A small adventure yesterday. But fortunately with a happy ending, more or less.
One of the things I have learned about traveling is that I definitely want to avoid the experience of getting off a plane or train and then not having the slightest idea of what I should do next. So I make sure I have good directions for getting to my hotel, and if possible I print out a map showing where it is.
I took a good look at this while on the train yesterday, reminded myself of the name of the hotel and the address: not very far from the train station.
And when I got out of the train station, I went to dig the map out of my bag again, but couldn't find it. But I knew the two streets I needed, and there was a big map in front of the train station, and I could see on this map where I needed to go.
But all of these maps were very confusing (I looked at the one in front of the train station again today, and now, even knowing where everything is, it still looks confusing), and I wound up going off in the wrong direction. Carrying my two fairly having bags (with way too many books in them) and my leather jacket, because suddenly, here in Leipzig, it was very hot. (I think it went up to about 86 Fahrenheit today, 30 Celsius.)
Anyway, to make a long story short (although it's already too late for that) by the time I found out where the hotel was, I was extremely tired and a bit spacy, and was going through a process of walking for a while, sitting and resting for a while, then walking a while more. I had decided to give up and take a cab, but the cab driver just pointed to where the hotel was, only a couple of hundred meters away, and didn't even consider taking me as a fare.
And all this time I was trying to manage my two suitcases and my leather jacket, which kept flopping down so I had to stop and adjust it over my arm.
I got to the hotel. The desk was busy helping another person and a couple, all of whom were checking out, I think. And then I checked in and they gave me my key and I looked down and said, "Where is my other bag? Wasn't I carrying two bags when I walked in here?" And the two people behind the desk just looked at me and at each other and shrugged. They hadn't been paying attention, of course.
So what was missing? My small leather case which is about the size of a laptop case and which contained what I think of as my more personal belongings: the electric razor and toilettries, and, most important, all the hundreds of pills it seems like I take with me whenever I travel. Two months of pills. The great majority of them are over-the-counter, but it's still a major project to go to a pharmacy here and replace them, no knowing the right words in Germany. And some are simply not available in Germany, as I had found out in München when I tried to find some zinc lozenges because, despite my Super Blue-green Algae, I was developing a bit of a cold. I had tried about 4 or 5 Munich pharmacies, and they could offer me lozenges with vitamin C and almost any other conceivable ingredient, but not zinc.
After finding the bag missing, I went up to my room and lay down and half-way slept for an hour, then went down to the desk and told the manager that I thought I should file a police report. And he agreed. I was expecting him to call for a police officer to come to the hotel, but instead he told me where the police station was, only about a block away.
And this police station.... Well, it turns out you can't just walk into the police station. Not on Saturdays, at least, I don't know about the other days of the week. You ring them on their intercom and explain why you're there. (I was later told that it's like that at all German police stations now.) And of course, my explanations always start, "I don't speak very much German."
Anyway, they finally did buzz me in, and then buzzed me into the waiting room, where the officer sits behind a pane of glass (bullet-proof, presumably) and talks to you over another intercom.
I recommend that you forget about just spacing out during the part of your German course where they teach you about this sort of situation, figuring that of course in practice they speak English. None of these police people spoke any English. (Someone later explained that since this was in the former Eastern sector, probably they all spoke Russian.) And so I was trying to explain in my minimal German that my suitcase was either lost or stolen. (At first, I said, "Man hat robiert mir das Gepäcke," which perhaps means "Someone robbed my luggage," but very possibly means nothing at all. Anyway, one of the policemen suggested the verb "gestolen," which is of course the correct one.)
Eventually a rather senior officer came to talk to me, and was actually willing to sit down at a table with me. He was a very sympathetic type, reminding me of Maigret or van der Valk (from Nicholas Freeling's Dutch mysteries). He's the sort of officer I would want to make the hero if I were to write mysteries myself, although I can't explain why. He was patient with me in a rather impatient way. And he too spoke no English whatsoever. "This is the weekend," he said, "and getting hold of an interpretor is difficult. Come back Monday before you take your train, if you can."
