Behind the story: With Mohammed and Markus Söder: Flying in times of war

Making-of is the name of our new format.

Behind the story: With Mohammed and Markus Söder: Flying in times of war

Making-of is the name of our new format. We want to give you a personal look behind the scenes, tell you about our everyday journalistic life and our research. We're starting a little series looking back at our moments in 2023.

New Yorkers have John F. Kennedy, JFK, as their home airport. My gateway to the world is called Franz Josef Strauß, which in international airport language is unfortunately not abbreviated as FJS, but rather as MUC for Munich. This is where my trips abroad for stern begin, to Helsinki, Riyadh or Palma de Mallorca. And actually I thought I was on a first-name basis with every gate there. Until I recently flew to Tel Aviv.

Terminal 1. The departure board directs me to area F, an area that was completely unknown to me. Taxis are not allowed to stop here, there is an access control in front of the building, and federal police patrol an elevated area in the hall with submachine guns at the ready. Prison or gate? In the online portal “Vielfliegertreff” they simply call this part of the airport “Departure F”.

Check-in for all security-relevant scheduled flights in Munich takes place here, which unfortunately means in Germany: all departures to Israel, even in peacetime. After the Hamas massacre on October 7th, the Israeli airline El Al is the last connection option from Germany to Tel Aviv. Shortly after the attack, Lufthansa suspended its flights for the rest of the year. Of the over 100 lines that once served Israel, two-handed remain, including providers that I would like to avoid at all costs because they sound a bit like crash news on the daily news.

El Al seems to me to be a more trustworthy provider. The machines are equipped with a sensor-controlled missile defense system. And they also take security seriously in Departure F. Compared to the interrogation of an El-Al employee, the entry questioning at US airports seems like idle small talk.

Things to know before flying to Tel Aviv: Who paid for the flight? (The star.) Why is your organization sending you of all people? (My boss can answer this better.) Do you have a girlfriend? (No.)

The gentleman looks through my passport suspiciously. I explain that I was vacationing in Bali and reporting on an earthquake in Turkey. The guard over flight LY354 seems convinced, but then sticks a yellow ribbon around my suitcase. The Israelis next to me get a green one. I don't take that as a good sign.

And indeed: after the federal police checked my luggage without any problems, El Al led me into a barren room. My hand luggage is meticulously double-checked, the Spiegel booklet is crumpled, the lozenge packet is inspected, neither of which seems to arouse any further suspicion because: I'm allowed to board and fly.

On the way to the square I spot a fellow Bavarian who has cleverly avoided the control chaos. Markus Söder, sunk deeply into his business class seat, puts his chin on his chest and peers into his cell phone. While I was still stuck in Hall F, he had already posted a selfie from the flight cabin on Instagram. You would have to be prime minister. When it comes to flight time, we are the same, Söder and I. Three and three quarter hours from Munich to Tel Aviv.

My first trip there in October was already a cross: Israel had not yet started its ground offensive in Gaza, I flew via Thessaloniki because all connections were fully booked, probably by reservists and journalists. Before landing, we did extra laps over the Mediterranean because the missile alarm was blaring on the ground and Chancellor Olaf Scholz was being evacuated somewhere on the tarmac at Tel Aviv Airport.

This time it's just the reporter's questions. And that's about Söder. Somewhere over central Turkey, he makes his way to the front rows of economy class to speak to the press entourage accompanying him on his state visit. I'm sitting in row 40 and I'm not flying to Israel because of Söder. I want to go to the north of the country, to the border with Lebanon, where there are daily fighting between the Israeli military and the terrorist group Hezbollah. I want to talk to different Israelis about how this year has changed them and what their hopes are for 2024.

For example, Mohammed, one row of seats diagonally in front of me, an Arab Israeli who has been in Germany for 20 years, a dentist in Ulm, is rushing home to introduce his newborn son to the family there. He says he would have preferred to fly with Ryanair or Lufthansa. He had bad experiences at El Al - as a man with dark eyes, a black beard, as Mohammed. Category: yellow ribbon.

We touch down gently in Tel Aviv. No alarm. Unfortunately, no suitcase either. Because of all the checking, my luggage didn't make it into the belly of the Boeing. I meet Mohammed again at the lost and found counter. My suitcase, completely ransacked, will not be brought to the hotel until two days later.