Gute Reisen

The Dating Game

Now there’s 2 massive tasks that I signed myself up for when I came over here. Finding and getting work, and really learning German. Each one of those is not “in an afternoon” kind of project. Now that i’m not in my German class anymore, it is entirely up to me on *both* of these projects to keep them moving forward. Luckily on these cold days its easy to stay inside writing cover letters and searching for jobs. Now making life work realistically here are projects that won’t feel complete for a very long time, and this has left me with an obsession for the feeling of projects being completely, progress being made, or simple preparedness. 

For instance, I have become way too focused on my cell phone battery, or filling the exercise goals on the apple watch, or cleaning up my e-mail, or tidying up my iTunes library, or acquiring all the puzzle pieces in a certain video game. Mostly these are distractions, mostly they are on the phone or the computer. However, the greatest distraction of them is online dating. When I get a response I am in a small way validated in my presence here. Someone likes me. 

In the weeks after Johanna told me she kept expecting to feeling something for me, but never did (over a text message on Sunday night), I felt like I’d had no real progress meeting girls. Certainly the few friends I’ve got here weren’t introducing me to anyone, and I started to feel real shitty about it. Then I went to Oslo. Tinder was still on my phone and finding girls in the area, and so when we’d stop for a coffee and grab a bit of Wifi, I’d check out a few people and “like” them, and not think about it. Turns out I’d be a big hit in Norway: I had more than 10 people “like” me back in under 48 hours. And a good number of them were forward enough to message me directly. I’d heard women were more forward in Norway, but this was totally different than my experiences in Germany or America. Tinder will only match you with someone if you both “like” each other, and here in Munich I’m lucky to get a few in a week. This may be due to Norwegians using the app more, or being more comfortable with around swiping on strangers faces, but it really shook me to feel like this thing can actually work in the right circumstances.

I am not, however, going to move to Norway for the chicks.

I simply returned to Germany with resolve. If I do not ask, I do not get. So I dove in on the dating platforms I’d been dealing with and I’ve now been on 5 dates in the last week or so, never in my life have I had such a concentrated dose of potential romance. Fortunately, here in Germany first dates aren’t even something you dress up for, and the check is usually split. So the stakes feel low, unless you realized you’re going to have speak German for an entire first date, then the stakes feel weird and crazy.

Date number 1: Isumi

We met, at her suggestion, at a cool little bar in the Glockenbachviertel area. The Couch Club was already crowded when we arrived and all the couches were taken. the Couch Club is a gin bar, and so we both started with gin and tonics, which to my mind were expensive, but they were good, and they gave us each our little bottle of tonic. She had just finished a 2 year stint at the Munich State Opera house giving tours and introducing children to the opera that were playing at the opera house at a given time. Sounds like a pretty great job. She had seen the version of the Flying Dutchman that I came to see back in 2014, so it was fun to talk about that, and she spoke incredibly good English. She’s half Japanese, half German, and speaks French, Italian, German, English, Japanese, and is leaning Spanish. Today I ate a bowl of cereal and drooled milk in my lap. She studied Piano and Voice in school, and currently works at a foundation that funds works of new composers. I tried to convince her to give Todd Terje a listen. 

After a while the hip hop they were playing in the Couch Club got too loud, so I suggested we find someplace else to talk, because she is quite soft spoken. We stumbled upon a really cool little place called Hoover and Floyd, we ordered Weinschorle which is wine and sparkling water, and talked for a while more. She seemed genuinely impressed that I had done a little beer brewing, so it wasn’t going to be a shut out. Finally the night was over, just after midnight we stepped back out into the street. She told me to “keep in touch.” If that had come from the mouth of a native English speaker it would have been just a polite thing to say. However, I can’t really tell where I left it with her. She offered to give me a tour of the Opera House, and if nothing else I want to take her up on that. Emboldened by cocktails and wine, I kissed her on the cheek. The next day I kept sharply sucking in air and feeling embarrassed of that last maneuver. Ah well.

Date(?) number 2: Jessi 

Now this, I think, doesn’t fully qualify as a date because of how it came about. It’s a popular thing here to have a tandem partner. That is someone you meet with regularly because you each want to learn the other’s language. Jessi messaged me on my way to Oslo through a tandem partner website, and we made a plan to meet when I got back. She’s vegetarian so I suggested the Ramen restaurant I’d enjoyed with Matt just a few weeks ago. Jessi had never had Ramen, and it went over quite well. She’s traveled a lot in Asia, and there she had to speak English, so, of course, her’s is quite good, but she’s a bit shy, so we bounced back and forth. We talked about the flea markets of Munich, and how to get through winter. She learned guitar in Asia, but has since taken up sewing, and said now that she’s made bags for all her friends, she can return to the guitar and learn more than “Blackbird.” It made me miss my ukulele, so I went out and bought one the next day, just a cheap 20 dollar junker to tide me over on cold winter evenings. Maybe because we were there as tandem partners and not explicitly with romantic overtones, or perhaps it’s just her personality (she did message me after all), but Jessi seemed far more engaged and interested than I was expecting. She asked lots of questions about Oslo, and after a bit we discovered we actually live quite close to one another. I expected us to take the U-bahn home together since it was below freezing that night. Jessi was on her bike, and my wimpy ass had to hustle back to the U-Bahn. On the way home I started to wonder if this was Jessi’s means to finding a guy, before we had gotten our coats on she was excitedly scheduling our next meeting. Love that enthusiasm. Soon we’re going to drink Gluhwein at the Christmas Markets, and compare one of the biggest markets with one of the new ones. If Jessi is just happy to be language pals, that’s cool with me, she’s a climber and wants to do some climbing soon, too. 

Part 3 of Matt's Visit

Flying to Oslo was easy. A short train ride, a quick pass through security, and Matt and I were on the 2 hour flight to a city farther north than he or I had even been. Our flight landed at 4:30, the opera began at 7, and neither of us had done a super great job of prepping to navigate the city. Free wifi was around, and 10 minutes on the tram took us to our AirBnB spot. Our hosts were from Seattle and France, and Matt and I had a small guest room in the hall. We dumped our stuff quickly, asked if we could make it to the opera house, and we were told it would be no problem.

Back out into the cold, up to the opera house and dashing to the cashier. She sold us a couple of 10 dollar tickets and just like that: Wagner and Terje in one weekend. 

Now the first thing most people told us about Oslo was how expensive everything is, and one of the first things you’ll read about Oslo is how fantastically rich it is. This really hit me in the lobby of the gorgeous Oslo opera house. Beautiful people, beautiful room, expensive cocktails, but the real signal for comfort and wealth was the garderobe. With your ticket you were assigned a number and that number corresponded to a hook in an area full of coat hooks. Even the fanciest people were just walking up, hanging their coat on a hook and leaving them to hang there, in the open, unattended for the duration of the opera. 

The staging of The Flying Dutchman was once again interesting, the setting was updated to be an English shipping company operating in Africa. There was a highly political message here that was supposed to be conveyed, but felt a little cheesy and forced to me. I just don’t know why, after Wagner laid us out how everything should be these crazy new directors have to come in here with their new fangled ideas. 

The scenery was pretty amazing, a giant circular wall in the middle of the stage would spin and move, as would the walls on the side of the stage to simulate being at sea. Paintings were revealed to be video projections at moments when something magical or spooky needed to happen, and the opera is a fun breeze at only 2.5 hours, no intermission, it was perfect. Though twice now, when I’ve seen Dutchman, the director chooses to omit the final image of the opera: the heroine and the Dutchman rising up to heaven together. In both cases that I’ve seen the heroine kills herself out of either love or madness or both, the music ends, and the opera is over. I wonder how many people already know the intended ending so you can skip this potentially effects heavy climactic moment. However, the whole point of the end of Dutchman is that it’s this woman’s love that saves the damned man’s soul, and if we only see her kill herself that seems to change the ending of the opera, to me. But what do I know, I’m just some dude from Texas.

the stage

the stage

We left the opera house around 10, and took to the streets of Oslo hoping to get to know the city a little. It was Friday, and we expected to be greeted by some nightlife here in Norway’s capital. We were wrong.

Later we found that we’d made just the right wrong turns to miss on any of the action in Oslo, but there isn’t that much action to being with. Several times now I’ve been told by people that Norwegians aren’t partiers, they go home, they sip a glass of wine. It is very expensive to drink in Norway, so it makes sense. Of course that doesn’t quite square with the fact that we were in Oslo to see a Norwegian musician who makes up-beat party music. I can imagine him in a cold gray studio trying to give himself that warm summer feeling. The only place we could find near our place was a small Italian wine bar that would sell us Peroni beer for 9 dollars and offered a cozy atmosphere augmented by a pop country radio station that must have been streaming from somewhere in America. Weird. Almost as soon as the beers were ordered we were warned the place would be closing soon. We finished our beers and ended our Friday there.

Naturally, I was awake long before anyone else. I laid in the dark of Oslo, sure that it was 5 am, and I would have to just stare into the darkness waiting for a reasonable hour to approach. I broke down and looked at my phone. 9 am! The blackout curtains, the quietness, the good bed, it all conspired to give me a fine nights sleep. Intent on letting Matt sleep as much as he could, since it was his vacation and all, I slunk out to the local coffee shop, and got myself a pastry. The girl behind the counter either thought I was breathtakingly attractive or found my foreign ways baffling. I’m almost certain it was not the attractiveness, because when Matt arrived she resumed her giggly ways with him, a style she did not adopt with the Norwegian customers. 

I’ve never been outright mocked by people in a country before, but Matt and I got laughed at and made fun of several times on the street. And I didn’t think either one of this really gave away our foreign-ness too easily. One woman just walked up to me at the opera, looked me in the eyes and said “excuse me, you don’t speak norwegian do you?” “no, sorry” I said. She looked satisfied and said “I didn’t think so,” and walked away.

Matt makes a business call on one of Oslo's inexplicable pay phones.

Matt makes a business call on one of Oslo's inexplicable pay phones.

