Just Around the Corner


Saturday 2nd February 2008

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They had forecast snow, heavy snow.

When I woke up and discovered they had lied the inner child in me was very disappointed. With a long journey ahead of us today it was obviously a relief that we didn't have to hire a snow plough to get us through the expected blizzards but I dreamt last night of making a snowman. I suppose that'll have to wait.

Julie and I were still preparing authentic German bratwurst sausage sandwiches for everyone's lunch when Steve turned up in his Bavarian Motor Works car.

We were certainly trying our best to get into character from the very start but my "eating sauerkraut all week" was top trumped when Garry proudly stepped out of his front door sporting an Alpine style hat complete with a blue feather for full-on Bavarian effect.

Despite all our best efforts to get into the Bavarian spirit no one agreed to the "Let's all wear Lederhosen" suggestion. In fact when we all last met it was greeted with the same disdain that would have answered the suggestion "Let's fly there in a highly flammable gas filled paper balloon".

"You can fuck right off" I seem to recall someone saying; "Ha! You'd look like Pinocchio" I think was someone else's reaction.

Once Sonya finally tore herself away from her children (it must have been very difficult emotional wrench as it was the first time ever she'd left them for more than just an overnight) we hit the road.

Along the way we saw evidence of a light dusting of snow but nothing to get excited about. In fact it was a beautiful crisp winter's day and the road's were very clear.

We stopped near Birmingham to eat our Bratwurst butties, some with brown sauce, some with fried onion, some with both and some without. Julie and I had the ones with no bratwurst at all but filled instead by the delectable microprotein of Quorn.

Microprotein may sound unappetising in the extreme but they were really delicious. One side effect however was serious problems with wind. For health & safety reasons none of my excess gases could be released for fear of killing everyone in the car. By the time we reached Stanstead I felt like a blimp, a highly flammable gas filled paper balloon. It was as if someone had shoved a bicycle pump into my belly button and inflated me to the point of splitting.

Oh, I felt ill.

I was probably suffering from acute internal methane poisoning and my first priority was to safely release the pressure. Sitting on that toilet seat I could have easily propelled myself and four other passangers to the moon and beyond such was the ferocity of the rapid evacuation. Once calm was restored I timidly opened the door hoping that security hadn't cordoned off the area after someone reporting explosions coming from the cubicles. All appeared normal as if nothing had happened, so I kept quiet about my trauma.

To settle my stomach I shared a cup of love juice with Julie whilst we stood in a queue for check-in. The strawberry and orange was certainly soothing.

We were far too early for the 15:55 desk opening time but it was an "All Queues for All Destinations" arrangement so we thought we'd join anyway in the hope that by the time we reached the front it would be near enough to our time.

Steve "window seat, window seat" Jones was able to take advantage of the preferential treatment afforded to Easyjet's "Speedy Boarding" passengers.

For only £7.50 he was allowed to waltz his way past everyone and straight up to a dedicated speedy boarding check-in desk which had a queue of only three people. Within two minutes Steve was at the desk handing over his suitcase only to be told that he was too early to check-in! To be fair we were over an hour early.

Luckily he returned to our queue which was reducing steadily and within a few minutes we stood at our check-in desk hoping that we weren't going to be banished to the back of the queue. To our relief we didn't even have to beg once as they took our suitcases and checked us in.

We now had three hours to kill and within ten minutes we were through security and sitting in a Wetherspoons pub watching the end of the Ireland v Italy rugby match, which was soon followed by England v Wales.

Some hours later our gate number appeared just as we were finishing our food and as the second half was about to begin. Wales were in a sorry position, 16-3 behind at half time and looking like being on the end of another thrashing. I'm not a big rugby fan. I don't follow the club game at all but when the Six Nations are on I do fill up with Nationalistic pride and take a bit more interest in the oddly shaped ball game. That pride was now hurting.

We caught the shuttle train over to our gate where speedy boarder Steve made his privileged way to the front. It worked out well because by the time we caught up with him he had secured the front row seats.

I hadn't spent much of the last three hours with Julie as she spent most of it shopping with Sonya, (two bottles of good luck Lanson secured) so I wasn't too sure how she was feeling. As we shot our way down the runway, sucking furiously on a Werthers Original, the OK magazine she tore to shreds by her fidgeting hands was testimony to her fear.

