More on Bavaria...

With the morning sun, I set off to explore Munich downtown. By this time, I had a fair idea of the S-bahn and Subway train services. The day pass took me to “Sendlinger Tor” on the train going to Feld-moching from Messestadt-Ost. “Sendlinger Tor” is an important station that takes you to the heart of the downtown while coming from “Am Moosfeld”. All the shops on either side of the road were closed on Sunday. These are certain areas where I thought Germany is probably closer to India than US. Especially like Keralalites, Germans preferred to stay at home even if that means loss of decent number of customers. Something else that might irritate you would be the people who keeps staring at you for no real reason. This was never the case in US but much like that in India. I could immediately place German culture somewhere in middle between that of US and India.

Munich city was beautiful. Especially the way buildings were painted. They retained the elegance of the past still with a modern outlook. Mostly, the buildings were painted in mild colors like ivory or bright white with ebony black linings. These monuments showcase the architectural skills and craftsmanship of Germans.

Unlike Americans, Germans do not use powerful air-conditioning, thanks to the decent year-round weather. To survive the winter snow, the buildings had protective double-walls with vacuum in between. Also, most of the rooms had heating systems. There were no sky-scrappers in the city; to uphold the dignity of the Central Church, The building rules of the city banned by law of construction that exceeds the height of the church.

The roads in the city and suburbs seemed to be quite narrow. With the excellent public transportation system, number of private vehicles remained substantially low. Of the available private vehicles, BMW, and Audi seemed to have the major share with Volkswagon, Renault and Mercedes brands not way behind. Many of the cars had manual gear system like in India (unlike in US, where more than 95% have automatic transmission). Contrary to the domination of Honda or Toyota across the world, Japanese cars had a very low profile in the region. Whereas I could hardly see any of the City, Civic or Corolla or even Accord or Lexus for that matter, I noticed a better presence of Suzuki with the Swift, Baleno and even WagonR parked on the streets. The traffic flowed very smoothly. Parking was mostly tricky; at certain places, vehicles were parked with front wheels well over the curb. The lanes and even whole of the road width in California would roughly be more than double of what you could find in Germany.

The city seemed to embrace art and music with a lot of passion. There were at least Twenty-Four different museums in the city with most of them showcasing the paintings or sculptures by various artists. Theatrical performance like Opera and live music bands were integral part of the city life. The Bavarian food is something that you will pay special attention to. The servings had a lot of quantity that would easily overwhelm any one from the sub-continent. Much of the main course would be dominated by red meat with most of the restaurants serving at least one variety of chicken, Turkey or Fish.

Fashion was another thing that Bavarians followed quite close to the heart, probably with the influence from their historically-hostile neighbor, the French. Across the city, number of designer wear outlets clearly dominated the show. At the same time, the degree of greenery in Munich could easily compete with any other city in the world. Bavaria would remain in my memory for a lot more years to come!
Posted by Picasa

Extermination Through Work!

Second weekend of my stay in Germany came with a pleasant surprise. It was a long weekend on account of Pentecost (believed to be the 50th day after Easter). Bobby called me up inviting me to Frankfurt. At the same time, I got a mail from Rick by surprise. Rick was coming driving down from Zurich to Dresden. Since Munich was on the way, he was quite happy to come down and meet me. He was driving on the Autobahn, the only free way probably in the world with no blanket speed limit. You could drive as fast as you can with certain exceptions of patches with Speed Limit.

Rick ringed the door bell exactly at 10:00PM on Friday night when I had almost slipped to slumber. He seemed to be a happy and excited and looked smart and lively. After his stint in India and after spending couple of months in Dresden, he was finally being employed at a decent company in Zurich. We went down to the Hotel Restaurant and talked a lot over dinner. At 11:45 PM, we were the only two in the restaurant and had to leave, since we already overstayed for 45 minutes beyond the closure hours.

We continued the talk about Bavarian food, Zurich’s cross-cultural society, Rick’s feelings about his stay in India, Austrian Tourism and Alps, SimManager and MSC, Rick’s new job, Turks in Frankfurt and many more things. It was about 2:30 AM and was time for Rick to start driving again back to Dresden. We said “Tchuz” and hoped to meet again sometime somewhere in this small planet. Rick restarted his rental car and GPS and set off to Dresden.

