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Berlin Dispatch: Once…Twice…Five Times a Turndown…

Thursday, June 9. 6.03pm. Alexanderplatz, Berlin. I forgot my German-English/English-German dictionary, but I take my shaky German to the taxi stand anyway.

The drivers look tired and intimidating in their resignation. I knock on the passenger side window of the cabbie who’s first in line.

“I’m a journalist from the United States. Could you take me to your favorite restaurant?”

(At least this is what I think I said…)

“I don’t have a favorite restaurant,” cabbie #1 says, “I eat at home.”

I don’t have the language skills to work my way around his resistance, so I move on to cabbie #2, who gives me an almost identical answer.

Cabbie #3, who’s been watching me move between his colleagues, waves me away – he’s in the middle of a cell phone conversation that’s more important than a fare.

Cabbie #4 takes pity on my Neanderthal German and rejects me in English. His answer to “If you had to leave Berlin tomorrow, where would you eat?” is “Nowhere – I have stomach problems.”

I walk away from the taxi stand, wondering what I’m doing wrong. Then I spot cabbie #5, who is licking an ice cream cone while waiting for his next fare.

A man with an ice cream has to be willing to take me to his favorite place to eat, right?

“What about your ice cream? Is it good?”

He shrugs.

“What about the best ice cream in Berlin? Could you take me there?”

He shakes his head. Like the rest of the cabbies at the Alexanderplatz taxi stand, he has no time for my game.

I decide to try his ice cream anyway. I don’t expect it to be good – the San Marco Ice Cream parlor (across from the train station and steps away from the taxi stand) looks like the kind of place where tourists go once and never come back.

It isn’t the crowd that gives the place away – or the location. It’s the too-good-to-be-true colors of the gelato. When vanilla is yellow and strawberry is hot pink, you’re dabbling in artificial ice cream. Gelato isn’t supposed to look lurid.

I order a double scoop – hazelnut and caramel – and end up throwing the waste of calories away after a few licks.

Later that night, I told a friend what happened. He’s been driving a taxi in Berlin for almost 20 years.

“They are all Germans at Alexanderplatz – this is their place. This is their historical place. And Germans are not funny,” he (who is also German) said, “They didn’t understand you. You have to try a different way.”

He’s right, I think. I’m going to try a different way – and a different taxi stand.

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