Day 21-22: Nymphs and Nymphenburg

Another good friend Vladimir, whom I met the first summer at the Dresden Goethe Institute, came to visit me in Munich. His friend recommended Nymphenburg Palace, so we checked it out on Google Maps. Unlike Neuschwanstein, it was 20 minutes and only a few stops away from the center of town.

As the summer home of Bavarian royalty, the palace was on the usual grand scale with gardens so extensive that we could only cover half of it in a morning. King Ludwig II was born there in 1845, and his great-grandfather Max I Joseph died there in 1825. The palace was developed over time since the late 17th Century. You can read more about it here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nymphenburg_Palace

The rococo palace contained many restrained elements of grandeur (as restrained as palaces designed with pomp and circumstance could restrain themselves) with well proportioned rooms and plenty of decorated memorabilia. A miniature Petit Trianon was tucked on the side just for the fun of it. I was a little disappointed to not find any deer heads like the ones on display at Moritzburg, though.

The carriage house, or Marstall Museum, contained an unusual collection of horse-down carriages and sleighs. You could see how automobiles were just around the corner by the level of detail implemented for lighting, wind protection, speed, efficiency, and overall human comfort.

On the afternoon of the same day, a leisurely stroll from Rosenheimer Platz along the Isar River to the English Gardens took about an hour. We were in search of the surfers on the river, and finally found them near the Chinese Pagoda. The Garden is one of the largest urban parks in the world (bigger than Hyde Park or Central Park) and provides plenty of leisurely activities and bathing on hot summer days along the rivers.

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The surfers who surfed along the part of the river were amazingly talented and mesmerizing. You can see how calm they are despite what seems impossible to handle. There was plenty of free entertainment where surfers could show off their calisthenic skills and daring. This is probably something you will never forget once you’ve seen it.

Day 20 (b): Maxvorstadt, Munich

Enough opera for everyone?!? Well, here’s a bit of welcome relief.

The Goethe Institute gave a tour of the Ludwig-Maximilians University Quarter that started with some historical elements of WWII. This is the university attended by Sophie Scholl, who protested the dealings of the Nazi Party. She attended the university (known as the University of Munich at the time) and was a Philosophy major there.

In 1943, she, her brother, and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty of treason and beheaded in February 1943. The White Rose represented their movement and live roses are still posted in memoriam at sites at the entrance to the University and inside the main lobby. It gave me goose bumps after walking through the spaces she inhabited. You can read more about her here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Scholl

Shops around the University area provided delightful finds, that included antiquarian bookshops; quirky gourmet ice cream cafes like Verruckt, which means Crazy in German, features beer flavored ice cream and breakfast ice cream; a storefront cooking school allows you to peek in and see all the action and after-effects of food being consumed; and a specialty bike shop that has custom colors for hand made bike frames.

Many of the Altbaus, or old buildings, were built during the 18th and 19th Centuries.  Inner courtyards or “hofs” hide renovated or jazzy new buildings and green areas with retail spaces are tucked into the ground floor. Craftsman-quality cabinet shops and made-to-order items are plentiful and enough to delight the eye and microwave the credit card.

And from the poetry shop:

There’s more of Munich to come…

Day 16-20(a): Ring, Ring!!

My weeks have been filled with German classes and opera. Classes begin at 1:15pm and go until 5:30pm. Homework assignments keep me busy in the morning and I haven’t ventured out much, except to the local neighborhood hangout in Rosenheimer Platz near the S-bahn station.

On the opera end, you will all be relieved to hear that the call has been answered. Tonite was the finale of the Ring Cycle. Götterdämmerung, or the “Twilight of the Gods” completed the saga of the search for wealth, love and happiness with the destruction of the world.

Earlier in the week, the third opera, “Siegfried”, began the story of Wotan’s grandson.The featured photo shows the curtain call after the first act. Siegfried was raised by one of the dwarfs who held and coveted the ring. Without his real parents, he was brash, confident, and belittled his adopted parent. It isn’t until he goes through life and discovers setbacks, challenges and love, that he becomes a real man.

I was discreetly placed in the King’s Box for the last two performances, after asking the concierge if I could change seats in order to see the English translation. Up until that time, my view was obstructed from seeing the English supertitles and I was relying on the German text. Seeing both gave me the maximum benefit.

