Last Friday, I decided to spend a day in Dresden, Germany. The city is about a two-hour bus ride from Prague through the scenic Czech countryside. Ever since reading Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughter-House Five, which chronicles Dresden’s fire-bombing, I wanted to visit the city. So, I boarded my bus at 8:25 am and pulled into Dresden at 10:30.
Dresden is known as “The Florence of the Elbe” because of its major art collections and picturesque buildings, most of which was rebuilt following the bombing of Dresden by the Allied forces in Feb. 1945. This bombing was one of the most controversial Allied actions during the war, and it killed an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 civilians. Since then, Dresden has restored itself as a major tourist destination.
Dresden really is beautiful – I understand why it got its nickname. I spent the day church-hopping, wandering the city center, and admiring Rembrandts and Caravaggios at the impressive Zwinger Palace complex.
My original return bus was scheduled to leave at 7:35 pm, but rain, the approaching dark, and a quickly dying phone battery drove me to decide on leaving sooner. I booked a new bus for 6:00 pm – and that’s when things started to go off the rails.
When I got to the bus station, I couldn’t find my platform, so I found what I thought was an information desk. They directed me to a platform across the street, and I sat down and waited. 6:00 pm came and went: without my bus. 6:05. 6:10. 6:20. And still no bus.
My phone was now at 4% as I walked back to the information desk, which I was no longer sure was an information station, as people were coming in and out dropping off food boxes and picking up food.
I asked about my bus, showing them my bus ticket on my dying phone. “I’ve never heard of that bus line,” said the woman behind the desk.
Well, that was promising. They let me charge my phone and gave me a glass of water. I sat in what I now realized was a social welfare outpost, half-laughing at the prospect of being stranded in Dresden.
10-minutes to 7:00, I got my phone back, now at a healthy 23%, and asked where I could buy a new ticket. “The office closes in 10 minutes,” said the woman. “Come on, I’ll walk you.”
After walking through the entire bus station, across the street, and down a side street, we made it to the bus ticket office, where I bought a ticket on the last bus with open seats to Prague that night: a 7:20 pm bus.
I did make that bus. And I made it back to Prague 15 minutes earlier than originally planned, $50 poorer, but also maybe a little bit wiser.
Now, I’ll never go anywhere without a portable charger. Now, I’ll never go anywhere without expecting the unexpected. This misadventure was a healthy reminder that nothing can ever be planned perfectly: the best-laid plans and all that.
It was also a reminder that there are good people everywhere. On the walk to the bus ticket office, I thanked the woman for helping me. “It’s what we do,” she said, explaining that she is part of a Christian group that offers social services across Germany. I don’t think the job description included escorting clueless American students through the bus station, but she took me under her wing just the same. And for that, I am grateful for my misadventure.