Beer gardens – the Best Invention ever Made in Bavaria!

The Isar close to Pullach. Quite a nature feeling and only a jump away from the city center.

The Isar close to Pullach with Großhesseloher Bridge. Quite a nature feeling and only a jump away from the city center of Munich.

After a bit of moody time the last weeks, probably caused by thinking too much about such boring things as a career, this day was a great one.

Today, the Woodpecker family decided to have an excursion to one of the loveliest sides of Munich (if you are a nature lover):

The river Isar.

We took public transport up to the Zoo, but instead of joining the queue there to cram in with thousands that visit the Zoo on a weekend (instead of doing this on a weekday when it is relaxed and easy), we saved 20 EUR entrance and strolled slowly south on the banks of the river.

It was the first trip with the kids riding on their own bikes (while we old chaps were walking), thus speed was fortunately significantly above the typical 1 km/h.

We had a couple of picnics on our way and build a deluxe channel and a great dam in one of the pebble banks of the river. Boy, the water still is cold. But ah! Father and Son fun at its best! Nothing that money can ever buy you.

You can bring all your food (or even a grill), put your beer in the crystal clear water for cooling and enjoy a surprisingly nature feeling, only a few kilometers away from the city center. You can also go mountain biking in the slopes next to the river and some people even do kayaking or drive on large rafts made from wood and with a beer barrel and a band on board (no joke!).

The final of the tour was very obvious, if you are living in Bavaria:

A Bavarian Beergarden.

For those less familiar with Bavaria:

The best invention here is the Bavarian Beergarden.

Because a law from centuries ago states that in any beer garden in Bavaria you are allowed to bring your own food and only have to pay for the beer (and other drinks). Plus, they are often in marvelous settings under century old trees, as was our goal: the “Waldwirtschaft” in Pullach, in a fantastic location high on the bank of the Isar valley.

View to the left: Kids are happy.

View to the left: Kids are happy…

As most beer gardens, this one offers a kids playground, parents sit with their food and beer right next to that and can enjoy the sun.

And in this particular beer garden, a special feature is added: They have renowned jazz bands playing for free and live almost all over the years!
A very special atmosphere, and highly recommended, should you be in town (Link to Beergarden Waldwirtschaft).
Way back we took the suburban train that stops close by.

View to the right: Jazz music for free!

…View to the right: Jazz music for free!

We felt like eating out today and enjoyed the fantastic spare ribs they offer next to our beers, but if you bring your own food, this whole day trip would have costed you only 20 EUR for a family of four (2 x 5 EUR return trip sub & train, kids are free + 2 x 4 EUR beers + 2 x 1 EUR ice cream for the kids – no chance to be more frugal on the latter one ;-) ).




Is there a price to pay for Downshifting / Early Retirement?

Can you have it both: A nice excursion on a week-day plus a (employed) career? Even if you are the most efficient of workers, sadly the answer seems to be No. (pic: Kloster Andechs, close to Munich)

Can you have it both: A nice excursion on a week-day plus a (employed) career? Even if you are the most efficient of workers, sadly the answer seems to be No. (pic: Kloster Andechs, close to Munich)

After a stretch of outstanding good weather over Germany, today it is raining cats and dogs, so Woodpecker took the time to think a bit about our business world:

The actual question is:

Combining a family- and/or freetime-focused live with career, in other words, having both, is that possible?

My honest observation unfortunately so far is: No.

Obviously I don’t expect a “bonus” for the family/downshifting person in the company, i.e. if a person produces less output because he prefers to spend time with the family, it is “fair”, that he/she will earn less in absolute terms (This holds for the company salary. Whether the state decides to put something on top to reward the contribution to society by e.g. having kids is a different story).

The actual question for me is: Is there a MALUS attached to the family guy / the downshifter?

E.g. are his career chances reduced in an overly way, i.e. will he/she be more likely to be excluded from certain career levels that provide an even higher relative salary (i.e. salary per actual hour worked)?

For Germany, after making my own observations for some years and collecting the experience of many others, both men and women, the answer sadly is:

Yes, the average German company IS discouraging people from having a family or – if they have one – caring for it. Same holds true for downshifting with or without kids.

