Surfing in Munich
August 2008

 
In the more than seven years I've lived in Germany, I had never been to Bavaria, so that's been a stated travel priority in our household for the last three years. We decided at last to go, in July, by motorcycle, and camp in Munich, as a warmup for our Eastern Europe trip in September.

We stayed at Campingplatz München-Thalkirchen, an 11-acre fenced camp site next to the Hellabrunn Zoo. It's a perfectly-located camp site, surrounded by the River Isar and extensive hiking trails and trees, and just a 20 minute walk (or short public bus ride) from a subway stop. It also has RV rooms for rent. We somehow ended up in probably the quietest, least-crowded tent camping plaza of the entire site; most of our fellow campers in the immediate plaza were also there for several days, and were all mostly young couples (not that we're really young...). The downsides of the campground: no warm water in the bathroom unless you paid for it (not even for dish washing!). Also, do NOT buy beer at the camp site; just across from the subway station is a grocery store. The campground office has brochures for the area and a small grocery (more expensive than the one down the street, ofcourse). Buy a transport day pass from the camp site office and you can take unlimited buses and subway trains all day.

A cool thing nearby on the River Isar are artificial rapids where people surf. On surfboards. It's quite narrow, meaning people can surf only one-at-a-time, but they do, indeed, surf in Munich. The surfers have bicycles with special racks for their surf boards. Watching the women made me feel fat and uncool...

Despite the two large groups of German Scouts, we slept surprisingly well (thank goodness for earplugs). They were mostly amusing, actually. As we were setting up camp, I heard someone whistling Darth Vader's theme from The Empire Strikes Back. It was a young woman across the road from us, also tent camping. And then she was whistling another theme from the movie. And I'm thinking, how do I let this girl know that I am her best friend ever? I thought about whistling the theme from the first movie, but I was afraid it would creep her out.

We went to the Deutsches Museum, a massive technical museum Stefan remembered oh-so-fondly from his childhood. It has a HUGE old sailing ship, one of the first German U-Boats, planes from various points in history, various technical and musical instruments and oh-so-many exhibits that are supposed to present technical and scientific processes "in a clear and entertaining way." For non-technical, non-scientific me... I liked it okay, but I was rather lost regarding what they were trying to teach. There needs to be much more hands-on experiences at the main exhibit sites (rather than segregated in a section of their own) that clearly explain the physics or other scientific principles being offered. And they they need to think about people like me who need very basic questions answered -- WHY do modern planes fly? HOW does electricity work? WHY are there magnets? Normally, I love museums and want to stay the whole day, but I was pretty much done here after three hours. It felt... cold and inaccessible most of the time. The building and museum space are terrific, and the museum is definitely worth a visit, but for me, not a full-day.

In the courtyard of the museum, right next to the entrance, was a big thrill ride: each rider gets into his or her own individual plane, and is fastened in like on a modern roller coaster (with that big bar that comes down over your head). Then we all go up about four stories and are all twirled around from the center pole -- and that would be enough, but there's more: if you adjust the wings on your plane properly, you can make a 360* turn right or left, heels over head. It was Stefan's first-ever thrill ride (other than being married to me). I refrained from doing a flip -- I was already terrified. When I was 12, I was an expert at flipping the Zipper cage again and again at any carnival; now, I get weak-kneed on a merry-go-'round.

The neighborhood around the campground is really nice, but it took us a while the first night to find a pub (though it turned out there was one just down the road a bit from our camp ground). My entertainment in the beer garden was a drunk Bavarian and his little dog, the latter of which was preoccupied with mouse hunting.

It was quite cold for July -- I wore a sweatshirt every night but one. It rained the first three days of our trip, off and on, but that was okay; we were inside a lot of the time when it was raining.

A priority on this trip for me was to see Dachau concentration camp. I have never seen a concentration camp, and I felt that I needed to, that I owed it to the victims of the Holocaust, and to myself. Stefan also wanted to see it -- he had never been to a concentration camp. I printed out pages from Wikipedia and read them aloud to Stefan the night before, so we were somewhat prepared. But can you really prepare for a concentration camp? No. We got there just as it opened, which may have been a mistake; it was much less crowded by lunch time. Also, the place was crawling with disrespectful teenagers. Their behavior was nothing short of disgusting. But I didn't let them ruin the experience for me. We did the audio tour, and it was outstanding. Absolutely outstanding. Some of the onsite tour guides invited us to stop and listen to their presentations, and they were excellent as well. I cried a lot. But I find hope in that this site still exists, that people still come to it.

