or, the curious tale of how i came to lose my swiss army knife.
just before 3am one night a couple of months ago, i heard the sound of breaking glass outside. it had been very quiet, with no passing vehicles, so i looked out the window to see what had caused the sound. from one window, i could see two people standing on the opposite corner. from the kitchen window, i saw the shop down below, but didn't notice anything amiss. the noise had also disturbed andy, who came to the kitchen window as i went away. a moment later i heard her urgently whispering that someone had gone into the shop. when i returned to the kitchen window with the camera, she was already on the phone to the police giving a detailed live commentary. it appeared that the two people i'd seen on the opposite corner had smashed the lower glass of the shop's door, waited on the other side of the street to see if the noise attracted any attention, then come back to rob the shop. one was inside, the other outside keeping watch. several times he looked directly up at our window, where i was attempting to take photos and andy was describing him to the police. thanks to our spectacularly lush and abundant basil plants on the window sill - which i'd been meaning to harvest for some time but hadn't got around to - the look-out ("Schmierer" auf Bayerisch) did not notice us.
after only a few minutes, the Einbrecher ducked nimbly out from the broken window, a bulging bag in each hand. the two men walked briskly away from the scene at the same moment as an unmarked police car came around the corner. andy was still commentating to the operating, telling that the theives had just walked past the police car. within minutes reinforcements arrive - i was quite amazed at the speed and resources of the response - and a short time later they had apprehended the two men and recovered the stolen goods (cigarettes, to the value of about €1500). we gave our statements to the police and i provided my photos - too dark and blurry to be of use in identifying the men, but helpful in confirming that we had a close and clear view of the event (through the basil leaves!). it had been a dramatic and surreal experience to witness the burglary, and the shop owner was very grateful for our actions.
the story doesn't end there, however. some six weeks later, andy received a summons to attend the court case, and i decided to go along to support her and to experience the german justice system in action. i had had a busy morning, with a meeting running later than i expected, and as i hurriedly cycled to the court i realised that i'd forgotten to take my swiss army knife out of my handbag. this pocketknife was given to me by friends as a farewell gift when i set off on one of my european adventures in the late 1990s, and it had travelled everywhere with me for nearly 20 years. twice i had nearly lost it at airport security (actually i think three times, but i can't remember where the third was): at sydney airport i was able to check in my hand luggage backpack at the boarding gate, with almost nothing but the knife in it, and carried my hand luggage on in a plastic bag (not the first time i'd done this - i went to india in 1987 with a plastic supermarket shopping bag as my handluggage ... ); and in trondheim, where security didn't even pick it up - but i was flying via oslo to london and was sure it would get confiscated in oslo. trondheim being a small airport, i was taken backstage to the baggage handling area, found my suitcase waiting to be loaded, and slipped in the knife. it's been an invaluable tool on many occasions - most often for opening bottles of wine, but it's also come in handy in many other social and technical situations.
i knew there would be stringent security at the court (the beate jeppe case is currently going on in the same building) but i expected there would be a system for holding onto such items, and there was. i handed over my swiss army knife and in return was given a laminated red cardboard square, printed with the number 9. the court proceedings were straightforward as both men had pleaded guilty, both were sentenced to prison, and in the end andy was not even required to testify. leaving the building, i stopped at security to retrieve my swiss army knife. after some confusion, it became clear that my knife was no longer there. was it a small silver pocket knife, they asked? no, i answered, it's a medium-sized red swiss army knife. eventually, a very apologetic woman security officer concluded that someone must have mixed up the 6 and the 9, and handed my swiss army knife to the owner of the small silver pocket knife - who must have seen it as an upgrade, as they had not objected to being given the wrong knife.
it felt like we spent almost as long at security as we had in the court itself. they didn't have a procedure for such an eventuality, as it had never happened before. details were exchanged and i headed home, knifeless. a week later they called to arrange payment for a replacement, and i was amazed to learn that i can buy a similar knife for not much more than €20! As someone who nostalgically values such gifts and very rarely loses anything special, it was a bit of a wrench to let go emotionally; however, i've lost contact with the friends who gave me the knife, the blades were getting blunt and the scissors were a bit wonky. sometimes it's the right time to let go.
the burglars are in jail and the knife will be replaced; all's well that ends well!