Saturday, October 28, 2006

Vacation Pictures #3 - Scenes from Munich

This is a view of the Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall), a gem of Neogothic. To look at it, you'd never guess that construction was finished on it in 1905. The central bell tower includes a mechanical glockenspiel where knights joust and jesters dance at certain times of the day. The plaza it faces is known as the Marienplatz, and while the building no longer houses most of the city government, it does have shops and a restaurant (good restaurant, too).

Another view of the Neue Rathaus.

Mary is the matron saint of Bavaria, and this statue is in her honor facing the Neue Rathaus. It was freshly gilded for the Pope's visit earlier this year.

Now this surprised me. The Isar River runs through Munich, and part of it was diverted over a hundred years ago to supply the artificial streams and lakes in the English Garden, the largest park in the city. To slow the diverted water down there are a series of barriers just under the surface that cause rapids, and here were two fellows in wet suits surfing.

The English Garden is a park about a mile wide at its widest point and nearly three miles long.

This is the front of Munich University. The only known student protest against Nazism and the War was held here, by several students and a teacher who called themselves the White Rose. There is a small museum in their honor within the main university building, while copies of the leaflets they were passing out have been reproduced as ceramic plaques and embedded in the plaza in front of the building, as if they had been strewn there:

Friday, October 27, 2006

Vacation Pictures #2 - The Zugspitze

This is the Sonn Alpin (Alpine Sun) restaurant, on the glacier at the mountain's eastern shoulder. It's at the 2600 meter level.

The view from the Sonn Alpin, looking generally south towards Switzerland.

That up there is the actual summit of the Zugspitze, along with the highest beer garden in Germany.

This chapel (about a hundred feet or so higher than the Sonn Alpin and maybe a couple hundred yards away) is dedicated to those who lost their lives climbing the mountains.

The view from the chapel, looking east toward Austria.

Another view towards the summit.

This is the view from the summit towards the Eissee (Ice Lake), an glacier-fed lake that also marks the terminal where the cog railway and the cable car meet.

Yours Truly at the closest point he wanted to get to the actual summit of the Zugspitze, which is seen over his shoulder. To reach it would require actually clambering over the rocks, trusting to cable railings.

The cross marks the actual summit, at 9,734 feet above sea level. You can see that at least one hardy soul's made the climb.

The view from the summit, looking east.

"Back off?" Fuck You.

An open missive to the "Honorable" Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense:


Your admonition for critics of the Iraq War to "back off" merely served to reinforce my opinion of you as an egregiously stupid man.

"Back off?" I and several million other Americans pay your salary, you asshole. If we demand an accounting, then by all that's holy you'd better start ponying up straight answers. And by straight answers I don't mean the waffling, obfuscating dancing you did at your most recent press conference.

Your conduct of this war has been a disgrace to the United States, and to the Air Force (I recall that you once served in that branch). Of course, I have known several Air Force veterans, and found them to be almost to a man opinionated, rigid, close-minded assholes.

So, "back off?"


Fuck you.

Very sincerely, ...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Vacation Pictures, #1

Hi there!

As promised, here are the start of my vacation pictures. I've had to be a bit picky, as my computer only has a dial-up connection right now (I'm looking into upgrading). So, we begin!

Welcome to Germany! This is the entrance to Franz Josef Strauss International Airport in Munich. To the right is the Hotel Kempinski, and ahead is the bank of escalators and stairs leading down to the communter rail station. See, a cab can take you where you want to go, but it could take an hour and cost you the equivalent of $50. The commuter trains leave from this platform every 20 minutes or so, are a lot faster, and only cost about $12.

At the entrance to the pedestrian-only shopping zone of Neuhauser and Kauflinger Streets is the Karlsplatz. This broad plaza with its huge fountain is a popular gathering place just between the shopping area and the central train station. It's also a major road intersection and tram stop.

This is one of the gates to the old city of Munich, the Karlstor or Charles Gate. Although it was first mentioned in 1201, it's been rebuilt several times over the years. Since the sun was in my eyes as I entered the shopping district, I waited until I was through the gate before taking this picture.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Railroad Flyer

Before I post any pictures, I had to show you this engaging little fellow. He's Max Maulwurf, the mascot for Deutsche Bahn's construction efforts throughout Germany. Cute, eh?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Day 13: Home Again, Home Again ...

I apologize for the lateness of this post, as it's taken me that long to get unpacked and recover (somewhat) from the hideous flight back.

First, the security measures: At Munich Airport I had to be screened via my passport photo to make sure it was me, then to have the passport stamped by Customs. Then I had to submit to a full security check (carry-on bag scanned, shoes Xrayed and I was even frisked) before being allowed near the gate.

The plane took off about 10 minutes late, the basso roar of the jet engines given a soprano accompaniment by the screams of babies. Yes, there were children on the flight, and none of them seemed prepared to sleep during the nine-hour flight.

Lunch was served, tasty but nowhere near what I had grown accustomed to having, but about four hours later the staff seemed to get a little desperate. They gave us snacks and offered us all the free water and OJ we could drink, and seemed relieved when we finally deplaned at Philadelphia.

Now I know how sheep feel at times, as we were literally herded first to Customs to have our passports stamped, then to baggage claim to collect our suitcases. Then we had to declare any items that we might be gringing into the country, and all the while I'm glaring at my watch, well aware that my connecting flight is leaving in just over an hour.

