Vantage point

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Augustravelogue 1

Call it a case of reverse biasing, but I found Germany to be a lot should I say.... imperfect, even in appearance, than I expected it to be. It's a beautiful place of course. Munich, especially its downtown section. But I had heard so much about the clinical and mechanical perfection of the Germans that it was surprising, maybe even a bit relieving to see the litter on German streets. The streets were lined with cigarette butts, and there were quite a few scraps of paper around. Not littering on the Indian scale of course, but still, not streets that you could eat off, something I had expected.

The Munich trip began with a visit to the Olympic village and the famed Olympic tower with its revolving restaurant. The difference in the architectural styles between parts of the city as seen from the vantage point on the tower was very obvious. The experience of eating in a revolving restaurant itself was somewhat underwhelming, maybe even a bit weird. The reason was that though the restaurant was revolving, sitting inside it, it felt as if the inside cylindrical wall of the restaurant, i.e the portion surrounding the axis of the tower, was what was revolving. The outside scenery did not seem to be moving as fast, because the wall was so much closer. These tricks played by the brain made the attention focus too much on the inside than the outside.

Another underwhelming experience was the Glockenspiel at Marienplatz. It has been touted as the biggest tourist attraction in Munich. The story behind it is that everyday at two different times (11 am and 1 pm) inside the main hall, several bells of varying sizes are played. Then the act of a horse-fight which happened while celebrating a royal wedding is replayed using mechanical figurines. The play of the mechanical figurines is what is supposed to draw tourists from all over the world, and there's even a cafe opposite the town hall from where you can watch the whole thing. Now the figurines are located high on a tower, and are basically placed on corcular discs. As the discs move, the whole act is played out. It is hardly an opulent sight, and growing up in Pune, where almost every Ganpati Mandal would put up mechanical displays far far superior, you can't help wondering what all the fuss is about.

An overwhelming experience though was Hofbrauhaus, the home of the world famous Oktoberfest. Hofbrauhaus is a beer hall, shaped like a beer keg. It's a huge hall, seating easily over a thousand people at the same time in several rows. At the head of the hall is a stage where a band and a dance group keeps performing through the night. Fresh beer, brewed by Hofbrau, flows, and the whole atmosphere is like a carnival. If we had so much fun on a normal weekend, I can't imagine how great it would be during two weeks of the Oktoberfest.

I have never really appreciated beer in the past. I just take a couple of sips of it, and can't go geyond it. However the beer served everywhere in Germany, whether it was at a beer garden we visited earlier or at Hofbrauhaus, tasted way too good to be beer. I loved it and gulped down amounts that I will not specify here. I was informed that one reason why German beer tastes so good is that it is freshly brewed and the one served out of kegs in Munich has no added preservatives. So it is "natural" beer. Thankfully I live in Mumbai where the beer you get is in bottles and cans, and not kegs, and it tastes horrible. So my beer consumption will now return to 3 sips a year. But if I were to move to Germany, I will positively be sporting a massive beer belly in record time.

The other sights of Munich were great of course...standard stuff you will read on any tourist site.

Another thing that strucks me was the high number of "Indische" i.e Indian restaurants in the city. I would always peek inside one when I passed it, and would find 90% of its clientele to be white. It seems like Indian cuisine really is catching on abroad, and its not just exaggerated hype like Aishwarya Rai. :-P

Came across an interesting bit of coincidence while on the city tour. By and large me and a few guys roamed the city on our own whenever the conference wasn't in session. But I did join the 3 hour guide-on-front-seat-with-mike type tour. The guide's narrative centered heavily around a couple of kings named Ludwig and she hardly spoke about Hitler at all, though he started his "career" in the city. I am told Germans like to talk as little about the third reich as possible. So later, after being told about the historic significance of every cobblestone in the city with the minimal reference to Hitler, I askeed the guide where Hitler's infamous Beer Hall Putsch happened, the very location that he later narrowly escaped an assasination attempt. Was it at Hofbrauhaus, I asked. She said no, in fact it happened at a beer hall called Burgerbraukeller, which was destroyed in the bombings, and on part of the land now stands a section of the Hilton, the very hotel where we were staying.

Overall, Munich was very pretty, and the three days spent there were memorable. German folks are by and large very helpful. Most of them can at least understand English and many speak it. Even if they don't understand English they make an effort to help you out.