Tag Archives: Munich

Survivor: Oktoberfest, episode 3 (the final one)

While the Oktoberfest dust has finally settled (although the fest complex is still under deconstruction), I still feel compelled to finish this trilogy. In this episode, I will recant bits of my experience inside the beer tents…where the party really happens.

Munich’s six major breweries host fourteen beer tents. They may call them “tents,” but tents they are not. Most of the de-constructable wooden structures are made to look like centuries-old Alpine chalets (their appearances belie how quickly they were constructed), and some look more like sports arenas. Regardless, all are huge with capacities in the thousands. Here’s a handy guide to the tents.

Beer tent example. Image by DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons

The construction for this beer village began (from what I can recall) back in July (though it might have been June). It was fascinating to watch the village grow and evolve over those months. Each time I passed by Theresienwiese, something new had popped up–a roller coaster here, a beer tent there. I am sure a photo time lapse of the Wiesn’s construction exists somewhere out there, but I am too lazy to look for one.

If the walls of the tents could talk, I can only imagine the tomes of stories they could tell.

I ended up going to Oktoberfest four times over its 16 days, and I got to experience the three different faces of its party: morning, afternoon, and night.

I will say the morning, perhaps the more authentic of the experiences, was my favorite. The crowd was much sparser and more civilized. Most “early” morning festers go to eat the traditional Bavarian breakfast: Weisswurst, Breze, und Bier (white sausages, pretzel, and beer). I appreciated how accepted it was to drink a liter of beer before noon.

A tamer time inside a beer tent. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The rowdiness starts to rise with the afternoon shift. Then, each tent’s band begins their long day of playing their shared repertoire of Bavarian oompapa, traditional Oktoberfest tunes, and pop songs you typically hear either on the dance floor at American weddings or on 80s and 90s radio stations. Needless to say, the music gets better the more you drink.

The afternoon is also when the crowds begin to really pour in. Since you are only guaranteed a seat if you have a ticket (which you or your company must have purchased months in advance), it can be a struggle to either nab a table or get in the door. On the busiest days, mobs of people have to wait their turn outside to join the fun inside. I have heard if you are female and are wearing a “well-fitting” Dirndl, it is much easier to convince the bouncers to let you in. Typical.

Inside, the beer flows freely, dissolving inhibitions and lubricating singing voices. As more beer flows, people begin standing (sometimes precariously) on the benches–sitting becomes a silly idea, not that you would really want to sit on the (by then) beer drenched and muddied benches anyway. By the night shift, many of the tents become a joyous riot.

A rowdier moment inside a tent. Image by Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons.

On the only night I experienced the late shift, my friends and I entered our first tent completely sober, and it was quite a shock to witness the tent’s contents in a clear state of mind. The air was heavy with body heat. The mass of people made it nearly impossible to move. People were dancing in the isles and attempting to dance on the benches, all the while singing at the top of their lungs. Fortunately it didn’t take us too long to find empty benches, although our waiter herded us quite gruffly onto them–it was clear he knew how to handle drunk people, but was probably sick of it.

As I sipped my first Mass, I couldn’t help but just stare in (somewhat troubled) awe at the spectacle of humanity around me. Really, I don’t think I quite have the words to describe it accurately. A fight nearly broke out at a table near us, and all I could think was what a chaotic mess that could cause (fortunately the fight fizzled quickly). At the table behind us, a poor inebriated soul sat with his head on the table, sleeping, while his buddies all danced and sang around him. I tried to drown my rising concern for human dignity with my beer.

But by the second tent and second Mass, the night became much more fun. Suddenly the songs became much more enjoyable, it was way funnier to watch the stupidly drunk people do their stupidly drunk things, and it really did seem silly to be sitting on the bench when you could be standing and singing with everyone else.

So, in the end, I survived Oktoberfest. And it really was as they said: you can’t survive, or enjoy, Oktoberfest without drinking beer. Well, I can check that one off my bucket list. “Ein Prosit” to that.

