Thursday, June 29, 2006

Munchen to Frankfurt: New Year’s Eve (St. Sylvestre)

I was to spend the grand fête with German girl from Killarney. Katrin had extended an invitation for me to come and visit her, but because of Poppy’s death and a few lost days, my RSVP was short notice. She lives outside of Frankfurt—about one and one half hours outside of Frankfurt—but I lost track of that little fact in my head when she volunteered to meet me at the hauptbanoff. She met me at the station, took me on a whirlwind tour of Germany’s banking capitol (skyscrapers and luxe shops), we even snuck into the opera house. Then back to her house by way of train and short car ride. This girl after only knowing me from a few shared days in Ireland, invited me into her home and she introduced me to her family and friends. Once again, European hospitality amazes me!
We ended up spending the night at the home of a friend in Marburg. A party of several nationalities gathered together for a potluck dinner, after which, we climbed a hill in the center of town for the best view of the fireworks shows (if you could call them that). Germans love fireworks, and as far as I could tell, there are no regulations. Whatsoever. Marburg was a war zone. Pink, green, and yellow explosions on the horizon, purple bursts of flames in the streets, and red smoke coming from the rooftops. I have never seen anything like it. And to add to the madness, everyone was drunk, using their empty bottles to launch rockets, and spread glass over the ‘war-ravaged’ streets. Walking around town, one had to use extreme caution to avoid firecrackers and bubbling fountains of sparks, not to mention in-coming projectiles around every corner. It was madness. I loved it.
We ended up at a club that was miserably hot and smoky, but fun. Circulating through the crowd: two blonds—each one taller over 6’4” and trashed as all hell. They actually looked a lot like Marlon and Shawn Wayans in White Girls. They were dancing on tables, falling over drunk, and wearing next to nothing.
The next morning, Katrin took me back through town and showed me the sights. Marburg is a very old town with a large university and home to the super lethal virus of the same name. It has some of the most picturesque streets and homes, and a castle at the top of a hill in the center of town. I like this place.
Adding to her already overwhelming hospitality, Katrin presented me with a feast of a breakfast, and helped me get a cheap flight out of Frankfurt. She then proceeded to take me all the way to the airport (a 2 hour-trip both ways for her). I paid 190€ for a last minute -same day flight and said goodbye to my friend. In two hours I was back at Charles de Gaulle and fighting to get my pack from the carousel.

Germany was better than anything I could have imagined, despite obvious disappointments, avoidable expenses, and the loss of a loved one, my Christmas alone was one of the best ever. I love the German people, they are kind and welcoming, I loved shopping and their cinema, and left totally impressed with the culture.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Munchen IV

Not being one to break from tradition, I woke up late Friday morning. Maybe it was the snoring of the “brother” above me (I cannot tell you how much I wanted him to choke on his stupid puka bead necklace, or maybe swallow his “Live Strong” bracelet), I didn’t sleep very well that night. But I had things to do; it was my last full day in Munich and I had a film studio to see, and a concentration camp to visit.
Thanks to our very own JG Stephan, I heard about the Bavarian Film Studios, and made time for them on my trip. They are easy enough to reach by tram—the 25 line stops about two blocks away (the stop is named after the studios), and for that, no special fare is required. I paid 7 euros for a guided tour of the studios, and another 8 euros for two small films in an interactive theatre. The cashier told me to pass through the archway, and wait in front of the MacDonald’s. Yep, there is a MacDonald’s there. It serves only the Film Studios.
So, there I stand—it is FREEZING cold, in between the world’s favorite fast food stop and the gift shop when I notice a group of people lining up by a giant (two-story, in fact) hairy statue of King Kong. Too timid to approach the group alone, I poked my head into the gift shop to confirm where I was supposed to be. Like everywhere else I’d been in Germany, the staff (one guy with badly dyed black hair and too many facial piercings to be working at a family attraction) spoke excellent English. He was completely unable to help me but tells me the tours run every 20 mins. and my ticket is good for any. I decide to peruse the shop and its collection of movie posters, stuffed animals and clothes. I’ve never been one for souvenirs, but fell in love with a pair of Falcor slippers (not available in my size).
The tour was in German. What can I say? French, English, and Japanese tours are only available during the season. I got very little out of it other than a few photos on the set of Enemy Mine, Das Boot, and The Never-ending Story. The guide spoke English, but as I was the only anglo-phone, he hardly ever did. Also, none of the sets/attractions were heated. I spent an hour running around in the cold following a group of Germans through a theme park.
That said: I had a great time. I amused myself. And while the “amusement” part of the park did little for me, seeing the Das Boot submarine—you get to walk through it—and getting my picture with Falkor was unforgettable.
I had purchased tickets for two short films at an interactive theatre (moving seats, 3D) but I was losing time and decided to eat the 8€ and head back to town.

