Tag: Munich

Hey Munich, Let’s put on some pants.

If there is a stereotypical version of Germany it is Munich. Munich is all the things that Americans think about Germany: Beer, sausages, oompa music, lederhosen, and young kids walking around in soccer kit. It would be too simplistic to say that is what Munich has to offer the world, but if you are visiting for a few days I’d be surprised if you came away from the city without drinking at least one beer, eating one sausage, hearing at least one oompa song, seeing someone in lederhosen, and at least 10 kids wearing soccer kit, but Munich has more to offer the world than great beer and oompa music, it has some great museums, one of the world’s best public parks, and plenty of ways to kill time. 
My wife and I were looking forward to seeing the city, but we were really looking forward to seeing our German daughter, Maike. Maike stayed with our family five years ago and she took some time to come down to Munich to play tour guide and show us around the city. We had three great days of catching up, eating really good food, and walking until the rubber on my shoes wore out. Maike made our visit extra-super-fantastic. (The only German word we picked up was super which is pronounced with a z like zuper. So I added another language to my resume of fluency.)


Most of our time was spent in the English Garden because it was very hot. The garden has at least two beer gardens, plenty of green space to run and play, and a river and canal to swim in if you need to cool off. There were a bazillion people hanging out in the park and we spent one day cooling off in the beer garden and one day sitting next to the canal with the rest of Munich. The only thing that can spoil a nice time like this is a naked old man or two. I don’t know why this happens, but it seems like there are a few guys who always think, “You know what? Not enough people get to see me naked.” In reality only one person should be seeing that guy naked, himself. Why punish the world with your obvious lack of exercise and dining restraint. Hey, I’m not perfect, but I keep my shirt on in public…and pants too, if you were thinking I might be running around with uncovered nether regions you are wrong. 
So while I was enjoying the sunshine by hiding in the shade with my wife, we were entertained by at least two older guys who needed to dip their twigs and berries in the water without any clothing restraining their man region. There is one good thing about these guys showing off their bodies by Elvis…I feel better about myself. 


The English Garden does have some explaining to do. Why is it an English Garden and why is there a huge Chinese pagoda sitting in the middle of the world’s largest German beer garden? These things probably have some historical rationale, but that might mean I would research something for my blog and if you’re here for the first time that will not be happening. 
Munich is also a great for just walking the streets (and I mean this in the most innocent way). The tall buildings provide shade and we were able to see tons of interesting old stuff. The streets around our hotel were crowded with people enjoying the Christopher Street party. I assumed Christopher Street was some German dude who had experienced some form of hatred for being gay, but through some research called posting bad information on Facebook I came to find out that Christopher Street was the name of the street where the Stonewall Riots/Protests took place. So for three days we walked through the throbbing crowds of drunk people dancing to techno music and wearing odd outfits, in other words, a normal weekend in Munich.


Munich looks really old, but most of it was rebuilt since 1945 because the USA dropped a few bombs there. (The next 6-20 sentences are completely wrong as far as recorded history goes, but a rewrite won’t happen because these italicized words are fair warning.) Munich was also part of the GDR (East Germany, the bad guys, during my high school years). The 1972 Olympics were held there and if you don’t remember how that went then you need to Google “1972 Olympics” read that and then read about “1972 Olympics Basketball.” If you are from Oregon you probably know the 72 Olympics as the Olympics where Steve Prefontaine almost got a medal but lost because he tried too hard. I could go on about Mark Spitz and the poster I wanted of him with his gold medals since my mom wouldn’t let me get the one of Farrah Fawcett in the red bathing suit, but my point isn’t how I wanted posters I never got and how the 1972 Olympics is burned into my memory, it is that East Germany was our enemy. Less than 20 years later Germany reunified and our nations became BFFs. This is what gives me hope for the future. Could my children someday visit Iran and see where the American Embassy hostages were held? Could they go to North Korea and see the Sea World where all the animals (fish?) were trained by Kim Jong Un? The world always seems like a big scary place with lots of people trying to kill each other and when you get out there, away from your televised news, you find out that the world is full of people just like you: Same fears, same passions, same need to be loved, and the same need for a shower and a shave.

So, I leave Munich with a feeling of hope for the future…unless Trump gets elected…then I’ll be moving to Mars with Matt Damon and farming potatoes. 

An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Munich

Today our manhole cover comes from Munich, Germany. If you plug the word Munich into a translator you will find out that the city was named after Thelonious Monk. It is possible that this information is incorrect, speaking of incorrect, let’s look at our manhole cover today.

Munich. Yes, those are the same pair of shorts you have seen in the last three pictures. I travel light and gritty.

Ask your average American man what he knows about Munich and he will say, “Is that where they have Oktoberfest?”  Yes, it is. (The biggest problem I have with Oktoberfest is that it is at the end of October and the beginning of September. So it should be called something else. Oktotemberfest is my suggestion.) If the man is particularly astute he might say that Munich is where they held the 1972 Munich Olympics which is also correct. So now that we are all up on the entire history of Munich let’s see what the cover has to offer.

