13 April 2012

The Lion(s) in Munich

The city of Munich is heavily guarded by lions. Great ones, large and proud stand guard before the Field Marshall Hall on the vast Odeonsplatz, one with an eye on the yellow Theatinerkirche, the other gazing upon the former residence of Munich's royalty. The latter's lips slightly parted as if to lowly growl a message to its four small, golden brethren who line the street, their prominent noses at the perfect height for an affectionate pat from passersby. The lions watch from flags and memorials, from a world renowned brewery and from countless city keepsakes. And under their watch, Munich keeps her charm and beauty. Invites her visitors to breathe her blossom scented air in the spring, bask in the sun on the fields of the Englischer Garten, then to seek the shade of the countless chestnut trees spreading their vast, flat palms over every biergarten. To revel in the jocundity of Oktoberfest as the music and beer flow and effortlessly carry away any negative thought. But also to humbly and shyly bare the scars of her dark history and in her clear, blue eyes beckon the viewer to understand and learn from them.

My arrival to Munich was a bit of a jump into the deep end. The music group I was invited to join (and the reason I had come in the first place) was on tour. My accommodations were organized online and through one telephone call which had simply directed me to navigate the airport, find my way to something called an "S-Bahn", and take it to the strangely named "Feldmoching" where my 80 year old landlady would hopefully be waiting for me. I had a couple travelers checks, a small bit of money saved up from my New York City days, the largest suitcase I had ever owned in my life, and the glimmer of hope that this would be the start of something better.
I'm the type of person who likes to hit the ground running. Especially when the alternative is to stand in the middle of my strange surroundings, look around, spread my arms and scream "NOW WHAT?!" to no one. I had the good luck of my living situation being everything I had expected if not more, and within my first two days, I was out and about and exploring the city, trying to find my way. I had a few short term goals, short term mostly due to my three month time limit after which my tourist visa would run out and I would face the decision of returning home with my tail between my legs or doing something drastic…

Goal #1: Get a residence permit.

Goal #2: Get some sort of job that enables me to get said residence permit.

Goal #3: Jumpstart this fabulous music career I was supposed to have flown into (does that count for the residence permit?).

If All Else Fails: Marry some random German.

My exploration of the city brought me into the folds of a tour guide company who were looking to hire a couple new guides. It was from them that I learned about the little lion heads that lined the gates to the Residence. People would rub their gold noses for good luck or would make a wish. But rub more than three of the four noses and you would be accused of greed and granted nothing. Over the next couple of days I learned the lengthy tour script, found a couple of contacts to choirs, practiced my German with my landlady, and kept my eyes peeled for my emergency plan.

The day before my official "audition" for the tour company, I found myself on the street with those four lions. Stoic and proud, they stared straight ahead, accepting the wishes from the fingertips of locals and enduring the photos with tourists. I decided upon the technique of the former and casually allowed my fingers to brush the nose of the first lion. I wish to pass my test tomorrow and become a tour guide. Without stopping, my palm met the nose of the second. I wish to get my residence permit. On to the next. I wish for a successful music career here. As I let my hand drop from the third lion, I could feel their watchful and judgmental eyes on me. Even the lion from the Field Marshall Hall seemed to lie in wait, fangs bared, ready to pounce if I should dare to try for a fourth wish. I met his eyes for a moment with a defiant gaze, then directed them straight ahead as I walked by the fourth lion, hands at my sides and marched on down into the Odeonsplatz Subway station.

As I made my way home through my neighborhood, I saw a small feline figure sitting in the middle of the road, eyes reflecting the lights from the streetlamps, focused on me. I softly greeted it as I passed by and was surprised when it turned to follow me. We walked in silence to the gate of my house where I stopped and turned to the cat. It mewed softly and with an additional purr, began to affectionately rub itself against my legs.

"You'd better be careful. There's a dog that lives here and he wouldn't like it if I brought a cat home." I said with a smile. The cat looked up at me, holding my gaze. It mewed again, then started off back along the street. I watched it for a moment and saw it turn and sit once again in the middle of the road, eyes never leaving me. As I let myself into the gate, it was still there, but when I looked back one more time before entering the house, it had disappeared.

The next day, I passed my tour guide test and was scheduled for my first tour the next week. The evening after that, I met and sang for a choir director who wrote me into his Handel program at the Theatinerkirche as a soloist. My group returned from tour and we got to work on the project I came to do. Through an obscure yet miraculously well timed contact, I received help with getting my residence permit and in a month I was approved to stay for a year.

It has been four years since then. The tour guide job had left much to be desired and I left after working there for a month, but it introduced me to some of my closest friends. For that, I found the experience invaluable. My work with the group has expanded and I am now a part of three ensembles of theirs as well as one of the organizational heads. The project I came for has enjoyed much success and we are already at work on a second album. I make my living primarily with music which is so much more than I ever could have asked for. And by August next year, I will have my unlimited residence permit here. All this, and I didn't even have to marry a random German.
Since that day when I had my encounter with the Munich lions, I have felt that they have been watching over me. In turn, I felt like Munich welcomed me in with open arms. I am more at home here than I have ever been anywhere else. Where in New York I felt out of place and always in search of something greater, here I feel that I live with purpose and am firmly on the path to the life I always dreamed of having.
I still pat the lions noses on occasion. One of my wishes has stayed the same, just to reinforce it. The other two change from time to time, depending on what lies in my immediate future. But I've found recently, one of those wishes tends to repeat itself. And a part of me finds itself looking for a nice, maybe not so random German.

Hello! This is Sarah, your third guest blogger for the week. I met Diana in a writers group which I am indebted to for getting me to start writing again. The story above is true, albeit slightly romanticized. I wanted to stay true to the general theme of Munich and in the process, I think the first paragraph turned into a bit of a love letter to the city. I remain unashamed.

That said, I am as it says above, a musician. Something I will write about next Thursday when I will return for guest blogging duties. The music I make is primarily early music (from the Medieval and Renaissance eras). You can find out more about the groups I'm involved in, as well as my other projects by visiting my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/marikomusic or following me on Twitter: @sarahmariko .

Writing wise, I'm not so disciplined to have a blog, but with some encouragement, maybe I'll start. Who knows.

Thank you, Diana for the opportunity and I hope you're having fun! To all her readers, thank you for your time. I hope you enjoyed and we shall meet again next Thursday!

--Sarah M. Newman

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