Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Break Part 2

On Friday the 29th, Erick and I caught an overnight train to Florence and by coincidence 3 of my groupmates were on the same train as us. The two of us grabbed two seats in a compartment because, frankly, all the sleeping cars were booked and they were too expensive anyway. The other 3 were in other compartments, I went to visit them once or twice, but the corridors were a little full and I was quite sleepy.

I slept on and off for some of the ride and I, with the help of the Italian man sitting across from me (who spoke little English and no German), had to schoo off many people trying to grab a seat in our full compartment. I was able to see some of the Alps when we got to the Italian side of the border, but at that point it was around 1, so I mostly just saw shapes. Really big, majestic shapes.

We arrive in Florence at 6:30 in the morning. My group mates were spending the week in Florence, so they went to their hostel to store their bags and catch a nap before going out exploring. Since Erick and I were only there for half a day at most, we decided to go out exploring and then meet back up with them for lunch before catching a bus to Siena.

Erick, who has been to Florence several times, showed me around the town. We saw the Duomo and the Sante Croche churches and walked around the old streets. It was quite nice being up so early. The air was cool, but not cold, there weren't many tourists, and we watched all the shops and street vendors setting up for the day. We also were able to see the sunrise over the Arno River, which is one of the few sunrises I've ever seen and was awesome.

The famous cathedral and dome in Florence
Around 10:30 we started getting tired of lugging our duffel bags around with us (there were no lockers to be found in the train station), so Florence was starting to lose its appeal. Before we made out way back to our meeting place, however, we stopped in a small cafe to grab an espresso and it was probably the worst espresso I've ever had. And I'm including Starbucks and McDonald's in that. We watched her prep the shot, by which I mean she didn't bother wiping down the dispenser after the last shot she pulled. Being baristas it was thoroughly horrifying for us. Go figure I would have the worst espresso of my life in Italy.

There was some pretty interesting street art and graffiti throughout the city. I'm going to attach a link to my online photo album of this trip and I took a few photos of the things we saw. You should be able to navigate from there to the other albums of this trip.

I called the others around 11 and they were still in bed, so Erick and I hopped on the next bus to Siena, which took about and hour and a half (and through which I slept after thinking I could stay up to see the Tuscan countryside, haha). I checked into my hotel right outside the city wall, settled in, and then met up with Erick again to get my bearings in the city.

We did a general walk around and I learned the basics of what to look for to find myself again (il campo, the duomo, the main street). The rest of the trip (of 3 days) was spent walking around in the rain seeing the sites around the city and thoroughly enjoying being in a place completely different from Munich. I love Munich but it was so refreshing to be in a city like Siena. Its small with small, winding streets, interesting churches, stucco walls, and tiny, fascinating niches all throughout. Munich is definitely a big, modern city in comparison. There was an outcropping on one of the taller hills of the city (JEEZ that place is hilly!), which looked out into Tuscany and offered a great view of a garden/farm at the base of the city. I could have stayed up there for hours.

Among the high/low-lights of the trip was eating the worst Italian food of my life. It was a 4 course meal which cost 15 Euro. This perhaps would have been a tip off, had two of the courses not been meat and cheese and salad. The two bigger courses in the meal were a debacle. The meat in the meat sauce on my pasta was so dry it could crumble and the chicken in the chicken cacciatore was also incredibly dry and was more bones than meat. Also, the wait staff was being pretty sketchy. So, after some fuming we deemed the meal "poison cacciatore" and moved on.

Erick's roommate, Douglass, came back from his adventures in Barcelona and Amsterdam on my second night in the city. The three of us went to a tea house in the city which served each of us a big, individually steeped, pot of tea. Each pot of tea was a different shape, color, size, or design and the tea inside was Delicious. Douglass kept forgetting to strain his tea, understandable considering he had been up/travelling for about 30 hours but still amusing.
San Francesco near my hotel

So the three of us hung out the next day, which was All Saints Day, not conducive to them showing me their favorite church in the city. Later that day I boarded a bus back to Florence and, eventually, a train back to Munich. The 3ish hours between the bus and the train were spent in a wonderful pub near the train station, eating delicious gnocchetti and drinking one of their specialty brew beers.

