Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ten Miles of Exhibits

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I have sudden sympathy for men whose wives drag them shopping.

Actually, I liked the Deutsches Museum. Very impressive. I especially enjoyed stealing a kiss deep in a mine shaft!

My problem was that after only twenty minutes, my feet and back were aching. Recurrent from all the walking I’d done the night before. I kept trying to follow Jon around and listen as he talked excitedly about every single display. Finally I realized that I didn’t need to be a 1950s era housewife, hanging upon his every word. I explained to Jon that I was feeling tired, and we worked out a deal wherein I sat down in each room while he explored in detail, and then he’d come get me if there were anything particularly cool he wanted to show me. That arrangement worked out much better.

I read in a travel book later that the museum has the equivalent of 10 miles of exhibits. No wonder I was in agony!

I was happy to indulge his inner little boy engineer, of course. He is indulging me in just about everything else on this trip, so it only seems fair that he get to explore a world-class technology museum in painstaking detail.

I was particularly fascinated by the movies about metal casting. The process whereby they create a Styrofoam form, insert it into a mold, and pour molten metal into it, vaporizing the Styrofoam and creating a perfect, complex, 3D metal creation was amazing! (It didn’t hurt that I sat down for half an hour to watch it. Aaaah.)

The air and space section was also fun. We laughed at the signs all over the soyuz capsule reading “Help! Man in side! Pull this tab!” [sic] in several different languages.

I also got to tell Jon about the Forklift that Went to the Moon. On Father’s Day, the Washington Post ran an article about the curators of the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. These professionals claim that, based on their anecdotal observation, dads completely fabricate answers to their childrens questions two or three times as often as moms.

Their favorite example:

Child: What is that?
Mom: I don’t know. Let’s go look it up.


Child: What is that?
Dad: That’s a special space capsule that has been to the moon!

(It was, in fact, a forklift the staff used to move about heavy displays.)

Jon agreed this was funny.

I had another “German language” moment in the museum. We went into the room on electricity. Very cool displays. Their special feature is that they can create lightning—not just wimpy sparks, but actual, impressive lightning—in the room. (They ban pacemakers there.)

I noticed that their demonstration didn’t start on time, and I wandered over to read a sign that had been posted on the door. I read it and thought, “The technician defected? What, the only lightning expert has gone over to work for the North Koreans or something?”

A few minutes later I read it again and realized, “Oh! There’s a technical –defect-! Something is broken and they can’t do it today!”

It was still disappointing, though.  We are actually planning to go back next Saturday. Poor Jon has been trying for years to explore the Deutsches Museum, only to be frustrated each time. This time we spent almost five hours, and only covered a little over half the exhibits. Wartburg Castle can wait!

I hated to tear Jon away (although both of us had aching backs and feet by mid afternoon), but I pointed out that in Germany grocery stores close early and he needed to buy groceries for the Sabbath.

I think they’ve revised the labor laws here, because a bunch of stores were open until 8 p.m. In 2003, we went looking for a grocery store around 5 or 6 p.m. and couldn’t find –anything-. That led to the famous poopy-diaper, ox-in-the-mire, unsuccessful-Sabbath-breaking episode.

Still, I’m glad we erred on the side of caution.

I’m so accustomed to Jon paying for everything when we’re together. I was taken aback when I added some items to the basket and he said, “You’ll have to pay for those yourself.” It took me a moment, but then I realized he was trying to keep his expense account for work separate from our finances. I’m glad my husband is honest.  We agreed to split the cost of a bottle of milk, though, and I let him have a taste of my Apfel Streussel, and he let me have some of his Kasekuchen (cheesecake).

As we were riding back to the hotel to put perishables away in our small fridge, we spotted to missionaries. I pounced and asked, “Enschuldigung Eltern, wissen Sie veilleicht wo gibt es—“ I paused, trying to think of the word for “ward”.

One of the Elders, looking pained, said, “You can speak English to us.” The indignity, of course, was that it turned out he was Swedish, but spoke perfect English. Still, they gave us their phone number. I called them later that evening to get directions to the English ward.

A complaint: the meetinghouse locator only gives an address and times. It doesn’t specify which ward is which, nor does it give phone numbers. Until stumbling on the Eltern, we had no way of knowing if we should arrive at 9 a.m., or at 2.

We took the groceries back to the hotel, and then went back out briefy. There is a large bookstore at Karlsplatz. I found another Baby Blues anthology in German! I’ve been reading it, and I generally get the punchlines about half the time. Not too bad!

I really like the “Comic Book and Child Movie” method for acquiring a foreign tongue. It is at least more fun than lots of flashcards and drills.

We also found some DVDs for the children. “Winnie the Pooh” is educational as long as it’s in German, right?

Standing in that bookstore, I began to understand how working mothers buy lots of toys as a substitute for time. Saturday evening I started feeling guilty about how long I’d been away from my children. I started missing them, too. It is so much easier to navigate trains without them, but I found I rather wished I could show them things.  I also found myself loading up with books and DVDs, although in this case, it wasn’t entirely guilt expiation, it was also enthusiasm “Ooh, this looks fun! I bet he’d like this one!”

In fact, I had such a pile, a woman walked up to me and asked where something was in German. She thought I was an employee. I said, “Es tut mir leid aber ich arbeite hier nicht.” (Grammatical query: Mom, I wasn’t supposed to switch the word order in the second clause because they’re both independent, right? It’s not a “dass” clause.)

I have noticed that Germans never just plop down on the floor. I have tried to remain standing at train stations and in other stores. That night, though, my feet and back were exhausted. I had a pile of books to sort through, and I finally plunked down in a corner of the kids section. “I’m just going to go ahead and act like a spoiled imperialistic American!” I thought.

A store employee came and yelled at me politely. Sigh.

Anyway, Jon winnowed me down somewhat. It was a good thing he did, because, like most stores in Deutschland, they didn’t accept credit cards! (Or debit.) How can a civilized G8 country with an amazing train system function without credit cards, I ask? Of course, I’m all in favor of avoiding consumer debt, but it’s still eerie. At least there are more ATMs now, which makes getting local currency easy. I remember all those German lessons about going to the bank and exchanging dollars the old-fashioned way. Of course, my German textbook also says that East and West Germany are two separate countries.

I will close with the…


The prevailing symbol of Munich seems to be its amazing beer steins. Small ones, huge ones, encrusted, engraved, 3D relief ones. Pewter or brightly painted. Images of Neuschwanstein, or the Frauenkirche.

Would it be wrong to buy one as a memento? Would this send the wrong message to the children? We drink Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider in wine-shaped bottles on occasion. Where would I use a stein? On my mantle? As a pencil holder at my desk?
Would owning a beer stein subtly or symbolically glorify the culture of alcohol, even if we never drink any?

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