Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Contradictions and stress, happiness nonetheless

Let me set the scene for you. I'm in an ethnic neighborhood near the central station of München (Munich), Deutschland (Germany). It's past 10:30 in the evening and while it is a very seldom occurrence, I occasionally see people and cars pass the two gaping windows facing the street that make up the walls of my hotel.

There is no wi-fi in my room, which means I'm essentially confined to the public breakfast room on the bottom floor at the front of the accommodation, near the reception desk. They've just changed shifts, which means there's a new man and a new musical mix filling the room. Before it was some compilation of uninteresting avant-garde European songs. Avant-garde may be more a description of art, but it's the only thing I can think of to describe this stuff. New age, maybe? Anyway, I digress.

Now the music echoing through reception has a calmer American standard vibe. We may be in Germany, but there is no hint of nationalistic or continental pride. There is, however, pride in a good tune. A good tune like "The Way You Look Tonight."

The warm yellow light of the ceiling lamps illuminates the room, drawing in attention from the few passersby. I am sitting on my laptop and I can feel the gaze of those who avert their gaze from the streets into the lovely and quiet looking hotel.

It feels a bit counterintuitive to be in this place in this space in this city. The place being a neighborhood filled mainly with Middle Eastern immigrants. The space being the casual and cozy hotel where I've settled for the night. The city being Munich, one of cultural tradition and metropolitan success.

I spent a lot of today just wandering around and getting a feel for the city. The air was brisk, but it invited me in as I walked through the Englischer Garten from the closed Biergartens on the northern end to the Christkindlmarkt that is under construction in the Chinesischer Turm toward the south.

I hadn't planned to spend an hour in the place, but walking through the garden was like walking through a wood. Temporal space seemed to grow a bit fuzzy. It was just maze-like pathways through and past trees and ponds, lakes and rough rivers. The floor was muddy at points, cement at others, completely incomprehensible and impossible to predict.

A similar description aligns with my experience in München thus far. I got here this afternoon around 12:30. But getting off the plane was confusing in itself when there was no customs officer to question me and stamp my passport. I went to an Information booth and said my first words of German (my go-to phrase, the well-known "Sprechen sie Englisch?"). Apparently if you're traveling within the EU you don't get a stamp. I don't think I hid the disappointment on my face as well as I thought I had.

The confusion did not end however, as when I got to the S-Bahn train which I'd planned to take to the city center, I could not figure out how to use the machines to buy a 24 hour pass. This was followed by my resulting daze when I tried to figure out which train to board.

Getting to the city, however, was the most tumultuous path in the figurative Englischer Garten of my premiere day in München. The train station itself was a confusing compilation of twists and turns and random trains to random locations that weren't even listed on my train map. The exits led to streets I hadn't heard of, and even street names were elusive and hard to pin down.

It took me at least 20 minutes to find my hotel. After making at least two or three wrong turns, I finally arrived. My next goal was to make it out of my room before nightfall.

This is where the Englischer Garten comes in. Despite the great amount of confusing pathways in the wooded land, I had little trouble finding my way around. The walk was long, but it made sense.

What doesn't make sense to me yet is München itself. I only have one more day here and I wish I had more time to get to know it. That being said, when I went to dinner at the Hofbräuhaus tonight and sat at a table by myself eating käsespätzle, I realized that I just can't do this lone traveler thing for very long. A day or two will be fine, but if I were planning a week-long trip (or more) on my own, I'd go stir crazy.

Everything today has been all a jumble. But I've loved every minute of it. And I guess that's the irony of the experience. Like being alone and loving it but hating it at the same time, and like walking through a garden that is both a maze and a clear path to a definitive destination, this experience is all kinds of confusing. It's all kinds of contradiction.

But it's great.

I can't stress that enough. I am incredibly happy. And I only intend on being happy for the remainder of my time on the European mainland.

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