Wednesday, June 1, 2016: Munich

From Osnabruck to Munich

Subways are fast and clean here





Olympic tower is in view from our place


We took off this morning without a hitch–even Kai was packed and ready in time for the four of us (Mark and me, my mom, Kai) to wheel our three suitcases to the bus, take the bus to the train station, and get on the train to Munich. We were really lucky with the weather; it was supposed to rain but didn’t until late at night. We took full advantage of the amazing German public transportation system and were also once more really lucky. (Boredom alert–I am a tad bit geeky about the wonders of public transport, so here goes: We only had an official 8 minutes to change trains (and platforms) in Hanover, and the train was running late, so we thought we had no chance to catch our InterCity to Munich; the conductor even wrote something on our ticket so we would have been allowed to take the next train, but then they announced that the other train would actually wait an extra 5 minutes!  So there was some running involved, but we made it, and were in Munich before 4 pm as planned.  We had a subway ride to our vacation rental, but it was only about 20 minutes without changing subways, and a 3-block walk at the end.)  The vacation rental was a bit of a disappointment. It is big enough (we rented for six) but the beds are weirdly arranged, with a pretty inconvenient shower/tub in the bathroom and very minimal furniture and dishes (as in, 4 chairs around a kitchen table; we are really going to be six for a day and a half when we have visitors!) But we made do; Kai and I went to the very conveniently located nearby Aldi and got food for tonight & later (40 Euro gets you very far at the Aldi, where butter is 70 euro cents and so is apple juice, while a bottle of bubbly water is 60 cents!  Another thing to geek out about–German deep discount grocery stores!).  

Then we had our usual German Abendbrot/cold-cut dinner, and Mark and I went for a little walk around the block. This is clearly a multi-cultural, residential neighborhood with a lot of really boring apartment-block houses, but also lots of little stores, bakeries, Turkish fast-food outfits, and discount groceries, but the buses and the subway are close by and there’s plenty of vegetation, so it’s nice. We can also see a tall modern tower from here, and we figured out yesterday that it is the Olympia Tower in the big park / Olympic Games area that was built for the 1972 Olympics. We got home just as it was getting dark around 9:30, and called it a night.  Kai has opted to sleep in a small storage room, and we wheeled one hide-a-bed in the living room for my mom, so we sorted out the bedroom situation, and decided to call Kai’s room the garret and Kai himself Harry.  


Thursday, June 2, 2016: Munich





View of the Frauenkirche from St Peter’s tower


Town Houses with Viktualienmarkt from St Peter’s towerTown Houses with Viktualienmarkt from St Peter’s tower


New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) with its Glockenspiel from St Peter’s tower




Staircase up St. Peter’s


Kai talking to Klesmer street musicians


Spielzeugmuseum wind-powered music machineSpielzeugmuseum wind-powered music machine




Asparagus at the Viktualienmarkt

St Peter’s Tower from below


Dragon Caught at New Town Hall


Gargoyle at New Town Hall


Kai talking to Klesmer street musicians


Apollo and the Muses


Daumier Don Quixote


Spitzweg, Der arme Poet Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller, Die Erwartete, 1860




Moritz Von Schwind, Symphonie


Van Gogh, Sun Flowers


Van Gogh, Sun Flowers, detail


Die Suende (Sin)


We got up fairly early on our first full day in Munich and were excited that the weather forecast had changed from rain all day to rain only in the afternoon.  We got fresh rolls, had breakfast, and took off at about 9:30 am to go downtown.  Imke and I have been to Munich multiple times, so we were able to give Mark and Kai, the newbies, a pretty good tour of the downtown area.  We took the subway to Sendlinger Tor and walked towards the famous, tourist-studded Marienplatz.   On the way, we stopped at the Asam Church, the“hidden church”–the width and height of a town house in a long row of four-story apartments, but a huge explosion of baroque detail inside. Then we walked on to the Marienplatz, where the “New Town Hall” dominates the market square, and climbed up the tower of the nearby church of St. Peter, which gives a nice view of all of Munich from above.  We could see the famous symbol of Munich, the double towers of the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), and the main city park (Englischer Garten), which will be a hike for another day.  We climbed back down (with only minimal huffing and puffing) and waited for the Glockenspiel at Town Hall to do its little dance at 11 am, alongside a few hundred other tourists.  We walked across the open market that happens near here every day, the Viktualienmarkt with its hallmark permanent stalls and its Bavarian specialties, and then through the Frauenkirche and the pedestrian shopping area around it, where we also heard our first street musicians–a band with four people playing Klesmer music.  Kai has been so hungry for live music! He was very impressed by the clarinetist.


It was a little past noon by then and, as forecast, started to rain, so we ducked into the food courts at the subway station at the Karlstor, and had some very yummy Italian pasta & gnocchi out of to-go boxes. Good street food is the best! The afternoon was gray enough that we decided to go spend a couple of hours in one of the many art museums near downtown in the so-called museum district.  We picked the Neue Pinakothek, which covers a pretty impressive and representative sample of late 18th to late 19th century European paintings.


