How did the American get on the roof of the toilet?


one of our local papers this morning

This blog has been only about refugees lately, and as much as I’m still obsessed with the topic (more on that another time), there’s so much else going on. Other things need to be dealt with. And quickly. 

For example: people climbing objects in public & standing on said objects. Like in the photo above. 

The headline reads: ‘How did the American get on the roof of the toilet?

My strong suspicion is that he climbed up there. The question they probably wanted to ask was: What on earth was he thinking when he decided to scale the toilet inside the tent at the Oktoberfest? Why indeed. 

Good question. 

It is the Oktoberfest. There are plenty of similar stories during these two weeks. 

The curious thing is this isn’t the only instance of something like this happening these days. Not just in Munich & not just during this exceptional time of year.

While scrolling through my feed on a social media site, which I choose not to mention by name, I saw a photo of a rather curvaceous woman naked from the waist down standing on a pay phone with multiple police officers below apparently trying to coax her to come down. 

Despite the outlandishness of the visual, my immediate reaction was, ‘Where did they find a pay phone? I’ve not seen one of those in ages.

Once I got over that shock, I could move on to the more pressing question. Specifically, why are people climbing atop such objects?

Is this part of the Zeitgeist & I missed the memo? Should I be climbing on things & belligerently refusing to come down? That’d certainly make this blog more entertaining at the very least. 

I’m not going to include the image here of the woman I’ve mentioned. Nevertheless, I’m confident if you type ‘naked woman on top of pay phone‘, you’ll locate it rather easily. But you should probably do that soon. My suspicion is the web is going to be flooded with this stuff before you know it. 

I assume we’re going to keep doing this until we like it


Louis insists he’s here to be of assistance

I’ve been laid up this week, which is why I’ve included the photo of Louis prepared to administer first aid. It’s been quite an interesting time to observe current events, and because of a lot of time on my hands, I’ve read my fill of op-ed pieces about the refugee crisis here in Europe

There are plenty of well thought out arguments about how the refugees should be more evenly distributed among all the European countries, and because I attempt to read sources from all across the political spectrum, I’ve also considered the argument that these refugees shouldn’t be coming here at all. 

As an outsider who’s chosen on his own volition to come here, I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to be a German and a European, even. The demographic reality is that this is an aging population, and if handled correctly these refugees could foreseeably contribute to a society that is projected to one day be dramatically lacking in manpower. I’ve heard for years that the low birthrate here in Germany is sure to cause headaches for future generations. 

The political situation on the ground isn’t easy, though. I’ve read multiple accounts of how expensive it is to house each refugee, which is bound to irritate the proverbial man on the street. Watching the trains filled with refugees being welcomed so warmly here, you could already predict the people muttering under their breath that there isn’t room for everyone. There has to be a limit, right?

The new compound noun you can read in the media the last several weeks is ‘Willkommenskultur‘, which simply describes the welcoming culture that has been on display hereabouts. Even that can’t last, though. 

However, both sides of the debate about whether or not these people should be welcomed here are missing an important part of the story. We’ve known that this crisis was coming for a long time now. There have been boats full of people crashing into Lampedusa for years. Conventional wisdom says that nothing happens on an issue like this until push comes to shove. Well, now we’re being shoved. 

My understanding is that when refugees arrive on your shore or at your border, you’ve actually got to take them in. There are clearly logistical considerations and I’m incredibly relieved that it’s not my responsibility to manage such an intake of people. Yet these are people fleeing war torn countries. Are there people rushing in for better economic conditions than in their home countries? Could there be people arriving here with nefarious intentions? Of course. It’d be ridiculous to pretend that those aren’t obvious eventualities. They need to be dealt with.  

I appreciate living in a country where such things are dealt with. I assume we’re going to keep doing this until we like it. 

Don’t look at the photo of his lifeless body on the beach unless you’re prepared to do something about it 


Münchners getting in the spirit of welcoming refugees

There’s a photo from Reuters that’s all over the web today. Has been for a few days already, and it’s disturbing. It’s not at all nice. It’s the opposite of nice, even. It’s a shot of a little boy who’s drowned & washed up on the beach. I’m not putting it here, but I am linking to an editorial on Deutsche Welle in which they discuss their editorial decision to publish the photo. This photo isn’t for the faint of heart, though. You’ve hopefully been adequately warned. 

