Friday, August 17, 2012

Day 1: Hello Berlin, or How I Learned to Sleep With A German Woman In My Lap

So, Day One of my vacation, and I'm safe and sound in Berlin.  After a rather long travel route (not, um, unforeseen, given Germany's proximity HALFWAY AROUND THE FREAKIN WORLD) and some frustrations, I learned some important lessons.

Lesson One: If you can help it, NEVER use Frankfurt Airport as a connection point for flights.

I mean it.  If you have a flight to catch in two hours or less, DO NOT use Frankfurt Airport as a transfer hub.  Let me rephrase that: If you MUST fly through Frankfurt Airport, make sure you give at least two hours to transfer.  Why is that? Because in order to connect between arrivals and departures, you are required to go through CUSTOMS and then SECURITY.  Imagine: 5:30am, and every single person from every single arriving flight is simultaneously being crammed into a small hall to go through customs.  Whether Frankfurt is simply where you're catching a connection, or where you're going to vacation, you need to go through customs.

How this is a good idea, I'll never know.  In fact, it's a fucking BAD idea.  Granted, the customs process is insanely fast, no questions, hello, passport stamp, six months, buh bye, on your way now.  But! Following this is a journey resembling a pilgrimage to Mecca - you must go around a corner, down a flight of stairs (where there is an identical customs area, so you feel you've made a wrong turn somewhere), then another flight of stairs, through the baggage claim area, then you just walk.  You walk, and walk, and walk, and walk.  I am not against walking at all, but I would have been half dead at the end of this if I had any mobility issues at all.  You walk and walk, and walk some more, the entire time following the big blue and white signs that say "A B C D E Z" with the little happy departing plane next to it, knowing/wishing/hoping your concourse will come up sooner rather than later.

Then you reach security.  "Security, what? I did security at JFK, this again?"  I show my ticket and the woman whisks me through a quick line.  I thought this was nice.  In reality, I should have been worried.  I go through, I beep, I get wanded twice (and let me tell you, German patdowns are serious business, none of this "back of the hand stuff" they do in the US), then I get my water bottle taken that I'd forgotten about, since you know, I didn't think I'd need to go through security TWICE to get to where I needed to go.  They were insanely nice, but this also stalled me.  Then, I walked and walked some more.

So, after about almost a mile of walking, I made it to my gate! Made it there easily because I knew I was leaving from that gate, because I had a half hour to stare at the updating list of flights while I was waiting at customs.  I also noticed my flight had a little green dot next to it while I was at customs.  I didn't know what this meant, and that's bad. I'm getting to that.

My gate is empty.  Nothing on the overhead screens.  "That's weird", I think, so I sit for a few minutes and read...but I'm getting worried.  I go back over to the departures screens and scan it for my's not there.  I'm more worried.  I look up at the time - 6:38am.  I look down at my ticket - 6:40am.

I'm boned, right?

I run over to a desk...any desk.  I explain the situation, the clerk looks and goes "I think that flight has already left."  

Left? My flight left, without me? No way.  I'm meeting someone.  I have no way of contacting them.  It's not my fault, customs was huge.  Security felt me up.  I had my water taken.  The walk was lengthly, and I'm a pretty fast walker.  How is this happening??

He tells me it's okay, to go to the service desk.  I rush there, feeling dread in my heart.  How much is it going to be to take an alternate flight? When is the next available flight anyhow? He said the next flight in an hour, but that doesn't necessarily mean there will be openings.  Worry worry worry.  After what feels like an eternity at the service desk, I get rebooked for the next flight.  No extra fee and no sitting on the wing, so at least I have that going for me. For the next 45 minutes or so, everything is uneventful.  Scan my ticket, get seated, free seat between me and the other guy, all is good! Plus I see people from my first flight on this one, so I know other people got boned too (this makes me a sociopath, no?).

Then...the captain comes on.  Everything is in German first, then in English, so you can get a hard-to-read preview of what you're gonna have to hear.  When you suddenly hear lots of guttural groaning and newspapers being passive aggressively rustled, you know you're in for it.  Captain says that due to fog in Berlin, we're delayed an hour.  For a 45 minute flight, we're delayed an hour.  So not only is my flight an hour later, it's going to be an additional hour due to fog.  GREAT.  Thankfully (?) after 40 minutes, we take off.  Uneventful flight, with some great views of wind turbines out the window.

