Saturday, February 28, 2009

Your Days are Numbered

Just when I thought Munich would show no signs of slowdown because of the economic crisis, I’m starting to see weakness all around. For a long time, the only damaged franchise in Munich was Hypo Real Estate (part of the German $50 Billion bailout plan), but now the economic crisis is starting to hit Munich’s premier brand – BMW. I’ve tried to find sales figures of BMW cars with little success. But today, Automag Buchner, one of Munich’s oldest dealers of BMWs – selling cars since 1919, is filing for bankruptcy and closing many of its dealerships around Munich. Despite lengthy negotiations with BMW, the statement from the head office is that they treat all partnerships equal and can not provide breaks for any specific dealers. So for now, it seems an end of an era for BMW sales in Munich.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Secret Garden

As the sun came out and began the great thaw of Munich, I discovered this great secluded courtyard on the backside of the Fünf Höfe shopping center in central Munich. On a sunny day this would make a nice retreat from the crowds only meters away, but today it was completely desolate. That’s one of the great things about Munich, all of its hidden courtyards, alleyways, and streets that make it Munich. I suppose that’s true of any city, but it seems that Munich architects take this into account in their designs. Other hidden treasures that I’ve come across include the outskirts of the English Garden – beyond the Chinese Tower and Seehaus, where public park blends into rural forest. I also like the Wehrsteg and Auf der Insel, which line the Isar River. And in the center of the Altstadt, there are endless little corridors – each with their own unique shops and galleries. Finally, I love the small streets in Schwabing that line the edge of the English Garden (like those around the riding school), each with their traditional buildings that spill out into the park. If you have others, let us know of them. We promise not to ruin your secret gardens around Munich.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snow Falling on Karolinen

And while the snow was falling in the mountains, there was no shortage of it in Munich either, as the sudden flurry here shows. This seems to be the snowiest Winter that many locals can remember in Munich, but I have yet to see any statistics to prove it. Behind the couple, you see the 95-foot black Obelisk, designed by the architect to King Ludwing I, Leo von Klenze, who also created the Residence. Made from melted cannons, the monument erected in 1833 the more than 30,000 Bavarian soldiers who died in Napoleon’s campaign against Russia. The Obelisk is the centerpiece for Karolinenplatz, a large platz that was originally designed to be Odeonsplatz. It is now the heart of the Maxvorstadt neighborhood, and home to several old Bavarian mansions. The most notable is number 5, which once housed the Bruckmann family, home to a wealthy printer who introduced Adolf Hitler to the Industrialist and bankers who provided substantial financial support for the Nazi regime (as this was the center of Nazi Munich). Ironically, today those buildings are now home to bank offices, rather than the bankers themselves, and one of the buildings now houses the America House, which focuses on promoting American culture in Bavaria.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Best Ski Hut on the Mountain

On Monday, I showed you a picture from the sky of the Bavarian Alps. Today, I decided to show you a scene from the other direction – this time from the Alps. We had the opportunity to spend a few days in the Tirolian Alps (sorry for post delays, but wireless was hard to come by), which is just over the Austrian border and centers around Kitzbuhel. This is where Tyrol meets, the region of Salzburg, and Bavaria. Without traffic, it would normally take you about 90 min to reach this part of the Alps from Munich (but note that traffic can occasionally be very rough). We had 5 days of straight snow, and then a beautiful sunny day. This photo is of the ski resort Steinplatte, which has about 35 KM of ski area – mostly easy and moderate level. As locals tell it, the Stallenalm Ski Hut (pictured) is the best on the mountain, and I can tell you not many complaints from the hundreds of guests – especially on such a great sunny day. The resort gets crowded, as the gondola can transport more than 2500 people up the mountain within an hour, but with wide open runs and endless hidden ones, it can swallow up crowds quite easily. While there, look for Stiegl, the beer made in Salzburg. It’s one of the best around.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday

