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Missing in Munich
The first thing you notice in Munich is the number of urinals – usually two or three times as many as you’d expect compared to restaurants in most parts of the world. Apparently it’s because German men like to pee together a lot.
The second thing you notice in Munich is a (usually) rather muscular and (always) unsmiling woman blocking your way out of the men’s room. It forces you to quickly search your pockets for a 50 cent coin, which if you don’t have one, better run like hell and don’t plan on coming back, no matter how many beers your bladder holds.
Munich is a moderately interesting city. Founded by monks in the 12th century, it became the seat of power of the Wittelsbach family, who ruled Bavaria for around 800 years. Some Wittelsbachs became Electors of Bavaria and a few even became Roman Emperors. Voters would meet from time to time to elect the next Holy Roman Emperor, who was the high ruler of Germany even though he called himself Holy and Roman, and was neither.
The Wittelsbach family residence is located in the heart of the city and is called the Residenz (res-ih-DENTS). But the Residenz is no longer what it used to be. If you take the audio guide, which is free with entry, in almost every other room you hear the somber comment “but the original furnishings have been destroyed…” followed by a significant pause and then ” when Munich was bombed at the end of World War II”, thus placing the blame squarely where it still belongs – on the Americans.
Of course, when in Munich you are supposed to dine in a braühaus (BROY-how; see the colon above the u? That means, forget the au and pronounce it as oy). In the 1920s, Hitler and his cronies staged a sit-in at a Munich beer hall, but accounts differ as to whether it was because they were really trying to overthrow the Weimar government or because no of them had change for the Men’s Room. Anyway, this particular braühaus left.
The most famous beer hall today is the Hofbraühaus, followed closely by Augustiner Braü. The idea is to sit at a large table with strangers, eat a giant plate of food that is definitely not what you thought you were ordering, and drink three liters of beer.
Since my slender muscles do not allow lifting a liter cup, I usually ordered a child’s portion (half a liter) of the weakest beer, called “white” beer – “Ein klein weissbier, bitte”.
I sense that you are already impressed by my command of German. Before going to Munich, I bought a handy phrase book and read it cover to cover. Faced with my first German server, I was able to sing with great confidence “Für ein person, bitte” (feer ine per-ZONE, bit-teh).
To which the waiter replied “Here sit down. Japanese?”
But in fact, most Germans (not that Bavarians really consider themselves Germans) are happy to play with you. So quite often my “Guten Tag” got me a jolly 30-second welcome speech, ending with “Trinke?” to which the response is “Ein klein Weissbier, bitte”. Useful phrase, this.
(In France, when you try to speak French, even if you said something well, your interlocutor will most likely pretend not to understand or answer you in English to show that his English is better than your French, even if it doesn’t is not the case.)
Menus in Munich were something else. Despite frequent consultation of phrasebooks, at first all the dish names sounded Greek to me. But I guess, being Munich, they were really German.
Germans associate words with gay abandonment. Junghirschbraten is, for example, a faun (young deer), roasted. Well, why don’t they say so? However, after some decoding, I quickly learned all there was to know to survive in Munich restaurants, especially Braühauses.
Wurst (Repeat after me: VERST) is a kind of sausage; it is usually added to other words meaning “blood” or “fermented sheep intestines”; but every once in a while you’ll get lucky and get a foot-long hot dog by accident.
Next is sauerkraut, which is exactly what an American would think it is, sour (pickled) cabbage. With each dish, you will get either sauerkraut or French fries (POM-frit, the Germanic pronunciation of french fries).
Last and most important for the typical tourist is Schweinebraten (repeat after me: SHWINE-eh-BRAT-en). Roast pork with skin on. Ummm. I don’t know how many pigs a day Augustiner Braü has, but every ten seconds I saw a succulent portion of pig passing by (they made me sit near the kitchen), so it’s quite popular. And that’s not bad. Better than crispy pata, but not as good as a well done Cebu lechon (whole roast pig).
The way to see Munich is by bike. Its center is quite small for such a well-known city, and you can pretty much walk throughout your stay, but a bike is fine. A cheerful American tour guide can guide you for 4 hours, pointing out the main landmarks, or you can pedal on your own.
Next time, I will pedal alone. My guide was Hawaiian, broke his hand in a Segway accident during Oktoberfest, and immediately told me “My mom is half-Filipina”, to which I replied, “That’s not isn’t for everyone? which is probably true in Hawaii. And Daly City, California. And parts of Queens, New York. The problem with a bike tour is that you ride single file for 15 minutes, then when you stop you get a 5 minute conversation. In 2 minutes.
