My new neighbor, Nancy, and I were enjoying our breakfast at the hotel yesterday morning when she said, “I think you’re bad luck. First the Gestapo and then the fire all in the first week you’re in Germany. I’m not sure I want you in my car.”
She was laughing of course because it is quite funny how these two things happened so soon after my arrival. Now or later, it doesn’t really matter because it adds to the adventure of being here.
Rewind to 4:00 p.m. Wednesday…
I heard a ruckus in the stair well, but no specific words, no fire alarm. My door bell rang and I answered but no one was there. The thing is, I was on the phone. By phone I mean earphones hooked to my laptop calling the U.S. to suspend our AT&T cell phone service. The volume had to be up pretty high in order to understand the Indian accented instructions. That was more important than what I thought were some punk teenagers pushing my call button.
Still intent on my phone conversation a minute later I hear more ruckus outside. I told the AT&T guy I would have to put him on hold, looked out the window and the next few minutes are the most vivid.
A crowd is looking at the building. I pick up Woody and head for the apartment door. Open the door to blackness and thick smoke. Realize I don’t know where the fire is coming from. Shut the door. Go back to the bedroom. Shut that door. Go to the window and wait for a ladder to appear since I’m on the second floor. People yell at me to get out. I tell them there’s too much smoke. Landlord walks up to the crowd, asks me if I’m ok, I say yes and she tells me to stay there just as fire trucks pull up.
Fire man sees me, asks me if I’m ok, says to stay put. I’m staying next to the window because the fresh air is better than what smoke made it into my apartment. Shaking, I think about what I need to take down the ladder with me if I can–besides the dog of course–because I still don’t know where the fire is. It’s too loud to shout at the people gazing up across the street and ask them. Alan’s lap top and camera. My purse. Ok, I’m good to go.
Since I have to wait, why not snap photos?
And I wait. I’m depending on the faces of those watching to indicate whether I’m in eminent danger. As I wait, I put a blanket at the bottom of the door to prevent more smoke from coming in.
I wait some more. Fire man tells me the fire is in the opposite corner of the building then two fire men put a ladder up next to my window and and one says, “For your safety.” I understand this to mean it’s only there if needed. Then he tells me the flames have been put out but I should stay where I am. My adrenalin decreases by half and I realize I’m hungry.
One hour after it started, Alan arrives. (I would have called him, but we don’t have our cell phones yet. It’s a process.) At first he sees that he has to park far away because the road is full of cars and fire trucks. As he walks closer, he sees the fire trucks in front of our building. Then he sees the ladder up to our bedroom window. That’s when he’s worried. But he is able to come talk to me. I toss him his civilian clothes out the window.
He comes to check on me and I toss down the camera. The men to the left of him are some of the family that owns our apartment.
About 45 minutes later, the fire is out, trucks and men are gone, landlord is there to assess the damage, and I am able to go out of the building. The fire started from a dryer in the laundry room. The laundry room is a mess. Dryers are destroyed. Washers look like they are as well. The smoke left a trail up to our second floor, but lessened with each level. As the hours ticked, black soot settled on more and more surfaces.
By 10:30 that night we were given a hotel room. By the next morning we were advised to stay a second night at the hotel. By the end of that day we were told it would be Monday before we should go back to stay.
The insurance is involved now so who knows how long it will be, but we’re fine. Everyone got out but me. I’m not so sure about the building, but everyone is fine.
Here’s what it comes down to though–I can’t imagine how far the fire would have spread had the walls not been made of 12 inch thick concrete. Secondly, I don’t think there is such thing as luck. I’m not always good at handling stress, but I’m learning. Everything is for our experience. It’s all part of the adventure.