Germany – Munich

On Tuesday April 7th I arrived by train to Munich, Germany. I really didn’t know much about Germans (other than they eat a lot of sausages and drink big beers) or much about Munich either (other than the ’72 Olympics and it was pretty much the home to the Nazis). I was still very excited to make my first trip to Germany though. I decided to stick to the southern part of Germany (Bavaria) on my trip and not go north and to places such as Berlin. Everyone I have talked to who has done both cities has said Munich is way better then Berlin, and from what I experienced in Munich and have continued to hear about Berlin, it was a great choice on my part.

I got off my train at about 7pm, easily found my hostel that was only one block from the station and checked-in. When I got up to my room to drop my stuff off, there was one other guy in it that was just arriving also. I started talking with him, and it turned out that he was from Iowa (Cedar Rapids, Lin-Mar HS) and went to the U of Iowa. Totally random. Turns out, his name is Eric, he is 29 I believe, graduated from Iowa 7 years ago with a double major in Economics and German, and is now working for a company somewhere in northern Germany. He was in Austria the day before on business and took a couple vacation days on his way back to spend some time in Munich.

He asked if I had any plans that night, and I just said I probably would just do my usual first night exploration of the city. He had been to Munich before and asked if I wanted to go with him to find a beer garden (it was a perfect night out) to sit in and have dinner and a couple brews. I decided to join him and we walked about 10 minutes to get to the city center. We went to the Augustiner Braustuben restaurant; I think it is like Munich’s second most popular beer hall. He picked this one because he said that the Hofbrauhaus (I’ll get to it later) was too touristy and this one would be more of a locals place.

We got a table in the beer garden and shared it with a nice German couple. Throughout our evening Eric kept speaking to them in German, and apologizing for leaving me out, but it was interesting to listen to them even though I had no idea what they were saying. Right when we sat down, Eric told me to order whatever I wanted and that he was paying for it. I was reluctant to accept at first, but I will take my free meals when I can get them, and he had said that when he was a student a guy did the same thing for him when he was traveling in Europe and he wanted to sort of return the favor. I guess a pay-it-forward type situation. I ended up just having him order me a real traditional German dish and his favorite German beer. In Germany you drink beer by the Mass (1 liter) and this night we had a few Augustiner Wheat beers. Besides maybe the Guinness at the top of the Guinness Brewery, this is the best beer I have ever had. For my meal, I have no idea what it was called, but it was marvelous. It was some sort of shell noodles and sausages and other meats and just absolutely delicious. The best dish I have had since being in Europe, combined with an amazing beer, good conversation, and to top it off it was all free thanks to Eric. Great start to Munich.

After dinner we walked around the city center for a little bit and found another place to sit outside and have a beer. After that we then called it a night and headed back to the hostel. But our night wasn’t exactly over; we decided to go down to the hostel basement, which had an actually really nice bar. Since I booked my room on hostelworld.com I received a wristband that gave me 24/7 happy hour at this bar, so we went and had a few drinks in the bar to finish the night/early morning. We also talked & drank for a while to two girls from Belarus. They really didn’t know much English, but it was fun listening to them try and hear about where they are from, and they may or may not have been very interested in me…

The next morning, I got up and had my free hostel breakfast and decided what to do for the day. Eric was going to the BMW museum and asked if I wanted to go too. I was very close to joining him, but instead I opted to go on a free walking tour of the city. There is a company that puts on English speaking tours all over Europe, and I hadn’t done one yet, but had wanted to, and I figured Munich would be a good place to go on one and learn about its history. I have always been very interested in Nazi Germany. The guide’s just work on a tips only basis, but also do other tours the company has that cost money and they get paid for, such as one to Dachau, a 3rd Riech tour, and a beer challenge; two of which I would go on later.

I got to the meeting point at the Marienplatz (very center of the city) for the 11am tour. There were probably about 60 people there, and we got divided up into groups of about 15 between the 4 guides. My guide was from Dallas, Texas, and actually sounded exactly like, as well as sort of resembled, Jonah Hill (fat kid from Superbad).

Oh and on my train ride to Munich, I sat by 3 girls from Vancourver, who I’m acted like they worshipped shows like Laguna Beach/The Hills and Chelsea Lately. Total bimbo, airhead blonds. One was even reading one of Chelsea Handler’s books. I talked with them for a while on the train ride, but the reason I bring this up is because they just happened to be in my same tour group. Even though they were a little annoying, it was good to have some people to talk to. Also we kept getting our tour guide to do Jonah Hill impressions, which he was really good at.

The walking tour lasted about 3 hours, and the guide was great. He had a vast knowledge of the city and was very interesting to listen to. Some of the bigger highlights of it were the Glockenspiel (church bell and mechanical performance like in Prague, but much better) at Neues Rathaus, St. Michael’s Cathedral (I believe this is where Pope Benedict got his start), Peterskirche, the Viktualienmarkt (huge open air food market selling everything you could want), the Hofbrauhaus (#1 beer hall in the world), Residenz and a museum’s front steps where Hitler gave all his big speeches in Munich.

