My three days in Munich could be summed up with the following picture:
This place is so great, I don't even know where to begin. I did a pro job of navigating to my AirBNB on Monday, a nice confidence boost after the series of boneheaded mistakes I made getting out of Stockholm. My host was a lovely woman about my age, who had three yoga mats in her room and whose kitchen pantry was the German analog of mine at home—all coconut oil and whole grains. She was making dinner with a friend and invited me to join them; she made (very large!) zucchini sliced in half and baked with smoked tofu, amaranth, and tomato sauce. We all sat down together and took our first bites in deafening silence before I took the reins of the conversation, and wasn't able to hand them over to either of them for the rest of the meal, though not for lack of trying. Luckily, two years at the Fed and two years of swing dancing has made me incredibly adept at making conversation with awkward, quiet types, and I was able to carry us through both halves of our stuffed zucchini—delicious, by the way, which was made doubly impressive because I usually don't like zucchini or tofu (a fact I amazingly kept to myself at the time but am relieved to put down here.)
Tuesday I awoke with high hopes for the first day of the solo leg of my trip—solo travel! It's made to sound like the nirvana among hardcore travel-types, but I admit I've never really done it for more than one night at a time, and with my fairly extroverted disposition I've suspected that I wouldn't enjoy it (ask me sometime about the day I accidentally spent entirely alone, in which I became increasingly listless as the day went on and eventually ended with me crying myself to sleep.) But! I was determined to enter this society of solo travelers and understand what all the fuss was about. Using Jauntful (a completely underrated city guide website and that I'm flummoxed has not taken off in a big way), I set my sights on a cafe called Man Versus Machine, which sounded like they made a mean cappuccino, and boy did I need one, as two weeks in Herrang has left me with fierce caffeine addiction. The caffeine-less twenty minute walk there was not fun, and on the way I was tempted by many a cute cafe, but I stayed the course, and am very glad I did.
Man Versus Machine Coffeehouse
I may as well give this place its own section because I went there every day for three days, and desperately wish I could take this place with me everywhere I go. The two men that worked there, one a clean cut handsome fellow and the other looked like he could be part of Hell's Angels, were so nice. The first time I walked in they addressed me in German, an act that makes me feel instantly flattered for not seeming American, and then embarrassed as I have to say "I'm sorry, I don't speak German." Every time I went in I would have a small conversation with them, in English, usually about their delicious baked goods (more about those in a second.) Then the next time I came, they would once again address me in German, so either they didn't recognize me from day to day, or they thought I was a very fast learner.
In any case, the first time I walked in, I resolutely planned to get coffee only, aspiring to an abstemiousness that nearly always eludes me in front of a pastry case (if I had a slogan, I've often postulated that it might be "Powerless against pastries.") With that in mind, this is how it went down:
"One cappuccino to stay please." I glance furtively at the pastry case.
"Do you want something to eat?" Suddenly he's become the kind of person I am compelled to tell the truth to.
"I do." He suggests the banana bread, and I acquiesce.
"Do you want it toasted?"
"I do." Maybe this is what it feels like to get married.
"Butter and salt?" Is this man reading my mind?
"Are you reading my mind?" He laughs, not realizing it was a serious question, but I let it go.
Seasoned readers of Truffles and Tribulations should know what's coming next, and so if you don't want to read a detailed description of a banana bread that you will probably never get to eat, feel free to jump down a paragraph.
OK so it was a handsome, dark tawny loaf, and a bit squat, too, as a banana bread should be. It was toasted in a sort of panini press, so that both sides were ribbed with deeply caramelized grooves which funneled the melting butter into rivulets that dripped down the sides, taking large flakes of sea salt with them. The bread itself was like custard, so soft that it easily surrendered and then clung to to my fork, a perfect contrast to the crunchy sides and toasted grooves and flaky sea salt. And it was hot all the way through, too, a small but important detail. The cappuccino was also phenomenal; I was in rapture.
A Really Bizarre Museum
Riding the high of breakfast, I confidently walked to the Munchen Stadtmuseum, which I had read was a good place to learn about the history of Munich; I was misinformed.
