Odds and Ends

I’ve been here nearly a month now, and something has happened in the past week. It might be something as simple as finally having a routine, more or less, so I am not looking for my glasses every time I turn around. (Although I did spend 30 minutes this past weekend searching my two room apartment for my slippers, which I finally found under my shopping bag. I had just decided to sit down and write a story about the fetishes of the German criminal class when I found them.) It might be that I’ve embarrassed myself in so many ways that I have no self-respect or shame left anymore. Maybe it’s the hat I bought last weekend that gives me a sort of jaunty, European look. Maybe I just drank too much German beer. Whatever it is, something has definitely changed.

Hand Soap

For one thing, I have given up the search for a bar of soap. It just isn’t going to be found. Germans use something they call Body Gel, which as far as I can tell is formulated exactly like shampoo. But it has taken me a while to get comfortable with it. I’m of a certain age, and I grew up in the American West. My high school friends have concealed weapon permits, drive battered four-wheel drive Ford pickup trucks, and vote for George Bush. They think I’m pretty weird already. If someone told them I was using Body Gel, they would think I’d gone over the edge, if you know what I mean.

At least I haven’t found it necessary to mousse my hair yet.

But it’s a problem because the shampoo and the body gel come in identical looking containers. I put one on the left side of the tub and one on the right so I could tell them apart. But, of course, I don’t wear my glasses into the tub, so I don’t really know. It’s possible that when I made the water too hot the other day and had to jump out suddenly that the ruckus got everything mixed up. Now that I think about it, I’ve probably been shampooing with the body gel for over a week. I’d better go check. That would explain the little problem I’ve been having with my hair. I could have saved the money on the hat.

A 3D brain. Brain Sculpture This picture doesn’t have much to do with anything, except that Carol’s students are always building 3D representations of organs in her Anatomy classes, and this reminded me of that. This brain, which is maybe six or eight feet across is hanging in the cafeteria of the Student Center of the Munich Technical University. (I don’t know, I didn’t ask.)

Horse Chestnuts

The horse chestnuts are falling this time of year in Munich. We don’t have these in the Western US, where I have always lived, but I think they have them in the Eastern US. I know they have them in England, where they are known as conkers. In England older boys collect them for an elaborate game in which the conkers are tied onto the end of a string and you use your conker to break the other person’s conker. Ben Panter, who I will tell you more about in a moment, is from England and tells me the conkers are given names like a one-er, a five-er, and ten-er, etc. to indicate how many conkers have been defeated in battle.

Kids love horse chestnuts because they are about the size a rock, although a little lighter and not as hard. They make excellent projectiles, and I guess you might be able to eat them, too, because I saw someone roasting them down at the Marienplatz this past weekend. They are a pretty brown, nutty color and you see a handful as decoration every now and then in store windows and on tables in restaurants.

In any case, on the way home from the Institute the other day, I ran into a couple of boys who had collected some horse chestnuts and painted rocks and were trying to sell them along the side of the path. They didn’t appear to have too many customers, so I stopped to practice my German. I asked them what they were called, since I couldn’t even remember their English name. I think they said they were Kastanie, but I’m not sure. In any case, I inquired how much they would cost to buy (after I had determined they weren’t available for check-out) because they were pretty and I wanted a couple. I think they had spotted me as a mark, and, of course, my German really gave it away. They said 20 cents Euro apiece. I said, Das ist sehr teuer (expensive), a word I’ve learned quickly in Munich. They just shrugged their shoulders.

So even though I could see about 50 laying on the ground within 10 yards of me, I dug into my pants pocket until I came up with 40 cents. But I told them the price had to include a photo. They were more than agreeable.

Boys selling horse chestnuts. Horse Chestnuts For Sale Here are the Horse Chestnut Entrepreneurs. The picture on the boy’s shirt is of Michael Schumacher. When you say “Michael” in Germany, you are talking Formula 1 racing, not basketball, as in the US. I didn’t have any vocabulary for talking about painted rocks, so I never did find out what that was all about. They did try to sell me some nuts that they had collected from somewhere else, but I figured I had spent enough money for one day.

