Back in the day, you could tour a country or city and see its people dressed in some article of traditional local clothing: Dutch in the wooden “klompen” shoes; berét-wearing French; the Irish woolen sweater; and Americans in blue jeans and silly t-shirts. Somehow the cynical West has turned these symbols into stereotypes. Today you will find that some people still dress traditionally, but they’re the “back in the day” people you saw 25 years ago, only older, with white hair and a paunch.
I was determined to find a difference in Munich. This is after all the land of beer halls, schnitzel, sauerkraut, and leiderhosen—not stereotypical and caricatures—but Bavarian traditions that have lived beyond social and political change. Silly me, then, to find that Munich’s traditions have been corralled—as most modern cities—into the tourist areas of old town squares. “To bad,” I thought. “I’m gonna find me a leiderhose-draped, pointy-Tyrolean-hat wearing Bavarian who knows something about tradition.”
So I headed to a beer hall. But not just any beer hall. The Hofbrauhaus is Munich’s (perhaps the world’s) largest beer hall, and positively seethes Bavarian tradition: dark oaken beams, white sausages and wheat beers, an oompah band, beer wenches, stuffed deer heads on the wall, and Karl.
Karl sat at a table I was sure he had frequented for 50 years. He wore lederhosen and a green felt Tyrolean cap littered with buttons. Before him rested another German tradition: a metal beer stein whose flip top was open for business. We locked eyes. He stared at me with that half-interest old men carry with them from years of dealing with men like me. I walked over to him and asked if I could talk to him about the pins in his hat. He pointed to a seat. There were a few question I wanted to ask Karl, but the first got his tongue moving like a deer at a salt lick.
“I’ve traveled all over the world,” Karl began. “I’ve got pins from every country in Europe. I’ve been to five Olympic Games, and all the American states.” Karl told me that pin collecting was not a status symbol but something of remembrance that you could talk about with family, friends, and the grandchildren. He gently refused my offer to buy him a beer—his doctor told him to hold down the hops to one or two a day, and he was yet to meet his family for a gathering later that day—but the twinkle in his eyes told of younger days.
Tradition was strong in Karl because he saw that the mix and blend of people and societies were flattening the differences between cultures. He wanted cultures to keep their distinctive flavors. “If they don’t, what’s the point to travel?”
(read more about Munich, Germany’s highlights here)