My first trip to Munich involved a talk at the Sun Users Group
conference. It was a whirlwind trip: arrive one afternoon, give my
talk the following day and leave the morning after. I paid a brief
visit to the Marienplatz in the center of town. It was brief because
it was evening (most everything was closed), it was cold and it was
about to storm most furiously. I did manage to walk around and admire
some of the architecture before racing for the welcoming warmth of the
subway station. By the next morning the rain had turned to some
serious snow. And this is southern Germany!
Some beautiful and remarkably ornate buildings survived the
devastation of the war. The tower at left has a brilliant seventeenth
(I think) century clock. A couple of times a day the clock goes into
its performance: music playing and characters dancing. In those days
they knew how to build things to last. Quite a far cry from our
modern concept of reliability: "Windows 95 is very reliable; it
doesn't crash nearly as often as Windows 3.1!"
One of my visits happened to correspond to a new national holiday. Germans clearly take their holidays more seriously than Americans. Pretty much everything was closed for the day, aside from bars and restaurants. Which may explain all the beer drinking in the restaurant at the right. Personally, I have a hard time looking at a beer glass at ten in the morning, Oktoberfest or no Oktoberfest.
I did get to watch part of a parade, complete with silly
costumes and marching bands. It was all rather colorful and festive.
T'would have been even better if I'd had some idea of what it was all
about. Not that there really has to be a reason to
One of the surprising things about Bavaria is how quickly you can go from a city like Munich into rolling hills, woods, farms and small villages. It's all so green and peaceful and picturesque and nothing at all like home. These two images were taken in a little place called Högling (I love that name!). There must be thousands of hamlets like this dotting the landscape: a church surrounded by a few dozen houses and a lot of open ground.
Those last two images were taken less than ten minutes
apart. Notice the difference in the sky. Weather is quite a local
and flexible phenomenon in these parts!
Sunday is a good day to go touring around the countryside. (Thanks to
the German attitude about shopping hours, that's about all there is
to do!) Having seen a fair amount of Munich, we decided to
visit someplace new. Our destination: Rothenburg, a walled city on the
Tauber river that's a two hour drive to the northwest. It's a
pretty place even in winter, where the countryside looks like
something from Alistair
MacLean. (It's perhaps unfortunate that most
of my images of Germany come from WWII or spy movies.) The view is
particularly spectacular from the top of the tower in the town
square. And so is the climb to the top, which involves some of the
scariest stairs I ever hope to encounter!
Rothenburg went into a bit of an economic decline a couple of hundred
years ago, which is what kept the locals from upgrading their
architecture and making the town look like every other town in the
area. (Their loss is our gain.) Most everything fits; even the banks
and the local McDonald's don't take away from the charm. And
what can you say about a place that houses a Museum of Justice, full
of torture instruments and other techniques to persuade the citizenry
to behave? I particularly enjoyed the Masks of Shame. I know an
engineering director who would look particularly fetching in one.
I guess this shame business isn't limited to the museum. In evidence
of that I present a pane of stained glass from a very nice restaurant
where we had lunch. Forbidding, isn't she? And what exactly
is that thing she's clutching in her right hand? Looks like
one old German won't be giving anyone any more trouble! (How
do you say Bobbit in German?)
After two visits to Frankfurt (not counting the times I've used it as
a transit point to Poland and Israel) I still don't have a sense of
the city. There are lots of modern office blocks, with more on the
way. And the kind of mass transit that Europeans take for granted but
Americans can only envy. But what is it about Frankfurt that makes it
unique? Why would anyone come here who didn't have to? I
imagine there's a good answer to this question. I'd love to know what
it could be.
Hand a Marketing expert a less than sizzling product and watch real
creativity in action. If we have a not-very-picturesque city (I guess
they don't know what's special about Frankfurt either), how can
we make it seem that much more attractive and interesting? Simple,
really. Pile everyone into a colorfully decorated streetcar, hand out
cups and bottles of applewine and include an enthusiastic accordianist
with a wide repertoire. It's amazing how much more interesting your
surroundings become when you add a little alcohol.
In case you doubt the existence of a German sense of humor, I submit
the following ad from a drugstore window. (Some of us were under the
weather after our visit to Israel. Might have been the lamb brains.)
The product is a hemorrhoid treatment; the image is a peach. Or is it?
If I haven't found Frankfurt all that inspiring, Wiesbaden makes up
for it. Less than an hour on the S-bahn from the main train station,
it's a spa town
full of handsome buildings on tree lined streets. Like Newbury Street
in Boston, many of the ground floor residences have been turned into
businesses; the leftmost building in the picture on the left is
occupied by a bank. It's a place that looks good even in the rain,
although I wouldn't have minded not finding that out.
(Manipulating both a camera and an umbrella can be a bit of a challenge; I hope you appreciate the trouble I go to for you.)
I found the center of town particularly pleasant, with its crisscross
of pedestrian-only streets. On this particular day there was a
farmer's market in residence in the main square. Despite the rain the
streets were pretty crowded and the merchants seemed to be doing good
business. I guess Germans are just hardier than wimpy Americans; to
me, it just didn't seem like a good day for grocery shopping al fresco.
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California