Reflections From A Wittenberg Coffee House-The Saga of “The Box”

In so many ways I really don’t feel like I am in a different culture.  The language is a problem but I am meeting many English speakers in Germany and so I feel that I am connected in many ways.  Yet, there are those times.  The saga of THE BOX is one of those times.

You read earlier that I hit my 50 pound limit on my luggage.  Well, part of what I did was decide to mail 8 pounds of books to myself.  Expensive, but I wanted them, and it seemed like a simple thing to do.  So they were mailed and I was told it would take about ten days for them to get to Germany.

Well, the day before I was to leave for Berlin, I received a two page letter from Deutche Post (of course in German) telling me (after my friends at Wittenberg Information translated), that my books were at the customs office and that I needed to pick them up within 12 days.  That would be fine, but, the customs office they described is in Dessau which is about 25 kilometers from Wittenberg and I DON’T HAVE A CAR!

So, my co-workers and I calculated that I could go to Berlin for the conference and still have two days before I had to pick up my books.  Ben Ema and I left the conference on Monday and took the train to Dessau with a connection to Wittenberg.  We get to Dessau and find from the Information Center that the office I needed was on the outskirts of town which, of course, meant the opposite outskirts of town.

So, with all of our luggage, we purchased tickets for the city bus and began another phase of the journey.  We got to the location and the bus driver pointed over to a hotel and said we should go there.  We figured that, if nothing else, there would be someone there who could speak English and help us out.

We got to the hotel and noticed that next to it was a police station.  I walked over and noticed a sign pointing to the back of the building that had the same word on it that was in the letter.  So we went to the back of the building (remember, with luggage in tow) and someone tells us that the office is on the second floor (no elevator).  We climb the stairs, open the door, and, the adventure begins again.

This becomes scene 27 of my grade B movie, “Broken German Meets Broken English.”   There are two clerks in the office, very nice people, who try to help.  I explain that my German is not that good and they explain that their English is not that good.  BUT, they do have my books!!!

So the one who speaks the most English brings the box out to the counter and then goes to the computer where he seems to be entering a great deal of data about my box.  Then he has me open the box.

When he sees that I have my name stamped on the books he tells me that it is good that they are used and that there would be no tax.  (The fear is that I am bringing in books to resell.)  So, more time on the computer.  Three forms.  Two of the forms get stamped at least twice.  Then one notebook.  Then back to the computer.

Then, the nice man who speaks some English says, “Oh no, there is a problem.”  My heart sank.

Then, the nice man who speaks some English says, “You are two days late to pick up the books.  There is not a tax, but, there is a service charge from customs.  You owe five euros.”  OK, fine.

This problem now involves more time on the computer.  Then it requires two different notebooks into which some piece of information in entered.  Then, it is discovered, that the man who handles the money is in a meeting downstairs so a third clerk is involved.  We wait for the man to come from the meeting.  Another notebook becomes involved and then a receipt book.  The man who takes care of money gives me my change and then writes the receipt which is then attached to two of the forms that have been previously completed.  I am finally free to take my box of books and leave.

Now, in the middle of all this, it suddenly struck me as funny and I was trying every which way to not begin laughing.  These guys were really nice and truly helpful but I was just amazed at the bureaucratic methodology that was being involved in this computer age.  These guys were really fun, but, I couldn’t help but wonder how a country like Germany (which has one of the highest rates of productivity in the world) functioned with this approach.

So, Ben and I went to the McDonald’s next door, caught the bus, went to the train station and got to Wittenberg in time for dinner with friends.

I have recently found out that I need to have a visa to stay in Europe until the end of September.  After 8 pounds of books, I can hardly wait to see how the process of getting a visa will unfold.

More later………..

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