Why would you do that?

I have not written about Brexit for some time. I have watched incredulously as the UK’s chief negotiator, David Davis, has failed to understand that the EU is a rule-based organisation that works linearly, meets 4 times per year and delegates work to qualified people such as EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. I have also “enjoyed” reading in the Guardian John Crace’s sketches – yesterday being a case in point.

This morning the British Government – though I am being generous by describing it thus after a week when the now redundant Overseas Development Minister, Priti Patel, has been making her own foreign policy whilst on holiday, wheeled out another former minister, Theresa Villiers (left), to argue that the EU – Barnier – is being unreasonable in putting a two-week deadline on the UK sorting out the divorce bill as the final EU leaders’ meeting of the year is fast-approaching and he will have to make recommendations to them regarding exit progress. I’ve heard the arguments again – the EU is not negotiating. Trade policy is important for the British and Europeans. How can you negotiate the border between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland before knowing what the trade agreement will be? etc. I do recall that Davis – and presumably what constitutes the UK Government – agreed to this on the first day of negotiation back in June 2017. Why agree to something that negotiators cannot honour?

But then this week, the UK’s illustrious and creative Prime Minister, Theresa May, decides that the leaving date, 29 March 2019 will be enshrined in law. Oh and the time will be 2300 (a recognition that the European Continent is on the whole, one hour ahead of the UK). My question is, when there is so much uncertainty about outcomes, why would a so-called leader commit herself – or successors – to such an absolute date and time? Politics was always the art of the possible. When negotiating with 27 countries whom the UK has alienated and distracted from more important global matters, this is unhelpful? Surely?




Picture Theresa Villiers: Chris McAndrew


I passed an examination!

Since getting back from holidays in the Alps in August, it has been quite busy. The start of an academic year is always busy; this year had its own challenges. And they are persistent. Apologies to my readers. Something had to give.

I have, however, now passed my Goethe Institut B1 German exam. It was quite an experience. I have not taken a formal examination for maybe 20 years (since completing my undergraduate degree). So, I had to prepare. The Goethe Institut offers plenty of mock examination materials for that purpose. I have spent the best part of a year trying to improve my mock scores. Examinations are as much about technique as they are content. Answering the question helps – though because the questions and/or instructions are in German, that makes it a shade more tricky to get right. I practised hard answering questions alone and with my tutor.

Kaffee und Kuchen nach der Prüfung

I have to say that I thought – confidently – that I had failed the listening part of the examination. In my training, this was my weakest discipline. One has to listen to a cod radio-discussion programme and identify who said what. There is little concession to speed. Some of the voices seem similar and, as was in my case, in the first instance, I had no idea what the theme was! But somehow, I passed that part with a creditable 77 (84 overall from four disciplines).

Anyone is doing this examination in Munich, be advised that the online “pass checker” tool may not work. After two weeks the Institut wrote to me to ask when I was going to pick up my certificate! And against their own guidelines, they sent it to an address in Munich for me to retrieve rather than have to attend in person. At 200 Euros, it is not a cheap option. But I am unexpectedly proud.

Autumn 2017 cigarette advertising in Germany

In recent weeks, the advertising territory has been completely owned by Gauloises. Indeed, Gauloises’ current campaign draws on the company’s favourite advertising theme, semi-naked women (left). I think the scenario is something like this – two women out for the night but have not had time to get ready because they work hard. So they bring their stuff with them and get changed in the taxi or some other vehicle. Whatever, they turn out brilliant.

However, JPS is back with a bunch of ultra-annoying 20-somethings (2/3 bearded men) sat on the roof – because they are so antisocial that they are not allowed inside – thinking up cool business ideas (presumably). A couple of laptops to symbolise work/creativity. One of the bearded men can do laptops and smoke simultaneously. Both the women are smoking but they don’t have laptops (men’s work?). The two other blokes are sockless, one of whom seems to be able to do amazing things with stools. I say no more.

Actually, I love the positioning of the poster next to a no-smoking sign!

All blue on the cigarette advertising front

As discussed for other brands, blue is the new black in the German cigarette advertising world. Gauloises is the latest brand to go blue, uninspiringly so (left). Milder taste. Kein Schnickschnack – I’d buy it for that alone (no “bells and whistles” is a possible translation). I suppose the real whistle is “Krebs” – cancer to me and you.

One good tandem ride – Munich to Tutzing and back

This year’s summer holiday has been walk oriented. The semi-planned tandem tour was sidelined. We did take a ride to Tutzing on Starnberger See, however. The original thought was to ride to Starnberg (24kms) and then ride around the lake in a clockwise direction and pick up the train at Tutzing. We started out in fabulous weather along the Würm Tal (Würm Valley). There is a cycle route taking in Planegg, Krailling and Gauting. It is lovely, though there are plenty of walkers as well. Care is needed. 