Then we had to check our baggage back through so that it could be loaded, and suffer in line through yet another search (as if we'd all had the opportunity to pick up those free bazookas at the duty free shop while in flight). I made it to my gate just as they started boarding.

The connecting flight to Orlando was another nightmare, with babies whose screams were shrill enough to commend them to the Army as another nonlethal area denial weapon. I had had enough, so when the drinks cart came round I asked the steward, "Do you have vodka?"

"Yes," he said.

"Do you have orange juice?"

"Of course."

I threw a $20 at him and commanded him to make me a screwdriver. After two of them I felt a tad bit better disposed to the screaming children and their harried parents.

The plane landed at Orlando fifteen minutes early, and I got the hell out of there and back home as quickly as possible. Now, after a good night's sleep and sifting through a mountain of mail, I can say with conviction:

"I'm so glad I'm back, I'm glad I went."


Now, those of you have followed this blog forthe past two weeks: I thank you for reading along, and rest assured that some of the 1,523 pictures I took with my digital camera will be making it onto this blog as soon as possible.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Day Twelve

My last day in Munich came, and I went for yet another walk to get a few more pictures and to get a book from the Residenz Museum. I decided to take side streets to get there, trusting that I knew my way around by now.

Amazing what you can find on side streets. I saw a metal grating on the sidewalk, like you'd see any day in any city, but this one wasn't covering a steam vent and it had the shape of a dead man cast into it (like the tape or chalk outlines you see at crime scenes). At the head of the outline was a plaque, and I understood.

In 1918, a man named Kurt Eisner decided to overthrow the Wittelsbach monarchy (revolution was in the air those days) and set up a republic in Bavaria. He was not successful, and was gunned down at that very spot. Very interesting.

Later I hopped onto a subway and headed out of town to ship 11 kilos of souvenirs back home. At a cost of €210. Since the dollar is now $1.25 to 1 Euro, you figure out how much that cost me.

Speaking of costs, I also had a look around and found the German equivalent of a stop&rob gas/convenience store (the place is called Agip). Now, in Europe they sell gasoline by the liter (about a quart, more or less), and Agip's price for regular unleaded was €1.10 a liter. Now, just doing some flying calculations, I figure that works out to about $5.48 a gallon.

No wonder they invented the Smart Car.

Speaking of that, I found out that there are two types of Smart Car, a two-door sedan and a four-door station wagon that's a bit smaller than a Mini. There are also a bewildering array of brands running the roads:
German: Porsche, Mercedes, MAN (trucks), BMW, Audi, Volkswagen
French: Peugeot, Citroen, Renault
Italy: FIAT, Alfa-Romeo
Czech Republic: Skoda
US - affiliated: Opel, Ford (including one lunatic who drove an F250 pickup)
Britain: Jaguar, Land Rover, Mini Cooper
Japan: Honda, Toyota, Kia

You'll also find that, in city driving at least, the staid, sober and disciplined Germans are anything but when they're behind the wheel. That includes bicycles.

After bumming about in my room and getting things packed, I went back to the Augustiner Restaurant on Neuhauser Street for dinner. Now, in an earlier post I said that it's been in the same place since 1897, and that's very true; what I didn't mention was that the restaurant was founded by Augustinian monks in 1328.

I decided to splurge for my last night in Munich, so I ordered Rehschnitzel. What I got was thin cutlets of venison, pan-fried and served in a sauce that included juniper. The meat was served with chopped chanterelle mushrooms in a cream sauce, fresh cranberry relish and a bowl of the egg noodles called spätzel. A half-liter of dark wheat beer to drink, and I was ready to go.

I almost started crying at the first bite.

It. Was. That. DAMNED. Good.

I ate everything and tipped the waiter well.

I shall write about my journey home either late Saturday night or Sunday. Till then, see ya!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Day 11, Or "It's not a balloon, it's an AIRSHIP!"

This post brought to you by the Toad Elevating Moment.

(Last night, having determined to get a snack, I decided to try the food at the main train station's food court. I had a fish sandwich that was light-years ahead of anything you'd get in an American fast food place.)

The day was overcast and foggy again, and the sun didn't show its full force until mid-afternoon, which was a pity.

I left Munich on an InterCity Express to start my last day trip. Since there was no direct line to Friedrichshafen, I had to change trains at Ulm.

Even a second-class seat on one of these intercity runs (mine was going to end up in Paris) was fairly plush. Airliner-style seats, complete with folding trays; while the conductors were checking tickets a young lady went up the aisle offering coffee, drinks and snacks. A small magazine extolled the quality of the cuisine in the dining cars, and I noted that the return run featured a dining car.

Good cuisine on a train? I asked myself.

We'll see about that.

Unfortunately, due to construction on the line, the train pulled into the Ulm Bahnhof at the same time my connection was pulling out of the station, leaving me with an hours' dead time in Ulm.

While I was there, I did try to look up Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfernschplendenschlittercrasscrenbonfrieddiggerdingledangledongledunglebursteinvon- knackerthrasherapplebangerhorowitzticolensicgranderknottyspelltinklegrandlichgrumble- meyerspelterwasserkurstlichhimbleeisenbahnwagengutenabendbitteeinnürnburgerbratwurst- legerspurtenmitzweimacheluberhundsfutgumberabershönedankerkalbsfleischmittleraucher von Hauptkopf of Ulm, but his family has an entire separate phone directory just for themselves - and it's bigger than the city directory!