Greek Dinner

Ben Panter, who has just completed his Ph.D. in Astrophysics at the University in Edinburgh, Scotland has come to Garching to do a Post-Doc at the Max-Plank Institute for Astrophysics. Ben is an IDL user and newsgroup reader and we had communicated via e-mail on several occasions. He had been following some of my reports and wanted to get together for dinner last Monday.

I had been eating plenty of my own cooking, so I was definitely up for a night on the town. Unfortunately, Garching is a very small town (and getting smaller nearly every day, I think), but I had my eye on a new Greek restaurant that is near both of our apartments. We had hoped to go to a little Thai place he remembered from a previous visit, but the new U-Bahn project had swallowed it for the time being. Just a hole in the ground there now.

The Posideon was quiet when we got there. Just a few diners, and none of them smoking, which seems unusual for a German restaurant. In fact, no smoking the entire night, although there were ashtrays on the tables, so it must be permitted. Just a lucky night, I guess, or smokers are not really into Greek food. Maybe the food wasn’t authentic (I wouldn’t know), since I hear the Greeks have absolutely no qualms about smoking in restaurants and everywhere else. But I’m definitely going back to find out.

We both ordered a beer and a main course. But apparently all Greek dinners start with a small glass of Ouzo, because one was brought to us immediately. This was the first I have ever had of that drink, a clear liquid that tastes like licorice. A nice dinner then, followed by a small snifter of brandy and a delicious desert of fruit in a sweet sauce, all completely unordered. And all for only about 15 €, a price you normally pay for a beer and a pretzel in downtown Munich. Very civilized. Our waitress even waited at the door to shake our hands when we left. I’ve never seen that in the US, where service is rumored to be so much better. I can’t wait to go back.

Rural Excursion

On Thursday, Karsten Rodenacker convened an “IDL conference” for the afternoon, and invited Ben and me to accompany him and his student Robert and Robert’s friend Lisa on an afternoon of conversation and hiking and (of course) refreshment. We took the ring road around Munich over through Dachau, west of Garching, and around to the village of Dießen on the southwest end of the Ammersee. We could see the Andechs Monastery that I described last time on the far distant shore of the lake.

Karsten, Ben, Robert and Lisa. IDL Conference Karsten, Ben, Robert (Karsten’s student) and Lisa (Robert’s friend) enjoying an afternoon on the Ammersee. Dießen is a small fishing town on the Ammersee, which is the region’s third largest lake. This is a favorite spot of Karsten’s and we had come to enjoy the Marienmünster, a church built for the Augustinian monastery in 1732. In fact, we spent an inordinate amount of time talking about IDL. But Robert had come to study with Karsten on an 18 week assignment specifically so he could learn more about IDL for his Optics program at the University in Darmstadt.

The church is another done in the Rococo style with amazing ceiling paintings and elaborate gold plating everywhere. The paintings were done in the early to middle 1700’s by some of the best stucco painters in the business.

A side alter at the Marienmünster. Side Alter One of the side alters in the Marienmünster church. While the ceiling depicts members of the prominent von Andechs family, the side alters are more conventional paintings of saints and other religious figures, often executed by famous Italian artists imported for the job. This is an example.

From Dießen we drove around to the other side of the lake and a late lunch at Andechs. I’ve already reported to you what I thought of the beer there: the best in the world. Certainly, I’ve never had better. It is a fine view from the Andechs beer garden and the weather, which had been threatening earlier, gave us a break and allowed for a most pleasant lunch outside.

When we finished there, we had just enough time for a walk around the “Jewel of Jewels,” a small lake and natural area Karsten was familiar with. He made me promise not to divulge it’s whereabouts, but I can tell you it is not the sort of place you are likely to stumble upon without help. It was lovely, although a bit muddy from the recent rain. But I can see Karsten and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to things to do. A walk in a place like this, watching for birds, just sets you to rights. It was here I learned it is entirely proper to offer a Gruß Gott to someone approaching on the path.

A small lake and natural area. Jewel of Jewels One of Karsten’s favorite places to walk and think about scientific problems. A large variety of birds are here, as well as other small animals. We saw sizeable fish in the stream leading away from the lake. And, of course, on this side of the lake there is the obligatory beer garden, where we had a coffee and a piece of plum cobbler, which I am told is a Bavarian specialty. It is surprising to me that you can find such places as this in such close proximity to Munich.

