Dealing with the Police in Germany

September 5, 2013

I’m not used to waitresses chasing me down a street because I’m pretty good at remembering to pay the check. When she finally caught up to me, though, it wasn’t to tell me to pay the bill, it was to tell me that the police had arrived.

At some point during our long, leisurely lunch at a restaurant in Hamburg, someone noticed that there was free wifi inside. We were seated at an outdoor table and had not noticed, but when an opportunity to connect to the World Wide Web presents itself, SASers are always eager. I went inside to connect and others followed. Eventually everyone at our table came inside. After checking my email and various social media outlets I went back outside and found that our table had been cleared and that my backpack was gone.

I checked around inside to see if one of my friends had brought the backpack inside but no one had. I asked the waitress if she had picked up a backpack and she had not. The backpack was gone. I was frustrated, but only at myself given that it was my fault for leaving the back at a street-side table unaccompanied. Resignedly I decided to move on with the afternoon and leave the restaurant. Erin and I made it about one block away from the restaurant before the waitress came running after us, letting us know that the police had arrived. I was shocked that the police had actually responded to the waitress’ phone call over the missing backpack, but there was a cop car with an officer interested in hearing my story. I told him that the back disappeared, but added that there was a chance that another Semester at Sea person brought it back to the ship, given that there had been another group of people from the ship at an adjacent table. The police officer actually made notes on the details of my story, again to my surprise, and told me that I could file a formal report if the bag didn’t turn up back at the ship.

In case you’re really that concerned about my bag, it did turn up back at the ship, but that is not at all my point in telling this story. My point is the level of concern that the waitress and police officer had for a tourist’s missing backpack. Can you imagine what the response would be of a waitress in New York City or a member of the NYPD? What does this contrast say about Germany, or more specifically Hamburg?

Well, first off it shows that they have a much lower crime rate, given that the waitress was shocked and seemed genuinely distressed when the bag went missing. I returned to the restaurant later in the week to let her know the back was found and her sense of relief was grand. I think it also might suggest a difference in the level of concern for others. Germany is a socialist country where they look out for people. America is a country with plenty of signs that clearly state, “If you do something stupid with your backpack, that’s not our problem.” This is probably something that Germans take for granted if they haven’t traveled widely, and I’m glad that as an American, the German way is a pleasant surprise.