Friday, September 16, 2011

How To Spot A Bavarian

When I was stationed in Augsburg, Germany, my friends and I would often spend our off days in Munich. It was only a 40- or 60-minute train ride away and there was a lot to see and do in and around the city. One of our favorite places to stop for a meal and some beer was the world-famous Hofbräuhaus.

One Spring afternoon, my friend, Tom, and I found ourselves at the Hofbräuhaus for lunch. It was early in the day, so the place was relatively empty. We ate by ourselves at one of the large tables in the back of the large room.

As we were enjoying our meal, a man came and sat with us. He introduced himself and told us he was an air traffic controller at one of the nearby Luftwaffe bases. He spoke English a lot better than we spoke German, and we found ourselves conversing in a mish-mash of the two languages.

As a topic of conversation, he mentioned he could readily tell if people were Bavarian or not. The trick, he said, was to "Prost" when someone at the table got their beer. This meant to hold up our beer mugs and shout "Prost" or "Cheers" to the other person. If they responded in kind and "clacked" their mugs against ours, that was a sure sign they were Bavarian.

After he told us this, a couple sat at our table. They looked a little out of place, glancing about like they were somewhat nervous in an unfamiliar environment. When their beer was delivered by the server, our new friend raised his mug and shouted "Prost." Tom and I followed his lead in kind. The couple stared at us like we were from Mars.

He asked the couple where they were from. It turned out they were visiting from Frankfurt. They were certainly not Bavarian.

A little while after that couple drank their beer and left, another couple with their teenage son took sat at our table. When they got their beer, we "Prosted" them. They looked a little taken aback, lifted their mugs and said "Cheers." They weren't Bavarians, but they got the idea. They were tourists visiting from Australia.

The next group was a bunch of young-ish looking people - perhaps college age. When we "Prosted" them, they got up and moved to another table. "They are not Bavarian," our new friend told us in a confident tone. He was probably right.

We sat around and talked for quite a while before the next group sat down. It was an older gentleman with a middle aged man and woman and a couple older kids; again, maybe college age. When they got their beer, the turned to us and shouted "Prost!" We three looked at each other and smiled. Yes, here were finally some Bavarian folk spending some time at the Hofbräuhaus. Our German friend queried the man where he was from, and the man replied that they were from a nearby town and had come to Munich to shop.

Our cultural lesson for the day was learned. We now knew how to tell if someone was Bavarian.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Epic Moving Failure Story

I'm acquainted with Dan and Alison Zarrella though my association with the PubCon web marketing conference and have been following their comments on Twitter about their recent cross-country move. Today, Alison made a couple mentions of things which were damaged by the moving company they hired to tote their stuff. I tweeted back that I could certainly sympathize with her plight, given one moving experience I had which was one gigantic mess. As I tweeted certain parts of the story, I realized it certainly warranted more than just a few less-than-140-character comments. Alison agreed, so here it is in all it's insane glory.

I was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1992. I'd just finished up a tour in the Middle East as part of Desert Storm with the 3rd Armored Cavalry and came down on orders for Germany. This was my first move as a married man, and also the first time my wife and son had been part of a military family move overseas. We were quite looking forward to the experience.

We lived on the bottom floor of the middle building
here on Parseval Strasse.
My orders stated there was no family housing available in Darmstadt, the city where I was ordered to go. Because of that, I went first, leaving my wife and son to wait until I could get an apartment. Of course, bureaucracies being what they are, I found on my arrival there was plenty of housing. I got a very nice apartment in a building leased by the government in the nearby town of Griesheim. It was a great location, off away from all the "Army" stuff, yet very conveniently located.

Of course, my wife and I wanted to get everyone together as quickly as possible, so then came the mad dash to get the house packed up and shipped over to Germany so my wife and son could fly over and join me.

My wife had never undertaken quite such as task as dealing with "professional" movers. On the appointed day, a legion of packers swarmed the house to wrap, box up, crate and haul off everything we owned. When they were done, there was nothing left except three suitcases full of clothes.

