Tuesday, 30 September 2014

What Goes Through A Woman's Head When Attacked By A Man

Don't worry, everything's fine. I've come out unscathed because I chose flight over fight.

On my way home last night, a young white man possibly in his 20s, walked towards me from one end of the tube carriage to where I was standing. I was looking outside, with my earphones plugged, marvelling at how slowly the afternoons are getting darker. I looked up and caught his eyes. They were seething. And glued at mine. I quickly looked down, which London commuters are somehow trained to do. When I looked up again, he was right in front of me with his right arm extended towards me at chest level, seemingly attempting to either peel the earphones off me, or worse, punch me. Either way, he missed. I quickly removed my earphones and shoved it to my bag. While I darted past him, he shouted 'fuck off!'.

Which I did.

Unlike trains in other countries where one can move from one carriage to another by opening the access doors, London Underground trains have enclosed carriages. I was trapped.  
I can hear my mother telling me to walk away. Don't be stupid. There is a place and time to be brave and last night wasn't one of those days. If anything, bravery meant prepping up my legs for a sprint exit.
 I was scared. I recalled an incident when a schoolgirl was randomly stabbed in the heart on her way to school by a man with a mental health problem. I thought of what this man could be carrying with him. A knife? A gun perhaps? Acid? A steel-toe-capped work boots to kick my head? With his blatant public display of arrogance, what would stop him from beating me up amidst the other passengers? My mind was racing. I sat close to the door. I was clutching on the hope that the train won't be held mid-track (which often happens before my stop) while waiting for the green signal.

I'm a paranoid commuter. I always look over my shoulder when I get off the bus to make sure no one's behind me or following me. He caught me when I was most unguarded, which is usually the case when attacks happen.

A few years back, a group of teenage girls bullied me on the bus. I was smartly dressed, had my long dark brown straight hair neatly hanging down my back, I was wrapped in a red coat, and wearing my solitaire engagement ring then. They were sitting behind me. I felt a tug at my hair. I ignored it. Then someone poked the crown of my head. All the while I could hear them commenting about how I looked, and my diamond ring. They were taunting me, and asking amongst themselves who I think I was dressed the way (at the time I was working at the eveningwear section of a famous luxury Central London department store, thus the effort to look immaculate) I did. At this point, I turned around, and asked the obvious gang leader, "Do you have a problem?". She matter-of-factly snapped back at me, "Yeah, you're my problem." I knew then that a confrontation was a mistake. In that brief moment I saw her face, I realised she and her mates were minors. They were half my age. Should an altercation have ensued, I probably would've been the one having a brush with the law instead of them, despite being the one attacked. 
As soon as the train door opened, I bolted. I breezed through the crowd. I was feeling vulnerable as the bus bullying experience has left me aware that the public will stay away as much as they can. If that young man was intending to hurt me, my thoughts were about ensuring that I don't give him the satisfaction.

In London, we're used to travelling with eccentrics on public transportation. We're also used to seeing altercations and similar incidents. Unfortunately, we're also used to detaching ourselves and pretending we're not witnessing it. Can't blame the public. We do not get involved as the attention of the attacker can be directed to us, or that we end up physically hurting the aggressor who provoked a reaction from us. We don't realise how much anger and aggression we can unleash when we are placed at the receiving end.

In case you find yourself in a similar situation, these may help:

1. As soon as you get the opportunity to walk away, do so. Better yet, run. This advice comes from a friend who's a martial arts expert. If you're not equipped, that bravado is not worth it. 

2. If there's some person of authority in the vicinity to report it to and you feel it's safe to do so, report the incident.

3. If you're shaken, take shelter in a safe area and get yourself collected by a family member or a friend. 

4. Resist the urge to fight back or retaliate. Think as much if you can of the worst scenario. It can save you in the long run. 

Last year, while waiting for a bus to get the station, I felt a hard object hit the back of my leg. I looked over and saw this woman, probably in her 70s, muttering slurs at me to move out of her way (I wasn't blocking her in any way). I immediately thought she may have mental health issues. I kept my distance, but she was still coming for me. I'm much younger and most likely stronger. I was quick to think that had I ended up confronting her, I could have hurt her, she could have ended up knocking her head off the pavement. Should she survive, she could turn around the story and make out that I physically assaulted her. I looked and there was no one else around. I would't have witnesses. This is what I meant by THINK. Always place yourself at an advantage should there be a legal battle.
On the way home by bus after the incident, I thought of all the women, men and children who've been through assaults much worse than what I experienced. If mine left me shaken overnight and paranoid on the way to work this morning, they must be in hell. Have they ever felt safe after?

I'm writing this to give a nudge to all women to be extra aware of their surroundings when travelling by themselves. Sometimes, however you avoid trouble, it seeks you. Be alert. 

