Super brain at the wheel | TIME ONLINE

Ylber Loka rattles through the rush hour on his Honda C90. He winds his way through the morning traffic jam, squeezes past the taillights of the red double-decker buses, and when nothing else works, he gets off and pushes his Honda over the sidewalk. There is no stopping, that is Loka's credo, not in life and not in traffic. Although both are actually the same for him.
            Sometimes Loka loudly calls the names of the streets he's boarding through the city canyons: "Gracechurch Street! Bishopsgate! Threadneedle Street! Old Broad Street! Austin Friars!" And when he finally turns off the Honda in front of a narrow city villa between the skyscrapers and pulls the helmet from the raven hair, he repeats the directions again. He can not help it.
            Loka wants to become a taxi driver and learn for the entrance examinations. While a one-off local license test in Germany may suffice to obtain the license, contenders in London must pass a series of brutal exams before being allowed behind the wheel of the legendary black cabs. On average, students need between three and four years for this. In order to have a chance at all, they must memorize the London City Map with its approximately 25,000 streets and 10,000 attractions. Not only landmarks such as Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace, but also hotels, restaurants, hospitals, embassies, churches, theaters, cemeteries – just about any place a passenger might want to be taken to. And of course the shortest routes in between. That's why the London Taxi Driver Test is considered one of the hardest tests in the world. He himself is officially just called: "The Knowledge" – "the knowledge".
            For three and a half years, Loka is already learning for it, but he is far from finished. The 33-year-old Albanian came to study in England, has two degrees in political science and sports management – "but it was a breeze," he says. "This is the hardest thing I've ever done." In the morning, Loka gets out of bed at six o'clock to drive a couple of hours on the Honda through the city before his shift as a sushi cook, memorizing routes and places. Today it's the turn of the "Livery Halls", the rooms of more than a hundred venerable guilds, some of which have existed since the Middle Ages. Above the entrance of the city villa, in front of which Loka has parked its Honda, the banner of the furniture makers' guild is blowing. There is an old examiner, says Loka, who would always ask the budding taxi drivers to drive from one guild to the next – which is not that easy. "There's always a lot going on in the city center, and if you do not know the alleys and short cuts, you're stuck forever."
        This article is from MERIAN issue no. 08/2018
                        © MERIAN
The heart of London, this mega-metropolis with nearly nine million inhabitants, is a confusing place. North of the Thames, a wild labyrinth of one-way streets, dead-end streets and hidden treasures such as the magnificent guildhalls is proliferating. For more than 150 years, "cabbies," as taxi drivers are called, have been buffing for knowledge. It was Victorian Police Chief Sir Richard Mayne who initiated the notorious trial. Too many passengers had complained during the 1851 World's Fair that the cabbies had gone with their cabs, so Mayne explained that every coachman should now know London as his own living room. A number of sample routes were selected that every taxi driver should master while asleep.
            The pattern routes still exist. 320 routes are today in the so-called Blue Book, which is now pink. The Blue Book is the Bible of the "Knowledge Boys and Girls," as students of the test are called. Not only do you have to memorize the routes, but you must also know each attraction within a quarter mile of the start and finish before you can pass the thirty-question written multiple-choice test. And that is just the beginning.
                For those who can do the written exam, the oral exams are waiting for them. The Blue Book brings you only through the outer reaches of hell. This is followed by the "Appearances", which initially take place at a distance of 56 days. The examiner gives the candidate two points somewhere within a six-mile radius of the Charing Cross intersection in central London. The candidate must then recite the shortest route between these two locations. The closer he gets to the ideal line, the more points he gets. If you do not know a place, you lose points. If you turn wrong, you lose points. Those who do not stop to the right of the finish, so that disabled people can safely leave the taxi, lose points. Whoever hesitates – point deduction.

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