Tuesday, August 14, 2007
"Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department," says Werner von Braun.
So I found myself on this very crowded, very HOT overnight train to Munich and - due to the heat and rumbling of the train - I was awake all night, minus about twenty minutes of zzz's I managed to fit in just before wake-up call. I drained my computer battery watching License to Wed (not the highest quality cinema, but it killed some time) and then took to staring at the scenery out the window to a soundtrack of snoring, tossing, and the occasional rap on the door by transportation authorities seeking passports and tickets. I actually felt sort of bad for my (all-Korean) counterparts as they had obviously only recently arrived in Europe and were still feeling the drain of the 6-7 hour time difference (which I had managed to knock off quite easily by partying all night at my hostel in London). I mean, there was a bar and karaoke IN THE HOSTEL! Do you know a better way to beat jet lag...?

The train arrived in Muenchen (Munich) at around 6-something in the morning. Working on what little German I had picked up, I asked directions to Senefelderstrasse (Seinfeld Street!) and five minutes later easily stumbled upon Wombat's - by and large the awesomest hostel I had been to yet. And NO, "awesomest" is generally NOT actual English. But for the moment, I say it is and it's my blog. I have spoken.

I check into the hostel. The room is not ready this early, but I'm fading and quick. Getting to Munich "bright and chipper" was great because I wouldn't miss any tours and I could fully milk my two whole days in Bavaria for what they were worth, but I was walk-sleeping (the inverse of sleep-walking) my way around with exhaustion. Luckily, there was "the Wintergarten." (You like the German spelling?) Below are Ray and Souma demonstrating how to properly "use" the Wintergarten.

Nestled in between the hostel's internet hot-spot and gigantic bar stood this beautiful, glass-ceilinged meditation lounge with (real!) trees, beanbag chairs, sleeping mats, couches, and - the coup de grace - industrial-strength air conditioning.

Under the guise of reading, I nodded off on the long leather couch and was only two hours later awoken by the sound of clinking glass, as one of the maintenance guys collected the beer bottles and pint glasses left from the night before. And thank goodness - or else I would've missed the tour (and the whole point of my early morning).

Then I meet...Ozzy.
Ozzy is a Wombat-ian, a kickass tour guide, and the self-proclaimed "only black native Bavarian. I mean, just look around. Seriously."

After a brief introduction to Munich's history and a series of questions posed to see how much the audience already knows about German history (by the way, the answer to 60% of his questions was "beer"), we headed off and started our tour with a quick grocery stop for water and supplies. As we were reassembling, I noticed that one of the guys in the group had an angry-looking yellow-jacket printed on the back of his shirt. Noting this to be unusual - and knowing the origin of the mascot since my big brother went to Georgia Tech - I figured the odds were pretty good that these guys went to Georgia Tech, too. As such, they were probably from the States and with a quality university degree, would also prove to be reasonably well-educated minds for primed for good conversation. As my Aussie friend Leanne would say, "They weren't those Paris Hilton-y, gossiping Americans I keep running into."

Me too, Leanne. Me too.

So I chatted one of them up and, pretty soon, I had traveling companions. Aaron, Ray, Souma, J.B. and Greg were a year or so shy of graduation and were on a trip away from their study abroad campus in France. We - me, the guys and super-vegan Kelly, another single traveler I had met at the hostel - got to know each other during the tour, having a mid-tour alcohol-fuelled lunch and a post-tour beer (or ten) at two of Munich's largest biergartens.

What is lunch at a biergarten? Pretzels, veggie-cheese spread, and onions with a pint of beer. Compare the size of the pretzel to the size of the pint and the plate. Not even photoshopped...and oh-s0-delicious.
The crew "at work," a.k.a. beer at lunchtime. We returned to the hostel, weary, and changed to go out, grab some dinner, and hit some clubs. We were in the bar waiting for the group to assemble, when we were approached by this (I think) German guy who told us it was his bachelor party and that, for some reason or by some custom, he had to sell a whole bunch of things. The items included dirty magazines, tampons, lingerie, and action figures (don't know how that LAST one got in there...). At one point, the very drunk "bachelor" wanted Greg to try on a woman's thong. Greg put it on over his shorts for a laugh, but this was not exactly what the guy had in my mind. The guy takes the thong back, peels off his pants, and puts the thong on over his underwear, wandering around the bar, strangely proud.

