Munich: Remembrances of my trip with Perry
The flight to Amsterdam was uneventful. Our plan was to land very early Thursday morning and spend a few hours walking about the city before our 2 pm flight to Munich to attend “The Hi-End Show” last week. We looked forward to getting a preliminary taste, albeit short, of the European culture and sophistication that we knew lay ahead over the next four days in Germany.
Clement looked like an athlete in his bright blue Nike pullover, his carpenter jeans, Nike basketball sneakers, and LA Dodgers cap. His tan leather backpack lent an air of sophistication to his demeanor, particularly given the look of the marvelous new Sony mini-DVD video recorder hanging from his neck.
I was dressed in what was available late in the afternoon, after work and in a hurry to get to the airport in Newark. A pair of innocuous drab green Chinos and a Polo blue shirt certainly would ensure that I would blend into the scenery, with little to no hint that I was anything other than just another European other than the cut of my gray hair or the “N” on my New Balance sneakers.
The quick train ride into the center-city provided us about four hours of early morning sight seeing, and just enough time for a quick lunch before returning for our flight. The weather was gorgeous, and we were off to explore and revel in the glories of that “old world charm and sophistication.”
It was only a few hundred meters out of the central train station that we first started to smell the fresh sea air filled with the aromas of marijuana, fresh croissants and Malaysian spices. As the children rode their hordes of bikes past the windows filled with hard core pornography, and the barges moved on the scenic canals which divide the streets of the vast red-light district at the very nucleus of the city, we walked feeling refreshed and invigorated by the enlightenment of their culture.
My sense was that I blended right into the crowds, although I found it strange that so many of the passing faces looked at us as though something was amiss. I was sure that it was simply that we had none of the subtle nuances that identify their culture i.e. pink and green hair, tee shirts with incorrectly spelled English phrases or an x-ed out picture of our President, or possibly some not-too subtle indicator of the type of drugs that they were publicly selling or using on the streets.
It never occurred to me that they might have thought us to be American. Certainly no one was waving flags. In fact, the only wave that we got was from a quite lovely, but un-shaven woman...man....it....that publicly and gleefully exposed himself to Clement as we passed by! It was an enthusiastic and visible gesture that I thought might be in celebration of the fact that we were American’s, but how could he know? Might Clement’s LA Dodger cap have tipped it off?
After a lovely soup and sandwich lunch at an outdoor cafe, priced somewhere between fifty and one hundred dollars depending on the exchange that you get into the Euro currency, we left for our flight on to Munich.
Our plan was to simply go right to the show and register at the Press Room before the crowds arrived. In that it was already late afternoon when we arrived in Munich, we lugged our bags to the airport bus to the nearby train station for the short ride to the exhibition hall.
Although I’ve traveled to Germany innumerable times for both business and pleasure, it was on that train ride that I realized that things had changed in some subtle way. It was as if I had been blessed with a special aura that people noticed for the first time, for never before had so many people looked at me, and never before had so many people focused on every move that I made. Could it have had something to do with my traveling companion? I have traveled the world professionally for years and never had this feeling before!
Suddenly I knew! It came to me just as I noticed the poster hanging on the wall of the train station! The one that had multiple pictures of George Bush with the caption “murderer” scrolled all over his face, in German. Suddenly I realized that simply because I was traveling with Clement, handsome and resplendent in his LA Dodger cap, they knew that I was American and wanted to applaud! Everyone, everywhere! Could it be that everyone knew his reputation as an accomplished audiophile?
And even more suddenly, as if to further complicate this strange situation, a fine drunken Bavarian surged to us, grabbed Clement’s shoulder and thanked us vociferously! As he hung onto Clement, who in turn was trying to stay erect in the moving train, this fan threw continuous adoration to us, urging us to “finish the job” in reasonable English, while muttering something about Iraqi’s and Jews! It was almost surreal to realize that this man was praising us with a continuous stream of adoration, in front of a train full of people, simply because he thought that we might be American, and somehow re-living his Nazi past!
