Weather Chaos, German Style

Germans are known for their orderliness, tidiness and organization. What happens when the weather patterns break all of the models for consistency? A bit of chaos enters their lives.

After one of the darkest winters in Germany’s recorded history and spring floods that shattered records, summer has arrived here in July. In a year of inconsistencies, this year’s summer has begun with a consistency, that is, it has broken records as well. This July is shaping up to be the driest summer experienced in these parts for at least ten years. Though we are only two-thirds of the way through July, the forecast calls for continued heat and dryness for the remainder of the month.

Local farmers have begun to lament the parched conditions. Some crops are in dire need of precipitation. Grass, which is now normally lush, tall and green, is burnt to a crisp. Rivers and lakes, which only a few short weeks ago were overflowing and too cold for swimming, are overflowing with people looking for a slight respite from the broiling conditions. Even regular citizens, who are accustomed to carrying a summer jacket to their favorite beer garden, always, seem unable to adjust.

It has become weather chaos. Many locals are pining for a few days of drizzle, or at least a thunderstorm to refill their cisterns. They have grown weary of having to go to a beer garden daily, or a lake, or a grill party on a balcony or by a river. They have already forgotten (and sorely miss) the infinite shades of gray that the German sky is normally. They want their normalcy again.

As for me, born in California and raised in Florida, I say “one swallow does not make a summer”, nor does a two week dry period. This feels like home. I am going swimming. I am going to shower daily, maybe even twice. I am going to wear flip-flops and Hawaiian-print shirts. I am going to grill my dinner everyday for the next six weeks. I am going to enjoy it and hope that it lasts till Oktoberfest.

Now, if I could just find a place that makes a decent margarita…

Summer Buzz

One of the local newspapers today had a very large headline with an accompanying picture of an animal that startled many commuters on the train this morning. I might have jumped too, had I not lived in Florida for approximately 33 years. Though the animal pictured was not reptilian or a shark, it was an animal which is infinitely more dangerous than most of the scaled creatures or fish back home. The picture was for a story about hordes of mosquitoes.

After a winter without end, and a spring deluge not witnessed since the time of Martin Luther, summer has arrived here in Munich and greater Germany. This July is shaping up to be the driest in a decade. But that has proven to be the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The local lakes are abuzz with the sounds of splashing children (and mosquitoes). The bike paths are swarming full of riders (and mosquitoes). Some locals have begun to cut back on bathing as a method to dissuade the blood suckers from landing on them. Trams and subways are a perfect place to test this hypothesis. Mosquitoes are known to love French perfume more than garlic so why wash away the grime? Infrequent bathing is what many people did years ago to hinder the spread of the Black Death, unsuccessfully.  But I digress.

 Rather than enjoying the silver lining of this warm dry weather, the locals have managed to spin it into minor catastrophe. The mosquitoes are coming! I seem to recall hazily that last year there was a similar story about ticks. Perhaps it’s still in the evergreen story database, coming soon.

Why can’t these parasites just be sprayed with some chemicals that sterilize them, or even better yet, kill them dead quickly? That’s what we do in Florida.

Another thing I noticed this past weekend was the numerous demonstrators against genetically engineered foods. America has been using them for years, without any known side effects, so why can’t they bring them here? Must we wait the obligatory 20 years and then get them? Everyone knows they’re coming eventually, so why the delay? It only puts the farmers here behind the rest of the developed world.

August in Germany is known in the news business as ‘das Sommerloch’ ( the silly season). Most of the population including politicians are on holiday. Since there is little to report on, stories are made. Once the kids are back in school in September, things will begin to heat up again. But for now, we’re stuck with mosquitoes, ticks, and the occasional fire.

Any long-time citizen here will tell you that the story about mosquitoes is simply the starter. Next week will surely have an article whose headline will blare out something about ‘sex’ and/or ‘scandal’. The Catholic Church is an oldie but a goodie for those. So we’ll see.

School is out in about 2 weeks, and then the stories will really get weird or interesting, depending on your tastes.

Enjoy your summer.

Pissed on the 4th of July (in the American sense)


To most people I’ve encountered in my life, the above question means ‘what would Jesus do?’ And if they choose to live along the lines set out by him, way to go. But I choose to live my life more along the lines of another great man, Thomas Jefferson.

