quizzically at Dominic. “Really? After all those arguments we’ve had? All those fights about who last cleaned the bathroom, or whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher.”
“When was the last time we argued?” Dominic asked. “I mean, really argued?”
“November twenty-third,” Johann replied promptly. “It was a Monday. The day the wifi failed when you had that important case conference with the difficult client.”
“Mrs del Piccolo.” Dominic sighed. “The evil landlady. I remember it was a bad day. Did we argue as well?”
Johann leaned in and kissed Dominic long and slow on the lips. It was delicious. In more than a year, Johann’s ability to excite and tantalise Dominic had only grown stronger day by day.
“Is that what you do with all the bad moments in life?” Johann asked. “Push them out of your mind?”
“It’s not such a terrible thing to do.” Dominic smiled. “Why not forget them? I think it’s been a very good year. On the whole.”
“So do I,” Johann replied. “I was beginning to think I would never share my life with another man again. You know the only thing I miss?”
Dominic sat up. What was Johann going to say? Did he miss having the apartment to himself? Would he prefer to be alone and not have to discuss and agree the daily domestic duties of the apartment with someone else?
“I miss the parties,” Johann replied. “Going out. Seeing people. Coming home late and collapsing into bed.” He winked at Dominic. “Or collapsing into someone else’s bed.”
Dominic pretended to look hurt. “Am I not good enough for you anymore?”
Johann laughed. “For an Englishman you’re not bad. Still more uptight than the average German. But you’re getting better.”
Dominic continued to pout. Johann reached down and grabbed him between his thighs. “Don’t worry, my little British bulldog. I have to confess I’ve had some of the best sex ever in the past year. I’m not giving that up in a hurry. Not even when the lockdown ends and we’re free to go out and play.”
Dominic pushed Johann’s hand away and rolled over to sit astride him. “When the lockdown ends, I will leave you tied to the bed while I go out to every sex club in Berlin. I will find a new man every night and bring him back here to play until dawn.”
Johann opened his eyes wide. “This is a new side to Dominic Delingpole, mild mannered Englishman. The party animal. Am I such a bad influence on you?”
Dominic grasped Johann’s wrists, pinned his arms against the back of the couch, and leant forward to kiss him. “Bad influence? Or good influence? There’s a question.” He released Johann’s arms and turned to pick up his great-uncle’s diary from the coffee table. He flicked it open at a bookmark.
“Parties.” Dominic flicked back a couple of pages. “Berlin in 1930 must have been quite a place to be. I’ve been reading about what Great Uncle Simon got up to. No wonder my mother never mentioned his diary to me before. If she read it, she would have been scandalised.”
Johann sat up eagerly. “Tell me what he did. Which clubs did he go to?”
“Most of them, as far as I can make out,” Dominic replied. “Listen.”
“I am hopelessly in love. Not with any one person. But with this whole, breathless existence in a city of possibilities. I came to Berlin to escape the conformity of London. A suffocating city where people who are other, like us, are arrested simply for walking in a different way, or wearing clothes that are gayer than those favoured by the drab people around us.
And what a place Berlin is to escape to! There are clubs here that a man can only dream of in London. Men dress as women, women dress as men. People dress – how they want. Men have sex with men, or with women, or with both. Who cares? Who is harmed?
I have been here three months, and already I have lost count of the number of men I have encountered. And still there are new pleasures for me to experience. Tomorrow, Christopher is taking me to somewhere he calls The Pleasure Cellar. Even its name sounds exquisitely shocking!”
“The Pleasure Cellar?” Johann asked. “I wonder which club he means.” He stood and held out his hand to Dominic. “Come, my friend. It’s time we retired to our own Pleasure Cellar. Let me see if we can recreate your great uncle’s debauched journey through Weimar Berlin.”
Their love making that night was more intense than Dominic had ever known it before. Afterwards when he slept, his dreams were vivid and complex, playing out like scenes from a period movie.
In the first scene he was waiting in line with his great uncle outside the Berghain Club in Kreuzberg. It was a club Johann had taken him to, but would not have existed when Great Uncle Simon was in Berlin.
