To move to Munich, I had to travel almost 7,000 km. Upon arrival, I was immediately confronted with learning a new language and navigating a strange land. But moving just 10 kilometers out of the city triggered culture shock in my husband. Why?
The tightening grip of the Omicron variant has inspired me to make a radical move. Now that this virus has been roller-coastering through our lives for a good two years, it’s time to get off. I vote we sleep through 2022.
For the second time, the Oktoberfest has been canceled due to corona. But Munich refuses to skip the occasion and is celebrating in restaurants anyway. And Berlin, which knows no greater joy than poking fun at Bavaria, is nevertheless full of Lederhosen and Dirndl-sporting Oktoberfest fans.
Any self-respecting Dirndl, the corset-style traditional dress, is very tight-fitting. Mine is no exception. But since there is no Oktoberfest this year, it is no matter that I’ve gained a few corona kilos. After all, I’ve got a whole year to shed them.
“Take their books! They’re useless propaganda. Get rid of them!”
This actually happened. “Duh,” you’re thinking, “everybody knows how the Third Reich banned books.”
Not so fast. This did take place in Germany, but I’m not talking about the book burning of the Nazis. They didn’t invent openly regressive politics. This event occurred during the secularization of 1802/1803, a historical development that had drastic consequences. Including for books.
They told me in college that marketing was invented in the U.S. The industrial revolution had produced a surplus of goods. Suddenly, stuff needed to be made more attractive to find buyers. Marketed.
The whole idea of marketing is associated with modern times. Medieval shoemakers weren’t worried about customers, nor were blacksmiths concerned about not selling their horseshoes. Unless there was a famine and nobody in the village had any money to buy anything, in which case they had bigger problems anyway.
The one thing missing from your Blame the French list
11 August 2021
The list of French innovations impacting Anglo-Saxon culture has no end. To wit, there are no fewer than four words in this last sentence that the Normans brought along with them across the English Channel in 1066. A little perk included in the saddlebags of William the Conqueror, so to speak. While his minions spread across the country crying “Payez vos taxes!” they were also sowing Latin-based words via Norman French. I can guess one of the first words that English peasants learned when they realized what had befallen them: merde.
A strange thing has set upon us. Suddenly, we’re all doctors. Better yet, we’re virologists. At least you’d think so listening to the conversations around you.
Small talk used to revolve around topics such as “How are the kids?” or “How’s work?” Ha! Those were the days. Little did we know how good we had it, having the luxury of discussing such mundane things as your offspring, work and the latest annoying construction site on the beltway and how your commute is stressing you out.
Many people have been using their downtime from the pandemic to tackle long-delayed projects like sort through closets. After years of accumulating, the clothes have become packed to the point of being barely extractable. You have to fight to pull out that blouse and when you do manage to free it from the morass, it bears the imprint of the buttons from the neighboring jacket. Little by little, the clothing has gotten swallowed up in the quicksand of overabundance, sometimes disappearing for years.
Munich is known first and foremost for its annual Volksfest that attracts six million visitors from around the world, a number that makes you question its “folksiness” – but whatever. Tracing its roots takes you back to – where else? – the Alter Südfriedhof (the old cemetery in Munich). Many of the institutions associated with this sprawling, brawling two-week party took shape under the leadership of men buried right here.
The Alter Südfriedhof dates to the 14th century, but most of its graves tell the tale of Munich’s movers and shakers from the 1800s, a time when the city’s population doubled. More people meant more buildings, streets and institutions. But this was also an era that saw one of Munich’s most famous scandals involving its king, one which left traces here in this cemetery.
Small German towns have monuments to the dead of the two world wars, sometimes combined into one, with all the names of the locals who died. The Alter Südfriedhof has no such monuments or graves. But war left its impact nonetheless, beginning with one that came centuries before.
World Wars – the prequel
Long before the twentieth century, another conflict raged across Europe so deadly that it too is sometimes referred to as a “world war”: The Thirty Years’ War.
To take a stroll through the Alter Südfriedhof cemetery in Munich is to revisit its history. Pestilence and death, war, aristocratic scandals – even the Oktoberfest are all written into the epitaphs of people who shaped the city. It feels like the who’s who of Bavaria are all buried in this one spot (though by no means all of them are). In this four-part series – yes, four – I will reveal some of the most intriguing stories behind the stones. The history of the cemetery, as you will see, reflects the history of both the city and society at large.
