Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Facts about Munich

Six things you might not have known about Munich:
  1. In Spring they have a mini-version of the Oktoberfest called the Frühlingsfest. It's in the same place as the bigger version, and only has one beer tent, but compared to my recollection of the Oktoberfest (which to be fair was 19 years ago, when I was young and somewhat less wary about my overall consumption as I am these days, so my recollections are liable to be of fairly mixed usefulness) it seemed much better. It was, for the most part, a Bavarian event, filled with your genuine Muenchners, as opposed to the Oktoberfest, which seemed to be an Australian/New Zealand event as much as a German one. Regardless as to the accuracy of this impression, there is something uniquely appealing about an event so unconcerned with modern-day health concerns that the only size of beer that can be purchased is a one litre mug.
  2. Bavaria (or possibly just Munich) has a "strong beer season". (I swear I am not making that up). This season runs from Ash Wednesday until Easter, which you'll note is not a million miles removed from the season often called Lent by some people. I'd like to think that Lent is the season when one is expected to give up normal strength beer in Bavaria, and thus strong beer season was born. Bavarians are, in fact, fairly devout Catholics, so they presumably do recognise lent in some form or other. But it might explain one or two things about their own brand of Catholicism - When the current Pope (who is, you see, a Bavarian) says something like "Condoms cause AIDS", we might cut him some slack and see it as a result of his Lenten diet of large mugs of viciously strong beer, rather than a theologically highly developed philosophical outlook. Or maybe not.
  3. In the Marienplatz, the central square in the city, is a fancy clock (a glockenspiel in fact) which three times a day does this elaborate 10 minute bell ringing thing, involving the small mechanical puppet based reenactments of various important scenes that are vital to Bavarian culture. In one of these, a knight clad in blue and white stripes wins an epic contest against a knight clad in red and white stripes. This fantastic vignette repeatedly reminds us all (tourists and Bavarians alike) of the gloriousness and importance of the FA Cup Semi-final of 1993. You can see this at aboout 2.15 into this video.
  4. Rumours that have sprung up around the coincidence of my visit immediately preceding the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann are not to be taken seriously. And anyway, was he actually sacked or did he take a dive?
  5. It is forbidden to build anything higher that the twin towers of the Frauenkirch in Munich. These towers, which are more or less in the middle of town, survived the second world war, when pretty much everything around them was flattened. From that moment an unwritten rule appeared which said nothing could supersede them. Sadly, being unwritten it was ignored at some point and there are therefore two buildings that broke it, but after that there was a referendum which made the unwritten rule, written.
  6. One of the beers that I tried (and tried, tried again, just to be sure I really did like it as much as I thought I did) was weissbier. Not like the first time I'd ever had weissbier, but anyway. Weissbier means "white beer", and oddly you can (and I did) also get something called "dunkel weissbier", which means "dark white beer". It is extremely good, if a little oxymoronic in name.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Welcome to Romania

Flew back into Romania yesterday afternoon after a project meeting in Munich. We'd parked at the airport (which will remain nameless, but is a very nice one serving a particularly German Transylvanian city, and bear in mind that neither Brasov - yet - nor Sighisoara have airports). So once the bags had come through and we'd left the building (all incredibly fast), we went outside to stash the bags in the car and work out how to pay for the parking. The bloke by the ticket machine informs us of the price, but then says "If you don't need a ticket/receipt, you can have it for half price".

I think encountering petty corruption within 15 minutes of getting on the ground in this country is a new record for me. Of course, we took the deal, and so I am not about to moralise about this - I just thought it was funny.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Piece of crap jailed

So, I go away for a couple of weeks and all hell breaks loose. Moldova turns into some kind of mini-Ukraine, and apparently Romania is to blame. Or Romania and twitter anyway. And the Internet in general. And who knows what else? But it's all a series of dark outside forces anyway.

And then, to cap it all, I learn on my return that the world's most obnoxious Romanian, Domnul Gigi "tossface" Becali, is in prison. It all sounds good and great until I learn that he's not been banged up for being an utter wanker (sadly still not a crime anywhere in the world. When, oh when?) but for illegally detaining some blokes who stole his car. And somehow he's gone from being a declining non-entity whose political career was down the toilet and whose football team were imploding, to being some kind of national hero, presumably for acting out some kind of vigilante justice. (Before you, too, start wondering whether taking the law into his own hands was maybe justifiable, you should be apprised of the fact that he did not act alone, but in fact 5 of his "bodyguards" have also been stuck inside. In short, this wasn't some mild act of getting ones own back, this was a fucking lynch mob posse that was drummed up. But, of course, this doesn't matter, and like some kind of latter day Travis Bickle, he's a hero all of a sudden).

And then on top of this, for the upcoming European elections he's dumped his own party (the PNG, which was a personal vanity project anyway) and hooked up with Vadim Tudor's equally racist and extreme-right wing PRM party. And he's second on the party's ticket meaning that he's almost certain to be an MEP (and there's absolutely no danger of national shame there for Romania, not at all). Apparently in the past Becali has called Vadim Tudor a "venomous cancer" and "possessed by the devil", while Vadim has in his turn called Becali "fit for the straightjacket", a "piece of crap"*, and an "electric monkey" (No, I have no idea what that last one means either). But all's well that ends well, and when it comes to representing the views of the small number of Romanian nationalist scum in the European parliament they have put aside their differences and come together in common cause. So, hoorah for democracy. Luckily, Steaua are still crap.

(*I presume he meant a piece of crap in the English sense of crap, rather than a piece of carp, which is what crap means in Romania. I'm not sure being called a piece of carp would be that insulting. Though I suppose if it were the swim bladder, maybe)