George and the Opium Den

The month of February was a blur of moving and working. And writing. I’ve been concentrating on writing creatively rather than creating blog posts about films. Also, I haven’t gone anywhere to share any photo shots. For now, I just want to keep working on “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero is in Berlin,1922, working as an extra for Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler. Here is what he does in his spare time: 

Sunken clouds spit a late April rain on the back of George’s neck. He entered a cracked lane overtaken by weeds toward an abandoned water tower of chocolate bricks and curved windows that looked like drowsy eyes. The architecture was nothing like the white, water tower in Chicago where as a boy he had watched his father work as a foreman. This one was a rectangle box eight stories tall, a fortress from a medieval dream. As George approached the back door, the bumpy clouds obscured the morning light and gave the building a sinister appearance. The dampness absorbed into the stump at his wrist, and it ached as he poked at his neck trying to stifle the itch under his skin. It had been three days since his last visit to Mr. Li’s opium den.  

        Within walking distance of the UFA studio complex, hidden from the main road behind vines that coiled around the Hemlock trees, he knocked on a door and waited for a Chinaman to open the center window and admit him. The small window-door snapped open and a man with puffy eyes squinted at him. He recognized George and let him in. George hunched down and followed him, watching his braid roll on the back of his tunic as he led him through the basement. Room dividers partitioned a corner, and as George whiffed the aroma of opium, he salivated. A pot-bellied stove heated pots of water and warmed the area while a young worker prepared opium tea. Kerosene lamps sat on tables and a davenport. George walked over to the old man who organized the den and gave him Deutschmarks.

        Guten Tag, Joe,” he greeted George with a thick accent. “Here.” He patted one of eight Army cots each covered with a military blanket, all positioned in a circle with a center island for the young worker on a stool. His work table contained candles, matches, bowls, opium pods, a pester and grinder, tubes, bamboo pipes, and a hookah.  He had a long, curved pinky nail which was filed and used as a spoon. When filled, the nail held exactly half a gram. George thought that was clever.

        “Hello, Mr. Li.”

        He kicked off his soggy loafers and placed them next to the stove to dry. He set his overcoat on a wooden chair by his cot and lay down feeling like a bug on an ashen petal connected to a dead daisy.  As he waited for the opium to foam and to inhale the vapor, he ignored the other bug two cots away and stared at the room divider. There was a red dragon coiled and twisted on a silk panel. He inhaled and closed his eyes. Soon the flush dulled his senses. That dullness turned into a stupor like a blanket that covered him with nothingness, and he floated to a place where Private Cox could not penetrate. In this dreamy blackness, his one impression was that he was in his mother’s womb, and his relief became an audible groan.

     He lay there for several hours before he had to report for filming.

 

The following is an old post about Fritz Lang and German Expressionism and Hans Poelzig, an inspirational architect for this story.

Hans Poelzig’s Sulphuric Acid Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)Hans Poelzig’s Chemical Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)

Expressionist German architect, Hans Poelzig, and Thea von Harbou, the screenwriter and wife of Fritz Lang, have a grip on my imagination while I create the climate of Weimar Germany in the manuscript, “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero, my American World War I veteran, arrives in Berlin, and stumbles into the world at UFA studios wherein 1922, Thea’s script is filmed by Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler.

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Who knows why she held her German Nationalist views while Fritz Lang emigrated to the United States or how she was implicated in a murder, but my fiction will dabble with the possibilities and recreate the evening involving George.

Fritz_Lang_und_Thea_von_Harbou,_1923_od._1924
Fritz Lang & Thea von Harbou, married, 1922-1933
Hans Poelzig Architecture 

Berlin_Grosses_Schauspielhaus_Poelzig_Foyer
light columns at the Grand Theater’s entrance hall

P941_235700
The Großes Schauspielhaus, Berlin, Germany circa 1920
What a pity Hans Poelzig’s grand theater exists only in pictures now. The honeycomb pillars resembled stalactites and the circular design without balcony seats, according to Ross Wolfe’s article “Scary Architecture: The Early Works of Hans Poelzig” found HERE, was an exquisite example of German expressionist architecture. Imagine the ceiling full of lights to imitate the stars. Before its demolition in the 1980s, the theater’s history included Nazi control in 1933 when its grandness was hidden behind dropped ceilings and eventually turned into a warehouse. I wish someone would recreate it for new audiences to enjoy.

Thank you for reading. 

 

43 thoughts on “George and the Opium Den

Add yours

  1. OK, I’m completely hooked. Curved windows like drowsy eyes…Dr Mabuse…Brutalist Architecture…and Opium, of course. Of all the drugs I tried in my youth, Opium was by far the best. You describe the experience well. It is all about the dreams…What dreams may come…

    Now I want the hardback copy to arrive from Amazon. I want to rip the seal strip, and open the cardboard to see my new book appear inside the packaging. No pressure, Cindy. 🙂
    Best wishes as always, Pete.

    1. I’ve never tried opium other than the strong opiates they give you in the emergency room that takes away all pain. George represents the dark,bizarre world of the Weimar Republic and German Expressionism. We go from there to the bright world of the West with and Copper mining and Indians. It’s a contrast I hope works. Thank you, GP, for commenting.

    1. Hi Fraggle. Yes! The creepy architecture matches the time. I read an essay from a scholar regarding the correlation between WwI vets and a spike in female murders. Over-simply put, vets felt emasculated and took it out on the women.

        1. Hi Allen. Since the opium den is a hiding place in the basement of an abandoned building, I was thinking about the field hospitals. After the war, I imagined a surplus of furniture it would be easy to acquire to furnish a den.
          Here’s something along the lines I was thinking:

  2. Delicious! I have always imagined opium to feel like existing in the mists that float over fragrant waters. What a beautiful and evocative post.

    1. Hi Paul, and thank you very much! It’s terrible, our fast-paced, hard-working world–one literally has to schedule time to read. Remember as a kid when you had all the time in the world to read a book?

    1. Vinnieh, you are great to say so! I am working on it steadfastly. I’ve backed off of posting for now so I can get this done! I simply can’t balance blogging and creative writing. I have been trying for 2 years to complete this novel. I’m 2/3 done with the first draft. Your encouragement keeps me going. Thank you, V!

          1. It should be on my home page. Can’t understand where it could have gone. Sorry for any inconvenience and thanks for informing me of this.

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