Munich with a map


Alte Pinakothek to HauptBahnhof [U Bahn]

I carry an obsession for trains that borders on the homoerotic. The obsession manifests itself in diverse ways, one of which entails roaming the precincts of a station just looking at and photographing trains. I had come to Munich by car, so a visit to the Hauptbahnhof was due. Leaving the Alte Pinakothek with my mind full of Dutch landscapes and village scenes, I boarded the U bahn at Theresienstrasse and stepped off at the Hauptbahnof. This ride challenged my early notions of Munich metro; the carriages now were full, the crowd more diverse, and it felt like a typical metro. But then we were near the train station, and stations have a culture of their own.

Munich central station did not display the grand spaciousness of Leipzig or the sooty industrial charm of Hamburg (two of my favourite stations in Germany), but it was a busy hour when I visited and I instantly felt at home. I picked up a sandwich – Tomato, Mozarella, Rucola – in a cafe and settled down at an empty table. A group of grubby looking middle-aged men nearby were chattering loudly in an Eastern European language. To my left an old man in a grey woolen flat cap and a shabby brown coat sat reading a newspaper in Cyrillic. On my right were two women, a daughter with Down’s syndrome who spoke cheerfully without pause, and her mother who was mostly silent. Ahead, a preoccupied young woman sat sipping her juice; her head was shaven clean, she wore silver rings on her ears and lips, and her low back shirt revealed a wasp tattoo on her neck. A bolder version of me would have asked her if she was inspired by The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. I didn’t.

A few minutes later the old man beside me looked up and asked if I could mind his bag until he returned. How long will you take? I asked. Not too long, about five minutes, he answered. I nodded, and looked at his bag. Probably stitched at home using several pieces of old cloth, a tote bag with long handles, it held a bunch of frayed newspapers.

Please mind my bag while I’m gone‘ was the sort of request one would hear at a public spot in India. I felt, at that moment, that this is what I had come to the station for, a taste of informality and disorder in the middle of this formal, elegant, and clinically efficient city. The man returned five minutes later, grinning at me as he entered the cafe, and in that frame this plain old Russian looked to me like a 17th-Century Dutch commoner I had seen at the Alte Pinakothek, a dowdy villager in an old tavern. In an unexpected way, art had come to life in Munich.

12 thoughts on “Munich with a map

  1. I was a bit taken aback by the description of the U-Bahn on the first page (to some extent) but the description on the last page resembled the picture I hold in my mind of München 🙂 Your post echoed my observations of Munich !! You are quite right that it is tough to find changes there but one change I found was along the Isar near the Reichenbachbrücke. They were making some real changes there. But that was when I went there last time to see a match between Köln-Mün 🙂

  2. What a brilliant piece of writing. I love your style: familiar, verging on the informal, and ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek. I haven’t been to München, and that is perhaps why I was surprised by your description of the U-Bahnhof there. I have often availed the U-Bahn at Berlin, and though the ambiance really depends on the time of the day and the station, I have often found it slightly disconcerting. The Deutsche Oper Bahnhof, for example, on a Sunday afternoon is desolate, and fittingly points out that the U-Bahn after all is the underground, lying beneath the city, and reminiscent of the ‘underbelly’. At times and at certain places, I found the U-Bahn experience ziemlich unheimlich!

  3. An absolutely wonderful essay. I was in Munich in 1976, and probably wouldn’t recognize it now, so I loved seeing your photographs (each one better than the last!) and reading this description. Yesterday I sang di Lasso’s “Miserere mei,” which would have fit quite well with that Michael Jackson memorial…what a strange interconnected world we live in! (p.s. I will send you a piece about a Chardin exhibit in New York, written some years ago, but I think you’ll like it.)

  4. “I carry an obsession for trains that borders on the homoerotic.” If you are (or Colours is) afraid that you are alone in this category, fret not. Surely you have seen us before!

  5. What a lovely ending. I earnestly believe that many an essay can salvage itself with a perfect ending. Not that your essay needed that. But still it makes it all the more delicious.

  6. Parmanu: Beautiful pictures. I particularly like the b/w ones. The absolute stillness of the people in the cafe intrigues me (just like the pic with the lock, you posted a few years back)…

  7. Hello, i think that i saw you visited my weblog thus i came to “return the favor”.I’m trying to find things to improve my web site!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!

  8. Parmanu:

    We will be in Frankfurt Hbf for an hour in late November enroute to Berlin from Paris (finally getting our feet wet in Europe after dreaming about it for over two decades). If you could, it would be fun to meet up 🙂

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