Monday, March 25, 2013

My Bavarian vacation, Mar 21-26, 2013

Traveling was always about self-discovery to me. It was never about taking photographs featuring me at exotic locations (I have nothing against that and happily oblige myself a lot of the times.) This time though, alone, midst the castles, the churches and the cobblestone streets, midst strangers in a foreign country, I was looking for the real deal, the real thrill of traveling. To feel at home anywhere and everywhere, to absorb, reflect and assimilate. It started out as a business trip and then I hung back a few extra days (21 - 26), just on my own. It makes me glad to have found the courage and the opportunity to have done this finally... it was a start. My first bite into an intense taste of freedom in beautiful Bavaria.

The effort was conscious and a struggle sometimes. I was scared, lonely, and I'll admit it, weepy even, missing close ones and the comfort born of familiarity with the surroundings. And yet, with no agendas, no plans, chasing no-one else's to-dos, I felt light... unbearably light.. striking up conversation with people over the world... at the train stations, at the beer gardens, on sightseeing tours. A strangers face warm with unexpected empathy ever so often... inviting conversation. And nothing like it to then wind up with long discussions over several glasses of Weisse beer... Sometimes pouring together over maps, getting used to a new scent from the proximity with that unknown individual.. Trying to madly extract complicated information from what was being pointed out to me..by sheer force of staring sometimes.. because the foreign names would just paralyze my thinking! I stuck to only one crazy rule, asked for no names of these wonderful people I met. I loved the irresponsible nature of these frivolous friendships...it did not make it one bit less personal.

To tell you a few, I will never think of Munich without thinking of this 30 something man I met at the Freising station early one morning, while I waited for my train to Munchen(The German way of calling Munich). I felt numb from walking to the train station from my hotel in the cold; and wondering where to buy a pair of tights to wear under my pants... I was worked up because I thought I might have frost bite. And also, I was uneasy with the train ticket I held. It was written in German and I had no idea if I had bought the correct one. So... I decided to ask this friendly looking man who'd been glancing at me with frank curiosity several times now (yes, he was quiet handsome). He seemed glad for the chance to practice his English with me. In an engaging style with electric warmth, he somehow made me forget how perturbed I'd been a moment ago. Turned out we were both engineers, him in aerospace. We drifted through politics, religion, my American life, the German people, wars... and Munich. It was wonderful!

And then there was this 50 something couple; regulars at the HaufbrauHaus. They told me that not only is the HB a tourist mecca, it is an immensely popular city haunt that goes back to the original HB brewery established around 1589... beloved by Munichers. The gentleman proclaimed this was the only brewery in the city with a live band (which kept playing delightful music in the background the whole time I was there)! The food was both yummy and inexpensive. I learnt an interesting fact about HaufbrauHaus from my new found friends. Apparently some of the tables at the restaurant have been rented over periods of Years! He pointed me to a few well marked ones, also known as "Stamtiches".. The facilities actually had lockers where patrons stored their personal beer mugs! The story and the atmosphere of that place spoke volumes of the camaraderie shared by its patrons and felt like a testament to lives celebrated by the very act of living! It really touched me.

Another interesting encounter was with this German school teacher. She was correcting a thick set of English papers on the train and sat next to me (her own English wasn't very good, which reminded me of English teachers in our Bengali medium schools). She said she teaches the lower division (part of the 9 years of state mandated schooling in Germany). We started chatting and I was surprised to learn how much threatened the Germans feel these days by the growing Turkish population in Germany. She told me of her challenges dealing with her foreign pupils who's languages she did not understand. We started comparing notes on social infrastructure in the US versus Germany and what is the correct sensitive way to bring a people of foreign origin into your fold without jeopardizing your own existence. These themes are extremely personal issues for me, having lived the past 12 years outside of my homeland. Our conversation was riveting. Indeed I would have loved to continue but my station arrived all too soon!

Stopping for food when I felt like it, tasting stuff I'd never known (and feeling plenty intimidated doing it)... surprising myself with the discovery of a taste that I liked.. like the WeissWurst (white sausages) eaten with sweet mustard sauce and pretzels for breakfast! Uncaring about how I dressed or looked so long as I wasn't freezing to death.. it was just perfect! Now thanks to my stay here, and of course courtesy of the well known brewery at Weihenstephan (within minutes from Freising), I can count three new beer favorites... the radler, most weisse beers, and the bock.

