across fields and dales pulling your wagon and drinking all the way

 

Louis in the sunlight

 
Here’s what happens when you lie down in the grass when Louis is around. He’s going to stand over you and imply that he’s ready for you to get up and keep going. 

I bet some of you wish you had this sort of motivation. He’s happy to help you out if you need that extra bit of a push. While I’m sure he’s particularly cheerful today in the springtime sunshine, to be fair Louis is rather thrilled with any and all weather. 

We had Christi Himmelfahrt this week, which is one of the seemingly limitless holidays they’ve got here in Bavaria. That’s Ascension Day, for those of you so religiously inclined. What here in Germany is also when they celebrate Father’s Day

How do they celebrate that here? Well, this isn’t everyone. Ok? So don’t tell me you’re a German father and that you don’t do this. I’m just talking about what seems to be the done thing for many German men. 

You get a wagon – like a children’s wagon – and fill it with liquor and good beer and you and your male friends go through the village or across fields and dales pulling your wagon and drinking all the way. It’s a good old-fashioned piss up, as they say in Britain. Where they know about such things. 

Don’t think you even have to be a father to celebrate Father’s Day here in Germany. Believe I heard that you can merely be a potential father or some such. Or just be male. Can you manage that? If so, you’ve got to manage getting here for Christi Himmelfahrt one year. 

Bring your own wagon. I’m positive Louis will be happy to help you celebrate. 

Missives from this corner of Old Europe

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Light on the River Isar that runs through Munich

For quite some time, I’ve intended to change the tagline on this personal blog. I’m not certain how long it’s been, but it might’ve been from back when I started that if you clicked on my site, you’d see:

pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

It was an allusion to the Wizard of Oz, as well as a commentary on the way in which each of us creates our persona online. Essentially, I was saying: read my thoughts here, but please don’t expend any energy looking backstage.

I’ve chosen to live in a country that takes privacy very seriously. Because of Germany’s complicated history with the government surreptitiously observing its citizens, there is a genuine desire to ensure users ability to control how much of their private lives they display. It’s easy to be cynical about such a position, and my friends who work in cyber security would quickly insist that most of what we think of as online privacy is an illusion. However, I continue to respect the lengths to which they go to keep fighting the proverbial good fight. Europeans in general and Germans in particular are earnest about this. Quite commendable, if you were to ask me.

Yet the above tagline no longer works for me. It’s no longer the message I want to get across here. Not remotely. Instead, I’ve decided to take on an entirely new position. Frequently some event will happen hereabouts and I’ll receive queries along the lines of, ‘What in the world is going on over there?

My response is to write this blog as a meta answer to that exact question. The new tagline:

Missives from this corner of Old Europe

Implied in this is my eagerness to take on whatever questions you might have. If you read something here that you’d like to know more about, say something in the comments or drop me a line via email.

Hope you enjoy the new direction, and I’m already looking forward to some lively exchanges.

Searching out a uniquely Teutonic answer to those rowdy refugees in Cologne

 

Cologne is Nordrhein-Westfallen’s largest city and not to be messed with

 
A whole bunch of refugees freaked out on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and allegedly both robbed and sexually assaulted women who unfortunately were at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t immediately covered in the German media, but not because of any conspiracy. It simply wasn’t known about. 
There’ve been allegations that the local police played down the event to avoid attention to their poor handling of events. Politicians insisted that the perpetrators’ countries of origin weren’t as important as the fact that they were criminals and would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

To say that this has been ignored by either the German or the European press is disingenuous. It just took a while for the story to come to light, but come to light it did. And then some. It’s been a major topic on political talk shows, and the opinion pages of the major papers have explored every possible angle. And then found entirely new angles. 

One particularly opportunistic politician has said aloud what many citizens have thought – that German taxes should not go to pay for keeping lawbreaking refugees in prisons. It’s gotten plenty of airtime, as well it should. Many Germans have a long fuse when it comes to this sort of thing – especially in public – as they would generally like to avoid being seen as racist or xenophobic, but this has hit a nerve. 

There’s certainly a sense that what happened in Cologne, as well as similar albeit much smaller incidents in Hamburg and Stuttgart, has crossed a line. Staying quiet and trying not to make too much of a fuss might’ve worked a week or so ago, but for increasing numbers of Germans it’s no longer an option. 

As I write this, there’s a huge protest going on in Cologne. Hundreds of women protesting against sexual abuse, as well as the newest incarnation of the Pegida protests which made so much noise this time last year. In addition, there are counter protests that insist the rhetoric on the streets is dangerously reminiscent of darker times in Germany in the Thirties

I’m not going to wade into a debate here about either Pegida or those protesting against their tactics. Not that I won’t at a later date; I just don’t think it’s particularly useful at the moment when these events are still so fresh. 

However, I have seen people insisting that Germans don’t care about what’s happened in Cologne or what’s going on in Germany right now. These assumptions are being made with little or no connection to what’s happening on the streets here. Whether during conversations at the dinner table or in cafés or pubs, people are talking and arguing and figuring out what needs to happen next. 

Here’s one of the things I like about living in Germany, though: there will be a measured response. Something positive will be done. Will it be as much as either radical fringe wants? Absolutely not. Will there be a thoughtful consideration of multiple possible ways to deal with all of this? I can almost guarantee it. 

Stay tuned for a uniquely Teutonic answer. One often seems to be found. 

Sylvester spoil sport – get those damned fireworks away from me

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The best part of New Year’s Eve? The next morning

New Year’s Eve in Munich is awful. I like almost every aspect of living here, but there are a few things I simply cannot tolerate. What the locals call Sylvester is one of those things. I loath it. A lot. More than a lot, if that were possible. A whole lot.

