The Germans are coming. Not today. But soon, very soon. Which reminds me that I have more stories to tell from the Fatherland!
On the occasion of my first trip abroad since my 1990-91 Christmas invasion of London, I took my proto-family over to the Old Country, Germany. Like most Americans, I rarely if ever, leave the Continental US and had at the time certain.. shall we say prejudices, with relation to Germany. I had grown up during the very last bit of the Cold War and as most people of that time period I had believed that either the country was chock full of Closeted Nazis or that half of the country, the Eastern part, the very part I was going to, was my mortal enemy.
I arrived at Berlin-Tegel Airport with wife and son in tow. We’re exhausted. Frankly I’ve forgotten just how exhausting international air travel is. Its not that its physically laborious, just that, well…I’ve been hurtling over the North Atlantic in a 15 foot wide cylinder at over 500 mph for the past 8 hours all the while drinking myself sober in the attempt to forget about the ramifications of said Cylinder of Death happening to fall from the sky at a moment prior to when its supposed to on the other side of the Atlantic!
S, yeah I’m not at best at this point. Probably a little of an understatement, really. You see while at Miami and in line to check into the flight I found myself chatting up an older German couple on their way back to German after holidaying in Florida. The chat was going reasonably well (I’m always amazed at how well Europeans speak English) until such time as the gentlemen asked where I was heading in Germany:
“Oh, well, my wife is from a little town called Schraplau and we’re heading there for a week so that her Grandma can meet her Great Grandchild and I can see some of where the wife grew up….”
This was met with the fairly typical German response of “Ja, Germany has a lot of small towns, more than you can imagine, yes? I have not heard of zis town, Schraplau. Is it near, uhm.. Dusseldorf…?”
“No, I understand its about 2 hours from Berlin, uh, close to Leipzig..or somewhere…I don’t know…probably should have looked at a map or something…”
And here is the first indication that this is going to be a bit of a “learning experience” for me. Both the man and wife went from what I thought were fairly nice people to Euro Weirdos…
“So!, you are American, and you are taking your East German bride back to EAST Germany, Ja? Ho ho ho! You go to EAST Germany!” then he turned to address my wife: “How very good for you little Ossie that you marry an American..you did well for yourself!’
I’m not exactly sure at this point just what the fuck is going on, but from the look of my wife, a fight is brewing. “Hey, uh, Hun, what exactly is this guys issue?”
My wife has gone from bone white to red in under a second, not usually a sign that things are progressing well. “That man is picking on me for being from East Germany. He’s what we call a stupid Wessie!”
Oh great! I’m in the middle of the German class war and I didn’t even know there was one! Fantastic! I decide that its long flight to Germany and I don’t want the bad blood and throbbing knuckles of punching Jerkface in the nose so, uncharacteristic of me, I let it go and ignore him.
Back to Tegel; its a very small airport, about the size of the Marine Air Terminal and much more modern. Its very gray and red inside, kinda looks like you would imagine a “space age” interior of a space station would look like were it to be parked in the middle of Berlin and constructed in the 60’s. It smells funny, at least to a person who hasn’t been out of his home country in over a decade. But, it has a certain charm and utility that business travelers would find infinitely comfortable and reassuring. It works in way that having never been there, I was able to find the baggage claim area in under 5 minutes from leaving the gate. I like Tegel, clearly. I think its shame that Berlin is trying to demolish it as it just works so damn good!
Once at the baggage claim carousel I felt perfectly at ease. The signs are different and everyone is standing around smoking like its the 50’s but, its a familiar thing to me. I’ve been traveling all my life and this is just ….normal. And unfortunately: where normalcy is about to end for me.
I was lulled into a kinda narcotic state and had missed the fact that I was talking to my wife and child as though they were still next to me waiting for our bags. Very quickly the understanding that 1. I had been talking to myself 2. Wife and Child were no longer next to me and 3. I don’t speak 1 friggan word of German has dawned on me. HARD.
There I am. I’m in the middle of a foreign country. I don’t speak the language. I don’t know my way around. I’ve somehow lost my family and I’m quickly getting ready to panic. What do you do? Call the cops? How? Do they have 911 here or is another number? Who’s gonna believe me that my family disappeared? How the hell did this happen? WHAT THE HELL AM I GONNA DO?????
Ok. Get a hold of yourself! Look around! There must be a reason this is happening!
Without (hopefully) letting the German flying public know just how badly I was in hysterics I decide to sweep the area slowly letting my eyes just seem to take it in…not wanting whatever police they have here arrest the crazy, panicking American. I look over the baggage claim area, no dice…then I look outside..
…and I see my son!
but….there is a problem…….
Its not a small problem.
Its very big.
Its much bigger than me.
Its at least Six Two, has blondish hair, blue eyes, and its holding my kid like he’s a fucking paper doll!
Oh shit I have problems!
Just exactly how did my child get from my custody to the Nazi poster boys arms? Exactly what am I gonna do about this? And where the HELL IS MY WIFE!?
Who’s stupid idea was it to go to this godforsaken country anyway??!!
Alirght! Time to man up! I’m going over there and I’m gonna slam him as hard as I possibly can, swipe the boy from his arms and run away as fast as humanly possible! Mess with my kid?! Fuckem! he’s going down and I don’t care how big he is!
Walking quickly away from the baggage carousel hoping to gather up some steam before I commit suicide, out of nowhere my wife reappears, crying.
“Honey! I’ll handle this!”
Not hearing a word of what I just said, my wife between tears manages to blurb out: “Oh I’m so happy you brought me home, its so great to see Uncle Fred holding Conner!”
Uncle Fred holding Conner. UNCLE. FRED. HOLDING. CONNER.
Shit! That man is my wife’s uncle!! My god he’s huge! And I thought I was gonna hit that??
Turns out that the wife just simply ran out to greet her Uncle who took the train at an ungodly hour in the morning to meet us in Berlin. No cloak and dagger. No Cold War thriller, just a happy family member waiting to greet us at the airport.
I’m going to have to have a little more faith in traveling and other cultures before the day is done.
Corey Kleiman will return in “Family Stops at the White Line”