Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bavaria Continued

Except that Simon interrupted my flood of tears, pointing to the landscape with glee. There is something about acquaintance, no matter how remote or recent, that obligates you to be on your best behavior. Perhaps it was the fear of being judged, how familiarity with people causes you to care how you stack up in their opinion. So I held back that torrent of feeling which rains salt and water and contorts my face until I look like a red onion. I had no idea what excited him, but Simon had the kind of ebullient personality that was almost contagious. Then he mentioned his sisters, how he learned to detect when a woman wasn’t happy and how to cheer her up. I glanced at him sideways, wondering if he was a womanizer in disguise, but he seemed completely in earnest and had an eager-to-please look reminiscent of a young puppy. He was also about 8 years younger than me.

Simon & I made a pact to meet that evening for dinner after we got settled; it turned out our hostels were neighbering institutions. The train rolled into Munich and like in every station, I headed over to the kiosks to arrange my ticket (via the EuroRail pass) to the next city, Prague. Except I couldn’t read German, so I stood in the information queue for about 20 minutes. They promptly directed me to another kiosk where I stood behind a long line for another 15 minutes to buy my ticket. When I got to the window, I asked about train times and they absolutely refused to sell me a ticket because I did not know the precise time of the train I wanted to take. Instead, they referred me to a glass waiting room where more complicated tasks like purchasing a multi-train pass were resolved. Incidentally, that was also where the timetables were located. I tried to ask a brief question, but was instead instructed to take a number. After 30 minutes, my number was called and I was promptly referred to the large steel fixture of a shelf with multiple pamphlets. None were in English and when I inquired about that, I was told to take another number.

So much for customer service. Germany, the epitome of discipline, efficiency, and standardization; and it took me over an hour to even get a timetable translated into English. Apparently, Germans spoke flawless English, unless you happened to need your visa renewed or any kind of paperwork processed. Then, every utterance of English was indecipherable and you were inevitably misunderstood. Looks civil service was on par with customer service.

I roamed free in the land of BMW Bismarck, Oktoberfest, and origins of the Nationalist Socialist German Workers' Party, otherwise known as Nazi. Ironically, political power and racial supremacy were not the prime dreams of Adolf Hitler, at least not in his youth. He was a foiled artist, or so he believed, rejected from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts multiple times before he began peddling street paintings and got involved in grassroots politics, along with disbanded members of the German military post WWI. How the course of the world may be have changed if only he was recognized as a painter. Other interesting commonality among some of these totalitarian radicals was that Hitler was Austrian, not German, although he claimed he was "Germanic." Stalin, too, was Georgian, not Russian and perhaps their lack of "true belonging" in Germany or Russia led to a psychotic drive for domination.

I took a free walking tour of the city, exploring Marienplatz and its marvelous medieval, baroque, and renaissance architecture in a variety of stalwart pillars and churches. As the young German tour guide recounted the city's illustrious and sometimes sordid history, it occurred to me he tiptoed around any semblance of German pride, remarking in a deadpan tone about everything that this city stands for. It was a pattern repeated time and again. Conscientiously, they are still embarrassed about the past and the Holocaust, to the point of depriving their future generations of any sense of positive national identity.

Only the Germans are big enough to admit what they did was wrong. What about the Americans and Native Americans? What about the Japanese, massacre of Nanking, or the Korean "comfort women?" What about the Chinese massacres during the Cultural Revolution, and more recently, Tiananmen Square? None of these superpowers has made an effort towards such humility and reparation as the Germans have done. For that, I am proud of the Germans.

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