Category Archives: Germany

The Benefits of Being a World Traveler

IMG_1998 (1)I usually don’t like posting photos taken from an airplane. Especially ones where the wing of the airplane is clearly showing, like this one …

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The situation was just too good! The flight path, which varies from flight to flight based on upper level winds, happened to track right over Iceland. At a time of year when days are only around five hours long across much of Iceland, and less than 1-in-5 days feature clear skies, it is impossible to overestimate how fortunate of a circumstance this was: To fly over the volcanically influenced terrain at the onset of winter, seeing it in all its glory from above in broad daylight like this.

I couldn’t help but reflect on my experience there, less than two years ago, hiking on the glaciers, standing next to all the waterfalls, and seeing the northern lights.

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As I had noted then, Iceland seems to be becoming a more popular destination for American tourists. However, according to a recent study, it does not crack the top 20 countries visited by Americans (based on data from 2015). Number 7 on that list is Germany, where my flight originated, where I had spent the prior evening, in Munich.

This was the second time Munich happened to be my final destination on a longer trip to Europe. This is an interesting coincidence as Munich somehow seems to feel closer to home than most other European cities I visit.

For example, nearly every other European city I visit has a significant number of really narrow streets, like these streets in Stockholm…

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Munich, by comparison, feels wide open.

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Part of the reason Munich feels familiar to me is because, for several years, I lived in the State of Wisconsin. With an estimated 42.6% of the population having German heritage, Wisconsin has its fair share of bars and restaurants that are decorated almost exactly like this one.

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Places like the Essen Haus, have a similar layout. The serving staff dress in similar Bavarian style attire, and serve similar food and beer.

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By the way, the food at Augustiner, walking distance from Munich’s Central Station, was fantastic!

After visiting several countries, and flying over one that I had visited quite recently, I was headed home, to an America that is, based on the perspective of being abroad for a while, in a confusing place.

According to a recent article, while Americans are the 2nd most well-traveled country in the world, only 36% of Americans hold a valid passport. This is possibly the source of one stereotype about Americans, that we generally don’t travel outside of our country.

The numbers here tell a different story, one that matches what I have observed, interacting with other Americans.

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There are people here who are interested in traveling to different countries. They often plan a lot of trips to may different foreign lands. There are also a lot of people that aren’t. As, we are a vast Country. Most people can experience almost anything they would want to experience without having to leave the U.S.

We are a well traveled country, partially by virtue of being wealthy. A significant amount of that travel manifests as travel within our Nation. Travel abroad is mostly done by roughly 10% of the population with genuine personal or business interests in other places.

I in no way intend to shame anyone for not wanting to travel to other countries. That is their choice (or limitation, as some people do not have the time or money to fly to another continent). Truly secure people validate their choices in life, not by diminishing those who chose differently. They validate their choices with confidence in the benefits of those choice.

That validation, for me, can be best demonstrated in a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine, titled “Don’t Let You Butt Dominate Your Brain“. Traveling to other places is one of several ways we remind ourselves one of the most important things we need to remember, as we take on whatever endeavors we take on in life.

Our way of doing things is not the only way things can be done.

Other cultures have other ways of doing things. We may conclude that our current culture is the best fit for us. However, just because something we observe is different does not necessarily mean it is “wrong”. In fact….

Assuming someone is wrong because they do something differently invariantly comes across as condescending.

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I generally try to keep anything political off of this blog. This is not a politics blog. I don’t see the world as currently in need of another person chiming in with their opinions about the news, at least not in America. However, going out and seeing other cultures made me reflect one something that feels like a real shortcoming in our current political situation.

The way our political system is currently set up seems to encourage us Americans to see a false dichotomy, a false choice between two ways of thinking, both of which have serious flaws.

On one side, there is a group of people who believe America can do no wrong. On this extreme, any criticism of our country is done out of hate, and there is absolutely nothing that can ever be learned from other cultures.

