Alte Pinakothek to HauptBahnhof [U Bahn]
I carry an obsession for trains that borders on the homoerotic. The obsession manifests itself in diverse ways, one of which entails roaming the precincts of a station just looking at and photographing trains. I had come to Munich by car, so a visit to the Hauptbahnhof was due. Leaving the Alte Pinakothek with my mind full of Dutch landscapes and village scenes, I boarded the U bahn at Theresienstrasse and stepped off at the Hauptbahnof. This ride challenged my early notions of Munich metro; the carriages now were full, the crowd more diverse, and it felt like a typical metro. But then we were near the train station, and stations have a culture of their own.
Munich central station did not display the grand spaciousness of Leipzig or the sooty industrial charm of Hamburg (two of my favourite stations in Germany), but it was a busy hour when I visited and I instantly felt at home. I picked up a sandwich – Tomato, Mozarella, Rucola – in a cafe and settled down at an empty table. A group of grubby looking middle-aged men nearby were chattering loudly in an Eastern European language. To my left an old man in a grey woolen flat cap and a shabby brown coat sat reading a newspaper in Cyrillic. On my right were two women, a daughter with Down’s syndrome who spoke cheerfully without pause, and her mother who was mostly silent. Ahead, a preoccupied young woman sat sipping her juice; her head was shaven clean, she wore silver rings on her ears and lips, and her low back shirt revealed a wasp tattoo on her neck. A bolder version of me would have asked her if she was inspired by The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. I didn’t.
A few minutes later the old man beside me looked up and asked if I could mind his bag until he returned. How long will you take? I asked. Not too long, about five minutes, he answered. I nodded, and looked at his bag. Probably stitched at home using several pieces of old cloth, a tote bag with long handles, it held a bunch of frayed newspapers.
‘Please mind my bag while I’m gone‘ was the sort of request one would hear at a public spot in India. I felt, at that moment, that this is what I had come to the station for, a taste of informality and disorder in the middle of this formal, elegant, and clinically efficient city. The man returned five minutes later, grinning at me as he entered the cafe, and in that frame this plain old Russian looked to me like a 17th-Century Dutch commoner I had seen at the Alte Pinakothek, a dowdy villager in an old tavern. In an unexpected way, art had come to life in Munich.