I’ve been in Munich for a week, and “wow” is about all I can muster. I’d have written more of these, but it’s been hard to find time in this whirlwind. First, the name — I called this “Woodstein72” because it’s a play off of my name and because I nerded out about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal. It all went down in 1972. So that’s that.
A week ago I was sitting in the window seat of IcelandAir Flight 532, and I was shitting my pants. Not because I was flying to Europe for the first time, or because this summer that I’m spending across the pond is by far the longest period I’ve been away from home.
No, I was scared because I’m overcome with irrational fear every time I fly. It’s not panic. It’s not terror. It’s a subtle creep in the back of my mind, a voice whispering, Oh fuck, what if this goes wrong? This time, the voice said, I hope I don’t end up as a headline on CNN.
The difference with this flight, though, is that I finally realized how ironic that fear is. I get scared every time I use the world’s most statistically safe way to travel, but I’m a fearless maniac behind the wheel of my sky-blue rocket of a VW Passat (Jordyn can tell you all about that). I’m far more likely to crash in my car than in a plane, but that never scares me.
Part of it is about control; in a plane, you’re helpless, but in a car you’re at least accountable for your own actions. That control is an illusion, though, because you can do everything right in a car, and one idiot can still wreck your day.
Mostly, I think it’s about the media — maybe, because I work in it, I’m too quick to assign it praise or blame. But if I wrapped my Passat around a tree, I’d get a two-minute spot on the local affiliate. Maybe. If my flight to Munich went down over the Atlantic Ocean, though, it’d dominate headlines until someone cooked up the next flavor of the month. Planes are never in the news for good reasons.
Obviously, my flight didn’t make the news. As we took off, I felt the gratuitous helping of weed candy that I ate before I went through security. That, and the five episodes of Serial that I marathonned, burned my fear away. Besides, how scared can you be when you’re watching the sun rise 30,000 feet over the ocean?
We touched down in Reykjavik at around 5 a.m., and that city of 120,000 is the totality of Iceland. It’s a small cluster of houses, then…nothing. Flat, mossy volcanic rock as far as you can see. The island is empty and beautiful. The airport, not so much; it’s half under construction and the lines are atrocious. Luckily, we were too much of zombies to care. I said something snarky to Jordyn about how she looked like a zombie, and got her classic I’m sick of your shit look.
I get that look a lot.
Anyway, we bussed out to the runway, climbed onto the plane, and I passed out almost immediately. I sat next to two friendly, attractive American girls who were bound for Munich as the first leg of their European trip, and I was too exhausted to even flirt. Oh well.
Then, after that four-hour flight that seemed like it took 30 minutes, we were there. Munich is green like I’ve never seen before. More than that, everything about it — the air, the trees, the buildings — feels fresh.
Our first hours there were uneventful. Max, a student at LMU, picked up Jordyn, Arely and I from the airport. With us was Tim from the University of Cincinnati, another student in the program. Max took us to our dorms, then we shuffled to Tengelmann, a local supermarket, to buy groceries and beer — Jordyn for the first time (legally). Tim, Jordyn and I talked in her room for a while, then passed out early. Jet lag is a bitch and we’d never experienced it like this.
The next day Jordyn and I set out to explore the city. We took the U-Bahn downtown, walked through LMU’s campus and stumbled across a street fair replete with beer and wurst and accordions and lederhosen. From there we wandered accidentally into the Englischer Garten, which is bigger and more beautiful than Central Park. It’s a place where you can get lost and find yourself. You stroll through it like you’re in a “choose your own adventure” book. Go left for an idyllic lake. Go right for a gazebo on a hill. Stay straight to stumble across a Chinese biergarten.
We wandered for hours, bought strawberries from a street vendor (there are fruit vendors everywhere here, and it’s fantastic), then went back to our dorms to meet the rest of the group at our bar. Yes, our dorm has a bar. A rooftop bar, in fact. With a disco ball.
The group sat in a circle and drank beer and introduced ourselves. Tim is from Cincinnati, as are Sam, Kam, Jenna and Katie. Nathan is from Northern Kentucky. Jordyn, Britta, Logan, Arely and I are from Colorado. Di is from Texas, Kristen from Cal State-Fullerton, Joann from Korea, and Bridget and Mia are from China by way of Boston and the UK, respectively.
We got a rough orientation from Katrin Dümmler, one of our faculty supervisors, who is Professor McGonagall in appearance and personality — proud, rigid and cold, with a hint of warmth underneath all that. She answered most of our questions by holding up our orientation packet and extolling, “Read your fucking student book!” I like her.
After the introductions we hit the town again; this time as a group we went to an Irish bar called Kennedy’s. There we learned one thing very quickly — Germans don’t fuck around with mixed drinks. Kristen and I ordered Jack and Coke, and our drinks were about 75 percent whisky. At least we got our money’s worth. It was open mic night at the bar, though we mistook it for karaoke, and with another drink or four I’d have taken the stage and rapped some Wu-Tang. But no one wants to hear me rasp out “Method Man,” and the band entertained us with surprisingly good covers of The Eagles, Stevie Wonder and CCR.
The next day we started our first two classes, which were a mixed bag. We had a crash course in German, which I dreaded would be redundant but thoroughly enjoyed. Our teacher was Adama, who is wonderful, patient and kind, with a big, toothy smile, and you would never call German an ugly language after hearing her speak it. The class was useful and engaging, except for a rough session Wednesday afternoon in which most of the class was still hungover and incessantly nodding off. Adama took pity, though, and let us out early that day.
I wouldn’t mind getting out of our communication theory class early, either. It’s our morning session, and it’s interesting, but mostly review to anyone who’s taken a media studies class. Frankly, it’s hard to stay engaged with anything, no matter how interesting, for three and a half hours a day. Thank God for Reddit.
Our best education comes from exploring the city, though. Tuesday after class, Jordyn, Di and I wandered around Marienplatz, Munich’s heart. We went there ostensibly so Jordyn could buy a jacket at one of the four (yes, four) H&Ms within a single block, and stayed to watch the clock change the hour at the Rathaus, or city hall.
From there we went to St. Peter’s Church, one of the oldest buildings in Munich. Monks lived on the site in the eighth century, and the first iteration of the church itself was built in the 1150s. One room of that original structure is still a part of the current one. It was built into a Romanesque church in the 1300s, completely destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt over the course of 50 years. Its altar is magnificent and gilded, and standing before it I experienced the first positive feelings about my Catholic upbringing since I was a freshman in high school. We paid a Euro each to scale St. Peter’s tower, 299 narrow, steep steps that climb to one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen.
The small moments here are just as wonderful as the dazzling ones — happening across a little Italian restaurant, or a homemade ice cream shop, or a burrito restaurant that shamelessly apes Chipotle’s aesthetic and boasts about its “kick-ass burritos,” or staying up late with one of your best friends, watching Orange is the New Black…exactly like we would back home. I’ll go into more detail on those later.
In the future, all my posts will be shorter, more detailed and more frequent. I’m not writing a novel here. But I’m leaving for Prague in about eight hours, and I need to pack. See you Monday.