Castles and Criminal Offenses

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Do these look like the faces of criminal masterminds to you?!

Rise and shine, dear Reader. Our last day in Bavaria is here and, judging from the view from our window, it will be a raw and rainy affair. This morning William and I have plans to see Neuschwanstein Castle up close. The castle, commissioned by King Ludwig II in the 19th century, is often cited as the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Indeed, it certainly feels like Disney World as we enter the parking lot packed with mammoth buses toting unwieldy Asian tour groups. One glance at the ticket line and Billy and I decide, no way. But! Do not despair, we can still enjoy the outside of the castle and its courtyard. Besides, everyone knows that while the castle looks medieval, it was actually built long after castles served their strategic purpose. In short, Ludwig had it built for funsies and he died before it was ever finished.

Now I have a confession to make, dear Reader: I’ve set you up. I’ve lulled you into a false sense of security with our tranquil tales of Bavaria, all the while knowing our adventure culminates in a dastardly crime…

Setting The (Crime) Scene
With a few hours to kill before our flight, William and I explore Munich’s city center. To be honest, it’s nothing special. Maybe it’s the crummy weather or the mediocre cappuccinos – in any case, Billy and I are underwhelmed. That is until we return to the parking garage…..

Back at the garage we discover a police car, two polizei officers, a young man, and three older ladies crowded behind our parked vehicle. Immediately, they ask (in German and then English) if the rental car belongs to us. Yeeesss, we confirm suspiciously. A wave of unrest ripples through the crowd.

The young man steps forward. He is slight with glasses, and is maybe a few years younger than Billy and I. “Look! Look at the damage you’ve done to my car!”

Stunned, Billy and I survey the scene, striving to identify the tragedy that is obvious to everyone else. Our car looks okay. His car, parked next to ours, also looks okay. We’re stumped. Incredulous, the man points to a small scratch on the bumper of his pastel blue Octavia. We lean in closer. Closer. Oh, yeah. We see it. And? Neither of us recall hitting his car when Billy parked. But, as you will see, pleading innocence proves futile.

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The Interrogation
With the suspects identified (um, that’s us), the two police officers spring into action. Both are in their early 30s, one female and one haughty male (Good Cop and Bad Cop, respectively). They begin the line of questioning: When did you arrive? (An hour ago). How long were you in the city center? (Maybe 45 minutes). What, exactly, were you doing there? (Drinking cappuccinos and seeing the Glockenspiel). Was there music playing when you parked?  (No). Were the windows rolled down? (No). Billy and I are asked these questions repeatedly, both together and separately.

Bad Cop relays our account to the “victims.” One woman holds her stomach as if she’s about to be sick. The young man shakes his head in disbelief. What depravity is this? What kind of people (allegedly!) scuff up a car, rejoice in the destruction over cappuccinos, and return to savor the victims’ devastation? It’s like when you read about a serial killer slaughtering his entire family and then heading to Dairy Queen for an Oreo Blizzard. Ah, the humanity!

Bad Cop asks Billy if he has a lawyer or witness who can say something – anything! – on his behalf. My husband gapes. I raise my hand, hoping to defend my man’s honor, but Bad Cop shoots me down with a glance. It would seem I’m in the accomplice category instead. Things are strangely tense for a minor (alleged!) fender bender. Billy and I tread carefully, showing patience and deference.

Billy calmly maintains neither of us believe we hit the neighboring car while parking. But, he’s willing to admit, it is possible, and in that case there’s no problem, we have insurance.

“Yes, but the car damage is no longer the issue. You fled the scene! This is a criminal offense in Germany,” Bad Cop exclaims. Beneath his scruff, his face is flush with disdain.

(This is the crux of our plot, dear Reader.)

“Okay… only… I’m at the scene. Right now. I returned to the scene. How could I flee the scene of a crime I unknowingly, and only allegedly, committed… and have since returned to?” Billy ventures slowly, rationally.

