Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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November 2001

No Frills

It is what it is—and it isn’t pretty

When I was four or five years old, there was an afternoon soap opera called Dark Shadows. Because both of my parents worked, an after-school babysitter looked after my older brother Tom and me. She allowed my sibling to follow the evil doings of the drama’s devilish lead character, Barnabas Collins, five days a week. Though the soap’s time slot, thankfully, coincided with my nap, I occasionally got a glimpse of the dripping fangs of 1960s daytime TV’s grisliest figure.

Tom, like most prepubescent older brothers, enjoyed every chance to torment his younger sister. Many evenings, after sundown, my father would ask me to “just run upstairs” to fetch something for him. As afraid of the darkness in the second story of our house as I was of my brother’s jeers, I reluctantly took each step. Once I was halfway up, Tom would call “Liiiiizzzziiiie. Iiiits, Barrrrnabas Collllins. Oooooooooo!” Two screams and a butt ride down the carpeted staircase later, my father would turn to Tom and, still chuckling at his son’s silliness, say, “Okay, smart ass, now you go get my pipe.”

In recent weeks, I have often wished that terror were as harmless as a directive to retrieve something from a dark room. The thunder of military aircraft, the police tank stationed in front of the U.S. Consulate on Königenstrasse, laundry-soap-laced letters and an unassuming terrorist ring leader apprehended near Sendlinger Tor—adult life’s “brothers” are acting out, and they are not fooling around.

Brave-faced yet raw-nerved, many of us now wince at the sound of Munich’s screeching emergency-vehicle sirens—aware, for the first time, of the direction in which the convoy is headed. We cast a watchful eye to the “Bavarian blue-white sky”—isn’t that commercial jet flying a bit low if Erding is all the way over there? Our days begin with the latest Al Qaeda statement (threat) and we secretly thank our lucky stars that we are not the ones in charge of opening the company mail. Nightmares be damned, we subject ourselves to repeated doses of CNN before bedtime because, we rationalize, it is best to be informed should anything happen. While some New Yorkers quietly decide that, now, Evian may be preferable to city tap water, we chastise ourselves for jumping when something in Munich goes bump in the night.

Barnabas Collins never turned up in my parents’ closet—although, sadly, a few years later, I learned that more gruesome non-fictional characters lurk around most corners. Still, after decades of training—women should not walk home alone after ten, car keys make a handy weapon when inserted between each finger, car stereos should be locked in the trunk during mall visits, it is not advisable to eat the product if the safety seal has been broken—we all should be conditioned to a certain degree of terrorism by now.

It is, now more than ever, impossible to ignore the world’s ills. It is difficult not to live in fear for ourselves and for others. It is hard to write a “feel good” editorial at a time like this, but I take comfort in the fact that, while we are looking for ghosts, our eyes may be, finally, wide open to the big picture.

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