White asparagus, to you peasants
Our Vicki McKenna/Fox Travel tour was off the water and in a big city hotel, albeit the upper echelon Munich Sofitel, right next door to the downtown train station. But the change of venue gave us a chance to experience the local restaurant and unique beer hall scene. We had taken all but one of our meals the previous five days aboard ship. (Excellent, though they were.) Now we could eat and drink with the natives and the many other tourists.
German food is part of my DNA and Blaska is German-Bohemian for “beer.” Munich (München as the natives call it) is famous for its Oktoberfest and our tour bus took us past the vast grounds that host this event.
Hitler first made his name with his failed beer hall putsch here in 1923 at the Bürgerbräukeller, which was pulled down in 1979. (Not because of any PC-correctness but because the place was ramshackle.) Imprisoned at nearby Landsberg Prison, he wrote Mein Kampf.
Six major brands are brewed in Munich: Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Hacker Pschorr, Spaten, Hofbräu, and the beer our guide suggested was the local favorite, Augustiner — first brewed by Augustinian monks in 1328.
All German beer is subject to what has been called the world’s first pure food and drug regulation: the Reinheitsgebot, first promulgated in 1487 here in Bavaria. It demands only four ingredients: water, grain (barley and or wheat), hops and yeast. (Not rice!)
The best beer is cold, fresh and never bottled. Save the fruit for dessert.
Before even checking in to the hotel, we took lunch at Munchner Stubn, conveniently located right across Bayerstrasse from the hotel. Of course, with beer! Their brand: Paulaner. Of the many varieties, we decided to specialize in Dunkels so as to compare the various brands. Dunkel is a malty, dark beer like Guinness with a foamy head — lighter tasting than it looks.
The meal, best I can recall, consisted of several wursts, red cabbage, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), and Spätzle (a kind of pasta). We were told that hamburgers are growing in popularity, spawned by the Mickie D’s and Burger King franchises but with the typical Germanic attention to detail. Wish we had tried one of the local variants.
A dozen blocks due east of the Sofitel directly on Bayerstrasse lies Munich’s Old Town, a warren of twisty streets and almost non-existent sidewalks and, seemingly, churches and beer halls. We witnessed the jousting knights of the Glockenspiel on the so-called new town hall built in 1908 but looking centuries older on the Marienplatz (Mary’s plaza).
The top half of the Glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V who (according to Wikipedia) founded the nearby Hofbräuhaus in 1589.
Our tour took us through the latter establishment, huge, rambling, and noisy like Madison’s Kollege Klub on old State Street but many times larger. Almost a Grand Central Station of beer mugs. But Squire Blaska has aged out of that scene. (Our tour also took us to the Nymphenburg Palace and it was starting to discover that the noble family still lives in it. To their credit, the Wittlesbachs — once kings of Bavaria — opposed Hitler and spent time in Dachau for their troubles.)
Weather the next day was much improved and we took off on foot to visit the Old Town at our own pace.
We spent unhurried time at St. Peter’s Cathedral, dating to 1368. Delightfully, its organ was playing as your raconteur soaked in the scene from the baroque altar to the painting of St. Peter’s crucifixion on the ceiling. I dropped a 2 Euro coin into the box. Could heaven be as beautiful?
[Our friend Sunny Schubert tells us we missed St. Munditia, a saint nowhere in the Catholic Church outside these walls, apparently. Encased in a glass box, it’s an eerie-looking skeleton a nobleman in the 1600s retrieved from Roman catacombs. The bejeweled specter reclines luridly like a courtesan, looking out at the world through crossed glass eyes. Catholic Churches are big on reliquaries; the more notable the remains, the more prestige. Pieces of the Crucifixion cross have bragging rights. It’s said there’s enough of that wood around to populate a forest.]
But this post is about food. The lovely Lisa remembered seeing a more intimate beer hall not far from the Hofbrauhaus. After some hunting and pecking, we found it: the Augustiner am Platzl. Its name suggested its beer. As with all (or most, far as I know) beer halls and gardens in Munich, it specializes in one brand. The Augustiner on Platzl street is a cozy place with the familiar flared ceiling-support columns like the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student union copy, the Rathskeller. We loved the ambience and service was always attentive. True everywhere we ate. We shared a meal; with one beverage each the tab was $33.20 in American money; that includes a 19% (!!!) value added tax (VAT).
We also stopped at a Hacker-Pschorr beer hall and that was wonderful as well.
We ventured into the Viktualienmarkt, an open-air market of over 100 tents and small sheds selling fresh fruit, cheese, and SPARGEL! Spears of asparagus thick as a weight-lifter’s thumb— not green but off-white.
Spargelzeit! It’s a delicacy here in Bavaria, available from mid-April to mid-June. It’s almost a cult! Tough to grow; machines need not apply. A labor of love; mounded up with earth to prevent chlorophyl and picked by hand.
Also across Bayerstrasse from our hotel was another restaurant with the nonGermanic name of Fleming’s. Modern and quiet, the German food was nonetheless impeccable. But what caught our attention was its special, seasonal menu devoted to SPARGEL!
Your Squire ordered the Spargel with salmon; the Lovely Lisa had hers with wiener schnitzel. Both plates were adorned with flavorful young potatoes, garnished with parsley. If not dressed in bearnaise, your Spargel will be just as happy topped with butter, salt and peppered. We put several of our tour party onto Fleming’s and they thanked us for it afterward. Two meals with a bottle of Austrian Veltiner wine and a bottle of water (“still”) the fare was $97.32. (The definitive Spargel screed here.)
A welcome surprise upon returning home: asparagus! The Experimental Work Farm’s asparagus patch had not given out as I had thought but was just a little late. Nonetheless, that 38-year-old patch is now augmented with new growth.
No, it’s not Spargel. But next year …. ?