Art History Geek Alert: If I don’t write this down, I will not remember it! Skip to the images if you just want highlights without my notes on paintings! I have to be honest and say that a lot of it is a bit boring to me, since the constant stream of Italian and Greek landscapes by artists from all over start to look the same after a while, and there’s a lot of that until the last four of five rooms.  And for some of my favorite earlier painters, the works they have are not the best or most representative.  There is ONE beautiful William Turner, a Reynolds portrait, and two paintings by Angelica Kauffmann, and for later, there is the famous “Don Quixote” painting by Daumier, which I do like. Kai and I had a good time trying to figure out which muse was which on a giant painting of “Apollo and the Muses” (Heinrich Maria Hess), and there were several other big “guess the myth” paintings we liked, plus a very elaborate, almost comic-like combination of small paintings in a wood panel telling the story of Cinderella by Moritz Von Schwind. (He also had a “Symphony” painting that I thought of as comic-like). A very famous Biedermeier painting by Spitzweg, “Der arme Poet,” is much, much smaller than I remembered it, probably about 1’ by 2’’!  We got a kick out of one genre painting with a farmer boy waiting for his crush to walk by (“Die Erwartete”–”The Awaited One” by Waldmuller), because it looks for all the world like she is looking down on her smart phone and texting (she is coming home from church with a bible in her hand). The “promo famous” painting of the museum is one of Van Gogh’s sun flower paintings, and that was interesting to see “live” because of the thick, thick layers of paint that Mark was able to catch even through the protective glass. I remember these later paintings–several impressionists, including a Degas I love, a woman looking up from her ironing, and a Gauguin of a Tahitian woman resting after child birth–much better from my last visit (more than 10 years ago) than most of the rest.  There is a beautifully and appropriately seductive painting of a personified “Sin” (“Die Suende”) by Franz Stuck and a strikingly contemplative Medea (before killing her sons) by Anselm Feuerbach that I remember even from visits in my teens.

After the two hours or so in the museum, we badly needed gelato, and found it in a little street cafe on the way to the subway that took us home about 3 pm.  We grabbed a few more rolls for dinner on our way home and got back here for a rest at least–Imke and Kai have both settled in for the night, but Mark and I may go back out if we feel adventurous!

Friday, June 3, 2016: Munich



























We had another day with a sketchy weather forecast and knew that we needed to take advantage of the early, rain-free hours, so we left Kai behind to sleep in and start his day slowly like a proper teenager, while the three real grown-ups went on an outing.  We took the subway and then a bus to the famous Olympiapark, built for the 1972 Olympic Games, and checked out a flea market that happens there every Friday and Thursday.  We didn’t see much but Mark enjoyed checking out the electronics and Imke and I looked at some of the dishes.  It was a good way to enjoy the partly sunny morning, and eventually we moved away from the flea market area and looked at the park and the arena buildings with their famous “stretchy” tent-like roofs. We didn’t do one of the rock-climbing tours of the roofs that are now being offered, and neither did we take the elevator to the top of the Olympia tower, although Mark was tempted.  We also weren’t tempted by the nearby BMW Museum and BMW World, although the bus went past the enormous BMW complex (headquarters and big plant as well as the museum etc.) for many kilometers.  Instead, we had a cup of coffee in Olympiapark and then went back home to have a quick lunch (Turkish fast food and delicious baklava bites), rest up a little, and then go back out, this time with Kai.

The four of us now alighted near the Staatskanzlei–architecturally interesting because it was a ruin after WWII for many years and was just recently restored (in the 1990s) to have two modern glass wings jutting out from the classicist cupola in the middle. Some remainders of the destroyed parts of the building, which used to house an army museum, are preserved as part of the new building.  In front of it sits the Hofgarten, or court garden, which belongs with the Bavarian royal palace, the Residenz, and took it in in all its neoclassical splendor and symmetry, but then moved on to the “Romantic” English Garden that is its opposite–all landscaped in the late 18th/early 19th century to look “natural” with curvy paths, meadows, woodsy areas, and brooks. It is pretty much the Central Park of Munich, with very extensive grounds, but it also has the city’s river, the Isar, and a few creeks running through it.  It is famous with tourists for its naked sunbathers (“Nackerte”) and, more recently, for the surfers who river surf in a couple of spots along the Eisbach in all weathers. It was a bit cold and wet for more than a couple of naked people this afternoon, but we did see the surfers, who surf this one specific wave near a  bridge that is perfect for riversurfing.  It’s one surfer at a time, with a line of surfers (all in wetsuits) waiting patiently for their turn, and it’s clear that it requires very advanced surfing skills, as Mark’s photos show).  We watched for a while and Mark had fun with his camera.  Then we went in search of a photo exhibit that we had read about, “100 Years of Leica Photography,” and that was pretty interesting.  I couldn’t fully focus on it, because I had gotten a text from our friends Michl and Silvia, who were en route from Austria to visit us.  They were supposed to stay with us but Silvia was developing a migraine and thought a hotel room would be better, so I booked something near the train station for them. After that was done, we rounded up our pre-ordered ballet tickets for Kai and Imke, who were going to watch a John Neumeier ballet at the huge Bavarian State Opera later that night.  Then we found ourselves a lovely Indian restaurant and had an excellent, if rather expensive dinner while watching the rain come down in buckets. We then dropped Imke and Kai off at the huge National Theater building, where they were to STAND to watch the 2.5 hour opera (for 10 Euro each), and Mark and I went to pick up Michl and Silvia at the Central Omnibus Station.  We wanted to make sure we could find the way to the hotel first and without much fuss when they got in, and that took a while as did figuring out where the buses were coming to town.  But we eventually all found each other, and luckily, Silvia felt better and they just dropped their stuff off at the Metropol Hotel. We went to a very traditional Munich Bar (I think it was the Augustiner am Dom), where we had traditional Munich beer, certified to be from wooden barrels that we saw the barkeep heave into place, and traditional Munich food for the two travelers.  It was fun people watching (and good food; a specialty roast with a dumpling, called a “Schauefele” was especially impressive) but also unbelievably noisy from conversations, so we barely heard each other.  Then they took off to get back to their hotel, and we went to meet Imke and Kai at the theater and took the 30-minute subway ride home.  What a long day!    



