Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lederhosen? Wirklich?

Last weekend, Anna and I made the journey from Göttingen and central Germany down to München (Munich), which is in southern Bayern (Bavaria).  After four hours on the fast train, we arrived at the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) and set out to find our hotel.  No, that was not a typo.  We actually stayed in a real hotel this time.  Our original plan was to stay in "The Tent," which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a giant tent on the outskirts of Munich where a spot on the floor (with unlimited blankets) costs 7 euro.  However, Anna's mother was a bit trepidatious about this plan (to say the least), so her solution was to book a hotel for the two of us in the city center.  Quite an upgrade, eh?

After a it of wandering we managed to find the place, and after enduring a few suspicious looks from the doormen as they eyed our skinny jeans and hiking backpacks we managed to check in without too much difficulty.  Our room came with two twin beds pushed together to make a double (with, rather mysteriously, separate blankets for each) and little chocolates on the bedside table.  We took to referring to it as our honeymoon suite.

Our luxurious "honeymoon suite."

We didn't have to walk far before we discovered an excellent Brauhaus for dinner.  Das Weisses Brauhaus (the White Brew-house) to be exact.  They even had vegetarian options!  We sat outside at a big table with strangers, as is typical in Munich, and ordered the Spinat Spätzle (a type of egg noodle with spinach).  It was delicious, but so rich that we could barely finish.

After dinner, we explored a bit more.  Our first stop was a walk-through of the famous Hofbrauhaus, which was packed not only with tourists (of which there were plenty), but also tables full of men wearing Lederhosen and drinking Maße (the "ß" is pronounced as a double S), which are the one liter beer glasses typical of Munich.  In fact, Lederhosen (literally, "leather pants") and Dirndl (traditional Bavarian dresses worn with aprons and plunging necklines) abounded during our weekend in Munich.  Anna and I never did quite figure out why there were so many being casually worn (we heard that there was a festival of some sort occurring, but we saw no signs of it and I couldn't find anything written about it on the internet later), but we never did tire of seeing them.

Action shot from inside the Hofbrauhaus.
Sage advice from the Hofbrauhaus: "Thirst is worse than homesickness."
A display window showcasing some especially fancy Dirndl in Marienplatz.

Our walk eventually led us through Marienplatz, the main square in downtown Munich.  The main sight to be seen there is the soot-darkened Neues Rathaus.  Considering that it is called the "New City Hall," the Neues Rathaus looks pretty alt (old).

Flags in front of the Neues Rathaus.

The Mariensäule (Mary's Column) and Rathaus-Glockenspiel.
The crowds around Marienplatz pretty quickly became too much for us, so Anna and I struck out in search of a Biergarten we had heard about that supposedly had a golden bull and a hedge maze.  We found the Biergarten without too much trouble, but we also found that we had been deceived.  Not only were the only patrons in the entire place one table full of old men, the hedge maze was approximately two feet tall and there was no golden bull to be found anywhere.  So we gave up and left in search of a more happening spot.  What we found along the way was a giant pile of outdoor bean bag chairs surrounded by bookshelves full of books for perusing on the aforementioned bean bag chairs.  What a wonderful thought!  So, of course, we spent a few moments lying on the bean bags ourselves until someone came to stack them up for the night.  Traurig (sad)!  From there we made our way to the Paulaner Brauhaus, where we enjoyed a rude waiter (somebody had had a long day full of tourists) and a half-pint each.

As we were sitting outside speaking English to each other, a man at a nearby table leaned over and asked us (in English) where we were from.  It turns out that he was from Canada and, even more strangely, was studying German at the Goethe Institut in Munich.  Anna and I didn't know quite what to do.  The Goethe Insitut had followed us!  We couldn't escape!  Since we had already been discovered, we decided to stick out the experience and go with the group of them (the Canadian man, a Russian man in his early 30s, and two Spanish girls and an Italian girl about our age) to a nearby bar they recommended.  It turned out to be, if not quite a disaster, at least a very painful experience.  The place was over-priced, the mediocre pop music was being played so loudly there was no chance of a successful conversation (this effect was only intensified by the various language barriers around the table), and men and women in club clothes (mostly white, for some reason) bobbed around at their tables since there was no real dance floor.  What a nightmare.  Anna and I decided to stay for one drink for politeness sake, but by the end of that we were more than ready to poke our eyes and ears out.  Fortunately, we escaped before we were driven to do anything too drastic.

The rest of the night, however, did not go much better.  The Russian and the Canadian tagged along with us on our search for Die Registratur, a chill bar that played indie music we had heard about (much more our scene, in other words), misdirecting us every few minutes with a comically ineffective GPS app.  Eventually, we just gave up and went into the first place we did manage to find.  While it was better than our first attempt (not that it really could have been worse), we still put with awkwardly delivered German pick-up lines and lagging conversations that never quite got off the small-talk ground.  Admitting defeat, Anna and I snuck out while the Russian and the Canadian were taking a cigarette break, only to find that they were either very well hidden or had ditched us first. 

