Dienstag, 22. Dezember 2015

Forget Star Wars - we're all stars in Munich's film world

Think Munich and you probably think Oktoberfest, Hofbräuhaus and naked sunbathers in the famous Englischer Garten. Yet Munich isn't just beer, brezels and bare bits. It's also home to one of Europe's largest film production centres.

It's a cold dank December morning and I'm visiting Bavaria Filmstadt, a theme park where world-famous films such as Never Ending Story and Das Boot - Germany's biggest ever box-office smash hit - were shot. A good half-hour tram and underground ride out of town, the studios are set in leafy Grünwald, Munich's most upper-crust district. I've signed up for an English tour with my students of Tourism Management, whom I'd normally be teaching Oral Skills at this time of day. We're joined by Claudia, our guide, who seems slightly surprised to hear everyone speaking German. "You really want this tour in English?", she asks.

First stop is "1-2-3. tv". I've never heard of this shopping channel, but apparently it receives 15,000 calls a day. Through the enormous glass window we watch a cashmere shawl being auctioned live on air. "Nice winter scarf anyone?" asks Claudia. Most of us would actually be glad of it - the TV studio, just like the rest of Bavaria Filmstadt, is bitterly cold.

Next up we're in an interactive studio being invited to try out the "Green Screen". This is the technology that, using a skin-neutral colour, enables directors to superimpose subjects onto virtual backgrounds. I join volunteers on stage, where we find ourselves riding virtual rail tracks through mountain tunnels and alongside hair-raising cliff tops.    

Another green screen allows us to try our hand as weather forecasters on the set of  "Tagesschau", German TV's nightly newscast. Our volunteer, Manuel, slips into the role like a pro.
Round the next corner we're greeted by Limahl's Never Ending Story playing and suddenly we're all lead actors in the epic fantasy. We soon have volunteers riding Falkor The Luck Dragon, doing a "disappearing" act. That's the illusion filmmakers create using a blue screen backdrop. It's rather chilly in here too, but rocking to and fro on Falkor certainly warms us up a little bit.    
After the group shot on Farkor I'm afraid I rather lose the overview. Claudia takes us on a whirlwind tour of other blockbuster filmsets, like Vampire Sisters, and Ludwig II. We're also shown behind the scenes of several afternoon soap operas, like "Tempest of Love", none of which I've ever heard of, but the students all seem to know.  
It's not until we reach the filmset of Das Boot that I'm back on familiar ground - it's one of the first German films I ever saw. Claudia tells us that the actors of movie had to spend several weeks actually sleeping in this model submarine from Wolfgang Petersen's 1981 film. I'm feeling claustrophobic in there after just a few minutes. 
You don't have to be great movie buff to enjoy this tour. This might not be Universal Studios, but at least you won't hear a single reference to Star Wars. Besides, the visual effects are great fun, and at the end of the tour you can buy a DVD film of yourself playing on set. While I can imagine there's loads more going on in summer (outdoor stunts and kids' programmes), it's an  interesting place to spend a few hours in winter too. Just make sure you wrap up warm. And don't forget your scarf.
Many thanks to my Tourism students - you're all stars. 

Montag, 28. September 2015

Autumn, Apples and Art in the Hallertau



"Ask Elli a question!" challenges Tildy, jumping onto our bed as if it were a trampoline, and promptly putting an end to a nice little Saturday morning lie-in. It's not quite 7 AM.


"Uuu-gh", I respond, rubbing my eyes, only to find a toy elephant doing the splits on my belly. "Ask Elli a question!" Matilda repeats. For a moment I lie there wondering why kids insist on calling their furry toys such predictable, unoriginal names: Our daughter has a toy hamster called Hamsti, a bear called Bärli and a "Marienkäfer"- German for ladybird - called, you've guessed it, Käfi. 


"So, Elli", I say, giving in, "What did you do last night?"

So this is what my life in Germany has finally come to - chatting up soft toys in bed.

"I played with my trunk!", replies Elli, in a voice not dissimilar to Matilda's.

Ah well, ask a silly question.

Either way there's no time for lying around in bed this morning. At 9 AM sharp I have an appointment at the local juice-making centre. Our little orchard has produced a bumper crop of apples this year. But there's only so many apples you can eat - and give away. So with 80 kg of apples packed in laundry baskets I head off for the nearest “Mosterei”, 15 km down the road in Abensberg.

The following pictures show the transformation of fruit to juice. I was surprised just how quickly and efficiently it happened. But this is Germany, of course.

