23 July 2007

Raymond Chandler's birthday

Today is the birthday of the great (some would say the greatest) author of roman noir and hard-boiled detective works, Raymond Chandler. Chandler who died in 1959) has stayed at the top of my list of favorite writers since I started reading him in my sophomore year in college. I consider his penultimate novel, The Long Goodbye, one of the finest achievements in the 20th-century American Literature. You can read my earlier indulgence of praise of it here.

It's appropriate that Chandler's birthday should arrive today, as I'm in the middle of reading the only Chandler volume I’ve never gotten through previously: Killer in the Rain. This short story collection contains the “Cannibalized Eight,” stories that Chandler used extensively as the basis for his novels. He never collected the stories in his lifetime and objected to them appearing in anthologies. This makes some sense, because an author would want to mask the method of how his novels were written, and the novelized versions work far better than the constituent parts originally published in Black Mask and Dime Detective Magazine. The collection only came out in 1964, and it isn't currently available in the U.S. I bought my copy (British edition) at an English language bookshop in Munich. With the stories printed in the first volume of the American Library edition of Chandler’s work, I now have all his pulp stories collected.

Chandler was a great stylist—no, brilliant—but wasn’t much of a plotter, and this always weakened his short stories in my view. Short stories have to depend on tighter plotting and pacing because of their length restrictions, and Chandler could never stretch his legs and reach for profundity like her could in his novels. Also, to please the readership of Black Mask, he had to put in action scenes and a higher body count than makes sense. Some of the tales in Killer in the Rain are quite good, especially “Try the Girl” (later to turn into the Moose Malloy and Velma part of the novel Farewell, My Lovely), but otherwise I can»t help but compare the superior version in the novel. Fortunately, these stories won't stick in my memory, and I can return to the novel version without much sense of Chandler's borrowings.

17 July 2007

Day 20: Düsseldorf–Atlanta–Salt Lake City–Los Angeles

I'm home at last…although the last night did have one more nasty surprise to throw at us. Our rooms in the Hotel St. Georg were located next to each other in an alcove on the fourth floor, and because the place was so blazing hot (with no A.C., of course) we had all the doors and windows open. Then a gust of wind blew closed Mom and Dad's door…with them outside and the key left inside. In a U.S. hotel this would be an easy fix; just walk downstairs and explain to the night desk what happened. But in a small downtown Düsseldorf hotel at twelve o'clock at night, there is no night staff. Everyone has gone home. My parents were trapped outside their hotel room, with all their luggage and clothing inside. To get by, my parents slept in C0lleen and Armin's room, and Colleen and Armin crowded into my room on the same bed. My brother slept on a comforter on the floor. For our last night abroad and just before an early morning flight, it was less than ideal. Fortunately, the kitchen staff arrived early the next morning and my parents were able to get to their suitcases.

Mom, Dad, Reed and I said goodbye to Colleen and Armin, who would fly back to Munich later that day, then we packed into a cab and headed to the Düsseldorf airport for our 9:30 a.m. flight to Atlanta.

There isn't much more to tell. The flight to Atlanta went smoothly, and we easily passed through customs there during our four-hour layover, which certainly prevented a hassle if we had to do it when we arrived in L.A. I felt a massive pang of relief when I saw my bag in Atlanta—at least it had gotten that far, doing a much better job than it had getting to Europe. The bags got rechecked, we ate lunch at the airport (re-adjusting to the American style of food service, so different from the European one, in a Chili's), then took a flight to Salt Lake City. This is the price you pay for frequent-flier tickets: odd routing. This flight was miserable, filled with fidgety kids and one baby who screamed the whole way while the parents did nothing. From Salt Lake City, it was short but somehow exhausting jump to Los Angeles. I got to my apartment just after 12:30 a.m.

And that, for the moment, is that.

(Join me for the 2008 trip to Bavaria and Solvenia!)

16 July 2007

Day 19: Munich–Düsseldorf

We are now officially on our way home, although we do have this brief stopover in Düsseldorf, a city on the right bank of the Rhine River, near to Köln (better known to us by its French name, Cologne). Düsseldorf is located in the region of Germany called North Rhine-Westphalia, in the center-west of the country. Its economy has, for many years, been based on the shipping along the Rhine. Its coat-of-arms even shows a lion holding an anchor.

We took an ICE train for five hours to get to Düsseldorf. The ICE trains are new and elegant, although they run in a way contrary to the expectations of North Americans. The trains do not always run in the same forward direction. When we left the Munich station, the train headed forward, the way our seats faced. However, an hour later when it pulled out of one of the stations, it started moving what seemed like backwards to us. Of course, it had actually moved onto another track, but it gave me the oddest sensation at first that we were backing up to Munich again. The train stayed this way four three hours, reached Köln, and then started the forward movement again until we reached Düsseldorf. The train stopped a number of times in the middle of nowhere and ran behind schedule, but I find trains so relaxing that I didn't mind. I finally finished reading Avram Davidson's Adventures in Unhistory during the ride. The short stop in Köln let me see the city's famous Cathedral out the window. Something to see for another trip.

We got off at Düsseldorf Hauptbanhof (the name in any German city for its central train station), took an S-Bahn a few stops to emerge at our hotel, the Hotel St. Georg, in the middle of the downtown district. Düsseldorf isn't much like Munich; far less older history is centered here, and there is more focus on streetside restaurants and bars. Lots of bars. Apparently, bars are what Düsseldorf does best. It certainly has a grittier feel than Munich, and reminds me a bit of our time in Brussels. After a snack at an Italian place and a drink of the local dark beer, we walked through the fashion district, the most famous in Germany, and down to a park on the Rhine. The Rhine at this point is filled with commercial barges, and busy traffic in tourist sightseeing boats. The other side of the river currently has a massive carnival set up, complete with a full floorless roller coaster and ferris wheel. Some of the family went to the top of the huge modern Rhineturm (Rhine Tower), but with my mild fear of heights it wasn't something on which I wanted to spend 4 Euros. Instead, Armin showed me some of the bizarre postmodern apartment architecture along the river. Intriguing looking, although I'm unclear of its functionality aside from merely looking…well, intriguing.

We ate at a excellent steak house in the midst the busy restaurant and bar area. The clouds kept threatening to rain, but the temperature stayed warm and so far the rain has only come in a few droplets. While I'm writing this in the hotel room, the rest of the family is exploring the bar zone one street over. We have an early flight tomorrow out of Europe, and I just don't think I have the stomach for any further alcohol tonight. On the way back, I walked through the Rathaus (Town Hall) plaza, with its statue to the Count of the Palantine, Johannes Wilhelm. The Rathaus is beautiful, but it looks obvious that much of the square suffered severe war damage; many of the buildings appear too new.

So this is the end of my last full day in Europe on this long trip. I've had an amazing time, seen some spectacular sights and art, and absorbed heaping platefuls of Germanic culture, and few smaller heaping platefuls of Bavarian cuisine. I even picked up bits and pieces of the language, and wish I had more time to study it. But now I'm ready to go back home to my friends and hangouts and the new novel I'm getting ready to write and further articles on fantasy and science fiction topics and a slew of exciting dances and classes to attend. Home is always a great places, especially after a long vacation.

The blog will soon return to its normal schedule, although you can expect a few major follow-up entries to summate the experience, maybe add a few details or overall observations.

15 July 2007

Day 18: Munich

Our last full day in Munich gave us the other extreme of Bavarian weather: blazing, searing heat. Most of my memories of today are of sweat and the seeking of shade. I've mentioned before that air conditioning isn't common in Germany (or much of Europe), and I felt that lack today something fierce.

