Lederhosen in Lidl, Beer for Breakfast: Some Reflections on Munich

Two litre glasses of beer in a Munich beer garden.

We’ve been to Munich several times, but rarely for more than a couple of days, and not often together.

This time we went with the spe­cif­ic inten­tion of real­ly being in Munich – not jump­ing on trains to oth­er near­by towns, or rac­ing from one beer des­ti­na­tion to anoth­er in pur­suit of ticks and tro­phies.

We began by find­ing accom­mo­da­tion in the sub­urbs, part­ly to save mon­ey, but also because the best times we’ve had on recent trips abroad have been beyond the imme­di­ate cen­tres of cities.

The neigh­bour­hood we end­ed up in was one where peo­ple live, walk their dogs, drowse on bench­es, smoke behind school bike sheds, and use ten-foot plas­tic pluck­ers to pick plums. The hous­es were post-war but con­ser­v­a­tive (Bavaria is not a hotbed of mod­ernism) with con­crete lions on their gateposts and plas­tic elves in their flowerbeds.

Every cor­ner had a polit­i­cal poster or two: BAVARIAN PARTYCHOOSE FREEDOM! ÖDPYOUNG, AND FIERCELY ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS! The only AFD posters we saw in our part of town had been either torn down or van­dalised, the can­di­dates giv­en square black mous­tach­es with swipes of mark­er pens.

We drank our first beer in Munich at a pub-restau­rant above the tube sta­tion, on the main road into town, as rain ham­mered the para­sols in the emp­ty beer gar­den.

Ayinger Helles beer.

Ayinger Helles isn’t from Munich, it’s from Aying, and after a twelve-hour train trip, tast­ed great.

The pub was some­how both a bit too posh (table­cloths and orna­ments) and noth­ing spe­cial – limp sal­ad, ser­vice on the SCREW YOU! end of brusque – but the beer was served with all due cer­e­mo­ny. The glass, a sim­ple Willibech­er, was so clean it sang at the touch of a fin­ger, and had plen­ty of room for a crown of foam.

Look at the room through the beer and every­thing seems clear­er than with­out. It cer­tain­ly looks warmer.

A touch sweet, a touch of corn, almost watery, and yet… Yes, anoth­er, please.

After all, as every­one knows, sev­er­al thin coats rather than one thick leads to a more even, con­sis­tent fin­ish.

A good start.

A picnic basket in a beer garden.

A the­o­ry emerges: you can find less­er known beer gar­dens in Munich by look­ing for patch­es of green on Google Maps and then zoom­ing in.

That’s how we hit upon the Har­lachinger Einkehr, among oth­ers. It’s small by Munich stan­dards but still has space for sev­er­al hun­dred peo­ple and, some­how, also for a tram­po­line, swing and slide.

When we arrived on a warm Wednes­day evening we found it heav­ing for hap­py hour when a litre of lager goes for 6.60, or about £3.30 a pint. So almost every­one was drink­ing by the litre, from elder­ly ladies in lip­stick and perm to teenagers out with their par­ents. The bar­tender was like a machine, pulling the beers and dish­ing them out at a rate of about five per minute, while to one side, on a small table under a para­sol, an elder­ly women took pay­ment.

Despite look­ing to British eyes like the gar­den of the near­by pub-restau­rant, peo­ple were tuck­ing into pic­nics they’d brought from home, unload­ing Tup­per­ware and super­mar­ket paper bags from ruck­sacks and bas­kets. (With typ­i­cal Ger­man clar­i­ty, most of the beer gar­dens we vis­it­ed had large signs explain­ing the rules pinned to trees: sure, bring your own food, but buy the drink from us, or be cast out of your com­mu­ni­ty.)

The gar­den itself also had a bar­be­cue and a pret­zel win­dow. The chef tend­ing the for­mer rang a bell every time a rack of ribs was ready and seemed to be sell­ing out, while even those who had brought their own tea were buy­ing giant pret­zels to go with it.

That’s an inter­est­ing busi­ness mod­el, we thought: most­ly bring your own, but buy just the odd bit from the pub. It’s easy to imag­ine a fam­i­ly choos­ing to go out three times a week instead of once a fort­night on that basis.

We also saw a poster, though, that seemed to plead “Use your local beer gar­den or lose it” so per­haps not.

Augustiner Helles beer.

Augustin­er Helles is the Munich beer we thought we liked best. It’s wide­ly avail­able in the UK and has always tast­ed good to us from the bot­tle – dry, lots of noble hop char­ac­ter, and as pale as evening mist.

We cer­tain­ly did enjoy it but also began to won­der… Is it per­haps a lit­tle… harsh? A lit­tle unbal­anced? It has no soft verges.

Still, it seems pop­u­lar among Muench­n­ers, on the sub­way or on the street, at any time of day. From high on a bridge we watched pic­nick­ers on an islet in the Isar cool­ing a teth­ered crate of the stuff in the water.

