Lost and Found

· 619 words · 3 minute read

Don’t you hate it when you do something stupid?

In my son Max’s case, this happened two weeks ago when he left his gym bag on the 26 Strassbahn. He didn’t realize his mistake until hours later.

He asked me if there was a Lost and Found for the Wiener Lienen, Vienna’s world-class transportation system. I browsed the web to find out. Soon, I learned all about fundamt.gv.at, a web-based lost and found for the entire country. It’s an amazing website. Every single article is fully categorized. Even the contents of each bag are listed individually, along with the colors, materials, markings, and brand names.


We waited a couple of days and started searching. One item looked like promising. It fit the description and was found on the right day. Here it is, translated into English.

lost and found listing

I went to the Zentrales Fundservice, a few stops from my office. Unfortunately, the desk clerk gave me bad news. The item had already been collected. But, he said, there was no way this was Max’s bag - it also contained a Passport.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll search the website some more.”

But the clerk had a better idea. He handed me a red book with “Taschen, Koffer, Rucksäcke” written on the front. It contained photos of every bag. I flipped through it and texted Max some potentials.

photos of lost bags

No luck. None of the photos matched. Max was bummed. And while we kept checking the website every few days, eventually, we gave up.

And then, yesterday, a letter came in the mail addressed to Herr Max Reider.

the letter with our info

Somehow these folks had found the bag, connected him with it, found his address, and notified us. More on that in a moment. I returned to the Zentrales Fundservice to pick it up. Here’s the clerk handing it to me.

clerk handing me the bag

I texted Max with the good news. And, of course, he asked the ten million dollar question, “How did they find me?”

Here’s how.

Max’s gym bag included a small weight-training journal. On the first page of that book, “Max Reider Gym Book” is scribbled, as shown.

max’s book

As I already explained, the Lost and Found office records the contents of every lost bag. During this process, they look for items that identify the owner. But how the hell did they find him, simply based on his scribbled name? Well, when you immigrate to Austria or move from one house to another, you have three days to file a residence form known as the Meldezettel. If you fail to file this form, you get in trouble. And this is how they found Max.

The Government requires a Meldezettel for lots of different reasons.

  • Opening a Bank Account
  • Signing a Lease
  • Enrolling in Schools or Universities
  • Registering for Utilities
  • Healthcare Services
  • Registering a Vehicle
  • Obtaining Social Services
  • Employment
  • Registering a Pet (shout out to Leo)

It’s easy for the government to find you here in Austria and impossible to fly under the radar. You can’t send your mail to a PO Box or file taxes under Uncle Frank’s house. The government knows where you are, which was pretty good in Max’s case. Back in the US, this might sound like the equivalent of killing a bald eagle with a hammer. “Government is evil,” we say in America.

Here in Europe, aside from the ultra-right fascists and the ultra-left anarchists, which are a tiny but admittedly growing minority, people don’t say things like that. It’s not a thing.

While I’m happy to have Max’s bag and super impressed with how they returned it to us, I didn’t expect to feel a slight sense of comparative sadness about my country, what it could be, and where it seems to be going.