Thursday, December 31, 2009

War Zone

New Years in Munich - It's like nothing I've ever seen. I was drawn out of our apartment about 10 min after mid-night by the endless thundering of fireworks. I will note that we live on one of the quietest streets in town. Despite that, the street was crowded with revelers from nearby parties, who spilled out into the streets to see the festivities at nearby Konigsplatz. There were at least 5000 people there, all lighting off fireworks at random. It was tough to determine exactly where you were safe at all. Pictured here is a man with a launching pad strapped to his arm. You can see the fireworks taking off in the frame, along with 5-6 others in the background at the same time. Absolute mayhem. I lasted about 10 minutes before getting the hell out of there.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ice Age

Although this was about a week back, I wanted to share this photo of this very well known fountain in the Altstadt called the Brunnenbuberl. It's one of the few around town that continue to flow year round, and does not get covered up in the Winter, and consequently the sculpture transforms with ice throughout the Winter. The fountain was designed and introduced in 1892 by Matthias Gasteiger, who studied at the Munich Academy of Arts. At the time, it was received as quite a scandel as locals demanded a fig leaf be put over the Satyr boy's privates. Apparently, Gasteiger made 10 copies which are as prominantly placed around the world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Recreating the Glory of Lubeck

One of my favorite holiday windows is in the Karstadt store half way between Marienplatz and Stachus, where they painstakinly re-created the Holsten Gate of the Northern German city of Lubeck. It took more than 400 man hours to recreate the signiture gate of Germany's largest port city. I'm not sure the significance in Munich for this re-creation, but I'm hoping they somehow used Marzipan, which is rumored to have been invented in Lubeck. The gate was one of only four entry points to the old city, and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite origins back to the 1400s, the gate was set to be demolished in 1808 when viewed as an annoying obstacle to an industrialized nation - it interfeared with train traffic. But the tower was later saved by a single vote, and the decision was made to instead extensively restore it. The gate has since become the pride of Lubeck, and is incorporated into many local company logos.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Starting Kids Early

I've mentioned several times before that Christmas Markets in Bavaria are more about standing around and drinking gluhwhein than anything else. And it's no wonder given how early they start kids at the Gluhwhein stand. I couldn't help laughing when I saw all the pre-school kids lining up at the Christmas Market stands to receive their (non-alcoholic) drinks. You can just picture this one boy transforming into a 25-year old with several of his friends. I suppose in the end, it's this comraderie that makes the markets fun and memorable. Well, for now we will have to remember til next year, as all the markets have now closed until advent 2010.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Window Dressing

A common scene at the Karstadt store-front windows in central Munich, which are still decorated for the holidays. An endless number of stuffed bunnies, bears, and foxes in full motion, working in the mines, tending the farms, and of course just being festive for the holidays. The looks on the kids' faces are priceless, as they look on in wonder at this imaginary world come to life.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day

We just returned from a fantastic ski vacaton in Austria, with photos to come, but I wanted to show you a few scenes around Christmas in Munich first. Although Christmas is now over, much of the local spirit (and scenery) is still around. Most stores were closed today, which meant that it was a four day holiday, and consequently I can tell you the supermarket at the airport was a zoo. But back to the subject of this post. Germany does not really celebrate Boxing Day, which is celebrated in most commonwealth states. It is traditionally celebrated on the 26th of December, and because there doesn't seem to be a consistent story on how it originated, I'll give you my own theory and experience. It originated in England, and was created because all the servants had to work on Christmas day. But on the 26th, they were often given a break; so they would collect all the beautiful boxes used by the royal familes and use them to repackage their own gifts. As it plays out today, I think of Christmas is for spending time with family, and Boxing Day is for the people you really want to be around. So it plays out in a super-festive celebration, with poppers, everyone bringing gifts for everyone, and enough spirits to keep the party going until dawn. So for all the Germans who don't recognize Boxing Day, perhaps it's time to start.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas

Or Happy Holidays...or have a nice break, or whatever is politically correct to say these days. I just prefer the good ol Merry Christmas, personally. With this post, I will take a bit of a break of my own. We are going up to the mountains for a ski week over Christmas, and I will unfortunately have no Internet access for the next 7 days, so will not be able to post. We will visit Tirol, in Austria. If you need your fix of Munich while I'm gone , here are few good sights:, Munich Found (check out the world's largest punch bowl at Isar Tor), or Toytown. Merry Christmas and see you after the break!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back at the Markets

