30 september 2014

The day an angel appeared in Frankfurt

JUST CAME BACK from a very successful SND workshop in Frankfurt, and as this is supposed to be a blog about visual communication, I guess I should write about some of the great speakers and what they said. However, standing on the platform of the magnificent Hauptbahnhof on my way to the airport, I got this flashback of an experience so strong I had to share it with someone. Maybe you already saw my story on Facebook, in that case, just skip it, there’ll be no surprises.

I’LL NEVER FORGET the last time I was here.
Exactly thirty-five years ago, I had been backpacking in Greece with two pals, and a heavy storm had prevented us from getting back from the Isles to Athens which meant we missed our flight home and our plane tickets were now worthless. This was long before VISA cards and easy bank transfers and we had very little money left. Our chance came in the form of a bus company called Economy Travel which would, as it turned out, match its name with great accuracy. The destination was London but with stopovers in Frankfurt and Brussels. The only thing we knew about Frankfurt was that it’s in Germany and that is closer to home than Athens.

We had just enough drachma to buy three seats and with some of the small change that was left, one of my friends called his dad who would try to wire some money down to the central post office in Frankfurt in order to help us get home by train.

THE JOURNEY WAS INDESCRIBABLE. I’ll try anyway. No wash for two and a half days and hardly any food, the bus completely over-crowded, some people having to jump off to cross borders by foot as the bus was not allowed to pass with people standing. Getting through Austria took 24 hours because the drivers, who had never been outside Greece before and were already hopelessly late, had decided to take a shortcut by choosing the small roads. I’ve never worried for my life as much as when taking hairpin curves at 90 km/h, in the middle of the night, with a Greek behind the steering wheel.

Finally in Germany, having turned our very last change into a 10 D-mark bank note (roughly equalling 5 euro), we began to see road signs with the name Frankfurt on them. And as the bus just kept rolling down the Autobahn, we got the notion that our drivers intended to skip the Frankfurt stopover. They were late and the three of us, it appeared, were the only passengers wanting to get off there. I approached the driver and as I insisted that we had paid for a trip to Frankfurt, he asked me if I was looking for a fight. I answered no but kept insisting, and finally he shrugged his shoulders and pulled over at an emergency stop.

WE HAD NO CHOICE but to get off in the middle of German nowhere. As we looked around us, far in the distance we could see what might be an airport. With our backpacks, we crossed a couple of acres covered with wheat fields and eventually reached the airport from where, to our relief, a train was going to the city.
We figured that our ten Mark ought to cover the ride and got on the train, eager to make it to the post office before closing hours. But before the train had started rolling, a conductor asked for our tickets and we asked if we could pay with the banknote.
”Nein, das geht nicht hier in Frankfurt”, was his unappealable verdict. I have to add that the Frankfurters I have met on my recent trip have all been much nicer. Anyway, we had to get off, walk the stairs to an automat, buy three tickets, and wait for the next train.

We thought ourselves lucky as the post office at the Hauptbahnhof was open till midnight. However, our luck changed again when it turned out there was no transfer from my friend’s dad. Still to this day, I haven’t quite figured out why but I suppose he had been afraid of losing his money. So we sat there on the platform, totally wasted, discussing what to do now. We must have looked like complete shit.

”What’s the matter with you guys”, a beautiful girl our age suddenly asked in Danish. And when we had told her our story, she said, without hesitation: ”No problem. I can lend you money”.

FROM THERE ON, everything went smoothly. We sent her a cheque and never heard from her again. Dear lady, if you are not the angel you appeared to be but just an ordinary human being, and if you happen to see this post, let's make friends on FB.

PS: In case you’re interested, you can see my presentation (on Kristeligt Dagblad, The Christian Daily which is the only Danish newspaper managing to increase its circulation over a period of twenty years) here. It is a 49.8 Mb PDF file.

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