Did he live an oxymoronic life? Surely. Most of us do, too. Was he ever satisfied with his accomplishments? Nope. And neither are we. He was in essence a normal man (person).

What would he say about the USA today?

More drones than ever before. Deportations of illegal immigrants are WAY up. Guantanamo is still open, with vacancy signs hung. Now we hear that the NSA is compiling data on everything we, and our friends do.

Jefferson wouldn’t be pleased.

Benjamin Franklin wouldn’t be either. Patrick Henry would be at the head of an infantry column. Washington at the head of an army. Madison, Monroe, Adams, Hancock? Hamilton, Burr, Paine or Jackson?

Sure, Bush built it. But Obama has improved upon it.

I am one pissed American. And after a few more beers, I will be pissed like a Brit.

Happy 4th of July!

America Has Little Work-Life Balance

There was a film in 1969 called “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”, a comedy centered on a group of travellers from the USA who tour Europe for 18 days. If someone was to remake this film in 2012 it would be a tour lasting only 8 days, because few Americans would be able or willing to take enough time off to travel longer.

The difference between the amounts of time taken off for Europeans (and the world) compared to Americans is enormous. Most of Europe enjoys at least 3-4 weeks paid vacation, and in some places it is as much as 6 weeks. Bavarians also enjoy 13 public holidays, the most in Europe. In fact, if we compare the USA to nearly any other country, the USA ranks dead last in holiday days given by firms. In the US there are no laws which state a minimum number of days off need to be given. A company is under no obligation to pay for a single day of holiday!

Even more surprising, according to a Harris survey is, Americans did not use a whopping 57% of their allotted vacation time they had actually accrued. Often they were not permitted to delay or rollover this time, so they they simply lost their paid holiday time. The reasons for this given by those people who did not take the time off are precisely as most Europeans would have imagined. The reasons included:

  • They were afraid that if the company needed something desperately while they were away, they might hire someone else and they would lose their job.
  • They had an overblown opinion of their value to the company, and they believed that the company might falter if they took an extended period off.
  • They were afraid the workload would be unmanageable when they returned.
  • They preferred money offered by some companies in lieu of time off.
  • They were still unable to afford any real vacation financially, so they preferred working to lazing around their own homes or cities.

Despite all of their working days without a break Americans are still the most productive workforce on the planet when it comes to time worked and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But these statistics may be misleading, because many of the Fortune 500 companies call the USA home, inflating the American GDP. Lacking a more traditional European idea of a ‘work-life balance’, Americans are increasingly beginning to show signs of stress; bad nutrition associated with fast food (little time for food shopping and preparation), drug and alcohol dependency, psychological illnesses, and a host of other symptoms many doctors believe are brought on by ‘living to work’.


Road Map

All roads lead to Rome.

Most people believe that this means simply there are different ways to reach the same conclusion. But there is more to the opening statement than that.

As Rome expanded and eventually became an empire, roads were built to facilitate communication and commerce in the far flung provinces. Rome’s ability to build such durable, high quality roads ensured that it would remain a force for centuries.

Fast forward. Due to the building of an extensive railroad network in the northern states during the American Civil War, this allowed the USA to emerge from that conflict on the cusp of becoming a world power. Conversely, a big part of the implosion of the Soviet Union was its inability to get food to the shelves. Certainly they had enough wheat to bake enough bread without having to buy from the USA.

Ukraine is poor, especially west Ukraine. This is nothing new. It has been that way since Habsburg rule at the end of the 18th Century. It was always known as a backwater of the empire, a petri dish if you will, for social/economic experiments for the rest of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I recently returned from 2 weeks in west Ukraine and it suddenly dawned on me as to why this area is so poor, and how it could be fixed. It could be really simple.

It had been 2 years since my last visit to Ukraine, and my visits are almost always centered on a small village near the picturesque Habsburg city of Kolomyia, in the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast. This is about 180 km south of L’viv and 50 km north of the Carpathian mountains. It is one of the poorer oblasts in a very poor country. This area is almost all farmers, peasants, who still till their fields by horse drawn plows, use hoes to cut weeds and find rocks or stones, and cut grass for livestock with scythes.

