Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sequestered In Chicago

For the second year in a row, I served on the national nominating committee for the Public Relations Society of America, which meets every summer to select candidates for PRSA leadership in the Hilton Hotel adjacent to Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

But this little hootenanny is no junket, I assure you. The group of about two dozen or so committee members from around the United States is virtually sequestered -- like in 12 Angry Men -- in the hotel.

Following the four-hour flight from Eugene to Seattle to Chi-Town on Friday, July 29, committee members gathered for a business dinner from 6-10 p.m.

The next morning began at 7 a.m. with breakfast, followed by about 12 hours of interviews with prospective candidates for national leadership, both live and by telephone. Whew!

But there would be no rest for the wicked. On Sunday, we once again began early for more deliberation and discussion, wrapping up in the afternoon just in time for my flight back to Eugene.

Needless to say, there would be no trip to a Cubs game for this kid.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Marvelous Munich, 6/13-7/2: Denouement

Munich was pretty much as I had envisioned: a fun, vibrant metropolis featuring a lively city center with much to see and do.

The flight from Portland to Amsterdam was my first transcontinental journey where night never fell, primarily because we flew over Canada, Greenland and Iceland, the "land of midnight sun" during the week of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Altstadt, where my hotel -- the Hotel Deutsches Theatre -- was located, is an eclectic neighborhood known as Ludwigvortadt, a half-seedy, half-lively area packed with shops, restaurants, hotels and plenty of tourists.

Bavaria has traffic signals, of course, just like everywhere else, but with one key distinction. Instead of signaling a stop, the yellow light alerts motorists that it's time to go. In other words, the amber signals a green light instead of a red light.

This photo metaphor for Munich (left) was apropos: an old stump with a young seedling sprouting from its top in a busy boulevard north of the Kalsplatz in Altstadt.

Venturing to the rural areas on our way to the Alps, it's clear why Germany has such high quality milk and cheese: cows everywhere. Another prevalent feature of rural Deutschland is all the renewable energy projects. One thing is for sure: in the U.S., we're a bunch of renewable energy lightweights when compared to Germany.

The photovoltaic arrays (not to mention wind turbines) are everywhere, even in the mountain country where solar access is perhaps not as good as in the lowlands around Hamburg. They would probably put solar arrays on cows if they could get the bovines to stand still in the sonnenscheine.

Lions -- like the ones above in the Neues Rathaus in the Altstadt -- are common icons around Bavaria because of Henry the Lion, who founded the city of Munich in 1156.

One of the most powerful German princes of the time at the height of his reign, Henry the Lion presided over the lucrative salt trade in Bavaria, and ruled over a vast territory stretching from the North and Baltic Seas to the Alps.

As previously noted, the Altstadt includes a plethora of elaborate Roman Catholic churches. The Frauenkirchen choir section also features the final resting place (above) of Ludwig I, King of Bavaria.

Like the the tagline on the bag for the shirt that I purchased at Abendzeitung, the Hotel Deutsches Theater provided "mehr Munchen, mehr service and alles drin" (more Munich, more service, all included). And much like I found in Genoa, the people of Munich have a joie de vivre that is contagious.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Getting Around: From Abenberg To Zugspitze

In Germany, you have a variety of ways to get from Point "A" to Point "Z," not to mention all points in between.

Arriving in Munich, the first thing I noticed was the clean and efficient airport. Unfortunately, the Munich airport turned out to be a full hour cab ride to my hotel in the Altstadt, a 70-euro cruise.

But taxis are only one of many ways to get round in Bavaria: trolleys (above), trains, buses and bicycles are all popular forms of transportation.

Bicycles are particularly ubiquitous (left). Many local residents use the manual two-wheelers to tool around the city.

However, unlike in the U.S., where bike paths are located on the street, Munich's bike routes are located above the curb, between the sidewalk and the street.

Pedestrians must cross the bike path to get to the sidewalk from the street, and bicyclists don't expect you to be walking in their designated lane. It can be dangerous for unsuspecting pedestrians.

Trolleys (above) are an inexpensive mode of transport, but they focus almost exclusively on the city center. The best way to get around is by using the train. The rail system in Munich includes a comprehensive network and trains are the mode of choice for most residents.

One day, Gina and I ventured to the suburbs of Munich by taxi, but took a bus, then a train back to the Altstadt. Very simple, very easy. And did I say affordable?

On our various tours of Bavaria, we rode Grey Line buses. This was my first real exposure to the autobahn, where Mercedes and BMWs would blow by our bus like we were standing still.

