The weather in Munich was spectacular again this morning, but I have lived in weather like this in Colorado long enough to know it can’t last long this time of year. I decided I wanted to catch what could be the last of it at the Englischer Garten, which my guide book suggests “is crowded with nude sunbathers in summer.” This sounded like something I ought to make it my business to see, given my reporting duties here. Of course, I was also anxious to get another peek at those men with their large bellies and thong bikinis that made my eyes bug out at the lake the other day. They made such an impression on me, I believe I dreamed about them last night. At least I spent a good portion of the night tossing and turning and crying out.
The Englischer Garten is one of Europe’s largest city parks. It is something on the order of Central Park in New York City. It is located near the Studentenstadt (literally, “student city”) where my son lives. The park consists of grassy areas and woodlands, with streams running through, and dozens upon dozens of bike and foot paths winding their way from one end of the park to the other. Beer gardens are found on either end of the park and are a reward for all that unseemly exercise. But, beer is not why I am here.
Alas, the men are gone. Here one finds only lithe young men and women, cavorting about nude. Well, alright, maybe they are “cavorting” only in my imagination. In reality, they are just laying there getting a bit of sun, and at that, too far from the paths to really see much of anything. It’s okay, but it’s not nearly as exciting as the men at the lake. The thousands of other clothed bikers and walkers in the park don’t seem to be paying any attention to them, and finally I decide that’s what I’ll do, too. Besides, I’m too busy worrying about whether I am going to make it to the next beer garden before I collapse of thirst from all this walking.
Since I knew I would be walking quite a distance today, I put my CD player and German language CDs in my bag this morning. As I walked along, I listened to (and repeated) German phrases. Apparently the ear phones, which are good ones, don’t allow you to know exactly how loud it is you are speaking, because I got more than one strange look this morning as I walked along mumbling, “Nein, ich bin nicht ein Amerikaner. Ich bin ein Janpanier.”
Anyway, my language skills are increasing by leaps and bounds. I feel like one of those 18-month old children who learn dozens of new words each day. It’s startling to be having a conversation with yourself and have German words just appear out of the blue. (Could this be that high-school German finally kicking in?) The odd thing is that I speak nearly fluent German when I am mumbling under my breath, but as soon as I have to speak out loud to someone other than the numerous German dogs running around loose in the park, I completely freeze. Sounds come out that are not anything like what I am intending. It is very disconcerting. I feel great empathy today for all those people with speech impediments. To me it sounds like someone trying to speak guttural German with a Spanish, or possibly Italian, accent. Here in Munich I can just pretend it is Bayernische, a local dialect virtually no one else in Germany can understand. But it will give me some problems if I travel far from home, I’m afraid.
I was thinking about this as I finally reached the end of the path, and the beer garden, in the Englischer Garten. There were a number of items on the menu, and I was hungry, but I couldn’t quite work up the nerve to ask for something I hadn’t practiced on the dogs 10 or 15 times. Finally, I said what everyone in Germany understands: “Ein bier, bitte.” There is sometimes some nonsense after this, when the person taking my order tries to ask me what kind of beer I want, “dunkle ur weiss”, etcetera. But I just stare at them and say “Ja.” Sooner or later they get the idea and bring me a beer. I don’t care what kind it is. They are all great.
So I sat down with my beer and a big pretzel (probably 15 inches round) and all of a sudden a jazz quartet started playing. I guess I thought jazz was an American phenomenon. I really didn’t expect to hear it in Munich, and especially in the middle of Oktoberfest. I guess I was expecting polka music, something like that. This was a pleasant surprise. The music was wonderful, the day was wonderful, the people around me were wonderful. Only my German was lousy.
Eventually, it was time to leave and head back to the U-Bahn station. I was starting to feel comfortable riding on the U-Bahn, but I learned another little lesson about the trains on the way back to my apartment. They don’t exactly run on weekends the way they do during the week. If my guide book mentioned this, I failed to remember it.
During the week, if I want to go back to Garching, I can jump on any U6 line going north to Garching-Hochbrück, the end of the line, and within walking distance of my apartment. I tried that today and about two stops from home I noticed that everyone got off the train in my car, but me. I thought that was a bit odd, so I started to look around. Everyone had gotten off the train! Except me!!
And, of course, by this time the doors had closed and I was locked in. The train pulled slowly out of the station, onto some side tracks, and stopped. Oh, my goodness. I had no food, just a swallow or two of water, I’m locked in a German train for God only knows for how many weeks or months, and I can’t even remember the German word for “Help!” I was in serious trouble.
Finally, I remember Brian telling me that if you ever got in trouble with the Munich police you should just act like a stupid American. They fall for it every time. Well, it was a reach for me, but I used to be in community theater, maybe I could pull it off. So, when the driver came walking by on his way to lunch or–I don’t know–holiday, I just smiled at him and gave him a little wave. He stopped dead in his tracks. Then I guess it hit him: “Amerikaner.” He told me to sit there for ten minutes and then I would be released. Now I know I am suppose to look on the front of the U-Bahn train as it approaches and only get on trains that say Garching-Hochbrück. That’s the price you pay for not having public transportation in America.