When Jake and I first started to put together our European itinerary, Munich was not on it. As we looked into train tickets, we realized that we would pass right through Munich on our way from Italy to Hungary, and we pondered whether or not to take the time to hang out for a few days. I'm so glad that we did decide to fit in this interesting city - it's one of our top spots so far!
We took a night train from Venice to Munich, our first experience sleeping on a train! I was nervous about the tiny bunks since I tend to get claustrophobic in bunk beds. As we found our couchette with six bunks folded down, my claustrophobia was already ramping up, plus it was pretty stuffy and hot in there. But, once we met the other 4 people we were sharing the space with, and the AC came on, my anxiety disappeared. I even slept well on my bottom bunk (melatonin helped, too). Next think we knew, we were walking up in a new country. Hello Germany!
We arrived very early, around 6 in the morning, so we had all day to explore. Our amazing Airbnb hosts (btw, if you're going to Munich, we highly recommend you stay with them - check out their listing here) thankfully allowed us to drop our bags off at the apartment at 7am so we could go explore for a few hours without them until our room was ready (another guest was not due to check out of our room until noon, so we had some time to kill). So, armed with our Rick Steves Audio Guide, we set out on the streets of Munich! I was quickly sidetracked as we walked by a bakery with fresh strudel and other goodies - two lattes (yes, both mine) and a couple of pastries later, we were fully fueled for our adventure.
We took in many sights that day, our favorites being the Viktualienmarkt near the historic Maypole, the Asam Church and its gaudy and detailed interior, and the golden swirl mark in the cobblestones of a street that marks the route Hitler's opposition took to avoid his rallies in the square. People who refused to salute him walked this path, now called "The Street of Shirkers". We never would have known about this piece of history had we not learned about it through the walking tour we listened to; there are no signs to indicate the significance of the golden stones. It was certainly interesting to walk around the birthplace of the Nazi party and learn about how much the city was bombed during WW2, including the giant Frauenkirche Cathedral who's onion shaped towers withstood the devastation.
We loved walking around Marienplatz and comparing New Town Hall to Grand Place in Brussels, we took note of the Old Town Hall which was completely destroyed during the war. It was rebuilt, along with most of the other buildings in the area, in the same neo-gothic style as the old architecture, so all of the buildings "fit" together. The culture and the architectural history of the area were preserved as Munich rebuilt rather than paved over with modern structures.
For dinner, we wanted to experience the typical Bavarian Beer Hall, so we wandered into Weissen Brauhaus for delicious wheat beer and a hearty meal. We took our seats at a communal table hoping to sit near some people our age to talk to. Instead we found ourselves across from an elderly gentleman, Peter, who helped us get some menus in English. Since he was the jovial type, we asked him for his recommendations - he was ordering his usual, soup and head cheese (no thanks), but suggested to us the weiner schnitzel, pork roast and dumplings, and sauerkraut, and to wash it all down with Tap 7, one of the popular weiss beers made in-house. We happily took all of Peter's recommendations and devoured every bite of deliciousness. We order Tap 7 on draft rather than out of the bottle. Peter shook his head at us after doing so - "That is not the way to enjoy a weiss beer," he explained, "you must order the bottle because there are spices in every brew and you get the spices in the bottom of the bottle. You do not get the spices from the tap." He then showed us how to properly pour the bottle into the pint glasses (pour in a little bit and then dunk the bottle top into the beer, slowly pulling back as it pours out. Then save just a little bit in the bottle and wait 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, swirl the rest of the beer around the bottle to get the rest of the good bits and pour it on top. We tried this method with our next round, but we still think the draft is better than the bottle. Sorry Peter!) We spend the rest of the evening chatting with Peter, getting to know him, and learning about his incredible past. I'll try to summarize this interesting man as much as I can:
- Peter was eight years old when the war started. He was a Hitler Youth as he was brainwashed at a very early age. As the war continued and ultimately came to an end, he became grateful for one specific American soldier named Charlie. Peter would follow Charlie around, trying to be sly, collecting his cigarette buts to use the rest of the tobacco. Charlie finally caught him, befriended him, and started giving him packs from the soldiers store. Peter thinks that Charlie was eventually caught taking more than his ration of cigarettes from the store and was moved posts, because one day Charlie was gone and he never saw him again. His time with American soldiers after the war, learning about democracy, American history, and the American way of life are what "saved him". He said that, without the patience of the Americans that he met after the war, he would have been brainwashed forever.
