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Spend & Save

Donald MacInnes: A half-hour game of ping-pong just to get our bags

In the Red

Last week you left my wife and I standing – luggage-free – at Munich airport, half asleep and staring up at the lantern-jawed, humourless visage of a German customs official, whose angular countenance made him look like a 1930s recruiting poster for you-know-who. If laughs were raindrops, this man's face echoed that part of the Sahara to which the Bedouin go to dry their laundry.

He looked down at us with a mixture of disdain, superiority and slightly more disdain. I felt like Reggie Perrin in CJ's office, attempting to ask for an unpaid day off to bury my mother-in-law.

"Ja?" he barked. I swallowed, then began to implore in German that was more shattered than broken: "My wife and I have stupidly come through customs without collecting our bags. Will you let us go back through?" He sneered the sneer of the truly dismissive and pointed to a steel door some 20 metres distant. We jogged over and tried to open it. We pushed. It didn't move. We tried pulling. Same result. We looked back at our friend who strode over and reached past us somewhat brusquely, twisting the knob with his mammoth Munich hands, with which he could easily have strangled a brace of recalcitrant donkeys.

The door opened easily. I felt silly and small. Again. He then pointed to the landside security zone. We would have to go back through all of the X-ray scanners and cavity searches again and try to explain our perilous position when we got airside. Goody.

To describe fully the next soul-flattening half hour of our lives would be to drive the majority of you swiftly over to the puzzle page, so I shall just say that, after an enormously convoluted game of Teutonic border ping-pong – with us as the ball and various uniformed Germans as the bats – we finally were able to pick up our luggage and make for the hotel.

Thus began our holiday-long battle of wills with the hotels of the Fatherland: it would be 10 days of unwarranted tipping, people falling between single beds which had been pushed together to form a deceitful double and possibly the worst example of negligent housekeeping we had ever seen. But those are stories for another time. Specifically, next week. Auf wiedersehen.