“We’re undergoing a security breach!” So screams the skinny uniformed Heathrow Airport personnel. A shuttle that transports wearied travelers to the next terminal whizzes by without stopping. The woman adds, “It has been compromised. You can choose to walk to the next terminal, but it’s at your own risk.” Children begin to scream. The woman paces and smirks, her clunky black boots clopping along the floor.
It’s terrorists. A hostile takeover of Heathrow is happening. I’ll never see my family, friends, and fond acquaintances again. All for Berlin Fashion Week. Well, I mean, I am scheduled to see G-Star’s massive takeover of the monstrous Bread & Butter super-tradeshow, delight and surfeit myself on modern German cuisine at Hugos and Le Faubourg, luxuriate at the 5-star Hotel Concorde, dance ‘til the sun rises with the sweet and nasty beats of DJ Hell, take a tour with Berlin art extraordinaire Miriam Bers…
Three banal hours of airport misery later (with no conclusion as to what the alarm was about), I’m dismally munching on a Pret-A-Manger sandwich and one of five (they’re my favorite; I must stock up) bags of salt and cider vinegar chips I’ve purchased on a very late plane I was never supposed to be on.
And this puts me five hours behind schedule. I’m cutting it close to the start of the G-Star show. Once I land, there are 35 minutes to make it. Luckily, German customs and immigration don’t really exist. And Dolf, the driver, is ready outside the quaint Tegel Airport in a black Mercedes G-Wagon. If Dolf can break speed limits, which I feel (Autobahn, cough, cough) Germany is lax about, we’ll get there in time.
First though, we must deal with that pesky German rule of order. This involves them losing my luggage and declaring it might take 10 days to find it amongst over 800 other pieces of luggage, and all paperwork must be filled out. There is protocol and then there is German protocol. Confounded and with no time at all to deal with recovering such trivialities as clean underwear, fashionable outfits, and heels, I scramble into the G-Star G-Wagon and tell Dolf to make a break for it.
There are no sirens in Germany, at least for traffic hiccups. When the polizei pull you over, a scrolling LCD sign on the back and front of their vehicle (unagressive in appearance I might add) reads “BITTE FOLGEN” or “PLEASE FOLLOW.” So kind of them to ask. Dolf assures me with an exhaustion deep in his voice, “Oh, I always get pulled over. This guy, he loves to bother me.” He emits a nervous laugh.
Did I mention my phone broke 12 hours before take off? What would be next in this series of unfortunate events? German police brutality? German prison? The policemen are old and stout and look feeble in their pilled navy woolen sweaters. Dolf’s sweater is also navy and slightly pilled. Are they in league? I can outrun them. Of course, a car might clobber me…
Laughter abounds, lots of brisk German is thrown around; it’s clear that lollygagging is occurring. Perhaps it’s the secret policeman’s society hour. He allows us to carry on. I didn’t see any palms greased…
I’ve deviated from the tale! At the real heart of this story is the mystery of 5D denim, G-Star’s next advancement. But really, 5D denim makes no sense. Ida, my host and head of G-Star PR in the U.S., tells me excitedly that the mysterious and alluring Shubhankar Ray will clarify everything for me. He’s been the Global Brand Director for the past three years. Ray’s the guy behind the creative and strategic positioning and repositioning of the brand, all artistic endeavors, brand crossovers (such as their latest, Prouvé Raw, a three-way with Vitra and the legendary French furniture designer’s family), choosing brand ambassadors and collaborators (Dennis Hopper, Vincent Gallo, chess champion Magnus Carlsen, and Benicio del Toro), facilitating G-Star’s work with the United Nations, running G-Star’s record label, building farms for special fabrics, installing pop-up galleries, and then even overseeing every miniscule detail of design. In short, he does it all. So, we talk of these things, compare crazy Indian and Chinese parents, gossip about Henry Hopper’s art career, determine that the Catholic Church is the world’s first superbrand, ruminate on his travels with New Order, and his partying with Bowie and Prince as a teenager, stuff like this. I wonder if he will ever crack the mystery about 5D.
Of course, it happens all too quickly. Ray jumps from discussing about his life as a chemist, to cowboys, to workers, Levi’s, motorcyclists, the modern cowboy, and then, to the five directions of movement in the body. Cyclists, movement, extra seams. Ray concludes, “5D is about propriety, volume, and silhouette.” And that is 5D denim.