Oslo is a weird city, is what I’m saying. Really nice cars, very high prices, but all in all the city is quite dirty, and the infrastructure felt under-maintenanced. Norway has amassed almost a billion dollars from it’s primarily state-run oil reserves. They are saving for a future without this oil, and only recently is there a large enough right wing party here. They are arguing for lowering taxes and spending some of the money on things in country. It’s a beautiful country, and clearly it’s quite comfortable there for the people, but I just wasn’t able to quite figure it out. It’s really taken to common hipster fascinations, super high end coffee, over the top bikes and clothing stores, things like that. It has the feel of London and San Francisco, but transplanted to somewhere in Eastern Europe. I’m tempted to go back in the summer just to see what its like when the city really gets to blossom. 

Matt and I spent Saturday walking the city, trying coffee, and just generally trying to get a better understanding of this place. We wandered into a cooler part of town, record shops, bike shops, special high end clothing stores for biking enthusiasts. The kind of stuff I guess I should like, except I feel totally alienated by. I can not afford to be this cool.

The bars and coffee shops we enjoyed in Oslo were all immaculately designed and decorated. We tried our a tiki bar, which was themed impeccably, a coffee shop that looked suspiciously perfect as a recreation of an office from the 60s. It was beyond a theme, it really felt like they'd taken over the space 40 years ago and hadn't changed much. Again, it was all stuff that I should be super in to, and yet, I felt alienated from. Sitting in the 60s coffee shop, I felt like I should have dressed to match the room. 

Coffee shop, bar, and antique dealer. Really. Matt and I sat at the table on the right.

Coffee shop, bar, and antique dealer. Really. Matt and I sat at the table on the right.

Soon enough it was show time. Matt didn’t have ticket yet, as the show had sold out months ago. I bought my ticket nearly 6 months ago as a way to ensure that I would come and do this. This was the night after the attacks in Paris so security was high, and everyone seemed a little on edge. We arrived at the theatre an hour early, hoping to grab a ticket. A security guard came out and talked to us, I asked after tickets, and he said, “Look for the shark, I know him, he will be here, you will have to pay maybe 20 percent more for your ticket, but he will be here.”

As they put up the chains to direct the crowd into the club the shark appeared, slowly pulling the tickets out of his jacket. Matt and I were upon him before anyone else, not that there was anyone else around. He asked for 50 for the ticket. I paid 35 originally. Matt agreed instantly, and we were all set. The shark left money on the table.

We were among the first ones in, I checked my coat, and we ordered a couple of Oslo’s local beer, Ringnes. A very beautiful very blond girl happily poured me a beer while I asked her how to properly pronounce Ringnes. Again, either she was completely taken with me, or Matt and I gave of some sort of comical Of Mice and Men vibe, and I was definitely Lenny. “How you say that beer name?”

The opener was an hour set of DJ Strangefruit. A member of the excellent group “Mungolian Jetset” another Norwegian group that Todd Terje led me to. It was a totally bonus this guy was here spinning disco records for us and getting us pumped. The theatre was empty enough that for the first bit of the set most people were sitting on stairs just enjoying the music.

As his set wound down the floor filled up, Matt and I stood up and took a spot dead center about 10 meters from the stage. To my left a young Norwegian leaned over and told me about how he was really fucked up in Belgium last week and he cracked a rib. He politely asked me to keep my dancing under control so that I wouldn’t elbow him. I nodded. The theatre went dark and some colored lights on stage came on making a huge French flag. There was an announcement in Norwegian and my neighbor hissed “moment of silence.” We stood quiet and out came Todd Terje. Tall, slim, and he took his post as we all quietly stood there. He opened with “Swing Star” and the audience cheered. I put my ear plugs in.

IMG_3709.jpg

It was a curious show. He had a great band with him, drums, percussion, guitar, and violin. It was fully satisfying, and I smiled through almost all of the show. There was a small amount of disappointment that the set was remarkably similar to a show of his that’s online, and that no new songs were unveiled. However, as the set wound down and he played his most popular song, “Inspector Norse” the audience started supplying a synthesizer line from the song with their collective voice. A room full of people singing a song that has meant so much to me over the past 2 years. That was worth the trip all by itself.

I had been hoping Todd might say something, or to betray his emotions about the show, but no. That’s not his style. He smiled when the dancers came on stage, he seemed genuinely pleased at the end of the set as he took his bows. I’d probably be disappointed if he said too much. He made a profoundly silly and wonderful album of instrumental music, he has no words to say maybe.

The show ended and we discovered Oslo’s night life. There were lines to get into every bar and club we passed. Again, Matt and I aren’t big partiers, so it was easy for us to convince ourselves that all that was in those bars were crowds of people that wouldn’t talk to us, and drinks that would make us gasp at their ice. We walked home talking about the show, and about the excellent drummer, and bedded down. Sunday was to be our day of Norwegian Cultural Exploration.

Oslo

Oslo

Sunday was museums and more exploration of Oslo. It was a slow come down from seeing Todd Terje. After we got back to Munich Matt only had a few days of his trip left, and after two weeks of hard-core vacationing we were both quite tired. We managed to visit Neuschwanstein, and drink more beer, but the last days of his visit were low-key and relaxing.

I missed him as soon as the u-bahn pulled out of sight. The thought of the friends I left behind in Austin, and the fear that I won't make friends that good here creep in and make me sad, especially here at the holidays. I need to get out and meet more and better people.

Thanksgiving

This all feels a bit cheesy, but I really have been feeling thankful as the days lead up to Thanksgiving. It’s only been in the last few weeks with Matt leaving and the weather plunging downwards I’ve really felt the loneliness and the madness of what I’ve done by coming over here. I honestly feel like the terror, stress, and frantic depression that is sure to grab hold of anyone who tries what I’m trying here has taken much longer to get to me, and I think I know why.

My roommate, Dan, lost his job and within a day he was pacing around the apartment like a caged animal, and even, unbelievably, cleaned the place up a bit. I’ve been in a income-less, floating, structure-less life now for months, and I’ve weathered in better than he has after only a day. He told me between hits on his e-cig that he’d never had a day off like this, either he’s on holiday or sick, but never just a day of openness in front of him, but he said it like he was scared. He said he needed to find a job and quick, because the last thing he wanted to do was go back to England.

My patience for my time here, my openness to the chasm of uncertainty is only something I can bear because of all the love I feel coming at me from the east. The amount of support I feel from my friends and family holds me up, and brings tears to my eyes whenever I feel it. So many of you have been so good at talking with me on the phone, or sending me photos, or letting me brag about where I’ve moved to and what things I’m doing. I’d feel disappointed if I came back before I really had a chance here, but I know my return would make a lot of people really happy, and that makes imagining that easier. 

I didn’t realize what Thanksgiving really meant to me until I was completely disconnected from it and unable to eat too much with the family. Now that I’m all the way over here, now is when being able to get around a table with family would really make me feel the spirit of Thanksgiving. And it’s only because I’ve been fortunate enough to be in families that really latch on to those traditions. I suppose I took it for granted, but it’s in me deeply now, and if I could just find some people that wanted to eat, I’d be attempting to put together a Thanksgiving feast right now. In stead I am making a pumpkin pie, and I’ll drink Gluhwein and call home and see everyone. 

I guess what I’m really Thankful for is friends and family that it’s so hard to be a part from. I love all of you so much, and it would all be so much easier if I just had shitty relationships with everyone. God damn it.

So thanks, thanks to everyone who reads this, everyone who has talked to me on the phone, everyone who has sent me something, everyone who has supported me in this crazy leap. What makes it hard to be away from you, is what gives me the strength to keep picking myself up and forging ahead. 

Now no one look at me, I’m going to make and eat an entire pie by myself today.

Part 2

After getting back from our weekend in Northern Bavaria, I had some business at the Immigration Office. Matt went to visit Dachau on his own: I’ve been to the concentration camp museum enough times. The immigration office was a little less terrible this time, as I had someone be honest with me. They hadn’t seen the Freelance Visa application before, and didn’t really know what the deal was. A helpful guy got on the phone with someone upstairs, and my papers have been shipped off to a different place, and as I write this I’m still waiting to hear, but I’m going to go and check in on them soon.

The incredible Isarradweg.

The incredible Isarradweg.

The next day was my opportunity to share how great it is to cycle here. We took the train just to the edge of town and got on the Isar Cycle Path, the Isarradweg, and cycled south to Wolfratshausen, then west to Starnberg, and then took the train back into town. It makes me a bit sad that I won’t be able to take all my visitors cycling here. It really is one of the best things about this city.

The view from Salzburg fortress.

The view from Salzburg fortress.

The next day we visited Salzburg, Austria. I’d never been, and it was high time. It’s only 2 hours away from Munich by train, and the city is a real beauty. We toured the castle, ate chocolate, saw Mozart’s house, and even saw a classical concert. Second row seats for 25 Euros. They didn’t play any music I was particularly moved by, but it was a gorgeous room, and the Philharmonic sounded amazing. We discovered one other thing, but it’s good enough to keep secret, as I think it will be a staple for future visitors. 

The next day was spent recuperating, and researching for our trip to Oslo. We ended it with a great bottle of beer and a cool evening in the English Garten. 

It's funny, but Matt's last name is Miller, and to me that gives him some claim to Germany that I don't have. The German form of the last name Miller is the incredible common Mueller or Müller. There were a few times that I had him stand awkwardly in front of something with Mueller on it. I don't think it meant the same to him.

In our Oslo research I just idly stumbled across the schedule for the Oslo Opera House, and, as it happens, on the day we were to arrive Wagner’s first major opera “The Flying Dutchman” was being performed. Mere hours after we were to land, not far from where we were staying.

Wagner on Friday, Terje on Saturday. It was going to be a hell of a weekend.

Part One

As it happens, Matt was the perfect person to be my first visitor. Sadly I’m still in my bad WG, and my life is still in strange shambles, but he came just in time to save me from a dark time. Literally the day before he arrived I had my first broken-down, crying, “oh shit I’m not going to make it” phone call. There was a massive misunderstanding at the Immigration Office, and they thought I was trying to start a business, and I was so flummoxed and over-whelmed as they talked to me, and made short asides about me, that I left, sat in the Marienplatz drank a coffee, and tried to let the fear go, and reorganize my resolve for the next phase. I walked around Munich for a few hours, hiding at the library, and waiting for it to be late enough back in America to call and dump some of this anxiety over there. Finally I did, and realized I would have to go back and straighten out the record on what I was actually looking for.