The average German company does only promote real work-life-balance on the shiny external self-advertisment flyers.

In reality – quite contrary on what the companies might say – you still in 2014 have to make a decision as soon as a kid is there (the same holds without kids, and if you simply want to shift focus away from the job a bit):

Is it your family, or is it your company you are in love with?

Are you in with the pack or are you out?

This is still hard to accept for Woodpecker, as you should think todays society is quite a step further. In the end, especially in western economies, we are living in an abundance of wealth and over-production. The economy is so efficient that actually we all could work 30% less and still be quite well off I guess. We as a society could (and should) afford to work much less, to become less focussed on money and consumption, to put away some of the daily stress that is caused by the shortness of the ultimate important resource: Time.

It seems so bloody obvious to me, that it is hard to understand why the hell this is not happening.

Why we as a society are still slaving away day by day as if our lifes would depend on it?
Because, surprise, they don’t: The time you need working for given basic needs like food, clothing, housing etc. have decreased dramatically since the past, so we could still all thrive AND work less. Much less.
Then, everybody is calling out that work-life is changing, the business world is getting more flexible etc.

In fact it is not.
(Or I am just in the wrong company. Let me know if you know a place where this is different!)

I mean, yes, you can make some choices a bit more easy today and do paternal leave or part-time, but as soon as you practically start doing so, you will see that companies very often do not give away this voluntarily, but allow very often exactly what they are forced to by law anyway.

And they do it very reluctantly.

Let’s say you start to downshift, put a bit more priority on your non-office life, do parental leaves, home office and the like, but still do an excellent and dedicated job with very good results in your work time and thus would still like to get rewarded for that, at least a bit.

In reality (women probably knew this all along) you will face very often bosses who will not take you fully serious anymore. Bosses who – despite they officially say otherwise – do not look on your efficiency (which might be even higher than that of your rat racing co-workers) but on the time you are available, the number of eMails sent at the weekends or after 7 p.m.
A rather ancient and non-economic way to look at things, but still very, very, very common, at least in Germany to my observation (as said, let me know there are places more shiny, I will apply the other day!).

And don’t get me wrong:
There are positions where availability is important, and I have no problem when always-available people have an advantage at these jobs. But there are jobs where this is not the case (and these are many), where in fact all that counts is that some output is produced until a given deadline. In this jobs it just should not matter if you are there until 5 or until 8, if you type enough superfluous mails on weekends or not. It should matter if the job is done, and nothing else.

For some reasons this is not the case. At least in many cases I observed.

OK, but enough of the ranting.

The world is like it is, in the end it is of no personal worth to complain about things you can’t change.

So what do you do with that fact when planning to put your life above your job and considering downshifting in any form?

Basically you can go two reasonable ways:

1) Drill into your career. Collect the fruits later.

Run heavily in the tread-mill, invest a lot of your time into the job. Play the perfect company soldier. Be always on, go to every evening drinking session with your boring bosses. But still live a frugal life and save a lot. Your earnings will increase quickly and as you still life frugally, your savings will skyrocket. Invest wisely, and financial independence (FI) will come to you rather sooner than later.

Having said that, “sooner” might not mean too soon.

I’d say FI (if you start out with nothing) is unlikely before mid 40s even without family/kids and at very good investment skills, or as “late” as mid 50s, if you are not too much into investing and have to rely on average returns plus you have a family to support (I know there are these hard core early retirement plans, but no, I think most of them are not realistic for normal earners or people that don’t want to live on the most minimal standards).

So one day you will make it, but until then you have to tread quite a bit.

The reward then is early retirement, probably a sweet thing where you still can enjoy decades of healthy life afterwards.

