[This is part of the August 2021 update]
It was Wednesday September 26 when my train from Zurich pulled into the Munich station. It was even more chaotic than Basel’s, with people everywhere including outside on the surrounding streets. I called the number I had for Angelica and Helmut, but repeatedly there was no answer. Hearing other tourists around me chattering in English, I soon gathered that every hotel and youth hostel in the city was packed to capacity for this Oktoberfest thing that Sylvie had mentioned. I tried calling the Munich youth hostels in my hostel guide, but they were all full. I didn’t know what to do. It was getting dark and I had no place to stay other than sitting in the train station, which was a madhouse of people arriving into town for the festival.
I went outside the station for respite from the crowds and to maybe find something to eat. I was quickly learning that food in a train station might be twice the cost of the same thing bought in a restaurant or store just across the street. After my long transit from London across the Channel, France and Switzerland, I could not even imagine having to figure a new destination at this point.
A young guy approached me, maybe a few years older, with not particularly long blonde hair and wearing jeans and a jean jacket over a flannel work shirt. He said his name was Jack and that he had noticed me looking around perplexed. I shared with him my dilemma, and he provided the possibility for a solution. He was also traveling on his own, like me, and had arrived just a few hours earlier and had been faced with the same problem. He had met an American, Greg, also around our age, whose dad was stationed at the U.S. army base in Munich. Greg was living in a college dorm on the military base in town and taking classes at an extension of some U.S. university, and had offered Jack a place to stay while he was in town. Jack suggested that maybe his impromptu host could find me a bed or couch to sleep on as well, at least for the night.
It sounded good to me. Anything had to be better than spending all night in a busy train station. Jack had an address on a piece of paper and found someone who knew English to tell us how to get there. So he led us away from the chaotic scene in and around the train station to a different neighborhood, a cluster of buildings adjacent to the U.S. army base in town. We entered one of the buildings and climbed three flights of stairs to a long straight hallway that looked like all the other college dorms I had frequented in the past year. He knocked on the metal door of room 418.
The door was opened by a guy wearing a Doors t-shirt, bell bottom jeans with holes in the knees, and bare feet. He had scraggly brown hair that came down below his shoulders, almost to the face of Jim Morrison on his chest. He looked at Jack a bit quizzically but when he focused on me, he grinned. One look in his eyes and I knew he was a total stoner.
“Is one of you Jack?” he asked, Jack nodding in response. “I’m Greg’s roommate Stu. He told us you needed a place to stay.”
Jack then filled him in on my situation, also just into town and nowhere to stay. Stu frowned in solidarity as he heard the details of my difficult circumstance, looking me up and down but then starting to nod.
“Hey dude”, he said to me “We got two couches and your comrade can only sleep on one, so you’re more than welcome to the other.”
I thought of Graham Nash’s lyric from the beginning of “Teach Your Children”…
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
“Thanks”, I replied, “I really appreciate it. I had no idea when I got here about this Oktoberfest thing.”
“I know… It’s such a hassle”, he noted, like the whole city festival thing was just an annoyance, then asked, “Where you from?”
“Ann Arbor, Michigan.”
He lit up as much as a serious stoner’s face could. “Oh man, I’ve heard about it but never been. Hash bash, right?”
“Yep”, I said grinning, feeling suddenly like it was a much smaller world than it had been a minute ago. I was one of Bowie’s “young dudes” carrying “the news” that our generation would triumph and transform the world somehow. I waxed journalistic.
“On March ninth of last year”, I said, “The state supreme court ruled that the law that made possession of even just a joint of weed a felony was unconstitutional, so until the state legislature could pass a new law, weed suddenly wasn’t illegal. So April Fools Day seemed the appropriate time for everyone to celebrate.”
The news my story carried was that the older generation with their ossified rules and strictures were not going to stop us. Stu and I had established our connection, two comrades flying the “freak flag”. My big mane of fro’d curls to match his long scraggly locks. Me a welcome emissary from the home front, bringing the good word of another victory in the struggle. But here we all were now in Munich, fellow strangers in this strange land of Germany with it’s old world culture and alien language, manning our bastion of the remnants of that hippie ethos.
That whole flower-child hippie thing had imbued me and others in my cohort with a sense of mission to transform humankind, finally, to fully embrace “peace, love and joy”. Our means to those ends were “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”. The sex part I was still struggling with. The drugs, at least marijuana and hashish, I was well on my way to embracing. And I was a total junkie for the rock’n’roll, it raised goosebumps on my arms.
That at times nebulous but still powerful bond was very often celebrated by my comrades by smoking marijuana, our own “recreational intoxicant” of rebellion, against the older generation and their snobbish martinis and Manhattans. Not that we didn’t consume our fair share of alcohol, beer at college parties and wine with the weed. But smoking that weed was the iconic peace pipe of our generational solidarity, and I suppose we had our own snobbery around the practice.
