How Grandpa McGuyver Saved Berlin

I WAS A LITTLE SUSPICIOUS WHEN my dad returned from the ‘hardware store’ with a tree branch and a bag of Berliners.

Grandpa and another proud moment at the Jewish Holocaust Memorial

It all started one day earlier when we had a catastrophic stroller breakdown in downtown Berlin.  Early in the day during our first day in Berlin –  somewhere between the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie – we realized our baby stroller was on borrowed time.  A brace that snaps into place to keep the stroller from folding up into storage mode was bending badly and at the verge of breaking, making the stroller unusable.  Mid morning we stopped to empty out the stroller and bend the brace into shape in order to get it to hold out for the rest of the day, but on the way home while dragging it down some subway stairs it finally and irreversibly broke in two.  The stroller was doomed.  And so was our vacation.

PERHAPS YOU THINK I’m being dramatic.  The issue is, with a family of seven, a stroller is never just a stroller, especially on long day trips.  It’s really more like a Conestoga Wagon on the Oregon Trail.  We load that think to the hilt with all of the necessities of surviving an 8-10 hour outing.  When I emptied the stroller in order to repair it, not only did I have to unload the 3 year old,  but I took out 14 sandwich halves, 2 cans of Pringles, 4 Diet Cokes, 5 bottles of water, a carton of juice boxes, some dried fruit, assorted nuts (dry roasted peanuts and cashews) a package of wet wipes, 2 diapers, 2 coats, a wallet,  a pair of sunglasses, a camera, and Al Capone’s getaway car.  And only that last one was made up.  (Mental note, this might be highly correlated to why it broke in the first place, but I digress.)

Fortunately for us, when it finally did break it was late in the day, so we managed to slug it back to the apartment without too many losses.  But the prospects of another full day in downtown Berlin without a way to strap down our precocious 3-year-old and without our necessities-carrier, day 2 was looking bleak.

Enter grandpa.

Early the next morning he set out in the neighborhood on a mission to find a hardware store.  I hadn’t seen one earlier and assumed (correctly) that he would’t find one either, but he didn’t let a little thing like that get in the way.  He came back from his foraging not with a spare part or piece of PVC or copper tubing, nay, but with a tree branch about 2 inches thick, and also a sack of Berliner donuts.  The idea for the stick – says he, while eating a Berliner – was to cut the stick to length, jam it into the appropriate place in the stroller frame, secure it in to place, and stroll gloriously through the rest of the day.

I’LL BE HONEST.  I didn’t see that coming together quite the way he did.  Not that I didn’t appreciate the effort, but the only thing worse than walking our family of seven around downtown Berlin without a stroller would be walking our family of seven around downtown Berlin with a broken stroller slung over my shoulder.  So if it didn’t work, we had a lot to lose.  Secondly, I didn’t see how we would ever get the stick cut to length cleanly (answer: with persistent sawing motion of a kitchen knife) or secure it firmly to the frame (answer: with a roll of masking tape and packing tape).  Sound crazy?

Behold, for posterity’s sake,  the finished product:

This photo taken during tear down- several layers of tape already removed.

I will just cut to the chase and admit I was wrong, because despite how it looks, it lasted the entire day with no trouble.  We dragged this thing all over Berlin.  Up and down and down and up Unter den Linden.  Up flights of stairs and down flights of stairs.  On subways and on tram cars.  Sometimes it held the baby, and sometimes it held the 6-year-olds.  And always it held 40 extra pounds of pack-gear.  And by some miracle and a lot of tape it didn’t give an inch.

So here’s to Grandpa, the who would have done just fine on the Oregon Trail.  Minus the Berliners.


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