Mad Hour in Stuttgart

We just got back from a peaceful International Teams family conference near Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany:

Schonblick Conference Center

The trip home got a bit hairy, though, and one hour was excessively eventful: Saturday, August 24, from 11:00 am to 12:15 noon.

Our itinerary home was complicated, but the highlight for this story was that Nate and two of our kids would drive a tiny rental car from Schwäbisch Gmünd to Geneva, Switzerland, and the other two kids and I would ride a train from Stuttgart to Zurich, then a second train to Geneva. All I had to take care of was R, K, three backpacks, and two rolling suitcases. Easy!

The first part of the plan went well: our colleagues, Paul and Elizabeth, dropped us off at the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof train station, hugged us goodbye, and drove off. It was 11am, and I already had tickets for our train to Zurich which would depart at 11:56.

Immediately, R, who hadn’t been feeling well in the car, threw up on the sidewalk. Then we entered what we thought was the train station, but it was actually an extensive metro station. I could not find the train platforms, nor read any of the signs. Finally we figured out that the main train station was upstairs. We also found a McDonald’s upstairs where we ate lunch. At 11:40, with 16 minutes to spare before the train departed at 11:56, all we had to do was go to the bathroom and board the train.

Here’s where it got crazy. This McDonald’s had no trash cans. None! We got up from our table to try to find one. All of us had our backpacks on, but in looking for a bin we totally forgot about our two suitcases. We deposited our trash on a counter then traipsed to the WC. There was a lady sitting in a booth, with a sign saying it cost 50 cents to use the bathroom. This threw us for a loop, but we paid her, went to the bathroom, and then headed for Platform 6 and the train.

As we stepped onto the train, it hit me: “Our suitcases!! Oh no, we left them at McDonald’s!” We jumped off the train and started hurrying back, the thought sinking in that since it was already 11:52, once we got our suitcases we wouldn’t have time to get back to this train. Then I started worrying that our suitcases would get stolen.

When we were close to the main hall, my anxiety about the suitcases overcame my wisdom, and I said, “R, you want to run back to McDonald’s and see if our suitcases are still there?” “Yeah!” he said and started running. I told him, “Stay there! Once you get them stay where you are!” “No, I’ll bring them to you!” he yelled over his shoulder as he ran away. “No, just stay there!!” I yelled.

When K and I got to McDonald’s, there was no sign of R or our suitcases. If R had gotten lost, he might have ended up back in the metro hallways downstairs. Or, maybe he had gone back to Platform 6 to look for us. Or, and this was a horrible thought, someone had grabbed him while he was running through. K and I went back to the main hall, then back to McDonald’s, and back and forth. We must have walked around this Ritter chocolate-bar statue at least 20 times trying to stay in the same general area:

Ritter Bars Stuttgart

I saw some German policemen and wondered if I should talk to them, and I considered running down to the metro station downstairs. Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof seemed so huge in that moment.

After 15 minutes of looking for R, we headed back toward Platform 6, and finally, finally I saw a uniformed platform guard walking back with R.  He had been crying. I gave him a big hug and said we’d been worried about him! Had he gone to McDonald’s? Yeah, he said, and then he had gotten the suitcases and come back to Platform 6 to find us. The guard spoke English and was so kind to R. Soon a young German guy came up as well, pulling the two suitcases. “See?” he said to R, “I told you we’d find your mom and everything would be ok! I told you!” He was smiling, and before he left he gave R a high-five.

Since we’d missed the previous train, we had to go to the ticketing office and get new connections to Geneva. There was no extra charge, which was nice. The crazy thing was that instead of going to Zurich and then to Geneva, we would have to go to Singen, Schaffhausen, Bern, Zurich, and then Geneva. And the first train, to Singen, was going to leave in 5 minutes! We ran down Platform 4 and hopped on just in time.

It was 12:15, and once we were on the train I was so relieved that R had been found, that the suitcases were with us, and that we’d make it to Geneva that evening. Things could have turned out differently. I’m so grateful there were kind people that saw R crying and reached out to him, and I’m glad we remembered our suitcases right when we boarded the train and not when we were halfway to Zurich!

R was still a bit shaken up, though, as he settled in to play video games:

2013-08-24 12.33.09

Little K was happy the whole day. She liked riding all the trains:


Even with taking five trains instead of the original two, we only arrived an hour after we were supposed to, and we had a fun reunion with Nate, B, and M at the hotel in Geneva.

So now we’re all home safely, and R and I both learned a lesson. He needs to stay where he is if that’s what I tell him to do, and I shouldn’t have sent him ahead but should have made sure all three of us stuck together in an unfamiliar place. Next time we’re in Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof we’ll laugh as we walk by that Ritter statue and think of that one mad hour we lived through one Saturday back in August of 2013.


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  • Matthew Reed

    Faith, I love how you share the details of that one hour. Wow! An Asian American who lives in Spain, struggling with signs in German. The emotions that were jam-packed into those few minutes. Missing train. The suitcases. R is quicker. But wait. He´s disobeying me. He´s lost. C´mon K! Circling Ritter. The kind strangers. The high five. The lesson. The fact that you can write in August 2013 that one day you will think of “that one mad hour” back in August 2013 shows how well you can process all this crazy situation and make it fit in the grand scheme of things. Very proud of you! … Did I ever tell you about the time I was “lost” in Madrid for a few hours as a three year old? My kids frequently ask me to repeat that story for them.

  • TheSweetRoad

    Wow, Matt, you are so perceptive! You captured all the emotions and the stress so perfectly! I’m amazed. Guess you weren’t a psych major for nothing :). Thanks for the encouragement about perspective. And no, we haven’t heard that story yet – please share!

  • Anne Hughes

    Oh my word! How scary! You must have been loosing your mind. Glad to hear that it turned out ok though. Thankful for the kind people at the train station to help out R. :)

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