But here comes the risks:

  • If you do this consequently, you’d better do it alone. E.g. a family and kids are very costly, and VERY time-consuming things. Both will get into your way if your sole goal is FI as early as possible.
  • As you naturally will get focussed on your finances, thus this is what might happen: You postpone getting a family further and further, knowing the slowdown this will cause to your career / savings stream. And then finally, sorry, nature decides now it is too late, and you might end up missing the great fun and shelter of having a family (OK, family is not only fun, but still a lot. Anyway if you want family and want to go for early retirement at the same time, be careful!).
  • If you still have a family while pursuing FI as quick as possible, you will not have a lot of time for them. You will outsource family care and still concentrate on the job (this is the post war patriarchal model. Even women can go for it today by making use of todays large – but costly – childcare industry. However strange thing to have a family and then never see them in Woodpeckers view)…
  • …thus you might miss out a lot of opportunities to have fun with your family when you can have it best: When your kids are still young, admire you truly ;-) and want to be with you.
  • Even worse, concentrating on their careers, not few people even miss out finding a partner, simply because they spend too much time at work or are getting a bit boring because they have nothing to talk about besides their job. And finding a partner later gets more difficult. Especially for women, but also for men (especially if they life frugally and don’t want to invest in huge presents ;-) ). Or, as a friend of Woodpecker recently said: At some point of time, extremely career focused people lose their competence in initiating and running non-business social contacts. Very wise observation.
  • Sorry for talking about it (never mention “death” or “sickness” in today’s world?), but there is a chance you will not make it to FI: You might die, get ill, injured, or in a less drastic scenario, a market crash or financial turmoil wipes out all your savings. Not nice to think about this, but as in finance, any honest calculation has to discount future returns for this kind of risks.

For me, despite the great advantage of being FI earlier on, this were always to many “cons”.
So there is option 2.

2) Start doing your career, maximize income, and then downshift from a certain point on.

You start out very diligent like everyone else. You play the game and pocket a few promotions. But you steer your career differently: You are not aiming at the “very top” but try to develop into a direction where you will find a relatively save haven when you start to downshift. That means you try to move into a position where availability is relatively unimportant, where you are e.g. in an expert position that makes you more invulnerable, and possibly work in a company that is large enough to allow for downshifting and working more flexible and less.

However, there are challenges and risks as well:

  • FI is postponed. Until time x, you will more or less move in line with others (maybe a bit slower already, as your nature will probably call for a fair amount of idle time already). But from time x on, you unfortunately will fall behind in most cases (only in career terms of course), as discussed in the beginning of the post. At least in Germany, this is likely to happen, better face it now.
  • Thus, the longer you wait with starting downshifting, the more you move to option (1), the earlier you start the more you will postpone FI.
  • The question now is, what time x is optimal?
  • This is a very individual question. Woodpecker started downshifting when the first boy was there (age 35 that was). I think this was a good point of time. I am barely “loosing” 5-8 years of career making as in our company most careers are made until early 40s anyway. I started having abundant time when there was something really good to invest in: The family founding.
    There was and is a good return, as kids provide ample fun especially if you have time and years fly by once kids are there. And: Downshifters are quite a rare group still in Munich/Germany and most 30s aged people without family work like hell. So the family business adds the benefit of providing a peer group around you to do things with in all your new spare-time. Chances of getting bored are thus low.
  • Plus: While it will not benefit your career at all, at least shifting down is much more accepted when you have kids. For what it’s worth, colleagues and even bosses normally understand your desire to spend time with your family more than just to idle out.
  • There is a price I paid and continue to pay career-wise I guess, and it is sometimes painful seeing people passing by that produce next to nothing for the company but get ahead mainly because they life for the job 24/7 and play the availability game to a perfect extend.
    But then, sitting here at the wood oven with my two funny boys and looking forward to a good season of early knocking-off times, late evening workday baking tours and extended weekend trips, I think I can live with that.



A Frugal Short-Trip to Verona, Italy

The main plazza of Verona. Good place to eat your ice cream!

The main plazza of Verona. Good place to eat your ice cream!

Right after returning from the little old boys city tour to Eastern Bavaria, the Woodpecker family decided to boost the best spring Germany has seen since years a bit more by a jump over the Alps.

Woodpeckers over-hours piled up quite a bit over the winter time, and as my career is not really proceeding too much anyway, I can take easily take advantage of short-term holiday request.

I don’t know how it works in other companies, but with my boss it is: “You sacrifice you life for the company (like he does) and then you get ahead career-wise, or – if you are fine not getting ahead quickly – you can do your job on your own way as long as output is fine”.

