Wednesday, February 20, 2008

16 October: Mercedes Museum, Kitchen Negotiations, and an African Dinner

I had plans to meet Stefanie at the Mercedes Museum this afternoon, where I had promised to be her personal tour guide and show her the video of John talking about car design. It’s hard to believe how fast the time is flying by – it has been over a month since our last German lesson. I thought that I knew how to get to the Mercedes Museum, but I brought my Stuttgart atlas along just in case. I left a little late but would have been okay if I had found the museum quickly. Instead I got a little confused driving around the giant Mercedes complex in Untertürkheim and ended up having to ask for directions at the entrance to a Mercedes parking garage. I finally found the museum garage and made my way to the entrance. Only after leaving my car did I realize that I had left Stefanie’s handy number behind, so I couldn’t call her to tell her I was on my way. I wandered around the entrance for a while and finally found Stefanie, who I’m sure had arrived ten minutes early!

Aside: A first in Germany – the angry pedestrian. As I was driving down a major street through Stuttgart on the way to the museum, a woman standing on the sidewalk leaned out and spat on my windshield. I don’t think I would have realized what happened except that I immediately looked in my rearview mirror and saw her spit on the Audi behind me as well. I suppose she was really disgruntled about something, or just plain crazy.

We only had a couple of hours to spend together so we did a relatively quick walk-through of the museum. It was fun to show Stefanie around and she was immensely pleased to see John’s video. We stopped for Kaffee und Kuchen in the museum café afterwards and had a very nice chat. Unfortunately our time was cut short because Stefanie had to make it to her next class earlier than she had anticipated, but I told her that we wanted to have her over for dinner before we left and would be in touch again soon.

This afternoon I had the regrettable task of going over to the Dörrs and discussing the issue of the price of our kitchen. They had offered to purchase our kitchen from us, which was to our advantage because selling a kitchen is not an easy thing to do. You see, in Germany, people take everything with them when they move – yes, including the kitchen sink, along with every single light fixture, curtain rod, cabinet, and appliance. This sounds insane, especially when you consider that every kitchen is different and it must be a real pain to try to make your old kitchen fit into a new space, but I suppose it’s a cultural thing – waste nothing, and once you’ve bought something, it’s yours for the long haul.

John had talked to some people at work and we had come up with the price of 1800 Euro for our 4-year-old kitchen, which we thought was quite a bargain. When I rang the Dörrs’ bell, no one answered, but Herr Dörr came to the window on my way back to our house. I told him that I wanted to discuss our kitchen and suggested our price. He immediately shook his head and said, “Nein, zu viel, zu viel.” (No, too much, too much.) Dismayed, I asked him what he thought a good price would be. He launched into a lengthy explanation about how much the Grays (the previous tenants) had paid to install the kitchen, and that we had paid one-third of that price, and that DaimlerChrysler had actually paid for our things so whatever we made off of the kitchen was basically “free money” for us. I was more than a bit annoyed that they knew all of these details about our personal finances. Finally he said that they were willing to pay us one-third of what we had paid the Grays. I was not about to try to point out the irrationality of this logic (by which our kitchen would soon be worth nothing at all), but asked instead what he thought a good price would be. He suggested something between 800 and 1000 Euro. At this point Frau Dörr appeared in the window and Herr Dörr explained the matter to her. She didn’t say much; I think she felt a little awkward about the whole thing and obviously didn’t want to get into a fight with me. Frustrated, I said that I would have to talk to mein Mann and left it at that.

This evening was the IWC’s monthly dinner, this time at an African restaurant called Ambiente in Stuttgart-Mitte. I decided to take the U-Bahn since I had long ago learned my lesson not to park in unfamiliar neighborhoods of downtown Stuttgart, particularly at night. I headed to Charlottenplatz on the U4, where I needed to change to the 15 line and go a few stops to Eugensplatz. I knew there was something special about the 15 because it is the only train that doesn’t have the “U” in front of the number. It turns out to be the last “old” train running in Stuttgart, and will soon be replaced by the brand spanking new U15. The old 15’s cars are much lower to the ground than the new cars, so it even has its own special lowered platform at the very end of the Charlottenplatz station. When the train arrived, I boarded and found myself standing in the “hinge” between two cars; the floor beneath my feet was actually designed to rotate as the train went around corners. I got off at Eugensplatz and found myself on a dark residential street, completely disoriented. Fortunately there was a bus stop nearby with a small map showing the street layout in the immediate vicinity, so I was able to reorient myself. I was actually a block above Werastraße, where I needed to be, and the fastest way to get there was through a dark and deserted park built into the hillside. I walked quickly down a steep concrete path and was surprised to find a waterfall cascading over a very cool Art Nouveau-style fountain. It was beautiful and if there had been enough light, I would have taken a picture. I finally came out on Werastraße and went in search of building number 1, which seemed like it should be straightforward enough, but anyone who has spent some time in European cities knows that the street numbering systems are anything but straightforward. I eventually found the entrance to Ambiente, but it wasn’t even on Werastraße!

Inside, a huge group of IWC ladies was already gathered in Ambiente’s “sand room”, where you sit on pillows on the floor and the floor is, indeed, covered with sand. Rich silk curtains shroud the walls and ceilings, warm amber lamps hang low over the tables, and you definitely get the feeling of being in a rich Bedouin tent out in the middle of the desert. Several of us shared a huge sampler platter with all sorts of interesting meat and vegetable curries, served on a delicious pancake-like flatbread. I spent most of the evening talking with a new British club member and Annette K., the woman I met at Shannon’s sushi night who spent six years in Texas and speaks English with only a hint of an accent. (It took us a while to remember where we had met before, and I was thrown off because once again I assumed that she was American!) Fortunately I was able to hitch a ride home with Brenda, so I didn’t have to repeat my long train ride. It was yet another lovely evening with the IWC, and I couldn’t help thinking that I only have one more IWC dinner left before we leave Stuttgart for good.

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