From Frankfurt, with love (a story of theft)
For most people, thinking of a visit to London would ring up a part of the imagination that inspires hope, one that is somehow more colourful and poetic than what the mind expects to see every day. My visit, however, was far less commodious. The miles fell slowly in the Eurostar on my way there, especially with all the gear I’d been hauling around. The attacks on Paris were still quite recent, and in Belgium, security was so high it felt even colder than it really was. Europe however, was burning.
I was on my way to meet some people who play a significant role in changing the landscape of human interaction with machines just enough, for the grand scheme of things to fall into place in the technology world. On their shoulders, rests the weight of science pushing forward.
Having wrapped up a good few days of what can only be described as labour in the day and some fine pints of beer at night, it was time to take the Eurostar back. The miles tumbled far quicker this time on the tracks, as if serving as a build-up for the event that was about to intersect with me, mere millimetres away on the time axis.
As the beautiful sunset landscapes whizzed by outside my window seat, I began to develop an appetite. My colleague, a German national in his early thirties perhaps felt the same way. It must’ve been the rush we experienced during the short run we had to make in order to get to our connection along the way, where we spent most of our energy.
Writing about the experience nearly 7 months down the line does have its drawbacks, the vigorous memories are now replaced with faint images not nearly as palpable as the one memory I do have of the transfer; my colleague running upwards frantically on an escalator otherwise meant to take people downstairs. He looked like a boatman forcing his way upstream right at the lip of a great waterfall. It must have been working for him though, I remember him reaching up the same time I did, even though the escalator I ran to, rolled the correct side.
Our last major connection was in Frankfurt, where we had more than an hour’s wait. The fatigue from our earlier ordeal convinced us it was a good idea to eat, and by the graciousness of my colleague’s taste buds, we agreed on an Indian restaurant rather than a German one. A great meal later, we were on our way to the next leg of our journey home. We hurried to our train and made it well in time before our departure was to take place.
As I was discovering how cold December winds can be in Frankfurt, the previously consumed spices interacted with my system and gave me a runny nose. I was already on the train, with my colleague busy adjusting his gear on the overhead storage shelf. Exhausted, I kept my bag on the seat and rushed to get a tissue for myself from the train’s rest room. It was so close to the seats, I could’ve counted the distance in steps with single digits. I quickly returned, landed straight on my seat and got on with my evening. It had been an exhausting day. With a hint of sadness, I was reminded that I should make the best of my time in the train by catching up on all the signal processing I’d need for a “Prüfung” (exam) that waited for me on the first working day back home. I tilted my seat back and lazily reached back with my arm to try and fetch my bag from the previous seat. My plan wasn’t working, my hands clutched air that was as empty as the void a man feels when something that belongs to him, is taken from him.
The further my hands reached, the clearer the situation became to me. There was nothing in the back seat, the bag was gone. I had been robbed.
As the realisation of what had just happened kicked in more completely, I rushed in every direction simultaneously to try and find any trace of my belongings. It was all gone. Everything I had painstakingly collected over the years… every small bit of wire, every 3.5mm adapter, every USB cable I’d ever need to connect anything to anything else, my hard drive, my computer, my cameras, and, my passport. All gone.
The ICE trains in Deutschland travel at high speed. The train had started moving shortly after I had returned unassumingly to my seat, and my belongings had been swept up by someone no cleverer than your average household thug. An average household thug had the best of me and robbed me blind. And now, we were probably moving in opposite directions at the greatest speeds possible for both of us.
Son of a bitch. A runny nose left me with everything I owned, gone.
Calling the police in Germany is really only useful if you know German. Fortunately, my colleague spoke the language and was able to explain my situation to the Federal Police, who advised us to carry on with our journey and register a written report at journey’s end. As my colleague helped me communicate my list of stolen things to the police, I decided to use his telephone to contact the Indian Embassy.
I like my home country. While Germany’s been as comfortable to live in as a bed after a tiring day, I almost always miss driving down the great mountains I have the pleasure of calling home. In that moment though, I felt nothing but uncontrollable rage. The man on the other side of the line, apparently listed as an “emergency contact” on the Indian embassy page was furious that I had decided to call him on a Saturday night. My requests to him that I was an Indian Citizen and felt endangered hardly stirred up any emotion in him, he seemed bothered that I had called to disturb him.
“Call me on a week day” he said. “I’m busy right now”.
I had to travel home in only five more days, and I didn’t have my passport. No idea if I was being followed, no idea (to this day) if this was a random act of petty theft or a co-ordinated snatching of an Indian passport with an active British visa, no idea whatsoever. But it didn’t matter to him, he was upset that I called to disturb him.
An appalling man at a difficult time. You see, in India, you meet two kinds of people. On one hand you have the courteous, welcoming, considerate and giving Indians that truly do believe their guest is like a God, and on one hand, you have these everyday pricks who want nothing but to feel they’re better than you because of some reason, that they control you, that they 1-up you in life because of their “connections” or because of their “position”. Ask any tourist who’s travelled to India what their opinion of my great nation is, and how they found the people, and an incredible majority of them will tell you many great things.
Unfortunately, the ratios that night were against me. I wasn’t in India, but the man chosen to be responsible for every Indian’s well being in Germany that night, turned out to be just one of those everyday pricks, those irritable bastards who will gladly go wildly out of their way to just cause you a modicum of loss or pain, so they could one-up you, in your moment of down-ness. “Ahaaah! I’m superior to you”
The chronicles of the night transpired further as we missed the last train home finishing the Police report. As it was a Sunday by now, the early morning train would be an hour later than on the weekdays. We were forced to choose between two alternatives. Either we could shell out insane amounts of cash to a cab driver to drive us back home about 40 kms, or we could try to wait it out. Having already lost a fair share of my belongings, we decided to stay back in the interest of preserving my leftover cash.
