münchen ado about nothing

History's weight, it
Can crush you if you don't take
Care. See the past now.

Standing at the top of the stairs, just where Hitler stood a few dozen years ago to give a speech to some 20,000 people, at a plaza in München was almost crushing. I know that I've talked about this in a number of posts, but it's incredible to be in places where the wheels of history really turned. I know that we've had a few skirmishes and great men in the New World, but there's nothing that can compare to this. Dachau, the first concentration camp, is about 20 minutes from München. The room from which Hitler ordered the Kristallnacht to be carried out was just off the town square. On the tour we attended, every other building came prefaced with something like, "This is the third one of this building built... the first two were destroyed in..."

There were some pretty frickin neat buildings, though, with neat stories. My favourite story that we were told was about the opera house downtown; its first design included an inverted dome roof for collecting rainwater, and this reservoir was then connected to a series of tubes (the first internet?) that were intended to be a sprinlker system. It was an ingenious system, and it was given a chance to prove itself just a short time after the construction was completed. Fires broke out downstairs, and a worker raced to the proper valve to open it, and... nothing happened. Unfortunately, it was January, and the pool of water in the dome was frozen solid. This meant, unfortunately, that all the water in München would have been frozen, so he had to come up with something else... but what liquid was there going to be in great enough quantities that it might put out a fire?

Oh, beer. He ran a few blocks to the Hofbrauhaus (originally built solely for the Royal Family) and convinced the owner and patrons thereof to form a human chain down the street to the opera house, passing kegs and glasses and any other sort of container that could be found, each filled to the brim with beer.

Strangely enough, despite the fact that many litres of beer seemed to be leaving the Hofbrauhaus, not that much was making it to the other end of the line. The opera house burned down. Alex commented that "that story pretty much sums up humanity." It's a fair point. :) Culture? Let's save it! Well, hmm... beer.

We learned some pretty interesting things about the Hofbrauhaus "back in the day," as well. Originally it was designed only for men, since it would not be seemly for ladies to be intoxicating themselves in public. It was an extremely busy place, so once one got a spot, one certainly would not want to lose it, ne? But consuming alcoholic beverages tends to lead to a powerful need to urinate, so the solution was to put troughs under each table that ran the length of the brauhaus, and each fellow could just open the flap at the front of his lederhosen and let go under the table.

Also back in the day it was (and still is, perhaps) illegal to throw up in the main room of the building, so a "vomitorium" was installed in the men's restroom. Our guide commented that it took him some time to figure out exactly what that curious structure was with a powerful flush and large basin, located too high to be a urinal... Classy.

One of the most famous sights in the city is the Glockenspiel. It was underwhelming, to say the least. I guess it was one of the first things of its kind (although I'm not precisely sure what "its kind" entails), so it's impressive in that respect, but unfortunately it was really, really lame. It only does its famed dance 3 times daily. Before we knew this, we hung around for about 20 minutes to try to see it go off, although I guess when it really went off we weren't much more excited. There are two scenes: one depicts the marriage that essentially created Bavaria, and the other is of cobblers dancing to celebrate the plague's being gone (for the time being). Love and death, what an interesting balance. Too bad it was a poorly-executed one.

We learned a bit about the history of Munich's name and its founding, as well. "München" means "monk" in German, and before it was a city, München was just a collection of monasteries in the middle of Bavaria. Munich is actually the word for monk in Old German, so that's where its English name comes from. Our guide (he was with New Europe Tours, for the record, and really good; they have tours running in several cities, and I was quite impressed with this one) told us tales of some of the kings and dukes of the area, and we felt learnéd.

I guess I didn't even mention who "we" was yet. Part of the purpose of this trip was a reunion of Mathieu, Alex, and Nadège, who had met in the language course in Berlin. Titilayo and I sort of came along to crash their party. ;) Certainly these sorts of trips are more fun with more people, and another girl, Marie, from Sherbrooke (where Mathieu and Nadège go to school) came along the second day, as did a guy named Steven who recently moved into the dorms in Dieburg just down the hall. RISE kids on an adventure. Seriously, though, it was good to see them. I guess I only really knew them from 36 hours or so in Berlin, but in summers like this there's no time to waste on the whole awkward "getting to know you" crap; I learned last summer that all that nonsense can be skipped in favour of having lots of fun together like old friends.

I have to say that I'm a bit jealous of Alex's experiences; he's actually living in the middle of a small town in Germany and is surrounded by the language all the time, while I'm in a sad little bubble of English. :( I did just find out that there's a free German course offered by TUD, and I'm pretty surely going to look into it.

Oh, the trips to and from Munich were quite intriguing in themselves. Mathieu, Titi, and I all elected to try using a German rideshare website to get there, and Mathieu and I used it on the way back, as well. The man who we rode with to Munich was a really nice, knowledgeable guy from the area (sort of) who had been in Frankfurt for the day doing an interview for a job as a consultant for a law firm. He pointed out some neat sights on the way into town, including the Allianz Arena and the Queen's Plaza (which I can't, for some reason, find any information about... perhaps I'm misrecollecting the name). The people we rode home with were really interesting; I'm pretty certain that they were German hippies. They drove a red VW bus with a kitchen (!?) in the back, and they had just come from a wedding and some kind of seminar about their shared job: occupational therapy. :D

The Autobahn was another experience. I had always assumed that it was just one road that connected, perhaps, the main cities in Germany, but every highway is an Autobahn. No speed limit means that people in nice cars drive fast; Alex mentioned that during his several trips along the A9 he'd watched Ferraris and the like racing the ICEs, which, mind you, go about 300km/h. Next step is driving it myself.

There was, of course, some time spent "enjoying the local culture," but those stories are best told in person. The internet doesn't need to know everything.


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