As You Like It

Berlin Shakespeare Company The Rathaus near my apartment is the cultural center of a village like Garching. And there is an active Kultur calendar with various groups coming in one or two nights a week to play here. The auditorium is not very big, maybe twice as big as the Lincoln Center mini-theater where my son Jonathan’s theater group performs, although all the chairs are on one level, with a large raised stage in front.

I had been seeing posters for the Berlin Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of Wie es Euch Gefällt! (As You Like It!) at the Garching U-Bahn station for several weeks now. I decided to walk over last night and see if I could get a ticket at the last minute. (I have great success doing this at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins for popular shows, although I’ve learned to take my small pair of binoculars, since I’ve had to sit in the last row of the auditorium on several occasions.) Last night as I walked up to the box office about a half hour before the show there was a woman standing there hoping to sell a ticket she bought and couldn’t use. Only €10 for a €20 ticket. “Oh, sehr gut,” I said, handing the cash over. “But you will have to sit beside me,” she said. “Oh, sehr, sehr gut,” I replied, giving her a big smile. Great seats. Third row, near the aisle.

She was a woman about my age, and her husband wasn’t able to attend the show tonight. We started chatting in German, and it was obvious I was struggling a bit. She switched to English and I carried on in German for a little while, until I finally had to cry “Uncle.” It turns out her son just graduated from the University of Colorado with an MBA and works in Colorado. She had been visiting recently for his graduation. Her husband’s father was an American soldier. Small world, indeed.

I explained that I didn’t have much hope of understanding what was going on here, but I was somewhat familiar with Shakespeare from an earlier incarnation in college as an English major, and I knew this was a comedy, so I thought I might be able to hang on by my finger tips. I told her she might have to help me out every now and then. She took her job seriously, and several times during the show would lean over and whisper “snake”, or whatever it was the actors were talking about that she thought I wouldn’t know. (Most of the time, I did know, which was completely to the actor’s credit.)

I am sure I would have enjoyed it more had I known more than every fourth or fifth word, but Shakespeare writes about timeless themes and this point is made clearer when you watch a play in a language you don’t understand. There was a rhythm to the words that sounded as much like Shakespeare to me as any play I have heard in English. And the actors were outstanding. If ever there was a play designed for Jonathan’s acting abilities and comic sensibility, this is it. Every role is juicy and funny, and every male actor reminded me of him as I watched.

But the Germans are a tough audience. There were several times when I noticed I was the only one laughing. The actors start by roaming around outside the theater before the show, interacting with the well-dressed patrons like the buffoons they are about to become. The Germans react coolly. No smiles. No eye contact. “What the hell is this?,” you can hear them muttering out the sides of their mouths to each other, thinking this was the evening for the oboe concerto. “Bunch of Americans speaking German,” they are thinking. And when things get going, and the big burly guy is now a dog named Shakespeare, sniffing around some of the other actors in places he probably shouldn’t be, I seem to be the only one who thinks this play is hysterically funny. Everybody else is still withholding judgement. For goodness sake, people, lighten up!

At the end, the actors do get heartfelt applause, it seems to me, and several curtain calls. But I’m about 10 feet from one of the actors as he takes his bows, and the look on his face suggests he is already thinking about a beer and removing Garching from any future travel plans the company is making. Long night, his face says, and I feel for him. They all deserve better for gallant effort. Maybe Garching would be Bush country if it was transplanted to the US.

Voting

Speaking of Mr. Bush, I got my ballot in the mail this week. I took it over to the lady at the Post Office and told her it was sehr wichtig (important) that this letter get to the US by November 2nd because we had to...I couldn’t remember the word and made a slicing motion with my finger across my throat...Mr Bush. She got the general idea, smiled, and assured me she would do everything in her power to make sure it got there safe and sound.

I had dinner the other night with an Italian, a Russian, a Finn, and a Dane. Quite a group. The subject of American politics came up in the conversation. Most Europeans are incredulous that Americans can tolerate such obvious lies and deceptions from their officials. I think their general view is that Americans are so ill-informed about the world they live in they probably deserve what they get, except that everyone in the world pays the consequences for such bad global decisions. So they are watching the elections with the same fear and foreboding as the Americans I know.

