Hotel La Villa, the Unwelcome
I flew half way around the world for Hotel La Villa in the summer of 1995.
It was supposed to be an ideal job. Ute assured me that they could really use my help. I adored Ute and she me, and I never thought twice about saying no to this opportunity. Helping a luxury resort "Americanize" itself more for BMW, Microsoft, and Siemens "brain thinkers" who were flown in from the USA to meet with their German counterparts and come up with brilliant ideas - the entrepreneurial, visionary Americans with the methodical and efficient German minds. I don't know if they ever revolutionized anything but during the day they drank a lot of coffee and at night left rows of empty wine bottles for recycling.
When I first took my taxi to the resort it was beautiful.
I never looked at it the same way again as I did that first magical night. It had been an eccentric Italian woman's villa that had been made into a private, small resort on Lake Starnberg, the insidious lake where the ambitious King Ludwig perished (murdered or drowned?). The taxi driver pulled up to the front door and helped me pull out my bags. I stood there, not knowing what to do when a tall girl came running out. She spoke rapidly to the man and ran inside to get some money to pay him. She takes my arm and leads me inside the foyer.
The night I arrived there was a wedding in progress, the sun was setting and before I could see more than glimpses of rising moonlight glinting off water, chinese lights strung from the walkway, and a dining room suffused by soft candlelight that literally made the room glow as the woman of the evening in her star-white dress and hair piled high and cheeks rosy danced away her past life, I am directed by a short man to whisk m bags away (lifting a trunk with half my life in it above his head like it was a dictionary and carrying it up a narrow, winding staircase away to a room where I was to stay for the night.
The tall girl, Barbara Wilsch, again came up to me, her moon face and saucer eyes exposed her feelings to me and everyone within seeing distance as a friendly, big hearted girl, asked me where I'd been as I was hours late. I shrugged and tried to blame the train (the trains are never late, which I later understood as the reason for the skeptical glance), but it was more me moving slowly in an unknown land. I was there to learn the language by immersing myself, as well as to help bring up the 1.5/5.0 star ratings that the Americans were giving the resort after their caffeine and alcohol stupors wore off.
Barbara showed me to my room and offered to bring me something to eat. There are only two rooms in the hotel that were as big as the brochure I had studied incessantly before coming, trying to read the hotel's personality and learn her ghosts. Most were very small and narrow, made by divvying up the house and sticking rooms in wherever they could. You'd barely be able to turn around in the bathroom. The beds were narrow and by my standards rather stiff, but the white and yellow stripes were welcoming. Despite the revelry downstairs, I fell asleep almost immediately, dreaming of planes and my dog (who was waiting for me until I could bring him over with the necessary paperwork), and sleeping deeply.
I woke up with sunlight streaming in, making the small room stifling hot. I took a shower, managing to keep one leg up while maneuvering around the toilet and made my way downstairs. I walked across the gravel entrance that separated what looked like two parts of the main house (learning later part of the smaller house had been for the myriad of slaves that kept the huge house going back in the day) and into the foyer. No one was there. I took time to study the hotel. It was obviously old, but very well taken care of and quite lovely. It was done in an Italian fresco style, which is atypical in Germany. Walking straight back through an empty room (a room I was to spend hours and hours in the future in), there was a balcony and I went out to admire the view of the lake.
After a while I wandered back inside, still without seeing anyone. I sat in the foyer to wait, unsure what time it was exactly. Finally a couple came in and smiled at me, freshly showered and still cuddling. I watched them, waiting for someone from the hotel to come and greet them. No one came. Curious, I followed them into a side room where they were eating in an alcove window table. I saw a table laid out with some weird looking sliced meat, milk, orange juice and thick grainy looking bread with various jams and butter in little cups. So someone WAS here, but where were they? And how long had that milk been sitting out, let alone that meat??
However, I'm starving by now and I take some bread and sit down by the window, leaving that milk and meat for someone more adventurous. I can hear the couple murmuring but I can't tell what language it is. Not German, nor French, Spanish or anything I could discern. Finally they got up and left and I never saw them again. The hotel isn't that big, maybe 30 rooms total, so completely missing them seemed kind of odd. I wasn't sure what to do with my dirty dishes and so tried to use as few items as possible. The other couple had left theirs so I slid my plates and fork onto their table and left.
In the silence I got bold and walked into the kitchen, where the immaculate stainless steel counter tops gleamed as though they'd just been polished. It looked like no one had been in there in ages; everything was spotless and in its place.
I walked outside to take a look around, hoping to find someone. I knew it was Sunday but it was so strange to be in this hotel with no one around. I walked down to the boathouse and sat for a while, enjoying the weather. I saw an old Fiat drive in and I ran up the driveway to meet it. A gruff looking man wearing a rather beat up green coat and jeans got out and I stood there, waiting.