But still the question...why and how did he, and everyone else, suspect that I was an American? Simply because I was traveling with a tall Denzel Washington look alike? Was it possible that I was being profiled or something? The gentleman escorted us to the stairwell, heaping praises on us as we climbed the stairs. Again, in the distance I could hear something like “good luck and finish the job.”
And just as suddenly, we entered another world...that of the exhibition hall, where 5000 white audiophiles would embrace Clement and I as one of theirs for three days. It was as if Clement had suddenly taken off a mask, and everyone recognized his shared passion, expertise, and eloquence. Although he was the only man of color, it was a haven for both of us where no one thought of us in any way different, dangerous, curious or somehow foreign. It was the way that I remembered traveling amongst interesting people in interesting places when alone as a white American. I realized immediately that those that attended this show had better and more interesting things to study than the two of us!
Regardless, the reality of where we were continued to follow us. On the very first evening I decided to take Clement to the famous Hofbrauhaus, which besides having good food, was historic because this very location was where a figure of great infamy came into prominence. Of course, that was a long long time ago, and this place was simply a piece of the Bavarian landscape embracing a worldly, sophisticated and intelligent populace.
European Journalist Robert Jorgensen (far left), myself (right) and Clement enjoyed ourselves with good food and conversation after a long day of travel. While enjoying the house specialty, pig knuckles and potato knudels (a Bavarian specialty of hand formed balls of potato and starch) we suddenly had another guest amongst our midst. And what a finely dressed man he was that suddenly came directly to our table. And what a gesture of friendship, with a smile that beamed from ear to ear that proved that he was genuine and sincere. But wait, somehow he too mysteriously knew that we were Americans!
How could we doubt his sincerity? He had immediately excused his intrusion by offering that he “loves Americans!!” And what a joy when he immediately and gleefully told us that he had once visited New York thirty years ago, and specifically Harlem. And then it happened...his very first question of us. “Where do the blacks live now?” he asked. The very first question! In that I was so surprised, I muttered something about “everywhere,” without realizing that Clement had a response himself.
Wow, was that brand new flash bulb bright as Clement surprised him by taking his picture, up close and personal, because he “wanted to remember his new friend.” I wish that he hadn’t held that camera quite so close to this fellows face, however. Our friend must have felt the heat of that bulb as he staggered to his own plate of knudels, quiet and glaring! Yes, another example of that wonderful Bavarian troika called the “kkk” i.e. knuckles, knudel, and kindness!
The next day both of us fully enjoyed the camaraderie of all of those audiophile exhibitors and attendees. My friend from Stereo Times and I absolutely swooned over some new digital amps that you can count on him reviewing.
Those damned $50,000 Behold Audio monoblocks, with no audible compression, digital inputs, constantly maintained at 400 volts, extraordinary sampling rates, damping factor, resolution, depth and clarity. Yes, even Clement thought those “Behold” beauties, at very least rivaled his beloved Tact reference amps, even without a trace of room correction, tweaks, power cords and cables etc. And of course, I made sure to “make his day” by telling him that I thought that this system sounded just as fine as his reference system at home! He in turn babbled something about “but you can have ten 2150s…” or something like that.
In fact, Clement was in such rapture that as he pumped more incredibly recorded CD's into the big Accuphase CD player, and the volume cranked further and further. The room burst with a fully captivated crowd of mixed Europeans, all enthralled by the scene in the front of the room. And then, readers, as if to ice the cake, my friend with the Nike logos struck again! By electing to put away his Christian McBride CD’s, his own Stereo Times samplers, and additional choices that would entrance this ever gathering and mixed crowd, Mister Perry brought a literal hush to the room! The silence and comfort level instantly became deafening!
Suddenly these gorgeous amps faded into oblivion, when “America the Beautiful” sung by folk legend Odetta began!! Somewhere around “from sea to shining sea” did Clement and I realize that this may not have been the best choice for this very large European audience!
