Nein Uber in Berlin


Arriving in Berlin from Africa via Frankfurt proved to be a nightmare this time around. While the flight and connections were almost perfect, the same cannot be said about my luggage. I checked in one bag at the point of origin and asked the airline agent to confirm my bag will indeed show up in Berlin while ensuring the bag tag had the TXL symbol (for Berlin’s Tegel airport) and the right flight number printed on it. Both checks yielded positive results.

Twelve hours later I found myself waiting for my smallish suitcase at Tegel. Bags are unloaded in batches. I oversaw all three of them. The conveyor belt then stopped, telling me my bag did not board the plane in Frankfurt. Or maybe at the point of origin. No idea.

As far as I know, there are at least two lost and found windows in Tegel. One must go to the right one, depending on the airline used. Being an early Sunday morning, there was only a couple ahead of me in the lost and found kiosk. When my turn came up, the attendant told me my bag was in Frankfurt. For reasons entirely unknown to anyone, it had not been transferred to the connecting flight. After collecting all the required information, she gave me a report printed by an ancient dot-matrix printer (I still love how they sound!). She also told me that the company will deliver the bag to the place where I would be staying before the end of the day.  For the record, the report is entitled “Property Irregularity Report” and only requires about 2/3 of a regular page.

Getting a taxi at Tegel is quite simple as the airport is quite small and taxis are just a few meters away from any of the many airport exits. But one can also use the Uber app to book a ride. However, Uber is not really active in Berlin. But the app works and links customers to regular Berlin taxis. Three options are offered:  a pre-paid taxi just like Uber; an ordinary metered taxi; and a shared ride. There are also local competitors providing similar services. I decided to take a regular cab while trying to enjoy the funny feeling of being bagless. Not the first time this has happened and most probably not the last one either.

Ten calls and thirty hours later, it dawned on me that my suitcase was never going to be delivered to my Berlin temporary residence. Going back to Tegel was thus the only option. According to the lost and found website, my bag had arrived in Berlin the previous day but had not been delivered as the company supposedly taking care of this did not operate on Sundays! Nor any other day of the week, apparently.

Lost bags are collected from a small building that is not precisely part of Tegel’s infrastructure. Getting there requires a bit of a walk. The place was packed. A few customers were distraught, some of them even screaming at the attendants. The woman ahead of me had tears in her eyes. When her turn came up, she tried to control herself while speaking to the company rep, in German. No idea what she was saying but five minutes later she walked away more upset than before and without any suitcases in hand. I showed the agent my report. She went to the back of the office to check and told me my bag was there. I asked her if the company had any intention of delivering the bag to my place of residence. She responded by saying she knew nothing about home deliveries. But she was indeed glad I had come back to the airport to collect the suitcase. The last step was clearing customs. I had to open my bag and follow the instructions of the customs official who then told me I was free to go.

A few days later it was time to go back home. I decided to use the Uber app and requested a pre-paid ride. I checked the driver’s profile which suggested he spoke over ten languages. Wow! Most taxi drivers in Berlin do not even speak English, so one has to be ready to navigate such waters. The Uber-taxi driven by a Russian immigrant arrived. He only spoke German and Russian. No English. He asked me to select a language from a translation app he had in his iPhone. I did, and then he used it to communicate with me via Bluetooth and the car sound system. While cumbersome and slow, it did work. I got updates from him on traffic, the weather and even football (as in soccer) games. I replied whenever I could. He got my answers in Russian.

Back home, my bag and I did manage to arrive in sync, for a change.

Cheers, Raúl