In the heart of Roman Catholic Germany, Fat Tuesday (or betster known as Fasching) is now coming to an end with a blowout party at the viktualienmarkt and most of downtown. Most Munich employees are given the afternoon off to take part in the festivities, and if they weren’t you can bet they would skip work anyway. This is the second largest party of the year, after Octoberfest. Fasching literally means the fast, and last up until Ash Wednesday. More than 100 balls have taken place around Munich over the past 10 days. Although it’s no match for the world’s larger celebrations – like Carnival in Rio or in Venice, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans; well over 100,000 revelers join the party on Tuesday. Over the years, the celebration has expanded beyond Germany’s Roman Catholic core and is now celebrated through much of Germany.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Up, Up…and Away

In honor of the Bavarian school holidays going on last week and this week, I thought I would share a photo for all the people getting out of town. This particular photo was taken (from an airplane, of course) looking South on an approach to Munich. You can see much of the Bavarian Alps, somewhere around the ski resort town of Garmish and Brenner Pass. Garmish is well known for hosting the 1936 Olympics and is a bid city for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and Brenner Pass is the lowest (1370 m) and easiest of the Alpine passes. Perhaps you made it away this week? Did a little skiing in the mountains? If you did, you were quite fortunate as the Bavarian Alps received 5 straight days and several meters of fresh snow.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Absolut Abstract...Again

After months of lines that go around the block, one of the most successful exhibits in Munich history is about to move onto Paris. The Lenbach haus, which is already well known for showing off the work of the Blue Riders, a group of artists fundamental to the rise of Expressionism in the beginning of the 20th century, has been hosting the exhibit Absolute Abstract. The exhibit is a retrospective of the work of Wassilly Kandinsky, and follows the tremendous metamorphosis in his painting – from deep, bold colors draped across landscapes, to that of the blue Rider where he was deeply influenced by music and expressive color masses, and finally to geometric forays at the end of his long career. Kandinsky once said of his love for music in the brush strokes, "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the piano with the strings." Good news for anyone who may have missed the exhibit, it has been extended to March 8. A single ticket gets you into the Italian Villa - Lenback Haus, as well as the Kunstbau, which is oddly enough in the entry of the Konigsplatz U-bahn station. If you want to experience Munich art, then this is what it’s most famous for – and this is by far the best exhibit I’ve seen in Munich.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Back on the Canals

It seems Munich has had snow for the past 10 days. It just keeps coming down. But during a break from the snow, and a splash of sun I caught these three skating along the canals at Schloss Oberschlesien. In the background, you see Lustheim Palace, one of the three palaces, this one set in a garden villa in Italian style. The building was constructed by Enrico Zuccalli in 1684 for his first wife, the Austrian princess Maria Antonia. The interior is dominated by a large banqueting hall in the middle of the building. Since 1968, the palace houses a grand collection of Meissen porcelain. Just next to the palace is the Renautus Chapel, which was built at the same time as the palace. Encircling the Palace is a canal crossed by six bridges. It was amusing to watch the skaters make laps around the palace. The only problem was that they had to step off the ice at every bridge, and walk across, as there is only a couple feet between the water and the bottom of the bridges.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Stained Glass Story Tellers

With all the historic churches in Munich, there’s no shortage of stained glass. This example is from Saint Johannis Church in Haidhausen. Although stained glass has origins centuries back starting with the Egyptians and Romans, it started to be used in churches around the 4th and 5th centuries. And no surprise, Munich has a bit of history (albeit short) in making stained glass. The Royal Bavarian Stained Glass Manufactory started making stained glass in 1827, and continued into the 20th century. Along with its major competitor, Franz Mayer, both students from the Royal Art Institute in Munich, they developed what is called the “Munich Style” of painting on relatively large glass panels. As the story goes, Franz Mayer ran a school of crippled children. When they graduated at 15, there were no job opportunities for these children. So Mayer founded his studio to provide work for these young people and at times had more than 100 working on church windows. That glass went on to churches all over the world, and Munich as well.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Battle of the Bulge

