The Obvious German Story
A true story that actually happened to us in Munich Germany
Written 2012 rewritten 04/24/2016 unedited
In 1987 my wife Katherine was managing the Miami office of Mcgregor Sea and Air
Services in Miami, they were better known worldwide as MSAS.
The British company MSAS was one of larger freight forwarding companies with offices and affiliates just about everywhere in the world.
By 1987, due to its heavy Hispanic population, Miami, had become the hub for shipping freight to South and Central America. So it was only natural that Miami developed a lot of freight companies specializing in shipping to all the Spanish speaking countries. That meant that there were very few companies in Miami that specialized in shipping to the rest of the world, like Europe the Mid- East and Asia which gave Katherine a unique opportunity. She had developed a very special skill in the freight forwarding industry, she called it “Creative Routing”. Katherine utilized several large European airlines to move her customer’s freight on very unusual freight routes which ended up saving her customers a lot of money, and this created more business and profits for her Miami office. So while everyone else in Miami was competing with each other on shipping to South American, Katherine’s use of her creative routing system to ship to Europe, the Mid East and Asia became a success story for her, as well as for her company, It made the Miami MSAS office one of their best profit centers, and she did it all in only one year. So it wasn’t long before Katherine became quite well known, and she became a major customer using the larger European airlines like Lufthansa and Air France. Now because Katherine had become such a good customer, both airlines started competing with each other for her business.
What most people don’t know is that while airlines are known for carrying passengers, the real profit is not from passenger service but it is from freight revenue. Thus of all the airlines have freight sales departments that compete with each other for getting more freight business.
As a reward their best customers, the airlines would organize what they called “Fam trips” or familiarity trips. They were put together by the airlines freight managers. The Fam Trips allowed their best freight customers to visit the airlines facilities overseas, and thus better understand how the airline freight system worked. Not to mention getting a free vacation while doing it. The Fam Trips were the airlines way of showing how much the particular airline appreciated the freight business they got.
So in 1987, the manager of Lufthansa’s freight department, Peter Ulmeyer invited
Katherine and five other of his largest Miami freight customers on a trip to Munich Germany, I was invited to go along as Katherine’s spouse. The trip was an all-expense paid, ten day visit to Munich, along with a side trip to Augsburg, Peter’s home town. We were to stay at one of Munich’s nicest hotels, called the Penta, the Penta was the hotel where the Lufthansa pilots and crew stayed.
The hotel was quite an interesting place, we couldn’t help but observe in the hotel’s lobby there was a large round table, and both in the morning and evening there were a group of Arabs all seated there, all in their traditional Arab robes and head gear. We noticed that in the evening it was always a different group than in the morning. So I asked Peter Ulmeyer what was going on, Peter said there were always lots of Arabs in the Munich Penta Hotel, and they were renting one room and taking turns using the beds.
One morning over breakfast, I asked Peter if I could practice my talking in German to the people I met in Munich. Peter already knew that my German was a collection of slang words I had learned from watching television, mixed with some Yiddish words thrown in. Peter advised me to keep my mouth shut, as I was liable to insult someone, and get punched in the nose, so I kept that in mind, and I tried to stick to speaking English while we were in Germany.
One morning, Katherine and I decided to experiment and try to order breakfast by ourselves in the hotel’s restaurant, it was located on the main floor of the Penta’s lobby. We knew that ordering breakfast in English was going to be a bit of an experience, but we were hopeful that the waitress would understand us.
As we entered the restaurant I looked around hoping to find a table for just the two of us. But I could see the seating was only European style, where you sat down wherever there was seating was available.
I spotted two seats, they were at a table right across from a very German looking fellow who was having a cup of coffee. Now neither Katherine nor I are accustomed to sitting at someone else’s table so when we saw those were the only two seats available, we hesitated. The fellow couldn’t help but notice us and he immediately stood up and in Gestapo fashion and pointing to the two available seats and he sternly said “Sitzen” which means to sit in German. He sounded and looked like a WW2 German Gestapo officer, and he didn’t say “Sitzen” like it was a friendly gesture, he said it more like a command for us to sit. The guy was about six feet tall, dressed in a typical German conservative black pin stripe business suit, a white dress shirt with cuff links, and a very conservative necktie with fine red lines on it. His hair was jet black and combed back slick. I was a little nervous as I had never seen anyone that looked more like a former German Gestapo or SS officer than this guy. He looked at us very sternly, and I have to admit I felt very uncomfortable to be sitting there. Unfortunately the table was very narrow, and here I was sitting right across from this fellow, we were so close together that I think if we both bent forward at the same time we would hit our heads together.
I looked at him and he looked at me, I didn’t exactly know what to say or do. So I waited until I couldn’t stand it any longer, and finally I said to him in my very best
German, Sprechen ze English? (Do you speak English). He looked back at me and very sternly said nein, (which in German means no), and when he said nein, it was so sternly said that it kind of scared me. That’s when I became concerned, perhaps like Peter Ulmeyer had told me, I had already offended this guy with my speaking lousy German.
As we waited for our waitress to come, I said to my wife Katherine, that it was just too bad that I couldn’t talk to this guy, I loved talking and here we were, practically sitting on top of each other. So we just sat there, that was until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and as I had nothing better to say, I half-jokingly looked him in the eye and said, Habla Espanole usted, (Do you speak Spanish)? I said it sort of like a joke, I really wasn’t expecting an answer.
A big smile crossed his face and he said, Si Senior, yo soy de Espania. Which meant, (Yes, I speak Spanish, I come from Spain). He went on to say that he wasn’t German at all, he was a Spaniard working for the German Electronics Company Seimans, and he was in Munich to attend an international meeting.
He said that he was so happy to finally find someone that spoke Spanish. He thought no one in Munich would ever speak Spanish to him. We sat there and talked for over an hour, he didn’t mind that my Spanish was loaded with lousy Cuban Spanish street slang, he just kept talking to me in his upper class Castillian Spanish. He said it was a happy day for him to have met me.
Who would ever have thought to ask this obviously German looking guy in Munich, if he spoke Spanish?