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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Munchin’ in München

Germans and giant beers, pretzels and lederhosen, roast pork knuckle (notes on which below) and surfing on currents on the Eisbach (part of the Isar River system) in the Englischer Garten. Could you get any more Bavarian? (the photo above is of the Bayern Munich supporters celebrating winning the Bundesliga in the Marienplatz, in the centre of the old town of Munich, incidentally, not a hem hem rally).

It’s part two of Kit’s Cucina’s tour guide to the Alps. Today we look at Munich, or München (the town near the monks). So let’s start with the most obvious thing. Beer!

The beer gardens and beer halls of Munich, or München, are famous the world over, especially for the festival of Oktoberfest. This article gives you only a small glimpse into the many, but they are a couple of key ones for you to cross off your list if you’re there for only a short time.

Platzl 9, 80331 München, Germany
+49 89 290136100

The most famous beer hall, for tourists, is the Hofbräuhaus am Platz (on the place), located right in the centre of the old town. It was built originally as a private hall of the royal court in 1589 by Duke Maximillian I; a Bavarian who was responding to Wilhelm V’s call for better beer in München, having had to import it from Saxony. His answer? For them to brew their own beer, under tight controls.

The common people were banned from making wheat beer at the time, using barley instead; wheat being considered too precious during times of food scarcity, a rule the royals had ignored – enjoying wheat beers privately. But it couldn’t last like that forever. A couple of centuries later, in1828, Ludwig I let the people in; it being a time of political reform, with democracy on the rise and general concerns among the elite about new waves of thought including communism and the anarchists. The opening of the court’s brewhall doors marked the first time the general public had drunk wheat beers in centuries.

Of course, the Hofbräuhaus also has a dark side, like much of Munich, in its association with National Socialism (hem hem, aka the Nazis). Much like the ruins that the Nazi’s became, the beer halls did not escape some heavy bombardment themselves, with the Hofbräuhaus um Platz having only one beer hall left standing after the bombings of WWII, being rebuilt from the fifties to seventies…

Hofbräukeller am Wiener Platz
Innere Wiener Straße 19, 81667 München, Germany

The Hofbräu brewery (Keller) moved up to the river on a hill in the mid-1800’s, the old one on Platz becoming a dedicated beer hall where today locals keep their steins in special cages around the walls, and turn up in lederhosen for a trip to the pub, without a hint of irony or dressing up – it’s the national costume.

I believe Hitler made his first ever political speech at the Hofbräukeller around 1919.

Today the Hofbräukeller is more for locals, and in summer they have bands playing under the trees down by the river.

Actually, on checking the map, the music venue might be next door at:

Zellstraße 4, 81667 München, Germany
+49 89 45875010

Arnulfstraße 52, 80335 München, Germany
+49 89 594393

The beer the Munich locals drink today, by on large, is a brew known as Augustiner – not Hofbräu at all.

The Augustiner-Keller is outside the old town, not a long way, a half hour walk into the newer parts of the city. You almost wouldn’t know it was there from street level, except for the odd cheery drunk and weaving pedestrian passing by. You enter either up a driveway or a steep path through a high rendered brick fence onto slightly raised ground.

But once you’re in there, it’s a beer drinker’s paradise. The grounds are spacious and can host thousands, and are never short of a few hundred on a sunny afternoon.

In the gardens of the Augustiner Keller, the brewers grew chesnut trees, making a cooling and beautiful atmosphere on which to drink beer on a sunny day.

The cool shade spills dappled green light over soft white stone paths. The coolness allowed brewers to keep the beer longer when it was out being served. Chestnut trees were the preferred species, as the trees grow with roots that spread outwards instead of down, making them ideal to have above beer cellars; which the brewers had in large quantities, barrel-vaulted brick subterranean caves going storeys underground.

Chestnuts also provide nuts to roast in autumn, and to feed the pigs from which the butchers made pork and sausages to sell with the beer.

This tranquil garden idyll comes with the smell of barbecued meats, litre sized glasses of cold pure beer, and giant pretzels as big as your head.

Chinesicher Turm
(the Chinese Tower)
Englischer Garten 3, 80538 München, Germany

Located in the extensive parkland that is the Englischer Garten (the English Garden), Munich’s largest park, this tower was not imported from China, but built by the Bavarian aristocracy in the 1700’s since they’d been to England and seen a similar tower, Chinese art being all the rage (man, you want to have seen the palace built by the Savoys in Torino… but that’s for another article).

At the base of this tower is a large beer garden, with open air kitchen and beer huts you enter through turnstiles, kind of like something at the Melbourne show, where you line up with trays and get litres of beer, and roast meats, pretzels, spratzel (a kind of baked pasta dish) etc. You also get a small disc, which is a deposit for returning your glass. A holiday atmosphere permeates the area, with plenty of tourists, and a quasi-permanent Bavarian brass band in the tower, periodically playing the beer drinking song “Ein Prosit”, the lyrics of which are:

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit

Der Gemütlichkeit

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit

Der Gemütlichkeit.


Or for those of you who don’t know what gemütlichkeit are (ya squares):

A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times

A toast, a toast

To cheer and good times.


While in the Englisher Garten, you can also watch the locals surfing on the river!

Clearly, I’m not going to do all of Munich and beer Halls justice here. If you’d like to do further research, can I direct you to the following more comprehensive site?


Pork Knuckle

Before going to the Bavarian capital, I asked a Müncher (if that’s what they’re called!) about the food there, and without a doubt from him (and people I met there with local tips), the overwhelming speciality is pork knuckle.

Many years ago, when I was in Slovakia at the swimming pool with some family friends (hello Milos!), Milos’ son begged for a pork knuckle for lunch. At the swimming pool. It looked like someone had boiled a human hand, which the kid couldn’t finish all of and went on to gnaw on the knuckle which he took away with him in a plastic cup, nibbling the cut off quasi-human hand in the car beside me, a more horrifying scene I have yet to beat (I’ve had equal ones, like being locked in a dark room with an abattoir worker who was swinging his glow in the dark “sting” sword bought from a Lord of the Rings fan shop… truly terrifying…).

Not so the Bavarian pork knuckle, which is like a lump of tender meat wrapped in beautiful curls of crackling. The trick, I was told by our local guide, is to slow roast them over flame, and he showed me one of the most famous pork knuckle purveyors in the old town at:

Haxnbauer im Scholastikahaus
Sparkassenstraße 6, 80331 München, Germany
+49 89 2166540

… and since it’s on “spark assen street”, you’d better believe it!

I’ve scoured the web for a recipe, and none look the real deal. SBS’s looks like the skin is underdone (the real ones have a recipe where the skin is all crackling, and the object unrecognizable as a limb). Probably the best in looks I’ve seen to date you can find here:


So there you have it, a kick off in München. Next stop, Innsbruck!!