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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

One of the things I love most about living in Germany, or specifically in Munich, is that there is almost always a festival going on – or there’s one to look forward to. Of course, there is Oktoberfest, the obvious frontrunner. But many are surprised to learn that there are a variety of other events throughout the year also.

During the holiday season, there is a plethora of Christmas Markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte, that offer handmade goods, yummy treats, and warm spiced wine known as Glühwein – a German holiday specialty. While there are many markets scattered throughout Munich to choose from, the main event to check out is the Tollwood Festival, held at the Theresienwiese (also where Oktoberfest takes place). Large tents are set up throughout the area, some filled with retail and food booths, and others with bars and even a performance platform for live music. Grab a mug of warm Glühwein and stroll through the tents and get ready to be put in the holiday spirit.

Fast forward a few months to Faschingsfest, otherwise known as Karneval. This Mardi Gras celebration of Germany is filled with costume parties, parades, and music. The carnival season traditionally begins on November 11th, but the real party begins a few weeks prior to beginning of lent, where hundreds of costume balls are held throughout the city, showcasing everything from stylishly elegant masquerades to those dressed in rainbow wigs, crazy makeup, and other insane getups. One thing is for certain during this festival: anything and everything goes!

Next on the list is Starkbierfest, which literally means Strong Beer Festival. Conveniently, this three week party frenzy full of good beer and even better people watching begins right at the end of lent. There’s a reason the beer is extra strong this time. Specially brewed for the occasion and served in a Keferloher (1 liter ceramic stein), you won’t need more than a couple Starkbier to be dancing on the benches with the locals and singing along to the modern and traditional German music. Trust me. This celebration is held at multiple beer halls and breweries throughout the city, but the most popular choice for the grandest party of all seems to be at Paulaner “Nockherberg” brewery, where hundreds of people pile in Oktoberfest style, dressed in their tradition Dirndl or Lederhosen ready for a good old fashioned Bierfest.

Just when you thought you’d consumed enough beer to last you until Oktoberfest, along comes Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival). Held at the Theresienwiese, many consider this festival to be a mini Oktoberfest, complete with carnival rides and those all too famous beer tents. While the tents appear to be about 1/2 the size of the Oktoberfest tents (and there are only a handful to choose from compared to the selection of Oktoberfest’s 14 large Halls, and that’s not counting the smaller ones…), delicious beer in 1 liter Maß and traditional munchies are served while a live band plays new hits and traditional favorites. Naturally, most everyone makes their way up on top of the benches after their first or second Maß for a dance party. And don’t forget your Dirndl or Lederhosen! Be prepared to hear more English than German as you are bound to encounter more tourists than locals at this festival. Think of this as a warm-up for Oktoberfest…

But don’t begin your preparations for that world famous beer festival just yet…there’s one more festival to check out before it’s that time of year again. Tollwood Sommerfestival, held at the Olympiapark from the end of June to the end of July, offers everything from performing artists and theater groups, to handicrafts and food, to a music arena displaying a variety of groups, this year ranging from Erykah Badu, to Billy Idol, to Lady Antebellum among many others. You won’t find any crazy Bier halls at this event, but it’s Germany after all, so you can expect to sip on a tasty Deutsche brew while enjoying everything this festival has to offer.

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Spring is finally starting to come out of hiding here in beautiful Munich. Goodbye negative temperatures, snow, and frozen hair (deciding to head out into the cold with wet hair wasn’t one of my brightest moments).

As soon as the sun makes even the slightest appearance, the once desolate Munich comes to life. The Englischer Garten is always buzzing with activity with the slightest rise in temperature. Families are out having picnics at the Biergartens, friends are having BBQs, people are out walking their dogs, pushing strollers, jogging, biking, playing sports. My personal favorite pastime on a gorgeous day is to ride my bike to my favorite spot by the lake and read…and dog watch, naturally.

