Munich Guide: New Town Hall… and We’re Moving!

Life has gone from zero to everything!

Quick recap. We moved to Munich for Shane’s position. The original plan was to be in Munich for about three months, then the lab project would take us to Tena, Ecuador, for about two years. Like most, coronavirus put us in a state of limbo, but not anymore, folks!

The lab got travel approval, and September 13th Shane, Lucie, Meatball, and I are moving to South America!

Lucie and Shane
Meatball’s getting ready to travel too.

As such, it’s time for The Shwits Make the Most of Munich: Summer 2021 Edition!

Munich is living it’s best low-infection-rate-50%-vaccinated life, and they’ve finally allowed certain tourist attractions to open again after more than a year. One of those is the tower at the top of the Neues Rathaus, or the New Town Hall.

Fun fact. The New Town Hall is actually pretty new, despite its look. It was built in 1905, but the neo-gothic architecture style was apparently very popular at the time. It’s the centerpiece of the Marienplatz, the main square, and the glockenspiel is worth a watch if you’re there at the right time.

The viewing platform is above the clock.

I’m a sucker for a good view. Shane usually approaches these adventures with a little bit of dread because I make him take the stairs, but he lucked out this time. You could only take the elevator. After all of our trips to the Marienplatz, it’s nice to finally get a view from above!


Practical Info

How to get there: Take literally any S-bahn, U-bahn, Tram towards the Marienplatz. They all go there.

Cost: €6. Tickets can be purchased online (which is required right now, as part of the COVID-19 restrictions).

Opening Times: 10:00 to 19:00 daily (until 17:00 on Sundays).

Rating: ✅ Highly Recommended!

If you’re coming to Munich, you’ll definitely go to the Marienplatz. So, go up the tower! It’s worth it.


Tshüss,

Whitney

One Year in Germany!

Quite by accident, the end of May has become our official unofficial moving-aversary. This time last year, we were leaving the Netherlands for Germany, but this time seven years ago (🤯), we were leaving Pittsburgh for the Netherlands!

Leaving Oostersingel 72a!

In honor of our one-year Deutsch-aversary, I wanted to do a little reflecting.

What do we really think about living* in Germany?

* 6 months of which were in a hard lockdown in a 30 sq meter basement apartment with one window**.

** a window that looks at a retaining wall.

Our current view. The kitty makes it worth it.

German efficiency is a myth.

Honestly, I don’t know how this idea started – well, Ok, I kind of do. It stems from so-called “Prussian values,” and by the 1930s, the German reputation was built on Ordnung (order), which were mostly just rules and directness being interpreted as efficiency. If you’re interested, this article gives a lovely history lesson. For everyone else, all you need to know is that efficiency is a trait valued by Germans. However, “efficiency” is generally mistaken for a propensity for rules.

I suppose, theoretically, rules should make things more efficient since you should know exactly what to do. But what happens if things DON’T go according to plan?

like… oh, in the case of a global pandemic?

German angst.

Don’t know what to do about it? Well then, don’t do anything at all! Or, plan a meeting to meet about what to do. Either is acceptable.

We’ve had our fair share of inefficient interactions this year – from Shane’s contract to our residence permits to my freelance tax ID number, which I EMAILED about and received a reply by POST. Over a month later. Telling me I already had a tax ID number since it had been issued in the meantime. 🤦‍♀️

Germany also handcuffed itself during the coronavirus vaccine rollout. In America, there were stories of people getting spare vaccines from missed appointments. In Germany, people vying for those missed-appointment-vaccines were turned away because they weren’t in the proper priority group. Flexibility (in other words, a more efficient vaccination program) wasn’t an option.

I will give some credit, though. Once Germany gets it going – whatever “it” is – then it goes OK. Once there was clear guidance on how to handle new residency permits, our process was smooth. After some vaccine-rollout adjustments, the country is making progress.

The long and short? Take efficiency out of you vocabulary and you’ll have much more realistic expectations.

Learning German is hard… yet easier than Dutch.

…or for the inappropriate version that accurately depicts my true feelings.

I had such high hopes for learning German when we first moved here, but dddaaayyyymmm German articles are frustrating!

So, I gave up.

Well, I semi-gave up on learning German (will-we-won’t-we-need-Spanish?!) but 100% gave up on caring if I get the der, das, die correctly.

Currently, we can get by. Dutch has been very helpful with that since the sentence structure is the same and a lot of the words sound similar, so you can piece together meanings. Plus, we have mostly closed interactions – like at the grocery store or with the receptionist at the doctor’s office. You know what to expect out of those interactions, which makes them easier and manageable. And, similar to Dutch, we can both understand more than we can speak.