I’ll think about movement later. My overly-stuffed body couldn’t possibly move an inch. I bite into another tender morsel of venison from Mecklenburg-Strelitz Heath and veal tartare with cauliflower mousse at the Michelin-starred Hugos Restaurant. It’s very modern German fare, very rich and heavy, and all the fine German wines being poured out further inhibit intended motion. This all makes me quite late to meet a friend of a friend. All things fall apart; disappointments are made. Missed connections seem to be the thread of this trip.
Hours later, I find myself in a cab along Prinzenstrasse, in the once too-cool and now cool again Kreuzberg, trying to find a party hosted by Patrick Mohr (a very nice German fashion designer), where DJ Hell will delight with unearthly aural pleasures. But was it 85B? That number is skipped when the cab driver and I read the signs trying to find the building. There is 84, 86, but no 85. The number eludes me now. Down the street, a group of hipsters walk. Surely, they must be going to this party. I tell the cab driver, “Goodbye!” He insists I take his phone number before letting me out of the cab. “You might not be able to find a cab again so late in the night,” he warns me. He is sinister, disapproving, and fatherly at the same time. Well, that confirms it. He’ll murder me. “Okay.” Still today, in the contacts of my phone is someone named “Yaxi.”
One thing that is true: Germans are, in general, very tall. I am, in general, very small. I’m in a surreal sea of lengthy bodies and blond hair being whipped about by careless young girls. Sound good? Now I see how the Germans ever thought they were the master race. I can’t see anything; I am lost amongst them, an ant in the land of giants. The beats subtly change to something incredibly funky and sexy, and even though no one can see anything, everyone begins to cheer. DJ Hell has arrived. More tall blondes flood the floor and it gets crazy. I dance and dance and dance; the music is amazing. I never want to stop. But the sun is beginning to rise and tomorrow is a long day.
I deftly avoid murder by walking back the few miles to Hotel Concorde. My feet are surely bleeding from so much dancing, but Yaxi was right, there are no cabs so early in the morning. I trudge on, dreaming of 300 percale sheets and soft feather down pillows.
But sleep while traveling is for the boring. I shower and head to the meeting point with my private tour guide. I nearly miss Miriam Bers. She’s in disguise. A long floral prairie skirt, clang-y bangles, sequined sandals—there’s something slightly Berkeley granola about her. She talks and talks and talks. Three hours pass. It feels like ten. Actually, despite my early dismissiveness, Bers turns out to be quite knowledgeable about all things Berlin. She says, ashamedly, “I forgot it was fashion week. And look at me, dressed so provincial! What must you think?”
There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Further down this road, I’m consuming large quantities of creamily ripe A.O.C. butter and five glasses of wine. I’m mincing along at Le Faubourg brasserie at the Concorde for hours, devouring delectables with a steadfast slowness into the late, late night. It is truly excess in these lean times: marinated salmon served alongside watermelon spiked with ginger, lime, and chili; a breaded hard-boiled egg with baby chanterelles, spinach, summer truffles, and a rich veal sauce with truffle foam on top; succulent ribs of lamb dressed with eggplant, tzatziki, and mint; a creamed goat cheese served with sour cherries, beet shavings, and muesli crumbs… Everything, all the drama, was worth this meal.
“This doesn’t look like you,” the German immigration agent says behind the glass partition. I show him my driver’s license as prompted. I know what he might notice though.
“You realize,” he says while looking at me and then back down at the passport and license, “That your dates of birth don’t match.” His eyes level at mine, trying to detect my fraudulent, terroristic twitch. Panic shoots through me. I find no way out of this other than to laugh and joke, “Do you know how long the DMV lines are in California?” Surely, no terrorist would’ve been that awkward, and plus, it’s true: the DMV messed up my birthdate by a month. He cracks a smile. “Have a nice trip. Goodbye.”
So maybe travel hiccups are just that: travel hiccups. Maybe denim mysteries will always be shrouded in mystery. And maybe breaded egg and veal sauce will always be remembered, while the other disturbances will waft away into the air. And maybe, someday, they’ll find my luggage.