(Okay, Monty Python Moment now over. I'll be good from now on. Maybe.)

On the way south, I saw more farmlands, and pastures with sheep and horses.

Friedrichshafen is a small city that is historically notable for a few things, one of which is the launch, in 1900, of the LZ-1, the world's first rigid airship. The inventor and chief guiding force behind this amazing feat was Ferdinand, Graf (Count) von Zeppelin. Every airship that has a rigid skeleton is now dignified with the name zeppelin in honor of Old Ferdy. During the War, Friedrichshafen was also home to industrial concerns like Maybach (cars, tank engines) and Dornier (airplanes), and as a result it was almost hammered flat by the Allies.

Now the place is home to EADS (which runs Airbus), Zeppelin NT (which is trying to bring back airships), Zeppelin (which now makes heavy construction machinery) and several other companies. It is also home to the Zeppelin Museum.

The Museum inhabits the old harbor airport with a beautiful view of the Bodensee (or Lake Constance, if you prefer). Since I had arrived an hour late, I figured that lunch was in order first, and headed for the Museum's restaurant.

Taking a tip from my guide book, I asked for Felchen "Müllerin Art." Felchen is a fish, related to salmon but white-fleshed, and the style of cooking says that it's roasted in almonds. It came with potatoes and a leafy green salad with a very light vinaigrette, and I ate it with a half-liter of the local pilsner. Excellent!

The Museum was even better! The key feature of the place is a reproduction of a 108-foot section of LZ-129, better known as the Hindenburg, which exploded and crashed in flames at Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937. The recreation was as perfect as they could make it, using original materials to display two cabins and the main promenade deck, along with part of its duralumin skeleton. There's also one of its propellers on display, as well as the nose cone and one engine pod from the Hindenburg's predecessor, the Graf Zeppelin.

There are also mementoes, uniforms, models and displays. There's even the huge old Maybach limousine that used to ferry passengers in style out to the waiting airship.

Suffice it to say, by the time I left the museum it was too late to hop aboard a passenger ferry for a brief trip across the 15-mile wide stretch of water to Switzerland, so I headed back to Ulm, and from there to Munich.

I had not forgotten the dining car, so I made my way back to it and ordered the first thing I saw on the menu: Steinpilzrahmsuppe. The girl behind the counter looked at me funny, but processed the order (I had a soda to drink with it).

It's cream of mushroom soup, made with wild mushrooms, garnished with chives and served with bread.


So now I'm back here in Munich, with one more day to go.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Day Ten, Or Castles and Cheesecake

(A note about last night: Ever feel hungry, but not hungry enough for a full meal? Well, in Munich look for a place whose sign includes the word 'Imbiss' (or Imbiß). It means snacks, so I went and had one.

It is called currywurst. A large sausage, roughly twelve inches long, is cut into one-inch pieces, then slathered with a not-too-spicy sauce and sprinkled with curry powder. Not bad at all, really, and a bargain at E1.50.)

Now, on to today.

I boarded another train today, the weather nice and sunny, and headed for the town of Füssen. After getting off the train, I picked up a bus that took me another five kilometers to the village of Hohenschwangau. The trip was through some of the most beautiful farmland I had seen thus far, with pasturage for cows, horses, and sturdy-looking shaggy ponies.

Hohenschwangau has two things going for it other than its name being a triple-word score in Scrabble, and they are Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein. Yes, two castles.

I toured Schloss Hohenschwangau first, requiring me to take a dizzying walk up a switchback path to the castle's back door (those who chose to go up by horse-drawn cart came in through the front gate). Word of advice - NONE OF THESE PLACES ARE FOR THE DISABLED!

Okay, public service message over.

The castle is still a private home, owned by the Wittelsbach Family, and therefore photographs of the interior are not allowed. I sneaked a few anyway. The place was an old Order Castle, meaning that its first inhabitants were an order of knights - in this case the Order of the Swan (swans are common here, hence the use of the word in place names). The castle fell into disrepair until the mid-1800s when the then-King Maximilian decided it'd make a splendid summer home and hunting lodge. It feels like a home, too.

I was feeling peckish, so I ate lunch at the Müller Hotel's outdoor cafe. I had smoked trout with toast and butter, a bottle of an amazing dark beer (I have yet to find a beer in Germany I HAVEN'T liked), and by the time I got to dessert it was getting close to time to go up the mountain.

I opted for cheesecake and coffee, and bought another ticket.

No long hikes for me today, so I took a bus to a way point partway up from Neuschwanstein. From there I took a path that led to a spot called Marienbrücke, Mary's Bridge. See, old King Max decided to give his wife a gift, so he had a bridge built across a steep Alpine gorge, so she could admire the view of the river and waterfall far below. The other end of the bridge leads to a series of hiking paths that take you to the top of a mountain called the Tegerberg.

The middle of the bridge, when you face north, gives you the classic view of Neuschwanstein perched on its narrow ridge. It's not a medieval castle; there was one there, but King Max's son Ludwig II had it removed when he wanted a dream palace done for himself.

