Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Even before the recent attack just down the road in Hackney, there seemed to noticeably more foxes around than ever. (Incidentally, Hackney has a bit of a record of unfortunate incidents involving animals, not least the chimpanzee burglar.)

Where I grew up, on the edge of the Worth Valley's endless moorland you rarely saw a fox, though there are local legends of them attacking humans, like Ted Hughes' poem about the Midgely Moor standing stone Churn Milk Joan. Country foxes know Man is out to get them. Urban foxes have never been shot at, trapped or chased by dogs.

The foxes in our neighbourhood fear nobody. You see them all the time, often in broad daylight. A couple of weeks back I got up early for work, and a fox was sat right inside our front gate. He wouldn't even move out of the way to let me get my scooter out. I could hardly run the blighter over. There followed a ridiculous Mexican standoff, with Basil looking at me with a "yeah, so?" look in his eye. After ten minutes I was about to get a water pistol when he trotted nonchalantly off. Leytonstone's foxes are like those underage criminal kids who know the law can't touch them. On these hot nights, sleep isn't helped by them yowling from the roof of our neighbour's shed.

Apart from the week or so after my mum and dad have done their terraforming on it, our garden resembles one of those patches of scrub found in the middle of council estates with a telephone box marooned on it. It's not through lack of trying, but I'm lethal to plantlife. Consequently, we don't have much out there to ruin, so it didn't bother us much when the foxes dragged in these rather horrible shorts from God-knows-where, and tried to bury them in the veg patch. However, yesterday evening I heard our neighbour muttering darkly to his wife about "getting something done". On sunday night a family of foxes devoured all his cucumbers - which I later found puked up in our front yard.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hopfen und Malz Gott Erhalts's


Sooner or later in Munich, you're going to encounter some stunningly rude "service". Britain's service culture sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, but I've never had "Yeah? What. Do. YOU. Want?" barked at me in a pub here, as I have many times in Muenchen. The blokes in charge of the barrels in the beergardens are the worst, as if angrily dispensing short measures gives them some sort of exhalted status. Restaurants and bars are usually better. The older waitresses often have a carefully-cultivated brusqueness, which along with the dirndl is all part of the act. It's a characteristic also found in Blackpool landladies and East End matriarchs.

Refreshingly, the service has always been reliably good at Andechser Am Dom - It's an outlet of the eponymous Bavarian abbey, and very, very good it is too. The staff are young, friendly and they actually smile. The restaurant is owned by Sepp Kratz, a Munich bigwig who also owns the Hippodrom at Oktoberfest, and who last year (in)famously refused Michael Jackson's dad Joe entry to the tent. Kratz is also the image of Odilo Lechner, the recently-retired abbot of Andechs, which leads to a bit of confusion when looking at the photos of the proprietor and his famous (Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger) chums on the wall.

The Dom's food is excellent - all of it from Andechs organic farms - and the beer's even better, brewed by monks at their monastery overlooking Ammersee. The abbey is well worth a visit, an hour or so trundle to the the end of S-Bahn 5 at Herrsching, and a wander through the woods and fields until you see the Kloster itself, looking exactly as it does on their logo. Your reward for the climb is the Andechs beer garden, which if you've got there at a weekend will be ferociously busy. I'm a sucker for the deliciously crisp and pure Andechs Helles, and I just wish it was easier to find in the UK.

Warning: A post-beer walk back to the station in the 9/10ths blackness of the woods is a good way to fall down a hole and lose some very expensive sunglasses.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Footy. Footy Footy Footy.

God. I hate football. Football and anything to do with football. I did actually used to enjoy the World Cup, but the loathsome personalities in this years squad have put me off for good. Despite that, I like this subtly patriotic rendering of one of the best adverts of recent years.

