Munich: German Flags and Georg

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I love my times with Munich local guide Georg Reichlmayr — pronounced like a bad guy on Rat Patrol. Rrrrreichlmayr. We got together recently, just after Germany had beat Argentina in the quarterfinal in the World Cup, and everyone was out, going crazy. I enjoy seeing Germans wave their flag, which — with their difficult 20th-century history — they only do for football victories.

Marveling at the chaos in the streets, Georg says, “We won the game…lock up the cats!” I joke that people who were patriotic in the 1930s might be rummaging around in attics and basements, muttering, “There must be a flag around here somewhere.”
I’ve got a long list of restaurants to check for my guidebook. Post-Fussball victory, it’s not a great night for that, as everyone’s partying and it’s tough to get a fair gauge on the normal energy of the place. I complain that I have an imbalance of restaurants, with too many beer gardens and beer halls. Georg admits that’s a problem in Munich — it has an abundance of great beer halls and a shortage of fine restaurants without the noise and suds.

We pop into the Heilig-Geist-Stüberl — literally the “Holy Ghost Pub.” I always read my description before entering a place, then stow the book and see if it rings true. In my guidebook, it’s described like this: “Heilig-Geist-Stüberl is a funky, retro little hole-in-the-wall where you are sure to meet locals (the German cousins of those who go to Reno because it’s cheaper than Vegas, and who consider karaoke high culture). The interior, a 1980s time warp, makes you feel like you’re stepping into an alcoholic cuckoo clock.”

Georg cracks up about the last three words. Stepping inside, it’s perfectly described. It’s hard to get out, but I have to be very disciplined — one drink can kill your research momentum.

We pass an Apple Store — open late and thriving, just like those in American malls. Then we see a bookstore with big reading lounges. Georg says these are all the rage here. I say, “Bookstores providing a ‘third place’ have long been popular in the US.”

A few blocks later, a guy at a curbside table hollers at me. He’s a US soldier stationed at Grafenwöhr. He says they give everyone landing there from the States a copy of the Rick Steves issue of Smithsonian magazine as a welcome gift and encouragement to get out and see Europe while they’re here. I tell him sales have been great (Smithsonian thinks they will sell out of their double-sized print run), but I didn’t realize we were getting distribution at US military bases in Europe. It’s a great bit of news.

Talking with the soldier gets Georg going on Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan. He muses, “What are we doing in Afghanistan? Let’s give the baby a name” (a wonderful German phrase for our “Let’s call a spade a spade”). I say, “You’re there to make America your friend.” He says, “Of course. We’re not defending Oktoberfest. The Taliban is no concern of ours. This last Oktoberfest came with extreme security — the most I saw. Why? Because Germany is in Afghanistan.”

A bit later, seeing someone walk by with a T-shirt reading, “Costa Rica: no army since 1948,” Georg says, “I think America would be more a super power without an army. With no army at all. Think of what you could do with your money instead.” I explain to Georg that you cannot seriously discuss that issue in the USA. He says, “Yes, I know. We have a long history of important families like Krupp making vast fortunes on armaments.”

With our work about done, we stop by Georg’s favorite beer hall, Der Pschorr. At the Hofbräuhaus, they have a big wooden keg out on display, but draw beer from huge stainless-steel dispensers. At Der Pschorr, every few minutes you hear a whop! as they tap a classic old wooden keg. Hearing this, every German there knows they’re in for a good fresh mug.

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In a beer garden, you’re surrounded by big women in uplifting dirndls. Georg confirms that German men don’t favor petite women. These famously low-cut outfits seem designed for German Rubenesque tastes. With the euphoria associated with the World Cup games, there are flags flapping everywhere. A beermaid with German flags painted above her cleavage joins us to take our order. I can’t resist saying, “Nice flags.” I don’t think…it just comes out. Nice flags. She looks at Georg and says, “Warum sagen alle Männer das Gleiche?” (Why do all men react the same?). Georg says, “Weil du sie genau dort trägst” (Because you put them right there).

I ask if they sell half-liters. Georg says, “This is a Biergarten, not a kindergarten”…and he orders us each the standard full Mass, or liter glass (about a quart, nearly what we’d call ein pitcher — but for one person).

Conversation flows like the beer in these beer halls. I mention that Austria just went smoke-free in restaurants this month. Georg thinks they’ll fight it. I marvel at how many people still smoke despite the comically blunt “smoking kills” warnings on cigarette packs. And he can’t resist commenting on America’s love affair with guns. “In European eyes, this America and private guns is something very funny. In the supermarket, kaboom, you defend yourself with a gun.” He doubles over in laughter. Recovering, he admits, “In a different aspect, we are mad, too. In Germany, every man has the right to go as fast as he wants on our roads. All Europe has a speed limit except in Germany. That’s our gun. Not even the Social Democrats dare to have speed limit discussion. Only the Greens do. It’s guns for you, speed for us, and smoke for Austrians. And Italians…they vote for Berlusconi. Berlusconi just bought a Botticelli. Like Mussolini owning a Rafael. They shouldn’t let it happen.”

To Georg, having guns everywhere and the death penalty seems incongruous. He marvels, “You have the death penalty and you give people the right to have a gun. To join the EU, you can’t even talk about the death penalty. It is so fundamental. The state does not kill people. That’s one reason why Turkey can’t get in to the EU. But we kill ourselves without guns. On a night like this, when Germany wins a World Cup match…tomorrow we read about more dead on our roads. The Autobahn is safe. It’s the countryside roads — they are suicide.”

Then, whop! Another keg is tapped as this night of German flags, high-volume conversation, and Georg’s favorite beer seems to be just starting.