Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Everybody’s Working for the Weekend

One thing you quickly learn here in Germany is that work and the pursuit of living rarely intersect. My American work ethic of in at 8 and out after…well whenever the work is done, is not commonplace here in Germany or the rest of Europe. In the Intel Munich office, people roll in “around” 9 each morning. Morning work is halted at once at Noon, where the entire office complex stops for a minimum of an hour to enjoy a leisurely lunch. I have never seen anyone eat lunch at their cube. The Munich office sports an outdoor, almost beer garden feel, eating area. Although most Americans visiting the office are disappointed when the rumors of a beer tap down in the café turn out to be false, the facilities are pleasant nonetheless.

After lunch, people move back to their work areas, and then when 5 o’clock hits, people are sprinting for the exits like Fred Flintstone hearing the “all finished” siren down in the rock quarry. And on a Friday afternoon, with that glorious weekend tantalizingly tempting each office staffer, you might as well forget about it. I went down to get my laptop worked on by the IT support guy at 2:15pm. When I got there, his cube was empty, and his work mate said that he had already left for the weekend. “Are you freaking kidding me”, I said as I hiked back up the stairwell to my cube located on the 3rd floor in disbelief. As I increased my blood pressure thinking about how the IT guy works about 6 hours a week, and when would I ever get my laptop configured for DSL, good ole Karl-Heinz was motoring down some stretch of autobahn ambivalent to the wants and needs of some workaholic American. His focus was on fun and relaxation, not work. My fun would soon come, but only after a full day.

Friday night was spent with Frank, as Keith was off to Sweden for the weekend to see his girlfriend. After another healthy dose of Bavarian food, Frank and I found a bar in the Schwabing neighborhood with a Brazilian flag hanging out front. That was all Frank and I needed to see, since we had each been to Brazil. Frank had been there for work/pleasure and I had celebrated my 30th birthday there back in March of this year. With the memories of Rio de Janeiro still salient in my mind, I quickened my gate towards the door. Could this be some magical time portal that would take me back to my 10 glorious days in Brazil? No, it was just a doorway with a typical behemoth guarding the front entrance. He had no beef with us and we walked inside to find the room in constant motion from all the people dancing around the bar. It must have had something to do with the intoxicating Brazilian music that was being piped over the bar’s speakers, but most likely it had more to do with the intoxicating Caipraihinas (National drink of Brazil) that were continuously being crafted and served to the bar’s patrons. Frank and I ordered up and smiled the all knowing smile that said, “Mmm, mmm, good!”

The drinks, the music, and the people were great. I forgot I was in Germany. There were even several Brazilians there enjoying themselves, so the place was legit after all. It is common knowledge, and most guys will admit, that girls love to dance. And then you have Brazilian Women. These ladies take it to a whole new level, and the same was true at our new favorite bar of the moment. These ladies were swaying and rocking in perpetual motion and all it was doing was spreading like a virus to the rest of the girls around the bar. Germans, Italians, Spaniards, and yes one lame American guy (one guess who that was) ended up dancing around the bar. Frank and I decided to call it a night around 3AM, which was a decent effort by European standards.

The next morning Frank looked at some more apartments, as he is slowly trying to narrow his search. I slept in until about 10AM, which was the first morning I was able to sleep in since arriving. I got up and headed out my front door to Hohonzollernplatz, which is my little neighborhood square. The place was already a bustle. The sidewalk cafes were populated with folks beginning their day with a coffee or bite to eat. I joined one such café and had a salami and lettuce sandwich on a toasted hoagie roll, along with a coke. Food prices are really high here in Germany, as the US Dollar is taking a beating to the Euro. That little snack I just described cost me the equivalent of $10.

I had brought a Yahoo Map which I had printed out back at work that showed me how to navigate from my apartment to the post office, where I had a mysterious package waiting. I studied the map all through lunch and felt like I was ready. Each simplistic task takes precise analysis and planning when you don’t know where the heck you are going, or where you are coming from. I made the journey, in what turned out to be a whopping six blocks, with no problem. I had my little notification card regarding my package and handed it to the clerk. She brought me back a DSL splitter from Deutsche Telecom (T-Mobile). It wasn’t a care package of homemade cookies, but it was nice nonetheless to get a package.

