It should come as no surprise that most of the friends I make on these trips, domestic or international, are the friendly people that staff the restaurants and bars which I frequent. Well, W is no exception.
I’d give you his real name if only I knew it. He told me, but it’s Austrian, so didn’t really catch it. His name tag says W. and then a crapload of consonants, so W will have to do. W who is probably in his mid-forties, is of Austrian descent, was born in England, and has resided in Germany for the last 25 years. But, this English-born Austrian German ex-pat is a damn cool dude, he speaks great english, loves to talk, and as he said “every face has behind it a book,” so here’s his. As always, I’ll tell you the story the way is was told to me, no additions or omissions, and I’ll try to keep the editorials to a minimum…
At first both my co-worker and I thought he was French. Turns out he’s gay, and apparently a homosexual Austrian looks a lot like a Frenchman, who knew? He’s very clean-cut and well-groomed, but he’s missing a certain je ne sais quoi of your typical asshole Frenchman (an aside, the French being cocky and rude is one stereotype I have no problem advancing, as in my experience I’ve found it to be true almost without exception).
W managed to tell me his life’s story in about a steak and two beers, and it was worth repeating. He lived in England for a time with his parents before they all moved back to their native Austria. in his early twenties, he was struck by a couple of very tragic events: he lost his twin sister to a drunk driver, and his boyfriend died of cardiac arrest while hiking in the alps. He said his “heart could no longer stand the mountains,” and who could blame him, so he relocated to Germany. He said he only planned on staying one year, but has been here ever since.
For a time he owned his own hotel and restaurant in the country side, and apparently did quite well for himself. He has quite a penchant for Audis, and said he drove 20 in 18 years, because he always “needed the newest and the best.” He used to spend a week in New York City every year for his birthday, and loved to visit the World Trade Center. He said the twin towers reminded him of the sister he lost so many years ago, so he would dine at the towers every year on their birthday. When the twin towers fell, he said he pulled over on the side of the audobahn and watched the coverage on TV (apparently the newest and best Audis had TV’s in them even in 2001). In his words he “cried like a child” at the sight of it because he “felt like [he] lost [his] sister again.” I got choked up. It was astonishingly touching to hear this. Being an only child I could only try to imagine his grief, but his face told the story pretty convincingly. W has not returned to America since.
A few years back W was forced to close his hotel and restaurant due to new smoking legislation in Germany. Not unlike the states in 1994, restaurants and bars now have to have smoking and non-smoking sections (if you’ve ever been to Europe you know that a full on smoking ban would be nothing short of blasphemy out here, everyone smokes like crazy). He invested many thousands of Euros attempting to comply, but knew most of his customer base smoked. As such he tried to make his smoking section as large as the laws allowed. Apparently he slightly miscalculated, and so when the government official came out and measured they discovered his smoking room was too large by a whopping 2 square meters. He looked into having the work redone, or putting up a partition but said it would have cost almost 100,000 Euro. He was forced to sell the place. Said it broke his heart, and it kind of broke mine.
After selling his business, he became a truck driver for 3 years “to get [his] head right” and has now been a server and bartender at the Best Western Leverkusen for not quite two months.
My impressions of this dude were solely positive. Really legit dude. Not too many people out here, shit anywhere, will be as open and friendly with a bar patron they’ve just met. And frankly, the nonchalance with which he mentioned his boyfriend was refreshing. I have no idea how accepted homosexuality is or isn’t in Germany, but tolerance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Germans. He mentioned he appreciated my modest efforts with speaking German (please, thank you and beer), which I appreciated as I have a complex about being an asshole ignorant American. So, good dude, glad I met him, and as always, wonderful to have a good conversation in a foreign country.
That’s all for now, two posts in a day from a blackberry, my thumbs hurt.