Farewell Deutschland

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Germany  ,
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

We donīt often do the large dormitory thing but we thought we could save a bit of money on our longer stay in Munich if we did.  This is how we found ourselves entering our new "home" at about 10.30pm whispering softly (so as not to wake our new room mates) and considerately (blindly) feeling around in the dark for our beds.  A car headlight shining through the window lit up a giant Italian flag which had been tied up crookedly across two bunk beds. This was our first inkling that something was not quite right.  A putrid hot, stench seemed to be emanating from all four walls as we closed the front door after us.  
We soon figured out that no one was home so we could turn on the lights.
Old holey undies, used greying socks, stinky moulding towels lay strewn across all the beds.  The windows were all closed (just to make sure that the sweaty, body odor smell could continue to fester undisturbed).  The Italian flag was lit up in all its glory.  Two terry towelling Ralph Lauren bath robes (which had seen better days) were draped over the ends of two beds. [Who travels with enormous terry towelling bath robes?]   Ipods, watches, sunglasses, mobile phones were left out on desks and chairs while over-sized backpacks lay open spewing out still more dirty clothes on the floor. The bathroom had been hit too.  The shower/bath was full of used socks and undies left to soak in black, tepid water.  More clothes and undies strewn across taps, handles and mushed into the brown-puddled, hair filled floor.  Hooray!  We had struck room-mate gold.
There was also one bed in the corner which was perfectly made.  It had neat, tidy white sheets, a small locked wheely bag pushed into the corner (and out of harmīs way) with some shiny black slippers tucked under the base of the bed.  It looked like we had walked onto the set of the Odd Couple movie or else a Big Brother sociological investigation of "Bullying Slobs And Their Impact On Neat Japanese Solo Travellers". 
We were exhausted and sweaty after our day trip to Stuttgart and there was no way we could go to sleep without a shower.  Here is where Iain and I differ.  His approach was to take all their clothes from the bath and leave them on the dirty, hairy bathroom floor.  I objected as I was sure that this kind of inconsiderate slob-team would likely not take this too well.  I mentally conjured up images of bottles of fanta poured all over our backpacks or alfalfa growing through my new camera or rotten sardines turning up in 30 days time tucked into a pocket in my bag I didnīt know existed.  I walked around all 6 floors of the hostel looking for a shared public bathroom.  To no avail - this was a strictly ensuite bathroom hostel.
I came back to the room and it was too late.  Iain was singing in the shower loudly and the clothes had been stacked in a mound at the edge of the bath.  Thick, grey liquid was oozing out of the clothes onto the floor.
The best was yet to come.
After such a tiring day it was nice to fall into a large, soft bed.  I was getting used to the smell by now and had just started to doze off when banging, lights, shouting, then moving chair noises.  They were home.
I hadnīt seen the pots and pans theyīd obviously packed - but I heard them banging away with them. They made as much noise as they could and went to bed.  No comments seemed to be made about the bath - or at least nothing we could decipher as they were speaking Italian the whole time. 
Then the evil began. 
"Tubby" had two health issues.  One was chronic farting and the other was wake-the-dead snoring.  This was more than an unsettling combination.  It was positively merciless.
Luckily, I began the night managing to drift off to sleep despite the ensuing horror.  Iain (who had (un)fortunately chosen the bed directly above "Tubby") was unable to keep the noises and fumes at bay.  He didnīt sleep a wink and made certain that if he was going to be awake to suffer through it - then so was everyone else in the room.  Regular bed-frame-shaking was taking place.  "Hey Tubby, roll on your side!  Youīre snoring!" and general swear words were rhythmically shouted into the darkness.  Everyone was awake for most of the night - except for Tubby (despite the three times Iain got out of bed to physically shake him awake).
We soon figured that these three Italians had zero English between them.  I wondered what the conversation was the next day.  "We are sleeping with a weird guy above my bed.  Last night, every hour or so he would get off his bed and wake me up and yell something at me.. I hope they leave soon"....
Munich has been a nice stop with lots of beautiful buildings, structures and parks - but something is not quite right.  I remember when I last visited that the city was impossibly green.  I think I must have formed this assessment deep in the bowels of the Englischer Gartens (the largest central park in Europe) as this time round my main complaint is that Munich is not green enough.  Donīt get me wrong -  it has numerous gorgeous parks (Hofgarten, Botanischer Gartens and the enormous Englischer Gartens), but it is the areas away from the formal parks which seem to lie completely barren and devoid of all greenery.  Beautiful old buildings and cobbled open squares would be vastly improved with a few trees and a light smattering of green grass.
Germany has been excellent.  I have definitely had my fill of the German written and spoken word along with the interesting German people we have managed to meet.  5 weeks in Germany means I am utterly over sausages, completely disinterested in beer and (even though Iīve never actually tasted it) Iīm also unquestionably repulsed by the numerous pictures of leberkase (literal translation: liver cheese) - the chunky hot spam rolls they seem to live off in Bavaria. Those crazy Germans!
Looking forward to the short train ride tomorrow to the home of the Sound Of Music.