The next day Matt arrived. He flew to Frankfurt because it’s much cheaper and grabbed a quick train to Munich. He arrived in the afternoon surprisingly un-jetlagged, and we walked. We walked to a beer hall, we walked through the Marienplatz, we sat on the banks of the Isar in the warm sun and drank beer and shot the shit. I’ve been desperately clinging to podcasts lately and it’s because it’s like having someone to talk to while you walk around. Now I had the real shit, we’d wander, and I’d translate things, or we’d decide on where to go, and after 2 weeks of being a tourist in this wonderful area, I feel refreshed a bit. Not renewed in the sense that everything is new, but refreshed as in ready to instill a new routine, to get back on this massive project, and to keep forging ahead. The longer I’m here the more terrifying the prospect of going back is. 

So Matt and I had 2 weeks of incredible weather and great adventures in Germany, Austria, and Oslo.

Naturally the first few days were spent over-coming jet lag, though Matt didn’t seem too affected. We cycled around the city, drank liters of beer, went to some museums I had been saving, walked the palace grounds at Nymphenburg, and generally just got situated. We met a friend at a Ramen place and now I’ve got some new great soup in Munich to add to my dinner roster. And we got drunk. Neither Matt nor I are big partiers, so this was really it for getting too drunk and stopping for fries. We drank lots and regularly but never quite to the extent of that early night. I had been saving some tourist attractions and museums for visitors, and they didn't disappoint. A new highlight of any visit I think will be a museum on mining. Yes, really.

The first weekend was a whirlwind tour of northern Bavaria, Saturday we took the train to Bayreuth, to see Wagner’s Opera House and the Wagner Museum which was closed when I was there 2 years ago.

The tour of the Opera House was fun, last time I took it there were only 2 visitors, this time there was a group of 25 or so Germans and then Matt and I. At each stop our tour guide would chatter on, and then we’d shuffle to the next location and I’d relate to Matt what I had understood. It was fun. A grumpy old man complained about all these new directors coming in with their visions when Wagner left us designs for exactly how to stage the operas. 

If the Wagner Museum weren’t 2.5 hours away by train I’d be a member. Really incredible, costumes and props from the first complete performance of the ring in 1876, a interactive audio catalog of over 100 years of Wagner recordings. Areas of the museum dedicated to Wagner’s clothes. Hand written pages from the operas. And in the basement a giant book/video projection and a killer sound system that lets you see in the score what’s going on in the music while the music plays. I stood in this dark room with 5 people around me, tears in my eyes listening to the opening of Rheingold and watching how the chords built. Amazing.

Wagner's house. Willa Wahnfried.

Wagner's house. Willa Wahnfried.

We stopped and had Gluhwein and enjoyed German pop radio before taking the train to Nurnberg. We checked into a great little hotel and took a little detour. As it happens Nurnberg has a killer Tiki Bar, and I’d been curious to visit it for some time. We had dinner there, and a few bright sugary cocktails. It’s called Kon Tiki:

Matt told me later that the girls we were sitting next to were checking us out. He’s got a girlfriend, so no great lost to him, but come on help a buddy out.

Just one of the many rooms at Kon Tiki.

Just one of the many rooms at Kon Tiki.

Nürnberg is a beautiful city, but on the south end of town is something really weird and ugly. The Nazi Parade Grounds and Kongresshalle. We visited there and after that the Germansiches Museum which I had done last time I was in town, but it’s endlessly fascinating. It’s a museum of the people that made up Germanic culture, not Deutschland, the nation. One of my favorite parts is the full reconstructions of the insides of rural German farmhouses. I was happy to come back with my camera and get a few photos.

Over roast Bratwurstl, which are a specialty in Nurnberg, I got real with Matt and expressed my concerns that I wouldn’t be an exciting enough tour guide in Germany. For me the best is wandering around, staring, listening, soaking up little stuff, I was worried he’d be bored. The last thing you want to do is travel with someone only to find out later they were disappointed. Matt reassured me, and oddly this was enough, I was never really worried about his boredom after that. 

Sunday night we returned to Munich; it felt like we’d been gone a long time.

My first German Dinner Party

I guess it was more of a “House Warming Party” though the house in question was a one room flat in the south western quarter of Munich. As I understand it the German term for both of these parties is just the English term. Just brought over wholesale. I got laughed at when I ask if it was an “Abendessen Fete.” Fete is an outdated term for party, but I learned it 15 years ago, and it has stuck.

Johanna’s friend, Agnes, has just gotten settled into her apartment, and so Johanna said I should come to the party. I’ve read a lot of strongly worded articles on what you would bring to a German’s home if they invite you. I think a lot of this information is more useful fora slightly older crowd or perhaps it’s bit outdated, but it was ground into me that one should always bring a gift of some type. I had hoped to arrive with Johanna and sort of hide behind her as we entered, but she was called over early to help in the preparations. So I had to arrive alone. She warned me NOT to arrive on time, she advised me NOT to feel obliged to bring anything, and she failed to give me clear directions to this flat that was actually quite hard to find. The advice to forgo punctuality was the hardest to follow. I was ready to head out a full hour before the party started, just sitting here, twiddling my thumbs. I put on some Todd Terje, and the hour went by easily.

So I had bough a bottle of wine, I had even gone for one of the more expensive bottles at the Supermarkt. 5 Euros! I had it tucked in the bottle cage of my bike, and I pedaled off. I had decided to bike because it was either a 15 minute lateral ride, or a 30 minute affair of 3 trains to get there. I got a little lost, because the actual building was hidden in an inner courtyard, it was dark, and I didn’t know what I was doing really. My phone stopped working for a bit, so I couldn’t ask for help, and Johanna had failed to give me her friend’s last name so I couldn’t even find the bell for the apartment. Finally my phone got service again, and I texted and was given enough information to find my way up. I arrived at 8:45 for an 8 pm party. I was the last to arrive. There was a lovely spread on the table, bread, cheese, meats, grapes, wine, and around the table 9 Germans chattering away. I hung up my coat, I took off my shoes, and I saw that the only open chair was at the head of the table, with Johanna, my life line, all the way across at the other end.

I don’t know if the term “Scheiße Essen Lächeln” exists in German, but Johanna definitely had one on her face. I was left adrift, but I would not be so easily embarrassed. I introduced myself to the table, spoke some bad German, and the social wheels began to slowly turn as I got my first glass of wine. Agnes asked if I had come by bike, and she said she’d heard that I’m always on my bike. Quickly the entire table started talking to me about my choice to ride my bike to the party that night.

Now this seemed odd to me. The bike infrastructure is great here, and it was easy to ride over. I ask how did all of you get here tonight and they all said they took the train. I sensed there was something I was missing. I had the impression that it was odd that I had come by bike, but, in fact what was strange to them was the I, the American, had come by bike. The expected me to be more inclined to drive or take the train andbe not so oft Unterwegs (often on the go). I chose to see this as a point of pride. Agnes asked what I would do in the winter, and I told them I had all the necessary silly clothes to stay warm and pedal on. 

We kept talking, and I followed as best I could, there was one guy at the table that I couldn’t understand for the life of me. Later his friend confessed to me that no one has an easy time understanding him, he speaks remarkably fast. 

The musical entertainment was a radio tuned to some station playing all the hits. A random jumble of popular American and English songs from the last 40 years, I couldn’t help but quietly keep track of what I was hearing, and after a number of glasses of wine I finally asked, “is it odd that there’s no German music being played at all?” Quickly they rebutted, “Name some German musicians.” Quickly one girl added “…and don’t say Rammstein.” The fast talking guy threw in “…or Kraftwerk.” I asked about Laserkraft 3D and Roman Flügel, I asked about Die Ärtzte or Die Fantastichen Vier or Fettes Brot or Herbert Grönemeyer. Other than the first 2 I felt like I was just naming obvious ones, and I wouldn’t expect to hear many of those on the kind of pop shuffle this radio station was playing. A few faces lit up as I named bands that they liked, but there was never a moment where they thought it odd that this bicycling yahoo from Texas was able to rattle these off. Not that I was disappointed, but when I got into a similar situation with one my German teachers she jokingly said she was going to home and give up teaching when I name checked Grönemeyer.

After the wine was done some digestifs got served around as we ate cake. It was closing in on 2 am, and I was pretty done for. So were most of the other guests. I thanked Agnes and congratulated her on her lovely little apartment. Johanna went off to wait for the infrequent night trains, and I pedaled home. I didn’t expect us to go separate ways, but we did. I’m starting to suspect what I first attributed to the German relaxed towards relationships attitude as being a being a mild indifference to me. I may be headed for my first European break up.

All in all, I was extremely pleased to have made it through that dinner party with only a reasonable amount of embarrassment, and a full enjoyment of the awkwardness of it. We talked about my obsession with rhyming words, and had a long talk about “Sauber Zauber” why it doesn’t sound right, and also why “Mr. Clean” is “Meister Proper” here. Apparently “Meister Sauber” would sound weird and kind of off-putting, but “Messier Proper” implies the muscles of the Mr. Clean we’ve all come to enjoy in the USA. I also learned that saying someone is “Proper” in German means they are bulky, either due to muscles or fat. I’d go to a dinner party like this every weekend. 

There’s been new developments in the Visa, and I have a new patron, but that’s going to be a longer story, and will probably have a better ending after I meet on Wednesday. So, until then, look at this:

Separated at birth!?

Separated at birth!?

dogs, swords, nakedness and numbers

More exciting German children’s books that I’m going to write

As my German slowly improves one thing that doesn’t go away is my enjoyment of words that sounds like other words in this language I’m not so familiar with.

der Schwert Beschwert - The sword complains - a knight fights in many battles, but before each one he has to connive his sword yet again to be sharp and cleave his enemies.

notch night, notch nackt - not yet, still naked - a lazy man, naked in his bed on a sunday morning, his friend calls him to come out, his parents ask him to come over to lunch, his girlfriend begs him to come outside and enjoy the day, but his response is always the same “not yet, still naked”

Laden is the German word (and suffix, sort of) for store, for example Musikladen is a music store. “Marmalade” in the singular form of marmalade and “Marmaladen” is the plural form of marmalade, so I’m going to open an exotic marmalade store called “der Marma-laden.” This might be my first solid German portmanteau. 

