65 posts categorized "Munich"

Englished Up for the Cup

Ah, the British football fan makes friends wherever he goes, does he not?  

I was living in Japan for the 2002 World Cup, and recall how the city of Sapporo behaved as it hosted the England/Argentina match.  Car dealers removed display models from their forecourts.  Teachers made children play indoors.  Bars posted signs proclaiming No Foreigners Aloud.  Some closed entirely, and others even boarded up their doors and windows.

The City of Munich, like Sapporo, has imposed a public drinking ban for this weekend, as Bayern Munich hosts British team Chelsea for the final of the European Champions League.  Many publicans have shown some distatste for English visitors.  Ugo Crocamo, proprietor of trendy H'ugo's bar and nightclub said, “I will have 500 Bayern fans, I don’t want Chelsea fans here.” 

Chelsea supporters who wish to test his resolve should note that you'll find H'ugo's at Promenadeplatz 1 in the Altstadt, accessible from the Karlsplatz transport exchange via tram #19.  That's across the street from the Bayerischer Hof, Munich's swankest hotel, who might also appreciate your custom, as would the Mandarin Oriental (Neuturmstraße 1, also on tram route #19), where your team is staying.   You're welcome.

Munich police have adopted a relatively gemütlich approach to potential troublemakers.   The Polizei Präesidium reached out to Chelsea fans via their club, and will hold a chummy "Fan-Talk" in the bleachers behind their block of seats, fifteen minutes before the game begins.  "Conflict situations will also be resolved primarily by means of communication", says the aptly-named Deputy Commissioner Robert Kopp, "though troublemakers and offenders will be red-carded timely and consistently."  Trust me, you don't want to get a taste of their consistency.

From our perch across the river in genteel Bogenhausen, the game won't affect us much. Except to notice that it has generated a flurry of English language in the public media. 

Adidas took over the cement seats on which Müncheners cool themselves by the Stachus fountain.  Banners invited fans, in English, to sit amongst each other in harmony.

I noticed later that most of the banners which invited Bayern München fans to sit next to Chelsea fans had been removed, and the rest vandalised.  Perhaps Ugo has a point.

Note this rotating sign on the Prinzregentenstraße.  First, an English beer ad, aimed at Chelsea supporters, which reminds us that beer fuels your screams—screams of passion, screams of rage, screams of pain, screams of sorrow.  I doubt that such a sentiment would be allowed in a jurisdiction where its English meaning would matter, given the restrictions on what alcohol advertising can say.

And next, the local version.  Münchener Hell, under the Heavens of Bavaria.   Beer drinkers here seem to behave a little like the wine drinkers our British football supporters sneer at.

Chelsea fans, take a leaf out of the Bayern München playbook.  Relax a little.  It's only a game.

Keys to the City

My mental picture of a street musician was formed in Australia, where every smelly hippie thought he was the next folk-rock sensation. We used to walk past and them and shake our heads, vowing that Bob Dylan has a lot to answer for. 

Street musicians in Europe are, like, real musicians.  With musical day-jobs and buyable CDs and stuff. 

Folky balladists get no audience.  You either do real folk, which in Bavaria means a brass band, or you prove your chops with the classical repertoire.

Munich musicians favour keyboards, in one form or another.  This presents some physical challenges.

These guys don't set up a second-hand Korg on the sidewalk and croon that James Taylor ditty about pina coladas, no sir-ee.  At least one insists on a grand piano—a Steinway, no less.  As Tom Lehrer said, just think of it as an 88-string guitar.

Not sure if this instrument belongs to the city, the musician who plays it, or the nearby Galleria Kaufhof.  You'll find it on Kaufingerstraße just west of the Marienplatz, wheeled out in front of delighted passers-by when rain doesn't threaten.

Many, though, simply strap their keyboards over the shoulder and give it a good squeeze.  In other words, they play the accordion.

I always believed that the definition of good taste is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn't.   When Greg forced Joan to play accordion on Mad Men, it humiliated her.

Of the many aesthetic insults from my grim Pittsburgh childhood, accordions inflicted the worst.  I dreaded early June, when my parents would pack a picnic and cart us off to the annual Polka Day  at Idlewild amusement park in the Laurel Highlands.  Loud fat drunk people dancing and singing: the only noise shrill enough to rise over the chaos was the accordion.   Mother and Dad loved Frankie Yankovic and his Polka Jets—little did they know that a few years later, distant relative Wierd Al Yankovic would mock accordion music so mercilessly that it almost diappeared from American popular culture.  Lawrence Welk, it wasn't.