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Survivor: Oktoberfest, episode 1

“You can’t survive Oktoberfest without drinking beer.”

Several people have told me this over the past few days. And they are so right.

Oktoberfest, Munich’s annual celebration of beer, Bavarian-ness and debauchery, started last weekend. I still have to survive it for nine more days.

I say “surviving” somewhat literally. I live a block and a half away from the fest grounds (a.k.a. the Wiesn).

I found this picture from a previous Oktoberfest on Wikimedia. It’s the view towards the Wiesn from my street, at the intersection a half-block from my building.

My street is a main thoroughfare for fest-goers. From morning til night (or, rather, very early the next morning), streams of people wearing Dirndl and Lederhosen flow down my street; by about 6pm those streams turn into raging rivers of people…drunk people…slurring, staggering, stumbling, singing, arm-in-arm, drunk-friend-holding-up-drunker-friend, drunk people. Leaving my house is usually an upstream struggle.

But wait, it gets worse.

I also live across the street from a hostel, one that has a tendency to get rowdy even when it’s not Oktoberfest. Its rowdiness caliber has increased at least threefold this week.

It gets worse still.

Next to the hostel is a restaurant that hosts an “after-party” every night of Oktoberfest. So, to fall asleep, I must tune out the din of pulsing dance beats and drunken chatter, and the occasional outbursts of song from drunk men (always men) or ambulance sirens (Munich’s emergency fleet has certainly had their work cut out for them this week).

I am desperately trying to stay in the spirit and hold onto the perspective of “what an interesting cultural experience this is.” But I have accepted I will be sleep deprived for at least another nine days.

And, following locals’ warnings, I have made sure to drink the beer. I mean, I have to survive.

In the next episode of “Survivor: Oktoberfest,” I will offer a glimpse into what it’s like on the Wiesn.

Image by Usien/Wikimedia

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On becoming a more assertive bicyclist

As a dedicated bike commuter, I was overjoyed when the weather became tolerable enough to get back in the saddle. However, I quickly realized I was mentally ill-prepared to take on Munich’s streets. Even having learned to maneuver the Calcutta-like masses of students on UW-Madison’s campus, I have never before experienced a magnitude of bike traffic like Munich’s.

On one hand, it is a beautiful thing that so many people get around by Radl (the Bavarian version of the German word for “bike”). Munich’s diversity of bike commuters is much richer than the mostly young and (0ften) liberal crowd typical of most American urban biking scenes. To add to the expected herds of university students and young professionals, the biking population also consists of business men and women in suits (and sometimes pumps, if the latter), elderly women with shopping bags, elderly men just putzing along, chic middle-aged ladies with designer bags, and kid-toting parents.

Of course, the magnitude of bike commuters is likely due to the fact that Germany, in general, is a much bike friendlier country than the US. Biking is so much more engrained in its culture and its infrastructure. For example, Munich has a remarkable network of bike paths and lanes (and many of the latter are placed on the sidewalks, rather than in the streets), which makes navigating the city much easier on bike than by car. I have also found drivers to be much more mindful of cyclists than in the States; in other words, they actually look for cyclists before making a turn.

On the other hand, the popularity of biking creates a hazard of its own: more cyclists.

Having never before shared the road with so many bikers, I was a nervous wreck during my first couple of weeks in the saddle, as I acclimated to the ways of the road. I was that annoying slow biker that swerved or stopped at any sign of confusion. I felt like a skiddish horse every time a biker would narrowly whiz past me in the bike lane, sometimes so close I was surprised I wasn’t knocked over.

A lesson I recently learned is to avoid Munich’s bike paths on Sundays, especially warm and sunny Sundays. The paths are swarming with cyclists: from your super-sporty, why-the-heck-is-he-going-that-fast road biker to the wobbly child who leaves you guessing which way he is going to weave as you attempt to pass him.

Biking is especially tricky in the pedestrian and tourist-heavy parts of town. In these places, you have to add clueless tourists unfamiliar with Munich street etiquette to your already busy radar.

