If you've merely a couple of days to spend in a given city, it's naïve to believe that you'll immediately be handed the keys to its soul. At best, you'll usually be able to probe only the surface. Even so, there are places where the soul of a city can suddenly become startlingly palpable, as though it were flesh and blood. That's what happened to us not long ago, when we were lunching at Munich's Café Reitschule. It's at the very edge of the Englischer Garten - the Bavarian capital's famed English Garden - poised between the park and the city. Among the largest urban parks on earth, the Englischer Garten is wonderful for endless wandering, especially in early spring, amid buds and blossoms, the grass in its freshest shade of green. If you tire of lolling on the lawns, you can surf (Munich is also unique in providing this unexpected opportunity), rent a boat, or meditate in silence at the Monopteros Temple. The Café Reitschule, as its name suggests, can be found in a riding school. The riding school of Munich's University, to be precise, which was founded in 1927 - along with its café. It's a legendary place that long drew in the city's elite. There was an ownership change in the mid-1990s, and in 2009 it opened its doors in a rather refreshed form. The robust architecture of the building is unchanged, but the interior has been divided into zones of seemingly differing ambience. Taken together, the rooms conjure up a kind of fin-de-siècle Viennese atmosphere, complete with the classic Thonet No. 14 chairs that were designed in 1859 and became an integral element in café design in the era that followed. The large windows in the first room open onto the closed arena, providing a sort of voyeuristic sense of participation at a distance; horses won't kick sand into your dish, and there isn't a hint of their scent - but in your imagination it is perhaps even more powerful. Now and then a well-tended thoroughbred's tail brushes against the glass. The opposite wall is papered with wallpaper bearing drawings by the Italian artist Piero Fornasetti - countless portraits of his muse, the opera singer Lina Cavalieri. Fornasetti glimpsed her face in a 19th-century magazine and produced more than 500 versions of it.
You sit, you lunch, and you watch a living film. The stars are most certainly not from the working class - it's quite likely that some of the elegant equestrians are themselves the owners of their impressive mounts. The cuisine here, by contrast, is simple but superb - there's a wonderful Wiener Schnitzel served with a salad, for instance. There's nothing extravagant. The feel here is of a distinguished elder Munich - it isn't showy but rather pronouncedly conservative, but obviously cut of the finest cloth. As I am here during the Easter holidays, mothers with children chat at one end of the dining room. At the other, well-dressed businessmen discuss their affairs. Life flows by unhurriedly with a discreet, bourgeois charm - there's nothing of the revolutionary rhythms one encounters in Berlin; instead, a blue-blooded placidity prevails.
Keywords: Munich, cafe