Munich Will Be the Beginning

This place is usually one of humor and fun, but some things cannot be overlooked.

The spell has been broken. For years, many Germans and especially Bavarians have felt that a combination of factors were at play that had spared it the brunt of terrorism. In all honesty, it was a bit like a fairy tale. Everyone knew it was possible, but perhaps, Munich and Germany might continue to be safe.

Regardless of whether the perpetrator was an Islamist or simply an ill person who was Muslim, the reaction to this most horrific crime must be thoughtful and rational. I expect the citizens of Munich will react just that way.

The security in Munich is some of the best in the world. Twice a year they are put on the highest alert, at the Oktoberfest and during the Munich Security Conference. But they cannot stop what happened and are incapable of policing every potential target. It is a fact of life.

People in Munich will not clamor for ‘more guns for everyone’, as some members of America’s NRA would. They will not misplace the blame on Merkel’s refugee policy. Though it has not been easy, it is on many levels working. Any problems which remain are not insurmountable. These most tolerant people of Munich will not build walls to keep people out, they will not blame a whole religion, and they will not look much differently at the countless Muslims who already live here. In fact, I expect there will be demonstrations for peace and brotherhood, with Germans, Turks, and any other person who believes in those ideas and is willing to work on them, can and will come.

If the shooter was radicalized, the Germans will look closely at the reasons he may have been. Could it be the West’s constant meddling in the Middle East? Egypt is a perfect example. Mubarak was replaced by a legitimately elected Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood. Not feeling it, we ‘allowed’ him to be replaced by somebody else from the army (Mubarak and Sadat both came from there), el Sisi. Could it be some European countries and the USA’s unwavering support for Israel, though the UN has declared that Israel’s current program of ‘settlement’ is in fact an occupation of Palestinian lands? Could it be that for too long the West has turned a blind eye to the machinations of Saudi Arabia, the most oppressive regime in the Middle East which just happens to be the world’s gas station?

Iraq, Libya and Syria are simply the latest examples of where and when the West attempts to dictate which dictators stay and go. I recall after the attacks of 9/11, the German chancellor at the time, Gerhard Schröder said, “We must dry up the swamp of terrorism.” And I believe he was exactly correct. It will get its start in places like Munich, which will refrain from the populism and isolationism gripping so many of the Western countries at the moment. It will begin with a long look in the mirror, and it will begin in a place like Munich.

Cheeseburgers in Paradise

When I first arrived in Munich back in 2000, I recall that for all the culture of this great berg, I could not find a decent cheeseburger. Eventually I discovered an American chain-hotel, the Marriot®, which had one that was at best, passable. But they carried NFL® football games before Germans even knew about the game. The beef patty was always exactly the same size and cookie-cutter shape, exactly the same thickness and exactly the same amount overcooked. Always. But in America we have sausages that resemble Nürnburger Rostbratwurst® flavored with maple syrup, so I just bucked up and did my best to imagine how good a real American cheeseburger might taste.

wolf-das-beste-nuernberg_01

For years I took a lot of grief about America’s lack of culinary culture. “Believe it or not”, I told my German friends, “We have more to eat in America than McDonald’s® and Kentucky Fried Chicken®.” Unfortunately, that was before the omnipresent Google®, so they had to take my word for it. I can now show them a picture of a porterhouse steak, cooked medium rare (anything beyond that would be sacrilegious) with a baked potato, to confirm my earlier thesis.

porterhouse

I am happy to say that cheeseburgers have arrived in Munich. There are many restaurants which have cheeseburgers on the menu, and even restaurants whose whole menu is devoted to different types of burgers. It has turned around so much and improved that I now have nightmares about one day seeing a cheeseburger on the menu at the world famous Hofbräuhaus.® And in my most honest humble opinion, the burgers come pretty damned close to an American original. They do seem to have some kind of love affair with 1000 island dressing, however, as if a splat of it on a bun makes everything more American. And they are still way overcooked. My local butcher grinds my beef fresh for me when I so desire, therefore I can eat my homemade cheeseburgers the way God® in the ‘Bayerisches Himmel® (Bavarian Sky) intended them to be eaten. RARE.

