This was going to be a short blog, yes, was. I’ve had time to think about my first impressions. I didn’t stay very long in Munich, the capital city of Bavaria, and unfortunately for those of you who like the location, I didn’t click with the city. Is there more to Munich than drinking?
What do you know about this destination? You must sleep under a rock if you’ve not heard of Oktoberfest. I have done my fair share of weekends, nay weeks, ‘on the booze’ and that’s not my bag as much these days. I heard you scoff! I admit I’m nowhere near tee-total, I love my gin & wine with conversation and laughter. I’m not so good at shouting in beer halls then dodging blokes unaware of their big-ness and ability to elbow me in the eye with one swift gesture or scratch of their back.
Oktoberfest is a 16-to-18-day folk festival including the consumption of a lot of beer. Held in and around the outskirts of Munich it runs from mid or late September to the first weekend in October. More Septemberfest.
Imagine 13 tents; visitors consuming 7.5 million liters of beer and eating the equivalent of 118 oxen and over 520,000 roasted chickens. Only beer from the 6 major Munich breweries are sold and served. Plus the wine and champagne tent. I doubt Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen could ever have known what they started with a wedding reception in a meadow!
If you are wanting a beer hall then go authentic, go original. Hofbrauhaus was founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V. It is one of Munich’s oldest beer halls. It was founded as the brewery to the old Royal Residence.
Before I start, did any of you notice my boob in the Zurich blog? Probably not, it was a long time ago. Ignore the Americanisms and grammar police for now but my very last line. “I was looking forward to a spectacular journey through the Austrian countryside.” I understand nodding off is a possibility with each of my essays.
I was in Zurich, Switzerland heading to Munich, Germany. These 2 places are close on a global scale and I was in Austria for all of 30 minutes. Not exactly an Austrian adventure, they are to come!
Saturday 1st July 2017 – travel day!
A relatively short trip awaits me. I have high hopes for the SBB train. I’m guessing this won’t be a regional train. I want a large carriage with rows of seats in twos or fours rather than individual compartments of 6. I know the latter is coming, reminding me of Miss Marple or Poirot with a feeling that compartment companions should acknowledge each other and maybe even talk to strangers. I’ve just spent nearly 10 years on the tubes of London, I’m now trained to not look you in the eye. Speaking? To someone, I don’t know, on public transport? I may just about nod my head in hello to someone I know.
I ate, ate and ate – I’d found a proper fruit and veg shop in Zurich station and binged on a basket full of expensive salad, carrots, banana, cherries, apple, and nectarine; I think my body was craving some nutrients. Ok, winters are colder the more central and east Europe I move therefore a great history and need for hearty food based around meat and potato is required. But its summer time and people can still grow vegetables?
Looks like I’m a traditionalist – meat or fish with 2 or more vegetables, please. Chips are not a veg in this case. I’m only a month in and I already miss peas, broccoli, and cauliflower. I’m not sure how this craving will manifest itself after 2 or 3 months.
No WIFI on the train again… I’m not surprised. The journey was ambling through some pretty wide areas of nothing. Fields and forest fit for daydreaming but no residents, why have pylons and routers if there’s no one to demand it? But don’t use as a USP.
Have I said already that I’m finding natives just don’t get me when I say I’m from the UK? I must specify: Britain…I’m British…Great Britain…England. “Ah, England.” Even if the citizens have limited interest or knowledge about Brexit [although most I’ve since spoken to – DO], I would have thought the decision had reached multiple TV stations throughout Europe and internationally. Then the crazy UKIP party would have cropped up as another, albeit negative, UK/United Kingdom prompt. That said, a much longer association, English language = England.
I’m defeated and it’s simpler to start with England straight off. I was born in Gloucester, England, so it’s not wrong. I believe people should be able to wave a St Georges flag, not only when the football is on, without being labelled. Yet I identify more with being from the United Kingdom.
I didn’t expect Germany to be so flat in comparison to Switzerland. I daydream of dinosaurs roaming this expanse, imagine what would have once been underwater and I bet what is now a hill first started as monstrous mountain. Richard Attenborough pops up, it becomes a little too Jurassic Park just as the horizon changed dramatically. The train track meets one humongous lake.
The awe-inspiring Lake Constance. By comparison, Lake Zurich surface area is 88.66 square kilometres (34.23 square miles) and Lake Constance (may as well call it a sea) surface area is – difficult to comprehend – 571 square kilometres (220 square miles). We’ve passed through the most east northerly border crossing of Switzerland into Austria for the briefest of moments when we’re in Germany before you know it. We almost dock we’re that close to the water, into a tiny end of line station, Lindau Island. A bird’s eye view I sourced shows an even prettier version of what I saw.