- Peter calls himself "a German who hates Germans and Germany". Though he has lived in Germany for most of his life, he calls his house in Connemara, Ireland, "home". He hates Germans for their "mindless obedience" - "they don't cross the damn street on a red light even though no cars are coming! If an authority figure, even a street light, says no, they do not disobey! It's been like that forever!" He thinks it's this fear of authority, this kind of obedience without questioning is what let the Nazi Party take over. (Not only did Jake and I see people adhere to strict no jaywalking rule, we learned about it back in Ireland before we even arrived - in Galway, we met a couple from Munich who told us to be sure to never jaywalk or risk a big fine. So we didn't! That is, until after we spoke to Peter.)
- Over and over Peter told us how grateful he is for the USA, and how angry he is at young Germans for not appreciating all that America did for Germany. He is furious that younger German generations disrespect the US and think it is shameful.
- He has never visited any concentration camps, but is no stranger to the horrible violence and bloodshed of the Holocaust. He described, in detail, the desperation in the Nazis that he witnessed as they shot Jews during the US advancement. He was 12 or 13 years old.
- In his grown up years, he went to university (for 12 years, but never actually finished) and became a film maker, and made documentaries about hippies in CA, New England, and Spain that still air on TV today! He was even in Paths of Glory!
- He was a photographer who took many pictures of his buddies Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson.
- While his home in Connemara doesn't have electricity, he does have a tub inside, and a shower outside that he uses year round. BRRR! Oh, and he has horses and LOVES to ride (I love this man.)
- He and his best friend do a yearly road trip in an old VW convertible, and his best friend usually ends up in jail.
- He is married and has a daughter. When we asked how he met his wife, he explained that everyone knew her, "she was just so damn sexy!", and to this day he and his friends have no idea how he landed her. "She was so damn sexy," he kept repeating. He then told us about all of the girlfriends he has had and still has (yes, he and his wife are still married). "They come to visit me in Ireland when she is here." Apparently, his wife is quite aware of his little affairs and allows him to be the scoundrel that he is. My guess is that she's just as bad as he is! Dirty old man!
- He used to be a jockey but always came in 2nd - though he had the best horse, he was too heavy and, therefore, never won a race. He loved to ride, though, so he didn't care, and refused to be replaced!
- He claims to be an Irishman trapped in a German's body.
- He opened a jazz club in Heidelberg called Cave 54 that is still open today.
- He reminded me of my grandpa, Gubba, for all of the stories he told. You never could quite figure out how much of them were real, and how much was "big fish". I have a feeling, though, all of them are true.
Well, that didn't end up being short at all! But he was too fascinating for me to cut down the information. Clearly we loved learning about him and listened to his stories well into the night. After a few beers, he decided his wife would be angry if he stayed out any longer, gave us hugs, and walked to his car. As he walked way he told me, "You have a beautiful voice! You should be a singer!" I told him I love to sing, and would try to get discovered.
The next day was GORGEOUS - sunny, 75*, perfect outside. Jake and I set out to see the English Garden, the gigantic park in the middle of the city. We grabbed some take out from the bakery (sandwiches this time, not strudel), and headed into the park. As we followed the water way, we stumbled across something we certainly did not expect in a land locked city - surfing! People in full wetsuits were throwing their short boards out onto a never-ending wave in the rushing river and surfing! The wave was man-made - a ditch was put in to create the wave for this exact purpose.
Lines formed on either side of the wave and the surfers took turns, one guy jumped out, surfed for 2 minutes (assuming he stayed up that long), and someone from the other side jumped out when he fell. If a surfer did a particularly good trick, the others waiting in line would tap their boards in tribal approval. If a surfer took longer than 2 minutes, the sidelines would hold up 2 fingers to let him know his time was up. A crowd had formed on both banks and on the bridge just above the wave. People brought beers and music and lunch. The whole thing was a big scene, so we stopped for about 45 minutes to eat our lunch and watch. Then, just as I was thinking this was a boy's sport, three girls showed up and ripped up the wave with the best of them. Awesome! (check out our video of this on our Facebook Page).
