Friday, March 30, 2012

German Spring

You know, life is pretty simple here in Germany. Here's an example of a slow, quiet spring day just last weekend here in Deutschland.

Sunny-spring-day walk to the landlord's gasthaus.

Two ice cold German beers.

Horses grazing in the meadows below.



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Strange German "Art"

Last summer this thing showed up on the edge of our village here in Germany. It’s placed right next to one of the area's main walking and biking paths. We really don’t know what it is or what it’s supposed to be. Based on the little brass sign nearby we’re pretty sure it’s not a memorial of any kind. As near as we can tell it’s just some "art."

Jeff and the "art." Note that the cube on top sits rather cockeyed.

The two stone supports are dense sandstone. The cube with windows at the top is made from steel sheet metal.

Maybe it’s supposed to be completely abstract but to me it sort of looks like a kids tree house or a playhouse of some kind. Of course, being made of stone and steel it’s a tree house that could withstand an assault from most SWAT teams.

Brass plate on the a small stone next to the "art." We assume Pulpito/Kanzel is the name of the "art." Maria Claudia Farina must be the artist; sounds Italian. In fact, Pulpito is Italian for pulpit. The last line says, Sculptures of Rhineland Pfalz.

Side view of the "art."

Here's my interpretation of the meaning of this piece of "art." As I mentioned, the metal cube represents every child's dream, a safe, invulnerable tree house. The stones symbolize the journey to achieve that dream. It shows a child that if a dream is worth having it's worth the work to get there and sometimes that work may involve fetes equivalent to climbing a sheer cliff. The unevenness of the metal cube at the top shows that even though you reach your dream there will still be bumpy and uneven times in your life.

Or . . . it could be some strange phallic symbol.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Starkbierzeit & St. Patrick's Day

An event that Jeff and I have wanted to experience is the Munich Starkbierfest (strong beer festival) and this year we had tickets, last Saturday, 17 March, which, by the way, was also St. Patrick’s Day. What a concept, a strong beer festival on one of the biggest beer drinking days of the year.

Starkbierzeit (strong beer season) is known as the “fifth season” in Munich. It takes place from the end of February to the end of March which covers most of the Lent.  In fact, that’s how Starkbier came about in the first place. Way back in 1651 the Paulaner monks of Munich brewed their first Salvator Starkbier to help them through the month of Lent fasting. That beer was so dark and heavy the monks called it Flüssiges Brot (liquid bread).

When the Pope heard about these Munich monks drinking beer to help them through their fasting, he ordered a barrel of the Salvator be sent to Rome so that he could decide whether this beer violated the intent of the Lent sacrifice. Well, by the time this new Starkbier made it to the Vatican it had gone bad. Upon tasting the spoiled beer the Pope declared it so horrible that he decided that if these German monks wanted to drink it they could. With that, even now, Starkbier is the only alcoholic beverage authorized by the Vatican for consumption during Lent.

By 1751 the first public Starkbier festival took place in Munich. By then, other breweries were also producing a Starkbier and each brewery followed the Salvator example by naming their version with the “ator” suffix; Augustiner Maximator, Löwenbräu Triamphator, Hacker-Pschorr Animator and Hofbräu Delicator.

So we arrived in Munich on Friday and on Saturday started off with some St. Patrick’s Day festivities and then eased into the nights Starkbier events. Here are some pictures of our adventures in Munich.

After our 3½ hour drive to Munich and checking into the hotel we needed someplace where we could get something to eat and a sip of the amber nectar. Near the Munich main train station is the Park Café, a beer hall that we’d never been to before. It was a beautiful sunny day, almost 70° so it felt great to sit outside and soak up some rays.  See the one green shirt? That's me prepping for the next day, St. Patrick's Day.

Park Café, brought to you by Löwenbräu.

A fifteen minute walk from the Park Café brought us to the Augustiner Keller.

The beer garden was still a bit shabby from the winter months but it was fun to see the people outside again. Eventually, this beer garden will have enough tables set up to sit 5000 people.

