onsdag 11. juli 2012

A little pre-exam reflection

Colliding Pedestrians' Puzzle

We’ve all been in that awkward position of walking towards a person coming in our direction, having to decide between keeping a steady course and deviating either left or right to avoid an uncomfortable collision or one of those dances. It happens over and over again. One should think that a street with a width of five meters should be able to accommodate two individuals with an average size of 60 centimetres, so that we might avoid this unpleasant decision-making that usually ends up in annoyance; “Why the hell did you also turn to that side?! I specifically swerved leftwards to make it easy for you.” For centuries pedestrians have been troubled by this puzzle: Why do oncoming persons find it so hard to “collectively agree” in the streets, thereby avoiding front-to-front crashes? Let’s put this Gordian Knot under the scope.

On the oceans and in the air, there are well-defined rules on which direction to take in the case of an oncoming vessel. Size (and thus navigability) of the vessel sometimes has an impact, at other times both units are simply “obliged to turn right” – a clause which usually resolves the whole issue. On the highways, vehicles on wheels will seldom have to play the “chicken’s game” by sticking to separated lanes, unambiguously associated with one driving direction. The costs involved in yielding airplanes, ships or cars the unwanted choice of deviation would simply be too great. From time to time motor driven vehicles do collide but mainly not due to an imprecise framework but due to human or mechanical error. That’s a whole different story.

Pedestrians, on the other hand, are not guided by some universally accepted rules for these situations. In a battle of wits we try to avoid making the same choice as the other party – the wrong one! It’s entirely psychological; we try to unravel the train of thought of our “competitor” by picking up on small facial gestures, gazes, hand movements, and simultaneously convey our own master plan. Because in this game, I win only when you win, and when we lose we always do so together. Essentially, the pedestrians are playing a cooperative game in which the preferred outcome is making strictly different choices. We can call it equilibrium when they succeed: Both are satisfied with the decision they made (that is, the path they took) given the decision of the other one. In other words, they would not strictly prefer to have deviated in light of the oncoming pedestrian’s final choice.

Back to the core – why do we so often find ourselves in an awkward dance with a stranger (no reference intended)? The intuitive thing to do approaching someone on a street is making a quick decision about your path. However, whenever both of you choose “the same path” problems arise. Soon enough, you will both catch up the signal from the other individual and most likely you will continue that path with slightly more determination. But alas, both will also catch up this signal, getting cold feet and opting for the other path (that will be swaying left for one, right for the other). Also this signal will be perceived and, most likely, both will miserably try to outsmart the other one by turning again. And before you know it you stand face to face with the opponent, wishing you had opted otherwise. Two losers – the least favoured outcome. Where is the flaw, the little misjudgement that leads to the inevitable collision? Answer: Letting your decision on whether and where to deviate be influenced by the decision of the other party. When both players follow this strategy we have an undetermined game in which there is no telling of the outcome. Sometimes we stray clear of the other, other times we don’t – governed as if by the flip of a coin.

Let’s be a tad more sophisticated. We consider two pedestrians, F and G, sauntering in opposite directions on a straight road of some positive length. There are no other objects or individuals on the road and no well-defined lanes which to follow. Both F and G have some aversion of colliding and strictly prefer be allowed to walk unobstructed to the far end of the street. At some point in time, these two pedestrians observe the other party and immediately start considering their strategy as to how to avoid collision. This contemplation can be modelled in terms of mathematics by saying that F and G are also the name of two functions, namely the final choice concerning which path to take for pedestrian F and G, respectively. Allowing only two alternative paths, left and right (luckily we are not so constrained in politics), each one would like to take the opposite path when they knew the other party’s choice. In mathematical terms, F is a “function of G” and G is a “function of F”, ergo F(G) and G(F). It simply means you care about the choice of the other, creating interdependency in the strategies. So far, so good! But what happens if we insert the expression for the G-function into the F-function? We get F(G(F)), which to many of you simply look comical and is far from illuminating. Follow me for a couple more steps. F(G(F)) tells us that F’s choice of path depends on which path G chooses, which in turn is a decision dependent on the choice of pedestrian F. And we can go further: F(G(F(G))). Naturally, because (like we said) F still cares about the choice of G. Moreover: F(G(F(G(F)))), reminding me of a Christopher Nolan film. What is going on with all these parentheses? The surprisingly simple explanation is this: Each pedestrian’s choice is a function of (or response to) the other pedestrian’s choice (or rather: his expected choice). But his choice again, is a response to the expected choice of the other. Basically, this is an unsolvable problem in mathematical sense: F and G are reciprocal functions and they yield no intelligible outcome. F(G(F(G(F…)))) indicates an endless series of “bluff and double bluff” – who has thought the furthest? If you want some more numerical meat on the bone, you can specify the F-function to be F(G) = –G and the G-function to be G(F) = –F if we remember to allow only two values for F and G, –1 (being the choice of going left, or “up” to remove the ambiguity) and 1 (being the choice of going right or “down”). When G has the value –1, pedestrian G has chosen to go “up” and the best response for F is to choose –1*(–1) = 1, that is going “down”. But since no-one can decide, neither theoretically nor in practice, we’re back at the flip of a coin and a occasional collision.

