When I made the decision to quit Contiki and instead explore and escapade around Europe, I put as one of the top of to-do’s the necessity to go and see Joachim and Melanie, the NARF (Not Actually Related Family).
You see, back when I was in my early teen years, Deb and Henio became friends with two new Auckland Water Ski Club members being Joachim and Mel. The two had just relocated over from Germany for three to five years; with Joachim being rather high up at BMW, the call came for him to adventure – with Mel – to Auckland.
The two very soon surpassed mere mates and became thought of as almost family. What with not having children of their own, they became sort of like a set of cool younger aunt and uncle. They had an awesome apartment near where we lived, so dinner dates and such lark were a customary occasion. Soon after we moved to Cambridge, the contract to be Down Under finished up and the two moved on back to Germany (Munich, to be precise).
So Munich (München in German, pronounced like you’re muchin’ on chips) was to be my final stop in Europe, dated as was to fit in with the two just having returned from a see-trip of Toronto (their next point of reloco for three to five years). My bus pulled into the central station at 8.23pm (two minutes earlier than scheduled, fabulous) and there they were – Joachim and Mel, not looking a day older than they had they last time I saw them seven years ago.
I’d forgotten how much I loved them.
Honestly, these two are such champs. They have such an authentically keen interest in people important to them, and I am so honoured that I fit into this classification. Mel is this great get-in-there-and-get-going woman who is forefront to support in any situation it needs, with Joachim this always-laughing, enthusiastic chap with the most Manuka-honeyed voice I have ever heard (in the idea that his pronunciation of words is so smooth with such emphasis that it is just lovely to listen to). We went straight (in their fabulous BMW – of course) to a little Greek restaurant – their local – for dinner and some drinks, and just seeing how all the staff greeted them with genuine delight showed me just how well, delightful they really are.
After refuelling in edibles and a fair few tipples (the barman steadily sent shots and what not to our table), we went home for a glass of red and a tour of their house (so beautiful; built in the 50s, Joachim and Mel have renovated the entire inside to be breathtakingly well, breath taking). I took up residence in their haven of a spare bedroom and promptly kipped out.
So, to the week in succinct series, episodes Tuesday through Sat here. (I’ll try keep it short, I swear!).
I awoke after a seriously good slumber, and Mel and I donned our active wear to walk (though I feel “race” is more fitting a term with our on point pace) around the lakes near to their house. We had a really, really meaningful convo about all sorts that really stuck with me; what with only having been 16 at the time of their leaving I was pretty much a kid, it was awesome to discuss a fair few foci with me as more of an adult (well, debatable; maybe slightly more mature).
After showering and shipping up we went to Dachau, the German concentration camp that served as the model for all others built throughout the Nazi regime. (Very powerful and pondering prompting, thus shall have a post in itself). We then picked Joachim up from work and headed off to Augsburg, to the cable skiing lake.
(Insertation: in getting into the car the previous evening, Joachim had insisted I take the front seat and he have the back; upon Mel accelerating me seatbelt was tweaked tight both on departing the station and the restaurant for home. I had thought it was Joachim doing so to ensure I was belted up to the best degree, and it was only on car-vorting off in the morning that I realised it was in fact one of the car’s safety functions, not Joachim doing a Dad). (Not that Henio does this, I shall clarify; I mean in the general sense of a protecting parent).
As mentioned before, we came to know the pair through their and my family’s (more the father Henio and the brothers’) love of water skiing. On returning to Germany Joachim had sussed out and signed up at the nearest ski lake, where instead of using a boat to go behind the skier is instead pulled along by a cable. Going a good two to three times a week, it is most definitely Joachim’s “happy place” – and under the magic of a few wines the evening before, I had tried on his binding with gusto and pledged my place in partaking in a slalom the next night.
The site was awesome, well and truly. There was a great gang of wetsuited-up water-skiers lining their skis up on the dock for their dash, with a number of spectators swirling about sipping on swills. Refrains were reverberating, jollity was jostling; it was pretty damn fab.
