Thursday, September 27, 2012

Run, Forrest. Run!

So this weekend I delved into a whole new German Some people think that the Americans are the most competitive nationality when it comes to any kind of physical activity. Those people haven't met the Bavarians. The Bavarians are a strange bunch. They love their beer and sausages and pretzels, but they also love hardcore exercise and can often be seen on Sundays surfing, running and cycling around the city and its environs.

This Sunday I took part in the Tegernseelauf (for non-German speakers, this is a run around a lake called Tegernsee in the mountains close to Munich). Although I used to play a lot of team sports like Netball in school, I definitely wasn't a performer when it came to athletics. When I run longer distances I tend to look like a half dead, beetroot-red mongoose, which has never really encouraged me to do it. Either I'm incredibly unfit, or I have a superior circulation system that unfortunately just pumps the blood to my face instead of to my heart. If anyone ever asks me, I'm going to say the latter. I did, however, bite the red-faced bullet this week and I ran 10km.

In the "run" up to the race (excuse the pathetic was just too tempting to whack in there), I did do a lot of training, as eventually I would like to run a Half Marathon (If I do, I'm sure I will make the German headlines"Mongoose running loose in marathon", as the reporters fail to identify that the red thing running around inexpertly is, in fact, human and called Louise).  In order to train, you need some running kit. In England it would be acceptable to just throw on some old, perhaps even stained, jogging trousers and a t-shirt. Doing this in Germany would be like committing sports suicide. If you enter the park for a run with anything less than an ipod/iphone, fancy trainers (I actually initially wrote running shoes here...dear God...the German-English is infiltrating my brain already!) and Nike or Adidas running clothes, then you will get the "pity" look. I'm genuinely serious. It's the kind of look that says: "Oh look at that girl "trying" to be a runner, bless her, she will never make it". Actually, scratch the "bless", the Germans wouldn't have that much sympathy. To be considered to be taking your fitness seriously in Germany, you need to dress seriously and look the part. Initially I didn't and even my Pineapple capris didn't cut the mustard...and the pity look ensued.

In fact, even the sports shops are serious here in Munich. The running floor even has a mini running track and running machine so you can test out your new pair of shiny Nikes to check that they are up to scratch. Never mind that you smoke, drink beer, eat sausages and are generally unfit - oh no - it's THE TRAINERS that make all the difference! Add to that the fact that I've seen people queuing in their droves to buy trainers in the 'sale' - "Reduced from 200 Euros to 195 you say? Quick, here's my card!". I'll never understand the Bavarians paying these prices - the Munich population must have money to burn...or calories that they are so desperate to that they will pay any price for the gear that they think will help them to do so. There is even a competitive atmosphere in the shop while everyone runs up and down the track trying on different pairs - each beautifully groomed woman eyeing up her competition...thinking "These pink, Nike Free Running trainers looks so much better on me, because I am amazing, I am beautiful...I am a RUNNER!"Yes, being a "runner", gives you status here. In England it would be: "Are you crazy? Running in the rain on a Sunday when you could be in bed with a hangover after an amazing Saturday night?!"

If you can't beat them, join them - as the old saying goes. Whilst in the shop, the German within me seemed to come to the surface all of a sudden and I purchased one of those pretentious running belts with water bottles and a pouch and a Nike Climacool top and shorts (because a standard t-shirt just wouldn't be good enough, or German enough, now would it?). Some of these running belts have 5 bottles attached. Who on earth needs 5 bottles?! I'd be stopping off for a wee every five seconds if I drank that much during exercise! Then again, I need to remind myself that the Germans are always cold and always dehydrated (the shock on the salesperson's face when I bought shorts is a whole different story).

Armed with my new running gear I hit the park again. RESULT. No pity stares this time...looks of fear were on their faces! (hopefully due to my new, serious sporting look and not because I had a VPL line...or something stuck to my face...or because they were in fear of my life because I was wearing shorts in less than 25 degrees).

The race itself, however, had a fantastic atmosphere that was completely the contrary to the competitive-filled parks of Munich. Everyone was really friendly and pumped for the race. The backdrop of a stunning lake and mountains really topped it off for me and I thought: how lucky am I to be in a city and only 30 minutes away from stunning places like this?

I had to hold my laughter in when The Final Countdown played before the start - I haven't heard that since cheesey music night at the student union, totally wasted on Snakebite and Black ("Purple" for Warwick students) and swaying with hall mates.

