Munich is often called the most Italian of German cities. In our time here, we've come to see the truth in this: people of all ages love to get together to eat and talk and drink in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. In the warm weather months the Isar river - which runs as a seam between the east and west sides of the city - is teeming with clusters of people sitting around campfires grilling and chatting, sometimes singing and playing guitar or bongos. The Biergartens are likewise full of families and friends who bring picnics to the beer tables, some even bring tablecloths and cushions for the benches, and sit for hours under the chestnut trees. Oktoberfest is probably the most extreme example of this desire to get together and have a good time. (One which I haven't yet braved.)
Once the Oktoberfest tents and Masses (1litre beer mugs, or simply what you get when you order "a beer" at Oktoberfest) have been cleared away, the next opportunity for celebration is the Christmas Market, called the Weihnachtsmarkt or Kristkindl Markt. There are at least a dozen Christmas Markets throughout the city. They start the first weekend of Advent, and most carry on through the month of December.
One of my favourites is the Mittelaltermarkt. Late yesterday afternoon, I took the boys there. It's built in a circle, more of less, and designed to look like a Mediaeval town.
One of the things which is so charming about this Market is that so many of the products are made locally and by hand. There are wooden bows and arrows, wooden swords and shields for children, wooden bowls, utensils, and instruments. There is an iron smith who makes reproductions of historical swords and helmets, a felt maker who makes beautiful hats and accessories, a distiller who makes various fruit Schnapps. A jeweller sat in his stall working on a piece of silver.
Along with the wares of Mediaeval life, there are the smells and tastes of grilled pork, smoked fish, and boiled dumplings. The people on the other sides of the stands were dressed in period-style heavy woollen cloaks and furs. (Any fleece and microfibers hidden underneath.)
To drink, they offer an exciting Feuer Bowle, a clay chalice of flaming wine and strong liqueur. I opted for the tamer warm mead served in a knobby clay cup. The boys shared a bag of warm, candied almonds. There were tables made of tree stumps with candles on them to add the the atmosphere.
On weekends the stage is filled with performers: magicians, musicians, acrobats. But yesterday, it stood empty. Waiting.
A lovely way to start the season. We went home with cold feet, but warm bellies.