I watched the others go on their go’s and felt a frisson of fretfulness fly about my filly. It looks darn different to behind a boat, I thought, as I watched one whirlwind take on the corner with expert angling. The prospect of perhaps pussying out proved quite pulling, but then I saw Joachim’s school boy giddiness of glee and thought of my new-go oath to give all and sundry that heads up’s as an option a try; five minutes later I was zipped into a kid’s wetsuit and was on the dock, Joachim’s top range gear on my feet.
Well. It dismays me to divulge that all visions of taking off triumphantly, curving the corners like a champion and slaloming like a superstar were put paid to with a massive out the front the first corner I took and a popping off the handle the second swing (though I successfully swindled myself around two corners the latter endeavour). Rather than nail it, I most definitely got hammered – and the cold climate had my five ‘o’clock shadow going and the lips taking on a considerable blue hue.
Once back in my glad rags (that being my warmest “haus hosier” – “house clothes”, that being comfy clothes or pretty much pyjamas) Mel, Joachim, myself and their two friends, Alex and her European champ skier partner went to the next door Italian restaurant to partake in some pasta and pizza (well, salad for me). As we made our way to the door I could feel that my eyes weren’t functioning nor focusing too terrifically and on sitting at my seat and mulling the menu I saw that I couldn’t actually see.
Have you ever had a migraine? My word, they are atrociously awful. When I was a little lass and had a feeble head twinge I used to claim it as a migraine at times; I swear, if the ability to ever travel back in time came to me one of the very first actions I would undertake would be to wind back to that whiny whinger that was me and backhand her silly. Because mate, migraines are the work of the wretched.
I’ve only had a few in my lifetime but they take me down like a size tenner full barrel down a bowling alley. The kaleidoscope eyes get going, the disorientating dots appear in the corneas and the throbbing pulsates like a strobe light at a Dutch discothèque.
So of course, being a great denier, when this badboy barricaded my brain I shunned the symptoms and signs and pretended all was top. When our drinks were served I managed to appear on point and laugh along with the rest of them. When dinner was put down my right eye was only slightly shut and seeping. But when the plates were cleared and another round ordered, I could no longer discreetly push down on the nerve point stemming to my brain nor stop the running of my right eye like a river.
But I still wanted to be part of the party so put paid to the concerns counting up from my dining fellows, averring I was absolutely A-ok. Tip top mate! But when I started slurring my sentences (and I was only half a wine deep so couldn’t blame the alcohol) Mel called for Home Time and we headed off for the car.
The next 15 hours involved an acreage of agony, some spewing and a fair lot of detailed dreaming (I woke in a cold sweat convinced I had fucked up a wedding I was officiating and the crowd was bleating for my blood). But I awoke at midday the next well, day, and felt if not on point then just to the left of it.
So after a nightmarish night I awoke. After replying to Mel’s messages seeing if I was all right, I attended to some admin and got going on some gifts before rallying the required wear for a run.
I grabbed the house key from the table and before changing into my shorts for a sprint (ok, very slow jog but I had to go with alliteration ok?) decided to just test it out to ensure I could get back in. (I have a terrible time with working locks, electrical appliances, doors, all such lark). I had my little handbag strung about my shoulders as I shut the door before finding I – as I had anticipated – couldn’t figure out the key to get back in and was stranded on the front step.
Now I think about it I must have been still seriously out my right mind. I stood there for a little while deciphering what to do (Mel and Joachim were both at work and would not be home until 8pm or 9) before I clocked eyes on my New Balances at attention and decided to just go for a trot as was.
So that is how I came to be waltzing about the Munich main roads for an hour or so in my new Primark monkey emoji PJ pants, before returning to the residence and rallying the non-English speaking German neighbour to hustle me back into the house.
Mel had said about going to BMW World and doing a tour of the plant and I had been intrigued; what with having seen the inner workings of brewing beer and the flurry of flowers, I have developed a keen rivet for how things come about, as well as the fact that I was the proud owner (no not owner; it was much more than an owner-object relationship. I’d say more of a privileged carer) of my dear, sweet Ruby for nigh on five-and-a-half years (in case you are completely in the obscure, Ruby was my late loved Beemer that I acquired at 16 and sold off on moving to Brisbane at the end of 2013) the idea greatly appealed.
And mate, it was fucking fantastic. I only wish that my Uncle Adrian, the brother Michael and old Henio had been in company so I could delight in their well, delight.
