I was in Berlin again, riding in a taxi from the Brandenburg Gate west through the Tiergarten when I heard a song on the radio. It reminded me of the days when I was a teenager living in these parts.
The song starts:
“Don't think sorry is easily said.”
And it gets deeper after that, but wait a bit.
The area we drove through is likely the nicest part of Berlin, starting from the Gate, then the enormous building of Bundestag, which flies too many EU flags to be taken seriously, and going west to the golden Victory Column. The Column was erected to commemorate the victory in the Danish-Prussian war. To be fair, the Germans don’t have many wins to celebrate, so this one is as good as it gets. It features the Golden Lizzy on top, a statue weighing 35 tonnes, and I actually like the view of it.
Moving back in time a little, to earlier in the afternoon, I got into the taxi on the corner by the hotel, right by the Ku’damm. The hotel is called Berlin Bristol now, used to be Kempinsky, but they dropped the Polish name. Fine.
“Tegel flughafen bitte,” I said to the older driver in my best German, but there was no fooling him. He looked in the mirror assessing me for a second and said “mach’ ich sofort boss”.
“You take visa?”
“All taxis in Germany do,” he replied in fluent English.
Guess it’s one way to find out.
The radio in the cream colored Mercedes was spewing news about Russia blocking the strait to the Black Sea, which caused the Ukraine stand off. The narrative was simplistic, just proving that the media doesn’t have a sense of harmony or a sense of time.
We listened to it for a while before the driver turned it off.
He actually did.
“It could be,” he said casually, “that Russia and Ukraine are in cahoots. Poroshenko’s approval rating is in the single digits right before the election. And now he has introduced martial law so he can postpone election for as long as he wants, could be years. And this is actually good for everybody. The Kremlin will keep their ally in Ukraine instead of some wild extremists. Poroshenko’s company’s chocolate products sell well in Moscow, so why kill a good business? Everybody goes home happy and the rest is just talking.”
“It’s playing chess, and the Russians beat everyone at it,” I said relaxing on the back seat, “but this kind of thinking gets no traction in the media.”
He drove in silence for a while as we were passing the depressingly neglected apartment houses of the old East Berlin. They sure look better with the leaves on the trees but it was too late now. It appeared that he thought about the same thing.
“I like Africa,” he said, “the weather here kills me. Besides, Africa is where humankind started. Have you ever been there?”
“In Morocco briefly, and my wife is down there right now, in Johannesburg.”
“Moving a little north,” he said, “some believe that the Sphinx predates the Egyptians and was actually a lion. Did you know that? There appears to be water erosion marks on it,” he said. “Which means that the Sahara was once a tropical place with trees and animals. If that’s true, then the original Sphinx may have existed even as far back as 10,000BC when a Lion would have faced the constellation, Leo.”
He looked at me in the mirror.
“Because, you know, it doesn’t anymore.”
“I do know, and I know a Leo, and he’s a brilliant young man.”
“You liked the song that played before,” he said looking at me in the mirror again. “It seemed to make an impression on you.”
“Not really,” I said, “because it is about falling out of love.”
“And this bothers you?”
“Yes, it does, life is not what it used to be but I do my best to adapt.”
He looked at me long enough that someone honked at us repeatedly in the traffic, until I said: “I’m doing my best, and that’s all I want to say.”
When we arrived at Tegel, the square payment terminal in the car couldn’t connect to the network.
“It’s because of all the interferences at the airport,” he said.
“I sure hope it doesn’t affect the planes.”
He laughed silently and we settled in cash.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler