Berlin has been almost comically, how can I put it, rude so far. Nothing to take personally or to become emotionally invested over, but I have to admit that it has caught my attention. When you travel for sixteen years and find something about a place that distinctly stands out from most of the other places that you’ve been it’s kind of special. Even when it sucks, you oddly still kind of appreciate it.
I landed into Berlin airport around ten in the morning and I made my way to find where I was going. This is usually simple: I find the nearest subway stop or major street intersection of my destination and I go up to the information booth/find someone knowledgeable and ask the best way to get there. It’s a simple strategy, and generally works.
I walked up to the information booth, pulled up a map on my phone and asked the guy how to get to a particular metro stop. He said it was in East Berlin and told me to take a bus and pointed out the way to the bus stand.
The bus stand was manned by an old hefty woman and an equally old, equally hefty man. They also both happened to be equally grumpy, as I would soon find out.
I walked up to the woman and asked for a bus ticket to the subway line that lead to my station.. She gruffly said that she had no idea where that was and sat there in rude silence. I handed over my phone to show her the map. She refused to take it, saying that she couldn’t see it. So I asked for ticket to any subway stop. She refused, saying that she did not know where any of those were either.
“How can you not know where any subway stations are?” I asked.
She was just being difficult.
“Berlin is a big city how am I supposed to know what line you want to go to?” she snapped.
“Any of them is fine,” I replied. “They all connected together, don’t they?”
She tried to tell me they didn’t. I argued the point on the grounds that no city in the world has ever constructed a subway network that didn’t connect together. Logic wasn’t necessary, she was basically telling me to fuck off…and would proceed to do so in as many ways as she possibly could for as long as I stood there.
I again asked her to look at my map. She again refused. I asked for a ticket to the city center, she said she didn’t know where that was either.
I moved on to the old guy at her side. He was no better.
“I don’t know where you want to go. I can’t sell you a ticket.”
I then paused for a moment and looked at what was happening. What kind of strange situation was this? I’ve never had employees selling bus tickets give me a hard time with questions about where their bus was going. I smiled and kept asking. They were within a little booth, essentially trapped. I had a line behind me and, really, held all the chips.
I told the guy my subway stop and showed him the map.
“Maps are so bad, don’t give me a map,” he said. “They are not clear and are confusing. I need a street address.”
I handed over an address. He huffed, puffed, and turned to his computer. He tried to tell me he didn’t know how to get there. I told him to keep trying. He gave up with an exaggerated exhalation:
“Take the bus to Alexanderplatz and then take U5.”
He then tried to dismiss me with a wave.
“Well, can you sell me a ticket?”
The bus they were selling tickets for went directly to a major subway stop in the center of the city, three stops from the station I told them I wanted to go to, which happened to be a well-known locale on a famous street.
The experience was a riddle , an uncommon experience of abject rudeness. Is that just the culture — people above questioning? Probably not.
I write this because there was something about this scene that I want to remember. The two gray haired, beaten down geriatrics tag teaming an idiot tourist. Adorable probably isn’t quite the word to use here, but it works.