In general, the day passed uneventfully. After over two weeks of travel, everyone in the family feels pretty exhausted, and today we just sort of crawled around eateries and biergartens, yet actually ate very little. The first destination was a café, Alte Schwabing, popular with artists at the turn-of-the-century. We met with Julia, the daughter of the family that had us to brunch the first full day we were here. Julia may move to the states and stay with my parents for a while. I ate my only full meal of the day here—unaware that the heat would drain the desire for food out of me—a chicken burger. I am slowly reacquainting myself with North American cuisine. The café has a nice late-nineteenth century décor, and is located near Munich University, a district of the city we hadn't seen yet.

We then returned to Marienplatz, but on Sunday most stores are closed, and tracking down ice cream (eis) required some work, eventually leading us back to that indoor mall off of the platz where we've eaten a number of times—once to escape the rain, now to escape the sun. We had plans to meet the parents of two of Colleen and Armin's students at one of the biergartens at 6:00 p.m., and found ourselves at 3:30 p.m. with too much time to kill and not enough energy to kill it. We headed to a different biergarten first, the famous Augustiner near the Häckerbrücke station (we had previously gone to their beer hall in downtown Munich), which nestles coolly in the shade of great trees. Yes, it's the four-thousandth biergarten I've seen on the trip, so I don't know what I can add about this. I still like ruß (or sometimes written russ 'n), my brother couldn't stand the smell of cooking fish, and it was still too damn hot.

Moving on down the line, we exited at the Laim station to go to the Hirschgarten, the largest biergarten in Bavaria. It's located in an enormous park that was packed with vacationers and kids trying to cool down. The biergarten sprawls as far as the eye can see, and a carnival with amusement parks rides was set up to pull in even more children. The park gets its name from an enclosure with deer in it on the edge of the seating area (hirsch=deer), although the deer were completely sedate from the heat. I had no appetite and this point and just had a Coke. The parents showed up with their kids (the father and I are alums of the same school, although we weren't there at the same time) and we stayed for about an hour.

We're back now at Colleen and Armin's apartment. Melanie has come over with some champagne, so I'm drinking that right now. Tomorrow morning we have an early train to Düsseldorf, where we'll stay overnight and then fly home (or at least to Atlanta, and then to Salt Lake City, and then to Los Angeles). I probably won't have Internet capability until I get home, so it will be a few days until you hear about the conclusion of the expedition.

I hear it's searing hot at home, too. But I have air-conditioning. Great invention, that.

14 July 2007

Day 17: Munich–Starnberg

The “dance” in Starnberg didn't have any actual dancing; at least, no dance floor. It was an outdoor concert with an excellent swing band done in the style of Benny Goodman’s great band of 1938. In fact, the band only played pieces from the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert: “Don’t Be That Way,” “Loch Lomond,” “Life Goes to a Party,” and “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing).” Excellent stuff, but no place to dance and no female dancers. So I made do with Colleen and Melanie, and the both followed well and everyone had a good time.

Today, I decided to split off from the rest of the family. They planned to go to the picturesque town of Garmisch and make a hike through a gorge. I felt I had seen enough Bavarian country towns; I felt I had to explore the magnificent museums of Munich much more than I had so far. My interests lie that way, and the rest of the family has a limited tolerance for art museums. So I took off on my own.

First stop, a church I had bypassed earlier: Asam Kirche. Named after the two brothers who designed it in the early 18th century, this small church nestles between the other buildings on Sendlinger Tor Straße. It’s insanely Baroque. Extreme Baroque. Crazy Baroque. How does anyone preach in something so ornate? Wouldn’t the bishop spend most of his time saying to the congregation, “Wow, is this one doozy of a church or what? Those suckers in Colorado Springs and their mega churches: nothing. We got us a rococo monster right here!”
So, then using my newfound skills navigating the S-Bahn and U-Bahn, I zipped up to the museum district, which is near Königsplatz and the Propyläen, the massive gate built by architect Leo von Klenze in 1862 in imitation of the approach to the Acropolis in Athens. Inside the inscriptions are all in Greek. I’ve mentioned the gate before, but this was the first time I really explored it. Here’s a photo:
The area around the Propyläen has a classic design unlike the more crowded central areas of Munich. Here stands most of the major art museums, and my destination was Munich’s most famed art museum, The Alte Pinakothek. King Ludwig I started construction in 1826 and finished the initial building in 1836 to house the extensive art collections of the Wittelsbachs. Many European museums have based their designs on the Pinakothek. It was an amazing experience to walk through it: the collections here must be second only to the Louvre, especially in the department of Flemish art. The audio tour has an excellent design with headphones and great detail about the paintings. I immediately ran into a Hieronymous Bosch, then proceeded to Albrecht Dürer’s legendary Christ-like self-portrait. There are also works by Da Vinci, Raphael, Hans Holbein the Elder, Matthias Grünewald, Titian, Rembrandt, and van Dyck.

The true star of the collection, however, is Peter Paul Rubens. The museum has gathered more Rubens paintings into its collection than anywhere else in the world. The painting of his that most impressed me was the action-packed Lion Hunt from 1621. Ruben’s Honeysuckle Bower painted with his first wife for their wedding is a touching portrait of love. Holy Family is a beautifully subdued and realistic view of Madonna and Child that contrasts with the more grandiose versions you see in museums from earlier periods.

However, my favorite painting in the museum is an enormous canvas by Albrecht Altdorfer, The Battle of Issus, dated 1529. A huge battle vision, with uncountable soldiers, and a “cosmic” view of the landscape in the background. The picture in the book I bought from the museum cannot do justice to the actual painting. Breathtaking. Sorry that you have to see it so reduced:
I spent two hours in Alte Pinakothek. I left very hungry, and decided I would finally grab myself a hardcore American lunch. I went to the Hard Rock café, located across from Hofbräuhaus. It took forever to get served, but that bacon cheeseburger was sumptuous.

Now, back to the museum area, jetting back on a combined U-Bahn and S-Bahn trip, to the Museum of Antiquities. They were closing in half an hour, so I got a nice reduced rate. I didn’t need much time there, because all the signs are in German and there’s no audio tour so it’s a bit tough to understand exactly what each exhibit is. I still got to behold some great Grecian art and artifacts from the Mycenaean Age, well over 3,500 years old. I love Mycenaean archaeology, and the Germans were the first to explore the field. Thank you, Heinrich Schliemann.

Back home, arriving at Colleen and Armin’s house at 6:30 p.m., in time to head out to another biergarten to meet some more of Colleen and Armin's friends. The weather was so pleasant that we stayed for a long time in the outdoor tables. I've come to like Ruß’n, a Weißbier mixed with a lemon soda, and we had Paulaner brand, which Reed has decided is his favorite. Still not a beer fan, but this Ruß’n stuff is quite refreshing and not too heavy. (Update: I think I prefer the Radler, which is the Hellesbier mixed with lemon soda.)

The rest of the family enjoyed their trip to the gorge, and everybody is fully worn out after an extremely full day. Cuba seems to be getting better at walking.

Amazing to think that the trip is almost over. However, I'll admit that I'm eager to get back home.

