In Bavaria, carols remain a large part of Christmas. Though most people in Munich are familiar with ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Frosty’, they tend to stick a bit closer to more traditional songs like ‘Oh Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree)’, ‘Stille Nacht (Silent Night)’ and the ever-present ‘Eva Marie’. If you’d like to hear a real Bavarian carol, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pyec_UDaQmQ.
In Bavaria it’s quite normal to eat some type of sausages on Christmas morning. The reasons people eat these vary, but one popular reason is that it is so easy. Munich, surprisingly, isn’t a particularly great place to get sausages in the land of sausages, but does have one that is worth mentioning. These are the white sausages which are made of veal and pork and seasoned with parsley. No preservatives are used in their preparation which means they must be eaten fresh. Served with sweet mustard (Handlmaier’s from Regensburg is the hands-down favorite by everyone here), a crispy pretzel and wheat beer, the ‘Bavarian Breakfast’ is a popular Christmas tradition.
Everything begins with the tree in Bavaria. Although there have been some inroads made upon this tradition with artificial trees, the majority of Bavarians still buy a real tree for Christmas. Since many of the trees are locally grown (Germans have some of the best forestry management on the planet) they tend to be very fresh. They are a bit pricey (sellers’ market), but of good shape and fullness. Some families in Bavaria still go out into the forest and cut down their own tree.
What is an unusual tradition to most of the English-speaking world is the fact that most trees are erected on Christmas Eve (Dec 24th), rarely before. This is done in preparation for the arrival of the Christ-child. Decorations on the tree in Bavaria are similar to those one might see in the UK or the USA, though there is a tendency to put a few more natural looking ornaments including fruits and nuts. Some still even burn real candles. They are generally taken down after the Feast of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day, Jan 6th).
I first came to Munich in 1999, during a nine-week backpack tour, and I partied appropriately. I came to visit a Swabian (Swabians contain all the stereotypical German qualities – in copious amounts) girl I’d met in Cinque Terra, Italy. I came for her more than anything else, though the idea of beer and sausages was a close second. I’d taken an overnight train from Milan – or was it Rome?- and arrived on a Friday in early June, around 8 am.
Everything was so German. A light mist hung low and the skies were gray. It was so Romantic, in a Lord Byron sort of way. The train rolled into Munich’s Central Station at 7:38 (on the dot) and I’d had little warning, so my first task upon disembarking was to find a lonesome tree. Americans need lonesome trees to relieve themselves – unlike Europeans, who need only trees (or plants or flowers). There were none to be found. Too many people were already scurrying about to and fro. My paruresis was too acute. So, I had to find some porcelain.
I ended up at the Bayerischer Hof (the most sought-after temporary address for movers and shakers when they visit Munich) hotel, in the old city center. I slipped past the front desk (not really – I got a cold, hard glance from the receptionist which I played off as her being ‘typically German’.) I finished my business and began to look around.
To my untrained eye, at first glance, Munich appeared to be nothing ‘special’. Nothing separated it from the pack. Perhaps this was due to the weather, or my restless night on the train, though I believe it was because I’d just seen London, Paris and Rome (in that order). Now those are cities. If not for the girl, I’d have found the first train to Amsterdam or Prague.
As my relationship and reasons for coming to Munich grew, I began a routine of travelling between Munich on the weekends, and other cities in Europe during the week, for the next four weeks. I came to see the person, not the city. The mists and drizzles lifted, eventually.
On June 1st of the next year, I moved to Munich permanently. At the time I was quite sure it was for the person. I’m not so sure now. She’s long gone and I have moved back to Munich after a hiatus, with another girl who’s been my wife for more than 8 years. She loved it at first sight. Munich has a remarkable way of growing on you at first, then growing in you.
This is true for a lot of people, who’ve come here for a year or two, and ended up spending a long period of their lives here. Munich takes some time to get to know, much like her people (I’m using the feminine here, because Munich is a city, in German-Die Stadt-feminine). She reveals herself only through careful investigation, and more likely, retrospection and reflection.
Munich’s old motto was ‘cosmopolitan (or world) city with heart’, and the latest is ‘Munich loves you’. They both kind of say the same thing, and I feel her love daily.
Once you get to know her, and this is an ongoing, ever-changing proposition, then it becomes very easy to ascertain as to why Munich is consistently voted in the top ten places to live in on this planet.