Saturday, June 4, 2016: Munich


Court Garden Temple Detail


Chineese Tower in the English Garden


Another Surf Spot


Court Garden (Michl, Silvia, and Antje)


Mark and I got up earlier than the other two and took off without breakfast for the subway.  We had a bite to eat and some coffee/tea in the train station and then went to pick up Michl and Silvia at their hotel.  Since they had only gotten a minimal glimpse of the city the night before and since Silvia had never visited downtown Munich, we retraced some of our steps from the last few days, going again through the Court Garden with its funny 17th-century pavilion / “temple” in the middle, featuring little ornamental designs made with real shells in lieu of statues.  We showed them the river surfers (including a couple of talented kids that couldn’t have been more than 10 years old); the creek looked fuller than before, and at a second surfing spot, it looked rather dangerous.  We then found ourselves some coffee (and beer, in Michl’s case) out in the open, at the beer garden near the famous Chinese tower (a wooden pagoda) in the middle of the park, just to sit and talk (mostly in German, so that left Mark out of the loop a bit!).  Imke and Kai joined us there around noon, and we sat for a bit longer, since the SUN had actually come out and stayed out for quite a bit. The way we all reacted (not just us, everyone in the busy and touristy beer garden) you would have thought that we just discovered a new star in the solar system.  We’ve been lucky so far about not getting soaked, but it’s been cloudy with chances of rain and thunderstorms ever since we got here, and elsewhere in Germany, including in Bavaria, it’s been flooding, and an open-air festival had such bad weather they had to put it on hold after a number of people got injured during a thunderstorm.  

After that, our mission was to get back downtown (by subway) and to find a shoe store to replace Kai’s completely broken Converses, now practically sole-less (hah! We’ve been collecting puns, so there’s one for the taking.  Our favorite English one so far came with a small store that sold exclusively felt, in all colors of the rainbow, which went by the name “Deeply Felt.”).  By Michl and Silvia’s recommendation, we went to a shoe store named Tretter, and Kai and I figured out which Converse to replace it with, while the others went over to the Viktualienmarkt to check it out.  We were going to have a quick lunch together, but we ran out of time.  We have to make more tie to hang out with our Austrian friends next time! Michl and Silvia took at taxi to the hotel at just about 2 pm and went on from there to the bus station after their mini visit, while Kai, Imke, Mark and I went to another traditional Bavarian inn for lunch, and had a variety of simple Bavarian dishes–different types of sausages and roasts, a dumpling with liver in it, and some Kaesespaetzle.  Very yummy!  By this time, it was raining again, and we just ran a couple of errands downtown and then left to go home, do a little grocery shopping, and deal with the laundry.  We had our usual bread, cheese, and cold cuts for dinner, and although we left open whether we would go back out, but eventually all decided to stay home, because thunderstorms and showers kept rolling through. Hopefully the weather will be less “inconstant” (German “unbestaendig”) in the next few days!


Sunday, June 5, 2016 Munich


Automatic Music Machine (piano and violin), beautifully named “Phonoliszt Violina”


Detail of the Music Machine


Glass Blowing Demonstration


Giant Photo Multiplier Tube (aka beautiful physics thingy)


The Cray-1 Super Computer (1975)


Cray 1 “Loveseat” (power and cooling under lovely brown pleather)


Enigma Machine


17th Century Turret Clock


17th Century “Death Clock”