* * *

Germany had been the country I have most wanted to visit for some years now, and after around five weeks here we find ourselves about to depart. In a modern developed world where everything becomes a bit the same, its ably delivered an excellent measure of unique German-ness.

Munich is only really a tiny part of this, but in truth, that's partly because everything that came after our time in Berlin suffered a bit by comparison. I'll miss Germany, but when I come back, first stop will again be Berlin.

Our time in Munich was once again kicked off with a daytrip away from the city: something we have done each time in order to extract maximum value from our German National Railpass. This cheapskate escapade worked perfectly from Leipzig - all our highlight photos from Leipzig actually flowed from our daytrip to Dresden. With Claude still too precious to take less than perfect photos (no cranes nor pebblecrete monstrosities can crowd her viewfinder), the net result of this policy is that we have virtually no photos of Leipzig. Draw your own conclusions.

As a result of the Dresden success, we were keen to push on with the philosophy of adding a daytrip onto any given travel day. For Munich, this meant heading out to Stuttgart, two hours away. This was a huge mistake.

We got to our hostel in Munich a little sluggishly, and somehow found ourselves only a quite late intercity train to Stuttgart. Normally a very first class experience, in this instance cost cutting meant that the air conditioning was off and passengers were falling asleep everywhere in a scene reminiscent of The Thunderbirds trying to rescue the Solar Explorer with Tintin having forgotten to turn off the tractor-beam. So long without meaningful TV... all I have is nostalgic reruns from childhood. Now that's imprinting.

Stuttgart is a lot like Sydney if Sydney had sprouted with Sydney University as its centre rather than the harbour. Its nice enough... but it was hot, and we had unwisely dressed ready for the Arctic such has been the European summer. As such, Stuttgart is something of a sleepy blur. I'm not sure who turned the tractor beam off and turned us around back to Munich, but I sure do appreciate it.

I have used this torturous and drawn out analogy as Munich itself has been reminding me of childhood. Some of you may have experienced occasionally wanting a Christmas present that exceeded budgetary limitations and would cross into the realm of the combined Christmas-and-birthday present: i.e. you can have this, but then nothing for a while, OK? Munich seems to have whined for the Olympics in the same way: they got a whole array of new stuff for the 1972 Olympics, and then not a whole lot for 30 years. Now with that debt finally paid they went and blew their whole paycheck on a World Cup stadium that looks like a marshmallow. But ther're happy.

For the Olympics, they built a brand new train station, fixed the last of the WWII destruction and closed a lot of the central streets to give the city back to pedestrians (clever, and works really well). While the renovations of some of the classical buildings are actually quite timeless, a good part of the city still looks to have Disco Stu as its landlord. We love those 1970's: never take them away from us.

So much of Germany is rebuilt, yet so often it looks suitably majestic and aged that you can never tell. In Munich, it seems that corners were cut and some of the old buildings are comically WalMart in newness. This is brought home standing in Marienplatz looking at the Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall). It looks visibly and grandly older than the Alte Rathaus (Old Town Hall) which stands at one end of the plaza looking suitably North Ryde in its rebuilt red brick ugliness. Maybe they should have just let that one go.