I just can't seem to stay away from the Munich markets. This time, I visited the Schwabing Munchener Freiheit market, which is one of my favorites as it really shows a variety of local arts and crafts. Apparently, the idea of a Christmas markets dates back to the 14th century in Munich with origins around the Frauenkirche. Amazingly, what is sold today doesn't differ that much from the original - gingerbread, glassware, and bees wax candles. I'm told that the Kripperlmarkt in downtown Munich specializes in nativity scenes and accessories as well, something that has been developed in Munich since the 1500s. It's fun to get so much enjoyment out of a tradition that started centruries ago.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two Heads Are Better than One

So I have to admit I've been quite intrigued by the double-headed Eagle all over Germany. This image came form the Schloss Blutenburg (Blood Castle) in Munich, which is also home to the
International Youth Library. You see the double headed Eagle in Munich in everything from Nazi regalia to today's government organizations. Yet it's origins date back to the 13th century BC, with heavy roots in the Holy Roman Empire, Byzantine culture as well as many of the Eastern European cultures. In fact, the double-headed eagle still represents the insignia of the modern day Austrian empire, coat of arms for the German Confederation, as well as the Russian Empire - among many others. As with so many things in history, it represents a fusion between the Roman Empire, the Turkish and Ottoman expansion, and finally the basis of many Eastern countries today.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Colors of Christmas

Christmas in Bavaria is about snow and it's about Chriskindl Markets. This year, we are finally getting both - as snow has been falling for the past week. You can find markets set up all over town, in nearly every neighborhood. If there is an open platz, there is a Chriskindl Market. This past weekend, we actually took the train two hours to Salzburg to see the market there, and while it was big and spectacular, it was also overwhelming with what seemed to be millions of people. I understand Nurenburg (2 hours from Munich) is actually the largest and most well known in Germany. But I think we'll skip that one, because there's no shortage to experience around Munich and surrounding villages. In the end, after you've seen the nice ornaments, creatively built wooden toys, and the decorative arts; the Chriskindl markets are really about bundling up, getting together with friends, and sipping Gluwein. You don't have to travel two hours on a train for that. Just pick your neighborhood gathering.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On A Road to Nowhere

Saturday the much anticipated, much hyped new tram line 23 took off on its maiden ride up Leopodstrasse into the Milbertshofen neighborhood. Despite being a tremendous fan of public transportation, I have to say I don't really understand this new tram line. It runs for only 2.5 km from Munchener Freiheit to the middle of a new development just outside the second ring road. The entire trip is expected to take about 8 minutes. What really doesn't make sense is the fact that you need to transfer onto another line to get into the center of the city, that it runs a distance that most Europeans aren't afriad to walk, and it somehow comes up short from reaching Euro Industrial Park, one of the largest shopping centers in and around Munich. One of its only redeaming factors is the interesting "Gaudi-like" tram stop and the very nice renovation of the Munchener Freiheit station. I just wish it didn't shut down traffic for two years to make it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thank God is Friday

The weekend couldn't come soon enough, especially as the days get shorter leading into the Christmas season. We already see good friends leaving back home to be with family for the holidays. I came across this tombstone in the Old South Cemetary, which doubles as one of the largest parks in Munich. The cemetary was actually founded in 1563 outside the city walls for victims of the plague, and also became the main burial ground for those killed in the Sendling Uprising of 1705 in which 1100 people were killed after surrending to troops of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor. Hundreds of notable Munich residents are burried here, and now a 3 year project to restore damaged monuments (as you can see in the photo) is recently completed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Moose is Lose

I love the stunned expressions from the kids, as they hear a wall-mounted moose break into song - Christmas song, of course. At the same time, I'm not sure which was more entertaining, the kids or the expression of the parents. Silent Night just doesn't sound the same when sung in German, especially by a moose. Well, it's a true sign that the Christmas Market season is in full season in Munich, and you will find them all over town and in most of the surrounding villages during the Advent season. I really like this one at the Residenz, as it has an entire section for kids and a masterpiece building surrounding it. Most others are more about adults hanging out with a glass or warm Gluwein, although the Munchener Freiheit market has some nice arts. There is an entertaining midievel market across from Odeonsplatz which is quite entertaining, and the primary market at Marienplatz is much better for the scenery than for buying. Either way, they are definitely worth visiting this time of year for the festive environment alone.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