Blowing Bubbles in Front of the Deutsche Museum

Sadly, today started with more rain, but we had a rain program worked out pretty quickly–Mark, Kai and I decided to spend the day in the famous and crazy-busy German Museum, a tech museum with many hands-on exhibits, one of Germany’s most-visited museums, with something like 1.5 million visitors per year. We made our way there by about 11, and had to stand in line for a while to get in, but we had a great time. The museum actually had a number of closed exhibits because of extensive renovations, but even so, a full museum day there (until almost 4 pm) didn’t even give us enough time for all exhibits. But we had so much fun with the exhibits we did look at!  Mark was like a kid in a candy store, I loved seeing actual demonstrations of things he always talks about, and even Kai was really very interested.  We did start with the mechanical musical instruments, which helped–there were some fun electronic and pre-electronic “music machines.” The same floor had some other interesting highlights–a replica of the cave paintings of Altamira, a glass-blowing demonstration and a gigantic photo multiplier tube in the glass technology exhibit, and, in the ceramics part, an entire mini version of a brick factory that produces cute little 2” by 3” clay bricks. I ended up geeking out with several other visitors my age over the tech toy exhibit, which included Fischertechnik and early-gen Legos, with the classic “I had THIS one as a child” conversations everywhere.  Then we had lunch on the top floor–a good call, because the many hundreds of visitors with kids clearly went to the restaurant on the ground floor instead, and it wasn’t overrun, and also no pricier than our other lunches these days.  

The best part of the museum came after lunch–the third floor was primarily computers, microcomputers, and mathematical machinery. Obviously, EVERYTHING was interesting to Mark, but I really enjoyed finding out more about familiar-sounding devices and machines that I had never seen before, like one of the enigma machines, various machines developed by the German computer engineer Zuse, and a Cray 1 computer from 1975, one of 80 built for a mere $ 8.8 million each.  It weighed 5.5 tons and featured “the world’s most expensive love seat”–a pleather-covered cooling and power unit.  Mark pointed out that an iPhone is about six times faster (160 MFLOPS vs. 930 MFLOPS, if you really want to know). The microcomputer section was especially fascinating because Mark could show me how the silicon crystals for microchips are grown, treated, and made into the little integrated circuits that he uses all the time. I understood for the first time, at least sort of, how logical language can be translated into machinery. We also looked at clocks (and I realized how closely Mark’s fascination with clocks and with computers are related to each other) and checked out the astrology exhibit and a huge basement full of replicas of mining shafts, equipment, etc. for salt mines, coal mines, and lignite mines. We also had a memorable “Dampfnudel” (a sweet dumpling with vanilla sauce) for a snack! I’d still say that the museum would be exhausting with kids (the giant bubbles they could make while waiting for tickets notwithstanding)–but I also vividly remember going there with my parents as a teenager and loving the museum even then.  


We left around 4 pm and met up with Imke and an old family friend, Dorothee, who joined us from Hanover for a few more days here, and got home at about 5 pm.  We had a pleasant Abendbrot and then chatted while checking out Mark’s new photos and updating the blog while Kai, Dorothee and Imke talked about music and art.  Again, we’re hoping for better weather for tomorrow–many rain showers today, but also a rainbow and a few patches of blue, so there is hope!



Monday, June 6, 2016: Munich

Fog on the lake

Selfie with a traffic mirror

Andechs monastery

Andechs monastery

Andechs monastery courtyard

Andechs monastery

A view from the tower at the Andechs monastery

Bells through the protective screen

700 Year old tree

Dachau prison and labor camp


Waiting for the subway



This morning, we woke up around 6 am to sunny skies and were thrilled–after all the rain yesterday, and the many gray days, this was truly thrilling.  Mark and I got ourselves ready quickly and quietly, so as not to wake the others, and were out the door before 7 am.  We took the subway and then the commuter train to the southeastern outskirts of Munich, where a number of smaller towns and villages are nestled around a set of beautiful lakes.  Our friend Uschi, who grew up in Munich and whose family lived on one of the lakes, the Ammersee, had reminded us of a fun and easy “starter hike” (we are a little rusty after a year of not hiking and after my sciatica issues last winter) — from the lake town of Herrsching to the Andechs monastery, about a 6-mile round trip.  We had breakfast at a little cafe, and then started with a walk along the lake, with the boats shrouded in fog. Then on through the town, built on a hill, to a slightly muddy path through the woods all the way up to the monastery, which features a famous brewery (not started until the 19th century, however) and a beautiful baroque church with a wooden onion dome and the classic overload of decorative detail on the inside of the church that is typical of the baroque–gold leaf and ceiling frescoes everywhere (Mark’s question was who had to dust all of that–we only met the guy who was vacuuming the stairs to the church tower!). We did climb the church tower and had a look at the lake far below–since we were right inside the onion dome, we also got to see the big bells–and HEAR them since it rang 10 am while we were up there.  Noisy but fun!  We looked at a couple of the outbuildings and the courtyard of the monastery, and then walked to the village, Erling, that was established around the monastery in the 19th century, when it was refounded after 50 years or so of being defunct after Napoleon closed the monasteries in 1803. But it featured a 700-year-old linden tree, so that was rather cool.  We then returned to Herrsching on another, sunnier and drier path.  We eventually even saw other hikers and bikers coming our way, but they are apparently much rarer on weekday mornings than on Sundays, when Herrsching and Andechs are rather overrun, including with beer connoisseurs and plain drunk people.  Back in Herrsching, we stopped at a grocery store for water, a couple of sandwiches, and a yummy nut & chocolate dessert (a “Nussecke”), and had those on the train back into town.

