Berlin

My long flight to Berlin feels like ages ago, but I haven’t even been here for 24 hours. Such is the nature of crossing 8 time zones on three flights. I routed through LHR (London Heathrow) and was very happy to still have a couple United Club passs left: they had hot showers there! It was surreal to be taking a hot shower during a two hour layover, followed by a nice hot meal and some cold drinks, but a guy could get used to that.

Landing in Tegel airport, here in Berlin, I was expecting long lines through immigration and customs. The immigration line was almost nonexistent and the customs line literally was nonexistent: they don’t have one! I kept thinking I’d encounter it but I was outside, looking for a taxi, less than 10 minutes after landing. Very nice.

The taxi queue was fairly short but that didn’t stop one enterprising cabbie from running up to me, asking if I needed a ride. Since his taxi was in the same line as all the rest, and not just some random unmarked car, I said sure. Before I got in I asked the driver if he knew where the Maritim ProArte Hotel was and he assured me he did. I hadn’t even fastened my seat belt before the guy was pulling away; he was trying to avoid the angry cab-stand director who had come running up to the car, pounding on the driver’s window and cursing at him angrily. The driver sped away as if we were in a Jason Bourne movie and I wondered if I was being kidnapped.

When the driver asked me for the address of the hotel, I knew something was wrong. I gave him my iPad, which had a screenshot of the address, and he took it from me and put it on his dashboard. Um, what the hell was going on, I wondered. Was I back in India? I told the driver I wasn’t going to pay more than 23 Euros for the trip and he said no, it’d be much more than that. I said no, I wanted him to let me out right now if that was the case. He said okay and continued to drive like a madman, passing cars on one-way lanes and racing towards every light, braking hard at the last second if they were red. The whole time he was driving, he kept telling me, in English, that “America is number one country; they do not like the immigration now,” and other such nonsense. His driving was so erratic, and I was so jetlagged, I was beginning to feel really carsick, not to mention a little worried about where he was taking me. Then all of a sudden we were back at the airport and he pulled up, grabbed my bags and my iPad, handed them to me and said, “excuse me” before pulling away again, leaving me standing there wondering what had just happened. The next cabbie I hailed, I made sure to agree on the price before I got in and he said yes, that was the normal rate. His driving was very smooth, almost grandmotherly, and he got me to the hotel in no time.
After I’d checked in and gotten my stuff in the safe I went back to the elevators and ran into Alex (the guy who’s paying me to do the shoot this week); he wanted me to join him and some other folks for dinner. I’d wanted to walk around Berlin on my own but, since Alex is paying for everything, I said okay. I’m glad I did. We went to a place a few kilometers away and it was really good. One of the other guys walking with us was the former sheriff of San Francisco, a guy I’d met at other conferences. There were six of us in all, including two German guys Alex know from way back, when he used to live here (his German is perfect, mostly as a result of the six months he spent in a German prison 20 years ago).

The food was really good (sausage and beer, of course) and it was funny to be sitting at a table in Berlin, listening to everyone talk about American politics. Alex and the former sheriff, Ross, did most of the taking but I wanted to know what the two Germans thought so I asked them. They proceeded to spit out the conservative agenda, almost word for word from FOX News, and my heart sank; Putin’s propaganda is everywhere. I decided to keep my mouth shut and just enjoy the evening; it’s not like they’re going to vote in the next election or anything anyway.

So that was last night. Before I left this morning I ran into Alex again, in the lobby, and he took me to the hotel roof so I could get some panoramic photos. There’s just not that much to see; Berlin really is quite flat and there are no skyscrapers, no ‘downtown’ feel anywhere. Still, it was nice to have a different perspective. After that we walked to a grocery store and got some pastries and water, then I said I’d really like to wander off on my own for a bit, since I won’t have another chance. Alex was cool with that so I headed off on foot, walking all around Berlin for the last four hours. It was sunny and warm and the streets were mostly empty when I started waking but were jam packed by the time I returned. I guess most people don’t get out early on Sundays here.
Im gonna post some photos and see if they work in slideshow mode.