Sunday, 18 December 2016

33: Driven to despair

After a brief sabbatical from online scrutiny of the German condition, I felt it imperative to return and notify you of several urgent and important announcements.

a) The world has gone to fuck. If you haven't noticed, probably because you're in Berlin and the last 14 years have flown over your head like a flock of stoned migrating sparrows, the whole world has gone to war in a place called Syria. The Americans have somehow conspired to elect a president who thinks Putin is a soft drink and the British have decided they've had enough of democracy and would much rather return to the good old days of domestic-only master-salve relationship. You can watch it all unfold like a roll of dirty socks on satellite TV if you've missed anything.

b) I've been away and was happy to return to Kreuzberg, where flower is still power and anti-nuclear movements vie for attractive acronyms.

In recent outbursts I have lauded the Volkswagen, TP and German roads. Wanting to experience at least two of the these, I enrolled to get my driving license. In German.

The preliminary meeting went well. After a brief exchange about Dresden, in which I looked appropriately guilty, I took a seat and took out my notepad. I'd done school and the workplace by now, driving school bore no fear for my adapted condition. I had a clipboard with me this time and I was ready for any form of declension, at any speed.

The first video was simple enough. Don't run over children seemed to be the message and everyone agreed it was a good one. But as the videos unfolded on the plasma screen before me, the scenarios became increasingly difficult. Left turns swiftly declared themselves mortal enemies in the subsequent days, when Joseph, my driving instructor, spent a happily-paid 80 minutes denigrating my right to exist as I tore up traffic in West Berlin.

The school where I studied was clearly provided with material by Volkswagen. The videos had no sponsor credits, but the scenarios always unfolded favourably in the German giant's favour. For example, if a video showed how overtaking without looking over your shoulder can cause accidents, the car that just jumped into the lane and blew up would be an Audi while the safe car would always be a Volkswagen. Safe is Volkswagen. Safe = Volkswagen. Volkswagen.

Driving schools are of course the biggest shop window in Germany. Every German wants a car, every German needs a license, driving school is where you sell cars. As I watched Audi after Audi burn, I too began to be hypnotized by the Volkswagen's endless ability to circumvent danger where the Audi couldn't. Driving school became my drug, my new home, my everything. In the process, Dresden soon became an in-joke with the head of the driving school, although the crux of the punchline was often lost on me. In the end I muttered something about Little Dieter Needs to Fly, something about Herzog's soul, but Klaus, the head of the driving school, thought that was rubbish and told me to learn to drive.

Which I did, slowly, after two months of driving through strange towns with lots of 'Ks' on the edges of Berlin. All that remained was to pass my theory.

The theory is easy enough I suppose if you know about trailers and self-breaking containers and can name various types of jack in German. Break a leg, preferably your own.

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