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Road Trip: Christmas 2011 pt 1

December 21, 2011

Loving all the northern traditions ~snow, white lights, hand crafted gifts and ornaments, gluhwein, pine boughs, candles, and markets brimming over with all of the above, we needed to get over the Alps for Christmas.  And because Autumn was just too full to make our Weihnachtsmärkte sojourn to Munich, and because our friends in Paris will be spending Christmas in the States ~leaving their most excellent flat in the 7th arrondissement exposed to all the violent crime inherent to the holiday season 😉 ~ we’ve decided to make one grand family road trip: Munich, BadenBaden, and Paris.

Our first stop for two nights was with our dear family friend in Munich.  He is a bachelor and has lived in the same flat since he was thirteen, minus the years he was an engineer with Boeing in Seattle, when he became said family friend.  One may imagine such a man would have his life ~and all of his spaces~ arranged just so.  I believe he has never had a pet, just travels too much to provide a proper home.  I do know he was a good friend to Tigger Lewis, may he rest in peace.  So, the Man asked if we might bring Kiwi for our visit.  I only wish I could have seen his face.  Being so kind as to never consider saying “No,” but thrown quite the curve at the suggestion, he said, “Oh…well… hmm… a small cat, you say?”  And the deal was done.  Yes, a small (mostly) well-behaved cat would invade his home for 2 days and 2 nights.  And after near constant prayer that she would suffer no litter box confusion ~stuff the down sleeping bag during the day~, find nothing better suited than her scratchy post to destroy ~oh dear, those wintry hats hanging on the wall resemble furry prey~, and would not feel the need to shout at the world in the middle of the night ~what host takes kindly to being awakened by catter-wauling? we had a wonderful time!  She charmed her new Onkel, who felt the laser pointer game was too cruel because she’ll never catch it (anyone who has truck with cats will, or at least should, know about laser pointers) and was disinclined to close her into our room although it would be proportionally more space for her than his apartment is for himself.  He called her Mitzi and cooed to her in German.  It was very sweet and she is probably welcome to return, which makes our fondness for Bavaria that much easier to indulge.  For those of you wondering, she is a great rider-in-car.  She enjoys all the exciting things going by and the reliability of my lap whenever she’s ready to flop.

So, while Kiwi was watching pigeons at her window on CatTV, we did our tour of the markets, drinking gluhwein and eating wurst (yes, yes, that makes me the wurst vegetarian ever… I’m still trying).  A stop at the Apple store and a Starbuck’s or two helped to make the season bright.  But the single most locally cultured experience of the trip was dinner at the Augustiner Brewery.  We were seated at a long table across from two gentlemen, settled in for their evening.  The Man went to wash his hands, leaving me making small talk ~very small, given my grasp of the German language~ with these fellows.  The waitress asked for my drink order and, sitting alone in a brewery, I couldn’t ask for just a glass of water.  It’s trial enough to get a glass with dinner when the Man has already ordered a beer.  So, my fall-back for these situations in the Radler, half beer and half lemon soda.  A Radler is literally a cyclist and the drink is a refreshment for those who ride.  The request hit a nerve with my new companions: What? We only drink beer at this table! Hey, did you ride your bike here tonight? Can’t have that sugar beer here.  I begged off that I’m a girl and it’s the best I can manage.  My good natured understanding of the anathema I was committing seemed to appease them, they clinked my mug with Prost!  Then the Man returned, ordered a proper beer and the dish which the older man recommended, the Schweinhaxe.  It’s some portion of a pig’s leg; that’s all I know… or care to.  But it turned out to be the best one of them he’s ever had and probably the least expensive to boot.  So, we ate our heavy Bavarian dinners, washed down with what our friend would later first call snooty beer and then disbelieve that half liters were only €2.55.  Mine were, inexplicably, more soda than beer.  Just how I like it, but surprising given that soda is the more expensive of the two.

But then having eaten, and noting the waitress putting the 9th half-liter tick on the younger man’s beer mat, conversation re-commenced.  The older gentleman, who in fact was 80 years old, told an interesting life story.  He was born in what became East Germany, a third generation Berliner (no, not the doughnut).  In 1955, he took the subway, making some subterfuge about his suitcase, to Tempelhof airport and flew out of the city, never to return.  He worked in Australia and learned English, which remained surprisingly robust 60 years later, then returned to Munich, where he has buried two wives, but has no children.  He lives down the trolley line in a pensioners’ home, where the government provides meals, roof, and medical.  Which happens to include a week, with transport, in a Slovenian Bad town over Christmas.  That made me feel better about this old man who has “no one to look after me.”  (Yet, when I reconsidered it, he seemed much older than my 83 year old father, who has yet to become an old man.)  His own funds bring him to the Augustiner Bierstubl Mondays and Thursdays, where he sits at this Special Table.  I thought perhaps it was only special to him because it is where he always sits.  But our friend/host explained that the super-regulars do indeed have their tables and receive special treatment.  We were allowed to sit there because there was space, but were not offered the frequent drinkers’ card.  The men were amusing and seemed to find us equally so.  I watched them take snuff.  Really, like in the Merchant Ivory costume dramas; they tipped it out onto the back on their hands and sniffed.  I had no idea people still did this.  Soon enough, when I thought seeing it was enough of a sample of historical culture, I was wheedled into giving it try.  I don’t feel the allure.  It was sort of menthol-ish and tingly, better than smoke by a far cry, not bad for a dare and preferable to bamboo under the fingernails, but to make it a habit?  I don’t get it.  My nose can run all by itself.

Having learned a bit about the life of a German pensioner, enjoyed the finest Schweinhaxe, and lifted mugs with exuberant locals, it was a full evening.  And this was all after live music on the Rathaus balcony in Marienplatz and hot chocolate and Stollen in the Zimtstern Cafe of Richart.  And then, of course, one more little mug of Gluhwein Gunter Art back at home before bed.  Gemütlichkeit, indeed.

Munich 2011

 Next stop: Baden Baden to take the cure.

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