Sir Elton John, Bratwurst, surfing, art, and more.
MUNICH — I recently had the pleasure of visiting this German city for a weekend of music, museums, and multiple servings of beer and sausage.
My first stop was Münchner Stubn (Bayerstrasse 35). This eatery is immediately across from the Hauptbahnhof — the main rail station. It is ideal for a quick infusion of traditional German fare, just before boarding or alighting a train. I sampled some salad and lightly grilled pikeperch. Not bad, and it hit the spot without bogging me down before dinner.
This trip’s main event soon followed at Olympiahalle, part of the spacious and comfortable park built for the 1972 Summer Olympics.
This 12,597-seat arena hosted Olympic gymnastics back then. This evening involved neither balance beams nor high bars. Instead, it was the setting for my third of three stops on Sir Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour.
The first was New Orleans in January 2022. As luck would have it, that was the rock god’s first performance after a 21-month, COVID-fueled hiatus. The then-74-year-old was not the least bit rusty.
The second stop was last November at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium for Sir Elton’s dazzling final concert in America, en route to his retirement as a touring artist on July 8 at Stockholm’s Tele2 Arena.
The original plan was for this journey to occur in 2021, with Thursday and Friday nights at Oktoberfest and Sir Elton’s extravaganza as the weekend capstone on Saturday, Oct. 2. How much fun would that have been? Almost too much.
Alas, everyone’s favorite Chinese Communist Party virus drained those kegs faster than a fraternity hazing ritual. Oktoberfest was scotched, and fall 2021’s European tour dates got rescheduled to spring 2023. And that’s the way the pretzel crumbled.
Despite the 18-month delay, Sir Elton in Munich was great fun, with a mixture of gorgeously delivered platinum-record hits (“Benny and the Jets,” “Philadelphia Freedom”), an obscure tune or two (“Have Mercy on the Criminal”), and an ever-satisfying, high-octane epic (“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”).
The crowd was a bit restrained, however. I was one of just five people I detected who dressed up for the occasion. At Dodger Stadium, perhaps a quarter of the people I encountered wore flashy outfits, feather boas, fabulous glasses, and other Eltonia. In New Orleans, the scene was a notch less lively, but my friend Robert W. Ring and I were far from the only fans in costume. Perhaps this is not the done thing in Germany.
The audience stood up and danced to tunes they knew but stayed seated for about a third of the selections. One woman berated a group of young attendees who tried to get up and shake it for most of the show’s first half hour. Enraged, she demanded that they sit down. Visibly crestfallen, they surrendered.
Funny, I thought we were at a rock concert.
I wish the crowd were more intense, although it might not be fair to compare an audience in the capital of Bavaria with those in the Big Easy and Tinseltown, arguably America’s two most expressive cities.
I attended with a young German couple and sold my extra ticket to an Israeli man, who brought his wife. It was the first Elton John show for these guests. I was very happy to help make this happen for all of them.
After the show, I took Munich’s extensive and efficient Unterbahn (underground rail) system back to the city center. I stopped at Wildmosers am Marienplatz (Marienplatz 22), right on Munich’s main square. This eatery is the birthplace of Weisswurst, one of this town’s signature dishes. I savored an excellent bowl of goulash, followed by Bratwurst with roasted potatoes and mustard. Like much German food, this was very simple and equally satisfying.
Very odd detail: During my entire dinner in the very heart of Munich, this establishment’s HDTV screen displayed a long series of aerial shots of Manhattan at night. The videography was terrific, but what a total disconnect.
Friday was pure rain. I spent it unter einem Regenschirm (under an umbrella) borrowed from the Hotel Marc (Senefelderstrasse 12), a cozy spot, just two short blocks from the Hauptbahnhof — an über-convenient location.
Precipitation notwithstanding, I rode one of Munich’s convenient trams to meet a fellow alumnus of the American Council on Germany’s Young Leaders Program. He also is a fellow journalist who writes for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The South German Newspaper is Bavaria’s leading daily. This was the first newspaper to debut after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Its first edition, published Oct. 6, 1945, rolled off the presses from printing plates that were wrought from the metal melted down from the engravings that once churned out copies of Adolf Hitler’s notorious manifesto, Mein Kampf.
We met at Paulaner am Nockherberg (Hochstrasse 77), a beautiful and contemporary brewery restaurant. The spacious Biergarten was empty, thanks to the rotten weather. However, the inside was gorgeous, with ample blond wood and sparkling, copper-colored brewing equipment. The latter yielded fresh and delicious unfiltered Weissbier, which I soaked up with Caesar salad and beef braised for 38 hours in Barolo. This was a tad tender for my taste; I suppose some folks like their meat soft.
Friday night launched late, as I waited for a massive downpour to subside. After the deluge, I walked about three blocks to Délice La Brasserie, the fine restaurant in the Sofitel Bayerpost Hotel (Bayerstrasse 12). The pea and asparagus soup was first rate, and the steak and grilled vegetables were even better.
The hotel previously was the Royal Bavarian Post Office, which opened in 1900. An intriguing lobby showcase features dozens of rubber stamps once used to process letters and parcels.
I spent the evening at the Boilerman Bar at the 25 Hours Hotel. (Bahnhofplatz 1). One bartender there meticulously mixed elaborate cocktails in an alcoholic tour de force.
I told him: “Du bist ein Arbeiter nicht. Du bist ein Kunstler!” (You’re not a worker. You’re an artist!)