So what comes of our Gordian knot? Eureka, we simply define the F-function to be 1. Then G(F) will automatically be –1*(1) = –1, and we have reached equilibrium of our little game, meaning that the two are taking distinct paths. Put differently, if we manage not to let our decision on where to veer be affected by the choice of the oncoming guy, we always avoid disaster. We take a decision from the very beginning, say “up”, and we stick to this decision with the firmest confidence, like a cold mathematical truth, and ignore completely what the erratic other one might do. It’s a sure success – safer than the bank – but it requires some guts and a little confidence in the simplest of all mathematical functions: F = –1.

Or one can simply yell out “I’m choosing my left!”

søndag 15. april 2012

Tredje oppdatering

Germanistikk, takk / Deutliches Deutsch / The Search is Over

Dieser Moment ist ein Scheideweg. Ich bin seit 50 Tagen in Deutschland und schreibe jetzt meinen ersten Bloggbeitrag auf Deutsch. Ehrlich gesagt habe ich geglaubt, dass ich noch einen Monat brauchte, bevor ich mein liebes Englisch verwerfen kann. Aber während der zwei letzten Wochen habe ich gute Forschritte gemacht, weil ich bei einer Familie wohne, mit der ich nur Deutsch sprechen darf. Dennoch spreche ich nicht ganz fließend und würdige herzlich alle grammatikalische Hilfe. Ihr, die Deutsch besser als ich sprechen (gilt für viele von meinen Lesern), bitte berichtigt mich! Manche von euch beherrschen Deutsch leider überhaupt nicht; dieser Blogg könnte vielleicht eine Aufforderung sein, diese schöne Sprache zu lernen. Die allgemeine Meinung unter Norwegern ist, dass sie nicht für Poesie geeignet ist. Dieses Beispiel, die erste Strophe eines Gedichts von Günther Grass, weist das hoffentlich zurück.

Warum schweige ich, verschweige zu lange,
was offensichtlich ist und in Planspielen
geübt wurde, an deren Ende als Überlebende
wir allenfalls Fußnoten sind.

Der Inhalt des Gedichts, das neuerdings in der Süddeutschen Zeitung gedruckt wurde, ist sehr umstritten. Grass bekam den Nobelpreis für Literatur 1999, aber laut Einigen hat er mit diesem Pamphlet intellektuellen Selbstmord begangen. Wie lang erstreckt sich die Redefreiheit? Und ist sie strenger für den einen als für den anderen?

Also, was ist passiert seit meinem letztem Beitrag? Das größte Geschehen ist mein Auszug von der Studentenwohnung in der Dülferstraße – ein ”kleines, aber feines” Zimmer und freundliche Nachbarn, aber unappetitliche gemeinsame Räumen und zu weit vom Zentrum entfernt. Man sagt, es wäre so schwerig ein Zimmer in München zu bekommen. Es gibt zwar eine Knappheit von bezahlbaren Wohnungen in dieser Stadt – besonders für studierende Jugendliche, aber wenn man eine monatliche Miete höher als €450 vertragen könnte, würden die Angebote beteutend zunehmen. Für mich war eine Besichtigung ausreichend. Jetzt miete ich ein 20 qm. Zimmer in einer hellen und gemütlichen Wohnung, die mit großem Fleiß eingerichtet ist. Bevor ich hierher kam, glaubte ich, dass man seine eigenen Möbel nicht bauen könnte. Arme Studenten wie ich müssen selbstverständlich alles beim IKEA kaufen. Trotzdem, jede Nacht träume ich süß in meinem aus Holz und Liebe handgemachten Bett! Zweitens haben meine Vermieterin und  ich einen €20 Sessel im Flohmarkt gefunden; der hat einen hübschen Holzrahmen, aber einen hässlichen Bezug. Was soll man tun? Man geht in einen Stoffladen und bestellt einen neuen, grünen, popartigen Stoff. Ich fühle mich genau wie ein Innenarchitekt (mit guter Hilfe eines Zimmerermeisters und einer Künstlerin). Kurz gesagt, ich bin total zufrieden mit dem Wohnort und möchte sehr gern bleiben.