THE WORLD'S LARGEST BURGER, DENNY'S BEER BARREL PUB, CLEARFIELD, PENNSYLVANIA, AMERICA - 01 JUN 2004

And about the way they are to be eaten? The proper instruction manuals seemed to have been lost in the mail, or they were too much like a manual from IKEA®. The Germans who are not known for spontaneous decisions must have decided somehow that the best way to eat a cheeseburger is with a knife and fork as if it were some kind of schnitzel. The incorrect information has already been widely been disseminated, and it is the societal norm now.

If there is one thing I refuse to do, it is eating a cheeseburger (and the fries) with anything other than my hands. Oh, and here is another.

An Ode to Oktoberfest (Free Verse)

Oktoberfest

You, Oktoberfest, are without compare,

Overpriced everything, and especially the beer.

Drunken Debauchery, in December we do detox,

Fill up on roast pork, dumplings, or a slice from an ox.

Fill up my glass, sir, ten euros is very dear.

.

With girls scantily clad, call it tradition I might add,

After a liter or two, the lager ain’t half bad.

Up on the benches, the floor is not far,

Wooden floors cushion blows, they aren’t really that hard.

Teenies step aside now, and be a good lad.

.

The lights go up, and the place is a mess,

If I could only find a way to get her out of that dress.

Not this time, sorry, your lederhosen are too poor,

Big security guards, not German, forcibly showing you the door.

Pour yourself into a taxi, ask thy ‘what’s my address?’

Asparagus Season Celebrates Germanness

Bavarians love Spargel!

Bavarians love Spargel!

We are in the middle of one of the truly great times in Germany. Though this winter was mild it is still a big deal, this springtime festival.

Ah yes, ‘Spargelzeit’ (asparagus season) is here. Fifty-five tons of the edible ivory will be devoured in a year. Nothing seems to captivate the Germans, the Bavarians even more so, than those 8 weeks that end on June 24th. And the fascination runs across all generations, genders and socioeconomic strata. The health benefits of asparagus are many and well-documented, but the love of it goes well beyond that. But why?

The history of the vegetable goes back around 4,000 years and it is grown throughout the world. Most people eat the green variety but the white type grows larger and is tenderer (but is much more expensive because the cultivating and harvesting methods are very tedious and complex), and is coveted by Germans. Whether you eat white or green asparagus the most important factor is it must be fresh. Any person with a little bit of experience with asparagus can taste fresh from not so fresh because the flavor turns from a sweet yet distinct mild flavor to a bitter one. And this brings us to our first point of why the Germans like it so much.

Asparagus accompanied with ham, potatoes and Hollandaise sauce

Asparagus accompanied with ham, potatoes and Hollandaise sauce

The Germans, very rightfully so, are proud of their skills of organizing and transporting. Getting asparagus to the market while it still has retained the desired freshness requires the skill set that most Germans seem to have. From harvesting to consumption, the whole process should be completed in about 12-24 hours when things are working properly. An old farmer’s rule says asparagus is best when “Morgens gestochen und mittags verzehrt” (picked in the morning and eaten at lunch). This is also why many Germans choose to take their cars to the source of the asparagus. Here in Bavaria, the most famous place for asparagus is Schrobenhausen, though nearly anyplace in Germany has excellent asparagus, and the countryside is dotted with stands that sell the very freshest and tastiest product. So whenever a box of fresh asparagus is opened it is like a reaffirmation of what it is to be German and their ideas of time and order.

Asparagus ice cream? Why not? You can never get enough asparagus in these parts.

Asparagus ice cream? Why not? You can never get enough asparagus in these parts.

The second reason, and I believe the more important reason, is that Spargelzeit signals the end of winter in a way altogether different from Carnival or even Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival). While those celebrate the end of winter with lots of alcohol and craziness, asparagus is the first fresh vegetable or fruit grown in Germany that can be eaten by Germans, and can be enjoyed by everyone to some degree or another. It heralds the coming of spring, with its infinite promise of great weather (before June’s reality of rain dampens the excitement, May rains this year), a return to the outdoors, the eating of fresh fruits and vegetables after a winter of heavy roasted meats, sauerkraut and dumplings. Quite often in May the weather in Bavaria is what can only be described as epic. The Bavarian sky takes on its special blue hue. Farmhouse balconies are tidied up and flowers are planted, as the gardens are readied for a season of grilling and beer drinking. Bicycles are serviced and people begin to try to lose their ‘Winterspeck” (winter’s bacon), the few extra kilos that were accumulated during the winter. The first few shoots of asparagus seem to set the buzz of activity in motion.