There was so much to see and what not, but I have managed to jot just a few points of the novel I noted to share.
- Firstly, BMW: Now there is so much I can say – I mean, the company has been around since 1916 and is a global conglomerate of cars (and motorbikes, and more) but I’ll just impart with you a few facts and figures to get you in the somewhat know.So as you may have clocked on, having started in 1916 means this year marks a century of BMW providing “sheer driving pleasure” (as quoted from the introductory vid we watched before donning our head sets and in-planting) (gettit?). It has had a very up and down history, what with recessions, wars and the like causing grief stippled throughout the successes, but the “now 115,000 staff are the driving force”. (And I loved the pun inclusion).So what does the three-letter terming actually stand for? Nothing overly spectacular or elusive – Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, which is German for Bavarian Motor Works. Originally an aircraft manufacturer, the company became an automobile manufacturer in 1929. Post WWII saw BMW survive by making pots, pans and bicycles until it restarted motorbike manufacturing in 1948. The year 1955 saw the concentration back on cars, and the lead up to what it is today. (I must admit as the vid played I puffed up quite proudly and felt the (almost overwhelming) urge to stand on my chair and shout out to all that Mel’s – yes, the very Mel in the car beside me – husband actually worked in the very impressive four cylinder building standing tall across the road outside (yet another bloody brilliance on part of BMW; an architectural spectacle, it was built throughout the years of 1968 and 1972 in a shape to mimic the four cylinders in a car engine, with the museum building below as a cylinder head. The cylinders do not actually stand on the ground, rather suspended on a central support tower – thus the complex being built top down, with the separate floors assembled on the ground and then elevated up. It has been a protected historic building since 1999)).
- Second: my main man Heribert.
- See, Heribert was the tour taker of the afternoon and was a total titleholder (deviation from “champ”; I feel I already have a far too many of them in this post). With his blue lab coat (won by all the technical staff in the plant), wizened up frame and eccentric stick-outy hair, I instantly took to him. (It was only later I realised why I did so much; he reminded me quite a lot of my grandpa Bampga to look at, with his mischievous little winks my way and hacking great laugh. Upon the ending I told him he looked like my uncle – I didn’t want to say “grandad” and have him feel like he looked really old, especially as I was not looking top notch myself with my gapping great bags under my seeing sockets making me appear a good 50 or so – and he was chuffed, presenting me with a tip top high five). Mel and I determined that he was perhaps a retiree from the plant, now taking on the tours as a way to keep as a cog in the BMW wheel.
- To the plant: so, the plant in Munich is the mother plant of all (the company has 30 sites in 14 countries). Every day it produces 1000 cars, all pre ordered by customers already and all kitted out to their exact desires. (This blew my mind; like 1000 cars a day? In one plant? I understand there are many people in the world but 1000 a day all already bought? I couldn’t – and still can’t – get my head around it). When touring the plant, the taking of photos is prohibited, as is having a cellular device out at all (I tell you, my fingers were fizzing with the yearning to snatch some snaps and memorandum down, well, memos).
- And. It. Is.
We started at the very stamping and cutting out of the car parts, ending two hours later at the finished product (that being a fully functioning car). (It doesn’t take two hours to make a car, let me clarify; from start to finish a BMW automobile takes about 40 hours – the ones we saw complete were not the ones we saw cut out). You should have seen the machinery! Sorry, I mean “robots”; these apparatuses were like actual people, so on point and acting as if they actually had a mind of their own. They reminded me first of Transformers (standard likeness made, I bet you) and as I observed them more and more, they clanged a buzzer in my brain as to be like dinosaurs you see in movies today (has anyone seen the latest redo of Jurassic Park? I actually couldn’t handle that film – pretty sure I sat and scoffed and ripped the plot to shreds the whole way through). The first few rooms (being massive, expansive spaces) saw only a handful of actual people in them (which had me quite sad, then I suddenly thought of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in which Charlie’s dad is a toothpaste lid screw-onner who loses his job to robotic machinery; however, he then gets employed as a robotic machinery maintainer, so all was well, which is what I told myself with the factory here too) being manned (well, roboted) by the robots pretty much alone, while as you went on through more and more people appeared.
