|Garching Bei Munchen|
Spring arrived about a week ago – and if you want to argue dates and semantics, take it up with the pigeon who coocoocoos outside my bedroom window at 6:00 every morning. (If you're reading this little white bird, you've got a death wish, you're lucky you have wings.) To me, spring is heralded first by the weather, which you always notice, because it comes underlined by your neighbors – the nails and blackboard shriek of a reciprocating saw screaming next to 400,000 uncut boards, the hedge clippers attacking 42 x 1023 square feet of shrubbery surface area, or the two stroke scooters wound up like kids on Monster (energy drink.) It's impossible to miss spring when the neighborhood fills with that two-stroke buzz like a loose license plate, or a flying broom powered by a strangled hair dryer.
I could wax on poetically (or try, given my skill level) about my elation at the coming of the riding season and the watching of motorbikes cruising up and down Freisinger Landstrasse... all those Beemers and Hondas and Guzzis (oh my!) gearing up to meander through the German countryside, ready to scream down the autobahn. I swoon and fade and fawn over each machine I see, but everyone knows and understands that. Many of you are likely in the same boat as myself. (Where we sit on deck with out jaws dropped, mouth gathering flies, and drift to watch the scenery like pretty girls water skiing.)
The weather and the sun revitalize, and yesterday, I went out and meandered thought about the city. Sure, I watched the bikes, but I also realized that I've shared precious little details about German life on Behind Bars since our arrival. It hasn't felt appropriate, and honestly there has been little to share. I've spent the last three months buried in sweatshirts and swapping my slippers every half hour for the other pair – the ones on the radiator.
|One of mom's favorites|
So, what's it like here? A hell of a lot better in the spring. Winter here, like most places, looks like the Bare Trees album cover – nice at a glance, but not as a destination. Spring, though, is verdant. Perhaps it's my years in Minnesota, but spring is my favorite. It's all that renewal and rebirth. The verdant landscape, melting ice (and fewer layers of clothing.) It's like that here. The birds are back – and (even with the pigeon,) they make a better soundtrack than the cold whistle of winter wind. Green has return to the fields (though I don't know what the plant is, some kind of grass.) Also, the ice has melted off of the Garching See, leaving the ducks and geese to swim and fly and shit in comfort.
Technically speaking, Garching is a suburb of Munich, rural-ish. And just a bit heavier than my home town (in Minnesota) at 15,000 and both are fenced by highways and fields, but otherwise the differences are striking. Decentralized might be the best adjective – though that's a slippery description because the center of the city is, well, quite centralized, well-organized. It's a quaint collection of shops and restaurants built for pedestrians and paved in red brick. It bustles almost every day. It's the kind of place that invites you to buy something baked and sit on a bench with a coffee, or pick a table and drink beer in the warmth of the sun (which, I feel required to iterate, does not often make appearances in the winter, if you want to visit Bavaria, and I do recommend it, avoid the winter.)
Mostly, the city is tight, packed together, forced into the same area – condensed by US standards, and extremely condensed by Midwest standards. In spite of that, life is decentralized, it's the lack of drive-thrus, big cars, easy parking and one-stop shopping megacenters. It thrives I guess – this mix of small stores and restaurants because unlike my hometown there is no Target. No K-mart. No Wal*Mart – and that's what I mean when I say decentralized. In The States when I want socks (which I currently need, badly) I drive to Target, because even in that “small” town, it's a hell of a jaunt – then I buy three dozen pairs of white, Hanes ankle highs, grab a blue Icee and plastic tray of nachos for the drive home, where I can watch TV with the freedom that can only be found in the knowledge that for the next month, every day, I will wear brand new socks. (And likewise not need to do.)
But that's just not the way it works here. You don't chug over to Wal*Mart or a SuperTarget in your SUV. More likely (like my landlord) you roll to the store in your German car (in this case a Merc) which is of course a small hatchback, maybe a wagon, and quite possibly diesel. (I'm still talking about my landlord.) Or, (and there is a pretty good chance of this) you bicycle, that's right, with your legs. Then, you buy enough for a day or two, pop it into your saddlebags, and wheel on home. It's not very far – because the grocery store scene is also quite decentralized here. Even the biggest grocery store in town is shamed by the super-ultra-mega complexes of my home town (except for the beer selection, of course.) But the others are small, some no bigger than my parent's living room and scattered through town.
Wherever you are, packed into a grocery store or sharing a bench, there is a real sense that you're sharing your town – your world, with the people around you. This has been one of the biggest differences. I suppose in New York or Los Angeles and the like, you become accustomed to the idea that you may never own a home, that you share a wall (or many) with your neighbors, and that you may rent for your whole life. Germany was not built on large tracts of impossibly cheap (if not free) land, and as a result my landlord (a successful man, remember, he drives a Merc) rents out his upstairs house/apartment. I think of my parents renting out even part of their basement and it puts a dull throb right between my eyes. It would never happen. I mean, it could if they were both lobotomized, but otherwise... no. Strange, since their house is the size of 15 grocery stores.
Decentralized, shared, and... ignored – these words work and they don't. Recreation space is wedged in wherever there is a spot of free grass, it's not one central park, though they sometimes are separated (intelligently) into zones for dogs and not for dogs, because while many Germans can't be bothered to clean up dog sausages (it'll rain sometime, right?) they sure as hell don't want their kids tromping in it, and whether it's downtown or over at the See you understand that the park, like many other things, are there to be shared, and while it's (apparently) tolerated to leave Jagermeister bottles strewn about (I shit you not, as cliched as it is, they show up everywhere,) it's tolerated as a part of life that you share your bench or share the waterfront, even with a pack of beer drinking 17-year-olds who (oddly as hell) enjoy singing Spice Girl songs. I mean, no big deal, because whether they are or not, everyone sees them as harmless, just kids out having fun, enjoying the spring weather.
So, I'll try to report a bit more for you as I see it. It's been fun, an interesting mix of urban and rural. That feel of closeness, that you can ignore your neighbors and get lost in the crowd – like any big city, but that they're also (relatively) small town, regular folk, who will smile and help when approached with a question.