Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Munich: It's bad for your liver...

Fifteen years ago, I had the good fortune of going to one of Europe's booziest cities at the peak of its drinky drunkenness.  More specifically, that would be Munich on the opening day of Oktoberfest.  From the moment the first keg was ceremoniously tapped (noon-ish?) until the wee hours of that evening, my friend Michelle and I swung heavy tankards to and fro, all whilst becoming increasingly proficient in the art of German drinking songs.  As we stumbled from tent to tent, I remember trying to find something non-meatlike that I could eat.  The sole menu item available to me was the giant pretzel. I must have had at least a half dozen in a misguided attempt to somehow soak up all the alcohol that was coursing through my system.

That day was as messy as it was fun.  Falling asleep on the train and ending up in the wrong part of the country the next day...not so much.  But we survived it and had a story to tell...but not a single non-ale related photo to show for our time in Munich.  We were so focused on all things Oktoberfest that we completely neglected the rest of the city.

A mere decade and a half later, I had a chance to rectify this deficiency. I had four days to spend in a small village, just outside of Munchen and this time I would be more than the average drunken tourist going from one Oompah band to the next.  I would soak in the culture and see what else this surprisingly compact city had to offer.

My plan started off quite well.  We took the train into the city and proceeded to walk down the Neuhauserstra├če, the city's principal shopping street.






We were on our way to the Marienplatz, where we would join the free walking tour.  Since we were a bit early, we even had some time to check out the New Town Hall (or Rathaus).









It's well known fact the only way to handle a handsy court jester is with a well-placed elbow to the throat.

Thanks to our excellent timing, we were going to be able to see the famed Glockenspiel doing its thing.  Imagine our surprise at learning, during the tour, that this pirouetting time piece has been dubbed the continent's 2nd most over-rated tourist attraction.  According to whomever was responsible for compiling this list, only the astrological clock in Prague is more over-rated.



But perhaps, like most things, the truth lies in one's perspective.  After having caught the 11am performance, we opted to give it another we chance.  We climbed (and climbed and climbed...) up to the Alter Peter, St Peter's bell tower so as to catch the 5pm performance from above, away from the crowd.  Call us glockenspiel purists, if you will...





Once again, we were a bit early, so round and round the tower we went...



Until eventually, we caught the now teeny tiny spectacle.  Our conclusion:  also pretty underwhelming from above.












What you do when a member of your party expresses a fear of heights...

But back to the walking tour,  Michelle, our enthusiastic guide and new friend,  filled us in on the city's history, architecture and particularly, it's passion for the biers.  She led us past the Odeonplatz and its radiant yellow Theatinerkirche and...





showed us Verona's gift of a Juliet statue with a lucky boob.  Word has it that if you give her a grope, you will be rewarded with good luck in love.   Yeah, I felt her up.


But more importantly, she clued us in on the Starkebier festival.  This two week party celebrates a time when the monks were supposed to be fasting for Lent. To compensate for the lost caloric intake, they would brew an extra heavy beer with which to "sustain" themselves.    This so-called strong beer was created by adding more grain and less water, meaning that it has roughly the consistency of oatmeal, but the appealing color of road tar.

If it's not apparent, I must confess I was not crazy about the beer, I'm more a Helles person...but the party that accompanied it was pretty darned sweet.  It was like Oktoberfest but without all the tourists. Or maybe a bit closer to those obstacle course tv shows but without the athleticism.


The first challenge was making through the gauntlet of drunken Germans, all doing their best approximation of dancing. The tricky part was that they were all dancing atop these rickety metal benches. For as much talk as there is about German engineering, I'm convinced not enough thought was given to this design.  The benches have a high center of gravity and spindly little legs, meaning one false move and suddenly you've got liters and lederhosen flying all over the place.  Every couple of minutes, there was a loud clack resulting in a jumbled pile of arms and legs strewn across the floor. How no one broke any bones is a testament to the healing power of the starkebier.


Two nights in a row, we precariously balanced ourselves on these contraptions, drank that porridge and had a lively time.
Not sure if I was posing for a photo or doing the pee-pee dance here.
Which inevitably resulted in shitty mornings. At this point, it would have been easy to revert to full Oktoberfest mode and sleep in the next few days, but the combination of the perfect springtime weather and my FOMO wouldn't allow it.  Day two, we dragged ourselves back into town and paid a visit to Schloss Nymphenburg (or "the Nympho castle" as we were calling it).


Once the summer home to the Bavarian kings, it is now a tourist attraction, set roughly in the middle of a residential neighborhood.


It is your standard very pretty, baroque, gold-gilded, cherub-festooned, chandelier-laden castle.


One man goat band




But the one standout room is the politely named Gallery of Beauties.  Let me digress a moment.  I have a friend who's cousin was (and possibly still is) a jackass.  He would take photos of all the women he slept with and put them in an album he called his Bonefolio.  Well, this room- this Gallery of Beauties- is King Ludwig I's bonefolio.  He allegedly banged all 36 models (plus rumor has it, there were many others- including a dude- whose portraits didn't make the cut and lay somewhere in the basement of the castle).  Not horrifying enough?  Did I mention this room is located in the antechamber of his wife's bedroom.  Every time that poor women went in or out of her chambers, she had to see this monument to the art of cuckoldry.  How pissed must she have been every time a new portrait went up? And no one was off limits for Ludwig. Among those pictured are a toy store delivery girl, an actress and his own daughter-in-law!




After all that salaciousness, there is only one we could do...go to a beer garden.  Fortunately, you don't have to go very far to find one, as they are on every corner.


Followed by some aimless rambling through the city...
I feel this piece of art speaks to the shortcomings of man...either that or they ran out of stone at a most inopportune time.







Which inevitably led to another beer garden...


Day 3, it was time to detox.  Two Starkebier fests, countless beer gardens and a visit or two to the beer vendors near the train stations...this was threatening to become a repeat of the first go-around.
What could be healthier than a lovely park?  I headed to the Englischer Garten, a large public park with plenty to do.

There is, believe it or not, surfing...


Bird watching...

Whatever this thing is...


A giant walking man (who is technically outside of the park, but I think he may just be on his way home after some surfing)...


...and of course, a beer garden tucked away by a Chinese pagoda, one of the largest in all the city, in fact.


At some point, you have to learn to accept defeat.  My first trip was not an anomaly.  Munich is a beer place.  There is no fighting it.  The best you can hope for is to not bust your ass on one of those trick benches (something that I only did later while walking through an unobstructed gravel lot...yes, in a biergarten).  At least this time around, I did get to see some of the city, found more than just pretzels to eat and got not one but two viewings of Europe's 2nd most over-rated attraction. Prost to that....

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