En Route: Munich
The layover in Munich has been relatively painless, despite a jarring time difference and increasingly pressing need to shower. My first flight carried a healthy ladle of military contractors, identifiable a mile away by their buzzcuts, black knapsacks, and distaste for German beer (“They don’t have anything like a good Budweiser,”). The US government’s use of these gentlemen in lieu of regular troops (most, it should be noted, recently were regular troops) has been widely discussed and often criticized, but I’m going to refrain from weighing in on anything until I see some in action.
We landed in a fog so thick I thought we were still descending through the cloud later when we hit ground. Perhaps five feet visibility, about thirty to see the runway lights, a miraculous feat that the pilot landed us at all. Munich has been a blur of cobble stones, coffee shops ,and cold weather, a never-ending search for viable internet access that eventually led me in desperation to McDonald’s, who have become renowned among backpackers as a world-wide source of free wifi. German McDonald’s, though, have pre-empted the influx of odorous dreadlocked Australians by requiring a German cell phone to use their internet (they text you a temporary password, cleverly disguising their xenophobia behind a façade of savvy marketing). In the end I remained unsuccessful, and had to upload this in Dubai.
The useful thing about enormous layovers is that they force a certain form of travel on you that is largely alien to this day and age. There is no schedule besides your next departing flight, and you are typically mapless and clueless save whatever information you can skim off a laptop at the Apple store before they turf you for being an odorous Australian. You wander the town center, trip up on cobblestones while ogling thirteenth century churches, and try not to fall asleep in public or get robbed.
Munich, like all German cities, has an ancient core that has been carefully cultivated to provide an inoffensive tourism experience for bored middle schoolers and their chaperones. Some of the older buildings—particularly its absurdly gothic rathaus (town hall) which looks to have been spun by a mad confectioner on some serious mescaline—are quite impressive, but in between them lurk small and unexpectedly wonderful surprises. Like this guy.
Munich is home to an enormous “English Garden,” a beautifully cultivated park in which cellists occasionally stop, sit, and play soulful renditions of Frank Sinatra, Broadway hits, and Britney Spears (that last one so tender and lachrymose that it took me a full three minutes to recognize it). Having no pressing matters beyond my ongoing Quest for the Golden Internet, I was able to stop, sit, and listen to the impromptu concerto for a good half hour before I got too cold sitting still and rambled on.