I CAME, I SAW, I GOT WHIPPED
I landed at Munich around 4.30pm ish. The sun was setting and the pilot on board the plane said the outside temperature was about 1°C.
This was it.
I’m about to be taken to my new home once I collect my luggage from the bag carousel.
The troop of butterflies that had taken up residence on my stomach the week previously had started to flap their wings again, replacing the waves of sadness sparked off from the tearful goodbyes of my mum and sister as I went through Gatwick security a few hours previously.
Getting my belongings together I shuffled through the automatic doors into the ‘Arrivals’ pen and scanned the names plastered on the clipboards held up by the crowd of people leaning in on the metal rails.
Clocking ‘Emma Taylor’ attached to one of those clipboards I walked over to my new colleague.
At the moment, know one at my new office knows about my blog. And I’m not sure how they would feel about me writing about them, so I’m going to be as vague as possible when other people are included in the story.
We introduce ourselves and start walking towards the main concourse of Munich airport. My greeter says that she is going to take me to the supermarket as it will be too late by the time we get in to St. Johann for shops to still be open.
She offers to wait outside with my bags while I stock up on essential bits. I nervously nod and push through the barrier into the supermarket.
I was not expecting this.
I don’t speak a jot of German, my mind is racing and I have no idea what to buy. My colleague helpfully recommended getting some milk, stuff for dinner that evening and cereal for breakfast the next day, but I haven’t a clue what I even want or need.
Pacing up and down the aisles, I sort of recognise items that I think will be immediately useful.
A small bottle of juice, yes.
Soup? I’m not really that hungry but I suppose It will be handy to have just in case.
A drink for the road, yep.
Ah, an apple. I will definitely eat you.
Cereal for breakfast, wow that’s pricey. But I’ll be grateful for it in the morning.
Chewing gum, in my frazzled state of navigating a German supermarket I thought that, yes in this moment gum is essential.
I paid for my eclectic mix of shopping and located my colleague at the front of store with all my stuff.
She asks me if there is anything else I need to do before we leave and that if I didn’t mind she was going to pop out for a cigarette. I follow her through the airport (which incidentally is more like a Westfield shopping centre than an airport, due to the amount of shops / places to buy food) and she leads us through the doors that go outside.
She had mentioned that there was a Christmas market at the airport and in my head I pictured a couple of stalls and cauldron of mulled wine, but this was something else entirely.
Huge doesn’t even cut it, this was a full on traditional Christmas market, with a decent sized ice rink sitting in the open air area of Munich airport. I wouldn’t be surprised if people fly to Munich just to go to the market spread that they’ve laid on there.
Chatting about our backgrounds, where we’re from and other get-to-know-you-type questions we watched the skaters swirl round the rink for a bit.
My brain went into ‘this is so surreal mode’. I’m in Germany, at an airport market, surrounded by glittering Christmas lights and cutesy stands sell handmade ornaments. I felt like I was floating a bit.
Once back inside we walked to the underground car park.
“So in Germany they have car parking spots for women” my colleague says with a little laugh.
“What?!” Slightly horrified at German society’s presumption that women cant park a car.
“Yeah they are a bit bigger and tend to sit closer to the entrance. I know I felt that way too, but actually it can come in really handy.”
Under two hours later we were in St. Johann, Austria.
The town was eerily quiet.
I couldn’t see much as it was so dark, but I heard the whooshing of a river as I was walked to my new digs and then shown around the spacious apartment.
Sitting in my flat amongst half unpacked debris of a billion bags and replying to ‘Have you got there yet?’ messages from those back home, the sadness of having left the UK behind started to creep in again.
‘What have I done?’ A little voice quipped in my head.
I got ready for bed and then climbed under the duvet, clutching my teddy (yes I have a teddy bear, and what?) in the darkness wondering why the fuck did I decided to do this.
I was told the night before that I would be meeting a staff member outside the office at 7.45am for snow chain training.
