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Jan 1, 07 06:02 PM

München (Munich): Silvester (New Year's Eve).

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The wildest New Year's I have ever been witness to.

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Munich was a letdown for me. Berlin amazed me; I've been emailing my friends telling them that the bohemian neighborhoods there look like they got hit by an art bomb. A great energy, and I can't wait to go back. Munich, on the other hand, is a moneyed, comfortable town, quite awesome in its own right, but certainly not with Berlin's excitement.

What it does have is Old Stuff. Observe:

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Tremendous, right? I loved seeing it. Not the best for me, though, because I don't really photograph that kind of thing particularly well; one would do better to buy a coffeetable book. I'm more attuned to this:

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But it was fun walking around the Altstadt, where all the churches were, and the Marienplatz, and the Frauenplatz, and all the fantastic edifices. It was, of course, lousy with other tourists. Strangely, they were 90% Italian. I mean, the streets were packed with beerdrinking Italians. The beer, of course, is the other thing Bavaria is famous for. It seemed that all of Northern Italy took the train up to drink some.

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I shocked the hell out of myself by constantly getting annoyed at the Italians for speaking English. Like, how dare this boorish Italian guy assume the guy selling him his wurst speaks English! Why can't these people learn a few German words, just to be polite?

(My own German, PS, is coming along, although I wish my vocabulary was bigger. But most of my conversations over here have been entirely auf Deutsch! Whenever I depart from one, I feel a tingly feeling, almost like I'm getting slightly teary. Seriously. I am way into this German speaking thing.)

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I wasn't doing the beer, myself, but was eating the bejesus out of everything I could get my hands on. The Bavarians know something about meat. There's an area near the Marienplatz called the Viktualienmarkt, little stands, each with a specialty, and I had one of everything.

What was it all made of? Don't know. Don't want to know. Clearly parts of pigs and cows. It was all delicious.

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Silvester--that's what the Germans call New Year's Eve--arrives. I'm wandering around the Altstadt, and I happen upon the Hofbrauhaus. The Hofbrauhaus, is like, you know, the Germany you've seen in movies: Oktoberfest, huge beer steins, people in lederhosen and waitresses in dirndls bearing eight beer steins at once, oompah brass bands. I decide to go in and maybe grab a prezel.

You've seen The Sound of Music. Lederhosen, those kind of hats and coats and dresses and stuff? That's called Tracht. It's Bavarian traditional clothing. They are still rocking that shit. In fact, one can go and buy superexpensive designer versions of it, like I saw in this store window:

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It's about 7 pm. I wander in (despite the 18th century style of the place, there are Tracht wearing bouncers out front, with earpieces, worthy of some faceless L.A. club). There are long wooden tables filled with Germans kitted out for Silvester in their Tracht. But not so many of them. Mostly, it's Italians. It's kind of scary. One table starts singing an Italian song, it's an anthem of some sort, a soccer song maybe? The whole joint erupts into a roaring singalong.

I grab a Käsebrez'n and hotfoot it out of there.

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It occurs to me that maybe I should chillax at the hotel for a few hours, then go out to the Marienplatz, where there's likely to be a bunch of people, catch the switchover to 2007, then go to sleep and wake up and wander the streets until I catch the old Zug to Vienna.

I emerge at 10:30 and find that they're setting off fireworks in the Marienplatz, right in front of the beautiful old town hall. Just a bunch of kids, setting them off, pell mell. Everybody else in the square is giving them a wide berth, they have this huge circle in which they're just creating fiery chaos. So close to the beautiful old building, I figure, the cops must show up soon.

I get out of there and wander around some more. I find more of the same, in smaller doses. People are setting off fireworks--like, real fireworks, not wimpy ones, right between the old buildings of the Altstadt. Just regular half-drunk folks.

I walk up towards Schwabing, the neighborhood where the university is--the old hippie neighborhood (sadly it isn't anymore). I notice that I am moving against a tide of people, many of whom have backpacks spilling over with fireworks.

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Oh my God. What's this gonna look like at midnight?

I come back from Schwabing and it's sheer mayhem. Every little square is full of people getting drunk and exploding things. There'd be a big circle around people blowing stuff up, and then suddenly I'd realize that people are also blowing stuff up behind me. Oh great. I'd go looking for another square. Dodging fireworks overhead the whole time.

I'm getting a little uneasy. What a square, you are, Mike! I think.

It gets crazier and crazier. I get back to Marienplatz and it's just astonishing how many fireworks are going off. It's close to midnight. The crowd is mixed--lots of Italians of course, who are so into this it's unnerving--but lots of older, well dressed folk--expensive Tracht--young couples with kids--younger people. Everybody. And we're all dodging fireworks. Walking along, suddenly sparks fly overhead, a roman candle shoots comets a yard from your foot, you're showered in ash.

There was this one particular firework which I thought was very beautiful and clever, a green screaming whirligig. I came to fear it. I saw it go twirling up in the sky, then nosedive and smack into a guy's head. Nothing happened, but the guy was pretty worried about his hair.

And what of the buildings? These old, amazing churches? The faces of the saints, are they going to have gunpowder marks in the morning? I keep seeing missiles shoot over the roofs. Who knows where they're landing?

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I realize that I'm not the only one who's freaked out. Everybody is freaked out, or drunk. Initially all the females present are trying to present this vibe of Ha-ha, look at me being scared like a girl. Then every woman and girl looks completely terrified, and half the men look like they're trying to hold it together.

It's midnight. The thing I wanted most was to hear all the church bells--they've been going off at various points during the day, just beautiful. I figure midnight would be bananas. So, yeah, the church bells are all clearly ringing, but I can barely hear them above the fireworks.

I'm trying to find a way back to my hotel that does not involve walking a gauntlet of fire. Things are getting worse and worse. By the Frauenkirche, some dudes are lighting bottle rockets in their hands and shooting them at each other. This is pretty much the moment that I realize that this is fucking scary.

By the time I make it to the Tal, near my hotel, it's a mixture of insane mobs blowing stuff up, and fleeing mobs. I have never seen people more desperate to find cabs.

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This morning I got up and the guy at the desk cheerfully acknowledged that it's like that every year. The tradition of fireworks comes from a pagan ritual to scare away the evil spirits for the coming year, right? IT WORKED.

I went back to the Hofbrauhaus. I shared one of those long wooden tables with a family of really nice Spanish tourists (they asked me to translate some menu items into English, which, again, very strange).

There were some old Bavarian dudes in Tracht. They probably did the traditional local thing, and kept their HUGE steins locked up in the back (you can see the racks of lockers near the bar, with a sink to wash them in before you put them back). One of them was this very sad, old drunk guy with whom I kept making jokes that I could half-understand about his friend's dog, an elderly beagle that never took his eyes off my sausages.

Goodnight, and frohe neues Jahr, to all, from your friend Mikey, in Vienna.

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Posted by Mike at January 1, 2007 6:02 PM