My attitude to accordion began to soften in Melbourne, where a young virtuosa broke through the din of busking Garfunkels.   Every Satuday, smiling at the indifferent shoppers on Bourke Street, we would find Bernadette Conlon.   Severely visually impaired, she surpised squeezebox-bigots like me with a distinctive repertoire—the baroque.  Unchain the accordion from folk, polkas and oompah bands, and it suits serious music very well indeed.

Don't put an accordion in an orchestra—nor, god forbid, make an orchestra of them.   What do you do with the instrument?  In Munich, our street accordionists work the classical organ repertoire.    Makes sense.  It's all air through reeds, innit?

Most of our artists prefer the Hohner brand.  This Swabian firm is the world's largest manufacturer of accordions, as well as the world's largest maker of harmonicas.  One can snigger at the phrase mouth organ, but technically, it fits—like I said,wind through reeds.

The undisputed king of Munich squeezeboxers is Ivan Hajek.  He eschews the classical repertoire for his own compositions, the most energetic of which he composed as a workout accompaniment for his friend Rob Kamen, nine-time world kickboxing champion.  English speaking tourists often respond to this piece with a holy-fuck-I-didn't-know-an-accordion-could-do-that!   I have tried to listen  from beginning to end, as I pass Hajek on the street.  I can't.  About half-way through, I get so worked up that I start punching passers-by, or in a pinch, strangle their dogs. 

For my money, though, one must take care when applying the accordion to popular music styles.  Europeans have the knack for jazz accordion, and I prefer them—though I must confess that Art Van Damme sneaks into rotation on the car stereo. 

What music suits the instrument best?  Every day, many years worth of seasons are pressed out of the pianoaccordion on city streets, and it always pleases the crowd.  My personal fave is Astor Piazzolla's Libertango, another popular Munich choice.   Here, Ukrainian import Zdravko serenades the Hofgarten.  

Zdravko uses the so-called chromatic accordion, or button accordion to the likes of you and me. It strikes me that the chromatic accordion is a little more authentic for the piece.   Piazzolla himself played a bandoneon, an elaborate buttoned concertina from his native Argentina.  Most local musos make do with a piano accordion, and it's not quite the same to my ear—though Roman Setchko (often found in arcades off Theatinerstraße) makes an excellent fist of it.

If you pass any of these guys on the street, be sure to toss them a Euro or two.  Or better yet, a Ukrainian Hryvnia, since that's where many hail from.


More grand pianos on the street—but curiously, only a box for a drum kit.  The Odeonsplatz is like being at home in your parlour.


Fest Fatigue

Wies'n under construction, August 2011

This is our fifth Oktoberfest in Munich.  It's a light one.  Only two lots of visitors from abroad.  In the past, our poor spare room scarcely had time to draw breath before getting stuffed to its rafters with the next mob of thirsty AusländerMany a foreigner who lives in Munich knows the feeling.

On the other hand, 2011 has thrown up a punishing schedule of work events on the Wies'n.  It's impossible to do business in Munich without schmoozing away much of September.   Our office lies, literally, across the street from the festival grounds; both clients and colleagues from out-of-town take good advantage of this.   As it sits on my desk, my phone buzzes with faceboock check-ins over the road.  

I don't want to sound like a wet blanket, but frankly, Oktoberfest is hard work.  You need energy and stamina.  Beer provides both of these, but takes its toll on brain-cells, waistlines and the social reputation of the drinker.  

As I sit here at my desk, I can tell you that I'm well-and-truly over it.  But put a beer in my hand, and I might just find some enthusiasm.   Beer...it's magic!

The Wolf on Wheels

Our favourite dog

On Sundays, the park near our place is Hound Central.   Everyone walks his dog.  You can spot the regulars, and I think they've even worked out the whole Alpha-Dog pack hierarchy issue.

Our favourite dog doesn't play that game.  Rita introduced herself one day, when we were sitting on a park bench feeling a bit blue.  She walked up, and simply laid her head against Master Right's shin, as if she's known him forever.

Not quite sure of how she came to get around in this National Lampoon album-cover contraption.  Her owner told me a long story in German I couldn't quite follow; it seems they tried several solutions until they lit on this one.  "This dog loves life so much," said her mistress, "that we had to help her enjoy it to the full."

