1985

You know you've arrived when they send you to Germany

Once upon a time, I was nobody. I knew I was nobody, because I had never flown anywhere on business, and certainly couldn't possibly afford to fly anywhere at my own expense. Yet after a year working on one project, it seemed that maybe I would get to be a business traveller after all. Not on the project for which I had been employed, but something else.

Nobody else in the company knew anything about it, you see, and although my knowledge was rudimentary, it was sufficient for the experts in Germany to build on. My manager was reluctant, but the project leader said there was no point in her going, she wouldn't know even the basics, and so it fell to me.

The department that arranged it for me announced that they had fixed up a budget of four hundred and fifty pounds sterling, and were sure that this would be enough for the two day trip.

The first surprise came soon after that. Of the four hundred and fifty pounds budget, three hundred and eight were eaten up in the air-fare alone. True enough, it is an expensive way to live.


5 February 1985 British Airways 962 Birmingham to Frankfurt, Business
5 February 1985 Lufthansa 312 Frankfurt to Munich, Business

My company, for reasons best known to itself, insists on sending consultants Business Class within Europe, but on long- haul flights, when it would be of more use, chooses Economy Class. This seems decidedly perverse, but who was I to complain on this occasion? After all the excitement that business travel was supposed to give, it seemed to be rather an anti-climax when it came to the crunch. I checked in dutifully at the appointed hour, wondering why it was so early in the morning. I naturally assumed that my flight would be on time - how could it be otherwise? After all, airlines are big business and everybody counts the cost of delay.

As it turned out, the flight to Frankfurt was on time and so I had only a small amount of time in the duty-free shop. The purchase of duty-frees is something I have never been sure about, but there it is. My manager had asked whether I should take any, and a rather officious chap at the other end had said don't bother. A man I met on the flight who also had business near Munich expressed surprise that anyone would ever turn away free, or at least cut-price goods. I did take some anyway, and they seemed gratefully received.

Mind you, it was only good fortune that meant they were received at all. After clearing customs and immigration at Frankfurt, and meeting up with the consultant again, I suddenly realised that I had left my precious bag of booze and ciggies by the X-ray machine. It was only quite a short dash back there. The X-ray machine operator didn't seem at all surprised to see me - he just handed back the bag of goodies without a word. I suppose he does it every day. Probably every hour.

After a brisk walk back up the terminal to catch the onward flight, there I was waiting for a domestic flight. I had never considered domestic flights at all before, although in fairness domestic wasn't the main purpose for this one. Only a handful got off at Munich, the rest merely adjourning to the lounge before the flight continued to Thessalonica. Quite why so many Germans should want to conduct business in Thessalonica is still something of a mystery to me. However, there is no doubt that the vast majority of passengers on this flight were business travellers rather than tourists.

One feature of this flight is that there was very little in the way of in-flight service. In the lounge at Frankfurt there was a large rack containing polythene bags filled with sandwiches, cakes and the like. Everybody who looked as if they knew what they were doing seemed to be taking one, so I did the same. After all, I was unaccustomed to the ways of the Germans, and wouldn't want to do something wrong, like crossing the road when the light was on red, or failing to pick up a bag, whether it contained cigarettes or cakes.

The flight arrived at Munich on time, and so it was not long before I was in a taxi going to the Hauptbahnhof. The journey from Munich to Augsburg, just 62 kilometres, seemed insignificant after the excitement of the flights, but the guard didn't seem too much overwhelmed and charged me a surcharge of 6 DM for travelling on an Inter-City train. In those days, no surcharges were payable on any trains in the UK and my ticket would have been valid on any train. Ah, how things change!

The next shock was the difference in the time between Britain and Germany. I was relaxed in the knowledge that there was only one hour difference between home and away, but had not bargained for the fact that the Germans started work an hour earlier. Unfortunately, this meant that I had effectively I lost two hours per day, rather than just one. After work it was already dark, so I wandered up and down the streets of Augsburg, where I had been once as a child, wondering whether I was anywhere near where I had been then, or where the famous church with the oldest stained-glass in the world was to be found.

Both these questions remained unresolved, but I did manage to find McDonalds and notice that although the prices were higher than back home, the menu was virtually identical. I had a full meal back at the hotel, however, and that was very expensive too. Why should it be that every time I go abroad, the value of the pound is at a low? I wondered about this as I ate a very modest dinner, and again as I went off to sleep.


6 February 1985 Lufthansa 70 Munich to London Heathrow, Business

Next day, another early start, but it seemed worth it in the end. Mission accomplished in Augsburg, it was soon time to go back home. I had learned enough to get by, and built up a reasonable relationship with my mentor, who was in fact from Cambridge, but very fluent in German. Sometimes he would explain what was going on in German, and as my German wasn't usually up to it, I had to get him to repeat it in a language I preferred, generally English.

It was another 62 kilometres back by train to Munich, and then another taxi to the airport. By now I was weighed down by all the documentation I had picked up in Augsburg, but it didn't seem much of a problem, all things considered.

Part of the experience of flying seems to be the opportunity to try new foods and drinks, and hotels. As the book progresses, I will recommend food and drink as we go, and other goods and services too, but the things that I do not consider worthy of a recommendation will not feature at all. Anyway, the food and drink on the flight were fine, if rather German in their character, and inspired me to make a note in my diary, which I have since committed to memory. The note read "white wine, Niersteiner Gutes Domthal". This wine has since become better known in the UK.

I was soon to discover that arriving at an airport is never the best way to see it if it also represents the end of a journey. So it was that I was to be left completely ignorant of the greatness that is Heathrow, at least for the time being. As I was arriving too late for the last flight back to Birmingham, I had to make do with the train. This is not quite true, because my manager had offered me the chance to fly back the next morning. However, I could not see that any useful purpose would be served by travelling into London, spending a night there and then travelling out to the airport again. I still can't, and this is probably why I didn't do it.

It seemed a great shame that after all this expense, I was not able to spend even a couple of days in Germany as a tourist. No, I needed to be back at work, telling what I had learned to the rest of the team, or at any rate to those who wanted to listen. Some, I was to learn later, didn't want to learn the new skills, and were much happier for me to increase airline profits by taking numerous internal flights on a route that I was soon to call my own.


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