Taking photos is challenging, great view, pick up the phone to take a quick snap and the verge raises up, hedges or trees appear quickly as if it to say ‘no, no, you’re too slow!’. Place phone down and up – same again. A little wind up from mother nature and the train side planning team. Sometimes I have to resort to the wonder-web, thank you Google images!
After too much flat Germany, I decided to watch the movie ‘The Help’. Oh my days, I am glad the carriage was nigh on empty. Tears and tissues, such a good film. I’ll leave ‘The Impossible’ and ‘Manchester by the Sea’ for another day.
I finally saw some real life Milka cows in the fields of Switzerland. The purple ones! Only joking. The cute black and whites ones. I expected large herds grazing on the Swiss hillside, maybe they are shy. Now I’m in the German countryside, I have seen many crops and no animal husbandry. Brace yourself. If you were ever in need of a key or a guide to the fields then I’m your gal, first a quiz!
Match the German field photo to the multiple answers below….one is fake!
Choices are….and I promise I have seen swaths of all…. da daaa….
- Hay Bales
- Lettuce or spinach
- Solar panels
Enough of the exciting stuff!
Travel days are relaxed and its late afternoon on arrival. Munich is another large bustling train station, I have a fantastically short walk to my hostel. Accommodation had been a difficult purchase. A very busy city. As with almost all other bedrooms so far, I’ve confirmed with Booking.com. When I received the confirmation, it states that they are a YOUTH hostel and the age bracket for this particular sharing room is >35 yrs old. Uh oh! If the hostel was that stringent then I shouldn’t be able to book in the first place. I don’t have any other cheap options for this flying visit. I’m leaving it for the hostel to sort out.
The train station is under renovation or maintenance works, the outside area I’m walking through is grimy and dirty. Train stations in busy cities seem to draw those in need of shelter, various types of drunks, the hapless tourist and purposeful local. Too many people to keep up the cleaning. An anticlimax after the gloss of Zurich.
I waited in reception while a very large Explorer Scout group check in with many leaders easily over 35. I wonder what happens to them. I’m next. My hostel receptionist immediately asks for my passport, no chance of pretending I’m 35. I wonder if I can get away with 35 anymore. No replies needed – rhetorical.
I can see by her face that she’s clocked my age and is umming and ahhing. She tells me their policy and quite unlike me, this had pissed me off more than I registered, I’m on the defensive. They don’t have any notes in their Booking.com profile or conditions in their room description etc. She can tell I’m not backing down. I’m polite but direct. She doesn’t get paid enough for this, I can tell. She’s not fussed and asks me if I am. It’s only 2 nights. She was concerned, are drunken young adults a problem for me?
After getting into the room, I believe age could be an issue for the hostel. The room is cramped, mattresses thin and bunk beds are squeaky. The ‘youths’ are unlikely to complain but I could! I am sleepy even though I haven’t done anything today so not in the mood for wandering nor complaining.
When in Rome… a beer yes please, happy hour thank you. A free shot yes please. Hostel bar it is! This local ‘dark’ wheat beer is delicious. I think it’d be even better bubble-less. An empty hostel bar during happy hour/s, what an oddity. I think the ‘youth’ regulation is biting them on the butt, they have no money or are already ‘out out’. I spoke too soon. The frat pack walked in.
Eight fresh-faced US of A males who looked like mummy and daddy have let them take a backpacking adventure with the family credit cards. I had to swallow a giggle at the 2 with their sweaters thrown over their shoulders and one even had the sleeves tied. I should not mock but hello to Carlton from Fresh Prince of BelAir.
I had 3 room buddies and 2 surprised me. I can’t remember what time they came home, after 11 pm and I’m clearly snuggled. They wouldn’t have been able to tell I was awake from the door. The young ladies clomp in and, as Peter Kay would say, switched the ‘big light’ on. I have hostelled on and off, since the late 90s. I can’t remember if my surprise was because of age – do not forget, I’m not ‘youth’ – or a broken hostel etiquette.
OR is this a hostel etiquette of my own. Funnily, the upstairs bunk to me stumbled in way after 1 am, somehow fell into his top bunk in the dark without waking anyone and stayed there fully clothed. This is what I have done, no switching the big light on then or maybe not…
Reminded me of waking up a room-ful with drunken giggles following a very liquid evening at Dick’s Last Resort Bar in New York. An old travel mate… let’s call her Fiona, couldn’t switch her bed light no matter how hard she tried. Her memory is better than mine so I could be mixing up exploits but with lots of stage whispers and exaggerated shushing, it took 2 of us to realise the light had no bulb. No ‘little light’ turned on that day but a room full of disgruntled people were woken. Maybe the 2 ladies in my Munich hostel were a little-delayed payback.
