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!