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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.

“Humor is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations.

There is more logic in humor than in anything else.

Because, you see, humor is truth.”

– Victor Borge

Image courtesy of [Healblog]

Berlin Is Sexy

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.

Words of the Week

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.'” Jim Jarmusch

No matter where I am in this world, my heart belongs to Italy. Amidst those narrow, chaotic streets, I find peace.

Over the holidays, my boyfriend, David and I returned to the city where we met – Siena, Italy.

We were lucky enough to catch this spectacular sunset overlooking the Tuscan countryside.

On Christmas Day, we visited Il Duomo di Siena – Siena’s main Cathedral.

We made our way to Florence where we took in this beautiful view of Ponte Vecchio.

It wouldn’t feel right without mounds of bicycles and mopeds littering the streets of Firenze.

I’ve made it a habit to take photos of unique and/or colorful doors in the cities I visit – this one in particular caught my eye with this juxtaposition of a lifeless door and green potted plants (…and cactus?).

I swear that one of Tuscany’s sole purposes is to create opportunities for beautiful photos – it is a living and never-ending canvas where even a simple old car or a shabby bicycle can be considered works of art.

A day trip to San Gimignano – a city known for its many towers, where 14 of the original 72 still stand – offered us this breathtaking view of the Tuscan countryside.

And what would a trip to Italy be without a stay in the country’s capital?

Fontana del Pantheon – located in Piazza della Rotonda, in front of the Pantheon.

New Years is always an eventful holiday, and Rome is a beautifully chaotic, hot mess;  the two combined together make for one unforgettable experience.

The streets were lined with colorful lights to embody the Italian flag, and there were enough fireworks being set off to question if this was the outbreak of WWIII.

Our midnight in Rome, New Year’s Eve.

Words of the Week

“The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangibles, ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

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.