Monthly Digest #1: February 2017

When I reactivated this website, I also started a “Weekly Digest” series which didn’t really take off in the sense that I simply didn’t have the time to keep it running. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but real life – which always takes precedence around here – just didn’t allow for keeping it alive. So, out it goes, only to be replaced by attempt #2, a monthly digest which should prove more realistic than the previous attempt.

“Munich or Bust!”

For a high school teacher like me, the first two and a half months of every year are dominated by a load of extra school work which is brought about by half-year exams and grades, PTA evenings, A-level finals (called “Abitur” around here), subsequent oral exams which are going to happen two weeks from now, etc. It just doesn’t let up and when it does, the next similar phase is already gaining prominence. I really don’t mind, because I enjoy my job, but it really doesn’t leave me any/much time to follow my online endeavors.

Nevertheless, despite all that extra work, February proved to be a successful month in every respect.

The “main event” was my annual “Munich or Bust!” tour which is undertaken to avoid the drunken madness that calls itself “carnival” around here. Germans aren’t really allowed to say anything negative about said annual institution, but – although I was born next to the cradle of German carnival north of here – I absolutely hate it. It’s great fun for kids but when you get older you begin to notice that too many people take the core week of carnival as an excuse to get absolutely shitfaced … every single hour of the day. There are many exceptions but the problem is that those don’t often cross my path. As a teacher – believe you me – the worst thing that can happen is to run into either students or their parents (or both) completely bombed out of their skulls. Each to his own, and I’m not a stranger to having a good time, but more than a decade ago I decided to … never … again.

The trip to Munich follows stringent rules. I always stay at the same hotel – the Munich Holiday Inn City Centre (right next to the “Deutsches Museum” / “Gasteig” … for those in the know) – which is centrally located, looks like a German WWII bunker from the outside and … happens to be perfectly suited for all kinds of weather turmoils. February is the month in which you can have anything between sub-zero or pre-summer early rising temperatures in the area, all of which I have experienced these past many years. Said Holiday Inn is actually a brilliant spot to stay at simply because it has both a small shopping area and a subway connection right beneath its lobby. If the weather sucks, you never have to go outside when trying to reach all the famous and recommended spots in Munich and if the weather happens to be spectacular, most of those spots and places are a mere 20 to 30 minute walk away. Perfect!

This year, we were lucky and had excellent weather with – on the last day – the first touches of warm temperatures.

Besides frequenting our favorite restaurants such as “Kuchlverzeichnis” (it serves the best “Wiener Schnitzel” and has a homely atmosphere to boot) and the restaurant in “Braunauer Hof“, which still happens to be one of my favorites even under new ownership and is always my first stop when I arrive in Munich, we discovered “Rue Des Halles“, a wonderful small French restaurant with excellent service, excellent wine and food, as well the “Herzog” bar & restaurant, which served us a load of excellent drinks + “Truffle Popcorn,” which we have since replicated successfully at home.

Ludwig Beck, a renowned department store with an astonishingly solid history, is another regular stop, simply because it has one of the greatest jazz and classical CD sections in Europe (perhaps one of the last ones of its kind on this planet). I completely lose myself in there every single time.

We managed to catch the fabulous Gordon Parks exhibition and, especially because the rest of that day was equally fabulous, it turned into one of the highlights of the trip. No entrance fee and a lot of iconic (mostly black & white) photos that have accompanied me for several decades. It was difficult to tear myself away from many of them.

This time around, we finally managed to sample some of the spectacular cakes and chocolate masterpieces that have made the “Cafe Luitpold” a mainstay in Munich. We even manged to get a table for two right next to the window … on one of their busiest days. Pure bliss.

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“Eating Well”

In an age in which everyone is complaining about everything from morning until evening, we try to remove ourselves as much as possible and just enjoy life. This February that meant spending nice weekends together and eating well. For the first time in our lives we bought a damn expensive truffle (you can get one or two massive classical boxed sets for the price of one of those wrinkled-looking thingies) and turned it into an excellent dinner.

