In the search for food and drink downtown, tourists find their way year after year to two spots in the center of town – the Hofbräuhaus and the Viktualienmarkt.
Thus, an obligatory stop was the Hofbräuhaus, likely the most famous restaurant in Germany.
In the 16th Century, a duke founded this three-story brewery complex so he wouldn’t have to cart his favorite beer in from another city. Couldn’t be more touristy, but we raised a couple of glasses to the Fatherland and the old days.
The hall holds 3,500 seats, and you can sit anywhere you want — or at least anywhere you can find a place. You have to be seated to be served, so the first step is to find a seat at a table.
The outside beer garden offers the shade of chestnut trees to another 400.
Certain beer steins reside under lock and key; they belong to regulars.
There are 424 mug lockers, where local patrons store their custom steins. The lockers cost $200 a year — and they are handed down from one owner to the next.
A 900-seat Festival Hall with barrel ceiling is the main feature upstairs. During the 1920s, Hitler held private meetings and gave anti-Semitic speeches here. The hall’s web site doesn’t appear to mention it.
And it was closed for “a private party” when we stopped in.
Today, the Hofbräuhaus is a state-run beer hall, but the name is sacrosanct. The Hofbräuhaus just went to court to prevent a string of groceries in Dresden from marketing beer called “Dresdner Hofbräuhaus.”
The Munich regional court announced that the parties reached a settlement and said the terms were confidential.
The Munich Hofbräuhaus has registered its name as a trademark and defended it successfully with the ä and without. A spokesman said the version without the umlaut is for Americans who can’t pronounce it correctly.
Behind the Hofbräuhaus, the Künstmuhle mill has been making flour and baking for 500 years. It has been run by the same family for a century. The Künstmühle has won a local reputation for fine emmer organic flour, hard-to-get smoked flour and high-protein hulled wheat flour.
Its small bakery offers Pfennigmuckerl rolls, which have largely disappeared in town since I first visited. At the beginning, the mill was powered by rushing water from the Isar River below and still today is driven by belts.
The Viktualienmarkt is a favorite of local people, too. Has been for 200 years.
When the farmers’ market outgrew the Marienplatz in the late 1700s, the Viktualienmarkt emerged about three minutes away on foot. Today, Viktualienmarkt is a mainstay of grocery shopping and includes 140 indoor and outdoor tents and shops.
Residents and tourists choose fresh fruit and vegetables, sausage, cheese and much more. As at other outdoor stands in Germany, staff typically does the picking and bags for you.
The Maypole, about 100 feet tall and made from a single tree trunk, is one of about 30 around town. Maypoles date back to pre-Christian times as symbols of fertility and luck. Each May, people party around the pole and tap the year’s first batch of beer.
There’s a ritual involving theft of the Maypole (by male youth groups), too, although it’s not allowed after the trunk is painted in April. But from the time it’s set up ’til then, two people watch it all night.
If memory serves, the last time it was stolen was before the pandemic, and sophisticated equipment such as night-vision goggles were employed. Negotiations facilitated by hearty dishes and many mugs of beer led to its return in time for the annual celebration.
The Munchner Suppenkuche (Soup Kitchen) is a favorites of folks who want to eat at a reasonable price and regularly has a line out the tent. I keep reading that the favorites are goulash, Krustis sandwiches and sausage with sauerkraut, but I can attest only to the sausage.
Order at the window. The choice among soups is enormous.
Bäckerliesl may be a source of Munich´s best bread. The owner is in her 80s, and people come from far away just to get her bread. Unfortunately for us, she was away on holiday when we were there.
The cobblestone beer garden shaded by chestnut trees can accommodate about 200 in the serviced area, where tables are covered by tablecloths. But there are three times that many seats in the self-service area, popular because you can bring food in from the stalls.
It’s crowded on a sunny day, so the custom is to slide in where you can and toast your tablemates. Look each person in the eye as you toast. The custom is about trust.
Schnitzel and wurst are seen on many tables, but the go-to meal seems to be one sort or another of roast pork.
The garden is city owned and can’t play favorites, so the big six beer brands — Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Spaten — rotate as the beer of the month.
Beer garden value
One of the early casualties of the pandemic was beer gardens like the Viktualienmarkt’s Pschorr. During the pandemic, city officials ordered the gardens closed to reduce crowds.
Beer-garden owners found that their insurance companies didn’t want to cover their loss, even if the gardens had insurance against being closed by official order.
In court, it was estimated that more than 100 beer gardens were affected. Included were Pschorr and the famous Augustinerkeller nearby. The Augustinerkeller, Munich’s largest, was asking more than $1 million.
In a smiliar case, Karl-Heinz-Zacher of Emmeramsmühle, across the Isar River from the English Garden, discussed two rates. He wanted $4,000 a day up to March 31. After that, he said, outdoor life blossoms there, and he wanted $20,000 a day.
“You can see what … a beer garden is worth in Bavaria,” the judge quipped.
The 200-year-old Viktualienmarkt has problems in hygiene and technology, not to mention basics such as storage, cooling and toilets.
It’s scheduled to be “gently” (“no radical innovations”) overhauled and partly rebuilt during the next five to eight years. Until then, there will be a second, smaller market on nearby Frauenstrasse for the more than 100 vendors.
No room for the market to grow out, so where possible, builders will look below ground. That new-cellars phase has wryly been called “exciting” since there are utility lines and an old stream running below. Diggers may run into artifacts from the Middle Ages.
A block from the apartment, we entered a neighborhood restaurant that looked larger from outside. Inside, four or five stools at the bar. Two tables. One was labeled “Stammtisch,” but the bartender, who also was the waitress, sat us there anyway.
A Stammtisch is a regulars’ table, and I was a little concerned in case any came in and thought we didn’t know better.
“Stammtisch” can be the table or the irregular, informal, typically male, slightly drunk discussions that happen around it. When “Stammtisch” is a prefix to “Philosophie” or “Politik,” it may suggest opinion that lacks the benefit of sober consideration.
I told the waitress I had never been seated at a Stammtisch before, but she just said, “There’s a first time for everything.”
Nobody bothered us. Maybe the exalted level of discussion at our table intimidated people. The food was first rate.