RIP RIU

I had to delete another link from my LINKS menu today. Once, years ago, it was a vestibule to half a dozen blogs of my friends and family.

Sometimes I think I might be the only Online Journal owner left in the world. Sam is probably out there somewhere.

Almost a decade ago I went to a RIU party with plans to make friends/contacts with industry peers. I walked there too fast, drank two pints of Coopers Pale and didn't talk to anyone for hours. FUCK. I've just realised this exact scenario has played out multiple times in my career(s).

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The Biergärten of Munich

The Biergärten of Munich have been a place I've dreamed of visiting since… sometime between the first Coopers Pale Ale that I sucked down between gulps of pizza and 2007. Shared tables and lots of people are horrifying concepts to me, but it seems like my love of wheat beers in litre steins outweighed that discomfort.

Beer Gardens are everywhere in Munich. I'm envious. River? Beer garden. Park? Beer garden. Historic building? Beer garden. View of a nice beer garden? Second beer garden. I allocated today for visiting as many of the great ones that I could. And the liquid flowed gratuitously all day. That is, it rained the whole time. Most of the beer gardens, sadly, were empty and looked like this:



The beer halls and restaurants attached to the gardens were still open. I was still able to drink beer by the litre and eat pretzels in some of the oldest, most esteemed halls of Bavaria. I started with a Dunkel for lunch in Hofbrauhaus. Then we went to the original Augistiner Keller for dinner (meat, cabbage) and another half-litre.

I quickly observed the customs in practice. Don't eat the pretzels in the baskets on the table, unless you want to pay for them. Radlers are half lemonade. Tip your service person, who hates you. Long-standing traditions.

Later in the evening it was still raining. We walked to the Löwenbräu brewery for my final beer of the day. I did everything right. I sat at one of the tables without a tablecloth, meaning it should be a self-service area. I paused a minute regardless, just in case I was served. So far so good. I then stood to look for the self-service area. There was a man with short, blond hair standing behind some taps and polishing glasses with a tea-towel. I approached him and tried my best to confidently pronounce, "Gibt es Selbsbedienung?"
"Sit down," he said, without really looking at me.

A thrill went through me. I'd made it to Germany.



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Andechs

Visiting beer gardens in the city was definitely high on my list when visiting Munich, but an experience like Kloster Andechs was what I was really looking forward to. We woke up Monday to blue skies, fluffy white clouds. We caught the S-Bahn out of the city to a town called Herrsching on the lake Ammersee. (Or should that just be Ammer?)

There was a river that joined the lake at Herrsching. We followed it in the opposite direction, through gorgeous Bavarian forests up into the hills. It was a four kilometre hike through the trees to the peak of one of the hills, the location of Andechs.


The Kloster is a centuries old settlement, first established over a thousand years ago and most recently converted into a monastery in 1455. Sometime shortly after the abbey was built the monks started on the piggery, the brewery and the beer garden.


It was sunny and warm on the long, wooden tables of the Andechs beer garden. I worked out self-service without any troubles. I ordered a litre of the special Dunkel, my day's pretzel, and half a Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle). All local. A sausage and fries were thrown in, all up less than 20 Euro. I was happy.


After lunch we climbed to the top of the bell tower. It was a climb not made for tall people. The extra-strength beer helped convert the risk of head-smashing and falling into a thrill. From the top of the tower were panoramic views of the green countryside.


I wanted to thank the monks for making such delicious beer. I never saw any of them. Regardless, the day was kind of spiritual.

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Salzburger

The defining memory of Salzburg for me will be the Hohensalzburg Funicular.

After three hours of walking the long way up and around Mönchsberg we came to an extremely steep path to the Festung. At the top of the path was a small sign on the centuries-old gate outlining the price of admission to the battlements.


Having come that far, handing over €20 felt like the only option. It was worth it. The inside of the Festung was maintained in the shape of a medieval city fortress. Every direction you looked had views over the city, the river and the mountains.

We spent another hour racking up steps, exploring and climbing more towers. Then we found an outdoor restaurant with a view over the Alps. Vanessa had Strudel and I drank a half litre of the local Stiegl Weißbier. Then we elected to ride the funicular down the steep slope into old town.


The funicular is a glass car on rails full of tourists that goes up and down the mountain. One ride is included in the Festung entry price. Drinking half a litre of beer before riding it down was an amazing/serendipitous piece of planning. The Salzburg Dom growing rapidly in size as you hurtle towards the picturesque city centre. It's like a Central European holiday is being pressure-hosed into your eyes.

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Urlaub

A long walk in the sun, followed by a cold beer in the shade in a Biergarten. Watching people try to use a rowboat. It's exactly how I imagined it.

