BMW Welt Interior

One thing led to another, and we awoke in Germany.

Sharp memories are few for me in the period just after a long flight; I operate all right, tactically, but unless the sensory impressions are really novel, they don’t make the cut into the storage queue. (Quite possibly my focus on tactical competence is consuming energy and draining other mental processes.)

We awoke, as I say; the bed—and the later scrumptious buffet breakfast—were in Stuttgart, but (and I was sure of this) we’d flown into Frankfurt Main. I recall visiting Sixt for our 218i  convertible rental, followed by an easy run out of the airport and down the Autobahn.

This was 2017, and my first experience with really effective real-time traffic information (RTTI) affecting the car’s navigation system.  Somewhere near Sinsheim, our route shifted off the motorway to a tiny two-lane road shadowing A6, and as we crested a hill, we saw the backup traffic stau that we’d avoided. Well done, car!

Our primary destination, still a week away, was Frankfurt again, for the IAA—the Frankfurt Auto Show. Online investigation of the event foretold an absolutely enormous conglomeration of vehicle displays from manufacturers based the world over; the big domestic brands (BMW, Mercedes, VW+Audi+Porsche) had entire show halls to themselves. We had press credentials as roving Roundel correspondents, so we would be rubbing elbows with those of the international motoring journalist persuasion.

To acclimate ourselves to Euroculture before we subjected ourselves to that spectacle, we’d planned a small driving loop through Bavaria and Austria, over an Alpine pass into Switzerland, and on a final run through the Black Forest. So our route that first day led south, and Stuttgart was about as far as we felt we could comfortably travel on jet lag.

The next morning, after an orgy of bread and surfeit of tasty treats at breakfast, we beat feet south again, to Munich, which would be our only two-night stay on the loop. Why pause in Munich? We’d splurged on the Charles, a hotel we’d tasted years before on our one-and-only episode of BMW’s European Delivery program.

Oh, that delivery experience! Here’s a flashback image to that trip:

Everybody takes a picture from the third floor. Look! There’s the red wagon, waiting for our pickup time slot.

Alas, if you have not participated in BMW’s European Delivery program, then the chance has passed, for the program is no more. I will console you by saying that it’s all right, you didn’t miss much, nothing special, don’t worry about it: Nothing to see here, let’s move along.  (If you have picked up a car in Munich at least once, I offer a secret wink wink, nudge nudge.)

The breakfast at the Charles is designed by geniuses and executed by artists. (Renée is particularly taken with the fresh honeycomb.) Truly, if you do not linger to enjoy that festival, you could not be a friend of mine; our tastes would be incompatible.

The second week of September comes before Bavaria’s Oktoberfest celebration, so the beer halls were just spooling up; a few tents were up, evidence of additional help-in-training plentiful, plazas mainly uncrowded. I got a feeling that the locals felt like people trapped on a roller coaster: anticipating the fun of the hills and drops, but largely not in control of what was coming—accepting that it was their fate to host a gigantic party. Not the worst fate, I suppose.

The next day, September 6, we’d planned to return to the Welt to see what was new, and perhaps buy some swag. But around 7:00 p.m. that evening, things got very strange around the Charles. First we saw a caravan of two dozen motorcycle police, then four or five big black BMW Sevens, then ten police cars hustling down the Luisenstraße. Quickly, then, on the other side of the hotel, a similar convoy—then another along the first route—and then, discreetly but thoroughly, the hotel was entirely surrounded.

We walked out after a bit, to Lowenbrau Hall, and had a tasty dinner. On the way back, we detected rings of security, from a few spotters on the fringes to frequent police just inside of them, to a crowd of purposeful people closer to the hotel. The grounds were keening with energy, although here, at the door, nothing much was visible.

An unusually fit doorman opened the portal for us with a polite nod. Once upstairs, we reflected that we’d not once been challenged or asked for identification. Given the robustness of the security coverage, we concluded that our identities were already well established, thank you, and that our progress toward the hotel on foot was likely tracked from some distance away.

The next day we learned that the president of Israel was in Munich to attend the opening of a memorial for the victims of the “Munich Massacre” at the 1972 Olympics. Putting two and two together, I think that we were sharing a hotel with the president that previous night. It was an impressive amount of security.

Good thing all that security staff didn’t exhaust the restaurant’s supply of honeycomb.

Well, that was then, and this is now, as they say: When I heard that the European Delivery program was ending soon, I froze; it was an experience that I’d always hoped to repeat, and I told myself that I’d never buy another new BMW without picking it up overseas. Of course, that vow limited me to only a few sorts of BMW SUVs, since nearly all the X-cars are built in South Carolina. But I’m also a fan of a manual transmission, and the dwindling choice of cars with that anachronism have all been built in Germany. So when some small financial windfall would land on Dammhaus, I’d hit the configurator and Build My Own—and then look up the current discount associated with European Delivery. Sweet dreams indeed.

Ack! Suddenly it was time to move, or let the dream disappear. What can I get in short order?  (Never mind the concerns about the coronavirus and its travel restrictions; I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.)

My answer was the only xDrive manual-transmission selection available today: a 440i coupe.

Okay, put a real color on it instead of white/gray/black. Big brakes via the Track Handling package. Heated seats and steering wheel. The price gave me pause, but It’s Now Or Never  (thanks, Mr. Orbison).

I called my favorite BMW client advisor. “I’m ready!” I cried.

Too late.

Because the 4 series will be a new model for 2021, production of the 2020 cars was already coming to an end. The window to order a 440i? Already closed.  And then, as it turned out, my reaction time was so slow that the time to order anything for European Delivery lapsed.

That story is over. That book is shut.

Two decades ago, when I was working at a Seattle dot-com, I was chatting with a female co-worker about Mercedes’ Euro Delivery program (the only one I knew of at the time). My car fancy then was on some C-class thing, unimportant now except for the special color that you could only get via Euro delivery: Amethyst. I named it, and she replied, “Oh—that’s the color of my earrings.” But her blonde hair was covering her ears. I approached her, wordlessly asked for and was granted permission, and lifted her hair away to see the jewelry: beautiful.

Later, Renée would tell me that this was the moment she recognized the chemistry between us.

Seventeen years later she and I drove from Munich to Zernez, Switzerland, over the Stelvio Pass, in that little 218i, and then to the Black Forest, and then to Frankfurt for the auto show.  Ask me sometime where I found Satch at that show. Hint: The Alpina folks sell wonderful cars…and very fine wine.—Marinus Damm

[Photos courtesy Marinus Damm, BMW AG.]

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