Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Munich--day II: some Aristotelian wisdom about travel

When I worked for Let’s Go, I always puzzled over a tension inherent in how we trained our researcher-writers. On the one hand, we loaded them down with itineraries and schedules and tearsheets that more or less mapped out exactly what they had to do at every moment of their travels. But at the same time, we espoused—and also drilled into our researchers—a philosophy of going off the beaten path, rejecting stringent schedules, and generally wandering around and freely trying to discover the destination spontaneously.

DF’s possibly boring thought about this is something in between: you have to have some sense of a schedule when you travel, otherwise you’ll just waste your time. If you want to see the Frauenkirche, for example, it makes no sense to take a random ride on the S-bahn and hope it’ll just pop up. But on the other hand, overpreparing can be a real concern: you can end up rushing around with tourist tunnel-vision, popping from sight to sight missing the atmosphere of the city by obsessing about a checklist of discrete things to do and see.

So for Day II in Munich, DF had three goals: first, some blogging at an internet café; second, the BMW Museum; and third, watching the Germany/Uruguay match at a local pub. This was not an exclusive list, obv, but rather a framework: by endeavoring to see these things, I'd likely have enough time to do any other random stuff that happened to occur to me on the way.

The day started on the later side (for one good reason, see “Excellent night’s sleep,” above, and one terribly annoying reason, which was a frantic search for a nearly-lost passport, a la the great passport disappearance of 2001). Hence it was nearer to noon when I finally got to Hbf, where I had planned to do some internetting at good old EasyEverything, one of my fave haunts from Amsterdam a million years ago (actually, only 2001-02).

Verdict: fail. I couldn’t find EasyEverything, plus wandering around the Hbf and immediately surrounding area was a total sleazefest, with grotty hostels, nudie bars, and general riff-raffery (in a downscale, boring way, not in any sort of redeemingly seedy way) dominating. I tried going to an internet café in the basement of a casino but the terminal was so gross it made me feel like I was in a peep show rather than trying to enlighten the Broad Readership (and in fact public internet terminals in the basements of casinos in sleazy areas of Munich may well be the equivalent of peep shows), so I just called it a loss and hared on out of there.

All right, so: I’d actually wanted to stop by an English bookstore to feed my reading addiction, and found one near the university that would make for a constitutionally positive walk. On the way, I happened across a blessed exception in this city: a coffee shop (American-themed, obv.) where you can get big, iced caffeine beverages (iced beverages being thought unhealthy throughout Germany, for god knows what reason). I waited for twenty minutes behind a gaggle of tweeny girls and was rewarded with a big icy cappuccino, and it was totally worth overhearing all the inane in-line chatter.

Duly caffeinated, I hooked a left on Schillerstrasse after heading up big, broad Ludwigstrasse for a spell, and found myself in Anglia English Bookshop. It was not, as I’d hoped, a used bookshop, but I found a cheapish new copy of Cryptonomicon and left, finally feeling like I had enough reading material for the trip home. Next stop: a restaurant in Hohehzollernplatze where they serve Bavarian potato dishes. I continued on Schillerstr., and eventually got the sinking feeling that I’d missed the turn-off. And just as I decided to head back, I found myself—utterly unexpectedly—at an English-language used bookshop. It was a tiny paradise: the selection was vast, the books were excellent, and it was icy with blessed, blessed air conditioning inside. Intoxicated, I bought two more volumes: Taleb’s The Black Swan (very interesting and entertaining—this guy is the Camille Paglia of economics) and one of those Best American Essays volumes (distributing risk is always a good strategy for long plane trips).

The values of bounded wandering, broad readership: I’d started with a plan, but it was loosely constructed, and in the course of executing it, I’d found entirely by accident the very thing I thought I’d had on the enumerated list. Want more evidence? Check it: DF’s next move was to head N to H-platze for the Bavarian potato place. After some difficulty finding the square, I discovered that it was more or less where I thought and—better!—was hosting an open-air festival. This means big mugs of beer, Bavarian chow, and—best of all—an adorable junior-high band tootling out instrumental classics. I sat, ate and drank for a while, amused by the joyless seriousness—and not terrible execution—of the band, but left when they played a damned Beatles song. Terrible, overrated band, the Beatles.

Fortunately for DF, Hohenzollernplatz is right on the U-bahn line connecting to the next destination of choice: BMW world. BMWW is ground zero for Beamer-lovers like DF. I can totally understand why it would be a total bore for others, but I found myself drooling over the cars on display, which was less embarrassing because everyone else was as well. The place is fiendishly designed to make you want to buy one of their cars. I found myself doing quick mental calculations to see if I could afford one of the new five-series (NB: probably, but not a good idea), but of course did not, and limited myself to lusting near-pornographically over the delicious vehicular smorgasbord.

Then, more fortunate coincidence: BMWW is located adjacent to Olympic Park, where the 72 Olympix took place, and where (I think) Bayern Munich plays. I trekked over to the park, and found myself parching terribly in the late-afternoon heat (the park is basically a big stretch of asphalt between various elephantine stadia and towers). I got as far as the soccer stadium, where German folks were beginning to gather to watch the third-place game against Uruguay, and by the time I was ready to go back, I was fighting an increasing stream of Teutons decked out in Deutschland gear on their way from the UBahn.

I took an ever so brief naplet upon getting back to the Haydn (wandering around Munich is fun but really tiring—I’d basically been on my feet moving for eight-odd hours), and then tried to find a Turkish place mentioned in the LP that sounded good, south of Sendliger Tor. Good news: I found the address; bad news: the restaurant had changed, and the new place was a fancy sit-down affair with linen tablecloths, and it just didn’t feel like my speed.

(Related: am I the only person in the world who really really likes eating in restaurants by myself? If I have a good book and there’s a good restaurant, I am likely at a near-acme of contentment. The only thing that busts this up is that I’m aware that most everyone else thinks that it’s awful and sad to eat alone at a restaurant. I was in Oz researching for LG that one time and was so happy to get to a restaurant solo at the end of a long day working, but it was ruined when the hostess was like “You’re alone? Awwww, how awful, how sad—poor you!” It’s a good example of how hard it is to resist peer opinions even when they’re totally inconsistent with your internal instincts and prior subjective experience.)

Thus frustrated, I went back north of Send-Tor and discovered a very solid Italian place on the interior of a courtyard where I ordered a delicious pizza and ate it while reading Black Swan, which I’m kind of loving. The pizza was enormous and at first I was embarrassed that I’d ordered so much food just for me; more embarrassing was the ease with which I finished it.

Denouement: I finished dinner just as the big game was commencing, and wandered throughout a quiet Munich (most everyone was riveted to a TV). When I got back to G-platz, I went to the barrestaurant near the Haydn and watched most of the Ger/Uru game, which turned out to be a real thriller (I hope tonight’s final is as interesting). The barrestaurant is right by the pension, so I could blessedly walk a block and hit the sack for some corpse-like sleep, which is exactly what I did.


1. So many delicious BMWs. DF wants.

2. Open-air festival in Hohenzollernplatz; jr high band tootles "Soul Man."

3. Olympics tower backlit by brutal unforgiving summer sun.