Sun 1 Jun 2008 75 °F
I am supposed to be on a journey to Istanbul, to the end of the West and the beginning of the East, expecting to arrive in a place that is far different from most of my travels in the States and Europe. And instead, I find myself on the first Sunday of June, in a bus speeding down the freeway into the city of Munich, Germany.
The woman who wore the Special Service Agent badge at the airport is coincidentally a rider, too: she must have gotten off work just after she suggested to my newfound friend Mac & I that we escape the torture of waiting in the airport for another six hours, and instead head to the Englischer Garten. The Lufthansa airport bus takes us to a part of town near to the garden, and we take a cab the remainder of the way.
We are dropped off outside the Seehaus, the beer garden that looks out over the lake they call the Kleinhesseloher See. Immediately we are surrounded by a friendly chaos of walkers, joggers, bicycles, strollers, musicians, and seemingly every other Munichian. It’s a gorgeous Sunday, warm but not too hot, and it’s clear that this is the place to be.
The motto for the city is ‘Munich loves you,’ and while we don’t feel a direct outpouring of that love, we do feel very welcome and comfortable sharing the city for the day with its residents. Young, old, hipster, parents, elders: everyone’s here, enjoying the weather and celebrating the day.
After taking a quick stroll around the lake, Mac & I navigate our way through the semi-self-serve restaurant at the Seehaus, ordering large plates of roasted potatoes and sausage, and two very large steins of beer. It’s strange trying to find my way in a language I don’t know very well, and one I was totally unprepared to use. I mumble danke schön to the cute cashier, and we find a table with a little shade.
The food is incredibly good, although simple. Although beer, sausage, and potatoes is a bit of a German stereotype, it feels quite genuine: it’s exactly what everyone else here is eating and enjoying.
Sated, we walk south, towards the Japanisches Teehaus (Japanese tea house). We pass fields full of sunbathers, more beer gardens, and musicians playing everything from blues to Rolling Stones covers to German folk music.
Near the southern end of the park, the Eisbach river becomes the powerful focal point of the landscape. People swim its currents, wade its eddies, perch in its waterfalls. Near the Teehaus, the river splits, one branch heading west into a gentle stream that winds around the Japanese-style garden.
The other branch narrows and becomes a torrent, emanating a frightful energy even on this beautiful day. At the very apex of the river’s intensity a crowd is gathered, and beyond this crowd is a surfer in a wetsuit, his surfboard floating on a stiff wave, exactly perpendicular to the shores of the river, perhaps fifteen feet wide. The surfer glides along the green-gray wave, between the two sides and the two crowds. The wave is powerful, and only allows itself ridden for short periods. When one surfer gives in, falls back, and lets himself be taken downstream, another surfer enters the water and somehow — I keep missing the exact moment — rights herself and resumes the riding of the wave. The river, the wave, the surfers are constant and never-ending: it’s the eternal surf of Munich.
[dateline Munich, Germany]