Or else they're taking pity on us.

Luggage-cart rental stand, Tegel Airport, Berlin, this afternoon:

http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_4064b.jpg

So, if you want to rent a cart, you can pay: one Pound, one Euro, one Swiss Franc, or one shiny American quarter, which at today's rates means:

Brits pay ~ $2.06
Europeans in general pay ~ $1.44
Swiss pay ~ $1.16
And my wife and I paid $0.25 each for our two carts, delighted as we were to find two quarters wedged into our pockets after the redeye from the U.S., en route to our new home in Beijing.



Is this legacy pricing from the days when the dollar really was strong? A means-tested scheme, reflecting Europe's patronizing view toward the puny dollar of modern times and what Yanks can afford? An expression of karmic gratitude for the American role in defending Berlin through the long decades of the Cold War and the intense months of the Berlin Airlift, when planes full of supplies for hungry Berliners landed at this very Tegel airfield?*

Could be any of 'em. But -- oooops! Five minutes later it turns out that when you return the cart, you get back whatever coin you put in. So technically all the chart means is that the quarter is physically about the same size as the other, mightier coins. Still, in the era of the shrinking dollar, something about this chart sticks in your mind.

* Before anyone feels obliged to mention it: Yes, I know that Tegel was in the French sector of Berlin, while Tempelhof was the main airport in the American sector. But you get the point. Footnote update!!: Andrei Cherny, who has a book on the Berlin Airlift out next year, reminds me that the airport was in French-controlled territory but most of the airplanes were of course American. I guess this is why we don't hear so many references to "the vast French air force darkened the skies" in accounts of the post-war era...

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