What I learned in Germany, Part 1.

AirBerlin’s gateway in Germany is Dusseldorf. Regardless of where in Europe you travel, if you’re flying Air Berlin, in all likelihood you too will end up there. With my ultimate destination the lesser-visited city of Dresden and with time to spare, once landed, I sought out my connecting gate by making a beeline to the customer service desk. The sole purpose of the flight concierge, by the
way, is to direct travelers to their connections. “Go down the stairs and then
just keep going straight”, the gentleman with marginal English, tells me and,
oh “There’s no elevator or escalator, at least not a working one”, he
continued.

Priding
myself in traveling light, my twenty-one inch rolling nylon bag is sporting a
well-loved but fairly weighty hand me down leather Gucci carry-on on top for
easy maneuvering. I head toward the stairs, peer around the corner at the
curved and empty stairwell and with a good dose of skepticism look back
for reassurance. He waves me on. Awkwardly, I navigate my way to the bottom and
find myself in a long, underground and rather desolate corridor lacking any
directional and of which I can only assume will lead me to a different
terminal; at least I am apprehensively hoping so. Somehow I land back on the
main floor of civilization and continue my direct path. Just keep going
straight, just keep going straight, keeps floating in my head and with my newly
found German obedience, I do. But then, after walking what feels like forever,
I find myself at yet another set of stairs, albeit short and head down toward
the back of a group of booths. As I came around front, I startled a, okay; lets
just say ridiculously handsome uniformed man. In perfect English he asks,
rather baffled, how I got there. Explaining the directions given me by the
concierge, my new crush laughingly informs me I have just walked out of the
terminal. He now needs to see my passport. After what could only be an
immoderate inspection of this creature I am now armed with a renewed belief in
God, a new set of directions and knowledge that should I lose my way again I
can come back to him and he will personally take me there; I am filled with an
overwhelming temptation to get lost. Yet this time, instead of heading straight
back again, I am to veer to the right and I will come upon my gate. And that I
did.

Still
ahead of schedule and seeing no plane outside, I walked around a bit checking
out the little shops, perused the bar and then headed back to my waiting area.
Still there was no plane, no line of boarding passengers, just seats filled
with what I believed to be fellow travelers waiting for our plane to arrive.
Curiously and not quite having realized this at the time, I hadn’t heard a word
of English spoken over the loud speakers. But I was fine, the gate area was
full, there was no movement, I continued to dally around until suddenly I heard
it. Clearly, unmistakable amidst a cacophony of German, was my name repeated
with a sense of urgency to it. I ran to the desk and was immediately ushered
toward a ramp and more stairs. Again I trepidatiously turned back for reassurance and was again
instructed to keep going. But where was the plane and where exactly was I
hysterically running? I saw a man on the stairwell and by this time near panic,
I asked where the plane to Dresden was. Speaking German interspersed with a few
words of English he told me to get on the bus at the bottom. What? We’re going
to Dresden by bus, I incredulously blurted. Still a bit wary and more than just
a bit confused, I boarded the nearly empty bus and we took off. After about 10
minutes we approached an isolated tarmac and there in the middle sat a little
puddle jumper; our transportation to Dresden was a commuter plane! Things
finally made sense. Most of the other passengers were already on board waiting
for the dawdlers to arrive. Uh, sorry everyone. The crew took my bag and I
settled in for the short flight.

Dresden’s
airport is quite small and as we disembark I noticed a group huddled around the
plane while another group heads toward the terminal. After 14 hours of flying
time, I was nearly robotic and headed inside as well. But the terminal is
completely desolate. Conveyer belts aren’t running, no other passengers have
followed in behind me and my luggage is nowhere in sight. Seeing a lone worker
I tried to get his attention, he ignores me. By now bordering on frantic, I
scan the terminal and spy an office at the far end. Racing in, I found myself
face to face with a woman behind a counter who speaks not a word of English. I
head back out toward the tarmac, panicking all the more as I imagine my baggage
is still on the plane and the plane is now gone! Eying a woman walking past, I
race up to her and ask if she speaks English; this time I strike gold. I inform
her of what has happened and graciously she goes with me back to the office and
explains the situation to the woman behind the counter. I am asked for a
baggage receipt, which I hadn’t received since it was a commuter flight and,
well as we know already I was a tich late. As the woman types into her desktop
computer, my heart sinks lower and lower. How is this possible? My first leg of
a five country exploit and I’ve lost my luggage? Adrenaline courses through
every inch of my weariness. Each key stoke elevates my envisioned disaster. And
then, like magic, the lovely, charitable woman who came to my aide opens the
office door and there sits my sole bag. How it appeared I would never know. But
there it was, my life for the next two weeks in twenty-one inches of beige
ballistic nylon. But if you think it was all smooth sailing after that, tune in
for Part ll and my errant day two of my German foray.

According
to polls, the worst worldwide airports don’t include Dusseldorf or Dresden.
However two other German airports have managed to end up in the top 10, the
lucky winners, Frankfurt and Berlin. But in my book, having yet to travel to
Frankfurt or Berlin, Dusseldorf is the most confusing airport hands down and if
you think you know what’s going on, you probably don’t. So what did I learn in
Germany? Well, there’s this, no matter how you rock it, my name is, in essence
pronounced the same in German as it is in English. And you may not be totally
SOL even if you don’t speak German, your sign language skills aren’t up to par
and your itranslate isn’t set up yet. Amen.

Dream,
Travel, Explore

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