Where is this? You emerge out of the Hauptbahnhof, the central nervous system of the city, and are immediately floored by its noisy, car-laden, babel of voices as people flurry about as if in a snowstorm. It is a place where you have your mid-morning brunch of a long, slim glass of Weizen alongside either a pale ghostly sausage or a deeply sun-tanned brown pretzel; around you in the tree-shaded beer garden, the chatty, garrulous, gossipy and contemplative soul of the people who live in the city is revealed as the conversation all around ebbs and flows like the sea in a cove on a day when the wind can’t quite make up its mind what to do.
Where is this? Another beer garden, this time plonked in the midst of one of the city’s broad green spaces, a place of waterfalls, temples and yoga classes, upon which dogs run and people lounge. On a sunny day it is a vital escape from the city. Even though the hum of traffic can be heard in the background, the green space is restful with the sound of birdsong. There’s no escaping beer though: this beer garden is overlooked by an 18th-century Chinese pagoda, whose weathered frame is enlivened by the golden bells that hang off it. I try a glass of Urbock, a copper-coloured, robust creature, with a crystalline sweetness, a rich caramelisation, a lingering bitterness, and a weight of flavour from its 7.2% ABV.
Where is this? Inside the bar it’s all wooden panels, old black-and-white photos on the wall and a quiet and restrained mood. The food is traditional for the city, sausages, chunks of meat as if hewn from the rocks of an ancient cliff and a glass of Dunkel, deep chestnut brown, with a chocolate, rye, and biscuit nose; on the palate toasted, pumpernickel bread, floral hop notes, followed by a dry and crisp finish, appetising and refreshing and my glass is empty all too soon. I order another.
I think you might have guessed by now. This is in Bavaria, in Munich of course, one of the great beer cities of Europe, a place that I love but also occasionally roll my eyes at and wish I was in Berlin or Bamberg instead. This is a city that it pays to take a beer pilgrimage to, and if you can stand the crowds and the extraordinary sights of public drunkenness also make your way to the Oktoberfest. If you really want to immerse yourself in the culture of beer then Munich is one of those stations of the cross, where you go on a beer pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage is such a basic word, a word that slides into everyday speech with the ease of a towel thrown at an exhausted athlete after a race well run. It is an easily used word, promiscuous perhaps in the way it makes friends with everyone, its use thrown about like a stool or a series of punches in a pub fight; it is a word that suggests everything and nothing.
A shopping centre is a place of pilgrimage; others might say that they went to see their football team on a pilgrimage; there are favourite bands whose day has long gone but still the pilgrims come, grey of hair, slightly stooped of gait, remembering what was once and what could have been; there are historical pilgrimages and family plots in a graveyard that mean nothing to anyone but you. These all merit pilgrimages.
As does beer, which is why as the summer comes and thoughts turn to travel, I would suggest that if you really want to get into the soul of beer, whether it’s a Leipziger Gose, a West Coast IPA, or even a Best Bitter brewed in the middle of the English countryside, it’s time to make that pilgrimage. Munich was one of mine.