As usual, the Gasthof Fraundorfer is roaring. The long tables, the booths and banquets, have been filled for more than an hour. Frau Fraundorfer and her staff tote trays heavy with half-liters of beer and steaming plates of Bavarian farm fare. The clear tenor voice of Friedl cuts through the din. He wears Lederhosen, accompanies himself on the accordion, and has played this six-nights-a-week gig since 1959, with interruptions only for marriage and heart bypass surgery.
The 90 or so celebrants squeezed into the cozy, kitschy room are having the time of their lives, and judging by the rising noise level, most are on their third beer—at least. Three teen-aged boys, in traditional dress entertain the crowd with a Bavarian dance involving high leg kicks and loud thigh slapping.
It is just past 8:30pm, everyone has been watered and fed, the noise level is peaking and Freidl has begun to roll out some of his yodel standards, sad songs of love and death on the mountain. This is the "tipping point;" will the evening coast on to a quiet close or will there be conga lines and dancing on the tables? Either way Garmisch-Partenkirchen's Gasthof Fraundorfer is the Bavarian experience. Though it dates to 1857, this tiny family-run hotel and restaurant assumed its current role as goodtime headquarters for Southern Bavaria during the 1936 Winter Olympics, when it became an after-ski, after-sled, after-skate, hangout for both competitors and spectators.
We didn't find the Fraundorfer until 1979, but have returned many times since. In those 27 years, almost nothing has changed: the rough wood walls and ceiling darkened with age, the Olympic photos, the family pictures, the religious icons, the servers in traditional Bavarian dress, the music and every night a full house of happy customers. The indefatigable Barbara Fraundorfer still greets hotel guests at 7am and can usually be seen playing cards at the Stammtisch (regulars' table) around midnight, when we finally give up the ghost. During her 16 to 18-hour days she seems to be everywhere; bussing plates, chatting up grizzled regulars, charming the Americans at breakfast, waving goodbye to departing guests in the parking lot, and caring for her husband, Peppi, injured in a bobsled accident that has, after decades of surgery, finally confined him to a wheelchair.