Arrived in the beer and sausage quaffing capital of the world today at around 2:30 pm, Bavaria! My hostel is very well located just a one minute walk from the train station which was a nice change from the typical mountain hike in the Rhineland. All over the city there are Munich Lions that have been painted by local artists. My favorite thus far is a lion on his feet, standing up holding a big glass of beer and wearing lederhosen. The entire city is full of excitement; tonight at 8pm the final World Cup game France VS Italy plays in Berlin. People are all decked out in their team colours and waving flags throughout the street. I tell people I don’t care who wins as I always cheer for the team with the best cuisine. Italy and France defiantly tie in that department so I will be happy for whoever wins which is nice (I secretly want France to win as I come from a long line of French aristocrats).
I stopped off at the Augustiner Grobgaststalten famous Beer Hall. The place was built in 1328 and is a landmark on the main street. It is huge and fits at max capacity 4 000 people at one time! The interior is brilliant with Bavarian paintings, stuffed moose and deer heads and huge hanging wooden and iron chandeliers. Many funny looking locals were mulling about when I arrived chatting and drinking their huge steins. I chose to walk to the back of the place and enjoy dinner on the back terrace. I ordered a pint of the local brew Augusteiner Edelstoffel. The entree was ridiculous. I have never eaten so much meat in my entire life at one sitting. I ordered the Bavarian Meat Platter (who could resist right)…which consisted of a white cabbage salad, potato dumplings AND suckling pig, knuckle of pork and a 1/4 chicken! As I waddled out the restaurant trying to settle my bloating stomach I walked by the brilliant Marienplatz or main city square for you Anglos. The square has a huge Altes Rathaus (old city hall) in the Late Gothic style with a very famous and huge Glockenspiel! There are two Bavarian churches on the platz worth noting; Peterskirche and Heiliggeistkirche. A little ways walk north from the main platz you come across the Residenz (royal palace) which was lively as ever. At first thought I assumed I was at a pre game event but it was actually a huge Greek Culture and Food festival. The square was full of about 300 Greek dancers trotting around in a circle to a live band. Many tents sold Greek beer glasses and different Greek dishes. My destination was the Hofgarten a 5000 capacity outdoor Beer Garden. The place was packed with people and 3 big screens were set up to show the match with an ever so loud surround sound speaker system. The spot was perfect as I was surrounded by locals (which tend to give off a lot of energy for those who lack it…um me) and it also was situated right behind the palace overlooking the royal gardens. As the game started the people kept pouring into the center of the show and those who had been waiting in their seats started to get a bit violent. Little boys were hanging from tree limbs, and several older gentlemen had staked out the roofs of several small children’s playground houses.
The game started with a thrilling performance by Shakira singing “Hips Don’t Lie”. All I have to say is that apparently, Germans love the Shakira. Everyone, young and old, stood up and started dancing. My favorite being the cute little retired couple grinding with each other to the Latin beat. I walked back to the hostel at half time to receive some much needed hydration and my free welcome shooter. Instead of a shot of Jagermeister I had a shot of Baileys on the rocks, because I love it. Astonishingly Pizza Modena beat Paris Fois gras in a grizzly final match. The battle of the football haute cuisine was a fiasco in the streets as many crepe and croissant lovers (which I note here actually originates from Turkey so don’t shoot back at me that I am ignorant or uneducated!) were upset to say the least that the Italian footy chefs had torn down their hopes of a victory curtain. Basically the streets were packed all night with people screaming and chanting olay olay olaaaaay. Good grief, bed.