So why is German easier than Dutch? Because a German speaker doesn’t automatically switch to English.

Now don’t get me wrong, most people, particularly in a city like Munich, can and will speak English with you but you have to ask for it. And if they say no? Well, then you’re along for the ride, but that’s how you learn! I’ve found that I am much less self-conscious about my speaking capabilities when I know that English is off the table. German is in my brain somewhere. I just have to force it out!

I also notice that I am much less immersed in the language here than in the Netherlands. I’m working from home, we’ve had essentially no social outings to practice those basic skills thanks to lockdown, and we don’t have a boom box anymore. Yes, our old apartment had a legit boom box, so we listened to the radio all the time. It’s amazing the things you unknowingly pick up. We also haven’t been watching regular TV because (go figure) it’s all in German. In the Netherlands, most shows were in English with Dutch subtitles, so we would watch TV in English but hear commercials in Dutch. Before you know it, you’re singing along Kruidvat! Steeds verrassend, altijd voordelig! and wondering what in the heck you’re saying.

Kruidvat! Always exciting, always inexpensive!… in case you were wondering.

So, one year later, I still sound like an ausländerin.

Taxes are high, but it seems worth it.

Ah, taxes. Everyone’s favorite topic.

There’s really not so much to say about this. Taxes in Germany are pretty high. Shane loses about 35% of his paycheck each month, but that’s also paying for his health insurance (and mine, before I started freelancing), pension, and unemployment if he needs it.

Overall, it’s pretty similar to the situation in the Netherlands. The main difference is health insurance. Here, it’s included in the tax where we paid for insurance separately in the Netherlands. And about that health insurance, so far – no complaints! We’ve been to the doctor now for a couple of new vaccines and some health checkups and haven’t paid a dime (I mean… a 10 euro cent?). So, it feels like you’re at least getting something out of it.

Bavaria does not equal Germany.

A poll for the Americans:

When you think of Germany, what comes to mind?

Lederhosen & dirndls, pretzels, big beers, cute wooden alpine balconies?

While yes, all these things are German, they are typically Bavarian.

This seems like an obvious statement, but Germany is a big country! It takes about 7 hours to drive from Hamburg (the largest city in the north of the country) to Munich. So – ok, it takes longer for me to drive the length of my home state, North Carolina, but we’re talking Europe big.

There are also 16 states (Bundesland) in Germany, each with its own unique characteristics. For example, Bremen (a state and a city) was very close to us in the Netherlands and certainly had more Dutch-like characteristics, and Düsseldorf (and the other cities on the Rhine) have a distinct feel to them.

Oh, and the important one. Don’t you dare confuse a Berliner with a Bavarian, which are about as, unsurprisingly, culturally opposite as you can get. While the Nazi party may have originated in Munich, WWII and the aftermath had a completely different impact on Berlin. Munich (and Bavaria) is also a conservative mostly Catholic state, where Berlin is more left-leaning.

Long story short, visit Germany but drop those expectations!

When you come to Bavaria, order that weiß bier & weißwurst for breakfast and wear your lederhosen (especially during the Oktoberfest months) but don’t expect that to be the norm elsewhere.

Oh, and quick tip. In Bavaria, servus is hello, and order a brezen instead of a pretzel. 😉

Not how Shane envisioned post-PhD life, but it’s been worth it!

Let’s be honest, I could try to summarize what Shane said about this, but I won’t get it right. So he’ll write this bit:

Finish a PhD, get a good postdoc position (or two), and then transition into running your own lab – that’s the plan, right? That’s the ‘normal’ academic trajectory. Yea right – Covid really threw a wrench into that plan (as I’m sure everyone can relate to). Whitney has previously talked about our long and frustrating process of moving to Germany and gaining residency, so I’ll avoid re-hashing that. Instead, I focus on the past ~8 months of actually putting my PhD to use. All-in-all, totally worth the wait and hassle!

For this position, I switched ‘systems’ (aka, the animals we use to study evolutionary processes), leaving behind the 10+ years of experience in fish and fish-related research. Now, I work with Heliconius butterflies and I could not be happier. Why? Because it’s different! If find that I thoroughly enjoy learning a new system, new techniques, and new ways of thinking about things. Has this been harder than if I would have stayed in aquatics & fish? Of course it has – but that’s the whole point! My hope is that this will make me a better ‘scientist’ (still weird to call myself that) and broaden my options for when I branch out and form my own lab (fingers crossed I make it that far!).

