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.

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Why Germans Wear Eyeglasses

A German Shepherd wearing doggles. Even the dogs get into the act! Photo: Wikipedia

A German Shepherd wearing doggles. Even the dogs get into the act! Photo: Wikipedia

Here’s a short two-question quiz, the answers are at the end. First, name the last President of the United States who regularly wore eyeglasses while in office. Second, why do you think there have been so few?

Since I arrived in Munich as a permanent inhabitant of this wonderful country, there have been many things that I noticed which reminded me of the chasm between American and German culture. Some of these things have stayed with me while others have become nothing more than mile markers on the road, becoming either irrelevant or normal. One of the things no longer important or even conspicuous for me is that it seems as if about 85% of the Germans old enough to drink (legally) wear eyeglasses.

Can the eyesight of the people be so poor? Are they lacking adequate levels of Vitamins A, C or E? Is the lack of direct sunlight a cause?

The title is a double entendre. Twain never walked a step in the book. Photo: Wikipedia

The title is a double entendre. Twain never walked a step in the book. Photo: Wikipedia

Before I read Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, I’d lived in Munich for about three years. What is so fascinating about the book for me is its timelessness, things he observed about the Germans in the 1870’s still hold true nearly a century and a half later. One of the funniest stories in a book filled with them is “Legend of ‘The Spectacular Ruin’”. Twain explains as only he can ‘Why Germans Wear Spectacles’.

After I began making acquaintances with locals regularly and had accrued a few score, I set out over the next decade to try and ask as many Germans as I could about this strange (to me, the American) phenomena.

Why do so many Germans wear glasses?

I can see purr-fectly now. Photo: http://blog.m-17.de/brillen-shooting/

I can see purr-fectly now. Photo: http://blog.m-17.de/brillen-shooting/

The answers are by no means unanimous or scientific, but there is a clear majority. The most popular explanation? Germans hate not being able to see everything PERFECTLY. As soon as their eyesight drops from an eagle-eyed 20/10 (6/3 in Europe) to 20/20 (6/6), it’s off to the optometrist and then the opthamologist (for a second, more expert, opinion). It is, afterall, covered by most health insurance policies.

After hearing the good news (I need glasses, finally!), it’s off to get frames for the lenses which cost about a gazillion euros. The shopping for frames for the eyeglasses has been known to take a half year, and usually involves girlfriends, boyfriends, siblings and any other confidants of the celebrant. A temporary pair of glasses are used (of course!) in the interim.

As far as I can remember the last president who wore glasses regularly was Truman. Before him it was the two Roosevelts (check it, I might have missed one). The reason? Again, this is by no means scientific, but I believe many Americans see eyeglasses as either a sign of weakness or age. Youth is king in America, in Germany the people prefer older looking politicians to run the country.

American politicians often refuse to wear spectacles on the stump or in front of a crowd, Rick Perry excepted. And he had to put them on so as to not look like an idiot, so you be the judge.

Rick_Perry_by_Gage_Skidmore_9

Rick Perry looking more cerebral after donning a pair of eyeglasses. Photo: Wikipedia