Neuschwanstein was built by a theatrical set designer, not an architect, and it shows. It also explains why Disney chose it as the model for the castles at his theme parks. His throne room is modeled after an idea of what a Byzantine emperor's throne room would look like, there's a plaster and lath "grotto" just off his bedroom, and the walls are decorated with scenes from Wagnerian operas.

Again, picture taking inside is prohibited, for the following reasons: no way you can stop people using flash photography, some of the paintings are still under copyright, and it would cause immense traffic jams as everyone stopped to take snaps.

Logical, as far as it goes.

Ludwig never spent a single night in his dream palace, which was finished at the same time we started seeing skyscrapers in New York. He was later judged to be insane, deposed, and later died under mysterious circumstances (he and his psychiatrist went out boating; they were both found drowned in shallow water).

So, it's almost 9 PM here, so I'm going to find one of those Imbiß signs and get a bite to eat.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Day 9, Or I Have BEEN To The Mountaintop!

First, I misspoke; the Zugspitze is 9734 feet high, not 9200. And after seeing it for myself, I can vouch for that.

Now, the trip: I rode a Deutsche Bahn regional line from München to the ski resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (also famous for being the birthplace of composer Richard Strauss). The day dawned cold, raw and cloudy, but after passing the tiny village of Oberau the sun broke free. The autumn foliage was spectacular, and the farmlands are the kind that can only be produced with about a thousand years`careful work.

After arriving at the town, I bought a ticket for 45 Euro and boarded a small tram by the Olympic Ice Sports Palace. After a few stops, I transferred to a Zahnradbahn, or cog wheel train, for the ride up the mountain. My ears kept popping again, a great dress rehearsal for my return to America this weekend.

The train deposited me and the other visitors at the 2600-meter level (not sure about that in feet, but awfully high) at the Sonn Alpin (Alpine Sun) restaurant and visitor`s center. The view was little short of breathtaking, and for me who`s used to a more sea level existence, the word `breathtaking`was quite literal.

The Sonn Alpin is located on a shoulder of the mountain called the Zugspitz Plateau, part of the glacier that is the main attraction for skiers. There is a small wooden chapel nearby, and I almost ran out of breath walking up to it to get some pictures.

But this is not the summit; the summit is to the west and about a thousand feet further up. It is only accessible by cable car.

Cable car.

I HATE cable cars. Trusting myself to an airplane is bad enough, but staking my life against the tensile strength of braided wire cables, and only three of them at that?

I went anyway, just to see the top of the mountain. The cable car deposits you at a combination restaurant, weather station and communications nexus, and a biergarten billed as "Germany`s Highest." I can see why.

The view is magnificent up there, and small signs point the way to the 4 countries you can see from Germany`s highest peak:

The actual tippy-tippy-top of the mountain is accessible by a spindly metal ladder and a hiking path marked out in loose cable guard rails, and is marked by a tall gold cross. Needless to say, I thought that I had diced with Death enough for one day, and after shooting more pictures I headed back down the mountain and retraced my route back to Munich.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Day 8.5: Where to Eat, Where to Shop

Well, a brief time out while I brief those of you who are reading this on what I`ve learned after a week of Munich life:

1. Shopping

I figured out that bags cost money. I went to a small market to pick up a few things, and the bag cost me E0.09. That market is called Aldi Süd, and is what you might find in any big city - a small place that sells necessities (bread, meat, eggs, diapers, pet food, etc.).

A larger market is Rewe; bigger selection, wider variety and slightly higher costs.

If you don`t mind riding escalators, you could try the Kaufhof or Hertie department stores. These two sell EVERYTHING.

Another place worth poking your nose into is Saturn, which sells appliances and electronic goods.

2. Dining

Well, what can I say? If you`ve been following along, you can tell that I`m not missing any meals at all (my waistline shows it!). But if you`re ever in the neighborhood, here`s a few tips:

American-style breakfasts are not usual here - witness the fact that neither McD`s nor BK have a breakfast menu. Fresh-squeezed juices (orange, carrot, apple, etc.) are the norm, along with a pastry, some fruit or cheese. One breakfast selection I saw at a restaurant offered weisswurst, fruit, cheese and a beer. I`m not kidding.

Beer here is under the Reinheitsgebot - the 400 year old decree that the beer must be made to strict standards of purity. As a result, the beer is excellent and nutritious, and I can down a half-liter of it (a liter is slightly larger than a quart) with little trouble afterward.

Now, I missed two restaurant reviews over the past week. One is the Cafe Greco in the Neue Pinakothek (which I viewed last Wednesday). I had a fairly traditional Münchener lunch there: a slice of leberkäse the size of a ham steak, fried until it had a crispness to the surface, and served with a fried egg on top. I say fairly traditional because I had a glass of good Merlot with it.

Another is Haus Ming, on the Schwanthalerstrasse just down from my hotel. The Chinese food there is not bad at all - I can recommend the sweet and sour pork.

So, what restaurants can I recommend?

Any VinzenzMurr franchise - they serve other things beside leberkäse, after all.

Augustiner Restaurant, on Neuhauserstrasse.

Schneider Bräuhaus, just east of where the pedestrian shopping area ends (what is known as the Tal or Valley, traditionally the area between the last city gate and the river).

And you know the rest.

