People love to cast themselves a ‘travellers’ rather than ‘tourists’. The internet is full of quotes like this –
“The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G.K. Chesterton
“The traveller was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.” – Daniel J. Boorstin
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux
At the heart of these quotes is the search for authenticity, finding the ‘real’ [insert culture / city / nation here].
But I don’t believe in authenticity. It’s a hangover from my time in the late 90’s as a politics student where over soy flat whites I’d debate whether we were entering post modernity. I don’t believe that there is any such thing as the ‘real’ and if you think that you have really gotten to see the authentic anywhere think about your home country and the vast variety of experiences that make up your nation and your personal experience of it.
I don’t see many tourists, or travellers for that matter, coming to visit my authentic Australia. I work in an economically disadvantaged area and it might not be pretty but generational unemployment is as much ‘the real Australia’ as kangaroos and playing cricket on the beach are.
So what does this highbrow political rant have to do with Munich, beer and beer halls? There were two beer halls that stood out during my time in Munich. The first you might have heard of.
Hofbrauhaus is shamelessly touristy. Those dreaded tourists take up space on the communal tables, order those ridiculously big beers and meals of pork, potato and cabbage while scratching their names into the wooden tables.
However it is also a site of significant historical importance. Founded in 1589 as a brewery by the Duke of Bavaria Wilhiem V the venue was converted into a beer hall in the nineteenth century. While many know that Hitler and the Nazi Party used the venue to hold meeting and declare policies what is not well known is that the brewery once saved the city of Munich after the King of Sweden accepted 600,000 barrels of Hofbrau beer and hostages in return for not sacking and burning the city.
But the past isn’t the only reason to visit this Munich institution. The food is unexpectedly good. It is also not as expensive as might be anticipated in a ‘tourist trap’. My first meal there was a brokwurst sausage with potato salad for the economical sum of E6.50. It didn’t look pretty but I don’t think I got a pretty meal in all of Germany. Ben ordered the roasted pork knuckle with potato dumpling and look at how happy he looks about it.
But Hofbrauhaus is also visited by locals. In fact some of them have permanent bookings on those graffiti swathed wooden tables. And I bet they even order pork and potatoes for dinner and wash it down with a stein of brew. (Although I have to admit I’m not sure that they tag the tables)
We also wandered out of town and visited Augustiner- Keller.
It was a hot summer’s night and it seemed like all of Munich had come to sit under the chestnut trees in the beer garden to escape the heat. Despite the 5000 seats we found it difficult to get a table and ended up eating on the terrace, a high point from which we could look over the garden and soak up the atmosphere.
It was teeming with authenticity. There were real life German people eating, drinking and generally whiling away the evening before heading back to their homes. I ate, hands down, the best schnitzel I have ever had with a mustard crust and again potato salad.
But you know what I noticed. Amongst the real Germans were scattered tables of tourists, or maybe they were travellers. Whoever they were they weren’t very German (and I was one of them). But I didn’t appreciate the experience any less because of it.
So my advice is to go to both beer halls, order something with pork and potato, a beer that requires you to use both hands to lift to your mouth and don’t fret over having an authentic experience. Travelling might be about finding yourself, experiencing different cultures and bragging about it when you get home but in the end what it is really about is enjoying yourself.