On King Leopold, Tourism, and Work.
Before I continue waxing on the pros, cons, and general experience of Germany, I want to mention something provoked by the title picture of this blog. That one isn’t my fault, it was a generous gift of the Voice editorial staff. I am not being sarcastic, I think it is hilarious, but it does remind me of a particular incident that occurred before I came to Munich to start this magnificent adventure. Therefore we‘re going to take a little trip back in time and discuss stereotypes.
If you looked at that castle and guessed that it was Neuschwanstein, you‘re right. The man in the picture is Ludwig II of Bavaria, better known to the English-speaking world as „Mad King Ludwig“, a 19th Century Style european playboy of the highest caliber, who spent the entire Bavarian treasury putting on grand fairs, cultural events, the plays of his good friend Richard Wagner, and, perhaps most famously building the castle upon which Walt Disney based his works. German history professors and tour guides, I have learned, particularly hate him because he made entire generations of American children grow up thinking that medieval castles actually looked like Neuschwanstein. In reality, the castle was built in the late 19th century.
Actually it was never finished, but despite this, it is still one of the single top tourist attractions for Americans visiting Germany, and one of the most visited sites in the country. And this brings me to my point. Bavaria is not like other parts of Germany, as some may have noticed from reading my first post. Therefore, DO NOT READ THIS BLOG AND EXPECT TO LEARN WHAT GERMANY IS ACTUALLY LIKE.
I should qualify that statement actually- because I am going to try to talk about the daily life and things that aren‘t plastered all over the tourist routes and guide books, because you could just read one of those. However, if you‘re planning on going to Munich and only visit the tourist sites, do not expect to see the real Germany. Thats not because it isn‘t in Munich (in general germans live here like they live anywhere else), but because, due to the huge numbers of tourists arriving every year, the Münchners have become extremely proficient at marketing the ridiculous, lederhosen/dirndl clad, Maß-beer drinking tourist Munich, which exists in all of its kitschy-glory right alongside the daily-life Munich.
Which leads me back to Neuschwanschtein. I didn‘t like it. For two reasons. One, it was incredibly short tour, and as a history buff I usually like having time to see little details if I want to. When you arrive you are segregated into huge groups by language by means of a series of polished steel barricades vaguely reminiscent of the stockyard of a slaughterhouse. I was visiting with a group of students from my Study Abroad program, and so we were herded into a very large group of about 50 Germans. Groups left at precisely scheduled 5 minute intervals, and once inside we were herded through the entire castle in about 30 minutes. We went by literally bejewelled ceilings and huge murals of scenes from Wagner‘s operas at a speed that almost blurred them. The bored guide gave us a few choice sentences of history as we sped past. We spent maybe a minute in Ludwig‘s bed chamber, possibly the most ornate room of them all, with private chapel, bath with the first working toilet in Germany, and a bed made of over a thousand individual, tiny, carved, wood castle towers. Then we were allowed as much time as we wanted to buy over-priced post cards and knickknacks in one of three different gift shops on the way down through the unfinished part of the castle.
At the risk of complaining even more, I will simply say, that of all of the amazing things there are to do and see in Europe, I am saddened that this is among the most popular, especially as it is so obviously a romanticized reproduction of something much older. Definitely go see it if you visit here, but please don‘t make it the highlight of your stay.
After reading my lovely rant, here are some words about my daily life. I wake up early in the morning, and go to your average, 9-5 internship. As an intern I am basically a mixture of research assistant, and anything else they need me to be. This means that, while I spend most of my time reading and collecting research material from archives, 40 year old newspapers, etc, I also do translation and bibliography work for english language publications. I was not aware of how bad my own knowledge of the English language was with regard to specific grammar rules until I started translating.
Doing such research is interesting and boring at the same time. My office‘s research topic, German responses to terrorism, makes everything a really interesting read. Unfortunately, I do not get to simply read everything at my leisure, most of what I do involves extracting specific things from the texts and putting them in endless tables with all sorts of data for further reference. After three weeks, I already know that this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Thats not to say that work is not good, its actually pretty awesome. At the end of my first week of work I got to sit in on a conference about the Weimar Republic, probably one of the most interesting and misunderstood periods in German history. After each presentation, the other 20 experts sitting at the round table proceeded to tear the presenters work apart with constructive (and not so constructive) criticism. I definitely do not want to present at German academic conferences!
Not to self. Actually get these things published more regularly!