But the attitude on the whole, from all the police officers, as, "Why have you come to us? What do you think that we can do?" And I agreed that probably they would be able to do nothing, especially if the bag had been stolen, but said that in case somebody did bring it in, they'd know now who to return it to.
Both the hotel manager and the police seemed convinced that I had simply left the suitcase behind somewhere. And I couldn't say for sure that I hadn't. I knew that I had been sitting on a bench about a hundred meters from the hotel and resting, and somebody on another bench said to me, "Scusi," and then said some more in Italian which I didn't understand, and then said still more in German, which I didn't understand either, and he made a gesture towards the trash basket. I thought he had been probably asking if I could give him a cigarette. And after that happened, I made a point of checking that my two suitcases and my leather jacket were still okay. So I know I had everything at that point. And I'm 99% convinced that I still had everything when I walked into the hotel, because I was still having a lot of trouble managing the leather jacket, which is a pretty good indication that I was carrying both suitcases.
But I also had to admit that I was extremely tired and that I do have moments sometimes when my mind doesn't function at all.
Anyway, the whole thing was obviously a lost cause at this point. On the hotel manager's recommendation, I went to the Lost & Found office in the train station, in case the bag had been turned in there, but the manager (who miraculously did speak some English, though nobody else in the office did) emphatically told me that if it hadn't been found outside the train station, she would not have accepted it even if somebody brought it in.
As far as going to the police on Monday so they could use an interpretor, that seemed fairly pointless. They had a reasonably good description of the suitcase, and they had my name and knew where my hotel was. (The hotel manager also spent quite a bit of time on the phone talking to them, I later learned. He, of course, spoke fluent English.)
So there I was, in a city I knew nothing about, with no idea where to go next except that I knew that I needed to find, at the very least, a razor and a hair brush or a comb.
So I bought a one-day tram ticket and rather stupidly got on a tram at random. Which took me out to the middle of nowhere, without my noticing any big drug stores along the way. And I started to realize that it might be appropriate to panic a little bit, because the next day would be Sunday and, as in most Europeans cities, almost everything would be closed.
Then I did manage to buy a package of disposable razor and some shaving cream and a hair brush at a store close to the hotel. And to get something to eat (always a useful thing to do in these situations, in my experience).
And I went back to the hotel, and the manager said, "I have good news for you. The police have your suitcase."
And sure enough, they did. Somebody had obviously gone through it, and perhaps the police had also gone through it a bit, looking for identification and possibly checking for contraband. (Especially since I had told them that one of the main things it contained was medications. Maybe some of what I had, the Super Blue-green Algae, for instance, cannot be legally sold in Germany, but it was all reasonably innocuous and without any street value.)
Things had been shifted from one compartment to another quite a bit, but the only things that seemed actually missing was $70 or $80 American money. No credit cards missing, because I keep all those in the pouch around my neck. There were a whole lot of American coins, especially quarters, which the thief had not bothered with. (No currency exchange in any country will accept foreign coins.)
Oh, and my travel alarm clock was gone. It's a little tricky to open, so I suspect that the thief just took it with the idea of figuring out what it was later. It might even have looked to him like a small jewelry case.
I suspect that the person who took the bag (just picking it up and walking out with it while I was occupied in filling out the registration forms at the hotel, I firmly believe) thought that it probably contained a laptop. So it's a good thing that I don't bring one with me.
"It was found in the park," the officer told me, pointing towards a different part of the park than where I had been. It was only later that I thought about his use of the passive voice. I assumed at the time that somebody had found it and turned it in, but now it seems more likely to me that the police had found it themselves, sending a couple of officers out to look for it.
I know that in Honolulu and many of the cities I've lived in, if one reports something stolen then the police know exactly what bush to look under to find the now empy purse or wallet.
So that was my small adventure. The sort of experience that every traveler needs to have, but that we all try our best not to have.
The moral, for one thing, is to make sure there's identification in your suitcases. And that despite what it seems, it definitely pays to go to the police.
Love & kisses,