On the other side, a group of people that sees our country as deeply flawed. This group appears not to acknowledge what is good about America. They long for us to be like some other country, and when our culture and history is discussed, the response is usually something like “meh”, or worse.

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I can’t get down with either extreme, and it is my sincere belief that most Americans also find themselves somewhere in between these two maddening extremes. I sometimes think of countries in a similar way I would think of any other entity; a group, a person, a sports team, etc. I think of anyone that has a healthy sense of self. They believe that they are great, and do great things for the world. That does not mean they are not always looking for ways to improve, ways to be better. It also does not mean there is no room for some friendly criticism when it is warranted.

Traveling in general, particularly to other cultures, can be a powerful reminder that there is no one correct way to go about our lives. It also exposes people to new ideas. I believe everyone needs experiences like this, in order to stay open and avoid becoming too set in their ways. However, that does not necessarily have to be world travel- for everyone.

A Recap of my 2012 European Vacation

All this thinking about World War II over the last few days of the trip naturally brought to my mind how for the entirety of this trip we were positioned in areas that would have been clearly behind enemy lines.  Germany, of course, is now clearly remembered as the primary villain of this war.  Munich, of course, was the heart of it all.  Hitler’s first gatherings, first speeches, and primary residence for most of his life were all in Munich.

Italy was also considered one of the axis powers in World War II.  Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini formed an alliance and fought side by side until September 1943, when Italy kind of just gave up.  Their ”pact” was actually announced at the Brenner Pass at the Italy/Austria border, the very pass we rode the train through last Friday.  After Italy’s capitulation, the nation remained a war zone, with the northern part of the country being occupied by the Germans.  This area of occupation receded over time from South to North, meaning that Florence and areas further north were occupied longer than Naples and Southern Italy.

Austria was not officially an enemy, but they seemed quite willing to cooperate with Hitler, potentially out of fear.  When German expansion is discussed, the term used for their entrance into Poland (which started the war), and later France, etc. is “invasion”.  This implies an attack, and some kind of a resistance, albeit in the case of France, Belgium, etc. an insignificant one.  For Austria, the term used is “annexed”.  Germany annexed Austria.  There also seems to be no documentation of an armed conflict.   This suggests to me that Austria went without a fight at all.  While nowhere in Europe would be a travel destination during World War II, these three countries were clearly enemy nations.

Furthermore, before the World Wars the borders of many of these nations were not even the same as they are today.  And, it was not long before that when Italy and Germany were not even unified Nations yet.  They still had independent city-states and regions.  That’s why many Italian Americans still think of themselves as Venetian, Roman, Tuscan, etc.  However, today we seem to think of national borders as being mostly constant, not really any threat of changing.  This is especially true of Americans.  It feels as if the wars of the 21st Century are not even fought over territory or borders they way they were in the past.  Sure, there are disputes over Taiwan, and the Sea of Japan (East Sea from the Korean perspective), but they have yet to erupt into any kind of armed conflict.  Our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq last decade were not to annex their country or parts of them.  They are fought over influence.  This trend started with the cold war.  Poland was never part of Russia, but part of the USSR, which Russia dominated.  So, it appears to many that the movement of National borders is a thing of the past, and never needs to really be thought about.

This trip helped reinforce my views that that we should not take our National borders for granted.  This is not only due to the WWII stuff, but also the historical image of the Italian peninsula prior to Italian unification in 1871, the Napoleonic wars, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The world is a fluid place and nothing lasts forever.  The U.S does not seem to be the kind of place in danger, or on the verge of a major change, but it can’t be ruled out.  We’ve already had a civil war over cultural and economic differences, many of which are still in place today, just in a slightly different form.  We’ve also had recent open talks of secessions recently, most notably in Texas, but also in Vermont and California, which are likely from a completely different ideology.

