Everything was quiet in the train as we pulled up to the station, the usual murmurs of people getting their bags and sighing as they looked at their watch. How was I to expect that things just outside would be oh so different?
Chanting, singing… and a huge police presence. Munich cops, assembled en masse, taping some of the passengers as they came off the trains and keeping an eye on an already raucous crowd dressed in the colours of Bayern FC, the local soccer team.
A quick Google search at the hostel showed me that the team had already won the championship and this was their last game of the season, against Stuttgart. I kept this in mind as I headed into the city, not at all surprised that my planned itinerary didn’t quite work out.
The Viktualienmarkt had been closed up as we walked by on the walking tour last Sunday and I was hoping to grab a nice lunch and maybe a drink in the beer garden. Virginia, the guide, had told us that this could be a pleasantly busy spot with lots of traditional prepared foods available to enjoy.
I hadn’t quite realized how many Bayern FC fans there would be in the area. There were fast moving lines at many of the stalls, finding a seat in the beer garden was impossible and drunken fans were enjoying beer in the sunshine.
Hmm. I would have to re-evaluate my plans. I settled on a quick bratwurst, to truly figure out the difference between sausage and bratwurst – which is still a mystery to me – but it was delicious and cheap at only about €2.10. It would have been cheaper without the bread, but I was trying to hit two food groups.
I decided to head to the Hofbräuhaus, fulfilling a wish of my darling mother and checking it off the Munich to-do list. Beer was only served in litres, heavy glass mugs ready for whatever abuse the tourists would throw at them, at a price of €8. It was a bit cheaper than the Frühlingsfest, but the atmosphere was almost better with a busy crowd and a seemingly well received Bavarian folk band.
There’s also a small museum in building, located in the gallery above the stage of the Festival Hall. I learned about the celebrated beer purity laws of 1516 and they even briefly touched on how the Nazi party used the Hofbrähaus for many of its gatherings and speeches. Hitler was a vegetarian who didn’t drink beer, but I suppose the Hofbräuhaus (and beer in general) was an easy way to address the people.
I didn’t see anything about the fact that Hofbräuhaus beer apparently served the city during the Thirty Years War (way back in 1632)… this was mentioned by our walking tour guide and I later confirmed the fact on the official website which stated over 1000 barrels of Maibock were given to the Swedes in return for their agreement to stop attacking the city.
The original festival hall and much of the building destroyed by bombing during World War II. The current Festival Hall is apparently only a shadow of its former self. I was under the impression that you can’t really go up there and enjoy a beer…. I’m not sure if it’s only open to the Stammisch (the Hofbräuhaus faithful, who have 120 permanently reserved tables and feature on some of the coasters) or if you have to rent the entire space.
I ended up taking a seat at a communal table beside the kitchen, watching what can only be described as well organized chaos. There was a conveyor belt that delivered food – pork knuckles, soups, schnitzels – from the depths of their gigantic kitchen to some bored looking expeditors. Colour coded receipts printed with an unending whirr, trying to direct the food to its proper seating area. Inside, outside, upstairs… the beer hall could fit up to 3,500 people and the outside added another 500 or so (at least) therefore organization was important.
Another note on prices at the Hofbräuhaus – everything had a charge. If you wanted a piece of bread, it was €0.90… if you wanted a bread basket, it was €3.90. If you were really bold and wanted some butter for your bread? Open your wallet and offer up another €0.90 to your waiter. The menu also said that service was included yet the server waited expectantly after he handed me my beer, therefore I parted with a few more of my hard earned euros.
I had planned to head the English Garden, a bit further out of the centre, but I noticed that the streets seemed to be swelling with people and the level of intoxication amongst Bayern FC fans seemed to be increasing. I made the decision to head back to the hostel where at least I would be far away from the maddening crowds and could either lay low or see if there was a group up to something.
At some point during the past week it appears as though a pubcrawl company, Size Matters, started operating out the Euro Youth Hostel. The first three girls went free – it was a beer crawl, after all, therefore the crowd tended to skew male – so I was easily convinced to join up. If you were to pay it would be €15 and you would get three free drinks at the hostel bar… even going for free I was given one beer ticket.
The tour said it would talk about beer history, brewing traditions and the role of beer in Munich. Really, it was about pub crawling to beer gardens… although they didn’t warn us that the pub crawl would basically involve trekking across the city. Or at least that’s how it felt. There were probably around 20 people on the tour – the number kept changing as people disappeared and then reappeared at different stops.
Our first beer garden was the Augustiner Keller, one of only a few beer halls that still had its original cellars for people to visit. Beer was initially kept cold through giant blocks of ice in cellars, and by the cooling properties of the chestnut trees planted above. Many of the people on the tour – including our guide, a small British girl named Emily – opted for the 1 L mugs, determined to maximize their Munich beer experience. I was being lame, as Munich has too much beer, and opted for the small mugs.
I couldn’t avoid the smells of the pretzel, which seemed to be fairly fresh out of the oven… and I wasn’t the only one. Hot, fresh, delicious pretzels? Yes, please!
I also want to point out that pretzel pricing is very difficult to understand. Small pretzels range from €.90 to €1.50 while large pretzels have ranged from €3-5. This pretzel was a fairly reasonable €3.80 – twenty cents more expensive than the beer, but cheaper than some of the ones I saw on the street.
It started to rain while we were at the Augustiner Keller but we basically sucked it up in order to enjoy the garden, a massive treed area with a children’s play area and the chatter of beer drinkers. I easily could have spent more time in the garden, but this was a pub crawl!
Our next stop was Hacker-Pschorr, which apparently offered a famous unfiltered helles beer. My tasting notes are less than charitable with respect to this beer – it basically had no flavour. The beer hall itself was huge and included both a sports bar and a fancier cocktail area. The beer was €4.20,which was actually the highest price I have paid to date for a half litre of beer. I think that made it even more disappointing.
One of the American girls I was with paid €5.20 for some water at this beer hall… so, finally, I had proof that beer was cheaper than water.
The last stop was supposed to be a cheap, fancy cocktail bar but we ended up going to the Frühlingsfest once again. Our timing for the stop was really tight, people wanted more beer and I really didn’t want to head back into the tents. I was less than interested in paying €10 for another litre of beer – plus I really didn’t want to drink a litre of beer. One of the Americans I was hanging out with wanted to drink on a ride… so I suggested the carousel bar. Small beers and it rotates!
This was the most expensive beer I bought in Munich, without question. This may be the most expensive beer I will buy on this trip – it was €5.30 for a third of a litre, which is roughly the equivalent of a normal bottle. For the purposes of comparison, a litre in the tens would be €10.
We finished up at the carousel bar, made it to our appointed meeting area and then stood around for a while, hoping that more people would arrive. We had lost close to half of our group in the Frühlingsfest, which was no surprise, but the ending point of the tour was going to be my hostel. I still had a drink ticket in my pocket but I opted for a glass of water instead and passed the beer ticket off to one of the heavy drinking Australians who had been on the tour… a hangover from a beer tour was the last thing I would need before a visit to Dachau in the morning!