“This is my great nephew, Dominic Delingpole,” Simon told the doorman. “He’s celebrated across the world for combatting the dark forces of homophobia. He must be on your VIP guest list.”
“Why, yes, Mr Delingpole.” The doorman looked from his list to Dominic. “We’ve been expecting you. You’ve been allocated the VIP dance floor. Please invite whoever you want to dance or have sex with you.” He snapped his fingers and two men, stripped to the waist, arrived with a sedan chair.
Dominic opened the door of the sedan chair and stepped in. The interior of the small cabin dissolved and became a dance floor. The familiar pounding techno music of Berghain thundered in Dominic’s ears, and lasers flashed above his head. The floor was packed with bodies, men and women. They were virtually naked, or wore fetish-inspired outfits. The sea of humanity sweated and writhed to the music. Spotlights spun and lit up the perimeter of the room, where groups of people were having sex.
A hand grabbed Dominic’s shoulder and he turned to see his great uncle, dressed in a black suit and black Homburg hat. He held a giant calendar in his right hand, and with his left he tore pages from the calendar. It started at June 1930. Dates, like confetti, tumbled from his hands until he reached 1933. The techno music ended abruptly and the figures on the dance floor melted away.
Dominic felt himself falling. Giant advertising billboards tumbled past him. One of them displayed a mosaic made up of golden Stars of David intertwined with pink triangles. Flames licked around the billboard and the mosaic became ashes. A string of rainbow flags fluttered ahead of him. He reached out for them, but men with smart haircuts, smart suits and red ties got there before him and ripped the flags into tiny shreds. The men turned and their hands reached for Dominic. He twisted and turned as he fell, desperate to escape their clutches.
“Dominic! Wake up.” He opened his eyes to see Johann smiling at him, his hand gently cupped his cheek. “I think you were having a nightmare.
Dominic shook the sleep from his head and turned to face Johann. Their bodies intertwined and Dominic felt the panic ebb away from him.
“I was,” he said. “It was so strange. Great Uncle Simon was there and we were clubbing. There was something special about 1933. Is it significant here?”
“Of course,” Johann replied. “Lots of things happened that year. All of them bad. That was the year Hitler became dictator of Germany. By June, there were strict anti-Semitic laws. And all the clubs in Berlin were closed down. Fun was banned. It was the beginning of the end.”
Dominic lay back on his pillow. It was a sobering vision that his unconscious brain had pieced together for him. The threat to liberty his great uncle had lived through had never gone away. There was always the potential for the freedom he had in his relationship with Johann to be threatened. Progress had been made, but it could be undone by a change of government within a short space of time. He tightened his arms around Johann.
“Are you okay?” Johann whispered in his ear.
“Oh, yes,” Dominic replied. “Now I realise just how much my life has in common with Great Uncle Simon’s. I think we fight the same battles. What we need are allies.”
Johann chuckled. “You’re a strange man, Mr Delingpole. But a good man.”
He ran his hand down Dominic’s naked body. “Let’s be allies again right now.”
To be continued…
Berlin, Saturday January 30th 2021
Dominic stopped outside the building on Welsestraße and double checked the street number.
It was the right place, but it was no longer a guest house. The ground floor was now a small supermarket. A green sign by the entrance proclaimed ‘BioMarkt’, showing that it sold organic produce. The blue-painted stonework of the building was in good repair and extended up three floors. What had once been a pre-war guest house was presumably long ago converted into private apartments. The windows on each floor had smart little balconies overlooking the street.
The Lindhof Gasthaus on Welsestraße was where Dominic’s Great-Uncle Simon had first stayed in Berlin in 1930. But it was no more. Since Dominic’s mother had sent him his great-uncle’s diary over three weeks earlier, he had decided to revisit the Berlin locations his great-uncle had mentioned in the journal. But finding time to do so proved difficult. Surprisingly his post-Christmas workload had been much heavier than expected. In addition, his partner Johann had suggested they reorganise the apartment to make it easier for both of them to work from home during the pandemic. Today was his first opportunity to take a trip through Berlin accompanied by his great-uncle’s diary.
