Gute Reisen

One Year Ago

I just reread some of my first writings when I moved to Munich. One fucking year ago. One year ago today. Now it is once again the Assumption of Mary, but now it’s on a Monday which means I have the day off from work. Thank god, cause I am exhausted. As if to cap off the sheer amazingness of my year here in Europe, I’ve spent the last week in Sweden swept up in the madness of Aaron Franklin, helping with BBQ classes and having truly surreal and liver damaging adventures. However, that’s going to have to get covered next time. 

Today is a Ruhe Tag, and, therefore, a day to reflect. I never could have guessed what the last year dealt out to me. Operas, Todd Terje, the Alps, skiing, visitors, beer, new food, a real god damn job, incredible lows and harrowing highs. All because I was lucky enough to be dumb enough to do this. 

The true sign of a real Einwohner.

The true sign of a real Einwohner.

I was talking to some Swedish wine importers a few days ago, and I asked them how they got into the business, and they wound up talking about how hard it has been, especially in the beginning. One of them said if he’d known how hard it would be he probably wouldn’t have done it, but that’s the ignorance that allows you to do big projects.

I get asked all the time how long I will stay, I know I’m living a real dream here, and I love it, but I never quite now how to answer that question. What I do know is that I’m not done. There’s still a lot of bike riding to do, a lot of currywurst to eat, and a lot of you who haven’t visited yet. 

Now that the machine of life is actually up, running, and makes sense, I feel that the most important thing is to start making things better. I feel bad complaining about my job, since I’m lucky to have it at all, but to settle and be complacent isn’t in me. I know I could be doing better work, I know I should be further along, and I will not get tucked away in an office drawer. I’m back out in the freakish hustle of dating, trying to break old habits and regain the heady confidence that took me through the waves of all those dates last year. 

The romantic image that I can’t shake is the couple walking down the streets of a European city soaking in the place, yet completely engrossed in one another. I was that once, I see it all the time, and I know it’s out there, but I have to find it.

Thanks to the job I’ve got people that I’d consider real friends, not just pals of convenience or activity buddies. Stefano and I cycle a lot together, and will continue to do so, I hope. Every time we ride we talk endlessly about the maddening puzzle that is German women. While I was in Sweden he scheduled a get together with a german guy, so this week we are going to sit down and compare our notes and theories with a native’s perspective. 

The adventures and surprises continue. 

Arriving home last night I was so pleased to be back in my apartment, with my bed, and I stood out on the balcony at 1 am, in the warm summer night, and felt like the luckiest guy in Europe. I wonder what the next great challenge will be.

Anyway, weather report says crummy rain tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll have some time and I can sit down and explain, at least in part, the week that included this:

Meine Kollegen

So I don’t know if it’s just that I’ve never had office-mate, co-workers or colleagues ever before, but I’m really enjoying the people that I work with. After the first week of no lunch invitations I was worried that I was going to be a loner, but I’ve been taken in by some of the designers and a large part of the marketing team, and it’s fascinating and fun. And my social circle is slowly expanding. I worry a little, because there’s precious few Germans at the company, and they all understandably have lives of their own. However, I’m enjoying the cards life has dealt me here, so I’m going to enjoy it, and I'll worry about diversity later.

These grew out of two pictures I wanted to take of specific facial expressions of Kaloyan and Dayana. They are both Bulgarian, but I don’t have enough Bulgarian information to really contextualize that in a meaningful way. However, if they're any indication of an average Bulgarians, I hope to meet more.

Kaloyan

I’ve been lucky to work near Kaloyan at both the desks I’ve had at the job so far. He came in from Denmark with the marketing team that was brought in-house. He’s originally from Bulgaria, and in 9 months he’s already found a group of Bulgarians to pal around with. He’s a designer, so he’s been a huge help to be just getting a handle on look and feel of the brand, etc. I helped him fix his bike up one Saturday and we went pedaling around. He’s a great guy, very nice, but oddly old fashioned sometimes. When I told him my roommate asked if I would pee sitting down, since I was making a bit of a mess, Kaloyan said, “What the fuck, she lives with a guy, what does she expect?” I think “What the fuck?” might be one of his favorite sayings, but he only makes this special face when he really means it.

Dayana

Turns out Dayana wanted to be an actress but her dad told her that she couldn’t. When I put her in front of the camera I immediately assumed that she had been there before, but she said no. She’d been on Bulgarian state television, but that was a long time ago. Her old office used to look right out into the hall that I’d walk into every morning, and once she peeked up from her desk and as I walked by gave me an enormous wink. She’s a capricorn and a dancer, so when she heard there was plans to make a video that featured dancing I was called to a long meeting over coffee with her to discuss the music. 

Piper

So once word got out I could take a photo, I was getting requests to take shots for social media profiles. I’m happy enough to do so, but I was anxious when Piper asked me. Back somewhere in my first week or two of work, the CEO swept in, grabbed me, and said OK we are going to shoot 4 videos right now, here we go. One featured an interview with a harried Piper, who I barely knew, and on top of that I didn’t really understand the video I was making. No one was happy with what I made, and I always felt bad about it. Now I’ve shot a number of photos of Piper, but he doesn’t seem pleased with any of them. However, I like these two.

Jacob

Whenever I have a question for Jacob his answer is always, "let’s go outside and talk about it." We head to the balcony, he lights a cigarette, and we inevitably end up talking about something else. I look forward to socializing with him more, but he’s often in Prague seeing his lady love. One stormy Munich night I went to his apartment, and we drank Corona’s and played music. I suspect there are some bad cover bands in this man’s past, but playing the “Carmelita” with him was good fun. 

Karena

Karena has a mysterious past, and I’ll eventually get the story. She’s American and she’s been a real god send to me, someone I immediately understand how we relate to and how to talk to. If I’ve got a sister at work, this is her. She’s got a ton of marketing experience, and was at Bose for a number of years, so she’s like a real working person. My odd habits of grunting and talking to the computer seem especially egregious now that she’s sitting near me. She’s the person I go to when there seems to be some office politics going on that I don’t fully understand. At a co-worker’s birthday recent she told me that she didn’t really want to tell me her whole story, cause she thinks I’m going to have a dust-up with my boss and get the axe. Dude’s gonna have to work a lot harder than he has to get under my skin. Anyway, after Piper asked for his LinkedIn shots, Karena wanted in on the action. The word is spreading in the office.

gute wohnen

I feel like I’ve quantum leapt into someone else’s life. After discovering the royal heritage of Seppi, and coming down from the heights of the dolomites, Seppi and I had a few days to kill in Munich. I took him to my favorite junk store, and as we waited in line for them to open, I got a call. It was, Arne, my new boss. He was calling me on a Friday, I started my first office job that Monday, and he wanted me to fly to California with him on Tuesday. Thus was the tone set for the next month. Insanity.

If only I had the time and energy, this first week of my first job, would be it’s own mad-cap post. That Monday I sat at a temporary desk, didn’t know anyone, had nothing to do, and felt like a sinking stone. Arne gave me some of his home GoPro footage to see if I could cut into an ad for our headphones, and I frantically texted away to people back in Texas, wondering what I had done. An office, a 9 to 5, a salary, health care, someone looking over my shoulder. Even now I feel myself feeling a little queasy. 

We flew direct to LA from Munich the next day. Arne, Alex, and Laurence, from Munich, and the strange little man from Texas driving them around, pointing out things, explaining how paying the check worked, constantly telling them stories from my freelance adventures in an attempt to gain credibility. 

I felt more in common with the Freelancers from LA, but they related to me as the client. Arne brought me along to shoot behind the scenes, so I drove them around, Arne woke me up one morning so I could take him surfing, I introduced them to the heights of Trader Joe’s pre-made salads, and the lows of Trader Joe’s store-brand beer.

After returning to Munich I had a short week in the office, at a more permanent desk, I tried to make a few things for the company, but they lacked what Matthias, our Head of Brand, described as “The Fun.” The presence of “The Fun” is mandated in our video guidelines document that no-one had bothered to show the video guy. Perhaps this is because my titles is bafflingly and meaninglessly, “Motion Designer.” 

I attempted to sneak a little Texas/BBQ/Family Pride into one of my company videos, but I was caught before I could get away with it.

I attempted to sneak a little Texas/BBQ/Family Pride into one of my company videos, but I was caught before I could get away with it.

I moved in the middle of all this, too busy and frantic to even document leaving the wretched apartment. I left Nick and Dan the same as when I found them.

Then BANG off to Texas for 2 weeks, shooting Western Perspective, and taking a big draught of what my life in Austin was like. There was a party, partially at my behest, and before I knew it there were 20-some odd people there, and my friend Mike made me hold an impromptu press conference to take questions about my life in Germany. People asked about the beer, they always do.

We shot Western Perspective in a whirlwind, I made amateurish mistakes because I was out of practice, but we did well, and it was the classic trio that went off to West Texas five years ago to shoot some thing that didn’t have a title. After every episode we always say, “This is it, this is the last one.” But if we can still put one together while I live in Germany, and Cara has a 6 month old baby, Western Perspective may live on forever. I’m cutting the show in my free time now, and I’m trying to figure out the classiest way to ask some of my work pals to come and watch it when it is done. I loved doing that back home.

So then, I was back, back to the office, back to my life, and now some sort of strange regularity began blossoming. I dragged people from the office to Munich’s first craft beer fest, I’ve helped Kaloyan, my Bulgarian office buddy, repair his bike, I’ve found a fellow American in the office, and when we talk together it’s like a warm blanket. But as I was setting up for a shoot the other day she caught me listening to the Kingston Trio, and told me her dad liked them. She’s turning the corner on 40 next year, and when we talk I’m the weird old man. In many ways, life seems weirdly familiar. 

My hope to make brisket in Munich lives on.

My hope to make brisket in Munich lives on.

I came back from Texas to epic, history making rains in Germany, so I spend a lot of my time looking out the office window hopefully and desperately, my weather obsession continues. Germans keep apologizing to me about the rain, and the going theory is that climate change has shifted all the seasons over by a month, and we are still in the end of spring here. On Friday the trains broke at 3, and by 5 I was walking through the office in my cycling gear, getting laughs, but ready to explode out into the Bavarian country side. Stefano, an Italian who is working on the e-commerce side of things wants to be my bike friend, I can tell. I am worried he’s stronger and faster than I am, but if we ride together maybe I can be fast and strong like the Italian wind, too.

As the company expanded to another floor, I had access to the empty level to do with as I pleased.

As the company expanded to another floor, I had access to the empty level to do with as I pleased.