Oh, and I would remise if I did not also mention my new lab and working group. Much as I spoke about the ‘system’, I am equally happy with my working environment. My lab mates, colleagues, and the general vibe within department are fantastic! The past ~8 months have been a joy and I look forward to the next few years!


Overall, I don’t feel like an outsider, but I certainly don’t feel integrated. I’m partially attributing that to coronavirus, partially to our perpetual state of will-we-won’t-we-move-to-Ecuador, and partially to my lack of trying.

Presuming we stay in Munich, my year-two goal is to try a little harder!

I’m not quite sure how to do that, but that’s part of the challenge of living abroad, I suppose. Tips are appreciated. 😉

Tschüss,

Whitney

Riederstein Hike: Tegernsee, Germany

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking “what-the-damn-hell!?” ’cause we got out of the city, baby!!

Tegernsee, Bavaria, Germany

This past Sunday was G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S and our first true summer-feeling day. When we met up with our friend, Theresa, back in March we talked about going for a hike when the weather finally turned. So, when a beautiful sunny day presented itself, we jumped at the opportunity to get to the mountains.

Do you know what’s really crazy? We haven’t been outside of Munich since September when we went hiking for our anniversary, and we haven’t been outside of Bavaria since we moved here nearly a year ago. I know a lot of people haven’t been traveling, but it still feels surreal.

Anyway, we met up with Theresa and our friend Giulia (who we also met in the Netherlands) for some *covid-protocol approved* outdoor fun!

The Tegernsee (see means lake) is one of the ~10 easily accessible Bavarian lakes about an hour south of the city. Our hike started in Tegernsee (the city) and looped towards Riederstein mountain for a spectacular view of the lake, the alps, and the towns below. Ironically, you can’t actually see Tegernsee city. This view is of the neighboring town, Rottach-Egern.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite parts of hiking in Bavaria (and Austria) is the beer huts! There’s nothing like a mid-hike beer to power you through the rest. Outdoor dining hasn’t been open in Bavaria since November. So, naturally, we assumed that the beer hut on the route would be closed. You can imagine our excitement when we turned the corner, and it was OPEN (and serving Tegernseer bier, naturlich)! …for take-away only, but that was ok. There was a sunny field waiting for us.

The local brew with the Riederstein peak in the background.

The Riederstein hike ends at the top of this peak – do you notice the small church? That’s where you’ll find those amazing views. It’s 20 to 30 minutes of straight uphill to get to the final destination, but the views are worth it, and you can always have a refreshment when you come back down. 😜

The beer hut with Rieterstein mountain.

Practical Info

How to get there: By car or by regional train (Bayerische Regiobahn) which runs every hour.

Distance from Munich: ~1 hour by car and 1 h 15 min by train.

Hike Direction: Starting at the Tegernsee Prinzenweg im Alpbachtal parking lot, follow the signs for Riederstein or Galaun (the beer hut). On the way back, be sure to head to the correct Tegernsee (there are multiple options!) – look for the Prinzenweg route.

Difficulty: Medium. There were some steep parts, particularly at the end, but the paths are easy to navigate.

Time: ~4 hours, not including time to relax.

Tip: Per usual, bring cash! For more details, check out this link (in German).

Rating: 🧡If there’s time

If you’re looking for a nice day trip from Munich with an easily accessible hike, this is for you. The town is also very typically Bavarian and very charming, with lots of options for food and other lake activities (in normal times).


The coronavirus numbers are slowly dropping here in Munich, and the beer gardens (and all outdoor dining) can open starting today! Maybe this won’t be a terrible summer after all…

Tshüss,

Whitney

December Joy Report

Happy Birthday to me! Happy birthday to me! I drank too much last night….that’s the end of this post! 🤦‍♀️😆

Jussssttt kidddinnnggg…about it being the end of this post. Happy New Year!

Anyway, I’m rounding out 2020’s joy reports with a double-joy-whammy! First up are a few things that made me happy in December, but I also felt like there were a few things I wanted to acknowledge about 2020. We can all probably list a million reasons why 2020 was the worst (seen the match.com commercial?), but, for us, there were a few GOOD things that came out of 2020, despite all the de-railed plans. First up, though…

December Joys!

The first snow in Munich.

It was only a few centimeters, but it was enough to cover the ground. Shane was at work (this was before the hard lockdown that started mid-December), and I was high on that fresh-snow-Christmas spirit! I popped in my headphones with my favorite Christmas music (December by George Winston), and off I went a walking in winter wonderland! Naturally, Blutenburg Castle seemed like a fun snowy destination. I was cold and wet by the time I got home, but it was just grand!