He looked at me quizzically and growled, "Gruss Gott!"
I smiled and said "hello."
He starts talking at me really fast in some dialect again I'd never heard, although I could hear some German words in there. I just stood staring and squinting at him with my mouth gaping trying to make sense of what he was gesturing about. Oh my god, was all the German I learned in school completely wrong? Did I learn some formal Hoch-Deutsche that no one speaks???
"Heissen Sie Kristen? Ja??" he was getting impatient with me.
I nodded. Suddenly a big grin came over his face and he shook my hand. "Ich heiss' Max," but sounds like "Ick Heissss Mock."
Finally! He practically screams in a proud way "Wilkommen aus Bayern! HAHAHA!" I thought he was going to slap my on the back in a hearty gesture but he refrains and I am grateful.
He points to his wrist as if mimicking the time then holds up 3 fingers - "drei Stunden, verstehst?" I nod "ja" - I'd have to wait 3 hours. He smiles at me again and waves goodbye.
Five hours later a woman drives up in a BMW, which later I always found funny because her name is Frau Benz. She is the daughter of Ute, but as dark and gypsy looking as Ute was, her daughter was blonde and thin with pursed lips but still very attractive. She smiles and sticks her hand out at me, "You are Kristen?" Her accent is extremely heavy and I have to follow closely to understand her English.
"Gut. You find your way ja? Is the hotel fine? Anyfink you need?" She seemed really nice, if a bit business-like, and I told her I was fine.
"Fine. Sehr gut. Max vill move you to apartment jetzt. Bitte, please colleect your tings." She smiles non-committedly and motions me to get my stuff with the graceful swoop of her arm. She stands there waiting. Frau Benz doesn't look like the kind of woman who likes to be kept waiting so I ran up to push all my life back into my suitcase and my trunk. I don't want to yell down the windy staircase, so I bring my large suitcase down and she watches me drag it outside. She motions to Max to put it in the Fiat and I motion that my other bag is upstairs still. She rolls her eyes and indicates to Max to bring my trunk down, which he does rather effortlessly (what is up with these strong people!)
I hear her on her cell phone and catch the end as she's getting into her car, "Ok Dann, Alles klar, danken, tschuss!" Max heaves my trunk into the little car and she starts to drive away in her big sedan. She suddenly brakes hard and rolls down the window as we're trying to figure out how to now fit the humans in this little car.
"Oh und Kristen, ve start at 7 o'clock tomorrow. You understand?"
I shrug and she smiles thinly and drives off, dust flying down the road. She is gone. Max looks at me and shrugs. We pile in the car and drive away from the lake, up through the town of Starnberg to the other side. We pull down a neat little street with houses side by side with gleaming automobiles in front. Everything is scrubbed clean. It looked as if they'd waged a war on dirt and won. A man comes to the door and he also growls "Gruss Gott" but is frowning. Max and he talk and they look me up and down while I stand there, trying to drag my bags out to avoid the scrutiny, and they help me inside. The walls are white, the floor is stone white and the doors have thick metal handles. I feel as though I'd stepped into the store "Copenhagen." They lead me upstairs to an apartment and I understand enough to learn there is a family living downstairs.
The man hands me a key and stomps off. Max shrugs his shoulders again and points to which room I want.
The place is completely empty! I am supposed to be living with two other girls in this apartment. Where are they? Why am I coming into an empty place? I choose the living room to make my home as there is no one else around. Max watches me try and position my meager things, which in the empty room make it look voluminous.
He's frowning while observing me. I'm already getting tired of all these frowns and furrowed brows. I open my trunk and take out a few things. He makes a guttural noise like a disapproving "tsk" and then motions for me to go with him. We go back to the hotel and I follow him down into the basement, where he motions for me to pick out some furniture. He hauls a cot bed upstairs and I take a nightstand, a table, a thing to hang my clothes in (the apartment didn't have any closets, one of the things among many I found difficult to fathom) a small TV and some plates and cups. Little do I know this is my entire living staple for the next many long months!
We bring the things back to the apartment and he motions food/eating to me and I nod. He drives me the five or so miles back to the hotel again and we make some sandwiches and sit on the balcony. We can barely speak - he can't understand my poorly articulated, self-conscious high germany and I can't discern his guttural bavarian accent. We nod and smile and grunt at each other and then he takes me back to my sparkling, empty apartment where I spend my second, very lonely night.
He is back at 6:45AM sharp to bring me to work. Had I known what I was getting myself into, I would have taken the first plane back to the US...