part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11,12
Susi, Uschi and Tom live on a balcony above busy Helmholtzplatz in Berlin. They’re not strictly speaking homeless: the balcony has got a roof. They live there throughout the year, in winter and in summer. You know people like this exist. You’ve probably waved at them from the street. It’s tight up there, but they never complain.
In order to be happy despite the very narrow space, they continually exchange small gifts of affection and time. They know that their puny pastoral cannot last forever.
The flat to which their balcony belongs is owned by the son of a rich Munich manufacturer. This landlord drives a BMW like every good Bavarian. Uschi, Susi and Tom have right of way through the premises, otherwise both parties stay out of each other’s way. An incorruptible caretaker named Herr Schmidt checks if everything is in order.
The Bavarian owner, the caretaker, and the three roommates on their balcony are bound to each other by a sense for the absurd, which is strong in this city.
Tom sits up and stretches himself: he’s going to bring the filled waste tank downstairs. Susi gives him a tired, grateful smile and waves. The summer is so beautiful this year. Lying on a bed of linden leaves, Uschi dreams of a flying island that’s kept afloat by love alone.
At first, nobody noticed that Uschi had a baby.
“That is grotesque,” says Tom, “how could we not notice: after all, we’re sleeping in each other’s arm pit!” Uschi smiles and shrugs. She holds her child tightly to her chest. Susi complains: the baby interrupts her sleep. “Who’s the father,” says Tom. Uschi won’t tell. She’s not sure herself.
Whenever the apartment owner organizes one of his parties for Prenzlauerberg yuppies, strangers come out to the balcony to smoke or talk outside. Mostly, they don’t even acknowledge the existence of the three who live there.
“One of them must be the father,” says Tom, “because Uschi hasn’t been on the street in years, right?“ He turns to her, looks her straight in the eye, which is something they tend to avoid, like all people who live too closely together: „I can’t believe you don’t care who the father is!”
Tom thinks Uschi is irresponsible. “Who’s going to stand in as daddy for the little worm,” he says. Susi points at him. “Ha!” says Tom, laughs but picks up the child, which mumbles something in its deep slumber.
part: 1, 2
Tom is a poet. The earnings from his art supported them all. It works like this: Uschi stitches his short poems on tee-shirts. Susi takes them to the landlord, who gives them money and food and lets them live on his balcony. They never wondered how it is possible that a few words every day feed an entire family of four.
What none of them knows is that Tom’s little poems are world-famous. He and his identity are fancied as one of the last secrets of the intellectual world-elite, even more elusive than the crazy Russian mathematical genius whose face nobody has ever seen because he hides it behind a voluminous beard. Tom is clean-shaven and if he’s got any fault it is that, for a genius, he looks and dresses like any other citizen.
Tom still holds and rocks the baby, who is bubbling opaque words. Whatever Tom hears, he turns into writing. He prefers the mumbling newborn to a lecture given by a well-informed grown-up. Many of his texts begin their life as transcriptions of overheard conversations between people walking down the street below their balcony. The three of them sail through the craggy city canyons like a pirate crew.
Uschi strokes Tom’s hairless head. Now they look like a real family, Susi thinks, feeling love and longing to be touched.
part: 1, 2, 3
Everybody knows that Berlin is the capital of assassins. Susi is looking for work in this field. She responds to an ad that asks for, "young, ethically elastic" people. Susi’s ethics have always been flexible to the point of nonexistence. She gets the job.
When she leaves for her black ops training, Tom gives her a hug and says, "write if you can". He doesn’t think it will be possible; after all, killing is a serious business anywhere and relies on extreme secrecy. But it turns out, there is no security at the training site at all: Susi begins to write a weekly blog. She covers interesting topics: how to break necks; how to make an execution look like an accident; how to distinguish between good, evil and boring.
part: 1, 2, 3, 4
When Susi comes home, tanned and terribly fit, Uschi gives her a new Barbie for her collection of dolls: it’s called „Terrorist Barbie“ and holds a pair of hand grenades, beautifully detailed. Ammo covers every square inch of her small, shapely body, and her smile is crooked. Susi is touched. She instantly loves Terrorist Barbie. She takes a picture of the doll for her blog, which now has 10,000 visitors daily.