As it had been in my own college dorm the previous year at Western, it was the state of things and rules of engagement when Jack and I were invited into the hospitality of Stu’s dorm suite. On my appointed sleeping place currently two of his fellow army brat student comrades sharing a pipe with a big chunk of hash in the bowl. Greg was nowhere to be seen. There was also a half-full bottle of Tanqueray gin on the coffee table with a scattering of shot glasses. I unburdened myself of my heavy pack and gratefully, if not dutifully, took my place in that third spot on the couch, joining, at least for now, this circle of comrades, passing the proverbial pipe. Following the lead of the others, between the hash and a couple gin chasers, I got seriously buzzed pretty quickly.
I was at that point of intoxication where I was having what we called “a rush”, in my case feeling like my body was accelerating backward into the cushions of the couch. Luckily I was not a newbie to what could be a very discomforting sensation, for I had had several “rushes” that previous year smoking weed with my dorm buddies. I chuckled to myself that college had trained me well, at least in this regard.
With continuing gratitude and great focus I endured the experience without passing out or getting physically ill. (On a couple of previous occasions at school I had not been quite so lucky!) When I managed to mumble that I was having a “rush”, I got affirming nods from Stu and his dorm mates. My hosts’ hospitality being appropriately appreciated, like in my parents’ generation commenting on how delicious the meal was.
The next day, Jack and I finally came to semi consciousness after sleeping off the long evening’s indulgence. It was afternoon already and everyone was gone except for one of Stu’s dorm mates who hadn’t been there the night before, who turned out to be Greg. He was the only black guy amongst a bunch of WASPy white types. We all introduced ourselves. He said his dad worked at the base in supply and he was studying political science. He was back from classes and was free for the rest of the afternoon. He had a bag of salty, greasy potato chips which he shared with us.
“You two want to go check out Oktoberfest with me?” he asked. “It’s kind of a kick watching a bunch of Germans get drunk and happy, and the beer is great. Nothing like that swill they call beer in the States.”
“What about Stu?” Jack responded. “Should we wait for him to get back from class and see if he wants to join us?”
Greg scoffed and wrinkled his nose. “He’s not much for fraternizing with the locals, even if it’s just to get drunk. None of them are! They’d rather stay in their sad little world here and explore the ozone. You’d think this is an air force rather than army base.” He tilted his head, rolled his eyes, and made a funny face. He had a lightness to him that none of the others seemed to have.
We happily agreed, and headed into town with our guide on the “U-Bahn” subway line. I wore my two-inch heels. The blisters were still there on my feet from my hiking boots, which I was learning, painfully, were not sufficiently broken in prior to leaving the States. My two-inch heels did not hurt my feet so much, and didn’t aggravate those gnarly blisters, which I tried to keep covered with bandaids from my little first-aid kit. The shoes also gave me a different cooler kind of look. I was noticing more and more how well dressed and suave the locals looked, particularly in the big cities, like here in Munich. I did not want to be one of those garishly unsuave Americans!
That afternoon and the next day, with Greg’s able guidance, Jack and I explored the Bavarian capital with its state of the art urban rail system and its eclectic mix of new and old architecture, that included those big ornate automaton clocks above the front entrance of some of the classic older buildings.
We visited the Oktoberfest beer gardens. There was a set of huge tents each filled with long tables surrounding a small platform in the middle with an oom-pah-pah band that drunken revelers could pay to conduct for a particular favorite German beer drinking song (of which I imagined there were many). I quickly learned to request, “Ein grosses bier, bitte”, and was rewarded with a huge foam-dripping mug of amber liquid way tastier than any of the standard American beers I guzzled down at college the year prior. It was particularly pleasurable to the pallet when partnered with big salty soft pretzels, charcoaled fish on a stick, and big bittersweet radishes. The Oktoberfest tents also featured large burly bouncers at the exits to keep you from stealing those big beautiful glass mugs. Outside the tents were various small roller coasters and other spin you around carnival rides, which seemed like just the thing you didn’t want to do after drinking too much beer, but I guess were there for the kids too young to drink.
We also spent a fair amount of time back at the dorm talking to our hosts and their circle of American army brat college student comrades. As Greg noted, most of the group spent the bulk of their time in their little campus enclave, attending their classes during the day and limiting their evening hours to pretty much just hanging out with each other, generally getting high and drinking the subsidized booze they could buy at the base PX. It was ironic that I had spent all this money and done all this planning to get to Europe so I could explore this storied continent, while they were already here, but rarely ventured out into the surrounding environment of the town they lived in. Let alone the beautiful environs of mountains, forests and the Rhine River in the larger Bavaria, along with all the nearby countries. Somehow sharing that certain ennui, while passing the bottle and hash pipe, was more compelling, or perhaps just more comforting and even medicating, than venturing out.
