(Not So) Strange Brew

I don’t remember how or where I came across Drachenstich, when looking for things to do on my holiday. But I did. And I knew I wanted to visit it, even if it meant going out of the way to do so.

The Drachenstich (or Slaying of the Dragon) is the oldest traditional folk spectacle in Germany, held in a tiny village called Furth im Wald in the Bavarian Forest. Dating back 500 years, the event includes a re-enactment of the slaying of a dragon which threatened the town in the Middle Ages. The whole village comes together to perform the play, with troupes from neighbouring villages camping on grounds just outside of the village, through the three weeks that the Drachenstich is staged. The play also features a robotic dragon, the largest quadruped robot in the world (as of 2013). The dragon moves forwards and backwards, makes some nasty sounds, breathes fire (and smoke) and even has wings which it can open up and flap around! It happens every year in August and spans the first three weekends of the month. And with the way my plans were shaping up, it looked like I’d be watching it on it’s last evening.

Bamberg to Furth im Wald was a couple of hours of a train ride and I got to the village at about 5 pm, with the Drachstich scheduled to begin at 7 pm. The village was as dead as dead. Maybe because it was a Sunday evening. Maybe that’s just how it was. I’d looked up directions to my hostel before hand, and I had a rough idea of which direction I should walk in, but one can always do with asking a human if they’re right, yeah? There *were* no humans. It was a little disturbing, I will admit. Eerie, even. This bright and sunny Sunday evening, this quaint little town, a ‘dragon play’ scheduled for later in the evening. And no people. I tried calling the youth hostel, it went to voicemail saying they were closed weekends. Not good. I walked in what I thought was the right direction. I found an open ice cream shop. They spoke only German. I can understand the language. I’ve never spoken any of it. So I sign-languaged my way through a couple of stores and finally figured I was on the right track. The walk to the youth hostel was idyllic, even though I was nearly sprinting because I needed to be back in the village by 6:45 pm, in time for the show.

The youth hostel wasn’t remotely youth or even hostel-like. It was depressing. As fuck. It was run by an old-ish couple, and I struggled to explain to them that I needed a print out of my ticket to attend the Drachenstich. They were a sweet couple, but this just wasn’t working for me. My room was musty. And there weren’t any people at all. The hostel was a good 5 km outside the village. And all I had time to do was dump my backpack in a musty room, figure how to print my ticket and make a run for the village again, to make it in time.

I enjoyed the show. Wooden planks set up around the centre of a large patch of mud, a make-shift stage with a royal arch and gate and lots of people dressed in dirndl and lederhosens. The play was entirely in German, but the story was fairly evident. A benevolent dragon who turns hostile because he tastes human blood (because of villains and ill will) and goes into hibernation (because he’s miffed with people killing people). A bloody war which awakens the dragon and forces it to ‘unleash his wrath’ on the people. An unassuming (yet quite a hero) prince who slays the dragon and marries the princess of the kingdom.

The dragon was beautiful. The scales. The canvas at the joints that moved bloody realistically. The wings and the detailing of the veins on them. Even the smoke and the fire through the nostrils and the mouth were very very awesome.

There’s a video of the dragon I found on youtube here and a fairly detailed post here.

I scored a seat right in the front, but too close to get any decent pictures, so I hope the video and the post I’ve linked you to above give you a fair enough idea of what I watched. The play started around 7:30 pm and went on until 10:30 pm. I was overwhelmed, to say the least and absolutely enjoyed those three hours – especially the parts towards the end of the show because it was beginning to get cold and the dragon was breathing fire and smoke just about where I was sitting. *yay*

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The play was done at about 10:30 pm, leaving me with this urge to learn a new language, or a new instrument. The play had flautists and drummers. There were horse riders and real, live horse carriages. All of it just made me think that there’s so much more to life than just working my ass off through the week and baking every other weekend.

The walk back to the hostel was awful. It was cold. It was late. They were no streetlights. And the hostel seemed farther away than it actually was. I checked for the first train out of Furth im Wald and slept with the lights on because I was scared.

I willed myself up at around 6:30 am, showered real quick and was at the reception by 7:15 am (it was shut!). They opened only at 8 am. I left my sheets near the washroom (as had been instructed the previous evening), wrote out a ‘Thank You’ on a sheet of paper, left the keys at the reception and ‘fled’.

Yes, that is quite the word.

I was on the 8:12 am train back to Munich. (Though I did stop for a minute to take some pictures from the morning after the show, on my walk to the station.)

