“None of us is getting any younger, and if we should meet again in this life, you need to come visit soon,” Anita, my dearest friend had said over Skype. It’s not that urgent, I thought, but fate might have something else in store. I booked my flight to arrive in Munich in time for the first Sunday in Advent, when the festive season begins and Christmas markets start popping up on Rathaus Plätze, and the scent of roasted chestnuts, Glühwein (mulled wine) and those delectable spice and honey cookies (Lebkuchen) fill the air.
The evening bells of St. Ludwig’s Church began their vesper call shortly after my arrival, as if welcoming me to the city that had long ago been my home. I had not seen Anita in a few years; yet our friendship remained intact for over three decades. When it comes to friendships, I count time in decades. I’m in Anita’s guest room, my favorite room in Munich. Her apartment is located on a street between the Ludwig Maximilian University and the English Garden: student’s haunts for sure. I look out my third story window and observe people with purpose in their stride on the sidewalk below. Here comes a woman in black leggings, boots that cover her knees and a miniskirt that barely reaches the middle of her thighs. On the top is a puffy down jacket, a cowl shawl around the neck and a woolen cap. She’s pushing a stroller as she walks, all intent and purpose, while talking on her cell phone. Young men, probably students, carry backpacks heavy with books as they hurry along. And look! A Great Dane the size of a pony accompanies a young woman. Its back reaches up to her hips, the head is at her shoulders! Wow, is that dog ever sovereign! It has no need to stop and sniff anything or anyone… not like my dear M’Penzi… Hmmm?
In the morning I head for the Marienplatz, better said the Christmas market. Blue and white banners hang from buildings, church bells peal, the endearing dialect of those dyed-in-the-wool Bavarians around me – oh yes, no doubt about it, I’m in my beloved Bavaria. And I want to make sure I find the herbalist, the Kräuterweiberl I remember, who had told me she lived in the forest where she picked and dried the herbs at the perfect time. Those were the best herb candies called Kräuterzuckerl, made with beet sugar, honey, and selected herbs; they helped aid sore throats, respiratory congestion, stomach upsets… Thyme, mint, orange peel, cinnamon, anis… I find the stand, but it’s not the same wrinkled face of long ago that smiles at me as I make my selection. Perhaps it’s her daughter, but I don’t ask.
Heart-shaped Lebkuchen stands look like gingerbread houses. I come closer and the aroma of cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, anise infuse the air. Yummy pastries such as crispy Spekulatius, Springerli with coriander, cinnamon stars, pepper cookies, too. Three of each, please, I smile my order pointing to my selection. Chestnuts are roasting on the corner, 10 for 2, 20 for 3.50, 40 for six Euros. I hold a small bag of those to keep my hands warm. Mulled wine is being brewed and poured right across from the stand selling Reiberdatschi (grated and fried potato pancakes). The aroma of a Bratwürstl stand makes my mouth water, but I can control myself – if barely. Here’s a fresh and dried-fruit stand: plump juicy Middle Eastern dates, figs, hard-skinned grapes like the ones I enjoyed in Lebanon. Pomegranates the size of small melons and luscious persimmons… add to that apples, tangerines and oranges. I buy some cardamom infused Kandis (rock) sugar and, because I’d never seen it before, a small container of coarse blue Persian salt.
And then, oh horror, a stand filled with Xmas kitsch – all made in China! How invasive is that, pray tell? I can get such stuff in Flagstaff, or Equador, or Mallorca for all I know. Cripes…
On the way back I visit the elaborate baroque Theatiner Church. And four long blocks farther down the street is St. Ludwig’s Church. I’m barely inside, and the organist begins his (maybe her) rehearsal. It would be too much to assume it was solely for me.
I love the gentle pealing of Munich’s church bells. They woke me in the mornings, marked mid-day, and in the evenings pealed again; every time reminding of the passing of time. It meant that my lovely stay would, as all things do, eventually come to an end.
My trip was intended to be a sensory visit to Munich and Bonn, but it way surpassed my wildest expectations. I was spoiled by my friends and by Anita’s family in Bonn, and her friends in Munich.
Everyone had read Split at the Root, and had many questions for me. Over there, the interest was particularly geared to Mutti, my German mother, and her success in having moulded me into such a German. Which is humorous, as the real determined ones in my background were the Caribs, and I have to say, my German sister Ruth as well.