A good thing about the tour too was that he showed us stuff I would have never seen or noticed if I hadn’t gone on it. Munich, unlike Berlin, is really still struggling with dealing with their past and coming to terms with what happened. Places like Berlin have huge statues and monuments commemorating events, both bad and good, but not Munich. Their way is to put plaques in totally out of the way places that you would never notice. One was on a wall of a random building and another was on the ground in some random square. The guide would tell us the stories behind the plaques and what great things these people did to earn them, but Munich is just still having a hard time dealing with what happened in during the World Wars and this is the way they still do things.

Munich was basically the starting point and home base of Hitler and the Nazis, and another interesting place we stopped on was the exact spot where in 1923 when Hitler was leading an up-rising and starting the Nazi party, he was shot at multiple times, but his body guard covered him up and took 11 bullets for him. Oh how the World would be different today if one of the bullets would have found its mark.

Towards the end of the tour, the guide took a few minutes to do what was basically a company promotion of the Dachau tours. I had thought about going, but it was kind of on the bottom of my list of things to do in Munich. I have very rarely ever heard someone talk about something so passionately though, or else he is just one hell of a salesman. He made it seem as though there is absolutely no way you can come this close to Dachau and now actually go see it. His speech he gave about it was so moving, you would have thought his grandparents had been prisoners, but he was actually just a young guy from Texas. But basically he totally convinced me and I put it into my schedule for the following day.

After the tour I had planned on meeting up with Eric, but I was running late and when I got there he had already left. We had talked about going to the Englicher Garten (a huge park to the northeast of the city center) so I just decided I would go there anyway and maybe I would run into him. The park is massive, but just so happens right as I was getting to it he was approaching me from the opposite way, pretty lucky. We then went into the Englicher Garten together.

Right at the beginning of it, I witnessed one of the coolest and most unexpected things I have ever seen. It is sort of hard to explain in writing, but basically there was a group of about 10 dudes surfing on the small river/canal that runs through the park. We were walking on the street at the south end of the park, and all of the sudden there was a big crowd watching something, the surfers. The water comes out from under the street we were standing on and there is something that creates a very turbulent rapid where the guys can jump from the shore onto their boards and ride it back and forth and what not on the same part of the canal for usually around 30 seconds. And when they fell they would get washed down the canal a little ways and stand up (it was only a few feet deep, and about 20 feet across) and climb out the side and come back to get in line to do it again. We stood and watched this, and took some pics and videos, and then continued on our way into the park. Urban surfing = Very cool.

The park had loads of people enjoying the nice weather, having picnics, playing football, and of course lots of drinking. In the middle of the park is one of the most popular beer gardens, the Chinesicher Turm (Chinese Tower). Situated around a Chinese Tower, obviously (which also had a traditional Bavarian brass band playing) was the beer garden with loads of tables, most of which were packed full of people. We found a spot and enjoyed a beer and some conversation with some Germans sitting next to us. We then headed back to the hostel to change and get ready for our activity we had planned that night.

At 6pm we went to the train station to the meeting point for the Munich Beer Challenge (ran by the same group as my free tour). This was like 10 euros to do, and basically it was a guided tour around the different beer gardens and halls of Munich, and you also got two free beers and a shot of Jaeger along the way. The first beer was bought for us at the train station, which we drank on the metro ride to the city center and walking through the streets to the first location (taking full advantage of Europe’s lack of open container laws).

Our first stop was at the Hofbrauhaus. This is Munich’s largest, and most famous (as well as probably the most famous in the World) beer hall/garden. It is pretty touristy, but there are still a lot of committed locals. And by that I mean that if someone goes to the Hofbrauhaus on a regular basis for 10 years, they get their own reserved place and also a storage locker for their drinking mug. We luckily found a table for all of us (I think there were about 12) and ordered a round. The guide was a girl from Toronto, and throughout the night, especially here, she was teaching us all sorts of things about the history of Munich and beer, the origins of Prost (cheers), drinking songs and just random knowledge nuggets. She also occasionally worked as a pretzel girl at the Hofbrauhaus too. The Hofbrauhaus was just an tremendous place though and a really good atmosphere; cool traditional music being played by a band, everyone merrily singing and Prosting, ladies dressed all up in the German skirts, stockings, cleavage, ponytails carrying around 10 liters of beer at once or a basket of pretzels.

After a couple drinks and a giant pretzel at the Hofbrauhaus, we moved on to a different beer garden, then to another, then to a beer hall, and then to a bar. I think we made it to five total drinking establishments. At the final stop is where the beer challenge part of the night came in. The guide had told us at the beginning of the night that whoever had exhibited the Munich spirit the best (singing, prosting, and just generally being the life of the party) and was having the most fun would be picked as the beer challenge champion and receive a voucher for a free tour to any of the company’s tours all across Europe. I had really wanted to go on the Dachau tour the following day, and so I tried my hardest to make it a free tour.

