Nine months ago at my dayjob, the idea came up that I should attend a convention in Munich, Germany this spring. At first I didn’t take it too seriously. I travel domestically a lot for the dayjob, but there was talk of going to China last year too, but that didn’t come about. I’ve never left North America aside from visiting Hawaii, so I didn’t think it would pan out in the end. But the idea never evaporated, and then suddenly a few weeks ago, I was filling out paperwork and making travel plans. And then, last week… it was here. Eight days ago, on May 23, 2012, I boarded a plane to Munich. A plane with stairs — the bathrooms were downstairs on their own deck!
And now, already, it’s all over. Sometimes time moves too fast!
I stayed a few blocks away from the convention hotel to save my budget some money (like, $100 a night!) which turned out to be a double blessing. The Platzl Hotel, where I crashed for four nights, was just around the block from the historic Hofbrauhaus. One of the oldest breweries (founded in the late 1500s) the gigantic beer hall is one of the “Top Ten Places to Visit” in Munich on almost every list I found. And as it happened, I’ve visited one of its spinoff restaurants here in the States — there’s a Hofbrauhaus in Newport, KY that I’ve visited several times after my signings in Cincinnati. (There’s another one being built now here in the Chicago burbs!)
So I was pretty excited to be able to visit “the mother ship.” And what a ship it was. I opened my stay with a wonderfully smooth Dunkel, and found myself there again two nights later for dinner. Ironically, a couple days later I went to a bier garten in the midst of a giant city park (Englischer Garten) which turned out to be run by … Hofbrauhaus.
Anyway… I was in Munich on business my first three days, so virtually all of my pictures and sightseeing were done on the vacation day I took at the end of the trip (I figured if I was going to Europe for the first time… I should stay a little extra and see SOMETHING.)
However, after business dinners on the first couple nights, I did get out for a little while on a couple nights to explore and do some fiction writing at (wait for it…) an Irish Pub called Killians (yes, I really did manage to go to an Irish Pub in Germany.)
I also did some work on my next novel (Violet Eyes) at the Atomic Cafe and at a cozy little Zum Spöckmeier Paulaner’s restaurant by Marienplatz, where I found out that my favorite Paulaner’s brew, Salvatore, is only brewed in March, so it wasn’t on tap!
The same thing turned out to be true of Ayinger’s Celebrator Double Bock. Here I was at the “home” of both of my favorite German beers and neither were available on tap because they were “out of season.” By just over a month. Now that’s just wrong!
Anyway, back to the beginning of this travelogue.
After flying all night (left Chicago at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23rd and arrived in Munich after noon on Thursday), I had my first brew at Hofbrauhaus while waiting for my hotel room to be ready. Then, after spending several hours in a suit, I enjoyed my first meal in Germany at the Ayinger’s Speis & Trank, just around the block from my hotel.
I had a peppered pig knuckle, sauerkraut and a great bread dumpling there, but the real eye-opener was the Cream of Horseradish soup. It was amazing, and now I have to find a recipe and try it!
It was right about this time that I began to realize that most German meals are fashioned from some cut of pork and accompanied by pretzels and beer. They serve hot pretzels with breakfast, lunch and dinner. And beer seemed to accompany every meal as well! I guess, when you do something well… you stick with it?
On Friday night after work, I had dinner with a colleague at Hofbrauhaus, and sampled the sausage platter (again with plenty of sauerkraut and bread dumplings – delish!) We sat outside in the bier garten on a beautiful night – I was lucky the weather was perfect the entire time I was there.
After my last working day in the city (Saturday), we had dinner at the Zum Franziskaner restaurant (obviously owned by Lowenbrau, given that Lowenbrau appeared on the uniforms of all the waiters, as well as the glasses and menus!) They served some great barbecued pork, as well as a sausage, cheese and pretzel appetizer. And a traditional band minstrel-ed around and blew on the largest horn I’ve ever seen.
After hearing the traditional music, I headed to the “hip” Atomic Cafe, hopeful to see what a good German dance club looks like, based on the description. But they were hosting a “retro” night, and virtually all the music they played was American soul and pop from the ’60s and ’70s. Not quite what I was looking for, but I did settle in with the laptop and write a little.
The next morning, I had breakfast at the Orlando, around the corner from my hotel, having the traditional morning meal of white sausage and pretzels. And most importantly, coffee. (No beer for me, though others were already imbibing!)
Then I headed out to my “day of adventure”!
I found out to my dismay that all shops (except food vendors) are closed on Sundays there, so my plans for souvenir shopping on my “day off” were shot. (Aside from the beer mugs I bought myself, all the souvenirs I brought back from Germany came from the airport!) But over the next 12 hours, I still covered a lot of ground.
I walked around Marienplatz again, and photographed and videotaped the famous tower Rathaus Glockenspiel in action, which I found out once I was back home, ironically tells the story of the marriage of the founder of Hofbrauhaus!
Then I visited the famous Frauenkirche (kirche = church) which survived WWII bombers because it served as a landmark for them. The church has a great legend about being built by the devil, whose footprint still exists in the vestibule.
From there I walked through a long street of shops to Karlsplatz, where there were a couple nice fountains, and then ended up at a small botanical garden to have a drink at the Park Cafe Bier Garten. From there, it was on to the Residenz Museum. I took the audio tour there to learn about the palace of Munich royalty, which was mostly destroyed in WWII, but has slowly been restored and rebuilt with many of the original furnishings.
From there, I took a long walk through Englischer Garten, a gigantic park that winds on and on. There were picnic-ers and soccer players and frisbee players and just lay-around-layers everywhere, all near paths that followed a river that runs through the center of the park. I barely got a quarter of the way through it after walking an hour, and finally stopped for dinner and a beer at a bier garten in the midst of it all run by the Hofbrauhaus.
Once back near my hotel (after both a very long walk and “I give up” cab ride), I had a nightcap at Ayinger’s, where I bought a mug to join my Hofbrauhaus glass (pictured here on my bar with some of the beer coasters I also brought home), and called it a night.
The next morning, I staggered on aching legs back to Marienplatz and at an Augustiner Berliner restaurant had another breakfast of white sausages (they’re good, but I must admit I wanted some eggs and a muffin, not pretzels, to go with them). Monday, it turned out was a holiday, so all the shops were still closed. I tried to buy a beer stein at the Paulaner’s and they were sold out of the one I wanted, so my paraphernalia plans were looking thin.
But after a last goodbye to Hofbrauhaus, I headed to the airport and found a couple shops to drop the rest of my Euros at, buying chocolates and t-shirts for the family. I also found a Black Forest Cuckoo Clock (which is what I’d really wanted to shop for in town the day before). My grandparents had one in their kitchen, which always fascinated me, and now I have one of my own, hanging in my dining room (see pic). All weights and pulleys that need to be wound everyday.
I’m still fascinated by them 40 years later!
It was a great trip, albeit far too short. I still managed to take over 600 pictures though. Here are a few of them, mostly from that Sunday walk-a-thon through Marienplatz, the Frauenkirche, the Botanical Garden/Park Cafe, Residenz Palace, Theatinerkirche and Englischer Garten.