The third — and most frustrating — lesson I learned in Munich: the city runs on cash. Credit cards were rarely accepted, even at high-end shops like the leather-working Antonetty Lederwerkstatt. (I heard about Antonetty in a New York Times article. I was drooling over a particularly beautiful silvered goatskin totebag limned in lime green, but it was an astonishing 450 Euros.) When I went to Marais – a café/antiques shop also on the New York Times list – and collected a much more modest set of items (old florist placards with names of flowers in German, a flapper-style necklace with glittering black glass beads, rosehip and sour-cherry-and-Syrian-plum jams, a slice of flourless chocolate cake), the shopkeeper also insisted on cash. I had to schlep 20 minutes east of the store to find an ATM and trudge 20 minutes back again. Out of pity, the clerk gave me the chocolate cake for free. On this trip, I had to make numerous visits to the ATM and on Thursday, my bank cut my card off. When I called to reinstate the card, I had trouble “identifying” myself to them. They said they couldn’t take any of the other information I volunteered because someone else could have collected only specific bits of information and expect to get by on those. They couldn’t vary from the script. I’m all for security, but it was maddening in this case. The self of 10 years ago probably could’ve answered all the questions satisfactorily, but the questions had completely different answers today. For whatever reason, they weren’t using updated information. Eventually, the bank officer called the number on file, got Bryan, asked me a couple of alternate questions (duh) and allowed me to take out the 50 Euros I needed to get me a train ticket to the airport. This all, of course, took several excruciating hours.
As an aside: I didn’t call my bank before leaving L.A. because I had never had trouble traveling to foreign countries and withdrawing money on this card before. That might have prevented my problem. On the other hand, I bumped into a colleague in a Munich elevator who told me that she HAD called her card company before leaving for Germany and she still had trouble. She charged a glass of wine on the plane, and the charge originated from a U.S. address. The bank cut her off, saying that she was supposed to be in Europe. They called her home phone number, but obviously she wasn’t home to verify charges.