Around 2PM I sit down on the floor next to a wall near the Rewe supermarket, one of the Cologne Airport’s busiest thoroughfares. My thin wooden sign reads simply so the majority can understand, “Hurt by Airport Police”. I’m still speaking to the very first person who stopped when the first police officer arrives, a 40-something blonde woman. She wants to know what happened yesterday. I’m explaining as several more officers arrive, now surrounding me as I continue sitting on the floor with my backpack on. But most of them seem to know the story already, “But you lied. You had your passport. Lying is a good reason to ask for the passport. You are acting like a child.”
“No, that logic is like a child.”
The conversation continues nowhere with the officers for 15 minutes as an ever growing crowd of spectators builds around us. The cops first get on their radios to find officer Peter Kremer who hurt my arm, but he’s off today. They then spout off the same old lines about increased security because of 911, then when they see that’s not getting me to move, they turn their attention to the message on my sign, “This is not fair to us. You are saying that all airport police hurt you. We did not hurt you. This is a lie.”
“There were a dozen different officers from all over this airport that came to detain me for no reason yesterday. They were all airport police. This is no lie.”
One of the officers points to the logo on his shirt and then logo on his collegue’s shirt, “Look, it’s like CIA and FBI, different. We are not all the same.”
“You are all airport police here. If you just let me sit here quietly for 2 hours with my sign then I’ll leave the airport. It’s already been 30 minutes so that just leaves one and a half more hours. Otherwise you will have to arrest me, because if you just remove me and release me again like yesterday then I’ll come right back with the same sign. And I’m not going to remain quiet while you remove me.”
A little man who appears to be in charge suddenly yanks the wooden sign from my hands, turns to face the crowd and breaks it in half with a loud snap. He then breaks the two halves over his knee a second time, looking very pleased with himself. The audience gasps in unison. He nods his head and the other officers spring to action, pulling me up off the floor. I voluntarily walk with them, but as loudly as I possibly can.
I have time to yell out the whole story of what happened yesterday before being led down a nearby staircase to a police substation. All the officers crowd into the entryway with me and shut the door behind us. “OK, now what do you want?”, asks the sign breaker.
“To hold the sign that you broke for another hour and a half. That is the only way I will leave.”
“Would you like to travel somewhere today?”, asks the blond woman.
“Are you offering to put me on a plane?”
“No, I don’t think that is possible, but airport security, those guys with the black coats up there, have said that you cannot be in this building anymore. So you must leave now.”
“I meant what I said about coming right back with the sign, so you might as well just arrest me now.”
“But we don’t want to do that.”
“But I didn’t want to be held against my will yesterday for no reason.”
“30 babies die every day in Syria. Why don’t you go hold a sign there! This is so small.”
“Do you think situations like Syria just happen all at once? No, they always start with the small things. The whole world is turning into one big fascist state of the rich, one small step at a time. No this is not small, and what about all the people who forget their ID’s or don’t like to carry them because they don’t feel comfortable in their pockets? Why should they be detained when you know beyond any reasonable doubt that they have done nothing wrong?”
“It is the law in Germany. You must carry ID at all times. And as for foreigners, we must know how long you have been in the country. When do you plan on leaving Germany?”
“My 3-month tourist stamp is still good. That’s all you need to know. Do you want to see my passport?”
“No, I do not. Why do you come to my country and act like this?”
“A person doesn’t have to be from any certain place to take a stand against something they know is wrong, as a matter of fact it is their responsibility.”
“You just want to be arrested so you can put it on the front page of your blog.”
“Yes, so people will read about this.”
Most of the officers leave the room, quietly, looking disappointed. The man in charge asks me to please leave on my own again for the 3rd or 4th time. I refuse.
“OK, you are arrested, please sit down.”
He takes my passport into another room for 30 minutes, during which time 3 cops arrive from Cologne to pick me up, two young men and a young woman. Not having been part of the previous conversation, they appear pleasant and patient, just standing quietly around me at first. The youngest of the male cops then strikes up a conversation about travel that lasts for the next thirty minutes, through the 100MPH car ride back to Cologne. As we’re nearing the jail he says, “Anyway, it was very nice to meet you. You will probably be free in an hour or two. There is a free soccer game happening tonight right there at that stadium, and the train station is right over there. Both very close for you to walk.”
I’m taken to a part of the jail building for temporary holding. The little booking room there is full of cops, most of whom only speak to me in German. The young man who’d spoken with me on the way here helps to translate. They direct me to put my hands and feet on red drawings of hands and feet on the wall and floor so I can be searched. They ask if I’ve had any drugs or alcohol, then I’m lead to a holding cell by two men and asked to take off all my clothes. They methodically pat down each individual article of clothing then hand them back. My shoes must remain outside the cell door.
Not ten minutes after arrival to this building, I’m booked, alone in an ordinary cell. Ordinary except that the smooth brick walls contain just the faintest hind of blue. But all else is beige or grey. The windows are unusually large for a jail cell, but frosted so that there is no view of the outside.
The cell door opens after I awaken from a good nap.
“You may leave”. The man motions for me to stand my mattress in the corner and throw away my plastic cup. He takes my backpack out of a locker in a nearby room. A female cop hands over a pink form to sign, reading that all my belongings have been returned. But the male cop is still holding my saw and leatherman.
“I get everything back?”
I follow the woman out across a courtyard to a metal door in a high cement wall. The man follows behind, carrying my tools. Behind the door is the sidewalk, freedom, littered with rotting articles of clothing and jail property receipts. The male cops hands over the saw and leatherman.
The metal door clangs behind me.