Tuesday, January 26, 2010


One of the most striking sights during our visit to Munich was an art display at the Haus der Kunst. This particular display actually covered the whole facade of the museum itself and was visually stunning.

From afar it looked like a huge canvas with Chinese characters painted mostly with primary colors. However, when we took a closer look we could see that hundreds upon hundreds of backpacks were used to form this gigantic “canvas.” It was quite impressive.

This piece, called “Remembering,” was created by Chinese artist Ai WeiWei. Each of the 9,000 backpacks used in this installation represented the thousands of schoolchildren who fell victims to poorly built school buildings that did not stand the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

The politically active artist wanted not only to remember the many innocent lives lost but also to expose the unscrupulous authoritarian Chinese government. This natural disaster occurred while China was preparing for the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and the Chinese government feared a public relations nightmare. The disaster, the extend of the destruction and the actual number of injured and dead people were downplayed by the state propaganda machine. Ai WeiWei himself was arrested and beaten by State Police when he was trying to further investigate the real cause of the high death toll.

Our very own infrastructure in the United States is crumbling at an alarming rate and yet nothing is being done about it. While politicians only point fingers at each other and blaming others for incompetence or wasting money on unwinnable wars, things are getting increasingly worse. Does anyone seriously believe that cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles could withstand earthquakes of the magnitude like we have just seen in Haiti, without any widespread damage? L.A. would more likely resemble a devastated Port-au-Prince and the aftermath would be much worse.

Remember how the U.S. Government responded after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans back in 2005? How did the federal authority in charge not notice the decaying condition of a freeway bridge in Minneapolis before it collapsed into the Mississippi River in 2007? Not much has changed since then.

Try making a reasonable point during a discussion about the current deplorable state in this country and you’re being treated like some kind of un-American commie lover. It’s even worse when you’re trying to compare the U.S. with other industrialized countries and how far advanced they are. Now you’re just plain and simple a traitor and an enemy of the state. But instead of taking a moment to listen about the problems we’ll be facing or making a serious effort to finding solutions, most people would rather ride the patriotic wave of American self-aggrandizement. And the propaganda machine in the United States is doing a fantastic job convincing its citizens otherwise.

Put on those blinders, people. And keep waving that American flag. It’s all very nice but it takes a bit more than Old Glory to fix things in desperate need of repair.

But apparently, all we need now to fix everything are a couple of tea bags.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Munich in Black and White

Augsburger Dom


Tree “attacking” Muffat tower

Late winter afternoon in the Englischer Garten

Leftover advertising signage from a post World War II era

Art in the Fünf Höfe Mall

Arches inside the Augsburger Dom

A late evening ride in a commuter train

Munich street scene

Deutsches Museum - Electricity

Deutsches Museum - Stairwell

Walking giant in Schwabing

Munich Airport - Terminal 2


Friday, January 15, 2010

Seeing More Of Munich’s Sights

Snow falling inside one of the many courts of the gothic-style city hall

The view down Rosenheimerstraße, just outside our hotel

The Sankt Lukas Kirche by the Isar river, my grandmother’s church

Reflection of the Kongresshalle, next to the Deutsches Museum

Isartor, one of the remaining gates that were part of the medieval city wall dates back to 1337

A German bullet train, the ICE, awaits its departure from Hauptbahnhof, Munich’s main train station and one of the world’s largest terminal stations

George in front of the Gaststeig, the cultural center of Munich with a huge concert hall, theater and libraries, provide an array of activities and events

A typical Bavarian farming village, accessable only by small country roads in the hill country around Bad Tölz

George and I on the Ludwigsbrücke

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Münchnerische Zufälligkeiten

Below are some random photos taken while on our vacation to Munich, Germany.
Along Ludwigstraße, near the university
Along the embankments of the river Isar
The main cathedral, Frauenkirche

Light art at the Tollwood winter festival

George always cracks up when he hears “Einfahrt,” or anything with “fahrt” in it

One of the courts of Fünf Höfe, or Five Courts, a shopping mall

Marking signs for municipal utility lines
An old lantern at St.-Anna-Platz, a square the neighborhood I grew up

Monday, January 11, 2010


I can’t believe it’s been almost a week now since George and I returned from our trip to Munich, Germany. But what a great trip it was. Despite the cold weather there, a new terror attack attempt on an American plane and the subsequent stricter airport security procedures and the fact that Germany doesn’t have the things that I used to like anymore.