Day 8, Or Loose Ends And Earthquakes

(Another excellent dinner with a half-liter of tasty dark beer. Stefan's, on Adolf-Kolping-Strasse. Service could have been faster, though, but you can't have everything.)

I didn't have much planned for today, so it was time to shop! I bought some more batteries for my digital camera (the little guy eats up battery power like nobody's business), some more film for my Old Reliable 35mm, and a knit wool cap.

Why a knit wool cap, you ask?

Well, the day dawned cloudy and distinctly chilly, with the temperature showing that it was only 8 degrees (I am guessing that would put it somewhere in the low 40s). Since I am planning on ascending to the top of the 9200-foot tallest mountain in Germany (the Zugspitze), I figured I would need it. Besides, it's got the FC Bayern München logo on it.

I have been to the train station and arranged the following trips:

1. Tuesday: To Garmisch-Partenkirchen. From there I will take a cog railway and a cable car to the summit, and be back in Munich that night.

2. Wednesday: To Neuschwanstein. I plan on visiting the two castles erected at the behest of the Bavarian King Ludwig II, who was considered crazier than George W Bush.

3. Thursday: To Friedrichshafen. The two things to recommend this little town is the museum commemorating the exploits and vision of Graf von Zeppelin (you, know, airships!) and a quick ferry trip across Lake Constance to touch ground in Switzerland.

Earthquakes in Hawai'i. Hmm, the Weird Shit -o- Matic is working overtime. Let's see what other earthquakes are in view, hmm?
Thanks to Blondesense Liz, I read where the number of Americans who actually believe the 9/11 intelligence stands at 16%. That should just about cover the number of people who still think that Bush should have his visage carved on Mount Rushmore.
President Moshe Katsav of Israel is likely to be charged with rape. Interesting! I had only thought he'd get hammered for sexual harrassment. Either way, his career is toast.
The price of oil at the barrel is going up again. Seems that the Saudis can't maintain their social welfare state without high oil revenue. Nice to see that they emulated us in establishing a sustainable society.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Day 7, Or Day Of Rest? HAH!

(Last night I had dinner in several places, trying out what some would call "old, established firms." The main course for supper was roast pork loin with a dumpling and a crisp and tasty cabbage salad at the Augustiner Restaurant on Neuhauser Strasse - it's been in business at the same place since 1897. Dessert was a delicious hazelnut torte and coffee at Woerner's, which has been in the same place on the Marienplatz since 1875. An after dinner drink was provided at the hotel bar, where I had my first taste of grappa. Not bad at all, imho.)

One thing you'll notice if you ever come to Munich is the fact that 95% of everything closes up tight on Sundays. No stores, few restaurants and damn little else.

So I had to scrap my plans to do some shopping. Instead, I did the following:

1. Attended Mass at the Frauenkirche, the main cathedral here. I managed to keep up with the responses and everything in German, but bowed out before the Eucharist, explaining in Latin, "Hic est non mensa mea (this is not my table)."

2. Just a stone's throw (if you have a great pitching arm) from the Frauenkirche is the Deutsches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum, the German Hunting and Fishing Museum.

No, I'm NOT kidding. This place has hunting trophies dating back to before the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the world's largest collection of prehistoric fishhooks. There are weapons like boar-spears and beautifully decorated firearms (including a 5-barrelled shotgun). I counted points on some of the deer trophies, and there is one 24-point buck represented there.

There is also a display of what they term Wolpetingers, which would be instantly familiar to anyone who's seen a fur-bearing trout or a jackalope. The raccoon with wings and boar's tusks was interesting.

3. I took the train up to the suburb of Oberschleissheim in order to visit the German Museum's aircraft annex. Of course, the connecting bus to the place doesn't run on weekends, but it wasn't too far, and the weather was cool and very sunny.

The annex used to be an airbase, first for the Royal Bavarian Flying Corps, then the German Luftwaffe, then the US Air Force, then the Luftwaffe again. It's still an operating airstrip, although traffic control is routed through the far larger Munich Airport a few miles away. Among the items on display are the skeletal remains of Germany's first powered aircraft. It was built by the Vollmöller brothers in 1910, but on their second attempt it crashed, killing one of them.

4. On the way back from the museum, I stopped by the castle complex there, and promptly got crazy. This is a complex composed of three palaces, built over a period from 1680 to 1820. I only had time to really visit the 'New' Palace, and the place was, in a word, magnificent. Crazy some of the Wittelsbachs might have been, but they new how to get the most out of their real estate.

The grounds of this place are modeled after the gardens in Versailles and other places, and have very strong regulations. You can't ride a bike there, and you have to keep your dog leashed - so as not to bother the deer. Yes, the place is a game preserve. I didn't see any deer, but there were swans and ducks swimming in the huge ornamental reflecting ponds. Yeah, it's THAT big, folks.

So, once again I did a lot of walking. According to my digital camera, I've shot about 900 images and still have one empty memory card. The next week awaits!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Day Six, Dachau

(Last night I had to try an experiment. I count at least four American fast food joints within walking distance of my hotel: McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and Pizza Hut. The only major differences I`ve spotted so far are no breakfast menus, a wider coffee selection, and beer. Yes, you can get a beer with your Big Mac.