Once we start­ed spot­ting dis­card­ed bot­tles we began to see them every­where – flash­es of green in wheel­ie bins or on train plat­forms– though they nev­er lin­gered long before some indus­tri­ous scav­enger scur­ried up, tossed them in a sack, and dashed off to claim the deposit.

Augustiner bottles

We had nev­er been to the Weiss­es Brauhaus togeth­er and decid­ed to rec­ti­fy that on this trip; in fact, we end­ed up vis­it­ing twice.

It is one of Munich’s most famous beer halls, the brew­ery tap for wheat beer spe­cial­ists Schnei­der, which was found­ed in the city but relo­cat­ed to near­by Kel­heim dur­ing World War II. Like the Hof­bra­haus, it is a tourist attrac­tion with­out being a tourist trap, and there are plen­ty of locals hold­ing the line between tables of bewil­dered tourists not sure whether to order the veal spleen or the tripe.

One thing that par­tic­u­lar struck us was the all-female wait­ing staff. At first glance, they look like stereo­typ­i­cal dirndl-clad Bavar­i­an maids, but a sec­ond look reveals more detail.

First, the dress­es are uni­form, not cos­tume – cater­ing grade, hard-wear­ing, mod­est, prac­ti­cal. Then there is the footwear – black Nike train­ers, hik­ing boots, Dr Martens. Each of these women, glid­ing from bar to table to kitchen to table to bar for hours on end, knows what tac­ti­cal wear works for them, and wears it.

Final­ly, there’s the most obvi­ous 21st cen­tu­ry inno­va­tion: touch­screen hand­held EPOS devices hol­stered on leather belts and drawn in a flash. Every now and then, though, these gad­gets need charg­ing, and so out come keys to per­spex lock­ers where USB cables dan­gle in front of adver­tise­ments for each of Schnei­der’s beers.

Schneider Hopfenweisse wheat beer.

Schnei­der Hopfen­weisse is a beer we dis­liked on first encounter, then warmed to, and now love.

In a sea of pale lagers with bare­ly a Bah­n­Car­d’s dif­fer­ence between them, Hopfen­weisse feels like a Willie Won­ka cre­ation. (The 1972 film was shot in Munich, by the way.)

Not only the yeast char­ac­ter, not only the hop flavour, not only the booze (8.2%), but also the sheer extrav­a­gance of the thing… Its creep­ing aro­ma con­t­a­m­i­nates, or per­haps daubs flu­o­res­cent high­lighter ink, every oth­er beer on the table.

If we lived in Munich, we drink at least a glass a week. But it’s no ses­sion beer.

Lederhosen lads with litres of lager.

When we wrote Gam­bri­nus Waltz we chuck­led at the cred­u­lous Vic­to­ri­ans who believed that lager was some­how ‘non-intox­i­cat­ing’, despite hav­ing the same alco­hol con­tent, give or take, as British ale. And yet, we found the beer in Munich… well, non-intox­i­cat­ing.

Jess’s lim­it here at home – the point beyond which next-day vom­it­ing becomes almost inevitable – is a measly two pints these days. In Munich, she man­aged a four-pint ses­sion, includ­ing a litre of the pow­er­ful Augustin­er Edel­stoff, with no ill effects beyond a vague sense of ennui.

Is it because we ate more in Munich? We don’t think so. Did we drink more slow­ly? Again, we don’t think so – the beer gar­dens we spent most of our time in were self-ser­vice and speedy with it.

(Though we did admire the tech­nique of sea­soned Mass drinkers we observed, knock­ing back the first half and then hold­ing back the sec­ond for up to an hour, with per­son­alised lids to keep flies and wasps out, and warn wait­ers off.)

Sure­ly there can’t be any­thing in that old chest­nut about the clean­ness and puri­ty of Ger­man beer vs. the adul­ter­at­ed filth­i­ness of cask ale?

Sci­en­tists, please advise.

The Hofbrauhaus beer hall, Munich.

The Helles that sur­prised us, that real­ly delight­ed us, was from Hof­bräu.

We felt it more than tast­ed it. It gave a pure vibra­tion from the palate to fin­ger­tips – pins and nee­dles, a shiv­er, a sigh, oh yeah, that’s it.

We recog­nised it blind, too, in a Bier­garten which just sold it as HELL, where we had to enquire after the prove­nance in clum­sy Ger­man.

It feels daft some­times to attempt to say much about good old plain old won­der­ful lager but, sod it, we’re not afraid to be pre­ten­tious: this straight­for­ward beer seemed to hold in itself the very essence of yel­low fields, blue sky, and wasp-both­ered grapes.

It was like bit­ing into the land­scape, hear­ing the crust crack, and then savour­ing the juice.

Put that on your elec­tion poster.

Trachten clothes in a shop window.