Last ones down the ramp and we're good to go.

The whole process takes less than an hour. And it doesn't cost an arm and a leg either. 50 € seems a very fair price for 16 x 5 kg cartons of juice, which will hopefully keep us going well into next year.

It's barely 10 AM, so instead of heading straight back home I park in the centre of Abensberg and set off and explore this medieval town, which is often overshadowed by bigger brothers Regensburg and Ingolstadt. Abensberg boasts a jewel of a town centre, with a car-free main square, criss-crossed by scores of sleepy little alleyways, crammed with turret-fronted houses, like these below. Ideal for strolling on a clear blue sky autumn weekend.
Abensberg's best-loved landmark is the Kuchlbauer Turm, designed by the world-famous Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Completed in 2010, it certainly clashes with the town's otherwise oldy-worldy architecture, and when you see it the very first time you'll probably do a double take in disbelief. It's almost unreal. The statement-making construction is part of Kuchlbauer's Bierwelt. Founded back in the 14th century, Kuchlbauer is the oldest wheat - also called white - beer in Germany. 
Hang on a moment..
       Just below the large golden onion dome.
To be allowed up the tower you have to take the 12 € tour. Still, I'm glad I go in today because it's worth every cent. You see not only the bottling side of the brewery but also Engel Aloisius, the patron saint of beer drinkers in Bavaria (below), the so-called "wheat beer dwarves" (our guide tells me they also speak in English on the international tour) and, tucked away in a corner of the cellar, a sensational half-scale interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper".

Of his work, Hundertwasser said "I want to show how basically simple it is to have paradise on earth. And everything that the religions and dogmas and the various political creeds promise, is all nonsense." No wonder the church tower of Kuchlbauer's "Kunsthaus", just next door, is three times more wobbly than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

To be honest, this is more art than  beer tour. I can imagine learning a lot more about beer making at, say Löwenbrau or Hacker Pschorr. Still, it's a colourful insight into one of the world's oldest breweries. I'll definitely do the tour again when we have visitors from the UK. Even if it's only to see a bunch of Bavarian beer dwarves chatting away in English.
Oh, and another reason to go again: the tour ends in the neighbouring Biergarten, with a delicious wheat beer and brezel - both free. 

Donnerstag, 30. Juli 2015

Blooping ist menschlich. So enjoy your bloopers, and learn from them!

Oops! Embarassing bloopers are all part of learning.

I've been blogging as a Brit in Bavaria for over five years, and covered many typical expat experiences, from embarrassing myself in a brass band to unashamedly cheating in a cyling competition. But I notice that I've hardly ever discussed what I do almost every day: Teaching.

A good starting point is "bloopers". Also known as "howlers". When you mean to say one thing but say something totally different. If this were a feature film it might be called "For They Know Not What They Say". Teachers are not exempt from blooping, of course. My own biggest blooper was on my first school trip to Germany, when I met my exchange partner’s mother, shook hands and announced “Ich bin sehr erregt”.  I meant to say I was nervously excited (“aufgeregt”), but had confused it with the word for naughtily excited. No wonder she raised a quizzical eyebrow. 

Laughing together with your students about embarrassing "faux pas" like this is a great way of bringing light relief into the classroom. Besides, when students slap their forehead and say “Ah so!” you can bet they won’t make the same mistake again.

The other day a student announced her friend was no longer coming to class because she was “becoming a baby”. When I gave her a surprised look she corrected herself: “Sorry, I mean she’s getting a baby”. “Oh”, I replied, playing along, “is she adopting, buying it online?” It’s one of the most common bloopers you’ll hear from German speakers in English. A tell-tell sign of how arbitrary language can be. Does saying “having a baby” really make any more sense than “getting a baby”? 

Roleplays produce hilarious bloopers too. A student was recently welcoming a guest to her company. Shaking hands with her male counterpart she wanted to say “Ich möchte, dass sie sich zu Hause fühlen“. It came out as “I‘d like to feel you at home”.  

In another roleplay I asked a student to react to the statement “May I smoke here?” Thinking it might make her cough, she obviously had the German word “sensibel” (= sensitive) in mind. The response came out as “Please don’t smoke, I’m sensible.”

But beware serial bloopers. Especially when they lead to misunderstandings. I was invigilating an oral exam in which students had to negotiate the sale of a consignment of jumpers. Yet instead of jumpers the seller kept talking about “journeys”. Her partner clearly had the correct word on their role card too, yet at no point did she say “Oh, don’t you mean jumpers?” She ended up buying 2,000 journeys. Destination unknown.

