Leaving Berlin

In the weeks leading up to my departure from Berlin all of my friends commented that they did not think that everything in my room was going to fit into my bags. I earnestly disagreed, to no avail. Packing one bag after every such discussion, I just did not believe that they could not believe that all of the stuff would fit. Eventually, of course, it all did.

Because of a knee surgery, I was using crutches. My American boyfriend, Brent, came to my rescue offering to help me return to the US in exchange for 5 weeks in Berlin. I told him to pack one bag, but bring two.

The morning of the flight, my friends Claudia and Matthias arrived in their VW. Brent and I had 8 bags between us and I could not help carry any of them down the three flights of stairs. I knew the bags exceeded every weight limit and felt guilty directing traffic.

At the airport, the airline employee thought all four of us were traveling because of all of the luggage. (The math works out this way: two travelers get two items of checked luggage each, plus one carry-on and one “personal item.” This, surprisingly, comes to a maximum of eight bags for two people.) The line to check in for the flight stretched almost to the entrance door of the airport. As we shuffled forward, an airline employee noticed me with the crutches and bags and motioned to us. She offered to send us through the extensive security check at the front of line, so that we could get through the line faster.

So, the baggage handlers hoist my 80 lb bag onto the table. The samsonite hard-sided luggage had to be sat upon the night before to get it to close. And now, under the pressure of the watching security guards it would not open. Here I am, crutches crashing to the ground, me standing on one leg, while pounding and simultaneously praying to the luggage gods to open the damn bag.

To my right Brent is opening his bags. The night before we had joked that if he put the condoms on top, then we would be checked by security. So there he is showing what seemed to be the whole world our contraception method of choice. The Germans cared not one bit.

Finally, I pound on my bag one last time, and flying out of the bag comes a glass of Slovenian facial mud I was bringing home for my sister. Glass and mud fly everywhere. I am embarrassed. They get it cleaned up and decide that they needn’t look through all of our bags.

Naturally, I have to re-sit on the bag to get it to close again.

We then step up to the German who is going to weigh our four pieces of checked baggage. Earlier in the year, the airline had lowered the weight limit for checked bags, and ours are well over the old limit, to say nothing of the new one. He says to me in English, “this is going to cost a lot.” I reply in German, “no it is not, because I purchased my ticket before the rules changed.” He sizes me up, and then says “50 euros.” Done. He then turns to Brent’s bags, one of which is filled with my belongings. These bags are equally heavy and Brent bought his ticket well after the weight limit was lowered. The German shakes his head and just lets it go.

Arriving in Newark, Brent and I parted ways. His ticket was to DC, but I was staying a night in Newark. I therefore had to figure out how to carry my four bags alone and with the crutches. Fortunately, asking a stranger to lug an 80 lb bag is not above me so this is what I did.

I stayed over night with friends in Newark. Finding the Amtrak station in the Newark Airport turned out to be an adventure itself. I had taken the train to the station a year previous so I knew it existed. We drove in circles, asked people, finally parked. Turns out you cannot drive up to it. You have to take the airport’s people mover. My friend Bob schlepped my crap onto the people mover, but I was on my own getting it off of it, and onto my eventual train.

This was a moment when I cursed my stuff and my friends for daring me to bring it all back to the States.

Mission accomplished. I got to DC, got the stuff off of the train, and there awaiting me was Brent. He had asked at the train station if he could meet me on the platform and had been turned down. Yet while he was waiting in front of the very large doors guarding the entrance to the platform (that he assumed opened only outward) he noticed an Amtrak employee walk right through them. She had no keys, no electronic pass-card, and no alarm went off. Telling himself, “this is exactly the sort of thing Nicole would do for me,” he barged through the doors towards the platform. His realization that the escalators from the platforms below ran only in one direction (up), did not deter him and before any passengers got to the escalator he ran down it backwards so he could meet me on the platform. I had already charmed (or conned) an Amtrak employee to take the bags off the train and loading them on a motorized cart.

The moral of the story: a good man is hard to find, but you can surely test his dedication with 320 lbs of luggage.

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