Wednesday, January 22, 2014


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“What is the HVV?” the blonde man whispered to his wife.  Laura assumed it was his wife - a woman at least ten years younger than him, but dressed in a matching sweat suit and Nikes.  The couple even wore matching visors reminding Laura of Ken and Barbie.  

They were American, she could tell by the accents, and they were clueless; as clueless as Laura had been long ago when she first came to Hamburg.

“I don’t know,” Barbie whispered back to her older Ken.  “Maybe it means Hamburg….” The wife couldn’t think of anything else.  Probably, Laura thought, because she didn’t speak a word of German. 

The HVV, Laura knew by now was Hamburger Verkehrsverbund, Hamburg's transport association.  The couple and she were on the green S-line, bound from the airport into the suburbs.  Laura was heading home to her husband and kids in Friedrichsberg. 

Just when Karen decided she would step in and translate for them, she heard the man spew: “They should at least have some writing in English!  Damn Germans!  They don't care one speck about guests in their country!  They think  they’re the center of the whole world!”

Laura rolled her eyes and many other passengers looked over at the man.  Most Germans spoke a little English, and even the ones who didn’t could identify insults when they heard them. 

“I know!” his wife agreed. “This whole map is written in German!  Isn’t there any provisions made for foreigners?  Can’t they at least post a person here to help tourists?”   

Laura noticed some young adults in the seats next to them lower the books that covered their faces.  They all looked up at the couple who dared insult the whole nation because they couldn’t read an HVV map.  There were three of them, possibly students, possessing an edge of trouble that Karen couldn’t put her finger on.  She knew they could easily stir up trouble for the tourists.

“I suppose we’re on this green line here,” the American Ken pointed to the wider, more pronounced track that they were on.   The students looked at one another and smiled.  Karen knew that they were about to step in and “help” the tourists, but she stayed quietly where she was.  She felt, in a strange twisted delight, she was about to witness a Schadenfreude. 

“Yeah, that’s where we are,” one of the students said, in perfect English.  He was wearing a black cap that he courteously removed as he spoke to the man; Karen recognized it from the emblem of the German National Cricket team.   “You are on your way here.”  The Cricketer pointed toward the center of town, and the tourists nodded.

“Where is that?  Ken asked him.

“Oh, that is the Town Hall.”

The other two students were watching with understated amusement, and  Laura looked at the couple, who were like deer in headlights, looking  at the map in befuddlement.

“We’re supposed to meet friends at Dammtor Station,” Barbie said, batting her eyes in confusion.  “Where is that?”

“Are you looking for the train station or the bus station?” The second of the students asked.  It was too tempting for him not to jump in.

“Umm…”  Barbie looked at Ken, who shrugged.

“Are they far from eachother?”

All three of the students nodded. Karen knew the stations were right next to each other; the students were having fun trying to confuse them. 

The one with the Cricket cap took out a pad of paper and a pen.  He wrote something down while the second student stood up to point at the map. 

“You see here?  We are going to stop in Rubenkamp soon.  When we do, you must get off of this train and get on this one.” The second student pointed to the darker green line, a metro line that would take them to Dammtor.  His directions seemed right, but he was certainly going to mislead them in some way.

“When you get off this train,” the capped student said, ripping the paper off of his tablet and handing it to Ken.  “Find a steward and ask him this.”

Ken grimaced at what was written.  “I don’t read German.”

“We will help you,” the second student said. 

“Rind –fleisch…”

Karen looked away, smiling furiously and wishing to remain stealth. 

“Rind – fleisch … etikettie-rung- überwach….”

“Rindfleischetikettierungüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz!” All of the students chimed in with Ken as he finished strong. 

A cough was heard near the rear of the train.  Karen looked over and saw an elderly couple laughing madly to each other. 

“I don’t suppose my German is very good…?” Ken asked sheepishly.  For a moment Karen felt sorry for him. 

“Oh, it’s good,”  the students were enthusiastically supportive.  They nodded furiously and Barbie smiled proudly at him.

Karen knew that, despite the students’ trick, the tourists would get to Dammtor station, and they would have a good laugh on the way. 


Ken said it again a couple of times, each time was funnier than the next.  “Rind-fleisch-etikettie-rung-über-wachung-saufga-benü-bertra-gungs-gesetz!!”

“You are getting better now!”

“What does this mean?” Ken asked, off-handedly. 

“It means ‘I need to change trains to the metropolitain line.’”

“I wish I could just say that.”  Ken gripped the paper in his hand and Barbie reassured him that his German was going to help them a lot while they were in Hamburg.

The train came to a stop at the Rubenkamp station, and Ken and Barbie were delighted at their new plan to meet their friends.  They were shaking the students’ hands as the train heaved to a stop. 

“How can we ever thank you?” Barbie asked, sincerely.

“It would be tribute enough for us if you used  schwangerschaftsverhütungsmittle while you were here!” The capped student said to the further confused couple once they stepped off the train. 

There was wild waving and smiles from the tourists as the train departed.  Once the train picked up speed, Karen released a burst of laughter.  Applause broke out throughout the train. 

“What?” the capped student pretended to act surprised at the reaction of amused passengers.  His cronies, meanwhile, bowed in the limelight.  “We are being friendly and hospitable to guests in our country.  We have to!  It’s in our Grundgesetz!”

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