Finding a Printer

So as I say, something has changed for me in the past week. At home, I typically throw out circulars and other junk mail before I read it. But here, I am so starved for interaction that I typically read (or try to read) all the things that get stuffed into my mailbox.

The other day, I saw an advertisement for a printer. He could do binding, reproductions, theses, etc. I thought I would check this out, since I walk past the shop nearly every day in the village, and I want to get some books made here. Unfortunately, this printer is only open from 10:00 to 12:00, five days a week. (I’m in the wrong business, I think.)

Today, I happened to glance at the advertisement at about 10:30 AM, so I just thought to myself, “I’ll call them.” I presumed, because it is a University town, and because the printer advertised theses, that English would be spoken, so I was confident about the call.

“Hello, this is David Fanning. Do you speak English there?,” I asked in my best German, when the printer answered the phone. “Nein,” he said, “aber Sie sprechen sehr gut Deutsche.” Ha, ha. Those Germans! And my friends in Britain told me the Germans don’t have a sense of humor. Ok, German then, I thought grimly. “Ich habe enine büche...,” I began. And, strangely, we began to have a half-way decent conversation. At least I could understand him, more or less. He wanted me to drop by. A good idea, because I was running out of words I knew (or could fake) and I could see some hand-waving coming on. Better to do that in person rather than over the phone.

Ten minutes later I was standing in the printer’s office with his office manager looking over his shoulder offering an occasional English word here and there, and the three of us were discussing book printing details, in German. Between the three of us, we were able to cobble together enough words in common to come to a mutual understanding of what needed to be done and about what it would cost. We talked for about 15 minutes or so. I don’t know if it was particularly hot in there or what, but when I came out I was dripping with sweat. It is hard work, speaking German.

Alas, this was a fairly traditional printer and he wanted pages, not the small USB thumb drive with my book in PostScript on it. And I know printing 450 pages on the guest printer in the ESO library is probably not going to work. So I realized I had to look elsewhere if I was going to get this printed the way I wanted it printed. But my conversation had encouraged me. Maybe I could do this. So I found a couple of printers who advertised digital reproduction in the Yellow Pages of the phone book here in my apartment, located their streets on my Munich map near the University, and set off to see if I could have better luck elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the phone book I have in my apartment must be from the 1980’s because the first two printers I looked for have disappeared from the face of the earth. One in ruins under a new building, and another just disappeared entirely. But I finally found another, and these people, who conduct business within a block of the University, spoke no English either. Okay, no problem, I speak sehr gut Deutsche.

This person at least understood digital printing, but for some reason couldn’t deal with a PostScript file. He wanted a PDF file. Well, okay, at least now we are somewhere near the same page. We discussed some options, I agreed to try a couple of things, we came to the understanding there is NO chance of printing on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper (Europe uses an A4 paper size, which is about 8 1/4 by 11 3/4 inches). This is a problem, because my book covers are the wrong size. But there are things we can do. We discussed the options.

In the end, I didn’t get my book printed--yet. But I came away from the excursion with something much more valuable to me. A willingness to walk into German-speaking businesses and get on with it. Walking back to the U-Bahn, I notice the change right away. Where before I would choose a bakery or restaurant by how easy I thought it would be to point to what I wanted, I see now I am evaluating shops by what I want to eat or drink. Something has shifted for me. I still can’t speak German in any way likely to impress Brian, but I can speak it well enough to walk into a business and be treated seriously as a customer.

It is a good feeling. And on the walk I pass a small bookstore. On a table outside, I find a small book discussing Nordic Walking. (This is what that group with the poles was doing when they nearly ran me over a couple of weeks ago.) The book describes the sport and technique, and has suggestions for 20 or so good trails in the Munich area. I’m always looking for good walks, so I decide to buy it, although it is written in German. If I can handle a German printer, I can certainly handle a German book!

A group of Nordic Walkers. Nordic Walkers After successful forays into German print shops, I feel confident enough in my German abilities to buy a German book on Nordic Walking Trails. Oddly, I can already understand the important details: how long the trail is, how to get there on the U-Bahn and buses, and which way to turn when I get to certain landmarks. I’m really getting curious to know what is going to happen to me in another month. And where do you buy those poles, anyway?

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