We let Kai, who’d stayed home, know when we’d be home, and rounded him up at the vacation rental for yet another long-ish bus trip to Dachau (another hour or so).  I’d been years ago, with Kai’s dad, but I knew Kai wanted to see the concentration camp memorial site. I never know what to say about sites like this, which I think are incredibly important, and typically very well documented in Germany–and which, at the same time, only serve to make me ask how it is possible that humans can be so horrifying to other humans. Yes, Dachau was a prison and labor camp, not an extermination camp, and it always bothers me when people do not know about the difference, and do not realize that the gas chamber there was built, but not used (except possibly in a few select cases). But many people died there or were shipped off to other places to die, including to the euthanasia sites also used for the mentally handicapped. The neglect, the torture, and the cruelty are still so mindboggling that I never know what to say.  I took in a lot of new details about the camp, and I believe that they had changed and improved the vast exhibit that goes with the buildings and foundations that can be toured at Dachau–some reconstructed (like the barracks and the deadly array of fences), some the originals (like the crematoria and the main kitchen building, where the exhibit is housed).  We spent about 2 hours, but we did not actually take the audio tour, but just read the (very detailed) documentation.

It was already 4:30 when we were done with our visit in Dachau, and we took the train back to the center of town, and had ice cream in a cafe on the Theatinerstrasse, in the midst of downtown Munich, while waiting for Imke and Dorothee to come back from an art exhibit they went to see this afternoon.  We all went home together on the subway (the modern no-doors kind that snakes through the tunnels in one long movement that , with a stop at the Aldi for some bread for dinner, and spent a quiet rest of the evening with a lovely meal, some blog work, and, for Imke and Dorothee, the news on TV and some reading time. It’s been a long day, but a really good one!



Tuesday, June 7, 2016: Munich

The Lenbachhaus and its lavish park

A brass face from the expressionist era

Franz Marc’s “Blue Horse”

A detail from one of the oriental vases in the furnished part of the Lenbachhaus

The fountain in the Lenbachhaus Garden

Ironwork on the fence at the Lenbachhaus Garden

The beer garden at the Hirschgarten I

The beer garden II

The “Masskruege” (1-liter beer glasses) at the beer garden

Beate, Imke, Dorothee, Antje and Kai

Our pretzel, with onions and “Obatzter,” the best cheese dip ever invented

The truck that picked up the empties

A beautiful spider web

And a beautiful palace–Nymphenburg, the summer residence of the Bavarian rulers since the 1700s.

Trains on the way back home

A very busy day with gorgeous weather. Mark and I woke up very early to blue skies, so we just stole the public transportation pass that we are all sharing and took the subway and the bus back to a part of town we hadn’t had a chance to explore earlier in the week.  It’s called Schwabing and used to be the bohemian district where all the artists lived in the late 19th and early 20th century–impressionist and later expressionist painters, many writers, musicians, actors, etc. There are a lot of beautiful late 19th century and art deco town houses and the area was fun to explore on foot.  We did have coffee/tea and rolls at a bakery, but it wasn’t as cozy as I would have liked it. We had promised to be back by 10 to meet up with the others, and once everyone was actually ready, we took off for our art museum of the day–the Gallery at the Lenbach-Haus, a 19th century villa built in an Italianate style by a painter named Franz von Lenbach, which has long been a small but famous art museum that features, most famously, the German expressionists that lived in Munich and formed a painting school called “Der Blaue Reiter.” Some of their most famous works are exhibited here, including Franz Marc’s “Blue Horse” and Kandinsky paintings from 2 decades, which were fascinating to track from almost pointillist impressionism to extremely abstract color paintings.  The museum also features some other favorites of mine, Paul Klee, Gabriele Muenter, and, in the garden, three very cute statues by Max Ernst.  

Afterwards, we took the subway back to Schwabing, because Imke and Dorothee wanted to take us to a very nice restaurant with a great outside seating area, the Kaisergarten. It was toward the end of the lunch hour (almost 3 pm) where we had the famous Weisswuerste (boiled white sausages), a Munich specialty which turned out to be totally boring, and some other lunch food that was quite a bit better–a sort of fried bologna (Leberkaese) and a thin-crust vegetarian pizza (Flammkuchen).  Then, Imke and Dorothee and Kai wanted to check out a shoe store, and Mark and I took a quick round through a corner of the English Garden, which abuts on the Schwabing neighborhood.

The next goal was to make our way across town to the S-Bahn station Laim, where my friend Beate and her daughter Kari picked us up to take us to a nearby beer garden in a public park, the Hirschgarten (“deer garden”–and yes, there is a fenced-in area with deer in the middle of the park).  Beate is a friend from my student days in Hamburg from the late 1980s, and has lived in Munich for many years, working as a social worker/therapist (Sozialpaedagoge). I had last seen her many years ago–probably when Kai and Kari were 2 or 4, when my mom and I spent some time with the kids in Munich. We had a really fun evening with her, although we couldn’t get the kids to say one word to each other (they are the same age) and Kai eventually got really frustrated because we spent so much time just sitting around in the beer garden and talking. It was the perfect weather for it, and gave me real appreciation for this very Bavarian institution–especially the variant of the beer garden as a huge outdoor bar in a public park. The cool part is that in the huge self-service part of the pub, you’re expected to buy your beverages, but you can either buy food or bring your own, and many guests do.  We ended up having a giant pretzel with this amazing cheese dip that is unique to Bavaria called “Obatzter” (cream cheese, butter, spices, and bits of camembert–a wicked calorie bomb that tastes like heaven).  But many of the hundreds of people around the simple wooden tables under the park trees brough elaborate picnics, including table cloths or dish cloths to eat from! So much fun, and so sociable! We talked and talked and eventually went for a little walk from the park to the palace of Nymphenburg, the former summer residence of the Bavarian kings.  We didn’t have enough time or energy to go there, but we took a peek from the outside in the beautiful evening sun, before we took a bus back to the S-Bahn, the S-Bahn back to the subway, and the subway home to the apartment around 9 pm.  I was exhausted enough that I was fast asleep by shortly after 10, and slept all the way until almost 8 without ever doing my blog!




