U-Bahn Racism

In the U4 on a humid summer early afternoon, tired faces, quiet atmosphere. Clearly everybody wanted to get home as quickly as possible. People were staring out of the window, or at the ads along the ceiling panels, reading the slogans for the hundredth time. There was a peaceful silence in a mutual agreement between the passengers to waste as little energy as possible.  Everything was still, apart from the soothing rattling sound of the rails. Then suddenly a dark voice announced, “Ticket control,” Its seemed uncomfortably loud and harsh. I flinched. One pitch louder, the bully controller repeated “Ticket control,” his ten kilos overweight making him sweat even more in the humidity. His pose and tone of voice were clear – ‘Don’t mess with me’.  Walking down the aisle, looking right and left at the outstretched tickets, he was coming closer to the one end of the car where I sat – I and a middle-aged black man in casual pants and shirt. I rolled my eyes, I was annoyed, and the man smiled at me, understandingly.  Before I could smile back, I heard the `bully’ controller addressing the black man over my shoulder. “Bimbo, what’s up with you, hä?“ I flinched again, this time for a different reason. But there was more:  “Bimbo, say something or I take you with me, somewhere not as nice as here!” Silence, long silence. The “Bimbo’s” smile was long gone, now he looked at the controller. No expression, a true poker face. I tried to figure him out – impossible.  The bully stared back. Then the black man began to speak, in short sentences but crisply articulated, perfect German.  “Bimbo is a lawyer, Bimbo works for the UN, Bimbo is going to sue you!”  After that – even more silence. The controller was dumbfounded. He obviously needed some time to figure this out whether or not he was dreaming. But time had run out. The lawyer went on:  “Give me your license number please.”  Five minutes later, everything was quiet again, apart from the soothing, rattling sound of the rails. Seemingly nothing has changed.  But I knew it had.

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