The story of our move from Spain in August 2001
could take up a page of its own as it involved two round trips
from our home in Vitoria, Spain to Munich, Germany. Suffice it to
say that we got to know the route real well as we trundled all
our worldly possessions across most of western Europe. Europeans
are not the frequent movers that Americans have become, and
facilities such as one-way moving trucks and mini storage units
are nearly non-existent. The first journey took us from Spain
through France and to Brussels where Greg was interviewing for a
job that had been offered while we were on our way to another job
in Munich. It turned out that the job in Munich was better so we
just kept heading in that direction. You could say that we were
really gypsies in that we had no residence, no job, and almost no
money after being unemployed for two months.
On arriving in Munich the situation began improving although there was to be one last hurdle before Greg got back to work. The British contract company which had located the opening at Fairchild - Dornier wasn't able to obtain the needed German work permit as they had no German subsidiary. Being a non-German company they didn't qualify as an employer so... It was necessary to switch to another contract firm who could get the necessary permit. Meanwhile the days were passing and the bank account was sinking. Greg finally was able to begin work the last week in August 2001. Greg's work involves structural analysis of aircraft, and Fairchild - Dornier was building a new generation regional size airplane. These planes are larger than the small planes that fly commuters into small city airports but smaller than the full size planes that one associates with international and transcontinental trips.
Finding a place to live in Munich was the next challenge. The notoriously tight rental market is due mainly to the steady growth in the area coupled with the conservative development programs administered by the local governments. It is well known that Munich has the highest cost of living of any city in Germany. We struggled at first with lists of apartments and houses which were either out of date or provided by the local real estate folks who ask two to three months rent if you use their service. In most places in the US the landlord pays but not here. After a couple weeks of chasing shadows, Lana had the brilliant idea to put an ad in one of the local papers. It worked so well that even after we had found a perfect furnished apartment conveniently located to work we continued to get phone calls from landlords asking if we really were happy with our new place and wouldn't we like to have a look at their offer. So we concluded that at least part of the shortage in real estate is a story supported by the real estate folks which doesn't surprise anyone, does it?
With the tough job of moving done we began to explore the area. Munich is the capital of the southern German state of Bavaria. Founded in 1158 Munich was originally called the "Place of Monks". The most prominent of all Bavarian families, the Whittlebachs, conquered the town in 1240 and are still around as well as many of the buildings, statues and fountains which they commissioned. Like most medieval towns it was enclosed by a protective wall with several portals or gates. Three of these gates are still in existence having been restored over the years as mementos of earlier times. The old inner city, the "Alt Stadt", is still the vital center of town where people meet, shop and enjoy the ambience of the cafes, restaurants and beer halls. You can enjoy all the famous brands of Bavarian beer without walking more than a couple blocks as the breweries all have their own "brau hauses" situated around the Marien Platz which is the center of the Alt Stadt. Names like Loewenbrau, Hofbrau, and Augustinerbrau to mention only a few are here. If hunger strikes there are numerous locations where one can find both traditional German and international selections. If there is one combination for which the Germans are well known it is sausage (wurst) and sauerkraut (kraut). Each city seems to have its own specialty and in Munich weiss wurst is the local sausage delicacy. Made primarily from veal it is nearly white in color and quite tender compared to other sausages. It must be eaten fresh within a day of being made and is usually served with weiss bier (hefe-weissen) which is made from wheat as opposed to barley malt. The kraut (rot kohl) may be the usual kind made from green cabbage or you can enjoy the sweet red type made from red cabbage sometimes mixed with bits of apple. Most restaurants provide an extensive menu including the usual Bavarian dishes (lots of variations on pork, veal and a surprising number of local fish choices) combined with the various types of bread or wheat dumpling (knoedel) covered with a light gravy. Cooked vegetables accompany most full meal plates. The soup of choice could be a hearty Hungarian goulash or a lighter leberknoedel (liver dumpling). Deserts if you have room are usually some form of an attractive tort or if you prefer, an impressive mixed ice cream sundae served in a tall glass flute. Coffee is usually strong compared to US style although not unlike what you might find at Starbucks and of course there is usually a wide selection of teas. You will not go hungry here, in fact most visitors remark that they gain a few pounds after a visit. Outside of the Alt Stadt Munich expands in all directions and there are numerous attractions. Rather than list them here we suggest that you visit the following link: http://www.lodging-germany.com/info/Munich/munich-2history.htm
