MUNICH: A TURN FOR THE WURST
Let me begin by saying that the Germans are entirely barmy.
I actually mean than in a good way. Not the “come down at 4am and put a beach towel over everything that moves kind of way” but in a way that holds them up for admiration for their devotion to all things beer and pork related.
The Bavarians are, if it is possible, even more barmy. Genuinely barking mad and drinking at the Doollaly Tap.
I love them to bits.
I have always had a fondness for Germany and the Germans even since my job as a publisher meant that I attended twenty (yes count them) Frankfurt Book Fairs. I also dealt with many German publishers and spent happy times on the road visiting them at their offices, mainly in Munich.
Add to that the fact that the book of EAT MY GLOBE had also been sold to a German Publisher (Ullestein) then there was very little chance that I would not find some opportunity to shoehorn them in to my trip.
I decided on Munich for a few reasons. One was that, I love it as a city. Another was that my brother, Robin had not been there and I thought that it could make a nice addition to our other joint blog, Dos Hermanos. I also had a couple of friends there who could show me around. Finally, it was because, of all Germany, I really like the food in Bavaria.
Ah, German food. It is about as misunderstood as our own dear British cooking. But, when it is at its best, based on great ingredients and simple preparations, then it is hearty and delicious if a little challenging vis proportions.
The flight to Germany was typically smooth and the new-ish Lufthansa Terminal at Munich’s airport a delight.
Robin had, of course, done plenty of research and had fashioned his own guidebook culled from the pages of various publications and internet sites. Their first bit of good news was that, before we even caught the train into town and to our hotel, there was a very good bier hall at the airport itself.
It would have been churlish not to make use of it so, we settled ourselves down with a large dark beer and took the edge off our appetite with a plate of grammels chmaltz. Basically, lard spiked with fried onions and chives, which can be spread on black rye bread.
Compared to our previous visit to Berlin almost exactly a year previously, the weather was perfect and, after depositing our bags at our basic but perfectly serviceable hotel, we set out to see how many hotels we could hit in an afternoon before hooking up with friends later.
We did not do too badly, visiting about four in all including the famous Hoefbrauhouse where large men in leather clothing played Oom-pah music to scare the children and waitresses too wore the traditional Durndl while carrying large plates of sausages and potatoes to hungry tourists seated at communal tables.
Off all of the bierhalls, this was by far the most touristy and we did not linger long. Long enough to down a beer or two before heading off to the next venue.
By the early evening it would be fair to say that The Majumdar Brothers were pretty much “in our cups” but we had hardly started because that night we were going to be spending in the company of Stefan Berg, one of Germany’s leading mixologists. A frightening thought.
I had first met Stefan and his cohort, Jorge at the London Bar Show (see previous post to remind yourselves of the liver challenging event that was for one and all) and we had hit it off immediately. So, as soon as I knew I was coming to Munich, I was in touch.
The quality of mixing I found in Munich was of an exceptionally high standard with Stefan taking us to bar after bar where the mixing was superb and not just because he was so well known. We did our best to mop it up with a visit to another beer hall for some meat and potato sustenance, but by the time we headed back to the hotel in the early hours, we were, well to be honest, we were pretty much out of our skulls.
So, the next day, we took pity on our livers and took it easy with some good exercise and little or no beer. Munich really is a lovely city, one of the most beautiful in Europe with its wide streets, squares and parks. We enjoyed an amble around the bustling central market (with a stop off for a morning sausage of course)
and we went “ooh” and “ah” at the marionettes on the famous clock tower. Actually, I didn’t. I have never really been impressed by such things and, after a few minutes of staring up at coloured wooden puppets moving to no particular purpose, I turned to my brother and said
“That’s enough for a lifetime”
If we took it easy on the booze front, we certainly didn’t on the food front. Fortified with sausages in a bun, we fitted in a light afternoon snack of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and a plate of cake before heading for an early supper to take on the mighty Schweinhaxen.
By all that is holy, this is the mother of all pork-based dishes. It is, as the name might suggest, basically, a pork knuckle cooked until the skin crackles but the flesh remains creamy and moist. Covered over with gravy and then served with a dumpling which could be used for hand to hand combat, it is one of the most challenging things I have ever eaten. Big brother, on the other hand was man enough to gnaw his portion right down to the bone, but even he went a funny colour when trying to polish off the dumpling.
We staggered back to the hotel for a second evening. This time, however, not because of the booze, but because of the half a pound of pork we were both slowly digesting inside.
I have to admit that the night was filled with meat sweats, digestive noises that even a brother should not hear and, by the morning, it was still sitting in a lump in my stomach.
Fortunately, by the time we reached the destination of our morning’s excursion, I was feeling a lot better and was able to pay attention to the horror that is Dachau.
We had been determined to fit it into our schedule. As we reach a stage where many who perpetrated the horrors of The Holocaust and many who suffered under its shadow are dying off, it is important that as many as possible are exposed to the brutality of what occurred.
Not just the brutality, however, but also the normalcy that was given to such brutality. That is the true horror of walking around Dachau. It was never actually used as a death camp, but it is the place where the organisation of mass murder was planned. Dachau is what happens when the most efficient nation on earth turns its mind to mass murder.
What strikes you most as you walk around the quiet and well preserved camp ground is just how ordinary it feels. Just how normal the Germans were able to make the destruction of a race and just how close they came to succeeding in their task.
As elements in Europe attempt to drag us back to the dark days of extreme right wing politics, I truly believe than every man woman and child in Europe should be made to visit one of the death camps to see what man is capable of and what their idiotic ideology can lead too.
Unsurprisingly, on our return to the centre of town, we were a little subdued. But, our spirits were soon lifted by the appearance of my close friend, Isabelle who I have known, through publishing, for years.
Although originally from across the border in Austria, Isabelle is a Munchen as Muncheners come and she loves the city with a passion. We spent the rest of the day in her company wandering from beer hall to beer hall, sampling food and drink
and then walking it off around Munich’s lovely English Garden before decamping late at night to her own lovely apartment to round off the night and the trip with some fiery schnapps.
That was Germany. It was an all too short visit, but I am delighted to have fitted it into the schedule. It really is one of my favourite countries and the Germans, despite their travel habits, one of my favourite peoples.
The food too, is underrated. Oh, it is hardly haute, although there are now many fine high-end dining restaurants throughout Germany. But, it is hearty and honest and that, above all is what attracts me to a culture and a cuisine.
God willing, I will be back and, next time, God also willing, I shall do my best to finish a whole dumpling.