The first, and only, time I have been to Munich, it was for one day only. My friend John and I had written the music for a rather iffy art-vampire film The Wisdom of Crocodiles, starring Jude Law. Ahead of its time. We had finished, or, let’s be honest, not quite finished the music at 5am, taken an exhilarating ride through early morning South London with an up-for-it taxi driver, and narrowly caught the plane at Heathrow. We arrived slightly delirious in Munich, took a taxi to the recording studio, conducted the orchestra while feverishly completing the parts, and flopped down, knackered, at 6pm in the bar. At this point in walked thirty people in Bavarian national dress carrying accordions. Heaven or hell, depending on your feelings about the accordion. It was a Bavarian state holiday. They played cheesy Bavarian tunes, but I loved every one of them, a reflection more of my strange state of mind than the quality of the music. Quite an introduction to Bavaria.
This time I’m here for longer, making a piece with the wonderful dancer-choreographers Charlie Morrissey and Andrea Buckley. Our first day is a holiday again, this one religious, All Saints’ Day. The streets are full but the shops and restaurants are empty, mainly because they’re all closed. Here, a holiday is a holiday, for everyone. I find myself trying to climb the tower of St. Peter’s Church in the company of so many people that there are complex gridlocks on the narrow staircase, and it takes for ever to reach the top. There’s a great view from up there though, over the huge flat urban landscape, with the Bavarian Alps rising up in the distance to the south-east. What’s that familiar tune? The carillon in the tower of the next door Rathaus is playing Elvis Presley’s Wooden Heart. I should be more surprised but I happen to know that it’s a Bavarian folk song Muss I Denn. We had taken advantage of this fact in a choral event I had done on the river in Stuttgart: a barge containing only a wind-up record player playing a 78 of the Elvis song was followed by one carrying a huge chorus singing Muss I Denn.
This gives the appearance of being a confident, affluent city - I’m not here long enough to find out what’s really going on. There are large boulevards, in fact everything’s large, and there are leafy suburbs. There seems to be a lack of open spaces, until you realise that they’re all in the same place – the epic English Garden (so called because it was created in the informal English style, à la Capability Brown), which stretches for several kilometres through the city. When Charlie was last here he witnessed in the English Garden a man playing football with a child, both of them naked. Maybe not so English after all. I visit the bizarre Theresienweisse, an open space more like an airfield than a park, which hosts the Munich Oktoberfest, a massive beer-fuelled piss-up. The festival is over, and all that remains of it is a plastic beer glass the size of a small house, which is being lifted by a crane on to the back of a truck.
And the food? There are definitely some vegetables in the city, but it seems to be mostly about meat. And understandably, given that the nearest significant salt water is several hundred kilometres away, there’s little in the way of fish. At the swanky Viktualienmarkt, there’s a wonderful Nordic fishmonger, but the prices are eye-watering. At Zum Kloster (Preysingstrasse 77), a delightful, hospitable organic restaurant which we fall into gratefully after a day’s work, there is no fish on the menu. Andrea, who is vegetarian, doesn’t have much choice, but for Charlie and me there is serious meat. Schweinebraten mit Dunkelbiersosse, pork slow-cooked in an ale sauce. Rehragout mit Maronenspätzle, venison stew with chestnut noodles. They don’t pussyfoot around here. We tuck into Saures Rindfleisch mit Kurbiskernöl, sour beef with pumpkin seed oil, served with fried potatoes. The beef, to our surprise, turns out to be cold. But excellent. This is very different from the classic Sauerbraten, where the meat is marinated first and then roasted.
1kg silverside of beef
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
2 red onions, sliced thinly
a small bunch of chives, chopped
3 tbsp cider vinegar
5 tbsp pumpkin seed oil (or olive oil)
3 tbsp meat broth
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
Put the beef into a saucepan. Add the carrots, the leek, the cloves, the bay leaves and the black peppercorns. Cover with water, bring to the boil, and simmer at a blip for 2 hours, until tender. Remove the meat from the broth, and leave to cool. Strain the broth.
Cut the beef into thin slices and arrange on a serving dish. Top with the onions and chives.
Make a marinade with the cider vinegar, the pumpkin seed oil, the broth, the sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over the beef and leave for at least 2 hours.
Serve with grated horseradish, pickled beetroot, a green salad – and, to be authentic, fried potatoes.
Keep the rest of the broth for a rainy day, or a sunny day.
Words by Orlando Gough