Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland

(A blast from the past, two years ago, in recognition that we should have been welcoming our German friends to stay and sing with us this week.)

After a busy few days’ music-making with strangers in a foreign land, you really just want to get home. We’d had a brilliant and fulfilling time but it was so action-packed that the thought of a quick flight to more familiar territory was quite appealing in the end.

We knew it wasn’t going to be quite as quick as originally planned though, thanks to Eurowings having cancelled our direct flight from Hamburg and sending us on a two-legged trip via Dusseldorf instead. In fact they’d changed it yet again with only a week’s notice, making for a whole afternoon in transit before the connecting flight to Manchester. Oh well, a chance to get stuck into a book, perhaps, with all that time at leisure in Dusseldorf. Think again.

For some reason there had been talk of the unreliability of trains from our departure town of Husum down to Hamburg, so it was encouraging when the 11.04 turned up like clockwork and we travelled in comfort and blissful ignorance of what the rest of the day would hold. A couple of hours later we hopped out at Hauptbahnhof and took the straightforward S-bahn route up to the airport – well, straightforward apart from having to ensure you’re on one of the first three carriages before the train splits at Ohlsdorf, otherwise you end up somewhere with a distinct lack of planes.

As it happened, there was a distinct lack of airborne activity at the airport as well. Arriving in the Departures hall, we were met by a scene of controlled chaos. There were queues of people everywhere and an air of frustrated resignation. Departure boards flashed a depressing combination of cancelled and delayed flights. A couple sprawled on the floor engrossed in a game of chess. We asked an assistant handing out bottled water what was happening and she explained there was a power failure so there could be no arrivals or departures at least for the time being. No, she didn’t know when it would be resolved.

We took one look at the length of the queues at the Information desks and suddenly train travel seemed very appealing. A quick lesson in German geography told us that Dusseldorf lies about four hours by rail from Hamburg, and there was the slimmest chance that if we got the train we’d just make our flight, thanks to that extended time in transit. Would that originally unwelcome rescheduling on Eurowings’ part end up being our saving grace? There was only one way to find out, so as we headed back to town on the S1, my husband managed to book train tickets online – all €177 worth of them – and we made it to Hauptbahnhof in time to join the crowded platform for the imminent arrival of the Essen train.

Up to now we’d survived on a few chocolate brownies from our hostess Angela in Husum and half a bottle of water, and we had no idea whether the 4-hour journey would boast the luxury of catering facilities. Spotting a kiosk on the platform, I made my quickest purchase ever of a couple of cheese rolls and more water, in a style completely contrary to the archetypal queuing Brit, before racing the incoming train back to Ian and the suitcases (cabin baggage only, thankfully). I probably broke some rule about being the wrong side of the painted line on the platform.

As it turned out, some very welcome coffee was served on board, and we tried to relax as we took in the unanticipated extra views of Germany. There was a constant tension, though, as to whether we were on a wild goose chase. Even if this train made the connection at Essen for Dusseldorf airport, there was no guarantee that we’d be allowed through security let alone through the gate. It was such a small window of opportunity. Our stress levels mounted due to the almost constant lack of signal on our phones as we tried to scour the internet to check the flight status. Occasional break-throughs confirmed it seemed to be on time, just when a nice little delay would have been helpful.

Of course, when a train arrives at an airport, it doesn’t usually deposit you conveniently in the Departures hall, and Dusseldorf is no exception. Literally five minutes before our scheduled take-off time, we found ourselves waiting for one of those shuttle compartments that hang from rails like a low-key theme park ride. When it saw fit to deliver people to the car park first I just about gave up all hope, but then the next minute we were in the terminal and I was running after a speeding husband as fast as my significantly shorter legs could carry me.

Miraculously, after we flashed boarding passes at irritatingly unhurried officials we were allowed through Security, jumping the queue as politely as possible. I groaned as my case was diverted to the section where they have to be checked. The culprit: a tub of flavoured salt that Angela had given us in response to compliments on her flavoursome cooking. By now I was wondering what a night in Dusseldorf would be like.

But somehow we found the reserves for a further sprint to the gate, scattering more leisurely passengers in our wake. That very minute the flight was called, and although we were the last to board we were away, with an indescribable sense of relief – and not a little disbelief. Hello and goodbye, Dusseldorf.

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