Items shipped in those days were divided into two categories:

  1. Hold Baggage, which consisted of things needed right after moving into a new place. This would include things like kitchenware, bedding, seasonal clothing, small appliances and stuff like that. These items were sent via air freight.
  2. Household Goods, which included furniture and other large items and things which wouldn't be needed right away. These items were crated, sent via ship and then trucked to their final destination. 
When I moved into our apartment, I got some loaner furniture from the Army and set up our home. The hold baggage arrived soon after it was shipped and things started looking more like "our place." The move was going quite smoothly up to this point, but we were soon to hit some major bumps in the road.

Namely, our hold baggage was a long time in coming. What was customarily a wait of several weeks turned into several months. Every time I called the Transportation Office to find out what was going on, I was told they couldn't find my stuff. I finally ended up contacting my Mother-in-Law who worked in the Family Travel Office at Fort Bliss to see if she could contact the right people and find our stuff.

Household Goods Crate #1
She managed to locate one of the two crates into which our things had been packed. It was sitting in a warehouse in Bremerhaven, Germany. That crate was delivered to us within a week of her tracking it down. This had our brand new kitchen table - or at least the top part of it. The legs and the hardware to put it together was missing - presumably in the other, as yet unfound, crate. 

In one box we found our television set. It was a very nice Zenith 18-inch diagonal color model. At least that's what it was before it made the trip from El Paso to Germany in a box packed with a rake and a cinder block. Yes, you read that right: the T.V. was packed in a 5-foot long box with a rake and a cinder block ... oh, and a warehouse club-sized canister of powdered drink mix. Needless to say, it wasn't in working order when it arrived. (The lady at the claims office demanded I get an estimate for repairing the TV before she would process my claim. I ended up having to take the thing to her, pieces in a box, before she would believe it was unrepairable.) Most of our dishes and glassware was broken, too. They were merely stacked in a box with no paper wrapping, padding or anything else in the way of protection.

I'm happy to report, though, that the rake was completely undamaged and the cinder block only received a few minor scratches in transit.

Believe it or not: all the stuff in our junk drawer, including the envelope we kept coupons in, was neatly wrapped in bubble wrap. All of our markers, pens and miscellaneous stuff from that drawer made the move unscathed.

Our mattresses and bed frames arrived, but no headboards. The boy's toys made it, mostly in good condition. There were other odds and ends, including my guitar which was broken even though it was in a case and packed inside another box.

Oh, and half my CD collection was also in this crate. I had them in two of those faux wood three-drawer units alphabetized by artist name. A-M made arrived, but N-Z were missing. Half my VHS movie collection was also unaccounted for. We held out hope they were in the other crate.

Household Goods Crate #2
The other crate was a long time in coming. We'd just about given up on it when I got a call at work one day with the news it had been found. It turns out this crate was on a ship which had been loaded up with supplies for the troops who were operating in Somalia at the time. The situation there caused the ship to be parked in the harbor off Mogadishu for six months. When the ship was finally released, it went on to Germany to drop off my, and presumably others', crates.

When the shipment finally arrived it was quite a welcome sight. Well, at least most of it. The packers in El Paso had been so efficient, they packed up the wastebasket from the kitchen - along with the trash inside of it. You can't imagine the small that issued forth from the box when it was unsealed. This was also carefully wrapped in bubble wrap.

The legs to the kitchen table were in the crate, but the hardware was still missing. Unfortunately, the nuts and bolts designed to hold it together were some custom made ones and irreplaceable (believe me, I tried to find some).  

Also missing were the CDs and VCR tapes along with several other high-value items. These were presumably stolen by the packers back in Texas as I later found that company lost their government contract because so many complaints were lodged against them.

In the end, I ended up with a huge mess and a check for $4500 to cover the damages. 

The Good News
When we moved back to the States, we had no damage and no loss. Even the antique china cabinet we got in Germany arrived unscathed.