Last night was a birthday party for our head of HR, so I got to properly socialize with a lot of people. Lorena, from Spain, can’t pronounce my name properly, but she’s fully obsessed with Harry Potter, and that’s all I want to talk to her about. She read book one at age 11, and has since read the entire series in Spanish, Catalan, German, and English. She has not been to the Harry Potter land in Orlando, but I am campaigning for her to go. It’s the most like being able to live inside a fictional world of any place I’ve ever been. Dayana, from Bulgaria, cornered me on the porch for a while, and asked me if I believe in souls, and claimed that she could tell I was a Capricorn within minutes of meeting me. Stefano, Kaloyan, and I stood in a corner, drinking gin and tonics for a while talking about the experience of dating German women. Friedrich, our head of sensors at work, was wearing toe-socks, and at work he wears only toe-shoes. I couldn’t resist, I had to ask why, and his answer was simple, he wishes he could be barefoot all the time, and this is the closest he can get and still be professional. He then told me his concerns about the build quality of his latest pair.

Around 2 am. Me, Michael and Dayana.

Around 2 am. Me, Michael and Dayana.

So, the evolution of my move to Germany continues. Surrounded by fascinating characters, I can’t resist asking everyone I meat, “What is your story?”

There’s a million stories, and I can barely tell a few of them. I am enjoying this strange bend in the road, I’m seeing things, doing stuff, and living a life that I could never have imagined. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than anything else, but it sure is different. How I think of it now is that the German experiment has been a success, and I am now soaking in it. I will do my time, and I will keep meeting people, I will ride my bike, and I will drink more beer. But I can feel, far down deep, the call of Texas, how much I miss my family, my cat, my friends, and my cat. A return isn’t soon, but I can feel that a return is out there somewhere in a year or two. But first I have to bask in the Bavarian summer I’ve been waiting so long for.

Feeling royal in Ruffré

Shortly before he visited, my friend James Seppi (who I can’t help but reflexively call Seppi), messaged me and voiced a few concerns about having enough to do in his time in Munich. He booked his flight while my mom was visiting, so I was a little scrambled and panicked and so I quickly rattled of a list of things, climbing, hiking, quick trip to Prague, a day in Salzburg, all sorts of stuff. Not on that list was a 2 day get away to Italy.

Now I know Italy is close, just on the other side of the Alps and Austria, but I didn’t know where to go exactly. I’d been to Lake Garda, but that wasn’t on any obvious bus routes, and the towns within a 3 or 4 hour bus ride, I had no experience with. However, with rain in the forecast in Munich, Seppi had a moment of inspiration. He knew his family hailed from a small village in Northern Italy. He texted his dad, and before we could think too hard about it, we’d booked a 3 hour bus to Bolzano, and about an hour of busses and a funicular to see the village from which Seppi’s family came. He started googling for hotels and restaurants in the village Ruffre which sits close to Mount Roen. Google basically told us half the town was businesses with “Seppi” in the name. We laughed that we’d walk into town, and he’s present himself as the prodigal son returned. “Hey, I’m-a Seppi!” “You-a Seppi, I’m-a Seppi, too!”

So, up at 5:30, a bad bus station breakfast in our bellies, and we were off. Our chunky tour bus was a stressful ride. Even the highways are narrow, especially as we squeezed through the Brenner Pass, the mountain road that takes you from Tirolian Austria, into Tirolian Italy. Just 15 km from Bolzano we were very gently side swiped by a semi-truck, and had to stop while the insurance situation was negotiated. Luckily we had an Italian speaker on the bus, and he seemed to clear things up quickly. Though when he returned to the bus he warned the driver in German, “Italianisch Versicherung zahlt nicht.” Italian insurance doesn’t pay.

We arrived in Bolzano at 11 am, and had a nice lunch, some wine, and watched the sun slink across the piazza. Everyone was incredibly well dressed, even the old man that ran the small carousel in the piazza. We swung by the tourist office, and they gave us the time tables for the busses and funiculars we were going to need. All was going smoothly. 

Then we got to the bus station, and the man at the ticket counter told us we could go to the funicular, but it does’t run until May. Our other option was 3 hours of busses around and up the other side of the mountain. Unacceptable. There was only one option left: we’d rent a car. There was Sixt office in the city, and the attendant there had decided to take a leisurely 2 hour lunch. Eventually we called him, and after another long wait he showed, and happily rented us a small SUV with a stick shift. Seppi didn’t seem to want to drive, and I’d driven a bit in Italy before, so we hit the road. The GPS was set on German (which most people in the area seemed to speak, and we heard German more than Italian in Bolzano), and the roads out of Bolzano were small freaky spaghetti bowls of quickly vanishing lanes with surprise merges, but after only 5 km we were out of the city. 

We got to Kaltern which is a major wine growing area, and then faced the part of the drive that was making my palms sweat and my inexperienced clutch-leg jitter. The climb up the Mendola Pass. 1200m of hair pin winding, with a very trim section of blind curves and turn outs. We passed more than a few cyclists tearing up this nasty road. I managed to not kill the car once as we crept our way up. 

At the top we were greeted by a small ski town, and one of the first businesses we saw was “Market Seppi.” Seppi pointed it out excitedly, and I was mostly just relieved to have the climb over with. Now there was only 2 km to go to Ruffre. 

Now Seppi speaks some Spanish, and his phone was working so we could translate some stuff. When we saw a sign that said “Maso Seppi” I thought it was a street, and he thought it was leading to a farm. We’d later find out that we were both wrong. Ruffre is a gorgeous little mountain village, only 400 people, and it looks like even tourism there is scant. There’s a church, a new manmade lake, a farm that sells meat and cheese, and some hotels that looked closed until the tourists season. I guess this high up and in late April, the weather could go either way. We were super lucky, it was incredible weather. Eventually we came across a bar and a grocery store. The bar was closed in the afternoon, but the market was open.

I have such admiration for Seppi, he walked in and awkwardly dove in his with his Spanish, and managed to explain who we were, and the odd premise of our visit. It became clear that my German would be helpful as they all spoke a little German, and Seppi took a piece of paper out and wrote down the names of his great-grandfather, his great-great-uncle, and his grandfather. The woman in the market said she had a guest room, and offered it to us, and told us to come back to the market at 7 for a tour of the town from her sister. The room was great, seemed brand new, and was ready for whatever tourist trade the town was doing.

With a few hours to kill we bought some cheese and sausage at the farm, we drove up Maso Seppi, and photographed anything that was beautiful and/or had Seppi’s last name on it. When we found the little graveyard it began to become clear how Seppi this town really was. More than half the headstones had Seppis on them. We were creeping around, taking photos as the sun went down behind the Dolomites, and a car pulled up.

I was certain we were in trouble, but the Italian couple in their 50s walked up, introduced themselves and produced the piece of paper Seppi had written his relatives names on earlier. This couple were distant relatives, alerted by our friend at the Market and sent to meet us! They walked us through the graveyard pointing out the pertinent Seppis. Then we followed them home where we met their daughter, who spoke good enough German that she and I could patch any misunderstandings between Seppi and the parents and everyone. We drank beer, talked life in Ruffre, and then got the tour. I think they were stalling for time before dinner, which they had invited us to. So we saw the new manmade lake, only 2 years old and soon to have a bar next to it. And then they took us to Maso Seppi. 

Maso doesn’t mean street of farm; in this case it’s the term for little neighborhoods, clusters of a few houses that centered around a certain family. There are Masos all around in Ruffre, each one named for the family or the type of farm they were clustered around. Maso Seppi’s centerpiece is a huge house, and as we walked up to it Seppi noticed a sign, in English, German, and Italian, that explained that Maso Seppi was a large building originally built there in the 1300s and continually added onto and changed, inside there are murals, and outside there are crests of dates in the 13 and 15 hundreds. It was called “Seppi Castle.” 

We walked with the family up to Maso Seppi, and they explained that there are still two apartments in there, where two little old ladies live, and then another Seppi appeared. Fabrizio Seppi, brother of the Seppi who was leading out tour, lives across the street and he boldly took us inside the back part of the “Castle.” Clearly this part was used for farming mostly, but he showed us the prison, the old feed room for the animals, and he shoved the door open of an apartment there had been a fire in a few years ago. There was still tons of stuff left from some long gone resident, and in a room less touched by the fire we found bank statements from the 70s belonging to some long-gone Seppi. 

Then it was dinner time! We drove further up the mountain to a small restaurant. We were the only ones there, and the five of us sat trying to make conversation through the language gap. Seppi charted out this entire family tree branching form the Great-grandfather, and brothers that had left Ruffre before World War 2. Then some Seppis arrived. As we ate our delicious pizzas, more and more Seppis arrived. After a little while there were a dozen Seppis, and James kept remarking how much some looked like other relatives of his. I asked how many Seppis there were in town, and the answer was a pretty confident “Half.”

I think what happened was they know their heritage enough that when the Seppi at the market got the list of Seppis from Seppi, she alerted the Seppis that were connected directly with that bloodline. Not just other people with the same last name. Earlier in the evening they’d proudly showed us a building that had been “All Seppis” only to later have other Seppis move in that weren’t a part of the same line. After dinner we drank a little liquor at the bar, and hugged and said good night. We drove back to our room. Seppi had to make some calls back to America, this was all a little unbelievable. 

The view from our balcony

In the morning we awoke to a ridiculous view of the Dolomites, and then we walked down to the market and bar to get a coffee and to say our goodbyes. On our walk there, as if on cue, a Seppi peeled around the corner in a small red car. It was one of the Seppis from last night. He rolled his window down and said “For you, for the library” and handed us two copies of a book on the history of Ruffre. He sped off after a hearty “Ciao.” We walked down to the bar/cafe and there he was again having his espresso. We saw two more Seppis from the night before come in, and then we said our goodbyes. Seppi bought 25 Ruffre postcards. A last tour through the castle, and some investigation of the surroundings and it was time to coast our way back down to Bolzano, where we whittled the day away with wine and cheese and plans for Seppi to buy a summer home in his ancestral land. 

Seppi welcomes you to his castle.

Future site of Seppi's craft brewery. Coming 2018

Neither of us could believe how that all turned out, but it was an incredible and weird little detour. One I was honored to get to come along for.

WARNING: After reading this James said that I had embellished a bit. I asked how, and he said that I said that some people were Seppis that were not Seppis. I apologize. However, if they weren't Seppis then they were Larchers, which is the other prominent family name. I couldn't keep track of everything and everyone, and the story reads better this way. However, there were a lot of Seppis.