Despite the launch of several high profile, government sponsored, programs to fight obesity, Germany still ranks as the fattest country in Europe. Based upon a study by the International Association for the Study of Obesity, it reports that Germans have the most overweight men and women and now matches the rate of the US. The study found that 75% of men and 59% of women were overweight (with a body mass index of 25+). The UK came close for women and the Czech Republic came in second for men. No surprise, a culture of beer and fatty foods are to blame, coupled with a non-active lifestyle. The school system has also come under fire for reducing physical education programs and serving low cost foods with high processed sugars. But the impact is tremendous, with an estimated $90 million a year. The only silver lining was that Germany was not the highest in rates of obesity (classified as a BMI above 30). Greece, the UK and several Eastern Europe countries take the cake for that one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Don't be a Schwarzfahrer!

That’s the name for a Fare Dodger in these parts of Munich. I’ve talked about the honor system on the Munich S and U-bahn train and bus system. But is it really an honor system if they check? That sounds more like a “fear of getting caught” system. I used to keep all my old monthly passes, thinking that if I ever forgot to buy the updated version and got caught on the 2nd day of the month, they would see that I was a regular (legitimate) customer and not give me the 40-60 euro fine. Then I heard of a friend getting fined for a week long ticket that expired at noon. It was 10 minutes after noon when she was caught, and she thought the ticket was valid throughout the day. Now I buy the next month’s ticket several days before the end of the month. The “fear of getting caught” system is working on me. The Deutschebahn police have been out in force for the past few months, and I’ve seen undercover agents checking at least once per week. It’s a bit unnerving to have the undercover agents check, because they flash a card and ask for a ticket, but they don’t seem to have any badge or identification visible. Despite the uneasiness, like all the other Germans, I follow along and show my (valid) ticket.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


As temperatures dropped to -17C below in Munich and the sky became darker by the minute, we had one of the wettest, coldest, and honestly the most dreary days since we arrived in Munich. The snow didn’t stop falling all day, and then melted off several times into endless puddles of slush. In the end, it was a perfect day to stay inside and watch the sport of biathlon, which seems to be on Eurosport every day right now. But in my one trip out of the apartment, I found this lone snowman, which made me laugh. The rough weather didn’t seem to slow many people down though. Munich is really built around this weather, and the fact that the entire city is relatively flat and a great train system certainly helps with traffic flow. The skies are supposed to clear and be a mix of sun and snow for the next few days – but the cold weather will remain.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Olympic Legacy

More than 37 years after Munich hosted the summer Olympics, the city is in the mix again as a bid for the 2018 Olympics – this time the Winter Olympics, teaming up with Garmisch-Partenkirchen as a bid city. If Munich is to win the bid, it would be the first city ever to host both summer & winter Olympic competitions. This view from the Olympiadorf tower shows some of the legacy from Munich’s Olympic games – the Olympic Village, an area that today houses more than 10,000 residents. Despite the concrete buildings, the area proclaims itself as a green oasis. That’s quite a contrast from the descriptions of “concrete citadel” and “ghost city” when it was built as the only split level community in the world with separate areas for cars and pedestrians. Today Munich is still represented as one of the few cities that can point to benefits from the Olympics years after the event. Munich is thought of as one of the finalists for the event, although the IOC (which selects the city in 2011) has been very reluctant to pick two consecutive Olympics on the same contient (Sochi, Russia hosts 2014). Other candidate cities include Harbin, China; Pyeongchang, South Korea; as well as several cities in France.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fasching is Back