The public squares, especially the prized center of Munich, Marienplatz, are bustling with so much activity it’s often times almost impossible to get anywhere in the midst of the crowds. Especially if you’re caught in front of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel at 11 am or 12 o’clock noon (and 5 pm, except in winter). Good luck trying to get anywhere fast during those 15 minutes of music and little dancing figures.

When in Munich, the Rathaus-Glockenspiel must be experienced for stereotypical tourism’s sake, but trust me, one time is all you need. Remember that when you go to grab your video camera.

When the sun is out, the mood of the city changes, and I can’t help but to think that there couldn’t be a more beautiful city to live in. People walk and ride their bikes everywhere here. And when I say everywhere, I mean, everywhere. I’ve never seen a city’s bike paths structured so well.

And every restaurant, Biergarten or not, is packed with outdoor seating, where locals can soak up the sun and enjoy an afternoon beer. In fact, drinking a beer with lunch, or even breakfast, is very normal in Bavaria and not just saved for college football tailgates.

The Biergarten culture is not only a Bavarian tradition that one must experience, it is the perfect atmosphere in which to spend a sunny afternoon. While traditional Bavarian food is served, such as Brezn (large breaded pretzels), Obazda (cheese cream with onions and paprika powder), and Wurstsalat (thin, cold sausage slices served with onions) – many people bring their own picnic and just purchase beverages at the Garten, which of course is typically Bier.

Now, there are two main types of Bavarian beer: Helles and Weißbier. The first, which literally means “pale”, is the most popular and is brewed from only three ingredients, as controlled by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law): water, barley, and hop. Simple, delicious, and stronger than one would initially anticipate. As this is the only Bier served at Oktoberfest, that should be enough to attest to this beer’s effect on people after one too many Maß.

The second, Weißbier, which literally means “white beer”, is brewed from barley and wheat. To really blend in with the locals, be sure to only be caught drinking Weißbier out of a tall, slender glass. The reason for this is it accentuates the bouquet of the beer, but I just think it looks cooler.

The next step is to purchase a traditional Dirndl or Lederhosen. For the ladies, the Dirndl consists of three main parts: the blouse, the dress, and the apron. However, there is a plethora of different styles, colors, and lengths. If you wish to go for a more traditional route, pick a dirndl that hits at or below the knee. The next step is the apron, which often matches the color or design of the Dirdnl itself. Mine, for instance, is brown with green stitching and embellishments, so I chose a green apron. The last part is the blouse, which comes in an array of fits and styles, from displaying your entire chest for the world to see, to conservative, sleeved, and high cut. Some have collars, some cinch in the middle, and some can go off the shoulder as mine does. Traditionally these blouses are white, but there are now “fashion dirndls” which to me look a bit tacky and more like a halloween costume. They are often shorter, in brighter colors, with a shinier type of fabric, and worn with black blouses.

For the men, Lederhosen are more simple. With the literal translation being “leather pants”, that is exactly what these are. Leather pants, with suspenders. The Lederhosen can vary in length, from to the knee like David is wearing below, to more relaxed and looser fitting shorts. Typically, a checkered button up shirt is worn underneath; I’ve seen them in green, red, and blue. Plain white is also worn and is more traditional. To complete this ensemble, one needs tall, usually cream/white colored socks, and when it’s cold, one can wear a traditional wool embroidered jacket over top. To go all out, sport a traditional hat as well, and you’ll be ready to fit right in here in Munich, Bavaria.

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Last weekend, I went up to Berlin to visit my boyfriend, David. We’ve lived in Germany (he in Berlin, I in Munich) for over seven months now, so I’ve had the opportunity to visit Berlin frequently and have gotten to know the city well enough to feel at home whenever I’m there.

To clarify, Berlin and Munich lie on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Munich is lovely, pristine, and orderly. Berlin is grungy, dirty, and a little weird. David’s host dad described it perfectly: “Munich is beautiful, Berlin is sexy.”