- Each car has four coats of paint on it (mate, the painting process was unreal to watch – by robots, of course) which totals a tenth of a millimetre in thickness on each vehicle and 8kg of paint per one. It is then dusted off with a duster made completely out of Emu feathers (only the bests for these automobiles).
- Ten per cent of all the factory workers (robots excluded – I don’t think they are given genders) are females.
- Oh yes – and the gift shop at the end of the tour is fabulous.
After a pit stop to fawn over the latest makes and models (me deciding the recent released brilliant blue X6 is my mug of Earl), Mel and I meandered about the next door Olympic Park. The location of the 1972 Olympic Games, it has a sweeping web-like canopy roofed stadium (said to symbolise the Alps, with the open, light and airy feel reflecting the new, democratic and optimistic Germany; also backed up by the Games’ official slogan being, “the happy Games”), a quirkily shaped artificial lake, Olympic Hill (being a man-made hump formed from debris left over from WWII) and the striking Olympic Tower (which Mel and I elevated up in to see view of the Munich surrounds).
The evening was spent with me having a sensational sauna (in the outdoor area of Mel and Joachim’s home; I have decided if I ever do settle, a sauna is a staple – more a must than a kitchen sink or a bed, as it be) and a wonderful conversation with Joachim about the not-so-distant-future-fate of the driver (this got my mind seriously musing, of which it hasn’t really stopped since).m
Downton Munich was a ’calling.
Mel took on the unofficial tour guide hat and took me round the must-sees of “Munchin’ (on chips) from the infamous Hofbrauhaus (considered the world’s best beer house, founded in 1589 by Wilhelm V, the then Duke of Bavaria) (and can you believe that for regulars, there is the option to padlock up your stein for safekeeping in a locker-like layout? Photo below), to the town hall (just in time for the midday concert by the clay characters about the face, complete with golden cock at the end) (cock as in bird I must clarify; the Germans are very open about their bodies I do concede, but this wasn’t a gold member presentation in such respects), to the town church (Mel told me an awesome story about its erecting; apparently, the architect behind it went to the devil in order of aid for building the structure by its deadline. The devil agreed, upon the condition that the man must build the church to be light and airy but with no windows. When it was completed, said architect took his satanic backer to the grand well, grandeur and upon opening the door, exhibited a sunlit space with only a single used shine-through. In his anger, the devil stomped hard on the stone floor leaving a foot print that is still there today. Or so the story goes) and onto the Residenzmuseum (that being the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs and of the house of Wittelsbach; a complex made up of ten courtyards and 130 rooms, it is the epitome of elegance and cornucopia. Mel remarked upon us conversing in hushed tones about the opulent décor, “What is it about rooms like this that make you whisper rather than talk?”. And isn’t it oh so true?).
As we walked on to out next point of posy, Mel pointed out a large stone stage where Hitler used to declare from on his jaunts to Munich. I actually got chills all over my body as I thought about the fact that I was standing right where that malevolent man once was, in proximity to where he was posted as he proclaimed. I said to Mel how being so far away in New Zealand, you can almost view the World Wars as a movie; the only sites to be sighted are through media such as photos and films, thus making it be an almost fictitious occurrence. But being here, in the very places all these historic events actually took place, brings it in that the horrors did all actually happen.
(Crap this is getting lengthy again. WHY can I just not keep it concise!).
We then went and surveyed the surf at the Eisbach River. Yes, you did read correctly just then in seeing “surf”; you see, the river has a constant crest from concrete blocks beneath the river bed creating the wave, with wooden blocks and what not added over the years to improve the flow. At any given time, a good dozen or so surfers are lined up along the banks awaiting their turn to ride and trick up for the audience gathered around to gaze.
It was such an oddity to see, especially in a city so far from any kind of beach; I almost asked if I could borrow a board and have a go myself (then I recalled the cable park incident of the previous previous evening, as well as the fact that I have never surfed before in my life, and dispelled all outlandish ideas of involvement).
Friday evening was spent with me packing my bag for the final time (decided to keep what is required for my last week in my carry-on so as to not have to go through the packing process again; Joachim was well impressed with my Tetras travel talents when he saw the explosion of items all jig-sawed in to my backpacks – although I did have to appropriate a laptop bag from him so as to fit it all in, I must admit) followed by a lovely alfresco dinner of asparagus salad (did you know Europe has WHITE asparagus? So much more moreish than the standard green!) and extremely enjoyable yarns as the three of us downed a bottle of deliciously dropped NZ Ned.