Among at least 20 passengers with and around me yesterday, there was only one person who looked me straight in the eye to bravely mouth silently across the seat from me, "Are you ok?" I said bravely as the bully could have seen him and hit him. 

The man had blondish-brown hair, probably wearing glasses, reading a book, not directly sitting across me, perhaps four seats to my right. I'm sorry I wasn't able to thank you. If this ever gets viral, you may remember this incident which happened on 28 September at around 6:30pm, on Piccadilly Line bound for Uxbridge. I got off Rayners Lane. If I don't get to see you in person again, please accept my gratitude through this post. You made me feel settled a bit. It was comforting to know that not everyone turned a blind eye.

Friday, 26 September 2014

To Obersalzberg, Up the Führer's 'Eagle's Nest'

A couple of weeks back, a friend tagged me on Facebook to list down ten books that have made a difference in my life. I never do an off-the-top-of-my-head list as I take such invites as something to reflect on. I've been wondering where my fixation about World War II and the events and places involved stem from. I'm now convinced that it all began with a copy of 'The Diary of a Young Girl' that my father gave to me in my early teens. 

Continental Europe seemed far-flung to my 13-year-old self then, but I made a pact with myself that given the chance, I'll visit war landmarks I read on Anne Frank's diary and watched on documentaries. 

As mentioned in my previoust post, the trip to Munich is linked to last year's trip to Berlin. From Munich, we took a bus to Obersalzberg, a mountainside retreat close to the border of Austria. Obersalzberg has become known as the place where Adolf Hitler's mountain residence, the Berghof, was located before it was demolished.

It was a two-hour drive from the centre of Munich to Obersalzberg where the bus windows served as viewing screen to the picturesque countryside. 

Quarry water flows through the river  which turns blue when light is absorbed by the water

The ascent up the Oberzalsberg to the Kehlsteinhaus is mesmerizing on a sunny day

Overlooking the market town of Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, Germany, the 'Eagle's Nest', as dubbed by the American Army, is situated at 1,834 metres (6,017 feet) above sea level. The especially constructed road that leads to it is on an 800-metre (2,300 feet) elevation, runs at 7 km (4 miles) with a width of 4 m (13 feet), and can be reached via five tunnels. 

Taking only less than two years to complete in 1938, the 'Eagle's Nest' was a gift from the National Socialist Party (NS) to Hitler on his 50th birthday, as a retreat house where he can entertain political allies and visiting dignitaries. Pictured is the entrance to the 124-metre-long tunnel which leads to another 124-metre-long vertical tunnel hewn  in the rocky mountain that serves a brass-pannelled lift that takes us up to a 41-second ride to the Kehlsteinhaus. At the top, as seen in the photo, is the 'Eagle's Nest'.

The tunnel. Hitler used to be driven from the entrance to the lift. Mere mortals walk

Queueing to take the same lift that Adolf Hitler and his henchmen used

The domed ceiling of the lift waiting area

Otherwise known as the 'Eagle's Nest' in English-speaking countries, it is now a restaurant and an outdoor beer garden, with impressive views of the mountain; Berchtesgaden; and weather permitting, Salzburg in Austria.

Rear view of the Kehlsteinhaus. At 1,834 metres (6,017 feet), the weather at the top can get quite unpredictable, as if controlled via a slider that takes you from sunny, bright and warm to foggy, grey and nippy in a  matter of seconds. We got lucky to have caught some sunny patches before the clouds closed in on us.

You can see the fog lifting up...

The charitable trust that manages the Kehlsteinhaus employs rock cleaners every spring who remove any obstacle that may pose danger to visitors and tourists. The bendy buses used are made and powered by MAN for the specific task of a smooth ride to reach the peak.

The original red marble fireplace gifted by Benito Mussolini to Hitler

The fog can blur everything in seconds, leaving you without a view

Closer to the foot of the mountain is the Dokumentation Obersalzberg (the pictured building) which houses a permanent exhibition for visitors to further understand the propaganda of the National Socialist regime and reflect on the events surrounding this historical site. It was designed by the Institute of Contemporary History Munich-Berlin on behalf of the Free State of Bavaria.  

There are over 950 photos, documents, posters, films and sound recordings which aim to academically and scientifically inform visitors in an understable manner. Some are made available to the public for the first time. As someone who has been watching war documentaties for at least 15 years, there was still so much I haven't seen.

Inside the building is a preserved Bunker Complex built between 1943 and 1945 in the event that buildings at the surface are damaged and the area falls into enemy hands. There are excavations for extensions left unfinished.

This wall is part of the artillery room where a hole in the wall allows guards to catch and shoot intruders before they manage to close in to the bunkers

An unused lift shaft

A short walk from the Dokumentation Obersalzberg site is a restaurant that serves Bavarian delicacies. That spells beer, of course. We had a sumptuous lunch before heading to the market town of Berchtesgaden.

