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?