Monday, July 20, 2015

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 14 … Beers and breakfast in Munich.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 14 … Beers and breakfast in Munich.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Fourteenth in a series chronicling my travel year 1985)

It took a month and a half of roaming the continent, but finally came Germany. Upon arrival in Munich, I was presented with a reality check.

The jolt was not unexpected. In fact, I’d avoided it for a while.

The Mediterranean – Greece, Turkey and Italy – had proven to be refreshingly affordable in the summer of 1985, but I had always been aware that as I moved northward, this would change. In Vienna and Salzburg, the independent hostel prices had been so reasonable that with a modicum of restraint in food and drink, the budget stayed balanced. The challenge would begin in Germany.

Simply stated, finances were not a negotiable proposition for me. Periodic splurges had to be planned with laser precision, and the daily undertow was vital to maintain. Between traveler’s checks and a debit card, I had just enough money to average spending somewhere between $20 and $25 a day for roughly three months.

There was no Plan B, although it helped that the exchange rate for most European currencies in the summer of 1985 was praiseworthy to the point of unprecedented (three Deutschmarks to one U.S. dollar, for starters). This was as good as it would get for some years to come.

Still, for the remainder of the trip, bargains would be few, and it was time to deploy the full arsenal of budget travel tricks, as outlined by Arthur Frommer in his “Europe on $25 Dollars-A-Day” or “Let’s Go: Europe,” as well as gleaned from conversations with fellow travelers.

For instance, it always was a good idea to carry a few plastic freezer bags, and this assertion requires a “preferred lodgings” digression.

That first trip, I stayed in many youth hostels. Understandably, youth hostel breakfasts (when available) tended to be basic. There’d be coffee and tea, some rolls, butter and jam, and maybe fruit. They tended to be just enough, which was fine for the price – sometimes inclusive, other times a la carte.

My hope for Munich was to stay in an officially registered “international” youth hostel. I knew it would be my only chance to do so, given that in Bavaria hostels did not accept guests over the age of 25. I was as yet 24 and fully qualified, but to my disappointment, beds were exceedingly tight, as in: None at all.

(The major drawback to hostels was the frequency of stays by large groups of younger schoolchildren during high season, and this was the problem in Munich.)

In the end, I was compelled to stay in an actual hotel near Munich’s central axis, albeit it in a tiny closet of a room with communal toilets and showers down the hall, and for double the price of a hostel bunk. But it was clean and private, and there was a nice surprise in store.

The saving grace of my hotel room was the breakfast buffet at no extra charge, and on the first morning it seemed as though I’d entered the wrong hall by mistake. Bountiful was an understatement, and available beverages and edibles included coffee, tea, juice, milk, quark, yogurt, fresh fruit, bread, rolls, eggs, muesli, ham, salami and cheese.

I ate as intemperately as possible, and the discrete use of my handy freezer bag meant that lunch later in the afternoon became a seamless extension of breakfast.

Granted, I didn’t always stay in reputable establishments like this, of the type affording such creative buffet options for secretive carry-out. When I did, the goal became double duty. All hail the plastic freezer bag.


In an era of railpass holders, Munich’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) obviously was the focal point of arrival and departure for most visitors to the city. A country bumpkin like me soon learned that it also served as crossing point for numerous U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (suburban rail) lines.

The latter was operated by the German state railway, and so it could be used with a railpass, but not the subway, which had its own tariff regime. Travelers confusing their U’s and S’s were sometimes spotted paying on-the-spot fines.

Just outside the Hauptbahnhof, city buses queued and fixed track trams rattled past. As in Vienna, the transit options were fairly bewildering. It should suffice to say that literally, one could get anywhere in Munich (or Germany, or Europe) from the Hauptbahnhof.

As with airports, big urban train stations of the time were complete one-stop shops. A traveler could get a hot shower, buy fresh produce and snacks, peruse the latest in electronics and video gear, or pick up a newspaper from just about any European country.

At the same time, these train stations seemed gritty, evocative and genuine, invariably more “real” than airports, which by virtue of their isolated locations always felt artificial and contrived by comparison.

Train stations were organic and connected, not hermetically sealed, perhaps precisely because they served as daily crossing and congregating points for ordinary people from all walks of life, generally of the sort who don’t routinely commute to work, shopping or visits to grandma by airplane.

Beginning around 1989, Munich’s Hauptbahnhof was extensively remodeled and modernized, evidently as part of a long-term European goal of making train stations into sleek, antiseptic, carbon copies of airports. It is a trend I detest.

Which brings me to the art of drinking beer in a train station.


So it was that in Munich in 1985, a city where all self-respecting beer tourists were supposed to submit to the ritualistic visit to the Hofbrauhaus (yes, I duly complied during my stay), and then make the rounds of various beer gardens, tap rooms and traditional restaurants (for me, these came on later trips), the single most enduringly totemic chapter in the beer travel narrative of mine, which would expand exponentially during the years to come, but still was very much a work in progress early on, was a fatal attraction to the Imbiss (snack bar) by Gleis (track) 16.

The Imbiss, as it was then, has long since been gone. There’s probably a Burger King there now. To be honest, it wasn’t all that much during its heyday, but during the 1980’s this simple, functional train station concession stand was a genuine Munich destination for budget travelers the world over.

There were two long windows with outside counter space, plentiful tile and stainless steel, wonderful beer taps, kitchen equipment for preparing basic food, and several customarily greasy, though by necessity crisply efficient, employees in blue smocks.

In front of the Imbiss were a handful of wooden tables that resembled smaller, elongated versions of the telephone wire spools that used to litter backyards in the Georgetown of my youth.

Standing at the tables during morning, evening and night were locals, tourists, commuters, vagrants and assorted hangers-on, the majority of them savoring the Imbiss’s only true specialties: Cool Hacker-Pschorr golden lager and a portion of delicious Leberkäse, a high-quality form of all-meat bologna for the aesthete, cut from a warm deli-sized square loaf, weighed and priced, and served with a crusty roll and plenty of spicy mustard.

True, there were other choices. I could have opted for a Hefeweizen and Weisswurst (wheat ale and white sausage) combo with sweet mustard. Perhaps there were soft drinks, too, but no matter. The Imbiss at Gleis 16 was the place to sip beers and watch people, and it rarely disappointed.

The same could be said of Munich. My three days there were filled with long walks, museum visits, a day trip to Fussen in the Bavarian Alps for the bus up to looney King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle, and periodic visits to the Imbiss at Gleis 16 for refueling.

Insofar as my budget permitted, I emerged sated, and it was time to begin gravitating toward the Atlantic Ocean.



The PC: Euro ’85, Part 13 … Tears of overdue joy at Salzburg's Augustiner.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 12 … Stefan Zweig and his world of yesterday.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 11: My Franz Ferdinand obsession takes root.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 10: Habsburgs, history and sausages in Vienna.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 9 … Milan, Venice and a farewell to Northern Italy.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 8 … Pecetto idyll, with a Parisian chaser.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 7 … An eventful detour to Pecetto.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 6 … When in Rome, critical mass.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 5 … From Istanbul to Rome, with Greece in between.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 4 … With Hassan in Pithion.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 3 … Growing up in Greece.

The PC: Euro '85, Part 2 ... Hitting the ground crawling in Luxembourg.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … Where it all began.

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