The Ghost Hand

15 March 2019

To get to the train station, I walk down our residential neighborhood street which is lined with old growth trees and low-lying bushes. It’s the kind of place where you see kids riding up and down the street on their bikes and mothers pushing their children in strollers. There’s a school and daycare center on the street, so early in the morning parents can be seen walking hand in hand with their kids to school. Other kids zoom past you on their scooters, somehow managing to maintain their balance despite the fact that the schoolbags on their backs are the same size that an army recruit would take with him to basic training. Later in the day the same kids and parents stream back out of the schoolgrounds.

With all this daily kid traffic, it comes as no surprise when I see a small hand waving to me from a bush. Obviously it’s a toddler hiding from his mom, who is probably a few paces behind me. At second glance I see that it’s not a hand at all – it’s just a glove. Someone stuck it onto a branch, all five fingers pointing skyward in a permanent greeting to passersby.

How nice for someone to extend a greeting to one and all as the stroll through the neighborhood! Especially in the schoolyard: this must add a kooky yet friendly touch to kids who are just getting used to the idea of spending school away from their moms.  

Actually this is the very efficient German method of helping someone who has lost their glove to find it again. Here in the land of engineers, scientists and rule-followers, you wouldn’t expect to find spontaneous goofiness in place of an efficient, neighborhood-based lost-and-found system. But this is also the land of poets and artists – this was the national gene that created this ingenious idea.

Over time I see all kinds of lost items in various poses, all designed to catch the attention of a passersby – one of which will hopefully be the rightful owner of the item. Lost tennis shoes sit atop fences and electrical transformers (maybe they fell out of someone’s gym bag) and stocking caps perch atop fenceposts (those are easy to drop, I get that one). What’s harder to understand is how a sweatshirt got lost – OK, gym bag again. But coats and jackets?

Now that I think of it, my daughter also managed to lose her coat riding her bike home from the train station. It was a brand-new down coat that I cleverly bought at the beginning of the season since she had a very small size. I was so proud of myself that I had the forethought to buy it in November, before they all sold out.

On an unusually warm winter day she stuffed the coat into the basket of her bike and it flew out. When she turned around to retrieve it, she discovered it had flown out. But nobody stuck that coat in a bush or on a fencepost; I guess someone else with size 34 came along and thought “Eureka! Here’s that coat I’ve been wanting!” But that was an exception. Mostly people consider it a challenge to place a lost item in the most visible place possible so that the original owner will see it.

Once when we were on a bike ride to nearby Nymphenburg Palace, a favorite biking destination, I was faced with a particular challenge. While locking up our bikes just outside the gate – bikes are not allowed inside the palace grounds – I noticed that the very expensive-looking mountain bike next to me was not locked up properly. Its owner had left the key in the lock – it was a theft just waiting to happen. All anyone had to do was to remove the coiled bike chain and pedal away.

This was intriguing. If I locked the bike but the owner was unable to unlock it, that wouldn’t do much good. How could I lock the bike yet leave the key someplace where only the owner would find it? Then I spied a removable, rainproof seat cover on the bike. This was it! I locked the bike and stuck the key underneath it. Once the owner came back and realized their key was missing, they would look around for it in the vicinity of the bike and it would fall out.

After our coffee break we hopped back onto our bikes and pedaled away. I felt satisfied that I had not only once again completed my favorite 12 km bike tour, I had also managed to prevent someone’s bike from being stolen.

As mountain bikes whizzed past us I had to squelch a voice inside me that wanted to shout out:

“Hey mister mountain bike owner! It was me! I’m the one who stuck the key under the seat cover!”

But I guess I’ll just have to make due with the knowledge that he was very happy to discover that instead of stealing his bike, someone chose to instead hide the key where only he would find it.

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Expat chatter

An American from the Midwest, I landed in Bavaria many years ago. It's been an adventure from day one!

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