German text provided in collaboration with Zaránd Schuller
I had been drifting in and out of sleep. I knew we were near the Austrian border as my husband had been excitedly narrating each leg of the journey. We were making the traditional yearly family pilgrimage to Hungary and my husband was overjoyed to at long last bring his new bride across the threshold of the family summer home.
Only, I wasn’t such a new bride. Our toddler son slept in his car seat and my belly stretched, already heavily pregnant with a new baby. I didn’t find the journey easy – at least there are lots of public toilets on the European continent and they’re nearly always clean. We were on a lonely stretch of road, the landscape shapeless against the headlights. Out of nowhere, lights flashed behind us.
Calmly and without comment, my husband brought the car to a halt and rolled down his window as the police approached.
“Guten Abend, alles in Ordnung?”
“Guten Abend , ihre Reisepasse bitte”
“Nicole, the passports please”
“Hier, Zarand Schuller, Nicole Johnson und Peter Schuller, unser Sohn”
I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I instinctively tensed up – my legs pressed firmly together, my face expressionless. I had nothing to be frightened of. My papers were in order, we were on our first family holiday – what could this mean?
My husband, a natural polyglot, seemed to be enjoying speaking German. He was good at the details; filler words and conversational pauses. His easygoing manner was infectious and the border officer let a small chuckle escape.
“Wohin fahren Sie?”
“Oh, wir sind in Urlaub, wir fahren alle nach Ungarn, von England”
“und warum fahren sie nicht auf der Autobahn?”
“Ah, der Autobahn ist langweilig, ich fahre lieber auf Landstrasse, viel besser”
We really were out in the sticks. My compromised bladder needed regular toilet breaks and I didn’t fancy a midnight stroll for a bush on this, long-forsaken German-Austrian border crossing. We needed to get going. I mean, what did they want to know?
“Also gute Reise”
The conversation stopped abruptly and the officer stepped away from the car. My husband rolled up the window and said nothing. We sat in silence as the officer got back into his car and we heard the low hum of the engine as it slowly drove away.
‘What was that about?’
‘He wanted to know what we were doing out here in the middle of the night.’
‘I thought there weren’t any border check points in Schengen.’
‘Every country has the right to reinstate their borders should they feel the need arise.’ He said it matter-of-factly, without passion or criticism. Like he always does.