Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It Happened at the Hofbrahaus













Thought I’d tell this story during October since the month makes me think of Germany and Oktoberfest.



Near the end of our trip to Europe last summer, my 18-year-old daughter and I arrived in Munich. By the time we reached our hotel, it was late and we were hungry. We decided to dine at the Hofbrauhaus, Munich’s world famous beer hall. Laura and I had been there a few years earlier and enjoyed the high-charged atmosphere and traditional beer garden.



We walked in and headed straight back through the raucous, decorative shrine, past endless rows of tables and the German oomph band. We turned left at a kiosk selling steroid enhanced-sized pretzels, a wall flaunting hundreds of beer mugs, and stepped outside.



The open-air restaurant interspersed with chestnut trees and fountains packed a partying crowd. Waitresses, dressed in blouses and full dirndl skirts with aprons, hoisted huge steins in one hand-- up to three at a time. Impressive when you realize one stein holds the equivalent of three bottles of beer. A second German band played traditional polkas in the courtyard and everyone, young and old, locals and tourists, seemed to be having fun. We circled the garden but found no empty chairs.



We returned inside, where the volume cranked up a few decibels as did the aroma of sausage, sauerkraut and spilled ale. Many seats were available at picnic style tables (seating capacity near 5,000). We sat down and made meal selections from the menu. I promised Laura she could have a Radler- half light beer and half lemonade. After all, she was old enough to legally drink in Germany.




Only problem—this chosen area seemed to be minus employees. A server from across the cavernous room noticed our predicament and motioned us over. We moved to his  section, bustling with diners and reveling drinkers, choosing to sit at a table with one young man.



“Mind if we join you? I asked.” The custom of sitting at a partially open table is encouraged.





“No, please do, I’m waiting for a friend,” he said.



A conversation started between us. “Where are you from? I asked.



Florida,” he said, needing to raise his voice over the noise.



“We are, too. Jacksonville,” I replied.



A wide grin appeared on his face--seems he was also from Jacksonville. Now, what are the odds of meeting a stranger from your hometown in Germany’s bustling beer hall?



“What brought you to Munich?” I asked.



“Attending a medical workshop on orthopedics,” he answered.



Hmm, I thought. Let’s play the name game. “Any chance you know a Dr.Yant,” I asked? Bob Yant, a Jacksonville physician, happens to be the father of Laura’s boyfriend.



“Why, of course I do,” responded our new friend. And so we uncovered many mutual friends.



Before long Dr. Stan Longenecker showed up, finding his colleague conversing with us. We revealed the chance meeting and delighted in establishing more common bonds. We raised our mugs in a toast (“prosit”) to Jacksonville and continued to chat.



Stan told us Chris Luzar, the young man we originally joined, was a former Jaguar- the NFL football team from our mutual hometown. Wow, Laura was impressed. She had never met any of the pro players.



We noticed a solemn Japanese couple near our table. (The Hofbrauhaus attracts a vast international crowd- a meeting place for the world.) They seemed baffled by how to eat their meal presentation of white sausage and we were entertained by their antics.



Stan proudly showed us the items he purchased for his wife and daughter: a crystal beer stein and another one in delft. Chris opened his shopping bags and took out a darling traditional German dress for his baby daughter and an authentic pair of lederhosen for this young son. So cute!



We laughed with the group of jubilant Italians nearby (“Oans, Zwoa, Gsuffa,” they shouted) and eyed an older woman dancing with a member of the band, an odd couple in the center of this bubbling cauldron. The experience was all too much fun, meeting these Floridians on one of our last nights in Europe. Like most tourists (and this joint is a must- see) we stopped at the gift shop on the way out and purchased a few mementos.




The happenstance in the Hofbrauhaus brought an unexpected good time, one Laura and I will never forget. Upon returning to the states, Laura’s boyfriend explained that his Dad heard about our beer drinking in Germany. Seems the story traveled home quicker than us. But, I’m serious about this-- we only had one beer.



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