Now, before I go any farther, let me posit two stipulations. First, of course this isn't always (or even largely) true. I know plenty of normal people who are German in one sense or another. Germans also tend to be nice. Again, this is not a perjorative statement. And number 2, I've spent an approximate total of 8 days in Germany over my life, not counting any connections in Frankfurt: two + days in Berlin 5 years ago, four days last November in Bonn, and the aforementioned 1 + days here this time. So I'm not drawing on a huge sample size, if you catch my drift.
Nevertheless, I would like to posit that, yes indeed, every German I met on this trip was a little off. To make this case, I will offer two examples of the strangeness, and then two counterexamples of normality to prove my point. I approach as a case study, as I find that will both best suit my time frame, experience, and needs and provide an appropriate understanding of German weirdness. I will let you draw your own conclusions (while also probably beating you over the head with mine).
Without further ado, our second strange host:
City: Hamburg, Germany
Location: Apollo Optika in the Alstertal Einkaufszentrum near the Poppenbüttel train station (it's a mall)
Hamburg was our second (and final, not including that Neumunster railway station) short stop in Germany. We arrived in town on a mission: Ben wanted an unlocked I-phone, and his information suggested that Germany would be the place to do it. Being as we definitely communicated clearly about our joint desire to visit both Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Hamburg seemed like a logical German stop. We didn't do as well focusing on Hamburg, but that's another story...
So any way, we went up to the only Apple store in Hamburg, which happened to be on the end of a line that we caught at the central train station (the Hauptbanhof), near the final stop, Poppenbüttel. As we rode up on the charmingly clean and well-kempt train, I read a book, as I am prone to do. I also took off and put on my glasses repeatedly as my gaze lifted from the page and then returned to the page. I am also prone to do this. And sadly, while I am not necessarily prone to do this, it is not terribly surprising nor karmically unjust that in one of those removals of my glasses, I happened to snap one of the earpieces. All of a sudden, my glasses were in two. I didn't do anything wrong at that moment per se, but again, it was one of those things that was bound to happen to me, and that has happened before. Our mall visit now had two purposes. Also we wanted to abuse the Apple store's internet availability. Three purposes.
Our first purpose was plainly unsuccessful: Ben's info was wrong, and the I-phones there came with a contract. Disheartened, we ensured that our third objective would be satisfied and surpassed. Done.
This left the second purpose, fixing my glasses. We checked out the directory, cruised the mall, and tried one store. The nice lady said it would be a half hour so. I, wanting to maximize our Hamburg time, turned her down. Little did I know.
We went downstairs, where Ben wandered off to find a sports clothing store (failing at first). I entered Apollo Optika. Fairly crowded, the store presented a generic example of an optical store in the mall. I went up to the clerk, asked "Spriechen sie Englisch," (n.b.: maybe part of the reason Germans are so weird is that their language is so funny, and speaking it from a young age affects the mind), received a strongly affirmative answer, and was in business. This clerk was Marco.
First of all, Marco seems like a swell guy. He looked more or less our age (i.e. mid 20's), clean cut with trim mid-length dark hair, on the taller and skinnier side of things, and with a really open face; blue eyes, clean shaven, etc. He looked a little like our high school classmate and brief reality star Andrew Fenlon, except probably a little more "traditionally" good-looking.
There is nothing weird about this photo. Especially not the missing glasses earpiece to the viewer's right. Or the fu manchu.
City: Osnabrück, Germany
Location: Neudstadt Hotel in Osnabrück
As you may have noted earlier, we arrived to our hotel in Osnabrück after some struggling. We had missed the necessary train in Amsterdam that would have eventually brought us to Osnabrück at 6 rather than at 8, and so we were already late; our wandering tacked on additional fatigue. It was about 8:30, or 20:30, that we arrived at the hotel.
"I have a reservation," Ben said to the concierge after a simple exchange of hellos.
"What's the name?"
"It can't be!" Herr Concierge answered. He had big clear framed glasses, a suit, and straw blond hair, and looked to be in his 50's. "You can't be arriving now!"
This raised our concern levels a bit. Maybe we screwed up the reservation and made it for a different day? Maybe the internets let us down?
"Ah, no, wait a second. You are Mr. Chang? It is a Mr. Kim who is arriving at midnight to stay here. We do have your room." Our hearts beat again. "How would you like to pay?"
I, in arrears on the trip, proffered up my Bank of America Visa.