Of course, the Americans that are most likely to share my view that we should not take our borders for granted are those paranoid about the “reconquesta”.  This theory states that, through immigration, Mexico is attempting to take back the region lost in the Mexican American war in the 1840s.  This region includes California and most of the Southwest.  This group of people tends to be ardent supporters of border security and even support further restrictions on legal immigration.

I do not share this view.  I have always viewed the people coming here to be looking for a better life.  People who came here from Mexico most likely came here for something Mexico could not provide for them.  Why would they desire to turn the area they have come to back into a part of Mexico?  Seems to me that would make their dangerous illegal border crossing into a futile measure.  From a sociological point of view, I have a much greater concern for the possibility that the different regions of the U.S., with different cultures, values, and politics, cannot remain as a part of one Nation with increasingly insufficient Federalization.

I do, however, understand what is at the heart of the objectives and fears of the minutemen crowd; preserving our culture, heritage, and way of life.  It is human nature to avoid/resist change when what you currently have is functional, enjoyable, and desirable.  Those wishing to stem the tide of immigration, both legal and illegal, genuinely love America the way it is (or was).  They fear this influx of people will fundamentally change this.

In Europe everything is closer together.  So from an American perspective, I find it fascinating that all of the places I visited over the past two weeks have maintained their separate regional identities as well as they have.  On one side of the Brenner Pass, they spoke Italian, the other German.  Restaurants still open (or reopen) later in Italy than Austria and Germany.  Italians still have different food and drink options at most of their restaurants.  On our arrival in Innsbruck we got a tall (0.5L) beer, something rarely found in Italy.  I joked that the wine portion of our trip is over, and the beer portion had begun.  The rest of our trip confirmed this statement.

Anyone that has traveled around the United States knows there is a certain level of homogeneity throughout the nation.  One of the most major differences I have noticed is the complete change in building design when crossing the border from West Texas into New Mexico on a storm chase.  Regionally, there are differences across the nation in food, lifestyle, and cultural/religious values.  But there are some things that are similar throughout the country.  You can’t find a place in the U.S. where nobody eats cheeseburgers, nobody drinks coffee, and nobody follows football- except maybe a hippie commune.  That’s probably why I am so astounded by Europe.

America is one of three or four countries in the world where we have the option of completely ignoring the rest of the world.  There are almost no activities, aside from riding a functional rail system that we NEED to travel elsewhere for.  That is possibly why we come off as smug to the rest of the world.

I know I am supposed to come back from this type of trip with a new more “worldly” attitude.  At least that is what a standardized life script indicates.  But I am still just as understanding of what romantic “worldly” liberals refer to as a “typical American attitude” as I was before the trip.  Traveling to another country, especially one that does not speak your native language involves going outside our comfort zone.  Americans have an option of not doing this.  Many of us refuse to go outside our comfort zones in other areas of our lives, like talking to new people, going to a new kind of restaurant, changing careers, etc.  Who are we to criticize others for not going out of their comfort zone and traveling internationally?

Speaking of going outside your comfort zone, I definitely believe our first destination, Rome, was furthest outside our comfort zone of all.  The city’s layout is the most confusing and the most unlike ours.  As the trip progressed, it feels like each subsequent destination brought us “closer to home”.  Munich is by far the city I could feel most at home at- of the ones we visited.

Still, America is my home, and I am glad we live here.  I really enjoyed visiting all of the areas of Europe on this trip, but there are a number of things I like better in the USA.  On top of my list is the address system in Chicago and many other US cities.  We have a lot more streets like Western Avenue, which maintain the same coordinate for it’s entire duration, and the same name.  If I am given an address on Western Avenue, I automatically know the East-West coordinate of the location.  In Europe, and especially in Rome, street names change more frequently, sometimes every block.  That’s a lot more road names to remember.  Also, the numbering of our addresses tells you the other coordinate.  If someone tells me to meet them at 4006 N. Western, I know the establishment is just north of Irving Park Road, and on the west side of the street it is on.  European streets often have both even and odd numbers on the same side of the road with no numerical distinctions of blocks.

