1 December 2006

Postscript: Hamburger Helper

Food turned out to be less of a problem than in Berlin, oddly enough. There seemed to be lots of vegetarian restaurants, and we found a vegetarische imbiss at Schantzenstrasse and Susannenstrasse.

I also got the impression that people were more friendly than in Berlin. Then again, perhaps it was my imagination, a side effect of my becoming more used to Germany.


Josef had an original LP from the first release of Autobahn. The band look like big geeks in the photo, and the sleeve credits Conny Plank. (His name was removed from later editions.)

CD shopping was made more annoying by the fact that nowhere seems to take credit cards, not even big stores. If you don’t have an EC card with a PIN, forget it.


Stereotypes sometimes have an element of truth to them. While we were in Hamburg, Josef and Ute helped rothko to polish the text of her German scrapbooking site. The original text talks about the enthusiasm of TLC scrapbookers for the business. For our hosts, this proved to be the most difficult piece to translate, and it took a long time for them to come up with an acceptable German phrase for “enthusiastic”. Apparently the literal translation of the word would be viewed with great suspicion in a business context, particularly when said by an American.

This reminded me of my two favorite jokes about Germans:

  1. Q: How many Germans does it take to change a light bulb?
    A: One, and he does it with ruthless efficiency.

  2. Q: Why did the German cross the road?
    A: Because the traffic lights indicated that it was appropriate to do so.


We got to the airport for our return at around 06:30. The queue was very, very long. The airline official checked my passport and visa (permanent resident card). Then he asked for my driver’s license. After that, he wanted proof of employment. Fortunately my medical insurance card has IBM’s logo on it.

This is all the result of the US government decreeing that airlines should pay the cost of deporting people. Ironically, if you don’t have a visa at all then you’re OK as far as the airlines are concerned, because it means they’re not on the hook; it’s if you do have a visa that they have to triple-check everything, just in case the visa is fraudulent or you can’t continue to meet the terms of your residence.

Next, we had to queue for the metal detector. My passport was checked again. Then we walked through to the hallway beyond, and walked to the departure gate…where there was another security checkpoint, with another queue. My passport was checked a third time, and everything went through another round of metal detection, this time using a wand.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get more ridiculous, I realized that they were hand-searching the carry-on luggage of every single passenger. I cooperated with removing every single item from my bag, so they could be checked one by one.

The guard noticed the TRIO DVD and grinned. “Trashy,” he commented. It turned out that he had been a fan back in their early days, before they became famous, when they were playing obscure Hamburg clubs. Somehow this puts a more human feeling to the proceedings, and makes it all seem better.


When we got to Newark, we had to collect our luggage. We re-checked it, and it was scanned again. Then, we had to go through security, for what was my third round of metal detection and fourth round of passport checking.

At immigration, I was handed back my documents with a smile and “Welcome home”. Maybe I was fragile from the 8 hours on the plane and the repeated security screenings, but I felt genuinely touched. And not in a full-body-cavity-search kind of way.

© mathew 2017