Ukraine could use help in nearly every area, from education to health care, environment to housing. But before it does anything in any of those areas it should concentrate on only two things to raise it from the economic malaise that it currently finds itself in, and both things are forms of communication.

First, it must fix the roads. So much time is lost getting from point A to B, and it’s nearly impossible to move products in a timely manner in Ukraine. People waiting on the side of the road for some bus or private taxi to take them to the closest population center. So much time is lost, and therefore, productivity. All countries that have become great powers were able to move things about on internal transportation systems as they grew in stature. It simplified communication.

Second, and this is the 21st century’s version of the first, proper telephone lines are needed. The internet connections are too slow for practical, efficient everyday use, and it’s better to call a mobile phone than a land-line. Easy, efficient communication today is what makes a company or country great.

If these two areas were improved, then Ukraine could begin to be taken seriously as a country that could become an EU member. But, before it can do the two things it must reduce the corruption in the country. I recall reading somewhere that only one or two sub-Saharan countries are more corrupt in the world. That is rarefied air if you think about it.

When Ukraine does, and as an optimist I believe it’s a question of when and not if, then Ukraine will be able to assume their proper place in the world. Such a rich country in materials, resources and people should not be wallowing in such abject poverty.

From Russia, with Love

“The policy of Russia is changeless. Its methods, its tactics, its maneuvers may change, but the polar star of its policy, world domination, is a fixed star.”  Karl Marx

Vladimir Putin has decided that he would like to ‘reset’ once again his relationship with The USA, so he has written a letter to his old friend George Bush.

Dear George,

How are things on the ranch? Have you had enough time to go hunting? There were rumors in some leftist newspapers here that you had begun painting. Why won’t they just let you enjoy your retirement? Everyone here at the Kremlin knows that you are too macho for anything except hunting, mountain biking, etc. I hear you have finished your library. If I’m ever in Texas perhaps we could visit it.

One of my friends at Gazprom, who uses the internet regularly (I have no time for such toys), told me that many media sources had shed negative light upon Russia. I thought I would explain our positions to you, and you could use your immense influence to put a positive spin on it.

A few months ago, our court system found a few young women guilty of hooliganism because they’d played protest songs in a very austere church. We are a Christian nation (similar to, but different from, the USA) and cannot have such blatant flaunts upon such sacred grounds. Russia’s whole history has been intertwined with the Orthodox Church, we must not allow ourselves to go the way of the decadent Germans, or even worse, the Scandinavians. The protests were not the problem, it was the venue-please explain this to your American friends.

In fact, we have made protesting easier. The issuance of permits has been streamlined. No protesters who have had any contact with outside forces, whether through such evil sites as Facebook or Twitter, will be allowed to demonstrate. You would agree that such ‘social media sites’ are a hinderance to the truth. This has been on display throughout the Arab World for the last few years. There is no way that such a family-run business like Syria, which has enjoyed years of peace except when attacked by the Jews, should be thrown out on such whimsical blather. Perhaps we have been a bit behind the curve and should increase our presence on the internet beyond a couple of ‘spam (what does spam mean?)’ servers in the Urals, which are effectively beyond Moscow’s control.

Speaking of control, and you comrade, erm, I mean friend, would know about this, we have had to exert more control over the press as many moles from the previously mentioned ‘social media’ sites have infiltrated the mainstream press. We must root them out, nip them in the bud so to speak.

Many have accused Russia of using our orphans as political pawns, the fact of the matter is that we can ill-afford to lose even the lowest of our citizenry. Our numbers are dwindling, many educated have chosen to move to the EU or America. We may need those orphans later to regenerate our population.  We expect our population to grow exponentially, so that is why we have decided to plant flags on the Arctic Ocean floor, as the polar ice has melted (this is a natural occurrence and not due to the burning of fossil fuels we’ve sold to the world at ‘below market prices’-unless, of course, they begin to think too independently-then they must pay full-price plus a small penalty) . We will need more living space at some point in the not so distant future, so northward expansion seemed reasonable. Any other direction may have been contested, and you know how much we dislike conflict.

Oh well, I think I should now go. Your new Secretary of State, John Kerry has been waiting for almost three hours, and I am scheduled to meet him. At least you aren’t represented by a woman anymore (I know you had to do it for political reasons, Condoleeza Rice was both a woman and black) Those crazy Ukrainians had no such excuse with Yulia Tymoshenko-but she’s getting hers.