Even thinking of my experience of this place makes me laugh. I guess it's purportedly about all things Munich, but whereas I was hoping for a sort of bird's eye history lesson, instead I found myself in room after room that delved deep into specific aspects of Munich history. I kept going through them not because I wanted to, but because I got hopelessly lost in the labyrinthine exhibits; there was a point when I actually thought I might have to spend the rest of my life in an exhibit about the history of beer labels, the layout of which I'm positive was designed by MC Escher. The fact that the floors were so creaky, and that there was almost no one else there, save for the leering museum attendants who would appear suddenly and silently (how?!), added to the feeing that I was descending into insanity.
After somehow navigating out of Beer Labels, I saw a sign that there was a theater on the top floor. Perfect! I like theaters (not theater, really, just theaters.) I bounded up the steps and directly into a darkened room with nothing but freaky puppets hanging in glass cases. What the...? I check the sign and now notice a word that looks ominously similar to "puppet" preceding the word that looked like "theater." But there were two more attendants up there, looking at me expectedly, and inexplicably feeling that I had to prove that I intended to be there, I stayed. Pretending to engross myself in the broad array of grotesque and often racist puppets hanging at disturbing angles, I walked slowly through, every so often nodding appreciatively and eliciting murmurs of understanding. After one passthrough, I got the hell out.
Finally, I found the part of the museum about the rise of National Socialism, which to the museum's credit was very well-done. But at that point my attention was running thin, and I also became reacquainted with the frustration I have every time I try to learn about 20th century German history, which is that there are so many acronyms, and so many moving parts. I would zone out and then stop my audio guide halfway through a track, only to start the next one and have it reference the Very Important Event that they explain at the end of the previous track. I resigned myself to wandering aimlessly among the swastikas and anti-Semitic posters before exiting, a little crestfallen. I did get to see some of Hitler's watercolors: they were unremarkable.
A Local Savior, Paulaner Beer House, and Octoberfest in July
I'll sum up the rest of the afternoon by saying my energy reserves were running low from so much alone time, and I felt very much a stranger and out of place, and it was bumming me out. I fell into a state of ennui, not even feeling like writing or reading or walking, my head full of existential questions. So, I couldn't contain my enthusiasm when my friend Laurin, whom I met at Herrang last year, got in touch saying he could do dinner (I may have responded with the words "desperate for company" but I can't be sure.) Laurin is German and has been living in Munich for many years, and I felt really lucky to be able to experience the city with a local. He's also awesome, which is a bonus. We went to Paulaner Brauhaus, one of the five major Munich breweries, and it was so good! He not only translated the menu for me, but then also chose exactly what I should get, which was a dish of spätzle covered in cheese that was comically stringy, and a tall weissbier. He got pretzel dumplings in a chanterelle and cream sauce, which were also delicious. It was really cool to be in an authentic beer garden, as the only other ones I had been to were in Brooklyn.
Afterwards, we walked to the large lawn where Octoberfest is held every year, only about a five minute walk from my AirBNB. And man, that was quite a sight. I had absolutely no idea how huge it was! And the things that they call "tents" are actually large buildings that take months to construct, and then become un-buildings in just two weeks after the festival is over. I had no real desire to go to Octoberfest until now, naively assuming that it would be like a bigger scale of the "Octoberfest" held at my college, which was too vile for words. But it sounds like the event, despite how big it is, still really has a soul to it, which is heartening—such a thing in the hands of Americans would be exploited to the max.
And there was also Lady Bavaria, who may now be tied with Juno for my favorite statue of an oversized woman. She is enormous. I couldn't get over it. Just staggeringly large—over 60 feet tall!!! We went right up to her base, where there were some locals drinking and smoking there. I could've stayed a lot longer just marveling at her, but I think Laurin didn't care as much, and so we walked back.
Clearly it was a day filled with trials/truffles and tribulations, but all's well that end's well. I have more to say about this wonderful city though, so stay tuned!