Sleeping cabin, spa, gourmet restaurant: Munich Airport aims to make passengers feel at home. Our reporter spent 25 hours there to celebrate the airport’s 25th anniversary.
12:00 LH 2065 from Hamburg rolls to a halt and the first passengers leap to their feet. Oh, you impatient ones! Edging into the aisle, grabbing your carry-ons, raring to get home or onto your next plane. Well, I’m not joining you today, I’m exactly where I want to be: Munich Airport, Europe’s best airport, and T2, the world’s best terminal – that’s not just me talking, it’s what 14 million passengers say. I’m here to see what happens when the airport is no longer just a stop along the way. I sit at the gate: high noon. A Munich monsoon douses the panoramic window. The airport is to be my home.
13:45 Mirror check in the men’s room. I comb, gel, add a little extra scent. Seeing and being seen is the name of the game here too, and checking everybody out. Look at him and, oh hell, look at me! A surfer dude rinsing his dreadlocks lends me toothpaste. We could become friends, but won’t. A suited Asian shakes his head as I apply a pomegranate face mask. I tell him that I want to look good because I’m going on my first date.
15:10 Anneliese Herrmann – red hair, red dress – is immediately voluble, an anecdote machine, but kind. Herrmann heads the Lufthansa check-in operations at MUC and knows every crisis, situation and problem. She helps drunken sailors board their flight, arranges connecting flights for late arrivals and a room in a hotel if someone is stranded overnight. She weaves chaos into order, has 5000 numbers in her cell phone, and a smile for everyone. “The airport has grown, but it’s still a manageable size,” she says. She managed away the chaos when Eyjafjallajökull spewed ash across Europe in 2010, too. But now she’s off again to the next gate, doing her routine rounds on foot and wearing heels: “If you’re going to do it, then do it in style,” is her parting shot to me. The fact that people love Munich Airport is also down to people like her.
17:25 The announcements become the soundtrack to my time. They aren’t addressed to me, so I can enjoy them, relax into them. Their didactic tone opens a door inside me I never knew existed. This is the last and final boarding call. We ask all remaining passengers. Please proceed immediately. I lean into the voice as though it were a friend.
18:30 The shuttle takes me to the satellite, which still smells new and also of food. Erik Adlmüller, a former chef at the Adlon and the Kempinski Hotel Bristol Berlin, is head of catering.Are guests more difficult here because they’re traveling and under pressure? Quite the opposite, Adlmüller tells me. People are less critical because the food at many airports is so – sorry – poor. It’s different in Munich. “We work to a very high culinary standard,” says the head of the kitchens in the satellite and in the public area of Terminal 2. He visits them all regularly and peeps under the lids. You have to offer people a few traditional dishes like roast pork no matter where you are, he says. He moves on and I start feeling hungry, so I beckon to the waiter at Schuhbecks restaurant: Roast pork, please.
20:10 I divide up my boredom portions. When and where is that still possible? We generally always feel we have to be experiencing something, working or simply functioning. At the airport, there is nothing to confront but ourselves, so everything is an agreeable variation on boredom, a rare commodity and therefore precious. At MUC, the luxury of time stands out in relief against the commotion of millions of flights. Having grasped this, I stroll toward the bar.
21:25 Bavarian is the dialect of hail-fellow-well-met joviality and everyone goes to Lenbachs. Gentlemen in trench coats, rhinestoned ladies, sneakered students, lowbrow jetsetters, elegant families, stressed-out seniors and stock-market traders toasting each other because the Dax index has risen. One trader tells me about the megadeal he’s just sealed; I riposte with my overdraft, and we raise our gin-and-tonics. Finding this kind of common ground – even if it is simply travel – is all part of the airport sociotope.
23:55 The last guests trickle out of Terminal 2 and I’m the only person riding the moving walkway in the opposite direction, past shoe shiner, Vitra Lounge and Smoking Lounge, and on to Gate G, Level 4. Et voilà, the NapCab, my bed for the night. The airport is a test area for sleeping cabins. The door hums open to reveal a pallet, bedclothes and a desk – a four-square-meter hermitage. I switch the screen to Ambient Light, select Schubert’s “Unfinished,” and the Allegro tripples from the speakers. If this is the future, then the future is good.
04:12 I awaken. Nature calls. On the video surveillance screen, a man in salmon boxer shorts pads through the deserted terminal and into the baby-changing rooms before locating the urinals. Back in front of his NapCab, I watch him try to remember his key code. Fatigue turns to panic, then despair. Just as he just resigns himself to the ultimate embarrassment of greeting the day’s first suit wearers in a state of semi-nakedness, the code pops back into his head.
09:20 I say hello to the cleaner, the same guy as yesterday. We know each other now, I am part of the scenery, like Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal. I shower in T1 and use my turtleneck to dry myself before noticing that the airport provides towels. Blithe and fresh, I meet customs officer Thomas Meister at the security checkpoint. He won’t give me any tips about how to smuggle stuff on board, but does tell me about some of the things he’s seized: turtles from Greece bound up in parcel tape; a dozen golden bracelets inside a plaster cast; monitor lizards from Oman; elephant dung from South Africa, although that was actually permitted. Customs brings 1500 criminal prosecutions every year. Some people know no better, but most of them do. Meister, grim now, says that all this dishonesty just spurs the customs officials on. And then the eternal question: Couldn’t he just turn a blind eye? No, he cannot. “And you,” he laughs, pointing his finger at me, “You are someone I would have scrutinized very closely.”
12:30 Cheers! A pilsner at the Airbräu, Europe’s only airport brewery. Master brewer René Jacobsen tells me it’s hell here in the summer and that passengers have been known to miss their flight because they wouldn’t leave the Airbräu. That’s not going to happen to me! But then it almost does. I had 25 hours to get to the gate, and then I end up rushing… I blame the guest book in the Christophorus Chapel in Terminal 1. Entries like: Lord, let us safely reach our destination; Lord, please make my vacation free of care. Lord, thank you for my family and my life. I feel touched by the words, and their simplicity, that people have written beneath the cross just before boarding their flight. Then suddenly I hear my favorite voice, and this time it addresses me: Passenger Moritz Herrmann. This is the last and final boarding call. Please proceed immediately …