Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Munich: trinken und essen, Caffe und Kuchen, Kunst und Wurst, Bier und Fleisch

Munich Day 1 – Trinken und essen
Much hilarity when we arrived at the hotel to find that Ken and I had enormous penthouse rooms with a bedroom at the top of a spiral staircase and a lounge with an extra TV. Ronnie’s room, on the other hand, was clearly designed for a Hobbit. This was to be the running gag for the entire weekend.

A couple of glasses of wine in the Hotel then hunger kicked in, so it was essen und trinken in a Bierkeller for our first night, which was fun, as we avoided the more famous Hofbrauhaus and Englisher Garten. Knuckle of pork, pork and half a chicken washed down with half litres of dunkel bier, brewed on the premises. This half-pub, half-restaurant work’s well, as it’s communal and gets strangers talking to each other, which is why it will never catch on in England. Thankfully, however, no oompah band.

Several incidents have already put paid to the myth of German efficiency. The train from the airport was late, registration at the hotel was a mix up and breakfast was a shambles of uncleaned tables. Even on the U-bahn our train door was broken and the up-escalator not moving.

Munich Day 2 - Kaffee und Kuchen
A stroll past the Basilica St Boniface to the Glyptothek, a superb collection of Greek and Roman sculpture. Two Kouri in the first room then the Barberini Faun, one of the finest pieces of antique sculpture in the world. He’s caught just as he’s either waking or falling sleep, in the twilight zone, drowsy but every bit alive. By having his arm and leg bent there’s movement which brings life to his sleeping body but there’s no mistaking the sexual pose. Then room after room of top quality, mostly Roman works. The groups from the pediments of the Aegina Temple are here, as are heads of the Greek philosophers and Roman emperors. It’s always fun testing Ken on his skill at recognising Roman Emperors from their busts alone. This is the man who spotted the fact that the Museum of Scotland had the date wrong on their Antonius Pius bust and received a letter of thanks when they rectified the mistake. We did a pretty good job of identifying them from sight only – the tapering lower face of Augustus, small mouthed Tiberius, chubby Nero, big-faced Titus,  finger-fringed Trajan, bearded Hadrian, his lover - boyish Antinous, then the permed Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus.

Alte Pinatotek
Before embarking on our second round of art it was Kaffee und Kuchen in the gallery café. Then, Durer’s famous ‘self or Christ’ self-portrait, Rubens, a Leonardo (a poor Madonna and child), superb Raphael with its pyramid of crossed glances and poses and dozens of Rubens. Four solid hours.

Munich Day 3 – Kunst und Wurst
Assam Church
Jewel box of a church with a golden skeleton inside the door and as full a baroque interior as can be imagined. I’m not sure what abundance of decoration does to a spiritual person, but this is surely one massive distraction. There’s no respite in terms of colour or form – it’s an assault with battery on the senses.

These Baroque palaces with their room after room seem unliveable, comfort and layout sacrificed for pomposity. No question of paying attention to a bottom line but questionable in terms of architecture. The exception is the grand room with the classical sculpture. At one point, when I looked out behind a curtain down into a courtyard, a group of what looked like Nazi soldiers were hanging about in a group. It looked like some sort of re-enactment. Perhaps a rehearsal for invading Greece? Very strange. What was beautiful was the Cuvier Theatre a Rococo masterpiece in red and gold. It’s small but burns with colour.

Englishen Garten – Wurst und Wein
After the predictable stuffiness of the Residenz, it was time for some fresh air, so we hoofed it off to the Englisher Garten for some Weisswurst und Gluwein– it was just a few degrees above freezing and tasted great. In summer, we were told, people can’t wait to get their wieners und wursts out, in the push for ‘health and efficiency’ of course.

Neue Pinatotek
Twenty two rooms of art from around 1800, and understandably, lots of German artists we had never heard of. A David, Canova and Goya in the first couple of rooms whet your appetite but the following rooms of relentless German realism were a chore. One respite was the British room with a stunning Turner, some excellent Gainsboroughs and a David Wilkie. The French impressionists, were, eh, impressive, as was the painting of Wittgenstein’s sister (a surprise) by Klimt.

Zum Franziskaner - Bier und Fleisch
After a pit stop in a lovely old bar for some dunkel bier it was off to the Zum Franziskamer for Bavarian cuisine on our last night; the Franziskaner Special, a mountain of meat – huge chunks of pork, chicken, beef and sausages with dumplings, red cabbage and sauerkraut. Ronnie went for the light option – an ox steak! Strudel and apple rings for dessert and three bottles of wine. Absolutely stuffed.

Munich Day 4 – Suppe und Brot
Morning stroll round the Victualmarket with its Christmas decorations. A giant tree was being hoisted up by three cherry pickers in Marienplatz and the Christmas market was being built. The famous Rathaus clock sprung into action with its knight and dancing figures to the strains of Wooden Heart - Elvis lives. Ridiculously overpriced, pyramid-shaped chocolates were bought for the Fraulein and Ronnie was seriously thinking about returning with his family for Christmas. By this time we were frozen and opted for bowls of soup in the Munchensuppe stall, as we had gorged ourselves last night, and very fine soup it was.

Deutsche Museum
Auf wiedersehn to Ronnie, then off to the huge Deutsche Museum, a down to earth museum stiffed with machines. The aircraft hall was impressive with Mescherschmitts, Junkers, Hunkels V1 and V2 bombs. It was basically a huge hall dedicated to things used to bomb your granny. Being lads at heart we liked fiddling around with the basic physics stuff – pendulums, hydraulics, centrifugal forces. Gutenberg and printing get big billing. Interesting that his innovation was a cluster of technological improvements – moveable type, screw press and oil-based ink. Books are not often seen as technology but technology they are. Pity the clock on top of the building had stopped. Final church the Hiellig Kirche, a white Gothic interior with frescoes on the ceiling. The plain white columns and colourful ceiling accentuated the height.

Munich’s a sober place, hard-working, conservatively dressed and obviously wealthy. The city centre’s like a combined Mercedes, BMW and Audi showroom and the shops are rammed. What it lacks is the charm of a Prague or Budapest.