Jewish Museum Munich

Jewish Museum Munich sign at entryA recent post on The Local.de about Stolpersteine in Munich explained why I saw lots of these brass plaque commemorating Holocaust victims in other German cities, but none in the capital of Bavaria. Munich has a lot of Jewish culture and history, which made me think it was odd that they didn’t have these cobblestone-sized memorials on the streets.

Before we left Munich, I visited the Jewish Museum and really enjoyed their collections. I probably have a greater interest in Jewish culture and history than the average person (my undergrad studies focused on Old Testament literature and its historical Judaic context), but I suspect travellers curious about Germany’s history would be able to spend an hour or two wandering this four-story institution.

The heart of the permanent collection (located in the basement) features artifacts from Jewish life – things like Torah scrolls, Seder plates, Tefilin (small wearable prayer boxes), and Shofars (horns) – along with replicas that visitors are welcome to touch. An interactive map of Munich shows important Jewish sites (many destroyed during WWII) and there’s a touching floor-to-ceiling graphic novella.

My favourite bits of the lower floor were the items selected from the vast Jewish Museum holdings by individuals; each piece gave its historical importance and provenance along with the reasons that person picked it. Stand outs were a gorgeous embellished Torah cover from Munich’s Nazi-destroyed synagogue and a section of a cupboard from a concentration camp survivor. It was very interesting to learn why the artifacts were selected and examine their respective intricacies.

The top two floors house temporary exhibits and a permanent library. The exhibit on Jews between the two world wars (entitled WAR! Jews between the fronts 1914-1918) spanned both floors and described how Jewish Germans fought for the German side in WWI, contributed to the war effort in general, and how Jewish veterans were treated in the lead up to WWII. It was eye-opening and moving and gave me insight into the anti-semitism that pre-dated Hitler’s rise to power.

A shelf of books at the Jewish Museum MunichGiven my love of the written word and my Masters in Library and Information Studies, it’s no surprise that the library captivated me most of all. Despite being a relatively small collection (likely under a thousand volumes), it was very diverse; novels, old encyclopedias, art books, graphic novels, pamphlets, poetry, magazines… in a range of languages – German, English, Hebrew, French, Czech, Russian – even Arabic!

Rather than following a standard classification system, the library was arranged by subject matter (noted on the spine label by a letter) and then accessioned. This system made for great thematic browsing as all the works on a particular subject matter were clumped together regardless of format or language.

Perhaps because it was so academically interesting and well-curated, my visit to the Jewish Museum Munich was rewarding and enriching – not depressing or anger-inducing as I’ve found at some Holocaust-centric exhibits. If you’re in Munich and want a break from Bavarian culture and beer, Jewish Museum Munich offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s Jewish-ness.

Martinsmann pudding

Man-shaped pastry with red poppyWhile 11 November is Remembrance Day for Canadians (and Armistice or Veterans Day in other countries), it’s St. Martin’s Day in Germany. St Martin’s Day is the feast day for Martin of Tours and was one last great banquet before the start of Advent fasting in the middle ages.  In modern Germany, St Martin’s Day is known for roast goose (Martinsgans), lantern processions, and, in Mannheim, human-shaped pastries called Martinsmann.

We picked up a Martinsmann from our local bakery and were underwhelmed by its relative flavourlessness. Rather than waste the leftovers, I bumped them up with spices and apples in a bread pudding.

This recipe is modified from one I use for leftover hot cross buns at Easter. It works best with sweeter bread, but would be just fine with regular bread, too, although maybe with a little more sugar.

Partially eaten bread pudding

The bread pudding filled the kitchen with a lovely warm spicy smell, just like holiday baking – but it’s absolutely easier to make than gingerbread men or Christmas cookies 🙂 All the delicious smells with the ease of chopping up bread and stirring together milk, eggs, and spices!

The end result was so tempting that we devoured most of it before I snapped a photo 😉

We ate this bread pudding plain, but it would also be good with ice cream, whipped cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce. Adding chopped apple keeps everything moist and makes a sweet, buttery, boozy sauce unnecessary – although not any less welcome!

And if you’re interested in the traditional Martinsgans, check out this roast goose recipe from Ginger & Bread.