My first full day in “Munich” was actually a 9 hour day trip outside of the city. I went to Germany’s number one tourist attraction Neuschwanstein Castle, at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps along the famous Romantic Road. The castle was built by the nutcase King Ludwig II and is located just 25 minutes from the city of Fusen. The castle is a must see and I took so many amazing pictures. If you have never heard of the castle by that name you may recall the ever so famous Disney logo and Sleeping Beauty Castle. This Disney castle is based on the architecture of Neushwanstein. The castle has also become famous from the British film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as the main characters fly over it, stunning, believe me. Before our scheduled castle tour we grabbed a bite to eat at one of the traditional Bavarian restaurants. I had a pint of Paulansteiner beer and a plate of Currywurst mit Pomme Frites. The walk from the base of the castle tourist mess is 40 minutes up hill. There are also buses and horse drawn carriages but the friends I was traveling with were adamant about getting fresh air and hiking in the forest. The castle is located on the side of a mountain at the bottom of a huge valley in the Alps and is surrounded by mountains and woodlands. Directly bellow the castle is a huge waterfall that flows into a big lake on the other side heading towards the farmlands of Fusen. The interior of the castle is absolutely stunning, you actually feel like you are in a fairy tale castle! Fresco’s on the ceiling and wall depict folk tales with many swan symbols as Ludwig loved the grace and elegance of the swan. One of the rooms is ornate but also has a fun feel to it as the king built a man made cave outside of his room on the 5th floor of the castle! My favorite room was the ball room which looks onto a fairy tale theater stage full of props and costumes with a 900 pound gold chandelier overhead. The ballroom is made of over 1 million mosaic tiles on the floor and surrounded by fairy tale paintings and folklore. After our castle tour we walked up more hill and found the picturesque bridge situated over the rumbling waterfalls you get an amazing panoramic view of the castle high up on the cliff smack dab in the middle of the Bavarian Alps. We even walked off the path straight up a cliff to get onto the top of the mountain peak. Once we reached the top our jaws dropped as we literally felt we were in heaven, on the top of the world, hundreds of meters above the waterfalls bellow, staring at the most famous, mystical castle on earth! Today was an excellent use of 9 hours of my life. Although the 3 hour bus and train back to Munich was really exhausting!
The following morning I walked straight to the art district after waking up. I stared at the world renowned Alte Pinakothek (ranked as the 7th best gallery in the world). I saw all of the famed non German rooms first (I wanted the end to be the famous German stuff to end the trip off with a bit of elation and excitement). The first room I visited was the Flemish Master Brueghel, which shockingly had more of his paintings than the gallery in Brussels! Other notable artists well represented; Roger van der Weyden, Memling, Raphael, Leonardo, Botticelli, Lippi, Titian, Tintoretto (and his famed Thorns of Christ), Frans Sneyders, Jacob Jordaens, Ruebens, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Poussin, Millet, Lorrain, El Greco, and Velasquez. The huge German Masters room made my jaw drop. I walked into the room and on the right side came face to face with Albrech Durer’s Self Portrait. Adjacent to his small Mona Lisa sized portrait were his two huge panels entitled The Four Apostles. Other famed artists include Lucas Cranach the Elder, Hans Holbein the Elder, Grunewald and my favorite, Altdorfers famous battle scene.
I walked across the park and entered the Pinakothek der Moderne. The gallery is huge and in an ultra modern building which is organized around a central dome. Warhol, Miro and many German and Austrio-Hungarian modernists I had never heard of were represented throughout. There were three special exhibits worth noting. The first describes the history of the architecture of the stadium. Elaborate mini models of the Italian and Greek theaters start the trip and you end at symmetrically stable modern masterpieces. Another room teaches about the Art Nouveau movement and my favorite exhibition in the basement focused on odd ways to use textiles and the evolution of the automobile (apparently in the future we will be driving in large pill like vehicles).
Leaving the art behind I walked out into the hot daylight and decided to walk north to Englischer Garten, Europes largest public park. Another jaw dropping experience (and I have decided that Munich is one of my favorite cities simply after visiting this huge spot). When entering the gardens I walked over a bridge and noticed a huge crowd. They have built a man made surfing rapid right beyond the bridge so people line the wet grass holding their surfboards. Surfing in Munich?! It is really fun to watch the guys surfing amongst huge waves and rapids in the middle of a huge commercial center. As you can imagine the river moves very quickly from here and can best be described as intense rapids. The river branches out throughout the entire park (which takes at least 1 1/2 hours to walk from one point to another). As you walk along the river you come across huge grassy beaches of local and tourist sun bathers. There are huge looming trees on the sides of the river as well which create a nice shelter for shade readers. Farther into the park you can see many people floating and bobbing along the Lazy River (I use that term as it reminded me of the river of that name at Wonderland). People just sit and float throughout the park, at speeds that seem to be over 20 km/h! The largest stretch of open river has huge fields on either side, probably 10 football fields worth. The open space without shade is a haven for nude sun bathers. I sat down under a tree at the river and soaked my feet in the icy water and did a bit of reading. The river ends at a silent pond filled with swans surrounding a small island with a famous Japanese Tea House in the center. I enjoyed the park so much and kept wishing my best friends could be here with me just for a wacky day on the river!