I have found Marienplatz (Munich’s pedestrian mecca) to be the worst. Beware the tourist who steps into the middle of the street looking only through his camera’s viewfinder, or the one standing in the middle of the bike lane totally unaware of the oncoming cyclists frantically ringing their bells at her! Even though biking through Marienplatz is my most direct work-to-home route, I have resorted to riding home the long way, just to avoid its mayhem.

Thus, in order to survive as a bike commuter in Munich, I am learning to become a more assertive cyclist. I can’t falter when I see that car about to turn at the intersection I am about to cross–more often than not, the driver knows I am there. I can’t panic when approaching an area congested with pedestrians and other cyclists–I have to weave my way around with confidence. I can’t startle when someone passes me too closely for comfort–I have to stay cool and move over. And I can’t get nervous when I want to pass the slow biker I’ve started tailgating–I have take a deep breath, ring my bell and hope for the best.

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Insurance in a changing climate

When you are entrenched in conversations about the environment in both your professional and personal life, it is easy to start thinking you’ve heard it all. Until you discover nooks, crannies and even wide-open spaces you’ve yet explored. I had one of those discoveries last week at a colloquium hosted by my employer, in which I learned about the fascinating world of climate change and insurance.

Yes, that’s right, I said insurance is “fascinating.”

The colloquium’s speaker was Peter Hoeppe, the head climate guy at the world’s largest reinsurance company, Munich RE, which is headquartered in Munich. (A reinsurance company is in the business of insuring insurance companies from failing). Based on his presentation, they seem to be leading the way in addressing climate change for the insurance industry (being a company of their size probably also helps them afford a whole department devoted to climate change).

In fact, Hoeppe claimed Munich RE was one of the first alarm-sounders to climate change with a scientific report they published in the 1970s, and they’ve made the issue one of their company’s primary focus topics. A broad sweep of their efforts includes their attempt to make their business operations 100% carbon neutral by 2015, investment in renewable energy, and initiating flagship renewable energy projects–one of them a giant and controversial effort to harness the Sahara desert’s solar and wind energy and transport it all over Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa.

This BBC News broadcast will give you a good, concise introduction to Munich RE’s climate change efforts.

Why would an insurance company care about climate change? It all comes down to the fundamental business of insurance: risk management. Climate change ups the ante on the amount of risk many people face (or will face) on a regular basis, and of course an insurance company would care about a riskier world.

In short, climate change predictions show an increase in the number of severe weather events (storms, tornadoes, droughts, flooding, etc.) in many places around the world. Actually, it seems to already be happening (see graph below).


You see, a warmer atmosphere means more water evaporation, and more water in the atmosphere means a feistier climate. A feistier climate means more natural catastrophe losses for an insurance company to cover, and the more catastrophic losses to cover, the less money an insurance company makes.

After all, their bottom line is still to make a profit–a point Hoeppe even made in his presentation. And a reinsurance company would be especially interested in ensuring insurance companies (terrible wordplay intended) maintain their profits.

To make the situation even trickier (for everyone), numerous other factors exacerbate the risk of loss to climate change-related disasters. Rapid human population growth means there are more people vulnerable to natural catastrophes; an increase in wealth across the world means higher risks of losses (i.e., there is more to lose); and people are increasingly inhabiting risk-prone areas (think Florida), as well as concentrating themselves in cities.

Sorry for all this doom-and-gloom talk, folks. I promise to turn it around. Stay with me.

So, who is going to pay for the losses from these potential floods, storms and droughts? It will depend on where you live and how well-prepared your insurance company is in dealing with climate change.

In some places, especially the risk-magnets, insurance companies are already throwing up their hands and pointing to the property owners. For example, State Farm has has stopped writing new policies for American homeowners in the increasingly disaster-prone states of Florida and Mississippi, according to one report.

Even those who are lucky to be covered may be seeing premium hikes; for some people, this is already a reality. An Environmental Defense report from 2007 (admittedly a little dated now) showed soaring premiums for hurricane-battered coastal states, with rates tripling and quadrupling in some areas. Such hikes could render insurance coverage less or not affordable for many people.