Bavaria’s version of carnival kicked off today with the Fasching parade. Like its Brazilian counterpart, it’s filled with high spirits, more than 100 balls (from the classical evening dress to the colorful costume), and enough alcohol to fuel a mini-Octoberfest. Unlike it’s Brazilian counterparts, you see much less sunshine, tanned skin, and Samba dancing. Many events lead up to “Mad Munich” on Feb. 22nd – 23rd, and Shrove Tuesday on Feb. 24th. During each of these events, the Viktualienmarkt becomes party central – with thousands of people, and stages with live music litter the Altstadt – including Marienplatz, Odeonsplatz, and Karlsplatz. It is the largest party in Munich after the Octoberfest. For those of you new to Munich…enjoy the party.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Were you struggling for a little romance on Valentine’s Day? Like most western holidays, the city of Munich is not overrun by Valentine’s day. You could see signs of it in the shops throughout downtown, and a good line up at the chocolate shops today. But there was no shortage to interest couples. There are a few Munich mainstays that I find romantic any time of the year, such as the restaurant atop the Olympiadorf with views as long as the eye could see, or a drink atop the Bayersherhof Blue Spa overlooking the rooftops of the Altstadt. If you prefer some daytime romance take a nice walk through the Hofgarden at the Residence, or the parkland around Nymphenburg Palace. One evening that I think is amazing any time is a couple’s swim at the art deco Volksbad pool, a dinner in nearby Haidhausen (where you will find the city’s best restaurants), and then a movie across the street at the Museum Lichtspiele where the theatres each seat about 30 people. Grab two big German beers and enjoy the show together. If you wanted something special today though, there were also a lot of choices. You could pick “the Fairy Queen” based upon Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or the London Symphony Orchestra, or a piano recital (both at the Gasteig - see yesterday's post) focused on Handel, Mozart, Chopin, and Brahms. Finally, for those mixing meals with music – “A Gourmet Klassik” combined chamber music by the Goldnagl Ensemble with lunch by acclaimed chef Alfons Schuhbeck. And if all else fails, it’s Saturday. Take a nighttime skate at the Nymphenburg canal. The lights and the music will sure to be romantic tonight.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Munich’s Cultural Monstrosity

In a great example of art NOT imitating life, Munich packs one of its greatest cultural treats into one of its ugliest buildings. The massive Gasteig Cultural Center housed on Rosenheim Hill in the edge of Haimhausen, hosts more than 1700 events per year. The brick and glass complex opened in 1985 to very mixed reactions from city locals, but today houses five performance halls (including the philharmonic which houses 2400 people), the Richard Strauss Music Conservatory, adult education center, and even the largest Munich municipal library, which is one of the largest libraries in Munich. Look for large Munich events like the Long Night of Music and the Munich Film Festival there this year.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Snow in the Salvator

Snow in the SalvatorIn the architectural feat that is the Fünf Höfe (or Five Courtyards), you have one of Munich’s latest shopping arcades, which opened in 2003. Each courtyard represents its own character, and this part of Salvator passage (shown in the photo) opens to the sky and lets the snow flow in. In another courtyard, 10 meter long ivies hang from the ceiling. Another sports pulsating lights. The endless passages are a modern version of what exists throughout Munich’s altstadt – and that is a maze of hidden passages with unique shopping around every turn. At one time, the area used to be Munich’s central banking district, and the outside still shows the 19th century stone, while the inner walls are made of steel and glass. As various banks merged into one, it wasn’t long before the entire area belonged to HypoVereinsbank. When Hypo moved out in 1998 to offices outside of downtown, the space was transformed into a modern center for shopping, restaurants, cafes, galleries, office space and residential apartments.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peace Among the Madness

Trying to find the core of the parkland that surrounds Nymphenburg Palace is a bit more difficult than you would expect. Nymphenburg palace is surrounded by a 200-hectare parkland that in some places is quite peaceful, in others is a bit conflicted. But this conflict is played out in history. The gardens started as an Italian garden in 1671, but was later enlarged and rearranged by a French pupil of Le Notre. Finally, in the 19th century, the gardens were redesigned once more in an English Manner. Although original characteristics like the Baroque garden were preserved, today the gardens have hints of Chinese in the Pagodenburg, baroque in the Badenburg Pavillion, and rocoocoin in the Amalienburg hunting lodge

