It would be fun they said. It would be an adventure they said. They did NOT say anything about Czech police handcuffing us on a train.
We had been in Germany for a little over two weeks, and just finished teaching English to Germans in the dead of winter. Imagine if you can two Californians, ill prepared for weather below 60 degrees, wandering through a forest in Germany, that was us. We decided to make our way to Weisbaden, Frankfurt, Dresden, and then possibly to Prague next.
5 days and 2 cities later, we met up with a 19 year old cousin of Tiana’s who lives and goes to college in Dresden. We had made plans to stay at her house for a week.
While there, she told us how great Prague was and that it would be a great city to explore while she was in school. We bought one way tickets to take the train out for the day, and plans were made to meet at the Astrological Tower at 4pm so she could drive us back to Dresden.
Bright and early at 7am, we packed our backpack, cameras, and other items we thought were essential. As we were about to head out to the train station, she stopped us.
“Don’t take your wallet, passports, or anything of value! There are so many pickpockets in Prague who prey on tourists. You really don’t want your passport stolen”, she warned.
We both got goosebumps. Losing your passport or having it stolen is a traveler’s nightmare. I’m sure we both had fleeting thoughts about crossing the border from Germany into Czech Republic without passports, but it seems like she read our mind.
She assured us, “It’s all part of the European Union, you don’t need it. Just take cash in a money belt and that’s it.”
Reluctantly we listened, unpacked wallets and passports and stuck 300 Euros into the money belt. We boarded the Deutsche Bahn train and settled in for the two and a half hour ride to Prague.
About an hour into the ride we heard a tap at the door and opened it. Ticket controllers were checking tickets to make sure we paid our fare.
An hour later another tap at the door. Through the glass door we saw two Czech policemen. Were they checking tickets again? We whipped out our tickets but were told no, they weren’t checking tickets, they wanted our passports.
Passports? But we were in the European Union!
We said no, we have no passport. Then they wanted identification. No, we have no identification either. At this point, We are already thinking how to strangle my cousin.
“Plane? Hotel?”, they asked.
No, we were staying with my cousin in Dresden. Call her? Our phones don’t have international calling. Crap.
One of them starts going through the photos on the cameras.
“Tourist?” he asks.
Yes, yes, we are just tourists. He speaks 5 words of English and looks at me with a blank stare as we try and explain that this was all a mistake.
What is the penalty for not having our passports? Maybe we’ve been watching too much Locked Up Abroad. Is it 2 years in a dilapidated prison? We could already feel the rats crawling on us and the stench of the damp cell.
He tells us to sit down and puts our wrists behind our legs and handcuffs us. Crap. We are surely going to have a drug lord cellmate that has a fetish for curvy blondes and/or black men.
Tears are streaming down our faces and the overhead speaker announces that the next stop is the Prague station. Will we stay on the train? What happens now?
As we pull into the station, we try to explain that if we could connect to Wi-Fi somewhere, we could try send a message to my cousin and she could clear this all up. More blank stares. They keep talking to each other in angry sounding Czech and glancing over at us.
The policeman grabs our backpack and cameras and pulls us to stand up one at a time. We both try to stand with our wrists handcuffed behind our knees, fail miserably, and tip over onto each other. We weren’t cut out for this.
People are getting off the train and there we am handcuffed and crying, both of us hunched over in the same awkward half-standing position, his expression saying, “I told you we should’ve just gone to Berlin”.
We get off the train and walk with the police into the station which turns out to have a police sub-station inside. After sitting around for over two hours, our hands are freed and we can use my phone and connect to Wi-Fi.
My cousin’s response, which we were hoping would be apologetic, was not. She thought it was hilarious and said it would make a great blog post. I gave her the phone number to the police station and she called and cleared everything up. We still wanted to strangle her.
We were given citations and charged a fine of 4000czk (150 Euro each). They warned us that if we were stopped by another police officer that day we could be arrested and fined again, as it is not uncommon for police to do random identification checks. We decided to play it safe and not wander around. Coincidentally, the fine was exactly the total we were carrying with us.
Who needs souvenirs when you have this?
By now it was 2pm, we had two hours left before my cousin arrived and no money left. We sat in front of the Astrological Tower not saying a word to each other, to shocked and exhausted from the days events to muster conversation.
We took one photo in front of the Astrological Tower while we waited to be picked up, putting on our best fake smiles.
Did we strangle my cousin? No, lucky for her, she was our ride back to Dresden, so we needed her alive. After a few beers on her tab, our anger subsided and we enjoyed the rest of the day before heading out of town.