The  third opera started at 5:00pm, and I wasn’t out of there until 10:35pm! The last two operas are the same duration, so if you are contemplating going to the Ring, be prepared.

Here’s the curtain call for the final performance of Götterdämmerung, with thunderous applause for magnificent singing by superstar Nina Stemme. As Brunhilde, she sang for half of the performance in a strong, powerful, perfect voice!  Notice the empty orchestra seats. Everyone heading home after performing six hours?!?

And most of the credit for the entire Ring Cycle at the Munich Opera Festival this year goes to Krill Petrenko, musical director of the Bayerische Staats Opera. His orchestra justifiably joined the stage and relished the kudos from the audience for the final curtain call. It takes a generation to cultivate these performers. You will be hearing more about this amazing conductor as he emerges into the world class arena.

And yes, it was worth it all. Time, place, and money.

Day 14-15 Lost Worlds, Lost Messages, Lost Glasses

Okay, so most of you haven’t been to the Ring, Right?!? The only person I know who has been to one is my German classmate Royee, who attended the Bayreuth Ring last year. It’s not for all, as you have to either book a hundred years before you were born (similar to applying to pre-schools in San Francisco), or know the scene director personally before he was fired, to get tickets.

Germany decided to spread the wealth around and stage this year’s Ring in Munich instead of at Bayreuth. This was much more palatable, so you can enjoy a major city and still get a double dose of music and culture at the same time. I booked my tickets in November the year before so I could take German classes and see the Ring, a series of four operas, over one week. The saga searches for meaning in life, love, and happiness.

So here’s the typical setup for each opera. They start you off with the 2.5 hour version, no bathroom breaks (Das Rheingold). (see previous post). Then it progresses to 3.5 hours (Die Walküre), then 5.5 each of the last two. (Sigfried and Götterdämmerung, in the following week). You progress up to 2-40 minute breaks for good behavior.

You go in. Check out your neighbors. Decent looking, well-dressed bunch, but not too stiff. They’re not going to snore (nor are you), and each person will fit compactly into the seat they are assigned. Otherwise, it’s like getting on a 17-hour flight with you in the middle seat. The music begins and unfolds exquisitely. You are enraptured by Wagner’s ability to transcend sounds into music, words into poetry.

And then WHAT!!!???!!! A stage full of bodies and maidens prancing around the stage, as a backdrop to the principal singers’ prologues, arias, and dying laments?!? A gaggle were nude or nearly-nude, with exposed wire-strapped bras and saggy body suits. Uh-oh, it’s that German Freiheit thing again. But now they are stomping in Gothic River Dance Doc-Martin boots and shimmery, raggedy tunics as angry sisters of Brunhilde protecting their heroine (with an e)?!? Whatsup!!??!! Someone was unveiling a supposedly dead body in the background on a gurney as the singers in the foreground sang fervently to each other.

My point: Hollywood has done alot for entertainment. Granted, it’s very showmanistic, but it has simple logic. The absence of it makes you homesick even for the glitz. The Germans are intellectual, stark, and blunt. They want to make sure you get the message about the suffering. They prefer to use resources on paying personnel to be the stage props, rather than to design, plan, and build stage sets. Sorry, but the interpretation didn’t work for me.

The singers would have done better on a bare stage. It was clear the audience felt the same. It was so bad in some parts that the audience literally booed!! Despite the stellar principal singers consisting of Jonas Kaufmann (one of my favorites), Nina Stemme (from Tristan and Isolde fame at the NY Met), and Wolfgang Koch (from the Bayreuth Festival), being the primary focus, the staging distracted the audience, and nearly destroyed the beautiful music and singing. Several times I closed my eyes to block out the visuals, and wished that the message had been better delivered.

I’m not saying that I would rate the SF Opera production higher than this one, because the music and the singing was not strong. I would love to see the two companies collaborating together one day to make the most of each company’s talents, and to give the audience a performance that Wagner would be proud to see.

Here are the staid curtain calls, that don’t reflect anything expressed above, with (1) Kiril Petrenko, the highly regarded conductor of the Bayern Staatsoper:

and (2) my favorite tenor Jonas Kaufmann taking his well deserved curtain call as Sigmund:

As for more mundane activities this week, I lost my glasses and left my keys in the apartment where I was staying. I went to two “found” bureaus and discovered a treasure trove of “found” items, all neatly classified and categorized. I didn’t find my glasses, but it was a pleasure to see German efficiency at its best.