Then again that second night, drunk and stoned past the point of inhibition, they shared with Jack and I, who were their generational comrades and honored guests, their mostly negative view of the context of their lives. They saw themselves as isolated in this enclave surrounded by an uncomfortable foreign world, going through the motions of college classes because that was their parents’ expectations, and what else was there to do. Most of their dads were military officers, a role that none of them seemed to aspire to themselves.
While we drank and passed the hash pipe, there would always be music playing on a very high fidelity stereo. They were drawn to the hardest and darkest of rock music. British bands Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, and Deep Purple, along with U.S. counterparts with a more Southern flavor, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. The songs they really grooved to were generally the hardest and darkest of these bands’ offerings, and reflected their own discomforting embrace with coming of age in these unique circumstances.
None of them had girlfriends, and they talked about their female classmates like they were another species of sexual creatures that they studied, like some zoology class. There were the young women who were “foxes” that they would love to fuck. The ones who were “stuck up bitches” and never “put out” willingly, but still might succumb to sufficient alcohol and or drugs and some coercion if necessary. The ones who were “sluts”, who they wouldn’t fuck because they did not meet their standard for appropriate female behavior. The ones with plain faces but nice tits and asses that they still might have sex with, in a pinch, after they had “put a bag over her head”. And finally the rest who were “dogs” not to be bothered with.
I certainly was turned on by some of their lurid descriptions of their sexiest female classmates, and indulged vicariously in some of the sexual fantasies they shared. But the songs they loved best spoke of darker rules of engagement with female types.
Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” seemed to capture their frustration and ennui…
Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind
People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time
All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy
Think I’ll lose my mind if I don’t find something to pacify
Can you help me occupy my brain?
I need someone to show me the things in life that I can’t find
I can’t see the things that make true happiness, I must be blind
Guess Jack and I showing up at their door was helping “occupy” their brains, at least for a couple days.
Then there was Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”, calling out the male sexual predator’s rules of engagement with his prey…
Hey, hey, mama
Said the way you move
Gonna make you sweat
Gonna make you groove
Oh, oh, child
Way you shake that thing
Gonna make you burn
Gonna make you sting
Hey, hey, baby
When you walk that way
Watch your honey drip
Can’t keep away
And at the end of the song, still the fantasy of eventual romantic bliss after stalking and capturing just the perfect female type…
All I ask for when I pray
Steady rollin’ woman gonna come my way
Need a woman gonna hold my hand
And tell me no lies, make me a happy man
I wrote in my journal…
Weird bunch of dudes. They were all so messed up. So uptight about this or that, violent or childish. I would hate the isolation of a college right in the midst of a foreign country. It’s definitely an unhealthy atmosphere. But they were friendly as hell to us.
It was interesting that some of us humans, including yours truly, were bitten by the travel bug while others of us weren’t into this sort of adventure at all, even when blessed with the golden opportunity of circumstances. As I had learned from my dad, life at its best should be an adventure, maybe not always fun or easy, but a compelling narrative to experience, to learn from, and to share later with others. It was that principle that inspired my mom and dad, not even a couple at the time, to make the journey from their home of Binghamton New York in the late 1940s to Ann Arbor Michigan, some 600 miles west, a journey that eventually led to my birth. It was that principle that motivated me to jump on my friends’ Angie and Lane’s plan for this lengthy European backpacking odyssey, just barely an adult. And beyond the fear of returning early a failure, it was also that principle that helped me keep going now.
I pondered the decision of most of my army brat hosts to stay cloistered in their little campus, as Jack and I said our goodbyes and parted company with this crew the next morning to continue our travels. I wondered whether, at least at this point in our lives, I was perhaps more of a seeker and a free agent than they were. I had been hot to go to Europe with Lane and Angie for reasons beyond just hanging out with the two of them and being able to return with the feather in my cap of the experienced traveler.
Greg of course was the exception. He had quizzed both of us on our itinerary, and in every country or city we mentioned had his suggestions of where he would go if he got there. Apparently his dad had just recently been stationed here and he was making his own plans to travel about Europe once his term ended in mid December. In the meantime he was at least using his free afternoons and weekends to explore the city and the surrounding Bavarian countryside.
As for Jack, touring Munich with him during the day and smoking hash with him and the army brats in the evening, he seemed like a nice enough person that I was fairly compatible and comfortable with. He didn’t say a lot, but when he did say things they were meaningful, and suggested the wisdom of someone older than me. He suggested that we travel together, at least for a while. His plan was to work his way down to Greece and maybe try to find a job there, but he said he would be happy to accompany me on my journeys in the short run, including returning to Munich in a week and on to Paris after that. Still feeling like a stranger in a strange land, a new travel comrade seemed to me good fortune, so we agreed to partner for now in our travels. We decided we’d hitchhike down through Switzerland for a week, and then return to Munich so I could try again to hook up with Angelica and Helmut.