Issue June 24, 2008

Mug Shots – Train station brews

Airports are sleek, clean and carefully calibrated to soothe your fear of flying by extricating as much cash as possible from your wallet while you hurry up to be late.

I’d rather have my beer at a European train station. They’ve become modern, too, but if you’re lucky, the one you visit will have resisted the worst excesses of gentrification and retained a handful of down and dirty nooks, filled daily at breakfast by the same old men queuing for their morning beers.

Somewhere sausages will be roasting. In smaller cities, the train station’s full service restaurant just might remain a cherished local meeting place, even if the days of elegance are long-gone and an accursed McDonald’s is across the street.

For more than two decades, I’ve cherished the ritual of drinking beer at the train station. I’m struck by my own stationary absorption and the motion of people passing through — their laughter and conversation, their bags and backpacks, the music of languages and announcements over the loudspeakers.

In the 1980s, there was an “imbiss” directly in front of Track 16 in Munich’s central station. It’s gone now, but in its prime, I always stood at one of the huge, barrel-like wooden tables and drank a cool, crisp Hacker-Pschorr served at the stainless steel and tile counter. An added bonus was Leberkase, a bologna-like meatloaf, served warm with mustard and an assortment of local sausages.

Commuters would stop for a quick one before catching the train home and, just as often, before going to work. These were perfectly normal folks with briefcases, shopping bags and a rolled-up newspaper. Most were passing through, and yet they never seemed to be in that much of a hurry. 

Perhaps the knowledge that their destinations could be reached without driving automobiles relaxed the tension and made the beers taste even better.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit www.potablecurmudgeon.com
for more beer.