It's Fasching!!!

In Latin countries it's "Carnival" and in New Orleans it's
Mardi Gras, but in Germany the pre-Lenten bash is
known as Fasching, when costumed merry
makers/drinkers engage in all kinds of partying and
revelry prior to the sacrifices of Lent. My wife and I
experienced Fasching a few years ago when my
Mummers band traveled throughout the Rhineland in a
half dozen Fasching parades and parties from Mainz to
Dusseldorf.

Observing outlandish costumes (with a specialty being
fake, inflatable women's breasts worn by fat men in
lederhosen), and outlandish behavior (such as a fraulein
backing up to the urinal in the men's room at a party)
eventually caused members of the band to shrug their
shoulders and say "So what?...it's Fasching!"

Bavaria does not go to the extremes of Cologne, for
example, in celebrating Rosenmontag( the Monday
before Ash Wednesday), but certainly Bavaria is the
beer capital of Germany so I eagerly looked forward to
my wife's suggestion of a short trip to Munich to relive a
few Fasching memories.

A giant snowstorm blanketed the Newark (NJ) area on
the day before our scheduled departure, but luckily we
got out on time for our brief Bavarian vacation and
easily made first class seating on the flight to Brussels
from where we were to make connections for Munich.
Everything about "business first" accommodations is
truly first class except for the beer, which although free,
is hardly worth the price. As soon as you're seated, a
flight attendant takes a drink order prior to takeoff and
when I ask what beer selection is available she responds
with the usual Heineken or Corona (yecch) but promises
additional options once airborne. These turned out to
be Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Lite (Yecch again).
Munich seemed very far away.

Upon arrival in Brussels we learned that our flight to
Munich had been cancelled due to a snowstorm in that
city (what else is new?) but luckily there was space
aboard an earlier flight. (The earlier flight ignored
snow?) That plane taxied out to the runway where it sat
for an hour before turning around and heading back to
the terminal because of a mechanical problem. It must
have been a hell of a problem because it never even
made it back to the terminal, instead stopping out on
the tarmac and discharging it's passengers into buses
which took us back to the terminal where we found out
that all subsequent flights to Munich were booked solid.

However, a very nice lady from Munich who was a retired
Lufthansa employee seated next to us on the dead
plane advised us to not despair and suggested a beer
on her at a nice little pub in the airport which included
Hoegaarden and Leffe among it's tap handles. She was
also flying standby and said there was a good possibility
that seats would open up as more people gave up their
reservations ,figuring they'd already missed their
appointments. After a delicious Leffe Bruin we headed
toward the gate and found out she was right, as all
three of us made the last flight to Munich.

Arriving dead tired we collected our bags and took the
SBahn train to Rosenheimer Platz where we emerged
into the snow and trudged six blocks to our hotel,
which we then discovered was more easily accessible
from the SBahn through an underground mall
containing several grocery stores that sold beer. ( In
Germany practically every store sells beer). A few
bottles of helles and dunkel were obtained to quench my
thirst until the Fasching festivities started in earnest.

After checking in and freshening up we took a cab to
the Hofbrauhaus for some brews and a late night
supper of wurst and kraut. The Hofbrauhaus was just
the right combination of local Bavarians (many of them
in traditional attire), Fasching celebrants in outlandish
costumes (and this description, remember, comes from
a mummer), and tourists from all over the globe. The
vaulted ceilings, long communal tables and benches,
oompah band and liter steins of helles and dunkel
provided ambiance second to none, making the
Hofbrauhaus perfect for winding down after our almost
twenty four hour trip from Newark.

The next morning we arose refreshed and boarded a
train  for the two hour trip to Schwangau and Castle
Neuschwanstein, the inspiration for Disneyland's
Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Riding through the snow
covered fields and pine forests was like traveling
through a fairyland. A few hours touring the castle and
tramping down the mountain through the snow (we
wisely elected to take the horse and buggy UP) made us
tired all over again and the train back to Munich afforded
a welcome two hour nap.

Back in Munich, we walked all over the environs of
Marienplatz and greatly appreciated the fact that the
Germans don't use salt or melting crystals in order to
create slush and ruin your shoes. Instead, the snow
just sort of crunches under your feet, making it pretty
rather than messy.

I noticed a cozy looking little restaurant just off
Marienplatz which turned out to be the Weisses  
Brauhaus, outlet for the Schneider brewery which had
eight of their own and three guest beers on tap.
Excellent roast pork, weiner schnitzel, a few liters of
Aventinus and a free glass for my birthday, compliments
of Herr Wagner, our gracious host, made this an
excellent stop. This pub is well recommended for anyone
looking for authentic German cuisine, ambiance and
world-class beer.

Andechs Monastery on Lake Ammersee was our next
destination. A forty minute train ride and ten minute
bus ride brings you to the bottom of the driveway of
this beautiful monastery/brewery, a driveway which
appeared to go straight up the side of an Alp. The steep
trek up past the restaurant and biergarten ends at the
bierstube where one can buy all sorts of German foods
and Andechser beers on a self serve basis. Find yourself
a couple of places at one of the long family style tables
and enjoy!

The Andechser winterbrau was, unlike it's American
counterparts, lower in alcohol than their other brews,
making a rare and great winter session beer. The high
gravity doppelbock was at the other end of the
spectrum and in between were the usual offerings of
helles, dunkel and speziale lagers, all wonderful beers
and ultimately my favorites  during our four day stay in
Munich. There is a beautiful chapel on the grounds and a
lovely restaurant where we had dinner and some more
Andechser brews.

A late evening snowy walk brought us back to the
Hofbrauhaus for dessert coupled with an excellent
Hofbrau weissbier.
 
There was no huge Rosenmontag parade as in Cologne
or Mainz, but there is a big Fasching atmosphere,
nonetheless in Marienplatz: bands of all types,
costumed revelers, kiosks selling wursts, pastries, wine,
schnapps and other German articles and of course, beer
wagons dispensing beers from all of Munich's big
breweries. Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Augustiner,
Ayinger and Schneider were all represented. Where else
but in Germany can you stand around in thirty degree
weather with snow up to your ankles and buy cold
draught beer by the half liter, dispensed in beautiful
logo glasses. (no plastic cups for the Germans).

A small deposit is required on the glassware but for a
glass collector the two euro outlay is a pittance
compared to buying one from a retailer. Even for a
non-collector who wants his deposit back it's so much
nicer to drink beer from a proper glass than a wimpy
paper cup!

Needing a break from the cold, we decided to have
dinner in the Augustiner Brauhaus. This is a much
smaller version of the Hofbrauhaus, but therefore very
cozy. The Augustiner beers were excellent, to me
almost on a par with Andechs.

Augustiner was the last stop on our mini Bavarian
vacation and the offer of a Heineken (declined) on the
flight home quickly brought me back to reality. But the
city, the food and especially the beer and brauhauses
served to whet my appetite for more.

I think I'll start planning now for a trip to the
Oktoberfest this fall.



Cheers,

Dan
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