Presumably, the correct thing to do now is type "Come on England".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summoned By Bells

A favorite German beer of mine has long been Augustiner Edelstoff, along with Andechser and HB Helles. At the moment in Munich, you'll be looking at paying about 4 euros a half litre for any of these. If you don't mind standing, you can pay a reasonably reasonable 2.60 at the Bratwurst Glöckl am Dom , which I blogged about last August. Our Lad and me dropped in last week, astonished to find it empty except for a bloke with keys hanging off his belt who was the image of Munich comic character Alois Hingerl. Here's a little film captured on my mobile of the Glöckl's Edelstoff being served up at its fresh and delicately grassy best.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ein, Zwei, g'suffa

As Affer says in his comment on my previous post - you're unlikely to get a drunken knuckling in Munich. The crime rate in Bavaria's capital is hilariously low. The city police post incidents they've attended on their website, and last time I was over there, they claimed to have been called out for 3 emergencies over a weekend. That's in a city of 4 million people, quite a lot of them plastered at any given time. The Polizei do have a somewhat justified reputation for cracking skulls*, which might explain why Munich seems to be off the British stag weekend circuit. Public drunkenness in Munich is by no means rare - people are swigging from Edelstoff bottles wherever you look - but what is definitely frowned upon is being epically hammered in public.

On our visit to the Augustiner Garten last week, we walked through the gates behind a mixed buffet of British, American, Canadian, Aussie and Kiwi yoof who were being led on some sort of drinking tour. Their leader was wearing a T-Shirt bearing the ominous slogan "The Best Night You'll Never Remember", and led his group off to a corner near the steckerlfisch hut where as he put it "We can get pissed without annoying anyone", to a chorus of cheers. By the end of the night some of their number were staggering around spilling their beer to a lot of frowning and muttered "ach, typische Engländerin" from the locals. Unfortunately, my Tarzan German doesn't stretch to "Hang on mate, they're not all Brits". It didn't help matters when we later saw one of the party bare her charlies at an astonished cyclist.

The German authorities are clearly worried by how much their own youth drink, which can only explain this graphic poster I saw in the Ostbanhof. But how come it's in English?

* The sinister "Black Sheriffs" who provide security on the city S-Bahn system have discharged their pistols 3 times in a decade. Twice to kill mad dogs, and once to shoot an Irish fare evader. I noticed on this trip that the Sheriffs have had their uniforms tweaked slightly so they don't look quite so much like SS tank crew.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Helles and Back

There's nowhere like the Hofbrauhaus. Normally, I'm hardwired to avoid tourist traps but I love a night at Munich's - if not the world's - most famous pub. It's such a ludicrous place that's it's impossible not to enjoy a visit, and often so busy that you're forced to take pot luck where you might sit, getting forced into drunken mateship with a coachload of Koreans, a snuff-taking, corpulent farmer in full Lederhosen, a group of St Pauli fans or even 8 Dutch nuns. Even the band parping out schlager sounds good after a couple of litres. I don't begrudge paying the thick-end of ten quid for a mass of HB helles, thankful that it's not the Paulanerhaus or the Lowenbrauhaus, two Munich brewers where cost-cutting following takeovers has become very evident in the taste of their beers (or in Paulaner's case, total lack of taste).

HB also run the city's most famous biergarten, the Chinese Tower in the Englischer Garten, (home also to probably the world's drunkest oompah band and definitely the rudest serving staff) and just outside the city centre my old local, the Hofbraukeller. The HBK is in leafy Haidhausen, a ten-minute tram ride up the hill. Visitors don't often seem to make it here, which is a shame. They'd find an echt Muenchner bierkeller, one of the city's best biergartens and some of the better examples of traditional Bavarian food, served up by the usual harridan-with-a-heart waitress.

Haidhausen is also home to Unionsbrau, the nearest thing the town has to a craft brewer, who produce a sublime unfiltered Kellerbier Hell, poured direct from the wood. "Sliyhtly sour, tangy, zesty with a dri ornagey finishh" I tipsily recorded on my mobile on our visit last week. Unionsbrau is a brand of Lowenbrau (and so by extension InBev) but don't let that put you off.

One unavoidable aspect of Munich's beerhalls is the faint whiff of the city's dark past. Hitler gave some of his early speeches at the Hofbraukeller, and kicked off the Bierkeller Putsch from the long-gone Burgerbraukeller just round the corner. The Festsalle where he did some of his most strident rabble rousing is still on the upper floor of the HofBrauhaus.

Incredibly, when I first visited the HbH some eleven years ago, there were still swastikas on the ceiling - which, it must be pointed out were added after the war when the HbH was rebuilt. On recent visits I noticed that these worrying (and not to mention illegal) symbols have at last been changed into waving Bavarian flags. Only took 'em 65 years.