Punk Rock and European Crushes: How Personal Choices Can Outweigh Fate

Many people feel like life is all mapped out and run by fate. You will hear people say things like, “Well, it just wasn’t meant to be.” I don’t see life as some sort of pre-destined play that we have no say about. Life is just the outcome of millions of others choices and actions, your own being the most dominate. Some may not be able to see the difference, but there is a big one.

I often marvel at the “luck” that I ever got involved in punk rock and skateboarding. The fact that I became involved is in part due to my environment and the decisions that I made about my surroundings and friends. I bought my first skateboard because my friends had skateboards. I kept skating because my friends quit and I still loved it. They went their way and I went mine. And on this course of really having no friends, I found punk rock in the pages of Skateboarder Magazine; at least the mention of it in interviews with people like Brad Bowman, Duane Peters, Tony Alva and Steve Olson. So, from a west coast magazine about a west coast born activity, I found punk rock in the Gateway City. Through these completely distant places my choices were being influenced and shaped. I didn’t go the way of the redneck, dope-smoking crowd my friends followed into high school. I stayed on my skateboard and wondered what punk rock sounded like.

Finally, a matter of time later, I heard punk rock through college radio and, of all places, the lame rock station in St. Louis. I heard the Clash’s “London Calling” when I was fifteen. I never listened to that station again. I knew that I heard punk rock and that I would never really hear it again on “Real Rock” radio. I was hooked on college radio and was exposed to all kinds of punk rock from the Buzzcocks to Black Flag.

For my entire life, I was aware of the Red Menace – the evil communists in the Soviet Union who had enslaved the people of Eastern Europe after World War II. My first real memory of learning about the Berlin Wall was in the second grade. Our teacher told us about how they had put the wall up to keep the people from getting out and that kids over there couldn’t really choose their own life. They had to serve the State. I never forgot that. During my grade school, junior high, high school years, and for seven years after high school, that wall was always there.

When the Berlin Wall finally fell after the cracks that had been forming with Romanian, Hungarian, Czech and East Germans flowing through, I felt this lump in my throat for days. I still get it when I watch any footage about the Berlin Wall coming down. Sitting in my house, watching it all unfold on TV was just amazing. I knew in my mind that it had to come down one day. That people can only be held back for so long. But I never thought it would happen so soon in my lifetime. It all happened due to the many connected and unconnected choices of millions of people and the choices of those in power. I know invoking the name of Ronald Reagan in the world of punk rock is probably still not cool, but I will say it here. The entire time I watched those people hacking away at the wall with hammers or anything they could find, I just kept hearing Reagan’s quote: “Tear down this wall.” All of these events and the choices that were made that caused them to happen took me to a future that may not have been otherwise.

In 1991, my band Ultraman toured Europe. We were booked by MAD out of Berlin. On our first tour there in 1990, we went to where the wall had once been. It was easy to see the difference between East and West Berlin at that time. When we came back one year later, it was harder to tell the difference unless you were paying attention.

During the 1991 tour, we made a choice to head back to Berlin and stay with friends instead of playing dates that we were not sure were even real or worth doing. We took two weeks off until we could end up the last couple of weeks with dates we were more secure about. Our driver, Herman, was not happy. I believe he said, “You are stupid for not going to Spain?. stupid Americans.” Then he turned, went the wrong way, and had to come back by the window of the gas station we were standing inside of at the time. At the moment he was in the window again, he stopped, smiled, and waved at us. It was surreal, to say the least, but I think it was the best choice we made on the entire tour.

Back in Berlin was kind of depressing; sitting around, killing time with really no money to speak of and the kindness of our hosts. During this time, our friends set us up with a few shows. We played four total in that two weeks. Three of the shows were in East Berlin. Two were with our friends’ band, The Rattle Rats. One was a Strassenfest and one was with a band called Beat Yer Meat.

It was at the last of these shows that I met a girl. Her name was Zora but she had short, bright red hair so we all called her Strawberry Shortcake. We had a habit of giving people names. For instance, mine was Slappy because of my bright red, spiky clown hair from the year before. I was drawn to her right away. She was so full of energy and seemed to be so happy – very much the opposite of the way I had felt for over a year. Sitting in Berlin was not helping my state of mind. I met her through some friends from St. Louis that were living in East Berlin. I didn’t even know they were there. They heard about our show and came down. After our show, we went out to some clubs in the area. I never left Zora’s side. When I found out she was from East Berlin, I had hundreds of questions. She told me about her life there and how she had to leave the school she wanted to attend to play field hockey. She had been on the DDR field hockey team. She told me how before the wall came down, her parents were plotting her escape from the country. This was just amazing to me. I knew about the Wall. I knew that you couldn’t just leave, but to hear her tell me about it was like hearing it for the first time. And yet, she was the most upbeat, energetic person I had met in ages. In other words, I was smitten.

