Up early today to beat the traffic and get to Munich in time for my meeting at 10am. I certainly beat the traffic and have arrived an hour and half early. Mind you, I had planned to be early for a couple of reasons. First off, you never know and it doesn’t take much to create an hour-long traffic jam. Secondly, I am visiting a large insurance company (the WWK “Wittwen und Waisen Kasse” – means Widows’ and Orphans’ Society) which has an excellent cafe in its expansive reception area. Not only do they serve real Italian coffee from a noisy machine with lots of dials, but it is served by a real Italian.
It turned out to be an uneventful drive over here. Stuttgart is in the Southwest of Germany and Munich is in the Southeast. About half way I pass by the city of Ulm. Ulm is famous for having the highest steeple in Europe. I can just remember Mum and Dad taking me up there as a kid. It’s also on the Danube. I was amazed to find out that the “Donau” was the Danube. Like most English people I think of that river slowly and majestically rolling past Vienna or Budapest. But here it is – Europe’s longest river*, in little old Ulm, just looking slightly less spectacular than, say, the river Aire in Leeds. Just another reminder that Europe is all joined up and quite big.
After Ulm, the fog lifted and I enjoyed a section of roadwork-free Autobahn until I got to Munich and the fog came down again. By that I don’t mean that the sun disappeared – it’s a metaphor for how I feel when I get to Munich. I think Munich is overrated. OK, it’s only 40 minutes from the Alps, it has wonderful museums and art galleries, it has various famous Brauhäuse, the Oktoberfest, BMW, a fantastic football team and an Olympic stadium. But I still prefer Stuttgart. Munich gets all the credit and the glory. It’s on the list of places you have to visit in Germany whereas Stuttgart is errr… “oh, isn’t that quite an industrial city?”. Well, yes. OK we only have Mercedes, but we have Porsche too. Our Museums are pretty good and we have a second-rate footy team and quite a nice sports stadium. We also have the second-largest Bierfest in Germany.
I realise I’m not making a great case for Stuttgart vs. Munich here. You have to live here for over a decade to get it. Stuttgart is big enough, you can still park, the Bierfest is more authentic and less like a Disney-version of Germany. The very fact that the City is underrated makes me like it a bit more. If I had moved to Munich I’d probably be making the opposite argument but someone has to put Stuttgart on the map.
Germany is a very young country and it really is a federation of states. I like the fact that there are lots of large, proud cities fairly evenly dotted about the country. All have their own distinct dialects, traditions and quirks. The country gets together and rallies behind the ruthlessy efficient football team (aaaargh, more about that in future blogs) but really it is region first, country second. Nowhere more so than in Munich, the capital of Bavaria. But you have the same sort of feeling in Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Berlin… the list goes on. I don’t think the Germans are aware at how lucky they are to have this balance of power and culture in their country. Much healthier than Paris or London sucking the life out the rest of the place.
Must sign off now because the chap I am here to visit has just spotted me and even though I am super-early insists on buying me another coffee. He’s from Munich, has a very pleasant not-too-strong local accent and is just a nice guy. I already feel bad about slagging off his hometown. So take everything I have just written with a pinch of salt please.
P.S. I always write “Bis morgen” which means “until tomorrow” at the bottom of each post to make sure I do write something tomorrow. I reckon if I miss a day I might stop altogether – just like going to the gym.
*apparently the Volga is longer, but we all know that Russia isn’t really in Europe.