And the world’s most disaster-vulnerable places also happen to be the least developed and least insured.

The world's insured and uninsured. Graphic created by Munich RE.

At least in Europe, some insurers, scientists, and policy people are putting their heads together to figure out what to do about this daunting predicament through collaborations such as the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative (if the name didn’t give it away, this group was convened by Munich RE) and ClimateWise.

The situation in the US, however, is reflective of the general dragging of the feet on dealing with climate change. A survey of insurance companies, conducted by Ceres in 2011, revealed their sluggish response to climate change.

Andrew Logan, the director of Ceres’ insurance program, told the New York Times in February 2012, “The big takeaway from the survey last year is that there is a high level of concern among insurers about the impacts of climate change that is not matched by concrete plans to deal with those impacts. There is a real gap between the risk that’s been identified and plans to address it.”

This same NYT article explains that three states–California, New York and Washington State–are now requiring insurance companies to disclose their plans to respond to the risks of climate change, which seems but a meager baby step forward in light of their European counterparts’ strides.

But back to positive thinking…

Whether you call it “finding solutions” or just “mitigating the cost of the problem,” either way, it’s not a bad thing for global giants like Munich RE to be thinking hard about the riskier world promised by climate change and to be trying out some solutions. We can hope more companies will continue joining them at the drawing board and on the battlefield.

(Insert disclaimer: I claim no expertise in insurance. In fact–and somewhat embarrassingly–I had never given the idea of insurance a whole lot of thought before writing this post. So if you notice any major conceptual holes, I blame my lack of knowledge and/or desire for brevity.)

Further reading

Case study on Munich RE by the Canadian National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy

Insurance payouts point to climate change,” ScienceNews, 4 January 2012

Why the insurance industry gets climate change,” The Guardian, 28 June 2011

Can the insurance industry survive climate change?CSRWire, 8 June 2011

Insurance in a climate of change,” Science Magazine, 12 August 2005

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Same place, different times

Imagining present-day places in past-tense times can be fascinating. One way to do so is by “reading the landscape,” as my former environmental history professor, Bill Cronon, puts it. And “landscape” refers not only to picturesque countrysides and wildlands, but also to urban spaces and other human settlements.

Reading the landscape entails asking questions like what does today’s landscape tell us about past land uses; what social forces were behind those past land uses; and why was this street named after a king who rarely set foot there and not the blacksmith whose shop was on the corner.

Perhaps because my senses are generally more open in a new place, I’ve become an avid reader of landscapes here in Munich (granted, doing proper landscape readings requires in-depth historical research, so my readings have been more like skims). One “landscape” I have recently become smitten with is Odeonsplatz, a public square in the city’s Altstadt, or the old city center.

Historically, Odeonsplatz has been a place for pomp and circumstance. It is situated at the end of the traditional parade route that stretches the length of Ludwigstrasse (named for King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who also commissioned the construction of the square), down which ceremonies of all sorts still march today. When parades arrive at the square, they are greeted by three grandiose structures: on the left is the former royal residence; on the right is the ornate Theatinerkirche (a catholic church), and straight ahead is Feldherrnhalle (loosely meaning “commanders’ hall”).

Parade's-eye-view of Odeonsplatz. Image by Florian Adler

Historical accounts highlight Odeonsplatz’ tainted past. It was here that Hitler staged his first, but failed coup in 1923. When Hitler had finally succeeded in taking over Germany, the square became a favored Nazi ceremonial and procession grounds.

But this tainted past is juxtaposed with its more cheerful present. Odeonsplatz now hosts happier, more inclusive festivities, such as the annual St. Patty’s Day street party, which I recently attended. (Factoid: Munich has one of the largest populations of Irish people outside of Ireland). A mix of Germans, Irish, and at least two Americans (me and a friend) celebrated with an assortment of traditions from both Germany and Ireland: Guinness, Bratwurst, Irish song and dance, and, of course, a parade down Ludwigstrasse.