He crossed to the other side of the street and sat on an iron bench. He took out his great uncle’s journal from his shoulder bag and opened it to the entry for March 2nd 1930. Earlier that morning he had read the entry for the first time and was shocked by its revelation:
“An extraordinary 24 hours. I am exhausted. And just a little concerned. I have been released from detention, but I must return to the police station on Monday. I have no choice. They still have my identification papers.
Yesterday evening had started so happy. Christopher and Rudy came to free me from Frau Linden’s clutches at five o’clock prompt, and we went for several vermouths at The Eldorado. Christopher was very excited because he said Marlene (Dietrich) would be joining us. I didn’t believe him because there’s such excitement about her new film and she’s so famous that I’m sure she wouldn’t mix with riff-raff like us anymore.
But I was wrong. At exactly eight o’clock she swept in, and after several drinks announced she was taking us to an exclusive dining club.
It was outside where things went wrong. There were about a dozen or more of those filthy brown shirt thugs by the entrance. While we waited for M’s car to arrive, they began shouting obscenities at us. I tried to ignore them but Rudy, who’s this beautiful German boy Christopher has met, was shouting back. Then he turned to me and said: “You’re Jewish, how can you allow them to say such filth? You cannot allow it to go unchallenged.”
I still said nothing, but one of the thugs grabbed me and shouted: “Jüde!” I suppose I’d had a bit too much to drink, and I simply swung at him. Landed a fist on his right eye and he went flying against the wall and fell to the ground. M screamed and the next thing we knew the police turned up."
Dominic closed the journal, put it back in his bag, and stared at the building opposite. So, Great-Uncle Simon had been Jewish. And if he was then so was his sister, Dominic’s Great-Grandmother.
Why had his mother never told him about his Jewish ancestry? Why was it a secret? He was confused and saddened. Was his family ashamed? If so, why? There were so many questions he needed to ask. So many conversations to have with his mother. But they had to wait for another time.
He stood, removed his phone from his pocket, and took several of photographs of the building that had once been the Lindau Gasthaus. He went to cross the road, and saw a man standing by the entrance to the upper floor apartments watching him intently.
Dominic hastily shoved the phone back into his pocket, buttoned up his coat, and headed off down the road to his next destination. He wanted to avoid any accusation of invading the residents’ privacy, or face a possibly unpleasant confrontation.
At the crossroads he turned right onto Fuggerstraße, past the temporarily closed gay bar Prinzknecht, and on towards Martin-Luther Straße. Like the Prinzknecht, so many gay bars in this district of Berlin that had been forced to close temporarily for almost a year. They had once been a magnet for hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the world, attracted to Berlin’s liberated attitude to the LGBTQ community.
Now they stood shuttered up.
Dominic wondered what life in a gay club would be like once the pandemic restrictions were finally lifted. He could only imagine the pent-up sexual frustration of all those single gay men, locked down without the opportunity for a casual encounter. The darkrooms in Berlin’s clubs would be packed twenty-four hours a day he concluded.
It had been a fortunate moment when he and Johann decided to lock down together. Their weekend commuting between England and Germany had lasted six months until March 2020. But a long-distance relationship was never going to be easy to maintain. When the first wave of the pandemic struck, it became an obvious choice for Dominic to remain in Berlin.
It was one of the best decisions he had ever made.
He stopped at the lights on Martin-Luther Straße and waited for them to change. There was very little traffic, but Dominic never felt comfortable jay-walking in Germany.
“Herr Delingpole. I thought it was you. Why are you photographing supermarkets all of a sudden?”
Dominic recognised the man as soon as he turned to face him. It was Chief Inspector Gerhard Schutz from the Bundespolizei. He had uneasy memories of the man who had once arrested his son Matty. Since those events of almost a year and a half ago Dominic had not expected to meet the chief inspector again.
“KriminalKommissar, what a surprise.”
“A pleasant one, I hope?” Schutz replied. “I was at the BioMarkt in Welsestraße when I saw you. Does it have some significance? You took many photographs.”