Our home is located in Poecking near the city of Starnberg which is south and west of Munich. We found a lovely 2nd story apartment above a private residence fully decorated and furnished with a roof terrace and a view of the lake. Poecking is a typical little suburb reflecting both the old farm heritage, surrounded half by fields and pastures and half by the homes of upper middle class Bavarians enjoying the ambience of the town and country lifestyle. Like most Bavarian villages Poecking has a bakery, butcher shop, food market, beauty parlor, Catholic church, and of course a couple gasthauses (small hotel with bar and beer garden). Unlike the US where most farmers live out of town, the Bavarian farmers have homes, barns and other farm facilities in the middle of the business district just where they have been for many hundreds of years. It is not uncommon to come upon a herd of cows being led down the main street by a farmer on a bicycle dressed in the traditional knee length leather trousers (lederhosen) wearing a Bavarian felt hat with a feather or some other adornment looking the same as his father, grandfather, and as far back as you care to go. Behind the herd will be a line of late model, high tech German autos full of well dressed business folks waiting for the road to clear so they can get to work in their state-of-the-art offices in the city. It is to the credit and foresight of the Bavarians that they have managed to blend the new with the old without destroying the heritage and character of their lifestyle while enjoying the advantages of modern technology.
Once established we were able to get down to the serious business of touring. Linderhof palace located about an hour south was the first place we visited. It was the summer home of Ludwig II, the last Bavarian king, who drowned June 13, 1886 along with his personal doctor under mysterious circumstances after being declared insane and ousted from power. At the time he had indebted the Bavarian government 90 million marks with his ambitious palace building programs. Next we visited Neuschwanstein, the so-called fairy tale castle located a little further south and west near the town of Fuessen. Wherever German travel posters are displayed, this castle usually appears. As a castle it was never intended nor used for war rather Ludwig expressed his love of the romantic way of life by constructing this rather modern version of Camelot. The interior was never fully completed yet there is a good two hours worth of richly decorated rooms reminiscent of the finest palaces built by European nobility full of romantic paintings, statues and tapestries. Back in town, we visited the Whittelsbach family city residence, Nymphenberg, now a museum surrounded by Versailles like grounds. In the Summer, Nymphenberg makes a great Sunday afternoon garden stroll complete with statues of classical figures and ponds full of swans and koi. As if this place wasn't enough the Whittelsbach also had a downtown location known as the Residenz. It was severely damaged during WWII but has now been fully restored. It is full of grand portraits of long dead aristocrats, beautiful and immensely expensive porcelain art, furniture, tapestries, and huge elegant halls with massive crystal chandeliers. Nowadays taxpayers would hardly stand for a government which spent money like the Whittelsbachs for their own grandiose lifestyle, but in a 100 years will anyone want to take a tour of the Pentagon or the private homes of the Bushes or Clintons? Check out the previously provided link on Munich for more information. If mad Ludwig is of interest try this link: http://www.germanworld.com/ludw.htm
Near the southeastern corner of Germany lies Bertchesgaden, not far from Salzburg, Austria, which is on the way to Hitler's mountain retreat called the "Eagles Nest" by the allies, but officially known as the Kehlsteinhaus by the Germans. Built by the Nazi party for Hitler's 50th birthday it sits atop a rocky ridge among surrounding rugged peaks. It is accessed by a specially built mountain road which winds along the side of a shear drop, through several tunnels and ends at the base of an elevator shaft buried inside the rock under the "Nest". A 100 meter tunnel provides access to the elevator from the parking lot below Hitler's former villa. Although all obvious items of the Nazis have been eradicated, it is not difficult to see that the facade over the tunnel entrance has been modified to remove what was probably a large swastika emblem. Like the 3rd Reich which was supposed to last a 1000 years, the elevator itself built in the 1930's is still in excellent condition. The black, rotary dial telephone in the elevator could be a prop in a WWII spy movie. The former villa is now a seasonal restaurant with sensational views of the surrounding alpine vista; however, the thought of chowing down in Hitler's living room kind of discouraged our appetite. Even after all these years the place has a creepy feel, like some presence of the former owner still remains. Check out this link for more details on the "Eagles Nest": http://www.eagles-nest.de/seite/geschichte_e.htm
