Excerpt from All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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All Tomorrow's Parties

A Memoir

by Rob Spillman

All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman X
All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 400 pages
    Feb 2017, 352 pages


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Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt


"Art should be life. It's an imitation of life. It should have some humanity in it."

—John Lydon
Soundtrack: Sex Pistols, "Holidays in the Sun," 1977

"THIS MUST BE THE PLACE." I point to the street signs above us, then back down at the flyer.

"If you say so," Elissa says.

"Where else should we possibly be?" I ask, and raise my glass. Four months before reunification, we are drinking a previously impossible-to-obtain West German wine at a makeshift sidewalk café stumbling distance from our illegal coldwater flat. Although the Wall has "fallen" the previous October, West German authorities don't yet have authority to cross into the East. When the German Democratic Republic (GDR) police's wages vanished, so did they. The only authority left here is the elite riot police and the remnants of the GDR's army. They keep order by bashing the skinheads and anarchists in running street battles every night. We haven't seen many other Westerners on this side of the Wall. Most are staying away until reunification. Young East Germans have looked out for us, twenty-five-year-old Americans, married less than two years, self-proclaimed bohemians crazy enough to live in the midst of their chaos. But to us it doesn't feel crazy; there is something alive and magical in the air, what it must have been like in the twenties when Marlene Dietrich was roaming the risqué drag clubs in men's clothes, when culture and politics collided and the possibilities were revolutionary.

Now, for East Germans, Berlin is reborn and in the month we've been living here everything feels possible. Two weeks ago, this wine bar was a boarded-up food market. Young locals pooled their money and drove through a gap in the Wall in a battered Wartburg which they filled with cases of West German wine, then smashed down the market's door and served the wine on the sidewalk on upturned cable spools scavenged from abandoned warehouses along the Eastern side of the Wall. Thus the Prenzlauer Berg Wine Bar was born and thus we became regulars, doing what was unthinkable only a year ago—publically downing a whole bottle of cold 1989 Pfälzer Landwein from the Rhine. Not that there aren't still risks. Almost every night the sirens sound, blaring like World War II air-raid warnings, winding up louder and louder, signaling that the riot police are coming in to clear the skinheads who are trying to firebomb the Autonomen (anarchist) squats nearby. All up and down our block the anarchists have taken over abandoned buildings and have painted them pink and are flying old East German flags with the hammers and compasses cut out of the centers. When the riot police charge in, they bust any and all heads they see. If the clashes aren't on our street, we'll wait out the alarm in our bullet-pocked archway, unrepaired since World War II, and if the melee is on our street we'll flee up the four flights to our apartment.

The sun is bleeding down, streaking East Berlin's grays and browns with fiery orange and red, warming the cold, gray buildings to create a pocket of calm, an oasis perfect for sharing our nightly bottle of wine before we head off to the CV, our other regular neighborhood bar, just across the park. I pick up the hand-drawn flyer that the young East German has dropped on our table, try to make sense of it. Black and red concentric circles telescope down to a black X, with the names "Dunckerstrasse" and "Lettestrasse" written below. We are sitting directly under the street signs for Dunckerstrasse and Lettestrasse.

"Thanks," I tell Michael. He's one of the earnest Bat Theater Studio guys who are still putting on plays and happenings in appropriated ex-government buildings despite, or to spite, the vanished socialist subsidies.

"But what is it?"

Excerpted from All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman. Copyright © 2016 by Rob Spillman. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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