Our time in Berlin was coming to an end. I was determined to spend as much time with her as I could. We were supposed to start our next round of shows in Austria but they were cancelled. So that meant that I had more time to see Strawberry Shortcake. I took the train over to East Berlin. I met up with my friends and got directions to Zora’s school. I just waited outside until she came out. I let her walk a bit and then called her name. She turned around and gave me the biggest smile I had ever seen, followed by one big hug and kiss. She was totally happy to see me. That is one incredible feeling. We spent the next few hours that night hanging out at a coffee shop. We talked and I helped her with her English homework. During this time, too, I taught her how to blow a bubble inside of a bubble with her Trident bubble gum that she loved. It was a total John Hughes movie moment. Our time ended that night and I tried to go home with her but she wasn’t going for it. She gave me directions to her place so that we could meet up the next day. We stood on the corner of a vacant street and made out for about half an hour until I caught my train. The next day I started my train, bus ride, and lengthy walk to her place. We hung out the whole day until she had to go back to school. That was the last time I saw her before we went back to Berlin for our last show of the tour. We parted underneath that giant East German TV station antenna. I had seen photos of it hundreds of times, but there I was in 1991 making out with an East German girl under that tower.

We left the next day for Munich and the rest of tour. I guess it was another week and half before we were back in Berlin. She came to our show and we hung out as much as we could. I didn’t want to leave her but I couldn’t wait to get home. Talk about conflicted. I knew that I would never see her again. By this time, I had gone from smitten to hopeless, but I knew the score and we had to leave.

When I returned home, I had a letter from her a week or so later, then a post card. After I sent her a letter, I got one more letter and a phone call. That phone call was the last time I spoke with her. It was a disaster because she called me very early in the morning and I was asleep. She got offended because she didn’t think I sounded excited enough to be talking to her. But I was just asleep. That was it. I never heard from her again and I never wrote her either. I just let it drop. She was in Germany and I knew I would never see her again. I made a choice in not writing her. It was a very bad choice, in retrospect. But I never forgot her. She has never left my mind. I always wondered what became of my Strawberry Shortcake.

Over the last eleven years, I only heard one bit of news about her. And that was that she was in India. That was in 1992 or 1993. When I was introduced to the Internet in 1995, the first thing I did once I started surfing around was to try and find her. I kept up the search from time to time, but I never found anything. Until this past December. It was the day after Christmas and work was dead. So I searched for her name. This time I found some site for a band that listed Zora Wolter as the producer, along with an e-mail address. I wrote it down and sent her a message when I got home. I just asked her if she was from East Berlin, did she play field hockey for the DDR, did she love bubble gum, and did the name Strawberry Shortcake mean anything to her?

Two days later I had a reply that read, “You hit the jackpot!” I couldn’t believe it. I just sat there and stared at the subject line. I could hardly work the mouse to open it up. I read the first line and I had to stand up I was so stoked. I actually walked in a tiny circle. I was so excited. She said that she was living in Berlin and LA when she is working on films. She confirmed all my questions except that she didn’t remember where the name Strawberry Shortcake came from. The bubble was busted. She didn’t remember me. This moment in my life with her that I never forgot, that has meant so much to me, didn’t even happen. I brushed that thought aside and sent her a reply explaining how we met, where I am now and what I do. It was a pretty long message. But it covered all the bases. Or at least I thought it did. Her reply came early the next morning. She wrote two lines. She said that she still didn’t know where I was or how I found her. It was clear she didn’t really read the e-mail or she would know the answer to both questions. Instead, it just sounded like she was afraid that I was some sort of stalker weirdo. Maybe I am, spending the last eleven years thinking about her and wondering where she might be or what she is doing. Maybe that is totally weird. Maybe I should have forgotten just like she did. That way it really never would have happened. The whole scene under that streetlight-lit, vacant street in East Berlin. Where we stood there, kissing, never happened. I was never really that happy. It was a dream I never had.

So we are back to the start. Fate vs. random outcome of individual choices. The energy of the memory dies in the face of the reality. It’s as if I made the whole thing up in my head. I don’t exist. She never met me. She never kissed me and I never taught her how to blow bubbles inside of bubbles.