Sonntag, 6. August 2017

Get ready for Being British in Bavaria - das Buch. Here's a taster, pre-Brexit.


"So, let's just get this straight", begins Frau Gürtelmann, removing her spectacles and fixing me smack bang in the eyes, "You said in your application that you are PC literate, but it turns out you can't touch-type, you can't tell the difference between pdf and powerpoint, and my secretary had to show you how to send her an email. All you're able to do, basically, is open a Word doc”. Looking for confirmation, lest she might have misidentified my true colours, she cocks her head, and asks, “Right so?"

I’d been tickled pink when, having just graduated the previous autumn, Deutsche Telekom instantly offered me a full-time position in its translating department. But things hadn't quite panned out as planned. I was being called into the boss's office for my first – and, as I was soon to discover – only progress report. And I wasn't even half way through the probationary period. Frau Gürtelmann's damning appraisal of my practically non-existent PC skills was, alas, spot on. Humiliated and unable to return her gaze, I lower my eyes, bringing them to rest on a stain on the lacquered wood floorboards. Then, as if attempting to possibly mitigate the charges being brought against me, I look up and whimper “Yes, but I copy and paste too”.

It's 1998, and – with the Internet of Things still very much in its infancy – I'd possibly taken "PC literate", buzzword of the time, rather too literally. I was, after all, literate and able to turn on a PC, was I not? A simplistic but nonetheless reasonable line of thought in the days when social networking meant little more than writing out a cheque each year for Friends Reunited and mobile phones came glued to a 15-inch antenna. 

In my defence, I should perhaps point out that my ignorance of all things IT was not totally mea culpa. When it comes to computer skills I'm one of the so-called “lost generation”. The very year after I left school, IT classes were introduced to the National Curriculum. The idea of "catching up" and acquiring these essential life skills was never mooted, however. Right through university and well into my first full-time teaching job in Britain it was never once suggested that a basic grasp of PC knowhow might possibly enhance my career prospects. Not even when I took my Diploma of Translating shortly before the Millennium was there any talk of computer literacy being de rigeur for those wishing to progress in this IT-driven profession. As a mature student, I was easily ten years older than most of my fellow peers – every single one of them PC literate, of course.

Rewind further, back to the 1980s. In my final years of school I was obsessed with all things German. When classmates were kicking a ball around the playground, or as in later years, slouched on sofas in the sixth form centre, my ears would be glued to headphones in the language lab, following, almost religiously, the latest episode of BBC Schools' Deutsch für die Oberstufe, which Herr Lawson kindly recorded just for me – I seemed to be the only one interested – each week. 

Just like today's younger generation sleep with their smartphones, lest they miss a lonesome late-night message or some sweetheart's status update, I would go to bed with my plastic-clad transistor radio, sending myself to sleep with Berichte von heute, North German Radio's roundup of the day's news. How much I was able to follow invariably depended on the strength of the crackly short-wave signal. Each morning I would awaken to dulcet tones of Radio Luxembourg's Fröhlicher Wecker, aka Axel Fitzke. This slightly less cocky German version of the BBC's Chris Evans invited his Germany-based listeners, and probably his sole follower in the UK, to wallow in a glorious fuddle-muddle of Deutsche Schlager and Europop. The latter – chart toppers from Brittany to Bucharest – despite being sung in relatively comprehensible, albeit rather nonsensical English, never seemed to make the British hit parade, strangely enough. The line-up included stars with dubious-sounding names such as Gazebo, Secret Service and Joy. Not to be confused, of course, with the somewhat more sophisticated Police and Joy Division, which most of my peers were into at the time. But if Germans were unashamed fans of  banal europop then I was up for it too.

Had you asked me back then, in those halcyon, pre-Brexit days, if I'd rather be German than British the answer would have been a resounding Jaaaa!


To be continued in Being British in Bavaria - das Buch


Mittwoch, 5. Juli 2017

These days it takes only one "Moas" to send me sprawling. Keep quiet but mine's just a radler

It's exactly 100 years since they threw out their royal family. But that doesn't stop Germans ceremoniously electing another type of royalty every year. Sharing a half with Her Royal Highness, Beer Queen Angela Ertlmaier.


