On the long and tedious journey back from Dresden to Bradford I got the train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and then went over the road for the bus to Tegel airport. The buses run every six minutes. Which is useless efficiency if they are all full, you can’t get on and you have a deadline for catching your flight.
I gave up and went back over to the station to get a taxi. A bloke saw me and suggested we share – halve the cost. He turned out to be from Zürich and the conversation during the taxi ride was the best bit of the entire journey.
At one point he asked me where I had learned to speak such excellent German. Flattering? Not really. My German is not great and I know it. Having been relatively fluent donkey’s years ago doesn’t help much when you are rusty and rarely get to speak for any length of time. It was kind of him, but the real issue is this: he was surprised that, as an Englishman, I could speak any German at all. In other words, he had very low expectations and they were exceeded. In fact, I had only chit-chatted a few banal sentences before he made his comment. I hadn’t exactly recited Goethe like a native.
The journey took around fifteen minutes – in which time we covered Russian culture and politics, Swiss beauty spots, weather systems in Moscow (where I have never been) and frustrations with Berlin buses. The taxi driver just moaned about how the city gets bigger and fuller: too many people, too many cars, too many trains… but, obviously not too much custom.
I have no idea of who my co-passenger was, but he obviously wasn’t put off by the purple shirt and clerical collar. He made a long and tiring journey at least interesting. And I am recording it here so that I don’t forget it.