Archives for posts with tag: Munich

The Beginning Of The Longest Cocktail Party

Haresh Shah

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Dieter (Stark) is tickled pink. He s standing behind the kitchen island, swinging the stainless steel cocktail shaker back and forth in his hands. Equally as handsome, he looks like Tom Cruise would behind the bar years later in his movie Cocktail. Surveying the scene and the mood of the night. He is feeling absolutely no pain. His face wears a glow of amazement at the mission accomplished as he looks down at all those bottles of booze lined up in front of him like miniature Chicago skyline. Most of them are half gallon bottles of just arrived Kentucky Bourbon, Scotch Whiskeys, Bombay Gin, Bacardi Rum, Absolut Vodka. There are smaller ones of the mixers containing of red and white Martinis, Crème de Menthe, Grenadine, Tonic water. Open cartons of orange juice, some Coke and 7-up bottles stand ready to be poured in whatever cocktail he would end up concocting. He must feel like a kid let loose in the liquid candy store. Innumerable possibilities, the night not long enough!

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Dieter and I worked together as repro photographers for Burda Verlag in Offenburg, Germany. My early days living and working in the town of Offenburg in southern Germany were some of the loneliest. It didn’t help that I spoke no German yet and the little bit that I did, I misunderstood more than did I understand. I must give credit to the people I worked with in doing their best to communicate with me. But by and large, I was lost like a babe in the woods in that provincial south western German town that boasts of being the gateway to the picturesque Black Forest.

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Falling Like Dominos

Haresh Shah

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The plan is for just the two of us to go out for dinner. Leave the business behind and talk men talk without women tugging at our arms. For me, whenever I am in Munich, it would be Susi as my forever companion. Normally Günter would have brought along his wife Hilda. Our usual double date every visit. For tonight, I am thinking of maybe us two having dinner at my early favorite neighborhood kneipe, Georgen Stuben on Prinz Regentenstrasse and afterwards maybe hit a couple of Schwabing locals like Tangente, Giesela’s and Domicil. Go down the memory lane, re-live the nostalgic days of my not so distant life in Munich.

But first, we’ve got to talk some business. Günter is one of the senior editors at the German Playboy. He has spent time in America as well, so we have got that too in common. We have spent lot of time together and have shared hundreds of silly laughs.

The first McDonald’s in Germany opened in Munich scant ten months before my arrival there in October of 1972. Just in time for Munich’s 1972 Summer Olympics. It must have taken a while for the national Life like illustrated Stern magazine to notice this American invasion, prompting them to run a cover story with the blurb screamingly calling Big Mac der Schmackloss Hackfleish – the tasteless minced meat. Günter and I couldn’t agree more, especially considering the humble German fricadel, a tasty meat ball the shape of a hamburger patty, made of the minced meat, eaten lukewarm with a hard shell brötchen – a bread roll and blob of yellow mustard on side. Lekker.

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Haresh Shah

And The Tearing Of My Heart

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Soon after her arrival in Munich, in order to make my beautiful Buick legit in her new habitat, I promptly present myself at the Kraftfahrzeugzulassungsstelle, (ugh! they are four words: krafts-fahrzeug-zulassungs-stelle – no  wonder Sanskrit is a dead language in India. But as the most expats and converts tend to do, German being one of the Indo-Germanic languages, still adheres to long and drawn out compound words, as do the Czechs, while the modern Indian languages have simplified the Sanskrit grammar and would have neatly broken them down into four distinct words) at TÜV, (equivalent to the Secretary of the State’s automobile registration center in the US,) on Eichstätter Strasse 5, in Munich. I have all ten required documents as listed on Hanlzettel, translated and properly notarized and attached to the application form and the fee of DM 30.- held firmly in the grip of my hand. I place them all on the counter and stand across from the clerk processing the registration. I am pleased at myself for being so ready and am imagining my Buick emblazoning the bold black and white letters on a square-ish license plates bearing the numbers along with the three designated letters, MüC to indicate that the vehicle is registered in Munich. I am also looking forward to slapping on the back of her, the standard oval shaped decal with the letters DE for Deutschland. But not so fast Haresh! I am being naïve to think that like back home in Chicago, the clerk would stamp a few things, write up a receipt for the payment and hand it to me along with a set of Munich license plates.