Opinion: an image that touches us all

If you’ve already seen this photo & many others of children washed up on beaches, maybe you didn’t bother going there. 

I’ve included the joyful photo above of the locals bringing donations for the recent arrivals as a counterbalance to the abject sadness that the other image brings. When I know people are visiting Munich and they express interest in Dachau, I often recommend that they schedule something/anything joyful afterwards. Not to pretend that the concentration camp didn’t exist, but because it’s so thoroughly depressing to go there and see the documentation of what occurred, it’s important to be reminded of hope and resilience and that there’s even still goodness. 

Yet we’re not quite there yet when it comes to the immigration situation in Europe right now. The Hungarians are furious that Germany has opened itself up so overtly as a safe haven for refugees, and the situation is still so fluid that anything I might write here will quickly become old news. 

Nevertheless, I hear plenty of reasonable people questioning the practicality of Europe in general and Germany in particular taking in so many refugees. This is purportedly the biggest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War, and the ramifications of this mass migration are far from predictable. I’ve even heard that these newcomers could make up as much as 1% of the population of contemporary Germany. 

Quite a number of the residents of Munich have been unquestionably generous by taking donations of food and clothing and toys (and I heard even portable wifi, so the refugees could communicate with their far flung family members) to the main train station. Football fans in many stadiums last weekend held up signs that said, ‘Refugees Welcome.’ 

What happens when the novelty of taking in all these people wears off? There’ll unquestionably be a new disaster or outlandish political reaction that’ll distract us from the outrageous news we’re reading on a daily basis. 

Here’s the thing, though: this immigration crisis isn’t new. It’s been a long time building. The Syrian refugees might be overwhelming the system at the moment, but any reasonable observation over the last decade or more has made it clear that Europe’s lack of unity on this issue was a disaster in the making. 

That’s where the photo of the child on the beach comes in. You can be as cynical as you like about this topic – I’ve certainly pontificated on both sides of the argument that we as a society are responsible for those fleeing war torn countries. I welcome the argument, even. 
But look at that photo tell me that we shouldn’t finally be able to come up with something better than what we’ve been doing. For years, some European politicians have pretended that it wasn’t their problem. That little boy’s lifeless body makes it harder to stomach such a position. 

Oliver Sacks has died and I can’t get Rilke’s Der Panther out of my head


Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf –. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille –
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.’

I can’t help it. Oliver Sacks is dead, and there are a myriad of thoughts shooting through my brain. I want to write about all of them.

Actually, I’d rather brew a pot of coffee and settle in to watch each of said thoughts explode into the room. The same way I did with a percussionist friend I knew in college who turned me on to a particular man who mistook his wife for a hat. That’s not even the best Oliver Sacks connection – just the first one I knew.

Later I read his ponderings on music and the ways it impacts our brains – fascinating stuff. Stuff with which to brew another pot of coffee, I assure you.

I’ve read so many obituaries and essays today about how important he was to this or that writer or thinker or scientist, and I want to link to every last one of them. I wish I could take you on a tour through my obsessive day of Oliver Sacks devotion, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do his memory justice. Having said that, I think he might’ve moderately appreciated the attempt to tie in all these disparate ideas that’re still overloading my brain.

Instead, I’m just going to get a tad bit obsessive about Der Panther, which is the German poem I’ve included above. Although I was well aware of his poetry before I saw the film Awakenings, Rilke’s words grabbed me and shook me out of a weird slumber. In the hands of Robin Williams’ character, I was thoroughly jostled by the image of the big cat pacing back and forth in his cramped cage.

This isn’t normally a place where I allow myself to analyse poetry, so I’m loath to go down that road. Although it’s tempting, I’m more inclined to provide a few links and let you go there if you’re so inclined.

First of all, quite an impressive selection of translations can be found at Alternate Translations of The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke, and if you’d rather have a ‘Best Of’, here’s Der Panther: Six Ways of Looking at a German Poem. There’s a nice article by John Banville in The New York Review of Books called Study The Panther!

