You're never more than a stone's throw from heaven in Germany –
just look out for the Apotheke sign.
Passing Marienplatz the other day I suddenly feel a throbbing pain in my right leg. The knee hadn’t felt right since a couple days, when I sprained it rushing for the train, which I could see pulling into the station from the other side of the carpark. A typical situation in which you know what you’re doing won’t do you any good, yet the short-term alternative – missing your connection – overweighs all other potentially worse outcomes. Bursting out into an athletic sprint I'd managed to make the connection, slumping with relief – but not without a huff, puff and wheeze – onto a seat in the end carriage.
Walking in you immediately feel like you’ve arrived at heaven’s doorstep. Smiling assistants welcome you with a "Grüss Gott" (literally "God greet you"), all identically dressed in sporty t-shirts, often with flowing white gowns and matching clog-like footwear. Without sanitary gowns, however, they look more like training assistants in a fitness club, ready to help tighten your straps on the body building equipment. The best thing about going into a German chemists is that about five staff immediately appear from nowhere and offer you help and advice – all at once. A bit like that scene in Pretty Woman, where Vivian is being helped in and out of shoes and skirts by a dozen brown-nosing salespersons.
The customer-to-salesperson ratio is slightly lower in this particular chemists, perhaps because it’s right under the Altes Rathaus, home of Munich’s world-famous Glockenspiel, so it probably gets one or two tourists popping in too. Still, as I stand in queue, waiting to buy a bandage, I’m relieved to see plenty of sales tills open. Deutsche Bahn and Aldi should note this.
I ask for a bandage, explaining I need it on straight away. The salesgirl produces some scissors and waits patiently as I, still front of queue, clumsily cut off a piece and start winding it round my troubled knee. Seeing my difficulty doing this standing up she apologises for the lack of chairs, gesturing to the elderly lady sitting with shopping bags and the bald gentleman, who really does look like he's being thumb massaged.
Chemists assistants look more like fitness instructors
The elderly lady, I notice, is now fully conscious again and murmuring between pouted lips, addressing no one in particular – as people of a certain age tend to do – about not being able to find a single store in the Bavarian capital where you can sit down and rest. I’m about to suggest that central Munich, with its highest density of cafes and bars in the world, surely has enough seating to fill the Allianz Arena a million times over, when I suddenly find myself agreeing – nodding like a Chihuahua dog bobbling from a car mirror. What’s the point of cosy sofas in a Starbucks at every corner, when you’re in the middle of the weekly food run, stuck between freezer cupboards and toiletries aisle, and suddenly go weak at the knees? Whoever invented the expression “shop till you drop” certainly hadn't reckoned with the disastrous effects of collapsing in a German supermarket.
Thanking the kind chemist, I get back up on my legs again, hobble out onto Marienplatz – and search for somewhere to sit.