I made it through though - I pulled out all my German sporting power and made 34th place out of 500 in my age group. Not too shabby for my first ever race! The Germans really have it right too - free beer, pretzels, fruit and chocolate at the finish line! The good atmosphere created by those running with me and supporters clapping at every kilometre (including my own - thank you Ju!), made me reconsider - had I been too harsh? Maybe the German's weren't mean and overly competitive, self-righteous and in love with themselves when it comes to sport? Maybe I was wrong about them? Maybe they had been misjudged and misunderstood? The poor souls.

Just as this thought struck me I saw the perfectly toned body of the blonde girl leading the pack, with a crop top on to show off her incredibly flat stomach (be proud if you have one, just don't let the rest of us feel bad by wearing skimpy running gear), hair perfectly groomed, nose in the air, and her boyfriend cycling alongside her carrying her water and energy bars and diligently handing them over when barked at.

Ok, so maybe the sport-crazy, beautiful Munich Germans will never change.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weißwurst-Frühstück anyone?

Well, it's official, I'm truly on my way to becoming a Bavarian Frau (minus the cleavage that I can, unfortunately, never hope to obtain). Speaking of cleavage, when I actually bought my first dirndl last year, I was rather disgruntled. I had tried on numerous sizes and styles and wasn't getting the desired effect (cleavage-wise). In the end, I just pointed at the saleswoman’s breasts and said longingly in my worst German: " I want what you have!" Rather than being disconcerted by the fact that I was longingly looking at her chest, she understood me straight away and said: "What you need, my dear, is a dirndl bra!” and she promptly went off to find me one. The German's really do have a solution for everything - including body parts - amazing.

Anyway, putting breasts aside...

This week I donned my dirndl, jumped on my bike (I know, the stereotypical image!) and winged my way to a friend's Weißwurst-Frühstück. Normally very little can raise me from my bed at 8am on a Saturday morning, but the prospect of sausages, pretzels and beer before midday was just too tempting (and of course, spending time with some wonderful people and celebrating their university success!). Weißwurst is a different kind of sausage and actually, doesn't look that appetising - it's like an albino sausage, with its pale white skin. Actually, thinking about it, it's probably the kind of sausage I would be if I were turned into a sausage in my next life - matter how long I cook I never turn a shade darker...

For those that don't know, it's made of a mixture of veal and pork and is cooked in boiling water with chives. I did, however, learn that there is an art to eating it.

It's important that the sausage is kept in the boiling water until the minute you eat it - that's why it always comes in a cute little bowl. Why? So you can take the skin off of course! Unlike other sausages here in Germany, you don't eat the skin on a Weißwurst. I'm a bit disconcerted by this...what's wrong with the skin? Actually, I'm even more disconcerted by the fact that I have, before now, unknowingly eaten the skin.

Luckily I was sitting next to my friend's boyfriend Richard, a "true" Bavarian who was able to impart the all-important skin-peeling knowledge onto me. Slit it right down the middle and then peel! Sounds simple, but I promise you that I was definitely the only person fiddling with her sausage for longer than a minute (there's no innuendo-free way of saying that sentence). Maybe next time I should try the extreme, yet well-loved by the Bavarians, technique of slitting the end off and then sucking the sausage out of the skin... (I know - just when you thought the innuendos were over).

It really was a fantastic morning though. Weißbier, pretzels,Weißwurst, Obazda (a kind of spreadable's my kryptonite) and good people - all enjoying breakfast together on a long bench. I couldn't help thinking that Britain could use more things like this. Don't get me wrong, I love drinking and dancing to celebrate as much as the next person, but there is something wonderful about spending a Saturday morning breaking bread (or rather, Breze), drinking - but not in order to get drunk, and chatting with old and new friends, rather than lying in bed hung-over from the night before.

This is part of Bavaria's heritage and I'm looking forward to making it an integral part of mine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's getting hot in here...

Yes, I'm talking about weather and temperatures again. Don't hold it against me, I am British afterall. It's in our make up. As is small talk, a love for tea and gravy, and the ability to be extremely polite or completely disgruntled with the world around us (it must be noted that this list can also be affected by the weather outside our window...more sun...less tea...more rain...more roast dinners and gravy...heatwave (n.b. anything above 18 degrees)...happy and roaming the streets semi-naked...downpour...yelling at anyone that invades even a millimetre of our space).

I was prompted again to think of the differences between the Germans and the English in regard to temperatures, when a woman slammed the window shut on the U Bahn (more than likely because she was getting a chill!). It was roasting in there - rush hour, full of people, and definitely full of too much body odour for any window to be closed. As soon as she shut it all I could think of was an old school song by Nelly (who was popular when rapping was fresh and new and before Flo Rida featured on every US record with his blatant sexual innuendo songs): "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes". No...I wasn't seriously considering stripping off and getting down and dirty with all of the German commuters. Although it would have been funny to see their faces if I had. Although having said that, they love naked spas...why not go one step further and bring naturism onto public transport too? I did, however, definitely take off as many layers as I possibly could without drawing too much attention.