Susi, who gets a lot of work, publishes the names of her victims before the hit. Afterwards, she posts scattered remarks about the often poetic circumstances of their deaths. Still, nobody seems to notice. Tom doesn’t understand it. Susi can’t explain either why the readers are so desensitized and why the agency that employs her doesn’t seem to care.
She keeps killing and writing and killing some more, and the cheques come pouring in. Most of the blood money goes into a Swiss bank account, whose number she has sprayed on a wall among other graffiti, since she fears she might forget it. Berliners often use the empty walls of the city as post-it substitutes or to send each other obscure messages.
part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
But suddenly it's all over: Susi posts the picture of a famous supermodel to be assassinated. She receives a letter saying that she was fired for violating photo copyrights. “Don’t worry,” she tells her roommates, “I’m the best they have.” She picks up the baby, which still hasn’t got a name, with one hand, pulls her gun out with the other and shoots a man off the roof opposite.
"You can’t blame the agency for wanting to tie up loose ends,“ she says and shrugs. But nobody is worried. Summer is at its height, and it isn't too hot or too cold but just right. Killing strangers and blogging about black ops has been a welcome distraction from their routine, and the money has been great, too, but they all agree that what really matters is friendship.
part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
There are many homeless people on the square. Tom has a soft spot for them and likes to throw food down. Sometimes they throw it back. Sometimes, they throw other things back, not nice things. Then Uschi shouts at Tom that she doesn't want to have this shit in the same space with the baby.
There isn't much extra food anymore anyway now, because the baby seemed to eat like a grown man. Before the baby learns to talk, it learns from Susi how to take a machine gun apart and put it together again in under a minute. "This baby's a genius," she says.
part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
One day, Uschi, giving milk to the baby, looks down and sees a man lying next to a large chestnut tree. She wakes Tom, who wakes Susi, who goes downstairs to check it out. The balcony is in the 2nd floor so that they can hear Susi without her having to shout.
It's still early, not many people on the street. "He's dead," says Susi. As an ex-assassin, she'd know. Tom notices that Susi put on her jeans but forgot to wear anything on top. A man walks by and stares at Susi's breasts. Susi covers herself with one arm and gives him the finger. The man walks away, fast.
Susi says Tom should throw her down a tee-shirt. When Tom wants to know which one, she says he should stop being such a girl and tells him to tell Uschi to throw down a tee-shirt, any tee-shirt. Tom's upset now. The tee-shirts are all different, no poem is like any other, and he feels that Susi is not appreciating his art. “Life’s not all about your tits, you know," he says, knowing that this doesn't make a lot of sense, but he's angry.
An ambulance appears and a police car follows behind. A tall officer with thick blond hair and a big smile gets out and Tom notices how Susi's seems to lean into the man when she talks. Tom laughs and when Uschi asks why he's laughing, Tom says that he wonders what the guy would say if he knew that Susi was really dangerous.
Then he sees the officer look up to them and waves. The officer stiffens. Susi looks up too, she seems disappointed. "He's giving her grief," says Tom.
Downstairs, the officer says that these people - he means the homeless - die easily. Susi says that she doesn't think so. She calls them Clochards, and she has to explain what that means.
"Interesting," says the policeman, but it is obvious that he thinks she's weird, though he has thought about asking her out. Susi's breasts are beautiful and at this hour of the day, she seems sleepy and cuddly both.
"Your husband up there?" the officer asks.
"No, not at all," says Susi, "just someone I live with." Then she returns to the dead man. "I wonder what he died of," she says.
The officer snorts. "Living outside all the time is hard on the body," he says.
"We live outside, too," says Susi, "it's okay as long as you enjoy board games."
The policeman looks at her as if she was crazy. He gets officious.
"You should go back inside now," he says.
"Don't tell me what I should or shouldn't do, mister" says Susi. She's awake now and can see past his uniform and his white teeth. Meeting over a dead man's body isn't all that it's cracked up to be, she tells her friends later.
part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Uschi has always wanted to travel to the moon. “I’ve always wanted to look at Earth from up there,” she says. She’s a tad depressed, because the Space Shuttle program is dead. “I saw a tribute to the missions on YouTube,” she says, “and believe me, I cried.”
Tom, who’s not normally politically minded, thinks the Shuttle is an attempt to turn outer space into a mall. “But there are no customers up there,” says Uschi, “why would anyone need a mall in space?”