Once dressed and fed I opened my bedroom curtains. I saw the river that I had heard the night before, crystal clear water streaming steadily over rocks and pebbles, and then gazed across the banks to the large houses on the other side with their smart looking German 4×4’s parked neatly on a driveway, imagining the happy little Austrian families who must live there. My eyes were pulled up above the houses to the stack of imposing mountains that framed the scene. The weak early morning sunlight had a turned them a soft soothing mix of purple and pink, accented with patches of snow peppering the crevices at their peaks – this is why I’ve made the move.
Tearing myself away from the window and bundling up against the -6°C morning air, I was whisked to a hotel near by from the front of the office (basically the other end of the building where I live) and joined a group of reps who will also be getting a crash course in how to put chains on a tyre.
It went all right. The whole snow chain process is pretty logical but who knows what kind of flustered flap I’ll get into if it’s pissing down with snow on the side of a cliff-edge mountain road with a queue of impatient Austrian motorists waiting for me to get a move on.
Oh well future Emma’s problem.
With no further information about where I was supposed to be that day I tagged along with the reps walking to their training seminar across town.
This was the first time I had seen St. Johann in the light.
Typical Alpine chalets with delicately painted fascias jostled amongst glass fronted modern buildings, there were shops selling clothes, crafts and other knick-knacks. I spied pretty restaurants and a cutesy bakery too. Slightly in awe and a bit taken back at how many shops there were in town, I was expecting a teeny village square with one pub and no place to buy soup or biscuits.
Once inside the training room I sat down at a table and introduced myself to the rest of the group already seated.
I had no idea if I was even meant to be in this session.
Then I spot my flatmate across the room, she’s new to the office as well and arrived a little before I did the night before. We waved at each other as I felt a tap on my shoulder.
One of the staff members leading the seminar is asking me if I would stand up at the beginning to say a few words about myself and what I will be doing within the company.
Fuckity fuck fuck, ‘OK sure, no problem’ I hear myself saying.
The session starts and within 2 minutes my name is called, I stand up – urgh, is there anything more awkward than doing stuff like this – and give a rambled explanation of who I am and my job role, as soon as the last word leaves my lips I hastily drop down back into my chair.
The seminar was interesting, it was geared towards the reps rather than office staff but I found the information useful. We stopped for lunch and I successfully navigated myself through the town back home. The walk allowed me to take in St. Johann again, noting the closed Christmas market stalls ready for the weekend, more clothes shops and what looked like the Austrian equivalent to Boots. Home alone, I cracked open my can of soup and ate the apple purchased from Munich Airport, thinking about what I was going to do for dinner that evening as I hadn’t spotted any supermarkets on my walk and couldn’t risk getting lost before I had to go back again.
I returned to the training course for the afternoon segment, still no sign of a food shop but I’ll have to deal with that later. During the second half of the day I got to know a few of the reps a little better. A lot of them seemed quite young but had done repping before either during last winter or on a summer programme.
Wow they’re brave, I thought. At 19 I felt daring just driving to Brighton and back.
The day was over at 5.30pm and I set off in the direction of home again.
Right, I’m starving hungry, I’m going to adult here and find a supermarket. Steeling myself against the bitter night air, I wandered towards a different part of the town for ten minutes. Across a car park along my way I recognised the shape of shopping trolleys, and then the glow of a bread counter in the distance inside a glass building. YES!
Scurrying through the car park, my tummy rumbling in anticipation I breathed in the warm smells of that bread counter at the entrance of the supermarket.
Then the familiar sense of being overwhelmed washed over me as I stood rooted to the spot holding my shopping basket at the top of the first aisle.
Shit, I don’t even know what I’m looking for or where anything is again, I really didn’t plan this very well, everything looks so different in German and they are closing the store shortly! God I miss Tescos.
Up and down the aisles I went, dithering over what to buy, my stomach angrily growling at me to make a flipping decision. Feeling too hungry to care any more after 15 minutes I grabbed a pizza and a pack of Milka biscuits in desperation.
Poor effort at being a grown up Ems.
Retreating to my empty flat (no idea where house mate had gone) I ate my sad little pizza in bed and went to sleep soon after to stop the weight of loneliness from setting in.
📷 by me – Quick snap on my way to work of the outside of my apartment.
I opened my bedroom curtains and drank my morning tea while staring at the mountains again (the Wilder Kaiser range). I could never ever get bored with this view, it’s a comforting force against the doubtful voice in my head that keeps telling me I’ve fucked up by taking this job.
At 9am I walk round to the office.
I’m greeted by my new team members as well as the lady who picked me up from Munich on Monday.
Today is another full on day of training with my manager who talks me through the details of my role once more and gets me familiar with a bunch of different systems I’ll be using.
The morning flies by and it’s lunchtime. I’m shown where the SPAR supermarket is (2 minute walk from my house, bloody typical) and pick up some more soup.
The soup here is a bit weird.
Austrians aren’t really ones for fresh soup, yes there are the odd canned soups floating about but mostly it comes in powder form and you just add hot water.
It tastes OK, but you have to really give it a whisk in the pan to make sure the powdery lumps are broken down.
The afternoon was spent pretty much the same way, but with the addition of a team meeting as well to let everyone know what was going on that week.
“Hey Em, we’re going to go driving in a minute”. Says my manager as we walk out of the conference room.
The moment I’ve been waiting for, the first proper time (aside from a dabble in Mexico) driving on the other side of the road.
In the office car park I’m handed the keys to a VW Caddy. It’s huge in comparison to the dinky cars I’ve had back home.
I get in and instinctively reach behind my right shoulder.
Nope, seatbelt is on the other side. Excellent start.
With my manager in the passenger seat giving words of encouragement I slowly reverse out the space, whack the stick into first gear and crawl out of the car park. I’m told to turn left.
I turn left.
I start driving on the left. WRONG BLOODY SIDE EMMA. Christ, the one fundamental thing I needed to remember and I failed immediately. Correcting myself shifting the car over to right hand side of the road I carry on following my manager’s directions.
Thankfully our 20 minute jaunt on the roads around St. Johann went smoothly thereafter. I’m not going to be wining any awards for precision driving but I’m capable enough once I relaxed into it.
As I’m leaving the office for the day one of my colleagues invites me to go with her the big Aldi supermarket up the road.
“Yes, please. That would be great.”
“Cool, I’ll knock for you at 7pm.”
Arriving at Aldi (is known as Hofer in Austria) together 45 minutes later, both of us whip out lists and get working on filling up our trolley. Shopping trip completed (miles less stressful than my last attempt) we were about to trudge back home with our heavy bags when we bumped in to my colleague’s friend. Knowing he had his car with him my colleague wangled a lift for us back to our building.
Finally home, I cooked a decent dinner for myself for the first time and settled down to video chat with my mum.
Today definitely felt more accomplished than the days prior.
Much like Wednesday, I spent the day in the office getting to grips with what was needed doing and how processes are carried out.
My manager also took me out for another drive in the Caddy. We went to Kitzbühel in the morning, doing a drive in the daylight this time was much easier than before.
When the working day was over I returned back home and heated up my leftovers from last night’s dinner.
My work phone beeps.
One of my team members is messaging me to see if I was up for going to the pub.
I pause in my reply, partly because I’m tired and have to drive on my own tomorrow morning transferring staff members from one resort to another and then dropping someone off at Munich airport in the afternoon, and secondly my anti-socialness is rearing its ugly head.
I give myself an internal shake and type back ‘Where shall I meet you?’.
Spending the evening at the favourite local bar, I was introduced to more people from the office. Everyone is super friendly and welcoming. I stayed for one beer and made my excuses to leave as I wanted to get a good sleep in preparation for tomorrow…
…Driving on my own for the first time, in a foreign car, in a foreign country, on the other side of the road.
It’s 8.30am and I’m supposed to already be on my way to a resort 20 minutes away to pick up a couple of staff members, then go on to a second resort, scoop up another staff member and bring everyone back to St. Johann.
Except I’m faffing around de-iceing the Caddy.
Shittyfuckbollockswank, I’m still no where near ready to set off, I haven’t even got my satnav programmed with the addresses.
OK, be calm, pop address in. Good.
Engine is on, I’ve put the car in reverse and now I’m slowly making my way out of the car park.