If only I could have a Euro each time students have inadvertently flirted on the phone by asking callers “Can I give her a massage?”. Better still – creepy creepy – when asking to speak to the “Chief Execution Officer”.

I encourage students to note “minimal pairs”, which look similar but are pronounced differently. There's a clear-cut difference between "end" and "and", for example. Like that 1980s group Cool and the Gang, who German radio presenters still announce as "Kool end ze Geng".

Practising word pairs like this can help students sound less like Lothar Matthais and more like Daniel Radcliffe.

It should also save them from embarrassment in front of their friends too. My all-time favourite blooper came in a class discussion on hobbies, when a student announced he liked to “play sex at the weekend”. The room went all quiet and I noticed some of the girls gag a giggle. My gut reaction was to gracefully ignore the comment. But seeing he was totally serious I had to giggle too. He was simply talking about that musical instrument, the sax.

Dienstag, 28. Juli 2015

Achtung! Leitungswasser feels like a dirty word in Germany

Tap water in Germany: Pure and plentiful.
Just don't dare ask for it in restaurants.

The other day I was in Regensburg, entertaining friends from London. The best preserved medieval city in Germany, Regensburg is my most favourite and well worth a visit if you’re anywhere in South Germany. After enjoying a stroll round this world-heritage gem we decided to call at a restaurant for a midday meal. I’d been there before and loved the pasta. It was very hot, so along with beers we also asked for Leitungswasser. We were served a jug of sparkling water - obviously decanted from an Evian bottle, or similar. When I politely pointed out the mistake to the waitress, she looked a bit confused, and disappeared without a word. Still, she came back after a while with a jug of "normal" tap water and everyone was happy. The meal was lovely too. But when the bill came I noticed they'd charged us 6.99€ (!) for "Mineralwasser".

The waitress seemed out of her depth with my questioning the error, so I asked to see the Manager, explaining we had asked just for "Leitungswasser". We're not allowed to serve tap water, he told me. I was about to enquire if that was for public health reasons contamination risk maybe but then remembered this is Germany. Better avoid humour. Instead I asked "So why didn't the waitress tell me that, instead of simply putting expensive mineral water on the bill?" After a lot of "hin und her" as they say in Germany, the Manager told the waitress to give me a 3€ refund, which was simply handed to me without commentary.

Leaving the restaurant, head held down, I felt a bit like Oliver Twist who’d been similarly rebuffed after daring to ask for second helpings. The three euros in my hand felt more like a trophy than a refund – I’d certainly had to fight for it. Why do restaurants in Germany feel so challenged by a simple request for tap water? Even the poorest countries in the world offer it free without you having to ask.

In future I think I’ll just stick to ordering beer with my meals. And bring along my own tap water.

Montag, 18. Mai 2015

Blow the budget, I'm hypnotised by the wonderful world of BMW.

Outside it looks more like some giant, half collapsed toadstool.  A cross between Dubai airport and space-age shopping mall, BMW's eye-catcher is more about experience than aesthetics.

Billed as an “adventure and delivery centre”, BMW Welt is Munich's third biggest tourist attraction, just behind the English Garden and Marienplatz. Joining me for a guided tour is my class of Tourist Management and Hospitality students. We're treated to a V.I.P. behind-the-scenes look at where customers pay a pretty premium to pick up their new cars in style. A showroom for some of BMW's most flashy and costly vehicles. Like the Fantom Rolls-Royce, price tag 450 000 euros. Christina our guide explains how 450 man hours have gone into building this work of art. And they clearly haven't skimped on accessories. Opening the passenger door, she slides her hand into a side pocket and pulls out a telescope-shaped case, out of which pops an umbrella. It’s all very larger than life, and I'm almost expecting James Bond to come round the corner any moment, jump in and speed off in a cloud of dust.

