Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Munich, Germany

When we crossed into Germany the day after Strasbourg, I knew that I had come to a place which I would thoroughly enjoy. On the outskirts of urban areas in Germany, one can find tiny, rectangularly-shaped plots of land with tiny tool sheds and rows of vegetables, which serve as short reprieves from city life and a little gardening recreation for the urbanites. In many of these spaces, a family and/or friends sit around a fire, enjoying a picnic and a few stories, and in others you will find a serious, lone gardener out on his or her knees, trying to make the most of their over-priced possession. The plots were the beginning of my interpretation of the German people as being a proper, disciplined and tidy lot.

At the train station in Stuttgart, there are smoking boxes dispersed along the platforms, and smokers must be within their perimeters to smoke legally. The smokers looked like inmates confined to their cells, the dregs of society whose stain must be limited to a 10 ft. x 5 ft. allotment. What a comical scene it made, especially when the smokers would come to the edge of their enclosure, peering out longingly at the smokeless freedom they left behind, or, even better, when they would pace the box’s boundaries either inspecting to make sure that they indeed did have as much space as surveyed previously, or perhaps to enjoy what little exercise their tobacco cloisters allow. I often wandered if the smokers felt some sort of culture shock upon liberating themselves from their receptacles and reintegrating themselves back into society. Do they feel suppressed? Although they may be detained and separated in temporary exile, do they not feel more freedom in their box, where they can smoke to their heart’s content and truly express who they are? While in captivity, do they speak of the outside world, the mass of society which places them in their seclusion, as being exterior from them, much the way someone in France speaks of the United States or vice versa? I could also see it as sort of a country, where the area around its boundary lines are of highest values because of their views and the space by the ashtray was the middle, heavily industrialized region of the state. By now, this subject has been exhausted, but I can't help exposing some of the hardships of our oppressed and banished co-humans.

Five hours after leaving Strasbourg, we had arrived in Munich, a city-state in the Bavarian region of Germany. The ride was pleasant. I love the six-seat compartments in trains, as I can stretch out my long legs and be as comfortable as I would be in my bed at home. The scenery was beautiful and different from what I had seen in France. Shortly after our arrival, we checked into our hostel and made our way to the center city. Immediately, I found an interesting mannerism of the German population. At each and every cross-walk, pedestrians wait for the sign allowing them to cross before crossing. Even if there is no traffic to be seen or the tramway has already passed, at a time when the only injury that could occur is a trip and a fall, they will wait for the sign to walk. The reason for this lawful fidelity is that there is a fine of forty euros for anyone who crosses before they are allowed. It is a small aspect of the German society, but I found it very interesting, especially when compared to France and the United States and their more liberal interpretations of pedestrian rules.

The city of Munich is new and massive. The streets are clean and packed with promenaders enjoying the sights, smells and shopping of Munich’s center. There is a massive market in this area, where you can find many different, regional products from cheese, sauerkraut and several types of meat to herbs, fragrances and steins. Beer was everywhere. The market was set up in several different kiosks, and flowers and herbs hung over their rooftops. The scene was a pungent mix of sweet, floral, funky (cheese) and smoky scents. Beer, hot dogs and bratwursts were always at an arm’s length away, a very comforting setup when you have an empty stomach. For lunch, we went to a beer garden at one end of the market. The food, mostly potato salad, sauerkraut and sausages, was in a hut at the front of this area, next to a similar building which served as the beer trough. We sat down with a “brat” and a liter of beer, and I could not help but draw parallels to a baseball game back home. The garden was around thirty yards wide and long, its massive interior being a dense conglomeration of long, wooden picnic tables. There were men in lederhosen carrying around five, one-liter steins to friends and family back at their drinking stations, a most impressive feat. The atmosphere was quite merry and relaxed, and people would sit for hours drinking beer and talking. With as much beer being consumed at one time by so many people, I would have thought that there would have been some insensible actions, but everyone was tame and fun-loving. Like the cafe in France, the beer garden is a place to come together, consume a spirit or two and enjoy the day. It was a far cry from the arm wrestling and keg lifting that I had expected to encounter, as it is a most accepting family environment.

After resting away a bratwurst and beer-filled stomach, we went back down to the center city for the evening. We shopped and walked and were lucky to have nice weather. After a few hours, our stomachs were once again depleted, so we made our way to a hofbrauhaus. The hofbrauhaus is much like a beer garden indoors. It was situated in a two-story building. On each floor, there were several halls of wooden picnic tables, where people ate and drank to their fill. In the center of the building was a courtyard of tables surrounded by the exterior walls of the different halls. We found a table on the second floor in a small alcove overlooking the courtyard, as the first floor was packed with patrons. The scene was a little more raucous, as every now and then a group of men in lederhosen would break out into song and dance, but many families were there with small children as well. The liters of beer, the sauerkraut and the bratwurst were very satisfying, and the cool, black sky and golden candlelight upon the walls and tables created a very agreeable ambiance. It was lightly drizzling outside and a strong gust of wind would penetrate an unclosed door from time to time, but all of these elements only served to lend to the coziness of our situation. I can’t explain it, but the setting was as I pictured Germany to be. Germany has a romantic roughness to it, in my opinion. The weather is harsh, and I still couple lederhosen with axes and chopping wood, but their homes are warm places of reinvigoration from the taxes of laborious toil. I have told my stereotype to my roommate often, who comes from Germany, and she knows exactly to which I refer. The “meat, potato, wood, axe, stein and lederhosen” stereotype of Germany was very real to me when I was there, but, as a tourist, I come into contact with these elements more often. They are the romanticized aspects of Germany not shown by all, but, nonetheless, characteristics which I admire and respect. Their upstanding, prudent and disciplined manner comes into the mix as well, and the whole of it creates a very pure, innocent and simple account of the population. I saw much of the U.S. in Germany and much of Germany in the U.S., a relation far stronger than that which I had previously recognized.


  1. Good thing you got rid of your skinny cow before you got to Germany, right?!

  2. i'm sure that all the frenchmen walking around with baguette under their armpits and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes are getting payed for that.. just as my good german fellows for wearing those Lederhosen. ;)