On October 25, I made a stopover in Frankfurt during a return flight from Beijing to Madrid. During my brief stay at the airport, I read Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful speech at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and was particularly impressed by the Nigerian-American writer’s comment that the world is “shifting and darkening”. Her words took on a particular meaning in light of what happened to me shortly after.
While I was going through customs, a bottle of Chinese liqueur (府藏孔府家) I was carrying caught the attention of two officials (see photo). The bottle had been packaged by the duty free shop in Beijing and was accompanied by the receipt in its plastic bag. The two officials called their supervisor, who then took me to an interview room, where another official was waiting, and the pair then insisted they had to check the contents of the beautifully wrapped and sealed bottle.
My attempts to explain that the bottle was a gift and that its wrapping was part of the beauty of the gift were ignored. After first prizing open the sealed box containing the bottle, they then insisted they would have to “inspect” the contents. When I objected, they called three young, well-built police officers, but who seemed reasonably relaxed about the whole affair. They asked me to identify myself, which I did, and I then explained that the bottle was a gift. Nevertheless, they told me to open the bottle and to drink some of the contents. I again told them that it was a gift and furthermore that I didn’t feel like drinking at that moment, particularly as the liqueur was 52º proof. After a brief pause, they laughed, looked at each other and told me I could go.
Was the presence of seven people really necessary to establish whether this hapless traveler was hiding explosives or some other illegal substance in the mysterious bottle of Chinese liqueur? The world is darkening…
N.B. I should point out that the Chinese liqueur in question 府藏孔府家 is called Confucius 孔子 (Kongzi); maybe the German customs officials had a problem with the Chinese philosopher. OR PERHAPS THE WHOLE THING WAS A JOKE, OR IS A JOKE, BECAUSE WE ALL PARTED ON THE BEST OF TERMS, SMILING.