Monday, July 9, 2007

DE - Munich

Let’s start with the train ride from Salzburg. I get on toward the front, in the 1st class area. I know I have a 2nd class ticket. Of course I have 2nd class: upgrading nearly quintuples the price and 2nd class is really quite comfy. Only those with large inheritances get 1st class on a 1.5 hour train ride… so sure enough the cabins were almost completely empty.

I walk past the cabins with signs indicating “Reserved for First Class” and arrive at identical cabins without those signs. I think “hmm” and have a seat, figuring that no signs means no more 1st class. We cross into Germany within minutes of departure and the ticket lady (I will not call her a conductor) comes by. Lo and behold: I’m in the wrong class. I must move “nach speisewagon” which, I quote, was restated in English as “immediately after the dining car”.

OK I get up and bid “Auf Wiedersehen” to my cabinmates, an American father and son as well as a Dutch guy a few years my junior, whom actually thought I was German from the way I introduced myself. Yay Dutchy accent. I pass through one more 1st class car (this one signed) then I make my way through the dining car. In the next car are more cabins identical to 1st class, but again without the signs. I glimpse at the next car, see more cabins, and think “well this is immediately after the dining car…” I have a seat and enjoy the comfort for about five minutes.

There she is again: wrong class. I explain that the next car is the same. “No” is the response. OK so I pack up, head to the next car, and would you know it she was right. These are not 2nd class cabins – seemingly identical to 1st class but with a sign containing a “2” and masses of people and smoke packed into cabins so densely that you’d think 3rd class on the Titanic was worth the cool swim. The 1-meter-wide hallway (that’s about 3 feet for you non-metric folk) is barely wide enough for my backpack, no less it being crowded with people sitting on their luggage.

The first obstacle – a middle-aged woman whom was quite pleasant, yielded enough for me to reach either of the first two cabins. I point to the nearest and ask the ticket lady “ist OK?” “Nein,” she replies, as she points to some unintelligible sign on the window with an image of a briefcase on it. I can only assume they dedicated a perfectly good cabin of 6 seats such that it would hold 4 pieces of luggage. One piece was on the floor and three were on seats. The overhead shelves were empty and all four could have fit on said shelves.

I ponder how much public funding is wasted on this and really wish I knew how to say “no wonder people drive” in German, as this is the first thing to my head whenever I experience one of America’s frequent inefficiencies in public transportation. Instead, I shuffle my way around hall luggage and approach the second cabin. The ticket lady slides the door open and thick smoke pours out. Think Spiccoli, but with normal cigarettes. Now aside from that, I am peering in on one chain-smoking German and four backpackers.

Now let’s take an inventory: six seats and two shelves. There are five people… so now there is one seat and two shelves remaining. Anyone who has ever had any experience with backpacking or backpackers understands full well the bulk of a backpack in transit. So I am peering through the smoke at five seats of people, two full shelves, one seat containing the backpack, and one backpack on the floor amidst eight crowded feet. Short of employing some Russian Tetris master or perhaps Steven Hawking, there was no way I was going to fit. I could see it in their disbelieving faces, as well, as the ticket lady told them to take up less space. I assume that this woman, in her youth, was the kind of child determined to get the square peg through the round hole.

“I will stand,” I say, and turn away. I stand at the end of the hall for a few minutes – my body and pack providing a nice barrier for access to the WC (a.k.a. bathroom) or dining car. Eventually my backpack gets too heavy, so I drop it on the floor and sit down in front of the WC for the rest of the trip. My pack and body were in about the most inconvenient positions imaginable as far as mobility was concerned to said WC or dining car; and as I stared out the window of the carriage’s external door, I espied in the reflection the ticket lady standing behind me for a couple minutes. I assume she wanted me to move, but was likewise at a loss as to where to put me. She eventually crawled over my backpack and disappeared.

I must say, the German dedication to the rule was quite impressive: near-vacant cabins in half the train but dagnabit she’s going to keep out those who don’t belong. When I take over the world, I’m enlisting her in my secret police.

Now as far as the city of München goes, I toured the more significant tourist sites in one day, but unfortunately missed the Englischer Garten, Hofgarten, museums of the Residenz, BMW factory, and destinations at or east of the river. München itself requires 2 to 3 days minimum, though more if you drink. …Much more.

As part of my July 9 travels, I happened upon the first music store (as in: sans instruments) I had seen thus far in the trip. I picked up a St. Germain album for a reasonable price, as far as electronica goes. Generally, most music is cheaper to buy in North America (especially when the Canadian Dollar outvalues the US Dollar); but electronic music is definitely a European item.

Something I’ve noticed is that the Germans are easily annoyed. They don’t really say anything about it, but they tend to do small things to let their annoyance be shown. For example, one guy flicked a nearby umbrella which was not even in his way. Fortunately, I have not been the recipient of any of this petty action, but I’ve observed it quite a bit.

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