Munich plays host to numerous breweries, all claiming to serve the most authentic German bier.
Since my husband and I yearned to explore this most celebrated aspect of Bavarian culture, we conspired to "taste" our way through Munich.
As Americans, we learned some vital lessons along the way:
- Never, ever challenge a foreigner to a beer drinking contest.
- Small ladies or men with weak wrists should hold a stein with 2 hands to avoid injury.
- No one should plan early morning tours mere hours after leaving a beer hall.
The beer style of choice in München is Helles, which is a pale lager with malty tones. Munich's trifecta of most famous breweries is comprised of the Hofbräuhaus, Löwenbräu, and Augustiner Keller, the three of which Nick and I were determined to visit.
Our maiden night in Munich was destined to be Hofbräuhaus, despite the tourist trap it might be at times. It's easy to roll your eyes as much as you want to at the spectacle that is the German beer hall: the servers dressed in dirndls and the obnoxious polka band belting out regional tunes. And we cannot forget the numerous tourists barely able to stand and entirely unaware of the volume of their voice, but let's face it, you'll be joining in as soon as you're staring at the bottom of your first beer stein.
Nick and I could hear the commotion of German music and the raucous crowd as we approached the Hofbräuhaus building. We ducked into the cove-ceilinged interior and made our way past the band, toward the back of the building and sat at a long table with benches that had two guys already seated. As we speak no German (in fact, Nick kept saying "Gracias" to everyone), we made awkward hand motions to the guys asking if we could sit there. They smiled kindly and gestured for us to sit down. Our groups cordially ignored each other for the first hour, except to take photos for each group.
Nick and I ordered a pretzel and a reasonably priced entree for 9€: Roast Bavarian pork in natural gravy, served with a grated potato dumpling. From that first bite, I finally understood my husband completely. This German-heritage, meat-and-potatoes boy never had a chance of liking anything else, and as delicious as that meal was, I wondered that anyone could ever want anything else. I honestly did not expect it to be so tasty and satisfying. The pork was succulent and perfectly cooked, and the grated potato made the dumpling texture divine. A spousal territorial war ensued over the remainder of the plate, with Nick finishing it off and practically licking the dish. I should have known better than to share, although it really was plenty of food. (I once had a bad experience in Santorini sharing souvlaki with my sister, Jenny, and my cousin, Amber which ended in us bickering over who had the most tatziki sauce. Totally not worth the money saved by sharing meals, if you ask me).
Nick and I were both drinking the Hofbräu Original (which we were already familiar with, being that we live in northern Kentucky where the first Hofbräuhaus outside of Munich was established). We toasted and relished the bitter golden brew running down our throats. One beer in, and suddenly we began conversing with the guys next to us. Their English was decent, especially considering we spoke no German, and with the help of speaking slowly with well thought-out sentences and a few hand gestures, we were able to find out the essentials. They were from Interlaken, Switzerland; Michel was a master chef, and Sven was his apprentice. Fast forward another round of beers, and we've scooted together, our arms all around each other, and Nick and I are badly singing along with the song played by the band that Michel and Sven tried to teach us. I never really got it, except the end, where you toast your mugs together, slam them down on the table, where it is likely you will splash out half of your beer, and then drink heartily. Afterwards, I discovered the song is called 'Ein Prosit' and had the lyrics, "Ein Pro-sit, ein Pro-sit... der Gemut-lich-keit! Ein Prosit, Ein Pro-O-sit der Gemut-lich-keit!" (Source: www.destination-munich.com/oktoberfest-songs.html). As many evils that alcohol can be responsible for, I am always amazed at the magical properties it possesses when consumed in moderation -- its ability to cross language barriers and transcend social circles.
At this point in the evening I was getting thumb fatigue from trying to hold up my heavy burden of a liter beer and trying to toast and slam the table. I had the makings of a infinitesimally small blister, which could only signify it was time to switch to the two-handed hold.