A poster of Augustiner’s Starkbier, Maximator.

Between Karlsplatz and the Marienplatz is Munich’s main shopper street Neunhauserstraße/Kaufingerstraße. Along the way there we saw this church renovation going on. We’ve seen this before, scaffolding covered with the image of the building being renovated. A lot of work to try and keep the tourists happy.

There it is again, the same wild boar statue that’s in Kirchheimbolanden. This one’s in front of the German Hunter and Fisher Museum and, of course, Jeff needs his picture taken with it.  It's Friday but we’re already wearing our St. Patrick’s Day green.

Had to make a stop at the Andecher am Dom for some of the world’s greatest beer, Kloster Andechs Dopplebock Dunkel.

OK, now we’re getting ready to settle into the Hofbräuhaus for the evening. Here are some of the Munich locals that never go to the Hofbräuhaus. 

Very good band on this evening and much younger than you normally see here.

It’s Saturday morning, St. Patrick’s Day, and tonight the Starkbier festival. We were on our way to breakfast when we passed this window. Schwein Hax’n already roasting away on the spit. That glass is too hot to touch.

Surprise, we’re at the Hofbräuhaus for breakfast; weißwurst, sweet mustard and a brezel. Oh yeah, a beer too.

After breakfast we walked around, up and down, and checked out all the nooks and crannies in the Hofbräuhaus. They’re actually very good about letting you wander about the building. This large hall is on the third floor. This is where certain pre-war orators would speak, yes, even that upstart Austrian with the funny mustache. Above the stage you can see an area that is the in-house museum which looks at the over 400 year history of the Hofbräuhaus.

One of the areas in the museum asks how many beer steins can a beer maid carry? There’s a picture of one lady carrying sixteen, full, one-liter ceramic steins. They even have a place where you can give it try. Here’s I’m grimacing to hold up eight, empty steins.  That's a cardboard cutout behind me, not a beer maid ghost.

OK, time to start some St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Along the way to our first Irish pub we walked through the Marienplatz and discovered this animal rights convention. Here’s one of the stages with a live band extolling the need for equal rights for all creatures. Meat Means Murder!!!  They're probably not going to eat at the Schwein Hax'n place.

There are only a handful of Irish pubs in Munich. The closest one to our hotel is behind the Frauenkirche, Munich’s famous, large, double-domed cathedral, It’s also just a short walk from the Marienplatz, it's Kilian’s Irish Pub. The sun was shining, it was the beginning of a great day and we were no longer the only folks wearing green.  You might not think that Munich is much of a place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. However, the largest parade in all of Europe, each and every year, is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Munich. It’s big and tens of thousands of people line the streets to watch. Unfortunately, they hold the parade on the last Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day, which was the previous weekend. The parade and its aftermath are a big party, the actual St. Patrick’s Day, not so much.

Well, for sure you gotta have a Guinness on St. Patrick's Day. I’m not a big fan, Jeff likes it. Here’s the first Guinness beer we’ve ever ordered in Munich. According to Jeff it sucked. No smokey taste, very bland, very flat. Glad I got a half pint.

Now this was somewhat confusing. Is this place an Irish pub or an Australian bar?

From there we hopped on the S-Bahn and went two stops east from the Marienplatz. Then we walked just a couple blocks and ended up at Molly Malone’s, another of Munich’s Irish pubs. Very typical, 6 Nations Rugby on the TV.  We skipped the Guinness after the last place.

I had a very tasty fish and chips and Jeff had this interesting Sheppard’s Pie; tasted great, just made a little differently.

Time to make the transition from St. Patrick’s Day to the Starkbier festival. Conveniently, Molly Malone’s is a short S-Bahn ride to the location of the original Starkbier festival location, Paulaner “Nockherberg” Brewery and here we are. There’s actually two operations going on here at the brewery. Their 3000 seat beer garden, fun in the sun drinking beer, and the actual Starkbier festival inside the brewery festsaal  (festival hall). We’re here for the beer garden but we'll sample the Salvator.