Models and more

Instead, however, Christina leads us past a plug-in hybrid i8 (above), which she describes as “cutiful”. I’m debating whether to stop and have my photo taken, when our guide beckons us round the corner into a mini cinema. After a flashy publicity film on the BMW brand – more hui than pfui as they say here in Bavaria – a roller shutter behind the screen rises to reveal line upon line of vehicles stacked one over the other. Just this moment a rack robot glides past, hooks itself up onto the car directly in front of us, and carries it off. This is one of around 100 vehicles which are united every day with their owners, and we're about to see such an event “live”. In BMW-talk it's known as “premiere”.
Returning to the main concourse, we find ourselves on a 
BMW Welt - Half airport, half Star Trek
walkway suspended over vehicles ready for collection. “See over there”, says Christina, pointing to three persons standing at the stop of a Hollywood-like staircase. We watch how a car suddenly starts revolving, remote controlled by a pinstripe-suited BMW ambassador. Customers can book from a range of “premiere plus packages”. Little extras include rose petals strewn over the bonnet, a sea of balloons descending from the ceiling, and – for those with matrimony in mind – a wedding ring furtively stashed away in the glove compartment. We don’t actually see any one go down on one knee  – rose stem between teeth – but, given German males’ greatest passion is for cars, no doubt this happens regularly.
Since I’ve asked my students to review BMW Welt as part of their course work, I look later at comments other visitors have left at TripAdvisor. These range from “A car head must” and “Classy, efficient, unpretentious” to “Too much capitalism”. One visitor proudly describes himself as “BMW hypnotised”. 

More  “hui than pfui. Somewhere inside the arch there's also a car.

The nicest thing about BMW Welt, I'd say, is that it's admission free. You can wander around and sit in a brand-new luxury vehicle for nothing. After saying goodbye to my students, and making sure no one I know sees me, I quietly slide behind the steering wheel of the latest Mini Cooper Hardtop. A sublime “only-if” feeling tickles my tummy. I'm awoken from my daydream by a friendly Chinese American touting a zoom lens, asking if I'd like my photo taken. Of course I would.

BMW Welt is not really selling cars, it's selling lifestyle. For me cars are simply about getting from A to B. Function over frills. The thought of measuring my status by the Auto I drive doesn't appeal. And yet for once, just for once, I'm slightly overcome by the glitz and glamour of all these awesome dreams on wheels. Possibly, quite possibly, I too have become “BMW hypnotised”. 

Ah, blow the next holiday Down Under. Where do I put my signature?


Sonntag, 15. März 2015

Follow me on Mission Kiwi

Hello again. If you wondered why I've not been galloping around in my lederhosen recently it's because I was time-outing Down Under. Perhaps you've been following my travels on Howes Out, When I get down to deciphering all the notes I scribbled on the back of old maps there'll hopefully be a book out too. Meanwhile there's a lovely report on my Kiwi travels in The Weekly Telegraph.

New Zealand has to be one of the most beautiful, contrast-rich lands in the world and I'd love to share it with you. I do school and college presentations and will be happy to give a slide show and talk on Mission Kiwi if I'm in your area. Contact Know Howe

Wecome to Mission Kiwi - follow me......

Oh, and here's how I imagine the publicity blurb on the inside cover:

"The Howes always regarded their home in deepest rural Bavaria as way out in the sticks – almost a good hour’s drive from any decently sized town. Until, that is, a 3-month time out takes them to New Zealand. Travelling from Auckland to South Island they stay with local folks, living like Kiwis. Staying inexpensively and often free, but always in stunning mountain top, harbour-view, beachside locations; and invariably remote. But none so out of the way as mainland Takaka – accessible only by boat, 5-seater plane or a winding up-and-down-the mountain track. Will their stays at the end of countless dust tracks, often hours away from the nearest sizeable town, change their view of what it means to ‘live out on a limb’? And, after endless discussions on the ups and downs of moving to New Zealand, will they finally opt to “give it a go” Down Under? From Puttenhausen to Takaka – ex pat Brit Tim Howe gives an amusing insight into travelling a country so far flung yet so familiarly British."

Weekly Telegraph 26 May 2015

Gotta fly, catch you later!

Samstag, 11. Oktober 2014

I bin a Holledauer

Welcome to the gang - uniform's on the way.

“Du spielst doch auch Becken, oder?" (you DO play "Becken", DON'T you?”) says Basti, making quite clear this is not a polite enquiry but a firm command. Basti has been my mentor for the past few weeks while I’ve rehearsed drums with the Jugendkapelle, our local brass band. I was so looking forward to playing drums in public. And now he's relegating me to "Becken".

“Ahhm, yeeees”, I reply hesitantly, not wishing to sound unwilling.

To be honest, I’m not actually sure what’s on offer. When Germans talk about “Becken” it can mean a variety of things, including basin, bowl or pelvis. But it suddenly dawns on me that Bastian is talking about none of these at all. It seems they’ve had a committee meeting and decided I’m no good on drums. Bastian goes on to explain that their cymbals player has given up just two days before our public appearance. They've searched high and low for a replacement and couldn't find one. He doesn't say so directly, but the message is clear: I'm their very last choice.

