Monday, September 25, 2006
I like drinking beer in train stations.
Airports are sleek, clean, and carefully calibrated to soothe your fears of flying by extricating as much cash as possible from your wallet while you hurry up and wait to be late.
Need I go further than a $5.90 Sam Adams Boston Lager at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport to make the point?
If you’re lucky, the European train station where you rest atop your luggage prior to departure has resisted the worst excesses of gentrification, retaining a handful of down and dirty nooks duly filled by 7:00 a.m., when the same old men queue at the concessions window that’s first to serve beer that day.
Rest assured, they didn’t come to eat … although others did, and somewhere, sausages will be roasting. In smaller cities, the train station’s full service restaurant just might remain a cherished local meeting place even if the days of elegance have passed.
Since my first European travels more than two decades ago, the enjoyment of having a beer or three at the train station hasn’t diminished. There’s something about the contrast between my own stationary absorption and the motion of people passing through – their laughter and conversation, their bags and backpacks, the music of languages and announcements over the loudspeakers – that is enduringly fascinating.
Although the beer selection is seldom large, it’s no worse than an airport, and price gouging customarily is kept to a minimum.
Back in the 1980’s, there was an imbiss directly in front of Track 16 in Munich’s central station. It has since been displaced by major renovations, but in its prime, I looked forward to the opportunity to stand at one of the huge barrel-like wooden tables and drink a cool, crisp Hacker-Pschorr served by one of the workers from the back of the stainless steel and tile work areas.
An added bonus was the luscious Leberkase (a bologna-like meatloaf), served warm with mustard, and an assortment of sausages priced only a bit above those offered by nearby restaurants.
Along with cousin Don, I’d watch as commuters would stop for a quick one before catching the train home – and often, before going to work. Note that these were not the ubiquitous and almost always harmless vagrants. They were perfectly normal folks with briefcases, shopping bags and rolled up newspapers or magazines.
Most were passing through, and yet they never seemed to be in that much of a hurry. Perhaps the knowledge that their destinations could be reached without driving automobiles relaxed the tension and made the beers taste better.