Maybe we can go hunting for tigers or elephants sometime, I would quite like that. There are so few things that us real men can do (ask Berlusconi) that is beyond the public eye. Since neither of us drink, I’ll raise my tea cup to you.

Keep walking with the Lord.

Yours sincerely

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

3 time (soon to be be 4) president of Russia  


For an even better summary, check out this

Workers, Unite!

Today-a bank holiday, I ate a lot of sausages and drank a lot of beer. It was May 1st, time to celebrate here in Bavaria. So we did. Maypoles, dancing, grilling, drinking, et al… Summer is around the corner!!!

I had to remind those around me: Don’t forget the workers!

May Day. The day we celebrate the worker-except in America-we wait until September. May Day was/is especially popular in communist countries.

All week I’ve been asking my students what the most important thing about a job is. For an American it’s easy-the money that you make! For the Europeans it’s not so clear cut. Answers have been of a wide variety including many that we all know.

Challenging/fulfilling/interesting tasks, great colleagues, job development, positive products from their efforts (no nuclear weapons), short commutes, great coffee, etc-the list could continue endlessly…

How convenient!? As another building collapsed (burned, used slave labor, etc) in Bangladesh, I couldn’t help think about the worker. Yes, those who actually work simply for the money they make. That’s what a job is for most in the world-work  for money.

Beyond my cheap tablet computer, sewage system, food, I want cheap clothes (those poor people in Bangladesh died for me and I will continue to buy cheap clothes because buying cheap food is not an option). C&A, H&M, (and many more) Old Navy are having a sale this weekend-I’m there.

Next time, I’ll drink to the real workers. And cheap clothes…



Munich’s Secret (Beer)Gardens

Spring has sprung, the weather’s improving. It’s time to have a cold one.

You have been to the the Chinese Tower, Hirschgarten, Seehaus, as well as other top Munich beer gardens and you are looking for another place to get the essence of Munich. Whether you live here or are just visiting, and you want something ‘off the beaten path’, then maybe these beer gardens are worth a try. Here’s a list of three that have all the things you need and want: tradition, tranquility and atmosphere, without all of the other things (too many tourists and high prices) that the more popular beer gardens in Munich have.


The first is called Wirtshaus am Bavariapark. Located on the northeast edge of Bavaria Park, this beer garden has delicious Augustiner beer and enough space (approx. 850 places) to almost always guarantee a place for up to 6 or 8 people at one table. It is a short walk from the U-Bahn station Schwanthalerhöhe, or can be reached with Bus 134. There are no streets within 150 metres so it is very quiet. Grilled mackerel on a stick and the usual Bavarian fare are on offer. A two-piece brass ensemble often play here and normally there are few tourists, so this beer garden is more traditional and cheaper than some of the other bigger, better known ones that are in the city.

The second one is Münchner Haupt. It is located on Zielstattstraße 6, which is a short walk south of the Mittersendlinger S-Bahn station on the number 7 line. It is located near an old estate which houses a shooting club and is over 600 years old. It also has traditional Bavarian food, and for a change offers Kaltenberg beer which is atypical for Munich. It has seating for 2,500 persons and is rarely filled to capacity.

Finally, Zum Grünen Baum, Verdistr. 6, is just a few paces west of the S-Bahn station in Obermenzing, and is a perfect place to stop after a day in Dachau, as it is also on the S2 (S-Bahn). Augustiner is served here too, at a bit more than 3€ per half-liter, so the price is definitely right. Palace Blutenburg is a kilometer due west, and Palace Nymphenburg is the same distance southeast. It also has traditional Bavarian victuals, and when the bell rings it means a fresh wooden keg is being tapped, so be sure to get some of the freshest, best-tasting beer around!

Asparagus Season Celebrates Germanness

In about 10 days or so begins one of the truly great times in Germany. And after this past winter, which saw record cold and darkness, it can’t get here soon enough.

Ah yes, ‘Spargelzeit’ (asparagus season). Nothing seems to captivate the Germans, the Bavarians even more so, than those 8 weeks that end on June 24th. And the fascination runs across all generations, genders and socioeconomic strata. The health benefits of asparagus are many and well-documented, but the love of it goes well beyond that. But why?

