Is that the time? It’s just dawned on me that it’s exactly ten years since I kicked off my year-long stint of working in Munich. I was entirely ignorant of the Bavarian capital, other than it was the cradle of Nazism (bad) and had loads of first-class breweries (good). I didn’t meet any Nazis*, although I did have a great many successful encounters with the local beer – especially Augustiner, Hofbrau and Andechser. The latter tasting as pure and fresh as the air at the top of the Zugspitze.
Work was a chore. The picture editor sulked for days if you disagreed with her choice of image. The editor spent most of the day watching TV or arguing with me. The sub was so incompetent even I could spot his spelling errors. We would get frequent visits from the London-based bosses, who were each and every one of them foul, arrogant idiots. One of them came over just so he could have it off with a member of staff. One memorable week I worked a 24 hour stretch without a break, ruefully watching the sun come up over the towers of the Frauenkirche.
It’s a shame the job was so bad, because the city is so wonderful. 70% destroyed in WW2, it was rebuilt with a very obvious lack of community-scything A-roads, grey concrete eyesores or urine-soaked underpasses. It’s a human-scaled city of 4 million people – that’s four times bigger than Birmingham – with the feel of a market town. One legacy of the disastrous 1972 olympics was the transport network. A seamlessly integrated system of trams, buses and local rail (above and below ground) that guarantees you will be where you want to be at the time you said you would. They’ve just phased out the old clanging-bell articulated trams, which is a shame because on the way home from the pub you could pretend to be in The Third Man.
I got a bit obsessed with the dummies in this gents outfitters, photographing them many times. One looked like Ronald Reagan,and the rest looked like Kraftwerk. Munich tenaciously hangs on to its independent shops. The streets are full of them. The chains like Kaufhof and Hertie are there, but there’s a shop that sells just socks, another that sells scarves, and one that sells only leather gloves. There’s a place that only sells fountain pens. Each neighbourhood has a place dealing in very sensible looking bicycles. Everyone cycles. I bought a cruiser-braked boneshaker from a bloke in the fleamarket who was using it to display his old shirts. I went everywhere on it, including getting lost in a city centre forest that I’d previously failed to notice. I spent the next four hours cycling around in darkness that all but swallowed the meagre beam my lights produced. I only escaped because I got a faint but unmistakeable whiff of the city Zoo, and followed my nose to the main road.
Eventually, I couldn’t take it any more. It remains the only time I’ve told the boss where he could poke his job. On the day I was due to leave, the company’s driver overslept and I missed my flight. I spent the next six hours in the airport’s excellent restaurant and sent my former employer the bill. Prost.
*I was called an “English Pig” by an old fool of a shopkeeper. I’d annoyed him for not being able to work out how many Deutschmarks he needed for a copy of Munich Found. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t call me an Englander Schweinhund.