I "went" 40 somewhere between Berlin and Halle on our nachtzug to Munich. Long-distance train travel in Germany is always enjoyable - especially if you treat yourselves to a sleeper carriage (cheaper than a hotel plus flight) with its own shower and WC. Even the bunks were good - the most comfortable beds of the entire trip. So comfortable, in fact, that I was out like a light before I'd even cracked open any of the bottles I'd picked up in Berlin.
We spent my birthday in Munich with our chum Dan at the Chinese Tower beergarden in the Englischer Garten. This is one of the largest city parks in Europe with acres of trees, grass, compulsory naked sunbathers, river surfers and two beergardens. Of these, HofBrau's Chinese Tower is by far the most popular, with its oompah band and cycle tours, and none the worse for that. The other is the much quieter Seehaus, run by Paulaner which has a decidedly 'yuppie' reputation amongst Müncheners.
When I lived in Munich a litre of beer was the equivalent of three or four quid depending on where and what you drank. Ten years and a recession later the price of a litre mass of helles at the Turm is over six pounds, but the ever-resourceful Dan had a stack of vouchers he'd clipped from a local newspaper, which took the edge off a bit. I also noticed that the always-grumpy blokes pouring the beer were giving full measures rather than the usual half inch below what we always call the 'magic mark', so presumably the credit-crunched locals had finally complained about short litres. HB is such an easy, enjoyable drink that an afternoon in the garten can get a bit expensive - but who cares? It's worth it. We ended up at old favourite Lucullus (Birkenau 31), scoffing lamb cutlets and souvlaki until well into the night - though memories of that part of the day are admittedly hazy.
Next day we knocked the corners off my hangover with a visit to the Augustiner Biergarten on Arnulfstrasse, up past the main station. This is without doubt one of my favourite places to drink, anywhere. I'd probably love it even if they only sold John Smith Smooth, rather than the sublime Augustiner Edelstoff. It's a big, shady spot, with seating for about 5,000 people, but never feels overcrowded even when full to bursting. After a few mass I've often found myself wondering if they'd allow me to have my ashes scattered here.
Many Muencheners consider Augustiner to be the city's best beer. Can't say I can disagree with them. Augustiner places are often a class above those of their competitors, and sometimes downright quirky. If you're in the city, try and find the side door of the Bratwurst Glöckl am Dom, near the Frauenkirche. It'll probably be closed, but push it open. You'll find a tiny, boisterous room at the bottom of a set of stairs rammed with tipsy locals. There's a serving hatch where a character from a Louis Buñuel film will hand you a foaming Edelstoff poured straight from the barrel. Don't enter if you've got a plane to catch, and whatever you do , no matter how much the other drinkers prompt you - and they will - don't ring the bell above the hatch.