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Published: July 12th 2013
The brass band
Folk songs from the in-house band, punctuated by short breaks when the musicians wet their throats, lords over the cacophony of Hofbräuhaus.
Red flags rule Marienplatz, Munich’s main square with a seventeenth-century Marian column. The Social Democrats and allies are protesting incidents of Islamophobia. Placards in German reads something like “If churches and synagogues, why not mosques?” A music troupe gathers the crowd and gives way to serious speakers. The lyrical speaker humours the audience but a sudden snowfall disperses the crowd. A statuesque silver man refuses to move, unless someone offers him a coin.
Munich is a far cry from Stuttgart. The Bavarian capital is in a fast-forward spin while its Swabian counterpart likes to promenade (hastily, being in Germany). If Stuttgart is obsessed with a do-not-interfere personal distance, the crowded cosmopolitan Munich has all kinds of petty merchants accosting tourists. Even the chill is pronounced in Munich, with alpine winds piercing the woollens.
Bavarians and Swabians do have common grounds. Both of them wear regional loyalties on their wheels and mugs. If Mercedez-Benz seems to be the preferred car in Stuttgart, homegrown BMW dominates Munich roads. When Münchners revel in the legendary brews from the official Hofbräuhaus and other beer halls, Stuttgarters swear by their own Stuttgarter Hofbräu.
Beer halls were our natural destinations. But the snowfall drove
Women selling the heart-shaped pretzels add to the carnival ambience of the beer hall.
us to the nearest museum: A massive palace marking the city which it ruled once. The Munich Residenz was the seat of the Wittelsbach rulers, who had stocked priceless antiques in its numerous rooms. From Roman busts to Renaissance-style frescos to Christian relics, it is an invitation to European history. The palace was bombed in the Second World War. The restoration that started in 1945 itself is still going on.
The centuries stacked inside the museum have consumed half a day. Outside, the evening is shivering in heavy snowfall. We move on to an equally important landmark of the city – the 400-year-old Hofbräuhaus, the royal brewery established by Wittelsbach dukes and currently owned by the Bavarian government.
About 3,000 noisy guzzlers are hunching over frothy mugs in the world’s largest beer hall and as many are waiting for the others to get up. Women in traditional Bavarian dirndl
carry up to seven beer mugs, each a litre, to customers. The local brass band gives way to the cacophony whenever its members stop for a swig. Enamoured tourists, some with wide-eyed infants, take in this perennial interior carnival.
Hofbräuhaus owns the second-largest tent in the Oktoberfest but
Long Live the bock
It's a journey from litre to litre in Hofbräuhaus.
it has always been October in this hall since Duke Maximilian built the brewery in 1607. The hall is open seven days, from 9 in the morning to late into night.
We take an unguided tour across the cavernous hall shrouded in a drone of illegible chatter from around the tables. Beer glasses shatter to the accompaniment of “Prosts
”. Disappointed guests order for quick replacements. Patient waiters oblige and clean up the mess. Drunk men in lederhosen
wade through the waiting crowd to the loo where fellow drinkers work overtime to make room for the next litre.
We find two seats vacant on a bench near an iron cage where dozens of metal mugs are stored away neatly, each under a separate lock and key. An aloof gentleman and a group of four girls share our table. Frau Uthman brings the gentleman his plateful of pork. The senior host greets us with a smile and promises to be back in a second. A pork knuckle waits on her tray, on its way to a beer belly in some corner of this hall.
“Get me the beer I must drink,” I let Sue Uthman pick my drink. “Urbock,”
Tourists and regulars rub shoulders in Hofbräuhaus. And no one is a stranger.
was the unhesitant reply. Uthman didn’t let us down. The dark lager savagely tried to convert me into a beer drinker. The bock, quintessentially Bavarian, traces its origin to the northern town of Einbeck. Bavarians pronounced the Einbeck brew as Ein bock and appropriated it as their own. Urbock means “original bock”. By the 17th
century, Bavarians had masterfully adapted the bock.
Uthman brought us sauerbraten
, round beef cuts marinated in wine before roasting. The traditional delicacy would linger though the accompanying bread dumplings and cranberry sauce were best forgotten. Somewhere into our second mugs, four young men replace the glutton and the beauties at our table. Thomas, Luka and friends are from a Bavarian village east of Munich. They order helles, the light beer Munich is also known for. I wonder why? Why not urbock? “Once you have the urbock you wouldn’t be able to drink anything else,” Thomas informs me.
Uthman’s younger colleagues are roaming around selling pretzel
. The heart-shaped crispy loaves in their raised hands and wicker baskets slung on their neck, these pretty ladies present a timeless picture of Munich. This endemic bread is a perfect accompaniment to beer and it’s hard to resist the smiling sellers.
Revellers have gathered around the band, echoing familiar songs. This is perhaps Munich’s biggest tourist attraction yet it remains a favourite joint of denizens. A Bavarian gentleman in lederhosen
and a fancy cap approach our table. With eyes cloudy behind round spectacles and moustache pointed to the high roof, he opens one of the mug compartments with a key and places his mug inside.
“Old-timers and regulars are offered this privilege. They can store their mugs here. When they die the key is passed on to their heirs,” Luka tells us. This is a dynasty seldom overthrown. If you wish to park your beloved drinking companion in Hofbräuhaus, you have to apply and wait, until a patron leaves behind teetotaller wards.
As the patron leaves, the plumes on his cap swaying over the crowd, our friends tell us the cap would cost around 3,000 euros. It’s apparently made of deer wool. I am not sure if they weren’t teasing us. “You have to believe. Bavarians can be crazy,” they reaffirm.
We order schweinshaxe
, or pork knuckle. As I was digging into the intimidating joint, someone knocked my beer glass. Someone wanted to say a toast to Delma who was sitting opposite me, but missed the target. The sloshed admirer apologised red-facedly and went his way. “He is definitely not Bavarian,” Thomas judges. “See. He can’t hold his glass.”
“If you drink you should do it in a place like this,” Delma commented on the enjoyable drunkenness around. “I never knew this was so much fun.” I gave her an I-told-you-so look without acknowledging the limits of my revelry. The beer hall taught me the meaning of gemütlichkeit
, a German word where a lot of good things such as camaraderie, revelry and peace of mind coexist.
I was aware of the limits of my bladder though. While we were contemplating quitting, Uthman serves shots of schnaps
to each of us, excluding Delma. We hadn’t ordered the customary digestive drink that ends all German meals. “Must be on the house. And only for men,” I consoled Delma.
“How was it? We ordered it for you,” said Luka as I swallowed the fiery drink. “Too good. And thank you so much.” Germany was proving too hospitable for us.
While I sealed my meal with the schnaps, the boys were just settling their bellies for the next round. Urbock, they ordered as we said goodbye to the good old Uthman. We were tired of drinking but she is still serving the thirsty customers as energetically as we first saw her. The waiters here need to have strong arms and extraordinary memory power. The first shift starts at 7 in the morning, much before regulars come for their frühstuck of weisswurst and pretzel.
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