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Absolut Munich

This image provides so much insight into life in Munich. The street, located in Haidhausen, couldn’t be any more normal. A few shops, a few businesses, and a few restaurants. The rest is residential, almost a bit boring. But there is nothing boring about the mix of entertainment options in Munich over the next few months. This summer, Madonna is playing the Olympic Stadium (that’s the big one, used for the opening ceremonies for the Olympics in 1972) as part of her Sticky and Sweet tour. Contrast Madonna with a Munich icon, Franz von Stuck and the Villa Stuck, currently showing a Stuck retrospective highlighting paintings that show both the heavens and hell. This particular image shown is appropriately called “inferno.” Diagonal, you find an image from one of the most successful Munich art exhibits in years – Abstract Kandinsky. Kandinsky rose to popularity about the same time as Stuck, and if you visit the two museums today, you would swear they are cross-town rivals (an Italian villa of Lenbach Haus in Maxvorstadt vs an Art Nouveu mansion in Bogenhausen). Finally, if none of those peak your interest, perhaps you should try musical theater? Unfortunately, no less dark than the inferno I’m afraid – as Sweeney Todd kills and robs all of his customers. Nothing subtle or boring about those choices.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Through the gates of Hell(es)

For one of Munich’s best known landmarks, the Isartor, it’s really quite difficult to understand how it stood in history. One thing that is clear is that the Isartor made up one of the main city gates, along with Sendlingertor and Karlstor, which were built in the 1300s. What I struggled to understand is how these gates were all connected. It appears there was a wall surrounding the Altstadt, but that is a bit unclear. The Isartor, seems to be one of the best preserved of the gates, consisting of the tall main tower with the gateway itself in front flanked by smaller towers on either side. The fresco, which was painted in 1835 depicts King Ludwig’s triumphal entry following his victory over Friedrich the Handsome of Austria. Of course, with everything in Munich – it suffered significant damage in WWII and was restored in 50-70s.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Securing the World and Heavens Above

This photo was taken from the roof of the Bayerischer Hof hotel in central Munich, where a security conference is happening that is hosting US Vice President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and many other global leaders. Munich seemed to be Biden’s first major diplomatic target as he used the security conference to give his most critical foreign policy speech to date. In this case, Biden made it clear that the US would continue its missile defense, but left the window open to talks with Russia – stating “"It is time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia." Of course, this particular photo was taken long ago, as there was no way to get past the 3500 protesters, the lines of military police, and the barricade around the building. I’ve mentioned the hotel several times, as it’s one of the most exclusive in the city, and has a rooftop patio with what I believe is the best view in town. I’d suggest trying it out, some time when it’s a bit more accessible.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Burning Bridges

In the north end of the English Gardens, just before you reach the second ring road, is a pedestrian bridge over the Isar River. The Saint Emmeram Bridge is in an amazing setting, with what seems like endless parkland and paths in either direction; and the bridge itself is architecturally beautiful – sort of one with its surroundings. The bridge is loved by locals and visitors. Apparently, not everyone thought so as it was torched in 2002, completely destroyed, and then rebuilt and reopened around 2004. The act of arson was viewed as a local tragedy and made many of the local newspapers’ front pages. You can read more about it here. As for the saint, Emmeram was a Bishop from the Bordeaux region of France, who became a missionary in Bavaria.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Swine Fest

I have never understood Germany’s obsession with pigs. Like the cow in India, it seems like a revered animal. But apparently that fascination doesn’t end in Germany. Pork is consumed more than any other meat in the world, making up 39% of the world’s total meat consumption, compared to 28% for poultry, and 27% for beef, according to Pig International (I’m not joking. This is a real organization). Germany is the third largest producer and the fourth largest consumer of pork, surprisingly behind Denmark, Spain, and China. And just this past month at LMU – the University of Munich – two faculty produced a genetically engineered pig. For this first time, their cells have been modified to protect them from destruction by human killer cells. The experiment was critical to reduce the rejections during organ transplant, something that occurred enough to cause 1000 deaths last year in Germany. In the end, the image I show to you is simply a sign, one of a posh pig, which illustrates this love for pigs and the payoff from this fascination.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Shadow Boxing

