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Wo ist der biergarten?

(Article Published in the Nov 7,2012 issue of Manila Standard Today)

       Barely four days in Berlin are obviously not sufficient to give anyone the “ K”, a one-letter word which for those not familiar with the Filipino that is spoken outside the exclusive and exclusionary enclaves of Makati City that means “the credentials”, to claim, as did John F. Kennedy, that “Ich bin der Berliner.”

       But they were more than enough for me to wish I could go back to that fascinating city, for a longer time, at a season of year less challenged by near zero temperatures, and with pocket sufficiently stuffed with of euros to afford what the city can and, to all open-minded comers, does offer.

       Last Oct 27 through 30 were, officially, the second of two legs of the semi-annual Partners’ Meetings of our law office, the Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles for this year. The first leg was held, as usual, towards the end of the first semester locally and only at the law firm’s break room (high fallutin’ for employee’s lunch area) at the 21st floor of the PhilAm Life Tower on 8767 Paseo de Roxas in Makati City. That had become our official address starting, by reason of fung shui, or superstition, or outright coincidence, the 11th day November, 2011.

       This year’s second leg of the Partners’ meetings, which like most previous second legs fell within the school children’s semestral break and traditionally held in a foreign land, was in unified Berlin. We did not have a foreign trip last year on account of the extraordinary, in terms of both the occurrence and the amount involved, expenditures that the partnership shouldered in sprucing up the former KPMG premises. Hence, this year, everyone qualified for the junket excitedly tried to make it.

       The mythical justification for the foreign leg of the Partners’ Meetings was to provide us, the always been industrial and most often than not industrious partners, the relief from work that is expected to recharge our inner batteries and energies as well as to strengthen the common bondage, amongst ourselves and the entity we work for.

       The name partners (so called because their surnames are in the firm’s juridical name) have no need for the foreign leg of Partners’ meetings in order to have an alibi to go abroad. Two of them had passed on to the great beyond where neither the word “foreign” nor “local” has any meaning. The remaining three could go abroad anytime they wish; they are free spirits who are deemed to be working, regardless of wherever any one of them may individually be at any one particular time.

       In fact, it is never certain to us lesser gods where anyone of the said three name partners may on any given day be. That specific datum, should face time more engaging than what is provided by Skype be required, must be extracted from the name partner’s secretary. She, in turn, has license to respond, depending on her combined appreciation of the matter that need to be taken up and the rank of the lawyer making the inquiry and the instructions of the name partners as to what extent to disclose his whereabouts.

       Thus, she can understandably state that “he is supposed to come to office today” (the time of the work day need not be specified), or “he is at the airport waiting for his flight” (where the airport is and the direction of the flight the inquirer need not know), or, simply “he is not here”.

       That last of the stylized responses of the name partner’s secretary is in most cases obvious because all three follow the “open door policy”; a quick peep through the door of the name partner’s room discloses that. However, for the uninitiated, finding and getting near enough the door to peep through, not even mentioning the partitions, desks and files that need to be traversed, could be challenging.

       Why the foreign trip, or if you wish foreign treat, this year was to Berlin, no one could say for sure. Not even our much travelled office manager, the baroness in charge of arranging all office travels, could disclose. All she could say was that it was Management’s choice. That explains why no one should objected when the senior partner announced that the October meeting would be in that city where the once functional wall is now as useful as the walls of our Intramuros which, too, had seen better days.

       Nevertheless, Berlin turned out to be a good choice, at least, as far as I was concerned. In those four days last month, what used to be dry and printed paragraphs in the History of Europe, by Hayes, Boldwin and Cole, and a mere spec in the colored map of the continent brought daily to class by the famous Horacio de la Costa when I was a freshman at the Ateneo, came alive. I got a taste of what we were told was a must eat, the currywurst, a delicacy as mysterious in content as the American hotdog that is laced with sauce just as baffling as mustard. I was impressed by the seemingly genetically ingrained military gait of the locals who seemed to be marching to some silent cadence. It was surprising to catch the efficient and humourless faces of the girls at the Front Desk of the stark businessman’s hotel where we were booked break out, once or twice in the day, into a smile that suggests spring is not be too far behind.

       My sole lament was that by then the Octoberfest was already over. Only the Irish Pubs were open to accommodate the thirsty, but then, their black beer was not as good as my daily cervesa negra at the Top of the City. The intermittent gusts of winter had made sitting out in the open air too Frenchy. The biergartens have closed for the year.

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