So I went to Pizza Hut for supper last night, and ordered a barbecue chicken pizza for one. What they brought me could have fed 2 comfortably, and it was piled high with chunks of chicken, pepperoni, red onion and red and yellow bell peppers. And the sauce was the right mix of sweet and savory. Very tasty.

I must ask the McDonalds here if they`ll offer a McLeberkäse sandwich sometime ...)

My Dad told me about his visit to Dachau, in the late 1940s shortly after the war. He recalled that the one thing that struck him hardest was the smell of the place. Well, sixty years on, the smell is gone, but there is a feel about the place.
Gentle readers, I at times believe in pantheism, and that places can have memories as well as people. The feeling I got at the Dachau concentration camp chilled me. Granted, it had rained during the night and the day was cloudy, windy and cold (the first time since I got here), but it could have been bright daylight in summer and the place would still have made itself known to me.
Known to me? It damned near screamed at me.
In an effort to make sure that people remember, the surviving inmates prevailed on the German Government to tear the barracks down in 1955 (people were living in them, and had converted some into schools and stores), and set the site aside as a memorial. The two barracks that are standing are recreations, as are the foundations of the other barracks. The gate house, with its iron gate bearing the mocking slogan Arbeit Macht Frei, the maintenance building where inmates were processed and given their weekly showers, and the Bunker (for punishment and the housing of special prisoners, such as Pastor Martin Niemoller) are the original.
Both of the crematoria are also original.
Four religious shrines are there as well: Jewish, Russian Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic. They`re needed.
The main sculpture on the memorial to the dead was made by a former inmate, a Yugoslavian fellow who spent 8 years there. It`s a disturbing casting in wrought iron depicting emaciated prisoners caught in barbed wire, and a short distance away is a plaque with a slogan on it in five languages.
Never again.
I had planned on doing nothing tomorrow (it being Sunday and all), but I can`t sit still for too very long. Among other things I want to start arranging transportation for my day trips. I plan on visiting:
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and journey to the top of the Zugspitze;
Friedrichshafen, and visit the Zeppelin Museum and Lake Constance, and
Schloss Neuschwanstein.
I think that may be all I can manage before I have to leave for home next Saturday.
Well, time to hit another biergarten for supper!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Day Five, Or Friday the 13th ...

(Actually, the 13th is usually my luckiest day.)

A little word of advice for those of you considering a vacation to Germany - most places (like museums) open at 10 AM and close at 8 PM. And sometimes they never open on Sundays.

So I took my time getting ready to sojourn today, and made my way down to the Isar River. Munich straddles this river, and a diversion of it supplies water to the artificial lakes in the English Garden. On an island in the river stands a huge building dignified with the name of German Museum.

Now, you`ve probably gotten the idea that I like museums, and this place almost vacuumed me up never to be seen again. It has an entire tugboat and a sailing coastal fishing vessel on display inside their Maritime Hall, along with a working windmill (you know, the kind the Dutch use) sitting just outside. Their aircraft hall has a beautifully restored Junkers Ju-52 trimotor transport plane.

Computers? How about the first German computer, built by Zuse in 1944? Or Dr. Geiger`s first radiation counter? And of course it has a lot of other things in it as well, as the museum is dedicated to everything - chemistry, physics, power machinery, electricity, you name it. There´s an annex up in the northwest suburb of Oberschleissheim, and I will be visiting that Saturday afternoon (I couldn`t score tickets to the FC Bayern München game). What cheeses me off a bit is that they`re opening a transportation annex near the Oktoberfest meadow of Theresienwiese - but it opens on the day I leave!

Speaking of the Theresienwiese, I did get out there to take a few pictures of the forlorn and empty pavilions, as well as the towering bronze statue named 'Bavaria`that looks down on the field. It must be thirty feet tall, I swear.

Well, nothing much to talk about for today, so I'll try out another biergarten and rest up for my trip tomorrow to Dachau. Ought to be interesting, as well as disturbing.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Day 4, More Sightseeing

(First, last night: Now, folks, I've tried. I've REALLY tried not to become The Ugly American, but last night just made me do it.

Here's what happened: After a splendid dinner of roast pork in a savory sauce at a cafe along the Kaufinger Strasse (part of the pedestrian-only area) I was on my way back to the hotel when I decided to stop by the AK Cafe for dessert. I ordered apple strudel with vanilla sauce, and a cup of tea with lemon (in German, that last is Tee mit Zitrone). After five minutes, the guy puts down a cup containing hot water and lemon juice, but no tea. Five minutes later when he brings the strudel, I asked him for tea.

He said, "Yes, tea with lemon. Did you want milk?"

I snapped. I brought my voice to two notches below Public Nuisance, pointed to the cup and demanded, "Do YOU see any tea in there? Or did Germany change the word for 'tea' when my back was turned?" He ran off to get me a tea bag.

The strudel was magnificent, and I wasn't charged for the tea.)


More museums! Getting close to the end of the museum tours now. I risked further damage to my feet by visiting the Antikensammlungen (Antiques Collection), the Glyptothek (Sculpture Gallery) and the Stadisches Gallerie (City Art Gallery). The first two have objects collected by the kings of Bavaria and others dating back to the Etruscans, Egyptians and Mycenae; the more recent stuff dates to the 1st Century AD. The first two buildings are massive Classical Greek structures; the third is what is called the Lenbach House, and is a beautiful Italian Renaissance villa. The Lenbach House houses his own works, as well as art by Warhol, Kandinsky and Muenter.