An Easter to remember

Because I’ve been so wretchedly behind on everything, this is going to take a bit of table setting.

I continued to plug along with the other parts of my life while I waited to get the dang visa, though many things were held up by that. The project that wasn’t totally on hold was my social life, and therefore, my crazy online dating experiences. Sometime back in January I traded a few messages with a girl, Alex, who had lived in Texas for a few years. Her step-father was a chef there, and she graduated from UNT of all places, only to realize that it would be cheaper, better, and easier to continue her education back in her hometown of Munich.

We met for Tapas, and had a good time. We kept meeting, and kept having good times. We made Angel Food cake together, she met some of my friends, she saw my wretched apartment, in short, we dated. 

Without really noticing it, we’d been dating for about 2 months when my mom came to visit. I was only too happy to have Alex join us for a meal, and even though my friends here raised their eyebrows and said, “ooo, getting serious?” it just seemed like the natural thing to do to me. Alex met mom and I at a museum, and after touring the galleries some girl in all black with pink hair passed us. My mom leaned over to Alex and said, “you know, when Stuart told me he had a European girlfriend, that’s what I imagined you’d look like.”

A few days later I was talking with Alex, and I’ve never really been anxious about whatever that formless, vague transition between dating and girlfriend, but I don’t know how it is in Germany, and since she spent a decent amount of time in the states I didn’t know where she stood on the whole thing. But I said, “I’m certainly not dating anyone else, and I don’t really want to, so whatever girlfriend is, that’s just about where we are at.” She agreed, and not long after invited me to spend Easter with her family.

Now that gave me some anxiety. I polled the Germans that I know. What are the traditions?! What should I be ready for? How do I ensure that I will only eat traditional easter meals, and not find my foot in my mouth?

I was warned the one must be in a dour mood on Good Friday, I was cautioned that I should try and speak as much good, confident German when I meet the family to impress them. I was very focused on making sure I wasn’t under-dressed, as I imagined we’d probably need to go to church at some point.

I spent good Friday on my bike, in the beautifully developing spring weather, racing to avoid some light rain. Saturday afternoon I met Alex and her sister, Stefanie, at the east train station, we were on our way to Rosenheim, where Alex’s mother and step father live in a lovely little apartment. Alex’s mom picked us up form the train station and I got a quick tour of Rosenheim, which seems like a lovely little town with rivers from the Alps twisting through it’s Innenstadt. We arrived at the apartment, it’s a perfect little German apartment. Bedroom, living room, kitchen. Simple, clean, functional. I slowly started to notice the Texas decorations everywhere, magnets on the fridge, postcards on the wall. We dyed eggs with fruit juices. The family kept saying they would go into the Easter Nests. I didn’t know what that meant, exactly.

As we were winding down the dying project, Alex’s step-dad-, John, came home. We shook hands, someone remarked on the two Texans in the same place. Alex’s mother came back to Germany when she was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, she came here to be with family and for her treatment. John followed, he’s had trouble nailing down a chef job, but now he’s managing a large kitchen for a Senior Home near Rosenheim. He’s only been at it since February, and the long stretch of holidays for easter (Friday-Sunday) caught him off guard. I have a hard time making sure i’ve got food for one, and he’s feeding a good number of old folks that I’m sure can tell when the ordering has fallen down.

He told me about some of his problems and successes, his step-daughters teasing him that my German is better than his. Then suddenly it was time to go to Oma and Opa’s house. We piled in the car and drove to Bernau. This is a small town on the edge of the Chiemsee, Alex’s great-great-grandfather bought a house there in 1907, and her great-grandfather was some kind of world traveller. He filled the house with fascinating and ancient items from Asia, Egypt, there’s a uniform for a Bellhop hanging as a piece of decoration on one of the porches. Laced through all this are little pieces of art from the family. Alex’s grandfather has had everyone in the family paint a portrait of grass and has hung them all together around a bookshelf that looks like it’s from Turkey, there’s a soldier painted on one of the doors. 

I immediately fell in love with her grandfather. He apologized for speaking Bavarian, a tricky German dialect, and promised to try and stick to “Hoch Deutsch” high german, which is the universal standard dialect. Clear, and easy to grapple with. He almost immediately fell back into Bavarian, but I didn’t care. I understood some of his stories, but the best thing was to watch him as he built to a punch line and as he arrived watch a mischievous grin rise up on his face. He smiled like he was getting away with something.

Alex and Stefanie told me the he was quite proud of his “Oxford English” but I didn’t hear a word of it. Alex’s Grandmother had been warned that I was a German learner, so English was forbidden in the house from the moment of my arrival. Alex and I had to whisper in English when I didn’t understand something, and even though this little grey haired woman would hear us from a floor up, and you could hear her clearly, “Deutsche, bitte!” German, please! Later when I could see her when she hollered this, the sentence was followed with the same lovely little grin of her husband. 

We set the table for easter breakfast, and drank wine in the larger living room. The family interrupts each other too much for me to fully follow everything, but Alex’s grandfather is very serious about not serving anyone alcohol who is going to be driving. At his age, even the lightest presence of booze, and your license is taken away. Soon Alex’s mother and grand parents had to go to church. We were staying behind. Alex’s grandfather told us to feel at home, and we were allow to do “alles” from across the room Alex’s grandmother shouted “FAST alles!” Almost everything. Alex and I sat drinking wine and waiting for the church bells to start ringing. Alex said the Easter service starts in the dark and as they light the candles one by one the bells start ringing. The church wasn’t more than 100 meters away. 

The next morning was the beginning of the real family traditions. Everyone, adults, children, etc. have Easter baskets, these are the nests we were talking about the day before. Each basket has a few dyed eggs and a lot of chocolate in it. Alex’s grandfather had retired a few years ago form the cold, thankless task of hiding the baskets, and Alex had taken up for him. In past years when there was snow on Easter she’d put false tracks in the snow, and hidden baskets in diabolical places. The family kept insisting that Alex take it easy on them this year. She had to give me 3 hints before I found mine. Her uncle had to climb up in a tree and pull a piece of bark out of the way to find his basket. 

After they were all found the entire family spread out between two small dining rooms and had breakfast. 3 Cousins, Alex and her sister, mom and step-dad, aunt and uncle, Oma und Opa, and somewhere weird guy from Texas. The next tradition was egg fights. You hold your dyed egg like a dart and crack it against another’s egg. The “loser” with the broken egg gets to eat, the winner must carry on, hoping to find an egg that will crack theirs open. Once my egg was open, then came the bread and butter and german caviar and coffee and conversation. I had to constantly ask for things to be repeated slowly, but I answered in my best German and we talked a bit about films and Germany, and how long ago German was spoken in what is now the Czech Republic. 

After breakfast the cousins and I went for a walk down to the Chiemsee, everything was nice and quiet, people out walking, on bikes, we talked mostly in English about accents. We played a bit on a playground in the cool weather. It felt like Thanksgiving. 

We walked back and found everyone sitting out in the garden in the sun. We all slowly worked out way from some of our easter nest loot, and we drank champagne. Then it was time to go, but first Alex and I had to harvest some spices and leaves from her grandparents garden. The final centerpiece meal was still ahead of us. Lamb.

Grandparents stayed at home, uncle and aunt drove off to Italy, but Alex, her cousins, and her parents and I went back to Rosenheim. We drank coffee, Alex’s cousin Lukas was experimenting with raspberries and bourbon, so I helped in the tasting phase of those experiments, and after a few hours of drinking and talking and watching German nature documentaries out came the Prinzessbohnen, Lamm, und Kartoffeln au Gratin. It was delicious, and we argued about 2001: A Space Odyssey, and other films and a few books. Mostly in English by now. Soon it was dark, and Alex’s mother insisted on driving us back to Munich. I was exhausted, but I woke up the next day to a bright blue sky. Totally filled with the warmth the family had shown me.

I’ve put a lot of applications and messages out there, and I’m going to be putting more out soon, I move into a new apartment on May first, and though my chest is tight with anxiety that I’ll get no responses, that I’ll have to be a tour guide or a english teacher, I’m excited. I kept thanking Alex, but I’m not sure if I made it clear how wonderful the weekend was, how great and interesting her family is, how grateful I am that my decisions and her generosity led me to such an incredible experience.

Now I want to get naked.

It is hard for me not to make the weather a metaphor for my experience so far. I moved here in the tail end of summer with my raw enthusiasm and excitement for this wild project carrying me along during those hot, wonderful days. Moving into my WG on Sept. 1st just in time for the weather to slowly crawl towards the grey chill that gripped the months of my maddening visa process. Now, the visa is mine, and spring keeps teasing me with little moments of warmth and sun. It will be here soon, and I will be ready.

Alex said that so many winter and autumn activities were reactions to the cold and snow that so often grips this area, and even though this winter has been, by all accounts, a mild one, I am still feeling the need to react. She described Oktoberfest as a last hurrah of fall weather, and skiing as an open and regular defiance of the short days and low temperatures. Even now  the “Strong Beer” festival is running, and I think I’ll be going on Saturday with some friends. They start drinking at 10 am, and claim that it’s impossible to drink more than 3 beers in a day, because the beer is so powerful. I anticipate a bit of a lost weekend.

The beer was brewed by monks to function as “Flüssiges Brot” or “Liquid Bread” to help them get through their Lint Fast. I’ve heard that they send a barrel to the Pope to get the OK that they could drink this without breaking fast, and the Pope thought it was so gross he said “They can have that if they want.” Each liter has something like twice the calories of regular beer, so maybe I’ll run to the Beerhall and back.

Even on days when it’s cold but the sun is out there are optimistic people sitting outside at cafes under blankets that the cafes keep on hand. Whenever I talk to Germany about the better coming   they always seem to take the attitude that I am a child talking about all the wonderful presents Santa will be bringing. A good temperature is in the forecast, and they will believe it when they wake up that day and see blue out the window. I believe well in advance, planning my bike route to maximise my exposure.

Speaking of exposure, there was a hint of sun today as I walked to buy a new bag of coffee beans, and a strange thought rocketed through my head. I wanted to strip down and get every bit of sun that I could. And I wondered if that’s where a part of Germany’s comfort with nudity came from. Another reaction. There’s a saying in German that I’ve heard way too many times, “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” After months of carefully choosing layers, jackets, boots, hats, scarves, gloves, and everything, I can imagine wanting to just toss your clothes aside and absorb all the warmth and sun you’ve been missing. This rhythm never really got hold of me in my time Maryland, but here with each season distinct and with an accompanying cultural celebration, I feel the need to peel off my layers and get a very even tan.

