Before accepting a job in Weimar, Germany, I looked it up on Wiki Travel. (I didn’t do this until after moving to Seremban, Malaysia and, well, if the only thing Wiki Travel has to say is that your town is near the airport, I wouldn’t suggest moving there.) I knew the basics of Weimar – home to the Weimar Republic, after all – and there were a variety of other mentions that caught my eye, one of which was the Onion Market. When I arrived, locals and expats alike told me, “Let’s just hope the Onion Market is on this year.”
A few changes due to Covid notwithstanding (no Queen of the Onion Festival, no pre-dawn opening, only four stages with live music instead of ten, a manageable number of visitors rather than the 250,000 that usually flock to this town of 65,000) it was!
Zwiebelmarkt was part food festival . . .
. . . and part harvest festival (I made my way to several farm stalls before it got too busy) with specific attention given to onions, which I will never see the same way again.
There were opportunities to buy onion-themed gifts and other household items (my contributions to the regional economy include a bouquet of dried flowers and a couple packs of spices) . . .
. . . and opportunities to sample onion-based foods. I can vouch for Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake) and Zwiebelsuppe (onion soup).
There were performances, too, of both the musical and circus variety, as well as a special carnival area for children, which was not too far from the medieval fair where some really fun bands played.
“Why did you choose Weimar?” a Weimar native asked as we drank beer and wine, sang along to Incubus and Radiohead covers, and used her sky app to find Jupiter and Saturn.
Many reasons. I can’t honestly say that onions were taken into consideration, but I’m glad they have become part of this experience.
Being in Munich for Oktoberfest was a bit like being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras: It was an accident and I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until someone else told me.
In all fairness, I hadn’t intended to be in Munich for Oktoberfest. Rather, I had tickets to an Elton John concert that was cancelled (and rescheduled for two years from now!) because of Germany’s Covid regulations. Any reason to travel is a good one, and so, concert or not, I decided to head to Munich.
I arrived after dark on Friday night but I could already tell that being in a city felt rather different to my small town. There was something about the amount of light, the sheer number of buildings (though they were a far cry from what my Singapore and New York lives would consider tall), and the ambient noise that showed me how accustomed I’ve grown to my current environs. Despite this reaction , it was precisely my years of city living that immediately had me feeling comfortable navigating Munich’s excellent public transportation system.
The weather throughout the weekend was gorgeous, 20° and bright blue Bavarian skies. This meant that I was outside the whole time and have saved the indoor recommendations (all suggestions thanks to a friend who had lived in Munich for a time) for a future visit.
On Saturday morning I got a coffee and sandwich and sat in Marienplatz to watch the world go by. As I am directionally challenged, this became the centre of Munich in my head and I returned to this spot multiple times to reorient myself. The famed Glockenspiel at the Rathaus, or New City Hall, puts on two performances at 11am and 12pm to bring some of Munich’s history to life. It was charming and I had to smile at the excitement that must have caused in the early twentieth century.
The day began in earnest with a walking tour in which we learned about the history of Munich and Bavaria and talked about beer culture. The tour guide, Jax, explained that the façades of Munich’s buildings were redone after the war, often in very clever ways. The buildings themselves are therefore not old, considering about 50% of the city was damaged during the war, but their careful consideration of the past has lent the old town an old feel.
Our tour also touched on Munich’s role in Hitler’s rise to power. I didn’t realize that the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch that landed Hitler in jail, where he subsequently wrote Mein Kampf, had taken place here. It was an interesting juxtaposition to talk about this just before heading into the beautiful Englischer Garten, originally the royal private garden that, once opened to the delighted public in the late 1700s, became the home of Oktoberfest.
The Englischer Garten is Munich’s largest park and these photos do not do it justice. In addition to being historically interesting, it also held a first for me: Watching people surf in a public park.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. That was the last photo I took on Sunday. Back to the tour on Saturday, which concluded with my favourite part: Viktualienmarkt!
If you’ve followed this blog for any of my travels, you already know how much I enjoy markets. Please feel free to skip to the photos. If you’re new here, welcome! To sum it up, I really enjoy markets. I love the people, the energy, the community built around food. I love the smells and tastes and the fact that everything you purchase comes from a real person who is standing right there in front of you, and who could probably tell some sort of story about what you’re buying. I love the interaction and the camaraderie that comes from watching others and being caught in the act of watching. All kinds of people shop at markets, and markets cater to so many traditions and flavours. One must only glance at the colours, the careful presentation of goods, and the handwritten signs to witness the collective humanity that has created this place. Walking through a market tells us something about the culture of a place and the people who make their home and livelihood there. There is so much to see and so many opportunities to experience something new.
After the tour concluded, I returned to Viktualienmarkt, had something to eat, took some photos, and watched people. Even though the tourist events and big Oktoberfest celebrations were cancelled, it was a treat to watch people going about their business in Drindl and Lederhosen, and then joining their fellow Bavarians at the many beer gardens and beer halls. I did my part by sampling kaiserschmarrn and pretzels with obatzda in my breaks from wandering around.
My Oktoberfest experience came later, however. Due to the beautiful weather, I was determined to remain outside as long as I could. This first meant standing in line to climb the tower at Saint Peter’s Church. I do enjoy a good church tower for a view and the passing people, many in traditional clothing and having a good time, provided plenty of diversions. Half an hour in line and about 300 steps later brought a wonderful view. People had said you can see all the way to the Alps and they were absolutely right.
