Thursday, August 2018 Oberammergau, Germany
There are four clocks hanging on the walls of the dining room of the Romantik Hotel Böld in Oberammergau, Germany. I noticed this while dining there tonight. I was the only diner in the place at 6:00pm. "Where is everyone?" I asked. "It's early" the waitress replied. I said, "I suppose you are right.”
The four clocks each indicate a different time, from left to right: 12:30, 4:09, 12:15, and 1:00. The current time? 6:07 pm. Are the times indicated on these clocks significant or random? Are they some sort of code to someone in the know? And none of the clocks are running. This is a curious timekeeping technique. It seems cumbersome at best. Each clock will be accurate once each day and once each night so a diner such as myself can obtain the correct time eight times in a twenty-four hour period. But one would have to know which clock to rely on at any given time. How would one know? This seemingly random timekeeping technique doesn't seem very "German" to me. Is this how they are able to keep their trains on time? If so, how many clocks do they use, where are they kept (together or apart), and how do they know which one to use as a reference?
The waitress is a young lady dressed in the common Bavarian garb. She is friendly and I have her undivided attention as I am the only customer. I ask her for a recommendation for dinner. She tells me she is a vegetarian and recommends the "cheese pancake". I ask her to describe it to me. It does sound interesting but also heavy which means I will ascend the two flights of stairs to my room with a cheese-filled cinder block in my stomach. I ask for another recommendation. She suggests the "pulled pork" and tells me it is "very popular". The term “pulled pork” conjured images of delicious BBQ available in certain areas of the United States (but not Virginia) and I love BBQ so I opt for this offering at her suggestion.
I order a beer to keep me occupied until my food arrives. I sipped my beer while reading the book Riding the Rails with Paul Theroux: The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. This is his account of his railroad journey from London to Asia and back. Theroux is a modern day Mark Twain and I found myself laughing out loud in the quiet dining room as I waited for my dinner to be prepared.
On my way to dinner I stopped at the front desk to ask for help arranging a taxi for tomorrow morning. My train pulls out at precisely 5:56am no matter what the four clocks in the dining room indicate. The girl at the front desk asked me what time I needed a taxi. I told her 5:30am. The look on her face told me I would be walking to the train station tomorrow. She told me she would call and ask but she did not sound optimistic.
Dinner arrived; It was art on a plate. I had never seen "pulled pork" look so nice. It was almost too attractive to eat. I asked if Wolfgang Puck was an employee of the Romantik Hotel Böld. The waitress smiled but I don't think she understood my joke. I ordered another beer to extinguish the awkwardness of the moment. She scurried away as if she'd seen a golem.
The food was delicious but certainly a new take on traditional German food and a new interpretation of pulled pork. By now there were several tables of diners so the waitress had plenty to do. I was able to dine, drink, and read while enjoying the anonymity of a solo American in a foreign country.
I returned to my room, packed, and readied myself for an early departure. (There would be no taxi.) I awoke to daylight which was concerning. I looked at my phone - the four clocks were downstairs - to see that it was 5:43am. Goody, my train was scheduled to depart the Oberammergau train station at precisely 5:56am. The train station was a ten minute walk without somnambulation and bag drag. I splashed water on my face and threw my things into my luggage and I was out the door in record time.
I walked along Konig Ludwig Strasse alone, anxious because the noise from the wheels of my roller bag on the cobblestones interrupted the beautiful silence of the morning. I was the only sound until the church bells spoke up a six o’clock. Their voices were a delightful wake-up call for Oberammergau. Each night as I lay awake in my room I listened to the church bells. Every fifteen minutes they would mark the time and then on the hour the big bells would speak up. I enjoyed the sound of the bells through my open window. They were quaint but useful and they spoke to everyone, me included, in a language I could understand. The conversations we had pulled me into the community and I no longer felt like a lonely itinerant. As I walked to the train station it was as if the bells were speaking to me one last time, saying “Auf Wiedersehen”.
Although I was late and I had missed my train, I did not panic; there will be other trains and I had built time into my schedule for just this type of thing, a long goodbye to my vocal friends, the bells. I caught the 6:04am train and travelled to the Munich airport. I was to catch a flight on Air Canada, a code share with United Airlines, to Toronto and from there to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. When I arrived at the Munich airport I glanced over at the United Airlines check-in area and thought for a moment I had accidentally found my way to the Ataturk airport in Istanbul which prides itself on chaos. It was a mob scene. I decided to visit the Air Canada check-in on the chance they would be able to help me.
Three Air Canada attendants, with French accents and no line, greeted me like an old friend. Not a soul was there waiting. My lucky day. I started off with "I'm not sure you can help me..." and the flight attendant, as if reading my mind, asked “Are you on the 11:05am to Toronto?” I said yes. She said “You’re in the right place”. Bingo! Forty-five seconds later I was on my way. The security line was equally amazing and I was through it in about two minutes. The stars were in alignment for me.
Time for breakfast. Eight Euro for two croissants, butter, jam, and a tiny cup of coffee. At my gate and waiting to be swept away by a silver tube. International travel: Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?
p.s. The title of this blog post and the last two sentences are from the song “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” written by Robert Lamm and recorded by the Chicago Transit Authority on their 1970 album “Chicago Transit Authority”. The band shortened its name to “Chicago” about the same time.