"Kriminalpolizei Peine, Schneider* ist mein Name..."
Yes, it's true, yesterday we were stopped by the German version of the FBI on our way from Leipzig to Lüneburg. As if the background of the journey itself isn't interesting enough, our drive increased in comedy tenfold as a black Mercedes passed us and flashed a hand-held, lit "Stop" sign out the window, and motioned for us to follow them off the Autobahn. Schneider's partner swiftly reached out the window and slapped a blue light on the roof of the car, and they continued to a gas station parking lot, with us obediently following. After all, we knew what this was all about.
"Good evening, FBI Peine, my name is Schneider," the incredibly television- detective-show-looking officer said. I'm talking Columbo quality here, this guy was incredible. Black leather bomber jacket, some sort of mid-eighties half-mullet and a shaggy walrus-style mustache. I nearly cracked up. Then he flashed his keychain (as pictured above) as ID. This time I really had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.
"I'll tell you what this is all about," Schneider said. "You have no tail lights. The back of your car is completely dark. Please turn on the car and I'll show you."
Of course we acted surprised, but unfortunately this is a routine problem with the old Ford Scorpio. The light switch is on the fritz and the dashboard lighting and tail lights go out sometimes. This was one of those times. The switch has been changed a few times, and a new one has been ordered yet again. So, Schneider showed us the problem and recommended we call roadside assistance for some help if we couldn't get help in the gas station. After all, as an FBI officer, he can't write any warnings or tickets, he's really out to get the bad guys. Since we knew what the problem was and that we couldn't get it fixed before a new switch came, we gave them a good head start and continued on our way. Amazingly, on the return trip from Lüneburg, my driver had the idea to hit the switch with his fist to see if it helps, and the lights suddenly went back on. After turning the car off, the lights didn't come back on, but by punching the switch again, they did! That's a much more cost-effective solution than ordering a new switch every 2-4 weeks.
But back to this keychain as ID thing. I guess in Germany this is enough, flashing your keychain as some sort of secret code saying "I am legitimate", but somehow in the USA that just wouldn't cut it. Either people would speed off laughing at you, or you'd be shot by someone who can't stand the police or anyone who dares to act like the police. Really, no one would believe it. This officer was a true work of art, and in that, he was convincing, but that, in addition to a keychain, would still not be enough in the United States.
Another part of me, despite the fact that I am so sceptical of the keychain, really wants one of these. On one hand, it seems so mysterious like I'm a double agent leading a secret life, and on the other hand, it would be a great conversation piece. Every time I got out my keys I could tell this story, and that would be incredibly pleasing.
*names have been changed to protect the Kriminalpolizei Peine and their fine work protecting us