13 July 2007

Day 16: Starnberg–Münsing–Tutzing

The weather today was the nicest we've had so far: warm and clear. It was the ideal time to go see Starnberg lake as it is supposed to be seen, as a weekend vacation spot for people from Munich. However, getting to lake involved walking Armin and Colleen's dog Cuba there. At twelve weeks old, Cuba hasn't quite figured out how to "go for a walk" and simply resists the whole way, biting at the leash as if someone was playing tug a war, running toward anything that moves, and stopping in the middle of the street for no reason. Armin had to just pick her up and carry her part of the way. Once we reached the lake, which is gorgeous in the bright sunshine, Cuba encountered the emblems of Wittelsbach Dynasty: swans. And the swans didn't like her at all. They floated past with their ducklings and began a creepy hissing sound directed at Cuba. I've never before seen a swan rise out of the water like a snake and make such a ghastly noise. Here is the Wittelsbach Dynasty, rebelling a Cuban invasion:

And here is Cuba, on a "walk":

We returned to Colleen and Armin's apartment and met with the parents of one of Colleen's friends, Nadine. Bernard and Karen are both Berlin natives, but now live in Gauting, the town next to Starnberg. We followed their car out to a small village in the countryside, Münsing, just beyond Berg on Lake Starnberg (where King Ludwig accidentally drowned/committed suicide/was murdered). This is deep Bavarian country: rolling hills with forests and onion-domed churches on the horizon. They took us to a biergarten that looks over the peaceful green fields, sheep wearing bells included. I had the weißwürster, the traditional Bavarian white sausage. They don’t look appealing, but they are very good. After the meal, we took a picturesque half-hour circular walk around the fields and soaked up the best weather we've experienced so far.

We returned to Colleen and Armin's apartment briefly (and watched Cuba chew and chew and chew and chew on a "pig's ear" Armin purchased for her) before setting out to the town of Tutzing and the end of the train line to catch a boat across Starberg Lake. The boat would eventually end at Starnberg where we started…but when we got to the dock we found the last boat had departed. But it didn't really matter; with the gorgeous weather and beautiful view of the lake from the other side, we enjoyed strolling along the shore and a stopover at a very popular and picturesque biergarten at the edge of the water.

If you've been following along, you'll realize that we walked a huge distance today. But it was all amidst gorgeous pure Bavarian Wonders, so that makes all the difference. We could even see the snow capped peaks of the most distant Alps across Starnberg Lake.

On the other hand, as the group historian, I have to admit that I'm eager to get to a few more museums and old buildings instead of soaking in the landscape. I certainly saw enough of it today.

Dinner will take place here in the apartment; Mom is making Sherry Beef. I may go to local dance here in Starnberg later along with Colleen's friend Melanie.

12 July 2007

Day 15: Salzburg–Berchtesgaden–Munich

Not one of the best days of the trip, to be honest. Most of it was spent in transit from Salzburg to Munich, including an hour-long traffic jam on a two-lane highway. A little bit of Los Angeles all the way over here in the Old Country. Then I attempted to go to a swing event in the Hofgarten, an outside event in the Diana Temple. However, I arrived there and found nothing going on. It wasn't until I trekked back to Starnberg and fiddled on the 'net that I found out the event had been canceled "due to uncertain weather." Come on, only a 10% chance of rain, that's not that uncertain! Also, the site I had been directed to originally had no information about it being cancelled. I had to really hunt down the information that it was cancelled.

Anyway… the morning did start rather interestingly in Salzburg when Dad accidentally locked Mom in the room when we went down to breakfast. We were staying in an old-fashioned hotel where you can lock the doors from the outside without being able to open them from the inside, and Dad absently locked Mom in and he headed down to breakfast. Fortunately, someone finally wondered where Mom was and Dad went to retrieve her.

The one sight we saw was an interesting one: the Salzburgwerk in Berchtesgaden (not in Salzburg as the name implies), a massive salt mine under a mountain that originally opened in the eighteenth century. It's still a working salt mine, but a very media-intensive and elaborate tour takes you through the older and unused section of the mine. First we had to dress up in mining overalls, which resemble the uniforms that James Bond villains' armies of henchmen wear, and then ride a mine cart very similar to the ones the miners ride deep into the salt mountain. The main grotto has an illuminated light show, then we got to ride down in groups on a slide, which was also the standard transportation mode for the miners. The slide is huge, and gives the same sort of feel as a water flume ride. Later in the tour, we rode on a boat across an underground lake. I don't know if I learned much about salt-mining (I don't know if wanted to learn anything about salt mining), but it was extremely well done and visual fascinating. And we each got a small sample of the salt mined from the mountain.

Okay, I really have no idea what were doing tomorrow.

11 July 2007

Day 14: Salzburg

The day started out sunny, so it was the ideal time to visit Scloß Mirabell on our side of the river. Originally built as a palace for the mistresses of Archbishop Wolf Dietrich, who gave him fifteen children (there goes both that vow of poverty and chastity), in 1606, it later became another lavish residence for the archbishops of Salzburg. Today it houses civic offices, but part of the historic rooms are open to the public. The elaborate gardens are the most impressive sight, with flowers laid out like embroidery. The angel staircase is also an impressive piece of baroque architecture.

After the Schloß Mirabell, our group split up. Mom, Dad, and Colleen went on a bus tour, a Sound of Music tour. The famous Robert Wise film was shot in and around Salzburg, which was also the residence of the actual von Trapp family. However, I'm not a fan of the movie and if I'm ever going on a Robert Wise film tour, it will be an Andromeda Strain tour. I was more interested in visiting the two major churches and seeing the Residenz, and Reed and Armin wanted to get a döner, so we went off on our own. Behold this view of the city and the fortress as we crossed the bridge:

I, for reasons explained previously, skipped having a döner, and while they ate I swung by a large bookstore and purchased German-language editions of Der Herr der Ringe and Das Silmarillion by that Tolkien fellow. I simply enjoy having foreign language editions of my favorite novel. And now I know what "You cannot pass!" is in German: Du kannst nicht durch! Take that, die Balrog!

A very popular tourist shirt on sale at the many souvenir stands (right next to the ubiquitous Mozart chocolates) reads "No Kangaroos in Austria," usually with a picture of kangaroo inside a circle with a slash. Apparently the Austrians find it amusing that many tourists mistake their country for Australia. I seriously hope nobody makes such a geographic mistake. It makes me wonder if people go to Australia and ask where The Sound of Music was filmed and where Johann Strauss wrote his waltzes. I'm trying to imagine the "No Mozarts in Australia" T-shirts.

Okay, on to the two extravagant churches of Salzburg: The Dom and Franziskanerkirche, which are essentially next door to each other, separated by the Residenz. You live in a city ruled by an archbishop, you're going to have a lot of churches. That's too close for too mega-churches, even for Colorado Springs. Franziskanerkirche is a Franciscan church, and unlike the rest of the city, it avoids the Baroque style and is heavier Gothic/Romanesque. It does look unusual sitting near the Baroque Dom (full name, The Church of St. Rupert & St. Virgil). The Dom is perhaps the most impressive church I've seen this whole trip. First built in 776, it burnt down in 1598 and was remodeled into an entirely new Baroque church in 1628. It can accommodate 10,000 worshipers or tourists trying to escape the rain. Mozart played the organ in here. The outdoor concerts of the famous Salzburg Festival are played before the front gates of the church. By the way, outside The Dom is Mozartplatz, with a statue of the composer. Almost every tour we've taken here has made some mention of Mozart playing a piece in one of the rooms. And although the city is proud of their legendary composer, the Sound of Music Tour actually draws in more money than Wolfgang. Go figure.

The Residenz offered yet another tour of sumptuous rooms using audio guide devices—we've encountered these often. Saves money on actual guides versed in foreign languages. Oil paintings on the ceiling of each room tell the story of Alexander the Great. I'm glad to know the archbishops had gotten tired of Biblical stories. The building was used after secularization as the administrative seat of the city. This room, an audience chamber, is my favorite in the Residenz:
Reed, Armin, and I stopped near the Mozartplatz at a café where they had beer and enjoyed schokolade eis (chocolate ice cream, especially good in Austria) then returned to our hotel on the other side of the river. The other part of the family returned from their Maria von Trapp tour, and we re-crossed the river to eat at a fine Italian Restaurant. Yes, Austria also has great Italian food. A thunderstorm broke out while we were eating, but had subsided when we went outside. Salzburg isn't a late-night city, but we toured the winding small streets, crossed over the river and got a full view from a café atop the Hotel Stein. Massive clouds of smoke inside the actual café prevented us from staying there longer.