The day I got my Visa

No lawyers, no translators, just me versus the bureaucrats. And I won.

Thing felt like they were moving when I started e-mailing with Achim. He was my man at the IHK, and he answered all my questions within 24 hours. I concocted this business plan for him, and sent it to him weeks before the deadline, hoping to get him to let me know if I was on the right track. He then stopped returning my e-mails. Typical. Everything went quiet, and I cleaned up my draft and combined it all into one document. Everything was in English, bad German, and a giant spreadsheet. The deadline came and went with no word from Achim.

I e-mailed him every few days to see if he needed anything, or if there was something wrong, or if there was any answer or movement. After 3 e-mails he responded. “Dear Sir” his e-mail began, even though we’d been pretty friendly in our previous e-mails. I wondered if Achim was an invented person to shield the real people from the occasional nastiness of their job. His e-mail was as cold and business-like as I was used to from everyone but Achim. “A determination has been made, but we cannot share it with you, please visit the Ausländerbehörde.”

So I did today. I thought I’d memorised their hours, but I showed up a half hour after they’d opened. Yet there were no lines. Two entirely new people were behind the desk that I have waited at so many times. They shuffled me off to a waiting room instead of shooing me away like usual. 

One of the younger Bureaucrats that I recognised was going to be my man today. He dove into fast German, and though I’d been doing exercises in the waiting room to get myself warmed up, I stumbled and fumbled my words. However, he understood. I thought it was distracting that some English language pop song was playing and there were familiar words being warbled into my ears. He started to read my file. He asked me to leave the room so he could leave. I went outside, back to my German practices, and a few other people from the office came in to the office of my guy. They would leave after a few minutes. My brain was working double time to interpret these as signs success or failure. 

He called me back in, and seemed really concerned about whether I was going to be working in video or as an English Teacher. I said primary video, and he explained that if I wanted to work as an english teach I’d have to come back and change my visa. It dawned on me then, the implication of what he was saying. 

On the radio Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All” began to play. 

I asked “Habe Ich das Visum gekommen?” as he handed me a paper and told me to go to the cashier. He kept saying, no, you have to go to the cashier. So literal. So I tried “Habe ich das Visum verdient?” Have I EARNED the visa. Again, he was confused, but it was clear, I had it.

Sniffling and crying started immediately. I tried to explain how long I’d waited and how happy I was. He got real uncomfortable. His coworker, who shared the office with him, looked away. I “vielen dank”-ed, and “danke sehr”-ed my way out the door. About 2 weeks shy of 6 months, and I’ve got it.

Tonight we will celebrate, I’ve hollered at friends, and can’t wait to transmit the news back across of the Atlantic. Spring is coming, summer is going to be beautiful, and I will be here for it.

So I’ll just stay here. And finally actually get to work. Though step one is probably going to be a new apartment. Oh, and maybe a bike ride in the sun just before that.

TMI

Too many internationals. I was cruising my regular ex-pat message board the other day, and found someone asking if freelancers/folks with time on their hands wanted to meet on a weekday morning for a coffee. I responded and a date was set, and it looked like there would be 4 or so of us. 

Come Thursday morning, I was there early, and my only coffee companion arrived quite late. Kath from England. Late 40s or early 50s, quite and nice enough. When it was clear that we were going to be the only two we dove straight into the small talk. After the usual “how long have you been here?”, “had you visited before?” I was feeling already antsy with small talk. So I said, “Kath, tell me your story.” I already knew she had only been in Munich for 6 months because she followed her boyfriend who has a good job.

So she launched in her story, and though I thought I was going where she was born, etc., I got a double barrel blast of drama. I think she was looking for someone to talk to. Her story started in July when she left her husband. She said she went to work one day, called a friend and asked if he could stay there that night, and never went home. Her husband reported her missing and mentally unstable, and she had to send her “Auntie and Uncle” to her house to collect the garbage bags of clothes he’d left outside. He’s kept all her jewellery, and “designer stuff,” frozen her out of bank account, emptied other accounts, and after 26 years of what she described as “isolating her from friends and family,” he’s turned fully cruel.

So here she lives, on her boyfriend’s dime for now. That’s good drama, huh? I advised her on fun places to go, and interesting things to try. Not sure she ever asked me anything about me, but I’m sure she was quite starved for conversation. I recommended she go to the ex-pat beer garden meet up, I’ve been a couple of times and it’s a good 30 to 40 and primarily UK expats, she didn’t seem that keen on integrating into the German culture. 

One more weird experience.

New culinary experiences

The IHK has my whole business plan, and I’m waiting. I’ve sent follow up e-mails, and I’m trying to be patient. It freaks me out to know that come March 1st it will be 6 months I’ve been in my apartment. I thought friends, and social life were going to be the hardest parts of this, but they were relatively easy. The winter, the uncertainty, and the lack of activity are what is really destroying me. It’s gotten the better of me, and I’ve collapsed under the grey, reading Karl May comics, and eating bags and bags of carrots. Really, I haven’t been getting drunk or going out and making a mess of myself, I hunker down and think mean thoughts about how I’m spending my time. Even though my German is getting better, and I’m making progress on upgrading my bike with only used parts I buy off German Craigslist, none of it matters if I don’t have a real life here, and I still don’t quite. A friend jokingly offered up a co-worker for a green card marriage, and I found the notion appallingly tempting.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not still learning new and exciting cultural information about Deutschland. Recently there’s been two exciting discoveries.

Frikadllen

These are readily available at most grocery stores, but I haven’t noticed them on a menu anywhere. They are little fried patties of dangerous deliciousness. I don’t really know how they are served traditionally, but I’ve cut them up and put them in with rice and vegetables, I’ve had them with cheese and carrots and cucumber. I’ve put curry ketchup on them. 

They are an ancestor of meatballs and hamburger. But the most interesting thing about them I only just learned last night. Alex, from near the Chiemsee, told me that in Germany you can tell where someone is from by what they call Frikadellen. And, indeed, like a perfectly designed trip for foreigners, they are called only Frikadellen in packages at the grocery store, but are called something along the lines of Meat Plant or Flower (Fleischpflanzerl) in Bavaria. In North Western Germany they are Frikadellen, but there’s tons of other names, and you can see on this crazy map:

So far my current plan if I have to return to America is to make Frikadellen popular with a food truck-based approach. Currently, this endeavour has two possible names either, “Freak-adellen” or “What you’re smellin’ is Frikadellen.” Open to input on this.

Grießbrei

My roommate, Nick, was taken aback when I said I haven’t tried Grieß Pudding. He’d offered a store-bought cup to Dan, and it didn’t seem like Dan was into it. Nick offered me a spoon of the stuff which looked like vanilla pudding with more texture. It translates directly to Semolina Pudding. When I ate was a slightly textured creamy delight that, most importantly, wasn’t too sweet. I loved it instantly, and took to my computer to ask a few germans for more information. They didn’t disappoint. One recommend that I make it at home for the full experience, which sounds wonderful.

However, Alex, again came through with the real interesting information. She asked me, “If you haven’t had Grießbrei then how will you ever get to Schlaraffenland?” As it happens, the famous german Meistersinger (a sort of poet) Hans Sachs (who is a character in a Wagner opera), wrote a poem about a magical land of sunshine and delicious Wurst fences and houses made of cakes. And you could only get there by eating your way through a miles-thick wall of Grießbrei. Now I’ve gone back and read through this poem, and I think I successfully translated most of it. And what it reminds me of is “Big Rock Candy Mountain” which was played at the ukulele meet up just a few Fridays ago. Thank god I’ve got enough time on my hands to do this research and make these connections. This is some important shit, here.

Thank god for the ukulele, cause I needed a magic moment.

The magic of my evening wouldn’t exist without my mad-man of a brother. Years ago my mom and I used to do puzzles on Sunday mornings. Often we’d listen to A Prairie Home Companion, but when Trevor was home he’d be all wound up, and pace around the house like a caged animal. He had a uniform for when he was feeling like making trouble: boxer shorts and an old German army jacket he’d picked up at Banana Bay or Goodwill or somewhere. I’m know he played a lot of music during these mornings, but the music I remember most clearly is the incredible “Buck Owens & The Buckaroos Live at Carnegie Hall” album. I remember groaning at it, but after Trevor had left for college and CD ripping was possible, I had my own copy. I know the words to all those songs, and of course, “Crying Time” is one of them.

I almost didn’t go to the Ukulele Meetup tonight. The latest task in my visa quest is creating a profit and loss estimation for the next 24 months for my “business” of being an independent freelancer. I’m having to familiarize myself with the delights and intricacies of the German Tax Code, just so I can weave a believable fantasy. I’d made good headway today, but I felt like I needed a few more hours. So I considered not going, but I’d already RSVP’d, and I got my ukulele out to warm up a little and it made me feel happy, so I hopped on my bike and pedaled to the little Bavarian restaurant where the Ukulele Meetup was happening. 

I was only 10 minutes late, but the little side room was quite full. More than 20 ukulele players. I arrived just in time to introduce myself in my clumsy German, and sit down next to a bearded guy in his 40s who stuck his hand out and said “Stuart.” I said, “Ja, und wie heissen Sie?” Yes and what is your name? He said again, “Stuart.” Ah, a grey haired Stuart here to play the ukulele! Was this me in the future come to tell me not to give up hope. No, it was simply Stuart from Wales, here to tell me after 10 year in Munich he still loves it.

We plowed through a lot of songs, and the group had a wide range of skills. There was one guy in an old driving cap, heavy set, big grey beard, real nice ukulele, that was clearly the hot rod of the group. Another guy plucked his way through “Big Rock Candy Mountain” with a thick German accent. I sang along since he seemed to be a little embarrassed to be playing alone, he seemed appreciative. Someone asked if it was an Irish song.

We plowed through “Smoke on the Water,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” “Let It Be.” As the evening went a long and I started my second beer I realized that other than us two Stuarts this was a fully German affair. They played every note and chord on the page faithfully. Hot Rod was playing his way through a Hawaiian song, and kind of lost the group so it turned into almost a solo act, except I was keeping up with him on the chords. When he launched into a nice solo, I was with him and he turned give me a serious look. I winked at him, it was good to follow his lead. 

