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.

A Few Words in German I Stay Away from, and So Should You

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: Wikipedia

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: Wikipedia

It’s difficult to believe that spoken German is so difficult Just when you get close to understanding the grammar, have fewer holes in your vocabulary and you can begin to enunciate, you realize you can’t pronounce it! German sounds abrupt, and intense, with a sort of staccato sound of emphasis on the hard consonants like ‘k’ or ‘t’ or ‘z’.

Some sounds I can’t ever pronounce correctly, so I stay away from troubling words that contain them. And for very good reason. Two examples immediately come to mind.

The first pair is schwül and schwul. What could be so tricky about the two dots? The German ‘sch’ sounds like ‘sh’ in the word shoot, the German ‘w’ like an English ‘v’. So far so good. The two dots mean that there is an ‘e’ behind the ‘u’, so the first is actually ‘schwuel’. Most Americans (I think, I hope!) wouldn’t make much of difference between the two when saying them. It would be like trying to differentiate the vowel sounds of school and crude. Not much difference, if any at all. The first word means sultry or muggy or sticky. The second is gay, or more like gay and queer. Your situation has become very sticky but not gay for sure.

The second pair of words is Moshee and Muschi. Both words are nouns so they are capitalized. As we’ve already learned, the ‘sch’ is the same sound as an ‘sh’, perhaps a bit harder. A double ‘ee’ is about the same as the ‘i’. In fact the ‘i’ in German is pronounced ‘e’ as in be. The ‘o’ sounds like the ‘o’ in pot, the ‘u’ like ‘u’ in put. Sure there’s a difference but it isn’t very BIG. But in German it is, like, MONUMENTAL!  A Moshee is a mosque and a Muschi is a pussycat without the cat.

The one on the right has it, the one on the left doesn't. Photo: Wikipedia

The one on the right has it, the one on the left doesn’t. Photo: Wikipedia

Now, I realize that these words don’t come up that often in a normal conversation. But for me, if I can even begin to sniff that any of these words might be on the horizon, I excuse myself and go to he little boys room, where I feel more comfortable, that is, until the cleaning woman asks me to lift my foot as I’m standing at a urinal. That’s Germany!

My French Connection, Paris, Sexy Paris

Rally for solidarity with the French in Munich. Photo: MunichFOTO, Jeff Ely

Rally for solidarity with the French in Munich. Photo: MunichFOTO, Jeff Ely

What a week it’s been. You’ve all read the headlines and stories. To end this week, this crazy week, what happened today in Paris was a fitting finale. The whole world was watching the show of force against religious fascism, terrorism, and any other ism you can and can’t think of.

Some people believe the Parisians are arrogant. They are, absolutely, and rightfully so. You ever been to Paris? It’s an amazing city. I’ve been there twice.

Moulin Rouge 1900. I'm not sure why but there must've been something better about naked boobies in a club like this at that time. Photo: Wikipedia

Moulin Rouge 1900. I’m not sure why but there must’ve been something better about naked boobies in a club like this at that time. Photo: Wikipedia

After the first time I was there I hated it. I thought ‘what’s the big deal?’ I saw all the stuff. Crowded museums with too many tourists (I wasn’t a tourist in my mind, I was a cultural warrior). Over-priced food of inferior quality. I was on a backpacker’s budget so anything beyond a ‘Three Course Menu’ special was out of the price range, and even that was highend. The Arc de Triomphe, which I thought was strange because it has a statue of Napoleon on it (wasn’t he a bad guy?). Waited hours to go up the Eiffel Tower, without a lover, which is strange, too.

But I did too much. I only saw the big things, I didn’t see Paris, except for the subways which are unnavigable for a person with no French skills. I was too busy seeing the sights, and missed the city.

After about five years, however, slowly, perniciously, inexorably, Paris beckoned me to return. ‘Give me another chance’, she said, and a few years later I went again. This time I went with my wife, and our little bean in her womb, and Paris was indeed a changed girl. Or maybe it was me.

The foie gras of fried chickpeas.

The foie gras of fried chickpeas.

I was more experienced, I knew better and had more staying power, I took long leisurely strolls to nowhere. These became long bouts of foreplay, as each street whispered its own story in my ear. And then, Paris opened up to me, her legs splayed wide open. Saint Denis, a neighborhood of immigrants, was truly amazing. Falafel from a kosher kebab house, had people lined up around the corner, and for good reason. The museums were still crowded, sure, but seeing La Joconde in person isn’t nearly what’s its cracked up to be. There are a lot more paintings of better quality in easier to reach locations, and she’s not that pretty. I prefer Marianne.

Marianne. Photo: Wikipedia

Marianne. Photo: Wikipedia

The Saxons Are Coming, Run for the Alps!