Flu shots – in German!

Yeah – ok, flu shots feel like a weird brag, but it’s less about the flu shot and more about the German! While I was excited for Shane to get a flu shot (he didn’t last year and got the flu twice), I was more excited that we broke the German-speaking barrier!…that obviously only exists in my head. We had been warned that we would most likely need to speak German when going to the doctor, but I found a doctor online who advertised that they spoke English. Great!

I was only semi-surprised when I called to schedule an appointment, asked if we could speak in English, to which the receptionist replied

nein.

It threw me for a slight loop, but I had Googled the word for ‘flu shot’ (grippeimpfung), the receptionist was very friendly and spoke slowly, and I managed to hang up the phone with instructions to show up at “elf uhr, morgen“. I spent the next 24 hours walking around the house practicing “I have an appointment at 11” (ich habe einen termin um elf uhr) and “I would like a flu shot, please!” (Ich möchte eine grippeimpfung, bitte!), and morgen um elf uhr I successfully told the receptionist I had an appointment! Turns out, they have English patient forms and the doctor spoke perfect English, but the receptionist did not.

It seems so trivial, but it was very empowering! The receptionist was also the nurse who gave me the shot, and I managed to understand her description of the vaccine symptoms, tell her I wanted my vaccine in the rechts shoulder, and made a small joke about how schnell the whole thing was.

Post-flu shot selfie for my parents. haha

Unlike the Netherlands, I don’t feel scared to try German. Dutchies are SO GOOD at English that they automatically switch if you try and speak Dutch or (even worse) you’ll get a little giggle at your attempt. I genuinely don’t think it’s on purpose or with bad intentions, but it’s certainly not encouraging. Here, if you’re trying, then that seems to be all that matters.

Unfortunately, the lockdown has really limited our interactions with native speakers, but I definitely feel like we’ve improved our language capacity.

Shane’s first advent calendar.

And, to be fair, I think this was also my first chocolate-filled advent calendar. We both remember having ‘countdowns to Christmas’ as kids, but not like this. The bad thing? Now I want an advent calendar for the entire year…

My Christmas leggings.

I don’t think I need to elaborate. Best 9 euros I ever spent.

Christmas 2020!

Could we go home? No. Could we do anything? No. Could we see other households? Technically, yes, but we didn’t.

But ya know what? We made the best of it.

Did we FaceTime with my brother-in-law so he could read us Twas The Night Before Christmas? Yep!

What’s on Shane’s forhead? A crack in my moms iPad screen. haha

Did we get a little cheerful and walk around the neighborhood taking pictures with other peoples’ Christmas decorations? Sure did!

Did we see other households? If you count the lady walking her dogs who caught us 3 times taking pictures – then why yes, we did!

It wasn’t the Christmas we expected, but we had a great time working with what we had!

…which we made sure included cinnamon rolls, a stollen, and pretzels from a gluten-free bakery I found (that took us an hour and a half round trip to bike to…oops), eierpunch (German eggnog), glühwein, curryworst, dipped cookies, and potato pankakes with applemusse! 🤪


Ya know what Pandemics are good for? Reflecting. Let’s just say we took a lot of neighborhood walks where we did a lot of complaining, but we also realized there were a few surprisingly good things.

2020 Joys Despite Covid-19

We’ve had more time in Munich.

It’s been this circular argument – if there were no Covid-19, we would be in Ecuador right now. But if we were in Ecuador already, then we would have missed Oktoberfest. But if there was Oktoberfest, then there would be no Covid and we would be in Ecuador. But if we were in Ecuador, then we wouldn’t have an opportunity to go snowboarding this year. But with Covid-19, probably we can’t go snowboarding this year…you see my point.

Despite Covid-19, we’ve been lucky to have extra time in Munich and we were especially lucky to have a relatively covid-free summer. We were able to have a *modified* beer garden experience, swim in the Isar, go on some hikes, and visit Olympia Park. No, we haven’t been able to experience the city in it’s full glory, but we know the Innenstadt well enough to navigate without maps, and I call that a win.

We CAN live in a tiny home!

We’ve watched A LOT of tiny house shows, and to be honest, really thought that we could live in a tiny house one day. Or, at least in a small house with tiny house principles. Well, once we moved to Munich we were forced to see if we could actually do it on account of 30 sq. m (~300 sq ft) is a mid-range tiny home. The kicker? Ours isn’t as efficiently built.