"I don't like sitting here" she said "the cabin crew are laughing at me." They weren't but because we were literally sitting face to face with them she had nowhere to hide.

Inside an hour and a half we were told we're descending to Franz-Josef-Strauss airport, the seat belt sign pinged and the landing gear engaged. No matter how familiar the routine and how recognisable the noises Julie still jumps out of her skin when the wheels are released.

She's not getting any better!

An efficient welcome to Germany greeted us. Our luggage appeared on the carousel within minutes and we breezed quickly through immigration. The first thing we did was phone home for the football results only to be surprised at the rugby result. Wales beat England 26 points to 19!! That must have been a spectacular turn around!

[United drew 1-1 with Tottenham, Ronaldo scoring with only seconds to go]

We easily found the S-Bahn station, bought an €18 partner ticket that covered the five of us and within a minute of standing on the platform an S8 train for Hauptbanhof, Munich's central station arrived.

Our timing couldn't have been anymore perfect. In fact the whole day of travelling here had been very smooth and problem free.

Forty minutes it took to travel into the city where we got off at Karlsplatz, one stop before the central station because it appeared to be the nearest to Herzog-Wilhelm Strasse, our home for the next four nights.

As we rose from the underground and I took my first breath of fresh Bavarian air I heard Julie say "Oh, perfect. What are they trying to say? Welcome to Hell!"

"No, no, don't worry" I ever so slightly smugly replied, "it's a type of bavarian beer" not admitting I'd only been in possesion of that inside information today.

We walked through Karls Tor, a beautiful white arch which was the west gate to the old town . There was a peculiar puppet like fugure dangling from the arch which must have been in preparation for the fasching festival.

The Fasching festival, also known in this city as Mad Munich, is the next big thing to Oktoberfest. It always takes place during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, i.e. uh .. the Sunday before lent[?], Rose Monday and Shrove Tuesday. I wasn't too sure if we couldn't have timed our visit any better or any worse because I imagined the city would be heaving over the next few days but great fun.

It took us a while to walk down Herzog-Wilhelm strasse. Our hotel, eponymously named Herzog-Wilhelm Hotel, was at the furthest end of the street.

"Guden Acht" I said to the guy behind the reception desk.

"Nein, Guten Abend" he replied. His mannerism was pedantic but he was only trying to teach me the difference between Good Evening and Good Night. He continued "Gute Nacht ..... " and mimed putting his head on a pillow by the internationally recognised two hand propping up a tilted head. (Does anyone ever sleep in that position?)

"Aah, OK .... Gootern Ahmen" I said with a smile. He laughed a tired laugh and handed me the key to room 406.

"He mustn't have liked me" I thought when we opened the door "he's put us in a shitty twin bedded room"

What made it worse was that we couldn' t push the beds together as they were fixed to the wall. Julie phoned down to reception and asked if they had a double room. "Tell them it's our anniversary" I shouted from the toilet "we need a big bed!"

Unfortunately he told Julie that they didn't do doubles?

After phoning Sonya & Garry who were also trying to prise the beds from the walls to bring them together we resinged ourselves to having to bunk up in a single bed.

Within ten minutes we all regrouped downstairs and headed out on our first beer sorte. I had read of a place called Hundskugel that claimed to be Munich's oldest Inn and it happened to be not too far away from our hotel. So off we marched.

"How far is it?" asked Julie.

"It's just around the corner" I said.

"I know your ' just around the corner ' Colin, how far is it really?! I don't trust you!" Naturally when we turned the first corner and it wasn't there it brought a chorus of mockery. My reputation for going the long way around preceeds me!

"It'll be written on your headstone." said Steve. "I may be dead but I'm not gone, I'm just around the corner!"

Whilst it wasn't literally just around the corner it wasn't too far.

It stood on the corner of Hackenstrasse and Hotterstrasse and looked just like I had imagined. The windows were well-dressed with flowers in bloom and frames drapped with laurel. A blue and white flag, the colours of Bavaria, hung above the name Hundskugel, written in traditional gothic script.

It looked picture perfect and so inviting, except for the shut front door.

