Due to a mishap, a well-known upscale hotel in Berlin (I’ll just refer to it as the “Fancy hotel”) arranged and paid for my taxi transport between their hotel and the Sheraton Berlin Grand Hotel Esplanade. The mishap was theirs, and this was their way of making things right.
The discussion occurred in German between the driver and concierge, cash changed hands and when conversation was completed the taxi driver smiled at me, the bellman loaded in the luggage, and off we sped.
I asked the driver how his day was going but he gestured that he didn’t understand English, so I pulled out a mobile device and read an article as he drove. After a reasonable amount of time the car stopped, and I got ready to exit the car. I squinted at the large glass and metal doors as I exited the car, which looked hotel-like but had no hotel name or visible logo. I asked uncertainly, “Are you sure? Sheraton Berlin Grand Esplanade Hotel?” I hadn’t been to the hotel before and hadn’t seen photos online, so I wasn’t sure what it looked like.
He said, confidently, “Yes!” I did see people coming and going, some of them with briefcases and larger bags, and there was a set of escalators just inside that people were using. I surmised that perhaps the lobby was up a floor and around a corner. He motioned towards the doors as he got my luggage out of the trunk and said to me, “faster!”
I took that to mean that going this way was perhaps faster than a main entrance, since I hadn’t paid attention when we’d pulled up and just might have missed seeing a large marquee scrawled along the top of the building. My gut told me something was off, but I rationalized that we were right in front of the entrance doors under an overhang so maybe the signage just wasn’t prominent.
I turned around to thank him, but he had already driven off. With a sinking feeling, I pulled open the heavy glass and metal door (no bellmen in sight) and as I walked further I saw that there was indeed an escalator that people were using. Unfortunately, only then did I notice the escalator required individual keycard access. Uh oh. Not good!
A security guy eyed me from nearby, and I asked him if the Sheraton Grand Hotel Esplanade by chance was in the same building, perhaps on a different floor accessed by a different entrance?, but I already knew the answer. No, it was not. Not even close.
The taxi driver had brought me to a pharmaceutical facility. That certainly explained the lack of logos or company name on the front of the building.
A second guy appeared and ushered me into a small room, asking me who I was and where I was going. I had a roller board suitcase and small handbag so his tone was simply curious rather than suspicious. I explained that the Fancy hotel had paid to take me to the Sheraton, and that the taxi had brought me to this building instead by mistake.
After some discussion in German between the man and a colleague, he showed me a map on his computer screen and pointed to two locations. The building where I was at was approximately equidistant to the Sheraton in relation to the Fancy hotel, but in a completely different direction.
I offered him the business card of my contact at the Fancy hotel, and he gave him a call to get it sorted while he kindly asked me to step back out in the lobby and wait.
A few minutes later he reappeared and said that the Fancy hotel would again be paying for my taxi and that the person he spoke with had asked him to convey their apologies to me. He said he had called a taxi and would arrange it with the driver so that no payment would be needed from me, and that I would get to the proper destination this time.
A taxi pulled up almost immediately and the man from the company helped me load in the luggage. He spoke with the taxi driver in German, and it was clear from the gestures that he was indicating that I was not to pay and that the hotel whose details he had written on a paper would pay instead.
They both turned to me and one of them said, OK!” I thanked the business man, and turned to the driver.
Even though the two of them had already discussed the location, I didn’t want to take any chances. This time, I carefully and slowly said, “I need to get to the Sheraton Grand Hotel Esplanade. Hotel.” The driver answered back in clear enough English, ” Yes, not a problem.”
This time I looked out the window as we drove, and once we pulled up in front of the hotel I could immediately see that I was in the right place. Taxis lined the drive, a bellman stood at the ready, and the Sheraton word was plastered across the front of the hotel. In addition, the outdoor seating area in front of the hotel even had a podium with the Sheraton Berlin name and logo plastered across.
I hopped out of the taxi relieved, and waited for him to pop the trunk. “Thank you!” I called to him. But the trunk didn’t open. I peered in, and he made a money sign with his hands and pointed at the meter. I said that the Fancy hotel was paying per the paper the driver had been given, but the taxi driver either didn’t care for that answer or didn’t understand.
I tried again, showed him the name of the Fancy hotel, miming the handing of the paper to the driver, and said, “they will pay”. He motioned that I basically needed to pay or else the trunk wasn’t going to open. Not wanting to quibble over 20 EUR, I paid but insisted on getting a receipt to at least make sure that the Fancy hotel didn’t get charged by the taxi driver too.
What did I do wrong and how could the situation have gone better?
Obviously, the error was in the communication between the Fancy hotel and the driver (and then the business man and the second driver). Uber wasn’t an option at the time, else I might have at least just done an Uber from the pharmaceutical company. Maybe there were things I could have done along the way though.
Maybe I could have confirmed the destination name in writing with the driver before leaving the Fancy hotel. That probably wouldn’t have helped too much in this case since I did confirm the name with him verbally before leaving the car.
Instead of focusing solely on my reading I could have been watching out the window and paying more attention. Even though I wouldn’t have recognized any of the correct streets, if I had been watching when entering the lot of the pharmaceutical company things might have gone differently. I could have possibly recognized the error quicker and stayed in the car.
When the taxi arrived and it didn’t feel like the right destination, I should have asked him to wait while I went to ask someone if I was in the right place.
I should have trusted my instincts. It just didn’t feel right, but I was tired, not paying attention, and I trusted that the cab had brought me to the right destination.
Thankfully the mistaken first location was inconvenient but I wasn’t in a hurry which would have made it worse. It was also daylight in a country and city that I felt safe and comfortable in.