Y’all this post is so ridiculously old. From sometime in…April? May? Sorry about that. Maybe I should start using tags.

“In addition, 3 million New Yorkers reportedly left the city because they realized the phrase “Only in New York” is actually just a defense mechanism used to convince themselves that seeing a naked man take a sh** on a park bench is somehow endearing, or part of some shared cultural experience.”

The Onion, “8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York a Terrible Place to Live. ‘We’re getting the hell out of this sewer,’ entire populace reports.

Nathan’s Cousin Laura once observed that in the States (with the possible exception of New York), the crazy people stay hidden. In Berlin, on the other hand, all their insanity is just out there on display, and no one makes an attempt to conceal it.

One dazzling Sunday morning, I found myself lost and unwilling to admit it, dragging my suitcase across Tempelhof when an ambulance blared by. That’s nothing unusual–my mom can vouch for the fact that there is almost always an ambulance or firetruck within hearing range in Berlin. Once it had gone, I started to cross the street when a woman with lots of curly hair and a pale suede jacket interrupted. ‘Can you help me? I called the ambulance, but it just went by, and I don’t know if it’s coming back.’ I asked what was wrong. ‘I think I’m having a heart attack,’ she replied. She didn’t appear to be having a heart attack, but, not being a cardiologist, I didn’t feel qualified to make that call and pulled out my phone for her to borrow. She said, “No, I don’t need to call them. The hospital’s right this way. It’s not very far. Let’s walk there. Will you come with me? I’ll feel so much better with someone with me.”  I figured I’d walk her to the correct side of the street and then call her a cab, because while I didn’t want this stranger to die, I also didn’t want to get stabbed and left in a shrub. So we started walking. We made it all of 50 feet before she said she needed a drink. By this point she had figured out that I was American, which, being German, she took to mean that I don’t speak German, no matter that I’d already been negotiating her last 10 minutes of ramblings auf Deutsch just fine, thank you very much.

We went to the Döner stand on the corner, where she told me she knew the owner (spoiler alert: she didn’t). She ordered her water in English and started making small talk with him, explaining that she was speaking English because her American friend was here and didn’t speak German (EXCUSE ME). The poor owner, who probably would have done fine in Turkish or Arabic, had not a clue what was happening, so finally she resorted to German (“Mineral water–MINERAL WATER–Mineralwasser!”), took the bottle from the cooler, and then attempted to pay 26 cents for it. When I tried to pull out some coins to make up the difference, she assured me that since the owner knew her, he was usually OK with her underpaying and making it up later. The owner’s face indicated that 0% of that was true. We departed empty-handed and set off down the broad avenue that I was quite sure led to not-a-hospital (to be fair, I’d have bet a good sum that the original trajectory didn’t go to a hospital, either) as she pulled out a pack of tobacco and started rolling a cigarette. So much for cardiac health.  My attempts to redirect her back to thoughts of hospitals, arteries, and taxis fell on deaf ears.
At this point, my mind was running through various places in the area where I might be able to find someone with a uniform and a truncheon, but, it being a Sunday morning, the borough was deserted. We did finally encounter a guy getting out of his car, and the woman asked if he could light her cigarette (sidenote: sharing lights is the only good thing about smoker culture). He agreed, and then she asked if he would roll the cigarette for her, as she was getting older (she was not old, probably 50 or 60 tops) and couldn’t manage it very well anymore. Bewildered, he consented. She engaged him in the incoherent ramblings that had characterized our encounter, introducing me as her pen pal from America who had finally come to meet her in real life.
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This was me.

The guy was clearly getting the heebie-jeebies (That’s a great word. Why don’t we use that word more? Oh right, because we avoid the situations to which it applies), probably partly due to my doing my best to use my eyebrows to say “DO NOT LEAVE. DO NOT GO INSIDE. I MAY NEED A WITNESS.” In the end, he changed his mind and told her to go away, to which she replied with an eloquent “Scheiße!

Finally, blessed finally, I spotted an U-Bahn entrance and told her that I couldn’t go any further, half expecting her to either have a fit or pretend she hadn’t heard. Instead, she turned heel, threw a “Na, dann Tschüss” (Well then bye) over her shoulder, and disappeared into the station. And that was it.

Unfortunately for me, I was still lost and by this point was several kilometers off my trusted path (this was not entirely due to the crazy lady, but rather was largely the result of my own aversion to U-turns). I continued southwards for what seemed an eternity, assuming that eventually I would come across the bus stop that I had been looking for for the last 2 miles. Finally I found a bus stop, checked the map, and discovered that the bus I wanted lay about 1.5 miles behind me. I must have expressed my frustration in English, because an old man sitting at the stop turned to me and asked me, “Sind Sie Amerikanerin?”

Ugh, here we go again. “Ja.”

His eyes lit up as he told me that he used to work in Cincinnati. I told him I was from near there (I always go for the simplest narrative possible, so depending on who you ask, I’m from Atlanta, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Kentucky) and decided we had to be friends when he informed me that he had worked for Steinway. I told him I had been headed to Rathaus Steglitz when I got turned around, and he assured me that I was in exactly the right place, because the bus that came in 3 minutes went directly there. So we sat and chatted the whole ride. He regaled me with stories growing up in Berlin, and how it’s not nearly as nice to live in Cologne, where he raised his kids and lives now (but really, we all knew that already), so he comes back to Berlin whenever he gets a week free. He told me about his travels around the US, getting teary when he told me about his friends and coworkers there, who he hasn’t talked to in years. After hearing about my studies, he talked about his son, who’s getting his master’s in history. When my stop came, I wished him well on the remainder of his trip, and he told me I needed to get some elbow pads for when I skate. He had a point.

Every now and then, I suppose, it’s healthy to start your day with a surreal encounter instead of the usual coffee-and-newspaper (and by newspaper, I mean Internet). At least this morning had a pleasant ending.

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