Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Americans know exactly one thing about Germany's autobahn: you can drive as fast as you want.

Naturally all the speed freaks are salivating, picturing eight or nine lanes of Mercedes, Volvos and Audis traveling at the speed of light through Blade Runner cityscapes. The fact is, though, the autobahn at its widest is three lanes across, and it mostly snakes through fields full of Swiss chard and wind turbines. The right lane is taken up by an endless line of trucks moving home furnishings, clothing and food to and from nearby countries like the Czech Republic and Poland. The left lane is shiny new cars moving unbelievably fast. And the middle lane is everybody who doesn't fit in those two groups, and that's what fucks everything up.

See, that middle lane holds all the dirty, banged-up cars that can't get up to eighty miles per hour, all the SUVs overloaded with kids watching DVDs, and all the old people who can barely see the road ahead of them. Now, I like going three hundred miles an hour, but when the lane next to me is barely shuddering along at sixty, I have second thoughts.

In America, half of everyone on the road is also on their cellphones, checking their email or talking to friends or posting photos of their drive on Facebook. This means half of the cars are bouncing around like bumper cars, slowing only when the driver looks up or smacks into something that corrects his course. If you are also doing sixty miles per hour, he will leave a dent. But if you are going three hundred miles per hour, the slightest imbalance in aerodynamics means your shiny Mercedes becomes airborne, flips eighteen times, flies off the freeway into a field of Swiss chard and comes to a rest against the base of a wind turbine.

But the German boyfriend speeds along obliviously as I quietly freak out in the passenger seat, jamming my foot onto nonexistent brake pedals every time we pass another car.

"What is going on with you?" he finally asks.

"Aren't you worried?" I ask. "What happens when one of these drivers gets distracted by his cellphone and veers into our lane, and we go flying off the autobahn into a field of Swiss chard?"

GBF looks off the highway. "First," he says in his schoolteacher tone, "it is October, so that's corn. And second, German drivers aren't on their cellphones, because that would be stupid."

And in an instant everything I know about the universe vanishes in a puff of smoke. People ... don't ... do ... something ... because ... it ... is ... STUPID? A parallel universe materializes in my head that doesn't include superhero movies or Kardashians. My entire concept of civilization changes in a flash, replaced by questions. Does this mean I have to stop watching Say Yes To The Dress and start reading books?

GBF has to travel a lot for work, so I tag along. Usually this means a night or two in Munich, Cologne, or Bonn, but on this particular weekend we're having dinner in a cafe in Oberkassel, a quaint little village on the Rhine. Food in Germany is also seasonal: for a few months every year there are massive celebrations for things like asparagus, strawberries, and mushrooms, and then the foods vanish completely until the next year. GBF gets ridiculously excited when these foods hit the market, which is why he orders a $170 plate of mushrooms. I don't want to burst his bubble but think about telling him New Yorkers get that shit from Peru year-round.

Me, I order the pizza because I've already tried German food. On one wall I spot a plaque engraved with the number 2017 and a lot of German words that make no sense to me accompanied by one that does:

KEGEL.

Now, I'm a big fan of Kegel exercises. Conventional wisdom points people to the pecs and biceps as the primary things to exercise, but these are equally important muscles deserving of equal time. Even if they're not ravaged by childbirth, they're slackened by age or disuse. I do the exercises as a sort of sexual empowerment, blindly hoping they'll improve my performance without plastic surgery. The practice is a bit more confusing for men, but I tighten up the back and I tighten up the front and cross my fingers it'll eventually show up in bed.

"What's that sign on the wall?" I ask the GBF.

"Kegel," he confirms. "They do Kegel here."

"Kegel," I repeat. "The exercise?"

He nods. "It seems they won the championship this year."

I probably shouldn't be surprised, since sex stores here put dildos in the windows. "You can win an award for it?" I'm vaguely interested, just out of curiosity, but I'm not ready for the championships yet.

He shrugs his shoulders. "It is a very popular sport. Many restaurants and bars have teams."

"So, once a week they all get together and practice? Doing Kegels?"

He's a little annoyed by all the questions but he understands this is what you get when I talk. "There must be an alley nearby."

"An alley?" I ask. "That sounds a little dirty. Why not just do it here, in the restaurant?"

He looks at me like I'm crazy while swallowing another forty dollars worth of mushrooms. "They don't have the equipment. It takes a lot of space. And then there is the noise."

I'm often impressed by Germany but here my admiration hits an all-new high. I'm picturing crowds of chubby middle-aged men in lederhosen and pale women in dirndls, all holding enormous steins of beer and squinting while they tighten up downstairs. "Okay, folks," somebody named Manfred shouts, "now two more sets of fifteen. Squeeze, and release. Everyone, repeat after me: 'NO, NO, NO. STOP THAT URINE FLOW!'"

I take another bite of bad pizza while trying to make sense of GBF's words: they need equipment? And space? And I know I've exerted myself doing Kegels but I've never made the neighbors complain. Still, I'd be surprised with all those potato-powered thighs if Germans didn't make a lot of noise. I can't begin to think of what a championship would be like, and picture arm-wrestling in my head. Could the Kegel-offs be similar? Do hyped-up competitors high-five each other while shouting stuff like, "I got the womb that's gonna take down the room!"? I don't even want to picture the movie Sylvester Stallone would make about this, but I know it would include headbands.

"Do you do Kegel?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "I tried it but didn't like it."

I feel like saying nobody likes it, but the alternative is having to tell people that you ejaculated once you hit 55. "I guess somebody must like it but I'm a little surprised there are teams."

He nods. "In America there are not?"

I shake my head. "It's a solitary thing. And I think it's mostly woman, but a few guys do it too."

He shoots me an interested look. "You do it?"

I stop and think for a second but decide there's no shame in the truth. "Yup," I say. "In fact, I'm doing it right now."

He looks puzzled. He scans my top half above the table, then he pushes the tablecloth to one side and checks out the bottom half. "You are doing Kegel right now?"

"Yup," I say. "Sometimes I do it on the subway if I'm bored and it's a long train ride."

"Kegel," he repeats.

"Yup."

"Where you have a ball, and you roll it down a long -- "

He stops because he can't find the word. I know what he's talking about but I can't find the word either. Then it comes to me. "Lane," I say.

"Lane," he says. "And you knock over pins and keep score."

I smile for a minute before finally saying, "American Kegel is a little different."

"It is an exercise you do with your clothes on? Is this something I will see when we are naked?"

I pick up the last piece of pizza. "Maybe," I say, still on the fence. "But you might want to close your eyes, just to protect yourself."

On our drive back to the hotel I explain the whole thing to him. With the language barrier I guess I shouldn't be surprised we have these disconnects. Even worse was the time I found pickle cream in the skincare section of a drug store. I asked GBF what it was and he shrugged and said you put it on pickles. I was pretty sure there was more to the story, but if you've ever tried German food you'd understand why I had my doubts.




2 comments:

Yet Another Steve said...

Thank you for going to Germany so I don't have to. More updates, please!

RomanHans said...

Definitely more updates. Writing is far more fun than exploring a city where nudity is legal.

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