University of Iowa

Lesson learned

May 1st, 2015

By Sara Katschka*

As a result of spring break, or “Easter holiday” as it is called here in the UK, I was given the chance to travel for three weeks without interruption throughout the end of March and into early April. I used this opportunity to plan a trip to the continent with my fellow University of Iowa student/UEA student and best friend Juliette Sigmond.

The trip included stops in 11 different cities across eight different countries. I spent a lot of time in preparation, sifting through train schedules and tourist websites, but given that I am a travel junkie and I love to plan this bothered me very little. Objectively, I knew that there were dangers in traveling, especially on a trip like this, but I believed myself to be careful enough and smart enough to avoid unpleasant situations and unpleasant people.

I was wrong.


The famous Berliner Dom cathedral. Juliette and I were on the way here when the incident happened. Though I was very upset when we got here, the beautiful building helped cheer me up a bit.

It was in Berlin, only a few days into the trip, on a street between the famous Berliner Dom cathedral and grassmarket that Juliette and I encountered two gentlemen with clipboards. They claimed to be advocating, a bit aggressively, for disabled and deaf people. The top of the sheet said that it was simply a mailing list. I thought “why not?” and took one of their pens. I did not put my real address down, but it wasn’t the address that was the problem. There was a slot for donations. It was then that I realized that these men were part of a con and now one was staring at right me. Juliette handed them a euro from her pocket and that was it for her.

I had no spare change in my pockets, and now feeling completely trapped and obligated I retreated a few feet out of sight so I could fish out a euro or two. The two men followed, as well as a few other people as well. By the time they appeared, my wallet was out and open. When they saw the money they started grabbing at it, claiming that they only required a few euros, but that they would give me change. Money was grabbed from my hand and then put back into my hand.

I knew what was going on, but I was both confused and intimidated. I couldn’t do anything. It was only when one of the men tried to grab a fifty euro bill from my wallet that I started to get angry and aggressive. I snatched the bill back and started telling them off. They ran off quickly and left me feeling humiliated and at the brink of tears. Juliette and I walked a block away and I did eventually start crying despite the fact that I knew that was one of the worst things to do in public in a strange country.

I could have prevented the situation by just walking on. I could have also prevented it by just being slightly more aggressive. This is what made the situation so horrible for me. It took me quite a bit of time to calm down, but eventually I did, and I did not let it ruin the rest of Berlin or the trip. Bad things happen sometimes no matter how prepared you are, and it’s important to move on and learn from the situation. It could have been worse. Luckily they had no idea of the money belt on me that was containing the real bulk of my money. Needless to say, this scam exists in more places than Berlin. I encountered the same scam again in Paris just two weeks later. Thankfully I am a French major as well as an English major and was able to convince them that I didn’t speak English and they left me alone.

Lesson learned.

Sara Katschka is a senior from Hilliard, Ohio majoring in French and English at the University of Iowa. She is directly enrolled at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

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