On my last day in Berlin, I found myself in tears in a German police station. I couldn’t speak the language. I didn’t know what was going to happen.
I had never felt so helpless and alone.
A half an hour earlier, I had been sitting in the conference hotel’s restaurant with a friend, enjoying some coffee and kuchen. We were planning our trip to Prague the next day and trying to buy bus tickets using the WiFi on our cell phones. I was a little frustrated with my phone because the payment kept getting denied. Although I was starting to get a little annoyed, I continued with the payment process as my friend excused herself to go to the restroom.
Suddenly, a woman in rags with a very strong stench approached me. I felt my heart skip a beat as she encroached my personal space bubble.
Je mange, she said as she pointed to the half-eaten piece of cake in front of me.
Confused as to why she spoke to me in French, I kindly told her non and shooed her away. Seemingly out of frustration, the woman shoved a piece of paper in my face and, before I could figure out what it said or why she was bothering me, she was gone.
I quickly dismissed the situation as my friend returned from the restroom. We finalized our payments and decided to take advantage of the 2 hours of free time we had before the closing conference festivities. As we stood up and made our way to the door, I picked up my purse and thought that it felt a lot lighter than before. I opened it up and realized my wallet was gone.
I started to panic and tried to figure out what had happened. Maybe I left it in the auditorium? I went to check and, unfortunately, it wasn’t there. I couldn’t think of anywhere else it could be.
Then, everything came back in a flash. The woman in the rags. The French words she had muttered to me. The piece of paper-a clear distraction. In the words of another conference-goer: I had been ‘gyp’ped.
I spoke with the receptionists at the hotel lobby (which was right in front of the restaurant), and they said they hadn’t seen anything. The waiters hadn’t, either. To help me out, they led me in the direction of a police station, a few blocks away, hidden behind a construction site.
I approached the small, white door of the police station, and rang the door bell. I immediately remembered I couldn’t speak a word of German and wondered, out loud, what I would say.
“Come in,” said a very dry voice.
I slowly entered the police station and sat down in the waiting room where I had been directed. As I waited, I replayed the events of the last hour in my head. I had been sitting in the restaurant of a hotel. It seemed safe. My purse and wallet were right next to me the whole time. Where had I gone wrong?
About 5 minutes later, a stern-faced officer called me into an interrogation room. I felt like I was on an episode of Law and Order: “Idiots Abroad Unit” as the woman wrote up my case and even finished my story for me, explaining that this happened to tourists all the time. Luckily, she seemed hopeful that my wallet would turn up.
“Most gypsies just take the money and toss the wallet in the trash. We’ll probably find it in a trash bin near Alexanderplatz,” she said.
I left about 10 minutes later with a copy of my report in hand and headed back to the hotel to search the trashcans as I had been instructed to do. I quickly tore through the hotel bathrooms’ trash and the outdoor bins. With no luck, I decided to make the best of my last night in Berlin. After all, I was fortunate to still have all of my credit and debit cards and my passport (I had left them in the apartment where we were staying).
Although the whole situation shook me up quite a bit, I still had a wonderful time in Prague. After a full day of travel through the Czech Republic and Germany, I finally returned to Madrid, ready to apply for new ID cards and buy a new wallet. I had called both the police station and the hotel in Berlin several times and gave up any hopes of my wallet being returned.
One day after I had started replacing the things I lost in my wallet, I decided to check my Facebook to disconnect from everything for a little bit. I opened up my messages and noticed that I had an unread message in my “other’s” folder. I usually never check that folder, but I was feeling especially bored that day, so I decided to take a look.
The first message was from my last day in Berlin:
Hy Veronica – my Name is Olli and im from Berlin Germany – my wife has found your Moneybag with all your cards – maybe we can meet us to give it back to you !!!
I nearly jumped for joy as I read those words! My wallet! All of my i.d. cards! My llao llao rewards card! (Hey, I’ve got my priorities, people!)
I immediately wrote back to Olli and cursed myself for not having checked my “other’s” folder while I was still in Germany. There was no way for me to go back and meet up with him now!
“Don’t worry, ” he said. “I work at a post office. What’s your address?“
Two weeks later, I received a package with my wallet and all of my ID cards and loyalty cards. I could not believe my luck. There really are genuine people in this world.
So what did I learn from this whole situation? Well, for starters, I need to be more aware of my surroundings. It’s important to always pay attention to what is happening around you and to safeguard your belongings at all times. The moment you let down your guard, you put yourself at risk. Thieves thrive on this.
The other thing that I did wrong was physically showing that I was frustrated. People tell me I am “transparent” and “wear my heart on my sleeve.” In short, I have a hard time not showing how l feel. Thieves scope out people who seem to be frustrated, stressed or uncomfortable. It is much easier to distract them. I should have just taken a break from using my phone to buy tickets and done it later.
Looking back, I was very lucky to have gone through this the way I had. In the end, I only lost about 15,00 EUR and a few hours of my life. And I learned two very valuable lessons: (1) I need to pay more attention to my surroundings and (2) I have to learn how to hide my emotions better.
Although having my wallet stolen right before my eyes definitely shook me up a lot, I am not going to let it stop me from traveling. The same thing-or something even worse- could have just as easily happened in Washington, D.C. or even my hometown, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Instead, I have decided that I am going to learn from the situation and help it turn me into a smarter and safer traveler.