Got up quite late at around 9:30AM on Saturday and had to quickly sort out my plans for the day. Frankfurt did not seem to be an option any longer. By the time I reached the breakfast floor at the Hotel, it was closed. The lady at the reception said they close by 10. I took a day pass for the train and have her mark the Concentration Camp Memorial Site station. The station was outside the MVV inner ring and I had to take an extra ticket. At Hauptbahnolf (Central Station), while waiting for the second train, I called up Bobby and informed him of the change of plans.

At around 12:30, train reached Dachau station. I had a very bad feeling for the place I was about to go. This was not a place to just enjoy with fun and laughter. It is memorial that reminds humanity of the brutal cruelty by a section of the society on free and educated humankind. From Dachau, for the first time in Munich I got a chance to ride a public transport bus to reach the Memorial site.

Dachau memorial site gripped a sorrowful silence. People were just moving round without much chatter. Memorial site offer two types of tours to the visitors. One is a guided tour by a voluntary organization and the other an audio-guided tour. To learn about the history in a little detail, I opted for the guided tour. Three words welcome you at the entrance or the gate of the Dachau Concentration camp; it reads “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” which translates to “Freedom through Work”.

Dachau was the first concentration camp set up by SS army of Hitler and the only one that was left without any damage after the liberation day in 1945 when Hitler and SS Army was defeated by US and its allies. Other than concentration camps, SS Army formed “extermination camp” located mainly in Poland due to its geographical position at the middle of Europe. Extermination camps, as the name reveals massacred thousands or millions for various reasons known only to SS Army.

Concentraion camps were a result of the extreme patriotism promoted by a group of cruel individuals. They believed that the only way to salvage pride for Germany is by promoting a strong sense of national pride and brutally suppressing even the slightest of opposition. There was no longer freedom of the press; the fundamental human rights were denied for the common man; SS army was quite successful in its initial forming days to spread the terror across breadth and width of the country.

10 years before the SS army was formed, through his book “Mein Kamph”, Hitler openly declared his hostility towards Jews. To Hitler and SS army, anyone who can not work to build arms and ammunitions or who can not be part of the army and fight, were just burden to the nation. Through various “extermination camps” and concentration camps, SS army successfully carried out their mission of mass murder of women, children and weak or sicker population of the society.

Dachau is a reminder to humanity of the state of things that can happen to the world with even a minor section of the society adapting to an extreme and hostile attitude towards the rest of the world. In the modern days, SS army can manifest itself in the form of Al Queda or Bush Administration or Saddam’s regime or LTTE or Parvez Musharaf. It is the need of the hour to identify these uprisings and combat them in a timely fashion. (To be continued...)

Posted by Picasa

Munchen Adventure!

My travel to Munich was eventful. With a life-changing moment in week 1 and a life risking event in week 2, I woke up to the rays of this fresh and cool morning sun of Austrian capital city Vienna. The Austrian airliner from Vienna to Munich took less than an hour flying over the lush green European countryside. Munich airport sounded almost deserted on an early Saturday morning. I landed with lot of suspicion in mind; first of course was the immigration formalities. The lady at the information desk told me that it was already over at the Vienna International Airport (no wonder why that old lady at Vienna Airport stared at me for sometime before giving me the passport back..she should have told me it was the European immigration counter and I would have given her some more respect I guess)

The problems were not over yet; I was not quite sure about my hotel reservation at Munich. First thing; call up the destined hotel to find out if I have a reservation for me. Oh, but how do I make the call without any Euro coins. Yet another information desk came to the rescue. This gentleman was kind enough to give me the subway map of Munich. The lady at the Hotel, Verena talked good English and confirmed that I indeed have a confirmed reservation. Thanks to Horst and Munich MSC Reception.

She asked me to take a train from Munich Airport to Englschalking station and from there; someone will pick me up. Buying a ticket was easier. Only thing you need to do is to stamp the ticket at the subway entrance and the ticket becomes valid for whatever duration you have purchased it.

