European vacation: cultural prep

Back when we purchased our tickets for our upcoming trip to Munich, Amsterdam and Paris, I thought about “Monuments Men.” I’d finished the book a few months earlier and then seen the movie. I started looking forward to seeing some of the places the book talks about. That’s when I realized I wanted to do the same for the rest of the trip. So here’s a short look at what I’ve been reading and watching (and a little listening) ahead of the trip.

Munich 

I couldn’t seem to find much in the way of literature or film about Munich beyond WWII and Nazi stories. That said “The Book Thief” (based in the fictional town of Molching on the outskirts of Munich) is one of the best books I’ve read in the last year. The movie wasn’t bad either.  It was difficult to find other books — especially anything set in Munich. I read “The Reader” a few years ago (pretty good)  and the aforementioned Monuments Men (it will be cool to see Schloss Neuschwanstein where a good bit of art was hidden). I plan to start reading Erik Larsen’s “In the Garden of Beasts,” but that too is set in Berlin. I also bought the husband “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Munich” because beer.

“Sophie Scholl– The Final Days” (Sophie Scholl — Die lezten Tag) came recommended in a travel book. It’s based on the true story of the White Rose resistance group that wrote anti-Nazi leaflets in Munich. I kept reading about The White Rose group in the travel guide but didn’t know the story. It was a great film and I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for some of the commemorations around the city.

Some of my other favorite German films: Good-Bye Lenin and Downfall, although both are set in Berlin.

Amsterdam 

the girl with the pearl earring

Considering how popular Amsterdam is in pop culture I’m a little surprised it doesn’t pop up in more movies or books. Actually, to be honest, I’m surprised this is true of Munich, too. I mean Oktoberfest would have to come up more often in pop culture.

So I read “The Girl with the Pearl Earring,” which is set in Delft (not Amsterdam). It was eh-OK. Not the best book I’ve read but I didn’t hate it. It seemed a little contrived and a bit predictable, not very imaginative and the story was a bit of a bore. Beyond the talk about Johannes Vermeer, it really wasn’t a book I’d recommend. I do kind of wish we were going to see the painting at the Hague, but it’s on tour this year so I’ll look out for other Vermeers in the Rijksmuseum.  I know I’ve seen the movie and I don’t plan on re-watching it. Sorry, Scar-Jo, just not the best movie out there.

Then there’s Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl,” which I will be re-reading on the airplane. I’ve already booked our tickets for the Anne Frank House so I feel like a quick refresher will make that a more powerful experience. I may even watch one of the many adaptations. There’s also that brief talk about Amsterdam in “The Fault in our Stars,” another of my favorite books from the past year. Don’t worry, I won’t make out with anyone in the Anne Frank House.

As for films, there’s the hilarious “EuroTrip” and the documentary “Meet the Fokkens,” a film on Netflix about prostitutes in the Red Light District who have been working the famous lane for more than 50 years. It was a funny and eye-opening movie but I got a little bored so opted to not finish it. It did inspire me to find the Amsterdam beach (like Strand Zuid) for a relaxing summer afternoon.

Paris

Paris by far has been the easiest city for me to brush up on. The City of Lights has been the inspiration for so many movies and books it’s more difficult to pick a few.

I started with my favorite, “Amelie,” because it’s awesome and has beautiful shots of the city. Plus, I’m looking forward to stopping by Cafe des Deux Moulins in Montmartre.  Then I got distracted by two of my favorite 1990s movies — “Sabrina” and “French Kiss.” It’s no wonder I’ve been dreaming of Paris for so long.

For more recent Parisian movies — “Midnight in Paris” and “Girl on a Bicycle.” There are so many French films I love (having studied them in my awesome French class in high school) but I don’t plan on re-watching them all.

Shockingly, I can’t think of any books that I’ve already read beyond Madeline. I found a long list on Goodreads of books in Paris so I plan to crack either “Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris” or “Paris: The Secret History.” I’m behind on my reading because I decided to read “Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour,” which I kind of hate because who wants to read three full pages about flaccid penises and foreskin? It’s not all bad, but isn’t really my kind of humor. It was kind of interesting given the first leg of the writer’s trip is in Vienna and we will be spending one day in Salzburg.

“The Paris Wife” will give me some insight when I visit Shakespeare & Co. and Hemingway’s other haunts in the Latin Quarter. I’m also looking forward to seeing the Luxembourg Gardens where Marius and Cosette first meet in “Les Miserables” and seeing Victor Hugo’s house.

Part of “The Engagements” and “The Imperfectionists” takes place in Paris and I recommend both of those books but not for travel purposes.

I kind of think this is one of the best ways to prepare for traveling. Non-fiction books obviously give you insight into the places you’ll see but even fiction gives you a glimpse into another culture. And everything I’ve watched or read so far has given me an idea of something to do or see while we’re abroad.

I’ve also been listening to Spotify’s Love in Paris and Germany! playlists. That’s been good background music while I work. I mean who doesn’t love a little “Joe le Taxi“?

Any other film or book recommendations? Did I miss something obvious — I mean besides “Rugrats go to Paris”? 

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