I'm back now in our hotel, while the family lingers a bit in a place where Dad can get the last piece of apfelstrudel. Tomorrow we return to Munich.

10 July 2007

Day 13: Salzburg

Weather can turn on you quickly in Germany. Apparently it can do so in Austria as well. Today we've gone from bright and sunny, to rainy and cool, to sunny, to stormy and cold, and back to sunny and clear. It's better than the weather prediction yesterday, which called for "steady rain."

Yep…so, Austria. It's actually a relief to get away from the incessant sight of the blue and white Bavarian flag, although we're still in a part of the old Holy Roman Empire. The drive from Munich was uneventful, although once we got into Salzburg we encountered the normal problems you find driving in old European cities: streets the width of an anorexic dacshund. And Armin might have driven onto a pedestrians-only street, but we're not certain; the looks we got from the people on the street certainly indicated that the minivan's presence was unwelcome. We parked the car in a massive parking garage underneath a mountain that I'll wager was once a salt mine.

As you might expect from the name (salz="salt" in German), Salzburg made its fortune from salt mining. It straddles the river Salzsach. It was the seat of an archbishop, who was one of the wealthy "prince-bishops" of the Holy Roman Empire who held both spiritual and temporal power. The archbishop lost this power in 1806 when Napoleon got rid of the Holy Roman Empire and Austria turned into a monarchy under the Hapsburgs.

Am I talking history too much? Sorry, in the blood.

By the way Salzburg is Mozart's birthplace. We saw the building today (19 Geiderstrasse). There's a museum in there, although I don't know if we'll go to it. Salzburg has a famous Mozart festival every year, over which legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan presided for many years. (We also saw the house where he lived. At night, a statue of the conductor is lit up so that a large shadow of his conducting pose splays across the side of the house.)

After checking into our hotel, Hotel Goldene Krone, we immediately had to eat at one of the many Turkish restaurants along our street because Reed has developed a love of the Döner, a Turkish meat sandwich. My stomach, however, rejected the pizza I ordered there, but I won't go into more detail about that.

With the sky threatening at any time to explode with rain (or switch back to bright sun), we crossed over the Salzsach into the oldest part of the town, dominated by many churches, principally The Dom and Franzikanerkirche, which frame the Archbishop's home, the Residenz, and ascended via funicular to the city's top tourist attraction, Festung Hohensalzburg, an enormous fortress perched upon a hill (Festungberg) that overlooks the city. Originally constructed in the 11th century as a defense for the Archbishop in the wars between the Papacy and the Empire (the Archbishop allied with Rome), succeeding archbishops continued to expand the fortress. Under the Hapsburg emperors it changed into barracks, and now houses museums and a restaurant. It commands astounding views of Salzburg, and is a wealth of architectural detail. One museum allows you into the Archbishop's state rooms where he stayed and entertained when in the fortress; the luxuriant rooms show you that these men of the cloth definitely enjoyed their worldly luxuries. These sections of the fortress also contains extensive military exhibits from World War I because of its use as barracks.

The second museum tour moves through an older section of the fortress walls, and includes a room with paintings of the most important archbishops and models of their contributions to the fortress' construction sitting in front of them. The tour then moves through a torture chamber (not actually where prisoners were tortured, but where such implements were kept) and then onto a tower with the best view you can possibly get of Salzburg. Here's a photo I took from the tower:

Unfortunately, one of the worst rains hit right as we made it to the tower, so we didn't stay up there long. The audio tour devices kept trying to tell me about all the sights I could view from the tower, but I was making for the tight spiral staircase down before the wind whipped me off and dropped me onto one of the three hundred church spires below.

Back down the funicular (which, in itself, has a long history dating from early horse-powered lifts in the Middle Ages), we moved quickly through the early evening of old town Salzburg to get a sense of what we wanted to see tomorrow. Across the river, we had champagne at a quiet hotel bar (we were the only patrons) and then had dinner at a pleasant restaurant that served a variety of cuisines in a domed cave-like setting. At least, everyone else had dinner. My stomach still wasn't feeling that great. I'll just have a Long Island Ice Tea, thanks.

I'm back at the hotel, and we'll probably see Schloß Mirabell tomorrow and the Residenz.

09 July 2007

Day 12: Munich

It has rained most of today, but fortunately it was not as cold and windy as some of our worst rainy days here have been. Mom and I went into Munich on our own while the rest of the family went to do more Ikea shopping for Colleen and Armin's apartment. I must say with pride that Mom and I did a fine job navigating the city streets and the S-Bahn trains. I've only been here for a few days, but already I am getting a grasp of the city's layout.

Because it was raining, it was the ideal day to do the Residenz Museum tour. I had already wandered around the Residenz courtyards two days earlier, but this was the first time I went inside the Wittelsbach's home in their capital city. It's an enormous complex that has housed the family since the sixeenth century. The museum consists of two parts: first, a museum that takes you through the intact rooms of the palace; second, an art tour of the many treasures in the family's coffers. The Wittelsbachs collected many riches (the paintings are all housed in the Pinakothek Museum). I went first through the tour of the palace rooms. Some of the chambers were reconstructed after the war, since the building suffered heavy damage in bombings. The best preserved room is the enormous Antiquarium, a titanic hall with an arched ceiling. We visited the audience and bedroom chambers of the Elector and Electoress (the Bavarian ruler was rewarded for its service to the Empire in the Thirty Years' War with the title of "Elector," meaning the Duke had a vote in who became the next Emperor) and the portrait gallery, which has portraits of the many dukes, kings, counts, and electors of the dynasty, stretching from Charlemagne (whom they credit as an ancestor despite having any real evidence for it) all the way to King Ludwig III, the king during World War I. After this tour, we moved into the treasury, which contains one priceless work of art after another. Most astonishing is a statue of St. George, patron saint of the Wittelsbachs, slaying the dragon beneath the hooves of his horse. The statue is convered in every type of valuable gem imaginable. We also saw the crown of the kings of Bavaria, starting with Maximilian I, but which was never actually worn and sat on a pillow beside the king during audiences and ceremonial events.

After leaving the museum, Mom and I worked our way up Residenzstrasse, past Theatienkirche (I had Mom go in so she could see the inside), toward an English language bookstore so we could purchase a book about Salzburg, where we're traveling tomorrow. I hoped to also find a book on The Thirty Years' War, but no such luck: it seems that all English books written on German history are about Hitler. Very frustrating.

Mom and I jetted on the S-Bahn to Karlsplatz and back into the Karstadt department store so Mom could purchase some better rainy weather shoes. We also ate in their nice buffet on the fifth floor. More Bavarian sausage, I'm afraid, but hey—I had Italian yesterday. We then S-Bahned back to Starnberg. Tonight is home-cooking night and preparation for Salzburg, but I just may get out to Cord Club for their swing night. We'll see.

Because of the trip to Salzburg, I might not get to post tomorrow, so there will be a double posting the day after that.

Sorry that there are no photos today; I might upload a few to this entry later, but I don't have access to my camera at the moment.

08 July 2007

Day 11: Munich

It was a gorgeous day for a Nazi tour: warm and bright, Bavarian clouds drifting through an azure sky. Then around 4:00 p.m. it started to rain. Weather in Bavaria is just plain weird.