Another juxtaposition of Odeonsplatz is its stateliness and its more pedestrian side. It was commissioned by royalty, designed by a prominent neoclassicist architect, but built by commoners (although none of their names made it into the history books). Its namesake was Odeon, a nearby building that was formerly a concert hall for “commoners” and now houses the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior, a conversion that took place when the building was rebuilt after WWII. (This link has before and after pictures of the building; beware, the text is in German).

But even though the original music hall is gone, Odeonsplatz is still a musical venue for the common folk. The square is regularly host to musical acts ranging from street performers, such as the pianist I saw the other day (don’t ask me how he got a grand piano there), to Munich’s annual open-air classical music festival.

Odeonsplatz’ pedestrian significance can also be read in its present-day orientation: it is one entrance to the Altstadt’s pedestrian zone. On a typical stroll through the square, you’ll encounter a myriad of folk: from tourists to bike commuters, and from people drinking coffee at the square’s historic cafe to protestors demonstrating against [insert social/political cause]. A new, favored ritual of mine has been walking home from work, just so I can pass through the square to see what is happening there that day.

And, if I could go back in time, back to Odeonplatz’ early years, I wonder what a normal day on the square would have been like…

Odeonsplatz facing Ludwigstrasse circa 1900.

p.s. Check out this 360 degree panorama of Odeonsplatz (although it is usually not as empty as this picture shows it to be).

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“Field notes” from Munich

Spring arrived in Munich a little earlier than I expected it to: Friday, February 24. (Well, at least I hope that was Spring’s official arrival and it’s not just being a tease.)

The day’s blue sky, sunshine and warm(ish) air demanded that I abandon my work and go exploring. So, I obeyed.

For this excursion, I headed to Munich’s famous Englischer Garten, its equivalent of Central Park, only bigger. A quick trip on the U-Bahn (the subway), followed by a short walk down a cobbled stone street brought me to one of the park entrances. Judging by the hoards of joggers, walkers, strollers, dogs, and bikers that bustled past me as I walked through, I was certainly not the only one that had obeyed the sunshine’s demand.

I followed a wooded path that ran adjacent to a tributary of the Isar River, the river that runs through the middle of Munich. I was struck the crystal clarity of this urban stream.

The warm weather had hastened the thawing process, turning most of the park’s dirt paths into mud, which required careful steps in places where many feet and bike wheels had already tread.

After wandering for about 30 minutes, I came upon a big clearing. Its network of paths were, in places, lined with benches, all of them occupied. This was certainly the place to be today.

At the farther end of the clearing a Greek-style temple called the Monopteros sits atop a hill. The temple beckoned me, and my feet turned in its direction without even consulting with my brain.

What Monopteros will look like when Spring is fully here. Image by LuxTonnerre

As I meandered around mud puddles toward the temple, the sounds of strumming guitars and singing voices came into earshot, which only further piqued my curiosity. When I came to the top of the hill, I was greeted by a few dozen people sitting or milling about. The guitars and voices belonged to two men standing in the center of the temple, putting on a show for anyone listening. I decided to sit on the temple steps for a bit and join the audience.

The interesting thing about being a foreigner is that I sometimes feel like an ethnographic “researcher,” observing Germans’ in their native habitat, watching them do what they do, and taking note of their behavior, language-use, and other cultural idiosyncrasies. As a “trained” qualitative researcher, a geeky idea came to me as I sat on the steps: I’ll make some “participant observations” about this day. And so, I took out my pen and notebook, and I observed.

The performance “venue” was pretty magical. From the hilltop, you get a fabulous view of the park’s expanse below. On the horizon, the steeples of several of Munich’s cathedrals tower above the park’s trees. The temple’s dome offered wonderful acoustics, allowing the music to echo down into the park.

The “band” was actually quite good. Their harmonizing led me to think this was not entirely an impromptu performance…they’d clearly done this before. I was very amused by their repertoire: all but one of the songs I heard them play were from English speaking countries…and from the nineties. For example, they sang lovely renditions of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Globalization is not all economics, after all.

