This night had it all. There was hope. There was despair. There were tears. There was joy. And that was just the three and a half hours after the game it took from the time we got on the U-bahn until the time the 03.25 Munich to Stuttgart express departed Hauptbahnhof. At 04.25. But most of all it was a night at the end of which, for all those who travelled to Munich, we will never be able to hear the words “German” and “efficiency” without uttering a hollow laugh.
So as Julie Andrews says, let’s start at the beginning. Despite many of the advance party setting out for Munich as early as Wednesday, my own little group were leaving on Friday, heading for Munich via an overnight stay in Stuttgart, and I was up at the unearthly hour of 04.20, having managed five hours sleep; a pretty good effort. Dawn had already broken as I left my north London home, and so worried was I about missing connections, that I was at the bus stop for the first stage of the journey a chilly 10 minutes early. However, it was only 10 minutes to Kings Cross, leaving me in good time for the first Piccadilly Line train of the day to Heathrow, at 05.37.
Not having even had a coffee, I regretted there just wasn’t time to grab one from McD’s before I boarded the tube. Or so I thought. Because the 05.37 was evidently cancelled, leaving a score of disgruntled travellers on the platform till 05.49 (the time the next train was due), with no information from control as to why the first train was cancelled. After that, however, it was plain sailing to Terminals 1,2,3 and I reached Security by 7am, and having taken all possible precautions to avoid setting off the dreaded alarms, fairly zipped through. I hadn’t yet received word that my travelling companions had arrived, so nipped into World Duty Free to pick up a couple of things and then headed over to what looked like a fairly upmarket Wetherspoons. And lo and behold, the first thing I did see were Mr E. and H. (who have both made a previous appearances in Travels) and Pick Six, a season ticket holder of many years standing, who doesn’t get into Europe very often. We were to be joined on the flight by Dazza A. (also with previous form) and the lovely Mrs A., and when we reached Stuttgart would be joined by Matt and Steve who were hacking their way in via Frankfurt and Paris respectively. The boys had just ordered their breakfast, so I beckoned the waiter, having decided that porridge, toast and coffee would provide a nutritious and slow-release start prior to lunch in Stuttgart. Dazza and Mrs A. then arrived, and Dazza quickly departed for Dixons, being in need of a new camera. The boys were already drinking beer, but that wasn’t part of my plan so I started with a juice.
We’d been agreeably surprised that Germanwings let you choose a seat without charge on checking in, thus avoiding the usual budget airline rush for the gate, so we sauntered down to the departure lounge and boarded in a leisurely fashion. It was a short flight to Stuttgart and we soon found ourselves on the S-bahn to the main railway station, and on arrival headed straight for the nearby hotel we were booked in for the night. Whilst checking in (a somewhat laborious process), Matt arrived, but there was bad news from Steve. His flight into Paris had been delayed, and he’d missed the connection. However, he was being put on the next flight and hoped to be with us by mid-afternoon.
As readers will recall from the Copenhagen edition, Mr E. loves his beer. And to that end he had drawn up a tour of beer gardens and halls. I wasn’t really bothered as it wasn’t the day of the match and I wasn’t planning to drink before evening anyway, so we set off for the first venue, the Schlossgarten, which was conveniently located next to the train station. It was 13.30 now, so having had breakfast just after 07.00, it was time for lunch. And as well as huge steiners of beer, the Schlossgarten did a pretty good feed, with even picky semi-veggies (no red meat) like me catered for, and I opted for kartoffeln (potato wedges) with salad. And very good it was too. We sat around for a couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting. We were also waiting for Steve, who had gone to his hostel to leave his bag, but was having difficulty in finding us. So we set off for the Nil Cafe, further down the Schlossgarten. Dazza’s phone rang again and he wandered off, followed by H. Pick Six and Mr E. had steamed on ahead, leaving Mrs A and myself to meander quietly down the park. In the distance we could see Dazza and H. standing around, so we decided to wait…then Dazza started waving his arms expansively around in the air. Mrs A and I kept our eyes fixed on the horizon and….yes! A third figure was hoving into view. Steve had finally made it to the Schlossgarten.
After saying hello, we trundled down to the Nil Bar, which was attractively situated by a lake. The weather forecast for Friday in Stuttgart had predicted rain, but although it had clouded over since our arrival, it was still warm, and perfect for sitting outdoors. I was kept going with the coffee, but everyone else sank another couple of steiners. About 17.30, we decided it was time to move off to the next venue, which was called the Platzhirsch and, on passing through the bar part of the complex, Pick Six, Mr E. and Mrs A shot off into what appeared to be a dance hall. Mr E and Mrs A. partook of a waltz, and Mr Six cut some serious solo moves. All of which have been captured for posterity on video by me. Something else captured for posterity in a slightly more juvenile style was the arse-kicking competition on the way to the U-bahn, but I think it’s best to draw a veil over that.
After some hesitation over the route to the next bar, we eventually found ourselves in a very pleasant pedestrianised square, and sat down to order. As it was 18.00 by now, I was going to have a drink – rather unfortunately for such a beer-orientated trip, vodka is my tipple of choice, as regular readers will recall. Having not eaten for nearly four hours, I also ordered some olives and bread by way of a pre-dinner appetiser to share with the others, although Steve and H. fancied chips, which came with rather vinegary ketchup, reminiscent of Crosse & Blackwell. We decided to have one more drink before dinner, and I saw that cocktails were available, so I chose a White Russian. Pick Six’s eyes lit up, and, being fond of them, decided to have one too. We were starting to get decidedly merry by this time, and, having settled the bill, set off for the final venue, the Zum Paulaner, whose famous beer came highly recommended by my Leipzig-based nephew.
As we wandered off to the Calvinstrasse, we felt the first drops of rain fall. I used my maps to cover my head. We appeared to have lost Dazza and Mrs A, who’d probably wandered off for a romantic dinner. The rest of us scurried into a pleasant looking inn and were greeted by a traditionally-dressed Frau, who led us off to a comfortable table. A glance at the menu ensured that this would indeed be the last post. There was even some food that looked like it wasn’t hugely meaty. The beer and vodka arrived and yet another toast was drunk. Then the food turned up, a meat-lover’s dream. Huge knuckles of port. Platters formed of various birds. A massive steak. A pasta thing with mushrooms that had a small amount of meat in it (mine). Everyone tucked in, and by the time the meal was finished, it was 21.30. We could see outside that the streets were less busy than early due to the heavy rain that had set in. So we decided to wait and have another drink to see if it cleared up. By 22.15, we decided that in view of the next morning’s early start, we’d better call it a night. As Pick Six and Matt had ended up in a room with a sofa, they kindly offered Steve overnight hospitality on that instead of the hostel he was booked into, and they went off to collect his bag. As the evening had turned out slightly less expensive than I’d though it would be, I told Mr E. and H. that I’d pay for a taxi back to the hotel. By 23.00, I was climbing into a very small bed, and trying not to think too much about what the next 24 hours would bring.
To be continued…