Ich versprach, Kuriositäten der deutschen Sprache zu erklären. „Jeder weiss“, dass ein Adjektiv in entweder der attributiven (eine rote Rose) oder der prädikativen (die Rose ist rot) Position stehen kann. Aber auf Deutsch könnte ein ganzer Satz attributiv stehen. „Der gerade um die Ecke kommende Mann hat seinen Regenschirm vergessen“ ist ein Beispiel, „die in der Welt am weitesten vom Festland entfernte Bouvetinsel gehört Norwegen“ ist ein anderer. Solche Formulierungen sind fast nur in den Zeitungen wiederzufinden. Aber oftmals sieht man „die von Gewürze riechende Speise“, das auf Englisch „the food smelling of spices“ und auf Norwegisch „maten som dufter av krydder“ wird (einzelne Schriftsteller würden vielleicht die Adjektive „aromatic-smelling“ und „krydderduftende“ erlauben?). Und dann der Konjunktiv II, diese sprachliche Manifestation von deutscher Höflichkeit und Präzision. Konjunktiv II hat mehrere Funktionen in der Sprache; im Folgenden steht ein Beispiel für jede Funktion mit den zugehörigen Indikativformen in Klammern.

Höfliche Bitten/Fragen – „Ich hätte (habe) gern eine Semmel mit Leberkäse, bitte!“

Irreale Wünsche – „Wäre (bin) ich reich, würde ich eine Erdumsegelung realisieren.“

Irreale Bedingungen – „Wenn Napoleon die Alliierten bei Waterloo überwunden hätte (überwand), würde heute das ganze Europa vielleicht französisch sprechen.“

Vorschläge – „Wir könnten (können) nächstes Jahr in die USA fahren.“

Verpasst Gelegenheit – „Hättest (hast) du ihm schneller geantwortet, würdest du den Zuschlag bekommen!“

Meinung sagen – „Ich führe (fahre) lieber nach Barcelona, weil das Wetter oftmals da schöner ist“

Morgen fange ich mit meinem Studium an der LMU an, und ich bin gelinde gesagt voll von Erwartung. Hoffentlich werde ich Zeit habe für einen kurzen wöchentlichen Beitrag zum Blogg; nächstes Mal vielleicht auf Altgriechisch?

Auf wiederhören!


søndag 25. mars 2012

Andre oppdatering

En tidsreise / Eine Fahrt in die Zeit / A journey through ages

A month has elapsed since my arrival to Munich and a second blog entry is overdue. Writing is indeed difficult and brevity also. I have so many impressions that yearn to become literary expressions. The life of an Erasmus student is high pace with capital H & P and culturally and socially very stimulating. Hence, I will do everyone a favour by dividing my thoughts into paragraphs with appropriate headings, so you won’t have read all in one continuous marathon (I know how time whips us forwards from one arrangement to the next). Through the power of my 6-megapixel HTC mobile camera I have managed to capture some more or less arbitrary moments of my journeys and will supply the paragraphs with photos where it seems fitting. In the long run every blog that aspires to be a photo blog – at least partially – should be escorted by a quality camera, but for now you have to accept grainy shadowy motives and pixels that shout ”count me”.

Who would know that these metal lazy-stairs were intelligent? In Munich most escalators have the fascinating ability to change direction, being downwards bound in one minute and upwards bound in the next. In the course of a day they have changed direction hundreds of times, making them the most indecisive mechanical constructions ever. Luckily these changes does not stem from the faculty of free will but sensors at the two ends, automatically registering human presence. When the escalators are idle they simply stop, and immediately become a flexible two-way transport for users of the Schnellbahnnetz (the metro). Often old people stand in one end of the stairs silently greeting people coming towards them, but unpatiently waiting for the stairs to become empty so they can have a swift journey the exact other way. This is German efficiency at its best: One saves power when the escalators are idle and avoids the costs and space requirements of two parallel escalators, perpetually going in two different directions like interconnected cogwheels.

