Tram downtown Munich heading to the Leonrod Platz/Ralph Bartholdt
MUNICH—We walked from the Theresienwiese, the site of the interminable and eternal Oktoberfest, where once was held the royal wedding reception for King Ludwig and his queen Theresa, the first royal bash at what was then the city's gates, 150 years ago.
The royal gala is still revered by modern revel-goers for two weeks each October, with millions of gallons of beer and gaudy.
We celebrated the wedding belatedly.
Then left the drooping beer tents, sad and empty at this hour, behind us. Walked to the Poccistrasse past The Crash, a derelict dive bar we frequented with some frequency.
It was late.
We didn't talk of the Pinakothek, the first museum, its counterpart or the art therein complements of the late-late King Ludwig, nor did we discuss topics we had slept through, beery and blistered from too many nights at this festival while studying - putatively - at the Ludwig-Maximilian-Universitaet, the city's main liberal arts school, which the married king had named after himself and his son.
We didn't discuss any of this because we knew little of it.
Having grown here, it should have been otherwise.
This was years ago and who can recount them anyways?
The leaves on the street were matted with rain that we had avoided by standing at the edges of the Augustiner tent downing our 12th liter.
It had been an all day gathering of friends and acquaintances, of newly hatched alliances and the warmth of fall sun on the long tables, splattering and drowning in the golden beer its effervescence.
Now we were walking home in the rain. Street lights blinked vacantly. There was no traffic.
The trams had stopped.
The buses sheltered.
The U-bahn had long ago pulled into the station at Holzapfelkreut. End of the line. Its passengers beery and asleep. To snooze, itself, until the red eye run at 5 a.m.
We crossed the Lindwurmstrasse, its basswoods giant and ready to rain leaves like plates onto the pavement shining neon with no service signs, the aroma of mint and oregano from the Turkish restaurants, their Yemek - the dolmas and sarmas, lamb, tomatoes and peppers.
Rain on windows. Cigarette butts snuffed and ground into the floors of foyers.
Somewhere near Sendling, or Untersendling we parted the rope stanchions of a closed cafe and disassembled the stacked tables and chairs on the wet sidewalk and sat. The rain had stopped.
Someone had a pouch of Drum and papers. We rolled and smoked, our cigarettes blinking, the orange star inhallations, the deadening gray preponderance, a car's headlights shot through the silvery gutters painted with the scales of fish it seemed, so shining and reflective.
What do you make of this, we asked.
My parents had met not far from here, not far by bus, north of Laim at the Nymphenburger Platz and even as a teenager my mother had pressed to take me there as she had many times much earlier, and we walked the palace gardens, the crushed rock paths, circled the lake and stood on a bridge with the long eels sliding through the canals below us, back and forth, like terrible punctuation marks, finned with eyes like birds.
My grandmother and aunt are buried in the cemetery south of where we sat that night. My uncle too, the old Messerschmidt ace of World War II.
Other relatives, memories of them just flagstone now, the kind of stuff that wobbles underfoot, are there as well, 2 meters under the turf that had stood horses and soldiers, refugees and immigrants so long its calcite is a dictaphone of the otherworld.
Name the names, just do it, and they evoke a memory like sulfur burning, if just for an unrecognized instant. The lingering smell is unmistakable.
It is memory and history.
It is the family stories we vowed to remember for their import, gone now.
Genes and likenesses buried deep in the river loam of the Isar and Danube, what's left of the glacial wash sending Black Forest dirt to the Black Sea.
My aunt told me the last time I saw her as we sat at a clothed table in her Munich garden how she saw her relatives dead in a muddy ditch, their horses too, their wagon overturned. As a girl refugee from Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg then) she left her homeland as the smoke of burning buildings spiraled skyward, as nation treasures were sacked and looted and the Russian Army a mortar shot behind this throng of escaping people, gaining ground, getting closer, its Njet! and Uri, Uri.
She kept walking, her blue eyes like the wings of Lazuli buntings straight on toward the West and away from this war.
She poured me cognac. She cut roses for a vase.
I couldn't stop to mourn, she said. And didn't.
Die Blaue Taube. Another tavern. Closed at that hour, so late in the night, so early the next day that the monks at Andechs had stopped praying, just for a few hours at the cusp of morning and night, their incantations still echoed in the abbey like a pot left on. Their prayers slipped on silent feet into the foggy alpine meadows where wild pigs rooted, tunneling with their snouts and quietly snorting.
Down in this valley, in Ludwig's town, we kept on walking.
The sky turned slowly from black habit to the tungsten blue of Wuppertal steel.
Munich's streets were sad and happy, newly washed.
Someone pulled a dram of schnapps from a coat pocket and toasted.
A bird piped.
We walked on: