Saturday, February 25, 2006

Willkommen in Muenchen

25 February 2006

That’s what the McDonald’s billboard at the Munich airport says. Just can’t get away from it, can you?

The past few days have been somewhat relaxing once I gave into fate and chilled out. There wasn’t anything I was going to do that would have moved up my flight, so I was just like a newborn baby; eat, sleep, shop and poop. Okay, maybe a newborn doesn’t do the shopping thing, but the rest was the summary of my three days in Camp Arifjan until my flight this morning.

Before I left, I decided to take a shower and shave so that I at least felt human for the flight. By the time I got back from the showers, the two guys I was going to the airport with were pushing me along. They and the now two additional people we didn’t know were completing contract rounded out our group of now five going to the airport and they were ready to leave an hour early. So I quickly shoved everything loose into my bags and away we went.

Oddly enough, once we reached the airport, we were joined by another ITT employee jumping ship. The flow of people leaving seems to be increasing as we get closer to the end of May and the end of the initial ITT contract. In fact, Tom was saying that you know it’s time to get out when you start seeing the second wave of former employees returning to theater. Now that I’ve had my two year anniversary, I can say that he is right. I ran into another one of my former coworkers from the tech control from Victory at Arifjan, processing back in.

Another one of the hot topics was this bombing of that Shi’ite mosque by supposed Sunnis. Although I tend to believe that the media is really hyping the whole civil war thing up, it is still a very serious concern to all of us in the SW Asia Theater. Every one of those leaving echoed the same relief of not having to be back in Iraq with this all going on.

We were the second ones in line at the Lufthansa counter and as you might have already guessed, the Lufthansa flights were booked solid. In fact, anyone who wasn’t going directly back to the States were being asked if they would be willing to give up their seats…for a princely some too! They were offering me 600 Euro (about $750 US) AND next transport on another carrier to Frankfurt in a round-about-way. I think it was their famous and ever popular bizzare European airport tour to see the airports of Abu Dabai, Istanbul, Budapest, Warsaw and Athens all in one fell swoop via five diffent connections! I'd of ended up in Munich in front of the hotel via donkey cart, but I'd of made it there. If I hadn’t scheduled Phil’s and my flights to get into Munich within 10 minutes of one another, this boy would have been lining his pockets with Lufthansa’s money. I was only concerned that Phil would worry or that he’d have a hell of a time getting to the hotel and trying to get the room since it was in my name.

But it all worked out. My flight did, in fact, land about ten minutes behind his and we were able to meet up in baggage claim and go through the sharp eyes of the evil customs officers together. No sweat-ti-da! (for all you Kalkarites, you recognize a “Lenny-ism, right?) We decided to play rich tourists and took a taxi to the hotel. With three bags and two carry-ons, it just made life easier than lugging all that through the S-Bahn (Strassenbahn or street train, literally as opposed to the U-Bahn or Untergrundbahn or subway) and then walking 1/3 of a mile to a hotel we really didn’t know the location of other than the address.

The Kepensky Vierjaheszeiten (Four Seasons) is a beautiful old hotel in the middle of Munich and located on Maximillian Strasse across from the German “Rodeo Drive.” They had no problem with us requesting an early check-in, but asked if we could give them an hour to prepare the room. So we left all the bags (except for my Toshiba which is a growth of sorts on me by now) and walked around town some to become familiar with our new surroundings.

Oddly enough, the Hofbrauhaus and Hard Rock Café are only about two blocks away! The Marianplatz with the Glockenspiel is also only about three blocks away. While we were out, we both were feeling kind of hungry, so we started looking around for a place to catch a small bite to eat. No! We didn’t do Mickey D’s!

We finally settled on a little place called the Bratwurstherz’l or the Bratwurst Little Heart. When we asked the waitress if there was a place, she basically plopped us down at a table right near the door with five old guys having their lunch and Saturday brews. Phil gives me this look like, “can they do that?” I reassured him that this type of seating was pretty common in local places like this. I seem to have forgotten back about twenty years ago when this same situation shocked me too! It is actually a very nice custom. It gives you a chance to mingle with the locals and to just be a “mench” (a Yiddish word for a real person loosely derived from the German word Menchen or people.

So anyway, I settled on a Weiss beir mit Hefe (I prefer my Weiss beir ohne Hefe…without yeast or with the yeast strained off producing a clear or Crystal Weiss) and the very traditional white brats with a cold potato salad with a few cucumbers sliced in for color while Phil opted for the pork roast with the dumpling which he didn’t eat because it was kind of sticky and freaked him out some.

Started talking with the old guys a the table and had a great conversation with them. They were very forgiving of my German after I explained that I don’t speak often enough to maintain my vocabulary. Actually, they complimented me on my German. They said that it very unusual to hear such good German from an American…to which I blushed. I have to tell you that language is a very difficult thing to feel completely confident about and without any reservations or self consciousness. God did the whole Tower of Babel thing for a reason…to humble those of us who really think they can speak a second or third or forth language fluently! The only time you are completely fluent in your second or more language is after about three Weiss biers…honestly, no lie!

I was busy having a great time, but poor Phil was suffering the severe side-effects of jet lag. I think it was when he fell face-down with his nose in that dumpling ball that might have given it away. So we soon bid our farewells and made back to check into our hotel. Actually the only reason he was so antsy about getting back to the hotel and getting the baggage to the room was that he’d smoked his last cigarette and left his next fix in the suitcase that hadn’t been brought up to the room yet.

Once he had his fix, he was ready for nappy time. Not me though. I still had a new city to learn. I get that way whenever I first get somewhere. I have to go out and walk the city. Walk, walk, walk until my feet are sore. I go in circles a lot at times, but I get familiar with the new city and make it mine. I did find the Kaufhof Department Store and got some bath salts, a vanilla scented candle (since the air in the room tends to be rather stagnant and musty) and also a firmer pillow for Phil.

Walked over to the Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) and picked up tickets for Phil and me to make our way to Heidelberg tomorrow for a quick one-day visit and then return on Monday. More on that tomorrow. Then came back and took a nap myself. Didn’t sleep much since I was on that 230 redeye from Kuwait to Frankfurt. I never seem to sleep much on the flight anyway.

For dinner tonight, we just went over to the Hard Rock for some dead cow burgers. After all that disgusting fast pseudo-food-whatever-they-called-it at Arifjan, I needed some real dead cow in my stomach to remember what real beef tastes like! Then back to the hotel to check email and off to bed so we can catch that early morning train to Heidelberg. I was really looking forward to a soak in the tub with those bathing salts (since I can’t find ANY Mr. Bubble! And they call Germany a civilized country…No Mr. Bubble to be had!) but I’m about bushed. More later.
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