The Germans have a saying 'Dienst ist Dienst, und schnapps ist schnapps'. Don't mix business with pleasure, in other words. But when it comes to their Lieblingsdrink, Germans are far more flexible. I'm lucky to teach in a college that actively encourages mixing business and pleasure - right down to the last drop. Students follow courses in brewery technology and get to test the final product too. Our campus at Weihenstephan is home to the oldest brewery in the world - with a great beer garden to boot. This week my students wrote their final exam. Deciding where to go and celebrate afterwards seemed a bit of a no-brainer.

Bildergebnis für weihenstephan brewery
Just steps away from the lecture halls, where you can easily smell the yeast fermenting. 
No wonders students feel so happy here. 

Which is where I end up the other evening - the Braustüberl beerhouse. It's lovely and warm and I'm looking forward to a cool brew - or two. Scaling the few steps separating exam hall and beer hall, my colleague tells me how, after a couple beers with him, his students sometimes ask "Can I say 'you' to 'you'?". He says the second 'you' in a slightly husky voice, indicating a deeper level of familiarity. Sounds like a very German dilemma - not knowing whether to address someone formally with Sie or informally with Du. Grown-ups might go all their working life calling each other Sie, before retiring with a typical arm-linking, beer mug-clinking ceremony (so-called Bruderschaft trinken), in which they solemnly pledge to call each other Du till their dying day. Nothing to slap your thighs about, but then Germans never did take drinking to closer friendship on the light shoulder.

I'm last in line so simply grab what I guess everyone else is ordering: The classic liter. After all, as the saying in Bavaria goes, A Moas muss sei (literally, a liter must be). But, as I struggle to gulp down the final suds, I notice how most students are nursing just half liters - and drinking verrrrry slowly. 

Life's unfair. I mean, when you're young you can handle beer easily (young Germans, given half an opportunity, can drown a liter or two without batting an eyelid). Only problem is when you're studying you can't afford the full fling. So you go halves with a mate. Then when you're older you can afford to up the ante, but you just can't handle the quantity. That said, the average German manages to drink 104 liters a year. That's almost twice the amount consumed per capita in Britain. 

But not necessarily - you can cheat with Radler. Weihenstephan, by the way, is even older than the Bard himself . They've been brewing here for over 1000 years. 
To beer or not to beer? Fortunately there's a third option. Radler is part brew, part lemonade. For Bavarian purists that's almost akin to blasphemy. Anyway, served in liter mugs, it looks just like you're drinking the real man's thing. The problem, of course, comes when you splash out on a big beer and get handed a Radler by mistake...

Relaxing on the terrace overlooking the "green campus" (so called not just because of its green technology courses but also the whole site - beautifully bathed in a sea of greenery), and enjoying good company late into the warm evening, it strikes me that this could easily pass as the gateway to heaven.

Looks like it'll have to be another Radler.

                                                           

Sonntag, 4. Juni 2017

Stretching it a bit - Califonia Dreaming comes to Lower Bavaria

It's not everyday you get to ride through the sleepy Lower Bavarian countryside in a chauffeured Californian stretch limo. 

We'd been at the local swimming pool and the father of one of Matilda's schoolmates offered us a "lift" home in his company car. The 5½-metre long sedan had caused quite a commotion when it arrived outside Tegernbach's Freibad and promptly swallowed up four or five parking spaces. 

Anyway, thank you Romulus of Romways Limos for everyone for chauffeuring us home in style....  


Door to door service and a royal wave..




Our sleepy cul-de-sac had certainly never seen anything like this before. The limo just about managed to scrape past next door''s timber truck. 


Samstag, 4. März 2017

When it comes to blowing away the winter blues, Bavaria's benchmark

I awake at half past six this morning to golden rays of sunshine streaking through a slit in the curtains. For a moment it feels like the long Bavarian winter might finally be drawing to a close - last week did after all mark the official start of spring. Let's not be lulled into a false sense of security though; we're still very much in the grip of wintertime. Last year it still snowed here late April. By that time, mind you, most of us had long stowed away the ski gear - we'd had enough.  

So what do Bavarians do to blow away their blues? They head for the sauna, of course. It's funny, really. Tourists tend to treat Scandinavia as the definitive destination for hitting the hotshed. They've probably been watching too many Scandi thrillers starring sweaty souls beating each other around the thighs with fresh-cut birch tree branches. Maidens in Lederhosen films might be dull in comparison, but as every self-respecting Bavarian will tell you, here is where it all began. 

Hey bro', that's my end of the bench....


