Date: Sat, 22 Aug 1998 08:46:36 -0700 (PDT)
From: k p firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: "Your passport please..."
Back again. sorry about that. I had to order another beer. These cyber cafes are great.
Finally, we crossed the border. The usual German border police guy asked for our passports, and I reached into my moneybelt. For two weeks it has faithfully and unfailingly held my Eurail pass, $100 US emergency currency, my passport, emergency phone numbers, a few sentimental brochures and all my ATM receipts. I've done the passport maneuver so many times in the last two weeks that it took a few seconds for me to realize my passport wasn't tucked in it's usual compartment, warmed to 98.6 degrees by my waist.
Needless to say, I furiously tore apart each of my possessions in the next three minutes, knowing that I was no longer an American citizen, but rather a refugee without nationality in a country where I didn't speak the language. I felt like my grandfather when he arrived at Ellis Island from Hungary.
The German border cop waved me off the train into a train station called Bad Schandau. I learned later that this was the name of the town, too. The guard walked briskly into a dimly-lit building with big brown iron doors, cold dark green steel walls and colder cement floors. No nonsense all the way, he led me up the stairs without a word.
I kept thinking "It's a big adventure!" as I climbed three flights of stairs. I also kept thinking of that room in the WWII spy movies with only a steel desk, a bare light bulb, a single wooden chair with arm restraints and a big ugly East German woman with a riding crop named Gerta saying "Ve Have Vays of Makink You Talk."
So naturally I was dissapointed when the guard opened a door and I entered a nice office filled with smiling German Border Guards and a bookshelf with helpful brochures in German like "Don't Cross That Street When The Light Is Red!" and "So You've Lost Your Passport!" I entered the room when Frans told the three guards in German that I was an Englishman who lost his passport.
"What happen to passport?" the head guard asked in broken English.
"If I knew that, I wouldn't be here." I replied with a smile. They looked at me blankly, obviously not understanding British humour. Or for that matter, English. So I simply repeated the International Symbol for "I don't know"--a exaggerated shrug of the shoulders with the arms bent at the elbows, palms up. This combined simulaneously with raised eyebrows and a shit-eating grin.
They asked for my driver's license and I pulled it out. Some initial confusion over my American nationality instead of British was compounded when they turned the license over and saw the international fruit stickers I had placed there for my brother's fruit sticker collection. I didn't even bother explaining. Head Border Guard left Hans and Frans to fill out the paperwork. About 15 minutes later Hans handed me a sheet of typed paper in German that basically said "Go Directly to Berlin. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200." An excerpt:
I think it means "Kenneth edward press is a stupid american on his way to Berlin on 24.08.98. Please tease him incessantly when you read this and sincerely repeat that he will never leave Germany. Signed, Frans the Border Guard."
They shook my hand goodbye while shaking their heads. I asked Hans to photograph me and Frans, which he did. I then invited both Hans and Frans to stay with me if they ever visit America. "You've got my address. Don't forget to stop by," I said with a smile. They looked at me blankly then shook their heads up and down in a "Sure, whatever you say. I don't speak English" nod.
I tried to use the Telephon at the station to call my travel agent to arrange a delay in my flight back. I am supposed to leave Amsterdam on Monday at 11:30 a.m. but the Berlin Embassy doesn't open until 8:30 a.m. Monday. And Amsterdam is a seven hour train ride. I didn't have a telephone card, and I could't figure out how to reach an operator to place a credit card call. Nobody in this small town spoke English, so I waited 30 minutes and jumped a S-Bahn, the Suburban Train, to Dresden.
On the train I met Tomas on his way back from work as a social worker. He pulled a beer out of his bag on the train. I like Germany, I decided.
Tomas' English was much better than my German, so he understood my invitation to visit me in America. But he has a one-year old son, so he won't be travelling for a while. Tomas dropped me off at the main Dresden station, and I hauled up my backpack in search of the hostel "a ten minute walk south of the train station" according to my Lonely Planet guide. After about 3 minutes, it started to rain on my adventure. Literally.
So I pulled out my waterproof jacket, put on the hood, turned around and pointed myself toward that IBIS hotel on the other side of the train station and booked a room at about 11:30 p.m. Still wired from my adventure, I watched a few minutes of Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt being crazy urban New Yorkers. They were speaking German, I realized after a few minutes. I laughed harder at that than I've ever laughed at the jokes on the show. Click. "Baywatchenstrasse, wit David Hasselhoff" also dubbed in German. Click. "X-Files, wit Agentenkasse Sculley" also dubbed in German. Click. Finally, a bad German WWII movie, originally filmed in German. At least their mouths were moving with the words. They were the good guys in this one, I think. After a few explosions I was disheartened to see 50 Americans being killed by one German bullet, and I fell asleep.
I woke up early, ate breakfast at McDonalds, thinking it might be the last American meal I ever eat. Hopped a train to Berlin after buying a Telephon Karden and sat in a cozy second class seat. The conductor never asked for my passport.
Found a hostel in Berlin, checked in and then called the Embassy. "United States Embassy, Marine Guard" the voice said.
"Hi, my passport was stolen in Prague and I need to get a new one." (I decided to use the white lie that it was stolen instead of lost because "I'm a victim" gets you more sympathy than taking personal responsibility for your actions. I learned that one from the President of the United States. I think Kenneth Starr actually is the person who stole my passport.)
"Yes sir. Are you in Prague now?"
"Nope. I'm in Berlin."
"How'd you get out of Czechoslovakia?" he asked.
I didn't want to explain the the Czech Republic and Slovakia split in the 1989 Velvet Revolution, so I just repeated my story briefly. I figured the Marine Guard would serve the country better keeping an eye out for unusual-looking parked trucks than helping a tourist. He took my name and said a consular services guy would call me back. Consular services guy called back, took some more info, and said "show up at the Embassy at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning."
I explained the flight schedule thing, and he helpfully suggested I change my ticket. He said that the airlines will usually not charge you the $175 change fee if you've had your passport stolen. (Sympathy and Savings! A smart move).
That's it for now. It's Free Museum Saturday Night in Berlin I have learned, so I'm going to a castle that has a bar and a Picasso exhibit. Hopefully, I'll see you all in America again. Otherwise, send some Deutchemarks to Ken Press c/o US Embassy, Berlin. Germany.