″I thought it was just laundered money″ | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 19.10.2006
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"I thought it was just laundered money"

A Norwegian student on a field trip to Berlin though he had made the deal of his life -- until he got arrested buying deodorant.

Several wet banknotes hanging from a clothesline

So this is what laundered money looks like?

What some people call growing up is really no more than an endless series of gaffes, blunders and embarrassing missteps. Possessed by the ultimate fear of being left out of the fun, overconfident and dysfunctionally competitive teenagers simply can't help getting into trouble.

Earlier this week, a 16-year-old Norwegian student struck a conversation with a stranger on Alexanderplatz, a large square in the heart of former East Berlin dominated by Communist-era architecture and vague attempts to hide it behind renovated facades.

Aside from the fact that the Norwegian student should have known better than to talk to strangers in general, a little bit of curiosity for the cultural milieu of his surroundings would have opened his eyes to the fact that many people were leaving the square in tears.

Why do people usually cry on Alexanderplatz?

Two men sitting on a tall advertising column in Berlin's Alexanderplatz

There's always something fun to do at Alexanderplatz

The matchbox mafia is one of the most lucrative sections of the international brotherhood of charlatans. Their brilliant idea of cheating people out of their money by making them play a guessing game with matchboxes and a 50-euro banknote never seems to fail to attract an army of gullible lost souls.

Berlin's Alexanderplatz practically serves as the matchbox swindlers' headquarters.

The young Norwegian, however, was oblivious to this fact. He was also -- as he later admitted -- a little tipsy. But that's what teenagers do on their field trips, after all. Getting to know a foreign country and culture is always more difficult when you're completely sober.

Here's the deal

Students in a classroom

Lesson number one should be: do not engage in money laundering

The man who approached the inebriated Norwegian student asked him if he wanted to change some money for him. Usually, when people ask for change, they need a few euros to buy cigarettes, a subway ticket or a drink. This time, however, the sum in question was a little larger. In fact, it was larger than life.

The man agreed to pay 400 euros ($500) to the mysterious stranger. In return, he got a big, fat wad of 200 euro bills, totaling 20,400 euros ($25,577).

What a great deal, he must have thought to himself, almost too good to be true!

The sad thing in life that most teenagers learn about as they grow older and more bitter is that those things which sound too good to be true generally are.

It wasn't me, really

An expert examining a forged 200 banknote with a magnifying glass

It may look like 200 euros, but it's probably not worth the paper it's printed on

On the following day, the young man took one of his crisp 200 euro notes and went to buy some deodorant. The sales person realized something was up with the young person whose source of money didn't seem as admirable as his desire to smell nice during his class trip. She realized the money had been forged and informed the police.

The young man -- who has no previous criminal record in either Germany or his home country -- ended up in jail. He said he didn't know the money had been forged, but thought, instead, that it had been laundered.

Of course. That's what 16 year olds these days are hoping for: to strike a sweet deal with the money-laundering mafia while on a field trip. Whatever happened to the sweet innocence of youth?

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