Munich has a pretty plain cover as you can see, but like all of the greatest works of art, the questions left in the viewer’s mind are of the utmost importance. The man on the cover is actually a monk, not a Dungeons and Dragons monk with spell capability and fighting skills, but the kind of monk who makes beer. This particular monk became a monk because he was horribly disfigured, look at his head. Man, I have seen some big old hooks on the back of people’s heads before, but this guy really has a problem. Imagine trying to buy a hat if your head was shaped like a hammer. So, no doubt, this caused him to drop out of society and start making beer.

The next detail is what might be mistaken as a cross on his tunic. Is this really a cross? Or is it possible that it is his muscled abdomen bulging through his clothing? Okay, it is probably a cross. This is a dumb paragraph to have written because it goes nowhere, but it is staying here because my internal editor is taking a nap.

The gang sign that the monk is flashing with his right hand is for his homies in the Bavarian gang. There really is quite a rivalry between cities like Munich and Berlin. It is kind of like the East Coast, West Coast thing that took place between Death Row Records and Big Boy Records in the 1990’s except there aren’t any rap songs being written about it and so far no one has been mysteriously murdered by Suge Knight. (I am not indicating that Suge Knight had anything to do with Biggie Smalls‘ death, or that he has ever done anything bad, I am simply drawing a comparison between the conflict between the East and West Coast rappers and Berlin and Munich which now seems a bit ridiculous, but if you have read this blog before you know that ridiculous is kind of my thing.)

Back to the monk on the cover, in his left hand he is holding an early version of an iPhone. I believe it is an iPhone IV (they used to go by Roman Numerals back then.) This iPhone was known for its poor reception so the monks would have to hold it far away from their bodies to get good reception when the Pope called. The Pope stilled used a landline back then. The Vatican is always slow to make changes and even today they use MySpace instead of Facebook. Pope John Paul tried Google+ but thought it was lame just like everyone else.

I now want to draw your attention to the sleeves on the monk’s tunic. These sleeves look pretty cool when you are holding your arms out, but as soon as you put your arms down the sleeves are going to be dragging in the mud. Obviously the monks were not familiar with the idea of form and function, but like most men, these guys were probably clueless about clothing. (I would probably still be wearing my green Kawasaki mesh shirt today if it was socially acceptable. It would be a tight fit since I was about half the size I am now, but cool doesn’t have a size.)

The last detail of the manhole cover is the word pressed into the bottom of the cover: STADTENTWASSERUNGSWERKE. This is a real German word. The only thing missing is an exclamation point! Germans love their exclamation points! Ask a German student to write an essay and 75% of the punctuation will be exclamation points! I am not kidding! They are probably mad because in Germany when a teacher asks for a 500 word essay they know it will be 10 pages long, and that is 10 point Times New Roman! There are two ways to understand this word: I can put it in my little Google search engine and it will tell me what it means, or I can use my linguistic skillz (pronounced skeeelz) and break the word down. Get ready to be dazzled. WASSER means water as I recall, and WERKE means work. With those two clues let’s break the rest down. I will guess that RUNGS means something like plumbing or pipes, and STADTENT means city or something like that. So according to my skillz the word means: City water plumbing works. I will now drop it into Google to see how close I got. Wow! CITY DRAINAGE WORKS! I am going to write to the College Board and see if I can get a few extra points added to my 1983 SAT score.

Okay, you must be exhausted after all that learning. Learning makes your brain work hard, which makes you thirsty, so get another cup of coffee and take a rest.

 

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TSOJ: An Interview with Myself

I sat down with myself, as I often do, in a chair in front of my computer and asked myself a few of the questions people have asked me since returning from TSOJ. This will be my final blog entry for a few months because I have a couple secret writing projects I am working on.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

How did The Summer of Jon come about? 

TSOJ happened through a series of fortunate events that I will not detail here in fear of boring everyone to death, but the main reason I was in Europe on my own was because I am not an understanding travel companion. My wife has endured a few of my trips and did not want to spend her vacation on a forced march across Europe. I am aware of my “problem” but I cannot help myself. If I am somewhere new I want to see everything, and, sometimes that leads me to avoiding things like food, rest, and bathroom stops. For example, when I did the Norway in a Nutshell and got on the wrong boat I did not eat for about 13 hours. I refused to pay for a boat hotdog and decided that I just wouldn’t eat. A personal decision like this is not always popular with my family members.

How did you plan your trip?

I have never used a travel agent and actually enjoy planning trips so I spent a great deal of time putting the pieces together for my trip. I always start with my airline ticket. I spent about a month watching airfare and trying to estimate when rates for the summer would drop. Flying from Seattle to Europe is not cheap, but Icelandair usually has the best rates and there a few oddities about the airline that made me finally go with them. The first oddity is that all of their flights go through Iceland (not that odd considering the name of the airline). You can chose to fly right through after a layover in Iceland, but why would you do that? A few days in Iceland is a great way to shake off the jet lag and there is no stranger place to visit. You can extend your lay-over and the airline ticket cost is the same as if you stopped for an hour. Iceland is expensive, but it has the best hotdogs in the world and has the world’s only penis museum.