We haven't seen Rita around for a while.  I'm not one to get sentimental over pets, but I hope she's OK.  Anyone clocked a pooch on wheels around the Maximilliansanlagen lately?

The Opposite of Christmas

Mittenwald Nativity dramatic
Though Master Right is a one-time trainee in the Shinto novitiate and I am an avowed atheist, we spend an awful lot of time in Christian churches.  That's where the music is.  German churches support a great deal of serious music, and provide a venue for many concerts and recitals.

While listening to the music, the eye begins to wander about the room.  Especially here in Bavaria, since the buildings are rich and grand.  In the days before an average Joe could find entertainment at his fingertips, he looked to the local church as his main source of fine music, art and drama. And they laid it on thick.

The art and the drama went hand in hand.  Paintings and statuary brought bible stories (and more) to life.  Even the humble Nativity set gets the glam treatment.

Mittenwald Krippe close-up 2 
Mittenwald Krippe close-up 2
These Nativities come from churches and museums in and around Mittenwald, in Oberbayern.  All of Upper Bavaria is famous for woodwork, but a thriving violin industry in the town provides an extra dose of woodcarving skills, which enjoy a seasonal outing.

The newborn Christ gets a makeover in many of these scenes.  He often becomes a toddler, since toddlers are way cuter than those ET-like newborns.  If the Holy Infant did, indeed, emerge as shown in the nativity scene below...well, the Blessed Virgin certainly has my admiration.

Mittenwald Krippe close-up 2
Which brings me to the point of this post.  As we visted churches this Easter weekend, we encountered what can only be described as an Anti-nativity.  A life-sized scene of a most unhealthy-looking Jesus in his tomb.

Creepy Christ 1
If one spends enough years kneeling before crucifixes, one grows desensitised to the sight of murder-in-progress they depict.  Master Right, who does not have years of hanging out in Christian churches to make it seem normal, points out how grotesque it actually is.  But this creeped out both of us. 

Creepy Christ 1
Throughout my Catholic boyhood, I encountered many a cute Christ in a stylised manger.  But never a creepy Christ in a mock-tomb.  Is this simply a south German custom?  A European one?  Did any other new-world Catholics see such a thing in their churches at home?   

An Accurate Oktoberfest

It was our fourth Oktoberfest in Munich, and I have to confess that I felt a little jaded.

This year's party rocked more than ever, since the festival was celebrating its 200th birthday.  The ever-intrepid Zurika reports that the new Historisches Wies'n (Heritage Meadow) was so popular that it may be included in future years. Many seasoned Wies'ners judged Oktoberfest 2010 to be the best in living memory.

But for me, it felt a bit BTDT.   I mean, if you've seen one giant outrageous enormous flirty over-the-top binge-drinking extravaganza, you've seen them all.  Furthermore, the party takes place just across the street from my office; my colleagues and I get to see the less glamourous side.

So imagine my delight when one of our houseguests discovered a little Oktoberfest surprise, virtually on our doorstep.

On the first Sunday morning of Oktoberfest, brass bands and other folky sorts gather from all over Bavaria, and parade through the streets into the meadow where the festival is held.  This is known as the Trachten- & Schützenzug Procession, or the Costume and Riflemen's Parade. 

Lo and behold, the marshalling area lies just a couple of blocks from home, in front of the Maximilianeum. 

Now, I don't know about you, but I prefer to see a parade all scrunched up at the beginning, rather than wait for the whole lot to march by.  It was a treat.

As far as possible, authorities keep the spectacle authentic to 1810, the date when the first Oktoberfest was held.  That means all travel is by foot, or by horse.  

All those horses waiting around in one spot raises an obvious logistical problem.  Brass bands need to march very carefully.

Costume rules are strict, too—read an English translation here.  You can't just show up in rags and call yourself a camp-follower or serving wench (that's what the word sutler means in the guidelines.)  Your historical character must rank yeoman or above. Munich is so bourgeois.

If you overlook the eyeglasses, zippers, rubber-soled shoes and musical instruments labelled Yamaha, the effect can be quite convincing.

If you're thinking of visiting Munich for Oktoberfest next year, you'll find this spectacle spread out on Maximilianstraße, Widenmayerstraße and Steindorfstraße, just to the west of point A on the map.  It starts punktlich at breakfast-time on Sunday, September 18. 

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When one gets to the festival proper, the costumes stray a little from the period.  Here is a member of the band at the Weinzelt, during a ZZ Top medley.  Kinda sums it all up.