48 hours in Germany: What I learned going abroad for the first time and reenacting Southwest Flight 812

One year ago today I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, putting a pause on the vivid mental images of my plane hurtling toward the ground which appeared every time I closed my eyes. I threw on clothes, hopped into a hired sedan and sped into the bowels of Sacramento. While I got ready to appear on Good Morning America via satellite, intoxicated coeds were still trucking home from the Limelight.

If I thought the experience of surviving Southwest 812 and subsequently being interviewed by MSNBC, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, NPR, and other local news outlets (to name a few) was surreal, it was (almost) nothing compared to being flown to Germany to reenact my fateful April Fool’s Day Flight.

Yes, I said flown to Germany. For 48 hours to be precise.

***
At first, I thought the email was a hoax. A film company wants to bring me to Germany to talk about the experience of Southwest Flight 812? Seems suspicious. So I ignored the email. And then a few days later, my cell rang. The lady with lyrically accented English was asking me to come to Germany. For real.

“I would love to come, but I’m too busy,” I told her. I’m dissertating after all. 

“Yes, if you sent a film crew here, I’d be happy to do the interview,” I said.

“I just don’t have time to fly to Germany,” I lamented.

But she kept after me. It was less expensive to fly me abroad than bring their whole crew to the states. After some coaxing from Mr. T, I considered it. I renewed my passport* with expedited service. I started practicing my “Dankes” and “Bittes.” I agreed to fly to Germany some time in the next month (provided it didn’t mess up my school schedule). And then I didn’t hear anything about it again.

***
Fastforward to a couple weeks ago. On Monday morning I opened an email asking if I could fly to Germany on Wednesday. Wednesday. Two days notice.

Inner monologue: NOOOOOOOO. Not a chance. Too fast. Too many papers to write. Too busy. Can’t just go to Germany. NoooooOOOoooo.

Then T listed all the reasons I could go. It was my Spring Break. I wouldn’t miss any classes. The company would compensate me a bit for my time. I’d have hours and hours to write my papers on the plane. Who would pass up a free trip to Germany?

But T missed the part where I felt TERRIFIED. I like to plan, savor the details of a trip, prepare and at least organize my snacks, you know. I’m not particularly impulsive. I’m not the type of person who just flies to Germany on two days notice.

Well, apparently I am.

***
I flew approximately 30 hours to and from Germany, and due to scheduling constraints, was only able to be in the country for 48 hours. Although it was hectic, tiring, and disconcerting in parts, I enjoyed myself and do not regret the choice.

Here are a few things I learned, in photo captions:

Wiesbaden, Germany, the town where my mother was born.
Due to the military presence, there are approximately 10,000 Americans in Wiesbaden.
Pretty cool view from my hotel room.
Sleek and modern hotel accommodations.
We enjoyed coffee at this castle on the Rhine. I admit that made for a nice status update.
I did say that I wouldn’t leave until I saw a castle. Thankfully, we got that out of the way almost as soon as I arrived.
While enjoying coffee at the castle, I first noticed how petite the beverages are in Germany.  I don’t expect that many Venti Frapps are sold in these parts.
I felt really guilty for not speaking a lick of German. In my imagination, my first trip to Europe would involve learning a language or at least having some basic phrases down. Luckily, almost everyone I encountered spoke English fluently.
BMWs and Mercedes are common place in Germany as evidenced by this BMW taxi!

 

Wiesbaden is one of the few large cities that escaped heavy shelling during World War II so much of the original architecture is still intact. Strangely, I saw a ton of American companies. In downtown, there was Shell, Staples and Subway on one corner.
At the very least, learn how to say “please” (bitte = bit-uh), thank you (danke = dank-uh), and you’re welcome (bitte).
Try new things! I asked to try traditional/popular German dishes.
That meant schnitzel, of course. This dish is Schnitzel und Pommes, essentially a thin pork fillet fried up with mushroom sauce, and fries. Vocab trivia: I understood the word “pommes” (pom-ess) because I knew that pomme frites are French Fries en Francais. Sadly, that was all the help my high school and college French classes offered.
I arrived in Germany around 12:30 p.m. local time after having traveled all day and night. During coffee on the Rhine, I was told that our Thursday would start with a (gulp) 7 a.m. drive to Speyer, a town about an hour outside of Frankfurt. (Airplane in the foreground is a Nord Noratlas)
Speyer boasts one of the craziest/coolest air museums I’ve seen. Airplanes with slides, people! T thinks this is a Fokker-70.
Airplanes from many different countries including this Sukhoi SU-22.
Airplanes on sticks.
I don’t think the film crew knew that they’d taken an aviation geek to her happy place.
A MiG-23 Flogger.
The purpose of our trip to Speyer was not for me to take pictures, but to visit this 747 where we would reenact the events of Southwest Flight 812. I did wonder at this point what the heck I’d gotten myself into.
The 747-200 featured this slide so visitors wouldn’t have to climb back down the nearly 400 steps. Sadly yours truly was dressed up for filming and did not go down the chute.
The 200 foot elevation (or so) offered a nice view of the neighboring town.
An McDonnell-Douglas F-15 in the foreground in front of the ginormous Antonov-AN-22. (Yes, Mr. T is feeding me most of these aircraft names from the encyclopedia that is his brain. I continue to marvel at his capacity for recalling aircraft types but not how to run the washing machine. Kidding!)
A Canadair CL-215, also known as the airplane featured in last season’s Ice Pilots! T and I wonder if Turkey sold the plane to Speyer after it made a belly landing.
One of the things I’ve learned about telling my story to reporters and writers is that in doing so, it stops being “my” story and takes on a new form. Nowhere was this realization more salient to me than during filming. Although I was asked to help keep authenticity in the filming–to talk about what it was “really” like–I finally stopped trying. So much was “similar” but nowhere near the “same.” I flew in the smaller 737, not the taller, wider 747. I sat in the window seat, and the not the aisle which offered better lighting for the camera man. I read my org comm homework, not a scuba diving magazine. My seatmate was a middle-aged man, not a hip 19-year old French intern. Making sense of these details in relation to the actual experience was so very strange.
We reenacted everything in scenes… When I first knew something was wrong (cue wind machine). Then trying to get my oxygen mask on. Then looking around at other passengers. Then holding “Gary’s” hand. Then sending a text message to T. Then landing. We shot each little scene from several angles and I got a taste of how tedious and tiring acting work can be!

