Munich. The capital of Bavaria feels like a totally different country from the rest of Germany – from the boisterous brewery and beer hall culture to the cities architecture, history and the surrounding countryside – there is something for every traveler.
We arrived at Prague bus terminal early for our bus to Munich. Going to check in at the information desk – they had no record of our bus coming that day. Concerned – we double checked the times and dates – all looked good, and waited outside for the iconic green bus. None arrived, and as the departure time approached we literally just found the only bus going to Munich that day to jump on – and found it was the right one. Turns out the company had subcontracted out – phew.
We got in late in the afternoon and took the tram to our hostel, the Smart Stay Munich City Hostel, dried off after being caught in the rain, dropped off our bags and went exploring. Taking the metro to Marienplatz, we walked past the Old and New Town Hall and into Viktualienmarkt. Even late in the afternoon the market was packed with people and stalls full of delicious food – fresh fruits, cheeses and of course, sausages.
Making a note to head back when the weather was better, we headed to the infamous Hofbrau House. While it may be completely full of tourists it is still worth the trip. The place is a mad house. Walking in, the sheer scale of the beer hall makes your jaw drop, and every bench is completely packed with people with beers and pretzels bigger than their heads. We tried unsuccessfully to get a seat for a while – luckily a man waved us down to some spare seats on his reserved table. Turns out the beer hall had regulars – groups of men who dress up in Lederhosen (traditional Bavarian garb) and come to the beer hall at the same time every single week and sit at the same table. And they could drink. While we settled for a liter of beer, each of the regulars easily drank 2 or 3 – all from their personal steins which the waiters kept filled to the brim. A bit wobbly, we grabbed a giant pretzel on the way out and headed back to our hostel.
The next day we wanted to do a free walking tour – after Prague we were hooked so we couldn’t resist doing the one in Munich too. Such a help with getting your bearings, hearing the history of the city, learning about the culture and what to do while you are in town. Even though we had seen a few of the landmarks the day before – seeing them and hearing about them with a guide was a totally different experience.
We met the tour guide in front of the town hall and waited to see the Glockenspiel clock ring the bells and see the jousting knights. Our tour guide grew up in Munich and told us about the beer culture that had formed there – historically, people would drink more beer than water because it was less likely to make them sick, trading beer had saved them from getting sacked by the Swiss and if you brewed a bad beer you would be drowned in it. From there, we headed all throughout the city – to the Viktualienmarkt, Hofbrau House, the Royal Residence, Odeonsplatz and many more learning the history as we went. My favourite was the tradition of stealing maypoles – large symbols of fertility and luck kept in the main square – that you can only take if no one sees you and then ransom them back for – you guessed it – more beer.
During the tour we reconnected with a friend from Canada we had met on the pub crawl in the Berlin. He was only in town for the day and wanted to pack it in – do the walking tour, see the artificial wave on the Eisbach, drink at a beer hall and get a giant pretzel (he really enjoyed that pretzel) and watch the ice hockey championship.
After the tour ended we headed through the gardens which were beautiful – bright flowers surrounding a tranquil pond. We followed the crowd until we stumbled across the river – people were lined up watching the surfers jumping into the water. We joined the crowd on the bridge above and watched them surf until they fell and were washed downriver until they could paddle to the edge.
We wanted to check out the finals of the ice hockey championship so we went bar hopping asking around to see who was showing it. Unfortunately for us – a Bayern Munich game was on – and it pretty much shut down the city. Every screen was showing the game and every pub was packed. After searching for a while we found a combined Aussie and Irish pub with one screen hidden out the back showing the ice hockey.
The next day we were headed to Dachau – one of the first “work camps” of the Nazi regime located just outside Munich. I won’t say much about it here – but it is something that every person needs to see and learn the history of, lest we forget. It was a strange thing to see the sun shining and children running in a place where such atrocities were committed.
For our last day in Munich we headed to the fairy tale castle, Neuschwanstein, constructed by the eccentric last king of the Hapsburg empire – Ludwig II. Taking the two hour train journey from Munich with our tour guide, we heard the troubled history of the construction of the castle as we hiked up to it.
Reaching the top of the hill there is a spectacular view of not only the castle but also the picturesque Bavarian countryside. The real highlight is the view from Marienbrücke – a bridge over a canyon in the mountains which is perfectly located to snap the castle and the Bavarian countryside behind it. You can opt to enter the castle and see the few finished rooms for an additional fee or go exploring the town nearby Swan lake.
On the recommendation of some friends we headed down to the lake – nestled below the childhood home of the king, Hohenschwangau Castle – the lake is pristine with crystal clear water and surrounded by beautiful forested mountains. Walking along the shore, dipping our feet in the water and having the ducks swimming around us hopeful for a morsel of food, the location could not be more perfect. Heading around the shore further there is a boathouse hidden away where you can rent paddle boats to explore further. We were content just to dip our feet in and grab a beer named after the king.
Next stop: Vienna
Edited by RC.