Dachau served as a prototype and model for all other Nazi concentration camps. Its basic organization and layout were applied to all later camps. 25,613 people are believed to have died in the camp and almost another 10,000 in its subcamps (we had no idea about subcamps; they were everywhere in Germany, as displayed on a large map inside one of the barracks). People that weren't killed outright died primarily from disease, malnutrition, suicide and torture. There is a gas chamber there, but it was never used for mass killings; just occasional ones, it seems.

There are four religious memorials on the site, and the one that really got to me was the Evangelical Lutheran one, the Church of Reconciliation. There is but one right angles in the church's design. Everything at the camp was designed with right angles, all squares and rectangles; the church design defies this. The second characteristic that is striking about the church is that you enter the church by going on a path that leads downward, "leading slowing into the depths. Depth - a symbol for suffering and death, but also of contradiction and resistance. Furthermore, a symbol of shame, as if you wished the ground would swallow you up. Depth can be something that frightens and threatens, but also something that shelters and protects..." Knowing the symbolism adds hugely to the experience.

I think Stefan's chilling moments came with the map of the concentration subcamps all over Germany and seeing the color coded symbols used to categorize prisoners. Somehow, he'd never learned about it. I guess I learned about it from reading the play Bent one summer at the Henderson Public Library.

It is a mockery to say never again. Because it just keeps happening again. Rwanda. The former Yugoslavia. Somalia...

I could not cross the little bridge and go to the gas chamber or the ovens. I just couldn't do it. So I sat outside the church, listening to survivor's and liberators' stories on the audio guide, while Stefan toured it alone. Those personal testimonials really add to the experience; if you go to Dachau, find a quiet place to listen to a few.

We desperately needed something fluffy and mindless the next day, so we went to Neuschwanstein. The ride was beautiful -- sorry we didn't have time to stop at the camel ranch on the way. Neuschwanstein was amazing. It has set the standard for all other castles of the world -- I'll never think one so lovely inside as Neuschwanstein. We got to the village/tourist trap, and its appointed parking lot for motorcycles, at around 10:30, and when we bought our ticket, the next tour in English was at 12:10, which was the perfect amount of time to get a quick bite and hike up. We took a hiking-only trail that we thought would be 45 minutes but turned out to be just 25 (hurrah, because hiking in biker clothes is icky). At the top, we had about a 30 minute wait, so we enjoyed the amazing view. The landscape around the castle really did feel magical. I had put together a four page intro-to-Ludwig-and-Neuschwanstein from Wikipedia and read it to Stefan the night before, so we could put everything in context -- I was MUCH better than the tour guide. The inside was the most luscious thing I've ever seen, straight out of a movie set... which, actually, some of it's straight out of Wagner opera sets (Ludwig loved Wagner). The paintings on the walls were worthy of a a tour all their own. I pointed to a dress in one of the paintings in his bedroom and said, "Do you think that's available in the gift shop?", and I think a woman nearby thought I was serious. Even the servant's quarters were fab. Ludwig was gay, rather than crazy, and every time we saw, well, a room will all purple chair covers, or a completely over-the-top whatever, one of us would say, "Hmmmm. Do you think Ludwig was gay?" I actually felt sorry for Ludwig; I can't imagine how horrible it would be to be gay in the 1800s. I also have no doubt Ludwig was murdered. What a shame Neuschwanstein was never finished inside -- most rooms are empty and undecorated, with bare brick walls (you don't see them, however). With all the money that site pulls in, I don't know why they don't use some of it to finish a room or two more. I bought a small book that explains all of the legends that are represented on the many, many paintings in the finished rooms: The Heroic Sagas of Neuschwanstein by Markus Richter, available in the gift shop (but not that fabulous dress from the painting in Ludwig's bedroom, unfortunately).

We also walked around to Marien Brüke (Mary's bridge), but it was much, much too over-crowded, and I didn't last on it more than 60 seconds. We skipped Hoenschwangau castle. I'm sure it's lovely, but I was done. The motorcycle ride to and from the area was beautiful -- a great way to both start and end the day.

Our last night at the camp site, four young Italian guys showed up with one of those easy-to-set-up tents that you just pull out of the circle case and up it's supposed to go. And they still managed to screw it up. The Italian guys were adorable, actually, and after about 20 minutes, I begged Stefan to go loan them his mallet because I couldn't see them suffer anymore. They went out after they finished, I guess to enjoy some fab Bavarian beer, and people walking by and stopping to stare at the tent, because it looked so WRONG.

In the morning, we packed up and headed out, along with most of the other people in our camping plaza. We dipped into Austria, which was gorgeous. I volunteered to sing selections from The Sound of Music, but Stefan kept saying "No." We went by a couple of beautiful small lakes that reminded me of fjords in Norway, and then came back into Germany. We zipped over and by Bodensee -- which is not very pretty from the road, though huge.

