Saturday, May 26, 2012

From Munich to Mykonos

I’m on a plane out of Munich bringing me back to Greece.  

Flag of Bavaria
I’ve just spent a week touring Bavaria with one of the nicest, most gracious, and hospitable couples I know.  Let’s call them Chris and Nolan.  We’re all about the same age and share a deep love for Greece.  In fact, we met on Mykonos.  Chris was born in Germany but is well acquainted with living in the United States and Nolan was born in the U.S. but lived most of his life in Europe.  They are an insightful pair of internationalists with countless mesmerizing stories to match, and a willingness to share their knowledge on so many things Bavarian.
Bavaria in dark green

I’ve never been to Bavaria before.  It’s in southeast Germany bordering the Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland (across Lake Constance).  It is a unique place, idiosyncratic some might say vis a vis the rest of Germany, for it still regards itself as independent, the “Free State of Bavaria” to be precise.   It is Germany’s wealthiest and second most populous state and at the risk of incurring the ire of the other fifteen states, from what I’ve seen it just might be the most beautiful. 

There’s no escaping the magic of its landscape: verdant farmland neatly peppered with houses of the sort you expect to see under a Christmas tree, fawn-color dairy cows with doe-like eyes grazing amid waves of green, locals in lederhosen and dirndl, all set against the sharp, white-topped, gray-green Bavarian Alps. 

Ludwig II und Neuschwanstein
Even Bavaria’s most heavily trafficked tourist attractions maintain the integrity of what makes them so popular.  For example the castles of King Ludwig II (1845-1886) still take your breath away (and not just because of long walks up a hill from the parking lot).  My favorite was not the one Disney ripped off (Schloss Neuschwanstein), but the smallest of his palaces, Linderhof, inspired by the French Sun-King Louis XIV’s Versailles.  It comes complete with his own private underground grotto—think Phantom of the Opera, but grander. 
Linderhof Palace

Grotto at Linderhof
And Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is as cosmopolitan and vibrant a city as any in the world, filled with world-class shopping and a thriving economy driven by such industries as BMW (yes, I slipped that one in), film production, and publishing. 

Bavarians have rebuilt their capital in a first class way; one that integrates what remains of its past with what it has become.  Heavily bombed by the Allies in World War II, Munich does not attempt to hide from its part in those horrific times.  Nor does it forget the eleven Israeli athletes who perished at the Olympic Games it hosted in 1972.  It has accepted responsibility and grown wiser from it.  More so than many places in the world. 

Munich Memorial to Israeli Olympic Athletes
I also visited Dachau just outside of Munich.  It was the first Nazi concentration camp created after Adolph Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor in I933.  I’m not showing any pictures of that.  Nor am I showing any I took from the top of The Eagles Nest, a retreat built for Hitler on the border with Austria.  Both are places not to be missed on any trip to Bavaria for they represent something never to be forgotten by Germans, Jews, Greeks or anyone on this planet. 

But I prefer not to use photographs to make that point.  Instead, let me quote from something I read at the Dachau museum. It describes how Adolph Hitler managed to take a radical, marginal political party he helped form when he was thirty-one—the National Socialist German Workers’ Party  (“NSDAP”)—and within a dozen years emerge as Germany’s all-powerful Fuhrer.

[T]he NSDAP remained a peripheral political force during the stable years of the Weimar Republic.  This changed dramatically with the onset of the world economic crisis.  In the [Parliamentary] elections of September 1930, the NSDAP succeeded in increasing its share of the vote from 2.6 per cent to 18.3 per cent; in the [Parliamentary] elections of July 1932, the NSDAP emerged as the strongest party with 37.3 per cent of the vote. 

The party made use of both brutal violence against its opponents as well as modern propaganda methods and tactics.  The party succeeded in evoking the impression that it alone was capable of meeting the divergent interests of a number of social groups.  By mobilizing resentment and exploiting images of threatening enemies, the National Socialists were able to conceal the internal contradictions riddling their political demands.—The Dachau Concentration Camp, 1933-1945

[Ed. Note: The Nazis were the prime instigators of the very violence they decried and used it to gain support among a demoralized middle-class by making them believe they alone could restore law and order.  Among Hitler’s promises were vows to revive the economy by unstated methods, restore German greatness, and overturn the Treaty of Versailles.  The two 1932 elections had confirmed that NSDAP was Germany’s strongest political party, and as the country had been unable to form a majority in Parliament since 1930, political pressure ultimately led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany] 

The Germans understand “Never Again.”  Let us hope the rest of the world doesn’t forget.

