Going to Europe and Coming to America

Flying from the United States to any destination in Germany is not much different from what it was in years past.  My wife, Joyce, and I arrived in Munich on the morning of September 24 following an overnight flight from Houston.

During the long tedious flight from Houston I could have watched at least six full-length movies, but I watched just two.  I saw my old friend and former Malibu neighbor, Tatum O’Neal, in her Oscar-winning performance in “Paper Moon,” a movie she made when she was just ten years old, and I saw Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane,” one of Hollywood’s greatest movies of all time.

As I watched Welles’ performance as a crass, overbearing, egomaniacal newspaper publisher, I couldn’t help but feel as if Donald Trump is a perfect reincarnation of Welles’ character, Charles Foster Kane.  Trump and Kane are mirror images of each other.  Anyone wishing to understand the political appeal of “Citizen Trump” should simply rent a video copy of “Citizen Kane.”

After standing in a short line in Munich to show our passports, we were directed to the baggage claim area where our checked bags arrived in a matter of minutes.  We then proceeded to two pairs of swinging doors, one marked “passengers with nothing to declare.”  We passed through the doors with a welcoming smile from a lone customs official and minutes later we were aboard a bus bound for a ski resort in Soell, Austria, just 54 miles south of Munich.

On Friday, we spent a full day in old-town Innsbruck, enjoying a sandwich and a glass of wine in a sunny sidewalk café across the street from the Hofburg Palace where Marie Antoinette grew up.  Although there is no real evidence that she ever uttered the words, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (“Let them eat cake”), Marie Antoinette eventually became a very unpopular figure in France and was sent to the guillotine on October 16, 1793, during the French Revolution.

The following day, Saturday, September 26, I experienced the joy of driving a 5-speed Ford stick-shift rental car over some 120 miles of high-speed autobahns and just over 100 miles of winding two-lane alpine roads to visit the famed Neuschwanstein castle of Bavaria’s King Ludwig II.  With heavy traffic in both directions, the local farmers pulling their wagonloads of silage made passing a frightening experience… more so for my three passengers than for me.

After riding horse-drawn carts up the mountain to the castle… I can still recall the days when I walked up the long road to Neuschwanstein faster than the horse-drawn carts… we shared lunch with friends before descending the mountain and returning to our ski resort.  On the way back we came across several thousand very frustrated drivers who were stuck in a 10-mile long traffic jam on a two-lane mountain road.  A big Mercedes sedan, pulling a camper trailer, was stalled at the base of an incline with no possibility of getting off the road, turning around, or backing     down.  And since traffic was heavy in both directions there was no opportunity for those stuck in the traffic jam to turn around and find another route.  They may still be there a week later.

In our remaining days we drove to Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace, where we strolled through the same palace gardens where Julie Andrews sang and danced with the Von Trapp children in “The Sound of Music.”  And we traveled to Berchtesgaden uber Salzburg, where we enjoyed a cold beer in what was once Adolph Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Eagle’s Nest.  We also spent a day driving over the Brenner Pass into northern Italy where we were treated to the most “generous” wine-tasting party I’ve ever experienced in the vineyards of the Merano-Bolzano region.

Although a principal reason for our trip to Austria and Germany at this time of year was to attend Munich’s Oktoberfest, we decided that, with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees flooding into Germany from Austria and Hungary, it might be a good idea to avoid Munich and other major German cities.  With widespread reports of women dragged from buses and automobiles and gang-raped in broad daylight, it simply wasn’t worth the gamble.

What was most surprising was that, in a week of watching news broadcasts on the BBC, CNN International, and an English-language French network, we saw almost no news coverage of the millions of Muslim refugees fleeing war and brutality in their home countries.  To judge by the amount of coverage of the crisis on European TV, there was no reason to believe that refugees were flooding across European frontiers, that boatloads of refugees were dying at sea, or that hordes of refugees were trudging overland from Greece and Turkey to Western Europe.

