Check out Alex Walter’s Munich photos, they will surely move you. He uses everything at his disposal to tell a story in a single frame.
Check out Alex Walter’s Munich photos, they will surely move you. He uses everything at his disposal to tell a story in a single frame.
Language is a window and a conduit into a culture. Other aspects of the culture of a people tell us much, but language often tells us the most. Also, knowing the language of a country is a better way of ordering bread in a bakery than using some sort of sign language that only you could possibly understand.
In today’s Europe of unions and homogeneity, language is one of the last vestiges where distinctions can still be drawn. Europe, where the written word has long been cherished, refined and most importantly, preserved, the language of a region is clung to like a life raft upon a tempestuous sea of bureaucracy brought from Brussels.
The French language with its eloquence, romantic connotations, and steadfastness against globalization or influence from other tongues, remains one of the world’s great (and pure) languages. Just ask them.
Italian, animated, passionate, loud, yet melodic, reminds one of the rhythm of life and just how catholic Italy and Europe really are. The joke here in Germany is “how do you get an Italian to be silent?” Answer, “cut off his hands.”
English, especially the American variant, is a language of practicality and imperialism, used by the world for commerce and entertainment. The internet, Hollywood and the Kardashians ensure that American English will be enjoyed for years to come. “The business of America is business,” said Calvin Coolidge, and that sums it up succinctly.
The Bavarians, and their northern brethren the Germans, are a complicated bunch. Beyond their tax code which makes up about 50% of the world’s tax codes and a plethora of rules for everything, the language of these most organized of peoples is anything but that. They would have you believe otherwise, as they complain incessantly about the difficult nuances of English. I agree with their assessments on English, but would never give them the satisfaction.
A great example of a simple little word in German is Reißverschlussverfahren. OK, maybe not simple or little but a typical word nonetheless. It is what’s known as a compound word. That’s the easy part.
What does it mean? The direct translation is ‘zipper feed-in method’. Does that help you? If you’re from the States, probably not enough so I’ll continue. It’s the method, dictated by LAW, in which cars have to merge together on an expressway or highway. One from the left and then one from the right. Actually in Germany it’s ‘rechts vor links’, so they begin on the right. (Sort of like reading Arabic I guess.) The whole process reminds one of a zipper of cars and is a beautiful thing to behold when done correctly by everyone and speeds up the process of merging by 1.72488%. That’s a fact from the Max Planck Institute.
I estimate that I have driven about 200,000 miles (320,000 km) in my life, a great majority of those miles on Florida roads. Granted, Florida is always duking it out with some other state for having the LEAST safest roads in America, but it is because many of the drivers come from somewhere else, so they say. Bullshit. Floridians are terrible drivers! Anyway, the sample of drivers from across the USA is large enough. In America, I’d never heard of such a rule, though I can’t rule out the possibility it exists.I can rule out, however, that if such a rule exists in Florida it is not obeyed. In Florida if either the car or the driver is attractive, but not too attractive, they get in. Here in Germany a rule does exist and is nearly always obeyed, unless the drivers are from Russia. Then it would be more like Florida, surely.
Sorry for the digression.
A Reißverschluss would literally be translated into a ‘traveling lock or fastener’, or a zipper. But even looking at how to say the damned thing, without meaning, the word is difficult to navigate. The ‘ß’ is actually a double ‘s’, not to be confused with the less traditional ‘ss’, which is also a double ‘s’. There was a move 20 years ago in the German speaking world to make all of the ‘ß’s ‘ss’s, so that it could be understood on computers and not looked at as some kind of beta (β) or lactam antibiotic (β). As most new things in Germany, the modernizing and standardizing of German never completely took hold.
Fittingly, since this is the German language after all, there are volumes upon volumes of books about how to say the ß, and when and where to use it. It is, of course, neither feminine or masculine so it can be enjoyed and cursed equally by everyone.
Verfahren means method, that much is clear. But how do you speak this? Well, a ‘v’ in German is pronounced like an ‘f’ in English, and an ‘f’ in German is also pronounced like an ‘f’ in English. Why it is one and not the other no one can say with any certainty. Now, if we added something as innocuous as a ‘sich’ before the verfahren, so it looked like sich verfahren, then the whole thing means ‘get muddled’, which is where we are and has made me sick.
Perhaps you may be asking yourself, with such a wonderful organized rule such as Reißverschlussverfahren for driving, might it translate (pun intended) into other aspects of Germans’ lives? Perhaps in a bakery or on the street? Might these logical tidy Germans zipper feed-in method at the front door of a department store or disembarking an airplane? Nope. Germans are still waiting for a rule to be written that legally binds them to the idea, and the politicians are waiting for the report from the Max Planck Institute which is due out in 2032. So for now, it’s every man for himself!