German is one of the most amusing things about visiting Germany. Its words can stretch to absurd lengths (e.g. Nasenschleimhautentzündung for “nasal congestion”). German words can be as cool as stainless steel when describing lovely things (Schmetterling for “butterfly”). German also encapsulates highly specific concepts that require many more words in English. (Schadenfreude or “the act of taking pleasure in the pain of others”).
This sojourn’s new words included Tintenfisch (“octopus” — note tinte, German for “ink,” such as what octopi squirt to elude predators), Verschmutzung (“pollution”), and this beauty: Dositzndedodedooiweidositzn. Those 27 letters compose a Bavarian expression that refers to entering a familiar establishment and noting that the same regular patrons occupy their usual seats.
NENI, the lobby restaurant at the 25 Hours Hotel, presented this notion in soothing, light-blue neon. After grappling with that mind bender, I retired for the evening.
The rain abated overnight, and Saturday morning brought sunshine and mild temperatures.
Hotel Marc’s generous, delicious, and incredibly varied buffet breakfast boasted multiple cheeses and sliced meats, pieces of honeycomb, abundant crispy bacon, Champagne at 10 a.m., and much more.
Saturday afternoon, I visited the Nazi Documentation Center (Max Mannheimer Platz 1). It’s adjacent to the old Führer Building, where Hitler hosted the infamous Munich conference with Neville Chamberlain and the 1938 Appeasement All Stars. In a final insult to Der Führer, his Bavarian headquarters is now the University of Music and Theatre Munich. Swords have been turned into piccolos.
The NDC recounts the history of the Nazi movement and its inspiration by and impact on Munich, the city from which it emerged. Even at the peak of his power, Hitler kept the National Socialist German Workers’ Party’s offices here, to prevent it from becoming “infected” by Berlin’s more cosmopolitan atmosphere.
After a pleasant stroll across town, I caught an exhibit about flowers in art, perfectly timed for spring. “Flowers Forever offers a fascinating, elaborately staged tour through the cultural history of flowers from antiquity to the present day,” the show’s website explains. Paintings, architectural elements, sculptures, and other media depict flowers as artists have portrayed them across the millennia.
This includes an interactive installation in which an algorithm creates imaginary flowers on a giant, colorful screen. The flowers’ shapes and hues change based on the movements of visitors inside the room. Another gallery features Rebecca Louise Law’s veritable jungle of upside-down dried flowers, some 100,000 of which were donated by locals and assembled within an empty swimming pool.
Flowers Forever is at the Kunsthalle München, aka Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung (Theasterstrassse 8). This modern facility is not to be confused with the Haus der Kunst. The latter was envisioned by Nazi Minister for Propaganda and Enlightenment Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels. Hitler himself laid its cornerstone in October 1933. Opened in 1937, this structure survived World War II and remains a perfect example of Nazi architecture, which some dub “Totalitarian Classicism.” I call it “Angry Art Deco.”
Haus der Kunst (Prinzregentenstrasse 1) abuts the Englischer Garten, Munich’s Central Park. Mere steps from this modern-art museum, at the park’s edge, the Eisbach River flows swiftly by. Just beside a bridge over that waterway, a submerged concrete bump creates a perfect, Santa Monica–style wave as the river speeds over it. Surfers in wetsuits ride this wave, which curls constantly. It is mesmerizing to watch these urban daredevils maneuver their boards as concrete walls loom perilously, just feet away.
On Saturday evening, I attended the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra staged a chamber music recital featuring pieces by Hayden, Beethoven, Rossini, and Jean Françaix. The beautiful sounds filled an elegant room called Max-Joseph-Saal (Residenzstrasse 1). It is on the third floor (second floor in German), of the Münchner Residenz. This former royal palace was Bavaria’s seat of government and home to its dukes and kings between 1508 and 1918.
Unfortunately, as one approaches Max-Joseph-Saal, there is virtually nothing anywhere to announce its location. Unlike most U.S. symphony halls, there are no large signs or identifying banners outside this venue. A very small notation, little bigger than these words, appears on an insignificant metal post on the street perpendicular to Max-Joseph-Saal’s entrance. So, I spent about 10 minutes scrambling around to find this spot, as if hunting an Easter egg in a sculpted garden.
I finally arrived at what felt like a secret meeting. Unlike America — where live entertainment often begins five minutes late, to accommodate stragglers — the Germans commenced at exactly 8 p.m. So, I sat in the hallway and cooled my jets until the Hayden piece ended, whereupon the usher let yours truly and two equally befuddled young ladies find our seats.
The staff was kind enough to let me swap my spot in the back of the hall for an empty chair in the front row. So, I had that going for me.
Dinner at the nearby Frank Weinbar (Residenzstrasse 1) featured delicious local tap beer, salad, and then shredded short ribs spread onto pumpernickel. I ditched the carbs and enjoyed the tasty, high-protein goodness of well-cooked beef. Frank’s slogan offers words to live by: “It’s always wine o’clock somewhere!”
Sunday morning dawned brightly. I rolled out of the Marc Hotel early and hopped Unterbahn S8 from Hauptbahnhof to Munich International Airport. The direct ride — complete with Wi-Fi on a clean, modern train — cost just €14.80 ($15.82) and took about 40 minutes across the sun-splashed Bavarian plains. Lufthansa finished the job and jetted me comfortably home after a delightful, memorable Wochenende in München.