Tag Archives: Schloss Nymphenburg

An encounter with an old man in a park

Sometimes the briefest encounters in life can leave incommensurately larger impressions on you. I recently had one such encounter.

I was spending the afternoon in Schlosspark Nymphenburg, the gargantuan backyard of the former Bavarian royal family’s excessive “summer palace” (now an urban park). I had gone to do “research” for an article I am attempting to write. So, naturally, my notebook and pen were in my hand throughout the afternoon, and I erratically stopped here and there to take notes.

On one such occasion, I had stopped in the middle of a wooded path, unaware of the curiousness of this action. As I was scribbling, I heard footsteps behind me slow and then stop right next to me.

I looked up to the smiling face of an elderly man. He immediately exclaimed, “Oh, Sie schreiben in einem Tagesbuch!” (Oh, you’re writing in a journal!)

I smiled hesitantly and answered a mere, “Ja,” afraid he would ask me more questions, thus forcing me to reveal my still-poor German speaking ability.

Then, without hesitation, he asked me if I would like to accompany him on his way to the palace.

In a split second I weighed my options. This old man—with his glasses, visible tooth work, and old-man uniform of khaki shorts, white socks, and a slightly baggy striped polo short—didn’t look predatory. So he probably meant no harm. But, aside from the fact I was not walking in the direction of the palace, my gut instinct compelled me to answer, “Nein danke, ich gehe allein.” (No thanks, I’ll go alone.) Then I told him to have a nice day in the nicest smile I could muster from my perplexity of his invitation, so that it didn’t seem like I thought he was just a creepy old man hitting on a young woman in the middle of a heavily wooded park.

He didn’t seem offended by my decline, just a bit disappointed, and he wished me a good day in return.

As I watched him walk away, I actually found myself feeling bad that I had turned him down. I wondered two things: why did he want to walk with me to the palace, and why was my instinctual reaction “no.”

While I will never know the answer to my first question, I think the answer to the second one has something to do with the distrust in strange men that has been socially engrained in me, for better or worse. Even a kind-looking, curious elderly man is still a stranger and triggers the self-protection instinct.

But, still, I wondered if this encounter had become a lost moment to make a random, but meaningful connection. If I had accepted his invitation, would we have had this unforgettable, life-altering conversation? Or would we have awkwardly fumbled through chit-chat? Or would he have turned out to be really just a creepy man, whose age gives him the façade of kindness?

As I am writing this post, reliving the encounter in my head, I am led to ponder whether we sometimes just look for meaning in fleeting encounters—whether or not any is actually there—in an effort to feel connected to people. Or, at the risk of being over-philosophical, perhaps the randomness of life is what you make of it.

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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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