The pandemic has hit our city hard. But in spite of the challenges, and as we moved between hard and soft lockdowns, it wasn’t all bad news: there were still a few things for Munich locals and visitors to discover. Munich during coronavirus.
There is one particular iconic scene in classic police drama Polizeiinspektion 1: Gustl Bayrhammer and Walter Sedlmayer – or rather, the officers they play – meet at the Hofbräuhaus and comically bump their bellies together a few times in greeting. Not only does it seem completely natural, but in the current circumstances one cannot help but think it would make a much better COVID-safe greeting for Munich than a bony elbow bump! What’s more, if both participants are in possession of beautiful Munich beerbellies, then the minimum distance of 1.5 metres is virtually guaranteed as they tap tummies. The thought of seeing two little men greeting each other like this in the wild is also undeniably charming.
Joking aside, as 2020 draws to a close you might be inclined to say that the coronavirus year has been hard on Munich – and not just because of the steadily high infection rates, nor even because we were deprived of those two wonderful weeks spent unsteadily on our feet in the Himmel der Bayern tent at Oktoberfest – not to mention all the other tradition-steeped occasions that come with the chance of some French kissing. It was particularly hard for us because “Zsammrucken” is so deeply anchored in the local mindset – sitting together and squeezing up to make space for newcomers. We are accustomed to full bars, booked-out restaurants, hordes of passengers on the Stammstrecke main train line; daily physical contact and crowds of people are part and parcel of normal Munich life.
Even when the beer gardens were open during the summer, things weren’t quite right. A beer garden is meant to be buzzing with people: benches should be groaning under the weight of all the patrons and drinkers should be squashed together around the bar – that is the only way to get that authentic cosy feel. After all, we shouldn’t forget that although the locals here have a deserved reputation for being rather grouchy, they much prefer to do so in good company. The more stand-offish distance that people in northern Germany tend to adopt is simply alien to Munich natives – and that is a good thing.
The coronavirus year has been hard on Munich – and not just because of the steadily high infection rates, nor even because we were deprived of those two wonderful weeks spent unsteadily on our feet in the Himmel der Bayern tent at Oktoberfest – not to mention all the other tradition-steeped occasions that come with the chance of some French kissing.
Granted, all this misery did bring a few benefits with it. For example, we have been able to confirm that Munich’s high recreational value which is forever being touted in property advertisements does genuinely exist. With holiday cancellations and the subsequent unattainability of our rented adventure playground (Austria), necessity often drove us to find amusement elsewhere, not so far beyond our front doors. And then we were rather thankful that our local area is chock-full of beautiful landscapes and impressive monuments which can be enjoyed within the distance of just a short cycle ride.
Olympiaberg – the artificial mountain in Olympiapark – is one example, where you can not only enjoy the climb to the summit and expansive views, but also the Olympia Alm beer garden. A person could happily spend a whole day wandering the full span of the Englischer Garten; meanwhile, many have found that a trip to the Nymphenburg canal with park and a visit to the Botanical Garden makes a very satisfactory substitute for an Italian voyage (when is the Gern gondola due to arrive, Mayor Reiter?). And if that’s still not enough, you could always head out with a copy of Walter Pause’s classic volume about Munich’s local mountains, “Münchner Hausberge”, and conclude that we have actually been lucky to sit out the pandemic amid a varied moraine landscape dotted with mountains and Baroque churches.
The virus didn’t only spell doom and gloom for city life, either – or rather, the city demonstrated a knack for improvisation that we had never known about before. Previously unremarkable taverns and trattorias expanded exponentially, covering kilometres of pavements and roadsides with tables and chairs. Virtually overnight, faceless residential streets became friendly and lively spots with a slightly southern flair. All of a sudden we seemed to move quite a bit closer to being Italy’s northernmost city. While people sat distanced from each other, they were delightedly scandalised to do so out on the streets, and were only a little surprised that this casual approach to gastronomy was now permitted.
Even the most prestigious restaurants opened takeaway windows, and instead of queuing outside clubs or concerts, Munich residents found themselves lining up outside Nakamura, waiting their turn for Japanese street food. The fundamental predisposition of Munich locals to contentedly dine al fresco even in single-digit temperatures was certainly valuable in the circumstances. In any case, avoiding indoor spaces gave us the sense that the Munich summer went on until November this year – we could actually carry on this way perfectly happily.
Previously unremarkable taverns and trattorias expanded exponentially, covering kilometres of pavements and roadsides with tables and chairs. Virtually overnight, faceless residential streets became friendly and lively spots with a slightly southern flair.
With the beer hall and tavern interiors unavailable, there were new places to explore outdoors – previously overlooked little parks and second-class green areas were suddenly popular and cast in a completely new light. We found ourselves asking: was this Kaiser-Ludwig-Platz always here? Was the Rosengarten in Giesing always this idyllic? One side effect of worrying about the virus is a heightened awareness of how people are now dispersed throughout our city.
Anyone who has been people-watching on the banks of the Isar over the last few Sundays – with groups of walkers demurely keeping their distance from one another instead of sitting in a tailback to go skiing in Kufstein – would have to admit that this stupid pandemic has actually brought some community spirit back into the city.
Fashionistas, ageing hippies, locals from Hasenbergl to Harlaching – in Munich we are all in this mess together, and we all want to make the best of it somehow. For each of us, there’s no place like home! Especially for a city that is comfortable with international excellence and accustomed to winning – whether at football or in quality of life rankings – this retreat and forced repose; this refocusing on regional specialities and the characteristics of home, is at the very least an interesting experience. It is perhaps also a reminder that we needn’t scramble frantically to get out of Munich in every spare moment we get in the summers to come.