In the United States, July 4th is a day of celebration, and in many ways it reaffirms America’s belief in its destiny, especially ‘Manifest Destiny’. In Germany, if there is a day that is similar to America’s July 4th, it would be 9 November. It is the day that the Wall separating the two Germanies came down, and from the ruins a stronger, united Germany rose. In a scant 25 years since the fall of the Wall, that one Germany has become the undisputed leader of Europe. But whereas America’s July 4th is a ‘Day of Destiny’, and has only positive connotations, Germany’s November 9th is a “Schicksaltag’, or Fateful Day. And though the recent celebrations have given most Germans a time to reflect, and for many, an opportunity to celebrate their good fortune, November 9th is not a good day in the annals of German history.
History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided. –Konrad Adenauer
Any expat who lives in Munich, and has been here for more time than quick trips to Dachau, BMW Welt, and the Hofbrauhaus take, will invariably conclude that there is a melancholic undertone lurking in nearly every German you meet. Hidden in the darkest recesses of their character, it manifests itself in an abundance of scepticism and cynicism. A long history unlike any other, tempered in ‘blood and steel’, Germans have been both both the provocateurs and victims.
Things do not happen. Things are made to happen. –John F Kennedy
Americans on the other hand are only learning how to be good cynics and sceptics. The whole history of America has been written by America, and as the winners (in their collective minds), it has been full of joy with little sorrow. Most of the sorrow in America’s history has been a result of fratricide. Here’s a staggering statistic: the number of killed in America’s Civil War is greater than the number killed in ALL OTHER CONFLICTS COMBINED. It is little wonder Americans feel in some ways they are a chosen people.
On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress, paving the way for the birth of a new nation. Fifty years later to the day, July 4th, 1826, the main architect of that document and third president, Thomas Jefferson, died in Virginia. On that same day a few hours after Jefferson died, John Adams, the second president of the USA, believing Jefferson was still alive, mumbled his last words in Massachusetts, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
On July 4th, 1863, the Union forces from the North won two important battles that sealed the fate of the Confederacy. Gettysburg in the east, and Vicksburg on the Mississippi River in the west, wounded the South mortally. Though the Rebels continued fighting another two years, there was little hope for their independence anymore.
Two other great moments of America’s cultural journey fell on July 4th.
In 1855, Walt Whitman’s monumental ‘Leaves of Grass’ was published. Many experts believe it is the official starting point of serious American literature, in a style that was pure American, without any remnants of Europe’s influence. American art had arrived.
In New York’s Yankee Stadium, The Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, gave a rousing speech retiring from the game of baseball he loved so dearly on 4 \July, 1939. He had played in 2,130 consecutive games before being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). It is known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in North America. Though Gehrig would be dead in two years from the disease, he declared he was ‘the luckiest man on the face of the earth’ that day in Yankee Stadium for having been able to play for so many seasons in that stadium with those fans.
The contradiction that is Germany is summed up by its Fateful Day. Moments of darkness in its history are balanced with brilliant light. Though the idea for a unified Germany began earlier, the first real attempts can be traced to Vienna, where Robert Blum, a liberal leader of the German Revolutions of 1848, was executed by Austrian soldiers. Blum and others believed that Germany should be separate, and independent of the Austrian Empire. Though he became a martyr, his death effectively ended any hopes for a unified Germany at that time.
Seventy years later in 1918, Philipp Scheidemann, an upper-ranking of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), gave a speech to a large crowd of people from the Reichstag (Parliament Building). Though he was not qualified to do so, Scheidemann declared that Germany was now a republic, thwarting the efforts of the Communists to declare Germany a Soviet Republic. And so, Germany became a republic.
Three years later, the whole incident was captured in the novel Der 9. November by Bernhard Kellermann, which was critical of German soldiers during the Revolution of 1918. This brought him much trouble later.
In 1923, a former corporal from the Bavarian Army (part of the German Army) declared in a Munich beer hall that a revolution had begun in Germany. Adolf Hitler, a mostly heretofore unknown politician, led 2,000 followers in an attempt to take over the Bavarian Government.
The ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ led to the death of 4 policemen and 16 Nazis. A plaque was erected by the Nazis after seizing power on the east side of the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshal’s Hall), at Odeonsplatz. Citizens were required to give a Nazi salute when passing the plaque. In order to avoid giving the salute, many pedestrians turned left on Viscardi Alle behind the Feldherrnhalle. It is known today as the the Drückebergergasserl (Quitter’s Alley).
(A plaque commemorating the four fallen police officers was sunk at Odeonsplatz on November 9th, 1994. Few paid it much attention, so after much haggling between the City of Munich and the Bavarian State Government, a new plaque was attached to the west side of the Residenz.)
And then things went from bad to worse. On that fateful day in 1938, the rest of the world watched in horror as the Nazis showed their true colors. They rounded up over 30,000 Jews and incarcerated them in concentration camps. Nearly 100 were killed. This is known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), due to the shards of broken glass that littered the streets.
