It didn’t take long in Munchen (or Munich, as us English-speaking folks generally call it) to realize it was a very VERY different kind of city than Berlin. While Berlin is a city, with a city center that reminded us of Granville street, Munich is a bigger city that continues to feel like a town. The ample streets dedicated only to pedestrians and numerous cobblestone pathways help to keep this 855 year old city feeling just that….old! As well, Munich doesn’t have Berlin’s overt desire to throw it’s history in your face. The history of Munich, both good and bad, are hidden in subtle ways. For this reason I was really grateful we chose to do a walking tour to orient ourselves and learn about the history of this glorious marketplace.
We flew into Munich from Katowice (Poland) around 9:15 in the evening and took the S-Bahn to our hotel, King’s Hotel First Class. This first class hotel was much smaller than the glorious Melia Berlin (to which nothing had yet to live up to). It had an ornate themed room and halls with low ceilings, crowns and a “royal” feel. But overall it was just a tiny hotel room with an overpriced breakfast. We were exhausted from our day at Auschwitz, so we had a quick hello facetime chat with my parents and then hit the sack.
When we woke up in the morning, we followed the sign downstairs for breakfast. There was signs in the elevator and the hotel guidebook reminding us of the time. When we entered the buffet room everything looked amazing and the lovely lady tending the area served us tea and confirmed our room number. I assumed this was because they wanted to avoid street folk from coming in and stealing breakfast. After my croissant with ham and bowl of granola and yogurt (and half a cup of tea because we were behind schedule), we got ready to head out. Then they brought me the bill to sign for my room – and it was €17,00…..EACH! That was a $25 per person breakfast buffet!!!! I was pretty floored. But I was full, and in a rush, and of course it was my mistake for not confirming. I mostly felt like the hotel set up their guests to be screwed without advertising prices…but then again, it didn’t say “frei” either – so I should have thought something was up. I’m use to Canadian and American hotels that include a basic breakfast buffet. This is not as common in European hotels. And given the German’s love of breakfast, it’s kind of a weird push/pull where they want you to eat (and judge) a hotel by it’s breakfasts, but they are all SO expensive!
In our history of traveling, me and Ray have not normally taken a lot of tours. But we only had 1 day in Munich, a city with much history, and Rick Steves recommended this “free” walking tour with Radius Tours that caught our eye. The tour isn’t really free, just a pay as you wish tour. This motivates the tour guide to show you a good time, and allows you to pay him/her as you feel they deserve. This is generally 10-15 euro per person, but depends on the day. Our 1.5 hour free walking tour was led by Kevin, a Texan who’s lived in Munich for the past 5 years. It lasted almost 2.5 hours (which was great) taking us through all the sites we were planning to see anyway. It was full of interesting history, stories, lesser known facts and pretty much everything we could have wanted to know about Munich. It also included a visit to a butcher for a fresh sandwich and beer (for €6,00 – great deal!) If you go to Munich – DO THIS TOUR! Ask for Kevin. I don’t normally give a shout out to any one company or person, but he really deserved it. This made our Munich experience excellent.
Our tour started at the train station and walked about 10-15 minutes down to the main square (Marienplatz). Headed that way you go through Karlsplatz, in honour of a previous King who built it and named it after himself – but this king was hated, so it was renamed Staccus. It goes by both names to this day. This is where the main gate it to the town, and is near where the original Munich town wall was. Old Munich was about square blocks. Now today it is a city of 1.3 million. We walked down through the gates to Marienplatz, with the statue of Mary right in the center. Marienplatz is bordered by New Town Hall and Old Town Hall. Strangely enough Old Town Hall is more recent than New Town Hall, as it had to be reconstructed after the war (picture shown is New Town Hall, finished in 1908 but built to look older than that!). This is the home of the Glockenspiel. 2-3 times a day bells play and the pieces more and tell a story of a joust between Bavaria and Austria (spoiler: Bavaria wins). This is one of the top 5 overrated tourist attractions in Europe (according to Kevin) and he was right – it was boring. But it draws in tourists in droves. Kevin told us the whole story behind the glockenspiel, the town halls and the original town walls. We then headed past the town halls towards the Viktualienmarkt. This is a large open air market full of fruits, vegetables, olives, spices, raw pasta, cheeses and butchers galore. We saw a shop selling only awful cuts (hooves, tripe, lungs, snout, tongues, kidneys etc). The glass was so full of glare I couldn’t get a decent photo, but let me tell you it was…well…awful. The Viktualienmarkt is a great place to buy groceries if you are a local or foodie, or to go from stall to stall collecting food for lunch as there are lots of food carts as well. But of course the big draw is the biergarten in the middle. This biergarten is the only place in Munich that is allowed to serve all 6 types (breweries) of Munich beer. However, they only serve one at at time. Every 3-5 weeks (depending on how popular the current beer is) the taps are changed. As long as you buy a beer you can grab food from wherever and sit down and enjoy. Tables are shared with friends and strangers alike, and the glasses are served by the half liter. We didn’t stop here on the tour, but game back right after for a beer and pretzel and a good wander. We did go to a butcher for a drink and kasewurst on a bun and a beer for Ray/coke for me. In Munich it is perfectly acceptable to wander the streets with an open beer, so Ray enjoyed drinking his beer as we continued our tour.