From Gauting to Starnberg we found the Mühltal cycle path which we had never used before. Wonderfully forested (right). We picnicked there. The path joins the main road into Starnberg, but there remains a cycle track.

The weather caught up with us. We decided to cycle anti-clockwise straight to Tutzing. The path is again forested with lots of people hiking and bathing. It is frequently necessary to leave the lake to go around private property.

The rain came down in Tutzing. We elected to go to a Greek Taverna to eat. And then at 1840 we elected to cycle back to Munich rather than take the train. The rain had passed, but we would need to do part of the journey in the dark.

We retraced our route back to Starnberg and then took an alternative route signposted to Königswiesen. We climbed out of Starnberg and through a golf course into another forest. When we emerged we were close to Hausen (right). Stupidly we went through the village rather than turning right towards Königswiesen. If there was a signpost, we missed it. This resulted in a bit of detour to get back to Gauting. Lovely sunset, though (left).

Once in Gauting, the route to Munich is fully illuminated and with dedicated cycle paths and good signage. In total, we managed 87km. We were pleased with ourselves.

Observations on mountain trails in Bavaria

If you are thinking about hiking in the Bavarian Alps in the summer, here are some thoughts:

Equipment – mountain boots for sure. The ground is challenging and ankles need support. I have worn successfully my North Face boots. Comfortable, sturdy, quite rigid. My partner used a pair of AKU CF Custom Fit boots (right). They are Gore-Tex lined and have a Michelin sole. They are unusual in that they are actually made in Italy. Combine with walking sticks for stability.

The weather can change very quickly; so, the usual advice is, be prepared. Take layers and make sure you have some waterproof clothes. Weather forecasting in Germany is different than in the UK. The British are obsessed with weather forecasts and can anticipate three new forecasts per day to be broadcast on TV and radio. The Germans seem satisfied with one. We have relied on ZDF. Non-German speakers can get the gist from this forecast. More importantly for making decisions about where to go and how long to walk are the weather radars available on the internet. These have helped us to make decisions even when we have been on the train heading out. If rain is forecast, these radar charts give a pretty good indication of exactly when it will arrive or whether it will stop.

Water – we are using Camelbak Chute bottles (left). They are 750ml capacity and watertight. I loathe bottles that leak. We have four of these. 3l gets us through a day of 6-8 hours with afternoon temperatures between 25 and 32 degrees.

Maps/guides – we started off using the Hikeline Wanderführer (authored by Katharina Spannraft) as our guide, but then bought a map (right) to give us a bit more flexibility and a better idea of alternatives. Paths are numbered and relate to the footpath signs on the route. Easy.

Food – we made our own sandwiches. However, there are Alm houses on most routes where food is often available. We did well when we visited; but they do close usually by 1700.

Transport – exclusively using Bayrische Oberlandbahn from Munich (left). There are three destinations, each with their own walking options – Bayrischzell, Lenggries and Tegernsee. A Bayern off-peak (after 0900) day ticket was €31 for the two of us. Cheaper than buying single tickets.

Seeberg Kopf circular route

We started at Bayrischzell. The walk started at a car park and mini-golf course to the south of the town. Route 645 is a delight. Initially wooded and constantly zig-zaging as it scales the steep side of the mountain.

When one leaves the forest the first of the Alms (Neuhütte) appears. The peak is basically up to the right of the Alm. A couple of kilometers further, Seeberg Alm comes at a junction. Up 20 mins or so to the peak (left). The peak is accessible to nonchalant cows. There will be some people as well. The peak is 1538m

When hikers have had enough of views over Bayrischzell and towards Wendelstein, walkers go back to the Alm and either retrace steps back to Bayrischzell or go right following a path to Osterhofen. It is a steep descent. The path meets a driveable path signposted to Klareralm and further to Niederhoferalm (below right).

The best of the walk is still to come, however. Follow route 645a (Talweg) towards Bayrischzell. The valley is fantastic and vertigo-inducing in places. Eventually the path meets the road, though continues in parallel at a discreet distance. We rewarded ourselves with dinner at the Alpenrose Hotel restaurant (eating on a very pleasant terrace). Vegetarian food available in that very Bayern way.





Hiking up Wendelstein, Bavaria

Wendelstein is an imposing sub-2000m mountain in southern Bavaria. It is accessible on foot by 7 paths. There is also a cable car (Seilbahn) starting at Osterhofen (near Bayrischhzell) and a mountain railway originating at Brannenberg.