I turn left into the street and I’m on the right side of the road. Fab. So far so good.
Turning right on to the main street I go up in gear. Oh crap, a roundabout.
“Please take the fourth exit.”
Cool, thanks satnav.
“Please continue for 400 yards and then, half right.”
“Please take a half right, now.”
Right, I can totally do this.
My running commentary (spoken out loud to myself in the car) and the dulcet reassuring tones of the polite satnav lady have quelled the rising panic I was feeling. I ease into the drive a little, the sun was shining, the mountains look GORGEOUS and I was making good time now.
Thankfully the trip went well. No major cock-ups.
I explained to my passengers that they were the one of the first people I’ve driven around on the other side of the road in an unfamiliar car and they were massively patient with me pottering along at a snails pace.
I get back to the office and catch up on some emails after dropping the staff members off at their accommodation in St. Johann. After lunch I’m back in the Caddy for a trip to Munich airport as a colleague needs to be on a plane to Finland.
I help load up the car with her bags and give the same speech that I gave to my morning passengers that I’m still very new to driving in Austria. Pleased to say, under two hours later we are at Munich airport and I’m waving her off through check-in.
Just one more journey leg to go and I’m back home.
By now it’s dark and I’m feeling nervy (surprise!) again, so start saying out loud to myself my driving actions and what I’m going to do next. For some reason this works and I’m flying down the autobahn and up to the mountains before I know it.
Unsure of time I need to be in work I turn up at the office slightly before 9am.
No one is there.
I hang around for ten minutes before pulling out my work phone. There’s a message from my manager.
‘Hey, Em. Please come to the office for 12pm.’
I have the morning free! I walk into town and pick up shopping bits before returning to my apartment.
My flatmate has left for the weekend so I have the house to myself, ahhh lovely.
In the office for 12pm and everyone is preparing for roll out that afternoon (roll out is where the reps get all their work kit for the season). Around 3pm we drive up to the hotel where the new wave of reps are staying and set up different stations for them to visit (like uniform, phones, staff paperwork etc..) at designated group times.
Once the reps had given in the correct forms and collected their assigned gear, roll out wound down. We (the office team) stayed for dinner and drinks at the hotel, finishing the evening up the road to the local bar I had been to on Thursday night.
No need to fill in the blanks as to what happened next…
Slightly drunk on tequila and Mars Bar shots I stumbled home in the early hours of the morning and crashed out.
Feeling a touch fragile, but more tired / dehydrated than anything. I started my hangover cure ritual.
Clean and fed, I got dressed and wandered around the town. No shops are really open on a Sunday (especially food ones, again I miss ❤️ Tesco ❤️). The day was stunningly sunny but very cold, which actually helped drive away the last remnants of alcohol in my system.
During my walk I stopped at the cutesy bakery I had clocked at the beginning of the week and went in to browse the rows of cakes and pastries. Selecting a plump apple danish, I paid for my sugary treat and scuttled home for another video chat date with my mum.
My phone beeps mid afternoon. The girls from the office have invited me to go to Kitzbühel with them for the Christmas markets.
Reaching Kitzbühel by train in the early evening, discussing events of the night before, our group drifted around the Christmas explosion that had planted itself in the centre of the town.
There were twinkly lights and decorations everywhere.
Rows of huts selling everything from handmade scarves and tree trinkets to what looked like fried potatoes smothered in cheese on a stick?
There were kids having pony rides and petting sweet-faced donkeys in one section, while adults indulged in hot alcoholic beverages in another.
Sipping on a Glüwein taking the scenes in, Kitzbühel seems a much livelier and glitzier town than its neighbouring little sister St. Johann.
We round off our evening out with a satisfying carb-heavy dinner and then sleepily decide within the group to split a taxi back home.
I spend the rest of the night curled up on the sofa finishing my book, and later, a glowy feeling of contentment warms me as I get ready for bed.
‘I think I feel like I’m settling in now’ I say internally, smiling at myself in the mirror while brushing my teeth.
Similar to the days previously, I’m in the office for the morning and early afternoon before scooting off to go pick someone up.
It was another Munich airport run, which I felt confident in doing now.