I also like the supermarkets being open later.  Most shops in Italy, Austria, and Germany close at 6 PM.  If we wanted to save money by not going out to eat, we had to decide this ahead of time.  I really enjoy being able to come home from work and decide on the spot whether or not to eat out.

I have always said it is great to respect and participate in other cultures, but that you should still live in your own.  I am American and I love American culture, but that did not stop me from enjoying all of the activities I did over the past few weeks.  I tried to order strange local food to get the full experience while here.  Italian food is not that different here.  Some items are more common, seafood, salami, and the sauce tends to be made differently.  Austrian and German food can be found in the US, but less frequently.  We’re kind of more into their beer, as a country.  But I did eat a lot of their local food and enjoyed it.  I love encased meats!

Also, everyone that we came across and dealt with was very friendly, especially the proprietors of Hotel Perseo in Florence, the Poggerino winery in Chianti, and everyone at the Laimer Hof in Munich, this includes the other guests who engaged me in conversation Tuesday night.  This makes me happier that we chose the places we chose.  Even the (likely) drugged up woman in Austria was friendly to me.  I just kind of feel bad for not learning the language.  After all, we did go to their county- not the other way around.  I’m grateful to all that accommodate us by knowing English.  In North America- heck, in all of the Americas, you can get by in over 80% of all places by knowing two languages- English and Spanish.  If you know four, English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, you can get by in over 99% of all places.  So, we generally learn fewer languages than our European counterparts.

I also wonder why they accommodate us like that, and whether or not they resent it in some way.  There has to be some kind of economic factor.  I mean, I know of other places where they are less accommodating.  And, it is not like I feel like everybody needs to accommodate me, like some kind of self-absorbed asshole, but if someone out there does accommodate us and is friendly, well, why not give them business and tourism money?  But, I bet some of the mare worried that we are trying to Americanize the world.  The band Rammstein’s not as famous (as Du Hast) follow up “Amerika” is about exactly this.

I really have no desire to Americanize Europe, or anywhere else for that matter.  There are some places in trouble that would benefit from American ideas, but I am under no delusion that our way is the only way to do things.  In fact, our differing geographies (US more spread out) and histories (Europe being older and more culturally different) dictate that we must be different.  On that note, those that want to Europeanize America are just as misguided.  Sure, I would love to be able to drink a beer on the street without worrying about open container laws, and I would love to have the train system Europe has.  But, maybe not at the expense of European tax rates and gas prices.

We travel to various destinations for various reasons, sometimes for work, sometimes to visit people.  Sometimes, we travel to visit a specific destination.  When we visit to go to a specific place, we visit them because in some way they are different from where we usually are, our homes.  Suburbanites come into the city; Chicagoans go to the Dells, heck, even a Pennsylvanian taking their family to Disney World all share something in common.  In all of these cases, something is different about where they are going.  That is why I look on with wonder as I see the Medieval looking town of Radda, where I can literally imagine knights riding up and down the rolling hills.  Or in Rome, at Circus Maximus, I imagine chariot racers jockeying for position.  History, culture, heck, even the future comes to life in special places at special times when we take a break from our day-to-day lives that so often consume us to the point where we don’t even realize how much time has gone by (The theme of the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime).

On my travels I saw various places that took me back to various times in history.  I also saw places that put me on a train of thought that lead me to wonder things about myself and the culture we all live in.  Are we really selfish?  Do we really need to crowd retail malls on Sunday, and what happened to spending that time with our families?  Is this why our families seem so dysfunctional these days?  Are some places destined to be wealthier than others?  Is it natural for mountainous places to be outdoorsier and health conscious?  Can we really be no more than a couple of bad elections from millions suffering they way they did?  Why do the European exit signs make it look like you are trying to make an escape, from like a mugging or something?

