One of the benefits of traveling for work is the business class ticket that goes with it. You get to use the short lines and the fancy lounge, and they actually feed you quite well. I fly coach when I fly on my own, but I don’t think that’s immediately obvious just by looking at me. Though the airline people seemed to think differently, as I was asked not once, not twice, but three times if I was in the right line when trying to go through business class check-in for my last trip.
Things went rather better at the airport this time - I sailed through checkin and security, except for two friskings so thorough I felt like I should have a cigarette and a sandwich afterwards. Or at least insisted that the security guard buy me a drink. Then there was the surprise “one carry-on bag if you’re connecting through Heathrow” rule which meant I had to consolidate the contents of my gigantic purse and laptop bag into the significantly smaller laptop bag. All excess was shoved into my already strained wheelie suitcase. Thus, no plane knitting for me. This is all the knitting I managed to accomplish on the entire trip:
That's not entirely true. I did knit a proper gauge swatch during the trip (a full 4 x 4 inches), which is amazing for me. Then I frogged and started on the sock with a vague/hopeful guess at the right number of stitches on the flight home. Further knitting was interrupted by a pressing need to watch Without a Trace reruns and to sleep for long stretches with my mouth hanging open.
In any case, I was travelling with Dave, a friend and coworker, on the way to Munich. When we arrived, it was 6:30 Sunday morning by my body clock and I’d slept for about three hours. I was pretty sure I was sleep-deprived to the point of hallucinating when I saw a gigantic Easter Island-type head going around the baggage claim. The thing was probably twenty feet tall and surrounded by hundreds of Middle Eastern nationals in checkered headscarves and loose white pants. I’m not sure if the head was theirs, but clearly, we were not in Boston anymore.
My first meeting wasn't until Monday afternoon, so Dave and I had a chance to wander around the city on Sunday afternoon. I had heard the Le Meridien hotel chain often opens hotels in ever-so-slightly seedy neighborhoods on the verge of gentrifying. I don't know if that's true of Munich, but there was an awful lot of this around the hotel:
Yes, that's me and no, we didn't go in. Incidentally, Dave calls this picture "blackmail." I call it "hilarious".
Overall, the Germans do appear to have a much more tolerant attitude towards sexuality than we do. One of our German coworkers told us they recently revised their prostitution laws because they were concerned prostitutes weren't receiving social security credit for their illegally-earned wages. So, prostitution is now a legitimate source of income for pension purposes, though pimping remains illegal.
A few blocks past SexyLand, things changed for the grander:
And grander yet:
This is their Town Hall. Boston residents will understand the inadequacy I felt when I thought about our own Government Center.
We also found the ice skating rink, which is a post-holiday leftover from their apparently quite charming Christmas market. The skating rink had its own charms, not the last of which was this:
Damn, those Germans make a mean sausage. Plus, there was gluwein, aka hot, spicy mulled wine with extra liquor added to take the edge off a cold night. It doesn’t get much better than spicy sausage and gluwein.
Unless you’re having your spicy sausage and gluwein overlooking this:
They have these polar bear-shaped skating sled/crutch things for new skaters. I’m told stacked packing crates often serve the same purpose here. I grew up in Arizona, so I'm not qualified to weigh in on the sled/crutch vs. packing crate issue.
I am, however, more than qualified to weigh in on the German bathroom issue. I'm a fairly good traveller. I adapt well to different circumstances and different configurations for basic necesseties. Except the damn German bathrooms. The first surprise was the on/off toilet concept, where you press the bottom part of a large button to start flushing, then are supposed to press the top part of the button to stop in flushing. That's just too much responsibility for me, and frankly, I expected more of a people legendary engineering prowess. They should be able to engineer toilets that stop flushing on their own.
The second was the hotel shower. There were two shower heads: One was a standard shower head, the other, one of those flexible hose-type heads. You could pull a lever to change from using one to the other. The regular shower head was positioned in such a way that you absolutely could not start using it unless you were already in the shower, with the doors closed - otherwise it would soak the entire bathroom (ask me how I know this).
This switchover would be fine, except that no matter how long you leave the hose part running, the regular shower head water comes out icy cold. On Sunday afternoon, this meant a face full of icy water, with the bonus that the massage shower head was set to what I can only describe as the "punishing" level. All traces of jet lag evaporated immediately, but I can't say I recommend this approach.
Then there was the bathroom in the office that I managed to get myself into, but couldn't figure out for the longest time how to get back out of. And the restaurant bathroom that was so cold your pee actually steamed. The Germans seem to be made of much heartier stuff than I am.
A non-bathroom case in point: this elevator at my company's Munich office. Dave's picture with commentary sums it up nicely, I think:
There was more - long days of meetings, and long nights of drinking and eating huge amounts of meat. There were disturbing South Park episodes dubbed in German.
And you could smoke everywhere. Between the drinking and the eating and the lack of sleep and the constant smoking, I'm pretty sure I need to undergo some sort of ritual purification for the next week. Or year. But first, I think I'll unpack and have a little lie-down.
Many thanks to Dave for being such a good travel companion, for always laughing when we saw the word "ausfahrt", and for being a non-blogger and documenting the trip hugely more thoroughly than I did