I got up early today, thinking I’d get ahead a bit. I was up and out of the house at 6:50 A.M. The bakery down the street was dark yet, which was weird because their sign said they opened 7:00. An employee had just unlocked the doors, and someone else, perhaps the manager, came up and had a heated discussion with the him, perhaps because he was late to work. I trudged on toward the U-Bahn station. I was headed to the Black Bean, the coffee shop a few stops away with free Wi-Fi.
When I descended the stairs to the U-Bahn station, I was struck by the silence of the station. Even though it was a Friday, and only 7:00, shouldn’t more people be going to work now? Well, Europeans take a relaxed attitude towards work, perhaps most people don’t go in until 9:00.
I arrived at the Black Bean at 7:10 A.M. The sign on the window said “ab 7 Uhr geoffnet,” which to you and me means “we open at 7 A.M.” But they didn’t, or anyway they weren’t. Now I was getting upset. It’s one thing to be a little late to your bakery on a Friday; it’s another thing altogether to have the place totally locked up, no one around, no nothing. What the hell? You can take a relaxed attitude towards work, but when you’re a drug dealer, you’ve got to show up on time. People need their coffee, damnit!
I walked around a few blocks looking for something that was open, finding nothing. It was about the fourth block when I figured it out. Good Friday. Today is Good Friday. I remembered the conversation at the beginning of The Hobbit between Bilbo and Gandalf about the nature of “good morning.” I couldn’t see what was so great about it.
I’m an American, and not particularly religious. The idea that stores, and coffee shops for God’s sake, would be closed on Good Friday never occurred to me. I was doing what any good American does on a Friday. Get up early, get cracking, get done early. Then you’ll feel satisfied with a good day’s work when you take off early to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. Bavarians are not American, and they are religious. Bavaria is a very Catholic area. It was, in fact, one of the last bastions of Catholicism in Germany during the Reformation. The kings of Bavaria were so loyal to the Church that they were rewarded with the greatest collection of relics outside of Rome. So, when Good Friday rolls around, the Bavarians take it seriously. Not always from a devotion to religion anymore, though there is plenty of that (there will be a procession symbolizing Jesus carrying the cross this morning in Marianplatz, the main square), but certainly from a devotion to public holidays. I mean who wouldn’t want to hold on to every holiday they can? That was one of the things we looked forward to most about Bavaria before we moved here. They take off the secular holdiays, and get extra ones because they celebrate religious holidays too. Giving so much time over for Friday picnics in the Englischer Garten and Hofbrau in the biergartens is a sure sign of civilization.
This time of year the Viktualenmarkt is full of Easter baskets, Easter branches, and Easter wreaths made of real branches, woven together with fresh pussy willows, and topped with soft, green moss. There are fresh flowers of all varieties (not just Easter Lillies), hand-painted eggs to hang from you Easter wreath or branch, and chocolate–good chocolate–in bunny and egg shapes. All of this to celebrate Easter, a holiday that, in the U.S., was ceded to Dow Chemical and its plastic eggs, plastic baskets with plastic flowers, and even plastic grass several generations ago.
But enough about holidays, I was looking for coffee. I wasn’t going to give up. If the local shop isn’t open then surely there is a bastion of Capitalism, a symbol of Globalization, an icon of American Cultural Imperialism. Surely there is a coffee shop that ruthlessly crushes its competition and will go to almost any length (besides sacrificing employee health insurance and fair-trade, mostly shade grown, coffee) in pursuit of the almighty dollar. A place that keeps its American business practice of making their employees get up at ungodly hours and shlep into work before the rest of us do, even on the high holy days. Surely, Starbucks is open.
But it isn’t. I stand outside, looking at my own reflection in the dark windows, crushed. It’s a bit like being stood up for prom. I’m from Seattle. Starbucks is like a high school sweetheart. An old flame with whom you’re now friends. You have history, you knew them when. You’ve watched each other grow into who they are today. You can count on each other. Now you prefer to go to other coffee shops where the baristas’ hair is longer and more colorful, where they pull Ristretto shots, and the lattes actually taste of coffee. But if you need a fix, if you’re feeling down and just need to sit for a while, somewhere predictable, even if it isn’t hip, or particularly good, it’s there. To have that coffee shop, that friend, disappoint you… But I won’t let the bastards drag me down. Besides I’m starving and in desperate need of coffee. There must be a place in a major metropolis like this that is open on a holiday and serving coffee. There must be an even bigger, more exploitive, more iconic American chain where I can sit and sip.
I write this now from a McDonalds, underground, in the Hauptbanhof, drinking watery coffee, and refluxing my McGriddle. I should have listened to my wife–I should always listen to my wife–she suggested we stay in bed and watch movies all day. That sounds like a good Friday.