"Bank of America?" He said, tilting his head as he looked at me in the eye with an impish smile. "We'll have to be careful with you." He took my card and led me to his office, kitty corner to the front desk, while Ben raised his eyebrows in mock alarm.
Inside his office, Herr Concierge talked about how to err is to be human. "Sometimes I make mistakes when I charge on the card. Sometimes instead of 49 € I charge .49 €, and sometimes I charge 490€. These machines can be difficult." It could be taken as something of a good thing, then, that my card failed to work for him. Nevertheless, he did screw up when charging Ben's card, first assessing him .49€ and then the appropriate 49 €. He compensated Ben with a 50 cent piece, leaving us 1 cent ahead.
Another encounter with Herr Concierge came before our dinner experience. First, he gave us a recommendation.
"We just have to go down to the corner and turn right," we said, guessing.
"No, it's not far," he responded. "Just go down to the corner and go right. You'll see a fat man, a chef, standing on paper. That's where you should go." He was talking about a statue, not a real fat man.
"Do you have internet in the hotel?" I asked, wanting to know where it was so I could avoid it.
"You know," he started, again tilting his head but with more anger in his face, "they say they are coming every week, and still I am waiting. They cannot come to install internet or cable. They do not come. I do not understand it." He may have gone on for another five minutes, but we moved away, slowly, and went to dinner. We also noted to ourselves the need to budget at least five minutes for talking to Herr C when we left the next morning.
Our last encounter with Herr Concierge topped them all. At breakfast, there was a bit of a kerfluffle between an old German who struggled to use the toaster and a young English couple. The male member of the couple asked the German if he might speak English or Spanish, to which the old German responded, in German, that in Deutschland, we only speak Deutsch. Herr Concierge, dressed down in a flannel shirt and not quite dress slacks, dressed down his compatriot, but to no avail. It was not the most pleasant moment, but hey, it happens.
Ben and I ate breakfast with Mr. Kim himself, a Korean student studying at a business program in Osnabrück. We were as such distracted from the fireworks at the toaster, more concerned with ascertaining the background of the mysterious Mr. Kim whose late arrival had thrown our plans in near disarray. Things were calm between us.
We were ready to leave about ten minutes before the 10:00 hour train left. We had hoped to catch it. I was at fault for our tardiness. We nevertheless could have made the train. And we wanted to rectify our google maps snafu from a day before. And even though Herr Concierge was off duty, he was nothing if not ready to help, and so we asked him how to get to the train station.
"Well," he said, rolling his eyes to the top of his head, and then sighing. "I would take a cab.""We'd like to walk," we said, sticking true to our budget roots.
"You can walk, it would take you about 15-20 minutes. But I would take a cab."
At last we convinced him our aim was true in walking, and that our boots were made for nothing else, and he gave us an exact, easy route to follow (indeed, the google map version we failed to find the night before). The long explanation seemed like the end of it. We thanked him and started backing out towards the door.
"No, thank you," he said. He followed our backing, and we weren't sure what we were being thanked for. We smiled. "I'm sorry for what happened this morning," he went on, and for the first time, more than in the lament over the internet provider or his concern over the guy who had parked inappropriately in front of the hotel the night before, a note of solemnity crept into his expression. "There are 80 million people in Germany, and only two I-diots," he said, pronouncing it like an Apple product (i.e. "eye-dee-ott", Steve Jobs, think about it), "and we had one of the I-diots here today. It disgusts me. When we had the World Cup here four years ago, it was a big party, and everyone was happy to be here. The World Cup this year, there was a party in the streets for every game, and everyone was happy. The Women's World Cup is here next year, and we are very proud. But then those I-diots go and ruin it. Remember, it was the Austrians who got us into all that trouble, and then they just said they were Germans.
"You know, I was in the USA too," he went on. "I was there when President Kennedy was shot. I was in El Paso, Texas, training with the air force. So I know there are good people in other places. I'm open to foreigners. Most Germans are. Just those one or two I-diots."
Ben and I, speechless except for our thanks and goodbyes, made a note to ourselves: Hotel Neustadt comes with impromptu impassioned historically imbued speeches about New Germany should any I-diots show up. Duly noted. And after hearing that he was in El Paso for a year (also, understanding that he must be in his mid 60s at least, meaning ol' Herr Concierge looked good), we were a little more understanding on the weird. But weird it remained.
Ah, Germany: new or otherwise, always weird. And just how we like it.