Munich Found
February 1, 1998

Hash House Harriers on the Run


Hash House Harriers on the Run
Paper Chase

Munich Found
English Language Publication
Munich, Germany
by Carol Scheunemann

Tooting on a hunting bugle, blowing whistles, and armed with mugs, beer money, and maps, some 30 runners went galloping through downtown Munich one recent sunny winter day. They jumped up curbs, skirted around kids, and wove through throngs of late-afternoon shoppers. Pedestrians simply stopped and stared. "Shouldn't the police have cordoned off the area?" a spectator asked uncertainly, while others, no doubt, wished that the police would put an end to the spectacle as soon as possible. Yet the impromptu stampede was not an organized foot race, nor a student demonstration: it was a "hash." The joggers-gone-wild were prime specimens of the Hash House Harriers, a "drinking club with a running problem."

For this particular event, the harriers followed clues to navigate through the downtown, along the Isar and around the English Garden (hence the maps), with a drink stop (hence the mugs) and a pub crawl (hence the beer money). Granted, it was more like a treasure hunt than a traditional hash, but in a club that makes up its own rules as it goes along, tradition doesn't go very far.

Hashes are patterned after an English children's game called "Hares and Hounds," in which the hares lay a complicated trail, using bits of paper, flour, or sawdust, and the hounds try to pick up the trail by following the markings. A "harrier" is a dog similar to but smaller than an English foxhound for hunting hares and rabbits. Human harriers, however, don't bark when they find the trail, they shout: "On-On!" The nasal honk of the hunting bugle begins the trail run.

Front runners function as trail spotters, shouting when they see a clue, while the slower-moving members follow the calls of their comrades. False trails send the fastest harriers up hills or circling aimlessly. These dead ends deter the leaders so that trotters or walkers have a chance to catch up. At checkpoints, the bugle sounds loudly to let everyone know where the group has gathered; the runners catch their breath while the decidedly noncompetitive back-of-the-packers smugly swig schnapps.

Hashing is recreational cross country running-for-fun, it is not about competition nor catching the hare nor even very much about running, although many of the members are serious - make that ambitious - runners. When asked how often he runs, one harrier answered "Only at the hashes." That earned him a disapproving frown from a marathoner. "That's not enough," she scolded. "You're right," he quipped, "It's not enough beer." Because beer plays a central part in the cooling-off period after a run, called the down-down. Members form a circle and the grand master hands out "punishments," usually beer, followed by a raucous round of good-natured razzing and a night on the town called the on-after.

The history of the Hash House Harriers dates to 1938, when a group of British businessmen in Kuala Lumpur decided to get together on Monday s to run off the ruinous effects of a weekend's carousing. Their starting and ending point was the Selangor Club Chambers, dubbed the "Hash House" for its unimaginative, monotonous food. But soon the post-run frivolity became the outings' hightlight. As the expatriates returned home or were transferred elsewhere, they took their sport with them.

Now a harrier network circles the globe, and English remains the official language. With over 1,250 active chapters worldwide, and a community of about 100,000, hashers have a home wherever they go. Members of any ex-pat community are veteran movers; the easy familiarity of hashing gives them a place to touch ground.That is where, no doubt, some of the charm lies: if you run with 'em, you're one of 'em.

When Bob Lojek, a project manager for petrochemical plants, took part in his first hash, he thought to himself, "This is undoubtedly the most ridiculous thing I've ever done." It soon dawned on him, though, that hashing was also the most fun he'd had in a long time. He's now Grand Master, a president-of-sorts of the Munich harriers.

Anyone can join, at any time: there are no regular dues to pay, just a DM 5-per-outing contribution for beer. You needn't be fast or even physically fit. Just dress to fit the weather, and bring along a change of clothes for after the run. Be prepared to suspend rational thought for a few hours, and don't forget your sense of humor.

No matter what the neighbors might think, hashing is a great release from our stressful, adult world. It is a delightfully disobedient, just plain noisy game: the hooting, hollering and whistle blowing, accentuated by intermittent trumpeting of the horn, keeps harriers on the right trail - and stops passers-by in their tracks. On-On! Munich's harriers run every other weekend.

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