Really, the list could go on for pages.  And the list is different for everyone.  What matters more than the answers or even the questions is that we keep asking them-even if it is only to ourselves.  And that we keep visiting new places, whether they are geographical, sociological, or situational, and coming up with new questions based on new experience.  Of them includes international travel, and I am privileged to have traveled to a wide variety of new places in the spring of 2012.

Good Friday in Munich

Our bad weather continued today.  Today was another cold (<10°C) and rainy day, actually rainier than yesterday.   We had gotten quite lucky with the weather on the Italian and Austrian segments of the trip.

Also, today was Good Friday.  In Bavaria, that means most places, including most museums and shops are closed.  Even some restaurants are closed.  Knowing this ahead of time, we decided today would be more relaxing, in advance of our flight home tomorrow.  Our original plan was to check out the Olympic Park (from the 1972 summer games), and the BMW museum, as they are close to each other.  However, with the cold, wind, and rain, we decided that walking around Olympic Park would not be a pleasant experience.  So we stayed in until lunchtime.  We went back to Rotkreutzplatz and found a restaurant open for lunch.  I got Wiener schnitzel, as I wanted it one more time before leaving.

We tried to visit a couple of museums after lunch; the Duetches Museum and the Oktoberfest and Beer museum.  The Duetches Museum looked really cool, a lot of science stuff, and I wish we had visited it on one of the days it was open.  However, both museums were closed.  So, we went back to the hotel, played cards and watched movies.  The hotel offers this English language movie channel called SkyTV.  However, for some reason, they mostly show straight to DVD movies.  But we don’t know German, so we watched mostly this channel and CNN England.  Last night they showed this Mandy Moore movie called “Love, Wedding, Marriage”.  I could not watch more than 30 minutes of it.  Abby looked it up; it got a 0 rating on Rotten Tomatoes- yes a zero!

We’ve still yet to watch an entire movie on this channel.  This afternoon we watched part of this Cinderella movie (also a straight to TV ABC Family movie), and some movie about ultimate fighting.  Neither of these movies was as bad as Love Wedding Marriage, but they were not great either.

I am okay with not doing much today.  There are some things I still wish to see in Munich, but none of our stays on this trip were long enough to do everything.  I did not expect that, and have no desire to wear myself out on a vacation.

One thing I will certainly remember about Munich is the amount of green space in the city.  The first place we went to on Tuesday was Nymphenburg Garden, which is huge.  Dotting the city landscape, even in the central part of the city, there are tons of gardens like Hofgarten.  Down by the river, which we finally saw today, there are also tons of gardens and green space.  I wonder how this came to be, and whether it was like this before World War II.

Reflecting on my time in Germany I observe that there are much fewer German flags here compared with the number of Italian flags in Italy.  I had previously heard that due to recent history Germans had been somewhat more hesitant to show National pride.  This I find to be a shame, especially considering that many of the people living here now were born after the end of World War II.  They really had nothing to do with any of these events, and I am sure that over 99% of them view what occurred with absolute horror- the way I did yesterday.  Since then, Germany has done well for itself.  They handled the cold war and unification with East Germany without the bloodshed that raged other Soviet Bloc countries in the 1990s.  Nowadays, they have a strong economy, which is kind of holding the European Union afloat.  From what I hear, they have also done a good job of achieving life-work balance.  If you ask me this is worthy of pride.  However, I realized two other things:  Italy was also on the wrong side of World War II (until September 1943).  In fact, given their weakness and side switching in both World Wars, they come off quite possibly as the lamest country of them all.  There were also more EU flags flying in Italy.  So, there is a strong possibility that the observed differences are mostly cultural.

The Dachau Concentration Camp

Today was a rather somber day.  The weather kind of sucked, could, drizzly, and I doubt it got above 10°C.  We spent most of the day in Dachau at the concentration camp memorial and museum.  Dachau, which is less than half an hour from Munich, was the site of one of the largest concentration camps and the one that set the standard for many others.  Nazis would refer to it as the “Dachau spirit”, when demonstrating how other concentration camps should operate.