After a couple of hours my fingers were hurting, and people were leaving. Hot Rod hollered at me from across the room and asked if I knew Guy Clark. I came over and played through a Guy Clark song, and also “Brazil” and “Girl From Impanema.” A middle aged red headed woman sat with us and sang nicely. Soon it was time for me to go, but I asked if we could play one more song, it was great fun to support a real player. He flipped through his book, and there was “Crying Time.” “Wir müssen das spielen” I said “Das ist ein Lied aus mein Kindheit.” We have to play that, it’s a song from my childhood. 

So Hot Rod, me and the red headed woman dove right in. Hot Rod must have known the song cause he peeled through it and the solo wonderfully. Red Head seemed to really love the song, and at the end she asked if I sang in a band. As we were playing I was laughing like an idiot, it made me so happy to have something so Texan float out to me. So I said, “Können wir ein andere Lied spielen? Und darf Ich es aufnehmen?” Can we play a different song? And may I record it? They agreed, but Red Head insisted we play “Crying Time” again. Almost before I could get my phone out, we dove back into the song. And, of course, take two wasn’t as good. 

Ah, well, here it is.

After we played, Red Head asked me about Buck Owens, I said he was born in Texas, but I didn’t know how to say he was an Admiral in the Texas Navy. 

I listened to the recording as I biked to dinner. Laughing, and remembering Trevor, only barely dressed, prancing around, trying to get a rise out of me, and unknowingly sowing the seeds for a perfect night in Germany, 20 years later.

The wheels of Visas turn slowly

I have’t talked for a while about the Visa situation here. There’s honestly not a lot to report. However, despite the sink being fixed, the dates being organized, photos and bike rides being taken, I do think and work on my Visa all the time. I’ve heard a lot of stories of this process taking longer than the time I’ve waited, and, indeed, the woman at the Immigration Office who mocked me for how much rent I paid, was very friendly on my most recent visit, and assured me that waiting 3 months was actually “normal.” I felt some calm, and she then wrote down the address for the office that my application had been sent to. This place is called the IHK. International Handlers Kammer. I asked if she could find the e-mail, or fax number, or phone number, or name, or anything specific, and she said all should could give me was the address, and if I wanted a phone number I should “das Internet durchsuchen.” Basically, she told me just to google it, as though I hadn’t already. I took the address which was different that the address I had used when I visited the IHK in December. I thought maybe I had gone to the wrong office or that there was something different or that I’d gotten some inside information.

I got home and googled the address and quickly found out that what she had given me was a former office of the IHK that they had moved out of in 2012. A years vacant office was the most up-to-date information that this bureaucrat could offer me in regards to where the papers that everything hangs on are resting. Bananas. 

So I’m going back to the IHK, this morning, but I ran out of coffee. So stop one is a quick cup, to steel myself. Yesterday the temperature miraculously reached 15 celsius (59 Fahrenheit), crazy warm, and I took advantage of it for a lovely ride to the south of Munich. It was a real reminder of why I’m here, I got completely lost, but the sun was so warm, the cycle paths were so clean, and I went places I’d never been before just cause I was sure if I kept riding, I’d find a sign telling me what way to turn home, and that’s exactly what happened. When I stepped out of the house this morning, the sky was pink and blue, the air was crisp, and there was a certain quality, a certain smell, the hint of warmth coming later in the day, I associate it so closely with Europe, it felt promising.


So I went to the IHK (again), but this time I was bound and determined to get some kind of answer, my understanding of what was going on wasn’t any better, but my desperation was slowly enhanced. On a previous visit to the IHK I went in a door that seemed to lead to the Information and Service Center that was, according to the signs, on the 3rd floor. Someone saw me walking around looking hopeless and brought me into an office to talk. I hope that on this trip, I could also sad puppy my way into some information. I just went up to the 3rd floor, let myself in the door, and started walking past offices and cubicles. Everyone I saw was on the phone or their offices were closed. I figured there had to be a front desk and it took quite a while of fumbling, map reading, and building changing to find it.

Quickly I had directions to the waiting room, which was back where I’d started though there was no indication of it in the building itself. I got passed on to a woman who immediately passed me on to another woman who then passed me up to another woman who explained that I would have to be very clear about what kind of work I’d be doing, and that if I wanted answers I’d need to e-mail this gentleman, but I should, under no circumstances call him, he is very busy. Sated that I had a new person to talk to, that I was being assured was the actual person who would look at my papers, and make a ruling, I decided to share the story of the outdated address, hoping for some sympathy, outrage, confusion. She blinked and said, “Welcome to Germany.”

I shared this story with some German friends last night, and their reaction was quite the same. I looking forward to coming out the other end of this maze.

Then, in less than 24 hours, I’ve gotten a response from someone entirely new from the IHK. He claims that they needed further information and clarification from the KVR and they asked for that months ago with no response from the KVR. The gentleman claims also, that it is being resolved, and he will be back in touch with me soon. I am skeptical, but hopeful, and now I have an actual human being to contact directly at the IHK. I’m already planning to visit the KVR next week, and tell them that, as the dude says, I’ve got information man, new shit has come to light.

The engine and the wheels are not turning, and I’ve been ready to get out and push this whole time, and now I know what direction I’m headed.

The Current Climate

Winter is really here, snow, ice, cold, grey. I went to Neuschwanstein with Rose and her friend Vicky, they hadn’t evenr been, and I was happy to go, give them my speech about the castle, skip the tour, and go on a little solo photo adventure. The bridge above the castle, the famous, Marienbrücke, was closed, but as I got up there I noticed a few Asian tourists crawling under a barbed wire fence covered in “Danger!” signs. So I did what any good Texan boy would do, I showed them proper fence hopping technique, and then clambered up the hill, crawled on my belly through the snow, and shuffled along a cliff edge until I got this photo:

After packing back up and getting a few feet from the cliff I hazarded an attempt at standing, immediately fell and slid about 20 feet through trees, snow, branches, etc. and tumbled out through an already broken fence. Just in that moment 2 men from Turkey were coming up the path to see if there was a good castle view. They asked in basic german if I was OK, if I had a friend up there with me, and if they gave me an e-mail address could I send them the picture.

It’s far too easy to just spend every night drinking when the weather is like this. And especially when it comes to dating. It’s dark by 5, the temperature stays stubbornly below freezing, and the warm atmosphere of a bar is very inviting when the feeling in your fingers starts to go missing. Despite all this I concocted a plan to walk through the snowy English Garten at night with Katharin, and take a few photos, and, pointedly, not just drink. She seemed to have a good time, but, she gives off that same feeling that I got from Johanna and Jessi, as though I’m merely in a probationary period, and until I’ve pass this period, everything will be kept at a slightly more formal level. This is something that I really like about the German’s as a whole, that they do not give their friendship and warmth away easily or cheaply, but when it comes to dating it’s really requiring me to re-wire my brain. 

I took this picture of Katharin between her fits of embarrassed laughter at being in front of the camera. Afterwards we went to a good little taco joint I’ve been wanting to try, on their menu there was a large sunburst shape with the words “Was ist eine Taco?” on it. Katharin was tired so we parted ways at 10, and I came home, restless. I thought she was probably done with me, but she texted soon after I got home, so who knows? 

I still had some energy left so I figured I would tackle a house project. Our sink has leaked since before I moved in, when I brought it up to the landlord she claimed to have surveyed plumbers and that all that needed to be replaced was the faucet, der Wasserhahn auf Deutsch, or the Water Rooster. She said it was our responsibility to fix and pay for the faucet. I countered and said it leaked when I moved in, and I would not be responsible for any pre-existing conditions. It also does not encourage the renters to take very good care of the apartment, but instead to be cheap. Her compromise is that she would pay for the new faucet, and we could install it. No one volunteered to do the job but me. My roommates are too convinced that the complexities of plumbing were beyond their grasp, I guess. 

So I climbed under the sink at 10 pm and began. It was simple, and within 10 minutes I had the old faucet removed. Then out comes a roommate, baked out of his mind. He said nothing to me, just started knocking plates and pans around in the kitchen, and I heard him say to himself “Oh, I do have bacon and eggs! Get in my belly!” I slid out from under the sink like a taciturn mechanic, and he seemed genuinely surprised to see me, despite the fact that the bottom 3/4s of my body had been laying in the kitchen floor at his feet. I said, “Hey can you maybe make bacon and eggs after I’m done here and I get the tools out of your way?” He obliged, and admitted he’d probably forget about the bacon eggs if he didn’t make them right now, and that was probably better for him anyhow. I remember when I moved in he told me he didn’t get the munchies.

I had the new sink almost clamped down to the basin when roommate number 2 emerged. He’s in the throes of his first girlfriend after his divorce, and it’s kind of fun to watch. They were at my “birthday party,” such as it was, and she hung on him like he was a life preserver, when in fact, it’s likely the other way around. I hear them through the wall a lot, giggling in his twin bed. I know that first inhalation of new air is crazy and intoxicating and surprising and strange, and he seems to really be enjoying it. He came out to share with me some hilarious text she’d sent him. My response was to ask for a hand with the sink project. He held the faucet in place for a bit while I tightened it down, and then attempted to connect the lines. By that point he’d retreated back to his room to flip the record he was listening to over. Back under the sink the lines were too short to reach, and I then lost my cool a bit. Just 3 loud “Goddamit”s in a row. I’m sure roommate number 1 heard, but he might have been unsure if they were words he was hearing or if they were, in fact, even real. Roommate number 2 came out, expressed some mild sympathy and asked if he could borrow a camera lens. 

I poured a glass of whiskey.

High Adventure at the Job Center

One of my roommates lost his job back in December. I feel for the guy, and in the time that he’s been on the job hunt we’ve gotten to know each other a little better. His first jobless day he said he didn’t know what to do with himself, and he actually tidied up the apartment a bit. I learned the he’s an avid e-cigarette smoker, and he has a wide variety of flavors that he mixes together. Last night’s mix was Strawberry with a hint of Bavarian Cream. I learned that in the 2 and a half years he’s lived in Germany (this was a rough estimate that could have been as little as one year, he is unsure), that the disgusting bathroom has “always been like that.” Perhaps he is under the impression that when he moved in, the calcium build up and the black toilet bowl had been aesthetic choices.

Yesterday he called me. Every time my phone rings I think, this is it, this is the call about my visa. In fact, it was my roommate asking if I’d join him this morning at the Job Center, they were asking a bunch of questions in German, they weren’t speaking much English to him, and he needed answers so he could get his Arbeitlosengeld, unemployment benefits. I warned him my German isn’t that good, but I’d happily help him out. I wish I had someone to call to help me on my plunges into the bureaucracy, so I figured I’d pay it forward a bit. So I got up bright and early, combed my hair, had a cup of coffee and tried to get my mind right for being his Übersetzter, his translator. On the way to the U-Bahn station he regaled me with stories of learning to snowboard. We were headed to an office he had literally been to the day before and he nearly put us on the wrong subway line, he took us out the wrong exit at our destination, and when it was time for him to take a number he switched the lights off in the Job Center, thinking the light switch was the number dispenser.

