The only sound at 7:30 a.m. on that Saturday morning was the rumble of our Rick Steves’ suitcases as they covered the concrete distance between the Bible college and the Eiserfeld train station across the street. All of Siegen slept while we said good-bye. Past the silent front-facing depot, past the graffiti that graced the tunnel, down the steps and up the steps, all that could be heard was those wheels.
The doubts settled in right about the time we rounded the last corner and stood on the empty platform. This station looked abandoned. What if the 7:50 train didn’t know to stop for us?
We didn’t wonder long. An elderly, non-English speaking German man followed our footsteps down the steps and up the steps, then halted nonchalantly at the far end of the platform. At least one other human trusted that the 7:50 train would stop. Dave approached him and tried to ask about the chances that would happen. The man indicated he didn’t speak English. As pantomiming is right up my alley, I tried next. “Train … stop,” I said, while screeching my hands to a dead stop in mid-air. The man nodded. I then tried to tell him how much we loved Germany, and that we were off to Paris … but his courtesy laughter shut off the rest of my story. And then before our eyes he pulled out the one sentence that lingered from a quick year of English 60 years prior, when this man had been young and wrinkle-free, and wondering why in the world he would ever need English. “Summer … is … over!” To make sure I understood the absolute finality of his statement, he swung his hands like twin chiseled swords.
The train came. We got on, then followed the directions given us by Andrew, one of the interns at the Bible college. “Don’t even sit down. You’ll be getting off at Niederschelden, which is just three minutes down the track.” And sure enough, we heard an automated, female voice announce, “Niederschelden Nord.” The doors opened and we got off. “Go to platform 311,” Andrew had written. But there was no platform 311. Just platform 1 and platform 2, which weren’t platforms at all–just signs stuck above the graveled edge of the tracks.
“This doesn’t look right,” Dave said. And it didn’t. It looked like we’d been dumped at the edge of the world.
A man with a furrowed brow and a look of confusion in his eyes walked toward us. He raised one hand to his lips and looked beyond us, then back over his shoulders. Left, right, left, right … I watched his head swivel down both sides of the tracks. He looked like someone working out a complicated math problem without benefit of a calculator, or even a chalkboard.
Dave walked toward him. “Do you know if the train to Koln stops here?”
“I don’t think so,” the man said in near-perfect English. “I think this is a drop point only. This is Niederschelden Nord, but I think we need to be at Niederschelden itself.”
That didn’t sound good. Our next connection was in 15 minutes. If we missed the train to Koln, we’d miss the connection to Paris. Panic strips away all vestiges of pride or propriety. This German English-speaker knew more than we did about the situation, so we dogged his steps up and down the track.
It turns out that Theodore–and that’s his name–had parked his car at the end of the street thinking he could catch a train to Koln at this spot. He was on his way to a photography exhibition there. He continued wandering up and down the track, looking into the distance, calculating unseen formulas, wondering with his hands and eyebrows.
“What do we do?” I finally asked. Theodore’s only response was to choose a direction and start walking toward it. We followed.
After about a block we came to a spot where a Niederschelden road crossed the train tracks. And then a miracle–and I don’t use that word lightly–occurred. The three of us looked to the left and watched the approach of a car lugging a small, flatbed-ish trailer. Theodore slowed the driver with a wave, then spoke through the window. The driver then opened his door, stood, and gestured frantically to us to throw our luggage in the back of his trailer. While we did so, he tossed car-rubbish from the back seat, beckoned us to enter, and handed me a home-orchard apple. We asked no questions. Theodore, the man we’d known three minutes and now were following to who knew where, talked in German to the driver, then turned to us. “We’re at the wrong station. He’ll take us to the station at Niederschelden.”
Our German angel rounded curves on two wheels, asked us (through Theodore) about our home, and then launched into a rapid conversation with Theodore in which I heard references to Microsoft and Starbucks. Several minutes later, he screeched us into a parking lot at the edge of a regular-looking train station. “Germany has some nice people, eh?” our driver managed to say. “Yes, yes!” I answered. We snatched our luggage from his trailer and wheeled away, thanking him with the only words we knew. Gratitude translates. He nodded, beamed, and waved back at my apple-clutching good-bye.
Thirty seconds later, we stepped aboard the Koln-bound train, followed Theodore up to the level with the better view, and spent an hour and a half talking to the dentist-turned-hobby photographer-turned angel.
How I love those divine appointments.