After that, a nice lunch was in order, so I went west a few blocks to the Löwenbräu Biergarten and had a good hearty lunch of spicy pork sausage, potato salad and a half-liter of dark wheat beer.

The sky was starting to get a bit hazy late in the afternoon, which was bad timing for me as I had boarded the U-bahn (subway) for the Olympic Park. Yes, it's still there; I wanted to get some 'up high' pics of the area.

189 meters high, in fact - the observation deck of the Olympic Tower. That's roughly 700 feet up, and even in the haze the view was incredible.

It seems that the usual thing has happened again; when I go on vacation, odd things can happen. Usually, it's a tropical storm or similar weather feature if I leave the state; one year it was a hurricane and an earthquake up in Canada.
But since I left the country the Weird Shit Machine decided to go into overtime. Little Kim decided to shoot off his pet project (I almost laughed at the supposed yield - 0.5 kiloton would be a mistake if anyone else had done it), and a Yankees pitcher apparently decided he couldn't live without going to the World Series so he went apartment-hopping.
And I still have another week here in Germany.
Bets on what Weird Shit will happen next?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Day Three, Or Museums

(Supper last night was a Munich tradition - weisswurst (veal sausage) with pretzels and a half-liter of Weissbier. The weissbier's made with wheat instead of barley, and has a sweet and spicy note to it. Yummy! After that I went walking, got lost, asked directions, got MORE lost, and finally returned to my hotel at about 9:30. Needless to say, I woke up with blisters.)

I did not let the blisters deter me at all, and headed out this morning for the trio of art galleries known as the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek, and the Pinakothek der Moderne (the Old, New, and Modern Art Galleries).

The Old Gallery is immense, and walking up the stairs almost redefined what sore feet mean to me. However, it was worth it, in terms of the works I saw:
Da Vinci's "Madonna with Carnation"
Duerer's "Self Portrait"
Titian's "Portrait of Emperor Charles V"
And works by Rubens, Boucher, the Brueghels, and on and on.

The New Gallery is a bit smaller, and was rebuilt after the War to house collections that got scattered. Some of the works I saw there:
Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" and "View of Arles"
Monet's "Water Lilies"
Sculptures by Canova, and others.

The Modern Gallery is devoted to design and architecture, and includes cars, motorcycles, computers, chairs and furniture, as well as paintings by Kokoschka. Whoever would think that a Pratt&Whitney Junior Wasp airplane engine could be considered artistic?

After those three I hitched a streetcar back to the stop closest to my hotel, then soaked my feet for a bit. I'm going to go to the main train station now to arrange a ticket (I hope) to watch the local soccer team, FC Bayern Munich, play at Allianz-Stadion on Saturday (failing that, I spotted a small sports bar where I can watch it and drink beer).

Then I'm grabbing a bite to eat, swing by a druggist for some aspirin, and hit the bed early.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Day Two, Or Walkabout

(First of all, let me wrap up Day One for you. I took a brief walk, taking in everything in a two-block radius to familiarize myself with the neighborhood. After that, I decided on trying something unusual for dinner.

A traditional dish here in Munich is something called Leberkäse, or `liver cheese.´ Yes, you heard me. It includes pork liver and remnants, and is formed into loaves and baked. I dropped by a small franchised eatery (VinzenzMurr is the name) and ordered a Leberkäse Semmel - a sandwich.

I was surprised.

It tastes like Spam.

But at 1,6 Euro it was awfully tasty. After supper I went back to my hotel and slept for 11 straight hours.)

And now, on to today`s fun and games:

After fortifying myself with two Danish and some orange juice, I went for a walk. Just in case you`re keeping track, these are the places I went to:
Neuhauser and Kaufhofer Streets - major streets blocked off to all vehicle traffic. Great shopping area.
Frauenkirche - the main cathedral in the city. Its twin domes are by law the tallest buildings in the city proper.
New and Old Rathaus - these are the former city halls, and I`ll have dinner tonight in the Ratskeller.
Holy Ghost Church - a brilliant baroque and rococco church.
Viktualienmarkt - a huge open-air fruit, vegetable, and flower market.
National Theater.
Residenz - this is the seat of the Wittelsbach Kings when they were staying in town. I took two tours here, one of the palace itself, and the other of the Schatzkammer, or Treasury where the Crown Jewels are kept (and even though this IS Bavaria, the Crown Jewels are not beer steins).
Feldherrnhalle - this is a monument to a pair of Generals, one from the 30 Years`War and the other from the Napoleonic Wars.
Hofgarten - The huge garden behind the Residenz.
Haus der Kunst - this is the largest piece of Nazi-era architecture still in Munich, and was originally built to house what the Dumbass felt was "German" art. I toured a collection of works by Rothko and Rauschenberg while there - two artists that would have had Hitler ripping his own head off (all the works dealt with the use of black as a color in art - quite provocative).
Engish Garden - this place is HUGE, almost 3 miles long and about 1.5 miles wide. I walked nearly all of it, and had lunch at the beer garden by the Chinese Tower. Bratwurst, yumm...
The White Rose Memorial - during the War, a group of students and a professor started a student protest against the war and the Nazi regime. The University has a small museum inside dedicated to their words, while plaques that carry facsimiles of their leaflets are set into the pavement of the main plaza out front.
The Old Botanical Garden - just what it says, but there was a small art pavilion there showing a collection of works by various artists throughout Germany dedicated to football. The nude angel seated on the football was interesting.