Highlight numero two-o was our second visit to a recently discovered restaurant in Karlsruhe that we had somehow missed these past decades, the Trattoria Toscana. Once again, service was excellent and the menu was spectacular. We don’t have many places around my hometown of this quality and standard whereas Stuttgart, our second hometown, certainly does, so when we hit the Trattoria, we try to prolong our stay there. This time we added the cheese selection as desert and a wonderful Grappa/coffee combination. Should you ever end up in Karlsruhe, this restaurant gets my highest recommendation (note: you will not get a table on the weekend unless you reserved in advance; we noticed that regulars have to be swept out of the restaurant by force simply because they like it so much).

Polenta“. I knew what it was and have tried it several times before but when you decide to go for a highly-recommended recipe yourself, things just take on a different meaning. The dish we cooked for ourselves turned out to be one of the best ones I have eaten in many moons. Besides the “polenta” base, it consisted of caramelized mushrooms in a balsamic vinegar juice that was surprisingly easy and quick to make and tasted spectacular. It’s a dish that tastes like it was prepared in a two- or three-star restaurant …and takes maybe 20 to 30 minutes to prepare. Wow.

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Music

For some odd reason, which I cannot retrace at the moment, February turned into another “Queen” month. Although I have always massively enjoyed the band, as I get older I somehow appreciate their music more and more. Besides the fact that the band was one of the tightest outfits I have ever listened to, Freddie Mercury was perhaps the most spectacular personality (and singer) Europe ever brought forth.

One of these past weeks I watched a load of Freddie Mercury (biographical) videos around the Net and he was certainly a fascinating and, yes, controversial character. I have always been of the opinion that the musician should be appreciated separately from his/her lifestyle and vices, but in the case of Freddie Mercury that seems to have been difficult for a lot of people. Case in point: although I am not the type, I really hope that Joe Haines, someone I have never met, don’t care to meet and couldn’t care less about, wrote some of the meanest lines I have ever read about anyone (in this case, Freddie Mercury). I have no idea what drives people to splatter this kind of mental and small-minded diarrhea across any publication, but perhaps Haines was only a precursor to the other (conservative and incorrigible) assholes populating modern media nowadays.

The rest of the month was spent enjoying my Mozart 225 boxed set. I still haven’t figured out if all the CDs that are supposed to be present are. I simply don’t feel like pulling out 200 CDs because, apparently, quality control (as usual?) wasn’t the best in regard to this set with missing or duplicated CDs that other people have complained about here and there, but what I have heard so far was excellent (and complete). Mozart isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, in comparison to someone like Beethoven, because of his repetitiveness and programmatic approach to composing, but I have always enjoyed the results … so there!

The rock department was represented by Thunder‘s most recent release, “Rip It Up!” (2017). Their longevity is amazing, gone one day and back the next; perhaps they were never gone but, in terms of releases, you get the idea that their schedule is akin to American TV series which love to take long breaks here and there to throw their audience a curve ball. Thunder isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either, but, to me, they embody honesty and loyalty to their fans, much like Thin Lizzy and other iconic bands of the past did. Besides that, every single member is an excellent musician and the resulting music gets my motor running, ready to go. Recommended.

Varia

In the beginning I referred to my day job and what that encompasses once in a while. I wouldn’t be in that job if there weren’t a whole bunch of perks that come with the territory. In February, one of those was an invitation to the opening day of our higher level art course’s exhibition. Unfortunately, one never really gets the chance to fully appreciate the talent that has been sitting right in front of you for maybe 10 years or more, but these kinds of events level the playing field again. The best I myself ever managed was “experimental art” (= throwing paint at a canvas and hoping a teacher might like it), but in comparison to that, what I saw (once again) this year was both professional and invigorating. I have seen lots of art in my life but what I always enjoy most is seeing budding artists whom someone (in our case, an excellent art teacher we have at our school) gives a chance to “do their thing”. It might not always be my cup of tea, but I spent a lot of time taking in what was displayed and a lot of it left quite an impression on me.

Into March …

It’s going to be another quiet two weeks from here on. We’ve got the aforementioned final oral exams coming up for our 13th graders and despite the fact that students somehow tend to think we are constantly trying to trip them up, I always try my best to put my candidates at ease and prepare (much) better than they ever could. The reason? I want them to shine and show their potential. I would love for them to have a faint positive memory of their last few minutes at high school 20 or more years down the road.

Let’s see if I can succeed.

Here’s to March then, which is already in its second week.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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