Since I’m going back to Munich for the first time since 1992 (!) I thought it might be fun to explain my relationship to this city which holds so many wonderful memories for me.
In 1968 I had a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. (Sadly not at an Italian university but with a transplanted group from my own university–I’ll blog about it some day.) We had a break mid-semester, and my friend Barbara and I traveled around Europe, using Europe on $5 a Day as our source for eating and sleeping. Our first stop was Munich.
I remember how shocked I was to see Catholic churches. ONLY Catholic churches. Wasn’t Martin Luther German? Why were there any Catholic churches at all? As you can see, I knew nothing about the Germany of my father’s great-great-grandparents. And that’s the main thing I remember from my first encounter with Munich. We were there for three days, I think, and according to the few slides I have, we went to the top of the Olypmic Tower (which they must have recently finished building), the Deutsches Museum, and wherever the two sculptures I snapped are (I never saw them again).
We were at the Hauptbahnhof about to leave on a night train for Amsterdam when I became violently ill with food poisoning! Somehow my friend Barbara managed to get us another night at the B&B where we’d been staying, without either of us speaking a word of German. I am still so grateful the landlady took us back and was even solicitous about my health.
Something about Munich must have impressed me despite that, because when I returned to Florida State University, I took a German class for a year…then promptly forgot about it for ten years.
Flash-forward to the end of my time working in London. I thought I wanted to return to the US, but was determined to see real snow before I left Europe forever (ha). So I booked a ski holiday in the tiny village of Fieberbrunn (my time there is of course worth several blog entries). For now, flash-forward again: dear reader, I lived there for two years. But I did not marry him. 😉
And did I know German? Let’s just say that total immersion works for daily living in the countryside of the Alps. Could I have worked in a Büro? Could I write intelligently? Could I read anything above the level of a tabloid newspaper or a magazine? Could I carry on an educated conversation? Nein, nein, nein, nein. But still…it’s pretty amazing to be able to LIVE IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE. I took lessons and got an Austrian driver’s license. (I knew how to drive, of course–hey, I’m an American–but ASK ME ABOUT RIGHT-OF-WAY! I was the QUEEN of Right-of-Way after that course!) I had to go to the work permit office on my own. I opened what I thought was a savings account at the Raiffeisenkasse (although that was a kind of disaster…). I bought a moped. I went to the dentist and the doctor on my own.
But one day I discovered the Armed Forces Network on the radio, broadcasting in English, playing American and English rock. If you’ve spent two years listening to German, Dutch, or French pop YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANT TO ME. 🙂 I was a little bit homesick. The AFN was a local station and they used to run “want ads” on the air. One day they said the University of Maryland Munich Campus was looking for someone to work in their administrative office and they gave a phone number.
I didn’t have a phone, so I went to the post office in Fieberbrunn, went to a cubicle, and they dialed the number for me from behind the counter. I cannot THINK what my accent must have been like after 9 years in London and 2 years speaking only Tyrolean dialect…! Amazingly they still asked me to come for an interview–they must have been desperate. I never revealed that I was calling long-distance!
So I took the train from Fieberbrunn for a job interview, worked for them all day the following Friday (“commuting” from Austria) and ended up with a job in Munich–starting that Monday! Within a week, I’d quit my job as a maid at Landhaus Pirker (Zimmermädchen, that’s me), had a new job, and had moved to Munich.
The University of Maryland Munich Campus (in brief) was a program for college-age dependents of US military/diplomatic people stationed in Europe. We offered the first two years of a general college education, and kids could then transfer to a US college stateside for junior and senior years to graduate. There were dorms, classrooms, a library, offices, and the other facilities at McGraw Kaserne. As employees of a military contractor, we had all the advantages of the military person without any obligations. I was even given a government ‘rank’ equivalent to a military officer rank, so that I could get government housing–I think I was the equivalent of an Army captain.
I couldn’t get into base housing immediately, but yet another happy coincidence: a young man from Fieberbrunn was working in Munich and he said there was a vacant bedsit in his building. He called his landlady over the weekend and I had a place to stay for the first month (I don’t even remember where it was). I turned up Monday morning for my first day of work in Munich with a suitcase, having taken the 5 am train from Fieberbrunn, not knowing where I would be sleeping that night, just that the guy from Fieberbrunn would pick me up after work and take me there. Munich Campus blessedly gave me an advance in $$ and I remember my first night sleeping in that bedsit (it had a skylight over the bed!) smelling Dove soap I’d bought at the commissary.
Then I spent a month in military group housing. I had my own bedroom & shared a bath with another woman I never saw. As it happened I was the highest ranking person in the building. This meant when two women soldiers got into a fight (yes, a fight) they came and banged on MY door to break it up! Then I shared a lovely apartment for a while, and finally I got my own dear place. I still love that apartment more than anything, although I’m not sure I could walk up and down five flights of stairs all day, especially to get to the washer & dryer & storage area in the basement.
I worked for UMMC for six happy years in what was probably the best situation an expat could ask for. I was in the most beautiful city I’d ever seen, I was in subsidized housing in one of the most expensive cities in Europe, I was paid very modestly in dollars but had access to US groceries at the commissary and cheap booze at the Class VI store and and cheap gas at the military gas stations and cheap electronics at the PX. (I still have the blow dryer I bought there–I use it on my trips to London. It will soon get its first taste of German electricity in almost 30 years!)
I sometimes had to pinch myself and thought that somehow, something about Munich had brought me back! Being a native of flat, hot, insect-filled Florida I dreamed as a child of a place with mountains, seasons, snow, and no bugs–and I was LIVING MY DREAM!
I kept the bedsit I had in Fieberbrunn, too. It was so cheap I could afford it–so not only was I living the dream, I even had a weekend place in Austria! I bought my first car. When I got a ski rack for it, I felt as though I had ARRIVED!
I loved being in Munich but I began to wish I had a proper, professional job. And my family were all in the US–my parents were getting older. I decided to go back to graduate school and left Munich behind. The military eventually moved, then shut down, the Munich Campus program, as they cut back on the number of US military stationed in Europe–and the fall of the Berlin Wall hastened that even more.
I’m torn now between wanting to see what’s become of the McGraw Kaserne area (photos look rather run-down) and just keeping it as a wonderful memory. I still remember looking out an office window and seeing a tractor driving down Soyerhofstr. The countryside was never far away (especially living on the southern edge of Munich as we did). Could I have done more when I lived in Munich? I didn’t meet many Germans since my job was with Americans and I went to Fieberbrunn almost every weekend. That’s probably my biggest regret (but then where would I have met them?) I did go to the opera quite a bit thanks to Tom Woodman. Carol (his wife) worked with me at UMMC and he was busy singing with the Bayerische Staatsoper. He got me comps and I even once went to a dinner after the opening night of something (I still have all the programs). Many of my friends also came back to the states, still working for the University of Maryland at College Park (or retired!). But thanks to the generosity of a colleague, Michael Dickinson, who stayed behind, I will have a couch to sleep on for my first three days in Munich! I can’t wait to see him–and Munich!