The Ringbahn (ring subway) in Berlin used to be the hinterlands. Few people ever ventured past Mauerpark, Tempelhof airport (when it was still an airport) or the Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), let alone ride the Ringbahn.
I always saw it as an adventure. As soon as the doors closed at Schönhauser Allee or Prenzlauer Allee, a time warp opened and I was somewhere near Bucharest. At every stop I expected people to get on with live chickens or maybe a goat. There were always colorful people on the Ringbahn, left over from what Berlin was and unaware of what it was becoming.
I liked it. It was that feeling right at the peak of the biggest hill on a rollercoaster, when you know it’s all going to accelerate and it might just come off the rails and kill you.
Driving to a job interview last week reminded me of the Ringbahn. I had had to ride the looping Berlin subway the last time I interviewed for a job – over a decade ago. The job interview back then was with a newswire in Frankfurt and I had to wear a suit. Black. German designer. I’ve had it forever.
That interview went well but I turned them down. I’m pretty sure they’re still mad at me. Yes, all of a newswire is mad at me 10 years later.
The boss on the Ringbahn
After interviewing with the newswire, I had an argument with the voice in my head as I walked to the gate at the Frankfurt airport before flying home. If you’ve ever flown through Frankfurt, you know there are two things you do at that airport: Walk a long way to your gate and walk a long way to your gate.
Me: “Take your suit off before you fly back to Berlin.”
Me: “What? Why?”
Me: “It’s Berlin. Nobody wears suits in Berlin. You’ll look like a noob. Also: Where is our gate?”
Me: “Plenty of people wear suits in Berlin and this is me. I’ve lived in Berlin forever. I am allowed to wear a suit in Berlin if I want to. Plus, if no one wears suits in Berlin, then wearing a suit in Berlin is punk.”
I still wasn’t at my gate.
Then I got off the plane and onto a bus and then onto the Ringbahn. To get home I’d have to take a tram as well, because Tegel is the airport Berliners love to call central – so central it requires a bus, a subway and a tram to get there. Or a €30 taxi fare.
“Hey,” the voice in my head said as soon as I took a seat, “You should have taken the suit off.”
I finally agreed with the voice – the Ringbahn seemed allergic to suits. It was (is?) a working man’s train. About then two semi-threatening punks came tumbling down the aisle, loudly talking about where to sit.
“Lass uns hier sitzen (Let’s sit here),” the man said, “Neben Chef (Next to the boss).” I was trying to avoid his gaze as he sat in the chair across the aisle. His female companion, who had apparently just partaken in a substance that made her very absent, sat two rows back.
He smiled at me – the boss – and I told myself that I had told myself to take off the suit. Since I’m a paranoic when it comes to personal safety, I was I hoping for a gentle mugging. Something short of murder.
“Na, chef?” he said. I smiled and enjoyed the last few minutes of my life.
When the subway started, he started beatboxing, which seemed an odd thing for a punk to do.
As the train picked up speed, he started rapping:
“Wo sitzt der Boss?
Da sitzt der Boss!
Wer ist der Boss?
Der ist der Boss!
Wer kennt den Boss?
Wir kennen den Boss!“
(Where’s the boss? There‘s the boss! Who’s the boss? He’s the boss! Who knows the boss? …)
It went on for several minutes, each stanza changing but with the all-important “boss” as the hook. I was equal parts impressed with the freestyling and afraid for my well-being. He would look back at his companion for approval and around at the other passengers for admiration.
I’m certain they felt the same way I did: Nice freestyling but if you’re going to hurt anyone, hurt the guy wearing the suit. Who wears a suit on the ringbahn?
Unnerved, I got off a stop early and decided to walk home from the Schönhauser Allee stop. In my suit.
I didn’t wear a suit to my job interview last week. But I turned down that job too.
I don’t want to be the boss.
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