At the end of the night she said that there were two winners, but to decide who would get the free voucher they would have a beer challenge show down. She ended up picking me, and then an American girl too. I was thinking I had it won for sure, because it would make since that a beer challenge would come down to a chugging contest or something. But no, she instead decided to put our listening skills to the test. She asked us about 10 questions from different things she had told us about Munich/beer/Hofbrauhaus/drinking throughout the night. We were both equally drunk and equally terrible at answering the questions, but turns out I was a little less worse and won it. The final question was to have us sing the German’s famous Prosting song we had learned and recited throughout the night, and I ended up singing it a little better to take the title. After a little longer at the final bar, I started to head back to the hostel. I got a little lost on my way back and I seriously thought I was in the movie Beerfest and was about to find the hidden location of the beerfest. I swear I was really close. I also vaguely remember trying to convince a couple bouncers at an alley entrance to a club that my father owned the place and they better let me in or else.. But I eventually found my hostel.

The next morning, Thursday, I used my free voucher to go on the tour of Dachau. ———-Separate Post about this to come. Erik also left this morning to head back to work. We’re now facebook friends and he said to make sure to look let him know if I was ever back in Germany. This was originally planned to be my last day in Munich, but there was so many more thing I wanted to do, so before check out I booked two more nights in my hostel.

While on my walking tour the previous day, I very randomly ran (walked) into two Americans who are studying at Swansea from ISU. Steve and Katie, who were also staying at Cinque Terre with me, were on a bike tour at the same time and we just by chance crossed paths. We had no idea we were both in Munich at this time. So after I got back from my tour of Dachau I called them up and we planned to meet at the Hofbrauhaus for dinner and drinks at 8.

I had a couple hours to kill before I was supposed to meet them, so I headed to the city center to have a look around. I watched another Glockenspiel at the Neues Rathaus, and then decided to climb up the Peterskirche tower (St. Peter’s Cathedral). After about 300 steps I was at the top and had an amazing 360-degree view of Munich. You can see pretty much all of the city from it and I had no idea how cool it would be to see from that height. I stayed up there for quite awhile and took a seat to watch the sunset. I then realize no one else had been up there for a while and as I headed down the door was locked from the outside and it had been closed for about 30 minutes. Oops.

I then headed to the Hofbrauhaus to meet Steve and Katie for dinner. It took a little bit of search time, but we found ourselves a table and took a seat. I had a really good meal here of I believe it was called a Pork’s Knuckle, served with dumplings, gravy and a Mass of wheat beer. This was another absolutely delicious meal. We had a good time sitting and talking for a while about our travels so far; where we had been, what we had done, our favorite things and what not. I then called it a night and headed back to my hostel.

On Friday I got up very early and took an hour and a half train ride to Salzburg, Austria for the day. -I’ll post a separate entry about this as well. I got back late that evening and spent the rest of the night planning out most of the rest of my trip (booking hostels, deciding on train times), and talking with the people in my hostel (Aussies, Canadians, Norwegians and a Scotsman). The guy from Scotland was indefinitely traveling Europe and had a very simple plan. He would travel for as long as he could on the money he had, and once he ran out, he would play his accordion. Yes, he carried a gigantic accordion all over Europe with him. I even convinced him to let me try it out.

On Saturday I took an early train to Fussen, Germany. From there I got on a bus to go see Germany’s two most famous castles; the fairy tale book Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwanga. -Once again, I will post a separate entry about this day trip. That night I arrived back in Munich with just enough time to go collect my stuff from the hostel, grab a bite to eat (CurryWurst – Brat cut up into pieces covered in a ketchup like sauce and curry powder) and a couple post cards and jump on my next train to Switzerland. This also happened to be the Saturday night before Easter. When I was getting to the train station it was absolutely hectic inside and around it. There were at least a couple hundred police/national guard/military/riot control officers in formation around the station and in it. I had asked someone what was going on, and I couldn’t understand them very well, but it was something about how it was the night before Easter and Munich is a huge Catholic city, and so it is flooded with people on Easter. And not just Catholics, people looking to fight or protest them too, so that is the reason for the officers I suppose.

I kept a journal along my travels to not forget things, but so as I am writing this I am done with my backpacking trip and so I can officially say that Munich is my favorite place I have been in Europe. For some reason I have always had a negative disposition towards Germans and a general dislike for them (possibly the whole World Wars thing), but turns out they are remarkable people. All of the ones I ran into, conversed with, got served by were just very helpful, happy, funny and just had a general positive outlook on life it seemed like. And for Munich itself, while I was excited to go there, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot and it ended up blowing me away. I had known how the city had basically been blown to the ground during WWII and subsequently had to be completely rebuilt, but it was still an amazing looking city. This is also where I had the best food and drinks of my trip. Between the meals I talked about or just a brat from a street vendor, everything was delicious. I highly recommend Munich and I vow to return someday. Good stuff.

Posts to come soon about Dachau, Salzburg, Castles, and then the rest of my trip (Switzerland, South France, Barcelona).

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