Later that afternoon I went out to Olympiapark, both for the walk and the view. Munich is a city full of parks and I was so glad to see people enjoying the weather and one another. I was also glad for so much greenery in a city! That being said, Munich is far from crowded and congested. With a population of about 1.5 million people, it is affectionately referred to as a “large village”. I cannot imagine this place with the 6-7 million visitors that come for Oktoberfest during a normal year, and I’m honestly not sorry I missed it.
Which brings me to . . . Oktoberfest!
The friend who offered suggestions also provided a list of her favourite beer gardens and I tried, I really did. I’m not one to shy away from being alone in public places, but the essence of beer gardens and beer halls is that you sit down at a communal table, introduce yourself, and enjoy your time there. This was an uncomfortable thing to try alone, even though I found plenty of single seats when I looked around. Since beer in Bavaria brings people together, I was not inclined to take the communal out of it. And I had no intention of attempting small talk in German while everyone else was at a party.
And then I got lucky. I had given up on a beer garden and decided I’d have a drink outside and watch the world go by. But then I heard music and the man at the door directed me up the stairs to the drinks-only open-air balcony above a beer hall. I found a spot by the railing and laughed out loud. The music, costumes, food, huge beer steins, the noise, laughter, drinking songs: It was just like the movies.
I was in Munich for a real Oktoberfest because a concert and the tourist parties were cancelled. The world works in strange ways, and this one treated me very well indeed.
The next morning, I headed to a vegan café for brunch and then continued wandering in the sunshine, visiting some of the same spots I had been to the day before. I redid some photos and wandered through more of the Englischer Garten than I had first seen, and then it was time to go. I still have a list of places to go and foods to try, and it’s only three hours away; I suspect I’ll be back.
I learned to cook when I was very little, or at least that how I remember it. Jewish holidays revolve around food and my mum would involve me and my sister and brother in the preparation process as much as possible. It undoubtedly would have been less work and less time consuming to do it herself, but this gave us a sense of pride, accomplishment, and belonging as children. We had “our dish” that we would prepare each year, slowly growing in independence as we grew older. We had children’s cookbooks and children’s Jewish holiday cookbooks, and we knew how to use them.
These experiences were foundational in the way I developed as a cook. I grew so accustomed to going through my mum’s recipe file, the large collection of recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines over the years, that it was not uncommon for her to call when I moved out of the house for university to ask which category something was filed under. My mother’s filing system works best in her own head and requires interpreters when activated in the real world. For instance, “All kinds of burgers but not meat” is a category, and so are “Miscellaneous deliciousness” and “Mexican”. So where, I ask, would you find a recipe for a Mexican black bean burger with mango salsa? Well, it depends. Is the defining feature that it is a black bean burger, that the salsa is likely delicious, or that is is Mexican? Guess correctly and you have found your recipe.
I’ve moved a lot as an adult and finding a workable kitchen has been the most important feature of any place I’ve ever lived. Malaysia was particularly memorable in this way. I lived in a hotel room for four months and turned the desk, bathroom sink, and mini fridge into a working kitchen in order to prepare salads, for example, which are a staple of my diet and not found in a country that lacks clean water and is prone to food-borne pathogens. I’ve worked with a two-burner stove and no oven, four-burner stove and toaster oven, “apartment sized” stovetop and oven, and full sized kitchens. And the point is that it works. If you want to cook, you make it work.
And I have always wanted to cook.
More than many other pursuits, cooking brings me to a place where I am centered. I find a sense of calm and belonging, a sense of home. Growing up, cooking was communal, joyful, relaxing, and a source of pleasure and conversation. This is still what I find. It is a place for solace and creativity, to activate the senses, to turn something into something else. When my life is spinning out of control, when I can’t understand my own thoughts, when I don’t know where to go or who to turn to, I refocus when I am cooking. It doesn’t matter whether I’m following a recipe, and it doesn’t matter which ingredients I’m using or how long it takes. There is something deeply satisfying in taking many parts and bringing them together into a whole. There is something soothing in the washing, preparing, sautéing or frying, grilling or roasting, and in mixing, stirring, tasting, seasoning. Wash up at the end, dry and put away the crockery, spray and wipe down the work surfaces. One more satisfied look around. The world makes sense again.
I noticed this tendency, my turning to the kitchen when in need of balance, after a really difficult day with a friend once upon a time. We didn’t fight but we argued and I was drained, exhausted, angry, and afraid by the end of it. When I got home, the first thing I did was heat up a grill pan. I sliced and seasoned eggplant and zucchini, and I had them on the hot pan before even taking a moment to have a glass of water or consider taking a shower. Once the vegetables were done, I could breathe again. The world had reformed into a shape that I knew, and I again understood who I was and how to be.
In many ways, I cook the way my mother taught me. Follow the recipe (more or less) with the understanding that the ingredients are suggestions, the method and preparation depend on the amount of time and effort you actually want to put in, and you only have to measure when baking, which is why it just makes more sense to cook rather than bake, although gingersnaps are just as delicious without ginger. There’s no such thing as too much pepper, herbs and spices exist to be used, garlic makes everything taste better, and even if you have “nothing in the fridge”, a good meal just takes a sense of fun . And cooking with my mum means reading the recipe and the notes on the side of the recipe, asking her what she actually wants me to do, and then doing it my own way, which is similar to watching her cook with my grandmother.
This love of cooking has made it possible to find a place where I feel at home everywhere I have lived. Once I know my way around a new kitchen, I know everything will be okay. I write this mere months from moving to a new country and I’ve seen photos of what will be my new kitchen. I don’t love it but I know it will work. It always has, and it has always given me what I need. Working in the kitchen provides nourishment in more ways than in body, and everything is easier after a good meal.
Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place