Oh. And when I say the three days were spent walking around in the rain, I really mean it. There were very few moments in Italy when it Wasn't raining. It wasn't so bad though, Italians have a habit of throwing out perfectly good, if not a little beat up, umbrellas, so we partook in those to stay at least a little dry.

Click here for all the photos!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I think I should bypass my last few weeks, unfortunately, because now I’m on Fall Break and so far it has been quite exciting. My Fall Break experience started last week, actually. My friend Erick, who is studying in Siena, Italy for a semester, came up to Munich to visit and explore the city. 

He was supposed to get into Munich at 1AM Monday morning and stay at a hostel in the center of Munich. I was a bit confused as to how he booked a train getting in at Fröttmaning station, which only has a subway line and buses on it, but I just gave him directions to the main train station, not a problem. When I hadn’t heard from him at 11AM Monday I was a little worried, but figured he was just sleeping off a bad train ride. By 5PM, when I still hadn’t heard from him I was pretty darn worried.

I called his hostel and asked if he had checked in. The woman said, “No, actually. He was supposed to arrive last night and never showed up. We’ve charged him for the night and given his bed away. Can you tell him that for us if you hear from him?” 

Uh oh.

I then went upstairs and asked Frau Volz what I should do. She said, let’s wait a little while and then go ask our policeman neighbor.


In the meantime I called Betty, our trip leader and asked her if she can find the numbers for Roy and Terry, the faculty leaders in Siena. We ended up contacting the heads of the Study Abroad program at Guilford and sending e-mails to people, asking if they knew know where he was or what his cell phone number is. No responses.

Oh jeez.

So I’m sitting in the kitchen thinking “Crap, he’s probably dead or sleeping in some random train station with no idea where he is and now idea where to go.” Bree’ went out to the main train station to look for him. Frau Volz went over to her neighbor's house to ask him what we should do. She came back and got some general info that he could look up tomorrow to check if he was in jail or the hospital.

Around 7:30 I get a facebook message for him “Finally in Munich, my bus broke down for 18 hours, I’m at an internet café in the center of town and don’t have much time left on my service. Can you meet me there?” Turns out he doesn’t have a cell phone in Europe.

I didn’t know where that café was, so I told him to meet me at Burger King in the main train station, where our group usually meets. I then quickly e-mailed all 7 people who I had contacted trying to find this kid, saying that I found him, everything’s okay. I met up with Bree at the train station, he wasn't in BK so we walked around the streets outside the train station trying to find the place he was. Absolutely no one had heard of the place, which did not bode well, but eventually things worked out. 

We got food in the train station and I heard all about getting stuck in the Italian Alps with Italians and Poles, none of whom new English. All he could get from their broken Italian was "Police...broken bus." It soon became apparent why his "train" was getting in at a random stop. Even though his ticket specifically said "train" it was most certainly a bus. Its pick up station in Florence was also in a random corner of the city and no one knew anything about it. The bus passengers ended up having to sleep on the bus and watching a horribly gory movie until things could be sorted out, it ended up being a 30 hour journey.

Since his hotel reservation had been cancelled Frau Volz offered him the couch to sleep on, which I assumed was until he booked another hotel room. But no, the next morning she came downstairs and told me that I should give him a different blanket the next night. When Bree, Erick, and I came home that afternoon she had made up a makeshift bed on the couch. This was a bit of a surprise since we had been told very explicitly that no one was allowed to stay the night. But, since Frau Volz is the head of the host families in Munich (as in she organizes them and sorts out any problems) I figure she wouldn't have offered if she wasn't really okay with it.

So Erick ended up sleeping on the couch for the rest of his stay. It was cheaper and reduced the hassle of trying to find a hotel instead of actually seeing Munich. So he got a place to stay for free, some free food, Frau Volz and he tried to talk to each other despite the limited amount of language shared between them, and we even rode bikes a little

We spent a lot of time at the Alte Pinakotheke, where I had two art history classes, and the Pinakotheke der Modern, where we went one afternoon after my classes. We went to a bunch of beer halls, ate traditional Bavarian food, and went to Kartoffelhaus, our Guilford German professor’s favorite restaurant, with most of the people on my trip. Heck, Erick even started figuring out a bit of the transit system on his own. In the process I had an awesome slab of schnitzel perched atop a mountain of french fries, a beer called the "Triumphator des Starkbiers," and climbed up to the top of St. Peter's tower, which has a great view of the city.
 Poster in the Kartoffelhaus

