Postcard from Munich

Have you ever heard of Udo Lindenberg? Thought not. He’s a German singer and his genre is German rock. Now I know what you’re thinking, judging by the Eurovision song contest, German music is not exactly something to get your dancing shoes strapped on for. And yes, I do agree. Usually it’s a sickly sweet version of contemporary music to swing your beer mug to but Udo Lindenberg is quite, quite different. He and his Panik Orchester are slightly anarchic, a bit jazzy, very laconic and his lyrics are both funny and deep. He has long hair, wears a trilby and is very ungermanically Rock’nRoll.

Udo Lindenberg

Recently he was going on tour and giving concerts all over Germany, so we thought ‘Why the devil not?’ and scraped together our accumulated Avios points to book a flight to Munich and rock our little socks off in Bavaria’s fair capital.

Udo Lindenberg Concert, Olympiahalle Munich

The concert was everything it promised to be and more. Completely belying his 70 years, Lindenberg certainly knows how to put on one hell of a show. The Lovely Husband was a little perplexed by it all, but he gamely got involved, shaking his dancing legs to the tunes, even though he wasn’t able to sing along to the songs with the same enthusiasm and verve as his former rock chick wife, who, back in her student days had once shared a glass of beer with the singer, a momentous and rather too often repeated story!

Isetta, BMW Museum, Munich

Mr. Lindenberg and I hail from the very hanseatic north of Germany, and Bavaria is in the deep south, 0nly about 500 miles distant but a million miles away in terms of lifestyle, cuisine and people, this is the epitome of stereotypical Germany. Down here, so close to the Alps, men wear Lederhosen and women Dirndls, not so much as a national costume but in everyday life, and there are specialist traditional outfitters on every corner. There’s beer, beer and more beer, as well as the local speciality ‘Weisswuerschtel mit Senf’, sausages made from minced veal and pork back bacon and usually flavoured with parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger and cardamom, with sweet mustard on the side. Not everyone’s meal of choice, I grant you. Locals can invariably yodel, ski and are mostly darker, shorter and much more conservative than their Nordic countrymen and also, in contrast to the North, mostly of Catholic faith. As for the Bavarian accent, which is close to Austrian German, it’s quite undecipherable to us Northerners when spoken at full pelt. Home of BMW and Bayern Munich, it’s a markedly different country to the seafaring one I come from, where the cold Atlantic winds blow in from the Skagerrak and oilskins are the order of the day rather than Loden coats with antler buttons.

Starting them young in Lederhosen romper.
A perfectly normal clothing shop in Munich

Munich is Germany’s third largest city after Hamburg and Berlin with a population of approximately 1.5 Million. Like all German cities, it has a slightly provincial air, modified by its proximity to Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy, which give it some sense of International sophistication. Bavarians are mightily proud of their history and traditions and of their indisputably sensationally beautiful alpine landscape.

Anna Hotel, Munich. Dining Room and Bar
Room at Anna Hotel, Munich

The Lovely Husband and I much prefer staying at small boutique hotels rather than at the big International chains, so for our three nights in Munich we made the Anna Hotel our home, as recommended by the ‘Mr.&Mrs. Smith’ hotel guide . This design hotel is small, comfortable, cool and contemporary but perhaps a tad too no frills service wise for my liking, despite its expensive and showy little restaurant. But it is excellently located in the centre and right by the Bahnhof metro and mainline station, which made it a convenient stop for us. The pretty Old Town, the famous Maximiliansplatz and the wonderful Viktualienmarkt, a traditional Bavarian food market, are all within easy walking distance.

Anna Hotel, Schuetzenstrasse 1, 80335 Munich   Tel.

Viktualienmarkt, Munich
Mushroom stand at the Viktualienmarkt

Prior to our trip, still in London, I had randomly got chatting to a young couple from Munich, so I had asked them for restaurant recommendations. One of these had been the Spezl Wirtschaft, so this is where we took ourselves on the first evening. Spezl is a Bavarian expression for ‘good mate’ and Wirthschaft means pub or inn, so that already sounded promising. It was hidden away down some local little alleyways and then up a fire escape. Thank God for Google Maps or we wouldn’t have found it! The ‘Wirtschaft’ was crowded, full of young people in the know, very rustic and vaguely studenty but, at the same time, cosy and inviting. We managed to garner a small table by a window and started perusing the rather delicious sounding menu of local specialities.

The Spezl Wirtschaft is not easy to find!


