We all have days when we think we’re not going to make it where we need to go. I know I have! And, I’m sure you’ve had times at the airport when you weren’t sure you were going to make it to your next flight. You know those days…you land with 15 minutes to spare, then taxi, and taxi, and taxi to what is without a doubt the farthest gate from where you need to be (3 terminals, 5 moving walkways, and 1 shuttle bus away). Then, to make it even more “challenging” – you’re in the last row, right next to the lavatory, and everyone (and their brother) in front of you needs to gather their 10 personal items from the overhead bin before deplaning. Yes, been there, got the T-shirt! But, imagine getting where you’re going, only to find out that where you are is not where you want to be, or where you thought you were!
This happened to one man in Bangor in October of 1977.
As was commonplace during the time, flights would stop for fuel midflight due to the range of the aircraft and distance of the flight. But, Erwin Kreuz wasn’t aware of the fuel stop. When passengers were told that they were to get off the aircraft to clear customs, Kreuz followed. Then, he walked out the door of the airport…in search of a hotel, and the Golden Gate Bridge! Little did he know that he had landed in Bangor, Maine, and not San Francisco, California.
Erwin Kreuz was a brewery worker from Adelsreid, a small town about 50 miles outside of Munich, West Germany. He didn’t speak English, but was excited to see the lifestyle of the American working class, see local architecture, and to taste Chinese food. Kreuz would also be celebrating a milestone 50th birthday while on his three-week trip.
After walking out the door of the airport he found a taxi cab and communicated that he wanted to go to a hotel. Seeing none of the iconic San Francisco landmarks did not initially lead him to believe he was anywhere other than California. He just concluded that he was in a suburban area outside the city. After searching for four days though the only sites he had found reminiscent to his interpretation of California lifestyle were two Chinese restaurants (which he visited)!
Not speaking English, his ability to ask for directions was limited. However, during a taxi cab ride he was able to speak enough English and give the city of San Francisco to the driver as his destination. Imagine the surprise of Erwin Kreuz when he was told that his destination was over 3,000 miles away! (And a costly taxi fare!)
After realizing the error, Kreuz continued to see the sightsee around Bangor, but he was worried how he would get back home to West Germany. He was at a local lounge when a patron understood a bit of what he was saying and was able to put him in contact with a local German-speaking family. This family interpreted for him and assist him. His story was even told in the Bangor Daily News.
Kreuz’s mistake became the talk of Bangor, and he became a local celebrity for his misfortune of destinations. He was made a guest of a Chamber of Commerce Oktoberfest celebration, an honorary member of the Penobscot Indian Tribe, and given the Keys to the City of Bangor. He was even flown to Augusta to meet with the Governor. But, his 50th birthday would be one he would never forget!
After seeing a German television show about a “Big Mac Attack” he was eager to taste a Big Mac at McDonalds and see what all the commotion was about. Instead of just ordering the fast food novelty, he was able to don a paper McDonalds chef hat and flip his own burger! In fact, the McDonald’s even hosted a birthday party for Erwin.
Meanwhile, World Airways (operator of Erwin’s flight) was trying to reach him and to fly him to California. After a schedule change by the airline, Erwin decided to stay longer in Bangor. He had enjoyed being in Bangor and had commented several times that everyone he met was very friendly. He was also surprised that no one had tried to take advantage of him because he didn’t speak English. Eventually though Kreuz made it to San Francisco where he was also made a local celebrity. And, he got his wish to see the Golden Gate Bridge! Upon his return flight, World Airways made a sign for Kreuz which said (in English and German) “please let me off in Frankfurt.”
During the following years, Kreuz made two more trips to Bangor. On his second trip, he was a guest to the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Bangor Mall (the first Mall Kreuz had seen).
If you’ve ever had a trip go not as planned, think of Erwin Kreuz! He is the epitome of making the best of a situation, even when it doesn’t go exactly as planned. And in his detour got to explore and love the city of Bangor, and its people.
My research for this story was done through the aid of the following websites:
Bangor Daily News Archives – October 20-28, 1977