We were having trouble finding a camp ground for the evening. We stopped at a large map of the area and there was a campground marked in Niedereschach, so we headed over. But it turned out to be a private club's campground. Stefan went in, found a club member, asked where the nearest public camp ground was, and it turned out there really wasn't one -- so they let us stay in their camp ground for a fee cheaper than what we'd paid in Munich. It was fabulous. We stayed on the lawn of the main house, and I got to wash my face in HOT WATER!! HURRAH!! They even let us buy some of their clubhouse beer. We were surrounded by farmland and horses. It was the most peaceful evening of the trip, and the only night we didn't need earplugs. After we unpacked the bike, Stefan went out to the grocery in a village down the road to get our meals for dinner and breakfast, so I put put up our tent by myself for the first time. I was just putting on the rain fly when he got back. His comment: "Hey, that's way better than the Italians!"

An almost-grown kitten came by to play, and tried to attack the tent from underneath it, something Stefan does not appreciate (I, ofcourse, find it adorable). Cats are so funny when it comes to tents.

It turns out that the club is quite used to motorcycle travelers as guests on its site, because TourTech is a stone's throw away. We packed up and got there just after it opened. I wish it had been a weekday, rather than a weekend; it's rather dead on a weekend. While Stefan was chatting it up with some other riders out in the parking lot, a convoy of antique motorcycles (they call them "old-timers" in Germany -- yes, they use that English phrase) went by, and one woman rider had all of her accessories done in WICKER. I am so doing that when I'm, say, 65. I'm going to be an old-timer on my old-timer with my wicker panniers.

Got home, were reunited with Albi, and there was great rejoicing. I dread both of us leaving her for four weeks... someday, when we win the lottery, I'm going to hire someone to drive behind us on the motorcycle, bringing her along on all our trips.

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I had this great blog written about the European Cup and what great fun it was to watch the Germany games at the Sinzig Celtic pub, who my favorite players were, little funny observations and tidbits, and on and on. It was a really great blog. And it was lost in the crash of my Hitachi 160 GB hardrive in my BRAND NEW MacBook. Sadly, this crash wasn't the usual software incompatibility, which seems to be a chronic problem with OSX.

DriveSavers helped Harrison Ford. DriveSavers helped Donny Osmond. But DriveSavers couldn't help me.

Take it from me: BACK UP YOUR DATA.

How about Olympic Fever? Oh yeah -- I got it again, just like I always do, summer or winter sports, I don't care. Both a main German network channel and Eurosport offered coverage, so I got to see a lot. But my question: is there some team playing handball every single freakin' day?!? It was always on. Around 8:20, Eurosport takes various moments from the games that day and sets them to music, usually to make it funny. We try not to miss it -- it's hilarious.

I was most happy over Hope Solo's redemption on the US Women's soccer team. Hope, I always believed in you!!

The surreal moment came when I realized that every German Olympic horse rider had "Kentucky" written above the crest on their riding jackets. I asked Stefan if that was for me and he said yes. Turns out its actually a brand of riding clothes.

Shame on the IOC though, for allowing China to break every promise it made regarding the games in relation to its human rights record, freedom of expression and press freedom. I have lost all respect for the IOC based on their lack of a spinal column. Shame, shame, shame.

But HURRAH FOR JOEY CHEEK!! Hurrah for someone willing to take a STAND! I liked him already before, but now I REALLY like him!

Fun games -- I really enjoyed the competitions. This is the best "reality TV."

Olympics Postscript: Stefan enjoys my Olympics commentary. At least he pretends to. He was amused at how much I had to say to the American men's basketball team as they played for the gold medal. And when the London part of the closing ceremonies was taking place, as the bus pulled into the stadium, I started yelling, "Rolling Stones! I want the Rolling Stones!" Okay, it wasn't the Rolling Stones, but I was happy about Jimmy Page. Leona Lewis did a good job with a Led Zepplin classic. Apparently the Chinese fans just sat there wondering what was going on, but we were head banging in Casa Dietz and Cravens. I hope London does a less monolithic, North-Korean-esque, YOU MUST SMILE opening and closing ceremony.

Free Tibet. And stop the genocide of Sudan.

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I'm so sorry I didn't get a photo of my friend's little schnauzer, that I kept for a week while my friend was in Mallorca, playing with my landlord's dog, Ball, a HUGE Turkish Kangal/Anatolian Shepherd (whatever-- I'm not that into dog breeds). What was hilarious is that Ball was scared of the little dog -- when the little dog barked, the bigger dog would jump away. Here's what he looks like, except that my landlord's dogs ears are chopped off; he was probably intended for the fighting ring, but Ball is a lover, not a fighter. What a sweetie. Albi didn't play -- she just watched. Turns out she was also under the weather at that time, but she seems fine now.

