Bier, wine and the Pope: weird interviews

Munich is a delightful city, but again one that I’ve only fleeting knowledge of. I must have been there about a dozen times, but almost without exception for a short professional visit – attend a conference or a meeting, or give a talk. These are the sort of events that make you a ‘seasoned traveller’, but one who knows little of the places you ‘visit’ (I wanted to write ‘attend’, in the sense that you ‘attend’ the city so that someone can tick your name off, but really you haven’t been part of it – the kind of ‘attendance’ I no doubt acquired on some university courses, but that’s a different story). Anyhow, to add ‘seasoning’ to the last stage of my central European travelling, I made a stop in the Bavarian capital to visit Munich Business School. Good exchange of views, and a delightful lunch near the opera. Many thanks to my host.

Augustiner bierkeller, Munich

However, the evening before I just had to revisit a famous bierkeller (not really a keller): Augustiner on Neuhauserstraße. I’m no longer a beer drinker, but I had to visit this place – because of memories. Back at the start of the 1990s a group of us involved in a now defunct European organization (no, not the eurozone) had a meeting in the city, which spilled over into a lengthy bier und wurst, and more bier, until the small hours. We were a group of idealists, and we were laying the liquid foundations for ideas that gradually evolved, through others, into concepts such as the European Language Portfolio. We were thinking in terms of frameworks that could be valid across European countries. Our thinking actually led to an EU-funded project to flesh out ideas for a European Language Passport. They were heady days. Europe was reuniting; optimism abounded, even if it was somewhat battered by the economic woes of the mid-1990s. Now I was sitting at almost the identical table as 20 years before, quietly observing the two Japanese girls at the next table, the German couple who only drank one glass of bier between them, the other couple (not German, but I never discovered from where) who ate and ate, and washed it all down with copious quantities of the Augustinerbräu. I had to have a bier – ‘Ein bier, so,’ I said pointing to a weißbier. And with my sauerkraut und wurst, I savoured the constructed memories of our famous evening at Augustiner’s. Whether the others remember the evening as I do is highly debatable – I guess most have forgotten it in the mists of euro-time.

With a detour via the Bodensee to relive the 1950s (see post Dancing at 75 plus), I travelled back home via Freiburg (the German one). I’d been there previously for a meeting, but had scarcely seen anything. Now I stopped for a longish lunchbreak and wandered around the Altstadt and visited a little bit of the very impressive Freiburger Münster, the cathedral.

Freiburger Munster

I would have liked to see more, but there was a mass or a wedding or something going on inside and tourists were not allowed in. Then it dawned on me: the huge banner hanging from the scaffolding across the entrance: one Ratzinger was about to visit – ah yes the Pope. No doubt the Münster authorities were already practising. I should have been in Freiburg again this week for a conference, but we got word that the Pope had cancelled our conference. Well not directly, of course, but he was about to bring some 100,000 penitants to the city – not a hotel or gasthaus room anywhere. I thought it might have been a coup for the conference organizers to have the Pope deliver the keynote address, but he would apparently be engaged in addressing higher entities.

And yet, despite the Pope’s impending visit, I was back in the city last week, to sit on a selection panel for new staff at the university. Quite an honour to be invited, but I was in for surprises. I had never been on a German selection panel before, and so dressed in a smart sober suit, tie, etc. And the other males on the panel were dressed in totally relaxed style – even a teeshirt – I was out of place. The second surprise: how unprepared the candidates were! There were two excellent jobs on offer, ideal for a 30-somethinger, who wants to make a name and build solid foundations for a successful career. The jobs offered almost complete freedom of scope in how the duties and responsibilities could be carried out, vast scope for creativity, opportunities for developing novel educational approaches, and so on. But the candidates had barely thought to investigate what the job could entail, let alone look up what the university itself was doing. In times when information is so easily available, I could not understand why the presumably internet-savvy candidates had not done so. Most curious.

Freiburger Munster

And the third surprise: a delectable local meal afterwards in a delightful hostelry in front of the Münster, copiously washed down with excellent wines – a touch too much, courtesy of the Pope, who considerately provided the angelic choirs of sacred music through the loudspeakers on the square to sanctify the worldly meal.

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