Day 11-13: Nazis, Rings, and Blue Riders

National Socialism

The National Socialism Tour hosted by the Goethe Institute was one of the most stimulating tours I have ever taken. Given by Dr. Christoph Engels, the guide provided the overview of Hitler and how Munich was a central control and rallying point for the Nazi Party.

Using Hitler’s creations for the flag, logo, and uniforms, he combined propaganda and design to seduce the populace with fanfare and drama. The frequent marches down the main thoroughfare from Marienplatz to the Odeonsplatz were displays of might and staging trials for the military. I was a bit chilled to realize that the very backdrop for the Greek Festival I attended on my first day in Munich was where Hitler conducted many ceremonies.

The monumental boulevards reminiscent of Paris contributed to the public parades of the military. Billions of dollars were donated to the Nazi Party by private citizens, who saw the salvation of Germany led by Hitler. The original headquarters of the Nazi Party still exists, and while not open to the public, it continues to host activities of the Neo-Nazi Party members.

There were three phases of recovery by the German people after the devastating reign of terror. First, there were those who experienced it, followed by the children of the war survivors. They experienced a long period of “Scham und Schuld”, or Shame and Guilt. After 1968, the third generation began to ask the grandparents what role they had in the war. These questions were difficult discussions that needed to be answered by each family.

When the official statistics about the Holocaust victims at 6,000,000 people was mentioned, a couple of my classmates from Russia and the Ukraine noted that there were many more Russians killed by Stalin before and after WWII. They wanted to put history in perspective with their experience and knowledge. They also noted that the war itself saved many Russians from starvation and death caused by Stalin.

Munich Opera Festival

The Ring by Richard Wagner is a 17-hour epic, presented in a series over four days. The 2.5 hour, no-break opera in German subtitles was a challenge.  I had prepared myself for the “real thing” after seeing my first Ring at the SF Opera last month.

The difference between the two? San Francisco spent alot more effort in the production, the acting, the stage sets, but the singing was weak. Munich was the opposite. The stage sets were minimal, but Munich delivered some of the best singing I have ever heard. The opera house is smaller than San Francisco’s, and the singers must have their voices perfectly calibrated to the acoustical capabilities of the house. It didn’t hurt to have estatically beautiful music for both, thanks to Wagner.

And here’s a clip of how it looked from the audience during the curtain call. You would have to turn your sound up to full volume (but don’t do it!) to capture the thunderous foot stomping that Germans do in addition to clapping. The gesture is highly successful because: 1. you don’t have to stand up and drop the program in the process while still being able to respond spontaneously; 2. you don’t block others behind you who don’t want to stand or have a different opinion; and 3. It gets your entire body stimulated and the blood flowing so you can remember to get up to leave!

Lenbach Museum

Last week, good friend Helena had suggested going to the Lenbach Museum during her visit here. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fit everything in. She has pretty good taste in choosing museums, so I decided to venture there on a free morning. I combined a trip to load up on German sketch books at an art supply store near the museum area with a visit to the Lenbach.

I could only remember that Helena had told me about something Blue that was on display there. After all, Helena and I had just seen Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter the week before, right? At first, I thought it was the Blue Wonder, then I remembered, no, that’s a bridge in Dresden. After I ripped through a gaggle of galleries searching for the missing identity, I finally asked the guide where the Blue Rider was located. His answer: they’re everywhere! I was perplexed at first, then realized that its…a movement.

The collection generated a lively FaceTime conversation with my German language partner in the Bay Area. Being an art history aficionado, he set me straight. The text may be hard to read, but if you are interested, you can view it on a monitor. They’re all yours, Jim!

Day 9-10: You Are Faust

Being in Germany every year gives me a deeper understanding of one of Germany’s beloved authors, Goethe. I wrote about him in 2014 during our trip to Weimar, where Goethe and Schiller both lived. This exhibition in Munich gave me another opportunity to explore the work of this Romantic writer, biologist, philosopher and philanthropist.

“Du Bist Faust”, or “You are Faust” is a multi-media collection of paintings, artifacts and operatic stage sets at the Kunsthalle. An excellent guided tour inspired most of us to explore, learn and read and more about Goethe.

