By Peter Vanlaw
We met on the internet, my new German friend and I. He’d become a great help in my new found interest in genealogy; primarily to learn about my family that I never knew. But that’s another story.
My wife and I were in Berlin on the tail end of a trip that had taken us through the Italian Lakes country and then on to Berlin to meet my cousin and her family, who were flying in from London. We were staying at the very nice Marriott near Potsdamer Plotz and the Tiergarten.
After my cousin left to return home, I made arrangements to meet my German friend in Hannover, since he lived in nearby Celle. I planned to spend the morning seeing were my parents grew up, and then meeting Ralph and his wife someplace for afternoon tea.
I phoned him from our hotel room and he suggested that we take the 9:30 express to Hannover, and then meet at the Wilhelm Busch Museum. It should take less than two hours, since Hannover was only 180 miles or so from Berlin. And we could get our tickets at the station from one of the many kiosks.
“Easy peasy” right?
First of all, growing up in Southern California, dealing with commuter trains and train stations was quite foreign to us. And even though my parents were German, I never really became conversant with the language, even though I took it in college.
And so began our nightmare adventure into the unknown. One of those travel experiences on which I could only look back and laugh. Or so I kept telling myself.
Anyway, we got to the Berlin Hauptbahnhoff at 9:00am and located our train on the big overhead board. It was scheduled to leave from Track 33 at 9:33am.
I quickly found a nearby ticket kiosk. But then I realized, even with my years of computer experience, I couldn’t make the damn thing work.
Now we were running out of time, but I was trying not to panic. Finally I located a woman employee and asked for her help. Problem was, she spoke no English and my German sucked. Fortunately after a lot of sign language intermixed with my limited vocabulary, I was able to communicate our plight.
Once at the kiosk, within moments she had our tickets for us. Much to my chagrin, the kiosk was a simple touch screen. It was a snap. But too late for me.
Now with tickets in hand, we were off to meet our Hannover Express. Then quickly finding Track 33, we waited patiently until our train arrived at 9:28, ready to leave at 9:33.
We found seats immediately and relaxed while watching other passengers get on. Some were bringing their bicycles on board, which I considered normal for any European city. But it didn’t take long for me to begin to get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Within moments of our leaving the station, the train stopped and some of the bike riders got off. And more got on.
But I immediately shined it on, figuring that it’s a planned stop for the Express. Problem was we made more stops, but by then it was too late to do anything about it. Yet I was sure the train was going to arrive in Hannover anyway. Just a little later. Right?
This train turned out to be a local destined for Dessau. We’d somehow gotten on the wrong train, and gone south instead of west.
How do we get from Dessau to Hannover.
We don’t….! We have to take another train to Magdeburg – about a third of the way to Hannover.
Running from one end of the Dessau station to the other, we grabbed the train to Magdeburg in order to connect with a 1:00pm train to Hannover. So, we’ll only be a little late meeting our friend, Ralph and his wife….assuming all goes well from here.
The train ride to Magdeburg was fairly short, and we already knew that our connection to Hannover was scheduled to leave from Track #6 at the Hauptbahnhof. We would only have minutes to spare to make our connection.
But we’d still make it to our rendezvous in Hannover. We’d just have to delay our sightseeing.
When the conductor signaled the trains arrival at Magdeburg, we were out of our seats, heading for the nearest door for a quick departure. But as we stepped off the train and onto the platform, I felt the blood rushing from my head….
Linda and I were all alone on the platform. And guess what? There were only four sets of tracks here, and we’re supposed to leave from Track #6. Now I’ve really Eff’d up.
As I looked around in a state of panic. I realized that we’re in Magdeburg NueStadt, not the Magdeburg Hauptbahnhof. Yet another fine mess…!
Fortunately Linda had the sense of mind to get us off the platform, and find a place to get our bearings – to see if we could still get to Hannover….or not.
Down below the platform was a little cafe where we could get a quick snack and figure out what to do from here.
There were some people inside who spoke English and understood our plight. They suggested we call for a cab to get us to the main Magdeburg station…which we did.
From then on we were in great shape, arriving in Hannover around 2:30pm and then a ten minute cab ride to the Wilhelm Busch Museum and our rendezvous with Ralph….and his wife.
Miraculously we were only a few minutes late. But I had no idea what Ralph looked like. Now I had no choice but to go from table to table asking the customers, in my broken German, if they happened to be Ralph Hirsch. I got nothing but head shakes and strange looks.
Foiled again. So we went out to the front of the museum and sat on the stoop, trying to figure out what to do next.
After about ten minutes, a man and two women came walking towards us from the parking lot. It was Ralph, his wife and a friend. Turns out they were the ones who were late…after all!
To learn more about me, my blogs, or my documentary, “FOR THE LIFE OF ME”, go to my website: FortheLifeofMe-film.com .