Advent Calendar 18th December 2011: 14-year-old Werner

And then I met Werner. I had, of course, surveyed the city’s swimming-baths; and most afternoons was going to those in the Bärwaldstrasse, somewhere in the wilderness beyond Hallesches Tor. And there one day, naked beneath the showers, I found the most startingly beautiful person I’d ever seen: a living, and lively, Beardsley decoration of ‘Salome’ – he might have been the original Beardsley prototype, except that he was an improvement on the artist’s invention. He had all the Beardsley sin, but none of the corruption; all the grace and uniqueness, but without the epicene languour. His was the face Beardsley would have drawn, had he not been dying of consumption. Ivory-white skin, parchment-pale, with a fervent scarlet mouth and huge sable eyes, full of black fire; a mass of romping black hair, thick and lively as a bear’s, and the figure of a Gemito fisherboy. To Beardsley he added something of the della Robbia choristers in Florence and a great deal of the famous ‘Tripod’ satyrs in the Naples Museum. It didn’t surprise me to find that this face had been chosen from all over Germany to go on the cover of the magazine published by the Socialist Labour Youth – whose blue blouse and red scarf he wore.

But, I quickly found, it wasn’t only his face that was intoxicating; it was a glittering personality and the incomparable friendship that he gave – in his magic company differences of age, culture, language, vanished: he made me his equal and partner. Was ist mein ist Dein, he pronounced early on; and that remained his rule for the next few years – what was his was mine: he would share, when I was broke, his last cigarettes; and gave to the last drop his love and loyalty. I had found at last the ‘divine friend much desired’; if one of us was faithless it was I – never he.

Before I knew what was happening, that first day, I’d been swept on to the back of his bicycle and was whirling down the Friedrichstrasse – to a schwules Lokal, one of those ‘queer’ bars whose discreetly blacked-out façades and sombrely curtained doorways proclaimed out loud their nature, where we drank cognac.

He was not quite 15. Then, from the homosexual bar, he bicycled me back to his home in the Zimmerstrasse and introduced me to his mother.

We must have been an astonishing sight, Werner and I: roistering round Berlin with our arms round each other’s necks; both with long bare legs and open necks; singing Wanderlieder or socialist songs, drinking a great deal, embracing and spooning in public places and generally behaving outrageously – I skinnily ugly and 30 years old; he dazzling in looks, with that astonishing head and face in which the angelic and the demonic were tantalisingly blended.

You have read a passage from chapter 11 (page 152-153) of Michael Davidson’s autobiography The World, the Flesh and Myself.

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