As we hustled through the city of Erfurt trying to find a warm place to rest up, we found a smoking bar to pass the time. We stayed there for a few hours and by 3 or 4 am, the music was so loud and disorienting we decided to proceed back to the train station to wait for the train there. We froze for a fair bit, and then we cosied up in one of those small restaurant chains that you find in railway stations when it opened, feeding ourselves with I can’t remember what, to avoid being thrown out back into the cold. It wasn’t pretty.
The first train took us home, and I barely had time to find my mates and share my situation with them. Seeing as how I needed to make a travel to India in less than a week now, we all decided I should move to Frankfurt as quickly as possible, on the previous night the “kind” man from the embassy had informed us that’s where I could apply for an emergency passport. I decided to call again and “disturb” him on yet another weekend just to be sure. Apparently, he “meant Berlin”, not Frankfurt. A couple of furious words after the phone call were what I decided would be the best way to let out the steam from talking to this dense, frustrating man.
I checked bus schedules and ran back to my empty looking room meanwhile my mates (bless them) made arrangements for my journey and stay in Berlin. I would go first thing to the embassy, on “Montag Morgen”. The day of my “Prüfung”. There was barely just the time to write to my Professor about what had happened, and how it was rather impossible for me to attend it.
The scene at the Embassy was as chaotic as a roadside dhaba. “Customers”, frustrated about who gets their order of “Curry chaval” first. I imagined my bag by now had probably been robbed of its many things like I was, and the various organs of its body would soon be travelling to unsuspecting shady sellers on knockoffs of ebay, in countries the names of which I couldn’t even pronounce.
The frustrating man came into view and suggested I either cancel my journey home and wait for the police to find my passport, or “wait for a few days”. He was “100% sure” my passport would be “recovered in just a few days” though even he said there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d ever see any of my gear again. I insisted I’d rather like an emergency passport and many frustrating hours later, he gave me what I needed. Frustrated, tired, and sleep deprived, I missed my bus from Berlin thanks to a clerical error on the time table with routes, timings and gate numbers confusingly written on the schedule. For one infinitely long hour, I had waited, right under what I thought was the correct platform. It even said “Erfurt” on the display. “I’m not missing this bus for the world”, I thought to myself, having no place to stay in Berlin. Yea. That worked out brilliantly.
There was, fortunately, another bus in some hours and I decided to go for it rather than find accommodation. There I met a kind girl on the ticket counter, a sweet lady with a plaster around one of her hands with such a massive and infectious smile on her face, it made me forget that the new ticket I was buying for this bus cost more than double the previous one I had for the bus I had missed.
I reached the next day quite troubled and even more fatigued, checked my email to find that I had been given a second chance for the Prüfung. It would be the following day! A friend of mine, a genius with signal processing graciously lent me his time and helped me strengthen my grip on the subject for many hours. It was I think after 3 am the following morning, that I was leaving his room to go back to mine to catch whatever sleep I could. Midway to my room, I received a phone call from an unregistered number.
“Are you Cherakh?”
“Did you recently have a bag stolen?”
“Yes!! Fuck Yes!”
“We think we’ve found it. Can you tell us what was in the bag?”
I told him the contents, he seemed to agree with what I was saying with a hint of confirmation in his Germanic sounding English.
“Can you give me your address, and did you register a complaint with any Police station? Could you give me the case number?”
I ran back the rest of the way and found the sheet of paper from the police station, and gave him the number and my address. The voice on the other end assured me my gear had been found. No passport.
As my thoughts lazily caught up to me, I had an epic “Wait a minute” moment.
“By the way, I didn’t catch your name, may I know your name or designation?”
“I’m sorry I can’t share that with you right now”
And the call dropped.
Son of a bitch.
It must have been the thieves. Aaaand now they had my address in Germany.
As catastrophic as this thought was, I realised my brain could no longer keep up with staying alert. Situational awareness was at an all-time low, evidently. Having messaged my colleague about this new development (I didn’t mention my new found doubt) I crashed into the bed and woke up next morning to his call explaining to me how unlikely it was for the call to have originated from an actual policeman that late in the night.
I asked him to call all the policemen we did have previous contact with, and make sure it didn’t come from any of them them. They all confirmed it wasn’t them. My suspicions materialised a bit more into a realisation that at this point, that my life could be in danger.
However crazy this whole situation was, I was running out of time for my exam. the countdown was on and I had just a couple of hours before my Prüfung.
50 minutes left, and my phone rings. It’s my colleague.
“I just got a call from the Federal police about the theft. It was them. They have your gear. They’ll fax a list of things they’ve recovered in 2 hours.”
I exhaled my first breath of relief in nearly a week. With 3 days left to travel thousands of miles home where I’d be staying for a month, I would finally have my computer back. My data back, my photographs back. It was hard for my colleague to convince the police to process the recovered goods quickly enough before my journey, but we were able to manage it within one day of my travel.
The journey to Frankfurt’s police station felt like a fun one. The passport was missing and they had reset my camera and formatted the card, but at least most of the other stuff was all there. The cameras were there, the computer was there. In the brief time that my computer was subjected to their use, they had taken poor care of my things, but the damage was largely cosmetic.
The other passengers in the train that last night told my colleague the person who likely took my bag that night “seemed confused” and kept asking “Does this train go to Amsterdam?” before taking off abruptly (with my bag). On my journey to the airport the next day, I was in Schweinfurt thanks to some internal delays with Deutsche Bahn and got approached by a shady character of similar description circling me, finally sitting right next to me in spite of several free benches on either side of me, and rather predictably asked me “Does this train go to uhh…. Holland?”
“Not today Motherf*****”