For the first time it was possible to believe that perhaps the Germans who lived in close proximity to Dachau, Buchenwald, and other concentration camps during the Nazi holocaust really didn’t know what was going on behind the barbed-wire fences and the iron gates that proclaimed, “Arbeit Macht Frei.”  If leftist regimes during the 1930s and ‘40s could keep their people ignorant of the horrors of the concentration camps by merely managing the news, why couldn’t they keep them ignorant of the invasion of African and Middle Eastern refugees in 2015 when leftist control of the media is just as pervasive and even more sophisticated?

But what was most important for me was to see the joy in Joyce’s eyes as she experienced Austria and Germany, my favorite places on Earth, for the first time.  On first sight, a newcomer to the German and Austrian Alps might feel as if they are looking at a few miles of Potemkin Villages, where every home, every window box, every lawn, every meadow, every mountain stream, and every highland pasture are manicured to absolute perfection.  But it doesn’t take long for the first-time visitor to realize that the perfection in the Alpine region of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland goes on for hundreds of miles, in all directions, apparently without flaw.

In eight days of travel throughout Bavaria, Austria, and the Italian Tyrol, there was not a piece of litter to be seen… no discarded beer cans, plastic bottles, or hamburger wrappers.  There were no automobile junk yards, no garish fast-food restaurants, no highway billboards, no graffiti-sprayed walls, and no dilapidated automobiles.  In a word, that entire region of Planet Earth is “pristine.”  The roads and highways are completely devoid of potholes and the trains and buses run on time.

But, as in everything else, all good things must come to an end.  On Thursday morning, October 1st, we packed our bags and returned by bus to the Munich International Airport.  Arriving at the airport with time to spare, we had plenty of time to stand in a long baggage-check line and a much shorter and faster-moving security check line where all we had to do was place our carry-on bags, our wallets, and our pocket-change into baskets for x-ray examination.  However, while the return flight from Munich to Washington (Dulles) was some three hours shorter than our long flight from Houston to Munich, what awaited us at Dulles was a most unpleasant end to a spectacular European vacation.

Upon entering the Dulles terminal, we found ourselves inching forward in a seemingly endless maze of retractable crowd-control barriers, at the end of which were three or four surly customs agents checking passports.  Passing that obstacle, we were directed to a baggage claim area to retrieve our checked luggage.

After waiting for nearly a half hour to reclaim our bags, we were directed to a second crowd-control maze which appeared to be nothing more than a people-storage facility because there was no discernible movement in the line.  After an hour or more, moving just inches at a time, we learned why the line moved so slowly.  The line we’d been standing in emptied into a room with some 20 or 30 unattended electronic kiosks which required thousands of kiosk-illiterate travelers to study glowing touch-screens, trying to figure out what was required of them.

Once passengers figured out that they were first required to scan their passports, they were then required to position themselves so that the kiosk could produce a photograph of the passenger, along with a form to be completed affirming that the passenger carried no fruits, vegetables, plants, or seeds; no meats, animals, or animal products; no disease agents or cell cultures; no soil from a foreign farm or ranch; that the passenger had not been in close proximity to livestock; that the passenger was not carrying in excess of $10,000 in U.S. currency; etc… the very same questions we’d responded to on the customs declaration form completed prior to landing.

Once we’d completed the kiosk interrogation and had our kiosk-generated customs declaration forms in hand, we were directed to yet another waiting area filled with crowd-control barriers.  After moving through that maze at a snail’s pace we found three or four bored customs officers sitting behind desks, doing nothing but collecting the kiosk-generated customs declarations.  Then, after unburdening ourselves of our customs declarations we were directed to a baggage collection area where we were able to return our checked baggage to United Airlines for the final leg of our journey to Tulsa.

From there, we found ourselves in a fourth passenger collection room with a seemingly endless maze of retractable crowd-control barriers, at the end of which we were required to empty our pockets into trays, along with our carry-on-bags, remove our shoes and belts, and submit to a full-body scan and a full-body pat-down.

To say that the process of reentering the United States was a maddening ordeal would be an understatement, but it’s the sort of thing that happens when the inmates are allowed to run the asylum.  As I stood in those endless lines, the most painful and humiliating punishment devised by the fiendish bureaucrats of the Transportation Security Administration, I couldn’t help but think of the millions of illegal aliens streaming unimpeded across our southern border.

George Orwell warned us about this.  Nineteen eight-four has finally arrived!

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