I was under the impression that the autobahn was a special, exclusive highway. I was misinformed. In reality, the autobahn is merely an interstate freeway, with the left lane reserved for speed freaks.

On our excursion to the Zugspitze, we climbed aboard a cable car (above) for the ten-minute trip. The ride, which sways from side to side, is not for the squeamish, or those who suffer from vertigo.

On our way down, we rode the cogwheel train, which descends through a tunnel before emerging a third of the way down the mountain to a spectacular view of Lake Eibsee.

Despite the cost, I arranged for a taxi ride to the airport on my way out, primarily because I had my baggage, plus Gina's big bag, to take back to America. The upside was that I received a primer on Hungarian history from my driver, a native of Budapest.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Things: Odds 'N' Ends

The German people do a lot of things well, but they particularly excel in two areas: beer and cars. Naturally, a trip to a biergarten -- in my case the Hofbrauhaus (above and below), ground zero for the Oktoberfest -- and a cruise on the autobahn are usually at the top of many to-do lists for outlanders "on holiday."

German beer is arguably the best in the world -- and it's likely because of the fact that Deutschlanders have had so much practice over the years. In Germany, the science of brewing beer began with the Germanic tribes but was considerably refined by Benedictine monks who migrated to Bavaria across the Alps from Italy.

The secret of this beneficient brew is the reinheitsgebot, or purity law, which required that breweries use only four simple ingredients: malt, yeast, hops and water. Passed in 1516, the statute is no longer a legal requirement, although many brewers still conform to it anyway as a marketing ploy against the "big-boy" brewers.

In no small part thanks to the reinheitsgebot, German beer is unique in not producing the after-effect called a katzenjammer, or hangover. And despite just four ingredients, Deutschlanders nonetheless produce over 5,000 distinct varieties of beer, including bock, pilsner, lager, wheat and white, just to name a few of the general categories.

Established in 1397, the Spaten brewery is the oldest in Munich. The popular Paulaner (below) brewery, founded in the early 17th century by Minim friars, is also located in Munich. And, of course, over six million visitors annually join the over one million residents of Munich to pack the massive beer garden near the Altstadt for Oktoberfest.

Germany is also well-known worldwide for its finely engineered automobiles, particularly BMW, Mercedes Benz and Porsche, not to mention the more pedestrian but nonetheless serviceable Volkswagen and Audi.

BMW Headquarters (right) is actually located in Munich between Olympiapark and Englischer Garden. Shaped like eight cylinders on a deluxe model, BMW also has a very cool museum for visitors.

Mercedes Benz also has a presence in Munich (below), but the Mercedes museum is in nearby Stuttgart. I've owned a number of Volkswagens: good, reliable autos that could withstand the type of abuse I could administer to many a dubious vehicle in my youth.

I've only owned one Mercedes; it was a basic 1962 model. It wasn't much to look at -- painted a dreary battleship grey -- but it had a four-speed on the column and leather upholstery, a unique commodity back in those allegedly halcyon days of yore.

The food in Germany offered a mixed bag, about as different from Italian cuisine as another country can be. I've never been a big fan of sauerkraut because of my inherent revulsion to cabbage (in Korea, I didn't like kim chee either), but the local variety was definitely better than any I've had in the United States.

Loved the Wiener schnitzel, though, a breaded veal cutlet dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, then fried in butter of oil to a golden brown. Breakfast at the Hotel Deutsches Theater offered great variety, with eggs, meats, fruits, cereals and breads galore, as well as some of the best milk and cheese I have ever tasted.

The architecture is as you would expect: stunning but strangely different. A German peculiarity -- using a rainbow approach featuring Byzantine and Roman buildings, along with gothic and baroque stylings -- provides a veritable grab bag of unique structures.

The spectacular 19th-century architecture in Munich, as well as many monuments, have been painstakingly rebuilt following mass destruction from bombing raids by Allied pilots during WW II.

Brigit, one of our tour guides, noted that some of the less magnificent buildings -- particularly residential highrise structures -- were built rather hastily after WWII to provide homes for displaced citizens.

The art, such as the satyr sculpture (right) at the Linderhof castle, the primary residence of Ludwig II, is also classic Western European. Frescoes, paintings, sculptures and other art forms are omnipresent throughout Bavaria.

The German flag (below), which is rather unique among the many flags of the world, originated during the freedom wars against Napolean in the early 19th century, with volunteers (mostly students) arriving from all over Germany to fight the French Emporer.

In order to provide the rag-tag group with a uniform appearance, these volunteers colored their clothes black, complimented by brass buttons and red trim: hence, the easily-identifiable red, black and yellow bars of the German flag.

