Apologies Are in Order

OK, you know how it is. Sometimes things just feel a whole lot worse than they are. It is my first week here and I am on what I’ve come to think of as my “jet-lag” schedule. I’m terrible tired after the walk home from the Institute, so I sit down to eat a yogurt and read a chapter in my book and instead fall asleep. I wake up twenty minutes later, totally refreshed, and have a normal evening, going to bed about 10:30 or so. At midnight, I sit bolt upright in bed, and I am awake until 4 AM. So, of course, I write in my journal. What else am I going to do? There is no one sunbathing at this time of night!

I’m not making excuses, exactly, but I am saying that the world doesn’t look the same at 4 AM after a night of unholy alertness as it does at, say, noon the next day. So forgive me for being a bit too hard on the Germans the other day. I think my remarks had more to do with my mental state than they did with the German character.

In the first place, after an evening of feeling sorry for myself, I had remembered that Brian had felt similarly isolated when he first came to Germany four years ago. I told him at the time he had the opportunity to be any kind of person he wanted to be in Germany. No one knew him there. He had no baggage. He could make all the mistakes speaking German possible and no one would tell his friends and family at home. He was free to recreate himself any way he liked. And he did. He started hanging out with the class cut-ups, drinking beer, having fun in ways he had never allowed himself to have fun at home. He came home with a sense of humor, well-rounded, more fun to be around.

I resolved the following morning not so much to be somebody different, but to be who I really was. I say good morning to people. I like to laugh. I like to smile. I resolved to be more open to possibilities than to be discouraged by perceived limitations.

And, of course, the world is a mystery. Somehow, when we align our inner lives with who we really are, the universe resonates at that frequency. And I mean this literally, not metaphorically. The universe works this way.

So, of course, the first person I see, hardly out my apartment door, says good morning to me. I get smiles from people, not everyone, but a few on the way to work. Already this is a more friendly place and all I had to do was put myself on the right frequency. This is one of the huge benefits of travel, of going somewhere different. You get out of yourself, and you discover as much about who you are as you do about the people around you. It is an inner, as much as an outer, journey.

My Sponsor Arrives

My sponsor returned to the Institute yesterday after a short break to attend the birth of his first child, a beautiful girl. He brings pictures and great enthusiasm at being a father for the first time. It all seems like yesterday to me as I share in his joy, and yet I am on the other end of the chain, my children are leaving, making their own way in the world. I remember sleepless nights, pacing, pacing, rocking, rocking. I’ve watched the sun come up many a time with a baby in my arms. I tell him to enjoy it, every minute of it. You think it will never end, and then it is over, and oh so quickly.

But the best part, aside from the reminiscing, is he shows me where to go to get free coffee--and Cappuccino at that!--at the Institute. I am truly aligned with the Universe. (The waitresses at the bakery were charging me over $3 for a simple cup of black coffee, probably because they have to put up with my nonsense.)

The Müller Bakery. The Müller Bakery: The bakery where I have become a regular customer, stopping to chat up the shop girls whenever I pass by. They sell the (self-proclaimed) World’s Best Pretzels here. But I have begun to suspect they are taking advantage of my, uh, lack of facility with German numbers and gouging me on coffee prices. Tomorrow I am substituting an extra piece of apple strudel for the coffee.

I also learn about the daily 11:00 get-together at the Institute for coffee and talk among the science staff on my floor and the one above. It is informal, occasionally a presentation, but this is a chance to find out what is going on at the Institute. I go today at 11:05. I am the only one there. I walk back to my office and consider my options. Will they refund my ticket?

I try again 10 minutes later. Someone is there, bent over making coffee. “Good morning,” I say, “I’m David Fanning.”

He stands up. “You are David Fanning,” he says. “Unbelievable. I have your book. I’m so excited you are here! Your book got me through graduate school,” he says. This is more like it, I’m thinking. “Unfortunately, this is my last day at the Institute,” he says, “I’m leaving for Michigan this afternoon.” Fame is so fleeting. I spend the rest of the coffee wishing I had come a month earlier.

Moving Day

Today was the day I had to move to my “permanent ”residence in Garching, a one-room studio apartment with a loft office, on a quiet street away from the main thoroughfare my first apartment was on. I was excited. I hadn’t completely unpacked, anticipating this move. But I had acquired more things, too. A year’s worth of cleaning products, to be specific.

I kept waiting for someone to mention a car, but no one did. “Damn,” I thought, someone is reading my journal around here and word has already leaked out. And, of course, it was raining. This was going to be an interesting day.

But then it brightened considerably. Karsten Rodenacker, an e-mail and IDL newsgroup acquaintance, had read my last journal entry and was moved to pity. He is a mathematician and IDL user at GSF Forschungszentrum, a government Research Institute just a few miles away from Garching in the direction of the new football (soccer) stadium they are building for the Bayern München team. (More on this sometime later.) His hard drive had disappeared in the middle of a software installation and he figured his day couldn’t get any worse by hanging out with me for a couple of hours. Would I be interested in lunch? And, heck, he could bring his car and help me move. (Do you see what I mean about the universe?)

Oh, my goodness, Karsten, yes, that would be a lovely idea!

Meeting someone you know only through the Internet is always interesting. (I remember when Mark Hadfield, another IDL newsgroup friend from New Zealand, showed up on my doorstep in Fort Collins one evening, basically unannounced. I was lucky I had showered and shaved that day, not a given when you work at home by yourself.) For some reason I had Karsten pictured as a young man, but when I told him to “look for the old guy searching through his pockets for his glasses”, he told me he would be the “old guy with the beard.” And, sure enough, we were the same age, more or less.

Karsten Rodenacker. Karsten Rodenacker: Karsten thought I needed some cheering up, so he offered to help me move and show me a good place to eat lunch. In fact, he spent most of the afternoon entertaining me with hilarious stories of his own travels in the US and showing me his art work. He is a sculptor, among other things, and I spent some time admiring the art work he and his sisters had created in his office. An outdoor and hiking enthusiast, we are waiting for the weather to turn nice again for an excursion into rural Bavaria.

After quickly moving my things from one apartment to the other (Karsten somehow ended up carrying the heavy bag with my books up three flights of stairs) we decided to grab a sandwich at the butcher shop next to a health food store he was familiar with. He had seen my picture of Müesli in one of my journal entries and was concerned that I would mistake that for some of Germany’s best. He wanted me to try the real thing. All I can say is that for the amount of money I paid for it, it better be the real thing.

Anyway, after getting a really big smile from the natural foods lady, we headed over to the butcher shop, got a couple of sandwiches and salads, and were on our way. The rain had stopped by this time, although it was a bit blustery. Still, nice enough to eat outside and Karsten wanted to show me the Old Mill Beer Garden.

Here is a difference between Germany and the US. The beer garden is located directly adjacent to the local grade school and high school. I’m pretty sure that’s a cultural thing. And as we walked up to it, it was occupied by a grade school class! Alright, the class was there in search of horse chestnuts from the trees lining the beer garden and not to drink beer, but it still gives you pause. In fact, the beer garden was closed today, but we sat down to eat our lunch anyway. Karsten told me that Bavaria is the only place in Germany where you can bring your lunch to the beer garden and eat it. Bringing your own drinks, however, is verboten.

I might as well have been drinking, though, because I had no sooner brought my sandwich up to my mouth, then the hunk of meat (ham?, pork?, I’m really not sure) shot out my kaiser roll and splashed ketchup all down the front of my jacket. Sigh... First impressions.

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