I did not expect to spend nearly as much time there as we ended up doing.  In fact, we ended up missing a meal because of that.  Maybe that was fitting for the experience of being at a concentration camp.  As we learned today, those detained in the concentration camps often experienced starvation.  The museum and audio guide had a lot of information.  It also included a detailed history of Adolf Hitler’s NAZI party, and a lot of videos and first hand accounts of the day-to-day life inside the concentration camps.

The overarching theme is just how horrific it was.  Those imprisoned- their life meant nothing, their suffering- nothing.  Many starved to death, were gassed, forced to work, and were mocked and humiliated on a regular basis.  I’d always known about this horrific event, but until today I had never seen actual images and videos of it.  This put it in a whole new perspective.  I was mostly in disbelief about how something so bad could happen.  And it happened in a first world country only several years before my Dad was born.  Maybe that is one reason we are so fascinated with NAZI history, it is not nearly as far removed from us in the early 21st Century United States as Greeks, Romans, Barbarians, etc.

Hitler and the Nazis are brought up and quoted a bit in causal conversation, in my opinion way too callously.  Sure, it may be possible to compare the Defense Authorization Act with some things that occurred in mid 1930s Germany (specifically granting the government the right to detain indefinitely without due process), but after viewing this I feel it is kind of disrespectful to those who actually experienced the holocaust.   We usually bring up Hitler and the Nazis to prove a point.  But, we can probably find a more respectful way to make our points about the political climate in the early 21st Century.

More thoughts ran through my head, as despite our overuse of NAZI comparisons, it is still a very interesting case study in how a major economy/ first world country could go down such an evil path, and so recently too.  The rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany is almost always linked to the penalties and sanctions placed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War.  But, what really lead to World War I?  It seems less well known than WW II.  I am sure historians have good theories, but they are certainly less discussed in history class.  Also, were we (US and allies) the good guys in WW I?  After finally learning about Woodrow Wilson’s anti-German propaganda machine in the 1910s (no thanks to high school history class), I just don’t know anymore.  I think this is one reason people love to talk about World War II.  There is a very clear sense that we were the good guys, and NAZI Germany was the bad guys.  Very few wars are like this.  We try to romanticize past wars, especially the Civil War when you learn about it in Illinois, but further investigation shows that it was not nearly as clear-cut as the Land of Lincoln would like it to be.

Another thing that has pestered my in my head about Hitler is why he is always labeled a “right-wing” dictator.  Usually, this is done to contrast him with Communist dictators; Mao and Stalin.  There are important differences.  Most notably, Hitler’s Germany did not squash all corporate activity.  In fact, there were corporations who worked with the Reich.  However, the label is still misleading.  When translated into English, NAZI translates to “National Socialist Movement”.  In the U.S. socialism is considered left wing, at least on economic scale.  Also, many of the propaganda posters for the NAZI party I saw in the museum complained about the evils of greed and capitalism.  Rallying against “Jewish Capitalism” was seen in a lot of NAZI propaganda in advance of the 1932 elections.

I also learned that different groups of people were treated differently inside the camps.  For instance, Austrian nationals captured after the 1938 annexation of Austria were treated much better than Jews.  The more favored groups, while still having it rough, were not treated as rough, and had a higher survival rate.  Before today, I did not know that people were actually occasionally released from concentration camps.  This occurred mainly before the war.  And then there was a period of time in 1943 when they tried to improve conditions in the camps to increase survival rates to meet labor demand for the war effort.

I also did not know that corporations would pay the secret service for slave labor from these camps.  In fact, the German economy kind of became dependent on this labor, much in the same way the pre-civil war South was.  Overall, it was a learning day.  But, after all the walking, and the chilly weather, I was tired, so we did not do much else.

