Archive for September, 2014


Our bicycles have finally been for their MOT. Having sadly missed the summer, they have at least made it in time to see autumn in Munich. And suddenly on the saddle of a bicycle, the radius of discovery extends easily to nearby neighbourhoods. I am not always the most confident cyclist – subconsciously fearing run-ins with trams or dreaded tram-lines and cars who overtake just a little bit too closely. And I am not a seasoned cyclist – struggling to manoeuvre my rather beautiful, but hideously heavy Gazelle Dutch bicycle (all 20kg of it) up and down the basement steps or complaining about my Raynaud suffering hands at the first hint of cooler temperatures. But there is possibly no better way of discovering a city than on a bicycle.The best way to happen upon cute little side streets and remember how to get there again and the best way to have the pleasure of chancing upon new cafes and restaurants, without TripAdvisor explicitly having to send you there.

Elisabethmarkt, in the heart of Schwabing is I assume, well-known to all who come from Munich. But it was my surprise discovery of the weekend.

Being somehow not overly enthused about the much more famous Viktualienmarkt in the city centre, I fell in love with the cosy structure of Elisabethmarkt. Granted, as I arrived on a latish Saturday afternoon, the permanent market stalls were tidying up and packing away, which gave it a slightly deserted and all the more special feel. The mixture of specialist cheese stores, butcher, fishmongers, greengrocers and florists along with cosy cafes and small and unpretentious restaurants waiting to be tested for a post-grocery shopping pick-up, means I can’t wait for it to be Saturday again.


Much like the ubiquitous „German Bakery“ which can found in the most far flung corner of Asia and used as a synonym for „good bread“, (whatever the standard of the produce), „Oktoberfest“ is world-renowned with mini-variants to be found all over the world. I’m no complete novice to beer festivals; there are plenty to be found in Britain. But they are traditional and low-key affairs held in local town and village halls where a manageable crowd arrives to taste the local ales, with simple local food and entertainment in the form of local folk music.

Now I live in the land of the Oktoberfest, which kicked off yesterday. Having not yet seen the festival first-hand I can’t yet comment on the event. But the sheer scale of the festival is already evident in my day-to-day goings. The tube ride to work has provided the fascinating and pleasant distraction of dirndl-spotting.

As multi-coloured and unique as a sari and as feminine (well ‚mädchenhaft‘ or girlish would almost be a better description), the dirndl is a thing of beauty. And just like the traditional Indian sari, each generation of women, wear their own style of dirndl. The teenagers with their mini-skirted version, the conspicuous décolleté of the young and the more formal and elegant cut of the more mature lady. The printed pinafore neatly tied around the pinched-in waist of every women tells you something else at a glance: a bow to the right means this lady is taken.

As as with the Karneval in the Rheinland, Oktoberfest is a festival full of history and tradition. And as with my experience of Karneval, it’s probably best to go with a local and avoid the hoard of Australian, British and well, German tourists. Because it’s a festival which dates back to the time of Napoleon in 1810 – originally a celebration of the wedding of King Ludwig to his Therese (which is why the location of Oktoberfest takes the name Theresienwiese‘), evolving over the years to an annual festival for the people to celebrate the arrival of the golden autumn. There must therefore be more to it than just drinking litres of beer.

Even if not whole-heartedly throwing myself into dirndl-wearing (one try of a demure dirndl in a local second-hand shop got me feeling I should head straight to the kitchen to bake bread and prepare tea from a hot stove rather than ready for a party) and the requisite beer-drinking this year, I do plan to go to ‚Wiesn‘ (the large field where the festival takes place) at some point over the next 2 weeks, to at least get a taste for the festivities. Pictures maybe to follow…

The less than aesthetically pleasing world of the medical congress

When I was little in India, I had a relative who was a dentist and used to fly around the world to medical meetings. It seemed like the most glamourous thing to do.

But as a grown-up, glamour is the last word I would attach to medical conferences attended by doctors. Other words I would also not use are cool, creative or innovative.

I look on enviously at the internet/media conferences that my husband attends (where Alicia Keys has sung a set at the closing ceremony) and at the colour-themed and styled conferences of my arty Instagram friends. Where attention is payed to design, stage sets, food and entertainment as well as the factual information that is being presented.

Over the past 5 days, about 22,000 lung doctors from all over the world descended upon Munich for the yearly European Respiratory Society (ERS) meeting. The huge numbers meant it pretty much had to be held at the Munich fair. As far as fairs go, the one in Munich is airy, well-lit and being Munich, even has a designated area for a beer garden. And with the sudden unexpected bursts of sunshine after a dreary summer, this piece of green space was a treasure.

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The congress in Munich as a whole was a betterment in many ways compared to the last few years. The usual inelegant, plastic congress bag with gaudy lettering – which you could normally not even reuse as a child’s gym bag for fear of complete social exclusion and eternal bullying of said child – was pleasantly upgraded. The jute bag has arrived at the ERS. While it doesn’t get 10 out of 10 for style, it equally doesn’t have to be deposited at the neared Gift Box or charity shop asap.

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And the usual 100 unwanted flyers advertising the evening drug-company sponsored symposiums did not make their way into the newly spruced up congress bag, but retained their place soley on the congress app. The contents of the bag were thus one fat congress programme (for detailed reading additional to the app) and one block of writing paper. So far so good. Although a pen and a little bag of sweets would have been ok too.

The app was user-friendly and useful. I’ve blogged about the lack of doctors on Twitter before. The app this year surprising had an in-built Twitter stream. Progress! Except it was a Twitter stream purely to display the tweets of the organising committee. Last year, the hash tag #ERS2013 was thin on the ground. This year Twitter took off – but mostly lead by the pharmaceutical companies.


22,000 doctors in one exciting congress and a maximum peak of 1874 tweets in one day according to the stats provided by Symplur. Took off is relative.

The top tweeters, were a Columbian, 2 Dutch, one Turkish and a couple of Brits, alongside the organisers and the drug companies. No Germans in sight.

Thanks all in all for a great congress ERS. Yes, we are here to come together, to share research and to learn, but next time take on a media expert and a graphic designer onto your organising committee.  I hope one day for sessions chaired not predominantly by men, more interaction, just a little bit of style, a bit of live music perhaps and less of a stiffened atmosphere.

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