If you don’t know how to prepare asparagus have no fear, nearly any decent restaurant has a “Spargel Menu”, that is right, a menu devoted entirely to the asparagus. From soups to starters, main courses to desserts (yes, it is even in some desserts!), one does not have to look far for some excellent dishes that celebrate the asparagus. And remember, the smell in the WC (toilet) a few hours after eating asparagus can mean only one thing: Spring is on the way! And your kidneys will thank you too!

The Asparagus Queen from Schrobenhausen, Bavaria's most famous locale for growing asparagus.

The Asparagus Queen from Schrobenhausen, Bavaria’s most famous locale for growing asparagus.

Spring Is Here. This Is not a Good Thing for Germans.

TulipThe weather the last two days was whacked. It was too warm. The Germans don’t like it that way. It needs to be average. Restaurants with outdoor seating were jammed, managers stressfully trying to unfold and set up tables that hadn’t been clean since October. Bike shops can charge as much as they’d like for a ‘Spring Check-up’, and they do, much to the chagrin of the locals. But a man’s got to ride. For those bike riders who don’t need a check-up, have you completely forgotten how to ride? There are rules to obey, both written and unwritten! It’s been so warm the last two days that I even saw some naked bodies sunbathing near the Isar River. I’ve heard of cabin fever and a strong desire to get outside, but au naturel the first week in March?  Germans need few excuses to get naked, surely. Meanwhile, I read that in my home state of Florida the Republican governor forbade any officials connected to the government to use the terms ‘global warming, climate change, or sustainability’. You read that correctly (reason #67 I choose to live in Munich). Can there be a flower more popular than a tulip this time of year? I love them too! The best tulips are grown in The Netherlands, a country which seems to have carved out a nice little business supplying the EU with these colorful blooms, when not wooing young travelers to their coffee shops. The drawback for tulips is that no amount of care will extend their vase life beyond a week. I grilled on Monday, the SECOND time this year already. I can recall the summer of 2009, when the whole year only afforded me two opportunities to grill. I missed them both. I’m going to make up for 2009 this year. I’ve been trying to make up for that summer of 2009 for the past five years, but the weather hasn’t cooperated. It’s been normal when I needed exceptional. The extended forecast is looking good, a little rain, a little sun and only a marginal chance of a white Easter. Exactly how the Germans like it. Nothing too unusual. I bet you a bratwurst and a beer we’ll have snow on Easter. snow daffodil

Germans Are Bad Actors

Germany would have you believe that Greece is nothing but a tragedy. The people seem to understand that there must be certain sacrifices for the European Union to work. Photo: Wikipedia

Germany would have you believe that Greece is nothing but a tragedy. The people seem to understand that there must be certain sacrifices for the European Union to work. Photo: Wikipedia

The money is gone. It isn’t coming back. Most of the Germans I’ve spoken to on the streets or in the cafes of Munich have known this since, like, FOR-EVER! Was there ever really any doubt? Not really.

Hey Germans, your leaders have been lying to you! Or they are completely incompetent (as if they never saw this coming!)! Choose your poison! Haw haw! We in the Western World owe so much to Greece, so many wonderful ideas (a Greek word) about philosophy, ethics, theology, cosmos, and yes, chaos (ALL Greek words), plus a plethora of Greek words on both our languages, can’t you Germans just let it slide? It’s only a little bit of money, Germans have about five TRILLION euros in the bank. (Just keep your eye on Spain and (eventually) France!)

We Americans are so used to being spoken to like idiots (Greek word) it hardly ever even registers when our politicians (Greek) lie. Unless, of course, we think we’re being lied to by a half-black guy with a Muslim sounding name. Then we might take notice if the TV news program (Greek word) that we watch every evening tells us to take notice. But normally, not.