Since I could not reach far above his knees, I kicked his foot, and we made a hasty retreat to lunch. Ah, nothing sounded better than a knuckle and knudels in the hall cafeteria, even larger and heavier than the night before! Anything, anyplace, but to stay in that room!
After lunch and a “Pepcid ac” or two, we made our way back to the hall. Again, the sincere camaraderie and quality of the overall exhibition made our afternoon a delight! One thought pervaded, however, and we just couldn’t restrain ourselves from again retreating to the Isophon room, so as to revisit that overwhelmingly gorgeous sound that came from those “Behold” amplifiers. Never before had I….oops, that’s Clements department to write about.
So, after a few hours it was off to dinner at another restaurant for some “you know what!” But this time I elected NOT to have a knuckle, and instead ordered a wiener schnitzel, which is basically a well fried veal cutlet (quite nice) served with potato salad, some type of curly potato pasta typical of Bavaria, and yup, you know what. But this time, the knudel wasn’t quite so large and heavy, and that piece of potato delicacy blended wonderfully with the potato pasta and potato salad and fried meat. Oh, for a “Pepcid ac” or even one lousy “Tum!”
As I write this I realize that this letter may be getting off course with too much reference to food, and not what prompts me to write it. So, let me simply revert back to the story. Possibly I should begin again by telling of the moment when Clement and I were simply standing in the main train station, totally minding our own business!
Both of us were dressed for dinner at a better restaurant, hoping to find an alternative to the diet distress that had suddenly doomed us. Suddenly, miracle of miracles, we were again spotted by the perceptive eye of another Bavarian friend. Perceptive because he immediately switched to English as he charged us and screamed repeatedly about us being “parasites!” Honestly, that is what he did, over and over, as he eventually stumbled
away from us!
And as obvious as his gesture was, I again couldn’t help but wonder what had prompted him, and how he also knew that we were American. Both Clement and I had on “business dress,” with Clement resplendent in a dark gray suit, light taupe shirt, brown shoes and tie. Man, he looked “goooood!” And I, dressed similarly but not as well, could not have stood out either in this, the main train station, of a world-class city! Maybe it was those brown shoes that he wore?
And lastly, so as not to belabor a point, I must mention that after the show, which in fact was a lot of fun, rewarding and educational, we flew to Zurich so as to catch our flight home. Oh, nuts, to have to leave Munich! So clean, so organized, and so obvious!
The airport in Zurich was a pleasant respite, albeit even more clean and organized and sterile. Pretty, though.
We checked in for our flights, and were individually asked that long list of questions about where our bags had been, what we bought, who packed them, etc. We, in the U.S. have long discontinued that annoyance, of course, recognizing that a potential terrorist might not be too candid about where he last bought the plastic explosive in his handbag, and in which pocket he put it.
Notably, this examination went smoothly for me, but not so smoothly for my friend. He was turned slightly sideways while being asked a long list of questions, which I was not. I have to assume that it must have been something about his profile. At least that’s what Clement called it when they entered the plane and came directly to him to identify his bag. No one else, just Clement!
Well, onward and upward. All of this seemed to bother me more, and was certainly more of an awakening for me, than Clement. He just said something wise about “Ignorance being bliss.” Classy guy.
Newark Liberty Airport, and a toast to a successful trip and broader minds! My baggage in hand, and ahead of Clement, I walked the final steps before entry into our home country. I got in the line of forty or so people waiting to give the customs declaration to an agent. The line moved quickly, because not a single question was asked to a single person as the forms were handed in.
Yup, that is until I suddenly realized that no one was behind me. Looking back, of course, there was our hero, as if practiced in his responses, answering a long list of questions about where he had been, why, and if The Stereo Times had any ulterior motives in its’ existence. The line behind him was quickly growing, and Clement just gave me a wink along with that toothy smile.
Both of us moved down the hall, on this side of the border, and was greeted by my wife, Karon, born and bred in rural Alabama. I couldn’t help but notice how she gave me a hug, and then an even bigger one to Perry. She likes and respects him, a lot. It feels good to be home, and back on my Atkins diet!