The second oddity about Icelandair is that it is cheaper to fly open-jawed. My flight went: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Munich–Iceland–Seattle. Had I gone: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Oslo–Iceland–Seattle it would have been more expensive. I knew that I would start somewhere in Scandinavia and end somewhere in Southern Europe, so I went to the airline website and began plugging in dates and different flights until I hit one that would be as cheap as possible and allow me some flexibility in planning.

After I had the flight booked, I decided where I wanted to go in between my arrival and departure. This part of the planning is the most fun for me. I knew I wanted to go to Oslo, Prague, and Vienna, and I wanted to go back to Copenhagen and Berlin. All I had to do was connect the dots. Then I looked for the cheapest and most efficient way to go from point to point. (Fly if in Scandinavia, train if in the European main land.)

The final piece was then hotels. There are lots of affordable spots to stay in Europe, but I found that I could save a ton of money by staying in places with shared bathrooms. Some people may not like this, but here is a little secret: Most of these hotels have only a few rooms that share the bathroom, so it isn’t too bad. You will also have a sink in your room. I also make sure that breakfast is included in the price. You can get an inexpensive breakfast in Europe, but I like being able to pig out in the morning and breakfast restaurants are not on every corner.

If you were to re-plan your trip, what would you do differently? 

I would trim a day off of Reykjavík and add it to my time in Prague. I would also take one of my Munich days and add it to Vienna. All of the places I went were wonderful.

Logistically, I would take earlier trains, or reserve a seat. Trains leaving after 10AM are filled with college-aged-backpack-wearing EuroRail users so there is always a battle for seating and the trains are crowded. An early train is less likely to have those EuroRail folks because it is before they are awake.

What were some of the highlights?

The Vigeland statue park in Oslo. Getting on the wrong boat on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. Eating Thai food in Berlin. The evening bike tour in Prague. Vienna…just all of Vienna.

What was the loneliest moment?

Good question. I can tell you exactly when because it was strange. I was walking along the waterfront in Copenhagen. There is a nice wide path that leads all along the waterfront to the Little Mermaid statue.  It was a beautifully clear day and I had been on the road for about a week and a half. I was listening to my iPod and a Macklemore song came on. The song reminded me of my family and wished they were with me. I recovered by eating some ice cream.

When were you the most lost?

I don’t know. In Norway if you count distance, Copenhagen if you count time it took me to get back to a familiar place, and Munich if you count directional sense. I still have trouble understanding how I got so turned around in Munich.

Why do you get lost so much?

I have decided the reason I get lost when I travel is because there are no mountains around. Where I live it is easy to get oriented by looking at the mountains or ocean. Flat land confuses me.

What scared you the most? 

Climbing the church spire in Copenhagen. I really did want to turn around and go back. I don’t know if I could go back and do it again. The afternoon bike tour in Prague was not for the weak-kneed either.

What was the strangest thing you saw? 

I saw a lot of odd things, but in Copenhagen I saw dwarves ( not little people, but like Lord of the Rings dwarves). I don’t know how else to explain it but I went into a store in Copenhagen and there were people dressed in felt tunics and felt pants. The tunics and pants were embroidered with fancy designs. They had those pointy shoes with a bell on the tip and had little deer-antler knives tucked into their belts. They were not dressed up for some party, I could tell that this was the clothing they usually wore. It was like a time machine had dropped them into Copenhagen and they were trying to figure out what the hell happened. I wanted to take a picture so badly, but refrained because I didn’t want to get stabbed to death by a dwarf in a supermarket.

What is the dumbest thing you did? 

Aside from getting on the wrong boat in Norway? Probably eating the sandwich in Prague that was “Mexican flavored.” Really, really bad choice. Oh, buying my day-glo shoes in Berlin could be considered pretty dumb, but I kind of like them now.

What is the smartest thing you did? 

Before I left I would have to say buying my backpack/carry-on bag from EBags. It is a great suitcase thingy. Once I was on the road I think most of my choices were pretty good.

What’s the deal with bike tours? 

There is no better way to see a city in my opinion. The bus tours are okay, but bike tours allow more freedom and it is a great way to meet people.

Will you ever have another SOJ? 

I hope so, but who knows. I think people need to do their own Summer of ______________.

Don’t you think it was a waste of money? 

Travel is never a waste of money. I will quote Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”  

Let’s end the interview like they do on Actor’s Studio. 

Okay.

What is your favorite word?

Euphony

What is your least favorite word?

Cacophony

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Words

What turns you off?

Conflict

What is your favorite curse word?

I don’t really swear. (I have just been informed by family members that I do swear.)

What sound or noise do you love?

Laughter, specifically the laughter of my family.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Techno music.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would like to get paid to write. I wouldn’t mind being a tour-guide.

What profession would you not like to do?

Anything where I have to sell stuff.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

That was funny.

Final Thoughts on TSOJ

The Summer of Jon lasted 28 days and now that I am back home it seems like it happened a long time ago, or in a dream.  It was a trip of a lifetime, but I hope to do a few more trips of a lifetime before I kick the big can and become fish food (not the Ben and Jerry’s flavor, I doubt there is much rotting human flesh in Phish Food). Hopefully, time and distance  will give me the ability to say what aspects of the trip were truly memorable and make connections to my understanding of life.

