Friday, March 16, 2012

Life in Garching bei Munchen, Germany



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.   

18 comments:

  1. Brady:

    don't bother to buy socks now, Summer's just around the corner, and you're heading back to Wal*Mart country. You do know that under those tatered socks are the best shoes made.

    We don't really have many big box stores in the centre of the city and we don't like to buy in those larger quantities anyway. We prefer to buy one day at a time like where you currently are.

    we have the highest real estate prices in North America and you may be an eternal renter here too

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

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    1. Dear Bob,

      I wear socks all summer, I also wear shoes - even when I'm riding. I still think you're particularly crazy for your foot habits, but hell, they work for you. And there is no way I'm going to buy the socks available around here. No way.

      I like the one day at a time thing, it works well, meal planning is better, so is the amount of food that we use/waste. It works out. Of course, we have to walk all our recycling down the block and take the deposit bottles back to the store, which is a huge pain... but what are you going to do, you can win it all.

      Brady
      Behind Bars

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  2. Sounds nice. No huge mega-box stores. Purchasing just what you need for the day. What a concept...

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    1. Richard,

      Part of me really loves it, then there are the days when I know exactly what I want and can't find it. (German amazon is pretty good, though, that gets you through.)

      Brady
      Behind Bars

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  3. The concept of being a life-long tennant, and shopping only for the needs of the day sounds very much like ordinary life in Vancouver, too.

    I like to shop in small mom and pop grocery stores, and buy local produce from farmers markets as much as I loathe Walmark and the sorts.

    And why shouldn't it be normal for kids to have a dring and hang out in the park? That's what they do (been there done that when I was that age... long time ago...)

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    1. SonjaM,

      Don't I know it, as a former teacher of the little tykes, I loved giving them freedom. They did so much better than American parents would often believe.

      The mom and pop stores are great, it's too bad they've all but been destroyed, even in my home town, which was, at one point, rather quaint itself. Now it feels as if decay has a hold on it.

      Brady
      Behind Bars

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  4. I am glad you are finally seeing signs of Spring and are starting to thaw out.

    Are you and the misses counting the days until you fly home?

    I grew up in a town that only had 3,000 people and small town living was good back in the 80's. It was a slower pace. We had a $0.05 to $1 store, a drug store and a small grocery store. That is all unless we drove 30 miles away.

    I much prefer small stores to big box stores but unfortunately they small stores don't always carry what you want. Sigh.

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    1. Trob,


      That's the thing, isn't it? I know what I want most of the time before I even go out... it's finding it that gets to be the problem.

      Brady
      Behind Bars

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  5. Good description of living in a small German town....do they still come out in the neighborhoods on Saturday mornings to sweep down the sidewalks in front of their houses?

    It always struck me as very "in ordnung" how their forstmeisters would keep their forests trim and neat....heck, the border treelines would match the outlines depicted on our military maps most times!

    dom

    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

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  6. Dom,

    My father in law made mention of one time he drove past the black forest, which is, of course, officially old as hell. He noticed from a specific angle that the trees were planted in rows. In ordnung indeed.

    Yeah, they still trim and sweep. It's all very 'on the level' out here - except for the stray Jag bottles. I swear, there were 30-40 in the ditch next to a field just a bit a way from... maybe over the course of a mile. Jag. Be more cliche.

    Brady
    Behind Bars

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  7. Garching is very close to Freising, home of the oldest brewery in the world! Just sayin... ;)

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  8. Jim,

    We actually went there for Christmas! (Drinks on the party tab - wife's employer) it was great fun - gift exchange and everything. I got a lamp, though since I have to leave it in Germany when we move, maybe I should have taken the East German ice breaker/bottle opener. Well, what can you do.

    Good beer, good food, good service, we enjoyed it!

    Brady
    Behind Bars

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  9. Dear Brady:

    The German/European way of life seems somewhat quaint and less cluttered on the surface, but some aspects of Teutonic living cannot be improved. Get somebody to lend you a BMW K1300, and go find the Autobahn. Get into one of the wide open stretches, put on the left turn signal, and nail the throttle down. I did this with a Mercedes 500 SEC about 25 years ago, and still wake up with sweaty palms.

    Also, let me know how you liked really fresh rye bread, spread with schmaltz.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack/reep
    Twisted Roads

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  10. I would love the opportunity to be able to bicycle or walk for groceries. Being able to shop for a day or two. Only lived in a place like once...for 2 months.

    I get frustrated with our society that has allowed that expansion to happen.

    Hope you are able to enjoy thnext couple months!

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  11. Jack

    It's no autobahn, but SD roads run straight, at least. I hit uh, a 'reasonable 75' out there this summer. The German roads would permit more, but I've got enough nightmare fodder to keep me awake for the next 16 years.

    Brady
    Behind Bars

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  12. Lori,

    I like the walk most days, it really depends, there is a certain tedium to it, like anything. Back in Charlottesville one of my favorite places to stop was a small store on between work and the car, small, quaint, you get the idea. Not cheap. Too bad, had to drive across town in the states or I could have spent another 25-50% on groceries, easy. Of course, in the states I have a car, which made the whole process a hell of a lot easier. You give up on grocery shopping as amusing when you have to carry anything you want to drink - beer and wine, sure, but soda water, water, or any of the billion juices. That stuff is heavy, eesh.

    Brady
    Behind Bars

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  13. As I ride through St. Louis I see the signs of the life you describe. There are the remains of the old markets, now boarded up with only parts of the signage remaining. There are churches with no parking. There are few gas stations. Still there are neighborhoods. We live in one where we can walk to Target and to one of those mega-grocery stores you mention. And, we do walk, but as you mentioned it is so easy to do the car thing. And, the City and it's surrounding area is now, for better and worse, totally setup for the car.

    This was a very nice post and I look forward to reading more about Brady in Germany. Thanks for the share.
    ~k

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  14. Thanks for that slice of alternate reality Brady. I love to visit Europe, but I think living there would drive me nuts pretty quickly. For one thing, the appliances are too freaking small.

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