Just inside the beer garden Jeff found another wild boar thing. Of course, here’s the picture.

Here’s the Starkbier festival hall inside Nockherberg. It seats about 5000. No tickets required, just show up, get a beer and sit down.

Here’s a video that pans the Paulaner Keller beer garden.  This beer garden seats 3000, there are others in Munich that sit 8000 and 7000.

We weren’t the only St. Patrick’s Day celebrators but we kind of noticed that anyone that was dressed in green was either, Irish, Brits or American. These guys were stacking their beer steins. Here at Paulaner Keller they serve their beer in these nice one-liter ceramic steins called a Keferloher.

A water fountain statue of the Paulaner logo. Thank you monks for bringing us beer.

Stopped at the hotel for an hour of rest. This double celebration thing can take a lot out of you. But, we’re right on time, 1800 (6PM) at the Löwenbräu Keller for the 2012 Starkbierfest.

Here’s our tickets.

Here it is. Two liters of Löwenbräu Triamphator.

The Löwenbräu Keller festival hall.

Besides the band and beer the two main events at the Löwenbräu Keller were the best looking young woman contest, really rather boring, and the strongman competition, which was fun to watch. They had a small booth set up to the side of the festival hall where guys could demonstrate their strength on this springed, resistance machine. Jeff was quite impressed with this guy. Once the top twenty men are selected they all moved to the stage to have a go at a 250 kilogram stone, 550 lbs.

Here’s video of some of the highlights of the night. The band was great!! The dancing dudes were fun to watch. One of the guys at our table called this the mosquito dance because it looks like their swatting at mosquitoes. The yodeler, well, we figured if our friend Borg could yodel, this is what he’d look like. Finally, two strongman competitors; one weak and the other, Jeff’s favorite, very strong. You can see the strongman competitors lined up on stage, #12 is the ultimate winner with a lift of 50.7 centimeters.

Well what a fun day. Big thumbs up for the Starkbierzeit. Mixed reviews on the St. Patrick's Day celebration in Munich but it was fun to visit some establishments that we'd never been to before. So with that, a big PROST and a little sláinte.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Jeff and I drove up to Frankfurt Saturday morning. We’ve spent very little time in Frankfurt mainly because there seems to always be other, more interesting places to go and the common nobody-goes-there-because-it’s-always-so-crowded mentality. But, we’ve heard some good things about Frankfurt and wanted to at least spend a day and a night in the city.

The correct full name of the city is Frankfurt am Main (Frankfurt on the Main [River]). The town name, which is derived from the Germanic Franks tribe, was first mentioned in 794 but there were probably Roman settlements in the area as early as the first century. The city was one of the most important centers of the Holy Roman Empire. Because it has long been a center of commerce it has been a focal point of many European armies moving through the region going either east or west. Frankfurt was heavily bombed in WW II with its medieval city center totally destroyed. In spite of that, there was heavy resistance as U.S. forces entered the city resulting in intense street fighting before Frankfurt formally surrendered.

Today Frankfurt is Germany’s center of banking, transportation and trade. It’s the fifth largest city in Germany and, although it’s the country’s most expensive, it is also the richest city, based on per capita GDP, in Europe. It is one of the few European cities that have a skyscraper skyline which has the locals affectionately calling Frankfurt am Main, Mainhattan.

We really enjoyed the somewhat quirky hotel we stayed in, the Fleming Deluxe. One of the first things you notice when you walk in the hotel lobby is this very different elevator system called a Brandfall. As you can see from this video it’s a continuously moving lift, one side going up, the other down. The Brandfall in the Fleming is the only operating system of its kind in all of Europe. It’s relatively simple to step on and off but you certainly don’t want to dawdle. We rode the entire route which included the over the top shift from the up to the down side and under the bottom for a similar transition from down to up. For those that would prefer to avoid the Brandfall and, for sure, anyone with bags, there’s a modern elevator across the lobby.