Friday afternoon was warm and sunny so Ben Heide and I took our guests (his was Patrick, who is also studying in Siena) to some historic sites. Erick watched the Glockenspiel in the morning then the four of us met up and ate lunch at the Augustiner restaurant in Marienplatz with Tyler and his parents. We then walked to Odeonsplatz, showed them where the Hitler Putsch of 1923 happened, went into the church on the square, then sat in the Residence garden listening to music and sipping beer. 

So despite the debacle that was Monday it still turned out pretty darn well. 

Part Two coming soon: Florence and Siena

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Oops, so my time got somewhat ahead of me, here, so I will try my darndest to catch up on this blog. Lots of things have happened in the last few weeks: lots of trains have been taken, miles have been walked. Perhaps I will try to do this in short summaries, if you'd like to hear more about a particular thing, just ask and I'll elaborate in a new post. Sorry for leaving ya hanging!

So last time I checked in, Oktoberfest had just started. While it was lots of fun, I am glad its over. My commuting train goes straight to Theresienwiese, where the Fest is held, so at all hours of the day there were people packed on. At the same time, the transit worker strikes were still going on, so there were less trains running. The strike is still actually going on, crazy. Anyway, Oktoberfest was fun, had a good time, but I was certainly ready for it to end.

On the 23rd of September my classmates and I visited Dachau Concentration Camp, which is a 20 minute train ride outside of Munich. Leo, the Poli Sci and German professor lead us around, told us the history, and we explored the exhibits on the grounds. All of the barracks have been torn down, leaving rows of foundations. The society that runs the concentration camp memorials has rebuilt two barracks and you can see the degeneration of the living conditions as the years progressed. I think the area that was the most emotional was the crematoriums, including an unused gas chamber. Dachau was never an extermination camp but was used as the model for all other camps in the Third Reich.

Monday was a much lighter time, Bree' and I went to see one of my absolute favorite bands in concert. It was pure coincidence that they played in Munich, but I was glad they did, because I've missed their other shows when they have been near me. They're called Horse Feathers, out of Oregon, and make very pretty, sad music. To listen to some of their music go here. The concert was absolutely beautiful and we had a lot of fun.

That Thursday, Leo took us on a tour of Konigsplatz, which was built by Prince Ludwig for fun. The buildings there are modeled after Roman temples. It, all along the road leading from it, and Odeonsplatz became the center of Nazi Germany's power and Hitler has his office next to the square. The building is still there, but is used as a music conservatory and music students don't really like being disturbed by tons of tourists walking through their building.

We still tried to get in and Leo devised a sneaky plan, which involved us coming inside in groups of 3 or 4, walking around for a few minutes, and then leaving again. It failed epically. But we were able to glance at the interior before being kicked out by the desk clerk. It was really quite amusing. Then we walked down to Odeonsplatz and saw where Hitler's unsuccessful coup ended.

The next day we walked to the Alte Pinakotheke with Dieter, our art history proffessor, using the same route and heard many of the same things that Leo told us. Leo totally stole Dieter's thunder.

On Saturday Bree', Tyler, and I went to Rothenburg, which is a small, medival town about 2 hours out from Munich. It had little, cobbled, winding street, a town square known for its Christmas markets. We saw the city museum, which had an awesome armory, and mostly just walked around, checking out the little shops. They have tons of confectioners there, mostly selling Schneeballen, which look something like this:

The next week we went as a group to an absolutely ridiculous Baroque church called Asam Church. It was funded, designed, and decorated by the Asam brothers, who were incredibly rich. One of the brothers was a renowned architect who has many churches all over Germany, all of which are elaborately, overwhelmingly Baroque (which I guess is kind of the point of the whole thing. It was just recently reopened, they were doing extensive remodeling on the interior. I had seen the church by chance in my wanderings around the city, but it was nice to see it with the information that Dieter gave us.

