Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Buckeyes Arrive

Last year, after learning I would be spending a year in Deutschland, I extended an invitation to visit to just about everyone within ear-shot. Germany really is the perfect base for exploring the rest of European culture and I made sure my listeners knew it.

So, a little more than a year after extending that invite, Michael and Tim, two friends from Ohio State, touched down in Munich for ten days of high-speed wandering across Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, and England. That’s right. Five countries. Ten days. Would we succeed? Our team consisted of a second year medical student from Harvard with a bag of animal crackers at the ready (Michael), a mechanical engineer with a shiny new degree from Ohio State and a hankering for good salami (Tim), and your favorite paleontologist with a propensity for puns (and alliteration). Only one way to find out…

We opted to start the adventure in Munich since they were able to get cheap flights into the city and we were going to be heading southwest to climb a Swiss Alp. It helps that Munich is home to all the stereotypes Americans carry around in their heads about Germany. While waiting for Tim and Michael to arrive I saw at least two men in lederhosen cross the train station. Perfect. Now I just needed to see a some wurst. Oh, there it is, being dropped on the floor by the hungry four year old who couldn't quite handle his lunch.

On the ride from Bonn to Munich I received a desperate call from Michael that Tim’s flight was arriving at Heathrow Airport behind schedule, and he might not be able to make his connecting flight to Germany. I didn’t hear any more news before arriving at the Munich Station, so I hunkered down with my computer and watched the lederhosen go by thinking I might be obstructing traffic to platform 14 for a couple of hours.

Twenty minutes later, Michael and Tim arrived, right on schedule. Tim had sprinted across two terminals to make the connection and a small package containing his toiletries and three cans of Skyline Chili (guess who those were for) were the only casualty. Minor lost baggage and a run through Heathrow. Two rites of passage for the international traveler to check off the list. Mr. Steves would be so proud.
The reconstructed Medieval gate that welcomes you to the Munich shopping district.

They were jet-lagged, but excited to hit the city after a couple hours in transit. For Tim, this was a kind of homecoming. When buying a pretzel at a bakery in the station, he noticed the woman on the other side of the counter had his very German last name, including the umlaut. And thus he was welcomed back to the land of his ancestors. It’s key a pretzel was involved. As you may recall, my welcome involved being compared to an ass. Some kids have all the luck...
There are few things I know about the place I will live someday, but one thing I know, is that I will have window boxes.

With our bags stashed at the station and a new map of the city in hand, we walked into the Altstadt (Old Town) to witness the beautiful, bustling hive of activity that is the European pedestrian shopping district. We wandered by the beautiful city hall and into Pope Benedict’s former Cardinal roost at the Frauenkirche.
This was taken back in October when I was in Munich for Oktoberfest. Tim and Michael's visit was the first time I'd seen Munich with blue skies. I can confirm that a change of color makes the Neo-Gothic facade a little less sinister.

The whole time I tried to keep my mouth shut, allowing a them to experience the city and buildings on their own terms. This was an utter failure. I can’t help but keep the running commentary going, and these two join my brother, Shane, Marty, Kes, Erin, and especially Carolyn as martyrs to my need to burden my travel companions with obscure factoids.

We met Shane on Marienplatz under the sculpture of the putti getting ready to destroy the Protestant heresy. It’s a local hang-out.
He led us to a classic beirgarten, tucked somewhere in urban Munich. He found it by vague memory, leading us through a wrought-iron gate with the Hofbrau logo proudly festooned overhead. Behind the gate was an expanse of hundreds of tables, all shaded by towering chestnut trees. Every table was crowded with happy Müncheners and their Maß (1 Liter) beer steins. As the light dwindled, twinkling Christmas lights illuminated a cross-section of the city: high school students, tourists, girl’s night out, after work drinks, nuclear families. Everyone was enjoying the opportunity to be outside with a cold beer and friends. There was even a swing set to keep the kids occupied while the neighborhood got caught up with itself. We just needed to find a spot.

We eventually elbowed in next to a friendly couple of women who were a little tipsy (you can tell because they engaged total strangers and got out the backgammon board) and tucked in to our steins and Schwein-Haxe (Pig Knuckle) from the cafeteria style restaurant. Sweet bliss.

We were joined by two of Shane’s friends and spent the rest of the evening wandering the town, eventually winding up around a fountain with bottles of Bavarian wheat beer in hand. The whole open container thing really does make for some wonderful exploratory partying and chatting. Soon it was time to go back to Shane’s apartment to get a full night’s sleep (yeah, right) then start our whirlwind tour.

Tomorrow: Concentration camps, Old Masters, and English Gardens, only the most uplifting and engaging topics on the internet.


Michael said...

I am excited to be part of your blog now, haha! I am directing my friends and family here because I don't think I would write as entertainingly about our adventures.

Thanks for being an excellent documentarian and host! Look forward to reading more about our trip, and I will be chiming in if I remember something interesting to add. Tchuss!

Matt said...

I'm honored you think I'll do the trip the justice it deserves, and hope your friends and family don't find my voice obnoxious. Chip in any and all interesting tid-bits. That's the real reason this thing exists.