Once you’ve done battle with the subway and re-emerged on the street, wallet lighter, you see that Berlin is like a great big art school campus. No one has a job, everyone is working on a “project” and the entire population of the city seems to sit around in cafés on their laptops. So, LA basically.
But as always, there are the odd folks that seem to pop out of the woodwork to let you know that you aren’t in Kansas anymore. And this time, it’s the ever reliable taxi drivers waiting in a queue to tell their odd tales.
Jason and I jump into one taxi to find that the guy changes the station on the radio about three times in the trip. English, to French and then to something else that I don’t even recognize.
Cabbie: I’m doing it so that I don’t get Alzheimer’s.
Jason and I look at each other. Sounds like he’s got it already.
Jason: Right. How’s that work?
Cabbie: I teach myself different languages from the radio so that my mind is staying active. I’m saving millions of brain cells everyday. Then my wife destroys them for me when I get home.
We all laugh. Nothing like a ball and chain joke. The international ice breaker for men.
Me: Well, your Alzheimer’s treatment is absolutely brilliant.
Then, deadly serious, he responds.
Cabbie: What did you say?
Me: Um, it’s absolutely brilliant.
Cabbie: No it’s not. Because there is no absolute, only versions of the truth. Absolute doesn’t exist.
Jesus, I think we’ve just taken a ride with the love child of Buddha and the Nutty Professor. Then something goes Ping! in the front seat.
The cabbie slams on the brakes, causing the tram behind us to brake, and the motorcyclist right behind us to nearly end up in our back seat.
We’d asked for a “kurztrekke”, short trip, a 2km or less jaunt you can do in the cabs here for E3.50. Apparently we’d hit that which meant that we were going to stop right here. Like, Right Here!
We get out and kind of wave thanks to the tram driver and the motorcyclist guy. Who looked at us wondering why we would need to apologize. Your trip is over, your taxi has to stop or else you’re taking money from him, isn’t that obvious? They must be English, they think.
The cabbie can still count, so clearly he’s doing something right with that anti-Alzheimer’s technique of his.
Another cab driver, a very affable man, takes Jason and I on a tour of the city when we were looking for toy MINI cars for part of the pitch.
We drive all over the city hunting these little buggers down, I wondered if maybe we should buy the full size ones and throw them in a tumble dryer.
But he tells us of how he came to Berlin. Another side about the LA Berlin parallels, no one is from here. This city has people from all over Germany who to escape wherever they were and reinvent themselves in the care-free creative energy that grips this place. So actually it’s like LA would be if there were no movie industry, just people making stuff.
This cabbie came here years ago when the wall was still up to escape the draft. West Berlin was an island right in the middle of the German Democratic Republic – by the way, why is it that when a country has the word Democratic in its name, you know it’s a Soviet country? Well I guess Communism makes everyone equally poor, anyway…
So this cabbie tells us that when the GDR was around, you couldn’t send a letter from the West to the East. Which also included West Berlin, since it was surrounded by the former east. One road in and out. So, early twenties kids from all over West Germany flocked there. Sorry Ministry of Defense, didn’t get the letter.
So what did this guy do when he was there?
Cabbie: I went out.
Me: For how long?
Cabbie: About fifteen years.
Makes sense, the unemployment is rife, there’s a massive social welfare system and all you can do is go and spend it on great German beer with fellow escapees.
And this is part of the reason why every other city in Germany hates Berlin with a passion. It’s like an errant younger brother that refuses to grow up, just wants to party and play in a band and keep working on his art projects. And as such Berlin’s a siphon on the country’s services, welfare and funding. The most un-German of German cities.
Which is just a little Schadenfreude, don’t you think?