Germans, remember, invented FKK - free body culture (local lingo for "getting nice and nude"), and they've developed a cult around everything to do with saunas. I was just reading that you can actually train to become a qualified Sauna Meister - a title which carries every much respect in Germany as that of, say, qualified accountant or  lawyer. 

Don't be fooled into thinking the man above is taking a swipe at the guy after some heated (no pun intended) argument. He's actually wafting cold air into the sauna, an intricate process known as "Aufguss", or infusion. More show than sauna, the Meister invariably cracks a few jokes about the pain he's inflicting on his captive audience before marching out to a hearty round of applause. Bavaria has more Sauna Landschaft, nude landscapes, than anywhere else in Germany. My favourite is the Kaiser Thermen, just south of Regensburg.

Just one tip if you're a foreigner - any form of clothing in the sauna is an absolute no-no. Brits and Americans typically find that hard to deal with, but really it's no big deal. When I arrived in Germany one of the first things I did was join a spa health club, the highlight of which was an underground landscape dotted with steam rooms, thermal pools and jacuzzis. No clothes, naturally. It was a bit like stumbling into the The Garden of Eden. Prude Englishman as I was, I nonetheless soon shed the towel around my waist.

Wild things - last week's ski trip to Lenggries


November and December, notorious for gloomy skies and dearth of sunshine, is not a great time of year in Bavaria. But from new year onwards winters here are just like winters should be - as cold as a dog's nose, yet with crispy clear air and bright sunshine. Yes, spring does typically arrive here later than in most parts of Europe, but Bavarians have a remedy for that too. In recent years they've taken to dressing up in kinky costumes. As animals. And not just for Fasching either. You'll also find Bavarians disguised as half-bearded policemen, vikings, and Elvis.
          
                 

Donnerstag, 10. November 2016

Germany's shell-shocked, but Stars and Stripes just about saves the day

When German newspapers start running headlines in English you know they're gearing up for another shit storm.



On the day after the election my colleague from Texas comes into the staff room looking as miserable as the gloomy November sky. “Ooh my Gourd!”, he groans. For a moment it sounds like he's suffering from Muskelkater, those awful aching bones and limbs which Germans so enjoy complaining about.

I know it's not funny, but I almost choke on the brezel I'm chewing. As you might do when you want to laugh but suddenly find something's in the way. Because that’s the very headline on most of the day's German newspapers: "Oh my God!" And, underneath, as if some sort of afterthought, following a long editorial discussion whether readers would understand the foreign language expression – "Geht's noch?”. Yes, that lovely expression which Germans mutter when showing the middle finger.

Anyway, typically British, I simply reply “Oh dear”. My colleague, you see, had been worried what to tell his students. Even though I’d reassured him that the disastrous result was not entirely his fault. But now he’d really gone and added fuel to the fire: “I played them HIS Acceptance Speech, and one girl started crying. I’ve come to get some tissues for her.”

Not a brilliant start to any lesson. But deep down inside I know I'm not going to have an easy lesson either. After all, we Brits used to rule the USA too. And we weren't very popular rulers either. No wonder they kicked us out.

Suddenly however, I have a Geistesblitz - a brilliant idea. I’ll make the lesson topical yet totally avoid having to talk about HIM.

I go in and show the students Why Americans love their flag, which takes us back to the very first U.S. president, George Washington, and how the Stars and Stripes was born.

We all learn something new about American history. And – I’m delighted to say – no one cries.

"Trump wants only one dollar a year in salary"
 "I'd give him twice as much just for him to quit". 

Montag, 19. September 2016

High fives all round for "wheely" great tour of Munich. Just mind those naked sun lovers ahead!


Just one day before the Oktoberfest starts, and I'm staying in a lovely old-fashioned hotel with my parents right opposite the entrance to the Wies'n. It's been fun watching all the comings and goings, especially the beer maids queueing up for selfies under the Fest banner, linking arms with butchy-looking security guards. But we have another plan today, and before sunset I will have stood on one leg in central Munich and performed, in broad daylight, a pirouette. I will also have plunged through a crowd of naked sunbathers in the English Garden and dived into the "Eisbach", letting the current carry me downstream towards the Chinese Tower Biergarten. Boy, I must be desperate for a beer. 

To set the record straight, I don't normally put myself out there like this, and it certainly isn't punishment for losing a bet in the pub just before closing time. In short, the whole thing is totally unpremeditated and unintentional. That's what I'll be telling my lawyer, at least.

