10:05 a.m. and I touchdown at Memmingen Airport, sleepless and shattered from an ill-advised pub session, face ragged, sites of acne scar battlegrounds red again, my hair a chaotic mess of things. I hop on the Allgäu Airport Express bus, listening to some clichéd music choices – namely Wagner – as we proceed through the Bavarian countryside. It’s rather lovely, the only downer a strange fellow sitting beside me who keeps making chipmunk noises and nudging me every time he spots a sign indicating the distance to Munich.
Hauptbahnhof arrival – I check in at the Euro Youth Hotel on Senefelderstraße, quite excitable as I conduct a series of operations at lighting pace. I buy food and alcohol (cheap knock-off imitation Jägermeister for 3.99 euros) from Lid, proceeding to munch a salad under a statue in the middle of a roundabout, the occasional car honk disturbing my feast. I acquire 20 cigars and a lighter for five euros – this is bargain central. I change into my running gear and go for a 30-minute sprint around the surrounding milieus, which are mostly comprised of gangs of suspect men stood on street corners. The satisfactory pre-drinking workout even encompasses the discovery of an Aldi supermarket. I shower, change, and neck half of that wannabe Jägermeister on my bed as I speak to an English guy from Southampton in the opposite bunk. He falls asleep whilst writing postcards. I smoke a cigar on the porch and stare up at the wondrous view: a power generator and pigeon net.
I head to Hauptbahnhof and take photos. It’s this bustling hub of frenzied activity, as one would expect from a central train station. Smokers stand by the entrance en masse, so too a few hobos sharing a bottle of wine. I withdraw money from an ATM, buy a tram ticket and end up in an anonymous suburb a few miles west of the station. It’s mostly apartment buildings so I go back to Bayerstraße. On the tram there’s hyperactive kids jumping around; an elderly woman hits them with a stick. I change camera batteries and hear music and chatter. The hostel bar is open. All is a bit blurry. I realise the rotten liqueur I’ve been drinking is almost empty, ominously peering out of my jacket pocket; I finish it in a bathroom cubicle and then order a beer at the bar. The barman initiates a “Where are you from?” chat. I mutter something and he walks off bemused. I find myself drinking beer with some British people. David Guetta is playing on a loop. I appear to be arm wrestling.
I wake up at about 11:00 a.m. wearing yesterday’s clobber, feeling fresh but looking rough. A morning run, shower, shave, Lidl shop for cheap fuel, and I’m back in the hostel eating cottage cheese and drinking amaretto on the porch. I ask a guy for a lighter, who says I was ranting to him about Augusto Pinochet for 30 minutes the night before. It makes sense when he informs me he’s Chilean. We walk down to Marienplatz for a free tour, with beers sourced from a newsagent along the way, the sales assistant looking like she’s wandered out of a photo shoot. German women are incredibly attractive: tall, sculpted cheekbones, speak perfect English.
Marienplatz is an overwhelming site: the Neo-Gothic New Town Hall – a Glockenspiel in its tower – hovers above a stunning square, the centrepiece an opulent column with a golden statue of the Virgin Mary at the top. The place is bustling, a hive of activity – mostly packs of tourists circling around orators in red shirts. The Chilean guy, Ignaciou, does the Spanish language tour and I the English one.
The tour guide ushers us around the much-vaunted attractions. I’m bored by what he’s saying as I know the history of Munich and consider myself an academic on the subject; he even gets some of his dates wrong. Disgusted, I put my headphones in and spend most of the time photographing buildings. The highlights of the tour are hound related: a beggar’s dog on Karlsplatz with stabilizers replacing its two back legs, and a ‘park your dog’ installation beside a pharmacy. I tip the guide 5 euros and a cigar at its end.
Back at the hostel the amaretto is debased on the porch with Ignacio. A deep-voiced, chain-smoking chemistry orderly in a Santiago hospital, the man has drinking skills. I compete by opening a bottle of coffee liquor that must be 3000 calories. We are joined by a German woman, Freida, who claims to be from Prussian nobility, and a Spanish couple from Bilbao. We drink in a bar/restaurant on Bayerstraße. The maitre d’ asks me to put my amaretto away. We proceed to another bar. There’s cigar smoke, an argument with a bar man about Arjen Robben, and at the evening’s end the eating of a can of tuna. Another wasted – by sightseeing standards – day then.
I say farewell to my departing drinking buddies (we’ll meet again on facebook), and run to Hackerbrücke and back, stumbling across another Lidl, dropping in for a bottle of water. The checkout operator looks at me as if confronted with a peasant from another planet, and asks why I’m sweating. Perhaps they don’t run around here. After a shower I jump on a random tram. They’re lovely hives; I shimmy in and out of conversations, getting tidbits of local chat. There seems to be a picture emerging here: a collective fear of the influx of boorish foreigners for Oktoberfest.
