Autumn at the Dult

Sure, Oktoberfest is long over, but that doesn’t mean Munich has lost that carnival feeling. As I’ve said before, you’d be hard-pressed to visit this city when there wasn’t some sort of festival (beer-oriented or not) going on. A couple weeks ago it was the Auer Dult, a thrice-yearly event involving rides, carnival food, and lots and lots of kitchenware. Continue reading

Italy: Bolzano’s colorful market

I could have wandered up and down this street all day.

Not that Munich doesn’t have a nice market; it does. But for some reason everything looks more delicious when it’s in Italy.

Luckily we didn’t have to just look.

We came home with many delicious Italian treats from this market.

My husband gets credit for most of the photos. He was shooting away while I was buying as much as I could carry.

Last-minute gift ideas from Munich

OK, so you don’t like all the cool gift ideas I gave you earlier? I have a couple more for you, scouted out by me as the best Munich’s shops have to offer. First, for those with big budgets and an appreciation for the absurd, there’s the sacrilicious fine porcelain from Nymphenburg:

This window display alone contains not only a crucifix, but also two (two!) skulls and crossbones, a snail, a deer wearing crosses on his antlers, an owl… and some other stuff, too. In another window we find this heartwarming Christmas scene.

Overpriced china not your style? Here’s another gift for the Bavarian who has everything: doggy tract! Here’s a pair of doggy lederhosen and a doggy dirndl worn by doggy mannequins:

But if you’re still having trouble imagining it on a real dog, check out this coy mädchen:

Apple Store Munich Grand Opening

Today’s post is a guest post from my husband, Scott. I don’t do lines or crowds, so I was happily sleeping in while all this was happening…

There are few things that will get me out of bed early on a weekend, but naturally the opening of the new Apple Store in Munich is one of them. The store is Apple’s first retail presence in Germany and only the fourth in continental Europe. The location is hard to beat, right around the corner from Marienplatz and within sight of that great tourist magnet, the Glockenspiel.

The opening was scheduled for 10AM and I arrived a little before nine. There were already 150 people in line, with the people in the front claiming to have arrived around six. Half of the people seemed to be documenting the event, including the local television station, official Apple photographers and a couple of people who were live-blogging. The guy in front of me in line was talking to two people in a studio someplace doing a live video broadcast of the event from his laptop. A couple of times they cut to him for his exciting report, “The staff just came running out of the door, circling the crowd. Can you see them?” I already felt a bit dorky standing at line at 9 on a Saturday, but suddenly I was wondering who would want to be watching me standing in line?

By the time the store opened there appeared to be over 500 people in line, but things proceeded in an orderly German fashion. Everyone that entered was greeted by cheering staff and commemorative T-shirts were given to the first 2500 entrants.

Inside the retail staff were quite busy answering people’s questions. I was surprised how many people were actually buying things, including new laptops. There are at least three stores within a five minute walk where you could have bought the same items last week. For those who wanted to buy something today, there was always an employee nearby with a wireless checkout device.

If you have been to an Apple store recently, this one looked about the same. It is a two-story layout, with a spiral glass staircase. The highlight was of course the Genius Bars upstairs, where you can bring in your Apple product for free help. The two bars looked capable of servicing 4-5 people each, but you may have to wait a while to get a reservation; the website said there were no more spots available for the next week.

There are more pictures on the flickr account.

How long until the mall rats move in?

The long-awaited Sihlcity is finally open. The heralded new structure is large and contains retail shops, eateries, AND a cinema. All under one roof. How wacky is that? This article in SwissInfo gives us the inside scoop:

Zurich’s tourist board has already hailed the complex as a unique entertainment concept and expects it to be a magnet for foreign visitors.

Psst… tourist board, c’mere a minute. Let me let you in on a little secret… it’s called a “mall” and there are about a gazillion of them already in existence, hidden away in this little country called the USA.

“It will be a key part of Zurich tourism as it offers new depth and richness to the existing attractions of Bahnhofstrasse and the old town. It brings everything together, shopping and entertainment, in one area so people don’t really have to move to enjoy it,” tourist board head of operations Markus Salzmann told swissinfo.

Right, so if you haven’t noticed, the lack of movement is kind of what’s getting Americans in trouble. That and all those Sbarro pizza slices and giant frosted cookies. Really, not as good of an idea as it sounds.

Actually there is one aspect of Sihlcity which is definitely different from American malls – its Roman Catholic chapel. Now I’m sure Americans have come up with the chapel-in-the-mall concept, too, or are about to any day now. But the reasoning behind the placement is altogether different: “Some people may just want a quiet refuge to get away from the bustle, but others like the anonymity of a shopping centre. They can visit the chapel without being seen by people they know who may ask what they are doing here.” Where I grew up, being seen was the number one reason TO go to church. Funny that people here might actually want to hide it…

Anyway, you’re not going to find much privacy anywhere in Sihlcity these days, because the place is jammed packed with at least half the population of Switzerland, all crowding into stores that are basically the same as the ones on Bahnhofstrasse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such long lines to get on an escalator in my life. Ah, consumerism.

You seriously expect me to shop on this street?

“Sorry dear, I didn’t get you a present this year. It’s… it’s… those damn Christmas lights on Bahnhofstrasse! How was I supposed to get in the Christmas shopping mood with those ghastly things overshadowing the whole scene? They totally ruined everything. Next year, I’ll buy you something in Chicago. Promise.”

And so the Great Zurich Christmas Decoration Controversy continues. Advertisements in the trams of Zurich declare, “Zurich: Neon light shopping. Chicago: Christmas shopping!” The advertisements are for a travel agent, Skytours, which specializes in travel to the US. According to the free newspaper 20 Minuten, the ad campaign is stirring up a lot of interest in Chicago as a Christmas-shopping destination.