Why had Schutz followed him? For a moment Dominic was unnerved to think he might be considered a suspect once more. But his photographic expedition was harmless. He explained briefly about his great uncle’s journal.
“Lindhof Gasthaus, you say?” Schutz frowned. “It’s a long time ago, but I remember it there.”
“I didn’t know you grew up in Berlin, Chief Inspector,” Dominic said. “Were you born here?”
“Oh, yes,” Schutz replied. “Of course, it was called West Berlin when I was growing up. I was eleven when the Wall came down. You know it came close to here? The Wall?” He pointed along Martin Luther Straße. “Up by Potsdamer Platz. I used to walk past the Gasthaus on my way to school. I don’t remember when it closed.” He shrugged. “Maybe the person running it got tired of tourists. We had so many after the Wall fell.”
“My great uncle wrote that it was a woman called Frau Lindhof who ran it.”
“Oh, I’m sure it was,” Schutz smiled. “But she would have been long gone. Maybe her children took it on.”
The lights on the crossing changed, and Schutz gestured to Dominic. “Please, we must cross. Where is your next destination?”
The two men reached the other side of the street and stopped. Dominic was reluctant to have Chief Inspector Schutz as a companion on his journey. His was a personal adventure, and he wanted to be alone with the spirit of his great uncle. It was a way for him to reconnect with his family across the years.
“The site of the Eldorado Club,” Dominic replied. “Although I know that’s also a supermarket now.”
“The Eldorado? By Motzstraße?” Schutz nodded vigorously. “I know it. Sadly, I cannot join you.” He pointed to a police car parked down the street. “I must re-join my colleague. Good luck with your mission, Herr Delingpole.” He held up a gloved hand. “I will not shake hands with you during the pandemic, of course. But be careful what you look for in history. You might find something you would not wish to discover. Here in Berlin, there are many secrets that are best left undisturbed.”
Dominic was relieved to see Schutz get into the police car and drive away. He had omitted to tell him that he was meeting Johann by The Eldorado. His partner would not have welcomed a reunion with the Chief Inspector.
A few minutes later Dominic found Johann standing outside the Eldorado BioMarkt. As well as his usual rucksack he carried a large brown paper bag. They kissed, and Dominic savoured the short moment of public intimacy.
“What’s in the bag?” he asked.
“A feast.” Johann looked smug. “With all the cafes closed, I thought we could walk down to Viktoria-Luise Platz and have a picnic in the park.”
Dominic shivered. “It’s a bit cold for that, isn’t it?”
“Well if you’re not interested in what I found out about your great uncle from the Public Records Office this morning, then you’ll just have to wait until we get home.”
Dominic kissed Johann again. “Is that what you’ve been doing? You lovely man. Of course I want to have a picnic with you. Even in this arctic weather. What have you got us?”
“Bratwurst mit Sauerkraut," Johann replied proudly. "And hot chocolate.”
“What happened to the January diet?”
“It’s nearly February,” Johann replied with a shrug. “Come on, or it’s going to get cold. And I’ve got lots to tell you.”
The park by Viktoria-Luise Platz was empty. They settled down on a stone bench, and Dominic gratefully accepted a large paper cup of hot chocolate from Johann. He wrapped his hands around it to warm his fingers.
“How are you feeling?” Johann asked.
“Impatient to know what you’ve found at the Public Records Office.”
“No, no,” Johann replied. “I meant about your great-uncle. It was a strange way for your mother to reveal your ancestry to you.”
Dominic shook his head. “I wonder if she ever intended me to find out. Certainly not this way. I don’t think she’s even read Great-Uncle Simon’s diaries. I’ve got a lot of questions to ask her.”
“But not until your mother has sent you all the diaries.”
“What do you mean?”
Johann took a drink from his hot chocolate. “Think about it. If you tell her that you uncovered your Jewish ancestry in this one, she might decide to get rid of all the others. If she kept this secret, what other secrets might she want to conceal?”
Dominic was shaken by Johann’s comment. It made sense, but he was still shocked to discover his family had concealed an essential part of who he was from him.