It’s not uncommon to see an entire block of buildings covered from top to bottom in graffiti. Perhaps Münchners consider this to be vandalism, but to Berliners, this is art. And to me, it is beautiful. The art of tagging in Berlin is a culture all its own, consisting of many accomplished artists who display their work for the public to admire. Some have their own trademark, where they leave the same picture in various locations throughout the city. Others are completely random, a little graphic, and at times offensive, but so outrageously creative that I can’t help but to admire these anonymous artists anyway. To me, this “vandalism” is what gives Berlin its character, its personality, and this personality is why I love this place so much.

It is a massive city and is a melting pot of numerous cultures from around the world. This is another reason I adore this city: its diversity. Here, there is no normal. Everything and everyone is so different that being more abnormal is the norm, if that makes sense. Berlin makes weird cool (think Portland, OR, but with more graffiti, more grunge, and less hipster).

One of my favorite areas of Berlin is the Turkish district – it’s by far one of the most eclectic spots, full of hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants, including Santa Maria, the best (and only) good Mexican place we’ve found (thanks to a rec from my Berlin-native host mom) in all of Europe. Berlin likes vegetarians, too, so in return I like Berlin even more. I’m surprised by how many vegetarian options are available in such a *stereotypically* meat-loving culture.

Berlin also offers a fantastic range of museums, from renaissance art to Check-Point Charlie. Near Berlin’s Museum Island (it’s exactly what it sounds like) is a flea market that mostly sells leftover junk from estate sales. However, if you’re lucky, you can make an awesome find, such as this vintage 1930s camera I picked up this past weekend. Of course it’s not in working condition anymore, but for 30 euro I couldn’t pass it up. Among these estate sale leftovers are local artists selling their handmade work, ranging from photography, to paintings, to jewelry, to pottery.

So what about the nightlife? Just to name a few, there’s the death metal bar, a place called Cake, or Havana, which is where David and I ended up last Friday night. The draw for us was the Salsa room.  Havana is made up of multiple dance floors – electro, top charts, hip-hop, salsa – so there’s something for everyone.

Berlin may not be the city I decided to call home when I moved to Germany, but over time it has given Munich a run for its money. Berlin has nothing on the Englischer Garten and Bavarian beer, though, and Oktoberfest wins Munich some major brownie points. And where else can you see a man walking down the street wearing Lederhosen in the middle of the day.

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Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest with David, Kaleena, and our new friends!

Time to play catchup. Let’s start with September, September 17th to be exact, the first day of Oktoberfest. Throughout the 17-day festival, I consumed way too much Festbier (the tasty brew that’s only served at Oktoberfest) than my liver should be able to handle, while donning my traditional dirndl and befriending the equally intoxicated Germans at my table. Needless to say, I miraculously came out alive by the end of it all with some priceless memories in tow.

I also began my first Deutsch language course. I knew going into it that German was not the easiest language to pick up, but I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was. Everything from the spelling, to the pronunciation, to the grammar, oh goodness, the grammar, the words that are spelled the same but mean different things depending on the context and the pronunciation. Basically, German equaled one big fat headache for the first few weeks. But then, like magic, everything suddenly fit into place.

More Oktoberfest...

My German still sucks, of course, but at least I now have a better understanding of the structure of the language and usually can comprehend what people are saying; forming a correct sentence in response is still another story. Now that I’ve formally broken up with the idea that I could actually be fluent by the end of the year, my goal is to be able to comfortably hold a conversation without needing to immediately cry “Langsam bitte!” (“Slow please!”). Luckily, the kids I work with are ages 2 and 5, and while the 5 year old frequently corrects my German, I can, for the most part, comfortably communicate with them in their mother tongue.

It’s now been six months since I moved to Munich – and it took long enough, but I can finally say that I’m starting to feel at home here. These negative degree temperatures are currently turning me into a hermit, though, and has me seeking out every opportunity to hide under a blanket or to drink something hot and frothy, while anxiously waiting for Germany to defrost.

