Got to go to Munich last week for work. As I’d already heard before, it’s a wonderful city – storied history, classic Bavarian culture, a charming downtown with some incredible architecture, colorful pastel-colored buildings, and of course, plenty of biergartens, delicious beer, and rich Bavarian food. And pretzels!
Didn’t see much of the city Thursday since we were in meetings from 8am until around 6pm, but then a big group of us went out for dinner. I had no idea where we were, so when we got off the subway at Marienplatz, I was genuinely amazed to see the incredible New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus), with its ornate towers and Glockenspiel mechanical clock! The clockwork display, with its twirling and dancing figures, goes off every day at 11am and noon, but we missed it the next day too. When I return to Munich with B and the boys, that will definitely be on the list of sights to see.
From there it was a short walk to an excellent Bavarian restaurant called Spatenhaus an der Oper, just across from the Bayerische Staatsoper (famous opera house). Pretzels, great beer (my favorite was the Franziskaner Hefewissen Dunkel), and decadent Bavarian cuisine. Mmmm… head cheese made with vinegary, pickled meats; salami; a haunch of roast pork swimming in rich gravy; marinated cabbage; and giant potato dumpling cannonball things… And some celebratory schnapps after dinner.
Needed to walk that off afterwards, so some of our German hosts took me over to see the famous Hofbrauhaus beer hall and royal public brewery. This place is massive – it makes the giant German biergarten at EPCOT look like a Carl’s Jr. It’s everything you’d expect from a famous Bavarian beer hall too – rows and rows of packed tables (even at 11pm), waitresses with trays of sausages and pretzels, a big German brass band, old men in German vests and hats passing out with their steins. My hosts said it’s mostly a tourist place (which is why we went to the Spatenhaus), but it is still a fun atmosphere.
On the way in, there’s a wall of cubbies, each one locked and containing a big beer stein. These are for the private members, and the only way into the club is when a previous member dies. Then, Glückwünsche! You get your own stein, and when you come to the beer hall, you unlock your stein, wash it out in the big copper sink, and help yourself to your favorite local brew.
Upstairs, there’s an even bigger hall, with a second German band on stage, and even more happy feasters and drinkers. There’s also a balcony above with a small museum about the Hofbrauhaus. Cool facts: it was founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, whose 700 closest friends and courtiers were drinking his riches away. So he started the public brewery, which followed the Reinheitsgrebot, or Bavarian Beer Purity Law (passed in 1516).
The law decreed that only water, barley, and hops could be used in the production of beer. Apparently, brewers back then had been using all sorts of additives to help preserve their beers: soot, dangerous mushrooms, or “gruit” herbs like yarrow, ivy, and horehound. The main reason for the law was to ensure there would be enough wheat and rye for bakers to use in their bread, which meant no hefeweissen for a very long time! (Though obviously you can get it today, due to some loosening, or at least, re-interpretation, of the Reinheitsgebot.)
On Friday, our meetings only lasted till around noon, and since our flight back to Billund wasn’t until 8pm, we got to spend the afternoon exploring downtown Munich. It was a lovely day for it too – sunny, and not too chilly. We strolled down a wide shopping promenade called Neuhauserstrasse and ended up back at Marienplatz.
These promenades seem to be all over Europe – I’ve seen them now in Aarhus, Cartagena, and Malaga. No street traffic, and they’re more than just a big outdoor mall – they’re a vital part of the city’s culture. Many cities in the US have added outdoor shopping areas or long walking malls – Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Quarter in Scottsdale, 16th Street Mall in Denver, the Farmers’ Market in LA, or the Woodlands outside Houston, for example, but those are not purely pedestrian areas like these thoroughfares. I wonder why more American cities don’t have these.
After lunch, we burned off our calories by climbing the 250+ steps inside St Peter’s Church for a view across the city. Then we wandered through the streets, past the Viktualienmarket (booths selling everything from produce to flowers to Turkish food and fresh fish), and out towards the river for a leisurely stroll. Lots of people (and their dogs) out enjoying the sun as well. A light dinner and one last beer at an outdoor biergarten by one of the old city’s gates, and then it was time to say ‘Auf wiedersehen’ to München.
There’s still tons to see in Munich – chief among them the incredible Neuschwanstein Castle outside the city, and oh yeah, Oktoberfest – so I’m sure there will be another Munich post on the blog within the year. Now, if I can just find a case of Franziskaner Hefeweissen Dunkel next time we pass through Flensborg…