Practice, practice, practice
Sun 1 Jun 2008 75 °F
Descending for the landing into Munich, I see in the distance the craggy edifices of a monumental city, reflecting white, orange, and violet in the morning. But this is an impossible city: its architecture doesn’t rise linearly, but rather explodes like a huge crystal. I realize it is not a city after all, but the Alps, lying calmly at the horizon in this Bavarian morning sun.
Below me, the countryside is a calm network of meandering roads and streams, nongeometric fields, small woods, and villages at the nodal points. Not quite flat but not quite hilly, the landscape looks like a lovely place to go for a long walk. I fantasize about taking a two-week stroll along the lanes and towns, perhaps ending up in Munich where I would gather my photographs and journals into a small book.
The transfer at the Munich airport is quick and painless, and soon we are in the air again: our entry into the exotic east. I wonder how different it will be than the fairy-tale setting we’ve been traveling through.
But happenstance rears its head. The captain announces that one of the jet engines is leaking oil, and has been shut off, and that we are returning to Munich. The situation is handled with aplomb, and I have this sense the the plane’s passengers, as a whole, hold a certain confidence that these smart German technicians will have it all worked out very soon.
Back on the ground, we’re back in the modern reality of the service industry. Lufthansa Airlines seems to not want to divulge the possibilities for whisking us efficiently off to Turkey. We wait. We receive an announcement that they will soon announce their plans. We wait further. Our entire group is whisked over to the service center, where we watch closely the unmoving line. Occasionally, a service agent comes out and talks to whoever happens to be in front of the mob. People get angry, demand their ‘passenger rights’ (a certain nervous/angry consumerist tone betrays the probability of a recent media campaign promoting these supposed ‘rights’). The group becomes a mob of traveling minnows, blindly following rumors, gossip, and inaccurately interpreting the body language of the service agents.
Most of the passengers are Turkish; I’ve spotted only a couple of Americans. I happen to be standing next to one, a man in his 30s. Mac works for the Pentagon, and is going to Turkey for a NATO conference. He’s a genuinely nice guy, and our conversation meanders around travel, cellphone service, networking technology, living in DC, government work… None of us know our immediate future under the care of Lufthansa, but it’s always nice to talk about the possibilities.
Long past the time we would have reached Istanbul on the one-engined plane, we finally learn our options. We have missed the two intermediate flights, but there is one more this evening, leaving nearly 12 hours after our original airplane did. There’s no other choice, so we agree and are very slowly and manually rebooked.
I am not one to sit around in airports, so with a big friendly American smile, I ask our very capable Special Service Agent about possibilities: Can we sit in the Lufthansa club? Get a shower? Maybe get a free wifi pass? No, sorry, Es tut mir leid; none of these are possible.
But then her eyes twinkle, and she says to us: ‘You have American passports, yes? Then you may leave the airport. You should go to the Englischer Garten. Very nice. You may sit at the Seehaus beer garden. There is a bus.’ And so we set off, slithering around the Munich airport, out through passport control with only a smile from the agent, into the warm summer air of Munich and into the waiting bus that will take us downtown.
[dateline Munich, Germany]