It’s not everyday that I meet a group of 60+ year-old women who are measurably stronger than I am. Then I started visiting Munich’s famed beer halls and this became the status quo. The veteran beer maids of Munich’s Hofbrauhaus and Augustinerkeller, among several other of the city’s gems, boast forearms that would make Mark McGuire blush and routinely carry 8 liters of beer at a time in enormous glass steins. Needless to say, if one of these ladies got my order wrong I wasn’t going to send it back.
A typical day in Munich starts off crisp, with the sun shining down. The Germans aren’t big on sleeping in or lazy Sunday’s so you had better get moving. A walk through the vast and beautiful English Gardens is the best way to get a few lungfuls of fresh air and embrace the Bavarian love of the outdoors. Locals run, stroll and ride their horses through the immaculate and forested grounds. One of the more unique urban features I’ve ever seen exists here. A man-made wave break in the river that flows through the gardens, utilized by surfers to hone their craft hundreds of miles from the ocean. The water certainly requires a wetsuit, but the wave is a clean break and it’s never flat.
After an hour or two of getting exercise, it’s time for the next stage of the Bavarian day, meat and beer. Head over to the permanent covered market, just outside the Marienplatz. If you get there by 11 you can see the Glockenspiel go off for the first time of the day. Take a good look around the market and choose cheap and delicious Bavarian fare from one of the dozens of stalls, then settle down at one of the communal picnic tables and admire the leiderhosen (traditional Bavarian dress) that is still commonly worn on a day-to-day basis by some older residents of Munich.
Undoubtably, the locals will be enjoying a large beer with lunch. If you’ve got what it takes to hang with the guy in leiderhosen then it’s time to make new friends. If you’re more in for taking pictures and saving up for the evening then head over a block and start looking through Munich’s phenomenal crafts stores. If you’ve ever wanted a wooden puppet or cuckoo clock this is the place.
In the evening there’s really only one option if you want an authentic Munich experience and that’s a beer hall. The most famous and popular is the Hofbrauhaus, originally built for Bavarian kings and the site of Hitler’s ill-conceived “Beer Hall Revolt” which landed him in jail. The Hofbrauhaus has been open to the public for a few hundred years now and seats an astonishing seven thousand of your closest friends. Other great options include Augustiner, Paulaner and Spaten.
One of the more interesting exchanges to watch after you’ve been in town for a day or two is the one between a tourist new in town and a waiter in the Hofbrauhaus. It’s a challenge for the tourist to start with because it’s almost impossible to make yourself heard over the din of Germans singing and the polka band. When the tourist finally gets a word in, he typically tries to order a half-liter of beer, a little larger than a standard pint. The waiter then sternly shakes his head to the tourist’s confusion and walks away. The waiter returns a few minutes later with a liter of beer, the only size the Hofbrauhous sells, and inform the patron that there are no “lady sizes” available. The official translation could certainly be viewed as regrettable from a feminist perspective, but the look of the customer’s face as he tries to lift the giant glass makes it well worth it.
Bavaria as a whole is one of the most satisfying and rejuvenating places I have ever been. Everyday is mostly outside with hours of walking and hiking through primordial forests and hilly parks. The food is incredible, although vegetarians beware, meat is what’s on the menu…always. The combination of fresh air, a steady hum of productivity and the old-fashioned wholesome nature of the beer hall are a welcome change from some more modern ng locations in Europe. Despite all the eating and drinking, you’ll walk out of Munich in better shape than when you arrived and feel like you spent a few days in a time machine.
The language barrier is very low in Munich because most of the residents speak English fluently. Public transportation is great and very cheap. The only aspect of life in Munich that could be viewed as challenging could be the brusque nature of many of the locals. Upon first arriving in the city, some may interpret this as rudeness, but it’s simply the efficiency-seeking nature that exists here. When you order in a restaurant, just be ready with what you want and the waiter will be all smiles.
A lesson that was reiterated for me in Munich was to always order what the locals are having, even if you can’t pronounce it. There’s a reason it’s so popular.
Up next… Cabo San Lucas