Munich also abounds in enormous red brick churches. Tired of churches taking hundreds of years to build in the Middle Ages, the monks down here were more pragmatic in their choice of fit and finish. There is no getting away from it, they are as ugly as a repeatedly dropped baby, and one that may have clipped the baptismal font on the way down. With most churches I can see the marketing value of the grandeur ("hey Bob, I think these guys have got it worked out... lets be worshipping this God, toss away that Franz Beckenbauer doll"): here they went solely for scale and lost the elegance. Bad choice.

Munich's name alone reminds me of the straightforwardness of German naming principles. Eight hundred odd years ago there was no town and people, when asked where they were from, travelling folk would simply answer "Bay ern munchen"... that is: by the monks. This joins a long list of what I thought were such stylish names that turn out to be straight descriptors. Before visiting Germany I would never have thought to translate watchmaker Tag Heuer's name... would they be as cool called Day in Year? No pizazz. But technically that's what it records, so what else would you name it?

In Munich we have settled easily into the German lifestyle, and there is much to like. Germany welcomes immigrants much like Australia, with one condition: whatever food outlet you set up selling treats from your homeland, you gotta sell the giant German beer on tap too. Think of every takeaway outlet you lovingly favour in Sydney (I'm thinking of them now too), and now picture four 50cm tall frosted taps taking pride of place, and that's the German difference. With this, we have found ourselves getting away from the German food back into Indian, Thai and kebabs, and all are made better - and eminently German - with a half litre Warsteiner. Or two.

The one element of the German lifestyle I have not gotten used to is their lack of independence in crossing the street. In an odd juxtaposition, I have been reading Churchill's history of World War I over the last two weeks - covering every battle blow by blow, and the strategic thinking in each month of the war. Living here for the last 5 or 6 weeks, its hard to read this and not think that simply installing a traffic light with a little red man would have stopped the advance dead in their tracks, as they will just never ever breach his orders.

Of course, we do. And this generally results in the great body of the dutifully waiting populace stepping out lemming-like after us into the paths of trams, trucks and speeding BMWs that we have daintily danced ahead of (and I used that word startlingly accurately, as its a reflexive prance when you jump out of the way of something coming from an unexpected direction). Cue mystified and broken hearted looks all 'round: they are very trusting that no one will break the red man's order. Equally, you can stand at a dead empty street on a dead empty night at midnight: and everyone will wait patiently for each of the unsynchronised green men to tell them its OK to move.

We have jumped back in to visiting art galleries after a good break. The Neue Pinakothek was a very leisurely morning. At first taken aback by the fact that our Sunday cheapie ticket didn't gain us admission to as much of the gallery as we thought, it turned out to be a blessing as about 15 rooms is enough to enjoy without gallery fatigue ever setting in. The whole experience is added to courtesy of an insightful audio tour that provided the story behind the picture: you would look at an artwork first trying to work it out on your own, then click the number to hear the secrets revealed. It wasn't esoteric either: if you looked closely enough you could find many of them yourself. In one, a dead man lay discovered by his priest. The interpretation they gave you helped you noticed the tiny candle snuffer still sitting on the candelabra was the Goddess Fortune who had now turned her back on the deceased. The fine trace of smoke from the last candle - only a few inches on the 12ft tall canvas - symbolic of the victim being just snuffed out... these were among five or six subtle elements that could be drawn out of most of the works. It was all the fun of the Who Weekly puzzler where you need to find the five differences between the two pictures, except its all cultured like.

Of course, we followed our leisurely stroll through the gallery with a journey back to Indian cuisine we thought wouldn't happen so soon after India: accompanied by a monstrous Warsteiner. Its no surprise to learn that the average beer consumption for a Munich resident is 1.5l per day. I can only get the half litre glass by ordering off the children's menu.

No wonder they take no chances crossing the road.

* * *
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