As soon as I saw them enter the train car I knew I was in trouble. The doors closed, the jerk of the subway starting caused everyone to unanimously jolt forward and then back, and the new passengers announced themselves with “Fahrscheine bitte” (tickets please).
I had forgotten to renew my monthly pass when I got back to Berlin after my trip to Poland. It was an honest mistake but this was Germany, where you get neither sympathy nor brownie points for the “earnestness” of a mistake. When the undercover ticket checker approached me, I told him that I didn’t have a ticket and stepped off the train with him at the next station. He asked for my name and identification so he could write up the ticket. Trying to avoid the hefty fine I spontaneously decided to give him the fake name of Jennifer Saunders, claiming that I did not have any identification on me.
With pen in hand, the man asked if I were “angemeldet” (registered) to which I replied that I was – of course not under that name. To my utter shock and horror the man pulled out his phone and proceeded to call the registration office to check. “Shit! What do I do now?”, I asked myself.
Should I Run?
I had seen people run for it when caught in a similar situation and I began wondering about how many runners actually get away. While the man was on the phone I told him that I was going to purchase a ticket for the rest of ride when we were finished to which he nodded. The ticket machine was right near the exit so if I were to run it would give me a bit of a head start.
I knew, of course, that I was being watched and when I reached the ticket machine, I began going through the motions of purchasing a ticket, perhaps getting up the courage to run. I was just about to put the money in, when the man ran to me saying there was no one registered by that name.
The Police Are on Their Way
I had been caught lying. But I kept digging myself in deeper acting genuinely surprised. “Perhaps the name is under Jenny Saunders”, I suggested buying nothing but time. After confirming there was also no one by that name either, he hung up the phone and told me that if he didn’t get the truth from me, he would have to call the police.
Perhaps simply out of pure stubbornness or did I really think I was calling his bluff after he had already made one phone call on my behalf, I simply said, “Ok, if that’s what you have to do”. And of course, he quickly dialed and the police were on their way. Could I still make a run for it? It seemed my window had passed.
I wasn’t sure if I had enough money on my phone for a text, but I decided that if I were about to be hauled away, Mindy should know, so I quickly typed “with police. call me”. Within seconds I received a call from a very surprised Mindy. As I filled her in on the situation as briefly as possible, I could see two uniformed police officers making their way over to me on the platform. I continued to talk as the ticket checker explained the problem to the police until I was succinctly told by one of the officers to get off the phone.
With the ticket checker still there, they gave me one last chance to fess up and of course, I stubbornly stuck with my story as Jennifer Saunders. Before turning me over to the police, the man handed me a ticket with the name left blank, telling me to fill it in and pay the fine later.
Riding In the Back of a Police Car
On the way to the police car, I pulled out a bank card with my real name on it and declared that I had lied to the transit police. The male police officer replied, “It is one thing to lie to a ticket checker but an entirely other matter to lie to a police officer”. Taking my cue from the officer emphasizing the importance of the latter profession, I responded, “Well that’s why I came clean to you as soon as you showed up”, intending on appealing to his sense of importance.
It seemed to work. “We need proof that you are who you say you are. I need to see an ID with a picture, such as your passport”, he insisted, as he helped me into the back of their police car. With a turn of they key, we were off! If I were a better person I might have felt ashamed of sitting in the back of a German police car but I don’t mind telling you that I felt rather cool, especially passing people on the street who no doubt wondered what I must have done to end up with the police. I think “Bad the Bone” may have been playing in my head.
Dragnet Holding Cell
Mindy called back and I asked her to bring my passport to the Friedrichstrasse Police Station where I was to be held. When we got to the station, I was put in a holding cell, resembling a room out of an old TV police drama. The walls were dingy with peeling faded light-brown paint, there was no furniture save a single chair and a very large wooden desk with a clunky old-fashioned mustard-yellow telephone on it, and a young police officer was stationed at the door to “guard me”. The room was large but dark having a yellow glow over everything from a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and only a small basement-sized half window at the very back of the room.
Please Hurry Mindy!
I was meant to sit in this room until Mindy showed up to prove my identity. Would they grill me like on the TV shows, trying to get me to admit something? Damn, I had already told them the truth! Would they lecture me about riding without a ticket or what it means to be a productive member of society? Nope. To be honest, I received the worst punishment of just sitting there with nothing to do and no one to talk to – I was bored.
But then, like something out of Tatort (my favorite German detective show), an older, and in his own mind, much wiser, police officer, used this opportunity as a teaching moment. He approached the rookie guarding the door and speaking to him like an imbecile, chastised him for facing out with his back to me. “You’re not here to guard us, you’re here to protect us from her. What if she decides to walk around the room a little bit and pick up that phone and clock you on the head with it?”, he said, giving me ideas of ways to misbehave in the room and even possibly escape. I guess he was just older, but not really all that wiser.
So then the young man stood in the doorway staring at me, making us both uncomfortable. He said, “Were you going to do those things?” to which I laughed a bit and said, “umm, no”. “I didn’t think so”, he smiled and the awkwardness continued.
Can I Leave Now?
Finally, I heard a familiar voice out front and I knew my wait would soon be over. I was summoned shortly thereafter and when I walked to the front no one seemed bothered with me. Did I need to check out? Did I need to sign something? Should I just leave? I was completely unfamiliar with the expectations here.
Just to be sure I asked an officer if I could leave and she told me I could so Mindy and I simply left the building. Nothing was said about the ticket at all. So after all that I was only left with nameless ticket not connected to me in any way, shape or form. Honestly, I wish I could trade paying all my bills for sitting in a police cell for an hour. In this case, it saved me 60 Euros!