I get a lot of taxis in Berlin, mostly at around 4 in the morning, which is when I get off work. I like talking to the drivers. We have nearly the same conversation every night.
“Frau Ferguson?” they say as I open the door.
We cover familiar topics like traffic diversions, whether it’s been a busy night and what the news items of the day have been.
Often we talk about where we’re from too. Most of the taxi drivers have Turkish or Middle Eastern roots. That’s led to some interesting exchanges, like recently, when a driver compared the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland to Shia-Sunni sectarianism.
The other night was different though. My taxi driver had a flat Berlin accent. Instead of asking where I was from, he guessed.
“Yes,” I said, only mildly surprised. “They have an excellent marketing team.”
“What do you mean?” he said. “Irish butter really is better.”
“I rest my case!” I said, laughing. “Anyway, what about you? Are you a real Berliner?”
“Yes,” he said, a little tensely. “One of the few left!”
He’s right, you know. Berlin is not the place to meet Berliners. I can count the number I know on one hand.
“But where have they all gone?” I asked.
“To the outskirts of Brandenburg. I’m dying to go too. Only I’m stuck here working.”
“Why are they all leaving?”
“Because it’s no longer their city. Everything’s changed.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. “I mean, I’ve only been here three years and I can see the city change before my eyes. Often, when I go to bars or cafes, people automatically speak English to me. I mean, I can imagine that can get pretty annoying if you’re German.”
“Sure. Sometimes you forget where you are.”
“I guess that’s down to people like me, isn’t it?”
But I could tell that he agreed.