(From the Files) Caro’s Last Stand

When I look back on my life in Munich, this is one of those evenings-turned-weekends that I love to remember.

Each time she comes with us to our favorite restaurant, Carolin tries again. When she orders the Creole Chicken dumplings, Daniel refuses to take the order. He’s certain she’ll hate it, and that’s all the reason he feels he needs. She’s pretty sure he hates it and that’s why he won’t serve it. The problem with that theory is: he’ll give it to anyone else. This particular February evening was no different. She ordered the dumplings again and somehow found herself having the scallops. We’d meant to order one bottle of white wine but ended up with a magnum instead. Daniel was his usual persuasive self.

It was one of those great nights that the place is famous for, among the people who love it.

On any night in winter, if you don’t have a reservation and you aren’t a regular, you’re not likely to do more than stand at the bar and eat olives. This evening was freezing cold and snow was piled high on the streets outside. Inside was so packed that bar stools were recruited as impromptu tables for drink glasses and appetizers. The place has a feeling that’s closer to a private club, or party, than a restaurant. Daniel and David, the quieter, more organized one, enforced a cheerful order.  No matter how full it was, every guest was greeted like a friend or regular, which most of them either were or soon became. Sitting down finally, close to ten, we were content to have gotten a table at all.

As always, Carolin loved the scallops and shelved the dumpling issue until next time, when she was sure to again be denied. Wine turned into more wine, which turned into sekt, which evolved into cognac and schnapps. The evening grew later but showed no signs of slowing down. I had a wedding dress fitting scheduled the next morning, but soon gave up any hope of being in top form. No matter, the night was worth it. After the last group left, we were still there chatting with the owners while the staff cleaned up.

David’s usual MO is to quietly disappear sometime during dessert, leaving Daniel to misbehave (or on rare occasions, not) and close up. It was a rare delight that he showed up next to me with a champagne cocktail and started telling stories – of Daniel mostly. Of the time Daniel dumped soup in the lap of minor royalty because she made a snarky comment, of the tall handsome Russian woman we’ve seen occasionally who’s fighting assault charges for beating a man in a bar (her previous career with the KGB making it hard to argue it was a fair fight), of Daniel’s adventures last weekend at a swing club in France, of the fact that the woman we’d seen leaving earlier dripping in furs was the former queen of Romania who’s been coming for his crème brulee for years, of the time he found Daniel sitting upstairs at the computer with the webcam, a cowboy hat, and (judging from the twinkle in his eye) not much more. How much of this was at all true we’ll never know. Daniel heard his name often enough to finally swoop in and do the only thing he could to stop the flow of stories – he took us out.

When we leave the restaurant with Daniel, the one thing that is always the same is that it is always completely unpredictable. Going out with him I know I can only count on seeing the sunrise and on doing something I normally wouldn’t. He’s never disappointed me.

Carolin was to enjoy this one in particular. Having married that May and then moved to Munich with her new husband, the two were enjoying that extended honeymoon stage of freedom that follows in the wake of weddings. No responsibilities, no worries and no big plans in the making. After months of preparations, fittings, meetings and appointments she was finally carefree enough to go out and have fun again. The first club he took us to fit the bill. Walking in Daniel went straight to the VIP area and ducked around the bouncer, under the velvet rope and surfacing in front of a petite, grey haired woman. One brief conversation followed, with him most likely shouting in her ear to be heard over the music, at the end of which she summoned a young man over who emptied his pockets into Daniel’s hands. He returned with VIP bands for all of us and a fist full of tickets, each of which turned out to be good for a bottle of prosecco. The evening was off to a roaring start.

Less than two hours later saw at least five empty bottles go end-up in buckets of melting ice, with Daniel popping in and out of the picture with either a fresh bottle or ‘new friends’ he’d met somewhere in pulsating, gyrating smoky darkness of the club. He’d yank them into the relative quiet calm behind the velvet rope, ply them with drinks and chat until he got restless and then dash off into the crowd again, returning every so often to twirl someone away from the glow of the bar to dance with him in the dark on the roomy red carpet of the lounge. At one point he’d recruited several people into a boogie-conga line with hand gestures and enthusiastic yanking, among them Carolin and Jan, until some misstep had them tumbling in hazy slow motion into a giggling heap on the floor.  Less than twenty minutes into the third hour and the sixth (seventh?) bottle he declared himself famished and gathered up the group to go in search of food. Leaving the club our numbers had increased by three, which turned to five by the time we were in the cabs. Nine people dogpiled into a mini van with a very flexible driver who didn’t make a peep of protest, very strange for a Munich driver in Germany, the land of rules being followed. Squished in as we were among total strangers, they all acted so naturally that most of us assumed that there was some connection that had led them into our group. No one asked where they came from and they didn’t ask where we were going, and seemed unfazed when we were all dumped out at the only late night eatery in town that served curry wurst, doener kebab and french fries. Drunken adoptions happen easy and often with Daniel around.

After a blurry, grease-filled hour of stuffing ourselves the way only the nutrient-starved intoxicated can, we were again on the street in front of a trendy bar where these pictures were taken. A local Turkish cafe that had once been not much more than a glorified food cart with walls, had been converted into a dive bar that was now a local favorite. Walking in really meant pushing and shoving your way into the mass of humanity that is always there past 8 o’clock. It was less than standing room only, as that would imply that you could stand and bear your own weight. Once in, your knees could buckle but you’d not hit the floor until the room emptied out at closing time. Women, when noticed, are greeted with lollipops at the door by the slightly lecherous, but somehow still nice, proprietor who usually can be seen wearing an Iron Curtain uniform hat and jacket. Looking up you notice that the lamps are actually Pringles packs and liquor bottle containers, colored lights stuck on the ends, the logos and packaging still showing through the paint.

Daniel pushed us through to the back of the bar and right onto the one empty space, a couch so jammed in the back you had to climb – or in our case fall – over the side and wiggle across. Here we parked ourselves for the duration, drinking beer from the bottle, which were often balanced on heads and the occasional boot heel, stealing funny hats from other patrons and posing for pictures. A lot was said and laughed about, but I don’t remember one word of it. People were met and introduced, but no face remains in my memory. The world began to spin faster and my track of time became less and less accurate, until all of a sudden we were standing in the cold, shoving people into cabs, saying goodbye to Daniel as he sped off to the after-after-hour clubs, hanging out of the taxi window with the sky pinkening up behind him, fist raised in a victory salute. He had beat us yet again.

A few hours later, I had an important appointment. Trying on a wedding dress after such a night is pure and total torture reserved only for the people one really doesn’t care for  (or someone who owes you money). Corset and hangovers do not go well together and by the time we were done I was repentant and grateful for the evening plans ahead. What followed was a classic Hangover Sunday for the four of us: take-out and television. We stuffed ourselves with sushi, pizza and greasy Turkish food until we felt human again. Then it was time to say goodnight and return home.

That weekend had that feeling that only comes after dusk ’til dawn celebrations without sleep: both endlessly long and somehow short a day. As it turned out, for Carolin it was her last stand for many months to come. If she’d known, she probably couldn’t have enjoyed it any more than she did. This made it an excellent book-end to her care-free days as a newly wed, young and unencumbered. Two days after that night it was clear why she even more hungover than the rest. Seven months later came her first son, my nephew Paul.


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