The northern region of Bavaria includes a region called Franconia. We visited a couple towns there, Nuremberg and Rothenberg. Both have walls around the old medieval district although Nuremberg has expanded such that most of the city lies outside the wall. It is best known as the place where Hitler delivered his passionate speeches to the assembled masses of the Nazi party in an outdoor stadium. Most of us have seen the WWII news film footage of these speeches in documentaries. Now the city is best known for its particularly tasty Nuremberger wurstl which is not unlike excellent quality American breakfast links although the Germans would probably not like to hear that comparison made. Rothenberg is much smaller and sits atop a steep hill overlooking a river on one side. Most of the town is still inside the wall which has been well maintained. Even the drawbridge looks like it could still be raised if necessary although the moat now contains a children's playground. The town is completely medieval in appearance with cobble streets and gargoyles hanging off many buildings although there are no open sewers or ragged beggars hanging about. We had lunch in one of the many cozy restaurants and watched several groups of Asian tourists wandering the streets outside. The drink of choice in this part of Germany is wine, white wine to be more specific. We asked our waiter to bring us something he would like and it turned out to be quite enjoyable and not expensive.
So far we have really enjoyed our time in Bavaria and hope to stay long enough to really explore many more interesting places in this most pleasant part of Germany. The length of this contract will probably decide when we will finally leave, but as we have put the Munich area on our list of possible retirement locations, who really knows? Auf Wedersehen.
After a long break it's now time to continue our Germany story. This time we visited Berlin and Dresden both formerly located in the so-called German Democratic Republic (GDR). With the fall of the wall these cities became a lot easier to visit.
Berlin as everyone knows was nearly completely destroyed during the last days of WWII. For that reason, it has a significantly different look and feel than most of Germany's other cities. Berliner's have developed a kind of New York City attitude towards their town, a kind of Big Apple flippancy that seems out of sorts with most of the rest of German culture. They are survivors of not only the war but also the fifty-one year Allied occupation that separated the city into two distinct halves that were in effect the haves and have-nots. The eastern side still reflects the drab, dreary architecture of the soviet era whereas the western side looks more like modern western cities anywhere in Europe. We stayed in one of the newer hotels located on Alexander square in the former eastern district not far from Check Point Charlie, that well known portal of access between east and west.
Our tour last only a couple days, but we managed to see most of the historically significant locations both in the city and nearby Potsdam where the Prussian Kaisers built their palaces and the Allies met after the war to decide the fate of the Germans. In general our photos start with the most famous locations in Berlin such as the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and Check Point Charlie then work outwards to the Kaiser's palace at Potsdam. Summing it up I would say that Berlin still seems a city of power and grandeur such as one finds in any major capital, but with something else, a kind of undercurrent of restlessness that is atypical of most other western capitals. The city is still a work in progress both materially as well as spiritually. More than anyplace else we have visited in Germany it reflects both the hopes and fears of the country's future.
Located in the state of Saxony, Dresden is quite a contrast to Berlin.
You might call it the Baroque/Rocco center of the universe. The Alt Stadt
(old city) was heavily bombed during the final days of WWII by the Brits as a
payback for what the Germans did to some of the English cities. Even with
the destruction of those raids, enough of the old city remained to begin the
re-building process that goes on even today. A walk along the Elbe
riverfront bring a feeling of awe and history as one views the truly magnificent
structures reminiscent of the days when kings and princes decided how to
decorate a city. Next to Prague, we feel that Dresden speaks most clearly
to the romantic past that we can only imagine when looking at these relics of
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