It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but its actually the middle of this story.
Bryn and I decided to take a last minute trip to Prague since its been on both our bucket lists and I only have about two weeks left in Europe (*tear*). Friday morning we woke up, booked a ride share and an airbnb, packed, went to yoga and then headed to meet our ride, Pieter, at a metro stop off the U1.
Pieter showed up about thirty minutes late with a brindle-colored french bull dog named Casper and a husband (his name sounded like Selso, so for the purpose of this post that’s his name). Selso ran inside to deposit bottles at the Kaiser’s grocery store so Bryn and I threw our bags in the trunk and got in the back seat, where Casper’s doggy bed was sandwiched between us. I was more than happy to share the backseat with a smelly, slobbery, farting bull dog. Bryn was not as thrilled.
Once we were all (mostly) comfortable in the car, we back tracked for Pieter and Selso’s flat so they could get a credit card code they had forgotten and, twenty minutes later, we were finally heading to Prague.
Despite the minor setbacks at the start, the two men ended up being really fun to ride with (and I was thoroughly enjoying Casper’s company). It turned out they were planning on returning to Berlin Monday morning, same as us, and they wanted to stop in Dresden. We weren’t going to turn down the opportunity to see another city in Germany so we decided to share the ride back together as well.
After about twenty minutes of zig zagging around Prague’s city center, rife with narrow one way streets, Pieter and Selso found their hotel. Bryn and I finally said goodbye and headed to our air bnb.
As a follow up to my first blog post about the most expensive bread I’ve ever bought, I have to interlude this story to talk about our first meal in Prague. Everyone, I mean EVERYONE in Berlin kept telling us how cheap Prague is. So on Saturday morning Bryn and I decided to meander into town and find a good breakfast spot.
We found one that looked promising, but upon entering we were met with a gust of suffocating smoke from the table next to us (it wasn’t even ten in the morning) so we opted out of that place and continued down the street.
And there is was: salvation. A quaint little restaurant with outdoor seating. And the best part? There were giant hard pretzels hanging on rods at each and every table. We were sold. We sat down and ordered a cheese omelette and a crepe. While we waited, we slipped two pretzels off the rod and enjoyed one each.
Things went down hill from there. The portions were small, the tea and coffee seemed to be from the reject aisle at the grocery store and the omelette was rubbery with a layer of fried cheese sticking to the egg. I can’t say anything too bad about the crepe, other than it was tiny.
The total for all that wonderful food?
Nine Hundred and Four Czech Crowns or, Thirty Four Euros.
And the worst part?
They charged us for the pretzels! Two Euros each! It would have been one thing if we had ordered the pretzels and they were brought fresh from the kitchen, but these were dangling out in the open air for who knows how long before we showed up.
Unbeknownst to us, we had fallen into a tourist trap.
So, it was a rough start, but by the end of the day we had walked almost the entire city, found a beer garden at the top of Laetna hill, ate the most amazing street food (have you heard of a trdelnik?) and saw the Slav Epic (a group of the most incredible paintings I’ve ever seen in my life).
By Monday morning, we were ready to head back to Berlin. We took the tram to the spot Pieter and Selso said to meet them at and waited. Two guys approached and we soon figured out Pieter had agreed to take one other person, but accidentally booked two extra people. A stylish Israeli boy named Omer and a seemingly normal documentarian/artificial intelligence researcher from India named Gunit (I think. I’m one of those people who immediately forgets a person's name after we’re introduced).
Gunit claimed to have a meeting at four in Berlin so Omer agreed to take the bus. We dropped him off at the bus station and then waited while Selso ran into a McDonalds to use the wifi and map our route home. Turns out we were waiting in a spot we shouldn’t have been waiting in. Two Czech policemen came over and asked for Pieter’s passport. Since Selso had it on him, Gunit quickly offered to go get Selso.
Selso returned, but Gunit did not. Five minutes later, Pieter had payed the cop the ticket fee and finally, Gunit returned, claiming he had gone pee.
We got on the road, this time Casper in the trunk on his doggy bed (to my disappointment). Gunit mostly slept the whole time while the rest of us talked. And then, about five kilometers from the German border, a police car pulled in front of us and indicated that we pull over.
Two men and one woman approached us and asked for our passports. Our wrong doing? A simple misunderstanding. We didn’t have a toll sticker that was required to drive on that road. They said there was no toll booth, but that it was something you bought at the gas station. It sounded to me like a good way to fool tourists into giving the Czech police a quick buck, but regardless, it was only a one thousand Crown fine, which, between the four of us was no problem.
We all began scrounging money together and handing over our passports. Gunit pretended to sleep in the backseat until finally, we realized why. He had no passport.
They took down his name and said they’d search for him in the system and that was when he indicated to the police that he needed to pee. They gestured that it was okay and so he wandered through a green gate and into the heavily wooded forest next to us.
Five minutes later, one of the male police men walked to the edge of the gate and peered into the trees.
The two men went looking for him and the woman said in broken English something to the extent of: “If we can’t find him, now we have a problem.”
I think all of us were more shocked than worried. We tried to wrap our heads around the idea that Gunit had, in fact, fled into the forest.
So now the Czech police seemed to think that the four of us had attempted to smuggle an undocumented citizen from India across the Czech border into Germany.
We waited about twenty minutes while the two male officers searched for him and then came back. None of the police spoke great English so we attempted to give them an ultimatum as the female officer and one of the male officers headed back into the forest: Let us pay the toll fine and get on our way or let us contact the German police or our embassies.
They didn’t seem to like that.
I think almost an hour passed until finally they realized a Dutch man, a Brazilian and two American girls, all with residency in Berlin did not, in fact, try to smuggle an undocumented citizen into Germany.
We scrounged together the fine with our Euros and remaining Crowns and got back on the road. After we had safely crossed the border from the Czech Republic into Germany (just a few minutes later), Selso exclaimed: “I’ve never been so happy to be a Jew in Germany!”
An hour later we were in Dresden, drinking beer and eating potato wedges, as if nothing had happened.
I don’t think it had quite sunk in yet for any of us. I heard Pieter and Selso talking about it a little later in the car and at one point I burst out into hysterical laughter as I processed the events barely in time’s wake. Bryn had to explain to them that I was just having "a moment".
I wondered if Gunit had made it back to the apartment he claimed to have in Kreuzberg. I also wondered if this was the first time he had been forced to run or if this was just life as usual for him. I wondered if he had actually worked in artificial intelligence at Johns Hopkins University or if he had actually been filming a documentary in Prague that weekend. I wondered when exactly he became illegal. And then I wondered if we had any more chocolate in the car.
We made it home by six that night and I went to German class by six thirty. Coincidentally, we were learning the past tenses and I was asked what I had done that day. Unfortunately my German wasn’t proficient enough to explain everything that had happened, but I did manage to say I had been driving back from Prague two hours previous. I figured it was best to leave it at that.