Ella is the Restaurant/Cafe that joins Munich’s Lenbachhaus; an art gallery famous for its showcase of the Blue Rider collective. I set myself the writing challenge to finish this story in an hour. Click to read story by set in Melbourne…
James had decided early on that he would only stay for an hour. He would use the excuse that he had an early train tomorrow and still needed to pack. This was not a lie. The train left at 6:55 for Hamburg.
He hadn’t wanted to go. But if he reported back to Carol that he had spent another weekend alone she would realise what a loser he was and not wait for him. Carol was always doing things, meeting new people. She would arrive on time and be the last to leave. She would converse with others, ask questions, and tell funny stories – to strangers. She would walk home with new phone numbers and a coffee date for the weekend. She wittingly formed friendships.
He’d met her when she was new to Melbourne and she had picked him up like a rusty penny on the sidewalk. She’d asked for directions, and coffee recommendations and after several minutes he was leading her to Little Rogue in Melbourne’s CBD and paying for her coffee and matcha tea cake.
She was the one that had suggested meetup.com
“You need to make some friends,” she’d said, not knowing that the recipe for friendship was completely unbeknownst to him. How does one just make friends?
“You need to put yourself out there.” Out where? The world? The city? The street?
James didn’t mind being on his own. He’d bought a book about Munich’s architecture and spent the last couple of weekends visiting the places described in the book. He’d also gone hiking in the Alps on his first weekend here. He didn’t just hide in his apartment. He’d even been asked to come out for after-work drinks on his first Friday in the office. He’d declined – naturally – hiking had been planned for the next day.
But then Carol had shown him that an English-speaking group attended the Lenbachhaus café once a month on Sundays to attend the gallery and discuss The Blue Rider. She made him promise he would go. He’d already been to the Lenbachhaus three times since moving to Munich in May. Carol had indulged him for several hours over the phone; allowing him to explain the construction process, the design, and even provide a mini biography on the architect Gabriel von Seidl. Going to this meet up, was in a way, her payback.
He had no difficulty getting there. Walking around the city examining each structure, allowing his eyes to trace each angle, had given him a good understanding of the layout of the city. He’d left a little early, to get an ice cream at Ballabeni. If he arrived by 11:30 there would not be a line. He ordered a scoop of chocolate ginger and a scoop of hazelnut and ate them on the way to Lenbachhaus.
Will they eat before or after they go inside the gallery?
Will they go into the gallery? Surely.
The meeting time was 12:30 in the café, so they must eat first. Why would they eat first? That doesn’t make any sense. Surely one is hungry after a walk through the gallery? Who organises this way? If they make plans in this fashion, will they really be able to teach me anything I don’t already know.
Although that is not the point. The point is to make friends. To make friends so that I can tell Carol I made friends.
ELLA, the gallery’s café, was crowded when he arrived at midday. The entry price to Munich’s museums and galleries is 1 euro on Sundays, so it was usually full. He took a seat at the back of the café, by the large windows that faced onto Königsplatz. He could see the large Propylaea, completed in 1862 from his seat. Munich had fascinating monuments and architecture. To walk through the city was to walk through time with churches dating back to the 13th century. Examples of baroque sat next to neoclassical, which sat next to Romanesque styles. The city was rebuilt time and time again – the modern danced with the archaic. The Lenbachhaus was an excellent example of this with. The original Italian villa from 1890 still mostly preserved; surrounded by 21st century architecture. Literally surrounded – the building finished in 2013 was built over the top of parts of the villa, allowing the villa’s façade to be turned into wall space.
James turned his attention to the café itself. It was modern, probably quite chic. The occupants were dressed well; their expressive faces lit up by natural light coming in from most sides. He gazed at the entrance to the café, watching as more people filed in – lunchtime. Each time he wondered – Were these people from the meetup group? His ears perked up each time he detected English, so common to overhear in Munich, that it gave away little identity.
It was a mistake to come. Should just leave now, go into the exhibition. Could go to the other museums, I haven’t been to the Glyptothek, the Greek and Roman sculpture museum. It would just cost 1 euro today. Sculpture was impressive art, such precision.