 

We had a few “extras” (aka film crew members) to fill in the seats behind me. The camera man kept tight shots around me so it would appear that the plane was full.

 

The most bizarre details included this wind machine. Although I protested that it was not that windy in the cabin, nor did debris sail around and hit people in the face, I was overruled for drama’s sake. Patrick kept this cineblow air machine pointed at my face and periodically sent napkins and airsickness bags flying. Luckily I reiterated sharply that drink service had not started at the front of the cabin such that I didn’t have to contend with flying drink cups.

 

The seats are normally closed off to visitors and even more so during our shooting. I had to laugh at the students there on fieldtrips who thought we were “somebodies” and took pictures of us.

 

One of the most surreal parts of the reenactment was seeing it on the monitor. The cameraman shook the camera as he filmed and although it didn’t feel scary to me, it looked how I remember it feeling that day. Bizarre!

 

After filming for several hours, I poked around the museum.

 

747 on stilts!

 

 

A large organ.

 

I wandered the museum for 15 minutes while the crew packed up. Although most signage around town, including a lot of food stuffs and menus, was in German and English, I couldn’t read the museum signs.

 

I wish I knew how this contraption worked!

 

Although I didn’t see much of the country, I got to hang out and listen to a small collection of German people for two days. Sadly, I picked up little language during my trip. I know how to say “see yah later” (sounds like “choos”) and pleasantries, but that’s it. Surprisingly, much of the music I heard was American, and I laughed at how much my new friends repeated lines from American TV shows.

 

In addition to thinking about how my story changed as the film director interpreted my blog posts and recollections (truly, he had my blog posts printed out and highlighted), I worry about how it will be taken up and talked about by the TV commentators who will likely be talking about it in German. Who knows what they will be saying about the crazy American who text messaged her husband from 10,000 feet. Also, T wonders if the show will have an anti-Boeing slant or be critical of aviation in general. Lord knows that I am not supportive of those views. In fact, one aspect that I constantly reiterate is how remarkable it is that a 5-foot hole tore in the fuselage and that we landed safely without any injuries or fatalities.

 

Alouette II.

 

 

Junkers JU-52.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cuteness!

 

 

 

 

 

German fast food menu.

 

A typical fast food meal–Currywurst (sausage in a BBQ-esque sauce with curry powder) and pommes. Mayo is a typical dip for fries.

 

They forced me to eat a chocolate dipped cone. Forced me.

 

Russian Space Shuttle Buran.

 

After filming, we drove to the Frankfurt Airport for an interview.

 

I had this guy in my face all day.

 

This is the largest McDonalds in Europe apparently. They laughed at me for taking pictures until I told them it was the largest McDonalds I’d ever laid my eyes on. Truth be told, it made me quite sad.

 

After the interview, we filmed for hours. Me walking. Me looking at the departures board. Me talking on the phone. Me staring contemplatively out the window. In addition to the similar-but-different experience of reenactment, I couldn’t help but think about how not-right the scenes in the airport were. Frankfurt looks nothing like Phoenix-Sky Harbor for the record!

 

It was super cool to see this non-digital board flutter and flip times like you see in the movies. Or used to, anyway.

 

German interpretation of the club sandwich with thick slices of chicken, fried egg and bacon on sticks. After 14 hours of filming, I relaxed while watching Star Wars in German. “Luke, I am your vater.” (Not quite.)

 

Saying “choos” to Wiesbaden.

 

Please note the itty bitty streets. Often there wasn’t room for two cars to go down the street at one time. It would have terrified me to drive there, the autobahn not withstanding. Someday I will go back, rent a car and drive around the freeways. NO SPEED LIMITS in many places! A Californian’s dream I think.

 

Of course, I had to take fieldnotes during my trip. German security was not significantly different from the TSA although the employees did not appear to be “agents” with blue uniforms and badges. More on being shamed for my liquids and gels later

All in all it was a marvelously strange adventure. I learned that spur-of-the-moment can be fun, that I can travel by my lonesome and be okay, that having no cell phone is freeing, that being without currency sucks, and that the next time someone wants to fly me abroad to do work, they can upgrade me to business class. 30 hours flying in the last row by the bathroom is NO GOOD!

Questions/Comments? Email bluestmuse(at)gmail(dot)com or comment below.

xoxo,
shawna

* Ladies: If you get married and change your name, you have up to one year to change your passport for free. After a year, you have to pay a renewal fee, even if it is not expired! Not that I’m bitter about it in any way. Ahem.

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