There are days when I know immediately whether a taxi ride is going to be unusual or extraordinary. The drive with Hakan was worth every superlative I could think of that day, and I truly wished I could have gotten stuck in traffic for a longer time. At first glance I thought he was Latin American, but he began to speak, I heard a strong French accent. OK, I was intrigued, and grinned inwardly.
Born in Turkey but raised in the Provence, South France, Hakan considers himself more French than Turkish, especially since most of his family still lives there. Growing up in and around Saint Tropez is not something a lot of people can lay claim to, and even less will tell you that they are master ski lift mechanics. I had to stop to wrap my brain around that one for a moment. "Life was easy and never boring. Our job was to ensure that the ski lifts were working impeccably, and since they did so most of the time, my team and I skied a lot!"
Wow, what better working conditions could one ask for? Watch the chic jet-setters and ski to your heart's content in all good conscience because you've done your job right and the ski lift works to perfection. Hakan laughed out loud when I told him about some of the ski slopes in India were the guests are carried up the mountain by donkey!
What brought Hakan to Berlin? Love. His wife being a Berliner, Hakan followed suit and turned his entire life upside-down to start over in this city I now call home, without even speaking a work of German. The cultural shock and reality check hit him immediately. First of all there was absolutely no use in the Prussian flatlands for a ski lift mechanic, even less for a non-German speaking foreigner. Not wanting to live off unemployment benefits of the state or his wife, Hakan learned German as quickly as possible, and got his professional driver's license. "I don't consider Berlin home, but the charm of the city that keeps me here is the multicultural aspect" - something I can't really argue with.
Hakan tried being a self-employed taxi driver for eight years, but realised that there was for too much work involved with the Ministry of Finance and all the insurances. To make a decent living and support a family, he would have had to pull double shifts in order to compensate for all the deductions. This is a concept far too many taxi drivers around Berlin concurs with, and choose instead to be employed and work in fixed shifts. Financial wealth is not exactly within reach under the present conditions and with the ever-changing social profile of Berlin, but he is at least much more relaxed.
Sixteen years after transplanting from St. Tropez to Berlin, Hakan summarises his experience as such: "Berliners are like the weather. If things are going well they are all sunshine, friendly and helpful. But if they are are in trouble, they can be like an unpleasant storm and will leave you stuck in the mud."