The history of the vegetable goes back around 4,000 years and it is grown throughout the world. Most people eat the green variety but the white type grows larger and is tenderer (but is much more expensive because the cultivating and harvesting methods are very tedious and complex), and is coveted by Germans. Whether you eat white or green asparagus the most important factor is it must be fresh. Any person with a little bit of experience with asparagus can taste fresh from not so fresh because the flavor turns from a sweet yet distinct mild flavor to a bitter one. And this brings us to our first point of why the Germans like it so much.

The Germans, very rightfully so, are proud of their skills of organizing and transporting. Getting asparagus to the market while it still has retained the desired freshness requires the skill set that most Germans seem to have. From harvesting to consumption, the whole process should be completed in about 12-24 hours when things are working properly. An old farmer’s rule says asparagus is best when “Morgens gestochen und mittags verzehrt” (picked in the morning and eaten at lunch). This is also why many Germans choose to take their cars to the source of the asparagus. Here in Bavaria, the most famous place for asparagus is Schrobenhausen, though nearly anyplace in Germany has excellent asparagus, and the countryside is dotted with stands that sell the very freshest and tastiest product. So whenever a box of fresh asparagus is opened it is like a reaffirmation of what it is to be German and their ideas of time and order.

The second reason, and I believe the more important reason, is that Spargelzeit signals the end of winter in a way altogether different from Carnival or even Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival). While those celebrate the end of winter with lots of alcohol and craziness, asparagus is the first fresh vegetable or fruit grown in Germany that can be eaten by Germans, and can be enjoyed by everyone to some degree or another. It heralds the coming of spring, with its infinite promise of great weather (before June’s reality of rain dampens the excitement), a return to the outdoors, the eating of fresh fruits and vegetables after a winter of heavy roasted meats, sauerkraut and dumplings. Quite often in May the weather in Bavaria is what can only be described as epic. The Bavarian sky takes on its special blue hue. Farmhouse balconies are tidied up and flowers are planted, as the gardens are readied for a season of grilling and beer drinking. Bicycles are serviced and people begin to try to lose their ‘Winterspeck” (winter’s bacon), the few extra kilos that were accumulated during the winter. The first few shoots of asparagus seem to set the buzz of activity in motion.

If you don’t know how to prepare asparagus have no fear, nearly any decent restaurant has a “Spargel Menu”, that is right, a menu devoted entirely to the asparagus. From soups to starters, main courses to desserts (yes, it is even in some desserts!), one does not have to look far for some excellent dishes that celebrate the asparagus. And remember, the smell in the WC (toilet) a few hours after eating asparagus can mean only one thing: Spring is on the way! And your kidneys will thank you too!

Germany Still Has A Wall That Divides

Traversing Germany by train, whether it’s longitudinal or latitudinal, it reveals aspects of Germanness which are inescapable. Things revealed include orderliness, tidiness, and structure. If one disembarks said train and investigates further, other pillars of Germanness appear like punctuality, productivity, and calculation. If German is spoken in the household as a first language, one can be fairly certain that the aforementioned characteristics lurk just below the surface (if not front and center). But there are great divides and differences between Germans, especially with their southern neighbors, the Bavarians.


It all started innocuously enough. Certain friends who can see little beyond their world in the US feel a compulsion to post things on my Facebook page whenever Germany has been shown in a negative light. With the Euro crisis (Germany’s handling of it has been controversial), and the soon to commence neo-Nazi trial (yes, racism exists everywhere), there’s been no dearth of chances to hammer away.

“Why do you live in Europe? And of all places, why do you live in Germany?” they asked.

Before I knew it, I’d responded. “I live neither in Europe nor Germany. I live in Bavaria.”

I knew at that moment that there was no turning back. I had been transformed. Bavarians are not really Germans, but more like the Austrians or the Schwaben. Or the Austrians and Schwaben are like the Bavarians, and neither are Germans. Yes, they speak dialects of the same language, the similarities are fewer after that. Try telling an Irishmen he’s a Brit, or a Texan he’s an American.


For nearly 500 years, Germany served as a (the) battlefield of Europe. Sandwiched between the larger powers (empires), Germany became a sort of jetty that dispersed the waves of desire of its neighbors by providing a complicated group of territories whose rulers were often at war or in allegiance with each other. All of this changed, which was bound to change the face of Europe dramatically, with the rise to power of Otto von Bismarck.