What with my flight departing at the late time of 10.35pm, we went to Ulm for the day where Joachim and Mel have yet another home they are doing up. An hour or so from Munich, we rallied along the autobahn (as I have detailed about before, the German highway where there is no speed limit designated, allowing us to hoon along at a good 238km per hour. Joachim offered me the opportunity to drive a number of times and although I was sorely (almost agonisingly) tempted, I declined; the thought of the other side of the road as well as the other side of the car combined with swifting along at a speed I have never surmounted to in my being had me taking the sensible road in not taking the road at all), which I was pleased to see had poppies all alongside the concrete construction.
After seeing their almost finished abode (which I fell in love with; the top floor has a loft-like space with ceiling windows that is the epitome of what I would want as a writing room) Joachim dropped me into the city centre to roam around in for a few hours.
I meandered about the markets (three lots of them, insanely massive with full-on titanic fruits and flourishing flora), rambled about the lanes and visited the various landmarked edifices (one tower had such a sparkly roof, I decided it is absolutely what I want for my loft-like top floor, complete wit sauna). Then I went to the Ulm Minster.
So the Ulm Minster is a Lutheran church in the centre of Ulm. Although often referred to as a cathedral as a result of its grand dimensions, it is actually not so as it has never been the seat of a bishop. With construction starting back in the Gothic era and being completed in the late 19th century, the steeple stands at 161.5metres tall as the tallest church in the world. The option is open to climb the 768 stufen (steps) to the total top for a paltry five-euro fee (3.50 for students) so after a dally about the inside of the secular structure (stain glassed windows sparking so much veneration), I set up on going up.
Mate. I don’t know why I still insist on launching into tight spaces when I come under the consequences of claustrophobia, but I was determined to see the spiral stairs through even though I was cramped and confounded. And it was like a force beyond was rooting for me; at first I thought the trumpeting and cheering as I neared the top was a figment, but on looking out at the first viewing platform I saw there was actually a parade in town.
The very topmost stop allows a panoramic view of all of Ulm, from the red-bricked homes to the seemingly-muddy-and-filthy-but-actually-completely-clear-as-I-found-upon-putting-my-hand-in-later river weaving through the ways. I was all joyous and praise-being life when suddenly my view took in the monstrosity of Ikea in the near distance. It made me think about how different the view must look today from 100, even a mere ten years ago, when big commercial conglomerates built up and disrupted the story book skyline.
I then meandered along the river side eating a mango pondering life (the thinkings noted down to appear in my last EEE post) before trotting “home” to clamber into the car and set off for the airport, pit stops in Augsburg for a delightful dinner (at the Hasan Brau, being “rabbit brew” beer house on the way; the brewery being in a building that once served as a slaughterhouse, the staff again greeted Joachim and Mel with such jollity, and pandered to my requests for a plate of pure sauerkraut) and at a shopping mall for a swifty (Joachim insisted we do so for the pair to buy me a pair of workerman’s shorts, apparently the height of the ins for youngsters in Germany, as well as being oh so comfy in fact, I am wearing my new, much-loved denim pair right now).
We checked in my bag (thanks above I chose Emirates to go home with; the three of us took a bet on the weight of my bag – Joachim said 29kg, Mel 28 and I 27.5 – and when it came in at 25.2kg, I was joyous I had not chosen old Air NZ) and set off for security where we did flurried farewells. I was overcome with such sadness to say auf wiedersehen; the last few days with the pair, especially my time with Mel, had made them all the more special to me. I told them I was in t take on the role of surrogate daughter and would see them in Toronto next year (my world, 2017 is looking like quite the world roam).
As I passed through customs (turning to wave again and again at Joachim and Mel through the security screens) it hit me that I was leaving Europe and embarking on the first stretch of the homewards journey. It felt weird; mixed feeling fluttered about going home. But I put them aside as I goodbyed Germany and exited Europe, departing for Dubai.
Wir sehen uns – the blogs are barrelling up, so it shan’t be long.