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Archive for August, 2011

Words of the Week

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Lao Tzu

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An Excursion

Have you ever heard of the small German town of Memmingen? Yeah, I hadn’t either, until yesterday when my host family and I took a day trip there to visit family friends. The small city is only an hour drive from Munich, yet upon our arrival I felt as if we had traveled back in time. Munich is beautiful, yes, and the architecture is a style that presents itself in an old fashioned way, but in actuality it is fairly new. Although Munich dates back to the 12th century, it was almost completely destroyed during WWII, leaving behind only four original structures. Thus, the city was almost entirely rebuilt to reflect its previous existence.

But Memmingen dates back to the 5th century, developing over the course of centuries, and finally becoming part of Bavaria in 1802. Strolling through the narrow, cobblestone streets, the sights surrounding me awoke memories of my time spent in Siena, Italy last year. Although Italy and Germany are two entirely different countries, the small, quaint medieval town surrounded by ancient city walls brought about a familiarity of something I had come to know so well last year. While I love Munich, these little hidden gems of cities always capture me in a way that no large city can.

Unfortunately, there is not much to do in Memmingen other than to explore the streets and snap photos of the old churches and other buildings. There is an H&M, where I used every once of self control not to go into, and some other shops, but that’s it. The nightlife seems non-existant at best, but Memmingen is a charming stop for a quick day trip.

The evening commenced with a beautiful lightening storm in the distance, illuminating the night sky as we looked on in enchantment.

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The Theatinerkirche

This weekend, I decided to take advantage of the long anticipated and unfortunately short lived summer weather to do some overdue exploring of the city. My tour began at Odeonsplatz, home of Feldherrnhalle, the Theatinerkirche, and the Hofgarten, just to name a few. Freshly off the u-bahn, my ears perked up to live classical music playing in the distance. I followed these sounds until I stumbled upon an outdoor concert in the Hofgarten, complete with grand piano, string bass, cello, and violin. They were playing selections from The Phantom of the Opera. This gave me the opportunity to nerd-out in full force, as I have always had a particular love for classical music. I sat in the grass, eyeing the beautiful surroundings as I listened to the music. This is one thing I especially love about Europe – classical music is everywhere. It is appreciated in a way I haven’t experienced in the States.

Makeshift Orchestra Concert

The concert concluded, so I began to wander aimlessly, open to whatever I came across next. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon yet another musical showcase, except for this time it was an orchestra rehearsal taking place outdoors in the courtyard of the Munich Residenz, the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs. Chairs were set up, so I took a seat in the back and listened in pure enjoyment and fascination.

Hofgarten

My curiosity led me next to a small, bustling street full of shops and bakeries. Snapping photos and exploring the area, a feeling of contentedness engrossed me as I reminded myself that this beautiful place is now my home.

Next on the tour was Marienplatz, located in the heart of Munich and home to the famous Glockenspiel. Also a famously overcrowded tourist hot-spot, my time here was short lived as the crowds became distracting and annoying.

Hofgarten

So far, my favorite location in Munich is the Englisch Garten. If you ever get a chance to visit Munich, this should be one of your first stops! Devote at least a few hours to touring the area; it’s absolutely enormous and an easy place to get lost – which is part of the fun, in my opinion. Every inch will feed your visual appetite, so you won’t be disappointed if you make a wrong turn.

I took a leisurely bike ride through the garden, stopping along the way to read for a few hours and soak up some sun. I was surrounded by others who were reading, sketching, napping, playing sports, chatting, and simply enjoying the weather. Rain or shine, I’ve decided that this will be a place I visit regularly, either by bike, on a jog, or by just walking through and appreciating my surroundings.

Nektar Beach

That evening, I joined my host family at Nektar Beach. When I spoke to Sven on the phone and he told me where to meet, I pictured some kind of beach area by the river where people could swim and lay out. In actuality, Nektar Beach is a swanky manmade “beach bar” that is also a restaurant and a nightclub. The ground of the outdoor area is entirely made of sand, except for the wooden walkways leading to the indoor club. I arrived to the family

My host family and I - at Nektar Beach

relaxing on reclining couches atop the sand, the parents enjoying drinks with a family friend, and the kids running around playing with the other children there. I plopped down on one of the couches and ordered a beer – this one was actually half beer and half limeade – a refreshing reward after my 4 hour bike ride.

The following day, the weather proved itself to truly be summer. Sven, Claudia, Tristan, Jolina, Bailey (the dog), and I gratefully piled into the car and headed to a lake

Lunch on the lake

about 40 minutes outside of Munich, anxious to enjoy the rare summer day. When we arrived, we had lunch at a restaurant located right by the lake, offering gorgeous views of our surroundings. The afternoon was spent enjoying the water and sun – although our time at the lake was cut short as the kids grew restless. Jolina considered this lake to be the ocean – “the

To swim, or not to swim...

ocean isn’t heated like the pool” and “I don’t want to swim because of the whales and sharks in the water.” We all plopped back in the car and instead spent the rest of the afternoon at the sports club pool, which is located down the street from the house.

That evening, Sven put me in touch with a student that used to work for his company. As she is around my age, we ended up meeting for a drink. One of her friends joined us a bit later. I’ve loved everything about Munich so far, but one big thing that has been missing is friends and spending time with people my age. As I don’t start at the language school for another month, it’s been difficult to meet other people, so it was great to be introduced to some people my own age. It seems like things are slowly starting to come together in this new world of mine, and as time goes on, I feel that I am finally starting to build a life here.