Good news, folks! We haven’t killed each other!

We’ve had to get creative – with furniture arrangements, workout spaces (since the gyms are closed), and sharing sit-space with the cat – but it’s all been ok. Our biggest complaint? The lack of light (our only window leads to a retaining wall). Even our one sink in the bathroom and hot plate are do-able. Not preferable, mind you, but do-able.

Nothin’ like some lat pull-downs in front of the shower and next to the toilet and the litter box. #dedication?

Pro-tip? Noise cancelling earbuds. 🤣

Shane’s got a new project.

As you know, we only intended to be in Munich long enough for Shane’s lab to make a plan and gather supplies, then we were headed to Ecuador for two years. You might have guessed – they needed to be in Ecuador for a reason. That’s where the butterflies are. The pandemic forced some reassessment, which means that Shane ended up with a new project – for now! It’s one that can be completed here in Munich. Put simply, he’s dissecting butterfly eyes (collected on other field trips) and looking at species-specific differences in eye morphology.

Meatball’s health.

I hate to admit it, but our kitty katz is a grandma.

She turned 15 (ish) this year, but we were still surprised when we took her to the vet for a rabies vaccination and found out that she had lost almost half her body weight. Turns out, she had an overactive thyroid. Good news – it’s easily treated with medication, which she enjoys taking in a squishy treat. Bad news – she *loudly* lets us know when she’s ready for her squishy treat. Determining the proper dosage took some trial and error and SEVERAL follow-up vet visits, so our delayed move to Ecuador was to Meatball’s benefit. Well…maybe not if you ask her.


And that sums up 2020!

I don’t know about you, but I’m really enjoying these joy reports, so expect to see them in 2021. Especially since it might be all the blog content I have. 😂

Congrats on surviving 2020, and cheers to a healthy and more adventurous 2021…and access to that Covid vaccine!

The Marienplatz Christmas tree.

Tschüss,

Whitney

November Joy Report

Partial lockdown is boring.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s the right thing to do, and if I’m being honest, we’re pretty boring people on a day-to-day. I do miss the gym, though. We’re pretty creative in our 30 sq meters (300 sq feet) but it not quite the same as a bouldering gym. 😜

In other news, it looks like we’ve marched straight into winter, and there’s even a chance of snow! I thought for sure we were going to have to buy new winter coats after I spent an hour unpacking and repacking all of our stuff stored under the bed and found nothing. Turns out, I put them in an *easily accessible* place, which was truly easily accessible had I just remembered I’d put them there.

Like I said, it’s been pretty boring.

Regardless, here are a few things that made us happy this month!

Tattoos

If you read my October Joy Report, then you’ll remember I lost my cousin in October. Shane lost his grandparents roughly a year and a half ago and had been wanting a tattoo to honor them. I had just been wanting a new tattoo, period. After Tony’s death, it felt like it was the right time for us to do it. Shane could remember his grandparents and I could remember Tony. The universe was in our favor. The day before the partial lockdown started, they worked us in.

Shane went first, and ended up with more than he ever really imagined – in a good way! His grandparent’s owned a leather shop, and the bull in the tattoo is from the leather shop logo. The mountains and scenery are representative of the mountains where his family is from.

I got a galaxy cat. I’d been wanting something colorful and cat-like anyway, and when my mom and cousin said they were getting galaxy-cat Tony tattoos, I was definitely on board. It’s a fun and beautiful way to remember my fun and beautifully spirited cousin – and he just really liked galaxy cats.

Shane’s 35th Birthday

My honey bunches turned 35! I literally never call him that so I’m not sure what possessed me to do that now, but I’m going with it. Do you know how hard it is to plan a surprise for someone when they are working from home and you are literally always in the same room?

It’s hard.

I was able to sneak out under the pretense of forgetting cheese (which I actually did forget) and buy supplies to make a cake and somehow successfully hid all the cold ingredients behind carefully placed butter and yogurt. He only figured it out when the smell of cake started wafting during his Zoom meeting. So, that’s a win! I had original hopes for a night on the town, but we got take-out and ate ourselves sick on cupcakes. All in all, I think he would say it was a good birthday.

Thanksgiving

Speaking of eating ourselves sick…

We had a true Thanksgiving this year!

The last time we celebrated Thanksgiving was our first year in the Netherlands. We payed close to 100 euros for a special-ordered turkey that was entirely too big for any of our appliances (we only have a toaster oven and a crockpot), and Shane ended up trying to cut it apart with a bread knife (our only serrated knife). It was a mess. I also payed way too much to import canned pumpkin, marshmallows, and crispy onions for green bean casserole. It was a lot of work, and we celebrated late since it’s not a holiday in Europe (go figure). To top it off, I couldn’t find a live-stream of the Macy’s parade. It was a nice meal (with some good friends), but after that year, we just kind of gave up.