After arriving, and exiting the plane, I end up in some weird open area with one exit out, but no one is around.  I need to find customs.  One guy goes through so I follow and go through a sliding glass door and an automatic gate, and suddenly I'm in the outside terminal.  I am guessing I did this right, otherwise I'm a fugitive (though my passport was stamped at Frankfurt, so I am *legally* here, no? What's to say I didn't leave from Frankfurt and hop a train to Berlin?).  Anyhow, running from the law in my head, I need to find Baz.  "The meetingpoint!", I think.  The meetingpoint is a place in the airport where you, well, meet a person.  Which would be easy to find, except Tegel lacks ANY maps of the terminal whatsoever (after running through this dump of a flughafen, I can understand why Berlin wants to scrap this airport and build a nicer one south of the city).  I run around, and around, and around the hexagonal Dante's inferno for about 20 minutes - I'm hot, tired, sweaty, and I cannot find das meetingpoint.  What the hell is going on.  Finally, I find it - it's literally an unlit sign hanging from the ceiling, a circle with four arrows pointing to it.  It's basically above what would be the equivalent of a random foodcourt hallway in a mall.  WHAT IS GOING ON?  

I finally meet up with Baz, who has been there since 7am.  I got there at 10.30am, so I feel just cruddy. But all in all, from that point on, things went smoothly.  I guess.

Lesson Two: Lower your seat back as soon as you can or risk ending up in upright seat purgatory

Okay, so I lucked out.  My row had the middle seat unreserved, so my window seat buddy and I spread out comfortably.  I almost high fived him when they closed the cabin and I realized we truly had the space to ourselves, but I think he may have punched me or thought I was coming on to him.  Either way, all I wanted to do was drink tomato juice and not cause a scene, so I resisted.  I tend to not lower my seat suddenly at full speed/force when the seatbelt sign turns off, mostly because I don't want to be a massive DICK.  Not so for the crazy german woman in front of me.  Seatbelt light dings off, and suddenly the seatback in front of me comes firing at my face like that trailer clip with the tree branch in Paranormal Activity (I don't know which one, whatever).  Paralyzed, I realize this woman isn't going anywhere but asleep.  Great.  But whatever - I settle in, watch "The Lorax" approximately two inches from my face, ate my space-food-meets-lean-cuisine dinner, then tried to get some sleep.  Time to put my chair back, right? 

WRONG.  The person behind me decided the best way to fall asleep was to put the tray table down, pop a pillow on, and veg the fuck out.  

Lets recap - the person in front of me is practically 180º, while the person behind me is perched with her scalp buried in my seat back so that any seat movement I make will wake them.  Naturally, this makes dozing off impossible - it's good to know I'm the angry awake meat in a sleep sandwich.  Then, at some point, the woman in front of me wakes up and decides to lie sideways on her husband, which means her seatback is still resting on my bosom, but it's not actually being utilized.  Fury with the glory of a thousand suns? Awakened.  

The moral of this story? Don't be a total JERK and throw your seat back, then not use it.  Jerk.

There's probably more lessons, but it's late (+6 time difference for me!).  I'll just say the rest of the day went well - got to the place we stayed at (the room is huge!), caught a nap, went out in Charlottenburg, had some brautwurst, I got to butcher German wonderfully, then came back home.  Looks to be a fun day tomorrow as well!  Hopefully with fewer german women taking up real estate within 3" of my front and back.


  1. OMG...Kris...I'm sorry you had to go through that craziness in Frankfurt. Any city you enter first internationally will always be the first place you go through customs. If you were leaving from London to go to Chicago but had to connect in JFK would go through immigration and customs at JFK and then your flight from JFK to Chicago would be considered a national flight and not international. Same idea in Germany. You already passed through in Frankfurt so when you flew to Berlin, you were within the same country. Anyway - glad you met up with Baz so now - just enjoy yourself!! xoxo

  2. Sorry for your travel woes, Kristina, but your post was totally hilarious. Thanks for the near midnight chuckle. Enjoy Berlin, take pics and share.