Why go to Munich the week before Okto­ber­fest? Snob­bery, no doubt. Think you’re too good and too clever for it, eh? Eh? Oh, yes, we know your sort. (It was the only week we could both take off work; and have you seen the price of accom­mo­da­tion dur­ing Okto­ber­fest?)

Still, the scent was in the air. The field was under con­struc­tion, tan­ta­lis­ing behind steel fenc­ing, and the local papers were run­ning hype: WE REVEAL THE 100 PRETTIEST OKTOBERFEST MAIDS!

All the shops had win­dow dis­plays of Leder­ho­sen and Dirndl, includ­ing C&A, and when Jess tried to buy a par­tic­u­lar type of wool at a spe­cial­ist shop she was told: “Oh, it’s sold out – every­one’s knit­ting Tra­cht­en­jacke for Okto­ber­fest.”

It felt like a bonus Christ­mas.

Wasp traps and sign in a Munich beer garden.

Our local beer gar­den, the Michaeli­garten (of which more in a few lines) had Löwen­bräu Wies’n on draught. At 6.1% it seemed a bit strong to be drink­ing by the near-pint but, as men­tioned above, we seem to be immune to the alco­hol in Munich beer so got stuck in.

What did it remind us of? Oakham Green Dev­il, per­haps, though we can’t imag­ine think­ing so if we had them side by side. Or per­haps Duv­el? Maybe a blend of the two.

There was a cer­tain sim­i­lar­i­ty to Augustin­er Edel­stoff except – sor­ry, every­one – we pre­ferred the Löwen­bräu.

It was boozy but bal­anced, with hops shoved fur­ther up front than we’re used to in Okto­ber­fest beers, and def­i­nite­ly offer­ing some cit­rus.

A mis­chie­vous beer. A beer that tells you to have anoth­er, and to start singing, and that brings out a ten­den­cy to sway you did­n’t know you had.

Ducks at the Michaeligarten

The Michaeli­garten was our local and we vis­it­ed as many times as logis­tics allowed.

Our first view of it was on an ear­ly morn­ing run through the park, as red-shirt­ed main­te­nance staff swept up fall­en leaves; cleared away the last of the pre­vi­ous night’s glass­ware and ketchup-smeared crock­ery; and wiped goose shit from the table­tops.

Because it was­n’t pri­mar­i­ly a tourist des­ti­na­tion, the atmos­phere was dif­fer­ent to oth­er gar­dens we’d known, and being bewil­dered was half the fun.

Sprechen Sie Englisch?” we asked, hope­ful­ly.

Nein,” replied the man at the meat counter, before let­ting a spiky silence hang in the air as he twirled his tongs.

Why was there a man in alpine hat and Leder­ho­sen trim­ming spring onions on a weird mar­ble table at the back of the gar­den? Did­n’t they object to him leav­ing a pile of toma­toes on the grav­el?

The woman who served us most often (she nev­er seemed to go home) wore her Dirndl low, her hair high, recog­nised every beer at a glance, and could oper­ate the till one-hand­ed while eat­ing a Cor­net­to. Any­thing oth­er than the right change caused her lip to curl in dis­gust.

Occa­sion­al­ly, swans and geese would emerge from the pond to ter­rorise drinkers, stretch­ing to their full, ter­ri­fy­ing height, snatch­ing pret­zels from tables with snap­ping beaks. Nobody inter­vened – if you don’t like being attacked by birds, don’t sit by the water, right? There are plen­ty of oth­er beer gar­dens.

But when night fell and the lights came on in the trees, while chil­dren hunt­ed for conkers under the tables, and the ducks bick­ered across the water, it seemed pret­ty well per­fect.

Thanks to our Patre­on sup­port­ers such as Gra­ham Reed and Scott Mur­ray we are now pro­duc­ing one lon­gread per month. This 2,000-worder, which took most of Sun­day to write, is our Sep­tem­ber effort. Please do con­sid­er sign­ing up.

5 thoughts on “Lederhosen in Lidl, Beer for Breakfast: Some Reflections on Munich”

  1. dehy­dra­tion is one of the most debil­i­tat­ing affects of a hang­over. Were you drink­ing less caf­feine (a diuret­ic) or more water? A sim­i­lar thing hap­pened to me in Prague where a robust approach to day­time drink­ing made me feel con­fi­dent about drink­ing 2 whole beers at lunch with­out slur­ring or stum­bling. Then again, I was­n’t talk­ing or walk­ing so maybe I just did­n’t notice the ine­bri­a­tion

  2. Per­fect tim­ing on this, we are in Bam­berg and head­ed to Munich tomor­row morn­ing. Hopfen­weisse is one of my favorites. I look for­ward to try­ing it there.

  3. Odd thing is that I don’t ever recall a hang­over or feel­ing rough the next morn­ing when drink­ing abroad, and that’s despite fre­quent­ly drink­ing a lot more than I would at home. Mind you, I sel­dom get a hang­over from beer any­way.

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