Unfinished Business

I have just a couple of items of unfinished business before I get to my report. First, the mystery crop mentioned in a previous report has been unequivocally identified as rape seed by too many people to name. Let’s just say when I get everyone together to hand out the prizes, it’s going to make Oktoberfest appear tame. Rape seed is used for a variety of oils, but one of its primary functions in Germany is to serve as an environmentally friendly additive to diesel fuels. Plus, it makes the place look festive, a fact appreciated by foreigners as much as by the Germans themselves.

About the same number of people who wrote in to claim the rape seed prize, also wrote in to complain about the prize itself. Apparently, and I did not know this when I made the offer, no self-respecting German (or Germaniphile, in the case of my son, who was especially vocal about this) would be found in the Löwenbräukeller drinking Löwenbräu beer. If I am going to be offering any more prizes in the future (doubtful), I will be taking everyone to the Augustiner brewery, or possibly to Andechs. This is what comes of choosing beers not by taste but by the scantily clad girls on the beer posters. I will be consulting experts on this subject (who presumably don’t have wives and girlfriends thousands of miles away) before making any more rash offers.

Also, the word entspannt apparently means “laid-back” or “relaxed”, not “tense” as I was led to believe by my faulty dictionary. This, of course, makes more sense, but is completely devoid of literary merit and will be discussed no further. I will say this, though, I am beginning to get the hang of this German language. Today I needed change for a €10 bill so I could work the coin laundry. I couldn’t think what the name would be, but I came up with Klinegeld or “small money.” Apparently, that was close enough. It’s actually what you call the change in your pocket, not the word you want if you want change from a clerk, but it got the idea across, and I got my change. Hurray! Score one for the foreigner.

Erotic posters. This Week’s Mystery Picture A special prize for anyone who can fill me in on what this is all about. Whoops! That was last night, wasn’t it? Shoot. I’ve got to get these things down on my calendar. Never mind.

Language Lessons

I haven’t been able to reach the agent yet who is suppose to give me a brief introduction to where things are and how things work in my apartment, so I’ve just been figuring it out (or not) on my own. I did locate the trash bins. (At my first apartment I just sneaked out in the dead of night and put my trash in someone else’s container down the street. I knew I could probably be sentenced to 4-6 months in the Gulag for this most un-German behavior, but I was desperate. I couldn’t locate trash bags in the market and the smell was getting to me.) But I haven’t found the laundry facilities that I thought were promised with this apartment.

So while I wait for the agent, I’ve been going to the laundromat down the street. The first time I went there, over a week ago, was an unmitigated disaster. No one was there, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the directions, and the washers are these high-tech, silver professional models that have about 100 different settings and buttons. For some reason, the Germans seem to care a lot about what temperature you wash your clothes at. You had to have tokens to put in the machine, and you got your tokens from a dispenser over near the front door, which only took coins I didn’t have, naturally. And there is, as far as I can tell, not a single machine in all of Germany for turning bills into coins. If you don’t have coins, the heck with you. What are you doing here?

So I had to walk around the corner to a gas station which actually stayed open past 6PM (the only one in the village, I think) to buy a drink and get some change. Then I had to figure out how to work the dispenser. You had your choice of a little plastic pill container containing either two or three tokens, and then these came with or without soap, and there were special instructions for choices depending upon what temperature you thought might get your clothes the cleanest, etc. I stared at the thing for nearly 20 minutes trying to figure it out.

Finally, I chose the three tokens, without soap (I had brought my own soap tablets), in 50 degree water (?) option and put my money in the machine. About 10 minutes later I figured out what I had to do to get my tokens out of the dispenser and I was ready to go.

Washing machine instructions. Washing Machine Instructions Using the same iconic representations we placed on the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft we flung past Jupiter and out of the solar system to alert the Universe to our presence is probably a brilliant idea, I just don’t understand it.

The machine had an incredible number of options and buttons. Finally, I decided the hell with it and I pushed all the buttons, threw my clothes into the washer with my soap tablets, deposited my tokens in the slot on the machine, and hit the green button, which I presumed was Go. A bit of water dribbled into the machine, the clothes flipped over a couple of times, immediately throwing my two soap tablets off to the side where they were out of the water, and it did this little--I don’t know--shuffling dance for nearly 30 minutes, never getting my clothes more than damp, and never getting my soap tablets wet enough to melt and provide soap. And, of course, safety considerations prohibit the door from opening (it gets locked) until the wash is completely done, so there I was staring at damp clothes for a long time.

