Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Orbital Cycles

A sure sign that you are over-nighting with a scientist is that the evening's entertainment consists of a glass of wine on the balcony, watching the International Space Station interactive location map.  We were waiting for the ISS to appear on the horizon and pass in an arc across the sky only to disappear with a promise to reappear in another 90 minutes or so.  Frankly, the night suited us well.  But we nevertheless got pulled into the station's orbital wake and were yanked from the quiet of Reutlingen and tossed to Munich.

Our arrival into Munich was inauspicious. We had not known when—or even if—we would be going to Munich, so had not made any housing arrangements. We disembarked at the hauptbahnhof, and wandered to the Tourist Info center to book a room for the coming days, a strategy that had worked well for us in the past in other cities. This being peak vacation time in southern Germany, the lines were long, and we cued at the back. More people filtered in behind. We could overhear conversations up at the counter.

“Every room in our system is booked.”

“But where will I stay?”

“You can take this list of hotels in Munich and try to call them, but there is nothing on our system and nothing I can do.”

C and I looked at one another and decided there was no point in standing in line any longer.  The man at the counter looked shell-shocked.  We stepped out of the TI office and into a Le Crobag at the train station that had WiFi, deciding it would be more efficient to do some searches online than take the TI's collection of phone numbers. It was hot in Munich, way hotter than it had any right to be, and the Le Crobag (like all of Munich) had no air conditioning. Across from us a couple of (suspected) junkies nodded off to sleep, snapping awake from time to time to scan the room with eyes that never seemed to track one-another. Next to us sat two girls from Japan texting, crowded by a man from Spain talking loudly on the phone who had, for some reason, decided to forego the numerous empty seats for a seat at the same table as the girls.  It looked like their shoulders touched. The man started to get agitated, speaking louder and unintelligibly into the phone.  At least he was unintelligible to me. Presumably, the caller on the other end could make it out. But maybe not, which may have led to the agitation in the first place. The girls got up and left, but not as quickly as I would have expected. A pigeon wandered in to join the fun, and I'm pretty sure one of the junkies tried to score from it. We did not research hotels long and hard. There's a hostel with space? Take it and let's get the hell out of here.

Once in the hostel, we arranged an Air B&B stay for the remaining nights in Munich, settled in, and wondered what to do next. A guide book we are carrying in electronic form—convenient for its weight but not particularly functional if you actually want a guide—stated that Munich is a city of art and beer, and I cannot really argue with that description. There was plenty of both on offer. There was also stifling heat raining from the skies in a relentless siege on all that is good and right on this Earth. As such, we spent most of the time trying to keep C alive by browsing shopping centers, the only buildings in all of Europe (apparently) that were constructed or remodeled recently enough to have included AC as part of the design. I looked at women's clothes. I looked at kitchen wares. I saw shoes and scarves enough to fill a lifetime. All in the name off keeping cool.

Between sale racks, we learned a little about Munich's history and its rise to wealth and prominence, including its role in the rise of the Third Reich. We saw Satan's footprint, preserved under the onion domes the Frauenkirche. We saw a small fraction of the art available city-wide for viewing. And, yes, we drank an even smaller fraction of the beer available for consumption. But most importantly, we stopped to pay homage to a great historical figure who changed the world with his message of peace and declaration that Billie Jean was not, in fact, his lover, spending the better part of two days in quiet meditation at the Michael Jackson memorial.

Munich hovers near the top of lists ofthe world's most liveable cities. It may be, but it is hard to judge under the twin oppressions of crowds and heat. We only scratched the surface of the city's museums, and could not fall into the city's rhythm on the tourist trail. Rather than admire a high quality of life, we seemed to spend our time trying to hydrate, cool down, and dodge rental luxury vehicles driven by the monied visitors who seem to have come for the high-end shopping on Maximillian Strasse rather than the collection of ancient Greek sculpture in the Glyptothek. As such, we again cued the ISS interactive map and grabbed hold on its next pass, letting it pull us out of the urban and into the (hopefully) cooler Bavarian alps.

Some photos from Munich:

(It is still called the "New" Town Hall, even though it was built in 1867.  How does your town hall measure up?) 

(C... and crowds)

(Beer garden, quiet before the storm.)

(The iconic view of Munich, available on every post card.)

(The junkies we saw in the Le Crobag?  Some picture I took after too many house in the heat?  Our Air B&B host watching our every move from the shadows?)

(Munich has a surf scene.  Really.

(Beating the heat.)

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