GERMANY

 


FRANKFURT When we arrived at the airport, I was last off the United plane due to hunting groggily under my seat for a galosh. Iíd finally fallen asleep just before arriving. Not being able to read the airport signs, I simply followed the crew. I started to breeze right through a gate past a very young man who I belatedly realized looked like he was trying very hard to be officious. He had to stop me with probably the German equivalent of "Ahem." When I looked up, he said, "I am Polizei," and I realized that this boy was authority. When I showed him my passport, he just waved me on, almost disdainfully, with a very stiff upper lip. Meanwhile his equally young partner in the adjoining booth had been sheepishly responding to the flirting, joking attendants from my plane, who finally made him laugh, and my guy even cracked a smile, but not until after I passed.

Now I was hearing only German all around, and, being so far behind all the other passengers, couldnít devine which way to go for Baggage Claim because the signs in English were so far apart. A nice lady at a Finland

airlineís ticket desk pointed out to me where I (and a lost little old man who was also pushing a ladened cart and hopefully following me) had overshot. When I did find our belt, no baggage had started coming in anyway and everyone from my flight was still standing there. That gave me a chance to go to the bathroom, "WC" in that airportís sign language, which I finally realized after disbelieving it the first few times I saw it, because itís British for "water closet." I was unsuccessfully seeking the little man and woman figures used in U.S. airports, which meant I passed up a couple of perfectly good WCs. Well, maybe they were perfectly bad, judging from the three very smelly ones I did end up using in the course of the day: three out of three were awful.

Saw quite a few people with dogs on leashes in the airport as well as at the train station. Later, Rosemary Brumfield, my Heidleberg hostess, told me the Germans are very attached to their pets. A neighbor of hers used to take his Himalayan cat (a brother to hers) to work with him daily on his motorcycle, strapped to his chest in a sling, which he also carried it in when he went skiing. Hearing so much German being spoken in the airport, Iíd hear someone laugh or cough and think "oh, at least they laugh in English," and caught myself wondering if a black dog I saw loping across a field barked in German. I was very sleep deprived.

Sara had helped me solve the problem of having promised to take what looked like way too much stuff from my new Ethiopian friends, Fekade Tedasseís kids at Louisiana State University, to their parents and teenage brother (including two pounds of candy bars and M&Mís for him) in Addis Ababa. She said, "Letís get the biggest box permissible, and drop your middle-size suitcase down into it, then pack all their stuff in around it." Presto! It was 18"x18"x 27" and weighed fifty pounds. But the guy at the United counter scolded me for having a box I couldnít lift, saying, "Iím not supposed to step over this" as he stepped over the baggage space in his counter and hefted my monster box (minus its wheels) for the Tedasses over it and onto the moving belt taking it out to the plane. Whew! So far, so good. At Frankfurt, I just tipped it off the moving belt onto a handy free baggage cart. Then I strapped the little wheeled baggage rack Iíd filched out of Sara and Timís baggage closet back onto the carton. When I mentioned it on the phone them (in Jamaica), Tim heartily blessed using it, and said tell them to keep it! I think this was because it had looked like I was going to clutter up their house leaving a lot of that stuff behind. But Iím taking the luggage rack on to Royís extended family since one or the other of them is constantly traveling.

Marla had asked what I was going to say when the ticket agent asked me if anyone had asked me to carry anything on board. We agreed I should not try to go into a big explanation of what was in my huge box full of contraband for the Tedasse family, and "Just say no" to the ticket agent. But I did get flustered when I finally got to the customs agent. When he asked what I was carrying in the big box. I said I had stuff for a six-month trip plus gifts for people on the way. And he says, "Like what?" All of a sudden I couldnít remember anything that was in the box, and started wondering if I could ever find the itemized list to save having him rummage through all the stuff and have to tape that huge box shut again. I mumbled something about lots of clothes as he closely watched my face, and my heart sank. He cut me off with, "Any cigarettes or liquor?" "No," I breathed in relief, and that was that, end of grilling. He didnít have me open anything.

Wonderful, wonderful Frankfurt airport has these free baggage carts, and charged-for, but oh so welcome, baggage storage, which you donít get in the U.S. any more. The Baggage Check room was on the next floor down. I went through a Three Stooges routine of getting stuck in the door to the elevator, forcing my way in, and having a helpful man almost break the little wheeled luggage rack on the monstrous carton forcing it back out on the next floor. Finally on my way to the Baggage Check, I remembered that Joe Rouse, my travel agent, had told me to be sure to reconfirm my next flight upon arrival at each airport.

Woops. Ethiopian Airlines was to be my next one. The airlines counters were all back up on the first floor. This raised a sweat. I removed my coat and sweatshirt, and took the luggage rack off the big box, as I should have done in the first place. Now, with easy simple access to the baggage elevator, I breezed up to Ethiopian Airlines. But noone is ever there until afternoons when their once-a-day flight leaves. Back down by elevator; to check the big box and my biggest suitcase into the Baggage Check (for 48 marks, about $25). But before handing them over, I switched some longjohn pjs Marla had given me at the last minute out of the big bag and into the smallest, for my weekend in Heidleberg with Rosemary. Then I skipped off to the train station feeling very light with only the one small bag, and that on its own wheels.

Seated in a train station pub for breakfast, I saw four beefy guys in leather, Australian-looking hats chatting at the other end of my long table. They each had a foot-high flute of beer for breakfast. One also had a roll. I asked the cashier if they were Australians or railway workers or something. No, she says, theyíre just a social club. A "Stomtisch," Rosemary told me later. A club that meets in bars to drink and play cards. These guys simply left after the 8:00 a.m. beers, without eating.

HEIDLEBERG This is a small town in a gorge on the Neckar River near where it flows out onto the broad valley of the Rhine River. My first evening there, Rosemary drove me up-river after dark to view night-lit castles looming like ghosts, lining the river. Only a couple are still lived in. Everything is very steep, and winterís ice made road travel all the more hair raising. We passed few other cars that late at night, squeaking past them on roads originally built just wide enough for horse carriages, with a sidewalk in some places. Cars park on the sidewalks, leaving part of one narrow lane for two-way traffic. And of course, the Germans are addicted to big cars.

Rosemary teaches a fourth grade class at Patrick Henry Village, which is the dependentsí housing at the U.S. Army base near Heidleberg, so theyíre all American kids. She lives in town in a great apartment perched up high above a monastery a jillion or so years old, and she drives a big Jeep Cherokee, bright red.

"These German drivers are fast and aggressive. I love it!" she says, as she careens down the twisty, narrow streets, which have huge convex mirrors at the hairpin bends. She said that one day a safety teacher came to talk to her class, and, when cautioning them never to accept a ride from a stranger, he said, "But what if itís a shiny big red Jeep Cherokee?" All the childrenís eyes slowly turned in unison and looked at her.

The town itself, a renowned educational center for the past eight centuries, is dominated by a huge castle. I photographed Pongo at it, of course, and I also took his photo on a brass statue of a monkey which welcomes you to the city at the main bridge across the river. Pongo is Jessicaís Beanie Baby chimp who was reporting on this trip to her kindergarten class by weekly post cards. Pongo also later visited a kindergarten class in Addis Ababa, and another one with Mburuís near Nairobi the next Tuesday, and later another one in India, with much taking of class pictures.

Rosemary gave Pongo a companion, a Beanie Baby bear called Peace Bear, to go along with him around the world. (Peace Bear later strongly approved of the peace mission to Angola that kept me from seeing my Addis Ababa hostess, Menbere.)

My last evening there, after we took an English language tour of the 10th century castle, we followed it up with a visit to the base cinema to watch Star Wars.