Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Munich is well known for Oktoberfest. For the past few weeks we have been seeing many people dressed in traditional attire, the women in dirndls and the men in lederhosen. Last weekend we walked around the fairground making our way through the large crowd of tourists and locals. People sit together in large crowded tents and drink large glasses of beer for hours on end. Unfortunately, many of them had had too much to drink, often running right into us if we weren’t careful. We didn’t go into any tents or taste the beer, but Steve did try a Bratwurst (that hung out the sides of the bread) to complete the German experience.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Anniversary in Salzburg

For our 5th Anniversary we rented a car and drove to Salzburg. As a BMW intern, Steve can rent cars fairly inexpensively. But, gas in Europe is much more than in the US.

We had a splendid time enjoying all the beauty, staring at cows in the beautiful countryside, seeing lakes, and walking around the city. Unfortnately the walking around the city part was hampered a bit by rain and cold weather, so we don't have any pictures of that part.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Our new bicycles

Yipee! We have bicycles. Our friends generously gave us two bicycles that they are not using right now. Friday night, we met our friends in Starnberg and then brought the bikes home on the train.

This city is a cyclist's dream. Bike lanes nearly everywhere, and where they're not available, cars are very aware of cyclists' presence. Yesterday, I saved 6 Euros in public transportation costs by biking only 30 kilometers (round trip) to visit a friend. Again, stay tuned for my in-depth coverage of transportation in Munich. (I need to be careful, or I'm going to build it up too much!)

Today the subways, busses, and trams are not running (workers strike), so Steve decided to bike to work. It's actually quite common to see a man in a suit, briefcase in tow, biking down the street... and not just on days when the public transportation workers are on strike.

For those of you who have been following my Internet access woes, the bicycle has actually shortened my trip to the wireless-enabled hotel from 45 to 30 minutes. Maybe I'll be able to work it into my schedule to come here more than once a week now!

Ich schwimme gern!

Taken straight from my memories of high school German class, this phrase will probably always be true: "I enjoy swimming!" I was inspired by the pre-departure encouragement of one of our friends, "You won't have trouble finding a pool. Germans like to swim." "Yep, I could live there," I thought. So I have been on the lookout for swimming opportunities since we arrived in Munich. Instead of not finding any possibilities, I was surprised to find almost too many options. The problem was that they all seemed much too expensive, and the charge scales were far too complicated for any foreigner to deciper in the first few weeks.

So I finally figured out the concept of the "Freibad," meaning "free pool"... not in the sense of cost, unfortunately, but in the sense that it is "open," or "outside," as opposed to an indoor "Hallenbad." If you can get over the fact that it feels like a crowded beach, it's really a very pleasant experience.

Germans don't mess around when it comes to swimming. These are not just your typical American neighborhood pools. Each "bad" ("pool") is actually a swimming complex complete with showers, lockers, trampolines, playgrounds, several pools, fountains, slides, diving boards, grassy picnic areas, you name it! Steve and I went to "Westbad," the pool (complex) nearest our home, last Friday night. Of course I went straight for the lap swim area at first, but I found my feet wandering over to the slide and the fountain, just to get the full experience. The water is gloriously cold; it was a refreshing, rejuvenating experience!

OK, for those of you who are fascinated by this sort of thing, German lap swimming culture is quite unlike the "my space / your space" culture of the American pool. I'm not sure lane lines are ever used, so it's a complete free-for-all. Instead of mindlessly swimming back and forth, staring at the black stripe on the bottom of the pool, my head must stay up, making sure I'm not coming up behind a very slow swimmer, swimming head-on toward a normal swimmer, or trapping myself between two characteristically zig-zaggers who might zig-zag me down into an underwater swim! So it keeps life interesting, and after each workout, I find myself amazed that I actually completed a certain number of laps. : )

Shopping in Munich

We have a Wal-Mart! OK, great, so we came all the way to Munich, Germany, and we're still shopping at Wal-Mart? Where's our sense of adventure, you ask? Aha. Here's where curiosity meets economy. The curiosity question is... Are all Wal-Marts created equal? We found it to be an interesting mix of the American "all-in-one" superstore and the European minimization of shopping space. As a result, we have sort of this "mini Wal-Mart" which you don't want to visit during busy hours, and you'd better be really skilled at driving a European shopping cart. As far as economy, it actually has the lowest prices on some things, but you have to watch it. It definitely has a great selection, so it's our default for things we have a hard time finding other places.