I arrive at the Bayern Munich stadium. It’s quite something – a bubble-like dome, smooth and sleek. I’m told that at night it illuminates and changes colour, and that there’s a match on tomorrow against F.C. Metz. I take a few snaps, drink a bottle of Becks on a bench, and ask a woman with an enormous dog what breed it is. She tells me to go away. Three alcopops are then guzzled as I swagger to the airport express bus stop to meet my friend arriving from Edinburgh, a cigar in my mouth, feeling (though not looking) like an esoteric champion.
My phone rings. It’s Leo. He’s in front of me emerging from the bus. Leo, Edinburgh’s suave and debonair practitioner of Neil Strauss’ The Game, Misc bodybuilding forum hound, and Illuminati conspiracy subscriber – it’s good to have you in this Bavarian ‘adventure’, Sir. He checks himself in and the infamous porch holds us hostage again. The Prussian noblewoman returns. There’s Norwegians in our dorm. There’s more alcohol. We meet two guys from Israel doing a trip across the continent on motorbikes; I tell them about the ‘Mongol Rally’ and how dangerous it is. They think I’m making it up.
There’s a drinking game underway in our dorm. I glance down to see my right trouser leg drenched in water. I think it’s pee. I change trousers and it turns out it was just water that looked like pee. I get a call from another visiting mate, Colin, who is now around the corner in a hotel, the Deutsches Theater München. I can’t find him or it, and my phone battery dies. I stumble around on my own for I’m not sure how many hours, imagining myself as a kind of vagabond wanderer in a Wagnerian opera (if there is such a character). I make it back to the hostel and sit on the door step for several hours conversing with a woman from Poznan about cheese and Mitt Romney. Another day in Munich.
The city is seductive, though it shouldn’t be. They (the locals) tell me it’s meant to be an enclave of cultural delights, a conservative Catholic hegemony that’s so restrained and cool that a beer festival is embraced because they can ‘handle it’, like French children getting a glass of wine at the dinner table. I understand the apt description, but seem more content to just rampage around in this intoxication shared only by my fellow tourists. Perhaps we’re this massive nuisance. And it’s not even Oktoberfest.
Colin informs me via WhatsApp that he’s off to Dachau concentration camp. I pass as I’ve been to Sachsenhausen and there can’t be much that differentiates the two. Auschwitz awaits me, the crème de la crème. I find Leo in the bar. It appears we’re being showed the way to the Olympic Tower by a German girl from his dorm. We buy wine and drink it on the way there, which is an amusing series of U-Bahn escapades. I get ordered to behave myself by an outraged Fräulein, who then proceeds to apologise and bequeaths me an apple. In my altruism I pass it on to a homeless man, take a photograph of a dog that looks like Scooby Doo, pose for a snap on a motorbike, and then venture into what will surely offer stunning vistas of the city.
It does, and it’s made even gnarlier by the fact I can write my name on a graffiti wall on the roof. I plaster my signature across it with black permanent marker and feel radical. Not a cloud in sight, the Alps dominate the horizon, indifferently looking back at their metropolis. Glorious. In the cramped lift on the way down a butch female security guard who really resembles Madeleine Albright tells a party of Poles to stop being so loud. She gives my chuckling a “shut your mouth, as well” look.
At a cafe called Maxi all my sins shower upon me. I’m inebriated and … existentially lost. And careless. I light a cigar. The fire shoots out of it like a flamethrower, bypassing the cigar and burning the front of my nose. It was inevitable. No trip can be this decadent without punishment. Horrific, planked right on the tip of the beak, it’s white, and in the coming days will embrace the colour yellow, black, … red. Disgusting.
I shower (again), drown my sorrows with cider, and saunter around the hostel bar querying guests for foundation or makeup to no avail. Our porch, now showered in ash, spilled beer, and my cans of tuna, is an ad hoc rave-up once again. I drink Jack Daniel’s and keep calling it Dack Janiel’s. Leo asks me if I’m trying to drink myself out of the Quasimodo-themed shame on my nose. I tell him I think I drank my way into it. We all (I’ve lost track of who we are with now) go to an Irish bar somewhere near the Opera House. I think grand things: Nazis, Nietzschean conceptions of Dionysus, Das Rheingold, and beer. And therapeutic burn treatment.
