Beer and Bavaria
By Andy Collins
Munich, or München, to call the City by its proper name, is the capital of the Free State of Bavaria, the heartland of Germany.
This southern Germanic state is their most popular tourist destination, and it is easy to see why – stunning countryside, vibrant healthy living, myriad medieval towns and villages, mystical woods, including the famous Black Forest, lakes, palaces, fairytale castles and the Alps where Mount Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, looms large. The king of beer festivals – Munich’s Oktoberfest – still draws thousands from around the world each year.
In all, Bavaria boasts 100,000 architectural monuments, over 1,200 museums and collections and 40 premier venues for theatre and opera.
The state borders Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland and France, with Italy a short drive away across the western tip of Austria, through Innsbrook. It’s an ideal European location.
I visited for a weekend recently and was highly impressed. My last visit to Germany was whilst a crew member on a documentary, which was shot in and around Stuttgart in 1997. Enjoyable as it was, I did not have the time to properly take in your surroundings whilst working. This time, on a family visit, I could really appreciate some of what Bavaria had to offer.
Our first point of call, naturally, was a Bavarian beer hall. Der Pschorr, located in the Schrannenhalle district at the Eastern End of Munich is named after the 18th Century brewer, Joseph Pschorr.
Ostensibly for locals, but often visited by tourists, I found it to be a warm welcome to the City. Traditional dress is worn by the staff, as in many establishments in Munich – Lederhosen for the men and the delightful Dirndl for the women. It was packed out on the Friday evening, and we were lucky to get a table.
Bavaria is famous for its beer – not least because of the renowned beer purity laws, enacted on 23rd April 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV – which means that their beer is some of the best in the world. Many outlets only stock beer from local breweries, such as the Augustinerbräu, started by the Augustiner Brothers in 1328. It’s widely considered the best beer available in Munich. Others Altebrau’s (old breweries) include : Hofbräuhaus, Löwenbräu and Thomasbräu.
Service at Der Pschorr was fast and friendly, though to a new visitor, the German’s brusqueness might be off putting. This is a cultural trait – efficiency is the order of the day, and if you are hesitant or indecisive it’s really not appreciated. The Bavarians are very carnivorous – vegetarians are not at all catered for. The menu consisted of various hunks and slabs of beef – organic alpine reared – pig, entrails, lights … pretty much everything is eaten. It certainly isn’t what you’d call health food. We managed to find two meat free dishes – small dumplings with cheese, served with salad. These turned out to be very delicious and filling – though quite stodgy.
Beer and Bavaria
There was a lovely atmosphere – mainly local families enjoying a night out. Prices were fairly reasonable – a half litre of beer was 4.30 euros, and a main was around 15 euros.
We ended the evening in a schnapps bar – where over 40 different flavours were available. Beers were more expensive here, at 4.90 euros, but you are paying for quality and it’s well worth it.
Munich boasts some fantastic markets – Christmas time is especially wonderful in Germany. Beer gardens, produce stalls, clothes, hand made wooden toys and many other things were on sale. A large maypole stood proud in the centre of the market. Bavarians still remember their pagan roots.
I was staying in Ingolstadt, north of Munich – home of Audi, the car manufacturers. It really is a workers town now – Audi even lay on their own buses to transport employees to and from the huge factory in the outskirts. The company boasts the Audi Forum centre, which attracts around 400,000 visitors each year, and has restaurants, concerts, a cinema and many other amenities. They also run behind the scenes tours but unfortunately I did not have the time to go.
It’s a traditional town of around 120,000 people – with many parks and pedestrianised zones. It sits astride the great river Danube, now one of the cleanest in Europe.
We visited the police museum (not to be confused with the Bavarian Military museum) – a curious horse shoe shaped building in one of the parks on the bank of the river. It charts the history of the Bayern / Bavarian police force from the late 19th Century to the 70s, invariably including their infamous and appalling involvement with the Nazi regime. It’s very comprehensive, featuring a good size collection of original uniforms, vehicles and memorabilia.
One of the most interesting items on display, for me, was the original ‘wanted’ poster for the Baader-Meinhof gang or R.A.F. (Rote Armee Faction – Red Army Faction), a terrorist group operating in the late 60s and 70s.
I lived as a child in Hohne UK army base from 1976 – 1979, a UK army base near Celle, in North Germany – one which was under constant threat of attack from these groups. I still remember squaddies stopping our car at gunpoint, and searching it, even though we lived on the base. Tensions were very high, understandably. The Baader-Meinhof gang had already blown up US Marines at their V Corps barracks, Frankfurt in Spring 1972, killing one American officer and injuring 13. Two weeks later, two car bombs exploded inside U.S. Army Headquarters’ Campbell Barracks killing U.S. soldiers and injuring five.
A very well researched and produced German film about the group was released in 2011 : The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which detailed how the group started and their terrorist actions against the state, foreign bases and corporate figures.
There were also interesting pictures of the police breaking up protest camps in the 70s. Student radicalism was very prevalent in that decade, even in Germany.
My German language is pretty poor, so I could not understand most of the explanations text, or the video at the end of the tour. Nonetheless, a fascinating and informative museum.
The following day we visited a much happier site – the Bavarian film studios, just south of Munich.
There are two tours – a comprehensive one, or a quicker one. As we were pushed for time and had to catch a flight in three hours, we opted for the quick tour, lasting 90 minutes.
It is a working studio, but still boasts remnants of sets from well known international productions, such as Das Boot, The Never Ending Story, Enemy Mine, and, co-incidentally, relating to my previous day’s police museum visit, The Baader Meinhof Complex. Also some sets from big budget homegrown productions, such as King Ludwig.
Don’t expect Hollywood – it’s pretty low key, with modestly sized studios and numerous out-buildings and small companies attached. However, it was fascinating. A very amiable and charming tour guide took us round the various areas and sets – unfortunately we had to take the German language tour as the English language one was too late.
Highlights included peeking into a live studio set (Gems TV) from behind soundproof glass windows, walking through the claustrophobic and evocative submarine mock up from Das Boot (sadly the periscope doesn’t work – I did try), a fabulous dungeon set from Asterix, a TV studio set where an audience member was integrated as a cast member with pre-recorded footage whilst another audience member mixed the output live, and bizarrely, seeing the Egyptian style statues from The Never Ending Story, surely one of the weirdest 80s sci-fi children’s films.
STATUES USED IN ‘THE NEVER ENDING STORY’
It’s 14 euros for the 90 minute tour, and whilst anything like a challenge to the huge US film studio tours Universal studios or indeed the Berlin film studio tour, well worth a visit.
I certainly want to return to Bavaria and spend more time enjoying all it has to offer. Our flying visit really only gave me a glimpse of the place, but definitely whetted the appetite – all the churches, castles, woods, lakes and of course the Alps remain to be explored.