Close up and Personal – Life in a village in Bavaria

Living the nice life in Bavaria – ever wonder what it would be like to live in a village of 450 souls? Well – that’s where my German friends live – and like most dreams – the reality is always a bit unexpected.


Their village is about an hour outside of Munich – but almost directly off the auto-bahn – so it’s a fairly easy drive into the city. There’s no public bus system to speak of in that area – but BMW, being the good employer that it is, provides bus service for their employees on demand. Nice, eh? So getting to and from work is not as challenging as one might imagine.

What is challenging is the lack of shopping. There are no shops of any kind in the village – if you want even a container of milk, you must drive to the next village to get it. It’s only about 5 minutes driving – but for those of us who live in the city – that’s a long way. Apparently there was a shop – but it closed. Just not enough business to be viable.

Another challenge – and this is one of those good/bad things – they know everyone. Really well. And they have a strong group of really good friends within walking distance. That’s nice – I don’t know my neighbors – so the idea of having friends so close is incredibly appealing.


And they party hardy! Birthdays are a cause for huge celebrations – so large that one of the farmers actually built a room for everyone to use when they have a get-together. And they gather months prior to the party to plan the entertainment. They’ve done Can-Can numbers, written songs based on popular music – We totally cracked up on their version of ‘In the Navy’ – which had much to do with potatoes… Since it was in German, I’m sure we missed most of the jokes – but the recurring theme of potatoes was very obvious. And seriously funny.

Of course – you don’t get along with everyone – and in a village of 450 – it’s hard to avoid seeing someone who perhaps you are not that fond of. I guess avoidance is a skill you learn when you live in each others faces – all the time!

Because they live far from the city – they have a back yard. It’s small by North American standards – but fairly large by European Standards. There’s a vegetable garden, a flower garden – and a wonderful pond. Helmut has built the pond himself. It’s complete with a 4 foot high water bubbler/fall, countless frogs in season, and 20 fish. There are several sections to the pond – the 10 or so smaller fish tend to live in one part, the very large fish in the deeper portion. The pond freezes over in the winter – but Helmut assured us that the fish have no problem surviving, the water is deep enough for them to keep it from freezing completely.


Like any pet – the fish respond to Helmut – and come when he calls – probably because he’s got the food!


Their home is lovely – and we were lucky to be invited to stay with them. The home is new by European standards – built around 1970. It has 3 floors – a full basement, the main floor with a tiny kitchen, huge living and dining area, and the top floor with 3 bedrooms and another bathroom. What makes it distinctly different from what we’d expect in North America are the windows – that open at the top or at the sides depending on how you turn the handle. Another surprise – the size of the kitchen – they don’t even have a full-sized fridge – just a 1/2 size one. The full size fridge is in the basement. Because shopping requires planning – they also have a freezer in the basement. I would guess that farm houses would be larger – but this is more of city home, just located in the country.

About the food – being Eiser’s – we travel from meal to meal. And breakfast at Andrea and Helmut’s was great. And based on what we’ve been having at hotels since then – completely normal for this part of Germany. Eggs are offered, there’s at least 2 kinds of breads (it’s Octoberfest – at least one is a pretzel), jam, butter, meat slices and cheese. I visited a market and picked up fruit to add to the meals – fresh Strawberries, Figs, and pears. For dinner – if we’ve eaten in – we had wurst. Different kinds of wurst – but awesomely good. And one night we just had bread and cheese – naturally at least 4 different cheeses of course. And Beer. Lots of Beer. And Liquor. Can’t complain about the food.

Andrea is a great decorator – and unlike me – for her less is more. So each room reflects their love of Adventure travel – that is how we met them of course – with simple yet beautiful displays of all the wonderful things they have collected on their trips here and there. My favorites were the memories of Africa – an adventure we shared with them.

Because it’s a village – walking around is expected – but sidewalks are not provided. No need – there are hardly any cars. In fact, the only moving vehicle we saw in our hour or so tour was a tractor!

Their village has a church, a May pole, a lovely cemetery, and a huge farm – owned by one of Helmut’s very good friends. We were able to get a great tour of a working farm – by the farmer. Cool.


It turns out that our friends live in the Hops growing area of Bavaria. I didn’t know this prior to our visit – but 70% or more of the hops grown to make beer in Germany is grown right near their home. We arrived just after the hops harvest had been completed. So we didn’t get to see the hops on the vines – they had been harvested, separated from the stems, and packed for shipping. But we did get to see the equipment they use today to harvest the hops – and we toured a Hops Museum.

Germany controls the stuff that goes into their beer – in a big way. A law passed in 1516 restricted what can go into German beer – just water, barley and hops! The newest research in the ‘Hops’ field is on how to naturally get the hops to have different flavors. No joke – apparently the hot new thing is raspberry Hops.

As you can easily imagine – having a law this strict – and given the amount of beer brewed and consumed in Germany alone – makes Hops growing a very big deal! Hops farmers do very well financially – despite the intense effort involved. And apparently the quality of the hops is key to the flavor of the beer. There is a lot of competition among the growers as to whose hops is the best. It’s a bit like growing grapes for wine – but without the cachet!

