Man CAN Live on Bread Alone. In Bavaria.

Bavarian AlpsThere are many things about Bavarian culture that I have embraced. A close connection to the land, hearty food in winter, and an affinity to art and history are but a few. Another thing that fits nicely into my world view is the absolute worshiping of the sun in Bavaria. I was born in San Diego, after all, and did most of my growing up in Florida. Yes, the sun is alright by me.

Now, compared to those two places my general impression of Germany’s weather is it’s gray. It does have countless shades of gray, however. So when the sun makes her infrequent appearance (for some odd reason the sun is feminine in the German language) in Munich, the older Bavarians sit bundled on every available park bench, heads tilted towards the light with slight smiles on their faces. Conversation is limited. They remind me of  jay-hawks sitting on the telephone lines along I-35, on the seemingly endless open prairies of Kansas.

Bavaria is the traditional mixed with the technically advanced; I have no qualms with either. Though ‘laptops and lederhosen’ was first mentioned years earlier, this idea of old and new became the campaign slogan of the former president of Bavaria, Dr. Edmund Stoiber, when he was running for the chancellor of Germany many years ago. “Laptops and Lederhosen”. Yes, that sums up Bavaria succinctly, and makes a great name for a blog.

With the exception of France, Bavaria may quite possibly have some of the most beautiful, diverse landscape in Europe, and therefore the world. From rolling grasslands dotted with many lakes left from the last great Ice Age, these give way to hills and primordial forests that are topped with rocky crags of the Alps. Bavaria has it all.

Bavarians love flowers, nature, and anything outdoors.

Bavarians love flowers, nature, and anything outdoors. It is a bit untidy, no?

Bavarians keep their farms postcard picture pretty. Only the Swiss can call the Bavarians untidy, and they never fail to do so when the opportunity arises.

The infrastructure in Bavaria is excellent, with regular trains supplemented by buses that reach the most difficult corners of this state.

The water in Munich is rated the best city water in Europe (a distinction it shares with Vienna).

These things and more I miss whenever I go away from here for any period of time. But they pale in comparison when it comes to the thing that I yearn for the most upon my return home to Munich-freshly baked Bavarian bread. That’s right, freshly baked whole grain hurts your teeth to chew-brown bread. Bread that you better hold on tightly to as you saw through it with your knife, and watch your fingers!

Bread abounds!

Bread abounds! Most bakeries have between 20 and 30 varieties.

I faintly remember some kind of bread on the table when growing up, a kind of white sponge cake. Couldn’t spread butter on it without it coming apart in shreds  This was not my mom’s fault, in America there are few selections of bread at the local suburban grocery store. There’s just not enough demand for it, though things are slowly changing. You can find good breads in America, but they are usually in the bigger cities of the Northeast or Midwest. In Orlando, it’s easier to get great tortillas or flan than fresh baked crusty bread.

Pork fat, butter, ham, cheese, jam, honey, sunflower oil, gravy, or any other semi-liquidity spread is more than sufficient to ingest this Bavarian bread, anything basically, to keep the crumbs from falling. In fact, I’ve even seen some people eat it plain.

Bavarian bread with pork fat!

Bavarian bread with pork fat!

The best time of the year for me to enjoy this bread is  in October and November, on Sunday mornings. The local bakery is open at 6:30, and since not nearly as many people are out and about on Sundays, I like to take the long way around the neighborhood while the streets are still quiet. If there’s a slight drizzle, even better. The dream scenario is when there is just enough dampness in the air to feel it on your clothes but not your skin, and only empty, dark, quiet streets with few rumblings except the ones in your stomach.

On a final note, and this is very important, the Bavarians also think of beer as bread, only in liquid form. Fresh bread, pork fat, raw onion or radishes and cold beer. Yes, I like Bavaria. Yes, indeed.

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.