The “audience” was quite a motley crew. Several groups of college-aged kids were camped out, some drinking beers as they basked in the sun and music. An older woman sat alone, leaning against a temple pillar. A pair of well-dressed men joined the audience and pulled out pipes to puff (unfortunately, I was sitting directly in the wake of their smoke, which eventually forced me to move from my well-positioned perch). A couple of moms stood chatting, while their rambunctious sons played on the hillside. Two young women sat and gossiped (in English, so I was privy to their conversation. One was clearly upset about a boy). Several dogs were also in the audience, obediently by their owners’ sides (German dogs are very obedient, according to my observations). There was a constant flow of people climbing the hill, stopping at the top for a listen, some taking pictures, and then walking back down again.

The view from the "venue" (but not from the same day). Image by Ludmila Pilecka

I listened to about 10 songs, until I was eventually chased away by more smoke billowing into my face, this time from the cigarette of a man standing next to me (factoid: Germany has one of Europe’s highest smoking rates).

When I got to the bottom of the hill, I navigated my way through a muddy field to yet another muddy path. I was then greeted by more music: an old man playing the accordion. Yet another talented street musician. I couldn’t tell if the songs were Italian or French, but they sounded like the stereotypical accordion songs you hear in Italian or French movies. I didn’t stick around to listen to his performance, however, as I was anxious to keep moving.

As I walked out of the park, I ruminated over my research exercise, which I guess brings me to the point of this otherwise pointless post. As I continue to get acclimated to my new life and surroundings, I can’t help but feel a bit like a wallflower, standing at the edge of the party, watching, but not (yet) ready to dance with everyone else. While, appearance-wise, I blend in pretty well with the Germans, I am still an outsider peering in.

And “peering in” has a couple of connotations. For one, I am observing a different culture, trying to learn their ways in an attempt to adopt them, so I can eventually become at least an honorary member of the club. Secondly, since being “the other” can, at times, be isolating, it leaves a lot of room for peering inside myself. I haven’t had this much space for self reflection since, well, before grad school held all my time, energy and mental capacity hostage.

Being an outsider also gives you empathy and compassion for other outsiders–perhaps something we need more of with the increasingly migrant human race.

In any case, a quick Google search revealed that I am not the only expat with a blog to write about being the outsider. At least I am not alone in that.

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Spazieren gehen

One of my favorite activities to do in Munich so far is going on a walk, or “spazieren gehen” auf Deutsch. Like most German cities, Munich is an easy place to be a pedestrian. Of course, it had the advantage of being a city centuries before cars were around, so automobile infrastructure was kind of an after-thought. But even with its now-busy roads, its sidewalks, bike paths and various means of public transit (subway, bus, streetcar, commuter train) are still bustling. The Germans don’t seem to have forgotten what life was like before the car, which this recent article in The New York Times reminded me.

Granted, some of the places I have lived in the States, especially the last three, were relatively pedestrian-friendly. But Munich takes it up a couple notches. Within a few blocks radius of me, I can walk to just about anything I need on a daily basis: several grocery stores, my bank, a post office, bakeries (there are literally about 2 bakeries per block in my neighborhood), my subway stop, and stores of all sorts–from furniture to second-hand clothing to books.

An after-work occasion I delight in is taking a walk to my new favorite market, Lowenzahn, a tiny shop that sells only fresh produce, wine, cheese, bread, meat, and an enticing selection of oils and vinegars. The other evening, on my walk to Lowenzahn, I took new route along the edge of a large park called Theresienwiese, which is home to Oktoberfest (only a block and a half from my house!). The centerpiece of the park is a huge statue of the lady of Bavaria that guards the entrance of the “Hall of Fame,” which displays busts of important dead people (mostly men, of course…she says sarcastically). I was walking at sunset, and the sky above the monument was illuminated pink. I held my breath and slowed my pace as I became transfixed by the gorgeous sight and embraced the moment. Even on a bike, it would have been hard to truly appreciate that moment, while also staying vigilant of road hazards and oblivious drivers.

