So, how did the big move to Berlin go? Well, not so great…
The plan was to rent a giant van, pack all our stuff inside on Friday night while our kid was sleeping. Then, Saturday, leave him in Prague to celebrate his birthday with a babysitter while we drove the van to Berlin (this was horribly guilt-inducing and heart-rending, about abandoning him on his birthday I mean… but at least he’s too young to care about birthdays and likes his babysitter.) The idea was to have everything unloaded and carried up three flights of stairs in Prenzlauer Berg by 5pm, allowing us to get back to Prague at about 9 to relieve the babysitter.
As it happened, we got within 12 miles of Berlin– right by the old Schönfeld airport– when some guy in a pickup truck in front of us started wavering uncertainly. He pulled off the road finally ahead of us, so my wife– who was driving– let down her guard for a moment and started to say something to me. Just then, the idiot pulled back onto the road without indicating and decided to try to do a u-turn (illegal of course– we’re on the highway!) in front of us. I yelled, my wife slammed on the brakes and we collided at about 30mph, smashing the passenger side of the van and puncturing the oil filter. Suddenly, the scenario shifted from fiddle-dee-dee, we’re moving to a new city! to we must now stand on the side of the highway and summon the German police.
The spätzel-eating cretin who’d pulled into our path didn’t have a ‘handy’, so it was up to us to make the necessary calls. I had of course imagined that there would be a point in our moving-to-Berlin adventure where my lack of German would be a serious problem… but hadn’t imagined that the moment would occur before we even technically arrived (at this point, I should mention that, mockingly, the Berlin city limits sign was about 100 yards ahead of us). I managed to reach a police dispatcher who spoke the glorious international language that is English and, after a Germanic long-but-not-as-long-as-you’d-wait-in-the-U.S. interval, two cops pulled up. I’d love to be able to write that the encounter with the German police was either like a Sprockets skit or a Gestapo porn scene, but in fact it was neither. There was a point that involved me describing what had transpired in hand signals only, but otherwise there was nothing funny about this situation whatsoever. Luckily, my wife speaks a decent lick of German, so she was able to make the relevant points such as ‘wait, you realize that the other driver has to be lying when he tells you he wasn’t pulling a u-turn, given that the dent is on the side of his car, right?’
Meanwhile, during the half hour we waited for the cops, the following things were learned by phone: (1) the rental company in Prague will send a tow-truck driver out from Prague who will arrive in four hours; (2) the flim-flam insurance agreement my wife signed leaves us liable for the towing costs, but (3) somewhat amazingly, you can get a tow-truck to come from Prague to Berlin at the drop of a hat and haul you and your vehicle back to Prague for about $600, which seems pretty cheap to me, all things considered. (4) Our babysitter has agreed to spend the night with our kid– this news is met with overwhelming relief. But that relief is entirely cancelled out by the horrifying realization that (5) we’re looking at having all our stuff towed all the way back to Prague when we’d almost made it to Berlin, like some obnoxious video game where your frog is run over by a truck and you have to start over again at the beginning of the highway. This prompts me to call my friend in Berlin who (6) is just rolling out of bed at 3pm and agrees to run out and get another rental truck, meet us at the scene of the accident, help transfer everything from the smashed van, complete the move, and drive us back to the scene of the accident in time to meet the Czech tower at 9pm. Day saved! Otherwise, we would have been looking at… what, exactly? Arriving back in Prague with a smashed van full of stuff and no home to put it (sublettors were coming the next day to move into our place), plus a babysitter who’s already gassed and tired of us from having spent an entire Saturday taking care of our kid. Yikes.
Wife and I blearily watched Strapping Tow Truck Guy do his thing and raise our van onto his truck, then we got into the cab of his truck and immediately slept the entire way home, arriving in Prague at about 3am. Amazingly, at this point, we still weren’t out of the woods entirely: two nights later, we were staying at a friend’s place in Prague and planning to make the final move the next morning when we discovered that our child car seat was broken and couldn’t be fastened correctly. After three of the most exasperating hours of my life spent trying to fix it, we eventually consigned ourselves to making a mad dash out the next morning for a new seat. During the final drive in our car on Tuesday, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the asphalt suddenly rise up and devour the car whole– I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervously prepped for disaster.
Anyway, um………. it’s great to be here! I just wish getting here hadn’t been so fraught. Just to warn you, the two stock overused joke remarks that people have been making about this incident are ‘It’s a sign you weren’t supposed to leave Prague!’ (Czech people make this one) or some variant of ‘Good thing you got all the bad luck out of the way first thing!’ (Germans and Americans). So, if you make a comment along either of those lines, it probably won’t be as original as you think.