Der Neukoellner Bus Nummer 41

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is not a pleasant story.

I got one of my first radio assignments – a tape synch – for Monday evening, July 25. Tape synchs are done when radio shows want to have better sound. Instead of recording an interview over the phone, they send a reporter to hold a microphone in front of someone and record the person’s words. The “tape,” which is these days in digital form, is then sent to them over the Internet.

The story was about a New York artist, Ruth Sergel, who is in Berlin for a bit. It was for a program on WNYC, the public radio station in New York City. Ruth is subletting an apartment in Neukoelln, a very Turkish part of town in the southeast part of the city.

After the recording I hopped on the number 41 bus to get back to where I was staying in the northern neighborhood of Pankow. After about five minutes, a Turkish family entered the bus. All of a sudden I heard the bus driver tell the man to get off the bus. His wife and small son were with him. At first I didn’t understand what was going on and asked a woman next to me why the man had to leave.

“He entered the bus with an open bottle and you can’t have that on the bus. It’s against the rules,” she said.

The argument got quite heated when the woman, who was wearing a head scarf, screamed at the bus driver that he was “Auslaenderfeindlich” (anti-foreigner). Frankly as a foreigner I was a bit embarrassed by this. The bus driver refused to move the bus and threatened to call the police. We as passengers started to get involved when all of a sudden the woman, who by this time had exited the bus with her husband and young son, who was crying, re-entered the bus and spit on the bus driver.

Yes you read that right. She spit on the driver. It was nothing short of revolting. I just couldn’t believe that she actually spit on him. And then she started to claim that he had grabbed her, which wasn’t true. A woman in the front of the bus who spoke German with a heavy east European accent she would testify that the driver had done nothing and that it was the woman who spit on the driver. I don’t know all the nationalities of everyone on the bus, but I would guess we were easily more than 50% not German.

Within a few minutes I heard the whirring sound of the German police. Unfortunately I couldn’t wait for the outcome, as it was already after 11:00 pm and I had to get back to where I was staying to get the station its tape.

I’ve thought about this scene a lot ever since. I can’t imagine a Mexican immigrant spitting on an “American” bus driver. Maybe I’m wrong, but I highly doubt it – even though there’s lots of Latino discrimination in the States. I don’t know what the legal consequences are for this woman, but I bet they are not as bad as they would be for a similar act in America.

But the question remains. Why did she spit on the bus driver?

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