Inside the Spezl Wirtschaft

Not for us the braised pork knuckles and sauerkraut, but there were enough less meaty options to get us salivating. In the end we chose Crayfish Tartare, Kaesspatzn, a very typical Bavarian noodle dish with melted cheese and onions, Spinach dumplings and, to finish, Bayrisch Crème, basically a Bavarian version of Crème Brulee. All of it was simply delicious and very much enhanced by the helpful service and the fabulous atmosphere in this pub. We paid €65.50 for this meal, including two glasses of lager, two glasses of a particularly refreshing white burgundy and one coffee.

Bayrisch Creme at Spezl Wirtschaft

Spezl Wirtschaft, Ledererstrasse 3, 80331 Munich   Tel.: (0)89 23232973

Inside Cafe Gloria

Breakfast was not included at Hotel Anna and the buffet was set at €22 per head plus coffees extra, which seemed far too high for the relatively small amount we eat in the mornings, but fortunately, German cafes, cake and coffee meccas that they are for the rest of the day, also do excellent breakfasts. So we set off on an exploratory mission and, on our first morning, came across Café Gloria, tucked away just behind the Karlsplatz. My heart sank as we walked in, it was hardly a looker, this place with its dark red spoonback chairs and its very outdated look, not to mention it’s intense lavatory cleaner smell, but what can you do when you’re hungry? In fact, most surprisingly, it offered up a simple but quite excellent Continental breakfast and really good coffee at €20 for the two of us. Wizard wheeze!

Breakfast at Cafe Gloria
Apple cake at Cafe Gloria

Café Gloria, Karlsplatz 5, 80335 Munich, Tel. (0)89 59988070

The Glockenspiel in the ‘New’ Town Hall, Marienplatz Munich

Another morning we made our way to the Glockenspiel Café opposite the very charming mechanical clockwork of the “New” Town Hall on the Marienplatz, which dingdongs every hour on the hour, sending out Bavarian figurines, a charming spectacle which can be conveniently watched from inside the café. This was a little more upmarket and cosier than the Gloria but, as before, our breakfast with the fruity muesli and freshly baked white crusty rolls and homemade jams was substantial and very good indeed.

Fresh rolls and homemade jam at the Glockenspiel Cafe

Café Glockenspiel, Marienplatz 28, 80331 Munich, Tel. (0)89 264256

Englischer Garten

During our first day and evening in Munich it had bucketed down with rain, but then the skies cleared and the sun put its hat back on. So what better thing to do than take a walk in Munich’s famous park, the Englischer Garten?! It is one of the world’s largest urban parks and, in fact, at 910 acres, it is also bigger than Central Park in New York. It was designed in 1789 by Sir Walter Thompson and derives its name from the then altogether novel English landscaping style, which set aside the previous formality in landscaping in preference for natural looking vistas. And my, it is pretty! Still, we were slightly taken aback to suddenly come across a large clearing among the trees peopled by entirely nude sun worshippers. It’s kind of hard to know where to look as you unsuspectingly meander down the path, past dog walkers, prams and cyclist, and there, to your left, is a meadow full of nudists! Ah well, that’s the Germans for you, their long history of FKK (Freikoerperkultur) is based on Nordic paganism and is deeply ingrained in German culture. As far as they’re concerned, there’s nothing naughty about it, it’s wholesome!

Englischer Garten, 80538 Munich, Tel.: (0)89 38666390

Kaisergarten in Schwabing, Munich
Kaisergarten in Schwabing, Munich

We quickly scampered off to lunch at another recommendation, the Kaisergarten in Schwabing. This is the trendiest area in Munich, with many gorgeous residential villas and greenery interspersed with smart shops and nice cafes and beer gardens. It’s definitely the place to hang out! The Kaisergarten is a pretty pub with a large garden shaded by mature trees. The weather was clement and lunching outside in this leafy set up just perfect on a day such as this. It was Germany’s asparagus season, those six weeks in May/June when the white asparagus is harvested and eaten by the pound, often in combination with new buttery potatoes and ham or Wiener Schnitzel, but I just love it all by itself. It’s invariably a tasty but light meal and, of course, healthy into the bargain, so this is what I ordered. The Lovely Husband chose a vegetarian dish, grilled cheesy courgettes with herby sour cream and a wonderful rocket and watercress salad with cherry tomatoes and asparagus pieces. Yum! It was all very palatable, fresh, excellently well prepared and light, and the summery ambience of the garden added to the enjoyment. We could have sat here all afternoon, eating, drinking chilled white wine and frothy lager respectively, and putting the world to rights.

Cheesy Zucchini with Salad and herby sour cream , Kaisergarten
A pound of white asparagus.