UNTIL 2020!

Shane found a turkey in the grocery store and everything changed. I had to swap the pumpkin pie for apple, but those crispy onions? GOT ‘EM!

Apparently they are pretty common in German dishes, and they were only 0.87 cents! What a steal!

Shane took the day off work, and we cooked, drank festive cocktails, talked to family, and I even found a live stream of the (modified) parade! Honestly, it was a really great day.

The Umschreibung

aka the endless staircase.

Turns out, this art installation is not too far from our climbing gym and the ‘nicer, fancy’ grocery store. So, when I was on the hunt for those crispy onions, I decided to make a pit-stop! It was fun to find a little hidden gem and see a new part of town.

Looking up.

Meatball

I mean – look at that paw placement. She kills me with cuteness.

And with that, we’re on to December! Conveniently, der letzte monat des jahres was part of my Duolingo lesson recently. I’m planning on going hunting for to-go Glühwein stands… I’ll report back.

Tshüss,

Whitney

October Joy Report

So, October was…going!

Honestly, with the job and residency drama behind us, we’ve just chugging along this month. Getting into our new routine, appreciating the mundane daily life, enjoying the fall weather and colors. And then the unexpected happened. My trivial October joys were greatly overshadowed by one event – the loss of my cousin, Tony, who took his own life on October 17th. And while that is in no way a joyous occasion, my cousin, despite his decision, was a joyful kind of guy – at least that’s how I knew him.

So, with that in mind, my first October joy.

Tony.

Photo credit to Cassandra (graciously taken from his Facebook page).

I’m not entirely sure where to begin. I suppose a short family history – Tony is one of four Milani children, who are cousins on my mom’s side of the family. My mom’s dad was in the US Air Force, and the family moved a lot. So, it was normal that our extended family ended up all over the US and sometimes the globe. My sister and I are the youngest of the 8-cousin bunch, so we looked up to our older cousins, especially since we only got to see them every now and then. As life goes, you grow up and you grow apart, but in 2009, at a long-overdue family reunion, we all reconnected. After that, with the help of Facebook (and Snapchat and any other cat-meme sharing social media platform), our cousin crew was back-in-action and this time for good.

Now to Tony. I swear, he’s the funniest of the crew, and this was no small task. Joey, his brother, smashed cake in his own face when we were kids, which made him the funniest in my book for a long time. I think that Tony’s ‘funny’ came from his complete authentic self. When we were together, he always seemed to be unapologetically who HE was – caring, empathetic, genuine, loving. SO SO loving. Which also might have been a detriment – he was the kind of person that would give so much of himself to others, he could forget to give back to himself.

One vivid example – when Shane and I went home to celebrate our wedding in North Carolina, I remember showing Tony the montage of our Croatia wedding photos and being surprised to look over and find him teary-eyed. Granted, the photographers picked Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and someone was “cutting onions” nearby – so it wasn’t totally his fault (😜), but it was totally Tony. He was so happy for us and so happy for our family to be together.

A family photo
Tony is far left, holding the small child above his head…

Tony is married to Cassandra, and they are both in the US Air Force and constantly on the move. One thing I never told him (them) – they were our family ‘goals’. They’re adventurous, open-minded, and made the best of their situations. Mostly, for us as two travel-loving, abroad-living people who might have kids one day, they showed us that you CAN still do it. With four boys in tow, they didn’t stop traveling and exploring, and we’re grateful for their example.

Oh, and Tony was fluent in at least 3 languages. So… cool cool cool, cousin. I’m only a lot bit jealous of his language skills.

You hear this a lot, but life’s too short to hold grudges. Life’s too short to not reach out to that person you’ve been missing. Life’s too short to not be who you truly are, do what makes you happy, and take way too many pictures! Obviously, there’s more to Tony’s story than what meets the eye. So, I’d like to end this piece by saying please – if you’re struggling, reach out to someone. Honesty is hard, but life is worth living even if it may not feel like it at the moment. I wish that Tony’s story hadn’t ended, but all I can do now is learn from it and honor him by remembering all his wonderful qualities.

Tony was a vet. If you’re American and know someone who might benefit from the National Veterans Foundation ‘Stop Veteran Suicides’ crisis line then please, pass on this information, or you can make a donation.

2016

Fall colors!