Last night when I told my other roommates about this plan, they were bemused. “They guy who has been here the least amount of time, is going to be the translator.” I insisted that it was simply because I had the time, but I’m sure it was more than that. After all, I’m still the only I’ve met that is here just because I want to be. Well, there’s one other person, Rose, from England, she told me she came here to be in a more outdoorsy city, but I feel that I don’t quite have the whole story from her yet.

Finally we sat down in font of a delightful German Bureaucratic Wheel. She was short, red headed, long multicolor finger nails, and a pretty positive disposition, all things considered. I spoke for my roommate, and she spoke to me as though I were him. When we sat down he attempted to set the table, and explain my presence. He called me “Mein Freund,” which is fine except that in German saying someone is “my friend” can connote a romantic connection. “Ein Freund von mir” is more clear, I saw a little laugh start to creep into the eyes of our Bureaucratic, I heard form somewhere off in California my brother hollering “Gay Boy.” I said quickly and confidently, “Wir sind Mitbewohner.” We are roommates. I hope my roommate didn’t take this as me wanting to make it clear that we weren’t friends. I should clear this up later.

None of the question that were asked were particularly difficult: bank account? children? was your last job with an English or a German company? There were a few times where I almost started laughing at the situation, it makes me genuinely happy when my German is good enough.

As things went on my roommate had to explain (through me) that he is in dire straits, and that he might not be able to make rent next month. My heart goes out to the guy, he’s living a nightmare scenario that I’ve played out, dreamed about, and visualized many times before. I’m god damn fortunate that I’m here at all, and even more so that I can afford to be living like this with stress, but not with the stress levels that go with not making rent and not finding a job in a country that is reporting record employment despite the refugee crisis.

After we were done we got back on the subway. He told me about how yesterday he’d gotten on a train going the wrong way and didn’t notice for a few stops. I worry one day he just won’t make it home. I asked him what he will do if he doesn’t make it, if no job comes, if he has to move home. It seemed like he had some back up plans he was OK with, but he wants to stay here. He asked me what my plan is if it all goes pear shaped. He said, “It’d be such a shame to have come all this way and wasted all that money.” I stopped him, not a waste I said, I knew that not making it was a possibility, but I have to try, and I have to keep trying. Through all the loneliness, and frustration, difficulty, and insomnia, I still have a strong desire to be here, and will not go until I feel I’ve had my fair shake.

Spent last week and this one e-mailing Immigration Lawyers and Immigration Services companies. So far I get the same response from all of them, “The office that has your paperwork is completely over-whelmed, you need to be patient. But if you want to pay us money you can come talk to us.” I respond bluntly and ask what my money will do to make the decision come more quickly, and I’ve gotten no response to that question. I think my case is such an odd one, the freelance thing, etc. that no one really knows what to do with me. Luckily I’m good at spending wide swaths of free time without totally losing my mind.

My visit to the Rhein

This is a plan I've had for years. In 2014, when I was in Germany for my 30th birthday I had intended to take care of this, but my adventures then were primarily in the east, and the Rhine river is an exclusively western feature.

So, a few weeks ago, I did some research and found the closest and hopefully prettiest section of the Rhine that I could get to easily. Ideally I'd be headed up north to the famous Rhine Valley where the wine comes from and where Lorelei Rock is. A dramatic, suicide-worthy cliff would feel epic enough. But years have passed, and as I prepared for the trip my quest felt more custodial than epic.

Instead of the mythic rock of the Lorelei, I'm headed to the Ketsch Rheininsel, which is about 20km west of Heidelberg. Heidelberg is about 300km west of Munich, and when I decided on going to Heidelberg, I knew it was time to try Mitfahrgelegenheit, a website that I've talked with a lot of people about, and they always reassure me that they've had pleasant experiences. I’ve been told I should give it a try.

The way it works is that someone posts on the site that they are driving from one place to another, and they tell you how much money they want, and if the price is right you can take a spot in their car and save some money in your travels in Germany.

It cost me 20 Euros to hop into Adrien's car. There were 2 other riders, so that made Adrien's Audi quiete full. Roberto, who lives in Mannheim, but is originally from Munich, was visiting family. Philip who is studying and in the military had just spent the weekend with his girlfriend. And Adrien, our driver, works for Jaegermeister, and was in town for a concert. That was about the extent of our small talk, and we all settled in on the rainy, sleepy afternoon for a long drive. 

We listened to a comedy box set by someone named Loroit which I will have to research when I get back to my computer. There were definitely sketches about The Ring Cycle, but Adrien kept skipping them, and for the most part, they were the sketches I understood the best. 

I had hoped that we would have gotten to know one another better, to chat, and to talk about shit as we gobbled up Tarmac, but no, it was all business, we all just wanted to get where we were going. The best thing I noticed along the way is that at regular intervals when a large gas station was next the Autobahn very usually there would be huge red neon letters of the name of the town across the top of the pump canopy. In the dim light and the rain it was cool to see those town names going by as Adrien moved us along at 180 kmph.

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And so I arrived in Heidelberg, and checked into my hotel. The Hotel Hemingway. I had been tempted to go cheap and stay in a hostel, but my time in Hamburg had been so unpleasant, and considering that I was on a mission I thought deserved something slightly better. So, inexplicably, I found myself in the Hemingway Hotel. It's theme is, you guessed in, Ernest Hemingway, on the walls what isn't a picture of Hemingway is nautically themed: lots of rope, wood, brass. The bathroom doors have portholes being used as frames for the man and woman signs. I arrived on Sunday around 7:30, and the bar was mostly empty save for two Eastern European men trying to take photos of each other's forearm tattoos. I filled my paperwork out, and set my bags down in the room, and I walked out into a cold rainy Heidelberg evening.

I've been to Heidelberg before, in 2002. When I traveled through Europe with two friends from high school (not even a year after 9/11), Molly, the girl we were traveling with, had been born in Heidelberg on the Military Base, so we came and saw the castle. I thought I didn't remember a bit of it. 

High above the Old Town is the castle, the big tourist draw, so I hiked up there, around every corner was a couple chatting away in German, taking selfies, clutching each other tight to defend against the chill. 

After accidentally interrupting either some serious petting or full on sex in a dark corner of a park overlooking the city, I figured I should move on since I had clearly stumbled into Heidelberg's Makeout Point. I walked along the back wall of the castle, and saw the gate to the inner courtyard of the castle was wide open. I walked in, unsure if I was supposed to be there or not.

The castle is mostly in ruins, but is still beautiful, and standing there looking around and enjoying having it all to myself almost over whelmed me. I figured I needed to take advantage of it somehow. I whistled out a single note to see how the sound would bounce around the old stone walls. It sounded very nice. So I stood in the center of the castle and whistled my favorite bit of Tannhäuser, the pilgrim's chorus. I kept waiting for someone to shush me, or for a stranger to emerge and see what was going on. When I was done it was just as quiet as before I had started.

I explored the castle a bit more and found myself on the inside of a locked castle gate, I am almost certain that rear gate I'd come through should have been shut, and I was getting something special. I noticed a sign showing the way to the Giant Keg, and remembered visiting it with Matt and Molly. That, the world’s largest keg, is all I remember from coming to Heidelberg almost 15 years ago. As I retraced my steps and walked back out another giggly little couple were entering the Hof, or court, "Genieße es," I said "es gibt niemand hier." Enjoy it, there's no one here. 

I had a beer on my way home, and then back in the strange shrine to Hemingway I pulled the cold blankets up, hugged them tight, and slept not thinking about what tomorrow would be all about.

I've carried my wedding to Germany twice now. Back in 2014 I concocted the idea to throw it into the Rhein, but at the time the offer to go see Markus in Großschönau was too good, so I carried the damned thing back across the Atlantic. 

Naturally this idea came from the climax of the Ring Cycle. After so many hours and operas the ring is finally returned to the Rhein and the world is wiped clean so that a new world can begin.

Certainly I'm plenty guilty of weird, magical, superstitious thinking, but can anyone think of a better way to rid myself of it? It wasn't worth anything, any value it had was simply put there by me for what it had symbolized.

So I woke up in Heidelberg with an hour bus ride ahead of me. The Ketsch Rheininsel, as far as I can tell, isn't much of a tourist draw, and is seemingly out of the way enough that there's little infrastructure to aid anyone trying to get to it by anything other than car or bike.

As I had my cup of coffee before the bus I really didn't feel much, and felt really silly about how far I was going just to do this weird talismanic act. A few times I stuck a finger in that little key pocket in my jeans where I had stashed the ring. There was still enough power and emotion soaked into that little band to give me the willies when I’d come in contact with it. 

My expectations were low, the weather was shit, I expected the Rheininsel to be small, and despite what I was doing, I feel like I've put so much of all this stuff behind me. However, as I got off the bus and the rain picked up, I started to feel a little emotional.

It was a long walk just to get to the Island, and when I finally arrived the approach was by a wonderful wooden bridge. As I walked across I noticed lots of graffiti, I took my time translating it, as I was sure I would be done on the island in no time. Right next to a poem in German dedicated to a departed lover promising to love Philip until death were the plain, simple words in English, “I love you, bitch.”

As it happens the Rheininsel is quite large, 8km at it's widest, and I was walking the full length of it. The first thing I came upon was the wild pig pen, it was cold, and the Wildschwein were all huddled up in a bunch, they started and turned to watch me go past. 

I was just starting to realize how large the island was and how alone I was on it. I came around a bend in the path and saw that the trail led away far enough that I couldn't really see the end. I decided to get into this spirit, took off my headphones, and listened to the pops of rain on the leaves and creaks of the branches in the wind. I started to think about what I was here to do.

After a long meandering, detour-filled walk through the island, I finally came upon the banks of the Rhein. Time to get in a melodramatic mood. I looked along the path again, and still there was no one else around. I'd been walking for at least an hour and hadn't seen a single person. I put my headphones back on and turned up Das Rheingold, the incredible opening note good and loud. I thought about the last time I saw the Rhein.