Although it was cold we were lucky with the weather. We were told that Germany just endured an arctic blast of frigid temperatures and tons of snow just days before our arrival. And the cold snap apparently returned right after we left again.

But it was cold enough for both of us the way it was, thank you very much!

Not that we were complaining though. We were bundled up enough so our wimped down bodies, used to desert heat waves, could brave any kind of wintery conditions.

And we were fattened up handsomely too by my family and friends, adding more to the insulation overall, so to speak. They welcomed George with open arms and made him feel part of the family right from the start, for which I’m very grateful. Everyone made sure that George would get plenty to taste from the local cuisine since it was his first trip to Germany. We can most definitely say that we had more Bavarian and Swabian food that we could have ever asked for. And cappuccinos. Plenty of cappuccinos. They’ll last us for a lifetime.

The culinary landscape in Munich has changed quite dramatically over the last eight years since I’ve been in Munich the last time. Back then and when I still used to live there were not too many options when it came to restaurants. It was either heavy, greasy Bavarian food, pizza or McDonald’s. With a few “exotic” flavored little places sprinkled here and there which were too expensive, especially back then. Now, there is an array of restaurants and fast-food places offering all kinds of foods. What’s up with all the Chinese take-out and Sushi joints at every corner? Even American fast-food chains entered the German market which I thought would never work there in a million years. There are places like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway and Starbucks, to name a few. Starbucks? In the land of Kaffee und Kuchen? And they also seem to be quite successful.

But it also triggered the opening of an army of German-version Starbucks stores that now litter the streetscapes of Munich. Such as Coffee Fellows, The San Francisco Coffee Company and other similar chains. Unfortunately, they too help with the demise of little family-owned bakeries and coffee houses. It was hard to find any independent baker, shop or any kind of store anymore. Most were turned into franchises of large corporate chains. I’ve also noticed that the German coffee isn’t as strong anymore. Still better than that colored water which is served in most American coffee shops, but not even close to how I remember their coffee used to be. That’s why we stuck with cappuccinos most of the time. Also, because they were comparable cheaper to regular coffee. Which, by the way, are also being sold as “Tall” and “Grande.” Just like in ‘merica. Doesn’t anybody offer a Kännchen Kaffee anymore?

We were amazed at how busy all the McDonald’s and other American franchises were that we’ve passed. It’s really funny how Europeans love to complain and make fun of everything American and yet they go crazy over Cheeseburgers, Levi’s Jeans or Lady Gaga. Most German kids don’t look any different than American kids. Same clothes, same music, same craving for plastic food.

However, one thing stood out in particular about McDonald’s in Germany. They’ve become a trendy, cool looking hangout. Most restaurants have been revamped to rival some of the trendy lounges in those swanky Las Vegas casinos. The regular McDonald’s menu is still crap and too expensive but what they offer in the McCafé sections is actually quite delectable. Yes, they too have cappuccinos which are good and for one Euro a cup a real bargain. But their pastries and cakes are indeed delicious and not expensive at all. And get this. All is served on real porcelain plates, real porcelain cups with real silver ware. There is a candle and a small bowl with freshly cut flowers on each table. Imagine that in a McDonald’s in any urban American city.

Obviously we’ve done more than just eating Spätzle or Quarkstrudel and drinking Cappuccinos, Spezi and Radler. We walked...a lot. We didn’t use the very efficient subway system as much as I thought we would. For some reason I’ve never realized before how close everything in Munich was. This city is a very walkable place. I showed George my old neighborhood, the building I grew up in, my old school and everything in-between. Our first full day was the only day with clear skies and lots of sunshine. It was still cold however. But a perfect day for walking and we covered a fairly large area. From the old center of Munich, to the Englischer Garten, and along the river Isar, George probably saw more of Munich than most tourist will ever see on one of these horrible tour busses.

The weather for the rest of the week was rather cloudy, with some snow and sleet on certain days. It didn’t stop us exploring more and pay a visit to my family and friends. We took the train to Augsburg and spent the day with my cousin and her husband. Again, lots of food was involved, especially breads, cakes and liquorized coffees, but also lots of walking. The next day we took the train back to Augsburg again to visit another friend who lives in the countryside just outside of town.

