Before I left for Europe in late February 2020 for what I assumed would be a six-month visit that, due to pandemic circumstances, morphed into an eighteen-month stay, I went to a Fifth Third (my bank) branch in Cleveland and asked it to wire $8,000 to my euro account in Germany. When they told me the wire fee had escalated to some amount exceeding $100, I requested cash. Although transporting cash isn’t my preferred method of bank transfer, I’d done it many times before, beginning, of course, in the analog era.
So, the bank teller packed eighty crisp $100 bills into a purpose-designed envelope covered with bank adverts. I tucked the envelope into the pouch that hangs around my neck that Walt gave me as a Christmas gift in 2019 after my passports were stolen at the Budapest airport car rental return following our live music- and dance-saturated sojourn to Hungary and Serbia a few months earlier. I wore the pouch to New York, where I spent several days, and then to Stockholm. Enroute, I and my $8K strolled through the shops at Keflavik Airport on Iceland but didn’t buy anything. I arrived on a Friday and should have arrived early enough to deposit the money in my Stockholm account, but the plane was late, and I arrived after closing.
I decided then that I’d leave my $8K in Stockholm, in the secure storage of my daughter’s apartment, along with the American passport I wouldn’t need while in Europe since I had sufficient euros and credit cards to tide me through March-April in Paris and I’d spend May in Warsaw, where I’d be housed and paid. After Warsaw, I planned to return briefly to Stockholm in order to repack for a month in Germany, at which point I planned to retrieve my $8K and take it to my bank branch in Greifswald, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. I placed the $8K in a Ziploc bag, along with my passport, and put them in one of those very safe places that one cannot recall later, hard as one might try.
Off I went to Paris, anticipating two months of dining, dancing, live music, and theater, but after two wonderful weeks, the world changed, and I was ‘stranded’, albeit happily, until Summer 2021. There were moments when I contemplated returning to the U.S. but faced with the necessity of first returning to Stockholm to retrieve my passport, if, indeed, I could find it in that rationally selected, if forgotten, secure spot.
When I returned to Stockholm on 1 July 2021, I made a beeline for the storage room. Fortunately, the precious plastic bag was in the first place I looked, along the front edge of the bureau’s sweater drawer. Phew!
$8K, now safely back in its pouch (my passports were unnecessary and left behind, since in Schengen countries all one needs is one’s national ID card), was zipped into an outside pocket of my carryon. We hopped onto the train to Arlanda and boarded the plane for Berlin. We enjoyed our ten days with family in Potsdam, although $8K never left the security of its pouch and the pouch remained in the carryon. After saying our farewells, we boarded the S-Bahn (commuter train) to Berlin, to the elegant, Charlottenburg apartment of Opera Buddy. We were greeted with a glass of champagne, which she and I enjoyed on her geranium filled terrace overlooking the leafy, cobblestone street. The following day, Opera Buddy and I climbed into her sleek, maroon Mercedes S-65 and drove to Bregenz, Austria, where, the following evening, we saw Rigoletto performed on the sea stage at the Bregenz Festival. $8K stayed behind, luxuriating in the rambling, antique- and art-filled apartment.
Upon our return from Bregenz, $8K and I boarded a train headed north for a long weekend in Greifswald. We arrived late Friday afternoon and planned to part ways on Monday, when the bank reopened. We installed ourselves in my usual quarters, in the guest bedroom of friends living in the colorfully named town quarter, Fleischervorstadt (Butcher Suburb). I had a lovely time biking along the Ryck River to the sea, listening to the church bells chime on Sunday morning, and dining with friends on historic sailing ships docked along the river.
Finally, it was Monday morning. I put $8K into my pocketbook, hopped on my bike (I keep one there – it’s the best means of transportation in Greifswald), and headed to my branch, located on the Medieval town square. We were so excited after seventeen months, to finally make a deposit for which we’ve been so patiently waiting, and that I initially thought would be accomplished by the push of a button and accompanied by a reasonable fee. The banker informed me that the Old Town branch no longer accepted foreign currency and directed me to the new branch, five kilometers distant, situated in a strip mall isolated in a field of weeds on the outskirts of Greifswald.
It was a hot day, my train was leaving at 3:15 in the afternoon, and I was invited to lunch at noon. Suddenly, the narrow window that we had to deposit $8K in its new home seemed alarmingly short. I found directions to the branch on Google Maps and began peddling, past the city walls, through the suburbs, into a no-man’s-land of fields and industry, sometimes on those weird concrete tracks that are telltale remnants of the Cold War era. I arrived drenched in perspiration and anxious about the time crunch. I parked my bike and walked through automatically opening glass doors into a freezing lobby, one colder than a New York movie theater in July. Goosebumps rose like an Alpine range on my damp skin. I approached the banker’s window, relieved that $8K would soon be ensconced in its new and proper home. I took out the envelope and placed it on the counter.
“I would like to deposit U.S. dollars into my account,” I explained cheerfully.
“How much?” the teller inquired.
“8,000 U.S. dollars,” I replied. His expression changed.
“We can’t do that. $3,000 is the limit since several weeks. The European Union has changed the banking laws again.”
“Oh,” I sighed, crestfallen. “OK, that’s fine, let’s do that, then.” I counted out thirty bills and pushed them under the screen. The teller hunched over his computer, fingers skipping on the keys.
Ah, progress, I thought.
“May I have your ID?” he asked. I handed it over.
After a few minutes, he excused himself and joined two colleagues across the room. All three leaned over a computer screen. This could not be good, I worried. The teller returned.
“I’m sorry, but we can’t make that transfer today,” he informed me, apologetically. “Can you return tomorrow?”
I was already late for lunch with Alexander. “OK, thank you,” I responded resignedly, as a torrent of much harsher retorts streamed through my consciousness.
He returned the $3K, and I reunited it with its comrades in the envelope.
So, off we went, $8K and I, unable to get rid of one another after many months and thousands of miles – like a bad marriage, one in which you stay together reluctantly and unhappily for the sake of the kids. I pedaled over to Alexander, who prepared, as usual, a gourmet lunch, and afterwards, to the train station. We returned to Berlin, where we spent several more days with Opera Buddy, and then retraced our steps—plane to Stockholm, then New York via Keflavik, then back to Purgatory, Indiana, a familiar place for me, but new to $8K. By this time, I couldn’t wait to rid myself of what began as a minor inconvenience but ultimately morphed into a worrisome burden. The day after my return, $8K and I made our final trip together, to the local Fifth Third Bank branch. It was with joy and relief that I turned it over to the teller, oblivious to the grand and exotic adventure $8K had taken. It undoubtedly visited places the teller never will. Nonetheless, it was good riddance. Like some relationships, ours was one that began pleasantly enough, but ended in aversion.