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We finally rented the last half of season three of Lost. I enjoyed it, but I hope the fifth season is the last season. I don't want it going on forever. We're ready for a wrap up.

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August was Queen Elizabeth month in the Dietz and Cravens Estate. I watched Elizabeth: The Golden Age starring Cate Blanchett and then Elizabeth I starring Dame Helen Mirren. The latter was hugely better, even if it lacked Clive Owen (grrrrrrrrr), and not just because it didn't lack Jeremy Irons (grrrrrrrrr) -- the script was oh-so-much better than Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Way, way better. Why "The Golden Age" rewrote Elizabeth's amazing speech as the Spanish Armada approached is beyond me (they kept it in the Mirren version). The first Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett was soooooooooooo wonderful, so I was surprised at how lackluster this sequel was -- they certainly had great material for it. All three films, however, are oh-so-bloody. Ick. They all definitely strip away any thoughts of it being a kinder time.

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I loathe press coverage of Paris Hilton... but I admit that I loved this.

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What is Burger King thinking?! Saw this, and was absolutely speechless... wow... not really offended, just amazed at the cheekiness of it all (especially the "magazine" covers).

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Today's history lesson: The 1918 flu pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu). It is estimated that anywhere from 20 to 100 million people were killed worldwide, or the approximate equivalent of one third of the population of Europe, more than double the number killed in World War I. This influenza may have killed as many as 25 million in its first 25 weeks (in contrast, AIDS killed 25 million in its first 25 years). Older estimates say it killed 40–50 million people while current estimates say 50 million to 100 million people worldwide were killed. This pandemic has been described as "the greatest medical holocaust in history" and may have killed more people than the Black Death. And yet... have you ever heard of it? Why is this so rarely mentioned in movies and novels, let alone in history class?

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Today's cultural lesson: please read about progressive movements within Islam. There WILL be a test later.

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I download my music from emusic.com. Yes, that's right: I actually pay for my music downloads. Emusic is still way cheaper than buying CDs for me, plus, I have trouble finding on any of "my" music on Russian illegal download sites. Emusic is NOT a place to find 95% of what you are hearing on the radio, however. They do have new releases, but from people like Robbie Fulks, the Asylym Street Spankers, Tommy Womack and Chris Knight. They have albums by Steve Earle, Neko Case, Dwight Yokum, Tift Merrit, Lonesome Bob, Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch, and they have re-issues of originals by legends like Johnny Horton, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Josephine Baker, Kitty Wells, Louis Armstrong, the Kinks, Creedence Clearwater Revival, George Jones, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard... there's lots of stuff from Bloodshot Records and the Smithsonian as well. I've downloaded mostly alt.country, old-time blues, and old-time jazz.

Only thing I don't like about it: Emusic has a lot of compilations of greatest hits that are actually re-recordings, sometimes by the original artists and sometimes not, and it's not always obvious. It's important to listen to all cuts from any compilations, and read the reviews, to make sure you aren't getting re-recordings.

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Bless Us, Balloon Jesus
(Jayne's just reserved a level of Hades even further down than the one she already had reserved before. How low can she go?)

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I fell off the wagon. I drank a glass of Coca Cola. And then another, and then another.

I was under the impression that giving up Coke would help me lose weight. Since giving up Coca Cola, I GAINED weight. My recent Coke breakdowns all came in association with moments of high stress. And the sad part: I felt oh-so-much-better after drinking Coca Cola. So much better... and have even lost a tiny bit of weight. Hmmmmm...

Still haven't taken up drinking it regularly. No, instead, now I drink ice coffee in a carton regularly. Which probably has even more calories.

The Myth of Moderate Exercise, a recent article in Time magazine, represents so much of what I'm going through right now...

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Darwin's theory of evolution was simple, beautiful, majestic and awe-inspiring. But because it contradicts the allegorical babblings of a bunch of made-up old books, it's been under attack since day one. That's just tough luck for Darwin. If the Bible had contained a passage that claimed gravity is caused by God pulling objects toward the ground with magic invisible threads, we'd still be debating Newton with idiots too.
From a review of the documentary The Genius Of Darwin by Charlie Brooker in The Guardian.
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Books I was reading during this blawg:

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I support the:
National Education Association, great public schools in the USA for every child
Thank you, NEA, for being there for me and ensuring that I got a great PUBLIC education.
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Keep the wild in your heard, not in your home; make no wild or exotic creature a pet

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If you have read this blawg, PLEASE let me know.
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.


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