Home exactly one week, and with jet lag behind me (and snow shovel in hand) I can look back now and smile on a glorious time. Vienna was magic, Salzburg was alpine, and Munich – Munich was fascinating, with many faces: historic, kitschy, lively, stony, colorful, both wholly modern and mired in its past. We climbed hills, crossed bridges, walked cobblestone miles and prowled markets full of horseradish-heaped wursts, Eiswein and cheeses, rugged brown bread, wild honey and truffles and beer.
And…beer. Did I mention the beer? Like an amber line on the map, beer, serious bier, trailed us all through Bavaria. Beer is somehow beautiful over there; all hefty steins and tradition and frosty hopped-up light. That, or I was just on vacation. Either way me and beer, we’ve not always been friends. As an eager college drinker I’d throw up – Greg’s hair-holding skills sealed our deal – and later, a moderation-minded adult, I’d try excellent “artisan” beers and my nervous stomach would think it ate three loaves of bread. An uneasy truce, at best.
On this trip we traveled with my brother-in-law Stephen and his wife, Moa, a native Swede whose sociable, even-handed beer skills could put most European men to shame. She was happy. Greg and Stephen were deliriously happy. They were all three happy to explore the sudsy maze of cafes, cellars and stubes. And me? Come follow the amber line:
In Salzburg we visit Zum Fidelen Affen, which we thought meant something about a loyal monkey, but a waiter reveals it’s The Funky Monkey. Actually, the waiter says, it’s “funny” monkey, but “I just like to call it funky.”
In this friendly, wood-beamed room I discover the joys of rotwein gespritzt - red wine spritzer – and also free, fresh-baked pretzels. I will find out fast in other places that free pretzels don’t always mean good pretzels – but here they are both free and good. I suddenly feel great loyalty to The Funky Monkey, and resolve to become a great Austrian beer drinker, and get more pretzels.
I overdo it at The Monkey. At Gasthaus Somethingplatz I start ordering bottles of plain wasser, and by late afternoon in Mozartplatz, at a place possibly called Mozartbar, I start drinking peppermint tea. I am traveling, and careful. I am boring, and this annoys me. So I down a tall Pils, get twitchy, and then go back to sipping tea.
In Munich we visit a true temple of bier, the Hofbrauhaus, founded in 1592. Here, servers (some in traditional, half-laced St. Pauli girl-garb) rush liter beer steins, sometimes eight in each hand, to long wooden tables stuffed with locals, tourists, yuppies and grandmas. They eat weisswursts and clink glasses and have a marvelous time. I am about to succumb to the liter – an optimistic move, at best – when I discover the Radler. Part beer, part lemonade, it’s similar to the English Shandy and a great beer compromise for me, or, as Greg concludes, “a tasty little kid’s beer.” I love the Radler, hoist it with two hands and drink every drop. Greg and Stephen are amused. Now if they only put coffee in beer, I tell them, then you’d see some drinking.
And speaking of drinking, the Hofbrauhaus sees a lot of it. Most don’t get drunk, exactly – a higher tolerance than weak Americans – but the group right behind us, the big table of young, super-buff Italian guys? They gave their best impression of trying to drink all the beer in Germany.
They got more excitable round after round, yelling toasts and smashing heavy steins together. They broke into drinking songs, pounding beers, fists and cameras on the table, and each time they pounded, the beers jumped. Our table mates were Russian, the rowdy boys were Italian and the old ladies at the next table over were German, tut-tutting the rowdies. It was all very cavernous and beamed, cozy and sloshing. I slurped my Radler, smiled at my husband, read the beer-soaked carved initials lining wood planks. We shared another salty pretzel, smelled amber and lemon and hops, and I let that Bavarian afternoon drift away.