When Germany united, through Bismarck’s masterful abilities, some great timing and luck, it immediately proved too strong for Denmark, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, and eventually Russia. Only Great Britain could compete and contain the new industrial and military behemoth. Germany’s ability to produce, organize and analyze was beyond comparison with other major countries then, and is still so today. This has caused a plethora of problems for Germany-and her neighbors. It caused them then as it causes them now. Germany is, and has always been, the question of Europe. It is still so today.


After a few embellishments, or half-truths (lies), Bismarck was able to unite the peoples who shared a common language-German-under a banner that would one day at different points terrorize, amaze and astound the rest of the globe.

Germany will continue to do so, though one hopes that their darkest days of the Third Reich are behind them. Many in Europe are not so sure, though it’s hard to determine if it’s politics being played or authentic fear.. The quicker the rest of Europe (and the world) can resign themselves to (or rejoice) the fact that a reunified Germany is a world player, the better off our planet will be.

But how unified is Germany? Are there still many obstacles to overcome before they can truly take their place upon the Pantheon of Nations as their robust economy demands?

From east to west in Germany, the differences are stark and clear. It is in many ways a no-brainer. A communistic east versus a reconstructed, democratic west Germany. Production for the sake of busyness in the East juxtapositioned against production for business in the West (with competition). Certainly those Germans residing near the border with Poland can’t be very similar to those Germans abutted against France. And they are not. But they are both more German than the Bavarians, those strange, independent and wonderfully quirky Bavarians, who queerly and surely seem to share few of the qualities of their more northern kindred.


After some cajoling, begging and in the end bribing, I was able to convince a friend of mine to visit me here in Munich. But be warned, I told him, Munich is not really a German city, it is another beast altogether…But for most Americans, and perhaps others, it is the MOST German of cities.

If any of my German friends visited an American city (which means no cities in California, Florida or New York City are eligible), and went to a bar (I’m thinking Chicago, St. Louis or Denver) and was asked where are you from-the answer should be, Germany. What then comes to mind? Lederhosen, sausages, beer, Audi, BMW, Schweinebraten and Knödel (roast pork and dumplings), Munich, Neuschwanstein (Cinderella’s Castle), Mozart, Einstein, Romantic Road, etc…Most of these first thoughts are either mostly Bavarian or completely Bavarian! But not German!

Munich closes at about 10pm every night. Goths are really strange. The airport, train station, canal or any other project are on time and on budget! Many people still listen to Oom Pah-pah music here. Pretzels are everywhere. Wagner’s music confounds, excites and is controversial. It’s played regularly. Festivals of planting, harvesting and moon phases abound. A few extra kilos on the frame is still considered attractive-and normal. Beer comes in big glasses. Bavarians drive south for fun-many have never been to Berlin or any other more northern German city.

Yet, despite this lack of patronage, real Germany lays many miles to the north.

If anyone wants to see a real German city, send them to Hamburg. Or Cologne. Berlin is in the midst of major transitions, it needs a few years. Maybe Dortmund, or Düsseldorf, or Hannover, they are German.

Germans have an edge, a strong affinity for industry, gray, rain and melancholy. Germans like hard rock, a bit of graffiti, wayward souls sleeping in the streets. Germans are accustomed to a bit of broken glass. Bavarians want (and have) little of that. Only the Swiss can call the Bavarians untidy. Germans eat more than pork and the trimmings-Bavarians can survive on only pigs and potatoes. Germans drink beer, Bavarians drink the champagne of beers-lager, less bitter. Germans drink at night, Bavarians might have a beer for breakfast. Bavarians go to bed before midnight, Germans are in the shower preparing for the night’s festivities…


For many years Germans were united in their basic political desires. Win the Cold War, the World Cup and Formula One. Now that they have obtained most of them, they are beginning to divide on ideas about the EU, integration, etc. If one is to get Germany’s support, it must be able to win the support of Germans (and Bavarians) from north to south. This is a more difficult task than winning that support from east to west. The Berlin Wall may be no more, but there still exists one from north to south

But regardless of the geographical location of native German speakers in Germany, one thing is certain. They all make jokes about the Austrians…