From the Park I walked south towards the most famous tourist beer hall in Munich. I walked along the Maximilianstrabbe which is the Bloor Street of the city. I popped into a couple of deluxe stores such as Chanel, Prada, Dior and Hermes until I reached the old town where the expansive Hofbrauhaus is located. The place is huge! The outdoor gardens has a live polka playing lederhosen sporting live band, huge pretzels and giant beer mugs throughout. I bought my first ever one liter beer and a plate of O Batzer which is a traditional Bavarian cheese spread with onions and bread (the cheese spread contains little pieces of Brie). For the first time ever I found physical matter in my food that should not have been there. Three pieces of plastic which probably broke off cutlery or kitchen equipment! I told my waiter who rushed to get the manager. I was offered another 7 euro liter beer free of charge or something off the menu. I definitely could not have handled another beer of that size so opted for a plate of Apple Strudel with vanilla sauce and whipped cream. I was definitely on the tipsy on my walk back to the hostel. The main street was packed with tourists and many fruit stands selling apricots, strawberries, raspberries and cherries.
In the late afternoon I napped and then chatted with a few Aussies who never cease to amaze me. The running joke is that Americans travel the least (max a month) and basically travel to booze themselves in as many countries as possible. Canadians are middle ground traveling for over 3 months typically. Aussies are the extreme tourists most of whom travel a minimum of 6 months and up to 14 months! I have decided to adopt the Aussie travel complex and insure that I travel for a long period of time on my next adventure (when you talk to an Aussie, my four month trip sounds like a walk in the park). I met a wonderful couple from New York City and chatted with them in the hostel for about 3 hours about their jobs as Bronx school teachers. Fascinating stories they have to tell. Their lives as teachers there are worse than I can possibly imagine. School in the Bronx is really just a government run day care for impoverished gang kids. They told me how when most teachers start working in the Bronx they feel sick before going to class. Almost like the feeling you get before writing an exam. The entire day is spent preventing people from killing each other. Apparently weave pulling and head slams into desks are popular student activities. One of them works at the worst school in the Bronx and when arriving at school he sees about 35 policemen in full out battle gear with shields, guns and helmets. He told me the schools were actually designed like factories and prisons rather than the traditional school house. It is as if the government intentionally doesn’t want to teach these kids a thing, so sad, crazy. I walked with these folks back to the Gardens as the night swept over the city. The park is magical at night as the river side is filled with little groups of people huddled around candles drinking beer and chatting under the stars. Our destination was the Chinese Tower Beer Garden (the worlds largest beer garden with capacity of 15 000 people!) As we rounded the corner of the forest and entered the beer garden my jaw dropped again. Seriously people, I can’t put into words how huge this outdoor beer fest is. Think of 10 football stadiums full of people on benches drinking liter beers and chewing on pretzels and sausage. In the center of the beer garden is a large Chinese Pagoda which is lit up by bright lanterns. The atmosphere is excellent, which complimented my lemonade beer perfectly (the Bavarian tradition of taking Lager and adding sweet Lemonade, so refreshing)! We left the garden at around 11:30 pm under a glowing full moon. We arrived back at the hostel at 1am. We got so lost and ended up an hour from our hostel as we walked for 30 minutes in the wrong direction. Sleep was excellent when it finally graced itself over me.
