Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Bearing east for Bavaria and beer

Frauenkirche and Neues Rathaus, Munich
Commeth the hour, commeth the beer. But first came the chaos. Our long-awaited trip to Bavaria was thrown into chaos at the 11th hour when our flight to Munich was cancelled by virtue of a strike by Lufthansa pilots.

With only a little over 24 hours to go before we were scheduled to fly, The Other Half fortunately managed to get us new tickets on board EasyJet, from Gatwick.

One point to remember here: we were booking late, obviously, but those EasyJet tickets cost more for a one-way journey than the original Lufthansa return flights had cost.

So much for all the guff about ‘budget’ airlines. And unless you are travelling with only enough luggage for a couple of days, and can therefore cram it all into a cabin bag, you can expect to pay around £30 per case for the privilege of taking more.

Mind, judging by the sight of fellow passengers struggling to cram a bag into the overhead lockers, some people stretch the definition of cabin baggage to its limit and probably beyond.

That said, I’ll give EasyJet credit for being considerably less unpleasant than RyanAir.

At Gatwick, we discovered that the plane was a little late arriving. But, with the wind now in the ‘right’ direction, we made up time on the journey to Germany.

Our initial plans would have meant that we arrived at Munich airport at around 11pm German time, so with that in mind, we’d booked a room for that night at the Hilton hotel that sits squarely between the two terminals.

In the event, we had slightly longer at the hotel, since the EasyJet flight was two hours earlier. But having checked in, neither us of felt much like sitting down to a meal – travel days do disrupt eating patterns – and opted instead to sit outside (yes, outside) in the clear evening air (albeit under a small heater) to enjoy a couple of glasses of beer.

In this case, it was Erdinger: a clean weißbier with a good taste. And jolly welcome it was too. After the previous day’s panic, merely being in Munich felt like a victory.

The next morning, with sun in the sky, we grabbed a coffee (€25 for breakfast was not on the menu) and caught a train into central Munich.

Bavaria may, in many ways, be a conservative part of the world, but that it not a neo-liberal conservatism that believes in taking every opportunity to rip people off.

At the main railway station, which we were due to depart from in the afternoon, there were whole rooms of lockers where we could leave our bags for the day at a mere €3.

Weißwurst, pretzel and mustard
That’s right: no airport-style ‘security’ to allow some jobsworthy tosspot to spend 10 minutes running a finger around your laptop as though it’s the most mysterious container he’s ever encountered (all the while, giving you an unpleasantly challenging stare), and then charging you a rip-off £6 to hold your bag for three hours, with the company claiming that’s a “competitive” price.

Take note Britain and, in particular, the Excess Baggage Company at Manchester Piccadilly. 

Free to wander, we headed straight toward the Marienplatz and, claiming that coffee as our ‘first breakfast’, sat down on Neuhauser Straße outside an eatery called Schnitzelwirt to engage in a great Bavarian tradition.

Second breakfast traditionally occurs at around 11am, but always before noon. The reason for that is that it includes weißwurst, a local delicacy that, in the past, would have gone off if left any later.

It’s served in in the water in which it has been gently simmered and comes with a pretzel, sweet, grainy mustard and beer. The beer in this case was a Franziskaner – a gorgeous weißbier brewed in Munich, which I have experienced from bottles in the UK.

Altes Rathaus, Munich
It’s the sort of drink that makes you stop anything else, sit up and pay attention to the taste.

The most traditional way to eat the weißwurst is to cut off one end and suck the light veal and bacon mix out of its skin. Or you can slice it from end to end and then roll the meat out with a fork. I opted for the latter approach.

But all in all, this Bavarian ritual was observed properly and very much enjoyed.

We ambled on, seeing the extraordinary Rathaus-Glockenspiel strike noon. Made in 1908, its 32 life-size figures re-enact scenes from the city’s history, accompanied by 43 bells.

This is the new town hall – a vast piece of Gothic Revival (it has 400 rooms) built between 1867 and 1908 by Georg von Hauberrisser.

Its predecessor, the Altes Rathaus, stands at the east side of the Marienplatz, and was first documented in 1310.

The site of a 1938 speech by Goebbels that was the prelude to Kristallnacht, it now, rather more pleasingly, serves as a toy and teddy bear museum.

Heilig-Geist-Kirche, Munich
Here too, we could see the iconic twin onion domes of the Frauenkirche, the city’s cathedral. A Romanesque church was first built on the site in the 12th century. What stands there today crosses architectural styles, with the main building – completed in 1494 – being Gothic, while the Renaissance-style domes were added in 1524.

I bought a hat – of which more another time – and between exploring churches (a first taste of Bavarian baroque), markets and shops, we took coffee in thetypically large German cups that are almost bowls.

The original plan for our time in Munich had involved visiting one of the three major art galleries, but we soon realised that, to do so, we’d be rushing ridiculously. Thus we’d settled on a rather less frenzied approach.

But heading back to the railway station, we found ourselves facing another less-than-relaxing snafu: The Other Half’s locker wouldn’t open.

Welcoming coffee
Thankfully, we’d allowed ourselves plenty of time, and I raced off to deploy my pidgin German in finding someone to sort it out.

That was not entirely straightforward, but for the first time in my life, I actually understood directions in another language and did, after what seemed like an age but probably wasn’t, find a young man who understood, picked up a fistful of keys and followed me back.

Checking first that we could describe what was in the locker, he then opened it and liberated the case, leaving us to head to the train that would take us to Füssen.

The journey south east into the Alps takes two hours: fairly fast for the first half, it slows as you start the real climb into the mountains.

Not that we could see anything more than Alpine pasture that was close by, with heavy cloud draping its gloom over anything higher. My frustration was almost tangible.

We emerged at Füssen into a dark early evening, a fine drizzle in the air.

A fine plate of zander
Our hotel, fortunately, was only a very short walk away and, as a large tour party was decanted from a coach into the lobby, hauling industrial amounts of suitcases up in the lift for a single night, we were handed flutes of sparkling wine by the lady at reception.

Settling in a short while later, we found that we could look out and see the summer palace of the bishops of Augsburg close by.

After a dinner in Chili, one of the hotel’s two restaurants – a very enjoyable first taste for me of zander, a fresh water fish – we decided that it had been a long couple of days and an early night was in order.

But, with one or two hitches, we’d made it. Now Füssen awaited.

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