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A Perfect Stranger

Traveling through Europe in the late fifties, and speaking only a little German, I often relied on the kindness of strangers. Once in Paris, I was struck with the notion of capturing a "different" view of the Eiffel Tower. I wanted it to rise from a swirl of gray fog at the base, soaring majestically above the city. I was warned that any morning fog would be burned off by the six thirty rising of the sun, so I had better get up early.

Six o'clock the next morning found me wandering around in the semi-dark, completely lost. The few pedestrians available for questioning seemed to be saying that they never heard of the Eiffel Tower. Finally, it dawned on one Parisian that I was looking for the Tour d' Eiffel! He personally walked four blocks out of his way to escort me to my destination. I still have the picture somewhere.

Arriving in Madrid at the height of the tourist season, the only available accommodations were in top-of-the-line fancy hotels. My brother and I put our faith in fate to find us a room instead of calling ahead for reservations. We explained our predicament to the taxi driver from the airport who shook his head when hearing the amount of our available funds. He said that if we didn't mind living with a family he knew, he could fix us up with a pension. Passing under the Arch d' Triumph, he turned down a narrow alley and let us off in front of an antique looking oak door.

He introduced us to the lady of the house who showed us a spacious room upstairs. The price was thirteen dollars per week double occupancy and included breakfast if we didn't mind eating in their kitchen/dining room. Lovely!.On another occasion in the seventies, my wife and I were visiting some friends in Munich.

The father of a friend heard that we needed a place to stay and promptly changed his two week vacation to free up his apartment for our use. The beds boasted foot thick comforters and the convenient location in the center of the city made our vacation a huge success. He refused all offers of payment so we had to hide some money in his bible for him to find after we left.Before we left Munich, I wanted to visit the famous AKG microphone factory in a small town nearby.

I had just joined a Barbershop chorus and needed a pair of stereo microphones for my reel-to-reel tape recorder. AKG mikes were considered to be among the best in the world, known for their natural sound. A short train ride early one morning brought me to a large, modern building.

I explained my needs to the receptionist who, while wanting to help, decided to refer me to the plant manager. He listened carefully to my story which included some indication of my budget. He asked the make of my tape recorder and the conditions of the hall. By now I was nervous about how much this was going to cost me, what with the luxurious atmosphere. Hidden spotlights reflected off the microphones in display cases lining the walls, soft music and even softer carpets saying, "We are quality".

I was asked to have a seat as he disappeared through a door.Apologizing for the delay, (only thirty minutes), he presented me with a matched pair of microphones with built-in proximity switches allowing the microphones to be used as hand held or for a distant chorus. He explained that the long wait was needed in order to build a transformer into the cord to match the impedance to my Grundig tape recorder. He escorted me to the cashier, writing down a price of fifty marks (about thirty dollars). The cashier asked if that was just for the cables and he told her, no, everything was included.

The microphone cases had some small cosmetic scratches and did not pass their final inspection. I was ecstatic and promised to send him a copy of my first recording.While the American presence in Europe was tolerated with some misgivings, America itself was held in awe and these perfect strangers would be friendly people in any country in the world.

.Retired portrait photographer. Comments welcome.

By: Kenneth C. Hoffman

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