The last event – and this may be the greatest of them all on this Fateful Day – was the fall of the Berlin Wall. After months of East Germans ‘travelling’ to Hungary and then crossing an open border from Hungary to the West, peaceful protests centered in Berlin began to demand free travel to the West. When it became clear that the Soviet Union would not send troops in support of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the stage was set for opening the Wall.
It was decided on 9 November to open the crossings the next day, but the person who was to announce this was not told it was to be in 24 hours. Caught unawares, he instead said it was to be effective immediately. At 10:45 pm or so, the border guards opened the gates and the East Germans poured through. They were met by equally ecstatic West Germans who greeted them with bubbly and flowers.
When it came time to assign a day of celebration for this event, it was decided that November 9th was too controversial. In order to avoid any controversy, Germany decided to celebrate their National Unity Day on October 3rd, the date when their reunification was finalized in 1990.
But as fate would have it, and in a country whose history is so long and full, there is no day completely free of sorrow. Bavaria’s most important politician since the end of the monarchy, Franz Josef Strauss, died on October 3rd, 1988, while hunting near Regensburg.
Senior members of the Democrat party have begun to look for a scapegoat for the horrible results of the 2014 midterm elections. They think they have it.
Barack Hussein Obama never had a chance. The midterm elections of 2014 have proved it.
The President of the United States of America and leader of the Democrat Party overcame most of the myriad issues and controversies surrounding his election in 2008. From one crisis to the next, Obama has spent a good deal of his presidency putting out fires. It has simply become too much, and America’s fickle nature has lambasted him. He may have been able to survive. But the Europeans, and especially Germany, put the final nails in his political coffin.
Obama would’ve overcome his name. It sounds Muslim but doesn’t have to be. He could’ve overcome the fact that as many as 50% Americans don’t believe he was born in the US, but he could have done little to educate the 8% of Americans who don’t know Hawaii is an American state.
Obama would’ve overcome the fact that he’s black, or at least half black.
Obama might’ve overcome the fact that in the midterm elections of nearly every president since 1862, the party in the White House loses ground in Congress. He may have had a chance to overcome the tightening of voter laws and other Supreme Court decisions that stated things like ‘corporations are people and can donate without limit to the candidates of their choice’. This has done much more proportionately to Democrats’ constituencies negatively, yes, but it was not insurmountable.
Obama may have overcome the destabilization of the Middle East begun by his predecessor, George W. Bush. And overcome a re-assertive Russia.
These he may have done with coalitions. But he couldn’t find any partners. In most of the aforementioned issues against him he had a chance, but abandoned by his traditional partners he was left to his own devices. This is the result.
He couldn’t overcome the Europeans, and more specifically the Germans.
Russia should be Germany’s problem to solve. Where are all the Realpolitik engineers? Why is Germany so hesitant to assert itself? History? Perhaps. But many Germans have told me they are tired of hearing about their history, especially two world wars and Hitler. I don’t blame them. So why hide behind it? A weak Germany is much worse than a strong one. I’m all for ‘soft power’, but it must be power nonetheless.
Before Obama had even filled the pages of his passport or positions in his cabinet, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was given to him for his POTENTIAL. It was impossible for the man to live up to the legend. Europeans loved the man, the myth, who in much honesty had done little in his history to warrant such admiration. He never had a chance.
Obama’s first speech in Berlin, in 2008, drew about 200,000 people. The people went crazy in a way that hadn’t been seen in this country since, dare I say it, a smallish corporal from Austria had spoken to the Germans some 85 years earlier. Then, five years later, Obama was granted permission to speak not only in Berlin, but at the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Germany both old and new, a place reserved for only the largest of men. Comparisons to John F Kennedy, begun immediately BEFORE the first speech, and intensified in their frequency and volume after the second. Obama never had a chance.
Economically, the Germans and Americans have never seen eye to eye during Obama’s run. The Germans, clearly the strongest economy in the European Union (EU) and unfortunately, the strongest single pillar of frugality and fiscal conservatism in the EU, could never wrap their heads around the idea of domestic stimulus as a way out of economic malaise. Obama’s financial advisers and other experts of economics like Paul Krugman (another Nobel Prize winner), rightfully convinced Obama to spend America’s way out of recession, not to withdraw. They believe he didn’t spend enough. Because Europe has been limping along the last few years much to the Germans’ thriftiness, America, and Obama, never had a chance. All things are connected, especially economically.
Sure, Germany crows about 1.5% growth the last year, or the last quarter or the last month. But to Americans this is the equivalent to zero growth, it’s borderline negative. Obama never had a chance.
Because of the throngs of Europeans enamored with Obama before he’d even moved into the White House, Obama’s presidency never had a chance. The masses of people in Europe only expedited calls by those opposed to Obama in America. Republicans mocked his ‘anointment’, his being a ‘Messiah’, and used other such terms normally reserved for religions or slavery.