As we headed back toward the hotel, the German guy with whom I had been (rather unsuccessfully) having a conversation of sorts came running up behind us, intent on explaining that while he had initially told me that the river was in this direction, he had been mistaken and it was actually that way.  Slightly bewildered by the fact he had run three blocks to inform us of this, Anna and I thanked him and explained that we were not, in fact, trying to get to the river but to our hotel.  After a brief period of uncomfortable silence, we headed, once again, our separate ways.

The major consequence of our less-than-stellar first night in Munich was that the experience could only get better.  The next morning we woke up in our fantastically comfortable beds, ate a sumptuous breakfast (described as such by the hotel itself), and took turns showering and wearing our complimentary bathrobes while watching Barbie cartoons (apparently there are such things) auf Deutsch (in German).  Once we did manage to get out of the hotel, we spent the majority of the day in the Englischer Garten (English Garden), which is a large public park in the center of Munich.  We had a variety of adventures there, including stumbling upon a group of surfers taking turns riding a rapid in one of the many small rivers criss-crossing the park and attending a traditional Teezeremonie (tea ceremony) at the japanisches Teehaus (Japanese tea-house) conducted entirely auf Deutsch.

Enten und Gänse (ducks and geese) im Englischer Garten.


There was quite a line.

Advice that was blatantly ignored: "Swimming Forbidden: Mortal Danger"

Interior of the Teehaus.

A more all-encompassing view.
Meine kleine Süßigkeit (my little sweet treat) from after the ceremony.

Worn out with exploring and looking for some food, we realized that nothing vegetarian was to be found at the Viktuelianmarkt (a large food market) back in downtown Munich, so we grabbed a quick Falafeltasche ("Tasche" literally means "pocket") before heading back to the hotel and napping for a while.

We woke up just in time for dinner, which we ate at an adorable combined fondue restaurant and Weinladen (wine shop).  The fondue for two was unfortunately about 20 euro out of our budget, but we still ate unbelievably well for a decent price, considering we split everything from our bottle of Austrian Lemberger wine to our vegetarian Spätzle entree to the bowl of Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup) we had for an appetizer and the Apfelstrudel (apple dumpling) we had for dessert.  On our way out, as we were discussing what to do next, Anna and I were descended upon by a group of eleven Italian men who wanted us to go to the discoteca with them.  After being jokingly warned by the others that "the two in the red shirts are dangerous" we came to realize there was some truth to the statement (just replace "dangerous" with "unbelievably persistent") when after all but pushing them into the U-Bahn stop and walking away down the block we (once again) heard the patter of running footsteps coming up behind us.  This time, we had to resort to actual pushing to get them to go away. 

The rest of the night was happily spent at Schall & Rauch (sound and smoke, which is both a literal description of what can be found inside and the German equivalent to the English phrase "smoke and mirrors"), a university bar relatively near to the area in which we were staying.  The music was low-key and there was plenty of German conversation to be had (with occasional lapses into English), so all in all it was pretty ideal (and certainly much better than the previous night had been).

The next day, after a quick stop by the iconic-yet-currently-covered-up-by-scaffolding Frauenkirche (women's church), Anna and I headed back into the Englischer Garten.  We just couldn't get enough, apparently.  That day Japanfest was happening in the area around the Teehaus, so the crowd was interesting mix of tourists, people wearing kimonos and happi coats, teenagers dressed up in full-on animé costumes, and the by-now-usual crowd of Bavarians in Lederhosen and Dirndl (and one misplaced man in a Kaiser costume).  We spent an enjoyable time looking at floral displays, listening to live music, and watching karate demonstrations before escaping the crowds and heading deeper into the Englischer Garten.

The still visible part of the Frauenkirche.

Quite the mixed crowd at Japanfest.

Königen-Strelitzie (Birds of Paradise) are my favourite.

Karate demonstration.

We walked all the way from Japanfest at the japanisches Teehaus to the Biergarten am chinesischen Turm (the beer garden at the Chinese tower) at the other end of the park.  There we found another mind-boggling scene before us.  Under a 25-meter high tower designed to resemble the Great Pagoda in the Royal Botanical Gardens in London, an oompah band in full Lederhosen was in full swing and women in Dirndl were waltzing away in pairs in front.  It felt like a performance at the Oktoberfest area of the Busch Gardens theme park.  This feeling only intensified as we headed past the dancers into the heart of the Biergarten.

So much tuba.

More casual Lederhosen wearing.

Inside (which is a misleading term, since all of this was actually outside), there were probably close to 100 long tables packed with men and women in Lederhosen and Dirndl, drinking Weißbier from massive Maße and eating soft pretzels larger than my face.  Anna and I didn't feel that we could handle a whole liter of beer at one in the afternoon, so we went in for the (still generously portioned) half-liter and settled in to people watch.  At one point, a man walked by with probably twenty of the giant pretzels on each arm.  When he saw my jaw drop (I couldn't help it), he raised both of his arms at me and yelled "großer Hunger!" (basically, "I'm really hungry!").  It was wonderful.  After being briefly but mercilessly hit on again (a guy just sat down at our table and said "Mädls!", which means something along the lines of "girls!", before insisting that we all move over to his table).  Fortunately, our imminent train served as an excellent excuse and we cleared out and made it over to the train station without incident.

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