Hops are vines that grow vertically – up to about 30 feet high. So hops farms look a bit like telephone pole farms – there are poles stuck in the ground about every 10 feet – and between the poles are strung wires.


In the fall, the farmers tie down wires about a foot apart – these wires are then tied to the hops plants. As the hops plants grow in the spring, the farmers manually train the plants to run up these wires. In the fall – machines cut down the wires, shake the hops seeds off the stems, grind up the stems and wires – and spit out the hop seeds into huge bags. These bags then go to the breweries to be further processed on their way to becoming beer.

This picture – taken at the Hops Museum – shows the old-fashioned way of getting the seeds off vine. Today of course they use a huge machine.


Our friends told us that most hops farms are still family owned and operated, and providing good incomes. The major concern – hops from China of course.

What made our stay with Helmut and Andrea so special – in addition to the great conversations and wonderful tours they took us on – was the chance to see how other people really live. Too often our visits to other countries are restricted to museums, hotels, and restaurants. We were lucky to spend 4 days and 4 very alcohol fueled nights enjoying a life style very different from our own. Truly a wonderful part of our trip to Germany.

A special personal thanks to Helmut and Andrea – who as you can tell – went way, way, way out of their ways to make our stay with them – and in Germany so very special. Leslie and Victor

All the Beer you can drink – and delicious food – I love Munich!

I’ve been short on talking about restaurants – partly because we spent the first 4 days with friends – mostly eating at their house. Our meals with them were at the Octoberfest (delicious – with tons of beer), or quick snacks here and there.

Now that we’re on our own in Munich, we’ve been able to pick and choose our own places to eat – and tonight was our first out on the town.

We started with dessert. There’s an amazing food shop located right behind the DOM in Munich – called Dallmayr, and we wandered in yesterday. The options are completely stunning – magnificent looking hor d’ourves, chocolate truffles, a massive cheese counter with literally hundreds of options, a cold-cut section that was even larger, plus 3 ‘eating’ establishments. The first is a 2-Star Restaurant – open only for dinner – and unavailable for reservations on the 2 nights we were in Munich, a Bistro/Cafe where we enjoyed wonderful coffee and an Apple Strudel to write home about, and a seafood bar featuring fresh oysters. Dessert was wonderful – probably the best Strudel I’ve ever had. And I had to share it. Oh well.

We were in the Cafe because we were hoping to score a meal at the restaurant – but no such luck. Booked solid, so sorry. However the kind Matre d’ offered to find us somewhere else to eat – and got us reservations at one of his favorite restaurants for tomorrow night. We’ll see how that goes.

Left to our own devices, we went back to a place we’d past early in the day – Paulaner Im Tal. That means Paulander (it’s a brand of beer here in Munich) on Tal (one of the major streets leading to the Dom. Your basic Bavarian meal was on offer – schnitzels – both pork and veal, a pretzel soup (beef soup broth, sliced pretzel pieces), and a variety of other ‘low calorie’ options.


I opted for the Weiner Wurst (German hot dogs) served on a fabulous hot potato salad made with super thin cucumber slices. It was yum. Victor had a Jager Schnitzel – not a deep-fried thing at all – it was a thin slice of pork topped with cheese and mushrooms and then baked under a broiler. Surprisingly good actually. We both had beer (when in Munich – do like the locals) – and it was naturally good.

Definitely a place I’d recommend to my friends – very typical, not very touristy, but able to deal with English-speaking strangers. And a lot bigger than it looks from the door. On my way to the bathroom – I must have gone thru 4 large rooms, and filled with Germans enjoying a meal before heading home.

Octoberfest to the Max – Beer, Beer, and More Beer!

I don’t know about you – but my image of Octoberfest was mostly ladies in Dirndls, horse-drawn carriages, and beer barrels. Having now done a day at the Munich Octoberfest with some german friends (Helmut and Andrea), I can tell you that there is a lot more to Octoberfest than those cute pictures.


My friend above is a local who lives just minutes from the Octoberfest site – and after gleefully posing for this picture, showed us a picture of him as Santa Claus!

Like most ‘locals’, we arrived by metro. And the Munich metro, while dating from the 72 Olympics, is very nice. Comfy seats, nice and quiet both inside and on the tracks waiting for the train to arrive, and pleasantly frequent. My only negative – unlike the Metro in Seoul, you don’t know how long to the next train. Is that so very hard to do Munich? But it is still so much better than trying to find a parking place!

We could have saved big had we realized that the ‘partner’ day ticket was good for up to 5 adults. But we paid for and used a 10 ticket strip before reading the signs posted inside the metro station. Next time I travel with a group in Munich – I shall be much smarter.

But on to Octoberfest.


We were visiting on a Friday – and arrived around 2:00 in the afternoon – planning on eating lunch before wandering the site. Surprise – all the 14 Giant Beer tents were already packed – with waiting lines even. Left to our own devices, Vic and I would have just patiently stood in line, but Helmut had a better idea. There’s a section of the Octoberfest area called “Oide Wisen” – which my friends translated to mean – traditional area. You had to pay 3 Euro’s each to enter – but once in side, the Traditional Beergarden there had room – and no waiting lines. Plus the rides were much much cheaper – 1 Euro each rather than the 4 to 6 Euro’s demanded by the rides in the main part of the site.

