A Beautiful Fall Day in Munich

Est war ein shönes wetter heute! (It was a beautiful day today!) Blue skies, cool temperatures in the morning, giving way to warm in the afternoon. A cloudless blue sky. I didn’t feel so guilty about missing Fall in Colorado, my favorite time of year. A perfect day for the opening day of Oktoberfest, although I am going to save that experience for later, I think. It will be crowded, I fear, to judge from the hordes of people on the Marienplatz in downtown Munich today.

I’ve spent the past two days venturing further and further from my apartment. Friday, I spent a good part of the day walking the village, trying to find the essential shops and businesses: bank, post office, Laundromat, and döner kabob shop. My son, Brian, tipped me off from his previous visit to Germany that döners, a kind of Turkish sandwich, fulfilled nearly all the daily nutritional requirements and that one could live on nothing but döners for a year, if required. Well, that and one or two beers every now and then to provide the essential amino acids, he cautions. I believe he may be right.

I managed to find the footpath to the tennis center (12 outdoor clay courts and 4 indoor clay courts) and as soon as I saw it I knew I would make it here just fine. It is about the same distance away from my apartment as the closest tennis courts are to my house in Colorado, easy walking distance. And I found the back way to the Institute, all bike and pedestrian lanes, which sure beats the way I walked home the other day, which was about a foot away from the traffic. (I’ve only been here a few days, but I have seen in that short time a considerable number of alcoholic beverages consumed. If some of these people aren’t driving cars, I will be enormously surprised. In any case, I am staying far away from the shoulders of the road from now on!) I even found a pedestrian path to the U-Bahn station, the underground subway system that allows you go get everywhere in Munich. So I feel like I am set for getting around now. If I don’t lose that 10 pounds I have been talking about for a year, something is seriously wrong. I’m pretty sure with the amount of walking I have done the past two days that I’m in positive territory even with the number of alcoholic beverages I have consumed. (I don’t suppose anyone has mentioned that the beer in Munich is superb.)

Last night I felt confident enough to venture into Munich on the U-Bahn to meet Brian for dinner. We walked around the Marienplatz a bit while he gave me an unbelievably good tour of the architecture and history of the buildings in that area of the city. He was a good as any professional tour leader I have ever heard, and he tells me that many of the students in his program spend their summers leading tours. I am afraid this is one young man who will not be coming home again anytime soon. He absolutely loves being here and he lights up with the historical and political history he is learning. I came back to my apartment wondering if I was ever as passionate as he is at any time in my life. It is a joy to behold.

(Well, alright, I’m a little over the top about tennis, but I’m not sure that counts. There is a difference between passionate and psychotic.)

Brian on the Marienplatz. On the Marienplatz: My son, Brian, on the Marienplatz on the opening day of Oktoberfest. He is not drinking those beers, only posing with them. (At least that’s the story we have agreed to tell his mother.) Notice the hoards of people in the background. They have just come from the end of the Oktoberfest parade, which we managed to miss because one of us (I won’t say who) had a little mishap on the U-Bahn and got lost for an hour or so.

More Meat! More Meat!

Last night Brian and I went for dinner at the Augustiener Keller. The Augustiener brewery is one of the four or five Munich breweries that provide beer for the Oktoberfest. The restaurant is in a huge building with room upon room upon room filled with rough tables and benches. Every single seat in this place was full last night, and probably every language in the world was being spoken. Or rather, shouted, since you must shout to be heard over the din of drunken men singing songs and shouting for more beer. If you didn’t know better you would swear you have set foot in a road house in 16th century Bavaria, sometime well before the Inquisition and Christianity arrived in this fair country. (I have to admit, the loudest of the singers were wearing kilts, not lederhosen, which gave me a fright when I couldn’t recall for a moment what country I was in.)

Brian and I found a table way in the back, the last one available, and we had to walk through the cloisters to get there. (Or maybe it was the kitchen, I don’t know. There were an awful lot of frantic people offering up what sounded like prayers to me.) There were advantages to being in the back. It wasn’t quite as noisy, and we were near a door that periodically opened and blew some of the cigarette smoke in another direction. But it was a hell of a long way from the men’s toilet, and that is a considerable disadvantage in a place like this. For one thing, if you don’t take careful note of your surroundings, you are unlikely to ever find your way back to your table. It is best to take note of this before the drinking starts.

