Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 20, part 2: Alienation

The racket of schedule announcements combined with the echo of departing and arriving trains in the cavernous Hauptbahnhof made quite a contrast to the smooth efficiency of the Munich airport. We students followed like ducklings behind Dr. Eberhardt out the station’s south entrance onto a narrow street lined with hotels.
Brad walked beside me, but between Dr. Eberhardt’s pointing out sights and the dull roar of our luggage on the sidewalk, we didn’t have much of a chance to talk.
After a few blocks, we trundled into a shabbily elegant lobby. Dr. Eberhardt checked the group in, and we went up to drop off luggage and quickly change out of traveling clothes into something more appropriate for the muggy August heat.
“If we hurry, we might make it to Marienplatz in time to watch the famed Glockenspiel strike at five o’clock,” Dr. Eberhardt called after us.
While we changed, Zoey tried to continue our conversation. “You still didn’t tell me what’s up with you and Brad,” she said.
“I’m not sure,” I said, pausing to pop on a tank top.
“I didn’t hear what you said to him, but it looked to me like he tried to grope you and you got ticked. Not a fan of PDA?”
“I’m okay with public affection, mostly. Only I had just finished asking him if we could take things slower. I’m pretty sure it was all a misunderstanding now though. We just need to talk it through.”
“Guys like Brad are used to having girls fall all over them. Aren’t you worried that if you won’t put out, he’ll find someone else who will?”
“Do you really think Brad would do that?” It’s not like I hadn’t considered the possibility. Brad could have any girl at Elk River that he wanted. Why had he chosen me?
“Boys will be boys,” Zoey said. “You’re not that naive. Surely you’ve thought of that before?”
“I admit, I have. I even had a nightmare about him and some girl in bed laughing at me...” I left out the part about the girl being her.
“Ouch! Worried you might walk in on him, huh?” Zoey let out a low whistle.
My ears burned, and I concentrated on working the zipper to my daypack. I really wanted to stop talking about it.
Zoey snickered. “Hey chickie, why are you turning red? You really do need to loosen up, don’t you?”
I tried to laugh it off, but had a sinking feeling that it had been a mistake to confide in someone like Zoey. Especially when she didn’t let up on the teasing as we rode the elevator to the lobby. “I can’t wait to tell the guys about the look on your face,” she said. “It was priceless.”
“Zoey, I know you probably mean well, but can you ease up on me a bit? And please don’t tell the guys.”
“Right, right. Sorry, I just like to tease my friends,” she said. I looked at her with surprise. Did she really consider me a friend?
I gave Brad a quick kiss hello when we got off the elevator. As we walked to the subway station, Dr. Eberhardt insisted I practice conversational German with him. It took almost all my concentration to interpret his words and formulate responses, but I did notice Zoey and Brad ahead of us, deep in conversation.
Our group made it to the plaza in front of the neo-gothic city hall just in time for the Glockenspiel performance. Brad seemed to be trying to give me space again. I hoped we could reconnect later.
On the strike of five, the two-tiered carousel below the clock sprung into action. I didn’t find the show that impressive. Maybe growing up next to Disneyland did that to a person.
Still, it annoyed me when Brad and his cronies spent the whole fifteen minutes alternating between heckling the mechanized dancers and making lewd comments about women in the crowd. Zoey seemed to delight in topping whatever the others said with something more outrageous. She elbowed me at each punch line. “C’mon, why aren’t you laughing? Don’t be such a goody-two shoes!”
When the golden bird on the clock tower finally chirped to conclude the show, Dr. Eberhardt apologized instead of giving a reprimand, quite to my surprise.
Ja, I know the Glockenspiel is a little, as you Americans might say, lame. I felt compelled to include it as a stop on the itinerary only because it is so famous.” He explained it had been built in 1908, so wasn’t even noteworthy as a marvel of medieval engineering. “I promise that the best is yet to come. Looking back, most of you will probably see this as the low point of the trip.”
At dinner, Zoey and the guys followed Dr. Eberhardt’s lead and ordered steins of beer to start off their meal. In an effort to live up to Ian’s suggestion to be a good witness, I had decided in advance to abstain from alcohol throughout the trip, even though the legal drinking age in Germany and Austria was eighteen.
Dr. Eberhardt took everyone’s drink orders so he could translate them for the waiter, who spoke only German. “Giselle? What will you have? Dunkel oder helles bier?”
Haben Sie stilles wasser?” I asked the waiter directly. I hated mineral water, and didn’t relish the thought of lukewarm soda, since soft drinks in Europe are served without ice.
Was?” Dr. Eberhardt drew out the short German word into three syllables, each rising in pitch, and I instantly thought of Mr. Bumble responding to Oliver’s request for more. As in the movie, all sound at the table ceased as all eyes turned to us. “Giselle, you surprise me. You have a German heritage, yes?”
I nodded.
“And yet, you don’t drink beer?”
“Sorry, but I’d rather not. I tried it once, and I don’t much like the taste.” I had actually never tried it, but I hadn’t liked the smell of it on Brad’s breath last spring.
“I assure you, German beer is nothing like that watery, urine-like substance they pass for beer in the States. Try it at least once; it will be like a revelation.”
“Lay off her, Dr. E,” Brad called from the end of the table. “She’s too embarrassed to tell you, but it’s against her religion to drink. Isn’t that right, Giselle?” It sounded almost like a taunt.
The rest of the group tittered.
“No, that’s not exactly true,” I protested. “It’s more a personal—”
Dr. Eberhardt waved a dismissive hand. “You Americans and your Victorian morality. Wake up; it’s the 21st century. Think of it this way— it’s just flavored water, albeit exquisitely flavored water.”
“It’s not a moral issue, I swear. The flavor is just a tad too, um, ‘exquisite’ for me.” Why did I say it wasn’t a moral issue? How exactly was this helping me be a good witness again?
“Well then, if beer’s too bitter, perhaps a Radler will do?” Before I could answer, he went ahead and ordered one.
Brad leaned over and pointed to the word on the menu. From the German description, I ascertained that a Radler was a mix of lemon-lime soda and beer. The waiter brought out both the room temperature tap water I had ordered and an oversized stein full of bubbling amber liquid. I took one sip, made a big show of being disgusted even though it wasn’t all that bad, and didn’t touch it the rest of the meal.