Bread pudding with apples

Ingredients
  • 450g (1 pound) day old hot cross buns or leftover Martinsmann
  • 700ml (3 cups) milk (or a combination of milk and cream for a richer pudding)
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 75g (1/3 cups) sugar
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 of a large apple, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Demerara sugar (or other coarse sugar)
Method
  • Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and lightly grease an ovenproof casserole dish that will fit all the bread cubes
    • A 23cm (9″) square baking dish should do
  • Cut leftover bread into cubes (roughly 1cm square) and place in a large bowl
  • Whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, spices and vanilla; pour mixture over bread and stir until coated
  • Let the milk mixture and bread rest for 15 minutes; the bread should absorb most of the liquid
  • Gently stir in chopped apple and pour into casserole dish, pressing down the bread a bit
  • Sprinkle coarse sugar over top and dust with additional nutmeg and cinnamon if desired
  • Bake until pudding sets and the top is golden brown – about 1 hour
  • Eat while warm and serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce if you’d like

And the walls came down…

Lichtgrenze (light border) art installation commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Aerial view of the 8,000 lit balloons tracing the path of the Berlin Wall. Photo from Wired.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and there’s a maelstrom of media coverage about the event. (Sadly, the word maelstrom has Dutch origins, not German ones.) Given that this time last year we were living in Berlin, I’ve been following the celebrations and reading as much as I can about the event itself.

Here are a few of my favourite reads:

Unforeseen fearlessness

Laura in plank at the in orbit exhibitBy nature I am not fearless. I am a worrier, a planner, a nail-biting worst-case-scenario imaginer.

But somehow, suspended more than 25 metres (82 feet or around five stories) above a marble floor on steel mesh, I became unflinchingly brave.

We went to K21 last week specifically to see in orbit – an interactive exhibit by Tomás Saraceno. K21 is one of the three venues of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (or state art collection) in Düsseldorf and in orbit is the largest piece they’ve ever displayed.

It’s made up of three interconnected levels of steel mesh, interspersed with giant inflated spheres and suspended under the glass roof of the Ständehaus building. Saraceno was inspired by spiderwebs and spent years studying how different species create different patterns.

in orbit is huge and strange and amazing from all perspectives – particularly from within.

Visitors can don coveralls and climb into the structure; becoming part of the exhibit, altering the tension on the steel wires, and interacting with each other and those watching.

While waiting to get into the coveralls, I was impatient. During the very short safety briefing, I started to get a bit anxious. And then walking up the scaffolding (which felt less than rock solid), the butterflies started. As I trepidatiously put a first foot on the mesh, my heart was pounding. Looking down and seeing the polished stone floor five floors below, I began to think this was a bad idea.

I quickly dropped my bum onto the mesh out a self-preserving instinct that increased physical contact would mean increased safety. The path of least resistance led to a steep down-slope and before I knew it I was sliding down the mesh as though it was snow and I was on a toboggan.

Two images of Laura at the in orbit exhibitThat slide brought on a childlike sense of elation and my nervousness evaporated. While part of my brain still screamed “Stop!” when I moved from overlapping layers of mesh to a single stratum, I got quite comfortable being suspended.

I climbed the ‘walls,’ attempted a couple yoga poses, flopped onto the pillows, ‘swam’ on my belly, marveled at the huge blown-up spheres, clambered along the wires, reveled in the novelty of walking on air… all while I grinned madly.

I could not anticipate my fearlessness before stepping onto the mesh, but there it was. Brave, adventurous, blithely embracing the amazingness of the moment.

Chalked doors

Four images of chalk (or chalk-like stickers) on doorsOn my first walk through our new neighbourhood I noticed black stickers with chalk writing on a number of doors. I paid closer attention on subsequent walks and started noticing actual chalk on doorways as well.

Algebra on door frames? A complicated census system? A formula for garbage pick-up?

Given that Lent had just begun and I hadn’t noticed anything like this before, I theorized that the markings had something to do with Easter. A bit of research revealed that I was right about their religious nature, but wrong about the occasion.

The chalk markings are a traditional Catholic house blessing in Germany done around Epiphany (6 January) every year. The digits represent the year to come (2014 in the picture at top left) and the letters stand for either the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house) or names of the three wise men (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). The mathematical operators have folkloric meaning as well: the multiplication sign or asterisk (*) is for the Star of Bethlehem and the plus symbols (+++) represent the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

While the majority of doorways in our neighbourhood are unmarked, there are sizable number that have been chalked and some even have long lists from previous years. It’s clear that Neuss is more Catholic (or at least more into chalk and blessings!) than Berlin as there’s a whole set of traditions around Epiphany that we didn’t see any trace of in Germany’s more secular capital.

Learning about local traditions like this is one of the reasons that my husband and I wanted to live in different regions of Germany. Exploring a different country from a less-tourist perspective was a motivating factor for starting this adventure and it’s fantastic when those explorations lead to a little more understanding of local customs.

And with Easter just around the corner, who knows what other new-to-us traditions will pop up!