Herr Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. von Fasan
Germany is a nation of courtesy that strongly asserts titles. In official contexts it is expected that you refer to someone with the proper Herr or Frau, a phenomenon that is long bygone in our Scandinavian social sphere. An example from my new regular bridge club can illustrate this: When the results are announced you only hear Herr Schmidt and Frau von Fehling, i.e. the gender title followed by the last name (including any addition denoting nobility). And naturally, any doctoral title or academic occupation is also a matter of course; twice I partnered Herr Dr. Kretschmer and once Herr Dr. Schneider. For the time being I am only Herr Vikjord, although Herzmeister would not be a lie. Let us put the heading under the microscope: Herr denotes a male, Prof. denotes a practicing university professor, an occupation that is far from easy to obtain, Dr. Dr. indicates that one has at least two doctorates, h.c. is an honorary title one is granted through long and momentous research and academic influcence, and the innocently looking mult. denotes not less than four unique doctorates, an achievement the very fewest eggheads can brag of! I would expect at least 5 years of intense study behind such a title… von is a heriditary particle enveloped in great cockiness. It basically means that one of your great-great-great-grandparents were fortune enough to have a peerage, either through marriage or otherwise endeavour. And Fasan is the geographical place where this artistoracy belongs. The more modest individuals who understand that the times, they are a-changing or who do not want to create hierarchic distance to others, simply strike the von particle.

One of the cultural adventures included in the language course package from the LMU, was a day’s trip to beautiful South Bavaria with its Wieskirche and Schloss Neuschwanstein. The weather gods blessed this day with warmth and a cloudless blue firmament, making it the first day of the year in which I wore t-shirt and shorts (to the wonderment of the shivering Brazilians of the group). Wieskircke is a great Rococo church towering in the middle of nowhere, picturesquely surrounded by the snowy Alps and the green fields of the local farmers. Its story is one worthwhile telling, but due to the scope of my blog I will rather refer to the homepages, http://www.wieskirche.de/eframset.htm. It was a crown jewel amongst the works of its architect, renowned Dominik Zimmerman, and has for centuries been a place of pilgrimage in Europe. The visit of this exquisitely ornamented church left us in awe. Coaches filled with tourists from every corner of the world come rolling in every day to let people witness the building that was erected to commemorate the wooden statue of Jesus that shed a tear.

Ludwig II, the fairytale king, had an uneasy life. Raised under a strict catholic regime with an often-absent father, a mother he despised and a diet consisting of leftovers (an intergral part of the noble upbringing), together with a disallowed homosexuality and expectation to which he could/would not live up, Ludwig II withdrew from society and the responsibilities of the throne to which he succeeded at the age of 18. He had a love for German folklore and especially the works of his contemporary Richard Wagner, which includes Tristan and Isolde, Parifal and Lohengrin the Swan Knight. The swan and its symbolism had a particular significance for the king, and it is a recurring feature in his castle. Schloss Neuschwanstein was ordered built in the late 1860s with the intention of creating an authentic Medieval knight’s castle. The finest craftsmen of Germany were summoned to decorate the interior with marble, wood, jewelry and paintings – the king would not let budget constraints be an obstacle for the construction of his fantasy castle. In 1884 Ludwig II moved into his new abode but would only live there for around 100 days before he drowned in the nearby lake under mysterious circumstances, still a young man. Fortunately no-one got the idea of tearing down the magnificant white castle built on a steep cliff after his death, so it can still be visited. In the high season the building complex has around 6,000 visitors per day, constituting a major logistical challenge to the Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung. (Their solution is simple: Tickets are marked with a specific time, for example 15:30. Every visitor with this ticket has exactly 60 seconds to validate the ticket in a machine and pass a gating system, before its validity expires. Ordnung muss sein.) The destiny of a man living in a cloud cuckoo land still breathes in Schloss Neuschawnstein; it was a thrill to be guided around through the rooms of his castle, like walking through the chambers of his disillusioned mind. Another curiosity, Ludwig II was very enthusiastic over the new inventions of his age and his castle was therefore one of the first buildings in Europe with water closets and electrical telephones. And by the way, did you all see the castle in Walt Disney Company’s logo..?