Later in the evening, our Swiss friends congenially suggested that Americans couldn't drink as well as the Swiss. Of course Nick had a friendly quarrel with them that concluded with more empty steins on the table and Nick feeling bloated and terrible the next day on an early morning ride out to Neuschwanstein Castle (in hindsight, it was a very bad idea). I also noticed that Nick's well-formed sentences that before were easily translatable, turned into weird analogies and sayings that completely confused our novice English-speaking Swiss friends. I literally snorted beer out my nose when I heard Nick trying to explain the phrase "the hair of the dog". The look on Michel and Sven's face was priceless. We had such a fun evening with our newfound friends that we made plans to meet up the next night at Hofbräuhaus again.
On our third day in Munich, we visited the last two brew houses on our list. From our hotel near Hoptbahnhof (main train station), we headed northwest to Augustiner Keller, where we tried the Augustiner Edelstoff. It was pleasing enough, but slightly too tangy for my preference. While all breweries argue over who has the richest beer tradition, Augustiner was supposedly the only brewery allowed to produce beer following the Bavarian ‘Rheinheitsgebot’ (Purity Law) of 1516 (source: www.augustinerkeller.de/en/beer/The_Augustiner_brewery.htm).
When we left Augustiner, we decided to take a diversion and visit the BMW Museum and Store, which is in the northern part of the city. After strolling through the cars, we took the U-bahn to Stiglmaier Platz, and alighted the stairs to the white-washed world above. The warmly lit Löwenbräu Keller emanated a soft glow in the swirling snow. Löwenbräu, which essentially stands for 'Lion's Brew', is one of the largest breweries in Munich and has a fabulous restaurant/beer hall attached. The impressive beer garden looked inviting for a summertime visit, and is nearly as large as the building itself.
Nick and I entered the building, plopped down onto an open table and removed ourselves from our snow-covered coats and hats. We decided to warm up with a Löwenbräu Original Bier and cups of soup. The Löwenbräu Original was delicious -- a crisp lager with sweet notes. Our soup was hearty and satisfying; we ordered the Pfannkuchensuppe mit viel frischem Schnittlauch (a consommè with pancake strips and fresh chives).
We bundled up again and decided to walk towards the Marienplatz, rather than take transportation. We just started walking left after exiting the building, and we reveled in our snowy hike and the ornate buildings we happened upon. We were actually heading southeast on Nymphenburger Straße, which becomes Brienner Straße, so we walked by the classical buildings on Konigsplatz (the Propyläen, the Antikensammlungen, and the Glyptothek), the obelisk on Karolinenplatz, and past the ritzy hotels, ending at the intersection of the royal Hofgarten, Theatinerkirche, the Residenz, and the Feldherrnhalle (this was scene of a confrontation between the Bavarian State Police and an illegally organized march by the followers of Adolf Hitler in 1923, which led to Hitler's arrest. Source: www.thirdreichruins.com/munich.htm).
We ducked inside the colorfully illuminated Christkindlmarket at the Residenz, and then continued south to Marienplatz. We leaned against an imbiss stall in the shadow of the Rathaus and took pleasure in one final beer in Munich, reflecting on our tasty and pleasurable visit.
Transportation: If you are only touring these 3 beer halls and are staying downtown, then the subway or tram isn't necessary. It's a bit of walk, but well worth it.
WIFI Tip: For convenience sake only, duck into the Hard Rock Cafe across from Hofbräuhaus to get free wifi.
Hofbräuhaus: Address Platzl 9, 80331 München, Germany • Phone 089 290136-0 •
Hours daily 9am-11:30pm • Subway: Marienplatz
Hours daily 11:30am-1am • Tram: Hackerbrücke
Löwenbräu: Address Nymphenburger Straße 4 München, Germany • Phone 089 5200-0 •
Hours: 9am to 1am • Subway: Stiglmaierplatz
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