The Saxons are coming! Miners from the coal mines. Photo: Wikipedia

The Saxons are coming! Miners from the coal mines. Photo: Wikipedia

My German sucks. It’s not as bad as my Russian, but it’s pretty bad. You’d think that after spending the better part of a dozen years in Munich, I’d have picked up a few more phrases beyond ordering beer and food in a restaurant. Priorities. My biggest problem (excuse) in learning German is that I’ve always been paid for my English language skills. Nobody has given me any compensation for my German skills. (And if you’ve ever heard my German skills you’d say the money should have gone to them, not me.)

It’s so bad that often when I go to a bakery, the nice assistants tells me how much I owe her in English (and they always mix up numbers like 34 and 43). WTF? And then they normally ask if I’m from England. And then Scotland. They are normally shocked (and I’m pleased, believe me) when they find out I’m from the USA. Well, I’m from California but grew up in Florida, so neither is considered mainstream America. Because of this, I tell them ‘I’m almost from America,’ which confuses them and pleases me even more.

I want to improve my German: please speak to me in German. We live in Germany, for Pete’s sake. I sincerely believe that many Germans, who ALWAYS say they speak ‘a little’ English (and can understand BBC or CNN as well as I can), are simply looking for a free English lesson, which they will then use on one of their infinite number of holidays to some foreign land where English is understood more than German.

These costumes are from an indigenous Slavic minority near Dresden, the Sorbs. Never heard of them? Neither have most Germans and as for the Bavarians, they'd like to keep it that way. Photo: Wikipedia

These costumes are from an indigenous Slavic minority near Dresden, the Sorbs. Never heard of them? Neither have most Germans and as for the Bavarians, they’d like to keep it that way. Photo: Wikipedia

The statement about living in Germany isn’t exactly true. I live in Bavaria. Bavaria is a separate country-just ask any real Bavarian. And though my German sucks and my wife’s is very good, I can understand the Bavarian dialect much better than her. She’s got me by a mile when it comes to Hochdeutsch, but I’ve got her beat here in Bavaria, or even Baden-Wurttemberg. I will admit, however, that I have no fucking clue what the people are saying when we are in South Tyrol, but I hear that goes for everyone not Tyrolean.

Now, most of those shop assistants in the bakeries and butchers are real hard to understand. Like, impossible. You see, they speak a very special dialect of German, that sounds real funny to us who have lived in Bavaria so long. The biggest difference is how the Saxons say the ‘ch’ in words like ich (I) or dich (you). The Saxons butcher the ‘ch’ worse than the Berliners. They’ve managed to make the pronounced ‘ch’ less sensical than Berliner Weissbier, a beer with fruit syrup in it, yes, FRUIT SYRUP!

So, what should be one of the loveliest sentences in German, ich liebe dich (I love you), sounds like ‘ish liebe dish’ straight from a date night with Nag and Nagaina, the two cobras from Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

I have adopted Bavaria (not Germany) as my new home. Or to be even more specific, Munich, that world city with heart. And in doing so, I’ve also learned that for Bavarians, the Saxons are the butt of more jokes than any other German speakers, except the Austrians. And I think I know why.

Saxony, like Bavaria, is a Freistaat, a free state, which means absolutely nothing except it makes the natives of those two states prouder and more likely to say that they can secede from the Republic of Germany anytime they so desire. Pure rubbish, surely, but I simply nod and take another swig of beer whenever I hear it from a Bavarian. (It’s more often than one might think.)

This picture sums up succinctly how the Bavarians feel about the Saxons from Dresden. Photo: Wikipedia

This picture sums up succinctly how the Bavarians feel about the Saxons from Dresden. Photo: Wikipedia

So why do Bavarians have such a prickly feeling when it comes to the Saxons? Some of it probably has to do with the Saxons’ communist roots. A bit more, possibly, has to do with the Saxons desire to boil pig knuckles rather than roasting them in the oven. Also, as I’ve said, the Saxon dialect is strange. But the biggest reason (I think, no, I hope) has to be the fact that after the Fall of the Wall, so many Saxons moved to Bavaria and stole their women. And jobs.

One of the nicer areas of Dresden. Nothing can compare to it here in Munich. Photo: Wikipedia

One of the nicer areas of Dresden. Nothing can compare to it here in Munich. Photo: Wikipedia

The Saxons keep coming. The economy around Dresden, the capital of Saxony, continues to idle while the one around Munich hums. There are many jobs to be found in Munich, so the Saxons come to take them. They may not be the highest-paid jobs but they are secure jobs, with future potential to move up the food-chain. And while the Saxons are moving up? They get a chance for a free English lesson if I patronize a bakery, butcher’s or boutique they just happen to be working at the right moment.