Munich: the city of ‘We don’t need all of those newfangled things’

What an inviting message…yes, come to Munich

There was an intriguing article in the local paper last weekend, and I’m only just now getting round to talking about it. Sometimes I need a few days to decide if it’s even worth bothering you with.

Truly.

Not every idea is a gem. Aren’t there things you’ve done that, in retrospect, you probably would’ve reconsidered?

Well, I have an entire rucksack of those, but my suspicion is that you didn’t come here for my reject rucksack. That’ll have to wait for a slow day. These are anything but slow days. Quite the opposite, in fact.

For example, a week from Thursday the first print edition of The Munich Times is coming out. That means no matter how calm and collected I might appear here, I’m running ragged in my daily life. I have the same clients I normally do, and Ella and Louis, my sister and brother pair of Vizslas, need their daily trudge in the park. In addition to that, there’s the organising and cajoling I’m doing.

With whom am I doing all of that? With my colleagues at the paper.

That’s right: We’re starting a newspaper. In print. While everyone else is going digital, we’re betting that there’re still people that want to hold newsprint in their grubby little hands. I’ve heard all the arguments that we’re mad, and I’ve even strongly considered some of them. However, my heart is in this. Fully.

You want a taste of the sort of writing we offer? Well, here you go:

Chimpanzees: having a crack at culture (by Jane Marple)

Europe has to decide: cut or spend (by Michael Owens)

I personally have written on a variety of subjects, but I think the one I enjoyed the most was one of my first pieces for the newspaper:

St John Passion at the Matthäuskirche on Good Friday

And although England is now out of the European Championship, the writing about football is one of the best parts of The Munich Times, so here’s Chip off the old block (by Geoff Poulton)

You went and read every single one of those, right? You better have. You don’t want me to hand deliver the print edition to your doorstep, do you? I will, you know. Because, according to The Adventures of One Fancy World-Traveling Bon Vivant (with a jaunty hat), I’m the sort who just might do it. Show up and shove a copy into your waiting hands.

Can you even remember what I started this with? It was the article I read in the paper. For those of you who read German, here it is:

Hauptstadt der Selbstgefälligkeit: Warum München die Zukunft hinter sich hat

For the rest of you, the thrust of the article is that the citizens of Munich aren’t necessarily interested in progress for the mere sake of it. We’re a city that almost says, ‘We don’t need all of those newfangled things.‘ Not mindlessly, we don’t. Not  at all costs. No thank you.

Can you see where this is going?

What a perfect fit. A newspaper for a city that appreciates the traditional.

I’ve heard a statistic that a quarter of the Bavarian capital is foreign. That can’t be possible, can it? Not so traditional in that respect.

Yet in a way that plays to The Munich Times strengths even more so. It might not be the reader’s first language, but it’s very possible that English is more easily  understood than German. That’s certainly a part of who we’re aiming for.

We shall know soon enough. No need to fear: I’m taking you with me on this one. Something only a Bon Vivant would do. As is my wont.

Believing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Are you really going to listen to Winston?

What I’m going to talk about, probably many or most of you have no idea. Well, you might know about it. But it’s very likely not the obsession for you that it is for me.

Yet the actual thing I want to talk about is universal and quite applicable to many people’s lives. It’s the way I want to get there that might need a bit of ‘splainin‘.

If you know me elsewhere, particularly in real life or on twitter, you know that I’m quite passionate about football. Soccer, Fußball, fútbol…whatever you want to call it. I could go into how I got into football, but that’s for another blogpost. Instead, I want to talk about my hometown team: FC Bayern München (although it’s my adopted hometown, it’s very much my home). In the interest of full disclosure, I should inform you that I support the other local club in Munich…again, that’s for some other time.

See, the local team lost an important match the other night, and it got me thinking about winning and losing. About success and failure. About the things that sport allegedly teaches us, but that are so often lacking at the highest levels.

Saying that this particular  soccer game was important is an understatement. They were playing the final of the Champion’s League on their home pitch (their own stadium), which is something no-one had done since AS Roma in the 80s back when the Champion’s League was still called the Europa Cup. From what I understand, it’s never been won by the home side.

FC Bayern wanted to be the first. There was an air of inevitability about it. The football gods were assumed to be smiling down on this team. All was set up for their domination of the final match against what many thought was an inferior football team (London’s Chelsea FC).

But then the home team lost. Dramatically. Painfully, if you were a fan of said club. However, if you supported the visitor’s, the whole thing could not have been better scripted. You’d be much happier with those football gods in the post-game elation. Deities that you’d formerly cursed were now not only forgiven but even given their due. It was a beautiful night in the Bavarian capital for an English football organisation that had formerly experienced bitter defeat at the international level.

So those of you who could care less about sport…if you’re even still reading, what does this have to do with you? Actually, even if you have no interest in football, the bigger picture might have something to offer you. See, FC Bayern is quite proud of their ability to plan.

