S’trip’15: Munich

Oktoberfest in Munich ended last Sunday and it’s strange to think that I was there too, only two months ago. It was so hot that I would have happily stayed indoors eating ice cream and reading, except I felt duty-bound to be a good tourist and wander around the city looking for authentic Bavarian restaurants, stop at every bakery to stare at the bread and take pictures of random streets and buildings. When it comes to either extreme in temperature, I can’t function normally but it has to be said, you do get a good excuse to indulge in steaming mugs of hot chocolate or deliciously cold ice cream. Oh yes, I indulged. I ended up eating a lot of ice cream when I was in Germany. In Munich though, the things that I remember most are the beer gardens, the wasps and the Englischer Garten.

Munich is at the heart of Bavaria which is famous for its beer gardens and the traditional lederhosen costume. I was lucky to be staying with a friend, a native Münchner, who was kind enough to act as my tour guide.

I really fell in love with the beer gardens and I speak as someone who drinks very little. The point is, you don’t have to drink to enjoy the atmosphere because it’s all about getting together with friends and family. It’s no fun going to a beer garden on your own, trust me, I tried it. I have no problems dining alone in a restaurant (except if there’s a couple sitting next to you having an intimate conversation, in which case you have to go to extreme lengths to show that you’re not eavesdropping) but beer gardens are made for people to sit around happy-drunk, stuffed with wurst and pretzels, listening to a live Bavarian band. One lunchtime, I found myself eating leberkäse (German meatloaf) alone in a beer garden and the experience was rather lacking.

Radler is very nice – it’s like shandy, half lemonade half beer and deliciously cool and light. It was just the thing for a warm summer evening after a long, hard day of touristy activities. I particularly liked the Chinesische Turm in the Englischer Garten – the largest park in Munich.

It’s called the Englischer Garten, or English Garden, because of its informal layout which was popular in England back in the day. The river running through the park had a surprisingly strong current. People were not shy about getting in the water. It was nice how relaxed the attitude was towards swimming in the lakes and rivers in Germany. Communing with nature was not a strong point in my childhood – my mum would be quite horrified, to put it mildly, at the thought of swimming in unsanitized water. Lucky for me, I have long since overcome such feelings because there’s nothing like a dip in a cold lake on a hot summer’s day.

Where the river enters the park, there’s an unusual wave created by the flow of water which is ideal for surfing and in fact, people really do surf there. Yes, I know, how crazy. It was the last thing I was expecting to see. I’m still not entirely sure if it was made intentionally for surfing or if it was just an afterthought. There was a surfer-friendly area to stand and rest and one side of the bank was slightly tiered for spectators to sit. Either way, I thought it was very cool – one of the hidden gems of Munich.

The week I stayed, there was a programme of musical performances every evening at the Olympic stadium. One night, we went to see acapella performances, among them the Austrian national acapella team. I like acapella and I’m in awe of beatboxers. The sounds they can produce without instruments is incredible. It was like a fairground – there were food stalls selling wurst, beer, falafel… The night we went to see acapella, it was extremely busy owing to the firework display taking place that evening.

One thing I must say – the wasps were extremely troublesome. I got stung for the first time in Munich but it wasn’t that painful. The real pain came from the fact that I couldn’t sit down in a park and have lunch without being bothered by wasps. I think the heat made them a bit crazy for anything with moisture, both savoury and sweet. Well, I almost went crazy myself from the heat so I guess I can sympathize.

On another day, I visited Neuschwanstein Castle – the one that looks like it came straight out of a fairy-tale. It’s the real deal with fancy turrets, perched on the side of a mountain surrounded by lush green forest. The king who built it, Ludwig II, was a bit of a castle fanatic apparently. He built them out of a desire for solitude. Who knows what he would say to the crowds of tourists queueing up to see them now.

I visited two lakes to the south of Munich – Ammersee and Tegensee. They both made very pleasant day trips. My friend had already visited both previously – in fact, she’d hiked from one to another with her family one weekend. If I’d had more time, I would have liked to do some hiking too. It’s made me want to explore more of the UK, and go hiking in the countryside.

I think Munich would be a great place to live. The streets are clean, attractive and there’s a lot of green space. The Englischer Garten is beautiful. Sure, it may not be as hip and budget-friendly as Berlin but then again, you’ve got beer gardens and Oktoberfest. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to try the weißwurst and beer “breakfast” combo but I guess you should always save something for next time!

Summer trip ’15: NormandyBrittanyAachen & CologneBerlin – Munich – Prague