I noticed many cafes around the city identify as “Steh cafes” or “standing cafes.” I asked Johanna if it would makes sense if I opened a “Geh Cafe” that was just to-go coffee. She said maybe, but most people would think it was just a “Gay Cafe.” So thanks, English, for muddying those waters.

The last week or so I’ve felt that my German is a lot worse, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s moving over into a different part of my brain, like a longer term storage area. I no longer have to think about numbers, someone says a number and I know what they mean. Which feels like a pretty good bit of progress, cause the German way of speaking numbers is really wild and interesting For example: 

154,638 in English: one hundred fifty four thousand six hundred and thirty eight. The number is read from left to right sequentially, building the sum as you move along. 

Now:

154,638 auf Deutsch: ein hundert vier und fünfzig tausend, sechs hundert acht und dreißig

You read the first number then the third then the second, then you identify it’s place, then you read the fourth number then the sixth then the fifth. There’s a system here, but man, it’s required some hefty rewiring in mein Gehirn.

I have plenty of more strange constructions and complaints, but one I really enjoyed was discussing dog breeds. A wiener dog walked by and I asked “what kind of dog is this auf Deutsch?” It is a Dackel. I asked could you say “Wiener Hund?” No, my companions replied, you could not do that in Germany. I then asked, well, what if I get a Dackel and name it “Wiener Dog.” This got no laughs.

So I’ll write a delightful childrens book about a German Dackel and an American Wiener Dog meeting in an airport and comparing notes on their lives in their respective countries. 

It’s still 6 weeks out, but I’m getting very anxious about my visa deadline, though I’ve had multiple promises to write the letter I will need, the letter is not in my hand, and so it’s hard for me to feel fully comfortable.

When I think about returning back to the US, my heart drops. It’s not even about embarrassment, it’s about how close I am, how life here is not out of my grasp, it just don’t have my clutches on it. It makes me realize how bad I want this, maybe more than I’ve wanted anything. It’s invading my dreams in strange ways. Applying to a lot of things, casting the net mighty wide, and keeping my fingers desperately and tightly crossed. 

I know I’ll make it, I just don’t know how, and that gives me the willies. Anyway, I’m sure there’s funny German words out there that sound like other words that I haven’t heard yet, so I’m gonna go listen for those while I continue the job hunt, the German class, the new apartment hunt, and the new friends hunt.

The Photo Catalog of Munich

It’s good to be aware of yourself and your situation.

It’s the waning days of World War 2, and there’s a real awareness in the Nazi command that the war is lost. Munich hasn’t had that many of it’s precious historical artifacts and artworks removed. Despite the fact that Munich was sure to be bombed to bits, they didn’t want to cause a panic by removing statues and other artworks from public spaces. So instead the Nazi command gave an interesting order. Photograph the city. Meticulously document the art and architecture, because they knew it wasn’t going to be long, and they were right.

So a systematic cataloging of Munich began, and the very people that had made Munich such a target were now attempting to save it from the fate that they had wrought. Now a few years after the war, Munich, as many German cities were, was in a terrifically bad state, and the population had the chance to forge a new city. There was a vote: Restore Munich, keep it’s street lay out, stick with the historical character, or take this as an opportunity to restructure the city. Frankfurt chose to start over, but Munich, by a small margin chose to rebuild. It feels like it to this day, the streets are a crazy jumble that still befuddle me, but I’m glad. 

What’s most interesting to me is that the Munich subway system must have been mature enough that not razing the city and kind of picking up where it left off, worked and is still working. Now there’s plenty of weird rules and frustrating attitudes that come along with this. And indeed, no building in the center of Munich is allowed to be taller than the churches, and so Munich has a skyline of only a handful of distinctive churches, but it also keeps the city feeling small.

So the citizens choose to rebuild, but the city is in quite a state, what can they use as a guide? The catalog of photos the Nazis took. Back in 44 and 45, I wonder how far down the chain you had to go to find someone who wouldn’t admit that what they were doing was likely to be used in a post-Nazi world rather than one in which the Third Reich was rebuilding after turning the war around at the last minute.

I haven’t googled that deep on this one yet, but I really would like to see some of these photos, and maybe know a thing or two about the photographers. 

This is probably a hold over from the feeling I got the first time I watched Das Boot, but I still like the moments when “Nazis” suddenly appear like real people. In America we definitely have plenty of instances where we were the asshole, but never the enemy, the bad guys. Some of these Germans were, dare I say, just following orders.

There’s so much more to this city and county than World War 2, National Socialism, and the stereotypical german. But. It’s still a huge feature casting a long shadow in the the historical horizon of the country I chose to live in. I have to think about it, but I think I’ll never really be able to understand or to have a well informed enough opinion to do anything other than register my amazement of what happened right where I am living.

One last thing, as I was trying to find some of the catalogs of Munich photos I came across this.

It’s a midnight swearing in ceremony of SS troops, but where it’s taking place is one of my favorite places in Munich. The Odeonsplatz. I’ve made many video calls from here because it’s such a wonderful spot. That photo really sent chills down my spine.

I had a little Zeitreisen. A trip through time.

I was early. No great surprise.

Last night was the “Long Night of the Museums” which is a night where all the major and some minor museums stay open in Munich until 2 am, and you buy one ticket and it includes the subway and entry and it made for a fun night. But what’s on my mind isn’t the night of museums; it’s the half hour before I met my friends to go museum hopping.

It was raining lightly, and it was cold. I had gotten a coffee, and I was standing outside the Deutsches Museum, which is more of a Museum of Technology. I was huddled under an awning looking north and I could see, peeking above the trees the Müller'schen Volksbad. This is a famous and gorgeous bath house that opened in 1901, and it’s notable for many reasons, but the one I think about the most is that it wasn’t really damaged much in World War 2. 

2449130-Volksbad_Munich_Munich.jpg

So I’m sipping my coffee looking at this amazing building across the street. It’s getting dark, and the lights are coming on, and I’m thinking “OK, wasn’t damaged that much in the bombing, so I bet the GIs took to that pool right quick.” Munich was liberated in late April, and I’m sure it was soon time for a dip. I’ve thought a lot on train trips or cycling back into Munich about being in those fields, marching towards the center, on the way to liberating this city, but I’ve never really thought about what those weeks and months immediately following the end of the war must have been like. 

The GIs primary concern would have been ensuring that wasn’t any war left anywhere in the city. Rounding up men and ammunition, knocking out schwastikas, and resetting the culture a bit, even though the city itself had been all but reset to rubble. I can barely imagine riding along in a jeep, looking down the streets at Germans, primarily women and children, pushing wheel barrows and wagons full of rubble, just trying to bring things back to some semblance of an inhabited city. 

Of course it’s natural for me to imagine myself in the place of the American observer. And I stood on the Museum Island sipping my coffee in 2015, and thinking “OK, 70 years ago, this city is eviscerated.” My heart lurched, for a moment I could feel the sadness of what had happened. For most Germans, I’m sure, the war ended and everything was just utterly fucked. Truly and completely. For a thousand reasons, but looking at this building an imagining everything around it destroyed to the point of being little more than facades hit me in the heart. I really love this city, and I’ve never lived in a place with such a wound in it’s past. And I just won’t ever be able to see though their eyes. 

As I floated back up out of the little dream I felt that same sink in my heart whenever I have a dream that takes place in a different time. I’ve dreamed myself into something that was sort of real, but is also completely unreachable. 

So imagining myself posted as some GI in Munich, tasked with guarding something, or patrolling somewhere, or even marching scores of prisoners through the streets is something I can sort of get a grasp on, and it would have ended there, but. Today is cold and rainy as well, and I went and shot some video for something I’m working on, but the weather eventually got the better of me, and I came home. To the internet. I googled “Munich 1945” and full-color, high definition video comes up covering the exact period I was thinking about. It’s like time travel, and after a few videos here comes one with a nice opening shot of the Müller'schen Volksbad, right there, in the time I was imagining.

And this is a place that I pass every day on my way to German class. It’s a place that one day I will pass without thinking about. It's completely crazy watching these videos and recognizing intersections, buildings, and architecture, and seeing how bad it really was. Here's one of the better videos:

So following this google search it was time to go all the way down the rabbit hole and learn a little bit about the reconstruction of Munich. However, that’s a whole other weird story, one in which the Nazis play a semi-heroic role. Or at least, an interestingly self-aware one.

Going a little native

just a little

Lord knows I’m a long way off from being able to blend in even remotely, and even today I ordered a beer in German and was immediately replied to in English. The pub was pretty empty so I asked what it was. I asked if I’d said something wrong, and the Kellnerin said “No, it was just your pronunciation.” 

However, there are ways in which I’m blending myself into this city existentially that I’m really coming to enjoy.

For instance, in Germany, when a light is about to turn green both red and yellow light up together. I wonder if this is because most cars here are manual, and it gives the drivers a little extra cushion, but even the bike lights do this. I noticed on my morning ride today that I am firing up as soon as I see yellow and red, and I know not but a few weeks ago I was still hesitating until I saw a verified green.

In restaurants, I’ve not had a single waiter pretend to be my friend, and I can’t recall a time when a Kellner or a Kellnerin has told me their name. I haven’t been told what the specials are, or what’s good tonight, and I haven’t been asked how the meal is in the middle of it. I’ve gotten used to sliding into restaurants, seating myself without any interference, and requesting the check when I am ready for it, and not on the wait person’s timetable. I think I’ve gotten accustomed enough to these things that I’ll miss them, and I hope I’m here long enough that they don’t become forgotten too easily. 

I’m 100% comfortable with using the toilet brush that’s next to every toilet in Germany. Even portable toilets. This is a little gross, sure, but cleaning up after myself is much less gross than some of the nightmare toilets I’ve seen in America, and have yet to encounter here, and I’ve used Oktoberfest toilets.

I keep expecting to feel homesick, or in German “Heimweh,” but it doesn’t come. I miss friends, I miss family, I miss Nesmith, but I don’t long to be back. I don’t even crave specific dishes. My at home diet has changed pretty drastically, and I’ve been accused by my roommates of eating like a German, but this is primarily because I make small simple sandwiches, and they are oven heating frozen meal madnesses like Dr. Oetker’s Pizzaburger. I found this box in the garbage can one morning looking like a bear had been at it.

