Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bavaria triple play - Munich, Nuremberg and Regensberg

Germany's largest state area wise; Bavaria is its second largest state in population. The state's capital Munich, is the nation's third largest (behind Berlin and Hamburg). Nuremberg and Regensburg are Bavaria's third and fourth most populous respectively. All three cities can boast over 1000 years of history. 

Founded by monks in 1158, today Munich is a cool mixture of ancient and technology. Beer, brats and BMW, these are some of Munich's global legacy. In a two day whirlwind our time was spent experiencing Munich's more traditional side. Marienplatz the city's main square is the literal and figurative heart of the city. Museums, shops, restaurants and the city's  past pinwheel away from the gothic city hall with it's famous glockenspiel depicting the Bavarian royal wedding. In the winter months the glockenspiel only performs at 11am and noon. As the crowd grew restless about two minutes after the clock struck twelve, bells began to peel, but the life size figures remained motionless. Just as the crowd was beginning to turn away, the figures began to dance and the entire crowd collectively let out their held breath. One of my fellow travelers remarked , "'Oooh' is the same in any language and culture". Our lunch at the world famous beer hall, Hofbrauhaus included: oompapa music, liter beers, sausages and about 500 Munich soccer fans singing along. Saturday wound to a close at the Viktualienmarkt, Munich's popular outdoor market; boasting food stuffs, restaurants, crafts, flowers and greenery. The market teemed with beer drinking shoppers hurrying to make their weekend purchases in preparation for all stalls and stores to be closed on Sundays.  And closed they were on Sunday.  The historic center that just the day before was filled with shoppers, fans and revelers was eerily silent as we spent our final morning in Munich. With the streets virtually empty, it was easy to see all the beautiful details that make up the Marienplatz. My personal favorite, the department store windows in preparation for Christmas that depicted the land of fairy tales, by using Steiff plush animals in all size and species.


"...If the leaders of the Third Reich were sadistic monsters and maniacs these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake or other natural catastrophes. But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men even able and extraordinary men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination." Spencer Tracy as Judge Dan Haywood /Judgment at Nuremberg . I stood in the field empty for several generations now. The grandstand and bleachers beginning showing the decay that only decades of weather and neglect can show. A soft and somber voice came through the wireless headset I was wearing. "Imagine a million people coming twice a year to Nuremberg. To hear the messages of Adolf Hitler. He personally chose Nuremberg as the place to present his propaganda messages". As we looked around the empty barren place, she continued "Today the citizens must make an important decision whether to spend the 7 million Euros necessary to maintain this place for history or bull doze it all and forget what happened here."  A few minutes later we stood in front of one of the wings of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. Inside on the second floor, courtroom 600 where the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal took place is still in use today.  Like Berlin, 90% of Nuremberg was bombed by the Allies in World War II. Nuremberg chose to rebuild its city to celebrate its 1000 years of history while facing head on the small but darkest part of that history.  Our stay ended with a visit to the city's historic district,  complete with half timbered houses and an amazing view of the city below. As I wound my way down the cobblestone street to the bus that would take me back to the ship, I couldn't shake a feeling of sadness and regret for all involved in that terrible time, those who lost their lives to the sadistic madness of a regime, and those who live with the memories every day.


 Following Monika our Regensburg local guide through the narrow winding streets of the medieval city, it was easily apparent Regensburg while lively had none of the crowds or noise of Munich and with no military or political targets unlike Nuremberg, it was virtually untouched by World War II.  Regensburg’s slow economic recovery after World War II and the city’s sturdy stone construction ensured that while in other parts of Germany the old was torn down for the new and streets were designed to allow for motor traffic, Regensburg today remains as it was since the 1200s.  The twin symbols of the city, its stone bridge and cathedral began construction around the same time 1135. The Regensburg cathedral was commissioned to give thanks to God for the city’s prosperity – its construction took a little bit longer than that of the stone bridge – it was finally finished in 1841 or about 600 years after construction began. Regensburg’s stone bridge was the first of its kind across the Danube. Merchants would travel hundreds of miles out of their way to cross the Danube in Regensburg, assuring the safe passage of their goods (wooden bridges being susceptible to floods and ill equipped to handle the amount of passengers wishing to cross), bringing great riches to the city. One of my favorite Regensburg haunts, Wurstkuchl sausage kitchen has its history tied to the bridge. Over 500 years ago the bridge’s stonemasons and laborers would take refreshment of grilled sausages and beer from the tavern. Today it is a favorite with locals and tourists alike. Takeaway sausage sandwiches are still available daily from the 500 year old kitchen, with a sit down restaurant located just steps away serving the same grilled sausages the bridge builders of old enjoyed. My definition of ‘sausage’ changed with my first visit in 2008. Smaller than the bratwursts, hotdogs and kielbasa we normally enjoy from the grill – Wurstkuchl sausages are about the width and length of your index finger. Served with icy cold beer, homemade sauerkraut and potato salad, it is a feast that satisfies the same today as it did 500 years ago.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'm sorry I don't speak German

I think of myself in many ways. Wife, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, traveler, travel specialist so many things that in my mind make up me.  These are things make up the present and future Pam. My past is a little more complicated.

I was born Pamela Ann Muehlhoff.  (The Sparschu of 'Angspar' comes from my step father when my name was legally changed at age 9). American first and middle names with a very German last name. My father Fred was born in Detroit to German immigrants . He was definitely an all American guy with American friends who married a born and bred Michigan girl whose state lineage went back to 1837. Fred's parents immigrated to the US over one hundred years later, just before both their sons were born. My mother's parents were the fun, doting grand parents. I was less thrilled to visit my German grandparents who seemed much more serious and taciturn. With my father's early death to cancer at 34 the gulf between myself and my grandparents became wider.  It wasn't that we disliked each other, we just didn't understand each other.

Travel and the wonderful things that go with it (language, culture, history, photography, gardening, entertaining and my personal favorite, feeling if even just for a little while a citizen of the world) are not only how I make my living but are my personal passions. I have always felt travel helped to make me a more well rounded person. Today, for the first time, I realized it is also a mirror to see your self reflected.  Thanks to Ella Horning and St. Clair High School, I can hold a basic conversation with Spanish and Italian speakers. I can also read French and fake speak a little (all three being Romance languages). What I cannot do is, read or speak German.

Sure I know I couple of choice German words. To horrify my father's mother I would saucily say dumkoff or even scheiss. Knowing I was traveling to Germany this week, I brushed up on my basics"Thank you, good morning, good afternoon'. And that was the entire extent of it. This morning as I stepped on the elevator of my Munich hotel, a young German woman got on the next floor. I said 'Guten Morgen' and she nodded. As we stepped off the elevator she turned to me and asked (what I later found out in English) where was the breakfast room. I quickly stammered, I am sorry I don't speak German. She looked a little taken a back re asked her question in English I answered and that was the end of that.  Except it wasn't for me.

"Could you tell we were American before you picked us up" I asked a Dublin cab driver once. He said 'I guessed English, Canadian or American' he admitted. Of all the places I've visited, I never thought I might be mistaken for someone else. No one has ever confused me for: French, Spanish, Mexican or Italian. I love those cultures and am very happy to visit them, but they aren't mine.  After my encounter with the woman in the elevator I scanned every crowd. Now Munich is a very cosmopolitan city and there are people from all over the world. But there were also people who looked like me looked like my grandparents and even looked like Fred Muehlhoff.

I promise the next blog posting will be more of my waxing poetic about the current European city I am in and less of Alex Haley's Roots. But while I am in Germany the next few days I am sure I will still look for glimpses of Pam, too.