OK, I admit, I’ve made fun of them, too. But an intercontinental trip just to escape the Bahnhofstrasse lights? Honestly, I’m starting to feel sorry for them, and maybe even like them a little… perhaps the lights are just misunderstood?

The Great Swiss Christmas Decoration Controversy

For the second year in a row, great controversy has befallen the normally tranquil city of Zurich. The offense is so bold and egregious that it threatens to dampen the holiday spirits of anyone who approaches. I am speaking, of course, of the Bahnhofstrasse Christmas lights.

Bahnhofstrasse, for those unfamiliar with downtown Zurich, is the main shopping street through the center of the city, leading from the main train station (or Bahnhof) all the way to the lake. It is lined with fancy shops and is the heart of holiday activities, such as… shopping.

But starting last year, the otherwise jovial Swiss shoppers have been forced to endure unthinkable horror dare they traverse Bahnhofstrasse in the weeks leading up to Christmas: unattractive Christmas lights. More than a handful of concerned citizens have gone so far as to pen angry letters to the editors of local newspapers, demanding that the stark eyesores be replaced with something more festive. Even public figures are calling the lights ugly.

Personally, I don’t think they’re ugly. I just think they’re not in the least bit… Christmassy. Which is odd in a city that otherwise does Christmas so well. So what do you think? Anyone want to fess up to having written one of those entertaining letters to the editor?

[photo courtesy of GenevaGal]

A toast to the Christkindli and his Markt

If there’s one thing the German-speaking world does right, it’s Christmas time. Christmas markets pop up everywhere selling lots of things you don’t need. Glühwein (hot, spiced wine) becomes available on every street corner, as do roasted chestnuts, to warm you on cold days. Twinkling little lights hang above all the shopping streets (OK, the Swiss seem to have gotten this part slightly wrong – but I’ll address this in a later post). Zimtsterne, Magenbrot, and other Christmas delicacies show up at all the stores.

Another nice thing about the Christmas season in this part of the world is that there aren’t any of those annoying right-wing bible-beaters complaining about how Christmas has become too commercial, or how we’ve all forgotten its “true meaning.” In Zurich, the baby Jesus is too busy running the indoor market at the train station to care about whether you’re celebrating his birthday in the correct fashion.

Today we strolled through the newly-opened Christmas markets around town with our visiting friends from Geneva (who, amazingly, had never been to a Christmas market before). We ate Chäs-Chüechli (unpronounceable Swiss cheese pie) and drank Glühwein while browsing through the little market stalls. I think about half of the inhabitants of Zurich were doing the same thing. The only thing missing was the snow.

Journey into the flowery chocolate jungle

How is it possible that I’ve gone this long without ever writing a post about Swiss chocolate? As we all know, Switzerland is The Land of Chocolate. Its claim to fame amongst the other Lands of Chocolate (Belgium, Germany, Holland, etc.) is that milk chocolate was invented here. Makes sense, given all the milk-producing they do.

But luckily for us the Swiss didn’t just rest on their laurels after that great invention. Instead they also managed to bang out a wide array of delicious dark chocolates, too. You can get bars made from up to 99% pure cocoa, but I tend to prefer the ones around 70-80%. But really, I’ll eat almost anything dark – even dark chocolate Toblerone does it for me.

For our every-day chocolate (and chocolate gift-giving) needs, the chocolate section at a Coop department store does just nicely (in Zurich, try the one on Bahnhofstrasse). They carry a wide variety of brands and types, and so much selection that I can usually find something new to try each time I go. I’m savoring the Dolfin dark chocolate with fresh ginger we picked up last week when we took my parents there (they picked up enough Swiss chocolate to fill an entire suitcase, I think).

Given our upcoming trip to Japan, I needed to stock up on Swiss chocolates to bring to our friends we will be visiting there. In addition to a visit to Coop, I decided to use this opportunity as an excuse to go to that great Mecca of Swiss chocolate boutiques, Teuscher. I usually stay far away from these stores because (1) it seems like a waste of money to eat this stuff on a regular basis and (2) quite frankly, their decoration scheme frightens me. Look at these pictures! Now I love kitsch, but I have nightmares about getting strangled by one of the long colorful vines of crepe paper flowers that dangle from Teuscher’s ceiling. It’s just that scary in there.

But sometimes one has to be brave, so today I mustered up all my courage and ventured into a Teuscher shop. At the end of the day, their chocolate is pretty darn good, so I figured the trip would be worth it. Although I usually stick to the dark stuff, our Japanese friends have indicated a preference for milk chocolate, so milk it was. I got an array of interesting-sounding flavors: chocolate bars with with lemon, mint, pink pepper (anyone ever seen a pink pepper?), and my personal favorite, jalapeño (it’s entirely possible that this bar will mysteriously disappear before we arrive in Japan). I also got a box of Teuscher’s signature champagne truffles. Luckily those are well-wrapped, or they might have trouble making it to Japan, too.

All over the shop, labels reminded me that Teuscher also has a store in Tokyo, but I’m sure it will taste even better because I’m bringing it fresh from its birth country, right?

Merry Christmas!

Without Halloween and Thanksgiving to hold it back, Christmas merchandise apparently starts running wild as soon as the leaves on the trees start to turn. Are there really people out there who stock up on chocolate santas two and a half months in advance?

While completely immune to the charm of chocolate santas (especially milk chocolate ones), I’m quite lucky they haven’t broken out the Zimtsternen yet (I looked all over for them just to make sure). I am powerless against them.

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