Wind back an hour or so. The day begins with me signing up for The Classic Bike Tour with Mike's Bikes. It seems a smart way of showing my parents more of Munich than they might normally experience by foot. Besides, even though I've lived in Munich for over 16 years I'm still not too hot when it comes to the city's facts, figures and history. As for what's what and what's hot, I always feel local guides are much better at explaining these things to visitors. Unfortunately my parents pull out at the last minute, They seem worried we might be practising for the next Olympics. "We haven't ridden a bike in ages", says mum, "why don't we just meet up in the beergarden when you take a beak?". I end up going along by myself. 

My parents needn't have worried. "This isn't the Tour de France", announces our guide called Abs, "it's the Tour de Munich - way easier". We're assembled under the shadow of  the Neues Rathaus on the Marienplatz, the heart of Munich. Abs begins by describing the ritual of the daily Glockenspiel, acted out in the clock tower just above us. "Don't expect anything exciting to happen though", he warns "It's the most over-rated thing in Munich". He proceeds to enact the "Schäfflertanz", performed by life-size figurines every morning at 11 sharp. "Come on everybody, dance with me!", he calls. No time to protest, I'm perching on one leg, arms arched over my head, hovering around performing a 360-degrees pirouette, alongside some 20 other unsuspecting tourists from Britain, Canada, America and Australia. "Oh my God!", chuckles Abs, as we complete this clumsy spectacle, "I can't believe you just did that", I'm dead sure the surrounding bystanders who've just witnessed us make fools of ourselves can't believe it either. Several of them are touting movie cameras, guffawing deep belly laughs. Delighted to have caught the whole thing on video, no  doubt. 

                        Abs, our guide, giving a pep talk at the start of the tour:
                                      "You CAN all ride a bike, can't you?"


Luckily that's all the dancing I'll be doing today. From now on it's just plain biking. But before we hit the saddle our guide wants to know if we can all actually ride a bike. "Hands up anyone who can't!", he says. For a moment I feel like a six-year old being quizzed by teacher on first day of school. "Cool", says Abs, as we all demonstratively dig our hands deep into our pockets. Poker-faced, he relates how the other day they had a woman from Texas on the tour. Putting on an accent he mimics: 'Oh yeah, I can ride a bike, I just can't turn left'. Abs tells the anecdote off the cuff, as if the lady's still somewhere in town, recuperating from the ordeal. But I suspect it's all part of a well-rehearsed script. Either way he's already won us over. Each time he asks a question and one of the group gets it right he zooms in for a high-five. My school teachers certainly never did that.  

We're soon off, weaving our way through crowds clogging the streets around the Hofbräuhaus. "Any one need a toilet, by the way?" asks Abs, pointing to the back entrance of Munich's most famous beer house. "One of the very last free loos in town", he tells us. Munich is an awful place to get caught short in, so there's a tip I'll definitely remember. 

First stop: Munich's most beautiful baroque church, the Theatiner Kirche. "I can't pronounce that", says Abs, "So I just call it Tina Turner Church". Abs explains how the church houses the Four Evangelists, lovingly sculptured by Balthasar Ableitner. "So then, what's love got to do, got to do with it?" Abs quizzes."Everything!" shouts an American lady, sprightly clad in lycra. "High five!" calls Abs, heading in for a hearty hand-slap. We all cheer. So far very good.

But I suppose you can't really do a tour of Munich's history without touching on a much darker chapter of German history, and Abs is already preparing us for this. "Sorry to dampen the cheery mood, guys", he says, explaining we're standing at the scene of the notorious Beer Hall Putsch. This is where Hitler unsuccessfully attempted to storm the Bavarian Defense Ministry in 1923. Just before I'd been humming that Tina Turner tune to myself, and everything had looked so peaceful in the sunshine. But suddenly a chill runs down my spine. We move on.


You don't HAVE to leave your hat on. Or very much else either, actually.  We're about to enter the no-clothes zone of Munich's best-loved garden.


Originally from the USA, Abs has been in Munich for just a year but can already quote chapter and verse on the city's history. I'm impressed too by his "insider" knowledge of the English Garden, the biggest park in Munich - larger than even Central Park NY.  As we ride into the 37 sq-km park he tells us to look out for one or two "local celebrities". I'm wondering which TV stars he's referring to, but it soon turns out he has something else in mind. There are six nudist "zones" in Munich, and we're already smack bang in the middle of the biggest. "You can't miss the Human Tripod", he says, explaining that this nudist enjoys waving to cyclists. But not necessarily with his hands. Hey....