After it starts, all bets are off, and you are pretty much on your own. Of course, I haven’t worked up to drinking like this, so I am off sooner rather than later. You might imagine that if you throw several hundred or a thousand men together (I am not even going to venture a guess what is going on in the Women’s toilet), all drinking vast quantities of beer, that it won’t be too long before you have a bit of a ... well, mess on your hands. (Think half-time of the Super Bowl, for example.)

The Germans have devised a sensible way of dealing with this unfortunate circumstance. They employ an elderly woman to work around your feet with a mop while you are in the process of doing your business. For this, you are expected to tip 50 cents or so on a plate outside the toilet. If you haven’t experienced this before, having the mop suddenly appear between your legs can be a bit of a shock, to say the least. Let’s just say it is no surprise to me why a mop is needed.

Dave on the Marienplatz. The Author On the Marienplatz: The author, recovered from his ordeal of the night before, in front of the Rathaus on the Marienplatz. Note the Germanic beard and messenger bag (newly purchased) that make the author blend into the surrounding populace.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

It is a truism of travel that on the day before you are to leave on your travels, your house tries to fall apart. At the last minute I was trying to pack my bags and glue the shower back together so my family could take a shower while I was gone without completely swamping the tile in the bathroom and getting that squishy-squishy sound when they walked on it. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, is that my apartment would also try to fall down around my ears.

I woke up this morning and the toilet wouldn’t work. Simple as that. And of course I had forgotten to get that lady’s number last night when I left the tip, or I would have called her to fix it. My God, now I have to learn German plumbing! This is turning into a nightmare.

But here you go. I pulled the top off the toilet and peered inside. It was immediately obvious what was wrong. The little doohicky had slipped out of the whatjamacallit. I put it back together and Wha-la! a fixed toilet!

So I got to thinking about that. If I can get up in the morning and fix a German toilet (without even understanding what the names of the parts are in English!), why can’t I walk up to someone and carry on a German conversation? (I mean, beside the fact I don’t know the language worth a damn.) No reason, of course. So today I decided to go all German, full immersion.

Brian was absolutely agreeable. He just hates to speak English on the U-Bahn because he is so afraid of fitting into somebody’s stereotype of an American. His voice gets really low, practically a whisper. So we spent most of the day together and spoke perhaps a dozen words of English. I’m not going to pretend I understood everything he was talking about, but I was absolutely shocked at how much of it I really did understand. He was careful to explain things to me with lots of gestures, and multiple examples, but doggone it, I began to understand him. At one point I was even able to make a joke with what I understood and what little German I could cobble together.

It has emboldened me. (Although I had a little set back later at the Tennisplatz when I was trying to find the manager of the club and people looked at me as if I had released a strong smell when I asked about him.) I’m going to keep it up. See if I can’t learn this language and become less a burden to myself. It is exciting, really. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Tennisplatz. The Tennisplatz: The Tennisplatz has 12 outdoor and 4 indoor clay courts. The Munich City Open is going on this weekend, with a Men’s and Women’s Open division, and an “Older Men” division, for men up to 50 years old. (Uh, I didn’t ask what division men older than 50 were in.) I watched the “olders” play some. They are good players, but I wouldn’t have been intimidated to play them, and I would have liked the chances of some of the players on my “seniors” team in Colorado. I got the phone number of a young kid who is suppose to be “pretty good” to hit with. It looks almost like a different game on the clay. Guess I’ll find out soon.

Garching See

Just beyond he Tennisplatz is the Garching See (or lake), and it is another 6 km further along the bike and pedestrian path to another lake. The afternoon turned warm and beautiful, so I ventured a walk around the lake while waiting for some of the tennis players to show up for their matches. At this late hour there were only a few sunbathers, and these appeared to be older men with large bellies and--what in the world!--bikini thong swimsuits! No!! That’s just wrong!

But, yes. Germany is a sunbathing culture. Everyone does it, apparently, and they aren’t letting shabby bodies get in the way of having a little skin exposed to the sun. I have to admit, this is not something you would see in America. (I’m not talking about the big bellies, of course.) And it is an eye-opening and thought-provoking experience. Since I’m feeling liberated, I just might go looking for some of that swim wear. You never know...

The Tennisplatz. The Garching See: A view of the Garching See. I’ve used Photoshop to edit out the sunbathers since children will be reading these articles and I am told the sight of these men in their swimsuits can drastically affect depth perception for many years. (Something about the eyeballs stretching out of the sockets, etc.)

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