by Frank Muller
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As one may have discerned from this website, I (we) have a passion for travel. Of course, it is always great to see the notable tourists’ attractions whether they be cathedrals, museums, natural wonders, monuments and more… However, what my memory invariably is drawn back to are the people and those random encounters where for a brief time we are not a tourist but somehow become friends with the people who live there.
One such encounter was in a tavern in Munich, Germany. We had an afternoon free from the pressures of trying to see everything and instead took a leisurely walk through the City Park away from the biergartens and shops of old town Munich.
Around lunch time we became hungry and decided that we wanted to try something local and off the beaten path and this led us to exploring the neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city center. As we walked along the streets notably absent of any type of tourist focused business, we had almost lost hope of even finding a place to dine.
And then, almost at the last minute before we would have turned back towards the familiar old town, we saw it. A non-descript wooden structure that looked more like a renovated house than a restaurant. We watched as a steady stream of “locals” made their way into and out of this establishment.
We approached the front door looking for the ubiquitous menu posted in German and English in order to determine what we are getting into. No such menu was posted. Oh well, let’s give it a try. As we enter into this tavern, we see that every table is full and so is the bar.
There is no hostess stand and the waiters are busily working the tables. We stand there uncomfortably looking for someone to guide us or sit us or frankly just acknowledge our existence. A hurried waitress approached us and in flawless Bavarian German (think the US version of an Alabama accent in German) and I respond in my barely discernable High German (think the US version of a Bostonian accent in German), she looks bewildered.
She eyes the room and notices a table with three men sitting at it and one of them is motioning us over. In a Bavarian tavern people do not sit at separate tables but rather share a table with one another (think a picnic table). Here we meet three characters that have been etched into my memory.
One was the lead reporter for the local Munich newspaper, the other was a police detective for the Munich police department, and another was a City Councilman for Munich. In the same order was their proficiency in English. The reporter was near fluent, the police detective was halting and uncertain but seemed able to convey brief thoughts and could follow simple expressions. The City Councilman spoke nary a word of English.
On their table stood at least a dozen consumed glasses of beer and their food had not yet arrived. My family and I sat down and once the reporter heard our Texan version of English he immediately took a serious interest. “Why are you here and how did you find this place?” he asked in sincere curiosity. Thus began a friendship that in my heart and mind that still reverberate to this day.
The reporter began acting as interpreter and guide. Your humble author here began interspersing with my limited German to his friends and colleagues. My wife and daughter sitting there wide eyed as the beers began to flow and Daddy began to try and keep up with these clearly professional drinkers.
At that table I learned about Munich politics and crimes, its simple joys in beer and friendship, its desire for community and relationship. These men had been meeting together at this tavern for decades. Their weekly ritual dated back to their youth, and it appeared that it was one of the most important things in their lives.
Their gentle ribbing and name calling of one another. Their radically different perspectives of things and events that in our country would have led to fisticuffs there it just led to uproarious laughter and gentle smiles after verbally eviscerating each other for their opinions.
They took a sincere interest in us. This was much more than polite inquiries, they wanted to get to know us. As the beer continued to flow, I began to feel the effects but to my eye they all seemed cold sober. The beer flowed like a waterfall, the waitress never even asked permission and just kept bringing the good stuff. The food, the drink, the atmosphere of a lunch well lived indeed made me long for a world where people were forced to meet at taverns.
This was humanity in its best form! These people loved people and each other and it showed in words and actions. I was awestruck and profoundly moved. Time itself seemed to have lost meaning here and nothing seemed more important to anyone in that tavern except being there with friends.
Then, it just came to an end. With German precision and without even looking at their watch, it was time to get back to work. An embrace, a smile, and the kind goodbyes of people who know they will never see each other again yet somehow, we all knew we would remember this day, this tavern, this group of souls united around a common humanity filled the elixir of life found in those beers.
My prayer for each of us is that we intentionally wander to that undiscovered country and especially that hidden tavern. In it we may find our best friends and more importantly discover for ourselves that life is meant to be shared over a beer with a friend (or a stranger) with each committed to getting to know and appreciate the other soul in good humor.
If we string together a lifetime of such encounters then we create a storyboard of more than just sights and monuments, but of precious souls and loving relationships. We loved Munich but if forced to choose between the Beer Halls of Munich or this small tavern with those three men, give me the latter.
May Peace be with us all.