“You’re right. I need to think long and hard about how to handle this.” He leaned forward and kissed Johann. “We can talk about it later. I need us to think out loud together, and decide what to do.”
Johann took the rucksack from his shoulders and put it on the bench beside him. He opened the top and pulled out a tablet computer. “And now, dear Dominic, are you ready for this?”
Dominic looked at his partner warily. “Is it another family revelation?”
Johann pursed his lips. “Not really. But I think you’ll find this intriguing.” He flicked through a few pages on the tablet. “Surprisingly, despite so much being destroyed in the war, the records for your great-uncle’s arrest and subsequent charge are still there. What’s very strange is that there’s no record of Marlene’s arrest.”
“You mean it’s been lost?”
“No.” Johann looked up. “It’s been deliberately removed. I found electronic copies of the original documents from March 1930. You can see three men’s names, including your great-uncle’s. But there’s a fourth name that’s been scratched out.” He handed the tablet to Dominic. “See for yourself. I think that your great-uncle’s journal, together with the arrest document you found in it, are the only record of Marlene Dietrich’s arrest in Berlin.”
Dominic took the tablet from Johann. The image of the document was just as Johann described it.
“Now scroll to the bottom to see the police officer’s name. The man who handled that document.”
Dominic did as Johann requested. The name was clearly written: Kommissar Gerhard Schutz. He looked up at Johann.
“You think he’s related to the man who arrested Matty?”
Johann shrugged. “It’s a possibility.” He took the tablet back from Dominic. “Maybe it’s his great-grandfather. And if he is, then Kommissar Schut could be the descendant of what I think in English you would call “a bent copper”.
To be continued…
The Mystery Package
Berlin, Saturday January 9th 2021
It was supposed to be their day for a lie-in. Dominic wrapped himself around the curve of Johann’s sleeping form, dimly aware he had been woken by a distant buzzing sound. He buried his head deep into the nape of Johann’s neck, slid his hand up the hollow of his chest, and sighed contentedly. Johann stirred and reached down to rest his palm on Dominic’s thigh.
Dominic shifted as his cock stiffened against Johann. He had contemplated dropping back to sleep again, but maybe he was waking up. Certainly, a part of him was already wide awake. He opened an eye and tried to focus on the digits of the clock radio on the nightstand. It was a little after seven thirty.
The door buzzer went again. This time its sound was more insistent. Somebody was impatient to wake them up.
Johann stretched. He half turned his head to Dominic and clumsily kissed him on the side of his mouth.
“Mojen, Liebling,” he whispered sleepily. “Who the hell’s that at this time on a Saturday?”
He reached down to Dominic’s growing erection. “Na so was, Dominic. You’re insatiable.”
Dominic kissed him back. “Morning, my love. It’s all your fault. Waking up next to a sexy man like you every morning.” The door buzzer sounded for a third time. “Do you want me to go and answer it before whoever it is breaks the buzzer?”
“With that?” Johann squeezed gently on Dominic’s hardened cock. “You’ll give them the fright of their life.”
Johann released his grip, sat up, and flexed his arms. Dominic laid a hand on the bicep of Johann’s left arm.
“My, my, Herr Hartmann. Those chin-ups are showing results.”
Johann laughed, pushed Dominic’s arm away, and got out of the bed. Dominic rolled over, rested his chin on his hands, and watched Johann pull on a pair of training shorts. He noticed with satisfaction the bulge in the front of them. “It’s a good job those shorts have got that lycra lining to hold you in. Otherwise, it’ll be you terrifying whoever’s at the door.”
Johann leaned over, kissed Dominic on the lips, and walked out of the bedroom. After several minutes he returned with a brown paper package.
“It’s for you, my sexy Englishman,” he said, and threw the parcel onto the bed.
“Ow,” exclaimed Dominic. He picked up the package from where it had fallen onto the bed clothes across his thighs. “That’s heavy.”
Johann stood at the end of the bed, his hands on his hips, grinning at Dominic.
“Go on, then. Open it. I know it’s from your mother. I’ll make us some coffee.” He turned and headed out of the bedroom. As he reached the doorway, he called over his shoulder. “And if it’s another of her damn food parcels I shall feel very insulted.”