Covid cases have been rising in Germany. So much so that we are heading into a month long lockdown starting today (2 Nov). We haven’t been DOING too much since the weather turned colder and rainier. Beer gardens and outdoor spaces at restaurants have been mainly closed for the winter and we’re not to keen on indoor activities at the moment. So, while Shane’s at work, I’ve been taking a lot of walks! We both agreed that the fall colors in Munich have been much more dramatic than in the Netherlands. Obviously, there are different types of trees here (lots of chestnuts), but they just POP!

Stoop views.

Honor system potatoes and squash

Do you remember how I said there were honor system pick-your-own flowers back in the summer? Well, this has transformed into grab-your-own-squash-and-potatoes! I’m excited to see if there is a winter pick-your-own variety.

This stand (called the “Potato Hut” offered regional potatoes, squash, and halloween pumpkins.

We got our real residence permits!

It took about 4 months to get an application appointment, and less than 4 weeks to receive our official cards in the mail. No more worries until 2022!

and finally…

This.

I have no words for it. I don’t know how to describe it. Why is a realistic looking mannequin holding a dragonfly displayed in a glass case on Shane’s campus? The world may never know. Literally. There’s no description plaque. If anyone out there knows why this man is on LMU’s Biocampus, please explain!

Honorable Mention

Budenzauber.

A dreamlike-unreal effect caused by lighting and appropriate decoration, which the stalls create at a Christmas fair.

That’s a mighty specific translation!

The Christmas markets in Munich are officially cancelled, so I guess I’ll have to make my own budenzauber this year. In the meantime, I hope everyone is able to find their own little slice of joy, and if you can – share it! You never know who might need a boost. ❤️ Tony.

Tschüss,

Whitney

Munich’s Hirschgarten: A ‘How-To’

Shane says that if I were to have a superpower, it would be the power of awkwardness.

I have the uncanny ability to make any seemingly normal situation perfectly awkward. How? I’m not entirely sure, but I can generally feel it coming on, and the more I try to make the situation less awkward, well, naturally the more awkward it gets. Why do I mention this? Because my superpower was in full force a few weeks ago when we tried the Hirschgarten.

Turns out, there’s a particular *fLoW* of events, and, as a Hirschgarten newbie, I managed to navigate them all incorrectly.

So, please accept my gift – a ‘how-to-avoid-feeling-like-an-idiot-and-successfully-get-a-beer’ guide to the Hirschgarten.

Technically, the Königlicher Hirschgarten (aka Royal Deer Garden) is a large park west of Munich city center, but it’s renowned for its beer garden that holds up to 8000 people (in non-coronavirus times). This makes the Hirschgarten the largest beer garden in Bavaria, and it’s speculated that it may be the largest in the world.

So, about that beer…

Register your contact details.

Typical coronavirus procedure these days. You can register on paper, but they also encourage you to register online and scan the QR codes around the garden to keep better track of who was actually where. It’s a big place, ya know!

Self-service or table-service?

We opted for self-service, but table service is also an option. Just look for the tables with yellow napkins.

What type of beer?

Augustiner, Franziskaner, or Hofbrau?

Helles, dunkle, or weissbier?

You’ll need to decide before you commit to a line. The primary beer of choice is the Augustiner helles, which flows like water from the most prominent beer stand (Schränke 1). If you’d prefer Hofbrau, then you’ll have to opt for table service, and dunkles, weissbier, and non-alcoholic drinks are served from a separate stand.

Stand 2 with less popular drink options.

Grab a glass…

If you’ve opted for the helles, then grab a glass! Half and maß (1 liter, ‘mahss’) glasses are available in cabinets adjacent to the beer line. For dunkels, weissbier, and non-alcoholic drinks, the glass is provided when you order.

Give it to the beer man and keep on moving!

Approach the counter, hand over your mug, and the lovely beer man will serve you up! The Augustiner beer is served out of traditional wooden kegs, which I thought was super cool, but don’t linger too long! The beer man will scold you for holding up the line. Also, if you want a radler (part juice, part beer) then serve the juice yourself from the tap as you first approach the counter, then pass along your glass.

Oh, and its cash only!

Claim a spot!

Success! You’ve managed to get your beer! Now, just claim a spot under the chestnut trees and enjoy. Be sure to take a loop around, though. There is a souvenir stand, a space for live music, and (of course) a deer garden!

Deer in the Royal Deer Garden.
A live band in the time of corona!

Tip: Be careful how you hold your maß!

Good: by the handle.

Bad: with your hand through the handle.

