In Bavaria’s younger days, beer was not considered a beverage, but a fundamental food comparable to bread. Because a chunk of folks died after consuming beer made with some funky ingredients, Duke Wilhelm IV issued the first food law in the world in 1516 which regulated the purity of Bavarian beer. Thus was the birth of the beer culture in Germany. They drink it with dinner, they drink it for breakfast and for dessert, they have a little beer with lunch and a lot after the big game. While walking to the bus this morning, we even saw folks walking to work carrying a bottle of beer in their hand. In the US, we drink coffee or grab a bottle of water on the way to work….here…a light beer will get you started.
Who are we to mess with tradition? Our first stop today is the Hamburger Fischmarkt, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Feldherrnhalle, and full of quiet little tents full of fish and beer. Though much, much smaller than the other market a few blocks away, the Fischmarkt is a quaint little square chock full of all kinds of edible goodies (mostly of the fish variety). Our first edible adventure was some smoked eel. When I saw the little leathery, snake-like things starting back at me, I knew I had to try it. Michael looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for some, but after a bite of the smokey, surprisingly soft and delicious critter, he agreed that we will definitely try it again one day.
Our appetizer complete, we walk over to the best booth in the market – Flammlachs, which draws us in with the wonderful smell of fresh salmon being smoked over a fire. We get a salmon roll and a Jever beer and sit down to the best breakfast I have had in a long, long time. The warm, fresh made bread is perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft like butter on the inside. Homemade honey mustard is smeared on the inside along with a little lettuce and freshly smoked salmon. Each bite literally makes my mouth water for more. We wash it down with a light, lime flavored beer and hit the road for some sights.
We spend the next couple of hours walking around gardens and parks, listening to locals play violins and accordions in the distance. At 1200, we head over to the Marienplatz to catch the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, a relatively new clock tower from 1908 that puts on a show three times a day. As it chimes, hand carved figures come to life as they tell stories of old Bavarian kings. This draws a huge crowd and is a must see. Munich is a very friendly city and people smile and say things to you constantly. Not speaking more than two words of the language, I smile and nod back – probably agreeing with them on things I have no clue about. In fact, they are probably asking me directions and I am nodding yes when they ask me if their hotel is a block to the left….oops!
A public broadcast to the weary pedestrian – beware of bicyclists as they magically appear out of nowhere and drive like a bat out of hell with a message for satan. Bike lanes are everywhere around here and it seems like they have the right of way no matter where you are or what you are doing. At least three or four times, Michael has saved my life as he whisks me away from the bike lane, rolls his eyes, and a German zooms by, smiles at me, and rings their little bike bell.
Pedestrians can be crazy too – at one point, I am standing at the edge of the road, waiting for the light to change so I can walk across, when the man next to me drops his sunglasses. I look down and he is still standing there, completely oblivious that they fell out of his pocket. I bend over, pick them up, and tap him on the right shoulder. No response. I tap again, and say “Excuse me, you dropped your glasses.” No response. I tap one more time. No response. So, what do I do next? I do the logical thing, I walk behind him and tap his other shoulder, the left one. He immediately turns his head to the right. At this point, another German man is standing there, looks and me, smiles and blurts out a bunch of words I don’t understand. He laughs, I laugh, the light changes, and glasses-boy crosses the street without his glasses. I am going the opposite direction, so I look at the German man, he shrugs his shoulders, I shrug mine, drop the glasses back where they fell out of the other guy’s pocket, and go on my merry way.
We spend most of the afternoon walking around the Viktualienmarkt – a huge open marketplace with just about anything you can imagine. There are stands with fruits and vegetables, cheeses, olives, fresh juices, crafts, seafood, herbs, mustard, plants, fresh meats, and miles and miles of sausages. The place is packed with locals and tourists and we can’t help but snack our way through booth after booth. Michael’s favorite – a white sausage on homemade bread with some mild mustard. My favorite – the mustard stand where I get a jar of the best mustard I have ever tasted – kind of sweet, but with a huge horseradish kick! Did I forget to mention the beer? As seems to be “the thing” around here, there are tables as far as the eye can see with hundreds of very loud, very cheerful Germans drinking and singing and clinking huge, 1-litre mugs of golden goodness.
We walk and walk until our feet are sore and it starts to sprinkle, then it’s back on the hop on hop off bus for a stint of easy touring. This route takes us to the Olympic Stadium and past the BMW Museum where – did you know – they used to build airplanes in World War II. After more sights and knowledge, a cheerful group of girls, all dressed in traditional Bavarian garb, jump on the bus and laugh their way to the back of the bus to join us. As it turns out, this is a bachelorette party and they have a basket of goodies (gummy bears, chocolates, mini-bottles, etc.) that they are selling for a euro each as part of the festivities. We support the night of debauchery and give them a couple of euros for a little bag of gummy bears and are instantly a part of the group. They laugh and chat and ask us questions about our stay and the next thing you know, they are pulling out shot glasses and pouring a toast to the bride. We toast to love and happiness and knock back a swig of Bavarian schnapps which burns a little, but tastes pretty darn good. We get to our stop – wish them a night of fun and bid farewell to our new Bavarian friends wishing, ever so slightly, that we had stayed on the bus with them.
Next stop – the Hofbrauhaus, a Munich staple and most certainly the most packed of all beer halls. This place is pure chaos dipped in fun. A minimum of 300 gallons of beer is consumed at the Hofbrauhaus each day and it is THE place to go to spot some men in lederhosen. The place is lined with wooden tables, thirsty visitors, and no hostess – each and every open spot is on a free-for-all basis which makes getting a spot at a table a full contact sport. We observe for a bit and give it a shot – quickly picking up on the fact that private tables simply do not exist. Two people at a table for four means that at least four people will join the two of us sitting there (yes, that is German math).
We grab a spot at a table full of Germans and order two mammoth beers which are a combination of beer and lemonade. The Germans are friendly and chat away in perfect English and, as they cycle out, the next two folks in are a couple of guys from Iowa. We have a blast talking to these two and sharing stories from our collective adventures all over Europe. For dinner, Michael orders the suckling pig and I get the pork knuckle, both of which come with a potato dumpling that was oh-my-God good. Imagine a potato ball that is a little bit mashed potato, and a little bit biscuit all wrapped into a single clump of goodness and smothered in a dark gravy. These are my kind of balls! We finish our beers, have one last toast with our new Iowa friends, and head into the night for one last sampling of our favorite German food group – beer!