But the rectitude of this officer could not be shaken. No doubt his polizei academy training left him well poised to resist the manipulations of a criminal mastermind such as my husband. A vein begins to throb on his forehead as he fails to reconcile this logical statement with what he knows to be a violation of The Rules.

“But you left!” he spats finally.

While I find Bad Cop’s indignation amusing, I seek out the female officer taking notes nearby – that pesky phrase ‘criminal offense’ planted a niggle in my brain.

The Negotiation 
Mere moments into our exchange, Good Cop proves to be pragmatic and not nearly so bent on retribution as her partner. I explain that we want to cooperate, but we also have a flight to catch – what is the protocol for dealing with an alleged criminal offense in Germany?

“Arrest, ” she says simply as she takes down my passport information.

Having recently visited Germany’s former “work re-education” camp at Dachau, I reject this proposition entirely.

“And if not arrest?” I inquire.

Good Cop says paying a fee would be necessary. Bail, really.

“That makes sense. We do have a history of fleeing…” I remark.

She smirks and says she’ll have Bad Cop call the prosecutor’s office to confirm the amount. We have a plan! There is a brief break in the action while William and I await the amount of our fine.

“Maybe you’ll get into trouble? Not a lot, just enough so the Air Force won’t send us to Georgia,” I offer hopefully.

“Malia. We’re going to Georgia,” Billy retorts. Hmm, maybe he’s not as amused by all of this as I am. Ten feet away the victims huddle together, fending off the chill of a cold cruel world.

Bad Cop returns with our bill from the German judicial system: 580 Euro. Cash. From the corner of my eye I see Billy’s eyebrows shoot up. I issue him a warning glance. Missing our flight would result in a loss of two or three times that amount once we return the car late, buy new plane tickets, and possibly overnight. I head to the ATM and tap into our International Crime Spree Fund, eager to get gone already.

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A Gift From The Munich Police Department
Our car is running when I return to the parking garage. A fortuitous sign, no? But Billy informs me that we are not, as I hoped, preparing to leave. Instead, the officers are staging a reenactment. Give credit where credit is due: despite some obvious leaps in logic, this investigation is proving to be quite thorough!

Also in my absence, back-up has been called. I shake hands briefly with a mild-mannered forensics investigator. Forensics? He works under the watchful eye of the young victim, scraping samples of paint from our cars and using a yardstick to determine… I honestly don’t know what he’s trying to determine, dear Reader. Good Cop tends to our paperwork and I do the only thing I can think of: take a photo. Both (obviously sober) drivers are breathalyzed. Maybe we’re on Candid Camera?

Bad Cop stands next to Billy and I, seething. I wait, knowing an eruption is imminent.

“I must do this, you understand. Who am I to pass judgment on what damage is too slight? The law is the law! If I let someone get away with this, the entire country will drive around smashing into other cars! And then what?! All Germany is a mess and I lose my job! I lose my job and I must work at Starbucks!

I nod, hoping to validate his feelings. While Bad Cop’s absolutist slant is a bit much, I see his point. Indeed, can you imagine living in such a place? A lawless place with shitty cars? A place like – oh, say – NAPLES? I also love that working at Starbucks, a company offering fair wages and health benefits, is bottom rung in Germany. But Bad Cop isn’t finished with his monologue just yet…

“I hope you appreciate all we do for you today. Normally, we make arrest and tow car. It is very special for forensics to come here. It is difficult for him to work when he… he… has not his… his…”

Bad Cop is struggling for English words and beginning to sweat.

“… his normal work space?” I offer.

“When he has not his normal work space!”

Again, I nod, but my spidey sense tells me there is still more to come….

“This…!!” Bad Cop bellows, making a sweeping gesture to the investigation underway and pausing dramatically. (Oh boy. Here we go. The wheels are coming off the bus….)

“THIS,” he repeats with another flourish of his arm, “is a gift to you from the Munich Police Department!!”

……… (a prolonged silence ensues)……..

Should I slow clap? My eyes are wide, the corners of my mouth twitch, and I resist the urge to smile. I respond honestly when I say we do appreciate it, and we will not soon forget our time in Munich!