Dachau is a small, charming town 40 minutes by train outside of Munich. The Memorial/Museum closes at 5:30 p.m. or so I thought. In reality, the park/ garden/ work camp-turned-museum closes at 4:30 p.m. and they start to kick people out at 4 p.m. I arrived at 4:15! Merde.
I ran through the museum. Not impressed. Much like the Nazi rally grounds in Nurenburg, the museum consisted of few artifacts, and several pictures with captions that repeated themselves over and over again. I feel completely let down by these WWII exhibits, and am conflicted about what I would want to see—if I would actually want to see some of the things I was expecting to be there?
Anyway, didn’t have time to see the slightest at Dachau before being kicked out. There was, however, plenty of time while waiting for the bus in the freezing—FREEZING—cold and I started talking with two Americans girls on touring the continent on their Christmas break. Their vacation was a mad dash of monuments and bars. They were actually drinking on the bus and train back to Munich. These two girls, whose priorities and lifestyles were so different from mine—were unabashedly proud of their nationality and collection of shot glasses. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I was meeting two Americans proud to be so. I am tired of meeting fellow countrymen falling over themselves to apologize for being American, for our foreign policy, and for the behavior of other Americans to people they don’t know nor will ever see again. No, my meeting with these two girls was quite refreshing.
Went to another movie at Cinema, and crashed hard after a long day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Munchen III

This was the day I had been waiting for my entire trip; a day of a castle tours and small Bavarian villages—not the fake tourists traps that have set up shop throughout the states, but authentic towns with stunning murals painted on the side of each town, towns that have nestled next to their surrounding mountains for centuries.
I never learned the name of the coach line I took. I signed up through the Office of Tourism. The tour cost 45 euros and includes transportation to Linderhof and Neuschwanstien castles, and stops in two small villages. “Audio guides” are available in all European languages, as well as Japanese and Chinese. It does not include the price of admission into any of the castles (which I was not told until we were on the autobahn), nor is the Guide really a guide. He is more of a pompous ass who doesn’t know the meaning of personal space. He had very little to say about the countryside we were passing, the towns we stopped in, or even the castles themselves. He was, however, happy to convince you to shop in such and such shop, or eat in such and such restaurant as the coach line took a cut of the business they brought in. Admission into the two castles was 13 euro. This is a discounted price only available to tours. The tour is still not at all worth the price…or effort.
To my knowledge, Linderhof is not reachable by public transportation, but easily accessible by car. If you are driving, fear not: wintery roads are cleared away, and large signs point you in the right direction.
Neuschwanstein Castle, or the Sleeping Beauty Castle is a big attraction, and getting there is much simpler. It is also nearby to another large castle, Hohenschwangau, and the two can be toured with the purchase of one ticket. Each tour is about 45 min.* and available in several languages. If you speak a language a Guide doesn’t, electronic guides are available.
From the town of Alpsee, tickets, guides, souvenirs, etc. are sold from one ticket office—for both Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. From Alpsee, the castles are available by foot or by horse-drawn carriage. It’s about a 45-minute walk, uphill in the snow (at least, during December) to Walt Disney’s inspiration (and I hear the same for it’s neighbor as well).
Sure, it’s pretty. No one can deny that it is pretty. But the interior is unfinished and the rooms that are: less than breathtaking. Opulent, guilded, a bit over-the-top to be sure, and absolutely worth the trip, but, I wasn’t amazed. A little part of me wasn’t changed—now demanding from that day forth a better “piece of the pie” for myself. It was just a series of pretty rooms—rooms that no one is allowed to photograph (with or without a flash, folks). I was allowed to take photos from the castle windows of the surrounding views and landscaping—a small consolation.
I slept when I could on the way home, but the Portuguese grandma sitting next to me wanted to play with her precocious (read: annoying) grandchildren**, and the seats in the coach (of which there were none to spare or spread out in) were incredibly uncomfortable.
Back in Munich, I walked down the street and grabbed a small pizza from, where else? Pizza Hut. Apparently, it is “how America does pizza.” I am not a Pizza Hut fan. I have never been a Pizza Hut fan, and it wasn’t exactly the meal I was craving, but it was close to the Yaager, hot, and—most importantly—cheap. I went to bed early. Another night of five snoring roomies, including smelly-footed Italian guy, two American frat boys, and a really drunk trashy party favor the frat boys brought in—I’m not sure if she actually paid for the bed she slept in but she was SKANKY and none of my male roomies were gonna see her go.

*Beware, a friend recently visited Neuschwanstein and was taken on a 30 min. tour.
**Grandma, grandchildren and parents. All dressed in leather, fur, and a rainbow of colors. They were always the last ones on the bus after each stop, and we were crunched for time due to their dawdling.