Met up with Frank for lunch at the hip urban Café Schwabing, which is just down the street from me. It is highly noted by locals as an excellent venue for people watching. Frank was starving and tore into a salami sandwich, while I cast my glances at passersby and enjoyed a Radler beer. Those who know me well recall that I am not much of a beer drinker, but the Radler is the perfect brew for someone with my inability to acquire the taste. Radler is ½ beer and ½ lemonade. It looks just like any other beer, but if you are trying to be cool, don’t let anyone sip from your glass. If they do, they will be met with a slightly sweet taste with a smooth finish, which will surely draw smirks from your buddies.

Frank and I left Café Schwabing and window shopped for a spell to get more familiar with the offerings in the neighborhood. We were quite happy to see a bike shop in case we needed any parts or components. We continued walking to the apartment that Frank had just been shown that morning. It was on a nice little street, just two blocks from Leopoldstrasse, which is the “main drag” to see and be seen in Schwabing and probably all of Munich. His place was right above a Thai restaurant as well, so of course the place got my quick endorsement. The apartment was also very close to the entrance to the English Garden, Munich’s version of Central Park, except that it is about four times larger. As we walked to the park, we happened to pass right by the Brazilian bar from the previous night. Frank smiled and mentioned that the location of this apartment could be dangerous.

The English Garden was fantastic. People were out walking, riding their bikes, relaxing in the sun (some wore nothing more than their birthday suits), while others were playing soccer, or even enjoying a picnic. Frank and I headed straight for the Seehaus, which is one of three beer gardens within the park’s confines. Frank grabbed a dunkleweiss (dark beer) while I wussed out and had a Sprite. We both retreated to a pole-position seat right on the lake. From there we could watch geese, people in paddleboats, and sidewalk dwellers pass by. Mainly we just made fun of the typical German’s bizarre sense of fashion. What is it about dark socks and sandals anyway?

On Sunday, Frank came over in his rental car and picked me up. We were headed to Schloss Neuschwanstein, which was the castle home of Bavarian King Ludwig the II located high amongst the Alps in southern Germany. The drive there was fantastically scenic. Rolling hills of emerald green grassland, large fir trees, and the amazing Alps that seemed to appear out of nowhere and swallow up one’s entire line of sight. We stopped at a small Bavarian town, of who’s name escapes me. It was basically a re-fueling stop, as Frank and I were hungry again, but the cobblestone streets, flower boxes, and charming church steeple with clock tower, made it all worthwhile.

After lunch it was onto Fussen, which was the major town at the base of this castle that was built between the years of 1869 and 1886. Poor King Ludwig II only got to live in his dream home for approximately 130 days, before he was told that a commission in Munich had found him mentally unstable and therefore unfit to rule. He was taken to Munich for “mental examination”, whereby the next day he and his psychiatrist were found in a nearby lake both drowned.

The castle was marvelous and is the basis for Disneyland’s famous castle at all of their theme parks. The location of the castle is exquisite as it sits high above the rolling hills and large mountain lakes of Fussen below. The Alps rise up around it and complete the postcard that only King Ludwig could have conceived back at the turn of the century. Now you tell me if King Ludwig was crazy.

The castle was the destination Sunday, but I think Frank and I enjoyed the journey there and back even more. The small villages we encountered along the way were almost storybook in nature, and the rolling grasslands, trees, and mountains made the perfect setting for our little trip into the real Bavaria. The weekend made it almost worth enduring the weeklong series of frustrations, mishaps, and cultural adjustments. Things feel like they are starting to get a little easier. If I start coming in on Mondays at 9AM, you’ll know I’ve passed the point of no return.


At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Miss Kym said...

I've been there! The castle and the drive to/from are magical.


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