Mayor Christian Ude
To end on as happy a note as every moment I spent with my friends in wonderful Bavaria, I must add that Munich’s mayor, Christian Ude, is a lover of Mykonos.  It is my honor to return the compliment to his glorious city.



  1. Jeff,

    Woke up this morning to read your Saturday Blog and was pleased to see that you had indeed captured the beauty and essence of this wonderful part of the world, despite having viewed it through the prism of bloodshot eyes from a lack of sleep and too many bottles of fine German wine!

    It's fairly obvious that Germany, with its amazing culture, beauty and at often times turbulent past, has made a profound impression on you during your short stay here. We hope there will be many other occasions for you to delve deeper into it in the future..

    Lets hope that our many friends in Greece use the next three weeks ahead of their forthcoming elections to give serious consideration to their current political and economic crises and its importance not only to their country, but to their many friends and neighbors in the EU and the US as well. It's vitally important that they make the right choice in selecting a government that will lead them out of this crises with the help of many on both sides of the Atlantic, and not one that could potentially return them and us all, back to the darker days of the past.

    Just finished the advance copy of 'Target Tinos' you were kind enough to give us and think that it is your best work by far. I thought it would be hard to keep up the pace you had set in your previous novels, but you have proven me wrong once again!

    Good luck with the book tour and let me know if you want me to FedEx you a pair of 'lederhosen' for the launch!:-)

    N & C

    1. To N&C,
      Hi there.I accidentally read your recent comment here while I was browsing some sites and blogs on Munich.I feel I also need to comment on something you wrote about the "so -called " friends of yours in Greece.You have explicitly described the Greek electorate as if they had the capacity to define the future of the whole world! In particular,you said: "It's vitally important that they make the right choice in selecting a government that will lead them out of this crises with the help of many on both sides of the Atlantic, and not one that could potentially return them and us all, back to the darker days of the past".
      I suppose you live in the US and therefore you are pro-austerity measures in order to sustain disaster Capitalism, right?Thus, you present the Greeks as if they would have destroyed the whole world if they had chosen anything else in the past elections!!!
      How can you say something like that?Have you experienced what it means to be the "guinea pig" personally and collectively in order to save a system that has just been overloaded and needs to devour more and more people, sovereign nations and economies?
      I suppose Jeff who lives on the island of Mykonos has a picture of what it means for my co-patriots to be presuured so much that they cannot handle anymore.But clearly you can't have this picture.You only know what the news channels and newspapers want to show you about my country and my people.
      What about Leehman Brothers and the US debt crisis??Would you like to comment on these things too?
      Finally, I need to underline that I totally respect your opinion but please try to see things in a wider context not just placing the blame on a whole nation as being nothing but scapegoats.

  2. Thank you, N&C, for a wonderful time. As for the lederhosen, after all that beer, bratwurst, and kuchen, you better make sure it has a sansabelt waistband.

  3. So true about Bavaria! It is a lovely place, and somehow different from the rest of Germany; a slower pace, perhaps. I've heard other Germans disparge Bavarians half-jokingly in the same sort of way Americans might view our southerners - as somewhat backward. Hardly the case though. And another plus for me is that the Bavarian accent makes it easier for me to understand their German.

  4. "Be careful what you wish for" could apply to all those nations who want change for change's sake. Then what? Thank you for the photos of Barvaria. And always those quips of Jeff's are perfect.

  5. I've heard the same thing, James, but as my German is about as bad as my Mandarin Chinese they could all sound like Bostonians for as much as I could tell. But one thing's for certain, the Bavarians I met were gracious and welcoming.

    And L-O-W, you hit the nail squarely on the head. Let's just hope the peoples who have the choice at choosing their nations' leaders realize that voting blindly for change may give momentary cathartic satisfaction, but the downside risk can be a generation of pain...if not more.

  6. When my oldest was in high school, a sixteen year old junior, she went to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Anyone who has spent time with a group of high school students knows that they are loud. Everyone is talking at the same time. She had been calling every two or three days to share, excitedly, all the details.

    I heard a lot about Mad Ludwig's castle and the "new" city of Munich. Munich brought home the devastation of World War II. The rebuilt city made them uncomfortable; they understood why Munich was new. Telling them that the city was the birthplace of the Nazi party wouldn't have had the impact of seeing the new construction needed after the bombing.

    She told me that as soon as the bus approached Dachau everyone stopped talking. She said everyone felt it would be wrong to talk,it would be disrespectful. Their silence honored the dead but they didn't decide to be silent. The atmosphere didn't allow for usual behavior.