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So this past week, I experienced the German club scene for the first time. I randomly met a fellow Au Pair at the family’s sports club – and she turns out to be my neighbor! – so I finally have someone to accompany me on my nighttime adventures.

It was a Wednesday night; yes, a Wednesday. And this was not a Dollar Beers kind of night, to all of you Oregon ducks out there. It was a lets-get-messed-up-and-go-dancing-until 6am kind of night. Most parties don’t even get started here until 2 am, and that’s even pushing it as a bit early. Luckily, people were semi-reasonable and showed up a bit early for the Wednesday club scene; we arrived at club 089 at around 1 am, and it was

Club 089

packed. Kaleena and I each paid 4 euro for a tiny bottled beer and shuffled into the crowd. Unrecognizable techno and house music blared through the speakers, littered with old school U.S. hits here and there – think Haddaway’s “What Is Love.” From my observations, people seem to actually dance here in Germany, as compared to the let’s-have-sex-on-the-dancefloor style that has taken over the States. There were a few down and dirty couples scattered throughout the place, but for the most part people were just enjoying the music and having a good time. Including Kaleena and I – we had the best time dancing and meeting Munich locals – so much fun that we stayed out until about 5:30am. When we left, the place was still packed, allowing those that remained a few more hours to get their dance on.

Bob Beaman Music Club

The next experience – and the more authentic German experience in my opinion – came on Friday night. We showed up at Bob Beaman Music Club around 1 am. Unlike the 3 euro cover at 089, the Friday night scene had upped it to a whopping 10 euro – which I hear is cheap compared to some other clubs in the area. The outside courtyard was packed, so we figured it would be even better inside. Well…we were wrong. We walked inside only to find about 5 or 6 scattered dancers, and about 10 more creepily standing on the wall watching. Hmmm, this is what we paid 10 euro for?! Since we already made the long trek there – including walking, the U-bahn, and a taxi – and had also paid a non-refundable 10 euro, we decided to make the best of it. Too bad the music creeped me out.

Have you ever listened to the voice of a hypnotist, maybe on T.V. or on the radio, and recognized the voice to be low, repetitive, and slow? Well, put that voice to a repetitive techno beat and there you have the music we were listening to. Apparently, this style is called Minimal Techno, and was largely developed in Germany during the 2000s, popularized by labels such as Kompakt and M-nus. Regardless of the genre’s popularity here, I can’t quite understand its appeal. I looked around at Bob Beaman’s to see fellow club goers moving their arms in weird directions and twerking their bodies back and forth. This made for some interesting people watching. And despite my apprehensions, I decided to embrace my environment and engage in this new dance style. I jumped up and down, moved back and forth, waved my arms, and I fit right in. Before I knew it, I was

Bob Beaman Music Club

having a fantastic time – and this was not due to my initial people watching entertainment, but from my own participation. My fun was momentarily interrupted, as I noticed that the creepy guy that had been lurking in the corner and staring in my direction for over an hour had finally decided to make his move. He slowly inched closer until, without words and with a completely blank expression, he attempted to grab my hand and dance. I decided to entertain his attempts for a short time, but his lack-luster dancing and blank stare eventually bored me to tears; I locked eyes with Kaleena, gave her the “save me” look, and she swooped in for the win. Free at last. We danced for a few more hours in this club where the ceiling lit up in neon colors, changing every few seconds, making me feel that I might as well be on some kind of illegal substance even though I was completely sober, excluding the single beer from the beginning of the night. What a trip, and what a grand old time out on the town in my new hometown of Munich. And maybe, before I know it, I’ll have this Minimal Techno dance style down to an art, allowing me to fit in as a local, that is until I open my mouth and attempt to speak the few words of German that I actually do know.

Another walk home in the early hours of the morning, watching the sun rise slowly and gracefully in the distance, led to the commencement of yet another successful night out.

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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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