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Meine Erste Friseur

The week before we left Adelaide was a little hectic as I tried to squeeze the majority of my departure planning into the Friday afternoon that we left. One thing I was supposed to do, but didn't, was have my haircut. It was already quite long and shapeless when we first arrived in Munich, and after almost two weeks of trying to deal with it I'd had enough. I already looked dweebish enough with my camera bag, cargo shorts and hoodie with rolled-up sleeves. A mess of unruly, puffy hair on top was too much. It also didn't help that all the hotels had foregone complimentary shampoo and conditioner and instead provided big dispensers of multi-purpose shampoo/conditioner/hand soap/dishwashing liquid.

The Brandenburg Gate, obscured by my excess hair.

The Brandenburg Gate, obscured by my excess hair.


I decided Hamburg was where my long hair would end. We searched a mall near our hotel for a Friseur (hairdresser) and I assessed a few from outside to determine if they were too teur (stylish) for me. I found one that seemed like a good fit, in the basement of the Europa Passage shopping centre. The price of a haircut was 22 Euro, 18 Keine Waschen. No appointment was necessary. It reminded me of the hairdressers I use in Adelaide, except instead of being staffed by Koreans with passable english it was staffed by Turks with passable German. It was going to happen.

To be safe, the first thing I asked the hairdresser when I walked in the door was, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?"
I expected they would, it seemed like they all did by that point. Millions of multi-lingual, judging Europeans everywhere we went.
To my surprise she said, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"
"Mein Deutsch ist sehr schlecht." Schlecht means bad.
"We try," she said.
"Okay."

Vanessa was amused, and took a seat to watch. I took a more active seat.

I was prepared for this. Earlier in the year, when I'd been studying my German lessons daily, I'd contemplated that a haircut might be the opportunity that arose for me to show off my Deutsch-sperechen chops, while a Barber regaled me with an oral history of his or her city, and insider tips for the best places to see and eat. That was before I'd immersed myself in the culture and realised that I couldn't really speak German.

To cut the story short, I successfully negotiated an appropriate haircut. It could have gone more fluidly. For instance, I knew what Augen were, and what a Bogen was, but I wasn't able to put it together until after the comb started lifting up my eyebrows for the razor. I used kurz (short) and dünner (thinner) well enough.

Ultimately my haircut was a success in 1) Making my hair shorter; 2) Finally putting to rest any thoughts I had about being able to speak German; and 3) keeping my streak of not paying more than $25 for a haircut alive for another ten weeks.

Hacken abgeschlossen

Hacken abgeschlossen

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Learning German - Ein Reisebericht

A year ago I decided to teach myself German. I didn't want to pay any money, so I downloaded some free apps (DuoLingo, Memrise, WordReference, Google Translate) and signed up for some free Udemy courses. I figure that those, plus my fuzzy memories of German classes from the 90's, would have me fluent in Deutsch by the time I touched down in Munich, June 2016.

Mein Name ist Bradley. Ich esse Banane mit Joghurt. Deutsch was basically English with a German accent, right?

By the time I boarded the flight I was feeling reasonably confident in my ability to read the language. All the common words were familiar to me. I grasped the grammar, genders and cases. My listening skills were okay, if it was enunciated clearly (and accompanied by English subtitles if possible).

Twenty-four hours of flying later I was in the line for customs at Flughafen München and I was ready to go. The customs officer took one look at us and said, "Hello, how are you today?"

I read some signs, collected our luggage and we boarded a train to the city. All the announcements were made in English first, then German. The anticipation was building. We dragged our suitcases up Dachauer Straße to the hotel lobby and I made eye-contact with the receptionist. It was going to happen.

My brain froze. I stared at her for about five seconds and mumbled, "Speak English?"
(Surprise. She did, fluently).

Oh well, blame that one on the jetlag and anxiety. At least I couldn't go much worse than that. We spent the evening walking the streets of Munich. I managed to order a currywurst and, later, an ice-cream in German. There was also some pointing involved. It was a moderate success. Back in the hotel I turned on the German news and it rushed over me like a river. They never spoke that fast in DuoLingo.

The longer I stayed in Germany the worse I got. When locals spoke, the time it took my brain to deconstruct the sentence into words for recognising was too slow for a conversation to flow. My mumbled, uncertain speaking was too fragmented to follow. Sometimes the person I spoke to would smile and encourage me along, a form of patronisation that helped little with my confidence.

By the end of the fortnight I had to admit I couldn't speak German. I could babble a couple of words, but I could interpret almost nothing of what came back to me. That was the worst part, the small sense of satisfaction when asking a question using the right words, followed by dismay when the response came so fast and gapless that I could understand none of it (although sometimes a minute later it would make sense). I really learnt to empathise with toddlers. This must be how they feel when they are spoken to. I also found myself easily grumpy.

What this experience has taught me is the importance of listening and conversation skills. It's all good to change your Facebook language to German and listen to Neue Deutsche Härte Metal with a lyrics sheet, but if you truly want to speak another language you have to actually speak it. Out loud. To other people. And that was my principle failing. Because I don't usually try to have conversations with service industry people in English. I don't actually like talking to people. I hate small talk. Which, in hindsight, makes me confused about why I learnt so many German words in the first place. Oh well. Wir können immer über das Wetter reden.

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