Berlin Dispatch: 9 Questions for a Night Driver, plus Köfte
Last week, as a sort of grand finale to the Berlin adventures, I convinced one of my new taxi driving friends to let me ride along during part of his night shift.
Our deal was this: he would pick me up when he was somewhere in the vicinity of Friedrichshain in East Berlin – and I would get out of his taxi in the event that four passengers needed a ride (so as not to violate German seatbelt laws).
“OK, we can try Your idea this friday,” the taxi driver wrote, “Hope You will not get lost when You have to leave the taxi somewhere …”
“I’m a taxi driver,” I told him, “And I have a map. I won’t get lost.”
Besides letting me crash his taxi, our fearless driver was gracious enough to answer eight questions from Taxi Gourmet readers – and one from me about his favorite place to eat.
Thanks to Florian, Julia, Claudia, Daniel, Franco and Rodrigo for your contributions to this interview. I think the cabbie got a kick out of your queries.
Q: Which part of the city do you like better? East Berlin or West Berlin?
A: As a cabbie, I don’t care. The most important thing is that they pay. As a night driver, you have to know the places for night life. As a private person, I like Friedrichshain. When I came to Berlin in 1991-92 I preferred Prenzlauerberg and Kreuzberg. In Friedrichshain the underground clubs were the best but not anymore.
Q: Can you tell whether a person is from the East or the West of the city by e.g. politeness, style, clothes, tip…?
A: You can tell by how they speak, about what they speak. East Germans have a special accent, and they are more grounded. They have more contact with real life. I lived & worked in Frankfurt-am-Main for 2 1/2 years and I made up a joke: in West Germany everything is better and stupid people are more stupid. Sometimes people from the West don’t give good tips. And customers who take a short ride [a 2km or less trip for a set 4-euro fee] usually don’t tip.
Q: Are you slightly afraid to drive through some quarters like Wedding or Neukölln by night?
A: To drive there, no. But about five years ago I started taking more care about who stopped me. I refused about three to five people. If a person drank too much I don’t like. Or if he looks too aggressive. I learned to clear things in the beginning.
Q: What was your longest ever ride with a passenger?
A: Six years ago. A 270km trip to Hamburg. The passengers had to catch a plane with an African airline. After I dropped them off I made a sightseeing tour and went on a boat. For me it was a perfect day.
Q: What make and model auto would be your dream taxi?
A: I prefer big cars because I’m a big guy – 1.85cm! [6'1"]. I like the Mercedes combi [van]. Automatic [transmission] is important. I used to drive an Opel [stick shift]. It took natural gas. But what I did for the environment was not good for me [points to arm, where he had chronic pain].
Q: Is there a law in Germany that dictates all taxis be painted the atrocious beige/cream color?
A: We have laws for everything in Germany. After the war the color [of taxis] was black. They looked like funeral cars. The Berlin government changed it in the 1960s or the 70s [to beige]. The official name is RAL1015. All taxis must use this.
Q: What’s the most memorable thing a passenger ever did and/or told you?
A: That’s 100% secret and 100% passion.
Q: What do you listen to when you’re on duty?
A: Dylan’s 1997 album “Time Out of Mind” I can hear ten times in one night. I really think about to start my book [about his adventures behind the wheel] with Dylan’s words from the first song “Love Sick” on this album [puts song in CD player]: “I’m walking through the streets that are dead/Walking, walking with you in my head/My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired/And the clouds are weeping…”
Q: Where do you like to eat when you’re on duty?
A: I like Kreuzberg because I like the Turkish kitchen. I like köfte at Doyuran on Oranienstrasse. This is a good place.
There was no time to stop for snacks, though, and when a group of four musicians hailed our taxi on Boxhagener Strasse around 1am, I got out to make room for them.
I stopped by Doyuran for a köfte sandwich the next day. It was solid – with plenty of meat, über-fresh arugula and lots of sumac – but the onions and tomatoes were cut too large and the spicy sauce couldn’t compare to the version at Gel Gör‘s.
The biggest difference, though, was the sausage: Gel Gör uses veal that they butcher in house, while Doyuran’s version is beef and doesn’t have the same richness or delicacy of flavor.
A few days later, after a lot of insistence from me, our fearless driver stopped by Gel Gör and sent me this message: “I just tryed Your köfte in kottbusser damm. You are right they are really great.”