I struggled to sleep, not because of any noise or light but the distinct smell of smoke from the street 1 floor below. I hadn’t spotted the air conditioning panel earlier, the window had been open from the afternoon and I thought nothing of it. Now, I’m trying to mask my nose by covering half my face with the duvet. Nope… pppfft… too hot. I cannot believe it. When did this smell become so disgusting to me? I still smoke when I’ve had a drink and it doesn’t bother me then. How do nonsmokers put up with this? OOoo what’s happened to me?
Sunday 2 July 2017 – Jake and Andy saved the day
Munich came recommended, this is my first instance of a location being hyped up and my expectation was too high. I believe ‘do not judge a city by the area surrounding its train station’, time to get outside and take the hostel recommended free walking tour provided by Sandemans.
A guide picks me up (I was the only one from this huge hostel but it was Sunday morning) and walks me to the main meeting point. Poor woman, I think I could have done that solo. We reach Marienplatz – tourist central and people everywhere. Jake our American tour guide was a very funny man. He lightened up my spirit towards the city and gave us an insight into the history. I know snippets of European history but now I’m hearing the dotted lines. I don’t know what they said to do but can you see me in the pic above inadvertently being one of the ladies as played by Les Dawson or Roy Barraclough (Google it – Cissie and Ada)!
It’s no wonder we – Britain – had a very different history, we were lucky enough to be an island and not neighbours to the Habsburgs or Ottomans. I’m not sure we’d have conquered quite so frequently or expansively if we had.
The free walking tour of any city is worth trying. If you’ve never done it before, the idea is that you attend, enjoy and tip the guide what you believe the tour is worth. The majority are a fun way to meet other solo travellers and get the ‘lay of the land’ when you’re not in a city for long. Some are lacking in the detail but the English-speaking tours have to meet needs of so many nationalities listening in a 2nd or 3rd language.
So is there more to Munich than drinking?
The Glockenspiel [translates to chimes] is one of the most famous in the world. The story goes that the wedding of the 16th-Century duke most famous for building the first brewery in Munich is celebrated every day in the huge mechanical clock on Marienplatz. 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures come to life daily in the 260-foot tower, re-enacting two scenes from Munich’s history over 12-15 minutes. Thankfully we didn’t stay that long!
The clock is housed in the New Town Hall tower, amazingly, the building escaped major damage during the heavy bombardment during WWII. The ‘show’ starts daily at 11am, with additional at noon and 5pm in the summertime.
Munich has a lot of lions. The lion is the Bavarian heraldic emblem since the Wittelsbachers, the ruling family of 12th/13th-century, used the symbol in signs and flags. The original life-sized lions were four 400-yr-old bronze statues with a shield featuring a lion’s muzzle; now bright shiny muzzles. Why? Because citizens believe rubbing this is good luck!
The long-standing statues were being rubbed away and were moved to display at the Residenz Museum in 2015. Us tourists are happy none the less to jump on the bandwagon as we hyper excitedly grab a nose of the faithful replicas. The myth extends so that the 4 correlate to health, wealth, love and that last one I forget. To touch all four was greed and you would be forever unlucky.
Not the only statue to be a little shinier from tourists hands. The Juliet statue, a gift to Munich from Verona, has a myth of its own. In Verona, you’re supposed to touch Juliet’s breasts for a chance at undying love. Munich requests you also place flowers in her hand. I’m sure it’s sending the wrong message.
It is inevitable that any tour taken in Munich will discuss Hitler and his Nazi fascist movement he had built up in Vienna, Austria and then moved to Munich. We reach Viscardigasse, a small side street, behind Feldherrnhalle. The Feldherrnhalle became a monument for Hitler’s movement, on the walls once hung a memorial to Nazi party members that lost their lives in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch (translates to coup). All were expected to salute. Many passing pedestrians avoided at all costs using this alternative route.
Originally named after a famed Swiss architect the narrow road soon became known among the locals as the Drueckebergergasse which roughly translates to Shirker’s Alley or Deserter’s Alley. Today, the alley is a pedestrian-only walkway with a trail of bronzed paving bricks commemorating the brave Germans who refused to give Hitler and his cronies the satisfaction of a salute.
There was a TV series called Hitler: The Rise of Evil that includes the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch but beware the ridiculous British accent from Robert Carlisle, of Begby and Hamish Macbeth fame, cast as Hitler.
I meet Ludwig II for the first time. Little did I know how often I would hear about this chap during my travels. He was King of Bavaria from 1864 until his death in 1886. He has a couple of nicknames and one in particular shares the general thought about him: The Swan King, Mad King Ludwig, Der Marchenkonig (the Fairy Tale King).
