Friday, April 30, 2010

Feels like YYZ

I'm watching “Up in the Air” on the return flight from Toronto. The protagonist apparently likes flying. In the seat next to me is a boy, maybe 10 years old; he stares out of the window and enjoys every single minute of a long-distance flight. Finally, at least two people, one fictional, one real, who actually have their minds where they are.

See, airports are like zombie land. Nobody really wants to be there, nobody actually is there. Either they are still with the people they have just left, in their minds. Or they are already with the business they are going to do the next day. In their minds. What matters is what's going on in the mind. Airports leave them as soulless corpses. Their souls are somewhere else. Empty shells populate the parking garages, the elevators, the gates, the security checks. Well, you know. Whoever manages to actually be at the airport, will experience the most lonely moments in his life, moments of precious, beautiful isolation. These moments are worth living for.

Fuck, that's nonsense. I've just spent one hour walking through an eight level parking garage without seeing anything worth living for (not counting rental cars). Terminal 1 at Pearson International in Toronto, the airport with the enigmatic shorthand name YYZ, does not seem particularly interesting, which bothers me because I really like Toronto. The top floor of the parking garage is walled and fenced, and there is no point from which you can get an overview. The bottom floor (note: top and bottom floor are the most essential floors in parking garages) only leads back to the road. This is going nowhere and I don't have much time left until boarding.

I give up. I give up and walk again through the zombies in the terminal. Lower level, arrivals. The mid level is meaningless. Upper level, departures. Here you can watch the airtrain. It seems glued to the parking garage and then takes off towards Terminal 3. For the time being, Toronto doesn't have a Terminal 2, which is confusing for the amateur. But wait. From the west end of the terminal you can actually see a path to the other terminal. It's right there, maybe ten, fifteen minutes away. I don't have fifteen minutes, but at least I've figured it out. I spent my last five minutes in Toronto with a fantastic sunset and a stone man. My shadow is longer than his. But he has more muscles.

Sunsets at airports are the best. So many moving lights. For your information, Terminal 1 has incredible express walkways, which make you walk with about 20 km/h. I usually ignore walkways, but this one is a definite proof that the future is here. A future Made in Germany, of course.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Memmingen? WTF!

And so it goes. On a sunny monday in March 2010 I found myself alone on Allgäu Airport, and for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, well. Let's say I'm not surprised. Allgäu Airport is located deep in the south of Germany, about three miles east of Memmingen. Okay, that's not particularly helpful, I see. Memmingen has about 40.000 inhabitants, and they are all depressed. I know it, because I asked two of them. About ten years ago. Inspite of that, the town is 'often' referred to as 'Town with Perspectives', and I can only hope they mean the views southwards to the Alps. The city is a two hour train ride west of Munich, which is why Ryanair does not shy away from calling the airport 'Munich West'. I know.

But this is not to slam poor little Memmingen. Quite the contrary, because the airport is nothing short of amazing. This has been a military airfield from 1935 until 2003. There are plenty of barracks from at least three generations of soldiers. In the early years, the airport hosted the Kampfgeschwader 51 Edelweiß (1935-1940) and the Zerstörerschule 2 (1940-1945), with other words: bona fide Nazi elite soldiers. After being destroyed by our friends, the Americans, the barracks were used to accomodate Heimatvertriebene, apparently a word that has a career in the English language. After that, the Americans came and practised for Top Gun, before the German Jagdbombergeschwader 34 took over. See, every little place in Germany has so much history. Nazis, refugees, Americans, and then proper, peaceful Germans. It's hard to believe.

You can see all of that at Allgäu Airport. The moment you leave the modernistic terminal, you are in the middle of an open-air museum, a historic war zone. You see the old Nazi barracks, some of them apparently populated by giant hares. (Hares!) Others by squirrels. You see some more contemporary barracks further to the west, partly barred with ugly construction site fences. There are basketball courts, a reminiscence to the good old American days, I'm sure. And there are quite new barracks, 70s style, grey, ugly, uninspired, that means sort of great, and directly at the airport access road. They are all locked and empty, but in the basement I found damp rooms to take off the ponchos ('Ablegen Poncho') and to decontaminate the boots ('Dekontaminierung Überschuhe'). These signs with instructions in english and broken German are sort of hilarious, but I never travel with a poncho.

And then the bunker. Yes, there is a bunker. A huge concrete building in camouflage grey+green, with a sort of loading platform in front and the entrance in the back. I couldn't get to the door, because it was guarded by, well, by a gardener, okay, so I need to come back to try to go inside. Or at least up to the roof. There are ladders and Google Maps satellite view promises an interestingly shaped colour pattern on the roof. Good enough for me. Other insights from Google Maps: At the other, southern side of the runways is a forest with white dwellings for little airplanes. Or UFOs. Who knows what's going on there.

Sadly, not a single soldier there, I was the only guy wearing camouflage and armygreen. As if to make fun of the militaristic spirit, the world has put a giant yoghurt cup ('Ehrmann Almighurt') right in front of the bunker. But they do still have an 'Immelmannstrasse', a road named after Max Immelmann. In case you don't like war history, I mean it's possible, I guess: Immelmann, although the Wikipedia photograph shows him with a dog, was a pilot. In fact, the Eagle of Lille was the best German pilot in WWI, as far as I am concerned. He invented the Immelmann turn, a sort of looping manoevre, although the history of this manoevre is quite debatable. Taxonomy of aircraft manoevres, what else do I have to know.

Such a cute little thing. I had almost two hours to kill, an extreme challenge on an airport with four gates (in total) in the middle of nowhere. But here, I mean, not an issue at all. I want to come back, cute little Allgäu Airport. Fortunately, Ryanair now operates 14 routes into Memmingen. 14. That beats the Kampfgeschwader 51 Edelweiß and the Jagdbombergeschwader 34, hands down.