After weeks of traveling through places with absolutely no regard for the taste or quality of beer (I’m looking at you, Spain), it felt like a glorious homecoming to arrive in Munich, a Mecca for a beer-lover such as myself. After taking a tour of the city, I learned that just about everything of historical significance that has ever happened owes some part to beer (to be sure, these are largely myths and jokes that are made up to support the narrative, but I’m happy to support and believe in them).
Since some ridiculous percentage of Munich was destroyed in the war (~80%), there are very few original buildings around the city. However, the reconstruction was largely done in the style of the buildings pre-bombing, which results in an incongruence of new, completely in tact buildings in the style of old, traditional buildings, which kind of makes it feel like MedIeval Times. But the star of Munich is the beer, and all over the city are stationed Biergartens, which remind me of the food courts of amusement parks – minus the whole amusement park part. In another win over Spain, the go-to sized beer is called a Mass and is 1 Liter (compared to 0.25L). I happily had a stereotype reinforced at Hirschgarten, “the largest beer garden in the World,” when I witnessed a grandma of ~70ish carrying a mass in one hand (these things are heavy) and a giant pretzel in the other. Who says noon on a Monday is “too early?”
The highlight of Munich was the Englischer Garten, a gigantic park full of nature, activities, and beer. Once again, surfers made an appearance in an unlikely place, surfing a permanent wave made by the river’s tumble out of a tunnel. Further up the river, people jump in and float along as other sunbathe, listen to music, and read. Of course, it wouldn’t be Munich if there weren’t multiple beer gardens within the park, my favorite of which, Seehaus was nestled next to a lake and had an unstoppable playlist of 70’s hits.
It’s not difficult to imagine why Berlin’s culture is so unique – given the history of the city, it’s a completely appropriate response to be aggressively edgy, in-your-face, and without any societal limits on behavior as a way of saying “never again will we let someone tell us what to do.” It’s much more difficult to find someone in a suit than a man in a fishnet top, leather shorts, and strange hairdo. In fact, I first assumed that the extras from Waterworld retired here and never took off their wardrobe before realizing that most of these people probably weren’t born when Waterworld was released. What a shame.
I was extremely lucky to have a group of 4 locals to meet up with upon my arrival, thanks to a blog I read called Wait But Why, which had organized a global meetup day (forget that I’m meeting random internet strangers, and instead check out the above blog if you enjoy both learning and humor). My internet friends and I, aged 23-33, went to a large open-area beach-bar-esque area next to the river on the east side called Yaam. As we enjoyed some beers and Jamaican food, I asked a bit about the nightlife in Berlin, and was informed that there are two types of people who go out in Berlin: those who go out to the clubs at 2-3am and head home around 11am; and those who stay at the club for the entire weekend. Like multiple days. Without leaving. I was about as shocked to hear this as they were that bars close at 2am in California (but thankful as ever that that is the case). Walking down the streets, it’s normal to see young guys sitting on the sidewalk with three cups in front of them asking for money: 1 labeled “food,” 1 labeled “weed” and 1 labeled “LSD.” While the counter-culture lifestyle of Berlin is definitely not for me, being in a place where remnants of a wall which once kept people in still stands, and where all the atrocities we know of began, I was thankful for these people who are so utterly different from me. Along this journey I’ve seen my share of people who seem so foreign to what I know, but I’ve never once felt personally threatened or in danger, and almost everyone I’ve spoken to has been incredibly kind. So while our juvenile selves may judge others for leading radically different lives than what we may think is “productive” or “meaningful,” I can’t help but think that everybody is just trying to be happy, and we should be celebrating the fact that we live in a world (in some places, at least), where diversity is accepted and able to be out in the open.