Munich’s Schelling Salon Steeped in History

Schelling Salon Placard 1952Munich has a number of great places that are very much the same as they have been for years, but perhaps none compares to the history and character of Schelling Salon, a historic Schwabing landmark.

The smell of schnitzel and other Bavarian or Tyrolean dishes wafts through the room. The sound of conversations, some subdued, others lively, percolate from the assorted tables. Attentive waitresses move about the room, neither rushed nor harried. Newspapers and magazines of many types and titles hang in their wooden bindings, waiting patiently for their next perusal.

Schelling Salon InteriorCrack! A cue ball strikes a rack of striped and solid balls on a billiard table. This is the only thing that tells you that the year is 2013, and not 1913. But everything else seems untouched.

In bygone days, the bearded man in the corner with only a few tufts of hair could have been Lenin. The guy with the tortoise-shell glasses, philosophizing on the state of things, might have been Bertolt Brecht. A table of artists on any given day might have had Marcel Duchamp or Wassily Kandinsky sipping a coffee. The list of luminaries who have visited this place is long.

Schelling SalonSchelling Salon, on the corner of Schelling Straße and Barer Straße, is the oldest Wiener Cafe (Viennese-style coffee house) in Munich. Opened in 1872 (there is a brass wash basin inside from that first year to attest to this date), the Schelling Salon has been a central meeting point in the old Schwabing Boheme area since then. Located where the old horse-drawn carriages ended their journey, it has been serving up reasonably priced food to students and struggling artists ever since, and continues to do so.

The owner, Ms Evelin Mehr, is the great-granddaughter of the Schelling Salon’s founder, Silvester Mehr. She is always at her restaurant when it is open, and she continues to run the restaurant the way her father taught her.

The Schelling Salon is an absolute can’t miss, if you want to have a sneak peek into the way it was – and still is. What the food may lack in Michelin stars is easily compensated for by the decor and atmosphere. You can purchase playing cards, bring your own chess set or just people-watch in this cafe that time seems to have forgotten.

The Schelling Salon is open Thu-Mon from 10 am to 1 am. If your German is good enough, and the restaurant isn’t too busy (afternoons), perhaps Ms Mehr will give you a quick tour with some fascinating insight. We like the Tyrolean Gröstl (a sort of hash with sauerkraut all cooked in one pan).
For more info:  http://www.schelling-salon.de/      (0)89 272 07 88

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Bavarian/German Culture Tip #1

Punctuality, order, and discipline are the three pillars of German society

Punctuality, order, and discipline are the three pillars of German society

Rechts stehen, links gehen. (Stand on the right, go on the left.)

Germans are famous for their punctuality and efficiency. If either of these two things are disrupted, they can become cantankerous. Many German commuters who use the transportation network know they only have a short time to make connections between trams, subways, and trains. Every moment counts.

In Bavaria, it can be even more precise. When using the escalators in Munich be sure you (and your luggage) are as far to the right as possible, to allow those busy Bavarians a chance to walk by you on the left. If you don’t, you may feel the wrath of a laser-like stare on the back of your head (hot enough to singe your hair), followed by some undecipherable unpleasantries (which will nevertheless make their point) as they eventually pass you.

Germany Lacks Grace Under Pressure

Katarina WittKatarina Witt, winner of two Olympic gold medals in women’s figure skating, was an anomaly. It’s like she’s from another planet. Her grace in winning those two medals are unlike the normal way of Germans, who excel in discipline, strength and stamina. Germans are not known for their tact. This has been on display for all to see lately.

It is no surprise that Ms. Witt won two Olympic gold medals and numerous other competitions as an East German. It is surprising, however, that she won her gold using techniques which are as foreign to Germans as home-grown citrus. Ms. Witt won because of her grace, not her power.

Looted Nazi artIn case you are unaware, German authorities recovered over 1400 pieces of artwork recently. The works were thought to have been destroyed during WW II. They were in fact discovered in a ramshackle apartment in Munich’s ‘art district’, two years ago. The authorities only came forward with this information a few weeks ago after a German magazine broke the story.

Germany could learn much from Ms Witt. Germany has bungled (as only they could) the opportunity to ‘make good’ on the returning of looted art (see here) from the Nazi period back to the rightful owners with grace and contrition. Instead, we have seen missed chances which have put the darker chapters of Germany back in the limelight.

As the story of ‘Nazi Art’ continues to unfold, Germany has been placed in a most uncomfortable (for them) position. The authorities have been less than forthcoming, have compounded mistakes, and generally have exhibited a malaise that is truly mindboggling.

How could they sit on this for two years?

Yesterday, Germany announced that they had found another 22 works – and they found them in the apartment of a relative of the person who allegedly had the original 1400. Hadn’t anybody thought to take a gander into the lives of relatives of the person sitting on all of these works?

My numerous German friends ask me how long must they bear the Nazi burden. I surmise it will be a long time. Part of the problem is that the Nazis went to such painstaking lengths to document it all. This makes for fascinating reading and study, allows Germany a chance to make amends, and keeps it synonymous with Germany as a whole.

Although the popular idea that Germans are ‘cold, calculated, and emotionless’ is mostly an urban myth, one can’t help but feel certain hints of these when looking at their handling of the ‘pillaged Nazi art’. Germany will always be forced to go the extra mile, and if they hesitate but for a moment, the catcalls will proceed.