As you might have noticed, I de facto decided for the second. I would obviously love all the freedom PLUS a career, simply to max out Woodpecker family income and savings, but this seems to be asked a bit too much.

Anyway, off we went, and as the beautiful city of Merano was covered already last year (one month later and with MUCH worse weather), we only had to choose among Verona, Padua, Milano, Vicenza, Venice, Bassano and about 1.000 other beautiful Italian destinations all less than 6 hours drive from Munich.

Obviously we went for the most frugal choice (least driving time) and picked Verona, the partner-city of beloved Munich, a mere 4 1/2 hours drive south of home.

At this time of the year this otherwise quite crowded city has a unique and very relaxed flair, you will always find a seat even in the most beautiful spots, prices are low and the beauty of the city all the same.

The frugal choice is of course the local youth hostel, where a family of four can stay for a bargain of 40 EUR per night, including something that these guys call breakfast.
Actually the place was ok, situated in a fantastic old but somehow spooky worn-down villa with private parking in the yard for free (not unimportant in this crowded Italian cities). On the other side, this one really is VERY basic, so you better go there only for sleeping, or spend a couple of bucks more for an AirBnB apartment.

The good thing about the cheap accommodation is that your budget automatically stays so low (sleeping and transport are typically the most expensive parts of travelling) that you can easily go for some nice extras.

Overall, a frugal way to travel Italian cities is:

  • Stay in the youth hostel. But only sleep there, as their quality is way below e.g. German youth hostels. However, they are often central, often have free parking and you will meet loads of funny people.
  • Use public transport which is very cheap and well-developed
  • Always eat PIZZA ! Pizza ist mostly of very high quality and very reasonable price, even in the most touristic spots. That’s great, because sometimes you should indeed sit in a restaurant in one of this marvelous plazzas and enjoy a meal there. A pizza in the most touristic Roman Arena area in Verona is still only 8 EUR. Add a glass of house wine and you can hang out in one of the worlds nicest places for 12 EUR (2 EUR cover charge, a “special” Italian add-on.
  • Other food is often overpriced and varies too much in quality (and quantity). Not recommended, unless you have local insider information.
  • Another great thing is Italian coffee. In most cafes or even restaurants, it is ok to sit down and only have a “cafe” (i.e. a tiny tiny Italian Espresso). They almost always taste great and seldom cost more than 1 EUR. So you can have your food in the local park as well and then enjoy a cafe in a beautiful plaza if you wish.
  • If the place you stay is too crappy, eating out for breakfast is a good choice. Even in places crowded by tourist during the day, in the morning it is often surprisingly relaxed. And even in tourist traps you will typically get a cappuchino plus two lovely Italian croissants at prices below 5 EUR. Good value this is.
  • Ice creme is mostly great if it is hand-made (“artigianale“). This is often the case, in Italy it is fortunately hard to find overpriced and boring tasting ice cream from a chain shop. No chance for Häagen-Dazs.
  • Most of the beauty of Italy lies in the little alleys, the plazas, the flair, the countryside (always use small side-streets not the highway to see the nice parts), the churches. All of this is for free!

Find below some impressions from the trip. Hover for subtitels, click to enlarge.



The fun of travelling Germany

Life ist great - but this guy even seems to enjoy death!

Life ist great – but this guy even seems to enjoy death!

Beginning of March – the annual boys Ski-Hiking tour to the mountains was due again.

However, as this year winter was skipped in Germany, snow is a very rare thing to find, and actually spring is all here already, we decided to cancel the stay at the hut and go for a small city trip instead.

Looking at the map for interesting cities within 2 hours drive that we didn’t know yet, we came across Passau, the “Three-River-City” at the very eastern edge of Bavaria. And off we went!

As most time with the old boys, it was a fantastic trip. Plus weather was very much on our side, as was frugality:

It is a definitive tip to go for an anticyclical city tour in Feb/March.

Typically crowded places are all empty, prices are low and people are relaxed and friendly.