End of the Line

Apparently there are lots of changes in store for local commuters in Munich, as prices go up 4.5% on local trains in the coming months. At the same time, the U-bahn is opening up the newly crowned "green" 23 tram from Schwabing's Munchener Freiheit out almost to EuroIndustrial park. Construction for the 23 line has tied up traffic and caused construction all along Leopoldstrasse for at least a year, but now it's coming to an end. Also changing for the trains is the opening of the Hirschgarten station. For me, the local DB needs to first figure out their issues with leaving travellers stranded, as reliability of the trains have dropped significant'y in the past two months.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On the Rocks...Yet Again

For the second time this year, and un-countable times over the past few years, the famous all-purpose Schranne Hall next to the Viktualienmarket, is up for grabs. I've seen this hall being used for everything from Brasilian Salsa parties, to business events, to laid back cafes and bars for the near-by tourists. The bank recently announced that they would not have a planned acution, but instead shortly announce the space's latest investors. Apparently the space has more than 27M euros in bad dept. I think it's unfortunate if Munich loses this important space, as there are few places around the city where you can hear good live music without paying for a large cover. At this point, only time can tell.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Brush With Greatness

It is a tradition on every Dec. 6th that St. Nikolaus visits children and leaves candy, fruit, nuts and small presents in their boots - assuming they've been good. So it's with great fan-fare when he shows up at a local Chriskindl market. Often he makes appearances at schools and play areas, where children sing songs and recite poetry. Apparently, the history of the St. Nikolaus tradition in Germany has changed over the centuries, when in the past he was accompanied with Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Ruprecht) who would threaten to give the kids a beting if they were not good. In Switzerland, where he is called Schmutzli, he would threaten to put bad children in a sack and take them back to the dark forest. Apparently, these traditions were quite rigid in Catholic regions like Bavaria. Fortunately, all of that has changed and now the custom has turned more to what we know in the US as Santa Claus. What is nice, is they've kept all of the traditional dress as you can see here. No Red costum, but rather St. Nikolaus looks more like the pope than Stana Claus.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Life Imitates Art

Sometimes people can't help immitating their surroundings. In this case, three business people walk by the art structure in the middle of the Gasteig entertainment complex, in near perfect form. In addition to performance halls, Gasteig also houses the Munich Adult Learning Center and a large branch of the Munich Library. It sits at the base of the Haidhausen neighborhood, fondly known as the "French Quarter." The district received its nickname when it was formed in 1870, after the Franco-German War. Nearly all the streets are named after French cities, and make up the posh quarter which is filled with cafes, restaurants and chic shops.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Saying "I do" in Style

I came across this wedding party outside the Munich Standesamt Schwabing on Mandlstrasse 14 (also known as Mandl Wedding Hall Road), or the Wedding Registry Office. I'm told that the building is quite the place for nuptuals in Munich, with its Greek columns out front, its storybook street and neighborhood, and its ground lining the English Gardens. I love this area of town, with small winding streets, following the flow of the English Gardens through Schwabing. It seems on every street, you have houses from the late 1800s or early 1900s, many of them cottages or large estates. What's more, even though it's in busy schwabing, the surrounding streets isolate it from any ongoing traffic.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Munich's Trinket Showcase

Although I've shown Munich's Rathaus many times, I don't think I've ever focused in on the Glockenspiel. For most locals, I'm not sure they even notice the famous tourist attraction. You can point them out, moving quickly through the hypnotized crowd of tourist, staring to the skies for a peek at Munich's history being acted out twice per day. In reality, locals report that they ignore because it's a bit dull. The scene on the facade of the Rathaus acts out two stories from the 16th century. The top half tells of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V (founder of Hofbrauhaus) to Renata of Lothringen at Marienplatz, followed by knights on horseback jousting, with the Bavarian knight winning of course. On the bottom level, you see the Schafflerstanz (cooper's dance) which local barrel makers performed to show it was safe to come out after the plague. Apparently, you can still see this dance reenacted every seven years during the Fasching Carnival (the next one in 2012).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bone Dry Dorf

For the first time in my short Munich residence, the city of Munich has drained the lake that streams around the Olympic Center. I'm not sure what the story is, as I have found very little news on it, but it appears they are doing some constructions or cleaning of the man-made lake. The lake, of course, is one of the most visible features of the Olympic park, filled with paddle boats including the highly visible car and swanboat. It's uncertain how long the work will last, but hopefully Munich's second largest park will have its lake backs soon.