A fun view of the Lichtspielhaus (or light play house) that casts shadows for all passing by. The exhibit is part of the Kid’s Kingdom at the Deutsches Museum, where there is more than 1000 ways for kids age 3-9 to learn and gain knowledge of science. And the best part, is it’s all hands-on. In there, you will find a fire engine that kids can drive, life size legos, all sorts of computers and musical instruments, including a guitar that kids can walk in while it’s being played. For other age sets, you have Treasure Hunts, science workshops, glass blowing, flight school, and one of the oldest steam locomotives.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dividing Lines

In the heart of Bavaria there is outrage over Pope Benedict’s lifting of the excommunication of bishop Richard Williamson, who denies the extent of the holocaust. It seems a strange move by the Pope, who grew up in Marktl am Inn, a village near the Austrian border, and later became the archbishop of Munich & Freising (this photo from inside the Frauenkirchen). More than 60 years after the end of WWII, Germans are struggling to come to terms with the holocaust, when Nazis killed more than 6 million European Jews. In no place is that struggle more apparent than in Munich and Bavaria, where the Nazi party was founded and where the concentration camp Dachau is a constant reminder of its past. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel jumped into the fray of criticizers. One editorial said “The pope has made a serious mistake. That he is a German pope makes the matter especially bad.” Another said, the pope is “inflicting great damage on Germany.” So after several days of criticism, the pope said he had no idea of Williamson’s statements, and demanded that he take his comments back.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Market Fresh

Yesterday I came across an apple from Chile. And it made me wonder what the economics were of shipping crates of apples across the world, when you have quite a supply locally. Last time I checked, Germany produced quite a few apples. As a matter of fact, they are the world’s 8th largest apple producer (two higher than Chile by the way), and the third largest producer of Apple juice. However, over the past 10 years, production in Germany and other developed countries has been slowly reducing while demand for both apples and apple juice is increasing. Emerging countries like Chile and Poland are beginning to pick up the slack. Well in Munich, if you ever want to buy locally, go to the Viktualienmarkt, where I found this French stand – shipped the long distance of two hours from the Alsace region. At this particular stand, you will find no shortage of your cheeses (as pictured), breads, wines or Fois gras. Nearly all other stands are straight up Bavarian.

Monday, February 2, 2009

At a Crossroads

It appears that the debate over a high-speed Airport/downtown connection may go on longer than the construction of the new line itself. 9 months after voting down a magnetic high-speed train, which would have been the pride of Germany yet cost locals more than $6 billion, the debate lingers about the best way to connect the airport to the city center. The trip on current S-bahn lines takes about 45 minutes, seemingly a little too long to get drivers off the roads. After several traffic studies, there still is not a decision on how to proceed. Some ideas include a non-stop S-bahn train along the S-8 line, which would shave at least 15 min off the trip. Other ideas include leveraging the high speed ICE (Inner City Express) trains that Germany is famous for to link the airport to all of the surrounding routes. The plan would include several new tunnels, and rack up a cost of about $2.6 billion. So for the time being, we continue to sit in our cars and battle through the highway 9 construction.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Yesterday Meets Today

In this photo, you see one of the amazing historical facts about Munich, that it was a city that changed forever during the end of WWII. You see the Alte pinakothek with its entire mid-section replaced many years after the recovery from the allied bombing near the end of WWII. More than 40% of the city was destroyed as a result of the bombing, and actually most monuments that you see today in Munich, actually weren’t rebuilt until the 60s, 70s, or even 80s. So that is history, but what about toda?. Well today, I can tell you of an exciting new development, and that is that Munich finally realized that locals stay out past 6 pm on weeknights – and therefore decided to keep museums open late. The Alte Pinakothek is open til 8 on Tuesdays, Neue til 8 on Wed, and the Modern on Thursdays. The Haus of Kunst is open til 8 every night til 8, and til 10 on Thursdays. This is a great way to see art and museums, as the crowds are long gone, and you can enjoy a glass of wine before getting a bit of culture. Thank goodness for change.