Kaisergarten, Kaiserstrasse 34, 80801 Munich, Tel.: (0)89 34020203

There was one more treat in store, dinner at the world’s 44th best restaurant, and considered one of the very best in Germany, Tantris, which is amply Michelin starred and, like the above Kaisergarten, located in Schwabing. For the last 20 years or so, it has showcased the culinary skills of chef Hans Haas.

Tantris, Menu Cover
Tantris, Munich, Exterior

It’s an architecturally interesting building designed by property developer Fritz Eichbauer in the 1970s and has a mostly red, black and white Asian inspired theme, plentiful plants, a pretty courtyard, and many porcelain statuettes of mythical heraldic type animals on the table, which can be bought as souvenirs at not inconsiderable cost.

Tantris, Munich, Interior

Looks wise Tantris, which was once oh so avant-garde, reeks heavily of the 1970s. A giant picture wall close to our white starched linen covered table depicted a most peculiar James Bondy tableau of two sexily cavorting women among candelabras, with a wine waiter in attendance. Whatever is all that about? It’s difficult to get its relevance, somehow. On the other hand, our waiter was an Identikit version of a young Stephen Gately, that pretty chap from Boyzone who died so young, so I coped alright with the visual impressions of this place.

Peculiar picture wall at Tantris

The menu is interesting if, in my opinion, unnecessarily complicated, and complemented by a 49 page long wine list. This is serious gourmet dining! We were served an Amuse Bouche of Tuna Tataki with Shitake Mouse, which was a tasty morsel, then we shared Sauteed Langoustines with Fennel and Artichoke salad and Pumpernickel Mousse, which, again,was  most delicious and an excellent combination of fresh tastes and textures. My Breton Turbot with Chanterelles and White Asparagus was impressive and light. On the menu broad beans are included in this dish, but since I am no fan of these but adore Chanterelles, the kitchen easily adapted to my preference. As expected in such a highly accoladed restaurant, the fish was perfectly cooked and the mushrooms and asparagus retained their firmness without being tough. Very nice indeed! The Lovely Husband’s Medaillons of May Lamb with Chanterelles, Cabbage and Spaetzle, was pink, tender and succulent with the comforting Bavarian Spaetzle noodles and the earthy mushrooms well chosen accompaniments, giving the whole dish an enhanced homey kind of taste.

Sauteed Langoustines with Fennel and Artichoke salad and Pumpernickel Mousse
Medaillons of May Lamb with Chanterelles, Cabbage and Spaetzle

Obviously you can’t go to this type of place and not at least try their puds, that goes without saying! But we restrained ourselves by sharing a Warm Caramel Souffle with Braised Rhubarb and Banana and Sour Crème Icecream. A gorgeously fluffy little dome of mousse arrived, the rhubarb however would have been better less sweetened and more tart, to contrast with the creamy ice and the airy dessert. Still, it was perfectly palatable and we weren’t complaining. Unexpected but no less welcome were the tiny Petit Fours delivered with our coffee. Not bad, Mr. Woodpecker, as the Germans would say (‘Nicht schlecht, Herr Specht’)! The food was beautifully presented, the service outstanding, the wine, a well chilled Sauvignon Rebholz, extremely quaffable but the bill, hell’s bells, was a mind-blowingly €317.50, not including service.

Turbot with asparagus and chanterelles
Warm caramel souffle with braised rhubarb and banana sour cream ice-cream

Was it worth it? Frankly, that depends on who you’re asking. If you are a collector of high grade culinary experiences, then yes, for sure, Tantris is a must in any gourmet’s collection. If, on the other hand,  you’re asking a person who’s just as happy with a slice of Pumpernickel bread rather than mousse, with scrambled eggs and chanterelles instead of jus, foam and foie gras, well no, not so much. Me, I’m glad we went, I enjoyed the food and the opportunity to eat at one of Europe’s best, but I don’t feel the need to repeat it. I’d easily be as happy at Spezl Wirtschaft or Kaisergarten, where the food is just as good, if less fancy, and the ambience and price more conducive to relaxation and sheer fun.

Mignardises served with coffee at Tantris

Tantris, Johann-Fichte-Strasse 7, 80805 Munich, Tel.: (0)89 361 9590

And so our Munich sojourn came to an end, a wonderful interlude in the routine of daily life at home. The Lovely Husband hopped on to a plane back to London, while I took a two hour train journey to picturesque Oberstaufen in the Allgaeu, chugging further into the Alps, past cows with bells, sloping wildflower meadows and dinky chalet type houses, to visit a good friend for a few days. But that’s another Bavarian story for another time…..

And on deep into the Allgäu……

Postscript: Since writing this blog post the terrifying atrocities have taken place in Munich, yet another tragic event in a world currently riddled with pain and fear. My heart goes out to all those affected and to this beautiful city.

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