It's not every day you get to cycle amongst a mass of nude sunbathers. Some of the group prefer to take their time, dismounting and wheeling their way through the clothes-free crowds. I manage to keep going, and we finally all reassemble at the Chinese Turm (below). Surrounding the tower is an enormous beer garden, and we all pile our plates high with currywurst and chips, washed down with a liter-mug of froth. When a brass band on the first floor strikes up, serenading one of the group with "Happy Birthday to you!" it almost feels like we've parked our bikes in heaven. 

                                    

             Cyclists' heaven comes with five storeys in Munich.  And if you're lucky, you'll                                        even get serenaded by the in-house brass band. 


Refueled, we continue the tour, stopping off next at Surfer's Bridge, at the top entrance to the garden. Strangely, I hadn't been here for over ten years, even though it's not even 10 minutes walk from the centre of Munich. Crowds of spectators stand admiring athletic looking Münchners as they queue to ride the 4-foot wave. It looks dead easy, but I guess none of the seasoned surfers dare try out their stunts there before practising elsewhere - without an audience. See amazing video. 


The four hours are over far too quickly, and after cycling along the Isar  ̶  passing some of the city's other five nudist zones on route  ̶  we turn back into the main thoroughfare, winding back at where we started. All told, the 31 € fee (21 € students) is excellent value. You really do see far more on this tour than you could ever hope to see by foot in a whole day, or say on just a one-hour open-top bus tour. And although the guides tell some jokes you perhaps might not wish to repeat to your parents this tour definitely offers something for all ages. The just-retired couple from Sydney certainly seemed to enjoy the joking around. And, given the leisurely pace we rode at, no one is expected to perform like Lance Armstrong either.

After handing back my bike I return to the nudist "zone", joining the crowds for a quick dip near the Eisbach or "ice brook". The fast-flowing water - usually bitter cold just like the name suggests - feels gloriously refreshing.

Strip off, cool off  ̶  just 10 minutes from the centre of Munich.

      

Mittwoch, 11. Mai 2016

Bavarian Blogger wonders who's reading and is he heading for Happy End or Dead End?

Hello? Ha-llo! Who are you, all you thousands of followers? 



The problem's not where to start, but how to end. Is there such a thing as a perfect ending?

I'm still trying to get my Book of all the Blogs - working title "Das Buch" - finished. So I started looking at how other writers finish their travel memoirs. Most seem to simply leave the reader in limbo. In How low can you go?, my favourite book on no-frills air travel, for example, Tom Chesshyre ends up saying "I suddenly have a moment of inspiration: 'Let's have a beer'. You call that an inspirational ending? Or take the brilliant Straying from the flock on travelling around New Zealand. This moving memoir, which had me on the edge of my sofa for 250 pages, "wraps up" with "I waved and went to the terminal". Did you? Wow.

Maybe I'm trying to go against the flow, but I don't want to leave the reader in the lurch like that. Of course if I'm ever going to finish the book I might have to. I'll just say something like "I ordered another Weißbier and waited for the sun to come out". Oops, just gave the grand climax away.

The other thing I can't quite get my head round is who actually reads my blog? According to the "ticker", since starting the blog in 2010 I've had 18132 visits. That's quite a lot of curious followers. Who are you all?

These last few weeks, however, have seen me grappling with slightly more pressing issues. Last week my car broke down on the autobahn. The friendly man from the ADAC car club talked about Totalschaden a word guaranteed to strike a mixture of fear and frustration into even the most tough-skinned German. It ranks close behind that other terrifying word Schienenersatzverkehr (replacement bus service). Until the vehicle is repaired or replaced my own resilience is being put to the test. Germans boast about their efficient public transport system. I'm now being forced to endure it myself as I travel from my home to workplace in Munich, making the 130-km round trip by bus, train and tram.

But back to the elusive ending dilemma. Maybe I'm just using it as a lame excuse for not finishing my manuscript and self publishing. I need something or someone behind me, jivvying me up. Or as the Germans say an "Arschtritt".

So am I heading for a Happy End or destined for a Dead End? I'll keep you posted as I carry on coasting around the Lower Bavarian countryside...

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