It doesn’t get hot in Munich, they said.
Pack sweaters and umbrellas, they said.
They should have said to bring speedos and tank tops. My second week in Munich was marked by a rare heat wave, seven straight days of temperatures in the upper 80s or hotter. In Colorado, that’s normal. In Germany, where there is literally no air conditioning, anywhere, it’s almost apocalyptic. A few days of it and I realized why thousands of people die from heat waves in Europe every few years.
Achi Wolf, our media management professor, said that there is so little air conditioning in Munich because many of the buildings are so old that they can’t support building-wide systems. The only recourse would be to fit every room with a window unit; that’s illegal because it would alter the outward appearance of the historical buildings.
So we sat in class in the heat and sweated it out. To cool off, we spent our afternoons in the Englischer Garten, suntanning and swimming in the Isar River.
The Isar, at least as it runs through the Garten, is about waist deep, with a strong but not overwhelming current. It’s cold and refreshing, a literal lazy river. We jump in, float for a while, then lie in the sun and sip beer.
The strange thing about the Garten is that nudity is totally legal. The stranger thing is that only old men seem to take advantage of this right. Thursday afternoon they surrounded us on all fronts; one…character who was tanning near us wore a dick ring with jingle bells hanging off of it. I wish I was joking. We named him Bojangles.
Our other respite from the heat, thankfully free of old man penis, was the BMW Museum in northwest Munich, across the street from the 1972 Olympic complex. It’s new, sleek, glassy, and one of the few buildings in Munich with air conditioning. We went there Friday afternoon as our first group excursion.
With us was Herr Manfred Wolfram, our program director, and Simone, a master’s student who works for him as our sort of tour guide, or something. I’m not exactly sure. Anyway, our group splintered and we wandered through the museum at our own pace. I went with Mia, Joann and Simone.
Everywhere I looked I was reminded why Germans make the best cars in the world. Everything is built to be efficient and minimalistic. The building and its layout reflect that, and the signs around every display were part propaganda, part philosophy.
Everything was a conversation starter. I talked to Mia and Simone about the joy of driving and the wonders of German engineering. I also asked Simone about her master’s thesis; she laughed and said she didn’t want to talk about it, which made me glad that grad school isn’t in my plans.
A section of the museum is dedicated to Mini, which is owned by BMW, and it has a much different vibe than the main section. Rather than efficiency, lightness and attention to detail, it’s a tight, enclosed space that focuses on creativity and expression. There are exhibits about the fashion design that inspired much of Mini’s early success, and a recreation of the Mini Cooper that a world-record 28 people squeezed into.
The museum was a wonderland. Our trip the next day was a struggle. Saturday afternoon, we took a sightseeing tour of Munich by bus. It was fascinating; we drove around this beautiful city for more than two hours, learned how many times the opera house has been destroyed (five), how many speeches Adolf Hitler made in the city (more than 300), and that about once a month someone finds an unexploded bomb that the Allies dropped during World War II.
it was hard to pay attention to any of that, though. Germans, apparently, don’t believe in air conditioning their buildings or their vehicles. The temperature outside was a humid 93 degrees Fahrenheit. In the bus, it was sweltering, near 100. We fanned ourselves with our itineraries but that did little good. Within minutes our shirts were soaked with sweat. The bus slowly filled with a nasty, musky odor. Soon I realized that I was perspiring from parts of my body that I didn’t know existed. I felt badly for our British tour guide, who stayed somehow upbeat and snarky for the entire trip. By the end, we speculated it was just a ruse to show us why you never leave your dog or your baby in a hot car.
Jordyn has a great picture of our misery over on her blog, which you should follow, too. It’s awesome.
Anyway, we had the Garten and the Isar to help us cool off. That was the perfect place to celebrate the United States’ Independence Day in this foreign land.
We rang it in with the world’s greatest drinking game, flunkyball. It’s amazing. There are two teams lined up about 20 feet apart, with open space in between them. The size of the teams doesn’t matter as long as they’re equal. In the middle of the open space is a bottle, weighed down with a bit of water. Teams take turns throwing a ball at the bottle; when you knock it over, your team starts chugging their beers. The other team has to run out, retrieve the ball, stand the bottle upright, run back, and yell “stop,” then you stop chugging. The first team to finish all their beers wins.
What a novel concept — a drinking game where you get drunk by winning, not losing! On the intensity scale, flunkyball is to beer pong what the NBA is to pickup ball at the YMCA; it’s ridiculously competitive. We played against a group of locals — Germans versus Americans.
We couldn’t lose to them, not on Independence Day, and we chugged harder and ran faster than we thought we could. Jordyn and Nathan had strong, accurate arms. Di was an insanely fast drinker; she was always the first one done. I sprinted for the bottle like I was running track, and once I slipped, took a nasty spill, and got a bitch of a thigh bruise. Now I can say I bled for my country.
We beat the Germans twice — I’ll not make a joke about the world wars — then headed to the bars to continue our patriotic revelry. We sang several mangled renditions of The Star Spangled Banner. Whitney Houston we were not.
Singing aside, it was a fantastic night. It ended, of course, at McDonald’s, because that’s goddamn American. Celebrating Independence Day so unrestrained, among so great a group of people, did more than anything to make this foreign place feel like home.