We tore ourselves away to venture deeper into the park. Ok, the real reason was because there was a giant beer garden to find in there somewhere and we were both getting thirsty! It didn't take us long to find the Chinese Tower and the neighboring beer garden (the 2nd largest in Munich) - the place was swarming with people and flooded with traditional music and people shouting "Prost!"! It was like we just walked into the Germany area of Epcot at Disneyworld - it was like we were on a movie set! We took a second to take it all in - the giant communal tables full of people under the giant leaves of the trees overhead. We wandered through the tables, watching people drinking beer out of huge steins, and devouring giant pretzels, pork knuckle, and brats. We wanted all of it. Soon we found ourselves joining the ranks under the shady trees, enjoying our weiss beers (a liter for Jake, a pint for me), pretzel. I never would have guessed that we would stay there all day (which is dumb, looking back I should have EXPECTED to stay there all way), but the day was so perfect, the weather so wonderfully warm, the people so fun to watch. We decided to grab some brats and pork and another round of beers for an early dinner. We particularly enjoyed watching the table next to us - a bachelor party that was just getting started on this Thursday afternoon. After about five hours we were full to the brim and decided to walk it off and head back to our apartment. As we strolled back through the giant fields of grass as the sun was starting to shine a deep golden light on the park, I realized why I loved this park so much - it reminded me of San Francisco park days, when the weather was warm and beautiful and my friends and I would flock to the park with blankets and beers. We would spend all day listening to music, laughing, eating, maybe playing football. This place was no different - bunches of 20 and 30 somethings kicking back in the sunshine. I felt like I was home, and I loved it.
Because we weren't expecting to fall in love with Munich they way that we did, we only scheduled two nights there. So when we woke the next morning, we had to pack to leave. Thankfully, though, we were booked on another night train so we had another full day to explore, and no other guests were checking into our room, so our host didn't even kick us out until we needed to head to the train station that night! We took this day to finish up a bit of wandering. We stumbled across a little festival complete with traditional dancers in costume and a petting zoo; we stopped long enough to take a few snaps and pet a goat. We walked through the original Hofbrauhaus just to see what the fuss is about (we don't really get it either - we'd rather drink beer outside). And last but not least, we found another beer garden, this time at Viktualienmarkt, under the Maypole and shady trees that we saw our first day.
This beer garden was just as crowded as the first, this time with more tourists than locals, but the beer was just as good! Since this garden is next to the outdoor market (I love me an outdoor market), there were many more food options. We perused each stand until we found one that looked too good to pass up. We knew we were in the right spot when we realized none of the employees working the food stand spoke English - perfect! Only the bold travelers or locals who speak German would eat here! We pointed at what looked good - a red brat, sauerkraut, and potatoes for Jake, and a white brat, sauerkraut, and potatoes for me. And of course, two weiss beers, please and danke. We sat down at the only two seats we would find, under the clouds threatening rain; while had been so nice the day before, this day was supposed to be a torrential downpour! Thankfully the rain stayed away while we enjoyed my favorite brats so far. As we ate, we got to know the couple next to us - Eileen and Tim, a couple in the 70s from the midwest who were visiting Munich for the second time, 45 years after they first came. When they asked us how long we were in Munich for, we told them about our trip, our desire to see much of the world before we buy a house, have kids, and take on more responsibility. They proceeded to tell us about how they basically did the same thing before they got married - the met in the newspaper personal ads (seriously!), and took off on a worldwide adventure! You can imagine, I'm sure, how excited they were when we told them that we met online! We had a great time comparing stories with them and loved receiving their validation, "this trip is the best thing you could do for yourselves; you are making memories and learning lessons that will impact your whole life for the better. Good for you. Have fun." Of we're having fun, don't you worry about that! :)
We spent the rest of the afternoon working on administrative stuff - Jake on pictures, me on writing to get the blog up to date - before walking to the train station at 9pm. Just as we said goodbye to our host, gave his dog Lola one last tummy rub, and walked out the door, we could see the real storm rolling in. The sun had just gone down, so the sky was still a deep blue in the direction we were heading. Behind us, however, were giant black clouds full of thunder and lightning! We walked as quickly as we could to the train station, about 15 minutes away, and made it just in time. The moment we stepped underneath the metal roof of the station, the clouds caught up to us and unleashed the downpour we'd been expecting all day.
Munich is a gorgeous city - the park, the architecture, the food. We loved it all! Like Amsterdam, we felt safe and comfortable, like we really fit in there. The city was easy to navigate, the people were nice, and we could get by with mostly English and a few German words here and there. Munich felt like San Francisco (minus the terrible history), and we are so glad that we stopped in. We highly recommend it to anyone traveling through Germany!