Finally, we are free to go. As we exit the garage, we realize we paid for two hours of parking and have been in the garage for closer to four hours. The old man working the gate  announces our ticket has insufficient funds. We explain there was an accident, we’re with the police car just ahead of us.

“Eeets not mein problem, eeets a time problem!” the man insists, scanning the ticket again and shaking his head disapprovingly when the meter reads insufficient funds once more.

Magnanimously, he raises the gate for us. But he does so in such a way that there can be no doubt that this is highly irregular, showing blatant disregard for protocol, and makes him incredibly uncomfortable.

“Get me the fuck out of here!” Billy says, speeding off for the airport. He’s clearly had it with the Germans and their rules.

“That man was so upset he was rhyming…” I observe aloud.

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Viva l’Italia
Back in Naples we are comforted by a flood of familiar sights, sounds, and smells. An aroma of pizza and caffè pervade the airport. Italians chatter boisterously at the baggage claim. To our delight, every car on the road is riddled with dents (including our Alfa Romeo). Blinkers remain unused, car lanes are unobserved. Somehow, this is home. Somehow, this is soothing.

“I have a headache,” William announces. He is sitting at our small kitchen table with his head in his hands.

“A crisis of conscience will do that to a man,” I joke.

He looks at me wearily. Suddenly I realize my husband, arguably the Good Cop in our marriage, probably feels badly about his German caper. Even though it’s midnight, I do what any Neapolitan wife would do, I put on a pot of water for pasta.

I know what you’re thinking, dear Reader: this ordeal had to be a scam (it wasn’t) or, if not a scam, it was certainly more frightening than funny. But I prefer to think we paid for a unique Munich experience! These snafus happen when you venture out into the unknown – we still had a great time in Germany. Although, the Germans might consider redirecting that investigative power into background checks for refugees… but that’s another blog.

We’re snuggled up in bed when Billy whispers into the darkness, “I’m glad I didn’t get arrested in Germany.”

“Me too,” I whisper back, smiling. “You’re home safe now.”

Home safe in Naples where there are no rules and the police wouldn’t come even if you called.

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Road Trippin’ In Bavaria

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The satisfied grin of a man who just bought his first cuckoo clock.

If you read my last entry, dear Reader, you will recall that William and I were in the throes of our impending move to Middle Georgia. After a few days of luxuriating in self pity (just a few!), I became intent on making the most of our remaining time in Europe.

This past weekend I arranged for a trip through one of Germany’s most popular regions: Bavaria. Tiny medieval towns, quiet country roads, and all the schnitzel and schneeballen you can schtomach!

Within moments of leaving the mietwagon with our rental car, I am already reveling in the timeliness, tidiness, and efficiency of Germany. The sun is shining and Billy is singing his heart out behind the wheel: …your lipstick, his collar, don’t bother angel – I know exactly what goes on…! We wiggle in our seats to the throwback jams of Taking Back Sunday. The vacay vibes are strong.

A Liberation Celebration
Our first stop is the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. William and I enter the camp through a gate proclaiming Arbeit Macht Frei or “work sets you free.” The grounds are quiet. The only sounds are the soft crunch of gravel beneath our feet and the low murmur of the audioguides pressed to our ears.

What impresses me most about the Dachau Memorial is the attention paid not simply to the suffering of prisoners (which we know was tremendous), but also to the social, economic, and political climate of Germany leading up to these events. The exhibit dares to examine the circumstances in which ordinary people can become complicit in such extraordinary evil. It’s an uncomfortable, but thoughtful, endeavor.

On our way out, I spot a plaque I had missed. It marks Dachau’s liberation by the Americans on April 29, 1945. April 29?

“Hey,” I call out, catching Billy’s attention. “Isn’t today the 29th?”

He wanders closer and peeks at the plaque over my shoulder. Yup.

“Maybe that explains the happy sunshine today… a little nod to Liberation Day,” I muse.

“Yes. A Liberation Celebration!” Billy exclaims. I take his hand, both of us smiling at the thought as we head back to the car.