Exploring Munich

I have now officially experienced a hangover in another continent.  I think I had about the equivalent of 10-12 beers but these metric units are confusing me at this point in time.  As a result, today got off to a slow start.  We went into the city center, which is about a 20-minute ride, to do some sightseeing.  But, we had to go home halfway through the afternoon to take a nap.  Hangovers do ruin days.

Munich is somewhat a different experience that the other cities visited.  In Rome, Florence, and Innsbruck, our hotels were in the middle of the city.  We took the subway in Rome a little bit, mainly to get around faster.  We took a tram in Florence to get to and from the rental car company.  In Innsbruck we walked everywhere besides the ski resorts.  However, in Munich, we are using public transit extensively.

Munich has four transit systems, the bus, the tram, the U-Train, and the S-Train (U stands for underground, S stands for suburban).  They are all integrated, and you can ride all of them on the same ticket/ day pass.  After taking a mid-day nap, we rode a tram to a Cajun restaurant for dinner, a U-train downtown, and then the S-train back to the tram home.  Overall, a good system.

Everything reminded me of Wisconsin in some way or another.  Okay, maybe not everything.  But, a lot of places I felt like I was in Milwaukee, due to fonts, letterings, street signs, etc.  My favorite place so far is the Viktualienmarkt, which feels like Summerfest to me, and Rotkreutzplatz, which is in the neighborhood of our hotel, maybe four stops east.  It had the feeling of a cool, kind of less touristy area of town.  Maybe Wicker Park without the hipsters.

A lot of people ride bicycles here.  The bike lane system is kind of different.  Most of them are kind of between the street and the sidewalk.  They are sort of separated from vehicular traffic.  They still seem to have to go up and down ramps in a manner similar to having to ride on the sidewalk.  I have yet to decide how I feel about this system.  Usually I like what I know better unless I hear or think of a good reason to feel differently.

The roads themselves, their size and such are most like home of any place we have visited so far.  Rome and Florence had a lot of very narrow roads, basically the size of an alleyway in Chicago.  But, they had a lot of pedestrian traffic, and people riding scooters, along with the occasional small car would come through.  The roads here, and the spacing of the city, and even the size of the cars feel a lot more like home.  Obviously, the cars here are still smaller, but they are not nearly as small as Rome, in aggregate.

Another thing I noticed about Munich and Innsbruck is the way they lock their bikes.  They seem a lot more trusting here.  I did not see any U-Locks.  Instead, they just tie a cord lock from the frame to the wheel, not even using a bike rack of any kind.  They don’t seem to be worried about people cutting the lock, or of other petty theft, like removing the front wheel or seat.  The only thing their locking methodology seems to prevent is someone literally hoping on the bike and riding away with it.

The highlight of the day was probably the street performers at night.  No offense to U.S. street performers, but they were just put to shame.  We saw two sets of street performers in the city center this evening.  One group had all kinds of objects on fire.  It included this girl, who hula-hooped, with a hula-hoop that had several fires lit on the outside of it.  She moved it up and down her body, without lighting her hair on fire!  We also saw a five piece band playing.  This band included a violin, bass, cello, piano, and accordion.  They played classical music, but kind of in a modern form, and the lead singer was very entertaining.  They were also dressed a lot nicer than U.S. street performers.  Overall, they were much better.  It felt like they were actually trying to bring enjoyment rather than shows us that they need help, which I found very refreshing.

The World’s Largest Beer Garden

It always seems to be 2/3 to ¾ of the way through any trip that people inevitably begin to think about what awaits them back home.  It was actually the previous night when it started for us.  This was unfortunate, as I was really doing my best not to think about my problems including work throughout this entire trip.  People take vacations either to get away from their day-to-day lives for a while, or to see different places/ do different things.  This trip was kind of both for me.  I desperately needed time away from the office when this trip began, but it is also my first ever trip to Europe.