Language is constantly in flux. Words come, words go, and sometimes their meaning changes altogether. Long gone are the days when I associated the word “gay“ with being happy, dancing around the room and singing one of my favorite songs from the musical Camelot. When you leave your home country as I did, you must also pay close attention to language changes that happen in your absence, causing you to call a club by its 1980s name: disco. Then the advent of the internet brought about the expression “brick and mortar” to denote a physical store rather than an online merchant.
One of my best friends in the U.S. has a son in Philadelphia. After it became clear that Philly voters were going to tip Pennsylvania for Biden, his son texted him these two words: “You’re welcome.”
His father knew precisely what his son was referring to, a reflection of how intensely Americans experienced this election, one like no other in living memory. Many Americans like me may live abroad, but we experienced it just as vividly from afar.
Being a freelancer also means being free to schedule my time. No longer must I squeeze in dentist appointments around meetings, whooshing swiftly past the boss’s office hoping he won’t see me. Now I get to take time off not just for tooth maintenance, but to do frivolous things – like take an Italian class.
This is easy to do in Germany, the land of organizational prowess. They have something here with the unpronounceable name of Volkshochschule, which despite
Corona’s surprising effect on an evening at the theater
21 October 2020
My favorite small theater has reopened after months of lockdown and we are attending a two-woman show called Primacomedy. I return here with mixed feelings. Would it be full? How will they deal with the social distancing inside the theater?
So sing the Whos in Dr. Seuss’ iconic The Grinch who stole Christmas, in which the evil-hearted Grinch steals all their presents, food and decorations. But the Whos refuse to let their holiday be ruined, forming a circle around the community Christmas tree to sing carols, regardless of the lack of trappings.
Munich is reacting similarly to the cancellation of its two-week long festival that, its name notwithstanding, always kicks off mid-September. In normal years, six million tourists descend upon the city to join the fun, but locals from Munich and
It took social distancing to finally put me at ease
29 May 2020
Embarking on my first trip to the grocery store after the corona outbreak, I am pumped up with anxiety. It’s the same grocery store where I have shopped for years, but entering it is suddenly daunting.
Will it look the same? What kinds of precautions are they taking to protect people from the pandemic? I picture cashiers in full hazmat suits, outfitted with face masks and helmets with clear plastic face shields and latex gloves. They’re probably taking customers’ temperatures, too, like they did in China.
Berlin is so packed with history, it’s more a matter of what to leave out than what to include when you’re visiting. The Prussian empire, with Frederick the Great as its leading man; the Nazis, whose leading man needs no mention; or the Cold War that split Berlin in two? Over four days, we discovered several interesting tidbits about each of these epochs.
I made my baby giggle, and now she’s doing stand-up and making everyone laugh – with stories about me
21 February 2020
I remember becoming aware of my sense of humor. I was about eight years old and had just come home from school. Using my whole body, I was telling my Mom a story and imitating a rooster in a cartoon who was thinking hard about something.
Too cold to sit outside, but no need to waste that space
28 January 2020
German apartments are often small compared to the average American one. Besides, more people live in houses in America and have more room. Because space is at a premium, Germans know exactly how many square meters their place has and scratch their chins in wonder when they hear a description like three-bedroom apartment. Such vague classification would never satisfy. Just how big are those bedrooms, pray tell? And is it a live-in kitchen (sorry, that’s my best translation for Wohnküche)? How many square meters is the living room?
Just a song to me, but the sound of freedom to an East Berliner
Sometimes it slips off my radar exactly where I live. I don’t forget that I’m living in Germany, but the kind of people I see on a daily basis are a lot like me. They’re Germans, sure, but they are well traveled and read pretty much the same newspapers and books that I do. We all get thunderously upset about Trump and the current state of the U.S. and the other demagogues emerging across Europe – all over the world, even! Where will it all lead? I get so accustomed to these conversations that they become a ritual, devoid of real meaning.
Trying to fake it as a local at the Regensburg Christmas market
Who lives in these towns and what do they do for a living, I wonder as I watch the landscape roll by. I’m on a train headed to Regensburg to visit my friend Michaela and the Christmas market. Two hours of reading time, yay, I think, but can’t keep myself from looking out the window at the never-ending beautiful scenery. Gently rolling hills and pine forests alternate with
“Down through the chimney with good Saint Nick!” goes the tune, referring to the guy who brings presents and eats the milk and cookies that the kids leave out. Come to think of it, they should probably leave something more substantial, considering the journey he undergoes, like a pile of protein bars. The identity of this visitor was generally accepted when I was a kid growing up in Ohio. St. Nick was just one of many names for the jolly old man in the red suit who comes in a sleigh filled with presents. As it turns out, it’s not so simple.