Wednesday, June 8, 2016: Munich

Pinakothek der Moderne

A design piece by Colani, suspended over the stairs to the design section of the museum

The 500 figurines made out of chocolate wrapping paper

Rubens seems to paint his dragons with heads that are upside down

A teeny Rembrandt tronie, or face study

The gigantic Alte Pinakothek (currently only half open because of renovations)

And its gigantic paintings in it

A videographer with a mini dolly outside of the Pinakothek der Moderne


We woke up to gray skies, but the weather turned out to be more cooperative than forecast–the rain stayed away for most of the day and was never more than a drizzle while we had a day that was a mix of museums and walks through the city.  Kai decided to stay behind for the first half of the day, and Imke met her friend Karl at 10:30 near the museum district for an outing of her own, so it was just Mark, Dorothee, and I who went to the two modern art museums–the Sammlung Brandhorst and the Pinakothek der Moderne.  The Brandhorst collection is currently mostly closed, but it does feature an important collection of Cy Twombly’s paintings, photographs, and statues.  Twombly is not really my cup of tea, but Dorothee explained some of his art really well, and one series of 12 paintings about the battle of Lepanto, in a room that the artist was able to design with the museum curators, was actually really impressive/memorable.  After our brief walk through this exhibit, we went to the Pinakothek der Moderne, which picks up where yesterday’s museum stopped–with some early 20th century art, including Kandinsky and Marc, but also with some paintings by Max Ernst–still one of my absolutely favorite painters–by Picasso, and then many abstract expressionists and other, more intriguing modern artists. The most arresting piece was a huge table with tiny little aluminum figurines–500 of them, made by 500 Japanese steel workers out of the wrappers of 500 German-style chocolate bars.  The artist asked them to eat the chocolate and then make something out of the silver paper!  The result was really awesome.  Otherwise, we also really loved the basement section (which I remembered vividly from an earlier visit) — it is dedicated to modern design, of completely different things, from teapots and chairs to cars, computers, and even engines. Industrial design fascinates me, especially when it comes to kitchen stuff and bookshelves, but I was glad that Mark also had some computer “shells” etc. to look at.

We met back up with Dorothee and also with Imke at about 2 pm, and Kai joined us from home just after we had finished eating yummy, cheap Vietnamese food near Theresienstrasse.  Then, Imke and Dorothee took Kai shopping (he bought a pair of shorts at H&M), while Mark and I walked back to the Alte Pinakothek, the museum with the oldest painting–just for a quick look, not for a more in-depth visit.  The museum is enormous, but only maybe 100 paintings (as opposed to the many hundreds!) are currently on display.  Lots of very fleshy Rubens, a few Rembrandts, and lots of overwhelmingly large biblical and Greek mythology paintings. There were some Dutch pub scenes from the Dutch masters, but unfortunately not a single Vermeer…  We only spent about 45 minutes, and then walked from the museum district to the downtown area, and had some coffee and gelato, eventually meeting the others at Viktualienmarkt.  We took the subway home and then had our last Abendbrot in our vacation rental, with a lovely big salad. I can’t say we ever really got used to the deficiencies of the apartment (even after we were actually supplied with more plates, glasses, and chairs), but we made do! Now we are getting packed for tomorrow’s departure for Prague.


Thursday, June 9, 2016: From Munich to Prague



The Grand Hotel Europa (formerly the Hotel Erzherzog Stefan)


The Klementinum/Church of St. Salvator, right across from the Charles Bridge (East side)


The Klementinum/Church of St. Salvator, right across from the Charles Bridge (East side)


The bride with the awesome footwear


The two towers on the other (West) end of Charles Bridge


A more distant view of the West side of the river


The gate between the two towers


The city on the West side


The gate at Charles Bridge again


Detail on one of the towers (injured baby dragon?)