No, I should stay. What if I do make a friend? It would be nice to have someone to go to the Beergarden with in the evenings, or catch a film or go on day trips.
Although all of that I can do alone. I have done alone. I do have friends. What is the point of making friends here, I’m only staying another 5 months.
But then what if I get depressed. 5 months is long enough to get depressed. I don’t want to get depressed.
Although antidepressants could fix that.
But perhaps it would be nice.
A group of people had gathered at the table next to him. They spoke English, and some introduced themselves: Joe from England, Hanna from Denmark. Others clearly knew each other and greeted with a kiss on each cheek.
James silently observed.
A tall woman placed a little British flag on the table and a blue toy horse. She greeted Joe and Hanna.
“Welcome, I’m Susan. I started this group a year ago,” she said in an English accent. “I was studying at the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts and became really intrigued by Gabriele Münter. This group has become quite popular, we generally have about 8 people turn up. It’s so niche, I never thought anyone would come, but here we are.”
She smiled and looked at the two newcomers warmly. She seemed nice enough; maybe not friend material but a conversation with her would not be a waste of time.
Should I go over now? It was 12:20 so other people would still arrive later. She said eight people; it was only five now. Perhaps I should wait more. Another few minutes. Just to see who else arrives.
Hanna from Denmark spoke with a slight accent and grammar that at times broke away from traditional English. There was an almost American twang. She probably watched too much Friends or Simpsons. She told Susan that she had just moved to Munich for work. She said that she needed to improve her English but did not want to join just any old English-speaking group. She said she’d seen a Kandinsky exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York several years ago and since then has been interested to learn more about the Blue Rider movement.
Joe said that he didn’t know much about art, but that his boyfriend was an art dealer and he thought it would be good for him to start somewhere. He said he split his time between Munich and London. He went to a German-speaking meetup group in London and thought an English-speaking meetup in Germany would create a nice balance. He always liked speaking a different language to the native one.
It was now 12:30 and another two people had shown up. Susan knew them. She greeted them warmly and found more chairs for them to squeeze around the table. There were now 7 of them. James would make 8.
Although they are all sitting now. They’d have to find another chair. They’ve already taken too many chairs to comfortably sit. They’d be squished. It would be more of an inconvenience for me to show up at this point. They’d be annoyed. And I’m sitting right next to them. Literally right next to them. What would I even say?
Hi, I’ve been watching you. Just wanted to make sure you weren’t all creeps. Now I’m the creep.
The group all sat down and Susan introduced the two new members: Joe and Hanna. The others, the ones already acquainted, said hello. There was Sara, Christian, Peter and Maude. Susan thought they should all order first. She recapped that last month they had spoken about the relationship between Gabriele Münter and Kandinsky but they had gotten off topic to artist – muse relationships in general.
“But Gabriele wasn’t really his muse,” said Maude, “she was an artist in her own right. I don’t think we can just say muse. Unless Kandisnky is also her muse.”
“Or maybe the town of Murnau was both of their muse? Who says a muse must be a person? You can fall in love with a place as much as a person, right?” These questions came from Peter, who despite not having the ability to make statements appeared self-assured. “Why else would all the writers have moved to Paris in the 20s?”
Susan gently steered the conversation back to ordering coffee.
James also picked up the menu. He busied himself by looking at the day’s selection. He was still a full from his ice cream but was in desperate need for coffee. He heard his phone buzz inside his backpack. He lent over and pulled his iPhone from the front pocket. A message from Carol: How’s it going?
Oh fuck, what will I tell her? I watched the group like a creepy old man at a playground for an hour? Sexy. She’s going to leave me.
Joe pushed his chair back as he got up and accidentally hit the back of James’ head, which was still hunched over his backpack.
‘Oh gosh, I’m sorry,” he said, “Are you alright?”
James quickly straightened himself up, “Yes I’m fine.”
Susan looked over, “you speak English?” she said without the rising intonation of a question.
This was his chance. He could ask to join them. He could tell them he was interested in the Lenbachhaus, in the Blue Rider, that he was new to Munich and didn’t know anyone. That he overheard them talking, that he always went to the museums and galleries on Sundays. That he needed some friends.
Can I join you?