Goethe introduced Mephistopheles (Mephisto) as a devil who cuts a deal with Faust. The first volume attempted to define pure love and beauty. Faust was set to die when he found the perfection of love. Other artists portrayed the idealized woman drawn from the Goethe’s story. In the painting of the couple below, they are determining that awkward moment in life with the daisy and “…he loves me…he loves me not…”

The next area in the exhibition dealt with the “Fallen Maiden” or the realization that love is flawed and broken. The heroine gets pregnant out of wedlock, her mother dies from the potion she was given during her daughter’s fling, and the baby dies. Tragedies strike from all sides. The male who drank the Viagra-induced love potion and messed up in the first place now has to pay for everything big-time with his guilt.

The second volume of Faust was alot more philosophical and difficult for the average, non-German reader. The exhibition chose to focus instead on the operatic versions of Faust. I was delighted to see a section of the New York Metopera stage set for the opera with music by Gounod. A cool hologram of one of the actresses who performed Faust stood at our side and gave us a quick introduction to her role. Goethe’s dramatic ability was yet another dimension of his many-faceted career.

The point of the exhibition was to challenge you to the moral dilemmas that Goethe tried to address. If you could make a deal with the devil, what would you do?!?

If you want to read my previous post about Goethe, you can read it here:

https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2014/08/12/day-22-goetting-goethe/

Now that the World Cup fever has ended, I chose to reorganize my life and capture a few quiet moments in nearby Rosenheimer Platz.

Day 4-8: Unique Munich

For the past three years, Very Good Friend Helena from Brunnen (near Lucerne) Switzerland has graced me with an annual visit in Germany. This year, in Munich, our first adventure was tackling the Museums of the Alte and Neue Pinotheks together. The Masters and Impressionists of European art, respectively, reside at these museums.

We concentrated only on the Vermeer Woman in Blue special exhibition at the Alte Pinothek, and the French Impressionists at the Neue.

It was delightful to hear the German guide’s commentary on the Vermeer painting. Her clear and inspiring comments reminded me why I’m in Germany. The clarity and forthrightness of her explanation about the form, structure, color, and subject of the painting made it engaging and easy to understand.

I learned that many of these genre paintings with exquisite light were symbolic connections to the Dutch military and its world explorations, that included Asia and the Dutch East Indies.

I had never connected these dots before. The guide even raised the symbolism of women’s place in society. They represented the Republic and their noble public image vs. that of men, who represented soldiers and their bad behavior away from home. Men often were sailing or serving as soldiers. When they arrived at port, they often headed to the brothels and engaged in bad or uncomely behavior.

This was certainly a new spin on art history and the exquisite Dutch, light-filled genre paintings that I came to admire. I couldn’t help but to connect the home-bound intimate interiors with the fanciful red light district in Amsterdam.

A few other notable artists’ works in the Neue Pinothek included these impressionists from the 19th Century:

On Sunday we rolled down the hill and across the swift flowing river to the Deutsches Museum. The Isar River not only has a surfing spot, but also a decent sandy beach down down the street from where I live in the middle of town!!

The Museum is one of the foremost science museums in the world. It’s a full scale playout of The Way Things Work and more. We focussed on the Planetarium and Astronomy sections of the museum. The English translations are excellent. The featured image above is from a diorama replica of the Challenger Expedition in 1872.

On Thursday night, I attended the Goethe Institute’s International Dinner and taught my Turkish classmate how to use chopsticks. She was a natural.

Her boyfriend and another Turkish classmate helped her prepare a ready-made Turkish dish of mini-ravioli pasta that was delicious with a mild sauce!

And as a parting bonus video: a clip of the evening performance of the organ concert at the Asam Kirche is below. You can read about the church in the previous post.

Here’s VGF Helena at lunch next to the museum and an irresistible baby at the next table:

Day 2-3: Munchin’ in München

Alumni Tom from my Year Three of the Goethe Institute (Schwäbisch Hall) asked for more…which I interpret as juicy details of days in Deutschland…so here it comes!

Food! Food! Glorious Food! You can’t help but feel a little bit like Oliver Twist trolling the markets and streets of Munich. You are scheming to steal a taste of everything you see. Forget the South Beach diets, guys. this is serious business. I wrote about the 3B’s in past landings, that include Beer, Bratwurst and Brot.

Sadly, I have indulged in only the last one so far. I couldn’t resist the fresh, crusty rolls that are so attractively swirled into sections that fit your hand and mouth in perfect unison. They even douse them with seeds to make them appear healthy. (See captions in photos for specifics.)