Later that day we went to the BMW Museum, a historical museum about the history of BMW and displays of some of their noteworthy cars, motorcycles, and engines. The design of the museum is like nothing I've ever seen before, there are "houses" inside of the building, each devoted to a particular theme. The exteriors of these "houses" are illuminated by millions of LED bulbs which turn on and off to create elaborate patterns all over the walls. Cool stuff.

Okay, I think that's about all I can do right now, there's a lot to say and I think 3 week's worth of events is enough for now. In the next few days I will do installment #2.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


This Saturday was the opening of the world famous beerfest in Munich. Approximately 6,000,000 people will attend Oktoberfest over the next 2 weeks and on average 500,000 attend on Saturday and Sunday each. The first 4 people to go to Oktoberfest went Sunday night and somehow found themselves a table, then after a couple Maß of beer, they somehow stumbled home. Two of them actually went hiking the next morning. Goodness.

I did not go on this
The other 6 of us found ourselves at the fest Monday afternoon (we don't have classes Monday). All but one of us got dressed up in dirndls and liederhosen and if I may say so looked quite fetching. We spent our first hour or so walking around the fairgrounds and riding rides. I even got myself a very expensive ice cream cone. And then we found ourselves in the Augustinerbräu tent, the historically preferred beer of Guilford students. Somehow we found room for the 6 of us at a table and almost immediately one of the people behind us spilled some of his beer on Caroline. 

This of course meant that he had to come over an strike up a conversation with us, which was totally fine by us. His name is Matt, he's an Aussie who is stopping at Oktoberfest for a while before heading over to Denmark to visit friends. He showed us a quickly scribbled map of Australia to show where he's from and Caroline drew him a map of the US to illustrate where we are all from. He ended up switching back and forth between our table and the one he was originally at. He and I had a very interesting conversation about his feelings on Aboriginal peoples in Australia (I was interested because of the book I quoted in my first post). Strange and interesting to hear a white Aussie's point of view of it all. But generally everything was light-hearted banter.
We also met a group of Americans sitting at the table on the other side of us, one of whom went to high school near one of us, which prompted him to buy her a maß of beer. When they found out that I'm from New Jersey they of course made the appropriate slurs on the state and we all continued on. The interesting thing about beer halls, especially at Oktoberfest, is that they dissolve all sorts of problems. When you sit down at a table you are equal to everyone around you and everyone is there to have a good time.

Beer tent of choice
We also met two guys from Westphalia who were down just for a day or two. Very nice guys, one of them spoke English, the other didn't. They hung out with us for a while but I was at the other end of the table from them so I didn't hear much of the conversation. The tables weren't all that big--your normal picnic table size, maybe a little smaller, but there are thousands of people inside a beer hall at one time, so it's quite hard to hear everything. This is made even more difficult by the band who are playing on top of a podium in the center of the tent. The band does add to the atmosphere of the tent, especially when they play "Viva Colonia" which is a carnival song recorded in 2003 that everyone loves singing.

Our group made our way back to our houses in pairs, I was the first one to leave as I had to escort someone home since he couldn't walk or see straight. There were completely sober people at the end of the afternoon and then there were some who blacked out after 5:00pm, so all along the spectrum. I am proud to say that I was among the more sober people at the end of the day out, granted I stayed for the least amount of time.

What a day.

Today I went back by myself, took pictures, people watched, and went into a few other tents on the fairgrounds. Even on a Wednesday afternoon it was completely mobbed. It's worse than walking through Times Square in the summer. Despite that its a very nice fair/carnival/beer fest. Most everyone is happy when they're there and I think that's something special.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Adventures with Public Transit

Brunhildenstrasse Bushalltestelle
To get to school, Bree' and I take the bus to one of two train stations and then hop on either the U-Bahn or the S-Bahn (underground vs. suburban trains), depending on which station we're at. We've negotiated this system very well, I'd say, and have developed our own way of getting too and from school with very few mishaps. Today we walked to our bus stop at Brunhildenstrasse (two blocks from where we live) and noticed that no one was there, which was odd, there's usually 2+ other people who take the same bus as we do.

