Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On Pils and Pillows

We begin with a few words from our guest blogger re: her trip last week to Hannover to meet the other Humboldt Fellows from across Germany. She writes:

Hannover is not the most exciting location, especially during a snowstorm in March, but when in Hannover here are some things to do: 1) Visit the famous mathematician Leibniz's house and turn the ring in the fountain out front to be granted a wish. 2) See the ever-changing sign in the main square that displays the current world population. Germany wants to remind people that the Earth’s resources are running out and fast. [Main blogger's note: I didn't put her up to this one]:

3) See the Rathaus. It’s really the only building left from before the war.

4) Find the monument to the 7 professors (including the Brothers Grimm) who were exiled from the city/University when they disagreed with the King (Ernest-Augustus). Apparently the gardens are amazing too, but I wouldn’t know because it was 20 degrees and windy. It snowed almost the entire time. I’m sure a flower could not have lived through that weather. On the upside, Leibniz Universitat does have a beautiful lecture hall, and I was fortunate to hear the former minister of education (a woman!) speak to the fellows. It was refreshing to hear a politician speak openly about climate change and the need for sustainability. [Main blogger's note: I didn't put her up to this one.] I also made some new international friends who will, no doubt, be a welcome site at our reunion in Berlin in June. Maybe we’ll have a reprise of our tequila shots while being serenaded by a lounge singer playing Santana’s “Maria Maria” on a synthesizer.

As Jeanine was already pretty far North, we met up in Frankfurt Friday for an urban weekend (we knew it was urban because the Hotel Bristol plays lounge music 24-7). We both were feeling the need for a little bit of Americana, and given that its residents seem to have pretty much abandoned the use of German in restaurants and stores, Frankfurt is the perfect city in which to forget you're in Germany. And we really liked the city, despite the absurd end-of-March cold and wind. The manageable scale and the river Main reminded us of D.C. The Rathaus is almost all postwar.

Frankfurt is very cosmopolitan: we could find bankers from every nation but also one of my favorite Pils(es?) from Baden-Württemberg. Trust me, I am under-dressed.

To get our American fix, we went to a relatively un-German restaurant. Indeed, the Druckerwasse reminded me of mid-90s Minneapolis, when opening a restaurant in an old brick warehouse was the height of hip.

My duck was downright American, though Jeanine went with the schnitzel, which she deemed the best she's ever had. And further caving into Germania, I enjoyed the Radeberger Pils, which is damn good despite being a macro-brew by German standards. So much for the the multiple cask conditioned beers on tap.

The pillows in Frankfurt also remained resolutely German. Jim, please tell me what I'm supposed to do with this feathered monstrosity, which, despite being over-sized, still could not keep my head more than 1/16 of an inch above the mattress after I folded it over twice.

After a miserable night's sleep (folding up the extra comforter I had asked for worked in the pillow department, but I subsequently froze), one of our first stops Saturday (after watching angry vegan protestors storming through one of the central squares -- look, I wanted to say, I am eating vegetarian at home in this country. Who knows enough German to order those strange meats at die Metzgerei?!) was a department store. Kein Paradies hier.

Thinking about pils(es?) and pillows so much got me thinking about path dependency, the phenomenon whereby something exists in the form it does simply because it has existed in this form for a long time. The classic example (Sam, was it used by the political scientist who coined the term?) is the QWERTY keyboard; there's no way we should be using it, as many other keyboard designs are more efficient, but we do because that's the way it's always been. Path dependency helps explain everything from the superiority of the Lakers over the Clippers to the higher salaries of political scientists compared to historians to the conservative voting patterns of Wyomingites. It's a very powerful force, so much so that even in a country that has spent the better part of three-quarters of a century remaking its culture after the horrors of the Nazis -- yeah I know: until now I had observed Basil's famous exhortation from Fawlty Towers: "don't mention the war" -- it explains why Hannover is a pretty boring city and why, in Germany, pils prevail and pillows are perverse.

After unsuccessful pillow shopping, we did find enough time to tour Goethe's (postwar reconstructed) family house, which made me realize that a) I didn't read squat in college and b) Goethe was one rich dude.

We also went by the Frankfurt stock exchange. We called a (short-term) market top here.

Then it was time for Frankfurt am Main's main attraction, the Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie (ok, let's call it the Städel). Serious variety of art here, from Bosch to Warhol. They also had this very famous painting:

Oh no wait a second, sorry, I got jumbled up here with the other entry I have open about my damn back injury returning after merely a 25-mile week. This is a painting called "The Back Operation." I'll delete that entry. 

Ever since I went to Oslo I've been a huge Edvard Munch fan. I mean, doesn't this one just make you want to throw back a few 12€ beers in a rustic tavern on the Norwegian coast? 

And look, if you can't have Brueghel's "Hunters in the Snow," imitations are fine.

Undeterred by the arctic invasion, we then walked three times around the city looking for a particular tavern that's been selling Frankfurt's renowned Apfelwein since 1847. I dunno: the stuff has a weird metallic aftertaste. Maybe it's not a coincidence that a revolution broke out the year after this tavern opened. But luckily here we met some business students who directed us to a great pizzeria (Pils on tap: the available-in-America Bitburger). 

On Sunday we checked for frostbite relapses and went to the German Film Museum, specialist in pre-camera moving-image shows from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They also had a special exhibit with memorabilia from every Oscars. And look at these special effects! 


  1. Yes, Derek, I am paying enough attention to notice your cheap shots.
    And I have not clue who coined the term.

  2. Sam how was this a cheap shot? Are you suggesting that the political science/history salary gap reflects the magical workings of a perfectly functioning and unadulterated job market in academia? After all, Congress just officially made it state policy that the value of political science is zero ( http://themonkeycage.org/2013/03/22/political-science-nsf-funding-and-the-national-interest/ )