Finally, despite all the stern looks and humorless expressions -- and contrary to popular belief -- Germans do have a light side, as witnessed by the lifelike models perched on the ledge above a Marienplatz storefront advertising "Oktoberfest costumes and more."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Places: Around The Bavarian Horn

Aside from a brief stop in Amsterdam and a couple of loops into Austria, we spent most of our time in Germany. Can't imagine trying to see the whole country (or any European country, for that matter) in only three weeks, but we had a good taste of Bavaria.

I've spent plenty of time covering Munich, so I'll just say this: for a city of 1.3 million people, it's fairly compact and probably smaller in terms of area than Portland, Oregon. The Bavarian capital has plenty of green space and the River Isar flows right through the middle of town. The Altstadt (Old Town) is truly vibrant and easy to get around, with many favorable comparisons to one of my favorite European towns, Genoa, Italy.

The suburbs are very nice; Gina and I took a cab to the perimeter of the city and jumped on the train for the trip back. But the city's major sites are grouped around Marienplatz in Old Town, just blocks from our hideout and place of repose, the Hotel Deutsches Theater.

The soot-black, and major gothic, Neus Rathaus features statues and gargoyles (above, right) -- and, of course, the town's glockenspiel.

The Viktualienmarkt, one of Europe's premier food (and people-watching) bazaars, converts into one of the finest and most expensive beer gardens around, sometimes earlier in the day than later.

Just north of the Marienplatz is the Englischer Garten (where Gina would get in her runs), the town's principal park, a major aboretum which is much larger than Central Park in New York City.

On the trip to two of the royal castles built by Ludwig II -- Linderhof and Neuschwanstein -- we explored Oberammergau and Fussen, two little villages tucked away in Germany's Bavarian Alps.

Oberammergau (above) seems to be more rural and something less of a tourist trap than Fussen because of the sheer numbers of people visiting the "Disneyland" castle in June.

We rolled through Berchtesgaden and Obersalzberg, two lovely Alpine skiing villages on the Austrian border that -- unfortunately -- will be forever associated with the life and times of Adolf Hitler (above).

Prior to the Zugspitze, it was the little town of Ettal (below), along with the larger Garmish and Partenkirchen. All had features reminiscent of the American version in Leavenworth, Washington.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

People: The Yin And The Yang

There's a line in Moscow on the Hudson that says -- to paraphrase Robin Williams -- everybody in New York is from someplace else. The same can be said of Munich. While there are plenty of German nationals around, as witnessed by the street musicians in Marienplatz (above), the city definitely has the feel of a "world village."

For example, our tour guide, Brigit (below, chatting with Gina next to the elevator up to Hitler's Eagle's Nest) is from Austria. Eugen, the manager at the Hotel Deutsches Theater, is a Hungarian. The hotel's chief cook and resident jack-of-all-trades, Nikos, is Greek. Most of the cab drivers were from Serbia, Romania and even one expatriate from the U.S. The city also has a large Muslim population.

The staff at the Hotel Deutsches Theater was very gracious and accommodating, providing wake up calls, bottle openers and guidance on tours. The only downside was the ongoing six-year construction project at the theater, a 19th-century structure in need of repair.

Drills, jackhammers and saws -- not to mention barking construction workers -- would collaborate to produce a cacophony on a daily basis beginning at 7 a.m. There was no sleeping in, and the construction noise could be bone-rattling, so we had to take advantage of the quiet time in the evening.

We had a German football (read: soccer) team in the room above us for two nights. This group was boisterous on the first night, keeping us awake with their music and shenanigans (having beer so readily available is very liberating, but it also produces a lot of drunks).

So you're probably not surprised that I took sadistic pleasure when the teeth-chattering construction started up about an a hour or so after they finally retired. One of the lads released a primal scream at the construction workers, but it was to no avail.

Our tour guides on the day long excursions to the Bavarian Alps -- Brigit, Gunter (above in the blue coat) and Hilda -- were all very organized and well-schooled in the history of the area.

In Fusson, where we stopped for lunch before embarking on the trail to Neuschwanstein castle, the server asked us as a matter of expediency if we would mind sharing a table with two others, who turned out to be Americans -- police officers from Los Angeles. One said "Go Ducks!" when we approached the table (full disclosure: I was wearing my colors, but it was a conversation starter).

We ran into them again up the hill as we waited our turn in the queue with hundreds of other pilgrims at the Neuschwanstein castle. There, we learned that both had earned their bachelors degrees in communications and public relations, one from the University of Hawaii and the other from UCLA. "Good degrees to have if you're a police officer," I remarked, and they agreed.

