A nostalgic look back at getting lost after leaving a Hofbrauhaus in Munich
During the first six weeks of my year-long European travel tour in '82, I spent most of my time in West Germany. And because Berlin was then a divided city between democracy and communism, I opted for Munich as my convenient hub in Central Europe for coming and going. With an excellent transportation system and helpful weather, I'd come here often for a few days while determining where I'd go next.
Because of my low budget of $10 per day in Munich, lodging possibilities were limited. My options were a Youth Hostel (Jugenherberge) or Camping (ein Campingplatz). The youth hostel was closer to the town center and housed about a hundred guests sleeping in a large room. That's the good news; with no curfew, the bad news is being woken up at 2 or 3 a.m. by fellow drunk travelers. Experience can be the best teacher, especially if you're the type of individual who wants at least 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
A continental breakfast was served at the youth hostel, typically consisting of a hard roll (sometimes called a rundstuck or feierabend brotchen) which would sometimes fit perfectly in my right hand. Drinks were either coffee or tea, and if fortunate, to break your fast, might include a banana or slice of cheese. Opportunists would sometimes take several extra rolls and dress them up later in the afternoon with cheese or grape marmalade from the local market. Coffee, tea, and rolls were provided so this youth hostel could advertise a free breakfast with the stay. It was simply a cost-effective approach to improve its marketing.
While in Munich, I averaged about ten miles of walking each day, so I had to opportunity to search for other options besides crowded youth hostels. While here, other afternoons would be spent looking for substantial and cheap food, especially at food markets. I was absorbing and learning the Munich culture. After several exciting and challenging days at the youth hostel, I realized I had a tent, mattress pad, sleeping bag, Sternal stove, and mess kit. I was not obligated to stay there, so I researched and found the Campingplatz München Thalkirchen – (Thalkirchen Campground Munich), only a five-minute walk to the nearest public transportation.
As I mentioned earlier, the Munich transportation system was a good and efficient system to get around the city and outlying areas. The S-Bahn was above and below ground and covered the greater area of Munich as a commuter train line. The U-Bahn was mainly below ground, owned by the city of Munich, and basically served this city. Munich also had busses and street cars, but I rarely used these because I'd typically walk to observe and experience street life when I strolled around. If my legs needed an occasional rest, I'd purchase a day pass and take the subway to random stops -- who knew what neighborhood I could then explore. Because this Bavarian capital was relatively safe, I never worried about ending up in a rough area. Some communities were a little more foreign than others, but overall, it was a beautiful city to visit and explore.
I was amazed that I found a camping place only five miles (over seven kilometers) from Marienplatz (Mary's Square, the most popular square in Munich), along the Isar River. Never in America could I find a safe and inexpensive camping place so close to the central business district. I used Munich as a transportation hub, so if staying here for more than several days, I'd default to this camping site because of its safety and convenience.
One early July evening, while camping, I took the streetcar to the Hofbrauhaus (direct translation is Court Brewery which served strong beer and food) near the Marienplatz to have an authentic German beer. I kept that singular because it's common for a liter of beer to suffice. So I connected with other young tourists who had the same idea, so we settled in the brew house, and each ordered a liter of beer. I frowned about one hour later, seeing my empty beer mug. I was hungry, as I had not eaten since breakfast. Anyway, the waiter came by and asked me if I wanted another as the others were still nursing their initial beer, with only half of it drunk. The waiter teased me as I contemplated another and felt no pain. To prompt me, he said if I could finish another liter within an hour, my beer would be comped. Sometimes, in youth, you accept silly challenges without knowing the full effects of such actions.
As a German-American originally from Wisconsin, a state that knows how to brew beer, I would not be defeated (despite how many times I may fail as a result!). About 20 minutes to go on my challenge, I had to relieve myself at the nearest WC (bathroom), so I returned to crunch time and was shocked that I still had half a liter to go. I reached into my wallet to pay him several Deutsch Marks (German currency) as I figured I couldn't drink any more beer. As my fellow travelers egged me on, and being so close to victory, I chugged the rest of the beer in my stein to victory. After smiling and being congratulated, I felt an instant dizziness and disorientation as I attempted to stand up. I had mixed emotions; the embarrassment of not handling my beer overrode my feeling of this accomplishment. At this point, I quickly moved away from the Hofbrauhaus because I was very drunk and especially awkward at not handling my beer. As I stumbled or struggled to walk straight, people quickly gave me space and got out of the way. At this point, I decided to call it a night and walked back to my tent and sleeping arrangement. The only problem was, where was it?
Perhaps Vertigo had also set in as I headed north from Marienplatz, looking for a tram stop. Having purchased a transportation pass for the day, I jumped on the first tram and tried to pay attention to the various stops to gain perspective, but that didn't make a difference. I finally saw the Englisher Garden sign and exited. At this point, I appeared to have traveled roughly the same distance to my camping place except in the wrong direction. I started to ask residents about this camping place, and no one could help. It didn't help that I couldn't remember the name -- I blamed the strong German beer on my forgetfulness. Most residents didn't know about this camping site because they'd never had the need to use it. It would have helped if I saved the receipt for my three-night stay. It just seemed my mistakes were beginning to pile up.
I then realized that I had earlier brought a city map to the Hofbrauhaus but could not find it. I must have misplaced it -- another error on my part.
After getting off the tram, I slowly made my way to the stop that would bring me in the correct direction. After waiting several minutes, I flashed my pass, jumped on another streetcar, and returned to Marienplatz. At this point, I did not trust my ability to navigate public transportation, and I'm sure my slurred speech and inability to maintain my balance made most folks weary of paying me much attention. Being in the town center, I only thought I needed to head south, so I followed the Isar River as it flowed in that direction. Following the Isar River, I walked for nearly 90 minutes, occasionally asking strangers on the street if they could ensure I was navigating to the south. Most ignored me because I was drunk. I finally decided to rest on a park bench late evening and noticed the Thalkirchen Tierpark (Zoo) sign nearby. After much physical foot traffic, I felt more awake and alert and realized the camping site was about a 10 - 15 minute walk from the Zoo. After another 25 minutes of walking, I was dead tired and just wanted to sleep, but still no camping site. And getting warmer to my sleeping arrangement, I started asking people on the street if anyone might know. After asking a few people, a young lady knew of it and offered to walk me the rest of the way, and the only remaining obstacle was to cross the Isar in a sober manner. I was relieved and appreciative of her kind words and wanted to buy her a beer but wasn't in a reasonable frame of mind, so I merely said, "Vielen Dank, Vielen Dank" (thank you very much) as she walked away.