This is totally real. I've seen ads.

This is totally real. I've seen ads.

I think about the tacos at Taco Deli or a slice of brisket, or even a beef rib, and I’d happily get down on any of those, but my heart doesn’t ache for them. So far I don’t even miss driving. All of which seems profoundly weird (especially Taco Deli), but it’s all true.

I’ve been given a verbal commitment to put me to work. It feels hopeful and good, but I know better than to count on a yes said at a casual meeting. I’m still pursuing other leads and ideas, but it feels like the final piece of the first puzzle is within reach. I kept my cool leaving the meeting, and I was glad it was raining as I left because I walked out and stood on the corner tearing up. What it will really mean is that I’m going to have the chance to really see if this works, if this is where I want to be.

gehen - ging - habe gegangen

German without a safety net

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as my German class winds down it’s second week. It’s the first time I’ve ever learned German, but haven’t had English as a safety net. When someone doesn’t understand something, we all have to work together a bit to explain it.

The word “Kiosk” came up yesterday, and we had to help clarify what that means to a girl from Romania. I offered “es ist ein kleines Geschaft.” It is a small shop. A girl from Bulgaria threw in, “Da kann mann Zigaretten, Susigkeiten, und Bier gekaufen.” There one can buy cigarettes, sweets, and beer. Soon the light went on, Munich is a city with a lot of Kiosks, so this will be a useful word for her, I think.

Peter, a guy in his 50s, from New Zealand, has a German wife, a teenage daughter, and is hoping to get a posting as an English teacher here, but his German is perhaps some of the worst I’ve ever heard. He’s got a mish-mash of English, Spanish, and crazily pronounced German. I think he’d get more out of a lower class, but he’s here, and lord knows he applies himself. Once the Kiosk was clarified Peter loudly bellowed “Ah-ha! In Auckland, es gibt eine Kiosk!” In Auckland there is a kiosk. The class was oddly silent, no one knew what kind of response he wanted.

However, the class silencing moments aren’t limited to Peter. We all spent some time translating a sentence into our “Muttersprache” Mother Tongue, and then read them out loud to the class. It was some of the first English I’d spoken in the class, and when I was my turn I loudly and happily said “Mike wants to take his vacation now!” Everyone was silent, the teacher looked at me with a totally blank expression. What had I done? What did I say? After a moment we moved on, and Kyriakos from Greece leaned over and he said “you spoke too fast.” 

As my German gets better, and as I have conversations with people and try and put pieces together I start to notice weird things about English. Have you ever really thought about what “got away” or “get away” means as a more literal construction? The cat got away. The cat achieved away-ness. The cat has become gone. 

Got and become are two words that I never thought of as synonymous before, but now I do, thanks to German. I got wet. I became wet. I got 5 dollars in German is “Ich have 5 Dollars bekommen.”

Right now in class we’re working on the 3 major tenses, one of which is only used when writing. How bananas is this:

Present tense:
Ice gehe weg. - I go away.

Present perfect (used in speaking about the past):
Ice have weg gegangen - I have gone away.

Simple Past / Preterite (Präteritum/Imperfekt) (used almost only in writing):
Ice ging weg. - I have gone away.

Now if you walked up to someone and said “Ich ging weg.” They would understand you, but you would sound like you are talking in a very affected manner, as though you are an actor on the stage. I try to imagine what this would be like in English, and I see someone in pantaloons traipsing up and proclaiming “Look not for me, for I have gone.” Something like this. Simple past is important though, because that’s what all newspapers are written in.

We’re 3 week out from the end of this class, and I’m already going to miss it. I won’t be taking the next course right away. It’s expensive and I need to focus on work for a little bit, but I’ll definitely take more. Honestly, it feels great to be a student again, and I don’t mind how wrong I am all the time. I’m even certain this entry contains errors, but I’m building this knowledge and constantly replacing bad bits of foundation that I built on when I thought I had learned something. 

There will be a time when my German is good, I think. It’s way out there, and I think it’s a matter of years more than months, but I don’t mind. It feels good to be terrible at something, because I know I’m getting better.

Oktoberfest

The first time I walked through Oktoberfest (or The Wiesn)

I was a bit drunk before I arrived. Vaguely jet lagged, and tipsy enough that all I did was gawp. Walk and gawp. And I had very little understanding of what I was seeing or what I should have been doing.

The second time was just after noon on the first Sunday of the fest this year. It was crowded with families and everyone was checking out the rides. I was with Johanna and so I could do the awful thing that is so easy to do in this multi-cultural situation: I asked her questions like she was the spokesperson for the culture.

I learned the beer is pretty hard to come by on the Wiesn unless you are in one of the massive tents. I learned there are rides here that are traditions, and have been for nearly 100 years. 

The trip after that, we definitely found the beer. Octoberfest beers are brewed to be especially strong, and you can only order in liters, so, for me, one liter isn’t enough, and a second is feeling pretty good. I have to really pace myself. One of my roommates claims to have had 6 Maß in a single evening at Oktoberfest. However, as far as I can tell he is still alive, and going to his job, so I am dubious. It was my fist time on the floor in the middle of a tent and all I could do was stare at the people, and watch the weirdness going on around me. There’s lots of men trying to dance with women. I’ve seen it be welcome as many times as I’ve seen the girls slip carefully away, avoiding the clutches of a drunk dude. One of the girls in the group I was with made out with 3 different guys in about 2 hours. Despite all this it was a weekday and relatively tame. I was still amazed how civil it really is.

One of the friends we made on that trip. He claimed to be from New Zealand at one point, and then California later on. 

One of the friends we made on that trip. He claimed to be from New Zealand at one point, and then California later on. 

The next time I walked through the Wiesn it was 8 in the morning, gray, rainy and dour. No one was there but people who were cleaning up from last night and preparing for the following day. This was maybe my favorite way to walk around the rides. Everything was quiet and spacious and there were a few roasted nut (gebrannte Mandeln) stands open. Trying to get a jump on their inventory for the evening, I guess.

_DSC3287.jpg

Finally, I visited on a Saturday. Fully bananas. I was with Johanna again, and we were meeting her friends in a tent, and there we reports that the tent was closed except for one side entrance. Once around the side there was a small group of people trying to get in. Security guards held a rope and would only let in people as others would come out. A reasonable system. Except some people were already fully smashed and were jumping the line and running for it trying to get in. Most of the time the security guards caught them and threw them back into crowd. I hoped to get a good behavior reward and I stood there quietly waiting to be called. All that happened is that I was ignored. Kellnerin (waitresses) would come over and select groups based on size to lead to open tables, but eventually, somehow they determined the tent wasn’t full any more and the rope was dropped. We all rushed forward.

I thought we were getting in, but we were actually only getting access to the Biergarten outside the tent. There was an entirely different holding area to get in the tent proper. We smashed into this cattle chute with everyone else. A crazy mix of languages was buzzing through this new crowd. We waited, pushing against locked doors, everyone desperate for a beer, I guess. For a moment a security guard had to go and deal with a profoundly drunk person, and then another drunk person inside the tent saw our thirsty faces through the glass. He stumbled over and let us in before anyone knew what was going on. Probably 50 people flooded into the incredibly crowded tent.

What had been a weird Petri Dish on a Tuesday was now a chaotic test bed of human extremes. Just in my way to the table I saw people with bleeding hands from crashing their glasses together with too much enthusiasm. I saw this at least 3 times. I saw people standing there, vacant eyes, looking like either tears our vomit would come up soon. I pushed through a block of people and found an open area, a small space had been cleared on the floor because a guy had pulled his pants and underwear down and was standing there yelling in a heavy British accent. He was insisting one of his friend should touch his penis. He was pointing forcefully at his crotch which was covered by his fanny pack. Pretty cool, dude. 

We got to our table, safe enough, and from there is was an experience more in line with what I had on Tuesday. Same songs, same beer, same drinking. It’s like there was a little pocket of madness and we walked through the middle of it. 

Sadly still under the weather at that trip, I retreated around 10:30. 

Either the "Y" in YMCA or possibly "I Will Survive"

Either the "Y" in YMCA or possibly "I Will Survive"

Now that is all my personal perspective from this Oktoberfest, from what it’s worth. However, it’s much more than these little snap shots and thing descriptions, and it’s genuinely hard to describe. It’s so big and so multi-faceted. I was talking with a Bavarian recently, and she said one of the problems is that Oktoberfest for Germany is a “volksfest” a festival for the people, but internationally its referred to as a “beerfest” which it most definitely is not. There are special beer brewed by each brewery, but the main purpose of the original Oktoberfest was to celebrate a wedding, and now what it should be is celebrating Bavarian culture. 

Gaetano, who let me stay in his apartment when I first arrived. This covers the evening pretty well.

Gaetano, who let me stay in his apartment when I first arrived. This covers the evening pretty well.

Of course this is hard to defend in one of the bigger Fest Tents as a band relentlessly tears through “YMCA” while Europeans dance in the cheapest Lederhosen they can find. There are rumors of more traditional tents, and I hope to get some time in one soon. I’m not really “on the make” in a fest tent, so I think it’s keeps me from really getting into the full swing of the Oktoberfest tent. A local told me the best way to meet the worst people is on the floor at the Fest Tent. 

Now outside the tents there are the games, rides and snack stands. In inebriated hazes I’ve purchased fries, a Kasestangerl (basically a stick of break and cheese) and a half meter long Bratwurst that I gleefully shared. There’s half roasted chickens on offer, and lots and lots of smoked fish, which I keep hearing is delicious but smells terrible. I’m going to wait to share one with someone who is enthusiastic, so I can better understand this thing. In addition to snacks there are smaller beer gardens and little stands to drink a glass of wine at, but if you’re looking for a big liter of Oktoberfest beer you have to be in the shit.

And the rides, there are no shortage of usual suspects, a lot of wonderfully unlicensed character usage, but best of all huge strange things that in no way make their contents clear. There’s Encounter which looks a bit like the alien’s liar from Aliens but there’s full size mannequins of Capt Picard and other Sci-Fi characters arranged around the 2 story facade. Inside is some kind of show that happens “primarily in your mind” according to the sign out front. There’s fun houses, and giant slides you go down in a sack. No Tunnel of Love, which is funny, I’ve never seen one, and now I feel like I should, once in my life ride a tunnel of love solo.