As I walked south along the western edge of the Rheininsel I kept praying for the clouds to part, to give me a beautiful bit of light, so that the pictures I took of the Rhine would look at least a quarter as romantic as the Rhein is meant to be. But I was on the wrong stretch of the river, it's all flat here, and if I looked north I could see smokestacks. It was about half way down the island that I happened upon the only other person I would see on the island that day. He was walking his dog out in the rain, we swapped guten tag’s, his dog gave me a quick sniff, and we headed our opposite directions. If he'd have asked me what I was doing there I would have told him everything.

I kept looking for the right spot, but nothing jumped out at me, I reached the south end of the island, and I could have turned following the little y in the river, but if I'd have thrown the ring in an offshoot of the Rhein itself wouldn't have felt right. I walked down to the bank, bottle caps and an overturned BBQ grill suggested this was the place to be under better weather conditions. I set down my back pack, sat down on some stones and started the last half hour or so of Gotterdammerung on my iPhone. Turned it up a bit more. At this point, Brunnhilde has been through it all and understands what's happening, she's pissed, and she's only to happy to reset the earth and let a new age begin.

I put on the last 30 minutes if the final Ring opera, Gotterdammerung. I had plenty of time to get the tripod out and take a few pictures while I chewed this over.

I sat on that pile of stones, Wagner ripping through my ears, waiting to hear the lovely moment when the redemption through love theme floats above everything and the curtain drops, and just as the opera in my ears resolved into some of the most sublime music ever written, a huge flat, boat with a backhoe on it came around the bend right along my side of the river. The music ended and I watched the boat, "The Viktoria," motor by. I took a while before it was far away enough that I felt comfortable willfully and obviously littering. I sat twirling the ring between my fingers, half tempted to put it on one last time, just to see how it felt. I started talking to it.

I said a lot of stuff, but that's all just for me. Eventually I said: "it's time for you to go now," and I finally did what I came here to do. As I threw the ring I must have given it a little flick because it spun making a perfect globe as it arced up into the grey sky. It didn’t fly as far from me as I would have liked. The current, I noticed, was pushing it back towards me. I packed up quickly and took the most direct path off the island.

I've got a few hours of being a tourist left here, and when I get back I have to figure out how to do something fun and uplifting for my birthday. On Friday I've invited everyone I've met so far to come out and drink and eat with me, it's going to be a weird group of folks, but it's my first attempt at bringing people together in Munich. We'll see how it goes.

But now this thing is done. At any rate, if this all falls a part and I have to move back to the states, I've got one less thing I have to pack.

Here's a gallery of other photos taken from my little Ausflug:



Gonna lock you up in school jail.

My epic birthday post is taking longer to get done than I thought, so here's a little detour I took in Heidelberg. Just another fascinating little German side trip.

Just a quick bit from the end of my time in Heidelberg, the day I left I had enough time in the morning to go on a little tour through the university museum of Germany's oldest university. The 3 Euro ticket covered the extremely mediocre museum, the incredible grand lecture hall, and the Studentkarzer. When I walked up to the lecture hall the tour guide was just finishing her tour. She was leading a Korean guy, and speaking to him in loud, slow English. As I walked in she asked for my ticket, and I though I detected a little irritation that I had missed the tour and she'd have to start over, but I responded in German, and she seemed happy enough to redo the tour auf Deutsch. I followed everything she said, and we made some small talk, she asked what I did, etc. The lecture hall was gorgeous, and I would have liked to have set the tripod up and taken some pictures, but the woman really did seem to want to get back downstairs. So I followed her down and as we passed the ticket desk she said to her cowoker, "Hier wir haben der Regiesseur aus Texas." Here we have the director from Texas. I laughed and shucked and jived a little before grabbing my camera and heading to the main attraction the "Studentkarzer."

The university of Heidelberg had legal authority over their students, and so they installed a small jail in one of the buildings. In the documentation for the tour I read that common infractions were singing loudly on the streets at night, insulting policemen or letting the pigs and piglets out. Sentences ranged from 24 hours to 4 weeks. The cells could be opened at any time by the prisoners so they could visit each other, attend classes within the building, and work on what became a grand tradition, graffiti. After a while it became a badge of honor to be locked away for a period, and visits from un-incarcerated students for parties were a regular occurrence. Traditionally a prisoner was only required to eat bread and water for the first 24 hours of their prison term, and then they could have anything that they could get someone to bring in. Including beer. 

As I stood at the top of the stair between the cells I suddenly imagined that this could have been the birthplace of pizza delivery. 

It was a wonderfully strange detour, and I was lucky, I had the entire jail to myself to explore, photograph and enjoy.

Wir feiern uns ein neues Jahr!

Just a short post on something I wanted to document today, working on something big and highly self indulgent for my birthday, get ready!

One year ago I was at a house party in Austin, I'd solidified my decision to move to Germany only a few days before when I'd cleared it with with my parents. And secured lodging for my tiny cat angel. After getting annoyed with the music at the party, I took it over, put on Todd Terje, and at midnight I pulled the top off of a Schneider Weisse Bier, took a deep pull and promised myself I'd be in Germany the next year.

And one year later I was eating Raclette, watching "Dinner for One" and introducing a beautiful girl from the Black Forrest to a sour beer made by Schneider Weisse. We drink beer, wine, and whiskey before midnight, and walked out onto a nearby bridge. We drank "Jacky Coke," and toasted to Jessi's sister who had just gotten engaged. The Germans, as far as I have seen, go god damn ape shit for Fireworks, and they are legal in the city, so it's like a war zone, I couldn't see the other side of the bridge due to all the smoke. Cars and busses were driving by and explosions were going off everywhere. This was before we knew about the terror alert.

The next morning Jessi and I were victims of a hellacious "Kater," or hangover. We made it down to Garmisch to watching hours of ski jumping, which was great, but neither of us felt in the right spirit to be waiving the German flags that were being handed out. We made it though the day and onto the incredibly crowded train back to Munich. I left with the impression that Jessi and I wouldn't be going out again. Ah well, it was all worth it for one simple moment night before, I asked if she liked country, she said yes, and she put something on that she could immediately tell didn't pass my sniff test. I put on Night Life, and I couldn't tell if she really liked it, but what mattered to me most was that here I am, some doofus from Texas, come all this way just to indulge myself, and I'm still putting Night Life on, being moved by it in a new way. 

This morning I got up, still feeling my Kater a bit, so I went for a long walk, and captured some of the remains of New Years in Munich. Jessi was honestly surprised when I told her that Fireworks in Texas are illegal in the cities. She asked, "but isn't everything legal there?" The Wild West lives on. I guess next year everyone will just be firing the guns they already have on them.

Here's the view from the street:


Oh Holy Nonsense

My relationship with Jeff Corwin is special and weird. I once had an argument with him about a hypothetical situation in which one of us was born a woman, I wanted to know if he thought we would be romantically involved. We’ve known each other for almost 10 years, and for only 6 months of that time have we even lived in the same city. From his moves to London and then San Francisco, to my move to Germany, we’ve perfected the art of being stupid on the phone and over the internet.

Jeff is one of the most naturally musically talented people I’ve ever met, and we’ve worked on songs together over the years, always arguing bitterly about lyrics. Some day we will be locked in a room together and write the worst musical of all time.

But now let's go back to 2010. I was in a dark, cold place. Romania. It was December, and I was feeling very cut off from the world, I finally got on the hotel wifi, I loaded up Facebook to see what everyone was doing, and there was a video from Jeff. A quick 90 seconds of him belting out “Oh Holy Night” on the Kazoogle, an instrument he’d bought in Austin that’s like a Kazoo with a Bugle horn. It’s loud, it’s annoying, it’s perfect.

Watching the video made my heart break, my life was all hotels and tourism, and I wanted to make a christmas video after watching Jeff’s, but I didn’t. Not that year. I just kept watching “Oh Holy Kazoogle” over and over and laughing.

A year later, with my feet firmly in Austin, in secret, I took Jeff’s original video, recorded some whistling, and re-edited the video into a duet. I remember so clearly listening over the phone as he watched my creation for the first time, not knowing that a tradition was being born that night.

Now we each take turns, alternating years. In year 3 Jeff did the sensible thing and added his lovely singing, and a cameo from his wife, Stephanie. The video stayed at about 2 minutes, and I remember feeling a lot of stress about how I would respond.

Year 4 I embraced my inferior singing abilities and went full out on the strange third verse  of “Oh Holy Night” the video doubled in length, and the reality of the video itself began to break down a little bit.

Year 5 Jeff introduced a new conceit that I know was intended to open up the possibilities for expansion in a way beyond layering more performances on top of the previous year's video, and in doing so really tore down any of the remaining coherent world of “Oh Holy Night”

So here we are, year 6, my turn. I was tempted to go out to the Christmas markets and leverage the incredibly Christmassy atmosphere of my new home, but that’s not where my mind is right now. Most days my mind is trapped in this room. So that’s what year 6 is about.

If it weren’t for Jeff, and his extremely delicate digestive system I wouldn’t have a ukulele. He was being held hostage by some pizza we’d had the night before, and I was left in his apartment with his ukulele and to entertain myself I figured out the chords to “Apache,” and I fell in love with the little four stringed nuisance. Here we are 3 years later, and I’ve found its one of the things I can’t live without. I moved all the way to Germany, leaving my ukuleles behind, and I made it only a few months before I had to go and buy one. Some things stay with you, like Jeff and how close we are despite the incredible distance, and these videos which I hope we do until we are both dead and making annoying music together in the afterlife.

Why Germany?

I get asked this question more often than any other. I’m still constantly meeting new people, and inevitably they ask why I am here. On Thursday I had a job interview to be an English Instructor, and before I was asked any questions about how I’d handle an unruly class or motivate an unmotivated student, Hans asked me, “So, why did you chose to move to Germany?”

It’s a hard question to answer, because I don’t have a solid thing to cling to. No job brought me here, no Mädchen lured me into a pit of Haribo and Helles. So I talk about quality of life, I talk about ease of transportation, I talk about the bicycle infrastructure, I talk about the culture, I talk about the beer, I talk about the weather, I talk about the people, I talk about the opportunity. And all of these are part of it, but none of it quite ads up.

I’ve seen a few big Hollywood movies since I moved here, but three have something interesting in common. The Man from UNCLE, Spectre, and Bridge of Spies. Each movie has a slimy Germany character, and Bridge of Spies even completely changes the color and weather palette of the film when Tom Hanks arrives in Berlin. New York is golden and warm and autumnal, but he hits Berlin and all is grey and blue grey and snowy and he’s menaced by a street gang. I guess Germans must be used to seeing themselves this way in Hollywood movies, but I felt defensive. This isn’t the country I know. But, to be fair, I did walk out into a cold dark night that had a little snow in the air. However, no slimy Germans attempted to torture, swindle, or murder me on my way home.

