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The Charming Mountain Goat… is grazing in Berlin

April 18th, 2008 · No Comments · Berlin, Charming Mountain Goat, Travel Writing

The new old capital of Germany is in financial trouble. Big time. Reunification has cost dearly and over the last few years the city was forced to cut down on its maintenance of public parks and playgrounds. Less and less flowers are being planted every spring. This is a serious sign for a city that made creating park a priority when it was divided, so people would have somewhere to go within the confines of a wall.


The effects are felt everywhere. My aunt – a primary school teacher for nearly 30 years – related how she has started bulk-buying pens in a cheap discount chain. She stores in these her class and hands them out when they are needed. There are a number of children whose parents just don’t have the money for school supplies.


This silent type of charity is seen everywhere. As a baby of the first post war generation, it is a perfectly new experience trying to pay for something in a shop while the shop assistant spends time at finding a way to charge me the lowest price she can get away with. This is topped off with a great sense of personal satisfaction on her part and a strange kind of camaraderie that reminds me of the stories that people have told me about the mood of the difficult times after the war. German sense of service used to mainly consist of shop assistants scowling at the customer when their insistence on paying for their goods interrupted an important team gossip break.


There are a lot of people begging in Berlin’s streets. An organisation called mob e.V., a charity that works at helping homeless people to help themselves publishes newspaper called Strassenfeger (street cleaner). The vendors of this newspaper can be seen throughout Berlin at stations, on the street and on public transport. They offer the paper, they are polite and they are obviously in need. For some selling these papers clearly has given them back their dignity. There are about 7.000-10.000 homeless people in Germany’s capital.


Sadly, walking through Berlin one gets used to seeing people like this. The only positive effect this has that it sharpens one’s mind to what my Piglet 2 – a very bighearted and sensitive chap – labelled as ‘F.A.K.E’ recently.


Outside the German History Museum the first thing you notice about the man on the right are his shoes: light brown, pointed, worthy of the Satorialist’s attention, perhaps even a tag under ‘stylish shoes’. The next detail that stands out; he is leaning on a single crutch. It looks uncomfortable, not helpful. Another detail: the nicely cut navy blue wool coat (we are reaching Sartorialist dedicated blog worthiness) and the face of the man; it’s scrunched up into a grimace of pain like a mask in Noh Theatre, ready to be removed any moment. He is mumbling something and holds out a cup into the direction of those who pass by. And in the age of product placement, for the record: the cup is from Starbuck’s – not the cheapest coffee in town.


We have nearly overtaken him when we hear the tasteful ring tone of a mobile phone. It’s a personalised tone, I know, because my phone is too cheap to offer this programmable option. We move on. The man stands straight, holds the crutch, and lowers the cup. “Hello?” and a conversation in a language I don’t understand ensues. It looks like an expensive phone, something you only get if you sign up for a contract. Again I know because I pay as I go and have the cheapest model. We stare at him in disbelief and slowly as we begin to understand what’s going on in front of our eyes, we start laughing at the scene. Somehow our sensitivity pushed our initial instinct ‘FAKE’ to the back of our heads, but now we can no longer restrain it.


Lesson learned; a. counterfeits always smell a mile off and the truth always catches up with you; b. to get ahead in today’s cut throat business environment it always pays to be professional – and that means mobile phone etiquette requires ‘phones off’ during important business presentations….

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