In the good old days, Americans elected the smartest guy in the room to be the leader. In 1980 (not the first time) we moved away from this method (Greek) for a spell, went back to it for a president, went dumb, and then corrected this again with our current president. Germans also elect the smartest guy in the room while many other European countries on the whole did not. But it looks like the Greeks have decided to try the smartest guy in the room approach, and Europe has a crisis (Greek). He’s got the European Union by the short hairs. And German politicians need an enema (another Greek word).

Germany and Greece are much closer than most people know. They always sit next to each other due to their alphabetical similarities. Photo: LaptopsandLederhosen

Germany and Greece are much closer than most people know. They always sit next to each other due to their alphabetical similarities. Photo: LaptopsandLederhosen

The guy the Greeks have elected appears as if he might actually do what he’d said he was going to do, which has politicians in Berlin, Paris, London, and other European capitals shaking in their boots. The Democrats (Greek) and Republicans (Latin) in America’s (very, very old German word) Congress, however, are not shaking in their boots any more than normal because they are never pressured into keeping promises. NO AMERICAN ever expects their elected representatives to do what they say they’re going to do.

So to the Germans I say ‘relax’, forget about it. Stop going to Turkey to stake out your lawn chair before breakfast, lay on the beach all afternoon and eat all you can. Go to Greece and throw your good money after the bad. It’s the best thing you could do. Stop acting as if you’re shocked at the turn of events. It’s really more of a Comedy than a Tragedy, so please, play your part.

The two-headed monsters (next to the FC Bayern flag!) is a symbol of Dikefale, which has teams in both Athens and Thessaloniki. Comedy and tragedy. Photo: LaptopsandLederhosen

The two-headed monsters (next to the FC Bayern flag!) is a symbol of Dikefale, which has teams in both Athens and Thessaloniki. Comedy and tragedy. Photo: LaptopsandLederhosen

A Short List on How to Integrate into Bavarian Culture (For Beginners)

Germans are asking themselves 'what is a German'? The Bavarians are not having an identity crisis. Photo: Wikipedia

Germans are asking themselves ‘what is a German’? The Bavarians are not having an identity crisis. Photo: Wikipedia

With all that’s been happening with the demonstrations for or against immigrants in Germany, I thought now might be a good time to look at a list of ten things I’ve done (or plan to do, if I can ever get a signature from my wife on a few of them) to integrate, and ingratiate, myself into Bavarian culture. The list is long and I’ll add to it and update it often. Since we’re talking about Bavaria, I’ll limit my list to things that men should do.

Food and Drink

  1. Drink beer like a Bavarian. This means drinking beer before 10am, but only if it’s a wheat beer. Drinking Lager or (God forbid) Pils is the sure sign that you have not understood the beer drinking culture in Bavaria. Not drinking beer in Bavaria is similar to not drinking vodka in Russia. Unless, of course, you have a medical issue of some sort which might preclude you from imbibing. If you cannot drink beer, you can make up for it with an overindulgence of number two on this list.
  2. Eat pork often. My dad used to say to me ‘…those Germans (he meant Bavarians-they are what most of the world thinks of when they think of Germans) sure can cook a pig.” Truer words have never been spoken. The ubiquitous “Schweinsbraten (Germans would call it Schweinebraten)” is on every menu in every Wirtshaus (tavern, inn) worth its salt. Do NOT do what I saw a lovely Japanese couple do, take off the crisped fat (pork rind) and put it off to the side of the plate never to be touched again. It must be eaten with the tender, succulent meat. Leberkäse (Bavarian meatloaf) or Leberkäsesemmel (the meat between the sides of a Kaiser Roll) must be eaten once a week, normally on Fridays. Surprisingly, the Bavarians in Munich don’t really have a pork sausage to call their own, but they make up for it with number three.

    Do not attempt to eat these sausages with metal utensils if you entertain any hopes of becoming a Bavarian!

    Do not attempt to eat these sausages with metal utensils if you entertain any hopes of becoming a Bavarian!