So we started at Munich very relaxed in the late morning and when hunger and need for a good local beer came up (after merely one hours drive), we did our usual approach:

As we always travel without a guidebook, we just looked at the brown signs next to the autobahn that indicate natural or historical sights in the area. These are VERY frequent in Germany, in fact you find a sight each 10 km or so and we decided to pull out at a abbey (typically good beer and good food!) called “Kloster Niederaltaich” (never heard the name before).

And this is really the big fun when travelling Germany: Wherever you pull out from the Autobahn, you WILL find something interesting close by.

This time we found a church full of this homey guys lined up eight of them next to the walls:

Isn’t this great? These guys always enjoy a deluxe VIP box right in the impressive church hall.

After celebrating life with a good meal and some local brewn dark beer, we proceeded to Passau.

In off-season this is a particularly budget place, you can get a decent hotel room in a historical building right in the center for 40 EUR per night and person or less.

We went to the local youth hostel which is around 30 EUR per night and person, and then you live here:

The youth hoste is in the old castle overlooking the city.

The youth hostel is in the old castle overlooking the city.

Another view of the castle.

Another view of the castle.

Morning dust rising. Boy, the air was good there and it is amazingly quiet.

Morning mist rising. Boy, the air was good there and it is amazingly quiet.

Passau itself is a very lovely city, situated at the junction of the major rivers Donau (Danube) and Inn plus a smaller river called … I forgot.

I was bit lazy taking pictures, so the only photos I can provide is a view from our castle in the morning and the interior of the cathedral:

Passau in the morning mist.

Passau in the morning mist.

The cathedral. You cannot see it, but it also hosts the indoor largest organ in Europe (or the world?).

The cathedral. You cannot see it, but it also hosts the largest indoor organ in Europe (or the whole world?).

You will find a lot more photos in the internet. The city has a lovely old part, a magnificent cathedral, nice winded alleys, good and cheap food and a fully relaxed atmosphere.

Our trip continued with a day excursion to the National Park Bayrischer Wald. Nice, but not really my cup of tea. Maybe I’ll try again in 20 years as it seems to attract a more “senior” type of people. ;)

On our way back we also stopped in Altötting, a place of pilgrimage in Bavaria, with an amazingly catholic atmosphere. There definitly must be more churches than houses and more priests than bakers.

See pictures here (click for large version and caption):

All in all a great short trip at low expenses.

Recommended and a great start to the 2014 travelling season!



A Hooray to Idling and Loafing!

For us downshifters, this is the good guy: Epicurus of Samos.

For us downshifters, this is the good guy: Epicurus of Samos…

Today’s world for some reason raised working to a kind of religion.

It seems that without being stressed, without having a “challenging” job, without being busy all day, the modern man or woman is nothing.

At the job, admitting that one has little to do, has a relaxed position or that today coffee-drinking was the predominant task, is close to admitting having leprosy or syphilis.
Someone who is not busy (or does not constantly pretend to be busy) or who is admitting he does the job only for the money is quickly labeled as an outcast. “There must be something wrong with this guy – isn’t he having fun working and being busy?”

Even in their free-time, people do everything to constantly stay busy. Free time activities are squeezed into every single free minute, the idea of productivity and time=money thus even rules our spare time.

Here is a little experiment:

Try out and tell your colleagues on monday on the obligatory “what did you do at the weekend?”-question: “I did nothing but hang out idling“. Do this three weeks in a row and you WILL get some strange looks. ;)

Or ask to reduce to working part-time and try as an argument to your boss: “I’d like to idle and hang out each friday”. For some strange reason this will work less good than saying “I need time for my family, my side business or for preparing for my Mount Everest hike”.

Why is this fixation on work and busyness so predominant in modern times?

I mean after all, today’s world is amazingly productive, so much work is done by machines, wealth is enormous in western societies and beyond everything that people 50 or 100 or 500 years ago would ever have dared to dream of.

So why the hell are we not able to relax a bit?! To let go and accept the status quo for what it is: Great!

This might seem like old-fashioned thinking in today’s world, as the idea of “productivity” and “performance” is so deeply entrenched in most people that they never in their life question this idea.
But I really think there is a kind of religious motive here.

