At midnight, soon after taking off from Singapore to Munich, I did the unthinkable: I declined dinner and went to sleep. I woke up at 4 am fully refreshed. No, I’m not a high-flying banker who – after just four hours of sleep – gets up full of energy (and starts lying about the LIBOR rate). It was 4 am in Munich. Exhibiting reverse jet lag, I had cunningly switched time zones in the night and slept 10 hours.
Consequently, I boarded the 30-minute train from the airport to Munich Ostbahnhof with a spring in my step. A few minutes after checking into my hotel across the street, I was back at the front desk.
“Is everything OK, Sir?” the receptionist asked.
“Yes!” I said. “Show me a jogging route.”
The man looked at me with admiration as he reached for a map. “The hotel is here, Sir,” he said, circling the place in the map, “and here is the river with a park along its bank.”
“How far is it?” I asked.
“Just five kilometres, Sir. 20 minutes to get there and 40 for one round.”
Obviously I had impressed him more than required. I explained that I could not (a) cover five kilometres in 20 minutes or (b) run for 80 minutes in one go. Instead I asked him to direct me to a smaller green area much nearer to the hotel.
I had barely begun running on the sidewalk when a cyclist brushed against me as he whizzed by. Jumping aside in panic, I glared at him and was surprised to see him glaring back before zooming off. Soon I learnt why: The sidewalk was divided by a white line and I was running on the “cyclists” side. I hastily switched lanes and thereafter only young Germans capable of running 5 kilometres in 20 minutes whizzed past me.
In only a few minutes, I crossed a busy intersection and was inside a large park, on a gavel path that rose and fell gently between tall trees and manicured lawns. Around me were joggers, cyclists, ambling elders, lovers on wooden benches, pet-owners walking their dogs and busy executives on their daily commute.
That evening, after our meeting, our hosts had arranged dinner at the beer garden Augustiner-Keller, a huge outdoor area with a pebbled floor and hundreds of picnic tables, all occupied. Cheerful waitresses walked around carelessly carrying two beer mugs, large enough to house a dozen goldfish, in each hand. I asked if I could have a smaller glass of beer.
“This is the men’s size,” the waitress said. “Would you like the ladies’ size?”
Well, if she put it that way, I had to say no (even the ladies were drinking from the tankards). The beer was delicious but, even though I regularly play tennis employing a one-handed backhand, I struggled to lift the tankard till the host taught me how to slip my palm through the handle and clutch the glass with my fingers, using the handle as support.
The Germans love drinking beer and eating sausages, which they do all the time except at breakfast (when they stick to sausages). Being vegetarian, I couldn’t match them but – from a cholesterol point of view – did equally well with their delicious range of breads and cheeses.
To compensate for the indulgence I went for another run in the beautiful park the next day and, to compensate for the run, had more beer, bread and cheese that night. This time we went to a different location but a similar establishment with outdoor seating, cheerful, beer-chugging, sausage-guzzling Germans around us, and waitresses dispensing tankards of the cold stuff.
“It’s a pity you did not come here during Oktoberfest,” my host said.
“What happens during Oktoberfest?” I asked.
“We drink beer and eat.”
“But that’s what you’re doing now.”
“This?!” He snorted dismissively. “We’re just sipping beer socially here. During Oktoberfest, we really drink. And how many people are here?” He glanced around the crowded courtyard. “100? 200? Picture several tents each filled with six to seven thousand people…”
I gazed with wonder at this large, genial German who had just swilled four large tankards of beer and tried to imagine 7,000 people like him together under one tent, really drinking beer. The mind boggled.
Paddy Rangappa is a freelance writer based in Singapore. Read more on his blog: http://theflip-side.blogspot.com