Laughs all around. NOW, we were ready to go. (Above are Greg and Ray cracking up at the "pink-thonged bachelor.")

We had a fairly uneventful dinner (with a waiter who clearly didn't like us - yay, America!) and then went to the "club street," basically a sketchy, large alley with about fifteen clubs all lined up, one after the other. When heads began to collide, we split up. Aaron, J.B., Kelly, and I went one way - to the America bar (which was nowhere near as lame as it sounds, thank goodness), while the others figured out where they wanted to go. We went dancing for about an hour and a half before calling it quits. We would be getting up early the next day to visit Dachau and the Deutsches Museum and were already exhausted from the day. So back we went.

The next day we went to Dachau, which was amazing to see, but less informative than I would have liked. However, the highlight of my time in Munich - the Deutsches Museum - was absolutely historic. It’s basically the world's most fabulous and comprehensive science museum. We saw the V2 rocket, and were disappointed to find barely a mention of Dr. Werner von Braun - immortalized by musical satirist Tom Lehrer in his comedic ditty "Werner von Braun" (which I highly recommend giving a listen to if you don't know it). The Techies were singing it and surprised when I jumped right on in with them. I may not be a nerdy engineer, but I know classic comedy when I hear it.

After touring through the museum for about three and a half hours, we visited the giftshop, where merchandise plastered with Albert Einstein and E = mc-squared abounded, but not a glimpse of Werner von Braun was to be found. Avowing that we would create a company solely to the creation of "Werner von Braun" t-shirts and memorabilia, we set off in search of evening activities.

We passed a movie poster of Harry Potter and, worn out from the night before, decided a movie night would be nice. We went back to the hostel where the front desk pointed out two English-language theaters where the new Harry Potter would be playing. We followed the instructions, planning on catching an 8-ish showing, and found the theater. We went inside and asked if Harry Potter was playing here in English. "No, you want the NEXT theater down. Just keep walking." And so we did. Finally we got to the next theater with about 20 minutes before the showing.

"They're showing Harry Potter in English here, right?"
"No. This one is in German. It's the next theater down."

Okay. So we keep walking. The front desk had told us it would be near the Deutsches Museum and we saw the movie posters for Harry Potter just beside the museum entrance. Exasperated, we had finally arrived. Or had we?

"This theater is only German. There is another theater if you continue walking along the river."

Oy vey. So we keep walking and finally we reach yet ANOTHER theater, and this time, the movie posters are in English. A good sign. We ask, and YES! it is the English-language cinema – one out of four in a five block radius. Those Munich-ers must really like their movies.

We returned to the hostel after our fantastic cinematic adventures and I bid my new friends adieu, as I would be leaving early the next morning and they the next afternoon.
From Munich I was on to Vienna, which I can sum up in the conclusion to this entry:

Churches, shopping, old buildings, more churches, statues, creepy grocery store attendants who like to try to get "friendly" with their foreign female patrons after seriously overcharging them in a "push-button error" that forces said patron to wait around for twenty minutes while the manager (who actually knows what she's doing) comes back to fix it, AND more churches.

The grocery guy charged me 850 Euro instead of 8.50. Nice move, slick. And get your disgusting, pervy hands away from me. What is it about being American that screams, "do whatever you want, I'm SUPER friendly"? I had to sit around and wait while some woman - I sincerely hope not his wife, because that would make me exceedingly sad - came back and cancelled the transaction.

Geez, you go to the same grocery store twice because it's the only one open after 7 and THIS is the repayment you get...Despite that, Vienna was quiet and relaxing, just what I needed before my sea-bound, inescapable (short of a woman-overboard situation, that is) family reunion. Which actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Tune in next time.

P.S. For those of you who were asking for pictures, I hope this week was better.
posted by Rachel @ 1:07 PM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
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