Wrong!

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Haresh Shah

You Are What You Drive

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“That damn Buick of yours. As much as we have paid to transport it all over the world, the company should own the damn thing.” Exclaims my boss Lee Hall. So it should. The company could have even bought two of those damn things. But what was I supposed to do?

I had applied for a job at Playboy at the same time as I did Time. I have had a perfunctory interview with the production boss John Mastro. Nothing came out of it while Time offered me the job in Chicago. Now four years later when John does offer me the job, its over the phone – the one that would take me to Germany. And wouldn’t you know? He wants me yesterday.

Its Thursday October 26th 1972. This is how the conversation goes.

‘When can you start?’

‘As soon as I could.’

‘Can you leave in a couple of weeks?’

‘That might be a bit tight. I still have a job, I need to give them notice first,’

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Haresh Shah

If Only I Could See Through The Depth Of Those Eyes

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Not knowing what it is I want for lunch, I walk over to Briennerplatz and my feet automatically take me down the steps to Ristorante Positano. Just a few blocks away from Playboy offices in Munich.  It’s a little before two. The place looks deserted. Thinking perhaps they have already closed for the afternoon, I am about to turn around and leave when I hear some shuffling in back of the wardrobe room. A young woman emerges from the dark.

‘I’ll be just two minutes.’ She says, holding up her hand with three middle fingers raised. While I am mulling over why exactly “two minutes”, I notice her open palm. Didn’t she say two? Confused only for a flash, she turns her palm around, looks at it and slowly retracts one of the fingers.  A self-conscious smile breaks out on her face. From what I can tell, she looks Eurasian, with her narrow fish eyes, her smooth round face, and her silky smooth pitch black hair. I see something mysterious hidden behind the depth of those eyes, further intensified by the ambience of that dark corner of the restaurant. This is the image that has remained with me all these years later.

I stop to talk on my way out.

‘Where are  you from?’ I ask. California.’ She answers. This strikes me a bit odd, as if California were an independent  nation. Might as well have been because I have never been there and all that I have heard about it so far tells me that it must be a place like no other.

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Haresh Shah

How Do An Indian Grandma And Her American Grand Daughter View Playboy?

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‘And I can no longer see Playboy calendar hanging in my home.’ I could see Gina was riled up about my last ditch attempt at saving our relationship by offering to sell my house and us together buying a condo. But it was too late to make any difference. We both knew it was over. And even though her  outburst was no longer meaningful, any more than a rubber bullet, nothing that would kill me, but boy did it sting!! And the irony is: there were never any Playboy calendars hanging in my house.  What she probably meant was all those monthly issues lying all around. Especially after I left the magazine. Because for months after my departure, my assistant Mary (Nastos) still kept sending me all the international editions, eighteen in all, every month. They were piling up and at some point could be found strewn all over my house.

Or most likely, the three nude studies by my artist friend Deven (Mehta) hanging in the guest washroom by the kitchen that had triggered her ire.  In any case, not until after she said it did I ever give any thought to the placement of Playboy in my house.  I had never seen any need to tuck them away some place out of sight. Gina’s disdainful words took me back to my Time & Life years, when we had a sort of an exchange program set up with messengers from various printing companies around Chicago area that printed a part or all of one of our publications and some also printed Playboy and Penthouse. We got them in exchange for our magazines.

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Haresh Shah

A Fond Farewell From A Friend      
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On the afternoon of May 17, 2012 my friend Donna (Drapeau) and I were having our periodic lunch at our favorite via Carducci, and along with the catching up we normally did, for some reason, we found ourselves talking about how we often hesitate calling our older friends for the fear that he or she may no longer be around.  Ominous? Because soon as I returned home and turned on my computer, the front page news item in that day’s New York Times was the death of Donna Summer.

If not for her untimely passing,  I probably would not have thought of writing about her. It would have seemed superfluous name dropping. I had known her but for a very short period of time, when both of us lived in Munich and during the time she was briefly dating an acquaintance of mine – the Swiss psychiatrist Dieter Weeren.   Just like most everyone else at the time, I met Donna in my own apartment in Munich. She became one of the group for a short while, going out for dinners and dancing and just hanging out with us at my apartment.

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