Baroque trumpet demo in front of Church of St. Francis of Assisi


A Czech specialty we did not try (a baked thing that gets filled with cream but has no vowels)


The unbroken line of late 19th century houses along the Vltava


We were all packed by morning and out the door with a minimal breakfast and a picnic lunch for the bus by 8:30.  This was my first-ever attempt at a cross-country bus ride, with a company called “FlixBus” that has become a very popular alternative to trains because they are ridiculously cheap and go to many key destinations non-stop–Munich to Prague cost us 15 Euro per person!  We had a very pleasant 5-hour bus ride to Prague, in a bus with plugs, wifi, tray tables, and a clean bathroom, and we even moving from crappy weather to sunny skies in Prague!  Arriving was a bit of an adventure, as we had to find our way to an ATM (different currency, the Czech Crown), get our 72-hour tickets for metro, tram, etc. (more expensive than in Munich at about $15 each), and find our way through the metro, to the (not connected) tram and our out-of-the way hostel, which was, however, a great find. We are close to two tram lines, it’s quiet, and while the room we have for the three of us is a bit shabby, it is clean and with its own shower (not a given for hostels), and although the wifi is limited, they also offer a 5 Euro breakfast that we’ll take advantage of on Saturday morning.  All for 82 Euro for TWO days. Not bad.
We arrived at about 3:30, got our luggage dumped in the room and took a short break before venturing back into the city. I feel out of my waters because I have never been to Prague and don’t speak the language, so it’s very different for me than traveling in Germany.  I tried to make myself baseline-tourist knowledgeable en route, and that gave me some idea, but getting off the beaten track is a little harder here! So we started out absolutely on the beaten track–we took the tram downtown, took note of where the Dvorak museum is, and walked to Wenceslas Square, where the Grand Hotel Europa with its Art Deco splendor and its slight Kafka connection (he read some of his stories) is certainly a memorable building in a city so chock-full of gorgeous Art Deco and late 19th century town houses that it’s hard to say anything is memorable. Having grown up in Germany with a lot of partially preserved, partially bombed and rebuilt city centers, I am completely blown away by the completeness of Prague’s Old and New Town and was just in awe the entire 3+ hours that we walked around. We walked from Wenceslas Square to the old town square, but we didn’t really spend much time there, because it was swarming with tourists, as expected, and had a big swirl of people on Segways in the middle. We followed the crowds along to the famous Charles Bridge and checked on the various churches and their concerts, with view to something Kai could go see tomorrow. Right across from the Charles Bride, they have daily concerts with organ and violin music in the Klementinum/St Salvator Church, and of organ and baroque music in the Church of St. Francis–two trumpeters actually gave samples every half hour. But for the day, we just found ourselves a tourist-trap restaurant in a beautiful location right along the river and had questionably authentic Czech food (which is very close to traditional Southern German food–cooked or roasted meat with generous doses of salty gravy over both bread dumplings and potato dumplings. Kai also tried some potato pancakes, and there were helpings of very sweet sauerkraut. The food wasn’t bad, but not nearly as good as I suspect it could be.  We then found some gelato (popular here as in Germany, apparently) and then walked across the Charles Bridge, which has been there in one form or another since the 14th century and is now, thankfully, an exclusively pedestrian bridge.  Along with hundreds of other tourists, we strolled across, looking at the statues along the way (of various saints and kings), as well as a few beggars, and listening to street musicians all along into the old town on the other end, where the swarms entered through a city gate between two bridge towers and dissipated. The crooked little streets, again with town houses, churches, and impressive-looking official buildings, were just fun to walk around in, and it seemed like around every corner, there were more beautifully restored buildings, with gorgeous stucco, wrought iron balconies and copper spires. Along the river on both sides, that’s pretty stunning.  In addition, behind the West side of the Old town are the hills on which we could see Prague Castle from afar, so the city skyline on both banks of the river was fabulous in the evening light. It was a bit overwhelming and became a blur after a while, but Mark took many photos to choose from. We finally decided to go home; Kai was getting rather tired and wanted to be done with the day; Mark and I walked for a bit more after dropping him off at the hostel, just to check out our own mostly residential neighborhood.  We did climb a nearby hill and again had a very nice view, and even here, North and East of the touristy part of town, the more modern and graffiti-covered buildings alternate with late Victorian / Art Deco surprises.

Friday, June 10, 2016: Prague



Synagogue with names of murdered Jews from Prague and Bohemia


The Old Jewish Cemetery I  (Cohen hands)


The Old Jewish Cemetery II ( tumba)


The Old Jewish Cemetery III


The Old Jewish Cemetery IV


The Old Jewish Cemetery V


The Old Jewish Cemetery VI


Another gorgeous Art Deco building, in the Jewish quarter


Kafka monument (Kafka on a headless man’s shoulders)


The Spanish Synagogue — Interior


The Spanish Synagogue — Organ


St. Vitus Cathedral (part of Prague Castle)


St. Vitus Cathedral — Fish Gargoyle


St. Vitus with plaza


Skyline of Prague from Prague Castle


Dvorak Museum — Dvorak’s New York notebook


Dvorak Museum — Piano tuning


The Dancing House (architects: Gehry & Milunič)


Kai and the Prague Castle


Charles Bridge


Organ in the Church of St. Francis (with the sun shining on the pipes)


Detail on small organ at St. Francis


In our hostel’s neighborhood


Given that we really only had this one full day in Prague, this day was pretty much perfect for the purpose. It was mostly sunny but not hot (70s), we found everything we were looking for, and we had a great if packed 10 or so hours! Mark and I woke up about 7, woke Kai so he could get ready, and left him to his own devices to go in search for a little coffee shop. We found a bakery with a couple of tables and had coffee, tea, and a couple of yummy things obtained by pointing and gesturing. Then we got another yummy thing for Kai (basically a piece of fluffy coffee cake) and brought it back to him along with some “coffee to go”–an institution in Prague as well Asian German cities that did not use to exist in my European days.  Once Kai was ready, we embarked on our adventure and took the tram back towards downtown, getting off near the Charles Bridge again.  