This write-up wouldn't be complete of course without an account of my castle tours. King Ludwig the II, the fairy tale king, seemed an extraordinarily lonely and complicated man. I saw his living abodes in the Nymphenburg palace, the Linderhof castle and the Neuschwanstein castle. The three were very different from each other. I was told that he was personally involved in building the last two and I was trying to find some common themes that could tie them to the visions of one man. I couldn't find any. Which led me to ponder what pressures drove these men in lending their patronage to one particular art versus another.. Did not seem to be all just his thinking. Linderfhof appealed more to me personally because I am attracted to the neo-French Rococo style. It was intricate, ornate, busy but beautiful. And a sense of melancholy seemed to pervade every room. The strangest thing about these old buildings was you had to walk through each of the rooms in a sequence to get to the nth room. There were no other ways to get to them! The man was so obsessed about his privacy that he did not even want to see his servants! Food was pushed up by a mechanised table from a level below (quiet ala 007)! The Neuschwanstein on the other hand had a much more modern appeal.. it is built in the Moorish style. I think I can safely say it is the most modern castle I have seen... some particular rooms being ones I could easily un-self-consciously live in, even today! Some say that the Disney castles were inspired by the Neuschwanstein castle. I could almost agree, given its many level turrets and roundish towers. There was an artificial cave in that castle that blew my breath away as it unexpectedly opened into a verandah with a beautiful view of the valley below. Of course the Bavarian Alps and the beautiful beautiful Bavarian countryside all added to the magic of these castles. The small villages surrounding these castles with the mural paintings, the wood carvings, the cobblestone streets everywhere... these brought home to me the essence of quaint and quintessential Europe. The third of this homes, the Nymphenburg Palace, surprisingly, is right in Munich itself... grandiose, stately, very different in spirit from the castles. Its grounds are gorgeous, but I found all of it a bit too impersonal. Guess, hence its called a palace!

Switching gears here, let me tell you of my trip to the Dachau concentration camp. I worked that in to give myself an all rounded perspective of my experience of Bavarian Germany. So I found myself at that very spot on earth where all pretense of humanity had been once lost. It was bitterly cold and I could not fathom a reality where men and women stood cold worse than this without warm clothes. I could not really make sense of the other atrocities. Just standing that cold seemed brutal to ask of anyone. My guide with his sharp good looks touted away his practiced speech. And it felt empty of emotion. He kept saying the Nazis did this and that. I wished I hadn't come. This was too impersonal, too unapologetic for the scale of death this place had witnessed. But I don't blame him.. he's probably saying this same story to a group of inattentive tourists 365 days of the year.

Other than this, there was the Marienplatz with the Glockenspiel( I missed catching it actually doing the chimes, which I am told is very sweet)... but I loved the atmosphere on that street. Loved peeking into the nearby church of the Frauenkirche, with its two signature onion shaped domes, quiet the Munich landmark I am told. Right next is the Victualien market that goes back almost 200 years in the going, with its series of sausage shops and cheese shops and fresh produce... what not. Apparently the beer here is supplied by 6 different city breweries, a different vintage every day. Beer is served without label so that you cannot tell which is which except at the pouring. I ate "Livecheese" here twice and both time delicious - this is just meat flattened out like cheese and eaten between bread. It was awesome.

I wrapped up with a quick trip to the Deutsche museum on the last day. It is huge with gallores full of engineering history. I wished I had some of my passionate engineer and physicist friends, colleagues, particularly my husband with me... because they would have gone bananas over the place. I took in some things. But mostly I was too travel weary already. I told myself, better leave it for next time! Guess thats that then for now... Auf Wiedersehen !


Monday, March 18, 2013

Shards

Enuf said, you said, and I agree.
I am tired of dissecting every
Wanton look and casual word
That stick on my mind and strike odd
With what I thought mattered
My thoughts challenged and shattered!

Unreal and imminent, a world exists
Mutely within my clenched fists
Bubbling with beautiful emotions
Playful with contradictions!
Alas! the face and body you see
Is so disconnected from whats me to me!

And so from my spot distant and remote
I watch my reality pieces afloat
Some with edges that scratch deep,
Straddling my wakefulness and sleep.
Spilling blood and a solitary tear,
And sometimes drawing an uncertain cheer!

When all else makes no sense at all,
And I listlessly wait my curtain call.
This intimate corner is my refuge
I'll keep amused with this subterfuge
Surreal poetry to safe keep,
My soul; 'tis a price cheap!

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