A Soggy Beginning

By Dave Fox
Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany: Not a bad place to be lost.

Cologne, Germany: Not a bad place to be lost.

We’ve flown 16 hours from Singapore to Frankfurt, via Bangkok. We stagger off the plane, stagger to the baggage claim, and discover our backpacks are water-logged.

I’m not talking a little damp. I’m talking clothes so drenched, they could have just come out of a washing machine, though my hunch is Thai Airways has not done laundry for us during our flight.

Our attempts to find someone at Thai Airways with whom we can discuss this are fruitless. It’s six in the morning. In two different areas of the airport, there is no one to help us.

At the airport train platforms, navigating the ticket automats without any euro coins takes almost as long as the 200-kilometer train ride itself, but by eight a.m., we’ve zipped on the InterCity Express to Cologne.

Kattina’s uncle lives in Cologne. He’s given us an address on a street called Frankenstrasse. So we’ve booked an apartment on a street near Frankenstrasse, but we’re here earlier than expected. We’ve arranged to pick up the apartment keys at noon. So instead of finding our apartment, we set out to find Kattina’s uncle.

Cologne tree arrows lostKattina has never been to her uncle’s house. We locate Frankenstrasse. We walk up and down Frankenstrasse, looking, looking, looking for her uncle’s address. It does not seem to exist.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Kattina says.

A phone call clears things up. Her uncle does not live on Frankenstrasse. He lives on Frankstrasse – an hour away by bus and tram, or a half-hour by taxi, to the other side of Cologne.

With our bags feeling heavy, we splash out for a taxi from Frankenstrasse to Frankstrasse. We suck down caffeine with Kattina’s uncle and mom until it’s culturally appropriate to switch to beer. After lunch, we taxi from Frankstrasse back to Frankenstrasse to find our apartment. We plead for a refund for the remaining two nights so we don’t have to keep toggling back and forth. Our host is understanding.

Cologne-Creepy-CloudAfter a nap, we take a bus, then a tram, then another tram, from Frankenstrasse back to an area near Frankstrasse. A creepy-looking cloud has started following us.

The winds are starting to gust. The sky is billowing shades of charcoal. We jog toward the general direction of Frankstrasse.

But it’s our first time going there by bus-tram-tram. The stop is many blocks away, and we’re not quite sure where we are.

As we pass a local pub, a man steps outside and looks up the creepy cloud. He says something to us in German, something to the effect of, “That’s a creepy cloud behind you! It’s not safe out here! Come inside! Drink beer!”

In our state of severe jet lag, we exercise extremely poor judgment. We opt not to go inside a drink beer. We opt to outrun the creepy cloud.

Two blocks later, wind gusts are flinging debris in the street. A lacework of lightning crackles through the clouds.

We live in Singapore. We know big storms. And we know this one is about to rage into something exceptional.

Cologne storm 1We seek momentary refuge in a bus shelter. We admit to each other we’re not sure where we are. And it isn’t safe outside.

“Back to the bar!” I proclaim.

Rain drops are starting to pelt the earth. The winds are reaching gale force. We sprint the two blocks back to the pub, arriving just as the sky cracks open.

There are worse places to be stranded. If we must be trapped in a violent storm, at least it’s in a scruffy, local watering hole where we can have a German cultural experience.

Unfortunately, however, this German cultural experience quickly grows annoying.

A man corners us. He is so slurringly drunk, I’m pretty sure we would not be able to understand him, even if our German were more proficient.

Then another guy corners us who speaks flawless English. Now I am wishing I could not understand English. He launches into an angry, boring rant about currency exchange rates and how the world must revert to the gold standard or we will all die.

Meanwhile, a deadly storm is raging outside. I want to go into it. I want to escape these monologues from men who have been at the bar many drinks too many. But my irritating survival instinct keeps me trapped inside.

Finally, at 10:30 p.m., it is safe to leave. We weave our way to Frankstrasse to let Kattina’s uncle and mother know we’re okay. We learn later on the news the storm has claimed six lives.

Half past midnight, we taxi back to Frankenstrasse. Fallen trees are littering the road, forcing us to detour, running up our meter. Our total taxi bill by the end of the day has reached 80 euros – 110 US dollars.

So our first day in Germany didn’t go smoothly. But first days of big trips rarely do. Long flights are disorienting. Jet lag does wonky things to your body, your judgment, your sense of direction. Getting your bearings in unfamiliar places takes longer than expected.

The first day of a journey is often the worst.

Which is important to remember if things seem to be unraveling.

Arrivals, while exciting, can be soaked with stress. That stress abates once you’ve slept, ate, found your way around, and waited for your clothes to dry.


Postscript: I have made multiple attempts to contact Thai Airways regarding the condition in which our luggage arrived. Thirteen days later, they have not responded. The rest of that ridiculous story is coming soon.

Published on Saturday, June 21, 2014

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