Gutentag from Bavaria!
Yep, I made it – but only just barely.
The first thing I heard when my flight to Munich landed for its brief stopover in Newark was that a massive ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano was suddenly grounding dozens of flights to and throughout Europe.
Although my long-term trips are usually planned with a fair degree of flexibility, the catalyst for this particular ticket was a large construction tradeshow in Munich – Bauma. Getting stuck in New Jersey for even a few days would’ve been disastrous to US Radar, the company that’d kindly sponsored my trip over. What would happen if the show was starting but we were stuck on the East Cost, our exhibition booth sitting as a pile of disorganized cargo?
Well, as luck would have it, our flight was the very last to make it across the Atlantic before a nearly week-long closure commenced – we landed without issue, collected our bags, and hopped on the first MVV train into town.
It was an interesting feeling, as it always is when I start a new trip after a long period without international travel. A mix of excitement at once again arriving somewhere new, exhaustion from nearly 24 hours in transit, and apprehension at all the challenges that await me. This time was a bit different though, as the first 10 days overseas would be spent working virtually every daylight hour. My usual independent brand of travel was still a good ways away.
(In case you’re wondering what a programmer could possibly be doing at a construction tradeshow, the answer is that for the past few months I’ve been writing the on-board controller software for radar equipment that’s often used for finding buried utilities – pipes, wires, fiberoptics, etc. Although I’m no equipment salesman, the company president, Ron, thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get some hands-on experience with the equipment and learn a bit more about precisely how it works.)
So, the first 1.5 weeks in Germany went something like this:
Days one and two were spent setting up for the exhibition – putting up truss, wiring up zillions of spotlights, and in my case, some fervent last-minute programming to create a special “presentation mode” of the controller software.
Day three was spent in bed with 102 fever. After sleeping only two hours the night before my departure, flying a double-redeye and landing at 7am for a full day of hard labor, my body just gave in. I’m sure the volcanic ash in the air and thick cigarette smoke from virtually everyone around me contributed to the issue, as the first thing to go was my throat – but luckily I managed to knock it out in a day, and was on my feet again for the exhibition’s opening the following morning.
Days four through nine were spent working the booth. In all honesty this was pretty boring. Because of the canceled flights the number of customers was significantly less than usual, so it felt at times like an exercise in time-killing…standing on our feet and staring into space for 9 hours a day. I can only hope that in the end, the new contacts we did make will result in enough sales to cover the high tab of presenting at the show – even hotels had jacked their prices to an insane level for the duration of Bauma (example: a room for the first two nights, during setup, was about 150 euros; from the first day of Bauma this was raised to 650 euros.) I felt really bad for Ron as so many of his international contacts had gotten stuck in their various countries of origin due to the air-traffic closure, but I guess that’s just how things turn out from time to time…
Aside from work, I didn’t really have an opportunity to go out and explore the city until after the show finished – I was, however, treated to some really fantastic dinners throughout. Two of these stood out in particular.
The first was Augustiner Keller, a bustling Bavarian restaurant right at the heart of town. What a vibe this place had! With its lederhosen-wearing staff and crispy, crunchy pork cutlets – and, of course, enormous glasses of beer to wash down the shots of Jagermeister – one could not create a more perfect image of a traditional German meal. At least based on my limited, touristic impressions 🙂
The second dinner was Hofbrauhaus, arguably the world’s most famous beer hall: the archetype Bavarian establishment, endlessly massive and sprawling with vaulted, echoing ceilings and long, wooden tables. It was exactly what you’d probably envision upon hearing the word “Oktoberfest.” The first thing I saw after stepping through the doors were crowds of people standing atop their tables cheering and toasting their huge, HUGE beer steins. Frothy beer sloshed everywhere, as a Bavarian band played rowdy, traditional folk music. Many customers wore lederhosen.
(Side note: lederhosen are one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry, I know I should be culturally sensitive. But seriously. They’re just hilarious.)
So, that’s about what my first week and a half in Germany felt like. Our hotel was fantastically located, right across the street from Hopbahnhof – Munich Central Station – and just a short walk to Marienplatz, the main heart of the city. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to take advantage of its gym facilities even once – something I’d really hoped to do before heading off on my own for months of camping and hostelling. I was just so exhausted by the time we got home at 9 or 10pm every night that I just didn’t have the energy, and figured that after my recent fever it’d be a bad idea to push myself anyway. So in general, I spent my two or three free minutes per day across the street in Burger King sipping coffee and refreshing my email (digital nomad tip of the day: all Burger Kings in Germany have free WiFi – but usually no power outlets).
By the end of the convention my health had returned, and I’d amassed a tremendously useful little German vocabulary: phrases like “good morning,” “good afternoon”, “good evening,” “what is this?”, “this is a radar”, and of course, “it finds plastic pipe, plastic barrels, and fiber optics…”
So after the convention finally concluded and we finished tearing down and packing everything into six massive air-cargo crates, I was off on my own.
Let the real travels begin.