Gemütlichkeit is what Germans call the convivial atmosphere of Bayern’s (Bavaria’s) capital. Even the uptight northern Germans come here to unwind in the vibrant setting of beer gardens shaded by giant chestnut trees, cavernous raucous beer halls, and endless eateries serving hardy, homey fare. On Sundays and holidays, most shops outside of the central area are closed. It is a day for locals as well as visitors to walk through gardens, take in some of the many museums, or stroll through the Marienplatz, Munich’s most famous square. The special mix of cosmopolitan chic and old city charm flirted with our senses on our first walkabout, swiftly blossoming into a love affair.
I encourage all non–beer drinkers, like myself, to try a halbe (half litre) of Bavarian bier. You will be converted and probably order a mass (litre) the next time around. It is easy to understand why Munich is known as the beer-swilling capital of the world. Like none other I have ever tasted! The sparkling, mellow, golden fluid glides over one’s gullet, titillating the taste buds. Tiny bursting bubbles in the froth send up a delightful aroma, tickling the nose as one’s head is tilted back for yet another swig.
The methods and quality of very specific ingredients have been handed down from generation to generation, regulated by the government since the sixteenth century. The Reinheitsgebot Act of 1516 (the German Purity Law) decreed that the only ingredients allowed are barley, hops, yeast, and water. There are a mind-boggling 5,000 varieties made by 1,300 breweries. Also, there are different brews for each season, as each specially grown grain crop ripens at different times. With preservatives not being allowed, certain beers are forbidden in summer, as they are more perishable in warmer weather. The alcohol content also varies. The Purity Law even set the price of beer in pfennig and hellers, which—if converted to today’s currency—would amount to mere pennies, making this the only clause no longer adhered to in this venerable bible of beer-brewing.
We were beginning to think a park bench might be our accommodation for our first night after we arrived. Hotel after hotel was booked solid; there was a World Trade Fair on environmental technology under way. After an hour at the pay phone, one gentleman said he could give us a room . . . for the next two nights only. We of course jumped at this offer. The centrally located Marie-Louise Pension was owned and operated by the Quality Hotel a few doors away. Stephen Leipold, one of the proprietors, greeted us at the Quality desk and gave us the particulars on our new abode.
“You must unfailingly hand the key in at this desk when leaving the room.”
“With this three-pound weight attached, how could we forget?” I joked.
“You would be surprised,” was his raised-eyebrow retort. Shuttling the key back and forth to the main hotel gave us many opportunities to chat with this interesting, kindly man. Stephen, who was perpetually on duty, started us off each day with restaurant suggestions, sites not to be missed, and a chocolate treat. We were delighted when he told us that if we were willing to change rooms for a few days then move back to the first room, we could stay there for the full two weeks we planned to be in Munich.
Our room at the Marie-Louise was certainly a “special edition” as far as hotel rooms go. Without exaggeration, it was the longest, narrowest room we had ever seen, measuring 5 metres in length and 2 metres across (16 x 6 ft). Two single beds, a table, chairs, and a sink were lined up in shotgun fashion along one side, leaving only a couple of feet to spare. Passing one another meant an extra (not unpleasant) squeeze. Rick thought it was extra-perfect. That it was less than half the price of a Quality Hotel room may have had something to do with it. The showers and toilets were shared with the occupants of six other rooms.
On our first full day in Munich, we hustled down to the Marienplatz in the heart of the Altstadt (old town) in time to see the much-photographed Glockenspiel in action. Every day at 11:00 a.m. and noon (and also at 5:00 p.m.from May to October), the carillon high up on the facade of the Altes Rathaus (town hall) is the focus for a 20-minute revue. Bells chimed out engaging tunes for the first while. Suddenly, figurines of ladies and gents began to dance, moving in and out of the archways, twisting and turning and dipping to the melodic pealing of bells. Just when we thought the pause of the figures was signalling the end, a miniature tournament commenced. Jousters on their steeds appeared from opposite sides, spears pointed at their opponents. One of the jousters was knocked off his horse; the other pranced in triumph past the arches. Two more jousters then appeared for the next competition. In a grand finale, the king and queen came out to bow, and the enamelled copper figures stilled as the musical bells wound down.
We dispersed with the crowd to the many outdoor cafés for some hardy Bavarian sustenance. The central area of the square took on a circus-like atmosphere. A talented fellow pummelled out wonderful tunes on a giant xylophone. Jugglers, break-dancers, and mimes picked their spots and instantly drew audiences.