The Eisbach is flowing full on a Sunday morning in downtown Munich, surging under the bridge, a whitewater torrent under the rising sun. The river is narrow and fast moving, frothing white. Just off the street it rises up into a standing wave, the crest turning back against the current, spume filling the air. Everywhere is the sound of moving waters’ unmistakable throaty roar.
Along the sides of the river stand black-clad men and an occasional woman, short surfboards under their arms as if commuters waiting for a bus. One at a time they step from the bank onto their board and ride the wave, back and forth and back and forth, cutting inside the crest, edging the short boards into the rush of water. When they have had their ride (and nobody is hoggish about taking too much time) they relax, give up their boards to the rush of water, and the wave lifts them and their boards up and over and they fall into the water as if a baptism.
The next surfer takes their turn.
“Ice brook”, someone answers when asked with Eisbach means. “Ice brook. The water is very cold. It comes from the Alps”.
We are on the first day of a visit to Munich. It is early summer and all of Europe is sweltering under a heat wave. It is cool next to the Eisbach but by afternoon temperatures will top 90. We watch the surfers in their neoprene wetsuits, jet black and wet and I am reminded of penguins albeit tall and thin penguins. The surfers do not speak or if they do their words are lost to the thunder of the rapids.
Then we are back into the car, a small group of us, and the driver heads to the edge of town where a European outdoor trade show has opened for its first day.
The show is the reason we have come, Sally and I and a handful of others from the United States, an opportunity to view the European outdoor sports market. The show, Outdoor by ISPO, is held on the grounds of the former airport where terminals and service buildings have been converted to exhibition space. This week the old airport, where once travelers took flight, is home to flights of fancy for travelers for whom hiking or boating or bicycling are their wings.
We ease into the show like cautious drivers on foreign roads. Two weeks earlier I worked a similar show in Denver, familiar turf for me though the show was larger in terms of number of vendors (about 1400 vs 1000 in Munich) and attendees (estimated at 25,000 vs 22,000). The Denver show was busy and crowded and had the feel of walking the midway of a bustling county fair, a jostling crowd, a slightly fevered pitch in the air. Munich was different.
The show floor was roomy and relaxed, business to be done, make no mistake, but a calmer, more genteel feel to it. We walked the show where we saw a mix of European brands not available in the States along with brands with worldwide distribution, familiar names and faces. If the Denver show pulsed with a mix of enthusiasm and unadulterated hype the Munich show flowed easy and smooth. It was an enjoyable contrast.
Come evening we were back in the heat of Munich, walking along the banks of the Eisbach in a 900-acre parkland, the English Garden, where late afternoon shadows reached out over crowds that had taken to the park to avoid the heat on the city afternoon. Swimming in the river is prohibited, a ban ignored by dozens who took to the waterway to beat the oppressive swelter.
We walked to a beer garden located, improbably enough, near a tall Chinese tower, built pagoda style, that loomed over the garden as darkness fell. On Sunday evening the beer garden, one of the most famous in Munich, was packed. The convivial crowd downed towering mugs of beer, tore into pretzels and dined, some of them at least, on pork knuckles. There seemed no end to the beer nor, when one thinks of it, no end to the capacity of the assembled to drink it.
The days of Munich fell into a routine; some time at the show, some time wandering the old Bavarian city. World War II was not kind to Munich; aerial bombing destroyed much of it and the city that stands today is mix of old and new. We found the German Hunting and Fishing Museum, struck up a conversation with the man at the desk, found we had common ground: We have both owned German hunting dogs, the Wachtelhund, our Thor and Riika. We finger-flip through cell phone photos, compare photos, tell tales of hunt dogs.
The museum houses dozens of mounted animals, a collection of ancient rifles and spears, all under the high rising antlers of elk and deer and a full skeleton of a massive Irish Deer with antlers spreading high and wide on a huge frame, a colossus of a long-extinct deer lost ages past to the fog of time.
In a back corner an oddity; several Wolpertinger, Bavarian fictional animals best described, after all is said and done, as a German variant of the American Jackalope, fantasy creatures of a taxidermists crazy dreams; winged rabbits bearing fangs and antlers. They are vaguely unsettling, creatures of nightmare and mystery. They are, after some contemplation, not dissimilar in their creation to our Hodag.
The high temperatures break two days into our stay under a hard rain storm that brings thunder and lightning to the city. The morning air is cooler. We work the show for two more days, wander the streets of Munich, hear the peal of their historic Glockenspiel; eat good German food.
We leave Munich on a July morning before the town wakes. From the passing car window a brief sight: The Eisbach gleaming like quicksilver in the morning light.