Bavaria statue

The lady of Bavaria and the Hall of Fame. Image by R. Pirkner

But “spazieren gehen” is not just a utilitarian way of going from place to place. It is also recreational and one way I am getting to know Munich. At least once per week, I take myself on a walk around a new part of town, in an attempt to etch a map of the city into my brain.

And it doesn’t seem to be just me, the newcomer in awe of her new surroundings, that fancies a recreational stroll, even if it is on a chilly winter day. On my first Sunday here, my flatmate took me to Schloss Nymphenburg, the former summer castle of Bavarian royalty, now a public park and museum. Munich was still in the holds of the cold snap that hit Europe, but the frigid temperatures did not stop people from playing outside. Children and adults alike were ice skating on the narrow canal that runs through the park. Families, pairs of lovers, and gaggles of friends strolled along the paths, some sipping Gluehwein (myself included) to keep warm. It seemed that half of Munich was there.

Schloss Nymphenburg

Schloss Nymphenburg's backyard. Imagine this covered in snow and about 20 times as many people in the picture, and that's what the day looked like. Image by Florian Adler

I am not saying I don’t think Americans take themselves on strolls in parks. There are certainly many places where that happens. But I think what struck me most was just the huge number of people that had the same desire to walk on the same miserably-cold day.

As my new reality slowly spoils me, it also reinforces how important it is, for me, to keep “walk-ability” at the top of my priority list for places to live. Without intending to be self-righteous, the pedestrian life has become a valued part of my everyday, and I simply can’t imagine giving that up. Walking slows down the pace of life and allows me to really pay attention to my surroundings and notice details I probably otherwise would not. It also frees up more brain space to think–or not think (i.e., meditate)–than both biking and driving allow.

And so, if you’ll excuse me, I have some walking to do.

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So we meet again, Germany

Ten years ago, I left my comfortable college town (Charlottesville, VA) to try out one of life’s uncomfortable, but worthwhile opportunities: living in a different country. I studied for a semester in Freiburg, Germany–a quaint college town in its own right. But, as a twenty-year-old American woman with only a beginning German language ability, life in Freiburg, at first, was by no means comfortable. I struggled with the frustration of feeling unable to express myself, the confusion around understanding a new culture, and then the growing pains of learning about myself in how I respond to such uncomfortable situations. In fact, I distinctly remember bursting into tears one day after my German literature class, as I attempted to ask my professor a question, but just couldn’t get it out nor could understand what she was telling me in response.

But, thankfully, with time, my German got better (much better!) and life became increasingly more comfortable–as they always say it does. And I learned the value of throwing oneself into uncomfortable experiences: you grow…a lot.

And so, here I am, ten years “older and wiser,” doing the same exact thing to myself. This time, I left a different, but equally comfortable college town (Madison, WI) and headed in the direction of another German city: Munich (or Muenchen, as the Germans call it). A much different town than Freiburg, Munich is one of Germany’s “big” cities, and while it’s also home to a university and also has quaint aspects to it (it is, after all, the capital of Bavaria, from where most stereotypically German kitsch comes–Lederhosen, Oktoberfest, etc.), this is by no means a quaint university town.

A fortunate job opportunity was my ticket to Munich, but I also came here to satiate my desire to reconnect with Germany and, once again, expand my perspective. However, unfortunately, the years of letting my German language ability lie dormant have paid their toll. While I have not regressed all the way back to how it was when I first arrived in Freiburg, I’m not that much better. But, as they always say, it will get better with time.

And so, with this blog, I will chronicle my reconnection with “der Vaterland” (it is literally, for me, the land of my forefathers), as well as muse over my expanding perspective. Since my job–and my professional (and personal) interests, in general–lie in the environmental studies realm, many of those musings will likely be related accordingly. In fact, another reason I decided to come to Germany was to flavor my otherwise primarily domestic environmental perspective with some international spice (granted, Germany is not the most exotic of spices, but it is an important one in environmentalism’s recipe nonetheless).

Without further ado, welcome to my blog. Please come again.

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