Just to fill you in, if you're new to the blog. I'm on a mission to find out what it's REALLY like to be a Bavarian. I'm essentially trying to become a Bavarian - and a very special type too - a Holledau Bavarian. That doesn't just mean putting on a lederhosen and swaying from side to side with a beer-fuelled grin on my face. No no, I've gone the whole hog. From helping grannies pluck hops at a public viewing to fluttering fingers to cheesey Neil Diamond songs (very Bavarian). My final challenge, before I can call myself a die-hard Bavarian, is to play in a brass band.

Which brings me back to the cymbals. The only member of the percussion family I’ve ever played is the triangle, and not since school. Cymbals typically weigh in at around 3.5 kg, and holding them up to my chest it feels like I’m auditioning for Iron Man at the local INJOY.

We haven’t even finished rehearsing “Weiß Blauer” and my hands are already feeling like they’re about to disconnect from my limbs and slide off.

The Gallimarkt is the region’s biggest beerfest and one of the oldest in Bavaria. On the opening night we’ll play for an hour near the Town Hall and then head the procession of clubs and associations towards the beer tents. Marching time: approx. one hour. I seriously contemplate thanking the band for the nice experience and pulling out gracefully, before I make a complete muppet of myself.

On the big day, however, I decide to go after all. I arrive at the meeting place just after five, as instructed. But absolutely no one is there. Neither band nor spectators. So much for German punctuality. I panic. Maybe I’ve got the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong day even? Pulling out my mobile, I step into a shop doorway and pretend to look busy, checking my social media accounts, like an embarrassed teenager being stood up on a first date. No messages, no status updates. Nothing. Just as I'm about to leave, the band suddenly all appear, as if from nowhere. Soon Christian is handing me cymbals, along with a very smart hat and jacket. “When we march off, start on your left foot and just count one-two, one-two”, he instructs.

Proud performers, And don't we look great, dressed up as Mennonites.

The concert goes quite well, actually. At least I manage not to drop the cymbals. I’m obviously much louder than anyone else in the band, because people are soon starting to clasp hands to their ears and move away from me. Band members and spectators alike.

Finally we start marching and it feels great, moving down streets lined with onlookers clapping and cheering us all on. Unfortunately, all I can remember from the march is the ear-splitting noise of my cymbals.

Our destination is "Dausinger" – an enormous beer tent, where the Bürgermeister is getting ready to do the "Anstich", the ceremonial tapping of the keg. Before we've even sat down the band are ordering mountain-size servings of Schweinshax’n and Halbes Hendl. I'm always amazed how Germans can wolf down XXL portions with every liter Bier. I’m far too excited after marching to eat anything at all. Soon we’re all clinking Mass mug and swapping stories. I start talking to trumpeter Maria, and ask if she’s still fit after blowing two hours non stop. “That’s nothing”, she says, “tomorrow we’ll play six hours”. I say how much I’ve enjoyed being their guest cymbalist and, laughing, she suggests I come to more rehearsals. Nice to hear they want to see me again. But Maria, it seems, has different ideas: “Du sollst a bisserl mehr üben – you really ought to practise a bit more”, she adds.

Looking for the loo, I spot the Hallertau Beer Queen coming towards me. After the long drawn-out official proceedings, the evening is only just starting for 17-year old Anna, who I met recently at the hop-plucking ceremony. She tells me they’re all going to the After-Show at "Almhüttn", an alpine-style log hut behind the big tent. Will she be dancing on the tables too? No, Anna laughs, that’s for the younger ones.

By now I’m a little hoarse from trying to make myself heard over the sound of “Froschhaxn-Express" playing up on stage. My arms have almost gone dead after marching with two 3.5 kilo weights. Deciding to call it a day, I hand in my band hat and jacket and head off home.

What an amazing finale to all those rehearsals. Performing in public – albeit “only” cymbals – was far more fun than I could ever imagine, and I loved every moment of the concert and the ceremonial march. Thank you to everyone in the Jugendkappelle for letting me join your ranks and share the thrill of being part of a Bavarian brass band for a little bit.

So then, home and dry! My mission to be Bavarian - a Holledau Bavarian - is accomplished! And evidence below, that the whole process was more than worth it....

Burgers of the Holledau, you're the greatest – Ihr seid die Besten!

Good to go anywhere you like!

Weekly Telegraph 30.10 - 05.11.2014