We took route 660b from Bayrischzell, first through some forest before the mountain is visible just short of Hockreut Alm (right). Overall, it is only 6km, but it is very steep in places. That said, there are many children to be found scurrying up with ease and, indeed, enthusiasm. It took us a textbook 3 hours to reach the summit (the final section is a constructed path leading to a viewing platform) in increasingly deteriorating weather. Clouds were beginning to envelop the peak – with an attendant temperature fall.

It is well way marked, maintained and engineered. In some of the most difficult parts, robust wooden steps have been provided. They are helpful and make the whole experience safer. There is plenty of exposed rock which will be slippery in rain.

At the top one finds a viewing platform (currently being rebuilt) and a cross (right). There is a television mast and a university observatory. There is also a cafe/restaurant. Expect a lot of people at the top. Savour the climb rather than the summit. That said, there are many panels detailing the geology of the mountain, albeit only in German.

We took the Seilbahn down. It is expensive, currently €14.50 per adult. We had wanted to walk back along the train route to Bannenberg; however, the ascent is probably enough of a middle-aged couple for one day. The weather was also a significant factor for us.

Hike from Schliersee to Tagernsee via Gindalalmschneid

Three days’ earlier we had entertained a walk that was a little trickier than we had anticipated from the guide. For this walk we decided to tackle a point-to-point walk Schliersee to Tagernsee. A total of 12.1 km mostly on gravel hiking paths with a 580m ascent (we think it was a little more than this).

The first part is forest – wonderfully cool, if a little monocultured. Hennererhof is the end of the navigable path by motor vehicles. The walk continues through the forest and emerges for a 30 minute ascent to Gindelalmschneid. The view to the north looks to the flatlands towards Munich (just visible on the horizon). The Alm is tucked in to the landscape below the peak (right). We took food with us and enjoyed it on a bench next to the Crucifix, the ever-present feature of alpine peaks.

Onward towards Tegernsee (left). More forest, but also exposed expanses of meadow with views (right). There are no great surprises, but the approach to Tegernsee has one anticipating a beer at the town’s brewery which, seemingly, was the old monastery. It is an imposing building and can be seen from a distance (left) with its two towers and inner courtyard.

The beer is good, too. On the outside benches, we had a dark beer (5 per cent, right). So good we had two which was enough to facilitate a rather too blase walk to the railway station in relation to fast-moving cars! 

Great walk. Peaceful. Not too strenuous (though the final ascent to Gindelalmschneid can set the pulse racing if needed). The lake itself was benign and evocative. A very nice place to sit and wind down, though it is a wealthy town. A small apartment will knock you back 500K Euros. Best just to visit.

German railways are learning how to screw up

The common myth is that German railways are efficient and reliable. I’ve been using Deutsche Bahn for many years. The InterCity services are brilliant. The coaches are roomy, there’s Wifi, sockets, etc. The Regio Bahn is also pretty good, especially if you have a bicycle – well designed and accessible platforms in most cases. However, some of the routes are being privatised/franchised. So, yesterday we used the BOB – Bayerische Oberlandbahn, a subsidiary of Transdev, itself formed out of the former operation of Connex and Veolia.

BOB is a curious network. It leaves Munich Hauptbahnhof as three,  two-car units – each unit detaches at various points and completes journey to Lenggries, Bayrischzell and Tegernsee. The return journey is made of attachments that are completed at Holzkirchen. Yesterday, however, the service left Hauptbahnhof in short formation arising out of a failure of a unit and no suitable replacements. The train was absolutely packed and left elderly passengers standing for over one hour. As is normal in the UK when this happens, there are no conductors to be seen. The chaos had to be self-organised. To be fair, buses were provided for those going to stations towards Lenggries on arrival at Holzkirchen. Whether this is symptomatic of the hollowing-out of the network, it is difficult to say. But what chance that if Deutsche Bahn had operated the service, there would be a possibility of an additional unit being available? Is this just a case of “sweating the assets”?

But if that were not enough, on Monday arriving back from Neuhaus (on the Bayrischzell route), the Munich S-Bahn (short-haul network of 8 routes each passing through the centre of the city), not for the first time, collapsed. Not clear why, but chaos nonetheless and very little information other than platitudes.

Then it is reported that the line between Rastatt und Baden-Baden is now out of commission due to tunnelling operations. This might seem trivial, but this Rhine route south of Karlsruhe is a significant part of the German railway network linking the north to Switzerland.

Photo BOB: Big87 – http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Integral_der_Bayerischen_Oberlandbahn.JPG