  7. Interesting what you said about the children's behavior. When I was at Dachau there were buses filled with school children. They were respectful but as if going through the motions of a typical school outing to any sort of museum.

    My hosts noticed that, too. One had been there right after the war and again a dozen years before our current visit. He saw vast changes. Today the museum was mainly photographs and words, and exhibits that once grabbed you--such as piles of eyeglasses and human hair--were gone, along with all but a single row of the lines of barracks that once housed prisoners.

    The crematorium and gas chamber were still there.

    Don't get me wrong, Dachau still gets to you, and the story of what transpired there is not hidden, but it definitely is not the same as it once was.

    Thank God.

  8. Bavaria is so beautiful, and you captured it so well. My grandfather was in Dachau for six months, and he was able to buy his way out of there. Money talks, right, which was fortunate for him and his family. It is still painful to me to read about it, seeing how much anxiety this caused in my family and my life. One positive thing, I have spent my adult life hoping to alleviate some of the suffering in my fellow humans. The memorial to the slain Israelis is very moving. Why can't we learn that hate is so destructive, and that is true here in the US as well.

  9. All I can say, Lil, is thank you, God bless you and amen.

  10. What a beautiful country, and the people there obviously do all they can to see that it remains so.

    While it is tragic that places and remnants of a horrific past remain also, they must be there in some fashion for all future generations to see. How does that saying go? Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it?

    The beauty, hope and life there however, seem to reign supreme, and what a wonderful experience that trip must have been.

  11. It's interesting to read about Bavaria's beauty. Mentioning Bavaria brings up to me the ultra-right history and even today, a tendency to project a right-wing image.

    I remember once hearing Bette Midler, who was onstage in Munich, saying to herself, "What am I, a nice Jewish girl, doing in Munich"? She got on a plane the next day and left.

    Thanks to your notes and the Dachau Museum, the role of the Nazis in whipping up hostility and resentment -- and scapegoating -- their so-called enemies -- like Jews, Roma, Poles, etc., political activists, union members, student organizers -- during an economic crisis certainly brings home lessons for today.

    The French and Greek elections, as in other countries, shows the increasing support fot the neo-fascists, at this time of global economic crisis. This is so important to point out, as you do. And oppose.

    Thank you for not showing photos of Dachau.

    Target: Tinos has still not arrived at my library, which is annoying. I just mentioned it at Detectives Beyond Borders, in a discussion of crime fiction which discusses immigration today.

  12. Kathy, in the Jewish Museum in Munich the dominant display is a cartoon strip running along three walls. I thought, why a cartoon? Then I read it. It's a mesmerizing presentation, in German and English, of how different generations of Jews view Germany as told through the eyes (and memories) of a grandfather who experienced the Holocaust returning (reluctantly) for a visit with his children and grandchildren to Germany today. It is perhaps the most poignant explanation I've ever seen for the way things are.

    On the subject of crime fiction that discusses immigration today and Detectives Beyond Borders, do I ever have a hot off the presses New York Times recommendation for you and DBO that's right on a manner of speaking. A few hours ago I received an advance copy of Marilyn Stasio's column in next Sunday's New York Times in which she describes TARGET: TINOS as "another of Jeffrey Siger's thoughtful police procedurals...[and] the 'immigrant issue' figures very much in [Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis'] investigation, just as it has throughout Greece's history."

    I guess it's true: Timing is everything:).

  13. I have to say that I don't think of Germany as the same country as it was in the 1930s and 1940s. Friends of mine have gone to peace conferences there. One friends of mine spoke in Berlin at a gay conference of hundreds of people about 10 years ago. She taught herself Yiddish to give her talk. People stood up clapping, cheering and crying to hear her speak in Yiddish.

    I've met some quite good German youth, who have been over here visiting, who totally reject their country's horrific history. So I don't view that country as it once was.

    And now, with the housing of so many people from different it has to have an influence.

    Also, the NY Times reported that last week thousands of Germans marched to oppose the austerity policies that their government is insisting on for other European countries.

    And congratulations on making Marilyn Stasio's column next week. That is a big deal! That column is my "go-to" reference every two weeks. I look forward to reading it, and will try to stop stewing because my library doesn't have this book yet.

    That column should help to get that book out much more widely.

  14. Kathy, your views on Germany are enlightened. I'm not disagreeing with them, but rather saying that all the Germans I know realize some will never forgive them as a people for what happened--and they accept that, which to my mind is something to admire.

    As for the "other" New York Times story you mentioned, yes I'm still tingly at the honor of it all.:) Thanks.