There is one phenomenon every exchange student has to experience in his or her mobility period: the Chocolate Coin Phenomenon. Have you ever been abroad and noticed with what delightful ease you can spend the foreign currency? 90 cents, 3 euro, 9 euro, 20 euro – what does it matter? They are just digits imprinted on a coin or a bill, numbers that hardly represent real value. This psychological effect has to do with the subjective evaluation of money. More precisely, it takes some time (more than one should think) before a new currency is calibrated in our heads. We need a certain amount of training in what any given sum of money can buy of goods and services, before we learn to use it correctly. And this is the Chocolate Coin Phenomenon (I reserve all rights on the term), that we tend to ”overspend” during the first months of a mobility period.  Any regular-length holiday would neccessarily provoke this same effect. In my trade, Homo Economicus is the perfectly rational, fully informed, utility maximizing individual – the idealized man of the economists. He always know what is in his personal interest and the best means to achieve this, an endlessly rationalizing construction of microeconomic theory. Put simply: It’s how economists need us humans to be in order for their models to give the right answers. (My Statistics professor Harald Goldstein cleverly stated that ”all models are wrong.”) The point I am trying to make is: If a correct evaluation of money is a condition for making the right decisions (it obviously is!), and given the scope of tourism globally, then a lot of unrational, uneconomical ”deals” are undertaken that should never have been made. And even worse, the theories of microeconomists modelling human behaviour are fallible! An example would perhaps clarify: You are on a holiday in Paris, standing outside a crêperie considering the buy of one of those delicious pancakes. Subconsciously you put a number on your utility or benefit from enjoying it, say 20; in Norway, you would be inclined to buy that crêpe if its price was 20 kroner or less – it is your MWTP (marginal willingness to pay). In Paris that crêpe costs €3, and without any better clue you buy it. And alas, you are in fact worse off! Subjectively, you would rather have had those 3 euros in your wallet than converted to a crêpe. But since this is only your fourth day in Paris, the new currency has not been precisely calibrated in your head. So you end up making ”bad deals”, recognized by that they make you worse off. And I am very afraid of doing the same mistake here in Munich, spending euros like they were made of chocolate.

A trip abroad shouldn’t be asking too much when you live at the threshold of 3-4 other European countries. We (the participants at this preparatory language course I’m attending this March) went to Salzburg in Austria, a city with a very interesting history and many see-worthy places. Salzburg literally means ”salt city”, a name it merits. The white gold of the mountains had a significance only paralleled by today's black gold of the ocean deep; salt was extensively used to conserve food, a process that the vacuum packed 2012-man takes for granted. I can leave unsaid the innumerable wars and conflicts of this region in which salt was the apple of discord. (Remembering the bridge that Henrik der Löwe had built over Isar, the origin of Munich; it was in fact a salt bridge for the passage of salt transporters into Western Europe.) What has this got to do with coffee? Nothing much, other than that Salzburg hosted a rich and influential aristocracy. Did I mention the Turks of the Ottoman Empire who were invading Europe from the east, but were defeated at Salzburg? They left a little part of their culture in the city, namely the traditional coffee houses. We merge these two stories and give cause to a coffee artistocracy. The aritocrats were always provided with a glass of water to their coffee. This water, however, was not for drinking. Self-evidently, it was for putting the spoon into after the coffee was stirred, for artistocrats cannot put a used spoon on the coffee plate or any other surface. So when we exchange students visited one of these Salzburger coffee houses we were also provided with a glass of water, an echo of former grace. The rest of the trip to Austria was a doubtful pleasure, due to the heavy rain and the equally heavy hordes of tourists that had laid the city under siege. Our visit to the mighty fortress on the hillside of the city was the zenith; unlike Schloss Neuschwanstein it has been diligently used for almost a millenium. And when the city was burnt to the ground during a real siege sometime in the Medieval Ages, the fortress stood unharmed, protecting the lucky ones on the inside of the walls. I could and should perhaps also write some sentences about Mozart, but will save myself the trouble and ask you to google him instead. He was born there. Finito.