Enough of that and on to the banal observations of an aged man traveling Europe on his own.

10. Traveling alone is only lonely if you want it to be. These days it is easy to close off to the world. Early in my trip I thought listening to my iPod as I walked around was a good way to keep myself company, but in the end it closed me off from talking to other people and interacting. When I started leaving my iPod in the hotel I started meeting people and no matter what people tell you, Europeans are friendly. They are not American-sloppy-open-mouthed-kiss friendly, they are a little more reserved and each nation has its own flavor of friendliness, but I had zero negative interactions with people on the road. (Okay, the guy behind the desk at my hotel in Munich was a bit of a grump, but if I had to wear tight suits in ugly colors I would be grumpy too.)IMG_1399

9. Knowing the exchange rate and running a few calculations is always a good idea before arriving in a country. This seems like a no-brainer, but when you travel through multiple countries in a month things can get confusing. When I arrived in Reykjavik I knew the exchange rate was 125-1, but I hadn’t run a few simple calculations so I ended up getting $400 worth of Icelandic Kroner s instead of getting $40 worth from an ATM. My mistake was a windfall profit for Iceland, I had to spend more there than I had intended since Icelandic Kroner s are not accepted anywhere else in the world. (Yes, I could have exchanged the money in the airport, but even an idiot like me knows to never exchange money in an airport.) When I ordered a beer on my first night in Norway and the bartender said, “97 Kroners,” I didn’t think twice about handing over my credit card. When I got back to my hotel room and checked the exchange rate I found out I purchased an $18 beer. From that point on, before I let my hotel wi-fi and traveled to my next destination, I looked at the exchange rate and figured out what $50 US was equal to in my next country.

8. Germans walk my speed. I like to walk with a purpose, so do Germans. There is no leisurely strolling and blocking the sidewalk in Germany and this is the way it should be. If you want to lolly-gag then go to Italy or find a beach.

7. Five days worth of clothing is plenty no matter how long you are traveling. Your room sink or tub is a great little washing machine if you don’t want to waste time in a laundromat. It takes two days for cotton shirts to dry inside a room, but about four hours next to a window.

Wash, rinse, dry on mini-ladder.

Wash, rinse, dry on mini-ladder. Clothing from the Johnny Cash travel collection. 

6. Those stupid little packing cubes really are handy. I thought they were overpriced and for OCD sufferers, but once I was on the road I loved my packing cubes.

5. WiFi in hotels can be lame, but Starbucks stores usually have pretty good connections and it is free if you register a Starbucks card (which doesn’t make it free, but I have had a zero balance on my card for about five years and I was still registered). You can also stand outside of stores and steal wi-fi if you have no shame. The wi-fi outside the Apple store in Munich was great.

4. Pay toilets are stupid. Europe needs to rethink this one. There is nothing else to say here.IMG_1880

3. In Europe vices are viewed as personal issues, in the United States vices are viewed as societal problems. The view of Europeans (huge generalization here) is that if you want to do something stupid go ahead, just make sure it doesn’t bother anyone else. In the US we make laws restricting vices. It is probably why the US leads the world in prison population.

Europe may not allow high-fives, but most of the time they let people do what they want.

Europe may not allow high-fives, but most of the time they let people do what they want.

2. When I would tell married couples (especially couples who are close to my age) that I was in Europe traveling alone I got two very different reactions. The men would get a glossy, far-away look and ask, “By yourself? How did you make that happen?” The women would turn the faces clock-wise about five minutes and squint, “Your wife must be pretty special.” The look the women gave me indicated that they really didn’t believe me and that there must be more to the story. I often felt like I was being accused of something devious.

1. My wife is pretty special.

TSOJ: Do Birds Still Sing at Dachau?

IMG_2391It had been a long hot day at Dachau and our tour was coming to an end. Our group had just walked through the crematorium and gas chambers and met our tour guide (James) by this statue. “I like this statue. There is something in the attitude of the guy that is defiant. His head is not bowed,” James said quietly.  “The prisoners were not allowed to put their hands in their pockets and I like that he has his hands in his pockets.” There were other tour groups and people who had traveled to Dachau on their own all around, but it was quiet, the kind of quiet that reveals that this place is not an ordinary place.  As I looked at the statue and took a picture, I heard an unseen bird singing in the trees. This song would normally go unnoticed. Usually the chatter of the world drowns out the inconsequential songs of birds, but at Dachau the song bird has its most attentive audience. For three hours I had not heard a single happy sound.  My mind drifted away from everything that I had seen that day and I began thinking of John Keats‘ poem Ode to a Nightingale, especially the first stanza where Keats discusses his personal anguish and the mysterious bird’s happy song.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

  But being too happy in thine happiness,—

  That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

  In some melodious plot

  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

  Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

I had traveled to Keats’ house near Hampstead Heath in London many years ago and sat beneath the tree where it was said he was napping when he heard the nightingale singing. I walked through the stagnant house where Keats lived and wondered if he knew his life was almost over when he wrote those words. Historians believe Keats had contracted tuberculosis from his brother Tom who had died in December of the previous year. Did he see that his life’s arc was going to be so brief?

