What Do I Know?

I spent the past week with a group of MBA students and entrepreneurial teams visiting from a technical institute in Bavaria. Professors, administrators, and civic leaders accompanied them. I was thrilled to be able to refer to one, an unassuming and friendly fellow, as “Herr Bürgermeister.” Of course, every time I did I heard horses neighing to “Frau Blücher” in the background (see Young Frankenstein, 1974).

The Bavarians came to Silicon Valley to learn about venture capital and how to pitch their ideas to investors. They attended classes, mentoring sessions, and one-on-one meetings with industry experts. They also visited Silicon Valley companies to get a flavor of the valley, which helped them get familiar with the legendary Silicon Valley mindset. Entrepreneurs come here from all over the world to learn how to launch a business and then put it through a series of funding rounds, license it, or go public and earn billions of dollars in the process. Millions don’t cut it anymore, and, with gas prices being what they are, that’s understandable.

These visitors weren’t interested in just the flavor of the valley, however. They had other flavors in mind, including, naturally enough, beer. Most of the Germans I’ve encountered over the years love to party, which means beer, wine, sausages on the grill, music, and dancing. Maybe I’ve just been lucky enough to meet Bavarians and not their more austere countrymen who, I’m told, live in places like Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin (apologies to subscribers from those cities as well as to their chambers of commerce).

The Germans I’ve met here, in Germany, and in other places around the world (e.g., Brazil, Argentina) love to drink. This group was no exception. And, at the end of the week as everyone celebrated the success of their final pitch presentations, I joined them. As it turned out, I joined in a little too much and got sick not from drinking beer and Bärwurz snapps, which to my astonishment many downed in one gulp from little airplane bottles–I don’t believe they actually serve them on Lufthansa–but from rauchen or smoking.

We’re talking Zigaretten here, nothing else, although I can’t be sure since they started rolling their own once the Pall Malls ran out, and the tobacco looked a little funny. In any case, I got an awful head rush and sick to my stomach after half a pack. It’s not easy to stop when the rest of the people in your circle are puffing away like locomotives. But guess what happens when you mix cheap schnapps, beer, Bratwurst/Knockwurst/Weisswurst, and rauchen? Ein Kind could have figured it out, which only goes to show that I am not a child. Getting sick came as a complete surprise to me as if I had been sitting there minding my own business when a piece of meteor came whistling from out of nowhere and exploded at my feet in hot ashes.

The lesson learned here–yet again the hard way!–is that I am not young anymore and can’t keep up with the rest of the pack even if I wanted to, especially when the pack tends to be younger, which it often is. I don’t plan it that way, but I have noticed that younger people are attracted to me. I have narrowed the reasons for this down to three: (1) they seek someone in a position of authority who listens to them and takes them seriously, (2) they need vocation advice and modeling from an adult man, (3) I am emotionally stunted. I don’t deny that the real reason may be (3), although an objective observer might say it’s a combination of all of them. That observer would no doubt advise me to stop smoking for real this time (see My Last Cigarette).

Ever the optimist (what?), I discovered something positive in the hole of embarrassment I had dug for myself. The head rush and nausea forced me to lie down, and the Germans came by one-by-one to lend their assistance, which often took the form of offering to call an Uber. When I felt better I joked that an Uber wasn’t necessary. “Perhaps an Unter would work just as well,” I told them. They stared at me but laughed anyway.

Apparently, the joke got lost in translation, which struck me as odd since it was a German joke, or so I thought. But then again, what do I know? Was weiß ich?

“Watschentanz,” German Beer Drinking Music (Capitol Records, 1957-59). See also Ein Prosit.

Image credits: feature by ELEVATE; top by Julianna Arjes; right by Gonzalo Remy. Like fiction? Check out the “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) and the autobiographical Nine Lives here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” This post is dedicated to Till Bienlein and Felix Weggenmann.

1 comment

  1. What interesting work, people, and adventures you have, Robert!!! Thank you for sharing your worlds with us.

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