We waited for a few minutes and a man whom we've seen pretty much every day at the stop rounded the corner. He came up to us and started speaking very fast German, to which Bree' replied, "Uh...langsamer bitte." To which he said, "Ah, wissen Sie, wenn dieser Bus verstrickt?" To which I thought, "Wait did he just say something about the bus drivers being on strike?" But wasn't sure, so I replied eloquently, "Uhh...verstrickt?" To which he said, "Oh! Sprechen Sie Englisch?" we nodded, and he said, "Oh, no problem. Do you know if this bus is on strike?" (I was afraid he had said that). "The buses are on strike!?" "Oh, yeah, well some of them. Here being on strike means that some of them will show up, some won't. If it doesn't come we'll have to walk down to the S-Bahn station." Which is a 20 minute walk away, no big deal, just adds time to the schedule. We said, "Oh, well, hopefully ours comes." 

SURPRISE! Ahh, city of Munich, you got us this time.

We still had a few minutes so the 3 of us waited and thankfully our bus came. We talked (in English both fortunately and unfortunately) about how Bree' and I were living here for a semester with a small group of kids studying German and history, etc and he told us how he recently moved to Munich, himself. Then he got up and asked the bus driver if the U5, which is our train, was striking and the driver didn't know. So we got off the bus at the S-Bahn station and the timing worked out that the train pulled away as we got to the station. So, long story short, we got to school 20 minutes late (but I called Betty ahead of time, so they knew what was going on). The trains were also super packed coming home.

The question we were left with was, "Wait, why didn't anyone tell us about this strike?" Ah well. Adventures.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Georg Elser

Last week, my German language and Political Science professor, Leo (the one who led the tour of Salzburg), took us on another tour, this time around parts of Munich. There is way too much information for me to convey to you on here, so I figured I'd share a snippet or two that might be interesting (if you already know this story, my apologies). Note here that I'm taking very liberally from Leo's telling.

You know the movie "Inglorious Basterds?" Well, that assassination attempt on Hitler isn't nearly as cool as the real thing (I'm exaggerating a little bit, that was a pretty intense assassination attempt, but still fictitious). So the Nazi Party came into power in 1932 and by 1939 it becomes apparent to a carpenter, Georg Elser, that Nazism and Hitler could only lead Germany to war and that war would be the end of Germany. So he decided to do something about it, namely kill Hitler.

Now it just so happened that every year on November 8th Hitler gave a speech to the inner ranks and "good ol' boys" of the Nazi Party at the Buergerbraukeller, a bierhall in Munich. His speech usually lasted from 6PM to 8PM and Elser decided that this was the best place at which to strike. Elser couldn't very well get an invitation to the party--he was a nobody and certainly wouldn't be able to infiltrate the inner rankings of the Nazi party--dude was a carpenter. He was not, however, stupid, the first decision he made was not to tell a single soul what he was doing or how he was doing it--the more allies, the more chances of betrayal.

He started by taking a job in a quarry and slowly, over the course of months, took small portions of explosives little by little home with him. That way, no one noticed that anything was missing. He then taught himself how to build a timebomb. It's not like he could take a class on it (that might, perhaps, arouse suspicion?) or look it up the internet, but he figured it out.

Once he had collected enough explosives and studied bomb-making, he came to the Buergerbraukeller every night, sneaked into the bathroom right before closing, and stayed there until everyone left for the night. Once the coast was clear, he took his flashlight and his carpentry tools and set to work chiseling away at the column in front of which Hitler would give his speech. There was a janitor on watch at night with a guard dog, so Elser had to study the janitor's schedule to know when he would come around to that area of the hall and turn off his flashlight. He also needed to make sure that he and the dog were buddies so it didn't bark when they came by.

Hitler at the Buergerbraukeller, Munich
Over the course of months, Elser whittled out a space for his bomb, every night plastering it back up to look like nothing had happened and carting away all debris. Finally November 8th came along, the bomb was planted and set to go off in the middle of Hitler's speech, and Elser hopped on a train to Switzerland. The bomb went off perfectly, blowing away the column and surrounding areas, killing quite a few people. The problem, however, was that Hitler wasn't there. He had to travel to Berlin later that night, but fog on the runway made flying not an option and instead he had to cut his speech short to catch a train to Berlin instead. Elser missed Hitler by 8 minutes.