It is fascinating to see the way that the two most important men in Bavaria's history, King Ludwig II and Adolf Hitler, are treated so differently. Ludwig's name and visage appear everywhere. Hitler seems non-existent. You might expect reluctance to show photos of him (and display of swastikas are illegal, as is the "Hitler Salute"), but there are almost no signs or markings to indicate places of Nazi importance. Taking the walking tour was therefore a crucial way to get an understanding of one of the most important phases in the city's history that the city itself feels reluctant to tell you.

Our tour guide was an Englishman who had immense amounts of information to impart. We started at Marienplatz, and as we moved around the city he narrated Hitler's life up through the end of his Munich period (after 1938 and the Munich Accord he spent most of his time in Berlin). The guide took us to a courtyard where Hitler used to paint (the Monkey Tower in Alter Hof), to the upper level of Hofbräuhaus where Hitler gave some of his earliest fiery speeches, along the path of the Beer Hall Putsch to where it was stopped in Odeonplatz, where he explained how the Feldherrnhalle was turned into a Nazi monument to the failed Putsch after Hitler came to power. Passer-bys had to salute the Nazi eternal flame; the street behind it became known as the "Street of Dodgers" since people who did not want to salute would duck down it to avoid the SS guards at the monument. The tour then passed through the Hofgarten before the Residenz and over to the Bavarian State Chancellery, of which only the center survived the Allied bombing; the two wings are modern glass and steel. Our guide had us descend into "The Tomb of the Unknown Bavarian," a sunken chamber with a sarcophagus in memory of the Bavarians who died in both World Wars. We then passed Karolinenplatz (where an obelisk commemorates the Bavarians who died in service of Napoleon's army) toward the Propyläen, a gate built in 1815 by Ludwig I. This is the old Nazi heart of the city: the SA building still stands, although crumbling, but Hitler's government building, the Füherbau, is still in the same shape it was when he first had it constructed. It is now a music school. We went inside and witnessed firsthand the place where the infamous Munich Accord was signed in 1938:

Amazing to think that Hitler, Mussolini, and Neville Chamberlin walked these very halls in a crucial moment in history. The meeting took place in Room 105, which still has most of the original furnishings, but is now a music practice room and not open to the public. You can see the door to that room in the upper level on the left side of the above photo. The tour concluded here, and it is probably the most education walking tour I've ever gone on. If you want to see an interesting visual comparison of Munich under the Nazis and today, go to this page.

Our family now moved in the direction of the vast Englisher Garten, an enormous park and recreation area. We had refreshments at a biergarten in Hofgarten, then passed into the crowded park. The park got its name because its naturalistic layout is meant to mirror the style of English parks. People were sunbathing and picnicking everywhere, dogs were playing in the river, but the most impressive sight is the Eisbach River where it runs under a bridge and erupts into violent rapids. Surfers can ride this small rapid and they line up for a chance to try it despite the frigid water. Spectators crowd around to watch the display. I caught a good image from the bridge of one of the best of the surfers:

We had a long walk through the park, all the way to a biergarten on the lake, where we had what will probably count as "dinner" (for me, a huge bowl of excellent pommes frites; a.k.a. French fries). Bavarian food is starting to wear me out, I have to admit, but with all the walking we did today I don't think anyone in our family will gain any weight on this trip. We might actually lose weight.

As we ate at the lake, the weather finally turned, so we hoofed it to the U-Bhan, switched to the S-Bahn, and rode back to Starnberg. Tonight will be a low-key, lounge around night. We had a busy day, and we're going to take the time to just relax for a bit.

Jirel of Joiry

Another interruption from Bavarian adventures...

Black Gate has just reprinted another of my articles, Jirel of Joiry: The Mother of Us All at their website. Jirel was the first fantasy heroine, the creation of the groundbreaking author Catherine Lucille (C. L.) Moore. The article originally appeared last year at another website, but please check it out if you haven't read it before.

07 July 2007

Day 10: Munich

Hey, 7/7/7! I know, I don't care either.

The Über-30 party was enormous. Three different dance rooms, plus multiple patios and bars, all crammed with people. It's bigger than most parties I've seen in the U.S., with a wide age dispersion. We spent most of our time crammed onto the dance floor in the largest room, which played a mixture of classic rock and techno. Not my kind of event, but I had fun anyway because I got to hang with both my siblings and see my dad party—not a common sight, but he was definitely enjoying himself. The copious amount of drinking we did also helped increase the enjoyment.

So…up much later than usual today, as you might expect. My mother, Colleen, and Armin went on a shopping trip to furnish their house, so my father, Reed, and I ventured on our own into Munich. We did fairly well on by ourselves, and even managed to jet around on the U-Bahn without making a mistake. However, all the guide books that have told us that most people who live in Munich can speak English must be having a little joke; we ran into nobody who spoke English during our little sojourn, and we struggled with what scant German we knew.

We also immediately lost our map (left it on the S-Bahn) and when we emerged from a bookstore in Marienplatz after purchasing a new map, we got to see a remarkable sight: the police handcuffing a punker they had flattened onto the ground. An animal-rights protest was occurring in the Marienplatz, and a group of German punks (punk culture is extremely colorful here, nothing like in the U.S.) had wandered in and started trouble. I don't think they actually had anything to do with the protesters, who acted calm and controlled; they just wanted to mix it up with the khaki-dressed municipal police. After the police dragged off the punk they had arrested, the other officers had a stand-off with the remaining punks, but there were no further violent incidents. The punks were escorted out of Mareinplatz, shouting slogans all the way. I really wish I knew what they were saying or what this was all about, but it was damn interesting to observe.

Reed wanted to see a brewery that lay outside the old city walls, the Paulaner Bräuhaus. Although famous for its beer, Munich has few actual breweries in the city; this is one of the few. It didn't turn out to be that interesting: just a biergarten and a few metal vats. But on the way there we stopped for a bit of lunch at the Altes Hackerbräuhaus and learned an important lesson about paying close attention to what you are ordering in Bavaria. Reed ordered what he thought was pork pieces and carrots. However, he didn't know a crucial word in the dish's name: zülze. Which means "encased in gelatin." Which looks really disgusting. Imagine solidified vomit. That's what his food looked like when it arrived. The waitress did explain that "In Bayern gut," but the look on Reed's face when he saw what he had ordered…. He ate some of it, and said it wasn't that awful, but we will all carefully avoid the word zülze from now on.

We took the U-Bahn back to Marienplatz and wandered through the city's sights. First we went to Munich's premiere church, the towering Frauenkirche, completed in 1488. The double onion domes are the most famous sight of Munich's skyline, and the interior is simple in design but massive and awe-inspiring. Most impressive is Ludwig IV's tomb near the entrance, an astonishing black marble sculpture. But sorry, no photos allowed. Here's one of the exterior:

When we entered the plaza of the Residenz (where the Kings of Bavaria lived and held court), massive stadium speakers were blasting "The Ride of the Valkyries" to advertise an opera company. It was awesome, even if a total German cliché. Unfortunately, the Residenz Museum was near to closing, so we instead wandered the courtyards, had some beer in one plaza with amazing painted columns on the walls, and entered another stunning church, the Theatinerkirche, which was started in 1663 in the Roman baroque style. A service was going on when I entered, but tourists were free to walk around while it went on. Next to the church is Feldherrnhalle, an 1844 monument built to two Bavarian generals, Tilly and Wrede. I'm familiar with Tilly because of his role in the Thirty Years' War, which (if I haven't already mentioned this) is My Favorite War. Everyone should have a favorite war.