Dominic’s mother had begun sending packages of biscuits and home-made cakes shortly after he told her he was staying with Johann in Berlin as a result of the global pandemic. His mother had never been an enthusiastic cook and seldom baked. That was before the British government ordered its citizens to lockdown in the first of several half-hearted efforts to halt the spread of the virus.
Now she spent most of her days in the cavernous kitchen of the family home in Oxfordshire. Dominic imagined that his mother’s sudden enthusiasm for sending him slightly burnt shortbread and chocolate brownies was a result of boredom. Before the pandemic she barely spoke to Dominic’s father, to whom she had been married for nearly forty years. She was far too busy organising garden parties and other fundraising events to maintain her position in the upper strata of Oxford society. Now, in enforced confinement with a man who preferred the company of his rhododendron bushes to his wife, she had desperately sought a way to fill her days.
Taped to the outside of the package was a white envelope. Dominic carefully detached it, slit open the top, and removed the small card inside. Communications from his mother were always brief and to the point, and it took him less than a minute to read her spidery handwriting.
“Your father and I have been clearing out the attic and came across this. It’s your Great Uncle Simon’s journal for the year 1930. There are many more up there, but I won’t send them yet, in case you’re not interested. Love Mother x
P.S: Great Uncle Simon was one of the first wireless announcers at the BBC. My father once told me about him. He kept getting into trouble, very much like you. I thought he might be of interest to you.”
Dominic smiled at his mother’s choice of words. He knew she had never approved of the way he became embroiled in tracking down international criminals, and rarely discussed his exploits with him. If she did, she referred to them as his ‘little adventures’, and wrinkled her nose disapprovingly. “Dominic, darling,” she would say with a sigh. “You’re a first-class lawyer, Oxford educated. When are you going to settle down in that law practice of yours and stop trying to live your silly fantasies?”
He set his mother’s note aside and unwrapped the parcel. A leather-bound journal, slightly frayed around the edges, fell into his lap. Dominic lifted it to his nose and sniffed. It had the unmistakable musty smell of Dominion House, his parents’ Edwardian home in Oxfordshire. Carefully, he turned the book over in his hands. It felt comfortingly solid. He loved the feel and smell of a proper book, much more satisfying than reading electronically.
The cover of the journal was plain, save for the date ‘1930’, embossed into the leather with gold leaf. Dominic opened it to the first page and a folded slip of paper fell out. He noticed there were several more sheets of paper, and even a few folded documents, inserted at intervals throughout the book. At the top of the first page of the journal, written in immaculate copperplate handwriting, were the words:
Dorset House, Dorset Square, Marylebone, London.
He picked up the piece of paper that had slipped from the first page and unfolded it. The text was handwritten in German:
“Zu meinem Liebling Simon. Ich werde dich vermissen. Besuchen Sie mich in Amerika. Marlene D x”
Dominic’s German was not fluent, even after more than nine months of living in Berlin. But he was certain that he knew what the note meant. It was a farewell to his Great Uncle Simon from the German singer and film star Marlene Dietrich. 1930 was the year she moved from Berlin to Hollywood, buoyed by the success of her film The Blue Angel. She had even invited Great Uncle Simon to visit her in America.
The paper rustled in his hands as Dominic felt a frisson of excitement. He was holding an original note penned by his idol, Marlene Dietrich. And all these years it had lain gathering dust in his parents’ attic. Why had they never told him about Great Uncle Simon before?
“What have you got there?”
Johann appeared by the side of the bed with two cappuccinos. Dominic had heard Johann operating the miraculous coffee machine in his kitchen while he unwrapped the journal. It was one of the daily luxuries of lockdown. A perfectly made cappuccino each morning, complete with a pattern shaped in the surface of the foaming milk. Dominic reached for his cup and looked at the pattern Johann had sketched today.
It was a heart.
In Johann’s code that meant something significant. Dominic panicked. Was it Johann’s birthday? No, that was ages ago. Was it an anniversary? Dominic and Johann had met in September 2019 at Folsom in Berlin. No significant date there. He took the cup from Johann.