I suppose the replacement for the Tunnel of Love is the Geisterbahn or Ghost Train. There’s about 5 of these spread around The Wiesn, and each one is terrible in it’s own way. The Shocker has Inferno Rooms, and a Geist Klo (Ghost Toilet) out front. Daemonium is the worlds largest Geisterbahn, 3 stories tall, and 7 dollars a ride. I made the mistake of visiting the website for Daemonium, and it looks as lame on the inside as any other Ghost Train. Someday I want to find one of these that attempts an actual coherent story. What is the reason we’re being terrorized so?

However, my white whale for this years Oktoberfest was something I saw way back on that first trip, and have wondered about ever since. Die Fahrt Zur Hohle (The Journey to Hell) is a geisterbahn that pretends to have a unifying theme. So I did take a ride on it, and it was, on the inside, just like every other Ghost train, lights that suddenly flash on, scenes that are suppose to unsettle. Elements that are supposed to get a frightened companion to leap into your arms. I joked that I’d had more “angst mit Ein Fahrt zur Toilette.” I think this was another attempt at a joke in German that didn’t fly, but I liked it.

At the permitter of Oktoberfest there are loads of people drinking, having a quick bottle of lager before they go in, but you can’t bring bottles onto The Wiesn, so it’s become a structured system where the empties are collected around garbage cans, placed carefully on the ground, and poor folks come by and collect them to get the 15 cent deposit from each bottle. It is a miniature economy, that exists out at the Isar river as well, where drinkers happily hand their bottles over to folks who will take the time to return them.

I suppose I’ll stop here, because it’s as good a place as any to. Oktoberfest is too big for me to really cover, and especially since I want to see it in a positive light, while all the locals I know sort of roll their eyes. I’ve heard very good things about the many nearby fests that go unnoticed by tourists, and I look forward to enjoying them, but I know for sure, none of them will be able to match the massive madness of Oktoberfest.

du bist ein verrückte man!

I’ve only been in my German class two days, but there’s already an awful lot to chew on. I’ve basically gotten out from under the fog of sickness, I’ve had 2 real bike rides and both have been glorious. Months ago I imagined cycling out past the edge of Munich into the green hills and mountains of Southern Bavaria, and through the flat northern stretches towards Nuremberg. I’ve now done both, I’ve pedaled through my own dreams, and I cried both times. On Sunday I saw the Alps out there like ghosts in the distance. Not so far. 

So now with a better grip on myself I begin my German class. It's positioned as the 3rd class, so I tested out of the bottom 2. So far I’ve gotten compliments from the other students of how good I am, but I’ve got the advantage of enthusiasm and months spent in preparation. 

The students are from everywhere. It’s fascinating. Japan, Bulgaria, Barcelona, Romania, China, India, Ukraine, The Congo, Uruguay, New Zealand, Greece, Ecuador, California and Texas. Yes, it is a big class, and yes, the Americans identified themselves by state. The narcissism of minor differences. The teacher barrels through for 3 hours every afternoon speaking 98% German. So far I’ve understood everything, but other students have expressed to me a dissatisfaction with the teacher. However we only have her Mondays and Tuesday, and Wed - Fri we have a difference teacher, so we’ll have to see how die Zweite Lehrerin is. 

The guy from Uruguay sat next to me for the first class, we did our standard issue getting to know you chat and then I looked at his t-shirt. Bright red with a cartoon of Texas on it, with all the highlights: Dallas, Houston, El Paso, no Austin, though. Perhaps in Europe Austin can remain a secret. 

The teacher has trouble with the Chinese and Japanese names, but just plows through them with confidence and no embarrassment. I feel like in American there would be a lot of embarrassment and very awkward feelings. Here it’s a quiet moment of mispronunciation, correction and we move on. The teacher also asked a lot about China’s Blood Moon Festival, and described it, sort of dismissively as superstition. I don’t know.

We’re a room full of foreigners trying to gain some knowledge of, and presumable a place in, this woman’s native land. I wonder honestly how she feels about all of us, and the refugees.

Kirill from Ukraine and I got partnered up and when we were done we made small talk. He complained that cell service was too expensive in Germany. I explained the price gap from American to Germany. He was unimpressed, 4 Euros a month is all he paid back home. I wonder how well of Kirill is back in Ukraine. I haven’t yet asked him why he’s here in Deutschland.

It seems like my class buddy is going to by Kyriakos. He keeps chatting with me at the breaks, and I don’t mind, his German is pretty good, so we can talk about a few more interesting things. At one point the teacher used the word “Psychologisch” and Kyriakos leaned over to me and said “das ist ein Griechisches wort.” Interested I asked “es ist Latein, oder?” “That’s a greek word” “it’s latin, isn’t it?” He huffed slightly and agreed. Later Joe told me that I’d stepped in some pretty good Greek cultural doo-doo. 

It must not have been too bad, Kyriakos walked with me to my bike after class, he was all curious, he told me about how he has his girlfriend here, and they speak Greek together all the time, he’s getting a degree in sport science while he works at a Greek cafe. When I told him I was here because I wanted to be, and not for a job or degree, when I told him I was alone with no friends here, no girlfriend, just a little outpost of myself he literally stopped in his tracks, looked at me and said: “Du best ein verrückte man!”

You are a crazy man.

One of those weird music things

 

Shortly before I left I had one of my last evenings just chasing music. I haven’t had one of those yet in Germany, but I know I’ll get back to my old past time before too long. 

On this night I was down the rabbit hole with Uwe Schmidt, a little known electronic music producer that’s responsible for Señor Coconut, a fake latin big band that does covers of classic electronic music tracks, and many other strange projects. A massive catalog collection of his work is on Apple Music and some of it is real weird, and some of it is crap, and some of it is really weird crap, but there’s some gems in there too. And one really caught me:

I don’t know exactly what it is, but I immediately loved this strange discordant ditty. I sent it around to a few friends, and then just kept listening to those sweet back up singers at 0:33.

This track has been on my phone since I arrive here and I’ve played it many times, it’s also fun to whistle that melody. 

So last week I was standing out in front of an Octoberfest tent, texting like mad trying to track down my party pals, and what do I hear from the Polka Band on stage? The same fucking melody. I stood slightly amazed at the beautiful serendipity. I’ve since heard the song a few more times at Oktoberfest. So I came home, and dug up a website that catalogs samples in songs, and found way down in the comments a cantankerous comment from a German letting everyone know from whence that sweet melody came:

This is a super weird song. It’s about mourning for Summer during the winter. The titles is basically “When will it REALLY be Summer again?”

However the lyrics are particularly odd, I won’t translate the entire song, but here are some highlights

“We were brown, but now the browns are white because we are always refrigerated.”

“A sheep was lucky if you shaved it, and in it was like in Africa where if you wanted you could get naked.”

and later the mailman blames the SPD, one of the major German political parties for the thousand feet of snow.

Obviously there’s a lot of cultural context here, and in-jokes that I don’t get, but I do love it when something strange leads to something stranger leads to a magical music moment culminating in a truly bizarre cultural artifact.

And thank god for the internet, Apple Music, and youtube, cause otherwise I might have been able to memorize some grammar rules in the time I spent chasing this nonsense down.

I have been a shitty tourist.

One of the many people that I talked to before coming to Germany had a long gestating book idea: a guide to being an Ex-Pat that he still someday wanted to write and publish. It is called "You are not on vacation." The primary thesis was that, from his point of view, most people coming from American and trying to live abroad thought that they were coming over to the continent to spend all day sipping coffee at sidewalk cafes or knocking out their evenings in the beer garten. Now this is an interesting thesis, but not one that I particularly feel speaks to me.

However, for 36 hours in Hamburg I had to try really hard to be on vacation. I wasn't in the mood, and I wasn't feeling my best, but I needed to use the train pass, and I was curious what Hamburg was like. 

So I arrived around 4 on Wednesday. I immediately took a long walk, I had a short list of things I wanted to do, but my favorite type of tourism might be the least sexy. I just wanted to walk around and get the character of a new German city. What struck me quickly was how little I felt like I was in Germany. It felt far more British in look and International in nature. My friend Joe pointed out that Hamburg is at the edge of Germany, but it's at the center of Hanseatic shipping and commerce. This matches with my impression of Hamburg.

a tour boat checking out the channels

Probably the most famous aspect of Hamburg is the Reeperbahn, a street of permissiveness and vice, with small streets leading away where women will lobby pretty hard to spend an evening with you. I walked through this area early in the day, before shit got weird. I had a local beer, and walked through the Beatles Platz, and past the Indra Club where the Beatles played their first shows. I walked back through downtown, crossing over all the channels and through the interesting streets of Hamburg. I was exausted for some reason, so I wandered back to the hotel for a final beer, some writing, and a collapse.

I woke up in darkness, sure that I'd gone to bed too early and it was now 4 am and I had nothing to do but read long articles on the internet and practice German. As it happens someone had closed the curtains in our 6 person hostel room, and I realized it was 7. I'd slept 10 hours. I spent a lazy morning at the hostel researching, planning my day and drinking 4 cups of their weak coffee. Finally I was ready to come to grips with this city. A local had given me the tip not to pay 20 dollars for a boat tour, but to buy a daypass for the public transportation and take one of the public boats along the channel. Trying to find the public boat was fun, I had to pass literally dozens of stocky german men with cheap captains hats yelling "Hafenrundfahrt" at me. Finally covered in ads to musicals playing at nearby theaters I found Boot line 62.

Unterwegs with the kids on Boot 62

30 Minutes up the river, it was really lovely, and the boat was lousy with school kids on a trip. I could ease drop on their conversations and understand pretty well, and every once in a while one of them would re-enact Titanic at the prow of the boat and another would sing "My heart will go on" in the strange inflections of a non-native english speaker. We passed old houses, big ships, and I saw a docked Russian U-Boot I wanted to take a tour of, but it was closed for refurbishment. At the end of the line I got off in a small village and wandered around for a few minutes, it was amazingly beautiful, but felt so un-German to me. More akin to Quadrophenia's dour port towns than the wild comfort of Bavaria. Hamburg was on my list of places to move because it's such a media city, but I'm glad I followed my heart.