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“I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the
beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

– Walt Whitman, excerpt from “Song of Myself”

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This morning, I braved the roads of Munich for the first time. My host family scheduled me a driving lesson which I am extremely grateful for, especially in relation to one special word: Autobahn. While the advised speed limit is 130 kilometers per hour (81 mph), drivers have been known to reach speeds as high as 322 km/h, or 200 mph.

I’m off to a good start, impressing my driving instructor with my parallel parking abilities and managing to heed each new driving regulation with success. I’m feeling confident, until my instructor utters the word “Autobahn.”

“It’s time to try the autobahn,” he says with a slight smirk. I look over, managing an apprehensive smile in return. Okay, I can do this.

The Autobahn - Munich

And I do, with flying colors actually. I think the idea of the autobahn is scarier than it is in reality. Many drivers are going at reasonable speeds, with only a few maniacs flying past us here and there. One key thing to remember on the autobahn is to check the mirrors, then physically turn to look, then recheck, before changing lanes. Many cars may come shooting out of nowhere at high speeds much too fast to brake in time if another car cuts in front. For now, I plan on driving in the slow lane and staying put.

Following my driving lesson, Claudia, Sven and I make our way to the kids’ preschool for their final performance/party before the summer holiday. Jolina, who is almost five, performs with her classmates – they are all dressed up as various safari animals – dancing and singing for their parents. Their program commences and its time for a potluck lunch.

Luckily, today is the first summer day we’ve had in a while. The past few days, Munich has been dim and gloomy, rain occupying most of the day, partnered with grey clouds looming above. But today, the sun is shining and the air is warm. I decide to take the kids to the neighborhood park for the afternoon. Jolina and I go down the slide and around to the top again enough to make me dizzy. Tristan mostly watches, giggling at Jolina and I as we run past. We all soon tire and head home. Sven arrives home from work minutes later, so we are off to dinner by bike.

The sun is setting in the distance, casting a stunning array of golden yellows and light pinks above us. We are in good company on our journey, as the street is overrun with other bikers and pedestrians enjoying the brilliant evening. We arrive at Riva, an Italian Restaurant nearby our neighborhood, where we eat on the outdoor patio and relax. An excellent conclusion to a lovely day.

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Today is already my 14th day in Germany. Let’s recap, as I’ve been ever so neglectful of my dear blog for the past two weeks.

The Englischer Garten

On my first full day, Claudia took me on a bike tour of the city as the kids would be at school until 4pm. The famous Englischer Garten is only footsteps away from our neighborhood, so we finished the tour with a pleasant ride through my new, glorious “backyard,” which happens to be one of the world’s largest urban public parks.  It stretches farther than New York’s Central Park, although it is smaller than London’s Richmond Park. Decorated with beautiful trees and flowers, large bike and walking paths, multiple biergartens, and a lake which offers paddle boats and row boats for rent, it is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon with family and friends. Not to mention, it is a choice location for people watching, and my favorite, dog watching. The Englischer Garten offers an area that is legal for dogs to run off of their leashes, which dog owners frequently take advantage of.

Dog watching – my favorite spotted dog

The following day was Sven’s birthday, and as a birthday treat I made the family pancakes for breakfast – one of Sven’s favorites. Although making pancakes is no glorious culinary accomplishment, I felt nervous preparing them as I have never been a natural when it comes to the kitchen. My boyfriend, David, who loves to cook and is quite good at it, will be the first to attest to this. Luckily, they tasted rather good and no one got sick – so overall the experience was successful.

That night I met Sven’s parents, his sister, and her daughter. We went to a traditional biergarten outside of the city limits. This was my first traditional German meal, and being able to experience it outside of a tourist trap such as the Hofbrauhaus made it all the better. Hours later, we were still there talking and drinking – a refreshing change to my usual rushed dinners in the States.

It was a lovely evening that would lead into a lovely weekend, as I was to be reunited with David for the first time since the first week of July.

At the Biergarten

He had been living in Berlin as an Au Pair for a family with two boys, but they were spending two weeks in Salzburg for a classical music festival which the family attends each year. As Salzburg is only a short train ride away from Munich, David was able to come visit for the weekend. I hadn’t had much time to explore the city yet, so we set out on this venture together. Our first stop: A biergarten, naturally.

After downing two beers each and David refueled himself with food, we wandered the Englischer Garten, admiring the gorgeous scenery and large population of dogs running about. The following day, we returned to the Englischer Garten as the weather presented itself with perfect conditions. Another biergarten was our first stop, where we ate incredibly overpriced food and drank overpriced beers. The biergarten sits right next to a lake, offering a spectacular view, which essentially was what we were paying for.

At this lake, boats can be rented for a small fee – we decided to rent an old fashioned row boat to tour the lake, take in the scenery, and enjoy the weather. As only one person could row, I kindly let David take charge while I sat back and took pictures.

That evening, a BBQ was held at home for Sven’s birthday. Here I was introduced to many of the family’s closest friends, as well as five or six little ones that ran around with Tristan and Jolina. I will admit, having that many kids in a small space, combined with meeting a large group of people I don’t know, was a bit stressful. Things finally calmed down once dinner was served and we were all able to kick back a little and relax.

The rest of the weekend was consumed with wandering the streets of Munich as tourists,

The Glockenspiel – Marienplatz

taking in the sights and snapping photos. Among our travels, we visited the Deutsch Museum and Marienplatz. And last but not least, we went shopping for lederhosen and a dirdnl – David being completely successful while I will have to search somewhere else another day… It’s a little over a month until the start of Oktoberfest – David will be returning to Munich, lederhosen and all, and by that time I will hopefully be adorned in a traditional dirdnl and ready to experience the festivities.

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“Follow your passion. Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. By all means, you should follow that” – Ellen DeGeneres

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