While cleaning files off my company laptop I came across an old writing assignment and I thought it fit the theme here.
The German Overcoat.
My father was drafted into the military during the time of Vietnam. Fortunately for him, and most likely for me, he was not drafted to Vietnam. He was stationed in Baumholder, Germany to guard a line in the sand between Communism and Democracy. Other than routine training and miscellaneous military duties there wasn’t much to do. Growing up he told me stories about Germany and some of the things he did there. One of things that he talked about most often was the quality of the German workmanship. He told me of a suit maker that made beautiful custom suits by hand. The suit maker would take your measurements and send you on your way; you were given no choice of fabric or style. The suit maker would choose what was best for you and three weeks later your suit was delivered. He told me of the woman that did their laundry. That she used so much starch they actually had to use two hands to pry the clothes apart. And he told me about the camel hair overcoat he had purchased there. This was a beautiful coat that he gave to me when I moved out. Unfortunately, I have since grown out of my father’s coat but I still keep it because it meant something to him.
In October of 2003 I was told that I was being sent to a training class on yet another software product my company would soon be selling. I am always being flown to one place or another to sit in a classroom for a day and a half to become “certified.” More often than not I’m left in the end with little more knowledge than I had before and a pocketful of hotel soaps and shampoo. I went through the exercise of checking the class schedule for this trip and noticed that there was one class in Minneapolis and one class in Munich. I immediately thought that given our domestic airline situation this would cost nearly the same. The price difference ended up being about one hundred dollars. I asked my company if they cared where I went to training if I paid the difference in flight costs and they said no. So I was off to Germany.
I arrived in Munich compressed into a smaller form thanks to the gentleman that sat in front of me. I believe he was convinced that if he leaned back hard enough I might disappear and his chair would turn into a bed. I arrived in Germany speaking no German and having not done enough research. Once I found my way onto the U-bahn, the German subway, I headed in the direction of my stop. After getting off the train I began to think about how useful it would have been to remember the raincoat I bought and left in my car. It was about fifty degrees Fahrenheit and raining, not a Portland rain but a Midwest rain. The only protection I have from the elements is an undershirt, polo shirt, and a pair of jeans none of which were keeping me warm or dry. I was burdened by one large heavy backpack on my chest and another larger heavier backpack on my back.
At this point was drenched and rather pathetically wandering around the streets in search of someone that spoke English. I eventually found a security guard that understood just enough to guide me to my destination. Soggy and happy I arrived at my hotel. After a solid night’s sleep and watching The Simpson’s overdubbed in German I was ready to go get my own overcoat. Again I boarded the U-bahn and headed toward the city. The German subway is truly something to behold. The underground stations go on forever and are stories deep; they have city blocks of groceries and retail outlets. I surfaced to find myself at an eight story department store. I found my way to the men’s department and located the coats. Granted this was not the way my father bought his coat, but this would be the way I bought mine. I tried on several varieties with a salesperson standing with me and telling me how good the coats looked, speaking only in German. However, I’m not positive he was complementing me, for all I know he could have been telling me I looked fat.
The coat I settled on is a deep charcoal single breasted four button overcoat. The buttons disappear behind an extra flap of fabric so as to create a seamless appearance. It has a dull gold satin lining with a zippered inside pocket. The outside pockets are deep and wide enough to accommodate winter gloves. Just behind the right exterior pocket there is another zippered pocket, a third outside pocket that inconspicuously gives a bit of extra cargo room with a little additional security.
The coat hangs just beneath my knees and the arms are long enough that the ends of the sleeves fit perfectly into my hands as I cup them by my sides. This is a store bought German coat, not quite as nice as my father’s German coat. It is, however, my German coat. Long after this coat has begun to fray or I have again grown out of it, I will still have the story of how I came to own it and that to me is more important than the object itself.