Saturday, July 25, 2015

Happy Landings!

I've been hanging around Berlin for the past two weeks. No. I lie. I've been hanging around a tiny, stuffy, and overstuffed studio apartment, for the past two weeks.

The first few days, there is the angst of the lost/delayed/where-the-hell-could-it-be luggage. The flight to Berlin from LAX is delayed by over an hour, making the connector in Düsseldorf to Berlin almost impossible.

I am a champion, so I lurch, like a winning Igor, to the farthest-away Berlin connector gate at DDF. This, despite the fact that, on the long flight, my left foot has swollen to the size of a prize-winning eggplant. I make the cut. I throw up my arms in Olympian victory.

One-footed and clumping, I run-hop down two flights of industrial metal stairs to a bus, which will deliver us to the Berlin-bound toy plane. The glass doors of the bus close behind me--WHOOSH. The bus stands there, doing nothing, with no a/c, for another seven minutes.

We putter to the plane and board it, but, alas, unbeknownst to us, our checked luggage does not.


Robust Tante Gertrud greets us at the gate in Berlin. She's about 88 or 89 and walks faster than I do. The cane is for her bum knee. Her left foot is not rendered useless and dragging, by spending eleven hours wedged between a window and a seat, like mine.

She braves desert winds and 95˚ heat (have I mentioned the lack of a/c  yet?) to meet our plane. In response, I ask her to sit by herself with our carry-on luggage in a coffee corner, while we descend at least five circles to the heart of darkness, which is The Horror of International Lost Baggage Claims.

The Baggage Express Handling Department at Tegel Airport is up two halls, then straight ahead 1/4 mile, then down two flights of industrial metal stairs, then a U-turn, and another 1/4 mile back.

"Wow, isn't Germany great?" I ask Alan. "And the welcoming attitude of every person to whom we've spoken! The flower wreaths lovingly placed around our necks upon landing, the scraping and bowing, the gratitude for the tourist dollar. I see why everyone loves the laid-back, island vibe." Alan makes his fish-face.

After 20 minutes in line in the Cavern of the Doomed, I limp back up the stairs and down two halls to Gertrud. She refreshes me with warm mineral water in a little paper cup. I tell her she may as well go-- it's a long-term campout downstairs. She gives me German chocolates, God bless her, and leaves.

I rejoin Alan. We stand in line with pissed off people of all nations for over an hour. Our moment arrives. We describe the missing items to the only low-talking German ever born. Have I mentioned the lack of a/c, the official Teutonic indifference, and the heat yet?


We're home, but there's a catch. We can't leave the hot, stuffy apartment together. One of us  must be in, to wait for "the call."

I worry about the huge, orange, 50-pounder--my pregnant carp on steroids. It houses souvenirs, a bike pump, a bike seat, a Kryptonite lock, clothes and shoes, mostly mine.

Each visit, I bring L.A. souvenirs to family and friends in Germany. On the return trip, I schlepp rye bread, lingonberry jam, and confections back to my mom in L.A. This year, everyone in Germany gets vitamins, raw nut meats from Trader Joe, Red Vines, baking accessories, See's pecan logs. That's IF the carp arrives.

By noon on Day #2, someone with the first initial A goes a little funny in the head, placing many outraged phone calls to key execs of AirBerlin. I suspect this lands our names on a Master Sh*t List, and further delays the arrival of our bags.

By mid-afternoon of Day #3, a tiny duffle and my boxed, disassembled bike are delivered. By 9:30PM, we have the pregnant carp.


We celebrate with a light meal at a local café. That's $40 for a salad for Alan, a side order of fried potatoes for me, and "two balls of chocolate ice-cream with egg-liquor." Alan wants to know if he gets to select the egg licker. The waiter doesn't get it. Thank God.

The remainder of the week is a Kafka nightmare of jet lag, 2AM hunger pangs and no regularity at all. Then the head colds kick in. These lay us low for the next five days.

Did we bring the head colds from L.A., or were they caused by the recycled air in the airplane? Everyone here wants to know, as they wipe down their gifts with hand sanitizer.

Beats me. I'm just glad the souvenirs are gone. A woman can breathe around here now. I fold one travel bag into another, like nesting Russian babushka dolls, until the bags and I land at LAX next month, bursting with German goodies.

But no German apples. Last year, the fruit-sniffing dogs of Minneapolis International Airport cured me of trying to sneak them in. As the canines and their uniformed handlers swoop toward the luggage conveyor belts at terrifying speeds, I bust a move to dump my apples in the ladies' restroom trash receptacle.

I smirk, standing at the carousel, while a hound drags his U.S. Department of Agriculture leash-holder past my bags to the john. Fooled them! Ha. After all, who wants a fruit-bearing felony on her permanent record?

Marta Chausée


Liane Spicer said...

O.M.G. Marta! I love travel, but I hate to fly and airports stress me out somewhat. Every time my luggage goes out of sight I expect it's the last I've seen of it. And the no a/c... Arghh. Heat just wilts me (and I live in the tropics...).

But it's all such good fodder for the pen.

marta chausée said...

Thank you for your kind comment, and for helping me out this first time, too, Liane.

Though so many things have improved over the last few decades, we have actually made very little progress, if any, in increasing the comfort of the traveler. In fact, it feels like we're going backwards sometimes, doesn't it?

I also WILT in heat. I hate heat, and I live in sunny Southern California. I'm thankful we have had many rainy days here in Berlin ,since we first arrived to a freak heat wave. I made a little video of a strong downpour and posted it on FB. You can't believe all the "likes" and comments I got from friends in CA, where the earth has been parched now for four years. OY!

shar-shar said...

Ummm....nothing inspiring, beautiful, awesome, wonderful, lovely, picturesque, etc. in the whole of Berlin? Should I feel sorry for you that you are there?

Charles Gramlich said...

Ah, the adventures of the traveler!

marta chausée said...

Naw, Shar-Shar!

Berlin is FANTASTIC! It just got off to a shaky start this time around. I have been posting photos of Berlin on my FB page. I invite you to go look. Must warn that I no longer have extended internet, so have been unable to post photos the past few days.

But I'll get back online soon. Heads up!

This piece was an attempt at exaggeration, leading to a humorous outcome. I need to punch up the humor more, I guess, so it doesn't sound ungrateful or grating (whiney). Thanx for the nudge. :D

marta chausée said...

Charles, thank you for your comment. I'm sure other travelers could tell us stories to make our toes curl. You, in fact, probably have a more harrowing by far story than mine. I can just sense that in your remark. :D

Sunny Frazier said...

In 1973, as a 22 yr old Navy WAVE, I flew to Germany in a troop carrier with an Army guy who I later found was smuggling drugs in the cored out handle of a tennis racket. At his apt., I met an Army officer who was cooking up SOMETHING to smuggle to Bavaria. I declined to go with them and headed north to Hanover to meet a German sailor I'd met at my port. Turned out he had a girlfriend he hadn't written about. I got drunk with his sister and sang "Cabaret" while high kicking like the Rockettes down main street. Caused a riot in the train station when an East German man took offense of my uniform. Some West German Army guys got involved then everyone was yelling. A Spanish soccer team rescued me. I finally caught a hop home on an Air Force plane coming back from Iran.

AND YET--your trip sounds a thousand times worse!