We took last Friday off and headed to the nearby train station for a trip to Munich. I definitely like the train and I think it's the most enjoyable way to travel (unless you're in a terrible accident like the one that just happened in L.A.) It takes seven hours to cross through Austria and into Southern Germany where Munich is located. I spent most of that time reading Rob Roy and enjoying the great views out the window. Agi just finished the very interesting Gilgamesh--the oldest written story in the world put together by ancient Assyrians which is present-day Iraq. I added it to my list.
Munich is a beautiful, wealthy city filled with--as far as we could tell--nice, happy successful people. Every single German we interacted with was off-the-charts nice. Not just polite; they seemed to genuinely take pleasure in talking with us and gave us warm smiles that made us feel great to be there. On Friday night in the metro we asked a young German guy (with the obligatory, cool, "Dieter-like" German glasses) a question about a stop. He seemed like he couldn't have been more pleased to talk with us and he spent five minutes--even missing his train--to give us the best possible way to get to our destination.
I felt comfortable with him so I tried out a joke after he gave us such excellent directions. "You must be a BMW engineer--your directions are so exact" I said with a smile. There was perhaps a bit of a cultural disconnect because he said, very nicely & politely, "No. I'm not a BMW engineer. You too could become as good as as I am in the metro after a few days here." In any event, he was great. (By the way, we met a very friendly young Australian guy on our "Third Reich Walking Tour" on Sat and the similarity between American and Australian language and culture made joking around--and communication--very easy. You can communicate kindness very well cross-culturally but jokes sometimes don't fare so well).
On Saturday, we enjoyed an awesome bike ride through the amazingly beautiful "Englischgarten" park. There are several famous beer gardens in this park (and elsewhere throughout the city) and we had brunch at one and dinner at another right on the lake. Both German men and women drink these remarkably huge 1.5 liter beer steins/barrels. Lots of petite young ladies did the 1.5 liters too. The Oktoberfest hadn't kicked in yet but we still enjoyed some wonderful, world-class beer. The dark "doppelbok" (which originated in Munich) is my favorite.
A continual theme of our weekend was the feeling of disbelief that Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust could have arisen from these people. They seemed more like harmless, hard-working, friendly hobbits just wanting to enjoy their good beer, good cars, and very clean city--not the culture that gave birth to one of the most evil regimes in human history. (Though I think Stalin was worse and he actually killed more innocent people).
In fact, Munich was the city where Hitler got his start. We visited the famous beer hall where he gave his first speech and walked outside the beautiful buildings where he riled huge crowds of German with hateful rhetoric. In WWII, 70% of the city was destroyed by allied bombing and 400,000 people died. But the city has been so beautifully re-built (and in the original, older, more attractive architectural style, i.e., no strip malls downtown) that you can't even tell it was destroyed. Agi and I marveled at how different this is from Budapest which in many parts still looks like it did in WWII. There are lots of bullet holes in many buildings in Budapest still--especially from the '56 revolution against the evil Soviets.
On Sunday, we checked out the enormous museum in the old king's palace downtown and then took a look at the very impressive and free BMW plant in northern Munich. We had discussed whether we should visit the Dachau concentration camp--especially in light of the possibility of visiting the cool but comparatively frivolous BMW plant--but we opted not to. It would have been all day and we both had visited Auschwitz in Poland several years ago. You have to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared for such a trip as it rocks your world. Someday, we're planning on taking our kids to either of them. Again, I credit the Germans for keeping these monuments intact and doing their bests to learn from their horrible mistakes. As for the Russians' own prison Gulags? They're probably still running them today.
We took the night train home (it was a slightly scruffy Hungarian one) but enjoyable nonetheless.