I thought of Keats’ headstone in Rome inscribed with the words, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water,” and how he died believing that his poetry would disappear and he would join the numberless members of the human race who have melted into this earth and are now unremembered. Keats’ poetry survived, and his life has been immortalized through those words,  but the millions of humans that were murdered during the Holocaust are now reduced to faded photographs and representative statues. The names of the six million European Jews who were murdered by the Nazis did have their “names writ in water.”

Dachau has a way of reminding that life is brief, that circumstances and fate are cruel, and that humans are both brave and savage.

I was not sure if I wanted to spend my final day in Europe at Dachau. I had been to a concentration camp near Hamburg (Neuengamme) several years before and understood that these memorials are not destinations to be visited as a check-off on my to-do list, but I had also come away from the visit at Nuengamme wishing I had someone there to explain what I was seeing.  Authorized guided tours of concentration camps are limited by the German government not because they want to cover up the crimes committed during the Holocaust, but because they only want qualified, educated people leading tours of these factories of death. There are a few English-speaking tours of Dachau each day and after reading a number of reviews on TripAdvisor, I decided to go with the “In Their Shoes” tour. It was a good choice.

The tour group (seven of us) met in the main train station in Munich just outside of a coffee shop. We had a quick meet and greet before hopping on the train to Dachau: There were two younger military guys from Michigan on leave from duty in Africa, and a family of three adult children and their mother from Portland. The train trip from Munich to Dachau is about 15 minutes and our group spent the time talking about where we had been during the summer. Our guide, James, began talking about the history of Dachau after we had transferred from the train to a bus. After a month in Europe, and seeing the bits and pieces of the puzzle that led to Hitler’s rise to power, I was reminded that these events did not just take place as words in a history book. The bus dropped us off near the entrance to the memorial and James did what any good guide does, he gave us a brief introduction to etiquette for the memorial and then guided us to the gates of the camp.

The camp gates, "Work will set you free."

The camp gates, “Work will set you free.”

My initial reaction to the gate was that it was much smaller than I thought it would be, in fact the entire camp was much smaller than I thought it would be. I suppose I thought the camp should be equal in size to the horror it caused, but this was not a cemetery where graves would mark the great numbers of people who were tortured and murdered here, it was a work camp where the Nazis mechanically tried to destroy several groups of humans. Dachau was the first concentration camp, a camp I had read about in books, heard about in history classes, and the camp that would become the model for the rest of the factories of death. It was not as large as Nuengamme (a camp I had not heard of until visiting) and I began to wonder why it was more “famous” than other camps that murdered just as many people but remain unknown to most Americans. If I were to say, “I went to Nuengamme,” to most people they would assume it was another city in Germany, but if I were to say, “I went to Dachau,” no one would think I went to the small town just outside of Munich. Why?

IMG_2351

American soldiers were the first to arrive at Dachau.

I believe there are two reasons why Dachau is fixed in our collective American memory: American soldiers arrived at the camp first, and one of the soldiers had a color movie camera that recorded what the Nazis left behind. The movie camera captured the train-loads of bodies, the medical facilities created to test the extremes of human survival, and the surviving humans who looked more like walking dead than living people. These shocking images have survived the 70 years between the end of WWII and today. These are the images of events we swear to never allow to happen again…but we all know genocides continue to plague the world.

James and a map of the concentration camps.

James and a map of the concentration camps.

I’m not sure how long the tour lasted. We saw the entire camp, the ovens, the gas chambers, the barbed wire fences and moat, the barracks, and the on-site prison. I took pictures, but even today, I don’t want to share them. It isn’t that I don’t want others to see what I saw, it is that I don’t think pictures can bring the reality of the place to life. Pictures dull the impact of the horror because it becomes too familiar, too ordinary.

The millions of people murdered deserve to be remembered, but their hopes, their dreams, and their lives were “writ in water.” There are too many of them to be remembered properly. It is too overwhelming and all the memorials in the world will not make up for what has been lost.

As I left Dachau I thought of the song bird sitting in the trees behind the statue. Keats argued that the bird is not truly happy, it does not know death, it does not know pain, and therefore the bird does not understand happiness even though humans associate its song with joy.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
Birds sing because that is what birds do. I don’t know what humans were designed to do because what we do makes no sense.

TSOJ: Bike Tour Of Munich, Free Shower Included

Munich, my final stop on The Summer of Jon, and the final bike tour of my glorious summer. By now I had terrifying bike tours (Prague), beautifully weird bike tours (Potsdam), bike tours where the guide was trying to lose the group (Vienna), and solo bike tours where I nearly rode into another country (Copenhagen), so when I arrived beneath the Old Town Hall near Marienplatz I was ready for whatever the day would bring. I was greeted by two guides: James and Busty. (I assume that is how Busty spells his name, I did not ask.) Before we left the greeting area I learned three facts: 1.The city name Munich (Munchen) literally means “by the monks.” 2. Barrel-makers were responsible for saving the city during the plague by doing a dance that is now celebrated every seven years. 3. Busty was born in Munich and then moved to New Zealand where he grew up.