Obama’s inability to close Guantanamo is a clear example of how American politics works. One man or one branch of government is unable to do much unilaterally. America is a true republic. It takes compromise and agreement. Obama never had a chance when half the government didn’t even negotiate in good faith.
I ask my European friends, please, I implore and beg of you, do not do the same to Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for president and shows signs of winning. Do not invite her to give speeches. It will only complicate things. Stay out of American politics, it is a brutal business. Men like Sarkozy and Berlusconi would be mere sideshows to the main event of the three ring circus that is American politics. If you want to give adoration and awards to American politicians, do it after they’ve finished their terms. Please, I beg of you.
One of the first things I heard from the Bavarian and German inhabitants of Munich when I first came here in 2000 was ‘Munich is a village of 1.3 million people’. Most seemed pleased with this distinction. After spending more time here, however, I discovered that a large minority of people did not share in this pleasure. Though the number of people is no longer 1.3 million but closer to 1.5 million, and according to the local mass transit company 1.7 million on Monday mornings, there are very few places in Munich where it even feels like a city at all.
On most evenings the sidewalks are rolled up at about 11pm. There is one central place for drunken debauchery and discos, Kunstpark Ost, and it’s scheduled for the wrecking ball in a couple of years to make way for housing and offices! What then?
There is a dearth of trash on the streets, except for a few cigarette butts, discarded cups, and the occasional empty beer bottle. Everything is cleaned daily, there is little time for the aromas of accumulated trash to reek. Broken glass is an anomaly, graffiti is mostly regulated and even the street buskers and musicians line up daily to purchase a one-day license from the city for a specific location and time. There are few ‘street musicians’, those trying to backpack the world with a didgeridoo. The musicians on the streets of Munich moonlight at Carnegie Hall. Panhandling is so uncommon that when one sees it, their mouths are left agape, but most locals feel compelled to throw in a coin or two, though few do.
City air makes man free (Stadtluft macht frei), was a term used in Germany during the Middle Ages to explain the advantages of city life and its opportunities versus country life. In a country the size of Texas, there are 81 cities with a population of over 100,000 people. Germans are city-dwellers! What would happen if the cities were like villages? Many shudder to think!
The few remaining places in Munich where one can still experience the sights, sounds and smells of a metropolis are rapidly being gentrified, revitalised or greened. For urbanophiles it’s a difficult place to call home. Even the areas along the train tracks, forever an oasis of cacophony of metal on metal, have become quieter than a Florida Swamp in winter.
A few of the outer ‘villages’ have been redone and now look more like a village from the Bavarian countryside rather than a city. Moosach, Giesing and Harras are prime examples of lost urban splendor. Fountains have replaced busy street intersections. Sidewalks are cleaner than most windows. These outer-areas look more like the long ago gentrified areas of Bogenhausen and Neuhausen than urban sprawl more befitting a major world city Munich has become.
For those who love the smell of diesel exhaust, these are difficult days indeed. There are even discussions taking place to bury the whole ring road! A totally carbon neutral city in two decades, would eliminate the last fumes of city life.
But there are a few final bastions of city life for the urbanophile.
Where’s the city?
As in most cities of Europe, the best place to begin your quest to find the seedy and sumptuous of a city is the central train station, and thankfully, Munich’s still fits the bill. Squinty-eyed drug addicts (and just plain drunks) greet the recently disembarked passengers from the trains, and the surrounding streets south of the station still have casinos and strip clubs. It’s even been rumored that a few street people inhabit the arcades and entranceways of local businesses afterhours. The stench is, almost, city-like, though most of it is only run-of-the-mill urine smells.
If you’re into tall buildings there’s the area known as Arabella Park, though it feels more like Wall Street on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Buildings yes, life no.
Hasenbergl, known locally as ‘The Ghetto’, has many more similarities to a Norman Rockwell cover of Saturday Evening Post than South Side Chicago, Watts in Los Angeles, or some areas of modern day Detroit. Terrible times for the urbanophile.
The final chance to experience and live where there is the hustle and bustle of a city is wherever the tunnel project is at the moment. Munich has grand ambitions to take cars out of the city center, so every ten years or so a section of the ring road is buried underground. It takes ten years and not the normal three years because the plan is to distribute the Bavarian Government’s money over the decade, ensuring that the workers have work for ten years and not only three. It also allows for the urbanophiles near the projects to experience clanging, banging and other joys of large diesel engines for a longer period of time. Munich thinks of everybody.
If you’d really like to experience those 1.5 million people, you could also go to Marienplatz in summer at 11am, 5pm or 6pm. They’re all in one place, all at one time. Oh, and don’t forget to smell the flowers. That’s what the city of Munich smells like.
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