by Sandy Lai
Bavaria is synonymous with the Alps, beer and a traditional way of life. It was its own kingdom until 1818, and the people are very proud to be Bavarian. Munich, the capital of this state, is no less different. Proudly mixing the old with the new, it is sophisticated, and yet provincial. Traditional outfits are not just for special occasions: some locals, young and old, wear them as normal. The atmosphere here is definitely different from cities in other parts of Germany, like Berlin. The “live and let live” attitude of the people is infectious…or maybe that has to do with the beer. Though beer plays a very big role in their culture, there are other activities too. Besides sightseeing, you can get naked in a park or even go surfing!
Mention München (sorry, I couldn’t resist), and most people immediately think of Oktoberfest. This started as a wedding celebration of a Bavarian prince in 1810, and has now exploded with more than six million celebrants a year. Want more numbers? How about over seven million litres of beer, 200 000 pork sausages, and 100 spit-roasted oxen consumed over the course of 16 days? The beer is even specially brewed for the festival with a higher alcohol and sugar content. Epic is one word to describe it…hangover may be another! Of course, there are other things to do besides drinking. Want to see someone beheaded? Watch the Beim Schichtl cabaret. Or perhaps the rides are more to your liking. Just make sure you don’t end up doing the “vomit comet”.
If you miss Oktoberfest, there’s no need to despair. Head on over to the Hofbräuhaus, the world-famous traditional beer hall. Gone are the days when women were not allowed and men had to pee on the floor because there were no washrooms. Now it’s the perfect place to experience Munich’s Gemütlichkeit (“cosiness”) and make some new friends. If it’s too touristy, drink at Franziskaner Fuchsenstuben instead for the best Weißwürste (veal sausages) with your beer. And of course, there are plenty of beer gardens if you prefer the outdoors.
Assuming you want to see things in between beers, there are plenty of landmarks in the old city center. The highlights are: Neues Rathaus (New City Hall) with its Glockenspiel. St Peterskirche, which has a better view than city hall, Frauenkirche, the twin domed church, which is a symbol of the city and Residenz, the palace that housed Bavarian rulers for over five centuries with its incredible interiors. Another thing to look out for are the city’s war memorials. Unlike those in most cities, the memorials here tend to be nondescript. For example, Hitler was arrested on the steps of the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshals’ Hall), which landed him in prison where he started writing Mein Kampf. Later, he would declare that anyone passing the building must salute. Those who did not want to, would “shirk” from this by using an alley behind it. Gestapo eventually caught on and arrested people on the other side. Now, the history of “Shirkers Alley” is represented by patches of gold on the ground, denoting footsteps in, but not out.
Beyond sightseeing, grab some grub from Viktualienmarkt and have a picnic. Parks are “clothing optional” and it’s not unusual to see people suntanning on nice days. For something a little more active, you could always go surfing. Wait, isn’t Munich landlocked? A small man-made river (the Eisbach) is a tributary of the Isar river and runs through Englischer Garten. By the bridge, it has a perpetual swell, and surfers take turns to ride it out. There’s no beach, but you never have to wait for a good wave.
Perhaps I’m just a huge nerd, but my favourite place in Munich is the Deutches Museum. Munich boasts numerous museums (the Pinakothek art museums are amazing), but nothing compares to the world’s largest science and technology museum. Deutches Museum is six massive floors of awesome. Unlike most other science museums, its interactive exhibitions are not just for children, but adults can get very hands-on too.
While there is no shortage of things to do here, it would be a shame to not explore more of Bavaria. With a Bayern Ticket, up to five adults have unlimited travel on one ticket throughout Bavaria for a day. Here are some suggestions of day trips to use with your ticket:
Schloss Neuschwanstein: Are we at Disneyland? Nope, but the castle was modelled after this one. King Ludwig II’s fairytale castle sits atop a rocky precipice near Füssen. Although the interior was never finished, the parts that are completed present a veritable fantasy land. The king was a huge fan of Wagner, and this is quite evident in the décor. You must join a tour to see the inside. In high season, be prepared to wait in line as if you were lining up for Space Mountain.
Oberammergau: This storybook town’s buildings are covered in frescoes, be they religious, fairytale-themed or otherwise. Its other highlight is the Passionstheater, built specifically for the Passion Play performed every 10 years. Since 1634, the six hour production has been performed by town citizens every decade. Though its population is only 5700, roughly 1800 citizens work on the play for an entire year, meaning they have to stop working for that time. Unfortunately, the last play was in 2010 so it’ll be a long wait until the next, but it is still fascinating to tour the theatre and look at its sets and over 1500 costumes.
Mittenwald: This is another storybook town that has been frozen in time. This small city is known far and wide for its master violin makers. Mittenwald also has gorgeous frescoes, but the real draw is the Karwendel mountain. The gondola ride is pricey, but it is better than doing the steep 6500 ft climb. You can also jump back and forth between Germany and Austria since they share the top!