Spring while it lasts

Ice cream in DusseldorfSpring weather is unpredictable everywhere. Thursday was all bright sunshine and warmth. Yesterday I got caught in a hailstorm on my way back from yoga and then the sun set on nearly cloudless skies. Today is cloudy with a cold wind. And who knows what Spring has in store tomorrow!

We ‘sprung’ at the chance to enjoy the fantastic weather and spent Thursday afternoon in Düsseldorf. It’s easy to like a city when the weather’s good – it helps that there were lots of ice cream parlours and a plethora of breweries, too!

We walked along the Rhineuferpromenade (river-side pedestrian/bike path) from Altstadt (the old town) with its narrow cobbled streets and many shops to Mediahafen (a former harbour that’s now filled with restaurants, shops, and modern architecture). Sofie stalked pigeons, we shed layers of clothing, and very much enjoyed meandering along the Rhine.

We stopped at two different breweries and sampled their variants of Altbier (old beer) – a dark brew served in 200mL glasses so it’s always cold! And ended up having ice cream for lunch 🙂

Laura and Sofie pose in front of a Dusseldorf canal

Lots of locals (and some tourists, as well) were out enjoying the sun, ice cream, and beer, which made for excellent people watching. Düsseldorf is known for being fashionable and there were many stylish dressers who did not disappoint. The overall dapper-ness was, however, kept in check by the disproportionate number of leather vests and badly highlighted hair!

The proximity of so many cities with different conventions, style, architecture, and cuisine (and beer!) gives us some incredible opportunities for short trips. Since arriving in Neuss, we’ve sipped Kölsch (the local beer) in Köln; walked Europe’s largest outdoor market in Liège, Belgium; bought ‘cheap’ gas in Luxembourg; driven through the East Cantons, Belgium’s German region; and celebrated the first official day of Spring in Düsseldorf.

We plan on ‘springing’ on travel opportunities as much as possible. Given that there’s a train station about five minutes away that connects us to many other interesting cities in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, we’ve got no excuse!

Early return

Three photos of camper lifeToday was the original date for camper-return. Instead, the camper went back four days ago and we slipped into our flat in Neuss a few days early. We are not camper people.

We had grand plans for our 22-days touring around Europe: western Germany, Luxembourg, eastern and southern France, Monaco, northern Italy, Andorra, Spain, and maybe even Portugal. The difficulties driving the camper, problems finding campsites that met our needs, and the challenges of getting into cities to see their sights humbled our ambitions – and necessitated changing our tactics.

Instead of hopping from place to place, discovering a new area daily, we stayed at campsites we liked for a couple nights and left the camper parked for a day or two at a time to explore. We stayed in rural Luxembourg and used their nation-wide public transit system to get to the capital (unoriginally also named Luxembourg). We camped outside of Saint-Tropez and wandered Mediterranean beaches. We stayed on two different vineyards and sampled French wines with the winemakers. We saw Mont St. Michel, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Juno Beach. We gawked at Notre Dame in Chartres and a few other churches.

What we didn’t do was go into larger cities or travel nearly as far as we thought we would. Plans to meet up with someone in Dijon were abandoned. A trip into Grenoble to visit a friend was pushed aside. Any hopes of gambling in Monaco were dashed. Andorra’s narrow streets and lack of major highways scared us away. The navigational and language barriers of Italy and Spain felt insurmountable. Portugal was just too damn far.

It was a radically different trip than anticipated.

We saw rural Germany, Luxembourg, and France in a way we could have never expected – partially because the GPS had no way of knowing how terrifying single-lane country roads are in a camper!

We also learnt about places we didn’t know existed and revelled in continually finding historic markers. We drove along the winding Mosel wine route and crossed the towering Île de Ré bridge. We visited war cemeteries and paid our respects to those who fell in the two world wars.

Sofie in the Mediterranean

We communicated in rusty French (me) or broken German (my husband) because we had no other choice in the countryside.  We bought a baguette nearly every day in France and consumed huge volumes of paté and cheese. We suffered through wind and rain storms at three separate campsites – including one overlooking the high waves of the Atlantic.

And parts of the trip made our dog pretty happy. Sofie got to swim in the Mediterranean, chase a ball on a beach in Normandy, drive long distances either sitting on my lap or curled up on her camper bed, sample French paté, and she spent a lot of time with us.

In the end, we accomplished my dream of getting somewhere warm in February, didn’t have any catastrophic fights, saw some amazing sights, ate some fantastic food, drove more than 5000 kilometres, and, perhaps most of all, solidified our status as non-campers.

Camper journey map

Click on the pins for the place names and a little more detail


View Camper Trip in a larger map