Bavarian Christmas Interlude 2018, Tuesday: Christmas markets at Marienplatz and Viktualienmarkt, a few Augustiners, some venison goulash and a Funkstadl.


Diana and I visited Bavaria (Munich and Bamberg) just before Christmas. Prior to departure, there was a series entitled Munich Tales 2018. This is the first of seven installments summarizing what we did, saw, ate and drank. They’re being back-dated to the day we were there.

Next: Strolling Munich’s historic city center on Wednesday, with breaks for beers from Schneider and Ayinger.

We arrived in Munich on Tuesday morning to be greeted by a cold but sunny winter’s day. The airport boasts a large public plaza between the two terminal buildings, where a moderate-sized Christmas market slowly was awakening for another business day. There’s also an ice skating rink (above).

The Munich airport is linked to the city center by the S-Bahn transportation system, which is one of two “rapid transit” fixed rail networks serving the city and outlying areas. The other is the U-Bahn, and they’re largely integrated these days. The “S” provides links with the suburbs, while “U” is more generally confined to the city’s central districts. These are complemented by crisscrossing tram and bus lines.

Multi-lingual ticket dispensing machines are everywhere, and as we made our way through the instructions, a young Munich resident standing next to us, just back from business in Chicago, interrupted to say that since all three of us were headed to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), we could save money by purchasing a group travel ticket. This we proceeded to do.

Our hotel was located just two blocks from the Hauptbahnhof on the south side. Thirty years ago this was a colorful, interesting district filled with Turkish immigrants and affordable hotels, and in large measure, it still is, albeit far more diverse now, with lots of Balkans, Africans and folks from the Middle East. Some might find this off-putting, but it never bothered me. It’s a cross-section of the planet.

The Hauptbahnhof is the fulcrum of Munich’s public transportation grid and I’ve been going there for long enough to remember the most recent Hauptbahnhof renovation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which to my mind robbed it of much of its post-war anarchic charm.

Beginning next year, in accordance with a ten-year-long project to dig a new S-Bahn tunnel beneath the current one …

The Munich S-Bahn system is one of Germany’s largest suburban rail networks. With 148 stations, 442 kilometres of tracks and approximately 1,000 train journeys a day, the network extends far into the city’s hinterland, connecting the Bavarian capital with the entire region. Originally designed to carry some 250,000 passengers every working day, far more than 800,000 people make use of Munich’s S-Bahn today.

 … there’ll be a complete overhaul of the Hauptbahnhof.

It’ll become a damned airport. Here are a few views of the Hauptbahnhof and vicinity today.

We checked into the hotel a tad early, stowed our bags and walked to the Münchner Stubn, a new restaurant recommended to us both by our airport travel adviser and the hotel clerk.

The best way to describe it is “traditional beer hall meets new-age gastropub,” and it is located on the south side of the station adjacent to an upscale bar, also of recent vintage. The food and ambiance were fine, and my regionally-sourced venison goulash memorable, if pricey.

My guess is the budget traveler’s haven on the south side of the station won’t survive the coming airport-standard model of gentrification at the train station, although I hope I’m wrong.

It finally was time to walk a half-mile or so to the Christmas markets at Marienplatz (town hall square) and nearby Viktualienmarkt, which is the year-round public market.

When locals and tourists come to sip mulled wine and purchase hand-made Christmas presents at Germany’s holiday markets, they are participating in a tradition that has been around for centuries – and has even become more beloved lately. Some 85 million people visited German Christmas markets in 2012, up from 50 million in 2000, according to the most recent statistics.

Even before Christmas markets began, winter markets were held in Europe during the Late Middle Ages. At that time they usually took place over just several days, rather than weeks; the markets were an opportunity for residents to come together, trade food and handicrafts, and stock up for the coming winter months.

While the markets didn’t initially have a strong Christmas focus, people started using them to purchase baskets, toys, wood carvings and baked goods for Christmas.

The upshot: Christmas markets are about socialization as much or more than shopping, although plenty of commerce takes place.

First, Marienplatz.

The Viktualienmarkt.

Walking, shopping, gawking and photographing can make a couple of jet-lagged Americans tired, and so we navigated a path to Zum Augustiner. It’s one of at least three Augustiner dispensaries downtown (the other two, brewery and keller, are nearer the train station), and I’ve always been a fan.

A nap followed, and by eight in the evening we were feeling hungry again. In route to the Augustiner Keller on the train station’s north side, a little family-run joint lured us inside.

“Funk” means radio, and “stadl” is barn; the space looks very archaic but is part of a modern building housing a radio and television broadcaster, hence the name. When I saw mućkalica (pork and pepper stew; I’ve been cooking it for years) on the menu, I was intrigued and asked the server if it was a Serbian dish.

“Croat,” he said flatly.

It was superb, as was the crisp Spaten lager on tap. It helps a boy sleep well, too.