I abscond to meet Colin at Marienplatz, and find him standing by the column. He isn’t wearing the Tyler Durden jacket he was seldom without in Amsterdam, which made the July sun bounce off its sleeves and impair my vision. Nazi and WWII aficionado, habitual abuser of indigenous alcohol – this place is right for him.
We proceed to a bar, and are promptly ejected as it’s closing time. The barmaid agrees to serve us beers in plastic cups, which we guzzle outside before venturing into another drinking den, this one of the cellar variety. Looking through his photographs of Berchtesgaden and Dachau, I wonder at the spectacles I’ve sacrificed in favour of … not doing much. We get kicked out at closing time and head off home, via some bromancendental pissing in a fountain. I return to find the porch a veritable bomb site. I valiantly clean it up for half an hour with paper towels and a bottle of water.
I wake up with a nosebleed that’s so ravenous it’s coming out of two nostrils. My towel won’t even cover it, now more red than white. I rush out of the room and bolt down to the toilets, a trail of blood droplets left behind in my wake. It’s in this moment of sitting in a cubicle, blood all over my face, hands and floor, with two rolled together sticks of toilet paper sticking out of my nose, that I start to realise that I may have perhaps been too fanatical in my attempts to create an improved version of Oktoberfest. My suspicions are confirmed when I look in the mirror to find that, yes, the burn on my nose wasn’t a bad dream and actually happened. Shame.
In a pricey restaurant in Odeonsplatz I have three beers and inspect my war wound in the reflection of my phone as Leo eats a schnitzel. After a lengthy stroll around the market (Viktualienmarkt) we rendezvous with Colin, and then go to the Englischer Garten, which is empty and pitch black. The Hofbräuhaus and dunkelbier, finally, is opted for; a more luxurious alternative to the porch. Around us are bar staff and locals in traditional lederhosen, a band in the epicentre, riotous customers, American accents emanating from every other table. So this is where Hitler conducted some of his early rabble-rousing speeches. I don’t get it. I’d be too imbued in my beer to notice. We proceed to have four more litres each, and then depart.
In yet another Irish bar (bordering an Australian one on the inside) we are introduced to a character from Cork who goes by the name of Creepy Pete. He expends his energies bumping into everyone and telling them his life story, getting aggressive if they ask him to go away. I witness him fall head first into a bathroom cubicle after arguing with the door. I leave him to it.
There’s karaoke in the main bar area, the Evanescence track My Immortal playing on a loop to the obvious delight of all signing up to sing to it. This is the most expensive bar I’ve been to in Munich, which puzzles me as it’s packed and isn’t even ‘Bavarian’ in any way. At the smoking area we wax lyrical about the film Fight Club with some Australians, who seem to be astonished that we know who John Howard is. After a round of Jack Daniel’s we conclude the place is a little pricey, so opt to go to the hostel bar (no porch), two Germans joining us when they overhear our chatter about the 2 euros a pint happy hour.
The stroll back in the cool air simply serves to make us all the more lightheaded. By the time we reach the bar it’s like we’ve stepped off a beer cart. I order a Becks. Someone shouts my name. The bit about it being a small world is true. It’s Chris, an Australian guy I used to work with a few years ago who decided to move here. I pose for a silly photograph with him to show the ex-colleagues back home. Cinematic.
Two Americans query the bizarre colour of my nose. I tell them the story and they sympathise, though don’t supply me with the makeup I crucially need to gloss over my ridiculous antics. We argue about ObamaCare, which is civil despite the fact it lasts half an hour. They join us in a drinking game. I have no idea how it’s played or why we’re playing it; I’m just drinking. We go to another place after this. I don’t know where or for how long but I do know it was a pub.
It’s home time. The nose still hurts and looks worse. The shower makes it … more worse. I can’t be bothered running as I’m resigned to be taken away on a stretcher. We say our goodbyes to Colin, who’s getting a later flight. I leave my blood-soaked towel on the porch as a parting gift to the gods. The bus to Memmingen isn’t Wagnerian; it’s Mahler’s 5th Symphony movement from Death in Venice. I fall asleep, waking up to see a ferris wheel – for a moment thinking I’m in Vienna and The Third Man territory.
At security and customs I’m a state, sweat pouring off my forehead, pools on the floor a health and safety hazard. The guy checking my bags looks at me and just facepalms. In the departure lounge I hide in the corner, my nose this self-conscious impediment to even a walk to the bathroom. Boarding, we find a seat near the back, the topic of Kate Bush for some reason dominating the chat as we take off, the remnants of my hitherto stable equipoise left somewhere on the bus into the city six days ago. No, most likely, they’d be sitting on that pernicious porch in the hostel. Farewell, Munich. I shall return, but perhaps with a remaining scar, a reminder of when you were not so nice to me.