Saturday, May 26, 2007

The longest 5 hour drive ever...

In my On tyranny, oppression and brutality post, I said there was more to the story of the return trip from Berlin that summer. And I didn't realize until I was editing this, that this happened exactly 17 years ago, between May 23 and May 26, 1990 - the days of the week are even the same now, in 2007... Now, for the rest of the story…

So, as I said before, when making the drive between Checkpoints Alpha and Bravo, you have to check in before you can leave and once you get to the other end. If you make the trip in less than 2 hours, you get a speeding ticket. If you haven’t checked back in by the time 5 hours have passed, they coming looking for you.

Well, we managed to make it to Checkpoint Alpha. Barely. The van died as we were going up the drive into the parking lot to check in. Had this happened even one kilometer back, I think we would still have been in East Germany, and we would have had to sit there and wait until they came looking and found us. I'm sure THAT would have been LOADS of fun... Anyhow, Dad walked the rest of the way to the building, and we had to push the van up the rest of the incline and into a parking space. I don’t recall specifically, but I’m sure we got some sort of assistance. It was a VW Vanagon (Wolfsburg Edition). It was a manual transmission, which I couldn't drive yet, but it would have been put in neutral, anyway (ya know, I never did get the hang of a stick shift before we got rid of that thing... maybe it had something to do with the gear shift being too far away from the driver's seat?). I really don’t think that between just me and my parents we would have gotten it up the drive – one of us had to steer. It was already evening when we got to Checkpoint Alpha, so we weren’t going anywhere else that night. We, all five of us – me, my parents, and my sisters (age 9 and age 5 at the time) - slept in the car in the parking lot.

The next day was a German holiday. It had to have been Ascension Thursday, May 24, 1990. So, the German garage in Helmstedt wouldn’t be open. We did manage to have the van towed to the garage, though. Thursday night, we stay in the “hotel” on the small British base near Checkpoint Alpha. I had a bed to sleep in, and I was able to take a shower, which I hadn’t been able to do the day before.

Friday morning, my dad had to go back to the garage to talk to the mechanic about the van and make whatever arrangements were necessary. We previously had to make decisions about what we could take with us, and what we would have to risk leaving in the van, before the van had been towed. We’d made purchases in Berlin, and we weren’t going to be able to carry it all with us back to Augsburg. Luckily, there was a storage area under the bench seat in the back of the van, so we were able to put items out of sight. We may have also had the good fortune (given the situation) to run into people my dad knew who were also coming back from Berlin, and they were able to take some of our valuable with them - I don't remember for sure (like I said, it's been 17 years). Everything else would be carried with us. We didn’t have suitcases with wheels - it was the set of luggage my mother had received as a high school graduation gift. In 1965. My little sisters weren’t able to carry much of anything, either. We checked out of the “hotel” and waited for the duty train to come through out of Berlin.

If you’ll recall from my previous post, the duty train only traveled through East Germany at night. So, we have to hang out, keeping my younger sisters entertained, for hours. We catch the train, which will take us to the Hauptbahnhof - the main train station - in Frankfurt. I don’t recall how long the train ride was, but it was already Saturday morning when we got to Frankfurt. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good night’s sleep. From the Hauptbahnhof, we take the S-bahn to the Flughafen – the civilian side of the Frankfurt airport. Once at the Flughafen, we wait again for a bus to take us to Rhein-Main Airbase – the U.S. military side of the airport. Don’t forget, we are three adults and two young children with a bunch of luggage. We get to Rhein-Main, and we have to wait some more, this time for a bus that will take us back home to Augsburg. The bus doesn’t take us directly to Augsburg – that trip should take about 3 hours. Think Greyhound: Augsburg is just one stop along the way – we’re just five people who need to get there on a bus full of people going to numerous places along the way, and possibly points further south.

Once we finally arrive in Augsburg, we still aren’t home yet. The bus drops us off at the main guest house (hotel), not our quarters. These buses are intended to transport military personnel and their dependents that are arriving in Germany for new duty stations, not wayward travelers who had their vacation interrupted by mechanical difficulties… So, we are back in the right city, but we still have to transport ourselves and our luggage back to our quarters. We aren’t far enough away to be able to get a shuttle bus to get us closer. It is three very long blocks down Reinoehlstrasse, past the field where they held the German-American Fest each year, across Buergermeister-Ackermann-strasse to our quarters on Flandernstrasse, across from the Burger King, in Sullivan Heights. My dad would later take the train back up to Helmstedt to pick up the van from the garage once the repairs had been completed, but in the meantime, we’d either be on foot, or we’d make use of the shuttles around base, or “the Strass” – how we Americans referred to the Strassenbahn, or streetcar.

We should have gotten home late Wednesday/early Thursday. It’s now Saturday evening. I call my best friend (Lyric Mezzo) to let her know we are back from Berlin. What she says to me? “We’re going to a club downtown. Want to come?” My response? “I’m tired, and I haven’t showered in 2 days. Let me take a shower and I’ll get back with you…” I did end up going out with her, her boyfriend and one other person (her friend Jessica who would be graduating from AAHS in the next week?) that night, but I think I’d have been better off if I’d stayed home and gone to bed ;-)


Lew Waters said...

At least I wasn't the only one who experienced trouble navigating through Army transportation, LOL.

Glad you made it back okay.

One day, I'll have to tell you all about my final trip home from Viet Nam and what a nightmare it was.

Snooper said...

LOL!!! My Dad once told me that it is the memories we have that keeps us alive inside.

GREAT story!!