Back on Boot 62, and on my way back to where I came. It was nearly lunch time and I knew I had to eat my first Fisch Semmel. These are easy to find in any German city, there's a huge chain called "Nord See" that will sell you a fish sandwich, but I've never felt excited about this long strip of fish hanging limply out of either side of a small roll. However, I was here on the water, and fish I would eat. It was delicious, I got out of my language depth a little, so I know had something smoked, but what it was precisely will forever be a mystery.  

Next stop, the crown Jewel in my tour of Hamburg: Miniatur Wunderland. The world's largest Model Train set. Holy fucking shit. This is down in Hafen, an area of the city that used to be exclusively channels and warehouses, but it seems it's a lot of offices and some tourist attractions now, they have a "Dungeon" which is a chain of live theatre historical "themed” attractions I'm familiar with from England. I skipped that one. 

I spent an hour in the waiting room for Minitar Wunderland. Yes, it is so popular there is a large waiting room where you can have a meal, watch videos, read books about Wunderland, and they even have free Soda. I sat, ate some fries, and had some Apfel Schorle. A quick survey indicated that there are no Apfel Schorle Cocktails. Considering how specific schorle is to Germany it seems odd. As a Cultural good will mission, I need to do some research on this. 

Soon I was released into Wunderland. You navigate the gift shop and the full restaurant before you can begin. There's a short history of the attraction itself, some pictures of famous visitors (Larry Hagman!) and then you get a little appetizer. To get you into this microscale magic you get small self-contained scenes of major historical eras with German narration explaining each era's importance. Then you get 7 small dioramas covering the history of the Berlin Wall. Super weird. And then you are set loose in Wunderland!

It is huge, it's 2 stories, it's got massive areas themed after German states and other countries, the entire thing is on a day and night cycle so you can see all the little houses, trains and cars light up. The cars move along the roads on an ingenious trackless systems that took me forever to figure out. The model planes actually taxi across the tarmac and take off into a fake sky filled with painted clouds. It is 100% bananas. The American section is  basically "Grand Canyon - Las Vegas - Florida" So something that we just lucked out in having and two of our worst concoctions. I hope that I can give some impression with photos of how crazy this thing is, but a youtube visit is well worth your time.

I took me a few hours to get through all of Wunderland so I emerged into a late afternoon grayness that made me need coffee. I also had the special Hamburg pastry "Franzkochen" which is basically unsweet bread with cinnamon and raisins. I really liked it. A friend had suggested that I check out a vintage store that sells clothing by the pound so I decided a long walk to that was my next move. It turned out to be kind of a bust. Next was a walk through a famous park called Planten und Blomen (plants and flowers). It was gorgeous and obvious that water is no concern here. At this point it was getting towards evening, and I was feeling a little starved for conversation, so I spent a while chatting on the phone and wandering the streets. 

My cough still wouldn't let up, so I figured what I needed was a very spicy meal. A spicy curry. With my day pass for the public transport I could go anywhere in the city, and I found an interesting Inidan restaurant up north, so I took the u-bahn up. This are has an entirely different character than the city center. It feels like a quiet, clean, friendly New York City, of all places. I liked walking around this area much more. Far from the "Port City" vibe of downtown. No one was trying to sell me discount show tickets, a woman, or a Rundfahrt. I conducted my entire meal transaction in German, and I explained that I was sick and I wanted my insides fully incinerated. I was at an Ayurevedic Indian restaurant, the cute waitress was happy to oblige. I asked her if I was ordering spicy (scharf) would my meal be "Deutsch Scharf oder Indisches Scharf." I'm not sure she took my meaning, but she warned me my meal would be very spicy. I have been told that German don't know the first thing about spiciness, but the chefs at this place weren't German. I had an amazing curry of chicken, paneer, fruit, peanuts. My brow was dripping, my nose was running, and I was so pleased. I finished around 8:30, thanked the staff probably a bit too much, and then I decided I should see the Reeperbahn at full power. I also wanted to sit in the room the Beatle's played their first shows in.

The Reeperbahn at dark was entirely different. I'm sure this was also compounded by the Reeperbahn Festival which has begun that night. I walked through a little tent village of show poster silk screeners. I heard almost exclusively english in this area. I walked past a few desperate bands playing at a largely indifferent crowds. I found myself on a back street passing all the AV trucks supporting the shows in the clubs, and then I unwittingly turned down the street with the prostitutes. I saw a guy ahead of me say "no" a few times and kind of dodge and weave, so I figured that was a good strategy, and I needed a strategy.

I was just walking around looking around and I accidentally made eye contact with a woman in a leather jacket and tall, hugely furry boots. I realized later this is the cold weather uniform of Hamburg's ladies of leisure. The first one excitedly called "Harry Potter!" at me, and sidled in, I played up my cough and croaked "nein, nein." She knew a loser, and moved on. I think another offered "bumpsen" which sounds like slang to me, but I need to look it up. I was nearly at the end of the gauntlet when one took a good look at me and said "Jesus! Where are you going?" I laughed enough to start a round of coughs. 

Once through that street I though I was fine, but really I had only gotten to the sex clubs. Behind me were the independent contractors, and ahead where the real pros, hidden behind huge neon signs and signs advertising sex for 39 euros, these girls have men out front doing the luring for them. Only one really tried with me. I tried my "dont' speak german" routine, but he wasn't having it, he dove straight into English. I told him I was sick and on my way home, he said "have you tried a beer?" I said beer hadn't helped my sickness. He said "Have you tried a pussy?" I would have told him no, but I was laughing and coughing so much and he simply gave up.

I wish Hamburg had more to say about the Beatle's time here, but I don't think theres much to say, nor is any of it very nice. They were made to play relentlessly in terrible conditions here. I tired hard to imagine these kids, teenagers, clad in black, doing the dodge and weave through prostitutes trying to get to their first set. Hamburg’s "Beatles Platz" features silhouettes of the Fab Four directly opposite a 24 hour strip show. 

Down the alley at the Indra Club, past the transvestite shows and neon signage, I was hoping to sit in a historic room and find some connection to something vaguely classy in this messiness. However, the Indra was an official venue for the Reeperbahn Festival, and I was not a badge holder. 

It was 11, and I had an early train back to Munich, so I called it a night. Now I am here on the train very excited to be going to my new home, such as it is. I think I could have a good time in Hamburg had I been with people, or been in a more vacation frame of mind, but such as it is I had a fine time. I think I only just managed to be a decent tourist, but I enjoyed my time and got to see a new part of Germany.

Hopefully soon my cough will be gone, my energy will be back, and I'll be able to better appreciate things. This afternoon is supposed to be another trip to Oktoberfest. It's Friday and it's "The Italian Weekend" I'm not sure exactly what that means, but that's the warning I've gotten from everyone. 

Hamburg, ho!

I have done a silly thing.

Distracted with adventures and events here in Munich I have let time slip get away from me. So with my cough receding, and Oktoberfest in full swing I have to take a trip to Hamburg.

The rail pass I bought to go to France has 2 days left of train travel, and I have to use them before October 10th, but my German class starts this Monday. So this week is really the last and best time to rush off and see one of the German cities I’ve yet to visit.

So tomorrow begins 48 hours in Hamburg, let’s see what happens. So far I know there’s a famous street for prostitution, and the Reeperbahn, famous for beers and hamburgers and clubs and partying, and Miniature Wonderland, the world largest model train set, though it includes much more than that.

I’m sure I’ll discover far more, but I better do it fast.

Feeling poorly

I have been under the weather. It has made everything more difficult and frustrating. I’ve felt impatient with my German progress, and annoyed that my work hunt should be beginning now, but Oktoberfest is on, and I think, like SXSW, the whole town sort of stops to party. It’s put me in a foul mood. Even hiking to the top of a mountain wasn’t quite as exhilarating as I wanted it to be, lovely though it was, it was touch and go on the last push to the top. I had to stop several times to get enough air, and I’m not in bad shape. I think it was a flare up of allergies or something, but it seems to be on its way out now, only a cough and some stiffness in my muscles remains. I stopped at the pharmacy and got some “Schleimlöser” which is literally, in German, “Mucus Solver.” Now, filled to the brim with expectorant powers, I am thinking about the 2 things that poked all the way through the bad fog of sickiness and made me very happy in the last few days.

One was a breakfast. I’ve basically been just having musli for breakfast for a month. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and I don’t have to interact too much with the kitchen in this apartment. However on Sunday I got an invite to “The Victorian House” a restaurant downtown, it’s themed to look like a drawing room in an English manor. Bookshelves, busts of severe people, oil paintings of mysterious matriarchs. The menu was an inspiring delight, too many things looked good, but eventually I settlesd on an pate of sunny side eggs with bacon AND sausage with toast. For the time it took me to eat the omelette it was embarrassing how much I was enjoying it. Really, though, I felt human again in a strange way. My current food situation in my flat pretty much sucks, but it’s been compounded by the fact that my sickness has interfered with the flavor of everything. It was such a simple stupid thing, but it was really the first time I felt the comfort of a familiar indulgence from home. I recently realized I have’t had tortilla chips or guacamole in a month. I don’t crave it yet, but I think soon it will be time to try Munich’s Mexican food.

