When June 19 arrived and it was actually time to begin my trip to Munich, I was more than a little worried. What would it be like to go back there after so long? Would I be able to speak any German at all? Would I want to? It was my first vacation on my own, not going to stay with relatives or friends. The calendar page in this picture was unwrinkled and pristine, with only the dates of the five opera tickets I’d bought in advance written in. Step into adventure!
I used frequent flyer miles for the flight, which meant I only had to pay several hundred dollars for a flight that I know all too well actually costs $1400 – $1600 in economy (yes you read that correctly). Of course, you get what you pay for. My trip to Munich required me to fly to New York, change from LaGuardia to JFK airport (fortunately I had plenty of time for this and even found someone to share a cab with for about the same price as a shuttle), get an overnight flight to Berlin Tegel… unfortunately the airline allowed only 45 minutes to catch my flight to Munich from Berlin, and when we were 15 minutes late arriving, and they rolled out steps to the plane door, then pulled up a bus (that immediately filled before I was even out of the plane) I knew I was in trouble!
When I finally got to the terminal, instead of a ‘transit area’ that would allow me to fly on and go through immigration in Munich, there were two immigration agents for several hundred passengers. You had to go through a single doorway to get to them! And guess where the gate for my flight to Munich was? Yep, the farthest-away-possible terminal. Not to mention there was a heat wave (probably about 92F but no aircon or open windows anywhere).
By the time I was through customs and immigration (my bag was, interestingly, checked through so I didn’t see it) and had run down to the far gate, the flight was gone. So I ran back to information and was told that I’d been automatically booked onto the next flight which was leaving in 10 minutes! I was given a new boarding pass (the old one–significantly with the baggage sticker on it–was taken away) and then I was running back in the opposite direction again.
Finally I arrived in Munich and my heart was pounding! Of course I didn’t know this airport, because it’s new since I lived there. But it was new, and clean, and white, and somewhat cooler…And there was this at the baggage carousel which made my heart sing:
I was hot, jet-lagged, and tired but as I watched the baggage carousel go round and round I was happy. I could understand all the announcements over the PA system! I could read everything that was posted! Eventually, however, I woke out of my happy haze to realize that a frazzled man and I were the only people standing at the baggage carousel. And there were no more suitcases.
Then follows the poking around the ranks of suitcases off to the side, circling around, making sure you’re at the right baggage place. Then, admission of defeat. Frazzled Man had already found the luggage office and was berating (of course he was American) in English, loudly, one of the staffers inside. I went to the other staffer and decided this was going to have to happen in English. The very nice lady of course spoke wonderful English and asked for my baggage tag. Which had been thrown away by the gate agent in Berlin. No problem, said she. We’ll just look you up on the computer! After a few tense (for me) moments, she announced that my bag was still in Berlin, but would arrive at 1.40pm. Since by now it was near noon I considered just staying at the airport! But my friend and Couchsurfing host Michael Dickinson was waiting for me in Munich and there were no phones on this side of the security gates. So I gave her Michael’s address and phone number, she printed me a receipt with a web page to check on my bag(!) and I stepped out INTO MUNICH (airport)!
Now if you know me, you know my travels to Europe in the last 15 years have all been to London. I abandoned Traveler’s Cheques about 20 years ago, and uh no–you can’t get British money in Chapel Hill NC. (Well maybe you can, I’ve never tried because I assume exorbitant charges. I always use the ATM when I arrive.) So pouring sweat, with heavy backpack, raincoat, jacket, and large “purse”, I confidently strode towards the first bank machine I saw. Put in my debit card. WITH EUROSTYLE CHIP. And was informed the machine was broken.
OK. I’m in Germany. I have no cash. I’ve had no sleep. I’m supposed to call Michael, who’s taken a day off work to wait for me, when I arrive. I have to find the S-bahn and get a ticket. And the ATM doesn’t work. Then I spotted a phone! Hooray! I can at least call Michael. Put in card. Same story: not accepted. Ruh-roh. Found another ATM. Not working. Sweat is pouring. Then I spotted The Airport Information Lady. Just envision a little halo over her head, if you will, and a musical angelic chime. (I’m still in all-English mode, believe me)
Airport Information Lady said all the ATMs in this terminal were broken. BUT there was a functioning one in the next terminal. Which was actually pretty convenient because that’s where the S-bahn is. She looked with pity on me when I explained about the phone and calling Michael, and saying “we’re not supposed to let visitors use the phone…” she dialed Michael’s number and handed over the phone.
Michael was one of my co-workers at the University of Maryland Munich Campus. He arranged travel and tours and had already moved off-base and was pretty completely integrated into Munich. He started his own travel business, but now does much more, including location management, translation, and working with the Sultanate of Oman on various projects. I had not seen him since…wait for it…1987!
I recognized his voice immediately and his relaxed and cheerful attitude calmed me down. He repeated directions for getting to his flat, assured me that the airline would deliver my suitcase, and sent me on my way. So, practically genuflecting to Airport Information Lady, I made my way (for MILES, MILES I say) to the other terminal, found the working ATM and got cash, found the S-bahn, bought a day ticket, and was on my way!
It was SO CLEAN. And QUIET. In fact, it was SO quiet I was worried that I might fall asleep. But OH, so pretty! The green green fields, all the signs in German. I strained for a view of the mountains but it was too hot and hazy for that. The stops on the S-bahn were announced in German and English, something I noticed also on the city center U-bahn.
Take the S-bahn to Marienplatz, take the U3, get out…OH! I’m in MUNICH!!! In a wonderful leafy neighborhood of apartment buildings. (Thank you Google maps since I was surely too discombobulated to take a picture.) And anyway, Michael settled me in and I never used the ‘front door’ again, but always went out the back, past the prams and children’s toys. It is a wonderful family neighborhood. Michael and his flatmate fixed me a gorgeous fresh salad, I unpacked the few things that were in my backpack (essentials like iPad charger and pajamas!) and Michael began the project of keeping me awake.
Michael had seen my first Facebook post about this trip and suggested that I could “Couchsurf” with him and his flatmate for the 3 days for which I couldn’t get a hotel. He is the absolutely perfect host! Couchsurfing is a program where you can stay (for free) on someone’s sofa–you then offer your sofa to others who are members of Couchsurfing.org. You can also sign up for it and not offer a sofa (which is what I did, because I wanted to give good references for Michael). I had a nice sofa that converted to a bed in the dining room. Why was he the perfect host? He provided delicious food. He kept me awake the first day. Took me to a really nice outdoor cafe for dinner–was it near Sendlinger Tor? Because my lord, it was HOT. (at least I think that’s where it was. I remember walking past numerous clubs, eating outdoors at a nice spot–it was very windy–but I was SO TIRED.)
Finally at 9pm (it was still light of course) I staggered into the dining room and on to my ‘sofa’. The windows were open, and the fan was oscillating because it was HOT. And I slept the sleep of the dead until morning. When I found my suitcase neatly parked outside the dining room door!
Only in Munich one day, I was off on Friday to Salzburg for a day to catch up with the FABULOUS Jennifer Johnston, mezzo-soprano extraordinaire. But that’s a tale for another day.