This was, as I learned today, the forewash. The pre-wash. What you do for an hour before you really wash your clothes, because, of course, I had selected two pre-washes with all the buttons I was hitting.

To make a really long story short, the upshot was that about the time I got to the washing part, and my soap tablets had finally seen some water, I ran out of time on the washing machine in the middle of a soak cycle, and I didn’t have coins to buy more tokens and now all the stores in town were closed, including the gas station. I pulled my clothes out of the washer, soaking wet, and dragged them (they were too heavy to carry) back to my apartment where I spread them out on the floor while cursing my fate.

So you can imagine how excited I was to be returning there today, although I had enough coins in my pocket to sink a small ship. (Although not enough, as it turned out. You can expect to pay nearly $20 to do a couple of loads of laundry. No wonder no one is ever in here.)

But the most amazing thing has happened. Today, when I walked in, I could read the instructions. My goodness! How did that happen in just one week? I was, quite frankly, shocked by that. There was somebody there today, and I ran my understanding by him, to see if I had it right, and I did. And today everything worked exactly the way it is suppose to work. Well, except for that little mishap with the new green pants and the white towels that came with the apartment, but the place could use a bit of color and pale green is a nice color for towels. (Apparently that was 50 degrees Centigrade, not Fahrenheit. A bit hotter than I had intended, I guess.)

Something similar is happening to me with the radio I purchased a week or so ago. The first time it went off in the morning, I lay there listening to it for 15 minutes or so and didn’t understand a single word of it. Then, as the week progressed, I noticed I could tell the difference between a sports report, a weather report, and a news report. This morning it suddenly occurred to me I had understood the weather report. And I was listening to a report on how much beer was sold at Oktoberfest with some interest and understanding. (Did I hear 1.5 billion liters!?)

I don’t really know how this happens, but I think as you learn more words, parts of the sentences begin to get filled in for you. At some point you know enough words that you can guess the rest, and understanding just starts to happen on its own. It’s very exciting. I wish the speaking would progress at the same rate.

I still don’t have the language to explain this. War Keggery I still don’t understand the language well enough to explain this interesting piece of art work I found on the grounds of the Andechs Monastery. This sort of whimsy is not at all what I expected from Germany, but it is always a pleasure to run into it.

The Italians

Speaking of language. What’s up with the Italians?

I’ve heard all the rumors about the Ugly American, and I suppose I might not recognize him if I saw him, immune to him, maybe. But except for the guy on the U-Bahn who kept going on about how he had “seen Archie Manning play, seen him I tell you, and Payton ain’t shit,” I haven’t run into Americans acting badly. No, when I investigate loud and obnoxious behavior, the language I hear consistently is Italian.

Now, I concede it may be unfair to characterize Italians on the basis of two weeks in Munich in the middle of Oktoberfest, but these guys are easy to spot. There are always about six to eight of them, young men mostly, no women associated with them, as far as I can tell. (Women, I think, have an innate understanding that these are not the kind of men you want to hang out with under any circumstances.) They seem to roam around public places looking for something to piss on, before clambering up onto it for a picture with their buddies. Do they imagine they are conquering these statutes in the name of the Holy See?

I hear 90,000 large beer mugs have gone missing from the Oktoberfest grounds this year. I’m pretty sure most of these could be recovered if the authorities would set up road-blocks at the Italian border and search every caravan (recreational vehicle) coming across that smelled like one of the port-a-johns on the Oktoberfest grounds. You wouldn’t need a sophisticated profiler to figure it out, I don’t think.

Italian staking his claim to the New World. Italian Conqueror Italian staking his claim to the New World on the Andechs Monastery grounds. I’ve certainly met some wonderful Italians at the Institute, and this fine example of what happens when the brain is pickled in beer no more represents Italy than the Ugly American represents most of the folks I know, but I am saying in my limited experience Italian is the language spoken in this situation, almost exclusively.

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