I could dislike the team for it’s success, but that is something I support and appreciate. Succeeding is all it’s cracked up to be. I suppose part of it is the money, but many football clubs at that level have astonishingly massive war chests. It’s not as if Chelsea is lacking for funds. Oh, and I could also fault the hometown club for their arrogance. Nothing surprising here. Any team, in any sport, that’s had as much success as they have, is likely to be arrogant about it.

But as much as I dislike all of those things, there’s one last component that irritates me as much as the others do. It might even annoy me more than the others.  This is the bigger picture I was talking about.

They think that if they plan properly, then they’re guaranteed success. That quite simply one can organise and strategise his way to victory. That’s not how it works. Not in sport and most definitely not in life.

Now, you may be one of those self-actualised sorts who believe you can do anything if you put your mind to it. What do I have to say to that? Nonsense. Maybe you’ve had some success with that line of thinking. In all likelihood, you’ll have more. But my experience has been that as much planning one does, you can’t disregard the intangibles.

You can’t guarantee winning. 

This is what sport is supposed to teach us. That you can fight and strive and struggle all you like, but eventually it could just not turn out the way you wanted. Not such a difficult concept to comprehend. Believing in one’s self or one’s destiny isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even my seven-year-old niece understands that one.

those witches aren’t easy to get to go to rehab

Watch out! She's a witch!

You’ll be very pleased to know that:

Germany Rehabilitates Its Persecuted ‘Witches’

If I know any of you, and to be upfront I don’t think I’ve met many of you, I think you’ll be pleased to learn that Germany is on the road to making things right with the witches.

Now, if you couldn’t be bothered to actually click on the above link, then you might still believe that there are living, breathing witches swarming round the Fatherland either avoiding or willingly taking part in some form of rehabilitation. That’s not exactly the story, but maybe I should’ve left out the link and told that story instead.

No, that’s not what you want. The real story is actually even more surreal.

Here’s how the article describes what’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happenin’:

Tortured and burned at the stake by the tens of thousands, Germany’s alleged witches have been largely forgotten. But thanks to efforts by a small group of activists, a number of German cities have begun absolving women, men and children who were wrongly accused of causing plagues, storms and bad harvests.

Doesn’t that sound delightful? Tens of thousands, really? You’re asking, ‘Well, there were more people back then, weren’t there?’ Well, actually…no. There weren’t. Fewer people. More witches. ‘This was Germany. You know Germany!-there must’ve been more witches,’ you say? Well, that’s mighty xenophobic of you.

At some point, I should actually get around to mentioning here that one can’t see everything German through the lens of the National Socialists. It’s really easy to forget that there was a lot going on over here long before the little Austrian with the weird hair and funny moustache seized power.

Long before all that stuff that the History Channel makes its noise about, there was a very agrarian culture here in Germany. When crops failed or things generally went poorly, somebody had to be blamed. Enter stage right: the witches.

I was raised with the picture of the Salem Witch Trials, so it’d be rather easy for me to believe that this was a peculiarly American phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth. The old country didn’t let go of all of its fanatical religious bigots (actually, from what I understand German emigrants didn’t leave because of religious persecution-that was more of an English thing. You know? The Pilgrims and all).

It’s really quite convenient to have such an implausible scapegoat. The anti-social little girl who doesn’t play well with others? Must be a witch. What other explanation might there be. The woman in your village who has that weird cock-eyed smile. The only possibility? Witch, of course. Actually, come to think of it…I think I know a few witches that still live round here.

In comes our heroine Hartmut Hegeler (it’s a name that practically rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), who as a witch-trial expert has become active in returning the good names of those long ago persecuted. She states clearly what we see today as the blatantly obvious:

“Of course there were no witches, these were all invented crimes,” says Hegeler, who has written 17 books on Germany’s witch trials. “But in hard times it was a good tool for local authorities to place the blame on others for famines and other problems. The witches were a wonderful scapegoat for whenever things went wrong.”

And although I could point out the funny aspects of the story, such as the fact that some of the witches were stitched up for spoiling the production of beer (this is Germany, after all. Beer is important), but instead I’d like to pose a more uncomfortable question.

Who are our witches today? Who are we stringing up and ignoring? The people who watched their neighbours led away to be tried and killed for witch-like tendencies likely breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them. ‘Whew, we dodged that bullet,’ you can almost hear them say.

I guess a better blogger would have a pat answer for you at this point, but I’m just not able.

I do know that we’re likely just as eager to cast somebody out of our realm of acceptability. It’s ok for you to have some relatively outlandish ideas as long as I deem you an acceptable member of my tribe. As soon as I can mentally cross you off my list, then as far as I’m concerned you can be led to the scaffolding just as quickly as they can take you. Good luck with that witch accusation.

I’m not accusing you personally. I’m actually wondering about myself.