Reed, Dad, and I met up with the rest of the family in the Marienplatz beneath the Mary Column, and walked to an excellent Italian restaurant in South Munich, outside the wall. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: southern Germany has terrific Italian food. The pizze salami…delicious. The heat inside the restaurant…nearly unbearable. And Germany's anti-smoking laws can't kick in too soon.

Tomorrow I'm going on the "Hitler's Munich" tour, and event I've looked forward to ever since we got here.

06 July 2007

Day 9: Oberammergau–Andechs–Starnberg (Schloß Linderhof)

It was a day of Bavarian countryside (and an evil and misleading car guidance system) and improved weather as we trekked out in the rental car to Schloß Linderhof. When we returned to Starnberg in the early evening, mysteriously our car was loaded down with beer steins. It was a good day for gift purchasing, apparently.

Ah, Schloß Linderhof…the only of Ludwig II's castle projects that was completed in his lifetime, and the one where he spent the most time. While Schloß Neuschwanstein represents a Germanic fairy-tale dream, Linderhof is a fantasia on the French monarchy in the height of Absolutism. Placed in a beautiful forest valley, the castle appears as a miniature Versailles surrounded by terraced Italian gardens. Our tour took us through all the rooms, decorated in insanely overdone baroque style and packed with priceless decorations like a chandelier made entirely of Indian ivory. (And how many elephants died for that, Ludwig?) The king's dinner table lowered into the kitchen below on a pulley system so it could be lifted before his seat with the meal already laid out for him. Statues and portraits pay homage to the kings of the Bourbon Dynasty, principally Louis XIV, in every room. It's dazzling, but almost too much for the eye to take in at once, especially in the Room of Mirrors—a self-explanatory title.

Behold, I in my best Gap pose overlooking Schloß Linderhof:

Behind the gardens Ludwig had an artificial grotto constructed, the Venus Grotto, with a tiny lake and a swan boat where he could entertain guests and have Wagner's music performed by a private orchestra. As we walked into the grotto, where colored lights shine into every corner like a Disneyworld exhibit, speakers played out the overture to Tannhauser…and I immediately started into my best Elmer Fudd imitation: "Oh Bwoonhilde, be my wuv!"

After leaving the majesty of Linderhof, we drove to the nearest town, Oberammergau. This quintessential Bavarian village has a reputation as a "Christmas Town," and walking into a single one of their holiday stores is enough Christmas for three holiday seasons combined. The town has beautiful painted homes and stores, and every ten years it holds a Passion Play that lasts six hours and must be performed by people born in Oberammergau. We ate lunch at an excellent Italian eatery. Bavaria has superb Italian cuisine, some of the best I've tasted, because of its proximity to Italy.

The drive to our next location, Andechs, turned into a comical battle against technology: the sweet-voiced computer navigator seemed to send us in circles until we decided to ignore her. Finally, we arrived at Kloster Andechs, a hill that holds Germany's oldest church and a monastery famous he beer the monks brewed (they have to outsource it now because of demand). The church is small but ornately decorated. Legendary German composer Carl Orff—he of Carmina Burana fame—is buried in the church. An Orff-fest was happening that weekend in the town. We stopped for beer and humungous Bavarian pretzels at the popular Andechs biergarten. I had Apfelweiß, a mixture of apple cider and beer, which so far is best beer I've had in Germany. The view from the outside biergarten gives a spectacular vista of Bavarian farmland, as seen here:

I finally have started to understand the importance of the blue and white flag of Bavaria; it matches the cloud-fleeced sky of their sunniest days, and thankfully the day ended sunny at last.

Tonight I'm going to an Über-30 party at Undosa, the restaurant where we ate last night. Colleen says it's a great party, and many people she knows are going.

05 July 2007

Day 8: Dachau–Munich

Today held forth weather more fitting a November in Munich than a July: cold, rainy, windy. Bleak. A perfect day to visit Dachau KZ (Dachau Concentration Camp). What a very eerie way to follow-up on a visit to the glorious castles of King Ludwig.

Although not as infamous as the Death Camp at Auschwitz in Poland, Dachau was the site of the first Nazi-built concentration camp. The town itself is old, with records dating to the ninth century, and contains vacationing palaces for the Wittelsbach Dynasty. The town remains lush and beautiful, even in sour weather, making it a strange and creepy choice for a place of death, disease, cruelty, and starvation, a monument of racial and political intolerance and ultimate tyranny.

Dachau KZ opened in 1933 and operated until the U.S. Army liberated it in 1945, making it the only Nazi concentration camp that operated for all twelve years the Third Reich lasted. Originally it housed political prisoners (red triangle), people who had opposed or spoken out against Hitler: newspaper editors, opposition party members, judges, communists, and writers. As the camp expanded, Jews (yellow triangle), Gypsies (purple triangle), homosexuals (pink triangle), and the "asocials," a catch-call category that could included just about anybodythe Nazis didn't like (black triangle) were crowded into the camp. In all, approx. 32,000 people died in Dachau. The deaths increased exponentially in the final years of the war, when the Nazis evacuated camps near the front and crammed the prisoners into Dachau. Typhus epidemics broke out among the inmates, and when the U.S. liberated the camp, they found boxcars loaded with dead bodies.

What I'm getting at here is that Dachau is a grim place to visit, but an important one to remember. Under a cold sky and torn by a biting wind, I could feel the specters of the innocents who died and suffered here. This memorial sculpture does a perfectly morbid job of capturing the feeling of the place and its lesson:

Most of the camp's outer buildings, which included an SS training area, no longer exists, and only a few traces of the train tracks that brought prisoners in remain before the front gate. The gate, with its iron-worked message Abreit Macht Frei ("Work makes you free") opens onto to the Roll Call Yard, where the prisoners had to stand every day regardless of weather, sometimes for hours, while the guards tallied them all. If the roll call didn't come out exact, the prisoners were forced to stand until the problem was "resolved." This could take hours, and inmates often died from the exhaustion and exposure. A stone carved in four languages greets you as you enter the yard, asking the readers to let the example of the people exterminated in this place help them to build a better world of tolerance and respect.

The Dachau Museum is housed in a large machine works building that faces the remains of the prisoners' barracks. The museum is an extensive room-by-room history of the camp, beginning with the rise of National Socialism in the ruins of World War I and concluding with the liberation and the camp's eventual transformation into a memorial. Each bare stone room contains large cards of information with photos, quotes from witnesses and inmates, and artifacts from the camp. It is too much to absorb at once, and it's almost more than you think you can deal with. The one surviving barrack contains walls of wooden beds and prisoners' lockers; this part is strangely antiseptic and clean—nothing could capture what it must have been like during the worst days of the camp's operation. The rest of the camp lies in scattered runins: sections of wall, barbed wires, towers, and gravel pits.

Our family left Dachau KZ and headed back into the center of Munich on the S-Bahn. The weather remained cruel, but we needed the busy center of Old Munich to cheer us up. We left the S-Bahn train at the Karlsplatz Station. Karlsplatz is bordered by the magnificent 1890s Justizpalaz. We then walked down the busy shopping thoroughfare of Neuhauser Strasse, which is a bizarre mixture of modern stores and classic Bavarian architecture. We stopped in Karlstadt, a huge department store that looks like any other department store in the States. We did get a few good views of Munich's most famous church, Frauenkirche (Church of the Lady) with its onion domes:

We also stopped briefly in a smaller but still astonishingly decorated church. The street ended in Marienplatz, and we ate dinner in an enclosed new mall. On the way back, we stopped for a beer at the Augustiner Beer Hall, another of the grand old beer halls of the city. I really haven't adapted to the extremely "hoppy" beer they serve in Germany, although the Augustiner beer is the best I've tasted in Germany so far (it's the most popular beer in the region). Dad continues to indulge in apple strudel (apfelstrudel) at every opportunity, and Reed took some paper coasters with him that contain pictures of Munich's "mascot," the Münchner Kindl, on them. The Münchner Kindl is the monk figure in brown robes with a yellow cross who appears on Munich's coat of arms (and also manhole covers):

I have a Münchner Kindl shirt I've worn a few times on the trip. I am sure it isn't helping me "blend in."

