“Is this it? Are we here?”
I kept walking, pretending to know where I was going, whilst I looked around searching my memory bank for the images I’d seen of Berlin on google.
“Yep”, I nodded hesitantly “I reckon this is it.“
Checkpoint Charlie. A historic and tragic site in Berlin. Just imagine the stories sealed into this small part of the world. If the footpaths and buildings could talk, surely the sorrow and pain would seep out spilling and polluting, spoiling and swirling right across the road.
We carried on walking.
A McDonald’s sign glowed and loomed, a familiar KFC hanging sign swayed in the light chilling wind. On the horizon, a Starbucks could be spotted and of course, we could see a sprinkling of museums.
“Shall we just get a coffee?”. It was icy cold and after looking at the information boards, I was done. But then before we could cross the road, I saw them. We’d seen them yesterday at the east side gallery and I knew instinctively it was them again.
A gang of 6 people were cheering and clapping, circled around a small matt with 3 sponge-like squares. They were jeering and money was being passed around, there were stopping people in their tracks. I couldn’t stop staring.
It was a scam. The shell scam. The cup scam. Now the sponge scam?
I’d seen so many like this before whilst travelling but people were falling for it and I couldn’t believe it! We stuck to the side of the road and glared. We were in danger of being potential victims but I was glued. The slick operation, the way they worked together, the greed, the distrust, the pure evil. Yet the cleverness, the simplicity of it all was pure skill, it was electrifying and terrifying, in equal measure.
Pulling myself away we saw the sign and the tacky American soldiers in there pretend uniform. It was definitely time for coffee.
The queue was out the door and the coffee was grim. But the wait in the queue was worth every second. We had secured the all coveted window seat. The dream of any coffee shop, anywhere in the world. We had a picture perfect view of Checkpoint Charlie but more importantly, an uninterrupted view of the scammers at work.
Memorised we sat for over an hour watching them work. They pretended they were together, they rigged the betting odds and they were winning. The speed and the audacity of how they work was phenomenal. My heart broke when we saw a man going to a cash machine to carry on playing. Like watching a film in slow motion, the way the gang dispersed after a win and the way they regrouped again 8 minutes later, like clockwork.
Sometimes you can only see the bigger picture when you are sat on the sidelines. Sometimes you have to zoom out. Sometimes, when you change your viewpoint, the whole world looks different. I learnt a lot from the window seat on that bitterly cold Sunday in Berlin. Things are always bubbling away under the surface, we just don’t see it when we are rushing by. Slow down, zoom out and always wait for the window seat.
Berlin was beautiful, with Christmas markets filled to the brim with cheer. Museums on museums on museums, artwork and history. But that view from that window seat, that story, was unforgettable
If you ever find yourself a victim of a similar scam, start making a huge fuss. Try and attract the attention of passers-by, complain loudly and shout its a scam. The scammers want to keep it quite because they often work in the same busy tourist areas. Tell them you know it’s a scam and you will call the police if you don’t get your money back. But ultimately don’t put yourself at risk. At the end of the day, it is annoying but it is just money, it’s not worth getting caught up in something nasty.
If you see these scams happening, keep a close eye on your belongings. Some scammer use this as a perfect opportunity to pickpocket willing spectators!