All three of these facts interested me. The name of the city was mildly interesting, the barrel-maker dance was pretty cool, but Busty’s family history became a mystery that I resolved to unfold during the bike tour. To start with there are only 3 million Kiwis living in New Zealand, but everywhere I travel I run into Kiwis, so either no one is in New Zealand during the winter (summer in the Northern Hemisphere) or there are 30 million Kiwis and 27 million of them are traveling at any given moment.

Busty (green shirt), James (blue shirt), and Juliet (shiny right breast).

Busty (green shirt), James (blue shirt), and Juliet (shiny right breast).

We walked to the bike store, selected our bikes, Busty asked for someone to ride in the back, I volunteered because I was the only solo traveler on the tour and had “Ass Man” experience, and then Busty gave us a frightening introduction to riding bikes in Munich. The introduction boiled down to this, “Getting hit by a moving car is okay because the driver will be held responsible. You may die, but death is better than hitting a parked car. Hitting a parked car will be your fault and you will be held financially responsible.” Munich is home to BMW and everyone in Munich owns a black or silver car that costs 100,000,000 Euros. Busty said that a young lady scratched a parked car with her bike last week and ended up with a 12,000 Euro bill, this bit of information did scare me a little.

Once we took off on the tour my fears subsided because we traveled on bike paths most of the time and there were a few people on the tour that could only ride their bikes at a maximum speed of three mph.

Livin' the vida loca, taking pictures while riding is always against the rules, but when you are going at electric-scooter speed and there are no cars around...

Livin’ the vida loca, taking pictures while riding is always against the rules, but when you are going at electric-scooter speed and there are no million dollar cars around…

We spent a good chunk of the beginning part of the tour in the city core. The odd thing about Munich is that it looks really old, but much of the city’s old town was rebuilt after it was destroyed in WWII. Some German cities cleared the rubble and built shiny new cities (Frankfurt) and other cities cleared the rubble and rebuilt new versions of the old city. Munich went old school and Busty explained that much of that decision was based on how the people of Munich see themselves; the people of Munich consider themselves Bavarians more than Germans and they wanted to preserve their Bavarian heritage. This whole Bavarian thing is great for Munich, but it isn’t the most popular attitude to have in the rest of Germany. I equate it to how Americans feel about Texans. (That’s right, I’m messin’ with Texas.)

As we traveled around and Busty filled in the history of the city, I began to get pretty confused about who ruled what and when. This crash-course in European history started in Oslo for me and I was beginning to get everybody mixed up. Were the Bavarian rulers the same ones that ruled Austria? What about the dudes in Potsdam? Who was ruling Czechoslovakia? Eventually Busty got to a part of history that is easier to understand, or harder to understand depending on your perspective: Hitler.

I want to be careful not to sound to flippant here, but Hitler is a historical figure who cannot be confused with any other leader and therefore makes European history since WWII easier to understand. (If you read that last sentence and your mind said, “What about Barack Obama?” I want you to take a deep breath, turn off Fox News, remove the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag from your flag pole, find your happy place, and read a book.)

It is very difficult to understand how Hitler was able to rise to power. For most Americans this is the great mystery of German history. I am being sincere when I say that my little bike tour of Munich helped me finally put the final puzzle pieces together in my mind and understand Hitler’s rise to power.

Puzzle Piece #1: Standing in the Jewish Quarter in Prague, “The Jews were not allowed to live outside this area, and could not be buried in the other cemeteries. The city leaders would not give the Jews more land, so they had to bury people on top of each other. They always put 11 inches of soil between the bodies, but that is why the cemetery ground rises so high above the rest of the street.”

English: Old Jewish Cemetery. Josefov, Prague.

Prague’s Jewish Cemetery

Puzzle Piece #2: Next to the Jewish Memorial in Vienna, “Christians were not allowed to loan money, but the Jewish faith allowed money lending. When the city needed money they would invite the Jews to come live in the city, but as soon as they didn’t need money lending any longer, they kicked the Jews out.”

Vienna's Jewish Memorial.

Vienna’s Jewish Memorial.

Puzzle Piece #3: Standing next to the Plague column in Prague, “Rumors were spread that the Jews had poisoned the wells and that is why the plague was spreading.”

Puzzle Piece #4 and # 5 : Standing in Odeonsplatz in Munich, “Here is where Hitler was almost killed in 1923 during the Beer Hall Riots. He was thrown to the ground, and his body-guard jumped on top of him to protect him. The body-guard was shot four times. 16 Nazis were killed and four police officers died.”

“Hitler ran away, but was eventually captured and went to trial. The German government should have executed him for treason but they didn’t and they allowed him to defend himself at this trial which gave him the opportunity to defend his actions and spread his anti-Semitic message.”

Final Puzzle Piece: The alleyway behind Odeonsplatz: “Hitler had a memorial built of the Beer Hall Riots and everyone who walked by had to do a Nazi salute. People started to walk through this alley to avoid the memorial. Hitler put some of his SS men back here to take names of people who wouldn’t give the salute. Once he controlled the police, he could jail all of his opposition.”

Alleyway behind Odeonplatz.

Alleyway behind Odeonplatz.