The family waiting at the S-Bahn in Karlsplatz:
We're looking forward to improved weather tomorrow for a trip to Schloß Linderhof, another Ludwig castle.

04 July 2007

Day 7: Starnberg–Füssen (Schloß Neuschwanstein)

The rain continued through the night, so we didn't go to take the boat tour around the lake. We instead ate at a traditional Bavarian restaurant, favored by many of the older locals, where Colleen and Armin have their stammtisch every other Thursday. A stammtisch is a table reserved for a group gathering few times a month, and Colleen and Armin have a stammtisch with other teachers at their school at this restaurant. I had the Nürnberg-style sausages in sauerkraut; excellent. The sauerkraut in Bavarian is sweet with peppers, quite different from the usual American sauerkraut.

Enough about yesterday. It's today that you'll really want to hear about. 'Cause it's sights like this that drag people from the other side of the globe and lure them to remote locations with digital cameras and wallets leaking Euros…

You don't get to spend every Independence Day at a massive Bavarian Castle built by an eccentric fairy-tale fanatic who hired Richard Wagner to be a his personal composer.

So, yes, I did get to Schloß Neuschwanstein ("Castle New Swan Stone") today. And yes, it's an astounding, unreal sight. Perhaps because the man who created it, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, meant it to look unreal: a dream of a fantastic era of monarchy that existed only in legends, myths, and the operas of Richard Wagner, whom Ludwig patronized when nobody else would touch the rabble-rousing composer.

Even though the transit strike was resolved, my family decided to go for the rental car (complete with a smooth female-voiced onboard navigating computer) to make the trip to Füssen, the village in the gorge below Neuschwanstein. This ultimately ended up working excellently, since we got to see the area on our own time—although while driving back our female HAL-9000 computer decided to take us on a 'scenic' route. Well, everything around here is scenic, but this scenic route involved a road approximately the width of two caterpillars.

Anyway, onward to Neuschwanstein. We purchased our tickets for the 12:40 English language tour at the village kiosk, had a quick lunch (wiener schnitzel for me), then crammed onto the bus that wended its way through the tight forest road that ascends to the castle. The closer we got as we walked toward the edifice, the more the vision of it astounded us. The thing just couldn't be real. It looks, in my brother's term, "ridiculous." I was wondering when a Cast Member in a Mickey Mouse outfit was going to come out and greet me. "And have a happy day here at the Magic Kingdom. Permanace sentado, por favor." (Neuschwanstein inspired Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.)

My brother Reed took this photo of me standing on the Marienbrücke Bridge. This gorge-leaping and vertiginous span (I wasn't fond of being on it for long, and when kids started jumping up on down on it, I left quickly) runs beside the castle and provides the best view of it. Just behold this towering architectural monster:
The weather during this time constantly shifted on us, from bright sun to sudden rain. Equipped with umbrellas and our embarrassed American sense of awe in the face of Über-Bavarianess, we managed to get through these shifts in the weather.

German precision lined us up in the courtyard of the castle for the English tour. An approximation of English, at least. Our guide could be a touch tricky to comprehend. I already new much of the castle's history, so I was able to soak in the baroque madness of the interiors even with the shaky English. Construction of Neuschwanstein commenced in 1864, one of three castles that Ludwig II built during his reign (only Linderhof was completed). The castle remained unfinished at his death in 1886, when he was deposed on charges of insanity and then mysteriously found drowned in Lake Starnberg. The tour took us through all the completed rooms, including the stunning "Singing Room," where Ludwig would hear performances of Wagner, the banquet room, the cavernous audience chamber (throne never finished), and an artificial cave Ludwig made for him to retire to for solitude. Yep, he built a cave next to his living room. Sadly, Ludwig only spent 170 days in residence at Neuschwanstein, but he watched via telescope its construction from the castle below, Hohenschwangau. More on that place later.

Photography isn't allowed inside Neuschwanstein, so I purchased a CD-ROM with professional photos I can use for my slide shows. The tour ended in a massive gift shop and media center that takes up the incomplete third floor of the castle. We packed into the bus to get back down to town (free to ride up if you take the tour, but you have to spend 1 Euro to get back down), and then it was time to tour the other castle of the Wittelsbach Dynasty in the area, Schloß Hohenschwangau:
Schloß Hohenschwangau ("Plain of the Swan") was built on the ruins of a medieval castle that Napoleon destroyed in 1806. King Maximilian II of Bavaria, Ludwig's father, completed the new castle in 1837 as a summer residence for his family when they were away from the Residenz in Munich. This is why the castle has no audience chamber or throne room—but does have an English billiard table! The tour was arranged the same way as the tour of Neuschwanstein—only with a less English-challenged guide—and again, no interior photos allowed. Schloß Hohenschwangau is a more traditional Bavarian castle, and seems more livable than the lunatic Neuschwanstein, with a logical floor plan and rooms that don't completely engulf you in walls of fairy-tale illustrations. Each room does, however, contain frescoes from legends of the history of the Wittelsbach Dynasty. There are a number of portraits of Maximilian, his wife Marie of Prussia, and their sons Ludwig and Otto, throughout the castle. We were shown the room where Wagner did much of his composition and the guest room where he stayed. I still have a hard time believing I've seen such a place: Wagner wrote most of "The Ring Cycle" in this very room. Every object in the room is a priceless piece of Bavarian art, with décor of silver, gold, and ivory.

We finally left the town of Hohenschwangau to return to Starnberg, where we had dinner at the restaurant Undosa on the lake. A rainbow came out over the lake, one of the few perfect arch rainbows I've seen. It seemed to strike the opposite side of the lake, where Ludwig II drowned. The other highlight of the dinner was a discussion of an Austrian town with an accidentally obscene name in English. Here's a hint, it rhymes with "trucking." Sure, the 'u' has an umlaut over it, but there are just too many jokes you can make about a place like that. And I think we ran through them all.

We're back at Colleen and Armin's apartment now, and I'm pounding away at this very long blog entry for your edification, while everyone else is in the living room discussing genetics (I think; I'm not really paying attention). I don't know what tomorrow holds, but today was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.

(I’ve included some details about an earlier trip I made to castle that is the utter opposite of Neuschwanstein’s aesthetic, the practical fortress of Conwy Castle in Wales. That was an entirely different experience.)

03 July 2007

Day 6: Starnberg–Buchloe

Every lengthy foreign trip has to have one of these days, when you find yourself at the mercy of a screwed-up transportation system. Usually, the Germans have their train times down to the second, but this morning there was a transit strike…and the short of it is that we never got to Schloß Neuschwanstein. But we somehow had fun anyway, and we'll be able to get to the castle tomorrow (the strike was resolved today, but too late to benefit us). It looks as if a rented car, something we originally thought impractical, looms in our future.