Also met a number of Australians, always a delightful and engaging lot (plus, they speak English), on our tours in Bavaria.

We met one family from Perth in Western Australia, which is about as far a corner as you can find on the planet. They assured us that Australians don't really use terms like "shrimp on the barbie" and "g'day" like Crocodile Dundee.

Gina is seen here (right) with Anita, an Australian student, on our trip up the Zugspitze.

Our servers at Der Schnitzelwirt in Karlsplatz (above) were also polite and helpful, but one -- who went by Singh, or "Lucky" (he was from India) was particularly devious when milking a patron for tips.

At most establishments, the tip is actually factored into the cost of the meal. He would hover over us with our change, and we obliged him with more the first time or two. We eventually grew weary of his ways and avoided his section for the remainder of our time in Munich.

The Marienplatz in Altstadt featured a number of other street performers like the mime (left) dressed up like a statue of Maximilian II, father of Ludwig II. The Germans are also obsessed with both Michael Jackson (above, at an impromptu memorial on the second anniversary of his death) and favorite son David Hasselhoff, the former star of Knight Rider.

"Hasselhoff is an incorrigible drunk," said one of the LAPD officers. "We pick him up all the time."

Close to the end of our stay, I found a sunny day to retake some pictures that I shot when it was cloudier.

I ran into a Russian graduate student named Olga (right) who gladly obliged when I asked her to take some pictures of me in the Altstadt. She thought it was funny that I always said "right," as in "yeah, right." Why not "left?" she asked.

"We only use 'left' when we're referring to the mainstream media," I replied, only somewhat wryly.

A final word or two on Ludwig II. At the Linderhof castle, the tour guide noted that some of the frescoes showed the 22 mistresses of Louis XIV, Ludwig's role model. I asked innocently: "how many mistresses did Ludwig have?" "None." "Wife?" "No, he preferred the company of men."

Turns out that the good king -- a popular and visionary monarch -- was also a queen.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Der Zugspitze And Garmisch-Partenkirchen

On Sunday, June 26, Gina and I boarded the tour bus for the Ettal Monastery and the skiing villages of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Our goal? The summit of Der Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak.

The Ettal Abbey (right) was built by Ludwig I of Bavaria to fulfill an oath to Benedictine monks on his return from Italy following his coronation by the Pope. Our tour guide Gunter noted that "ettal" means "promise." Built in 1330, the site sits on an important trade route between Italy and Augsburg, Germany. Legend has it that Ludwig's horse genuflected three times on the spot of the original church building, which is dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Zugspitze, at 9,718 feet above sea level, is the highest peak in the Wetterstein Mountains. When we started out that morning from Munich, the weather looked dubious for a trip up the Zugsptize but conditions improved as the day progressed.

The ascent began with a quick cable car ride (above) up to the very summit of the mountain, which features a wide platform viewing area, a restaurant and bar, and jaw-dropping views in every direction.

The summit platform straddles the German/Austrian border (Gina, below, at the sign welcoming visitors to Austria). From the top, you can view the Alpine peaks stretching across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and as far away as Italy.

Josef Naus and mountain guide Georg Tauschi completed the first ascent to the summit of the Zugspitze on August 27, 1820.

At the base of the Zugspitze, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a beloved hangout for outdoor aficionados and is the site of this year's Alpine World Skiing Championships.

Our tour guide Gunter noted that the towns were merged for the 1936 Winter Olympics, but that the two Bavarian villages were in a marriage of convenience more than a genuine love for one another: you know, like Eugene and Springfield.

Munich was also still in contention for the 2018 Winter Olympics as one of three finalists while we were in Germany, but lost out to PyeongChang, South Korea.

Once at the top, we had about a half-hour before boarding another cable car for a trip to the Northern Schneeferner glacier (below) on the south side of the summit.

The glacier hosts a large restaurant and skiing/sledding area, as well as a house of worship. Gina and I, along with her new friend Anita from Australia, enjoyed lunch -- in my case, schnitzel and a bier.

The church (below), which was personally blessed by Pope Benedict XVI (formerly the Archbishop of Munich), is the highest elevation Catholic Church in the world at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

After about an hour on the glacier, we descended the Zugspitze by cog train, a slow but steady device which maneuvers its way through a long tunnel in the mountain.

Emerging from the tunnel above Lake Eibsee, the cog train then proceeded down the Zugspitze through Ober-Grainau and back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.