After dinner, a short ride on the underground train took our group back to the Hauptbahnhof, and from there we walked the few blocks to our hotel. Brad hung back with his frat brothers, and Zoey chatted with Dr. Eberhardt, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Dr. Eberhardt gave instructions to meet in the lobby at 8:00 a.m. in order to catch the first train to Dachau. “Be prepared. The memorial is quite moving. You will never forget what you see there. For now, you have free time. You are adults and I will not tell you what time you have to be in bed—as long as you are punctual in the morning. I promise you, I will not hesitate to leave stragglers behind.”
He collected the keys from the desk where he had dropped them off before dinner. Each one had a heavy brass fob inscribed with a room number—not exactly ideal for carrying around town. I took our room key and looked to see if Zoey was ready to go up.
Brad and his buddies sprawled across the two dainty sofas in the lobby’s sitting room. Zoey nudged Brad to make room for her to sit next to him. She laughed loudly as he bragged about how many beers he had downed at dinner.
“And I’m not even buzzing,” he said in a slurred voice.
When Zoey saw me holding up the key, she shook her head. “I’m going to hang here with the guys for a minute so we can decide what to do with our free time tonight. You go on up, and I’ll fill you in later.”
I looked over my shoulder one more time before I got on the elevator. Zoey had moved to the floor between Brad’s legs, and motioned for him to rub her shoulders. It hurt to see how readily he obliged. I remembered Zoey’s prediction that if I wouldn’t put out, Brad would move on to someone else who would. Someone like Zoey.
I had completely unpacked by the time Zoey knocked to be let in.
“Get on your dancing shoes,” she said breathlessly as she began rifling through her luggage. “Brad picked up a flyer from some guy outside the hotel. Apparently, there’s a nightclub a few blocks down. Cover’s only fifteen euros.”
“A nightclub?”
Zoey held up two barely-there blouses. “Which of these do you think will attract more German hunks?” She turned her glance to me from the scraps of fabric and burst into derisive laughter. “There’s that look again. Wait, don’t tell me. Dancing’s against your religion too?”
“No ...”
“So come with us.”
“Um … I can’t. I don’t have enough money.” Funds were limited. I wasn’t lying.
Zoey gaped, and I rushed to explain. “I’m paying for this trip myself, and I don’t want to go into too much debt over it.” I pulled a few euros out of my wallet. “See, I only have enough for the excursions Dr. Eberhardt has planned and a few souvenirs. Otherwise I’d love to go. Please believe me, I love to dance and it sounds like a ton of fun.”
“So just come on. It’ll be worth the cover, I promise. Don’t you want to go a little crazy for once in your life?”
My body was already responding at the thought of reconnecting with Brad, but I quickly suppressed the thought. “I think I’ll save my money for now.” I hoped God was giving out extra points for all the temptation I was successfully resisting.
“Okay, your loss. Could you set the alarm before you go to bed?”

“Okay.” I smiled, hoping I looked friendly and accepting. “Tell me all about it in the morning.”