The long of it: we got up early enough to make the morning train that takes tourist to Füssen, the village near the castle. However, that early train had been pushed back some. We took two trains, out the Buchloe station, already behind schedule, and then waited forever on the hot platform with a million other tourists (almost eighty-percent of them from Asian tour groups) for the train to Füssen. When the train finally arrived, it was only two cars long, and when we saw the others pack into that train so their faces were slammed against the glass of the doors, we realized this wasn't going to work. An hour and ten-minute train ride under packed conditions, only to arrive at Füssen so late that we would barely have time to see the castle before it shut down? Nope, sorry Mad Ludwig—we'll see you tomorrow. Dad, Reed, Colleen, Daniel (Colleen's French Grandfather in-law), and I had an excellent lunch in Buchloe at an Italian restaurant (so close to the Italian border, the Italian food in Bavaria is invariably excellent), then missed two trains while waiting because we were getting too laid-back, and finally returned to Starnberg at around 4 p.m. Reed ceaselessly practiced studying German verbs from his 555 German Verbs book, and I kicked back and enjoyed the scenery of Bavaria and occasionally lectured about the region's history to anybody who cared to listen.

Unfortunately, my iPod crashed today while waiting at Buchloe's train platform, and I won't be able to restore it until I get back home. I was looking forward to listening to Wagner while walking around Neuschwanstein, but no such luck. I'll just hum the Pilgrim's Chorus from Tannhäuser until somebody smacks me.

The family was thinking about going on a boat ride around Starnberg Lake for the rest of the day, but it has started to rain again, so who knows what else we might do the rest of the day.

So…probably some Schloß Neuschwanstein photos tomorrow. Given the transit workers don't strike again.

02 July 2007

Day 5, Part 2: Munich

Ah, finally in Munich (München)…unfortunately under rainy conditions, so I'll wait until a sunnier day to show photos of Marienplatz, the center of historic Munich. Because of the rains, we decided to visit the museums of Munich today. I went to Deutsches Museum, one of the largest science and industry museums in the world. If it's been invented, it's probably somewhere in the six stories of this building. After only two hours inside (it was near closing time), my brain felt like it was approaching information overload. I went through the extensive mining exhibit, a massive crawl through artificial caverns not unlike the line for the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. There was also an interesting electrical power display, a la Nicola Tesla, although it didn't get as explosive and powerful as I thought it would. Here's a photo of me in front of that exhibit.

My mother, sister, and her mother-in-law Patty went to the teddy bear museum (that didn't exactly grab my interest), and we met up with them in Marienplatz in front of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall), which unfortunately is currently covered in scaffolding and a drop cloth for cleaning. Rather spoils the effect of the plaza. Perpendicular to the Neues Rathaus is the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), which looks newer than the Neues Rathaus. Answer to this riddle: the Altes Rathaus suffered extensive bombing damage in World War II and had to be extensively restored, so it looks shiny new compared to the "New" Town Hall.

The next stop was Hofbräuhaus, the most famous of the beer halls in Munich, built in the sixteenth century and famous for its own beer brew. The Bavarian government has always operated it. Hitler once held meetings there in the upper halls, but nobody mentions that any more (at least, not the locals). It's now a touristy beer hall with Bavarian musicians who break into famous drinking songs that half the crowd can follow along with. Fortunately, Dad had a tour book with some of the songs in them, so we we're able to join in on one of the pieces. I had the sauerkraut and grilled bratwurst and a beer mixed with a lemon soda that's popular for it's refreshing quality, called a Radler. But it was still far too much liquid for one sitting. You have to get used to the Bavarian way of holding the stein, which involes slipping the hand under the handle to hold onto the sides of the stein and hooking the thumb over the top of the handle. Here's the whole family at Hofbräuhaus:

This is the point when I really started to notice the lack of the German flag, and the dominance of the blue-and-white diamond-checkered Bavarian flag. Bavarian (Bayern in German) is proud of its history as an indepedent and semi-independent state, and the long-lived Wittelsbach Dynasty that ruled it for centuries. The most famous of the Bavarian kings was King Ludwig II (1845–1886). You will hear a lot more about him. Most of Munich's great architecture was done under the reign of Ludwig I, from 1825 until 1848.

After that filling meal at Hofbräuhaus, we returned to Colleen and Armin's house. The rain had finally stopped, and we got a few better views of Munich's sights. Tomorrow we're making the long journey to the most popular tourist attraction in all of Germany, Neuschwanstein, a.k.a. Mad Ludwig's Castle. The fairy tale castle. You'll know it when you see it.

I am till having allergy problems, and the flies are damn annoying.

Day 5, Part 1: Munich–Starnberg

It started raining last night, and it's still going as of this moment. A bit of a downer for the first day of venturing into Marienplatz (Mary's Square) in the middle of historic Munich. After the heat and humidity yesterday (and the flies; have I mentioned that the Germans don't believe in screen doors?), this is quite a change-up.

And it started last night right as Colleen and I were heading out on the train to Salon Erna for the swing dance. Salon Erna isn't in one of the nicer parts of Munich; Ostbanhof is a more industrial area that houses a lot of nightclubs. It was about a thirty-minute train ride out there from Starnberg, and we had a half-hour wait for the train back. On our return trip, we had our tickets checked for the first time in Germany by the slightly scary police officers in their red beret caps. Train fares are mostly done on the honor system here; Colleen says this was only the third time she's ever had her ticket checked. I also got to see afterwards what happens when you don't have your ticket: the next man they checked was riding without one (this is called schwarzfharen in German, "black-riding"), and they fined him 40 Euros and threw him off at the next station. Ah, classic Germany. Papers please!

Anyway, I had a great time at Salon Erna, even though it was boiling hot inside, especially after dancing (the Germans aren't big on air-conditioning either). Everyone was friendly, and their dance skills are quite high. They played a lot of music by local California bands, like the Campus Five and Stompy Jones, which demonstrates how global swing is as a culture—or at least how powerful California is in swing culture. If it wasn't for the language, I could almost imagine I was dancing at home. There aren't any stylistic differences in the dancing that I could detect. And yes, they can Balboa.

Colleen and I hung out a lot with an Italian-German girl named Pia, pictured here with me.

I'm suffering from some fierce allergies right now. There's a pollen in the air that apparently bothers many first-time visitors. Reed has the allergic reaction far worse than I do. Frankly, I'll take the allergies in exchange for getting rid of these aggravating flies.

01 July 2007

The Broken Sword is here!

Pardon me while I interrupt my coverage of my trip to Germany with other news.

My article “Broken in Two” about the two different versions of The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson is now online at Black Gate magazine.

Enjoy! I’m feel immense pride of this article and all the work I put into it.

Day 4: Starnberg

My time schedule is still off-kilter here in Europe. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. with the sun shining bright through the windows, and so I lay awake in bed until I fell asleep again around 9:00—and then slept right through to noon. At least I'll have energy tonight for dancing.

Last night we attended a massive outdoor wine festival in Starnberg. I usually don't drink wine, but I downed…well…a lot of the excellent Weisborg vintage and had a great time. I also had my first experience with true Bavarian food when I had the bratwurst in der semmel, Bavarian sausage in a bun. Once I got over the unappetizingly pale appearance of Bavarian sausage, I found it delicious—especially with the spicy mustard. Goes well with wine too. (Strange, I thought, that my first drinking-in-Germany experience should be with wine, not beer, but oh well.)

My sister and I enjoying wine at the festival:

Right now I've ducked away from a lunch grill party my sister and her husband are holding for their friends. Colleen's in-laws Patty and Stony and grandfather-in-law Daniel have arrived from a drive up through Italy. Cuba is begging a larger dog named Milo to play with her and is getting nowhere with it. (Cuba has been much better behaved in the last last day and isn't constantly tugging on my pants.) I got some more yummy bratwurst in the bun, but I haven't felt much like drinking beer. I want to be agile tonight for swing dancing at Salon Erna in Ostbanhof. And I'm sure I'll get plenty of beer there. I'm learning a lot about the football clubs from some of the guests. Sadly, the local club, Bayern München, had a poor year and nobody is thrilled about that.

Tomorrow is our first day doing true tourism in Munich. At last!