Hitler’s rise to power wasn’t a popular movement of unavoidable events, but a series of near-misses combined with a historical hatred of the Jewish people. When Germany’s economy crashed and inflation exploded overnight (primarily because Germany was printing money to pay of WWI reparations ) Hitler was there to blame the Jews who had a history of money-lending. He was there to capitalize on the fears of the past, and to project a future where Germany would be the center of the world. He did not win a popular vote, he formed a coalition government. He consolidated his power by taking over the police force and eventually stifled all of his opposition. All of it made sense to me, not the result, but the actions leading into WWII. It is sad to understand that the human desire to survive often leads to the destruction of other humans.

After our Odeonplatz stop, a few of the wimps (the family from Scotland) in our group were hungry and wanted something to eat. It was 11 o’clock and our next stop was the third largest beer garden in the world, so I passed on the food option (Busty said we would be stopping at the largest beer garden in the world soon) and grabbed a liter of beer. Our group sat around a large table and sipped our beer in the shade.

Beer Garden stop #1.

Beer Garden stop #1.

After our refreshing break we hopped back on the bikes and headed out toward Munich’s Olympic Park. For anyone old enough to remember the 1972 Olympics the park is a destination filled with memories: The tragic deaths of the 11 Israeli Olympic team members still holds the park in its grip, but the ’72 Olympics also brought the world Olga Korbut, Mark Spitz, and a controversial Russian victory (cheaters never prosper) over the US in basketball.

The Olympic Park

The Olympic Park

The park is still used today (the X-games had just left town) but the grounds were almost empty as we rode through. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts and supernatural phenomenon but there was an odd aura surrounding the entire park. It could have been the emptiness of the place, or it might just have been the fact that clouds were now gathering in the sky.

It had been 30 years since the games were held in Munich, a city that had been destroyed 30 years earlier in WWII, and in those 60 years Germany had been conquered, divided, and reunited. The great arcs of history are sometimes pretty short arcs and he ability of humans to destroy in rebuild is incredible. It should frighten us and give us hope at the same time.  The great shame of these monstrous sporting stadiums and buildings is that the host countries have still not figured out how to use the Olympic facilities on a daily basis after the games are over.

Built for 1972, the design still appears modern today.

Built for 1972, the design still appears modern today.

Mark Spitz broke some records in this water. Well, I hope they changed the water by now.

Mark Spitz broke some records in this water…well, I’m sure they have added new water by now.

The one building that was still open to the public was the pool. For five Euros you can slip into the same pool that Mark Spitz swam in to win his collection of gold medals.

The building I wish I could have stood in is where they held the basketball tournament and the referees stole the gold medal from the US players. (This event drove me to win the gold medal back numerous times on my driveway basketball court. History may have awarded the Soviets the gold, but my imagination awarded me the gold many times.) The US team refused to accept the silver medals and I think the medals are still in bank vault waiting for Doug Collins to pick them up. The big shots at the Olympic Committee probably break the medals out to wear them at cocktail parties.

Near the Olympic Park is BMW World. I am not a car guy,this should be obvious because I write a blog, but even I got a little weak in the knees looking at all of the shiny cars.

BMW world.

BMW world.

I wonder if they take Icelandic Kroner s.

I wonder if they take Icelandic Kroner s.

BMW world is one of those places where someone like me realizes that there are people in the world who are far, far, far wealthier than I am, and I am not just talking about people who live in Norway. I don’t think I will ever own one of these cars, but I decided that sitting in a couple of them wouldn’t hurt anyone. Well, it hurt someone, because as soon as I stepped out of the cars some guy would come along and wipe the car down like I was carrying the Ebola virus.

I wandered upstairs and saw this:

A test drive track on the second floor of BMW world.

A test drive track on the second floor of BMW world.

This test track on the second floor is either the coolest thing I have ever seen, or it is the saddest waste of money I have ever seen. Why is it on the second floor? Because if it was on the first floor it would be boring and regular, put it on the second floor and suddenly the building becomes a hide-out for a James Bond villain. I don’t know what you have to buy to drive your car on the track, but sometimes you don’t even have to ask a question to know that answer is, “Don’t worry, Sir, you cannot afford it.”

After BMW World most of us, even the non-wimps, were getting a little hungry. Lucky for us the next stop was the world’s largest beer garden. We rode to the English Garden and located the Beer Garden. We found a table under the Chinese Tower and began munching on our food and sipping our beer. There was an ompa band playing and it felt very festive. Ten minutes later the festivities stopped and everyone was running for shelter as a “summer shower” began dumping on the English Garden. Since we were beneath the tower, we were not getting wet, but our bike tour was now looking a bit less fun. I didn’t really mind getting wet, maybe it was because I had two liters of beer, or maybe it was the fact that is was warm and being wet wasn’t a huge problem.

Busty said the rain would probably stop soon, so we waited and then when the rain abated, we grabbed our bikes and rode over to see the park surfers. On the way to the river it began pouring again. It was a Noah sized shower. I had a rain parka in my bag, but by the time I considered getting the parka, I was completely soaked and didn’t care.

A little rain never hurt anyone.

A little rain never hurt anyone.