Our first destination was the Jewish quarter, where we looked at several synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery, the famous one that was in use a until the 18th century and has gravestones stacked everywhere. The earliest are from the 15th century, and in some sections, the ground is several feet higher than elsewhere because of up to 12 layers of burials (the stone slabs were moved up, but the bodies cannot be disturbed). We learned a lot–we cannot read the Hebrew inscriptions, but we saw the blessing hands that indicate the Cohen family tree (priests), and some graves had explanations, for example that of Rabbi Loew, who is associated with the legend of the golem as the protector of the Jewish ghetto of Prague. Many people leave pebbles on the gravestones, and Kai knew that this is a bit like leaving flowers in Christian cemeteries. The cemetery was not only a must-see and incredibly beautiful, but it had the additional frisson for me that George Eliot and George Henry Lewes visited it too, at least twice. Of course, at that time, the area would have been the Jewish district with its little crooked alleys and its many, many synagogues, but that was torn down in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to be replaced by lavishly decorated turns-of-the-century residences, five to six stories high. Of the synagogues, five are left, and we toured all but the Old-New Synagogue.  One is a memorial to all the Jewish people of Prague and Bohemia who were killed by the Nazis, with all their names on the synagogue walls.  One explained Jewish religious and secular life.  One documented early Jewish life in Bohemia from the 10th to the 18th century, and the most beautiful, the Spanish synagogue, documented the 19th and 20th centuries.  That meant that I was able to look at a few documents related to Leopold Kompert, the author I recently researched, and to his stories of life in the ghetto under Austro-Hungarian rule before emancipation in the 1860s. And there was documentation about the deportation of Prague’s Jews to Terezin, or Theresienstadt as I know it, after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. There were also a few Kafka mentions, plus a Kafka statue in front of the synagogue, but we would have had to go to the Kafka museum to find more–something we opted not to do. Instead, we roamed the streets a bit more and found our way back to the Old Town Square and then to a Czech restaurant with a basement level and mostly Czech guests.  Again, we took a few guesses on the lunch menu, and what we ordered was ok, but still fundamentally the same salty-meat + dumplings + very cooked cabbage (plus bread, plus potatoes) fare as yesterday. I think we’re sort of past the kind of cuisine where the one raw vegetable to be had is onion.  But it was cheaper than yesterday and we felt ready for more exploration.

So we took the tram across the river and up the hills on the other side to a station above the castle, and then walked down toward it.  That was really beautiful, and the way to the castle, the elaborate multiple-castle complex, and the Gothic cathedral (St. Vitus) were really impressive, as was the view of the east side of the river (where we’d been in the morning). Since part of the building is still the residence of the Czech president and also an official government complex, we even saw a cadre of limos bring a bunch of officials with heavy security and police protection–right through the throngs of tourists.

We walked a bit further downhill from the castle, and then caught the tram back into town to find the teeny but cute Dvorak Museum for Kai. It is located in a mansion that is of the right time period but with no link to Dvorak’s life except that he would have walked by it when he lived nearby, but many of the displayed objects were at least his–a viola, various hideous honorary gifts (silver laurel crowns, engraved cigarette cases) and his writing desk.  Upstairs, someone was tuning the grand piano for a concert later today. So it was fun and hit the spot for Kai, but also understandable that this was a bit of the beaten path. We walked back to the river and then took more time than expected to find a gelateria, but eventually we did (seeing the famous Dancing House on the way) and had lovely gelato, macchiato, and a dish that combined ice cream with the local version of crepes, palančin. That restored us and got Kai ready for the overpriced concert in the church of St. Salvator that we had decided on.  We dropped him off there at 6 pm and walked with the crowds again–up and down Charles Bridge, with all manner of street musicians, cartoonists, vendors, etc. lining both sides of the bridge, and tourists from all over the world walking around with selfie sticks walking along with us. We also ducked into the church of St. Francis of Assisi, where the organist was already playing before an actual concert, and where the baroque overload was again very intense. This city has so many baroque churches per square mile that it must be a record–many of them so squeezed in that you can’t even step back and look at their façades from a useful distance to appreciate them!  Then we gathered Kai (who was happy with the crowd-pleaser music he heard, but appalled at the audience clapping mid-way through various pieces, and very aware of how lowly a gig this would be for the musicians) and took the tram back home. Mark and I had scoped out a super cheap little Asian hole in the wall in the morning, so we had generic, but yummy rice & noodles with chicken and veggies, for about 12 euro for all of us together.  We spent the remainder of the evening looking at Mark’s photos of the day, blogging, and recharging our various electronic devices. What a great day!