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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber


Ric and I were in the 14th hour of trying to shake off some really bad acid. A little strychnine is hallucinogenic, a lot is, well, just rat poison. It was 1970 and this was Munich, a city where you could go into a drugstore – and buy drugs.

Nineteen of us were doing a semester abroad between our junior and senior years at Syracuse University studying photography at the Agfa-Gevaert Technikum in West Germany. The ‘Orange Sunshine (LSD)’ barrels looked exactly like the ones we purchased on campus last semester. They were way different. It was a good thing both of us shaved with electric razors; we probably would have peeled our skin back with blades if we had them to kill the malevolent leeches sucking our blood at that point in time.

Eating didn’t help. Showers didn’t help. Slamming our heads on the wall repeatedly did offer some relief. Dawn was breaking. Ric and I got the idea if we went out and took some photos, it might take our collective mind off of our plight. We geared up and headed down the street.

As luck would have it, we rounded a corner in Schwabing at the precise moment a drunk German staggered around the block in the opposite direction. As we collided, the German pulled a .25 caliber Beretta out of his pocket and jammed it into me. Talk about an acid stomach! Out of the 19 students there, only two of us spoke German, and I was one of them.

“Haben sie cigaretten?” He asked (do you have any cigarettes). “Wofùr ist die pistole?” I replied (What is the pistol for?). “Wenn man keine cigaretten haben!”, he answered (If you don’t have any cigarettes). Neither Ric nor I smoked cigarettes.

In the hands of a sober German, a .25 caliber Beretta is accurate to about 15 feet. That number triples when a drunk one is aiming at two strung out long hairs running like they are being chased by the bulls at Pamplona. It’s as if this muttering, stumbling derelict suddenly acquired Angelina Jolie’s skills in curving bullets around the hanging torso of a pig from the movie “Wanted”. I was the hanging pig; Ric was the target.

I looked at Ric momentarily and then we both swapped ends and started running. We sprinted all the way to the entrance of the Englischer Garten (English Gardens), which by all rights was a trolley car ride away for normal people. We never looked back. Dawn was breaking, the acid had rudely left our systems and we beheld something that was as beautiful as it was mysterious. We stopped abruptly as we entered the gardens in the pre-dawn light.

Virtually every square inch of grass was occupied with the sleeping bodies of hundreds if not thousands of ducks and geese – and they were breathing in unison. It was as if the earth was collectively heaving in and out and in and out. The duck’s bodies rose and fell in a constant, synchronous rhythm, and the madness of the previous evening fizzled away like the bad dream we pretended it was. It was too early to photograph, so we just stood there slack jawed in rapt amazement.

But the good part hadn’t happened yet. As the first rays of the sun began to streak through the gardens, we witnessed a symphony of nature that I have never observed before or hence. The ducks and geese arose together at precisely the same instant in time, lifted off the grass in unison describing a semi-circle that momentarily but completely blotted out the entire sky, and then dropped unceremoniously into the adjacent lake together, every last one of them. Maybe took five seconds.

The forces of nature had conspired to refresh our psyches despite our best efforts to chemically destroy them. Nature 1, Students 0. Renewed and rejuvenated, Ric and I boarded a trolley for the long ride back to the hotel. Munich was great, but my photography echoed a sense of pathos that would receive its punctuation mark two years later at the ’72 Summer Olympic Games.

We flushed the rest of the Orange Sunshine down the toilet, having received a sobering lesson that would keep us on the straight and narrow for at least another day or two.

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