Today we spent the day in Munich not sightseeing, but catching up with old friends. Chris, a Munich resident took us out for beer at his favorite corner tavern where we had some dunkel from Munich’s last locally owned brewery, Augustiner. The waitress also proudly pointed out this fact, going so far as to say “I think it is the best beer in the world.” We knocked back a liter and had some pork wiener schnitzel stuffed with mustard and bits of pickles. We typically meet Chris in Bangkok so it was a nice change of venue to be on his home turf.
Then Michael, a friend I made during my year living in Panama (back in 2002-2003), came all the way down from Frankfurt just for a few hours of catching up. It had been 10 years! Before another trip to the beer halls, we decided to have some coffee in a second floor (first floor by German reckoning) coffee shop that looked like something decorated maybe in the 1970s.
Earlier that morning I had noticed many groups of police officers in the Munich train station as we arrived from a night in Augsburg (staying with friends Declan and Martina and their kids). As we had ridden in with a man and his son dressed up in Munich football jerseys, we figured it was the usual anti-hooligan preparations for a match. Not so.
Outside the coffee shop we saw the more serious riot gear officers lining up in the street. When we got down to the sidewalk, hordes of them strolled toward us down the street and loud shouts and thumping music followed them. Most of the riot squad members looked rather bored, and none had donned their helmets.
Munich, Michael tells me, is a bit on the conservative side. Germany has political tendencies similar to those blue and red divides between the North and South in the US. And Bavaria is the south. I remember Sophie Scholl was a student here back in the 1940s, spreading anti-Nazi pamphlets and dying for it. Fellow students didn’t protest; they cheered.
Michael speculated: were they neo-Nazis? Communists? Today, the march we were seeing – maybe two or three thousand people – were neither. It was a march against racism. Signs, mostly in German but some in Turkish (a large ethnic minority in Germany) and a few in English (for the news and internet photos), blasted Nazism and racism, and many showed pictures of victims of racially motivated killings over the years.
It wasn’t a massive demonstration – a little old lady nearby said “there are more police than protestors” (not true) — nor was it volatile, as one could see from the riot squad which was likely there not to contain the protestors, but to prevent skirmishes if their opposition showed up to make some noise.
Standing curbside I snapped photos as they passed and I felt quite moved. Over 70 years ago something like this would not have happened. And even many of those few who spread such opinions through the underground at that time eventually lay under the blade of the guillotine.