11 September 2009

How tourism will save the world (sort of)

Eighty-five percent of Munich was destroyed during WWII, but the city still looks old, full of imposing Gothic buildings. How is that possible? Because they rebuilt it to appear pretty much as it had before the way. It's fake historic architecture.

And why would you do that? Tourists. You don't go to Munich to gamble or to sit in the sun, you go to Munich to pretend to appreciate German culture, or at least their beer. You go to sit in massive historic (or faux-historic) beer halls. You go because here you can get drunk and call it a culturally authentic, history-enriched experience.

Yes, there were other reasons to re-build the city as it was--pride, for one. But according to our tour guide, tourism was indeed a major factor.

A lot of the historic sites and restaurants here seem to serve tourists almost exclusively. For starters, there's no way the ridiculous Glockenspiel in City Hall would still be here if tourists didn't love the crazy thing.

So tourists help preserve history and culture! Hooray for tourists! We're saving the world!

... Or maybe not. Obviously, tourism often promotes a particular variety of preservation, an exaggerated, theme park-ish one. Like a frog preserved with formaldehyde, it's kinda deformed and distorted (and foul-smelling). Superficially like the real thing, but not quite 100 percent authentic.

So here's a question for discussion:

Without tourists, would Munich beer halls be:

(A) replaced by modern office buildings or malls, or at least converted to sprawling department stores?
(B) packed, per tradition, with thousands of old men wearing lederhosen and singing drinking songs without the slightest trace of irony or snickering in their voices?


  1. With Europe in demographic collapse we may eventually see blond-wigged Algerians and Pakistani in dirndl and lederhosen keeping alive the spirit of Old Europe. How this will affect the quality of German beer and pork sausage is uncertain.

    1. Quite. Actually, this is already happening. At Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, for example, when I took take a picture of the "American" soldier (without paying for the official photo), he snapped at me in Russian-accented English. And the "Russian" soldier taking the official photos was, as I recall, Algerian.

      And, for one, firmly believe that non-German flavors can only improve traditional German cuisine. (See: currywurst.)


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