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Germany and Finland Split over Mentally Ill Airport Resident

Von Barbara Hardinghaus

A mentally ill Finnish woman has been living at a Berlin airport for the past seven months. The case has turned into an international dispute as Germany and Finland wrangle over who is responsible for the former doctor, who dreams of a life far way.

She watches people as they walk by, carrying suitcases, briefcases and backpacks, arriving or departing. She is sitting upright at a bistro table in Terminal C at Berlin's Tegel Airport, eating a hot sandwich and drinking a cup of peppermint tea.

She has a pale face, is wearing a black wool sweater and a black wool coat, and her hair is tied back with a wide velvet ribbon. Next to her is a smooth leather bag with gold-colored zippers.

The woman looks like someone who belongs in a Business Class lounge, as if she were grabbing a quick bite to eat before hurrying off to her next meeting.

She sleeps in Terminal D, moves on to Terminal A in the morning, and spends her days walking around the airport and riding the elevators to every floor. "There's that Finnish woman again," the airport police officers say, but they don't say much else about her. She behaves as if she were reenacting Steven Spielberg's film "The Terminal," the story of a man who turns an airport into his home, which was based on the true account of an Iranian man at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The woman, whose name is Jaana, has become an attraction. She's known as the "airport woman" or the "blonde Finnish woman from Tegel." She has been living in the airport for seven months now.

Various government agencies are squabbling over what should happen to Jaana, and a Berlin court is also looking into her case. At the center of the controversy is the question of how far government welfare should go. Two Foreign Ministries -- Germany's and Finland's -- are involved in Jaana's case, which has grown into an international affair over the past few months. Ironically, Jaana isn't bothering anyone. The issue, rather, is that others are bothering themselves about her.

Sometimes she addresses people, greeting them amiably in English, especially people with expensive-looking bags, people who look as if they might own a large company that could offer her a job. People who could take her with them, save her. She is obsessed with the thought.

She is on the run -- from Helsinki, from doctors, from state paternalism and from government agencies. She is searching, in a sense, for freedom, which she hopes to find somewhere in Europe. To the extent that she is willing to discuss the issue, she says she wants to be a European -- to be at home everywhere in Europe, not just Finland.

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