After the bomb went off, trains going in and out of the country were searched for the culprit. Elser would have gotten away except that in his pocket were a trigger and a postcard, stating that he had killed Hitler--he wanted to present them to the Swiss government to insure immunity (and probably fame, too). But the police caught him and tortured him for the rest of his life. The reason they didn't just kill him straight off was because they did not believe that one man would be able to plan and execute what he had done (they suspected a British plot), so they tried to get it out of him and intended to put him on trial. In 1945, when the war was coming to an end, his execution was ordered and on 9 April 1945 he was executed at Dachau at the age of 35.
Plaque where the column used to stand, where Elser planted his bomb. 

8 Freaking Minutes.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Die erste Woche

Wow, okay, it's been quite a week, I shall try to explain this all to you. So I left you when I first got to Munich, at the time I had a day to kill before I met up with my study abroad group, so I walked over to the Pinakothek der Moderne, which is the big major modern art museum in the city. Now I enjoy art, but I must say I'm more often then not confused by Modern art, so this was quite the experience. There were some really fun, cool pieces and even the exhibit which mostly comprised of table settings had some interesting stuff, but other times I was just left with the question,  "Why the heck is this in a museum?" But I will definitely say I enjoyed the permanent collection.

Anywho, I met up with the Guilford group and we went off to Berschtesgaden, specifically Ubersalzburg, which is the tiny mountain asthma spa village where we stayed. Whilst there we started our German lessons, partook in Bavarian food and drink, and enjoyed the cold, wet Bavarian weather (except for one and a half nice days). It was quite nice, the most annoying part of it was the bells which tolled for a minute straight at 7am, noon, and 7pm, which wouldn't have been a problem except for the 7am part. Really, being awoken by such insistent bells is quite stressful, but I suppose that's how its done in mountain villages. I also came to miss vegetables quite a bit in my week in the Alps, absence makes the heart grow fonder and the stomach more rebellious. Eat your peas and carrots!

We then went into Salzburg, Austria, which was a quick hop over the border. And thankfully the EU makes it so that crossing borders isn't a big deal anymore, because about a quarter of our group, maybe more, didn't bring their passports. But nonetheless, my German and Politics and Culture of Bavaria professor, Leo, took us on a walking tour of the Salzburg Altstadt and we learned a bit about the history of the city. Particularly about this one archbishop who decided that it was okay for him to have a wife and 15 children, no big deal. We saw the outside of Mozart's birth house and we visited quite a few crazy pretty churches and cathedrals. Then 3 of my classmates and I went to the fortress (Festung) at the top of the hill and explored up there. Unfortunately, my camera died on the walking tour, so I only got about half of the week documented, schade.

The next day we walked to the bottom of the mountain (about 20 minutes) and visited a small museum about Berschtesgaden and the Nazis. Apparently, Hitler and his buddies used to hang out in the area we were staying because of the beautiful views of the Alps and countryside. At the top of one of the peaks is the Eagle's Nest, which someone built for Hitler and is the last remaining artifact from the era in the area. After the war, Germany destroyed anything to which Neo-Nazis could make pilgrimage and they even changed the topography of this particular place to make sure no one could tell where the buildings used to stand.

So this museum had information on this particular area of Germany during the Third Reich as well as information on how the Nazis came to power, operated as a political machine, and kept their power. It was interesting and eerie. We then walked back up the mountain, enjoying the remaining nice weather and took more lessons.

Now we are all back in Munich and have met our host families. Bree' and I are living with Frau Irmgard Volz (which you know from the contact information below). Frau Volz is sort of the head and organizer of the host families in Munich and she's quite a lovely woman. She had a 14 year old (but spry) cat named Metzi, a boyfriend, and her son Martin lives upstairs. There are also hedgehogs in the garden and last night Bree' and I watched one eat Metzi's yogurt out of the dish left outside. We live down in the basement, which is essentially an apartment. We have our bedroom, a bathroom with a shower, a living area with a couch and dinner table, and a small kitchen with a hot plate, fridge, and microwave.

Today the three of us went out food shopping and Bree' and I explored "downtown" Neubiberg, which is a little street with a bunch of small businesses, a bank, and a few cafes and went to the mall to put minutes on Bree''s phone. We are now settling in for the night and tomorrow we shall be taking a cruise around one of Munich's lakes with the rest of the Guilford group. Auf wiederschauen!