As he says there, ‘…Rilke had no illusions about the solitariness of the artistic project, or its difficulty…‘, and that’s where my thoughts finally settle in the darkest corner of the night as I continue to consider Oliver Sacks.

I could wax philosophic about how he faced his death and expressed himself so exquisitely in the process. Were I to do so, I’d certainly focus on that last stanza and how he recently announced his illness so publicly and fearlessly. Instead, I’ll just wrap this up with the Stephen Mitchell translation of the poem:

‘His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else. 
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides 
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly–. 
An image enters in, 
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.’

Another chapter in the book of Fafa


Fafa in Strasbourg on the River Ill

The last week has been filled with adventures while my mother was in Germany. She made her annual European trip, which included a week in France, and then she and I met up in Strasbourg before our return to Munich

She loves Munich – as I’ve often mentioned here, we lived here in the early 70s – and at the end of her trip, I asked again if she’d seen enough of the Bavarian capital. Would she want to venture out & see more of the rest of Germany. Although she’s already seen so much of my adopted country and especially of this beautiful city, she insisted that there was plenty more she wants to experience. Not only other cities & regions she’s until now only read about but most importantly shed like to continue to venture out from Munich as a starting point. 

We both agreed that it’s not always easy living so far apart, but her regular travel thisaway makes it a bit more tolerable. Like so many other familes living on separate continents, technology also allows us to regularly communicate in real time. Unquestionably, it’s a second rate substitute, but it at least provides some alternative. 

So what exactly have we been up to? Well, the photo above is on a boat tour of Strasbourg. That’s the River Ill, so we were quite literally ‘illing’. We ate a lot of Bavarian food; it’s possible we even are the equivalent of our body weight in Schnitzel. 

I’ve written about her here: Happy Birthday Fafa, which also explains that’s a nickname she’s gone by since she was a child. 

Because she’s so regularly here, my mom has befriended quite a few people hereabouts. This means she arrives with a bit of an agenda to see and be seen. And because she’s so gregarious, there’s often a new crowd of admirers asking when she’ll be back. 

Ella and Louis pondering her return

Avoiding the Dancing Plague while in Strasbourg


A quick jaunt through Strasbourg on the way home with my mother in tow, and this was one of the nicer shots I got. What a beautiful city that due to its history has all the trappings of a French metropolis while still heavily influenced by its German past.

Oh, and I found something curious on the Wikipedia page, which I thought I’d share here:

‘In July 1518, an incident known as the Dancing Plague of 1518 struck residents of Strasbourg. Around 400 people were afflicted with dancing mania and danced constantly for weeks, most of them eventually dying from heart attack, stroke or exhaustion.

That doesn’t sound very good, does it? We were somehow able to avoid just such a predicament while we were in Strasbourg. Somehow.


A church door and a few thoughts about Prague


The door to the Church of Our Lady before Tyn

I’ve heard it said that when you get back from a trip & someone asks how it was, you’ve got a small window of opportunity to answer about your journey. Before long, their thoughts move on to what’s in front of you rather than where you’ve been.

So according to that logic, I’ve got to talk about Prague quickly before I’ve lost your interest.

My band Old Braunfels had a lot of fun while we were in the Czech capital. We played a lot and laughed even more. New songs were worked on and devious plans were hatched. Plenty of that will be covered here in future missives.

As beautiful as the city was, it seemed like the best parts of the trip were the conversations we had while we were walking around. Sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need for an infusion of creativity.

I’d hoped to learn a bit more Czech while I was there, but managing ‘excuse me‘ and ‘thank you‘ was about all I could master.

What else do I wish I could say in Czech?

Yeah, what’s up with all the 1 Krone coins? They’re like pennies in the US or Euro cents…no matter how hard I tried to spend them, they seemed to constantly be coming back at me. I might’ve even had a nightmare about the damned things.

We also saw a lot about Beer Spas…what on earth is that? Is it a spa where they serve beer? The photos made it look like the guests were bathing in beer. Is that a thing? Not that I bothered to find out. Was just rather curious.

This hopefully won’t be my only blogpost about Prague. More to come, I’m sure.