20 February 2010

Ye Olde Chuck E. Cheese

Lee's still posting photos and back-story on his blog, which reminds me that I never got around to writing about one of the sillier things we saw, Munich's Glockenspiel, a.k.a. Europe's second-most-disappointing tourist attraction.*

Let's  check in with Arthur—or rather, a correspondent he quotes in the “Readers' Suggestions” section at the end of the chapter—for a description:
One of the best free sights in Europe is the Glockenspiel, the animated clock tower of the city Rathaus, which “performs” at 11 a.m. each day, which its colorful figures dance the ancient steps of the Beer Barrel Makers. Get there about 15 minutes early for a good viewing-and-picture-taking position right across the street.  
I'd like to think that this comment is a sign of a more innocent time, that it conclusively demonstrates that not so long ago, life was more full of wonder, people were more easily amused. Because my reaction to it—indeed, the only possible reaction for the twenty-first-century viewer—is: That's it? Really? Thousands of people watch this every day?

Again, maybe our outlook on life has changed. Perhaps, having grown up with Chuck E. Cheese and its animatronic animal house band, and, later, experiencing all manner of robotics and themed environments at Disneyland and restaurants like the Rainforest Cafe (to say nothing of the eye-popping special effects of Hollywood blockbusters), I'm just not capable of appreciating what is essentially a glorified wind-up toy.

I'm not alone. Of the three or four hundred other people filling the plaza, only a handful were smiling at the spectacle. Or perhaps I should say, only a handful were smiling with what one might conceivably call delight; plenty were snickering or smirking with incredulity.  Some looked downright miserable, their faces fixed with a stoic gaze upon their cameras, which they held high in trembling, tiring hands, documenting every halting movement of the mechanical figures high above:

(No, I don't have any photos of the damn Glockenspiel itself. As Lee points out, watching the crowd is a lot more interesting.)

Seriously disappointing--although really, it didn't sound that interesting even in concept.  If you have a twisted sense of humor, you might find the weird marionette jester figurine mildly amusing, what with its goofy costume and seriously sketchy mechanical hip-thrusts. So those might--might--keep you amused for all of three seconds. But the whole thing lasts some 12-15 minutes, during which even the most committed Luddite will inevitably give thanks for living in an age of video games and other things a bit more whiz-bang than this.  (Incidentally, the Most Disappointing Tourist Attraction in Europe is--apparently--the Glockenspiel in Prague, which claims the top honor because it goes on for nearly half an hour. Lordy.  I could be eating like four or five pastries in that amount of time!)

Yet despite the absurdity and dullness of the Glockenspiel, despite the fact that it was clear from the thirty-second mark that it was never going to get at all more interesting, no one walked away before it was done. People may not have actually enjoyed the Crappy Spectacular, but they still felt obligated to document it, per tourist protocol.  The point of tourism, after all, not to do what's fun or interesting, necessarily—it's to check the site off your list and move on to the next page in your guidebook.

And that's what travel has become, to many people: not an opportunity to see new lands and experience new cultures, but merely to breeze past their greatest hits, to audit their most superficial traits and sights for purposes of saying you've done what everyone else has already done before you.

* Source: our tour guide, who was a major misogynist jackass (and about whom the less said the better), but whose facts seemed in order.  He cited Some Reliable Publication whose name I don't recall at the moment.

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