Station names first appeared to be confusing. To make things worse, there are two directions to which the trains were departing. Without thinking much, I got into the first train that came by. Once the train started moving, my mind started to work better. There was an announcement in German and I soon realized that they were announcing the name of the next stop (btw, “Halt” in German means “Stop”). Now I re-opened my Map and found that I was in trouble. In fact, I was traveling on a totally wrong direction. Not much time to rethink; immediately, got down at the next station.

This incident gave me much more insight about German Subway system. They have the destination station tag in front of each train. And, the map is color coded for easier understanding of each type of trains. Before long, the next train came in and I got in. This time, it took me safely to a country-side railway station. The trouble was not over yet.

I got down and started searching for a public telephone to call up the Hotel folks to come pick me up. And the fortune sometimes does not favor a traveler; a young guy told me there was a street where I might find one public phone. I dragged my 20Kg bag and yet another 10kg laptop (Gosh! they should rename Dell Precision series a Desktop rather. It really is heavy!). Finally, after 20 minutes of dragging the luggage on a German village, I found a T-mobile public Telephone booth. The lady at the Hotel said she will come by in 5 minutes and to watch for a white colored car that has Am Moosfeld written on it. I waited and waited, minutes changed to hours and still there was no sign of Mooseld!

I called up the Hotel again. The lady said, she sent someone who came by to the station, found nobody and returned back. I was stunned. “I asked you to come to the Post office and not at the station, right??”. Then she was like, “but there is no Post Office in Englschalking. For God sake lady, I was standing right in front of this post office. So, I started to spell the name of the street which of course was in German. I could hear the lady laugh at the other end hearing how I was struggling to spell out and pronounce the name of this stupid street. Okay, enough is enough, I asked the lady to sent someone again to the back to the station. I had yet another long walk left back to the station.

Here I was, walking back or rather dragging back the 30+Kg luggage to this little known Englschalking station. Adventure got over finally; as a messenger of God, appeared the white SUV with Hotel Am Moosfeld written all over it.

Verena apologized for all the fault; but, I knew it was not quite my day. She had arranged a nice little room for me with a kitchen and a mini-bar. There were so many varieties of alcohols n bottles of different sizes. I took a shower and decided to head for lunch. The incidents in the morning had made me physically tired. Also, I was very sleepy with the late night flight taking away much of my sleep.

The fun continued; the Hotel restaurant was closed by the time I reached there. Verena was no longer at work, the new fat lady told me to take a 15 minutes walk to the other direction so that I can find a Bavarian restaurant. Somehow, I managed to drag my tired legs to further four-five blocks more. I headed to the first restaurant which was a mom-and-pop shop. They were done with the day’s work and cleaning up when I rushed in. So, they told me something in German which I think meant there is no lunch for you today. I went over to the next nice looking pizza restaurant. I was in double mind to enter into yet another Pizza adventure with what happened a week back clearly in memory. The well dressed gentleman ended my confusion telling me that they were closed for the day already.

Those were the only other restaurants in the nearby area. I remembered my Navodaya days for a moment. The days when I had to skip my breakfast when they serve Kanzhi (which is made by adding water to last night’s leftover rice) and there was nothing else around to eat. The countries change, your profile changes but a human can be rendered helpless regardless.

Across the street, there was a chain food store called “Plus”. I desperately went inside and found they had at least some fruits that I can buy. I took some bananas, grapes, a big bottle of sprite, a can of milk, half-dozen eggs which looked brown in shell color (these were the only things I could figure out buy its appearance and what was written on the envelope; everything else was in German).

Back home, ate whatever I could and slept for a long time. Evening, got up little energized and went for a stroll again, this time around the MSC Office direction. Took some pictures of MSC office and got back to the Hotel Restaurant early not to miss the dinner timings.

Oh, I liked the vegetable soup they served. But the main course Turkey in some stupid sauce was disgusting. Anyway, I called it a day with the FA cup highlights of Chelsea winning over ManU, of course with German commentary!!!
Posted by Picasa