The second moment that broke through the illness was a tour of Oktoberfest. I’ve been trying to write about it, and all I can ever seem to say is that it is so much bigger and stranger and crazy that one can imagine. All the locals that I talk to seem to be pretty well over it, but are still also making plans to make at least one visit. The best comparison I can come up with is, as I said earlier, South by Southwest. It’s just too big and it’s got too much gravity to avoid. I’m excited to get more involved with it. I wish I knew how to photograph it, but I’m still just overwhelmed by it. I walked around the ground for more than an hour which is what it takes just to cover the ground. I haven’t been in the massive tents or the “Old Oktoberfest” section that charges a small fee to get into an area that is all classic wooden carnival rides, and has, by all reports, a more quiet and relaxed air. As I walked around the main area of Oktoberfest, though, it pushed my sickly mind out of it’s rut. I was there early on Sunday afternoon and it was thick with families and excited people from all around the world. So many in Lederhosen and Dirndl, and no one yet was disgustingly drunk. That is coming, I know, but on a Sunday morning decorum was still being held together. I have zero desire to get hammered at Oktoberfest, but I’ll be plenty happy to sit in a giant tent and be so fully surrounded be a celebration of a culture. I hope I’m lucky enough to be there with folks who are looking for Gemütlichkeit and not just trying to drink a lot of abnormally strong beer. I want to stay excited about it for a little while longer, before I am a jaded local.

my fist Valkyrie

One important mission has finally and truly begun, and it feels good. I have seen more Wagner, and I want to see more Wagner. I was genuinely a little worried, my enjoyment of music has some how been muffled during my time here. I think it’s the fact that there is a gnawing feeling at the back of my mind that I have no really put roots down here yet. I want to, but there hasn’t been enough time, and so, when it comes down to it I think I am really starting to feel the absence of my family and my friends.

Fortunately I think I have made a first friend that doesn’t feel built on the pretense of my strandedness here, or the flimsy connection of a share home country. Sam is from Chicago by way of New York, and, now Munich. He is working in acoustical engineering, he’s a graduate student, and he reminds me of one of my best friends in Austin in that he never quite seems comfortable. 

Sam and I met at the main train station at 9:30 for what we had both read online would be a 9:52 train to Füssen. We arrived just in time to see an inexplicable 9:32 train to Füssen pull away into the distance. I’ve never had trouble with German trains unless they’re going to Füssen. We pivoted to the alternate route which is a bus that leaves from the main station. However, we quickly found that the entire bus station part of the train station has been turned into the refugee arrival area. It’s the first time it’s really impacted me in a day to day level. As I understand it they’re being processed and moved to places to stay as quickly as possible. I’ve seen a number of refugees being escorted through the train station by police, but everything has been very civil and very reasonable.

We had to take the street car to the edge of town to grab the bus that had been delayed to the train that was waiting for us. Luckily the train ride into Füssen is gorgeous. Sam fell asleep, I put my headphones on, and was scoping out the roads and bike paths. My bike arrives this week, and there’s still good weather in the coming weeks, I’m going to get some real shit done. As well as getting REAL shit done.

We arrived in Füssen, which is an idyllic little town, and we had plenty of time before the 5 pm opera, except that our Hostel desk wouldn’t open until 4 leaving us not enough time to dress and walk the 30 minutes to the Festspielhaus. We wandered around Füssen. I didn’t get my camera out then, though I should have. The next morning was rainy and yielded only dreary photos. We had a large late lunch to ready ourselves. Then we each had a snowball, which is a ball of fried dough the size of a baseball. I would pay for this extravagance in act two of The Valkyrie. 

The dreary next morning in Füssen.

The dreary next morning in Füssen.

At 4 we donned our drama duds, and grabbed a cab. Something very satisfying about hopping in a cab and saying “Zum Festspielhaus.” Something I’ll have to do again. So we arrived with plenty of time, and scoped out some of the grey- and blue-hairs we’d be sharing the evening with. I spotted some contemporaries, but they were in jeans, t-shirts, and huge beards. I would have loved to know their story, but didn’t want to talk to them. There was an old man in a red suit with an eye patch. A woman pretty well along in years in a 50s style pale pink sci-fi cocktail dress. A few folks were in traditional bavarian dress. It was a good scene.

So the curtain rose on act one. I think I will always have to adjust the volume in the opera house setting. When I listen to Wagner at home I invariably crank that shit. The Valkyrie opens with a storm, and my understanding in the original stage directions the curtain is to stay down during this prologue, but not so for this version. Siegmund is being chased through the forest by angry hunters. In this version the hunters wore silver armor and had large silver circular shields with holes cut in them. Every time they came on stage all I could think is that it appeared they were going to protect them selves with large silver space cookies.

The music was played well, and the singers were amazing. To me. I honestly don’t have enough knowledge of this art form to be really critical. Though certainly I had some questions and problems with the staging, but sonically it was lovely, and to sit and really parse the text makes me re-appreciate the story and the logic of it all.

We also lucked out, because there were German and English super-titles. I’ve read the text many times, I’ve heard the music many more, but to really sit there and tie it all together is a special experience. And betweens Sam’s and my German knowledge it was fun to reconvene in the intermissions and compare what words we thought were interesting, and what translation parts we didn’t really agree with. 

So we made it to the first intermission, and I wanted to try a “Russ’n” which is a beer concoction, but when I asked for the woman didn’t know what I was asking for, and it all quickly devolved into her pointing at the menu and never pointing at what I wanted. I settled for a Radler, lemon soda and beer, more or less. Something in it did not agree with me, and so, for the second, longest, and least action packed of The Valkyrie’s three acts I felt like someone was dropping stones in my stomach. I still enjoyed it, but Brunnhilde’s horse was a silly thing, a large white cone on a manually operated scissor lift. 

2nd intermission - sweet relief, there were Landjaeger for sale! Sweet, magical, German meat treats to get me back on track. All was well for act three which opens with Wagner’s hit single “Ride (of the Valkyries)” b/w “Who got that ring?” Sung gorgeously, but at one point there are 8 Valkyries on stage with their horses, each horse is a 9 foot long cone on wheels with a stage hand dressed in black that is raised by a crank on the back of the cone. I’ll try and find a picture. But as the 8 valkyries rally to make their war cries the choreography is that they will all be raised to the full height of their scissor lifts, and, well, you had 8 men in black furiously cranking, and 8 divas being raised not just slowly and awkwardly but with a jumping stuttering motion. Majestic it was not.

 

However, all was saved by the magic ring of fire that Wotan surrounds Brunnhilde with when he puts her to sleep. It was simple, but beautiful, and Wotan was pretty great. I imagine it’s frustrating to direct Wagner since it’s all there in the original staging, and one could feel like it’s hard to put one’s personal stamp on a performance. There’s a version of Valkyrie coming to Munich soon where I believe Brunnhilde rides on stage on a giant golden Euro symbol. I shit you not.

I promise not to go off on a tangent here, but Sam said that he’d read that the only Gesamkunstwerk (total art work) since The Ring cycle was Star Wars. I said that was non-sense, it’s Disneyland, or the Disney parks as a whole. And even more so because you can’t get the Disneyland experience without going to one of the parks, and so to with Wagner, but to a less extent, this work has defied being parceled out in to anything other than a real live theatrical experience. I’ve watched a few video performances of Wagner, but it doesn’t hit the same, you don’t force yourself into that weird meditative state.

So we left the Festspielhaus at 11 and chose to walk the half hour back to Füssen’s altstadt. It was nice, there was plenty to chew on, and Sam has seen a number of complete Rings, so it was very interesting to talk about what he’s seen and what I have.

I was surprised at how action packed The Valkyrie felt. Certainly compared to the other Wagner opera’s I’ve seen that had no intermissions. When we come out of the opera house we could see Neu Schwanstein castle across the lake looking over at us. And Mad King Ludwig was featured heavily in much of the opera house’s decoration. What an interesting character. 

Seeing the opera felt like a start. Just like trying to come to grip with the works of Wagner, coming to grips with opera viewing as a recreational activity, for me, takes a lot of thinking and considering, study and preparation. It’s not quite like learning another language, and thank god for that. I’ve already got my hands full.

I spent the morning in Füssen, but the rain was heavy enough to spoil any notions of going to see the castle or enjoy the alps. I was dressed for the theatre, not for the mountains. Should have gone to the opera in my Bavarian dress, those guys are ready to herd some sheep, see some music drama, and sing drinking songs from a mountain hut.

Füssen means feet, and this is their town crest. 

Füssen means feet, and this is their town crest. 


I think I’m going to take my first run at the Visa office this week, I have everything that I think I need. I fully expect to get it wrong, but I feel like I should do it before Oktoberfest arrives. From what I understand it takes over just about everything when it’s in full swing.

The Kissin' Kissen

Adventures in making jokes in German

I have read somewhere that the last thing you really acquire when learning a language is the sense of humor. What I have not read is how face-palmingly embarrassing it can be when you try and rush that process.

So I was out with Johanna and we we’re talking about the German word “Kissen” which means pillow. “Küssen” means kissing. It is fun to talk about German with her, she laughs easily and often, and I suppose I seem like some sort of dim man-child to her when I speak. We began (jokingly) working on titles for German children’s books that I plan to write as exercises for practicing my German.

“Zauber Sauber” - Magic Clean

“Verwirrt und Verwitwet” - Confused and Widowed

“Die bequem Zwiebeln” - The Comfortable Onions

I promise, once pronounced in German these are all funny sounding. To me, at least.

Yes, like a dim man-child I really enjoy words that sound like other words. In fact, I’ve already decided that law firm that will represent this publishing endeavor is:

“Löffel, Schussel, und Schlüssel” - *Spoon, Bowl, and Key”

So extremely rudimentary wordplay is on the table. I though I’d be very smooth while I was at ikea buying a pillow. I sent a picture of the pillow section, and texted Johanna “Nicht meine Liebling Kissen Art.” Literally “Not my favorite type of pillow” though the joke was intended to be “Not my favorite type of kissin’” Johanna’s response was strange, and understandably so. In what in my stupid idiot brain was a clever bit of English-German word play just seemed like the most boringly dull text one could possibly send. Here is a wall of pillows, I do not like any of them, end of report. 

When it was clear that this garbage text should have been emphasized with the smartphone equivalent of a shitload of eyebrow waggling, and a stiff elbow in the ribs I apologized to Johanna and got to use what is quickly becoming one of the most well worn bits in my vocabulary. “Ich bin peinlich.” I am embarrassed. Johanna attempted to make me feel better with a simple German idiom:

“Ich auf dem schlauch stehe.” - I am standing on the hose

Quit literally I’m blocking what you’re trying to do. However I didn’t know this idiom, and I’m trying not to google translate every god damn word anyone sends to me. So now everyone is confused. Alle ist verwirrt.

As I work every morning on my German I keep thinking about the actual building blocks of conversation. Not just language. Vocabulary and grammar. That’s language. Context and tone, that communicating. Understanding and culture. That’s conversation.

Until then, Ich werde auf meine eigenes Schlauch stehen.