Anything the Germans do about the art is sure to be criticized. But whatever they decide, they need to do it quickly and with grace. Just like Ms Witt did.

The Center of the World Is Germany

Geographically Germany is in the middle. It may be socially as well.

Geographically Germany is in the middle. It may be socially as well.

Germany. Just the name itself is enough to form an opinion. Perhaps no other country in Western Europe conjures up so many diverse and divergent opinions of what this land is. It is unquestionably, and has been for centuries, the center of Europe. And it may just very well be the center of the world.

Germany is the heart of Europe. Nothing that is important in Europe over the last 1,000 years has been decided without the Germanic peoples’ consultation, concordance or confrontation. It has been at various times an economic powerhouse, a well of enlightenment, a feared military juggernaut, and now a pacifist.

Primitive Beginnings

In its earliest years, the tribes that would unite to form Germany were overshadowed by the stronger, more organized Roman empire (which seems inconceivable if one looks at Italian politics today). When the Vandals (a Germanic tribe) sacked Rome in 455, the term ‘Barbarians’ had already been established. We have the word ‘vandalism’ as well. Common contemporary thinking at that time perpetuated by St. Augustine and the Catholic Church was that the sacking of Rome plunged Western Europe into darkness.

Professor George Brooks, a Medievalist from Valencia College, in Orlando, Florida, has spent his whole career trying to dispel this myth. In fact, he says, the period after the Roman Empire’s collapse was one of incredible progress. The term ‘Dark Ages’ is a misnomer. Dr. Brooks does admit that in the early years after the fall of Rome, the uncertainty surely made the population of western Europe uneasy, and for things to appear ‘dark’.

It is cliché, but Germany was forged in blood and steel

Germany was the battleground for the world's first world war

Germany was the battleground for the world’s first world war

The unification of the order and structure of the Catholic Church with Charlemagne’s military might (his main palace was in Aachen) set Europe on a path which would see it eventually overcome the difficulties presented by its enemies and the elements. German armies, under the auspices of the Holy Roman Empire, would be the sword of St. Paul, while the Catholic Church would be the Bible. This continued for the next 800 years plus, until the schism created by (yet another) German, Martin Luther, tore Germany (and Europe) apart.

Luther’s questioning of the Catholic Church led to the Thirty Years War, and an almost inconceivable destruction of Germany. It engulfed nearly every country of Europe at the time, and was for all intents and purposes Europe’s First World War.

Estimates from historians Marvin Perry and Jackson Spielvogel place the total number of Germans killed at 40% of the population in rural areas, some may have even seen numbers as high as 60%. The general agreed-upon figure is about 33% of the total population. Economically, it took until the late 19th-century before Germany fully recovered.

The Iron Chancellor put Germany on the road to power

The Iron Chancellor put Germany on the road to power

By the time Germany recovered, it promptly embarrassed France in the Franco-Prussian War, marching into Paris in less than 10 months from the opening of hostilities. France, in a rare moment of collective clairvoyance rarely seen since the French Revolution, had attempted to stop the unification of the different German kingdoms. Perhaps it recognized the danger of a more powerful country on its eastern border or it may have been unwilling to share the globe’s colonies, which it and Great Britain had been divvying up for three centuries.

Whatever the case, France felt more than many the brunt of German steel and technical ingenuity.

That power was sometimes misused, causing horrible damage to Europe and the world

That power was sometimes misused, causing horrible damage to Europe and the world

Germany twice unleashed these aspects again in the 20th Century, decimating Europe. Though the reasons for the two World Wars are more complicated than most realize, Germany has been, and will continue to be, blamed for both conflicts.

After near total destruction (which is another trait of the Germans – following a path to its absolute conclusion), Germany today has reconstituted itself into a world power. But with that comes the responsibility of trying to influence others to follow your lead.

Germany is the engine of the EU

Today Germany uses its economic muscle to influence decisions in Brussels, and the greater world

Today Germany uses its economic muscle to influence decisions in Brussels, and the greater world

Talks of any significance between developing countries normally have a seat reserved for Germany. Germany again finds itself in the position of being the driving force of Europe, much to the chagrin of Great Britain and France. But it cannot escape this fact, though it has little desire for the limelight.

Germany’s days as a military power on the field of battle are behind it. Its battles in the future will be fought over economic, environmental and societal issues. Germany can no longer think of itself as only an economic power. It must begin to accept its role in the world as a leader. The world is looking for a counterbalance to the USA – why not one of its strongest allies?

The most optimistic forecasts have Germany at the forefront of worker‘s rights and conditions, green energies and technologies, and integrating the numerous nationalities and ethnicities that have recently made Germany their new home.

Germany, with its long and storied history is poised to ‘show’ the rest of the world how things are done. Beyond building high-end products that the world desires, Germany is trying to fashion itself as a most tolerant, organized, and (environmentally) friendly nation.

Plans for carbon neutral cities are in the works. Much work needs to be done, but stakes are in the ground.

After World War II, few would have expected Germany to have recovered so spectacularly and some, like the Soviet Union (Russia), did all that they could to keep Germany from realizing that recovery.

Germany is not heaven on earth (Bavaria is even closer), but it is better here than in many other countries. Neither Germany nor Germans would ever claim such a thing (Bavarians WOULD). Others might just do it for them.

Note: The distance from Munich to Tokyo is 9,399 km, from Munich to San Francisco it’s 9,446 km, and from Munich to Capetown it’s 9,105 km. That’s pretty damned central.