After that, back to the hotel to soak my feet and relax. Dinner tonight at the Ratskeller. I have several more museums to tour before I start the day trips portion of the vacation.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Day One: In Transit, Or Why Getting There Is Not ALWAYS Half The Fun

There are few things or people I truly hate. To me, hatred requires a level of personal commitment that I really can`t waste my energy on.

I don`t hate flying; but I dislike it a lot.

Time was I had to get half-drunk just to step into the cabin of an airliner, and I considered having to sit in a cramped position for hours, feeling my ears trying to explode from the pressure differential to be among the top ten things I can do without.

I must be mellowing somewhat in my old age, since all it took to mellow me out for the first leg of my trip was a single gin and tonic; the second leg took a bottle of beer. It may have been the fact that I was short of sleep, too.

I got no real sleep on the long flight across the Atlantic. It seemed that every twenty minutes the plane would wobble or lurch and I`d wake up just a step away from a full William Shatner Twilight Zone "THERE`S A MAN ON THE WING OF THIS PLANE!!!!" moment. And then we had to delay landing at Munich`s Franz Josef Strauss Airport because some complete and utter idiot was slow in taxiing his plane off the runway.

But I`m here now; the weather is sunny, mild and dry, and I intend to make the most of it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Annual Vacation Time (and Blog)!

Way back in July I was wondering where to go for my annual vacation from The Job. Someone made an offhand remark, and I made a decision.

Ich will zu Deutschland fahren!

That's right - I'm going to Germany for my vacation. I'll be spending most of it in the city of Munich, while taking day trips to other sites that I'm interested in visiting.

While I'm there, I'll blog once a day to give my impressions and a list of the places I've visited. When I get back, I'll even show you some of the pictures!

But first I have to get there, which involves a grueling 14-hour trip (including layover time in Philadelphia, of all places).

Thursday, October 05, 2006


It's Fall!

Frightening the Neighbors

Ever known the Creep? The guy (or family) that hangs out in "that" house down the street where the lawn's strewn with auto parts and broken toys, where the dog looks like a mangy refugee from a Stephen King novel? And occasionally you hear things coming from the house that make you walk past it just as fast as you can, with your eyes averted while you wish that you'd taken your friend's advice and bought that gun?

That's North Korea, folks - or, more formally, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). And now the Creepy Country over there is starting to make "those" noises.

Like the sound of a nuclear weapon being built.

Now, according to this, the United States will not tolerate the DPRK having The Bomb, even if it means turning the country into a radioactive hole in the ground (which would have the benefit of pissing off Russia, China, South Korea and Japan - a benefit, by the way, only Bush would interpret as a plus).

But you realize that's all we can do now, at this point. We've already put sanctions on them, and conventional warfare (carpet bombing by B-52s) would have little effect since the DPRK's facilities are all underground. Also one must consider the KPA, or Korean People's Army, which makes up in numbers what it lacks in firepower. Even the commander of the US troops in South Korea concedes that if the KPA comes over the border his 30,000 troops won't do much to slow it down.

As to the nuclear option, China and the other states in the area would definitely look on the US polishing its atomic knob all over the DPRK as a very unfriendly act. Likewise, allowing the DPRK to have The Bomb would destabilize the region.

Japan would want the bomb to deter the DPRK.

China and Russia would object to Japan having the weapon.

South Korea would want the bomb, just to avoid being caught in the middle.

Thank you, George W Bush.

George Bush's enlightened foreign policy reminds me of masturbation - a whole lot of vigorous effort for almost no result.

The Sweet, Sweet Taste of Schadenfreude

Yes, I can experience joy from the sorrow and suffering of others, especially when the suffering and sorrow are being inflicted upon people who oh so richly deserve it. And you know who I'm talking about.

Yes, that's right.

The Republican leadership of the House of Representatives and Senate.

The House GOP leadership (affiliated with NAMBLA? Who knows?) is acting all willy-nilly over the continuing revelations that Rep. Mark Foley (who is Republican despite the best efforts of Fox News and the AP to call him a Democrat) getting all hot and bothered about the sleek young boys who were Congressional pages. So far only Foley and his former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham (who was working for the odious Tom Reynolds (R-NY) at the time of his resignation) have bit the big one, but it's only a matter of time before the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate touches:

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL)
Majority Leader Boehner (R-who cares?)
And oh so many others.


And while we're on the subject of pedophiles and their enablers, I've noticed a marked similarity between the following people:
Jerry Falwell
Karl Rove
Dennis Hastert
Mark Foley
Rep. Shimkus

They're all doughy, pink-fleshed white guys who ooze buttery emollients from every pore. They're like flabby eunuchs, reduced to moaning that they can't get laid while at the same time getting all hot and bothered over adolescent boys.

And YES, I'll call Jerry Falwell, High Priest of Moloch a pedophile. I have no tolerance whatever for snake-oil salesmen.

So, ladies and gentlemen (you know who you are), I'm going to sit back and have a good laugh at the expense of these overpaid, overstuffed, oversexed and under-ethical wastes of precious natural resources.