One of my main reasons for coming to Germany is learning Deutsch. It is also the purpose of this preparatory course I am attending; 5 hours a day, every weekday for 4 weeks I sit in a classroom learning German grammar, syntax, semantic and morphology. We are students from the entire world, and the only spoken language during classes is German. Those of you who know me understand that I’m thriving. It is an excellently logical and systematic language in which even the exceptions seem to be governed by some hidden rule. And the vocabulary is embarrasingly closely related to the Norwegian; very often I can make eduated guesses concerning new words. This is a huge advangate for us that speak a Germanic language. The Italian girl in my group asked the teacher ”was bedeutet ’zu duschen’?” Speakers of Romance languages must have such a hard time memorizing these ’basic words’ since they are so frequent and naggingly numerous. Another thing I have noticed with delight is how often the gender of a German noun is identical to the gender of the Norwegian synonyme. My German and Norwegian teacher in the gymnasium, Kristin Heffermehl, told me that, as a rule of thumb, nouns in Bokmål, Nynorsk and German have the same gender. Not until now have I discovered the utility value of this tip. Together with the other guidelines for determining grammatical genders, using ”der”, ”die” and ”das” correctly is hardly a problem anymore. I promise that I will present you to a sample of language treats in a later blog entry. For now you can indulge in this phrase in the subjunctive mood (Konjunktiv II): Ich wäre froh, ob Sie meinen Blog mit anderen Leuten teilen wollen. Hopefully I will soon be able to contribute with an entry in German, to the amusement of those who master the language and as an exercise in dictionary use for the rest. Oh, and that carapace in the photo: The building in which the teaching takes place also serves as a museum. Moltke the Mammoth greets me every morning. 

A still have many impressions unwritten but they will have to mature until my next entry. I really appreciate the vast numbers of readers of my blog (yes, I actually get statistics) and hope that you enjoy it, that my English is readable and perhaps also that you learn something you did not know – of Bavaria and its surroundings, about Germany as a nation or perhaps about Economics. Until next time, grüss Gott!


lørdag 3. mars 2012

Første oppdatering

Velkommen til bloggen / Wilkommen im Blogg / Welcome to my blog
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann was a German novelist, social critic and the 1929 Nobel Prize laureate in literature. He studied at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. And that is also my main purpose for taking an exchange semester in the capital of Bavaria: to study at a university which is the alma mater of 34 Nobel laureates and whose history goes all the way back to 1472. More than anything I am humbled. And naturally, forever grateful that the Norwegian welfare state enables students like myself to travel abroad during their studies, gaining new academic and cultural perspectives. (I am sure Lånekassen won't forget it, either.)

Indeed, writing is difficult, especially when you are trying to juggle between three different languages. This first entry will be in English. As an appetizer, I'll start off by giving a cross-section of Munich's history and appearance. 

The city of Munich’s most prominent feature is perhaps its architecture, which tells a story of much wealth. Great buildings of stone, lavishly ornamented with spires and stucco, reveal an evolution of architectonic eras – from the Gothicism, the Renaissance, the Baroque via Neoclassicism to Jugendstil.  The history of the city began in 1158 when Henrik der Löwe, Duke of Bavaria, had a bridge built over the river Isar, around which a vast city would develop over the next centuries. From 1240 until 1918 the Wittelsbach dynasty ruled Munich and should take credit for its present beauty. For almost a millennium it has been a centre for commerce, trade and culture in Germany and Europe. The Wittelsbach regents spent gross amounts of money on building a city that would glimmer and leave visitors in awe. Furthermore, Bavarians are renowned brewers and beer brands with a tradition going far back are still tremendously popular, nationally and abroad. In particular the Weißbier – light, aromatic beer with a basis of malted wheat – is a hallmark of Bavarian brewing. It may be enjoyed to every meal without guilt feeling; after all, you are merely tasting a glass of the fine local craftsmanship. A curiosity, I learned that all German beer is subjected to the Reinheitsgebot (purity law) stating that only THREE ingredients are allowed. Choose them wisely… (“ehm, I want a bit of sugar, maybe some extract of orange, a twist of cinnamon, then also … whoa, I can’t add more?”)

Another typical feature are broad avenues covered with bridge stone, making the network of streets open and easily navigable. As I am writing, early March, the innumerable trees and hedges are still brown and leafless from the winter but in a month’s time they will burst into leaf, colouring the city with green. Overall the infrastructure of Munich is intelligent and clean, with many straight mainlines of traffic and an elaborate system of tunnels for the metro. In Munich there are two types of underground trains, the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn. These carry citizens within the different boroughs of the city and out to the suburbs, respectively. (I'll probably elaborate on this in a later entry.) Unlike Chinese metro systems you don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to figure them out; after a week you are transporting to every corner of Munich without difficulties.

