Last week I was scheduled to go to Munich; it was a work trip to see colleagues at the ICS European office, with a couple of days tagged on to the weekend to spend time with friend and colleague Rhett Lego from the Conjoint Marketing Group.
I’d been looking forward to it for a while, not just because of the chance to catch up with people, but also because despite visiting many times previously, it had always been purely for work and almost always in the suburbs. The centre remained largely unexplored except for one short visit.
Munich hit the headlines last week given the shootings and the timing of the trip turned out to be less than ideal. Due to meet Rhett on Friday evening, messages were coming in from him that the trains were being halted as the police thought gunmen were heading in to the city.
Still, I waited outside a bar just off Marienplatz and was about to order a drink when mayhem broke out, hundreds of people running from the square in panic, with some falling and being hurt. At the time I was thinking that I hadn’t heard any gunfire, but clearly in such circumstances the individual has no idea what is happening or what caused it; that it ultimately proved to be a false alarm doesn’t affect the situation at the time.
So clearly this is the time to get out of the city and go home, right?
No. You see there’s nowhere in the world that’s completely safe, and while that evening was disconcerting, it also showed the very best of people too. The bar staff were fabulous, reassuring those who were distressed and looking after them, while amused at my response of deciding that since I was in a bar I might as well have a beer. After a couple of hours, we were all let out and so I walked back to the hotel, where of course the reality of the false alarms in the centre was becoming apparent.
Saturday morning I went back into the centre, again meeting in Marienplatz and heading off for a brunch. The city would surely be empty and subdued – except that it wasn’t at all. People were sat outside, the cafes were full, the squares were busy, the street performers were out in force. In other words it was normal, a mix of locals and tourists in an attractive regional city with much to offer.
And here is the point, it is the easiest thing to decide to head home, and once home to stay home. It’s also completely understandable, events like those in Munich are shocking and distressing, but the truth is that it can happen anywhere, and the alternative to accepting that is to never leave the house.
Munich as a city break has so much to offer, the architecture is outstanding, the Bavarian food delicious, while the numerous beer gardens are a delightful place to spend a few hours at very little cost given the ridiculously low prices. It’s also fairly flat so wandering and exploring is the key to experiencing the city.
I’ve never quite understood why Germany is not a more popular destination for the British. Sure, it lacks beaches except in the north, so that kind of holiday is unlikely, but the people are so warm and welcoming and the cultural fit with the British is a strong one. On one previous visit I carelessly allowed my passport to fall out of my bag whilst in a provincial station. A lady found it, and searched all the platforms until she found me and returned it. She didn’t speak any English and in common with much of the English speaking nations, my language skills are pathetic. So being able to convey thanks beyond repeated dankes was limited. But while I have no doubt that this would happen in many places, it is also illustrative that I was entirely unsurprised it would happen in Germany.
We live in troubled times, but it cannot stop us from living our lives and experiencing the joy of trouble and the pleasure of spending times with our fellow people. The Germans were undoubtedly shocked, but they showed the best possible response by getting on with their weekend. In the English Garden the surfers (yes really) were demonstrating their skills before the ever appreciative audience, the families were playing on the grass and the tourists were exploring.
Hard as it may be sometimes, it’s the only way. I love Munich, it’s a truly wonderful place. I’m glad I was there, even on that Friday night, and I’m even more glad I stayed for what turned out to be the best weekend imaginable – a great city, great people and good friends.
Never let us forget the importance of that.