No one in Europe understands how we are going to clean up this mess we have made in the Middle East, but everyone agrees we are going to have to do it alone. There seems to be a consensus to stay out of it and let the arrogant Americans sort it out. I’ll be visiting England in a week or so. It will be interesting to see what people are saying there. In the meantime, please do vote. This election seems more crucial to me than any other election in my lifetime.

Starbucks Coming Soon. The Evil Empire McDonalds is already here, of course, and Burger King. But it is sad to see Starbucks coming to Schwabing, a neighborhood in Munich full of small restaurants and shops. I know I complain sometimes about how much Germany is not like the US, but I’m writing for a mostly American audience. In reality, the difference between the countries is the whole point, and the reason I enjoy being here. Everything here is turning into there. Soon there won’t be anywhere to go in the world that isn’t just exactly the same as your own neighborhood. I’m not really a big proponent of globalization and the way it bleaches the local color from a place, turning it into a homogenized blandness. On the other hand, I do appreciate fast Internet connections.

Dining Out

One evening this week, on the way back from the market, I noticed the little Thai restaurant which had been displaced by the U-Bahn construction has been resurrected in another location in the Rathaus Plaza. They were holding a grand opening as the Golden Dragon, and there were balloons and crepe paper out front. It was fairly early, so I decided to have a look.

By the time I had dropped my groceries off at my apartment and returned, the restaurant had filled up a bit. I was led to a small table in the back, where I like to sit anyway. This is obviously a family restaurant. I saw several older men sweating in the kitchen as I walked by. Younger members of the family are out front. The patriarch’s son and daughter-in-law (I am guessing) are the hosts. The cousins are busing tables and helping serve. (There is a decided hierarchy of dress.) The youngest members of the family are outside running around, getting underfoot of potential customers, but everyone is too busy to pay any attention to them.

I had a look at the menu and the thought occurred to me that I was more fluent in Thai than I am in German. At least, I understand more things on a Thai menu than I do on a German menu. I placed my order for the curry I like so much at home, and a beer, naturalich.

The Golden Dragon. The Golden Dragon The little Thai restaurant has found a new location on the Rathaus Plaza. Family owned, it is small, but with a great menu. I understand more items on the menu here than I do in most of the German restaurants I have been in.

I looked around. Sitting near me, eating alone, although the table was set for three, was a woman who was the very image of George Washington. I don’t mean she just had the long, Roman nose, but the brushed back hair and receding hairline, as well. I realize we don’t always pick our political leaders on the basis of their strikingly handsome features, but George Washington is even more homely as a woman. He/She was wearing what looked like a man’s sport coat and had the look, honestly, of a woman who might have been stood up for dates a time or two in the past. In any case, after sipping a sherry and waiting a few minutes for her dinner companions to arrive, she ordered her meal and started to dig in, the foraging having not gone well that winter at Valley Forge.

After 10 or 15 minutes one of her companions arrived, and about 10 minutes after that, another one. The General didn’t even stop eating to greet them. Apparently, the Aide-de-Camp had failed to get the word out that the General dines promptly at eight. Come late at your own peril.

I had a pleasant meal, but ran into the same labor rule I run into every time I dine out. Apparently, the labor unions have decreed a mandatory 45 minute break for all wait staff, immediately after serving the last dish to a customer, because once you start thinking about another beer, or maybe a cup of coffee to cap the meal, you are pretty much guaranteed you will not see anyone who could even remotely be expected to take your order for a long time.

Occasionally a wait person will flaunt the order to wait on other tables near you, but they are extra careful during that time not to glance in your direction, not wanting to risk the heavy fine involved for acknowledging your frantic waves and being helpful during the resting period mandated by the regulations.

I’ve learned to bring a book or writing tablet with me, in the foolish attempt to wait them out, but it never works. Apparently, they add another 10 minutes to your sentence for every minute you successful entertain yourself while you are waiting. It’s best to just fold your hands in front of you, put a blank stare on your face, and endure it stoically.

They will come eventually, and they will even be unbelievably polite as you manage to squeeze out Check, please from between your clenched jaws. I’ve seen tips shrink by at least a factor of two as a result of the regulation. But it doesn’t affect the wait person. They still shake your hand when you leave as if you were their best friend and they can’t wait to have you in their home again soon. Nice people, the Germans, just a bit confused about the notion of service.  

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