Eighteen is a young age to become King, not the usual age to deal with a war against Prussia just 2 years later. Well, I can only presume; Bavaria and Austria lost! This was the time of many European wars so in 1870 there was another. Bavaria was included in the Prussia ‘side’ of The Franco-Prussian War, which they won. The kingdom was now well and truly part of the German Empire led by Prussia. This gave dear Mad King Ludwig opportunity to withdraw from day-to-day affairs of state in favour of extravagant artistic and architectural projects. Such as a certain castle I end up visiting in early October. Basically, Ludwig was a Paris Hilton or Kardashian of his time; no I should give him more class. Either way, he had a royal position but spent all his revenues, granted not state funds, on endless expensive projects, borrowed way too much and maxed his credit!
He could not be restrained by finance ministers and protocol which resulted in him being declared insane! An accusation which has since come under much scrutiny. His eventual death was suspicious; ruled as a suicide by drowning however even all those years ago they recorded no water in his lungs. Added to the facts he was a strong swimmer in his youth, he was found in waist-deep water and he’d not expressed any suicidal feelings. A case for Morse, Lewis, Barnaby… take your pick. It is reported one of Ludwig’s most quoted sayings was “I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others”.
Which brings me seamlessly to the Michael Jackson memorial. I happened upon it. Amazing, I’d read about this years ago. Opposite the Bayerischer Hof hotel, a location Michael frequently stayed, devotees commandeered a statue of Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso as a shrine. Flowers, candles, photos, and presents have adorned the statue since his death.
I am full of (fun?) facts…
Popular car manufacturer BMW naturally has headquarters but did you know the Munich site has its own postcode. No one else uses it – 80788.
Oktoberfest almost triples the city population with locals plus visitors – more than 7 million people.
To ensure that people keep moving through the city and especially the subway – they increase the speed setting for the escalators! They are ‘motion sensor‘ anyway, moving at the slowest of speeds till you walk up to use it. The speed is faster during the festival.
A renowned Munich dish is white sausage with pretzel and mustard. I can’t do it, it looks anemic.
The tour is a fact-filled 2+ hours. If you’ve only 2 days in the city then definitely join in!
What I do love, love, love is schnitzel. Pork or veal, I don’t mind which. I found Andy’s Krablergarten on Trip Advisor. A walk on the other side of town but this small restaurant and the huge beer garden was busy. A good sign. My pork schnitzel was delicious and massive. I ended up with next day’s lunch and dinner in a doggy bag. Highly recommend you try this place if you’re visiting. I will forgive them for losing my order as they did squeeze me in and gave me a little shot of something warming by way of apology. I think this was also why my schnitzel was the size of a boat.
A good day learning that there WAS more to Munich than beer. I’m not completely convinced and looking back I need more time to soak in the history. I went home to my fresh air-conditioned non-smoke-smelling room and popped my music on to avoid the squeaking of the bunk bed every time I or the upstairs chap breathed.
Monday 3 July 2017 – on the road again, sing with me
An inclusive breakfast isn’t normally missed but yesterday’s hostel offer was poor. I headed out to a tasty cafe around the corner. The hostel free lockers were appreciated as there is no way I could enjoy a last-minute potter around with both my backpacks on.
Even on a Monday morning, I see someone wearing traditional dress. The Bavarian’s take this seriously or should I say they embrace it. It’s not a costume. The dirndl for women or lederhosen for men is used as every day wear not just for special occasions and the festivals.
By chance, both items can over enhance parts of the body especially for the top-heavy lady and beer-bellied man. Managing the line between styled and tacky is challenging for some. I have resisted buying one of the many gorgeous skirts, it’d be ruined in my backpack. The latest trend of lederhosen for women – Ladyhosen – is great fun. I haven’t the legs but I really like knee length shorts (only Kylie can get away with wearing the hot pant) and (vegan readership look away now) if they’re made out of smooth ‘supple to the touch’ cowhide, fab! I’m told that male lederhosen is handed down from generation to generation. The older the material, the softer it becomes.
A good place for spotting tacky costumes is the train station. My time is up and I’m grateful to be moving on. I am strangely confused and surprised by Munich train station departures board. Then the explosion – that got your attention! Don’t decant sparkling water into a plastic drinking bottle and screw that top on tight to avoid leakage. This is what happens, a hilarious distraction.
Eventually, I find the right platform, there is chaos to get on the train and we leave late. My first delay by the Germans – well there you go. This belies Germany efficiency I expected. AND my first seat reservation drama – a seat thief!
Details in the next installment ‘Oh Vienna; you DO mean something to me’.