The smells of Munich
By Heidi Trautmann
North Cypriots go to Vienna, Prague and Budapest, perhaps Berlin, the new wave, after they have done Paris, Rome and Venice. But it is inexplicable to me why they always pass Munich by, that capital of the Freestate of Bavaria, the city of kings, the city of the fine arts and theatre, the city of lebenslust and gemütlichkeit. Munich was founded by monks and one of the remarkable traditions they have left is the beermaking, the love of beer and its outstanding quality, and also the taste for good hearty food to be consumed in good company.
Whenever I come to Munich, the first thing I do on my first morning is to freshen up my memory of the smells, the specific smells of Munich.
Usually a bell rings when you open the door to a bakery, lingeling, a true bell to announce a customer. Today a bakery is the safest of investments if you are as good as the established bakeries with Die Pfisterei being the most famous, established long ago with its tradition of handing out 3-day-old bread to the poor. Once inside your bakery, you join the queue and wait your turn which gives you time to make your choice. All the while your mouth is watering from the smell of fresh bread and you see that your neighbours don’t fare any different. There’s a huge variety of different rolls and sticks with coarse salt or seeds on them, and pretzels, pretzels with butter, with melted cheese, to clutch in your hand for the road, good bread for your hearty breakfast, and when you finally leave the establishment you have more in your bag than you had initially wanted.
Your next stop is the butcher to get something to go on top of your breakfast rolls, and since you don’t get Munich cold meats and sausages in Cyprus, you are most tempted to take a sample of everything. That is Munich: you may get a slice of whatever you fancy or you may be given a taster over the counter. Here also, up to twenty queue up in the mornings and while you wait, you feel the smells working hard on your taste buds, and you chat with people and the master butcher quizzes his clients, asking them what they intend to cook today. He looks trendy with an elegant haircut and a bronze tan from skiing in Kitzbühel. In most of these places there is a small open buffet where you can get ready grilled and fried meats, roasts and side dishes and you get the distinct feeling that if you don’t have a bite of something immediately, you’ll die. And I ask for a small Vienna sausage while I wait, and I eat it happily.
My shopping companion takes me next to the fish shop where a most intense smell of sea and freshness envelops me and the cabinets are filled with eye watering delicacies on ice: yes, please, a matjes herring and some North Sea crabs for me. Opposite, in a small shop, a most expert woman cuts slices from huge blocks of cheese for us and I feel myself transplanted into a spring meadow in the Alps full of wild flowers. Right on the pavements, the greengrocers in their open stalls, clad in heavy furs and woolen mittens with the fingertips cut off the better to grasp their coins, cry out to advertise their vegetables and fruit.
One mild morning, I went to meet an old friend from South Africa in the centre of the old city, right next to Town Hall and not far away from the famous Church of Our Lady; and while I waited, I watched the crowds gathering and dissolving, forming new groups, all nationalities imaginable, waiting for the glockenspiel, while from next to me the aroma of roasting chestnuts wafted into my nostrils. You only find them in the cold season and there is nothing better than hot chestnuts to warm your fingers.
Before we go over to the famous Open Market – Viktualien Markt – which brings back so many good memories, we pay a visit to the Old Peter Church, the oldest church in Munich where my friend leaves a candle – you never know, she said, when you may need some heavenly assistance. Along the roads in this area you find old small shops with long family traditions written on the door just next to their names: the best quality of all kinds of food, and as I admire the decoration behind one shop window, the owner steps out and hands me a slice of smoked garlic sausage. Within metres, you are enveloped by a variety of smells, from open stalls where they sell the famous Nuremberg sausages over the counter, or the tantalizing smell of fresh dripping cakes and doughnuts in one of the oldest cafés here, where all the fruit and vegetable sellers and farmers come after they have done their work in the early morning hours and enjoy hot coffee and hot doughnuts filled with plums. The smells of this café hover over the entire market area.
In the huge square are hundreds of market stalls selling their fresh produce, not only national but also from other countries, such as cheese from France, which you can try right on the spot with a glass of French wine. In summer, you can sit down and enjoy a beer between the stalls while bronze sculptures of famous Munich comedians watch over the place.
In a small tent attached to a fish stall but equipped with gas heaters and some tables, we sit down next to elegantly dressed business men and ordinary housewives and order some fresh oysters and ice-cold Prosecco. What luxury!
Sauntering along elegant streets behind the town hall, I sniff out a different kind of luxury: furs and expensive perfumes, as if there were an invisible barrier; just one street away, people are wearing simple coats. The difference becomes even more distinct the nearer you get to the theatre and opera area – the most expensive street in Munich – where sometimes you see the wives of Saudi Arabian millionaires doing their shopping. It smells differently here, you would not encounter the open smell of Bratwurst or chestnut, oh, NO. You would rather go to high class restaurants and eat the same for five times the price!
We visit an exhibition on Indian culture during the Raj and British rule in a very popular art gallery. Hundreds of people hang around and queue. Munich people love art, theatre and music, another reason to come regularly to the old city of Munich and later go to one of the small places known to insiders: typical, old, small Bavarian places or the oldest wine pub, and then you walk through the dark streets around the Church of Our Lady and it smells of history.
As a farewell to our Munich Day, we visit the Karl Valentin Museum. He was a comedian of the beginning of last century who together with Lisl Karstadt did many theatre plays, sketches and radio plays. There, on top of one of the two towers of an old town gate, we sat among Valentin fans who gather once a week, recite poems or sing or make comedy sketches right there in the old style, and we drank good strong coffee out of big Valentin mugs. Here it smells of tradition, of free spirits, the spirit of friendship, the old spirit of Munich.