“I give up,” Dominic said. “What important event have I missed?”
Johann set his cup down on the nightstand and climbed back into bed alongside Dominic. He kissed Dominic on the lips slowly, his tongue moistening them and teasing the entrance to Dominic’s mouth. He sighed contentedly and leaned back on the pillows.
“I just did a calculation on the calendar in the kitchen,” Johann replied. “It’s exactly three hundred days since we were locked down together.”
“And we’re still speaking to each other,” observed Dominic wryly. He placed the coffee cup on the small bookcase next to his side of the bed, and turned to kiss Johann.
"We do much more than that," Johann replied. He glanced at the note in Dominic's hand. "So tell me what you have there."
"This is the most wonderful document.” Dominic gestured to the journal on the bedclothes beside him. “Mother sent me one of the diaries that belonged to my great uncle. It’s for 1930. And this note fell out of it.” He handed it to Johann. “I think it’s from Marlene Dietrich.”
Johann took the faded piece of paper and studied it carefully. “Who was your great uncle? If this is from Marlene, then this means he was here in Berlin in 1930.”
“Apparently his name was Simon Sampson,” replied Dominic. “He worked as a radio announcer for the BBC, and lived in London close to Marylebone Station. My mother’s maiden name was Sampson, so he's from her side of the family. That’s all I know. I’d never heard of him until this morning.”
He picked up the journal and flicked through its pages. There was a page for each day, and each page was covered with fine, black, copperplate handwriting. The book fell open naturally at a date in late March. A folded document slipped from the pages, apparently marking the place. Dominic put the document to one side and studied the entry for Thursday 27th March 1930.
“Bingo,” he said excitedly. “Great Uncle Simon was here in Berlin in 1930. Not only that, he stayed near here in Schöneberg. Listen.” He began to read from the journal.
“Arrived at Lindhof Gasthaus this afternoon after a ghastly taxi ride from the central station. Frau Lindhof is delightful and most patient with my poor attempts at speaking German. I caught a glimpse of a beautiful young man in the entrance hall when I arrived. Very well dressed in an immaculate three-piece suit and brogues. I nodded to him and his smile was positively radiant.
The room is very dark and grimly furnished. But it overlooks the main street, so I can look out of my window and watch the exciting world of Berlin pass by beneath. I noticed a charming looking café on the corner at the end of the street when I arrived in the taxi. I will visit there after I have unpacked, and then rest on my bed before meeting M D later tonight. I am beside myself with excitement.”
“Do you think ‘M D’ is Marlene?” Johann asked. He leaned across Dominic and pointed to the entry on the opposite page. “Look,” he said excitedly. “He mentions the Eldorado here.”
Dominic was puzzled. “Is that significant?”
“Significant?” Johann laughed. “It only means that you and your great uncle had a lot more in common than simply being related.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Eldorado Café was also known as Tanzlokale für Herrenone,” Johann replied. He raised an eyebrow. “How’s your German this morning?”
Dominic shook his head in disbelief. “Dance venue for gentlemen. Do you mean—”
“The Eldorado Café was the most famous night club for gays lesbians and transvestites. Not only in Berlin but in Europe. The Nazis closed it down in 1933 under a “public morality” order. It was the start of the persecution.”
Dominic lay back on his pillow, his mind full of questions. Was his great uncle gay? Did he ever marry? Did the family know? Did his mother know? Suddenly there was a lot to ask her. He hoped she would be forthcoming with answers.
Johann picked up the folded document that had fallen from the pages and opened it out.
“Mein Gott,” he breathed. His finger rapidly traced the heavy black letters on the paper. Dominic looked across at the pages in Johann’s hand, but it was impossible for him to decipher the old German typeface.
“What is it?”
Johann continued to read for several more minutes before he turned to Dominic, a look of excitement on his face.
“This is a charge sheet,” he said. “Your great uncle was arrested, along with three other men and a woman.” He waved the document at Dominic. “And do you know who that woman was?” He pointed to a name on the document. Even printed in the heavy black Fraktur typeface, the name was immediately legible:
To be continued…