It was Thanksgiving morning on a continent that didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I had been in Prague for five days and Pilsen for two. On the walk to the train station I decided to return to Bamberg immediately for another taste of Franconian lager.
The route was a new one for me: Pilsen to Cheb (a town I’d been through twice before on train but never visited), Cheb to Marktredwitz, Marktredwitz to Hof where I would catch a final, slow regional train arriving in Bamberg through Lichtenfels.
Not a moment after the door opened in Marktredwitz I was approached by two officers holding badges to my face. The older man had a scowl and barked some powerful words at me. The younger female officer was quieter, taking cues from her partner, if the behavior of her eyes tells you anything. I took a step back to put my bag down before leaning in to say
“Kein Deutsch sprechen. Can I see your badges?”
They held them again at arms length. I looked one over and then the other and back to the first. I held my gaze and said nothing and tried to gather my thoughts. The badges looked legit. Where is my wallet? Where is my passport?
“Where are you going?”
They knew my final destination already, no doubt.
“And you are traveling alone?”
“Are you carrying anything into the country?”
Snacks, bottles of beer, a scarf, the cheap stuff you pick up traveling but don’t bother declaring. I was being served customs on a train platform while the local Frauen und Herren looked on with squinting eyes and frowns. But Germans are always frowning.
They asked to see my passport. “Your papers please” went on repeat inside my head.
With white gloved hands they emptied my bag onto the floor. Camera equipment and undergarments; no drugs, no contraband, sorry to disappoint you, officer. Seeming satisfied at their thorough job, both of them stood back up in a gesture that told me they were finished.
“You forgot this pocket,” I quickly said.
They looked down into a long, thin, empty pocket in my backpack, a place they completely missed during their search. A perfect hidey-hole for smuggled drugs. I held back a tight smile. The young woman thought it was funny, the old man furrowed his brow, but Germans are always furrowing their brows.