In Germany, all’s fair in lining up

Columnist

No one lines up like an Englishman. Put two or more together, and they assemble into a beautiful queue, like molecules clicking into place to form a crystal.

The Germans? Not so much, at least if my vacation last week is any indication. My Lovely Wife and I traveled to the picturesque Black Forest village of Freiburg to visit our daughter and then took her with us to Venice.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Picture this: We arrive comfortably early at the Freiburg train station for the hourly bus that takes passengers on a 50-minute ride to Basel airport. There is no structure to the waiting crowd. People arrive singly and in groups, like crows alighting on the telephone wires in Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” It is a Sunday around noon, and everyone seems pretty relaxed.

Then the bus hoves into view, and it’s as if an electric jolt has gone through the assembled Germans. They jostle and push as the bus’s doors wheeze open, like Titanic passengers trying to get to the last lifeboat.

I have to put our luggage in the compartment on the other side of the bus, so I send My Lovely Wife and daughter ahead. “Save me a seat,” I say as they shuffle forward in the oddly funnel-like formation that constitutes a German “line.”

When I return from stowing our luggage, I see that Ruth and Gwyn are aboard but that the bus is nearly full, even though about 20 people have yet to get on. There is a tightening of the throng, a worrying compaction.

“John? Isss zere a John?” the bus driver says to the crowd from atop the bus’s steps. Then I see Ruth at the door.

“Come on,” she shouts. She reaches a hand down and pulls me up. She has somehow convinced the driver that as she and our daughter are already aboard, I should be allowed on. I take one of the last seats.

A family of five gets on: man, woman, their three blond children. The father launches into a monologue, quietly but insistently. My daughter translates sotto voce:

“Please, is there anyone here taking a flight after 1:30? Our flight leaves then; we must take this bus. May we have your seats?”

A 50ish woman in the front row — her hair a severe shade of henna — starts berating the bus driver. “We should have left 15 minutes ago,” she shouts. “We need to go!”

And we do. The family gets off. The last two seats are filled. The bus pulls out. I fear that those left behind will be no better situated for the next bus than they were for this one.

A day later, we are in St. Mark’s Square, in the middle of a long line waiting to ascend the 323-foot bell tower. There’s something about the Kelly family that makes people want to cross in front of us — we are always the point at which people coming from a 90-degree angle bisect the line — but we are taking this in stride. Then a woman with a stroller does that classic line-cutting move: innocently sidling up next to us, moving in parallel with us as we trudge forward, looking for an opening.

This she finds behind us, deftly slipping in front of what turns out to be a German man. I hate to say it, but she is German, too.

“What are you doing?” the man says.

“It’s so hot,” the woman explains. “I don’t want my child to wait in the sun.”

I’m pretty certain the kid — a toddler as yet unfamiliar with the wonders of the Venetian Republic — has zero interest in touring the famed campanile.

The man ejects her, but she just slips in behind him, in front of someone who can’t be bothered to maintain strict line discipline.

So that’s how the Germans compare with the English. How do the Italians line up? I have no idea. There are no Italians in Venice in the summer.

Send a Kid to Camp

Summer may mean vacation for you, summer camp for your children. But some Washingtonians aren’t so fortunate. That’s where Camp Moss Hollow comes in. It’s a camp for at-risk area kids.

You can help support Moss Hollow. To make a tax-deductible donation, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

To read previous columns by John Kelly, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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