On the other end of the spectrum is the "Flohmarkt" (flea market), which is the German term for any informal or seasonal second-hand sale. We visited a Flohmarket which sells "der Abfallwirtschaftsbetrieb gut erhaltenen Troedel von den Muenchner Wertstoffhoefen" which, as best as I can translate it, is something like "the waste management 'junk in good condition' from the Munich recycling center." And that's exactly what it is. We went there one Saturday and were pleased to find several food storage containers (hey, they're quite washable), and a few books. Other Flohmarkts are organized periodically -- usually people wanting to sell their stuff, basically a "yard sale" but in a public area, either for themselves or for some charitable cause. We went to a couple of those as well. One was really nice; the other was very strange. That level of variety can be expected, I guess.

Somewhere between these two shopping styles is the way most Europeans shop: small stores along the main streets of town. In our town, Pasing, we have several streets which host some apartments, some churches, some government buildings, but mainly a mixture of grocery stores, drug stores, cafes, dry cleaners, banks, and bakeries. Most don't have free parking for cars -- just a few paid meters along the street, but bicyle "parking lots" are everywhere. Some bike; some take the subway, train, or bus, and just walk the rest of the way. Hey, how about all those bikes parked in front of the grocery store? I'm just building your curiosity for the posting I'm going to do very soon (I'm building up my photo gallery) on transportation in Munich... featuring the bicycle, of course. : )

Friday, September 09, 2005

From PHP to Deutsch

As one who specializes in information systems, I'm no stranger to communication in foreign languages. So as I transition from human-computer communication to human interlinguistic communication. I have to wonder which of these is more difficult. Let's just say that my right brain is being developed as I explore a greater level of subjectivity and flexibility in communication.

I have met with with four of my German-English conversation partners. The agreement is that they will help me with German, and I will help them with "native" English. All are native Germans. Two are English majors at the university. Another is a professor of literature, about to begin work on a degree in a completely different subject area. The fourth works in a hotel and wants to develop her English to improve her customer service skills. Each has a different personality, different style, different story. I enjoy being with one for her cultural insight; another for introducing me to fun, active, "unique" opportunities in Munich that I may not have otherwise considered; another for challenging me to speak German, even with all my grammar mistakes (I wanted to start only with English for the first meeting!); and another for her bubbly personality and enjoyment of life.

Here are two of my new friends on our first meetings. I didn't get a picture of my first conversation partner because I wasn't in the mode of thinking "camera" yet, so I left it at home. I didn't get a picture of another one during our first meeting because we went running together, and I already had too much "stuff" to carry while I ran. : )

This morning, in about an hour, I have an appointment to register for the Volkshochschule " Deutsch als Fremdsprache/Deutsch als Zweitsprache" program (basically German language classes). It will meet three times a week, afternoons, for 8 weeks, starting at the end of September. I'm really excited about this opportunity to learn in a more structured environment...

...than talking to our landlady at home! She speaks no English, only German (and Hungarian, her mother tongue). It's great because it forces me to speak and learn all throughout the day. I must admit it's annoying and frustrating at times, like when I'm tired and don't want to talk to anyone, especially not in another language. That's when it's really good for me, though, because it teaches me to use the language when I need to, not just when I feel like it.

So I've gotten to the point where I don't feel self-conscious about using a little Deutsch here and there. If I can stay within the confines of a simple transaction at the store, for example, I'm fine. I still freeze up a bit when someone asks me a question quickly and abruptly, but I'm looking forward to mastering the language in such a way that I respond automatically.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Google mail is down...