Those bad boys are heavy, and I ended up with bruises between my thumb and pointer finger!

Foooooood.

It wouldn’t be a true beer garden experience without food. Traditionally, you’re allowed to bring outside food but not outside drinks. You’ll see this a lot, where groups bring elaborate picnics (table cloth and flowers included!), so feel free to pack a snack. Otherwise, check out the self-service food stands with ribs, currywurst, frits, pretzels, obatzer kase (highly recommended), and other various salads. For dessert? There’s ice cream and an entire sweets stand. You’re bound to find something.

Refill? Then wash & repeat!

I won’t lie. The first maß goes down too quickly. Need a refill? Rinse your glass out at one of the many wash stations and head back to the counter!

Practical Info:

How to get there: From Munich Hbf, grab an S-bahn (1 – 4, 6, or 8) to the Hirschgarten stop. From there, it’s ~10 – 15 min walking.

Cost: Entrance to the Hirschgarten (park and beer garden) is free. 1L beer is €7.40, and food prices vary, but aren’t unreasonable. For example, we paid €5.50 for a large pretzel and obatzer dip. The self-service food and drinks are cash only, but an ATM is available within the garden.

Opening Times: The beer garden is open from 11:00 – 24:00.

Rating: ✅ (Highly Recommended!)

The Hirschgarten has been our favorite beer garden so far. The atmosphere is relaxed and cheery, it’s in a beautiful park, there are tons of options for food and drinks. If you’re looking for a true Munich experience, this is worth the effort!

If you don’t want to go to the beer garden, the park itself is also very nice. Lots of playgrounds, BBQ areas, and open spaces to relax on a warm & sunny day.

Now that the weather has cooled off, I guess we will have to wait until next spring to go back. Until then…

Tschüss,

Whitney

September Joy Report

Yes, I’m a day late.

I just wanted to make sure I incorporated the entire month of September for the most accurate reporting, ya know?

Anyway, quick update on Munich life, then on to the joy report!

It’s been in the American news lately that the numbers of coronavirus cases in Europe are increasing, which I can confirm. The cases in Munich have risen to more than 50 per 100,000 people, which puts us in the ‘red’ zone, triggering more restrictions. As of last week, the new restrictions limit gatherings to 25 people, there can be no more than 5 per table (it used to be 10) at restaurants/beer gardens, there is a ban on to-go alcohol sales after 9 pm, and masks have to be worn outdoors in high-traffic areas. Germany is trying hard to avoid a 2nd full lockdown, so hopefully, this will help. Selfishly, I want it to work because they haven’t yet canceled the Christmas markets, so there’s hope!

Enough coronavirus, back to the joy!

Shane is officially working!

The number one joy of September! In my last post, I detailed the headache it took to get here, but we’ve arrived and that’s all that matters!

The traditional ‘leaving for my first day of work’ picture

We celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary!

And we were able to make a day trip to the mountains. I’d call that a double-joy-whammy.

Leutasch Gorge, outside of Mittenwald, Germany

Giant pretzels and obatzter dip

I finally got my hands on a pretzel bigger than my head, and thanks to my keen-eyed husband, we discovered Obatzter dip. He just happened to notice that everyone coming back with a pretzel had some “orange dip”. So, when I went to get a pretzel, I was explicitly told not to come back without whatever that dip was. Turns out, it’s DELICIOUS (obviously). It’s essentially a Bavarian beer cheese made with Camembert cheese, butter, paprika, and beer.

Big everything at German beer gardens.

Chillie and The Cat

I say “the cat” because we’ve asked her name three times. It’s “typical Bavarian” (according to our landlady), and we just can’t remember it. Anyway, Chillie and the cat belong to our landlady, who lives above us. Naturally, we can’t resist an animal, so we have befriended Chillie the chihuahua and the cat. The best part of these two? Chillie bugs the living daylights out of the cat, but the cat just takes it – until she doesn’t, then she taunts Chillie from above.

NFL on TV

I’ll say this was more of Shane’s joy, as I could really care less. Regardless, we can actually watch NFL on TV here! The commentary is in German, but actually that’s not a bad thing. Shane’s new goal is to learn enough “football German” to be able to yell at the TV in a bar.

Honorable Mention:

Servus!

aka Bavarian for ‘hello’! It’s one of those words that once you know it, you hear it everywhere. Now I feel like I’m part of the club. 😜

It’s been a strange year, but hopefully you were also able to find a little joy in September! October – here we come!

Honorable mention #2: smush-face Meatball.

Tschüss,

Whitney