It really comes down to one thing. It’s not the drunken morons; you get those everywhere. Well, everywhere I’ve ever lived. Even far up in the mountains in Colorado or Austria, they’ve got inebriated idiots. Not as many, but they tend to make up for their lower numbers with more noise.

But it’s really not the drunks. I enjoy a bit of good cheer. Truly, I do.

It’s personal fireworks. Call me a Spielverderber, I won’t take it personally. That’s a spoilsport for the non-German speakers. Or a party pooper. Or a stick-in-the-mud, even. You’re welcome to call me all of those names and more. Doesn’t bug me at all.

For me, fireworks displays are for professionals. There’s a reason why civilised places don’t allow the man on the street anywhere near fireworks. Each year, I imagine the hospitals filled with people who’ve blown off one of their extremities.

When I first moved here, I had no idea that New Year’s Eve was a night for such mayhem. I went out on the street at midnight, and there were people shooting rockets down the thoroughfare. At each other, at the cars and pretty much anywhere they could.

Aside from a few exceptions, like Karnival time or during the Oktoberfest, this place is a model of ‘Ordnung muss sein’ (order must prevail). There are other nights of the year when disorder is tolerated or even encouraged, and I’m totally ok with all of those.

Do I have friends and/or acquaintances who spend a small fortune on their own personal stash of rockets and whatnot? I do. Plenty of my circle of friends are chomping at the bit to light the damned things and run around like imbeciles. They’ll carry on like yahoos at a prison rodeo, and then they’ll go back to being model citizens the next day. As if Mr. Hyde had simply never existed.

Am I tolerant of these folk? Nope, not a bit. Not even a little.

I’ll be up early on New Year’s Day taking my dogs to the park and stepping over the refuse left over from the psychotic frivolity of the previous night. I’m pretty sure I’ll still have both of my hands.

It’ll be great.

 

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. 

they’ve just locked away their goods for the rest of the weekend

  

Reading more blogs about living in Germany, I’m noticing there’s quite a lot of material I’ve not even bothered to cover here. When you live somewhere long enough, even as an outsider, you begin to take local oddities for granted. 

Last week, for example, I was rushing out the door to grab some milk, and I muttered under my breath how much I hated it that there’s no grocery store right on my block. In most central districts of Munich, there’s at least one supermarket, if not a few, within stumbling distance of almost anywhere you might live. 

Where I used to live in Munich’s Neuhausen-Nymphenburg there were not only plenty of larger stores on offer, and even in the side street around the corner was a bakery that had emergency supplies available on Sunday morning in case you forgot to grab something before the stores closed on Saturday. 

That’s another oddity about living in Germany, well certainly Bavaria at least: once places close up shop on Saturday evening, they don’t open again till Monday morning. Sunday is quite literally a day of rest when it comes to commerce. Although there are exceptions for petrol stations and news agents, it’s actually against the law for most businesses to be open on the Day of The Lord.

A bit of a pain to get accustomed to – what with making sure you’ve got supplies for the entire weekend – it’s ultimately a relief to have a day where not much is going on mercantile-wise. People go for long walks or drive to the mountains or talk to each other. Can all of those things happen even when the shops are open? Sure they can. It just seems like there’s more of it going on when most everything’s closed. 

Don’t get me wrong. When I’m visiting friends in London or even spending the weekend in Berlin, I appreciate the longer opening hours. There are certainly times I’ve wished my adopted hometown was a bit more with the times when it came to this sort of thing, but it’s curiously something you get used to. 

When I first moved here, Saturday hours were even shorter. I’ve been told that weekday hours used to be even shorter, as well. Glad I didn’t have to deal with that. 

So here I am in one of the nicest parts of Munich, and I’m complaining that I’ve got to schlep down the hill to grab some milk & sundry items. As I’m going back up the hill admiring the beautiful old buildings that I rarely fail to notice & appreciate, I look in the reflection of a small pond. The tree in the photo above is what I saw. 

Now it’s Saturday evening & they’ve just locked away their goods for the rest of the weekend. Who knows how I’ll enjoy my Sunday, but it won’t be stuck inside some  shop. Might even end up having a conversation. You know, like with a real person. 

Fully upright, I might add (Octoberfest edition)

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Getting started early

Sleeping rough in your best Lederhosen? Yes, it’s that time of year in Munich. The Oktoberfest has arrived and shot off with a vengeance. The celebrating is in full swing.

It does look a bit like there are casualties on the hill above the huge Volksfest, as the people who started quite early take a timeout. Perhaps they’ve been going all night. There are plenty of places that’ll cater to those who want such a thing.

I know people who live near where the Oktoberfest takes place, and they often take their holidays during the time just to get away from the insanity.

When I first moved here, I couldn’t understand the locals complaining about it. It’s one of the highlights of the year, right? What some citizens here call the Fifth Season. It brings so much business to the city: not just in the beer tents and on the carnival rides; there are also so many hotels and restaurants and assorted other locales that do bustling business.

A friend who manages a hotel assures me that they make a third of their annual profit during these two weeks every autumn. Because the local media has covered every possible angle about this thing, it’s always a pleasure to see what whimsical out of the ordinary tale that this year’s incarnation brings.

The best from several years ago was the live chicken who was protesting outside of the festival grounds. One of the most traditional to eat with your litre of Bavarian beer is half a broiled chicken. The number of chickens killed each year for this event is staggering to imagine. So, what do some animal rights advocates propose? To bring one very vocal chicken along to make her case in the name of all the chickens going to slaughter.

Wonder what miscellaneous non news will make itself available this time around. I’ll certainly pass it on when I see it.

Oh, and in case you’ve not yet seen this, here I am in my Lederhosen. Fully upright, I might add.

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