Let’s go back in history a bit. Back to the first society that consciously and systematically thought about what it means to live a good life:

Ancient Greeks

In ancient Greece, the perception of work was clear. It was considered an unfortunate and unwelcome element of life. Something one has to do to get his/her food. But apart from that, work was considered as something that distracts you from developing yourself, enjoying life and having “muse” (Tell someone that this weekend you plan to have some “muse“. They will send you to the doctor!). Consequently the Ancient Greek developed a rich philosophy of happiness, among others my favorite author of that time: Epicurus.

It is funny enough, but I think from then on – and this was 2.300 years ago (!) – the overall societies’ focus on having a good live never again reached that level. It was replaced by something else: To have a productive and successful life. Whereas successful now is defined by “achieving something“, which in turn is set equal to accumulate wealth, possession, status, victories of some sort or power.

If you define success by “having a good life” – enjoy your days, avoid stress and avoid any harm and bad feelings, get free from desire, enjoy time with friends and simple pleasures – this is how Epicurus defined it – you are likely to be labeled as somehow strange, lazy, unwilling or unable. In the best case people will just think you are odd, but in all cases  they will not think you lead a successful life (while you do exactly that).

However, this “ancient” values is exactly what you should focus on.

Protestant work ethics

...and this is the bad guy: John Calvin.

…and this is the bad guy: John Calvin.

A huge caesura was the Lutheran work ethics, and later on the even more drastic Calvinist / Protestant ethic from 16th century on. It was at this point of time that salvation by god was no more taken as anything granted but as something you have to earn. And you have to earn this by being productive and hard-working (Protestant work ethic). It was at this time that the unpleasant formulas “time equals money”, “wasting time is a sin” and “work is an end in itself” came into the world and in fact the philosophy of capitalism was born.

Thus even today, as religion is gone for so many, this strange conditioning still stays in the subconsciousness of people and the society: Salvation comes as a consequence of hard work. And, probably even more so as other ideas of “salvation” are becoming scarce with religion being in retreat.

OK, let’s be fair and admit that calvinism also fostered the excellent idea of democracy and distribution of power. And capitalism and hard work brought huge progress to the world. It made possible all the developments, progress and all the wealth that we are able to enjoy today. Good, thanks for all that. Anyway, let’s be honest guys:

It is a good time to harvest now!

In a western society progress was so huge, wealth is so abundant, that from now on it is really not important to increase consumption and production any more. To the contrary it becomes unhealthy from this point on. Environment is harmed enough, resources are become scarce, other societies in the world have more need for growth than we do and people here get victims of the accelerated change and crazy, senseless growth.

So after centuries of restless growth, it is more than time to take it easy and relax a bit for a change.

And YOU should start doing so today! Especially if you are having an ok or even good job in a western society. Yes, it will mean some pain, because damn, you have to break out of the mass and you have to think about something else to replace the worship of busyness. And this process of thinking is not easy. But before you back away, ask yourself the question:

Do you really want to except that all the meaning of your life is working as efficient as you can, be as productive as possible, earn as much money as possible, climb as many career steps as possible, collect status and power and then be done with it after – don’t know – 30 years, ready to decline slowly and then retire? Do you want that to be your life?

If the answer is YES, fine, go back to work NOW. Nothing wrong with it if this makes you really happy.

If the answer is NO however, then, dear friend, there is no way around thinking what you actually want to do with your life. And very likely this will mean efficiency, work and busyness stepping back. Giving up some career and some professional “achievements” for something else. If you have no idea what to do else yet, start with some heavy loafing and idling (in other words train to have some “muse“) and see what comes to your mind.

And you can easily shift down as an employee in most modern workplaces. Of course you still should honor your work contract, but fortunately there are a million strategies on how to make everyone happy and still don’t have too much stress at work :) .

Not that I want to encourage anyone to grind less of course, but if you would like a bit of help to optimize your job towards more efficiency and less stress (an altruistic goal, isn’t it? As stress is bad for health and thus for society…), an interesting book for a start is said to be:

Die Faultier Strategie

(“the strategy of the sloths”, German only. Let us know about similar books in English or German!)