There are a number of jaw-dropping sights in Munich, although the most breathtaking is not actually in Munich but about an hour’s drive away (if a crazed Bavarian drives you, doing 130 km/h on a countryside posted at 80.) It’s called Neuschwanstein (noy -SHWAN-stine), and if you don’t recognize the name, you’ve surely seen pictures of it – a soaring turreted castle cradled by the (usually snow-capped) Alps . It could pass for a Harry Potter setting.
This castle was built by the penultimate King of Bavaria, Ludwig II. Ludwig bankrupted the government by building great palaces. This was before the days of BMW and Audi, so while being King of Bavaria sounds grand, there wasn’t always much to tax. Anyway, Ludwig was very popular with the Bavarians and therefore got away with a lot of things, like looting the treasury. And promote opera. And be gay. At least he got away with it for a while. One fine day, when he was 40 years old, and after being deposed as king, he drowned. In fact, it was night. In three feet of water. His personal physician also drowned.
Munich’s other most breathtaking sight is Tantris’ menu. (And later the check.) Tantris is Munich’s best restaurant, with a Michelin rosette and a Gault Millaut score of 19/20. As a thank you to my local hosts for taking me to Neu – okay, Ludwig Castle – feeding me delicious fried duck and then saving me from the attentions of a drunken customer who insisted on the fact that he had seen me on television somewhere and wanted to get to know each other better, I promised them a meal and said expansively “at the most expensive restaurant in Munich”. They didn’t take my statement with a grain of salt as expected, but cheerfully stipulated that they wanted to dine at said Tantris.
When I opened the menu, my heart skipped a beat. Make only two or three beats (more than my last crush). The soup was twenty euros. Starters were grouped around 40 €. Compared to the starters, the main courses seemed downright cheap at €50 and up.
But I took it like a man. Not only did I smile happily as we went through three courses, but I also ordered a bottle of 1995 Troplong Mondot from the impressive wine list which even had several Le Pins and Petrus vintages dating back a long time (the ’61 cost around €8,000 a bottle). But we had fun and I was with the most beautiful woman in the room.
Too bad it’s my niece. And married to a Bavarian. (But he’s fine. When he saw the menu, he too turned pale and quickly pointed out that the soup would be a good appetizer, which saved me €20, unlike his wife, my niece, who happily ordered the most expensive dishes on the menu, because after all, what are uncles for?)
In Munich, by the way, there’s really only one good hotel to stay at. It’s right in the heart of town, within walking distance of all the major breweries, churches, shops, and even bike rentals. However, I won’t tell you its name, otherwise the next time I come back, it will be overrun with tourists and they will have raised the price. And anyway, its buffet breakfast is €34 if you want eggs.
That’s why, at some point, no matter how determined you are, sooner or later you’ll give in and look for a McDonald’s. Let me help you. In the city center there is a very nice one on Im Tal (the most central street in the city). A coffee egg and sausage McMuffin will only cost you €2.40. I guarantee it’s the cheapest breakfast you’ll find in Munich, other than scouring Marienplatz (muh-REE-en-plots, the town square) for chestnuts left behind by tourists.
But there’s bad news if you need water at McDonald’s. It will cost you a whole euro. The good news is that it’s mineral water with bubbles.
Unfortunately, although I stayed for six days, something was missing in Munich.
That something was a young woman, codenamed Heidi. Heidi is not German and Heidi is not her name. But she’s an art student, has been described as “blonde and rather attractive”, and was meant to guide me through the art museums of the Pinakothek (there are four of them) and then maybe seduce me. By me. (Well, it’s happened once or twice in the past… You can fool some people once in a while… )
Heidi was a friend of a friend of a friend of someone my hosts knew. If you stop to think about it, in a world where most people are within six degrees of separation, Heidi (five degrees from my hosts and six from me) was pretty darn distant. Nevertheless, my niece’s husband made a manly effort for half a day to find Heidi, if only to silence his wife, who has been worried about me since the last time I was dumped.
But Heidi disappeared in Munich. It wasn’t, Cherie. I mean, lie. Chatzi?
So for the rest of my life, when I think of this trip, I’ll think of urinals, schweinebraten, and Heidi, who disappeared in Munich. And the price of the saddle of lamb at Tantris.
Travel diary/Humor by Manny Gonzalez
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