Everyone seemed to survive the night, although a fair contingent did not make it to the delightful breakfast at the Eden Wolff Hotel. Interesting quote from breakfast: “I have trouble finding good liverwurst in Chicago” –Amy Bier, age 25. The hotel is located just across from the city’s main train station, and I enjoyed watching the early Sunday morning traffic slowly increase in the early morning sun, as backpackers and travelers arrived to the city. My roommate, Joan Shadel, is an excellent travelling companion. In all, I recommend both her and the hotel.
Our formalized tours starting tomorrow, today our group split up. A contingent went to the Museum district. They took in the Documentation Center, a new museum at the site of the now-razed Brown House. This is where Hitler launched his party from, and the museum details the personalities and situations that led to the rise of National Socialism.
All who went learned something and came away with questions and answers. Another intrepid trio also continued on to a hike around the city and the English Garden that yielded a total daily step count of 34,196 (11 miles). They were the only ones to truly earn their dinner. Louise and I became knowledgeable with the old area of Munich with the help of Rick Steves, and probably can now carry an umbrella as official tour guides.
The group reconvened for a lovely evening at the famous Hofbrauhaus, where we joined by my cousin Emily Laning who arrived from a work trip to Bulgaria.
Let me organize my observations into a few themes and variations:
MUNICH THEMES AND VARIATIONS
Leiderhosen are a thing that people wear for real. True, they are de riguer for the employees of tourist-heavy areas. However, I spotted a fair number of common citizens attired thusly: middle aged men shooting the breeze, a homeless man sifting through the trash, a guy next to us at the biergarten looking especially natty in an embroidered denim ensemble.
Catholicism is a big thing in Munich. A lot of the historical sites have something to do with stomping out the “Protestant Threat.” We were touring churches this morning, a Sunday, during mass time. The incense hung chokingly heavy in every church we entered, and I was surprised to see the pews mostly full. We learned that St. Michael’s Church was built by the Jesuits as their northern outpost in the fight against Protestantism during the 1500’s.
St. Peter’s Church contains a weirdly fascinating side altar containing the bones of St. Munditia, a 4th century martyr. These were a gift from Rome for a job well done–defending against the Protestant threat.
The heart of the city is the Marienplatz (“Mary Place.”) It contains a 16th century column surmounted by a gold statue of Mary. The base has cherubs at each corner defeating symbols of the four greatest threats to the city at that time: the dragon of war, the lion of hunger, the rooster-headed monster of plague and the serpent of–wait for it–Protestant heresy.
You can’t escape the memory of WWII. From the museum I mentioned above, to the fact that anything old only looks that way after being rebuilt, the shadow looms long.
The name Bier can get you anywhere. The entire desk staff at the hotel knows us and our name. In fact, the concierge was palpably confused when I told her that people back home are often reluctant to pronounce our last name correctly when reading it aloud for the first time for fear of offending us. (We tend to get a lot of “Buyer” type pronounciation.) The hotel bartender gladly received instruction on how to make a proper Wisconsin brandy old fashioned. (The German version is basically brandy over ice with a slice of orange and a hint of bitters).
Uncle Jim has pulled out his driver’s license so many times to flash his name that I’m thinking of getting a lanyard type situation for him to just wear it around his neck. This was done to greatest effect at the Hofbrauhaus, where Gene managed to score us a table for 10 in an impossibly crowded courtyard and a new friendship culminated in shared beers, gingerbread hearts, and hearty handshakes.
There’s always room for dessert.