We opened the door and walked back in time to the 15th century. This slightly nervous man greeted us with raised questioning eyebrows whilst his 500 year old mother smiled at us. It was probably wind.

A large board on the wall alluded to the translation of Hundskugel. It's actually German for "Dog Ball"! It also proudly proclaimed itself as Munich's oldest inn having been in existence since 1446. I wonder how they celebrated their 500th anniversary?

The place was nearly empty. Only one other table was occupied. All the tables were covered in white cotton tableclothes and it seemed to be more of a tea-room than a pub. There was more life to be found in a chapel of rest.

Not wanting to walk straight back out again I asked "Is it alright if we just have a drink", miming the tipping of a glass into my mouth with my right hand. Mein host nodded unconvincingly and showed us to our table.

"Does anyone else feel like you're sitting in your Grandmother's living room?" asked Julie.

We looked around at the lace doilys, crocheted cushions, the collection of ceramics, the black and white theatrical photographs of Uncle Stupendo who joined the circus, and we all nodded in agreement. It was a very odd place.

"Mind you, I do like a pint of laughing-brew" said Steve, smiling like Wallace (or was it Gromit?) He was talking about the four half-litres of Lowenbrau hell and one half-litre of Lowenbrau dunkel on its way over to the table. They were certainly gratefully received despite their big frothy heads.

The accompanying bowl of pretzels, or Bretzn as they're called here, were less appreciated. They were dry, very salty, shaped like the old CND logo and the size of a steering wheel. That said I quite enjoyed mine. Garry nibbled at his a bit but then just played with it, pretending he was driving a car!

Chewing on a salty pretzel was thirsty work but we left the Dog's Ball Inn and moved on to find a livelier watering hole. "Auf wiedersehen" we said. "Gute Nacht" Their smiles seemed more geniune now.

We stepped outside back into the 21st century.

"Let's try Altes Hackerhaus" I said "it's just around the corner" and this time I wasn't lying.

It had a slightly better ambience here. With subtle lighting and a few more punters creating an atmosphere it was quite pleasant, but it still had that victorian tea-room vibe going on with all the lacey tableclothes.

I didn't enjoy my dark dunkel earlier so this time I conformed with the pack and went for the pale lager. Five Hacker-Pschor helles soon arrived.

Before we were halfway down the glass our bill arrived. It was just turning midnight and it was time to pay up, drink up and leave the building. It was also time to zip up as they'd even locked the toilets.

We had a bizarre encounter with this English guy as we stepped outside. He was nursing his beer belly like an expectant mother, supporting it with his left arm whilst rubbing it for comfort with his right hand. I could hardly understand a word he said but I think it was "'Great in there yeah, beer good yeah, friendly, great yeah. I been to fifteen yeah and that were best."

"Okay .. alrighty .... Bye!" and we parted company. He walked down towards Sendlinger Tor, so we walked in the opposite direction. Anywhere, just the opposite direction.

The weak bladdered amongst us needed to find a toilet so we continued towards the centre in search of a pub that was still open. It was surprising to find them all closed. This wasn't what I'd expected during a carnival. The nightlife in the city centre was non-existent.

We eventually reached Marienplatz where we saw the impressive Neues Rathaus, the New Town Hall. Whilst looking hundreds of years old it was only completed in 1919. It's focal point, the Glockenspiel, appeared as a green scab against the illuminated beige stone.

"Hey, another wow moment" said Steve and it was. Laying your eyes on the spectacular sight was quite breathtaking.

We were running out of steam by now, (it was nearing 1am), so we made our way back to our hotel, which was of course just around the corner from Karlsplatz.

The Jones's were a floor directly above us. Steve in 506 and Sonya & Garry in 505. The elevator was only big enough for three so we bid adieu , arranged a 9am rendevouz for breakfast and retired to our rooms.

It took a while for Julie and I to get comfortable on the single bed. I galantly took the nose pressed against the wall, knees knocking the chipboard position, whilst Julie snuggled up behind me.

"Are you comfy?" asked Julie.

"I would be if I could take off my left arm. It feels like we've got one limb too many in this bed."

I finally found a comfortable position when I placed my two hands together in prayer-like pose and rested my head on them. Gute Nacht.

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