We checked out of the Weisses Kreuz and took a train to our final destination, Munich.  In Italy, we moved around a lot more.  Both the Weisses Kreuz and the Laimer Hof (our hotel in Munich) are four night stays for us.  This gives us a chance to relax for a bit rather than having to carry our luggage around daily.  Overall, I was impressed with the Weisses Kreuz.  One exception, though, were the pillows.  They were crappy, kind of lacked volume.  The pillows at Laimer Hof are much better. 

The Weisses Kreuz is actually a really old hotel.  Mozart actually stayed here when he was like only eight years old.  Thinking about this, I actually speculate as to whether or not he wrote his first symphony while he was unable to sleep due to the crappy pillows at this hotel.  The Laimer Hof has nicer pillow.  So, under my ridiculous theory, had Mozart’s family chose to visit Munich and stay at the Laimer Hof instead, he would possibly have never became a famous composer.  It is weird to think about, how sometimes little things like this make all the difference in the world, in the course of history.  What if the wind happened to be blowing in a different direction the day the volcanic ashes covered the Island of Crete, disrupting the Minoan civilization, paving the way for Mycenaean takeover, which eventually lead to Ancient Greece?  What if the Allied powers had chosen a different day in June 1944 to invade Normandy?  One that was less favorable?  All of this seems so minor when it happens, but ends up having profound implications on subsequent events, creating a world, and a history completely different from what would have been had they gone the other way.

With the desire to get my mind off of work and what awaits me back home, and back into vacation mode, we visited Hirschgarten, the world’s largest beer garden.  I don’t speak German, but from years of living in Wisconsin, I have become fluent in German beer.  I knew I wanted something sufficiently alcoholic but not too dark.  Of course, Hefeweizen is the answer!  I really enjoyed this beer.  In fact, I enjoyed it enough to order dinner here, and drink three liters of it.  Once it got dark we went back to the hotel, but the drinking did not stop.  The hotel staff served us beer downstairs.  It kind of felt like a normal night for me.  There was a computer in the downstairs room where they were serving the beer, with free Internet.  I logged into g-chat and talked to some people back home.  In the U.S. it was still the later part of a workday, on a Tuesday in fact, so my crazy party demeanor and random ridiculous questions may have seemed out of place to the people I was talking to. 

I also actually held a fairly productive conversation with some of the other hotel guests.  Mostly, I talked to some people from the other side of Germany, the Northwest part of the country.  Curious, and lacking inhibition, I asked them about how they viewed Greece.  From which I got a somewhat expected response.  But, I was kind of surprised they were not as angry as I thought they would be.  I am ALWAYS mad when I end up footing the bill for the irresponsibility of others; it forms the basis of my belief system when it comes to government.  So, I am glad there are no wars about this yet.

I also asked them what they thought about Bavaria, as it kind of has a separate identity from the rest of Germany.  Before this trip, I had been telling people that Munich is the “Denver and the Detroit” of Germany at the same time.  Denver, due to its general climate, with frequent abrupt weather changes due to it’s proximity to the mountains, as well as it’s status as kind of an island of liberalism (voting SDP) in a region considered the most conservative in the country (CDU dominance).  Detroit because of the BMW factory and headquarters.  But, the man I talked to actually equated Bavaria with Texas.  I guess Texas kind of does have it’s own identity separate from most of the U.S.  There are, of course, major differences.  They drink less beer in Texas, as there are numerous dry counties in Texas.  Also, Texas’s only liberal city, Austin, is nowhere near as large in size and scope as Munich.  That is the problem with analogies like this.  There will always be differences.  When someone asks me what Chicago neighborhood equates with Astoria, or Forest Hills (both in Queens), I am at a loss for words despite my knowledge of both New York and Chicago.  There simply is not an equivalent neighborhood.  That is why, in a way, we visit other places, on trips like the very one I am on right now.  The experience is different from what we know.