So we entered, found our selves seats outside and were quickly greeted by our dirdal clad waitress. Hint 1 – don’t try to order 1/2 a litre of beer. They laugh at you. The one and only size is a litre – and in this Beergarten, the beer was Augustiner. In our professional tasting experience, it’s the best. Light, tasty, and even better – served in a stoneware mug! My confidential source (Helmut) says that most of the Beergartens use glass – but this is the Traditional Hall. They use traditional ceramic/pottery/stoneware mugs! Heavy – but who cares.


Our meal choices were meat and potato heavy – Ox Goulash, Schnitzel stuffed with wild mushrooms, BBQ Chicken – and the best course – BBQ Duck. Sides were also traditional – red coleslaw, cold potato salad (yummy), and potato noodles (large round balls that looked a lot like Matzo Balls – but were clearly Potato in origin.

While it’s hard to complain about any food served with effectively unlimited beer – I have to say my Duck was clearly outstanding. A huge portion – I think it might have been a whole duck – delightfully seasoned and cooked to perfection. Oh it was yummy.

We sat, ate, drank, and chatted – and then the band arrived. At least 10 members strong – what followed can best be described as the quintessential Octoberfest production – complete with dancing couples, feet and pant slapping by the guys – and finally a whip cracking exercises that was performed on the tables. The band then invited everyone to dance – and dance we did. A modified Polka like dance – with much laughter!


After lunch, we wandered back to the main area to admire the idiots that ride on the rides. After a lunch fueled by at least 2 litres of beer – would you want a ride that flung you upside done and then shook the money out of your pants? I think not.


The ‘midway’ area had its share of crazy options: haunted houses, rollercoasters that looked like runaway mine trains complete with 40 foot high waterfalls, loop-the-loop coasters that resembled Olympic rings – and plenty of opportunities to try your luck at busting balloons, firing cross-bows, or hammer tossing. There were also plenty of strikingly beautiful girls.


But there were things I had never seen. My top favorite – and we must have watched the action on this one for at least 20 minutes – was a wonderfully simple contraption.

The entrance was up a few steps – putting the start of the ride about 10 feet above the crowd. There was a ‘magic’ carpet that ran in an endless loop – at extremely high-speed – up a relatively steep incline. I’m guessing around 35 degrees. At the end of the ‘carpet’ was a circular staircase that led up to the top of a circular slide that you rode back down. Not much to it, right. Wrong! Riding that carpet was a challenge. There were 3 guys whose job it was to keep people from hurting themselves, and making sure that everyone made it up the ‘carpet’. For women and kids – that meant holding their hands and leading towards the top of the ride, while the rider leaned backwards. Not hard – the ladies managed to get up with little problem.

But for the guys – no help was forthcoming. Instead the guys were encouraged to leap onto the ‘carpet’ – which about 1 in 5 could do. For the remaining 4 guys – the ride up the carpet was done with legs flailing, arms whirling, and the crowd convulsed with laughter. More often than not, the guy would end up on back – feet uphill! The helpers would grab their necks, shirts, hair to make sure their heads didn’t touch the carpet – and up they went.

In a less drastic turn of events – the helpers would get on soon enough to just haul the guys up using their shirts and pants for leverage! It was a complete hoot! And from the crowds waiting to try their luck – a hopelessly addictive activity.

More our style was the giant slow-moving ferris wheel that offered a stunning view of the crowds, not to mention a stunning view over Munich.


I was fascinated by some of the very traditional ‘rides’ in the ‘Oile Wisen’ area – including a boat like swing that was human-powered. Food shops sold all the expected traditional beer drinking snack foods – candied nuts, bratwurst, 1/2 meter long thin dogs that I never heard the name of, a spicy thick sausage made with Bison, puffed up fried dough, chocolate covered fruits – ranging from strawberries to Kiwi’s and Bananas. Given the cold, I think the ice cream vendors suffered from a lack of customers, but the vendors of heavy sweaters, rain jackets, and hats did a land office business.

I bought a peacock and ostrich feather for my hair, but besides that – our money went for food and beer – lots and lots of beer.

One thing I didn’t buy – but admit I was intrigued by – were the giant ginger bread cookies. Iced and decorated – and each having a unique slogan (the ones in English were things like – I love you, you are my potato pancake), these are intended to be purchased as gifts from a guy to his girl – and then proudly worn. Well, not something I’d expected to see at Octoberfest.


After wandering the site, we headed back to the Traditional Hall for more music, more beer, and more pretzels. Freshly baked, huge pretzels, the only resemblance these goodies bare to the pretzels we get at home are the shape. These are soft on the side, well salted on the outside – and probably certifiable addictive. I stopped counting at 3. Given that each one is twice the size of my head – I didn’t stop too soon!

So food, fun, rides, beer, shopping, laughing people, and Cookies. Octoberfest is a local celebration that has taken on international importance, but remains resolutely local. Don’t be surprised if you are the only international face you see – this is a local party to which you are lucky to be invited.



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