The truth is though, that if it isn't July or August, if it is less than 29 degrees, and if you are wearing a short sleeved top - you will get attention and people will look at you as if you are insane / with pity for the chill and illness that it going to befall you for such a reckless removal of clothing. I'll never understand the hows and whys of German jean-and-cardigan-wearing when it's still warm outside.

I'm worried though that eventually I will be converted. A colleague of mine (who is American and lovely), actually moved from cardigan to coat when I opened the window for some fresh air yesterday (it was 24 degrees outside). Even she sheepishly admitted: "after 5 years here I seem to have become a cardigan and jeans convert - I'm always cold!" She had even (*gasp*) started believing that crisp, cold, fresh air  will 90% of the time cause you to develop a cold, and will make you worse if you already have one - oh dear, oh dear.

This concerns me. This is one conversion to German life that I don't want to adopt (along with only wearing jeans when going out on the town - a subject to explore in depth another time).

I'm going to cling onto my short sleeves for dear life and even when the snow drifts come, I am determined to stride out in my skirts and tights, albeit with boots to stop me developing frostbite. I may get odd looks, some may fear for my life, but at least I will be: warm, fashionable, colourful, comfortable and not giving all my hard earned money to: GAP, Wrangler and Levis. Speaking of which, I'm sure if all the Germans girls switched to wearing skirts, these companies would have to quickly implement a plan of action to win them back( maybe long, denim skirts?) otherwise they would go under, or at least suffer a significant dent in their profit. I just shivered slightly thinking of a long, denim skirt trend hitting the streets. Either that or I'm getting chilly because the window is open...

Always ride on the right side of life!

I've been fairly lucky with my old lady encounters so far in Germany. I must have a friendly face (or an easily persuadable one), as they always seem to come to me for help, wherever I am. I have, so far, helped an old woman get a loaf of bread down from the top shelf followed by a heartfelt discussion about the best bread to buy these days, showed another which U Bahn to get, had a little chat in German with a 70 year old about learning languages whilst swimming in a lake (multitasking at its water tredding has never been so good!), helped another find the washing powder she was looking for...the list goes on. Do you think I've earned my place in heaven yet?

An American friend of mine hasn't been so fortunate. All of the mardy, old bags seems to find her. At first I thought she was just a little paranoid (sorry Liz!) but, all it took was a bus ride with her to see the torment she must often endure from 80 year old Germans. We were standing on the bus, nowhere near the old lady sitting down at the front. She suddenly started to rant various insults in German about English speakers and then proceeded to say directly to Liz: "You should know that I am getting off at the next stop and you are in my way". She didn't get off at the next stop. Or the next one. Or the one after that. So she wasn't just an old bag...she was a lying one too. Obviously our English conversation offended her narrow mind. Still, all credit goes to Liz - who retorted confidently in German, much to the woman's surprise. So it seems that whereas I have invisible sign on my back saying "Old lady S.O.S service", Liz has one saying "Take all your old lady baggage out on this American" sign. Hopefully they will never do this literally with their over-sized handbags filled with cans of dog food. The world can be cruel sometimes. *sigh*

I found out this weekend though that I am not completely immune from old lady wrath. In Munich we ride our bikes almost everywhere, it's fantastic. The cycle lanes are wide (enough for two bikes to ride side by side...this is an important point) and are connected to the pavements rather than the roads, so nice and safe. Technically you are meant to ride on the right-hand side. 99% of the time I am a rule abiding wannabe German, and I do ride on the right. My new apartment, however, requires me to cross two crossings in order to go over to the right hand side of the road for the final 20 seconds of my journey. Do I ride on the right for this 20 sec stint? Sometimes. If I'm feeling German. I was, however, in a English rebellious frame of mind and decided to ride on the left. Quelle horreur! Like a bat out of hell (a very old bat, mind you), an older woman came speeding towards me on her bike. Being the polite soul I am, I decided to pull over, and let her pass, rather than carrying on cycling by her (there was plenty of space to do this).

I give her a smile.

She screams: "Geisterfahrer!!!!!!!!!!!! (Ghost driver)


I think next time I will just shout: "BOO!" back at her and give her a little Geist fright - let's see how well she manages to yell at people from her high-saddled throne-like bike then.