The other oddity in the Fleming Deluxe is the shower. This building has only been a hotel for five years, previously being an office complex. When the Fleming chain renovated the building they chose to put a good sized glass shower stall in the center of each hotel room. It’s probably not a big issue for most couples but if you’re a couple of guys sharing a room it might seem a bit strange showering there in the middle of the room.

Right outside the front of the hotel is the Eschenheimer Turm a 15th century tower that was originally a gate to the medieval city. It’s now the oldest structure in Frankfurt’s inner city.

Just a few blocks from our hotel we happened upon the Hauptwache. It was built in 1730 and used as a prison. In 1904 it became a police station. The Hauptwache was moved to its present location in 1964 during the construction of the city’s underground so that it could be located at one of the U-Bahn stations.

Birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the entry to his museum on the right.  Goethe was Germany's renaissance man.  He lived from the mid 1700's to well into the 1800's.  He was a painter, writer, biologist, physicist and poet.

The Römerberg is the main square in the Frankfurt old town center. It gets its name from Römer (Roman) which is a complex of nine houses seen here that make up the Frankfurt Rathaus (city hall). These buildings were badly damaged during WW II and have been exquisitely renovated to their present condition.

One of the beautiful Römer half-timbered buildings with the Frankfurt Cathedral in the background.

Opposite the Römer in the Römerberg are these buildings which add a great deal to the ambiance of the old town square.

We’d walked a ways from our hotel to the Römerberg so it was time to replenish our bodily fluids with some of the local amber nectar, Binding Pils.

Dom Sankt Bartholomäus (Saint Bartholomeus's Cathedral), the Frankfurt Cathedral is the largest church in Frankfurt, originally constructed in the 14th and 15th century. For over two hundred years the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were elected here. The cathedral was heavily damaged in WW II and rebuilt in the 1950’s.

One of the main shopping areas of Frankfurt is the Zeil. It’s a wide pedestrian street with top line shops.

At one end of the Zeil we found this fruit and vegetable market, at least that’s all it was according to Jeff. But, upon my insistence we found out that it was much more.

Once within the outside perimeter vendors we found this market had a wide assortment of drink vendors; beer, champagne, wine and, a Frankfurt favorite, Apfelwein, apple wine, or as it’s called locally, Ebbelwoi.  Jeff and I had this Bio Bierbacher.  In Germany when they say Bio they're talking organic.  When it comes to Bio Bier that seems somewhat redundant in Germany because all German beers are brewed under strict purity laws which makes me think all beers here are pretty much organic.

Frankfurt is famous for its Apfelwein.  It has an alcohol content of around 7%. Although we didn’t try any here at the market, we did later in the evening. Because of Frankfurt's love of Apfelwein, or Ebbelwoi as it's referred to locally, the city is sometimes referred to as the “Big Ebbel” another reference to New York City or the “Big Apple.”

OK, yes it was a fruit and vegetable market too. Turnip anyone?

Wow, what a great deal on a bunch of sticks. Only 2.90 a bundle.

Here's a value shopper. She got her sticks before they were all sold out.

Time for another stop to replenish. Binding Pils for Jeff, some white wine for me.

We were looking for Kaiserhofkeller but found that it no longer existed. In it's place now is the Apfelweinkeller. Still a great place for a good meal with an awesome vaulted ceiling, cellar atmosphere.

Well, since we're in the Apfelweinkeller I took one for the team and ordered an Apfelwein.  I was expecting it to taste much the same as apple juice or  apple schnapps.  Surprisingly, no, much worse. Of all the things we've tasted here in Europe I'd say the taste that it comes closest to is a Belgium Geuze.  You can read about our opinion of Geuze at this link.

Well, what a fun day in Frankfurt. Got to see some of the sights, drink some of their beer, experience their Apfelwein, ate a great meal and loved the hotel. What else can you ask for from a Saturday in Germany? Not much. Prost!!