Arrival at the Goethe Institute for another German course (I’m up to B2!) is serious business, so I had to get my head in gear for some intellectual challenge. Things are looking promising for the location, teacher, and fellow students. We’ll see. I just signed up to give a presentation about the opera, in German! Fortunately it is on the last day of classes so I can prepare and have plenty of time to sweat and fret.

City Tour

Our first class intro to Munich was a city tour. We visited a few of the highlights in Marienplatz, the city’s historic center. I was pleased that the professional guide who led us didn’t hit the same spots that I stumbled into on the first day. The highlight for me was the Catholic rococo church by the Asam Brothers. It was very unsuspecting from the outside like many urban Italian Mannerist churches, but the interior was a dramatic spectacle.

I hadn’t planned on seeing such ornateness in Germany. The goals were to present holy theater, light, and drama. They seemed to want to outdo every Italian master that ever existed, and their own to boot. Portions of the church were disassembled during WWII so the artifacts and sculpture were preserved. This church was one of the goopiest I had seen anywhere, but it somehow was disgustingly elegant. Maybe I’m just getting old and decrepit and starting to ignore restraint.

The Opera House

Tonite I attended a performance at the Bayerishes Staatsopera House. I am preparing for next week’s 17-hour Ring, that will be held over four days. This performance was a decent Lieder, or Song Recital by German opera star Anja Harteros. I was happily reading the words to the songs in German when the women next to me asked me if I liked the concert. I told them that I was enraptured by it. I didn’t confess to her, that I was only excited that I could read and understand the German and that I had hardly paid attention to the singer.


They proceeded to tell me how bad the performance was. They were opera singers and had studied in Munich themselves. They seemed very distraught that the singer was incomprehensible and the music very stiff with no interpretation. I quickly excused myself from the conversation, as clearly a novice like me has no right to evaluate operatic performance standards. As I slinked out of the opera house, I fondled my Brahms and Schubert program and disappeared into the S-Bahn.

Day 1: Folk and Opera Festivals, München and World Cup 2018

Munich turned out in flying colors for the launch of my World Trip 2018! I’m here for a month to study German, and then travel with hubby and friends at the end of the month before heading to Asia in August.

A quick subway ride two stops from where I am staying brought me to the city’s center. Nearby Marienhof provided locals and tourists with musical accompaniment for Germany’s national pride and specialties—beer and a donor kebab.

The main attraction was a Greek Cultural Day, featuring a dance group:

There was literally “Dancing in the Streets” among the crowds:

A more staid but dedicated group around the corner at Maximilianplatz in front of the National Theater waited patiently for the five-hour free, outdoor live screen production of Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal:

This opera, about the search for the Holy Grail,  featured top international opera stars Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal, Nina Stemme (from recent NY Metopera Tristan and Isolde); Rene Pape (also from Wagnerian opera fame and many others); and Wolfgang Koch (from Bayreuth fame). You will be hearing more about these stars when I see my second Ring cycle later this month in Munich. This was a great introduction to the operatic skills of these artists in what was touted as the “Opera of the Century” for its blindingly glitzy star lineup.

News Flash: for those interested, you can see the full 5 hour opera live stream for 24 hours from 12:00 pm Monday 7/9 til 12:00 pm Tuesday 7/10 (Munich time, less 9 hours) at:

http://www.operlive.de

Despite my excitement in making it here for this major public event, my jet lag started to take effect by the early evening.  I returned home to slog through the rest of the opera by live stream.

At the airport earlier, the quarter final soccer game was televised at the United Lounge. Croatia won in a shootout after a nail-biter with Russia. A Bosnian woman and I became instant friends by watching together. She lived in New Mexico and was flying to meet her family in Frankfurt. I am officially a World Cup soccer fan now after binging this year on nearly every game that was aired on Fox TV.  Here’s one of the exciting moments when Croatia succeeded during one of their kicks:

Hopefully you have become World Cup soccer fans by now too. You only have to invest your time once very four years, so it’s a very efficient and effective form of addiction. Long-time friends Larry and Corene, who were visiting the Bay Area earlier this week, are also avid World Cup soccer fans. I was impressed that Larry could name all the star players and knew the back stories to the coaches in the various leagues.

A few screen shots capture the emotional roller coaster for fans and players, and the elation at the bitter end: