Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!", and build me a sidewalk: Nothing Much Happened (XIII) in München Today

Monday will be the 20th anniversay of the fall of the Berlin wall and this news seems to be all all the rage on CNN but hardly a blip on the radar here in Munich. I've had one conversation on this event in nearly two months here and it was at a local cafe here in German suburbia off Schwanseestraße. I had stopped by the shop to pick up a beer to accompany dinner with my partner and the locals sequestered me to have at least one more beer with them and find out what the hell an American was doing in the heart of their little apartment road hamlet. A sixty-something woman named Hanna first discovered me at checkout stumbling through my Euros and trying to count up 78 cents, the price of the single beer and roughly a buck, and began to speak absolutely fluent and impeccable English to me. "I lived in Atlanta for 5 years" she proclaimed, stating that's thats where her son lived and she had gone to live with the family in the 90s and fullfill her grandma duties.

Once outside at the picnic table reserved for the local convenience store drinkers (alcoholics?) I was introduced to two other Germans, one of which accused his friend of being Australian, and wrestled into a reasonably drunken German conversation in which the two men re-assembled their twenty word or so English vocabulary of words consisting of things like 'cool', 'bitch' and 'rock and roll, baby' to carry on a spirited (in their terms) conversation at me, with Hanna, assisting whenever she felt the need, which was about every five words. At one point I mentioned German Unity Day, a holiday we had experienced on 3, October by the conspicuous closing of all shops in the city center.

Whilst downtown earlier and searching for an open mobile phone shop, I had asked my partner, a Vietnamese raised in Germany since her teens (circa 1993), why more than half of the shops were closed on a Saturday and she didn't know. Over my months here with her, I found it astounding how little she really knew about the country. Holidays not remembered, museums visited (like 'zero') - even subways misdirected so that that I would catch them by not understanding stop names that kept coming up. I can't count the number of times I found myself redirecting her on the subway after just a few weeks in town - a stop missed, get off, and go back two stops (the story of our lives here). As brilliant as the Cu Chi tunnels might have been for the Vietnamese during their war with America, it seems they lacked proper maps, instead preferring to not let the Americans quite easily find all their hiding places. The Vietnamese have now globalized this deficiency preferring to almost never know where the fuck they are, or what time of day it might be. Black-opps by the closing of one's intellectual eyes.

I had seen a similar syndrome in Korea before on a weekend trip where our map, after hours of driving around the supposed 'correct route' just tuned out to be flat wrong. "All the maps are wrong", it was explained to me by a Korean later, noting that publishing correct maps would simply allow the North Koreans to purchase a map at a tourist stop and attack some shit. Notice the big grey areas in Google Earth. That's where the Army stuff is - so even a fairly dim terrorist could hit something by just aiming at the grey matter. Duh.

But I digress. Having now lived, quite unintentionally, in four at one time or maybe still, divided countries (The US, Korea, Vietnam and now Germany) I am still fascinated by the concept. In the US, where the division was mended over one hundred and fifty years ago I was called a Yankee when I moved to Texas in the 80s, and later to Korea I was astonished to see a graphically noted emergency button on the public phones there (a drawing of a beady-eyed man with sinister eyebrows and a frown) that meant 'spy-line'. That's the button any citizen could just hit when they thought they saw a 'spy' on a streetcorner - evildoers lurking in shadows, or just plain strange looking people. LOL :-), right under the graphic buttons for , 'ambulance' and 'police'. Go figure. A cross and a cop silhoette comingling with a nefarious criminal graphic. That's the important stuff our citizens need. Socialized Democracy, personified.

But now in Germany the lines are almost drawn in the stone of socio-economic terms. Turks are looked down upon and divisions between former east and west are held in deep discriminatory confines that the average tourist would never see. All this ballyhoo with CNN championing the fall of the wall comes off as high school newspaper reporting. 'Just cover the football game. Don't tell me about the drinking and sex that's going on under the bleachers'.

And then Hanna nailed it for me. 'That's not a very happy day for me', she retorted when I asked why all the shops were closed on 3 Oct. I didn't feel the drunken audience was ready for an intellectual discourse on the subject so I just let it pass until now. Touche.

So let's fix the sidewalk. Denial at street level.

But wait, Is there anything wrong with the sidewalk we've got? I dunno. (Left shot 'old', right shot 'new') I've been on a worldwide sidewalk survey these last couple of years and feel I know the landscape fairly well. I've traversed the sidewalks of the developed and soon to be developed worlds and have a decent handle on the subject. I've done America, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Mali, Paris and now Munich. Oh, did I mix countries and cities together? Fuck it. You figure it out, or Wiki it. In any case, I'm just trying to figure out why we're replacing sidewalks here in Munich when the Malians don't seem to have any at all . So much money we developed countries have. But are we spending it on anything that matters?
'Bavaria is just rich', it was explained to me by my Vietnamese cohort. And so that explanation would need to be simply accepted - even considering that Ho Ci Minh City in Vietnam is currently replacing sidewalks and doing a much better job of it than the Germans. Oh, But we make Beemers here.
Take a look and tell me, if anything, what exactly is wrong with the sidewalk I'm standing on - except for my fashion police violation of my Crocs , which RCNevada will certainly nail me on? Well, does it have big holes in it? No. Am I in danger of inciting a failed American insurance company to sue over it because I can not walk properly. No. Is it unsightly? Not really, considering that in Paris, all the sidewalks are just standard poured concrete - but ahh, all the stuff around them is just positively fabulous. Is it not even up to Vietnamese standard? Well, that could be an issue because the sidewalks in Vietnam are currently being replaced with attractive tile mosiac stone and I wish I had a picture, but trust me. It's a whole lot nicer that what the Bavarians are tearing up and then putting down a modest upgrade for. Seriously. So what's the beef? Methinks, Germans simply don't have anything better to do. A story recently relayed to me by a local was laughably refererred to in that the 'big crime story' of the day was some dude holding up a convenience store with a baseball bat. Ha! Imagine that. In America the high school kid behind the counter would just laugh his ass off and fall on the floor whilst texting his friends on his iPhone as to what sort of a moron robber he had in the shop! Surveliance videos would then subsequenty be sent to YouTube whilst the criminal would be sentenced to a life of virtual laughabilty. 'Hey, you're the dude with the bat. Can I get a photo with you?' They would have no idea just how hard it is to get ahold of a baseball bat here in Germany.

But we're busy on sidewalks. Oh yeah. 'Some shit will happen tomorrow. I hear some dude violated the German beer purity law last week with some skunky homebrew.'

None of the photos here are from the actual wall. They are from just common Munich grafitti that I'm sure the city has a budget, schedule and staff to remove. Vive la revolution!

Soldier on. I'll just soldier on.

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