For that acquired taste: sauerkraut and mustard

Currywurst for the man in the house

Not from Munich, but just as wonderful as other German beer

All of the above enjoyed with this view in the background.

Next post, we'll be exploring the market town of Berchtesgaden.

See you then!

There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Taste of Bavaria

I suppose the best time to see Munich for the first time is during Oktoberfest which starts this year on Saturday, 20 September, to 5 October. But with more than 6 million beer-thirsty revelers who wade through the Bavarian capital at its busiest, it'll be a logistical nightmare. Not to mention that prices are steep. 

My trip to Munich is linked to late last year's visit to Berlin for historical reasons. I must admit that I've not had ample time to tour Munich as we made it our base for booked tours to neighbouring places of interest. But allow me to give you a glimpse of what I glimpsed at the third largest city in Germany which I'll get to know more next time.

A highschool friend and her husband recommended that we stay at Angelo Hotel Leuchtenbergring which is about 15 minutes from Marienplatz, the centre of town, and 30 minutes from Franz Josef Strauss airport. Most hotels don't offer breakfast anymore, but this boutique hotel's breakfast buffet selection is one of the best I've ever had in my travels. I feel shortchanged and under-catered when I'm served Continental on holiday. At Angelo, the buffet is so assorted that you can have a varied breakfast fare each morning of the duration of your stay -- a must as food can make or break my holiday.

Sugar sachets are not of the generic variety, and even the flower vase below is reminiscent of a gramophone which looks to be in reference to the hotel's homage to jazz music.

I can tell, you're thinking of that scene with the twins on 'The Shining'

Locals say you've not been to Munich if you've not been to Marienplatz, the city's main square since 1158. So after one of our tours outside Munich, Mr Tittle-Tattles and I got off its namesake S-Bahn station to see the Neues Rathaus or New City Hall (photobombed here by a crane).

The Munich City Coat of Arms seen at the entrance to the Rathaus. The German name for Munich is München, which means of Monks, thus the figure of a monk in the middle which represents the city. Monks of the Benedictine order ran a monastery at the place that was later to become the Old Town of Munich.

The square within the New City Hall which houses the city council, offices of the mayors and part of the administration. The 400-room building was built between 1867 and 1908 in a Gothic Revival architecture style.

I was born in the Year of the Dragon, thus the photo. If that's not a dragon, I'm sure it's not a bat either.

The Rathaus-Glockenspiel of Munich is a tourist attraction in Marienplatz.
Every day at 11 a.m. (as well as 12 and 5 pm in summer), its 43 bells chime and re-enact the 16th century marriage of Duke Wilhelm V, the Duke of Bavaria from 1579 to 1597, to Renata of Lorraine.

The Hofbräuhaus am Platzl is an extension of Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in München founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart claimed to have written the opera Idomeneo after several visits to the Hofbräuhaus. The Nazi Party used the beer hall of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich to declare policies and hold functions. The Hofbräu operates the second largest beer tent during the world-famous Oktoberfest. At the time of our visit in late August, there was no scheduled event, so we were able to take a peek at the function hall which is not open for public drinking.

Munich is home to other major breweries aside from the Hofbräu, namely Augustiner Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu. As Oktoberfest was already out of the question, the most that we did was to have our own beerfest. Some of these brands are bottled and sold elsewhere of course, but where it's brewed is always the real McCoy.

    Except for the lower right which is from Teisendorf, and the lower middle which was served to us rather than a Jagermeister, all varieties are brewed in Munich.

    Beer is best accompanied by brätwurst and pork knuckle. Yum!

     Munich was a Nazi stronghold when the National Socialists took power in Germany in 1933. It was referred to as the Hauptstadt der Bewegung or Capital of the Movement. The NSDAP headquarters was in Munich before it was moved to Berlin, and many Führerbauten or Führer-buildings were built around the Königsplatz, Munich's present-day gallery and museum quarter, which was used by the Nazi Party for their mass rallies.

    The Führerbau or the Führer's building, located at Arcisstrasse 12 in Maxvorstadt, Munich, is one of the few remaining Third Reich buildings. It was built between 1933 and 1937. The 1938  Munich Treaty was signed here by Neville Chamberlain, Great Britain's PM at the time, and Adolf Hitler. The building currently houses the Hochschule für Musik und Theater (University of Applied Sciences of Music and Theatre). The congress hall is now used as a concert venue. 

    There's more to Munich of course, but I'll leave you with this for now. Next posts, we'll be visiting some historical landmarks that have made it to numerous war documentaries, and we'll be relaxing in the very picturesque Austrian countryside.

    See you!

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