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June 1999

A tale of two seasons: Summer melts our discontent

Sunny weather makes people happy.

Every winter i say I won’t be in Munich for the next. The gray season often begins, not on its solstice date in December, but in late September, when I could still wear shorts and eat lobsters on the sunny shores of Maine. Sometime in April, after the last flake of snow has fallen, the city bursts into green. Shopkeepers and their customers shed their slush-induced grimaces, tram drivers actually wait for out-of-breath latecomers and the Olympic tower windows glow with a copper-tinged reflection of the sun. I sign on for one more year. My calendar fills quickly with how I will spend the warm season — not on the beach in Italy or Greece — but in Munich. Summer begins with Tollwood. The decade-old festival with the hippie flare is more a village than a commercial event. With its wide assortment of international foods, vendors, live performances and Bohemian visitors, you could actually take up residence there if the promoters would allow it. Imagine vacationing all two-and-a-half weeks at Tollwood. There could be crêpes and cappuccino for breakfast, kite flying on the Olympic park hill, gyros and fresh-squeezed juice for lunch. You might shop for Africana in the afternoon, down an organic beer at cocktail time and decide on Egyptian rice balls for dinner before attending a concert. Every day would be filled with exciting new possibilities. Though that fantasy is only slightly less ludicrous than my childhood one — living on the ceiling — it’s nice to know the festival awaits every balmy night after work. Biergarten should mean “summer” in Bavarian. There are more than 150 in the Munich area, most of which, regardless of the season, start tapping the kegs the minute meteorologists even predict nice weather. The beer garden culture is a tourist’s paradise, and a resident’s way of life. It was in 1539 that the chestnut-shaded picnic spots came to be. The Catholic church declared that no beer was to be brewed between two saint days — that of Georg on April 23 and that of Michael on September 29. This meant that Bavaria’s monk-run breweries would have to produce enough of the beloved amber beverage to last through the summer months. The solution to the cooling problem in the pre-refrigeration age was to store the temperature-sensitive brew in cellars, hence the names Löwenbräukeller, Augustinerkeller, etc. Chestnut trees, known for their large, shade-giving leaves, were planted on Keller properties to enable above-ground storage of kegs. Brewers set up tables on their premises to purvey their liquid wares. In the 19th century, restaurateurs were angered over the revenue lost to beer gardens, forcing King Ludwig I to decree that a trip to a Keller meant bringing your own meal. Today, Bavarian fare is served in the gardens — now Müncheners can enjoy a backyard atmosphere where they don’t have to do the barbecuing. Feasting and imbibing, however aren’t the only summer treats in the city on the Isar. While lakes of the land-locked Munich region can’t compare with the beaches of its sea-coast neighbors, that doesn’t stop them from being packed with swimmers and water-sports fans. I’ve been told that meeting the challenge of finding the one tiny spot not yet discovered is, for some, the biggest thrill of the season. In-line skaters, ice-cream cone eaters, nature lovers and naked businessmen catching some lunch-break rays find happiness at the English Garden. Some deliberately don’t vacation in August so they can enjoy our ghost town — empty trams, parking spaces and shops — while others are away. Homesick expats need only to head for Marienplatz, where a day of eavesdropping on one’s tourist countrymen is some of the finest free entertainment available. The Olympic park is host to open-air concerts so loud I’ve heard the Rolling Stones live, twice, from a mile away. With every street festival, parade and firework display, Müncheners build up strength to face another eight-month winter. I’ve lived here for five years. I’ve never been to the Starnberger See. This reality has evoked gasps from co-workers and friends who promptly arm me with instructions on which S-Bahn I could “just hop.” While city guides boast hundreds of ways to create an idyllic three months we, who reside here, are not on permanent vacation. Our surroundings are the backdrop to our daily list of must-dos. This year will be different. I have promised myself that I will get to the lake whose existence gnaws at my conscience, as well as a host of other sites which define Munich’s glorious summer season.

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