I was there and back before 6pm followed by a quick meeting with my manager about what was on the coming week.
The whole office was keen to get off work on time as tonight as it was Krampus.
📷 by me – Chocolate Krampus
An alpine festival involving demon masked kids / teenagers (a.k.a the Krampus, – the plural being Krampi? I’m not sure) who whip the by-standing crowds which symbolically represents a punishment for those who have been naughty this year.
There’s a whole lot of folklore about Krampus, it’s even been given the Hollywood treatment and turned into a sort of Christmas horror movie, but I’m not going to go into too much detail about the ins and outs of the festival as I’d be typing away until Easter.
A gang of us walk to the main square of St. Johann which is already rammed full of people safely tucked away behind crowd control barriers.
The parade starts with glittery cheeked little girls dressed as pretty angels, fulfilling the role of helpers to St. Nicholas (who we didn’t get to see in the procession but apparently looked like he’d got styling advice from the pope) handing out bags of treats (just nuts and dried fruit, stingy angels) to the public ‘for being good’.
Hands wrapped round a piping hot Glühwein, we patiently waited for the main event.
Atmospheric instrumental music starts booming through the speakers (98% sure it was the theme song to ‘Pirates of the Carribean’) and the dude who was in charge of the pyrotechnics that year had his moment.
📷 by me
Somewhere round the corner a dance routine was going on, but our line of sight was blocked by the hoards of people.
And then we heard the clanging of a cow bell directly behind us. One of the girls from the office who had been to Krampus before said you can hear them coming because of the bells attached to the costumes.
Our group turns around to follow the source of the bell and we see a tall boy dressed in an auburn yeti get up, walk quickly from an alleyway into the crowd and then back again, his face was unmasked covered in black paint, a small bundle of long, thin birch twigs were strapped to his back.
Pyrotechnic Pete was back in the spotlight again, filling the wait with more fiery entertainment, but this time accompanied by heavy death metal.
We must be nearing the start now.
The bells (the bells! the bells!) of oncoming Krampi collective signalled the beginning of their ‘performance’.
📷 by me
Don’t be fooled by the pageantry of the elaborate outfits and masks (which apparently can cost up to £600???!). Krampi mean business and they really wallop you hard with those twigs, it most certainly is not a show.
The festival had a team of volunteers and medics on standby, which inspired a strange mix of solace in knowing that they are there but also fear as are a team of medical professionals really needed??
Each Krampus is tagged with a number so if you do get badly beaten then you can report that Krampus along with the identification number to the local authorities.
There were long time periods in between waves of Krampi making their way to the start of the parade route.
And then real fun starts. The crowds are given a 10 minute warning before 9 o’clock when the barriers come down and all those Krampi that have scared the living whatsits out of you from your safe spot amongst the masses, are free to roam the town and whip at will.
Still feeling protected by the barriers, we continued to watch with terrorised glee the last few remaining Krampi doing their thing as part of the parade.
Suddenly, a Krampus came up to our now thinned out area of the crowd. He stops, and in one swift movement gate jumps cleanly over the railing and lands directly in front of me.
Fuck, one’s gone rogue.
Before I can even register what’s happening, he raises his arm back and delivers four almighty blows with that bundle of thin birch twigs to my legs, which catches the rest of the my colleagues up in the beating.
The sting was made worse by how chilly my jean-clad legs were waiting around in the freezing cold.
I do NOT want to be around for the whipping free-for-all that is but mere moments away.
I escape into a bar with one of the girls from our gang and get myself to loos to inspect the damage.
Craning my neck as I slip down my jeans, angry red welts stripe my the backs of my thighs.
I poke my head out the bar entrance an hour later and meet up with a few of braver members of our group who remained outside.
My Krampus experience ended in walking briskly home (not to fast to as to attract attention, but not too slow that we are seen as easy pickings) with a couple of others who were up for calling it a night.
With my leg throbbing and my body shivering from being in the cold for so long, I snuggled down in bed with a hot water bottle and tapped out a message to a friend back in Blighty…
‘I came, I saw, I got whipped.’
Welcome to Austria!