Sunday, July 16, 2017

30 years ago today on THE BEER BEAT: Meeting the gang at the legendary Imbiss by Gleis 16 at the Hauptbahnhof in Munich.

Previously: 30 years ago today on THE BEER BEAT: Worshipful pilgrimage to the Pilsner Urquell birthplace shrine.

July 16, 17 and 18 are holy days in the pantheon of my beer travels, for it was on those three days in 1987 that four good friends from Hoosierland came together in Munich. I was joined by Bob Gunn, Barrie Ottersbach and my cousin Don Barry for three nights of Bavarian bacchanalia.

To this very day, it remains remarkable to me that we coordinated our arrivals so efficiently. Strictly speaking, making plans to meet friends in Munich in order to partake of the city’s bountiful beer and ubiquitous pig flesh isn't such an uncommon feat.

However, considering the circumstances at the time, as well as our relative inexperience traveling (except for Don, who was a seasoned pro), the manner by which our scheme came to fruition still elicits a smile.

Knowing that we all would be roaming Europe during the summer of 1987, detailed trip planning began over the Christmas holidays in 1986. Barrie and I knew we'd be coming from Prague following the conclusion of our two-week tour of the Soviet Union and Poland, and so we'd be approaching Munich by rail from the east.

Bob, who was on his first trip to the continent, and Don, who had been many times, had devised detailed itineraries, and both would be arriving in Munich on the same day, but from different directions. As was his habit, Don booked a single room at a favorite haunt, while the rest of us made advance reservations together in a triple occupancy room at another hotel somewhat near the Munich Hauptbahnhof (main train station).

We each knew what day to be there and where we’d be staying, and yet in those far-off and primitive times, lacking e-mail and mobile phones, and with each member of the quartet having been traveling for quite some time before the projected Munich gathering, a considerable element of uncertainty was palpable.

In essence, given our dissolute proclivities, could we remain sufficiently sober, avoid unexpected transportation delays, be where we were supposed to be, and show up on time?

Happily, the rendezvous went off without a hitch. Barrie and I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof from Prague and found Don idling with beer in hand at the fabled Gleis 16 Imbiss, and after enjoying a few Pschorrbraus and portions of Leberkäse together, we walked a few blocks and found Bob at the hotel.

Thursday (July 16) concluded with an evening at the Hofbräuhaus on the Platzl, perhaps the most photogenic of all beer halls. I didn't take a single picture, and anyway, everyone already knows about the Hofbräuhaus.

Instead, let's examine the classic venue at the Hauptbahnhof, where Barrie and I found Don.

The famous Imbiss (snack counter) at the foot of Gleis (track) 16 is long gone, the victim of extensive remodeling, modernization and gentrification, It wasn’t all that much even in its heyday, but during the 1980’s this simple, functional train station concession stand was a genuine Munich destination for discerning budget travelers the world over.

There were two long windows with outside counter space, plentiful tile and stainless steel, wonderful beer taps, kitchen equipment for preparing basic nibbles, and several customarily greasy, though by necessity diligent, employees in white shirts, sometimes augmented with blue smocks.

In front of the Imbiss were a handful of regular standing-room-only cocktail tables, and also some that resembled smaller, elongated versions of the telephone wire spools that used to litter backyards in the Georgetown of my youth.

Standing at these tables by morning, evening and night were locals, tourists, commuters, vagrants and assorted hangers-on, the majority of them savoring the Imbiss’s only true specialties: Cool Hacker-Pschorr golden lager at a reasonable price and a portion of Leberkäse, a high-quality form of all-meat bologna cut from a warm deli-sized square loaf, weighed and priced, and served with a crusty roll and plenty of mustard.

The Imbiss at Gleis 16 never disappointed. Like Munich's defunct Mathäser Bierstadt (tomorrow's topic), the Imbiss represented old-fashioned egalitarian functionality for the city's everyday commuters, as well as short-term visitors like us, for whom it was a fine and refreshing perch to observe life's rich pageant.

Nowadays, larger urban train stations in Europe often rebrand upscale in the fashion of airports. Like so many aspects of "older" Europe, I'm just happy to have experienced these other tastes of the way things were, as at Gleis 16.

Next: Munich's incredible Mathäser Bierstadt, symbol of a lost era.

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