The days after that were used mainly to do more touristy things, like visiting the expansive Deutsches Museum, some window shopping and taking in the hustle and bustle of a big city. We’ve met other friends of mine who invited us to yet more typical Bavarian fare at one of the oldest restaurants in Munich. They also treated us to an evening at Zirkus Krone, a very traditional circus which has a permanent home during their winter hiatus from traveling the world. The show that evening was quite a departure from all the Cirque du Soleil shows we have all over in Las Vegas.

Sadly I noticed, however, that most of my favorite treats, like certain pralines or cakes and some of the stores I used to frequently visit are all but gone. It’s the sign of the times I suppose and Germany is definitely not immune to changing styles and tastes. It also meant that I didn’t spend money on frivolous things. As a matter of fact, we didn’t buy anything for ourselves. Well, the attempted terror attack on the Delta flight enroute to Detroit on Christmas Day didn’t help much either. Because of that, the security measures for all U.S.-bound flights have become so stringent that it would have been more trouble than it’s worth. We tried to travel as light as possible to begin with, which proved to be a good thing. Especially now with all the hassles of modern day air travel.

It was quite visible that Germany wasn’t as hard hit by the economic crisis like the United States was. People were shopping, going out and having a good time.

Overall, I noticed that Munich has dramatically changed over the last eight years. While things have turned around for the better in Munich, I felt like it was the total opposite for the United States in comparison. Simple things like the cell phone coverage is far superior to the American one. Not to mention their train and public transportation system. The city is being reconfigured to make it a more livable and breathable place. While the German cities are curbing more and more vehicular traffic in favor for a more environmentally friendly and human way of living, American cities keep building more freeways and adding street lanes to choke up the already congested cities and suburban areas even more.

Europeans are more conscience when it comes to matter of environmental issues and quality of life. It’s a group effort on a large scale that benefits a nation and its society as a whole. In the United States, people are more concerned of wanting their stuff, their services and their demands met first than worry about any consequences down the road. If at all. And the welfare of others seem not to be of much interest to most American nowadays.

Interestingly enough, it never used to be like this. I remember a time not that long ago where Americans were once regarded as very a open, welcoming and generous people. All that changed under the administration of George W. Bush which used the 9/11 terror attacks as a disguise to changing laws for its own purpose, limiting freedoms for the average citizen and turning the United States in a quasi fortress.

Our return flight wasn’t as horrible as one might have imagined, even with all the newly implemented additional security measures. Checking in at the Munich airport was a breeze, because we arrived there extra early. We had a layover in Amsterdam and despite being in the transfer area, every single passenger still had to go through metal detectors at the gate before boarding the plane for our connecting flight. Each carry-on item was emptied and individually hand checked, and every passenger patted down by security officers. This delayed our connecting flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul by more than one hour. Luckily, we had strong tail winds over a cloudy Atlantic and arrived in the United States half hour earlier than scheduled.

Here’s a word of advice for international air travel. Try to avoid international airports which seem to be obvious choices for leaving or entering the United States, such as New York’s JFK, Chicago’s O’Hare, Los Angeles’ LAX or Atlanta‘s Hartsfield airports. Instead go for flights departing and arriving at airports like Cincinnati, Charlotte or like in our case Minneapolis/St. Paul. You will be spared not only the enormous crowds of angry passengers and frustrated ground personnel, but also the long lines at passport controls and customs check. Most of the immigration and custom control officers are not as rude or threatening as they are at those more traditional hubs and don’t act much on that authoritative power trip. My passport control officer at Minneapolis was very to-the-point but friendly. It must have been that Midwestern charm.

Now we’re home in Las Vegas again and we’ve been back to work for a week already. Has it already been that long? Time flies when you’re having fun. And fun we had in Germany. Everything was great, meeting all my friends and family again, our hotel and its staff, the food and the sights. We could have done without the cold but then again we saved a lot of money as this time of the year is considered the dead season.

There will be a lot going on for both George and I this year. Another trip overseas seems highly unlikely this year. But one never knows. We may consider a long weekend in Canada later this year but we have to see how things fall into place first.

For now however, it’s back to school for George to finish his Master in Education and more work for me in the wonderful world of graphic design.

Trying to make concrete walls for a flood channel look fabulous is such a glamorous job.

I’ll be posting random photos from our trip to Munich in the next few entries.