The rest of our bike group was not quite as excited about riding the rest of the way through the rain and by the time we reached the surfers people were complaining. I announced that I was willing to sell my parka to the highest bidder, but had no takers. The rain did not appear to want to stop and Busty gave us the option of heading back a little early, or seeing one more thing that would extend our trip by 45 minutes. Of course we voted to head back early.

Surfing in the English Gardens.

Surfing in the English Gardens.

We rode through some pretty heavy rain and eventually ended up back at the office. Busty thanked us all for being good sports and I was awarded with this gem of a gift.

If you look at this picture in the mirror there is a secret message.

If you look at this picture in the mirror there is a secret message.

TSOJ: Munich–What to do? Let’s get lost.

Before arriving in Munich, I took an informal poll of people sitting in my train seat. I asked myself, “What should I see in Munich?” This was a difficult question to answer because I had done very little research on where to go and what to do once I arrived. This phenomenon occurred because I assumed  I would have plenty of time to plan along the way. Well, I probably did have time, but most of the time I wasn’t thinking about what to do in Munich, I was thinking about what I was going to do in the moment and since Munich was the final stop on TSOJ I figured I had plenty of time.  So as I traveled from Vienna to Munich, I began to think about what I should see. What I knew about Munich was that it is where Octoberfest takes place each year, it was also where the 1972 Munich Olympics took place, and I knew there was a big park where the world’s largest beer garden is located. Since it was not October (or even September, which is when Octoberfest really happens) or 1972, I had very little to plan. I did have a bike tour scheduled for my second day in Munich and since it was the “Deluxe tour” I decided that if there was something special to see in Munich I would ride by on my bike at some point. I then spent the next four hours planning how to get from the train station to my hotel…I still got lost.

Eventually I ended up at Hotel Bristol (Motto: We are not friendly, but your room is clean) and I set off to see the city center. The city center was just across a big convergence of streets and about three blocks away from my hotel. I did not want to cross the busy streets and knew I could use the underground entrance and exit to avoid them, so I went down the stairs, walked through the underground passage, and came up on the other side. Viola, all of my travel experience paid off and I was off to the downtown. I will now disclose a few embarrassing details: I somehow got turned around in the underground area. I know, it sounds impossible, but I did it.  I was heading east, but my brain told me I was traveling north. I walked within touching distance of the downtown area a couple of times before turning in the wrong direction. I only discovered how lost I was when I came upon a river and could no longer just keep walking.

I took out my map and tried to figure out where I was. There is only one big river in Munich, the Isar, and according to my brain there was no possible way I could have walked all the way there, so I was not just regular lost, I was big-time lost. I followed the river for a little while and enjoyed the walk. Lots of people were swimming in the river, riding bikes along the river, and enjoying the sunshine, so I got comfortable being lost and just strolled until I saw a sign for the Deutsches Museum. According to my brain, the Deutsches Museum was not anywhere close to my  location, but as it turned out reality won again.

This the the actual route I took to the center of town.

This the actual route I took to the center of town.

Now that I knew where I was it was much easier to use my map. I reoriented myself and eventually found my way to Marienplatz. Using maps is always easier when you know where you are. (Yes, you can quote me on the previous statement.)

Marienplatz is Munich's city center.

Marienplatz is Munich’s city center.

Since I was now exhausted and hungry I decided to see if there was a place to eat somewhere close. Rule number one learned from TSOJ: Don’t eat anyplace near a major tourist site. Rule number two, avoid blue umbrellas. Rule number three, if you are in Munich find a beer garden. Rule number four, if you are near a tourist site, beer gardens are okay.

Right near Marienplatz is a place called Viktualienmarkt. Viktualienmarkt is a little like Pike’s Street Market in Seattle and a beer garden.  In other words, food heaven for a weary traveler.

Viktualenmarkt.

Viktualenmarkt.

Viktualienmarkt's beer garden under the shady trees.

Viktualienmarkt’s beer garden under the shady trees.

If you have never been to a German beer garden here is a quick guide:

1. Go to the food line.

2. Order the most stereotypical German food you can imagine. In my case it is always brat, kraut, and potato salad.

3. Pay for your food with cash. CASH ONLY! Don’t slow the line down or you will get a lecture in German and that will feel like being yelled at.

4. Go to the beer line.

5. Grab the largest beer you can find, or if you want a lemon beer (radler) ask for it.

6. Pay for your beer.

7. Find a place to sit down. It is communal seating, so you just need to find an open location and then ask anyone nearby if it is open. Seats closest to the food and beer are usually reserved for people who want table service from a waiter/waitress. You can tell the difference between service seating and regular seating by the type of seat. Benches= no service.

8. Sit down and eat.

9. Be friendly and talk to your neighbors after informing them that you are an American and only speak one language.

10. Get another beer.

I ended up sitting next to a fountain with an older German gentleman. We spent most of the time talking about his daughter who was trying to get a Visa to study in San Francisco. He also gave me a great overview of what to see in his city saving me hours of research and effort.

After my dinner, I took the underground train back to my hotel so that I would not spend another two hours wandering Munich and mapped out how I would spend the final few days of TSOJ.

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