The ultimate spot for gaining that panorama overview of the city – equivalent to the Montmartre height in Paris, the cupola of St. Peter’s Dome in Rome and the Eye in London – is the belfry of Peterskirche, a 13th century church towering in the middle of Marienplatz, Munich unofficial midpoint. The bird-view photographies of Alte Rathaus known from tourist guides are undoubtedly taken from that place.

But Munich isn’t all about former wealth; it is still an important industrial and economic centre for Germany, and its companies provide a vital source of income for the country. Companies like Bayerische Motoren Werke (known to most as the car make BMW), Siemens, Audi, Bosch and Grundig have their origins and head offices in Bavaria, and they employ thousands of the inhabitants from southernmost German Bundesland. The charming thing is, you can almost see the pride on their faces. They know they represent the engine of the economy, the oil of the industrial machinery. Success is not an unfamiliar word to these people. And best of all, they play classical music on the metro stations over the loudspeakers. (I’m eagerly waiting for Grieg.)

And this is my home for the next 6 months. I want to be moulded by this society, let myself be “germanized” – even if it entails growing a moustache or acquiring Lederhosen. I really want to peel off my Norwegian introversion, inherent from childhood. An important experience from living abroad is the adaption to a new culture with its customs, norms and language. If I have to address the lady in the bakery with “haben Sie” then so be it. There is a lot to gain from letting yourself absorb into the host country and its customs. Nothing is more humbling than to behold the mammoth successes of another people, one that earlier was just a dot on the map and a word in the encyclopedia.

I came to talk with a young German guy from Baden-Württemberg and started to enquire in what ways Bavarians differ from their compatriots. They are traditionalists, he said, for example by wearing their custom clothing when going out on Sundays. I’ve already mentioned the brewing traditions. Furthermore they are meticulous and precise, which is evident in the manifold technology industries. Perhaps the idea of Germans as a “machinery people” originates in Bavaria? And the dialect, of course, is nearly incomprehensible even for native speakers of the language. (“Bitte zurück bleiben!” on the U-Bahn sound like /bitte tsooorukk blæibn.) I’ve already given up overhearing colloquial conversation between the locals.  

Valuable lessons after one week in Munich:

  1. The green man of the traffic light doesn’t change to red by flashing for some seconds. He just abruptly turns red, completely without warning. So watch your steps! (The safest thing, I choose to believe, is not crossing the road at all.) 
  2. At restaurants and pubs, tip is always included in the final bill. Fair enough. In an economic perspective, however, it has great interest since it helps to explain why the waiters and waitresses are so indifferent in the way the serve. The idea of incentives and how individuals respond to them is pivotal in Behavioural Economics. In this case, the waiters/-resses completely lack incentives (read: opportunities of economic gain) to yield extra service. Their algorithm is simple: take the order, serve the food, pick up the payment. You rarely see a smile in between those three. When that is said, I have never experienced quicker and more efficient food serving anywhere in the world; at the best, it took 8 minutes before my order was given until the dinner was before me at the table. “Ordnung müss sein!” And by all means, the food is delicious and the atmosphere is impeccable – I wouldn’t trade that for the fraudulently smiling Swedish waitresses of Oslo. Never.
  3. Many vendors, especially bakeries (they are on every corner!) and smaller shops, don’t accept plastic cards for payment. They want cash, either out of nostalgia, fear of skimming, naïve reliance in bills and coins (in reference to Deutsche Mark in the wake of WW1; we all know what inflation can do to an economy…), practical or financial issues in obtaining a credit/debit card terminal or simply to celebrate the authentic mercenary spirit: cash in hand, no unknown intermediary in some bank.
  4. Munich is ideal for biking, if one is so inclined. Bicycle tracks run parallel to the roads almost everywhere and naturally, bikers expect to have free passage; more than once I’ve had to leap away from grannies on two wheels speeding in 30 km/h. I should really buy a second-hand bike soon. If you can’t beat them, join them! (It would also elegantly solve the traffic light issue.)

The next entry will appear in a week's time, hopefully with more photographies and new exciting stories and facts. Until then, grüß Gott!