But the defensiveness I felt wouldn’t go away, but it’s not my country, it’s not really my place to be a guardian of the image of Germany. I thought about this a lot, and I really got a chance to chew on it one night when I went walking around the city with my camera, taking photos and really just looking at this city and thinking about it and why I am here.

It is simple, it is stupid, it is embarrassing, but it’s true. Romance. I was fortunate enough to visit Germany the first time in the summer of 2001, way out in the country near Dresden, and I remember sleeping better there than I ever had before, I remember riding a bike from one town into another, and just feeling the pulse of an entirely different way of life. On that trip I was filled up with this romance. And it didn’t go away. It still hasn’t. I hope it doesn’t, but I’m testing it to it’s limit now. The bureaucracy has me over a barrel still, my apartment reminds me of so many things that are decidedly un-romantic, and I’m here alone most of the time, walking, thinking, gazing into my own belly button.

So while I was walking around shooting in the pitch-black night of 6 pm here, I kept thinking that I should make the photos Black and White. Now this is a choice I see other people making in their photos, and there’s always something strongly implied by it now that we are in all digital photography world. Black and White is a choice, not so much a necessity anymore. Black and White is inherently romantic to us, and that means that when you make a photograph Black and White you are usually, intentionally or not, choosing to generate a more romantic representation for the viewer, right? You are choosing not to see something in color as it is, but in Black and White, in the romantic contrasting greys that can remove an image from a specific time.

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So I’ve come to Germany to live in Black and White I suppose. This country, despite how it’s portrayed, despite the difficulties I’ve had here, despite all of the downsides, I still am living in my own romantic fantasy. That may seem silly or dangerous, but if you’ve ever seen a film or read a book or listened to an album and thought “I want to live inside that world.” Then maybe that’s what I’m doing here. In the theme park of life there’s an area called Deutschland, where everything is perfectly themed, no detail is left to betray the environment, every person has their role and plays it out perfectly, and I’m convinced I’m in another world. Maybe that’s why it bothers me so much that all I hear in bars and restaurants in music in English. It's off theme.

The Dating Game Final Round

Date number 5: Franziska

By the time my evening with Franziska, or Franzi, came around I wasn’t really excited about repeating the story of why I moved here, what I do, my history with Germany, etc. Which was lucky because Franzi seemed pretty uninterested in anything I had to say. She warned me via text that she was going to be under the weather when she arrived. She told me she’d been inside all day with a cold, and was keen to get out. She let me know that she’d only have one Gluhwein.

We met at a fountain in downtown Munich, and when she came up out of the subway I was quite surprised. Franzi is small, slender, and her face looked like a strange distant echo of the pictures of herself she’d posted online. It’s so interesting how different faces can be. She walked up to me, introduced herself, and immediately confessed that she had told a lie. It wasn’t a cold, but an eye infection, and she couldn’t see very well. Then she reported that there was a Pegida rally going on near the Odeon’s platz, and we should go and have a look at it. She repeated a few times that when she passed them earlier they were playing Wagner. I had Wagner listed as an interest in my profile, so I wondered if she was kind of challenging me. 

As we walked to the rally she told me about her job as a journalist for a big newspaper in town, and explained to me why Berlin is a great city but only for a few days. At the Pegida rally there were more anti-Pegida people that actual Pegida supporters. The police formed a tight barricade, and one Anti-Pegida demonstrator had brought a trumpet and was playing loudly to drown out the certainly awful shit the Pegida guy with the PA was saying. There were boomboxes and yelling and bullhorns and flags and it stretched out and across the Leopold Straße. All in all there were maybe 40 Pegida demonstrators, I think. It was more sad than anything else. We walked back towards the center of town, and stopped for a Gluhwein. 

I was seeing lots of people with christmasy snacks I didn’t recognize, and it was fun to get the lowdown on them from Franzi, then after about half a cup of Gluhwein, she turned to me and said, “OK, it’s time for the big revelation.”

She’s a smoker, which I could tell from the moment she walked up to me at the beginning of the evening. We had to walk to find a Kiosk so she could buy a pack of Gauloises, which she described as the pretentious art school student cigarettes. She broke all the brands down for me, Rothanders are for construction workers, Lucky Strikes are for housewives (I guess German has some hard-assed housewives), and so on. Later she would tell me the ranking of the Munich beers, but she seemed annoyed when I stopped her to try and guess first. Finally we wound down at a small cafe, a place I’d never been to, but she said had been quite cool in the 80s because all the punks hung out there. She gave me some tips on good Munich bands, and, as his major evangelist, I queued up some Todd Terje on her phone, but told her to listen to it when she got home on good speakers or headphones. I’m a one man street team.

Somehow it eventually came up that I had a giant map of Germany on my wall back when I lived in the US, and she said “oh, you really love Germany, huh? So many people just say that.”

Perhaps it was just her desire to have a reason to leave that house, but I’m not really sure why she came out to begin with, and I’m sure we won’t see each other again. Perhaps she got one look at me, standing there under the Fishbrunner fountain, and thought, oh well, here’s a few hours of my life where I can practice my English. Which, is the great advantage of dating like this in Germany, I suppose, we can at least get a little language practice in on a mediocre first date.

And now the romance gauntlet has been run. As I write this there’s 2 second dates on the books, but my head is such a jumbled mess of information, conversation, and first impressions, that I’m sure I’ll repeat myself or think of I’ve told a story already when I haven’t. 

In my research before moving here I read a lot about how difficult expats find it to break into German social circles and how often they end up hunkered down with other English speakers. I haven’t really found that to be the case, but meeting people has changed in the last few years, and in my experience, we’re all just looking to spend an evening with someone interesting, a little funny, and reasonably attractive. All in all, over these dates I’ve found that except for things like paying and smartening up before a first date, it’s all pretty similar. I’ve found it very rewarding and interesting to find that even in Germany I can pass the time and make small talk with nearly anyone. I want to attribute this to my North Texan heritage.

This many interactions was a bad idea, but I’m not operating in normal time and in any kind of a normal sphere. I’ve applied for tons of jobs during the day, drank far too much coffee, and I have to fill my evenings while I wait or any news on the visa. They papers are supposedly being reviewed and I’ll receive a call at some point, but as the clock continues to tick, as I run out of jobs reasonably apply for, and as January 31st approaches, it’s time to start annoying the shit out of bureaucratic buffoons down at the Immigration Office.

The Dating Game round 2

Date number 3: Veronika


I was probably the most anxious before meeting Veronika, only because we had spoken exclusively German in our texts, and she’d clearly wanted to text in a more friendly and flirty way. A few evenings before we had planned to meet she unexpectedly messaged me. It was a picture of her pouring booze into a warming pot of Gluhwein. This, for me anyway, passes as flirting. She made it clear that she had enough Gluhwein for two and was going to go hiking in the dark, intentionally, without a light. I was tempted, but her invitation came too late, she was on her way to the train, and I was huddled over a bowl of soup from my favorite soup place.

We finally met a few days later at a small cafe near Fraunhoferstr. She spoke clear, slow enough German, and the cafe was quiet enough, though they did play only American music. Nirvana didn’t fit with my Tegernseer beer or her glass of wine. I had the safety net of English, as it turns out, because of course, Veronika speaks pretty good English, because she teaches dance and theatre science in English. We only dropped to English once or twice, we spoke only German for two hours. I was proud. She told me about her one impression of Texas, a quick stop in Houston. I asked what she was doing there, and she said she was on a boat trip, I asked if it was a cruise or a small boat and she said, “oh no, it was a container ship.” This girl worked on a container ship and saw a few of the ports of the Americas, she lived on board for months. She said she got a lot of reading done, but the conversation was dead boring.

My vocabulary is limited enough that I had to keep it fairly casual, and just to make conversation I asked where she lived. She said she lived next door to the cafe we were in, and I was taking a swig of my beer in the moment, but I am nearly certain she winked at me. She said she lived “ganz in der Nahe” totally near by. I’m not sure if that’s what I saw, or if I did see it if she meant anything by it, but I am not that kind of boy. Before I was home she’d already texted me inviting me over to watch a movie at her place. She said her apartment is small, but she has over a thousand books and a playstation 1 in there. And the movie sounds really good, like the German version of Spinal Tap but about a band like Kraftwerk. Perhaps I’ll go over and watch this movie and see if I can keep my chastity in tact.

Date number 4: Gloria

I got the impression from chatting with Gloria that she was extremely self-conscious about meeting someone online. Or perhaps self conscious in general. Though we met through a website  that has a specifically romance-focused intent, it seemed she preferred to think of our meeting as a language exchange, like a tandem partner. It was all fine with me, surprisingly, I’ve found that my abilities to pass the time and make conversation with strangers extended beyond native english speakers.

I suggested a bar, but she countered saying the service was bad. She recommended the Cafe Kosmos, which I had never even heard of, but I was happy to try. It was far too near the Hauptbahnhof for me to have ever given it a fair chance. Fortunately the place is super cool. It feels like a barely renovated space straight out of the 1960s. Harsh concrete walls and floors, and the chairs and tables were a random mix of wood and plastic seats that looked like they’d been taken from schools that were getting rid of old furniture.

A unique trait of Cafe Kosmos is that they serve little bottles of Astra Beer, the beer famously from Hamburg. I hadn’t had a little bottle of beer in quite a while, 12 adorable little ounces for only one Euro and thirty cents. Gloria bought the first round before I had even got my coat off and we climbed the spiral staircase to see if there was a spot for us on the upper floor. With chairs at the correct height for 8 year olds, and a tiny table we sat, drank tiny beers and began our language exchange. Gloria had worked in film production in Canada for a while, and we talked mostly about films. We could agree that Drive was a spectacular movie, we argued about Birdman, and we traded opinions on Gaspar Noe. I felt a bit like I was in college again. Gloria has very expressive eyebrows, and as I began my third tiny beer I took a moment to compliment them. It seemed like it made her uneasy. Ah well. We kept chatting, a bit in German, a bit in English, about jobs, and living in Germany, and so on. I figured it was time to go, so we stepped outside into the cold. I texted her a few movie titles and songs we’d talked about, and then we hugged goodbye. I had the impression that this would be it, but the next day she texted asking me what I had expected before meeting her. Then she told me she’d get in touch once she wasn’t so busy. Who knows if she’ll get back in touch, but I’d drink another beer with her.