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Cuckoo For You
As we drive further into the countryside, Billy and I marvel at the pristine condition of the vehicles on the road – we’re not in Naples anymore! A few times I remind Billy to slow down: “This is Germany. They have rules in this country.” We pass endless miles of bright green pasture on our way to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We sing. We snack.

Rothenburg is known for its charming half-timbered houses and medieval architecture. One of the few walled towns left in Europe, its cobblestone streets and preserved gatehouse lend a fairytale feel. We explore the Main Square, buying trinkets and pausing to admire cuckoo clocks. (Germany, in case you didn’t know, is famous for its mechanical cuckoo clocks manufactured in the Black Forest).

We are greeted by the saleswoman who promptly inquires, “What kind of clocks do your families have?”

Family clocks? The question reminds me of an encounter I had a few years ago when a woman asked me where my family liked “to summer.” Pff! Girlfriend, in my family summer is a season, not a verb, thankyouverymuch. But back to the clocks….

Billy and I peruse the wall of clocks, attempting to determine our cuckoo style. It’s exciting to make such a lofty decision together. After a few moments of careful consideration, Billy declares, “I want one with dancers on top.”

‘Dancers on top’ puts us in a higher price range but I had to agree, what was the point without dancers on top? This one was too big, that one was – dare I say – dinky. This one is too boxy and that one not nearly boxy enough. Too cutesy! Boring. This one gave me the vague sense that it was trying too hard…. Until finally, we find the clock for us: a midsize model with a half-timbered facade, blue shutters, and dancers on top. BOOM!

Later we stop to admire the facade of a nearby church. Our quiet contemplation is interrupted by a cluster of commotion nearby and my ear catches the phrase, Mamma Mia! Billy and I exchange glances. Italians. My husband beckons them with a Ciao! Two elderly couples approach us, eager to chat in their native tongue. The men go about the usual exchange: Where are you from? Naples! Where in Naples? Pozzuoli! My cousin lives in Pozzuoli! We’re from Trieste.

The women, characteristically disinterested in the talk of men, turn to me and get right down to business, “Siete innamorati?/Are you two in love?”

Billy overhears and proudly announces, “Sì, siamo sposati/Yes, we’re married.”

Everyone rejoices (I mean, it is pretty fun). We shake hands, we kiss (left cheek, right cheek), and part friends.

William and I end the day by walking the perimeter of the old town wall. We poke our heads through tower windows and peer down into small gardens full of tulips. The sun begins to set, drenching the pointed roofs of Rothenburg in a warm, golden hue.

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We’re Still Cool, Right?
The next morning we awake to the delicate, cheery chirping of birds – infinitely more soothing than the desperate wailing of Napoli seagulls. Billy and I have breakfast and hit the road, eager to get to Schwangau and do some hiking.

We drive straight to the base of Mount Tegelberg and lace up our Lowa hiking boots (a pricey but practical souvenir from our trip to Grindelwald). I purchase four hours of parking from the meter, certainly more than we need. You see, dear Reader, unlike Neapolitans, Germans are exacting when it comes to following procedure. It is with great satisfaction that I place our ticket on the dashboard, confident in our irreproachable behavior.

A sign at the base of the trail estimates our hike will take three hours. Billy and I both turn on our Polars – three hours? We’ll see about that. The trail is steep but it offers some stunning views of the lakes below, the alps above, and the überpopular Neuschwanstein Castle. (Fear not, dear Reader, we’ll take you there tomorrow). A mere two hours and 1,258 calories later, William and I reach the top. He indulges in some schnitzel at the summit restaurant and we take the last cable car down the mountain.

“Have you noticed there’s a lot of old people here?” Billy asks over dinner that evening.

A quick survey of the room confirms that yes, we seem to be on some kind of retiree road trip. Maybe the young people are too busy dropping pills in Ibiza to appreciate Franconian Germany – and that suits us just fine! Indeed, we’re old enough by now to know the value of a tranquil weekend.