A day of contemplation:
This morning I took the one hour trip from Munich via the S Bann and city bus of Dachau. I spent about 3 hours at Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. An intense few hours to say the least. I have seen so many films on World War II from the States, Russia, France, Italy etc…and this is the first time I have actually met with reality face to face. As soon as I got to the camp I felt a chill and Goosebumps (and it was the hottest day of my summer yet). The place is exactly as Meryl Streep left it in the film documentary The Holocaust and the films Schindlers List and Sophie’s Choice. I ran to the Cinema as the English version of the Dachau film was being shown in 20 minutes. The film was chilling to say the least. The room fits 240 people and there were many people standing on the sides of the auditorium just to see and hear the film on the history of the Nazi Party and the Camp. You could hear a pin drop when the film was on, complete silence.
After the movie I went into the museum which goes through the history of the camp (this was the first concentration camp and the example the rest were built upon). I learned a lot today; some information I already knew, the horrible things that happened during World War II as well as new information I wasn’t so aware of. I thought Dachau was a big death camp with predominantly Jewish prisoners but the Museum explains that many of the prisoners here were actually political prisoners as well as over 300 Catholic Priests. All of the Christian priests during the Holocaust were sent to Dachau and there are four different religious memorials in the back of the camp to commemorate and remember those who died for religious reasons. One of the churches is Russian Orthodox, a Jewish monument, Protestant and Polish Catholic. The museum really does tell you everything you could ever know about the camp. They never used gas (although a gas chamber was built at the end of the war) they did use crematoriums. Since it was the first camp in Germany it was initially a work camp for ammunition’s and the majority (something like 88 percent of the people) died from disease and malnutrition. Dachau became a transition point for those being sent to death camps in Poland and Austria so it was a place of temporary unloading as they called it. Horrible things happened here. I know a lot of people think that visiting a concentration camp is disrespectful. But I found it most interesting to find out that the big push to open the camp as a museum and memorial was from former prisoners in 1955 who formed an international organization and fought for the founding of this memorial site. The survivors want us to visit, to see what happened to them, and remember. There have been over 50 million visitors to the camp from every country in the world. The barracks are located in front of the main military building. Only two remain standing today which you can walk through, a vivid depiction of what life was like. The barracks housed about 200 people each, although the max capacity was actually 50, cramped! The rest of the barracks were burned down and their foundations still lie across the vast space which is now filled with gravel. Along the boundary of the camp are watch towers and huge walls covered in barbed wires. The trip was hard. I thought a lot, contemplated, often couldn’t believe I was actually here in this place. As I left the camp for the bus back I kept thinking, how on earth did this happen. The last three nights in Munich I have been talking to Americans at the hostel who had already been to Dachau and they all said the same thing: when they visited Dachau the only thing they could think about was the parallel between the Nazi rise and their own government with Guantanamo Bay, wire tapping and the ability for the government to arrest and imprison someone without trial. I have to admit I thought the same thing watching the movie at the museum and it really makes you think about how the American War in Iraq and the “War on Terror” sounds so much like what happened in Nazi run Germany. I got back into Munich at 3pm to be greeted by a huge rain storm. I am at the Easy Internet Cafe right now and the thunder is cracking…terrifying. The rain is dropping huge pales of water…a bit dodgy.
I ran out of the building and jumped into a Kabob shop. I decided it was finally the right time to have my first European Kabob dinner. For 8 euros I had a bottle of Orange Fanta and a plate fixed with shaved veal kabob, Turkish flat bread smeared with garlic oil, Greek salad with feta and olives, taboui and rice pilaf. My final night in Germany was spent with a group of six friends from Seattle and NYC at two beer halls. Our first stop was at Haubanbarhause the big touristy one I had visited the day before for lunch. I had a Rubn beer which is made of wheat beer mixed with fresh lemonade. The place was packed at 10pm, full of drunk Asians who were dancing like maniacs to the live polka band. For dinner I ordered Putenschintzel which is an escalope of turkey baked in eggs and cheese with tomato noodles and salad. Cute little blond waitresses walk down the aisles with boxes full of huge giant pretzels. The pretzels are wonderful crispy and soft in the middle which you dip into a small bowl of sweet Bavarian mustard. We decided to jump out of there and head to the more classic Augustiner beer house where we each had a half liter beer (as the full liter was now excessive for this hour) and I finally got a chance to order a slice of Blackforest Cake.
I met so many great friends in Munich. Learned so much. Two great day trips. Beer Gardens. Heaven.