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“Furth lives, as long the dragon dies…”

My original plan had involved leaving Furth im Wald only around noon – probably getting a good local breakfast and shopping for a reptilian memento or two, making a quick stop at Munich to pick up my bag from the Meininger hostel and then heading to Freiburg to meet Kaivalya. But everything at Furth im Wald (except the actual Drachenstich show) pretty much sucked, for me, and I head out of there as early as I could. That just ended up giving me a half day in Munich and time to do all of the little things I’d planned for Day 01 (and which I hadn’t been able to do because of the delayed flight).

I was in Munich by 11 and I had my train to Freiburg only close to 5, so I spent a few hours at Marienplatz (St. Mary’s Square) which is the city centre. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the train station and is basically this massive shopping area, open only to pedestrian traffic. It’s something I’ve seen in a lot of European cities. Munich is FILLED with Turkish Food stalls and stores – ‘kebaps’ and doners, pretty much one in every 5 shops. I was also amazed at how many burkha clad women I saw – not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just something that surprised me. The shopping area was mostly a bunch of very expensive stores and some food stalls, another thing typical of most city centres I’ve seen. That, and people sitting around making music – these guys on chromatic button accordions and a lady playing the hang.

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This sculpture, enroute, cracked me up. It’s so difficult to not like anything pig!

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What was different about Munich (and Germany, this time, as it turns out!) was the sheer number of fresh fruit stalls – Kirsche Bodensee (cherries from Lake Boden, the size of small plums), erdbeere (strawberries), himbeere (raspberry) and a whole bunch more.

I caught, by chance (and didn’t realize until I was back at the hostel and looking things up on the internet), the Glockenspiel chimes at noon. The Glockenspiel is a glorified cuckoo clock, if I may. Most days, at 11 am and 5 pm, the clock atop the Rathaus (Town Hall) has a musical display that lasts about 15 minutes – figurines moving around and chimes and music. Occasionally, in the summers, the Rathaus Glockenspiel happens at noon too. And my luck, I walked into one, just like that! There’s more on the Glockenspiel display and chimes here, story and everything.

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Further down from Marienplatz is the Viktualienmarkt which is a food market. It started out as a farmers’ market but has evolved into a gourmet food market. Stalls selling local produce – meats, cheese, spices, fresh olives in barrels, flowers, baked goods, you name it. Most shops shut shop by 6 pm and I realized that on the 15th when I walked around before I found my hostel.

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I had my first Leberkäsesemmel at the Viktualienmarkt. And it was pretty fucking delicious. Semmel is German for bread (or roll). Leberkäse is almost like this loaf of meat (not quite a meatloaf), but a tightly packed mixture of pig parts and onions, baked until the crust is crisp. It is then cut into finger-thick slices and served with bread and mustard (senf).

Here’s the near-never-ending line at the Leberkäsesemmel stall!

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Hell! There was a mustard stall that had several varieties of flavoured mustard too! Free tastings! I picked up a jar of Estragon Senf (tarragon flavoured mustard) and an old-school ceramic jar (which I use for keys now, heh!)

I walked around the area (it’s this really large L shaped structure, of sorts, picked up some spices and a little packet of dried edible flowers and then got to Münchner Suppenküche (Munich Soup Kitchen), where I pigged out on some beef noodle broth. Dirt cheap, very wholesome and quite evidently a local favourite – because I saw pretty much all kinds of people there – men in suits to an old lady who paid entirely in change.

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At the far end of the Vitualienmarkt is Hacker – Pschorr Bräuhaus, where I had a beer on tap. The restaurant was too posh for my liking and it wasn’t the kind of place that might make a tourist feel welcome (staff included). They almost seemed grumpy that all I ordered was a beer.

I wasn’t too keen on going into Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church), the oldest Church in Munich, which is between Marienplatz and the Viktualienmarkt, but I did notice a Toy (and Teddy!) Museum in the area – Spielzeugmuseum – which I now regret not visiting!

Another thing I had noticed over those few days was that Asians mostly travelled together. I also saw a bunch of Asian eateries – sushi, Thai, Vietnamese – probably to cater I saw very few solo travellers. That can be a little intimidating and saddening, especially because I’m one of those people who takes some time to muster the courage to talk to locals. I often find myself skipping a store or two (or a person or three) before I get around to asking someone about something I’m looking for.

There’s also this unwritten (or so I think) rule that pedestrians always keep to the right. So, you can imagine the general side-walk being divided into three sections – a cycle path (which sometimes is a designed thin strip just off the side walk and on the extreme left of the road), a strip for people walking one way and the third strip, for people walking the other way.

I had a 5 pm train out of Munich to Freiburg and I spent an hour before the train ride began at the hostel, catching up on some email and the sort.

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