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En route to Prague

The train to Prague was on Czech rolling stock which was old looking. All the signs were in Czech first, then Russian, German, French, and sometimes Italian and English. I was in a closed compartment with just one other gentleman who spoke no word of English, but I politely chatted in German, which he also seemed out of place with, while I munched (and offered) some of the snack items I purchased in Munich.

The train approached the Czech border at about 2:15 a.m., now Friday morning. Border formalities were just that — formalities — on both sides of the border, with passport-control looking at my passport, looking at me and my photo, uttering a “ja-ja” and going on. Surprisingly, the Czech authorities did not stamp my entry date. (I even asked!)

It was at the border that I got to learn a little more about the man who was sharing the compartment. My suspicions that he was not German were confirmed — he was Romanian — and in Germany on an expired visa.

Now, Germany is like most first- and second-world countries (USA and Canada excluded) in that it has an external (leaving the country) pass-control. The expired visa did not please the policeman, and he radioed to the customs agent who was aboard the train.

Apparently, the visas expired on Thursday, and because it was Friday morning and he was still in Germany, he was in violation of German immigration laws. He had been in Germany ten years already, and he received an extension because he was sick. When he was well enough to go, the doctor told him he had three days to leave Germany. Of course, three days is long enough to walk from anywhere in Germany to the Czech border, but this guy apparently couldn’t make it by train. (If it wasn’t obvious, I was not especially sympathetic to his story.)

Eventually, the policeman came back and just threw his pass back at him, and he and the customs agent disembarked at the frontier station.

Considering the German police, the Czech border patrol must have seemed like doormen to the Romanian, but they weren’t particularly happy with him either, since he had no Czech visa. (I didn’t need one.) He had purchased a train ticket to Romania, which he showed, and they stamped his pass with a transit visa.

After all the border nonsense, this guy couldn’t let me sleep for more than 45 minutes the whole night. First, he told me his life story, which is too long and too ordinary to repeat here. Bottom line: Germany gave him ten years and he’s out; Romania probably won’t let him back because of his illness, which was diagnosed as partially mental, and he wanted me to help him.

The Romanian wanted to emigrate to the USA or Canada. (Go figure!) He told me that if I came with him, I could translate from English to German for him when he spoke to the consulate directly. I almost laughed, but instead I smiled and with a chuckle said that, first, everyone wants to emigrate; second, nobody speaks directly to the consulate; and third, I wasn’t going to spend my only day in Prague sitting around the office of the consulate. Had I a week in Prague, I might have helped him out for an hour or so. I may have even registered myself while I was there.

As a consolation to this Romanian without a country, I wrote down the addresses of the U.S. and Canadian embassies in Prague and Bucharest (in case he actually made it that far) from my Let’s Go book. I told him he’d be better off to go there, show them his immigration paperwork, and ask them what to do. I then got a little sleep. I suspect that the Romanian will never make it to North America. The next train to Bucharest left almost immediately from Prague, but at the train station I saw him stashing his stuff in a locker. It was clear that he was going to spend a while in Prague on his transit visa and invite more trouble.

Believe it or not, the first thing I saw from the train as I entered the Czech Republic was a K-Mart.

Curt Gilman
Curt Gilman