  3. Learn how to eat ‘Weisswurst’ with your hands. These plump jewels are made from veal and a few other herbs and spices and are very mild in flavor. Do it right and eat it with Händlmaier’s sweet mustard which comes from Regensburg. They come to the table in a porcelain bowl of steaming water. Never boil them! Real Bavarian men suck the meat out of one end. The skin is inedible, which makes for great comedy if you have the opportunity to watch naive Americans (read the guidebook before you get here!) try and chew the skin. These sausages are normally eaten before the 12 o’clock bells, with a Breze (pretzel) and a wheat beer. That’s it. What else do you need?

Clothes and Costume

  1. Buy some Lederhosen, and wear them whenever you can. The more worn they are the better they’ll feel  and look. Don’t wear underwear. You need nice calves for the correct effect, but don’t let this stop you. Most people think that the only time people here wear Lederhosen (and for women, Dirndl) is during Oktoberfest. Wrong. There’s the Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival) in late winter/early spring, assorted holidays like Ascension Day (which coincidentally is Father’s Day in the Vaterland), May 1st, when the Maypoles are raised, any Volksfest or Dorffest (Citizen’s or Town’s Day) usually during the summer months, weddings, funerals, etc…

    I understand COMPLETELY why she appears bored, but as for him? WTF? Photo: Wikipedia

    I understand COMPLETELY why she appears bored, but as for him? WTH? Photo: Wikipedia

  2. This one really hurts because I grew up in Florida, but wear socks with your sandals. Yes, Birkenstocks and socks are the trend, and it’s been that way since the time of Friedrich the Great. Just do it so you don’t look like a tourist from America or even worse, Australia. You can wear this combo the three weeks it’s actually hot in August, just don’t wear them when you should be wearing…
  3. …proper hiking shoes. Take a lot of time in the store, try the shoes on and walk around all afternoon. You’d be surprised how bad a heavy boot can feel after an hour. Spend the money. You want a boot that feels comfortable enough to be buried in, and after your first real hiking tour with a Bavarian that’s exactly what you’ll be wishing for.

Around Town

  1. Buy a bike, and then buy another. The first bike you should buy is known as a Stadtradl (city bike). This is going to be the fastest, most reliable mode of transportation around most German cities. Looks are secondary. Get a bike with a basket on the back. Not for carrying anything, mind you, but every bike in the city has one and you want to look the part. Spend more money for the lock than the bike. The second bike should be your Ferrari. Buy an even more expensive lock, though you’ll rarely leave her (yes, her) out of your sight. If you think you’ll be riding the trails, get a mountain bike — and take a Bavarian with you; they are experts. If you think you’ll be riding the paved paths and roads around Bavaria, I’d suggest a ‘cross-bike’. It’s fast enough for the roads and you can still ride offroad. Choosing the correct bikes might be the most important thing you ever do in Bavaria/Germany.

    Munich is continuing to make the inner city more bike friendly, much to the chagrin of Mr. Mercedes and Ms. BMW!

    Munich is continuing to make the inner city more bike friendly, much to the chagrin of Mr. Mercedes and Ms. BMW!

  2. Get a comfortable, stylish backpack with an endless number of pockets. There are so many free newspapers, culture programs, empty beer bottles and Red Bull cans (they’re worth money) that you’ll need something to carry them all. And take along a few plastic bags so the last bit of swill from the said bottles and cans doesn’t leak in your backpack. Get a backpack that clips firmly to your torso.
  3. Take a few minutes to plan your route before you set off. Remember, in Munich sometimes the longer way is the better way. Take an extra ten minutes and walk through the known FKK areas (nudist areas) during those hot three weeks in August. Show off your sandals and socks, and of course your hot rod. Bike. I was thinking bike.
  4. Get a dog and TAKE IT FRIGGIN EVERYWHERE! Nothing says Bavarian or Munich like a dog or two. Bavarians don’t have children they have dogs. It must be a pure breed, no mutts allowed. It’s OK for the people to be mixed, but not the animals…

    Girls in Munich dig dogs and Lederhosen, therefore they must really dig dogs IN Lederhosen.

    Girls in Munich dig dogs and Lederhosen, therefore they must really dig dogs IN Lederhosen.