Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

April 2001

Pollen Nation

Allergy season in Germany is nothing to sneeze at

As a child, springtime for me often meant sitting indoors rubbing my itching eyes until they were so swollen, I could no longer open them. “It’s hay fever,” my father said. “You inherited that from me.” During the few years that my family and I lived on an asparagus/ potato farm in Hadley, Massachusetts, I spent many hours playing hide and seek in the lacy field of spring stalks or engaging in squirt fights with my brother — the weapons of choice being watery, rotten autumn potatoes. Two Allerests and a three-hour nap later, I was fine.

Though my hay fever seems to be in remission, I continue to enjoy the inheritance I received from my dad’s side of the family. Minimal exposure to cats sends me to the emergency room with asthma, raw fruit and vegetable varieties (especially potatoes!) make me sneeze when I peel them and my throat swells when I swallow them. Some of my favorite things — bananas and avocados, for instance, which I had eaten all my life — suddenly top my list of “no-nos.” Hazelnuts — the “peanut” of Germany, found here, whole or pureed, in any chocolate product you care to mention — could send me into anaphylactic shock.

As a member of the “allergy club,” I notice the runny eyes, tired glances and rosy nostrils of my fellow Münchner during the spring and summer months in this city. A few of my pals cough and blow their noses from March to September — no way to enjoy Munich’s best “season.” While others are out at the beer gardens, my friends are watching TV, with the windows closed, under the sedation of allergy-fighting pharmaceuticals. In fact, one suffering hay fever victim I know popped one antihistamine too many and fell off her bicycle — she hadn’t considered her bike to be “heavy machinery.”

Afflicted residents of Munich continue to try acupuncture, acupressure, homeopathy, eschewing milk products and, the most grisly of them all, desensitization therapy, during which the patient is injected with the very allergens to which they react. I don’t know of anyone who has been truly cured.

An article in this month’s News and Views lists several Web sites at which you will find pollen warnings for the region. Though most allergy sufferers will agree that the forecasts do not solve the problem, it may help to know when it’s not advisable to stroll through the English Garden. Since the most useful sites are in German, you will need to know the words for the various pollens and flora. Local varieties of Baumpollen (tree pollens) include: Buche (beech) Hasel (hazelnut), Birke (birch), Weide (willow), Ulme (Elm), Pappel (poplar), Kastanie (chestnut), Eiche (oak), Erle (alder). Getreide - und Gräserpollen (grain and grass pollen) wafting through the city air include: Roggen (rye, the worst of the grain allergens), Gerste (barley), Hafer (oats), Wildfuchsschwanz (amaranth), Gras (grass), Wildgräser (wild grasses). Sneeze-inducing Kräuterpollen (herbal pollens) include: Beifuss (mugwort, the worst of the herbal allergens), Kamille (chamomile), Chrysanthemen (chrysanthemum) and Sauerampfer (sorrel). If you are allergic to certain pollens, you may be allergic to specific foods — the so-called cross-reaction. Tree pollen allergies may mean you also react to apples, apricots, pears, kiwi, cherries, peaches, plums, celery, carrots and/or hazelnuts. Grass and grain pollen allergies could mean you react to beans, peas, peanuts, lentils, soy, tomatoes, spinach and/or melons. Herbal pollen allergies can take the spice out of the sufferer’s life — pepper, oregano, garlic, curry powder and a host of other flavorings may cause reactions.

According to a lengthy Time magazine article — high on scientific terminology low on answers — scientists still have not determined exactly what causes allergies and have, therefore, failed to find a cure. Did I get hit with too much potato juice as a kid? Was it the fluoride in the water in Hadley or the measles inoculation or my grandfather’s genes? When I find out I’ll let you know. I’ll be the one with the Milka bar in one hand, an apple in the other and a feline at my feet.

tell a friend