But Tom is convinced: “They want to turn every square metre of the universe into a mall.” Tom takes the baby from Uschi. When Uschi is this upset, words won’t help: she needs exercise. Susi wrestles with her until they end up on the floor, breathing hard, both crying. Tom lets the baby crawl towards them.
Suddenly the baby says its first word: “Hitler”.
“Wow,” says Tom, “where did that come from.” He laughs and Susi laughs and Uschi, and the baby, too. In between the giggling and gurgling, the baby keeps screaming its first word: "Hitler!" — Tom hopes that nobody hears them from the street, but he wonders if “Adolf” would be a good name for the baby that's still without a name. “No way,” says Uschi, and Susi agrees. “Perhaps we’ve spoiled the child,” Tom says. “My name’s not Tom, it's Thomas, and you’re Ursula, and Susi is Susanne. These are good, traditional German names. Perhaps the baby wants to tell us that we need to go back to our roots?”
But the baby doesn’t seem to want to say much except its new word: “Hitler”. This could have to do with the fact that it received so much joyous attention when it said the word first.
Susi tries out some other words to see where the baby's loyalties really lie. She says: “Stalin? Mao? Ghaddafi? Mubarak? Ghandi? Obama? Bush? Palin? Bachmann?” But the baby stubbornly repeats the one word it knows, the one word that's worked the family magic so far. Tom is ready to give the baby up altogether and says they should look into adoption. Uschi sends him a very angry look: “The baby's new. We need to exercise tolerance,” she says. She's working herself up to a long lecture, when the baby comes up with a new word: “Dada.” — “What was that, baby?” says Tom. “Dada,” says the baby, sensing the relief all around. “Thank god,” says Uschi, and “Mama,” says the baby, and they laugh again, liberated, and then baby says “baby” and so that’s his name, though truth be told, they’re a little afraid what else might come out of this tiny person and they don't discuss politics in front of Baby any longer.
part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
As nice as their life is, it's becoming clear that the balcony is too small for the four of them. But Uschi does not want to kick anyone out and she also does not want to move out with Baby, because she is jealous and fears Tom will sleep with Susi more than he does anyway and finally fall in love and then who will take care of the baby? “I thought you loved me,” says Tom. He is disappointed. “But of course,” Uschi says, “but I’m practical, too.” Tom doesn’t really mind being seen as a man and as a provider, but the more he thinks about their new situation the stronger is his desire to clean up some of their emotional mess.
“Susi,” he says, “do you think our landlord likes you?”
“Well, yes,” says Susi, “I suppose so. Only the other day he left a poem for me on the stairs.” — Tom asks to see the poem and when Susi shows it to him, they have a laugh together. Uschi thinks they're mean. Tom doesn’t think so. “Bad poems are a disgrace,” he says. “Laughing neutralises the poison. It's important to laugh at mediocrity so that it doesn't hold power over you.” They all get serious, even Baby stops giggling.
part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
They decide to abandon the balcony together.
Susi will move in with the landlord with a secret mission from Tom: to stop him from writing bad poetry. Tom and Uschi and Baby will move into a new flat across from the old one. It will be sad to give up anarchic freedom of living on the balcony. Instead, Tom and Uschi will bring Baby to the playground now, instead of letting him climb up on the railing and balance until people on the street begin to scream and shout for the police. Susi will watch Baby on the playground and she will not let him help her clean her guns. She will sit there with an innocent, empty face like any other young woman of the neighbourhood. Tom will publish his poems like a grown-up, in books, not on tee-shirts. He will teach language to tourists. He will join a club of other poets, mostly men, who are full of it and full of themselves.
All of this won’t matter because when one life is over, another must begin and you just don’t know where it’ll go when you start out.
part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
But after only one week, Baby begins to round up other babies, showing his talent for organisation. Susi brings her guns to the playground after all and teaches young mums to shoot straight.
Tom drops his publisher and puts his poems on a blog, which soon gets one million hits a day. After a few weeks, Tom and Uschi move out their new flat onto the balcony of their new flat, right across from Susi who now lives on their old balcony with their former landlord, who has given his apartment to a Russian arms dealer. When they're hungry, Susi shoots a pigeon and Baby practices signalling with his new gang of heavily armed infants: next week, they'll rob a second hand clothing store, just for practice.
And so it all begins again.