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And the officer asked, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?”

July 7th, 2009

It didn’t take long to grow comfortable with Mobi, running down the German autobahn at 130 kilometers an hour. No, I don’t know how fast that is in miles per hour and it really doesn’t matter, I suppose, because speed is relative. I was passing a lot of vehicles, but some very fancy sedans were passing me as if I were standing still.

I was very irritated by one vehicle that really slowed me down. It was a German police mini-van, that had been following me, then passed me, then slowed down. A flashing light on the back read, very clearly, “Bitte folgen.” I had no idea what bitte folgen meant.

Then the police car’s flashing lights turned on and I felt bad for whomever was in front of it. But there was no one in front of the German police car. And both officers inside the vehicle looked over their shoulder and waved madly at me as they drove to a near stop and pulled onto a dirt road. They waved for me to follow them. Hmmm.

Jeanne was asleep in the back. Daughter, sitting shotgun, said “Uh oh.” And I wondered what I had done wrong. The officers were a man and a woman and their combined age was 50 at most. Their uniforms looked like they were Scouts, khaki green with a badge embroidered on their shoulders. But I assumed the gun and handcuffs on their belts were real. 

The woman officer said something to me in what I assume was German. I looked blankly. She said it again. I said hello. She asked, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” I said, “Huh?” She said, “Do you speak German?” I said no, in my very best English. She said, “Uh oh.” (In any language, “uh oh” translates as “uh oh.”)

She beckoned her partner, who spoke somewhat better English. Long story short: I had passed someone but didn’t make it back into the slow lane fast enough. I crossed the pavement that was painted, I guess, out of bounds. I drove over an imaginary median. Busted!

“You must pay 119 euro,” the young man said. I thought he was asking for a bribe. I was on guard to be bribed. Daughter’s Boyfriend had warned me that in the Czech Republic or in Poland, I might be pulled over by police and told to pay money to avoid something worse. So, being prepared, I told the young German officer that I had only 30 euro on me. (More was in the glove box but, truthfully, I only had 30 euros on me.)

He said he takes American Express.

And damn if they didn’t have a credit card imprinter in their vehicle, along with their weapons.

As I waited for them to complete the paperwork, another police car pulled off the highway and onto the dirt road, followed by a sedan that, I assume, was also busted for some infraction. I felt as one with some strange European. But then I saw the two officers who pulled him over. They were two hot blonde German police officers. 

As I waited for my ticket to be processed, I chatted with my officers. I told them I would like to take their pictures because I’m sure I would write about them as my new friends. Suddenly the male officer spoke very good English: “Oh no, no photographs. Our boss does not want to see us on the Internet.”

I promised them they would not be on the Internet. I did not take their photographs nor get their names. But the officer spelled “Sprechen sie Deutsch” for me, and he told me what “bitte folgen” meant: “Follow me.”

I now know five words of German.

Mobi for three weeks to travel across Europe, 5,000 euro. Traffic ticket, 119 euro. Personal language lessons from a German police officer on the outskirts of Trier, priceless.

American Express, don’t leave home without it.

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