It failed. It completely failed. The attempt to sneak onto an earlier flight to New York from Dusseldorf wholly, unceremoniously belly-flopped. We had put on our comeliest dresses, applied liberal amounts of perfume, beamed at the Air Berlin representative, but to no avail. The only flight going to JFK was a whole 24 hours later than the one we thought we were booked onto. Having flown to Germany from Italy to catch a plane to the US, we were going to have to spend the night in Dusseldorf. I’d miss some Yale classes, my friend Yvette would miss a doctor’s appointment, but there was nothing to be done. Dusseldorf was ours for 24 hours.
We had two options. Option A: Go into the city. Find a hostel, slurp some beers, meet a local up for a fledgling tryst. Option B: Stay in the airport. Spend less money. Sleep on a bench under wedding clothes packed for the trip. Flee the sensory bombardment of evening in an unknown metropolis.
We went for Option B. We stayed put. We camped out. As it turned out, it was a wise move. Spending the night in Dusseldorf is unexpectedly fun. Sure, Yvette got restless at times, having neither a laptop nor a novel to while away the hours. Sure, I kept worrying about the seminars I was missing, having only just signed up for classes. But in the end, being in Dusseldorf’s airport for 24 hours wasn’t as bad as you might think.
Airports are interesting places. Dusseldorf is primarily a business city, so you’d assume that most of the people passing through are unfriendly men in suits. Not at all. There are a few middle-aged males, with briefcases and iPhones and brogues. But there are also other social specimens: punks, moms, backpackers.
Over the weekend, there had been a soccer game between Scotland and Germany, meaning that when I was there, the duty-free section was rippling with kilt-wearing Scottish people. They kept breaking into heartfelt whistling and back-thumping. Plus they had a lot to say about the vote on Scottish Independence. I asked one what he thought of the proposed divide. “I’m for it,” he said fervently, “But then you’ve got to be quite the Scottish nationalist to go to Germany to watch your team be thrashed by the World Cup winners.” Another kilt-clad Scot told me, quietly, that he “wasn’t sure” about independence but that “all” his friends supported it. I asked him why. He said “Because they hate the English.” I told him that I had some Scottish relatives, as well as all my English ones.
Spending 24 hours in Dusseldorf also allows you to take stock of the incredible advances that technology has made in the past decade. Had I not had a laptop and Wifi, the experience might quickly become boring. Instead, I live-tweeted it, inventing the hashtag #dusseldorfliveblog to help the tweets go viral. They didn’t. Once we started feeling drowsy, we watched a movie on my computer and listened to a podcast, both thanks to the Internet. Then, when Yvette fell asleep, I snapchatted her nose piercing. And then her face. And then her feet. It was very entertaining.
Things looked like they might get a little dicey at 3:00 a.m., when my laptop ran out of power. But a guy we had been speaking to gave me his adapter, with the parting words, “You can keep it, because I feel sorry for you.”
The whole stay reminded me that on the whole, strangers are pretty generous. We are bombarded daily with reports of corruption, wars and sinister failures of communication worldwide, but airport lounges are good places to learn that human beings aren’t uniformly heartless or idiotic, but capable of great openness and benevolence. I might even visit Dusseldorf itself next time.
Leaf Arbuthnot is a fellow in Yale’s French Department. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.