We left the biergarten and moved towards the Jewish Synagogue and Cultural centre. There is a memorial honouring the Jews here as well – but it is underground. To get into the cultural center to see if you need a passport and a screening. In truth, we didn’t know it was there, as most tourists do not either. The guide reminded us the Munich is more than willing to talk and dialogue about its history, but the town isn’t built around it. I called Berlin the city that never forgets. To the naked eye, Munich is the city that doesn’t remember. While this is untrue, it would be easy to make that assumption. For example, we went to a old building with nothing but a plaque on the side of it. This is the building that was shattered on Kristalnacht, and left glass on the ground giving a crystal appearance on the ground. This is the night that the Nazi’s raided and destroyed over 1000 synagoges and Jewish places of significance. But all that there is to show for it in Berlin is a small plaque on an empty building that no one could find if they weren’t looking. If we had more time in Munich I would like to have gone back and done the 3 hour history of Hitler in Munich – showing his rise to power and the role the city had to play. But time was short and we wanted to see the full picture of Munich present, not just past.
What we did see though was that Munich is a city that loves it’s beer and food. We moved our way from the markets and cultural centre towards the Hofbrauhaus – the original Munich Beerhall. This Beerhall has been around for over 400 years. Back in the day, when only men were patrons of the establishment, it was a big deal to get in and get a table. In fact, no man wanted to get up to use the washroom and lose his table, or his beer. So they installed drains under each table. This way a man could unbutton his leder, whip out his hosen, and go right on the floor. Then each night they would bring in buckets and wash the floors. Of course this is no longer the tradition, but the hall is still considered sacred to those of Bavarian blood, though more frequented by tourists than locals now. You order beer by the liter, and can order light, dark or one that is mixed with lemonade (Ray hasn’t tried this yet). However, for those locals of Bavarian blood who frequent the HB consistently, they have their own tables. Above a table hangs a sign that says reserved and then the names of who the table belongs to. Tourists can sit there, but if they locals show up, you must move. In addition, the locals have their own steins kept at the HB, under lock and key, for when they visit. They show up in their lederhosen and hats, in true Bavarian tradition. I saw a few there during our dinner (again, we went back for dinner post tour). Ray ordered a crispy pork knuckle and a beer, and I was less hungry, so I ordered a single baked potato….which was bigger than the pork!!! It was a fun and worthwhile meal – even if part of the show is now for tourists.
We did search the city for the perfect beer stein, but the hand made steins in the city of Oktoberfest were between 79 and 300 euros – so we have left this hunt for other towns. But they are beautiful hand crafted works of art.
Continuing on the tour, we went past the Residenz (120 rooms of art and Crown Jewels) and the Opera House. The opera house has been built and rebuilt many times, because of fire and the war. It was lit by candles and fires were a problem. So they put in a sprinkler system in the 1800s – collecting water in a dome at the top Except when a fire struck in January, the water was frozen and sprinklers didn’t work!! So they went to the Hofbrauhaus to collect beer and pass it down the streets, person to person, to put out the fire. Seems the Bavarians drank more beer than they past, and ended up drunk and watching the Opera House Burn down. It’s been rebuilt since.
Lastly we went to Munich’s biggest Cathedral – Frauenkirche. Compared to St. Mary’s in Krakow I found this disappointing. The towers in the building are uneven, due to them running out of money 9 times while building it. There is also a local legend about the devil coming and making a deal with the builder to provide the money as long as there was no more windows built – figuring a place of darkness would be to his power. The builder agreed. But a year later when the devil returned he was furious at all the light coming in from the sides. You see, the builder didn’t add any windows, but the devil made the deal at night, and couldn’t see those side windows from the back of the church. He was furious that he was tricked, and stomped his foot, and left, leaving a foot print on the church (actually the foot print of the builder who made up this tale to deal with fears of witchcraft in the 1200’s). But the legend says the devil left the wind behind to try to blow down the church. And this part is “true” – Munich was cold and windy!!
We ended our day taking it easy, ordering dessert from room service and catching up on my Auschwitz blogs (which you may have read by now). Given Munich’s great food, we would love to return and spend a week or so just living and eating and walking and learning about the fuller history of this glorious city!! Munich – we’ve only begun. See you again in the near future!