...but everyone is asleep, you see; it's only 3:00 in the morning on the US west coast! Unfortunately, it's noon here, and I've been trying to send/receive e-mail for the last two hours. So to those of you who think we may have dropped off the face of the earth, please rest assured that I'll be back here tomorrow. Now hopefully Google doesn't schedule another 2 a.m. maintenance...

Monday, September 05, 2005

Internet Access in München

I never realized how much I took Internet access for granted until this last week.

First of all, it's out of the question for us to get any kind of high-speed Internet access at home.... unless someone has an unsecured wireless network in our building?? Bummer. No such luck.

Maybe we can try to bum off the restaurants and coffee shops that have unsecured wireless networks! So last week took me from here to there to everywhere, laptop in tow, looking for ways to inconspicuously take advantage of, er, "use" various free wireless hotspots we discovered in an online list. Hey, I'm not working during the day, so I have time, right? At least I won't be bored.... I'll leave that story for another day: stay tuned. OK, so here's the decision at hand. I'm at the Hard Rock Cafe'. It's 12:00 noon and they're opening their doors. Do I fight for a table at the world's most touristy restaurant, just to buy the cheapest drink on the menu? Does that justify my occupying the table for the next two hours, which is how long the laptop battery lasts? Or do I go buy some nose plugs, hide behind the dumpster, and hope that the wireless signal can travel through the trash? I guess instead of noseplugs I could buy camouflage and hide in the shrubbery. Hey, at least I get some camouflage made out of microfiber (they seem to sell a lot of that amazing fabric here) Well, the noseplugs could be useful, too. It's been quite hot outside and there's no air conditioning here, so I tend to mindlessly implement the auto-noseplug (a.k.a. breathe through the mouth) on the trains and busses.

OK, I'm trying to shorten this long story. That particular day, I actually ended up at the sparsely-populated Neuhausen Cafe' at 3:00 p.m. It looks like the kind of place that would be much more crowded at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. I ordered a Diet Coke (it was only about $5) and enjoyed my two hours of high-speed Internet access.

I'm really skipping some details now; I only have 15 minutes of battery left, and I want to post this today. So Steve found this prepaid wireless access that's just *pennies* a minute... but the catch is, again, that it can only be accessed in public places. I'm not sure I want to show up at the Munich Marriott First Class, plop myself on the sofa, and look like I belong there. Steve said I need to just dress like a business woman and look purposeful. The latter comes very naturally, but the first requires wearing something other than running shorts and a microfiber sleeveless shirt (I told you, I love the stuff!) I've got these great black pants and black/purple leather/walking shoes -- my three-week-old investment in attempted European fashion -- so maybe I'll be OK.

Long story short(er), sometime last week, I happened upon a Best Western Hotel that was on our list of "magical" wireless connection sites. Fastest access I've seen in any hotel so far, and I have this little corner I can sit in. Nobody asks me any questions here, which makes me happy. Maybe they'll just get used to seeing me; you know, like an ornamental fixture that you might as well not have after about two weeks (or days) and nobody will ever say anything.

It only takes 45 minutes or so to get here. 20-minute walk to the train station, 10-minute train ride, 10-minute bus ride, 5-minute walk. Not bad at all. I'll be here several times a week... for almost exactly two hours. : )

In closing, I've got to explain the photos. The first photo is obviously (I think) the Best Western from the street. The second one was very spontaneous. After this bizarre story, I wanted you to see me here. Well I clearly wasn't going to ask the receptionist to take my picture, and I honestly can't remember how to set the timer on the camera. I really need to learn to pay attention when Steve shows me how to do things, whether or not I feel currently inspired to learn... So I kept taking pictures at arm's length, not until I got one that was perfect, but until I thought I at least looked human. Hey, if anyone is interested in the non-human-looking pictures, let me know, and I'll e-mail them to you.

- Beth ("Anna" auf Deutsch)

Friday, September 02, 2005

New Bed

Neither Beth nor I sleep like mummies. The sofa-bed in the room was extremely loud everytime we sat on it or moved. The landlady promptly ordered us a new one! The only challenge was trying to put it all together.