Monday, January 11, 2010

Munich




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.




3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sehr shoen, mein liebling. Let's do it again when it's warmer.
HASI
XOXOXOXO

Jeff said...

Glad you guys made it home safe and sound! And very glad that you had a terrific time in Germany eating yummy things and visiting friends and family! Looking forward to hearing and seeing more about it!

That last black and white pic is amazing!

R said...

That's a lot going on for just 2 weeks! ;-)

Right about the McD's. I was in Melbourne 3 years ago and the sweets from McCafe was quite delectable. Their selection was pretty amazing with all sorts of different pastries. Fancy ones at that. U.S. is so slow. heh! I still remember when I went back to Hong Kong 6 years ago, they had this yummy Green Apple milkshake! mmm...

Now I want strawberry sundae! :-) Welcome back!! xoxo