I’ve never said no to any travel opportunity, and my trip to Munich was no exception. When a friend, Kofo (whom, incidentally, I had met on a coach to the airport), asked me if I wanted to take a city break to Munich, I had to say yes. I’ve read that Danny Wallace book Yes Man, and though I definitely shouldn’t, I take it as sage life advice.
Admittedly, I hesitated slightly as I have technically been to Munich before, but I didn’t get to see a lot of the city as we were only in Bavaria to visit Neuschwanstein castle. I figured since I hadn’t had a proper look around Munich itself, the money we spent on flights and hotels was justified. So, we booked, even though our purses begged us not to.
Kofo and I are so alike, we own the same coat, albeit in different colours.
Soon, we’d be on our way to Gatwick at 2 in the morning, with only conversation and crisps to keep me awake on the drive. My dad always makes those early airport drives look so easy – but I guess it’s part of the price you pay, when you’re a travel cheapskate!
We landed in Munich about 10AM German time, and were faced with one of the most confusing airports in history. The e-passport gate and I had a fight, even though we’re usually pretty good friends. Then once we’d been allowed to enter Germany, Kofo and I couldn’t find the bus into town, so we had to use this weird, futuristic Skype thing to talk to a member of airport staff – rather than just talking to them in person. Not great when the pair of you hate phoning people. Why, just why?
By now severely flagging and whacked from our journey, we arrived at the hotel, looking like two exhausted ragamuffins. Three hours too early to check in, we jumped for joy when the nice man at the desk told us our room was ready. “You’ve saved us!” we cheered, as he and his colleagues laughed at us. We didn’t care. Up to the room we went for a quick nap, and a shower in the world’s smallest bathroom.
So small, this was the best picture I could get. Even here I’ve crammed myself into the corner. A dodgy poo would have stunk the whole room out!
The day you arrive, on any trip, is a great opportunity to get your bearings, find out about your local area, and stock up on food. So that’s exactly what we did, but in a rather ambling manner because we stopped to take photographs every 2 seconds. The hotel was close to the Hauptbahnhof, and the area was really diverse, so we scoped out the Turkish grocery store, Persian wedding shop, and Venezuelan restaurant on our street.
I’ve heard Persian weddings are nuts… but are they as mad as Pakistani ones?
From here, we headed for Karlsplatz. Here marks the start of Munich old town, and it’s guarded by a reconstruction of a medieval gate, which once formed part of the city wall. Funnily enough, nobody calls it Karlsplatz, because it was named after an unpopular Bavarian politician. Instead, the locals call it ‘Stachus’, after a beloved pub that used to sit here. Now that’s more like it.
From here, you go straight down a main shopping street, which will take you all the way to Marienplatz – the heart of the city.
This scene is oh-so-German… save for the Urban Outfitters spoiling the vibe.
The centrepiece of Marienplatz is the gothic Rathaus (town hall), built in the 19th century. It’s a really imposing building, and befits the grandeur of the city. However, on a drizzly day like this one, it did look a bit miserable. It was also the scene of a dark part of the city’s history – Hitler’s 1923 ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ took part here. That attempted coup failed, and put Hitler in prison, but his jail stint gave him time to write Mein Kampf… and the rest, sadly, is history.
Every day at 11AM and 12PM, the clockwork figurines in the green display do a little routine. It’s a very German thing, and we were sorry to miss it (because we are slow in the mornings)!
Munich’s old city is also home to a number of churches, all from different eras, and all very different. There’s the imposing Frauenkirche, the ancient Peterskirche, and the pretty St. Michael’s (which happens to be next door to that Urban Outfitters). But by far the most beautiful is the Asamkirche – well, chapel. It was built by two arty AF brothers (one was a painter, one was a sculptor), with a lot of cash to splash, as their private chapel. Unusual for its age, it was a non-denominational church… not Protestant, not Catholic, just ‘general Christian’. It must have caused quite the controversy at the time it was built, what with Germany’s deep-seated religious divides and all that.
Tucked away from the other churches, you could almost miss the Asamkirche…
… but once you’re inside, you’ll never forget it.
The place is literally DRIPPING in gold. These guys took bling to the next level.
Gold skeleton attacking a cherub, with gilt-framed lopsided picture hanging above? These bros definitely had expensive, eccentric tastes.
Shuffling, minds blown, out of the church, we decided to grab some food. We headed for an Italian restaurant round the corner from Marienplatz, based on the fact it didn’t look at all touristy. That’s because it wasn’t – only German families, a cute policeman, and maybe a couple of Italians seemed to be eating there. Our waiter took a liking to wonderfully friendly Kofo (she’ll deny it, but I say he was flirting), and I got to practice my Italian while eating some pasta, so I’d say the restaurant was a serendipitous find. It’s called im Tal, if anybody wants to go and say hi to John/Giovanni for us.
Plus, tiramisu. Mmmmmm.
Sated by Italian food, we rolled on back to the hotel for a girly night – complete with face masks, hair turbans, and German telly for entertainment. We had to get our beauty sleep, because the next day we’d have to get up really early to visit Neuschwanstein – or, as Kofo and I now call it, ‘Disney Castle’. Because it just is the Disney castle. But even better, because it’s real. Anyway, that day warrants a blog by itself.
After returning from our long excursion out of the city, we decided to eat at the funky Venezuelan restaurant on our street.
It had a very cool ‘industrial hipster’ vibe, and promised veggie food, so we thought we’d try and be trendy youths and go inside. Plus, it wasn’t too expensive, so we had nothing to lose.
Our German is pretty much non-existent, but I gave mine a go. The surly, definitely-not-Venezuelan waiter was not impressed by it, nor was he impressed by Kofo asking what the hell any of the stuff on the menu was. It’s quite good, in a way – at least you know they’re not giving you fake customer service!
But he couldn’t kill our vibe. The music they played in Prygoshin was the same playlist my Venezuelan gym instructor puts on in class, and it’s full of Latin bops that make me want to dance, so I proceeded to embarrass Kofo by dancing in my seat until our din dins arrived.
This was… some kind of meaty rice dish, served with plantain, which was a bit unripe. But, to be fair, Mr. Surly had told us that beforehand, so we can’t complain.
The cheese empanada I had was good, but did come with a weirdly spicy (unripe) plantain dip. I also ordered cassava fries, which were a bit too powdery for me. I’d been craving chips all day, so these made me long for proper deep-fried potatoes even more.
For our last day in Munich, I think the fairy godmother of food must have been looking down on us. We were blessed with good luck the entire day. Heading to the breakfast buffet at 08:30, we had resigned ourselves to paying the 12 Euros each for a standard fare continental breakfast buffet, intending to stuff our faces until breaking point to make the money even partly worthwhile. But nobody was there to greet us, and none of the hotel staff were anywhere to be seen… so we sat down. And ate. Fo free. Travel cheapskates 4 lyf.
Not-exactly-paid-for brekky had perked us up for the day, so we hopped on the U-bahn to Odeonsplatz. We didn’t read any information about it before going, so had no idea what we were looking at, aside from ‘big yellow church to the right, weird Romanesque thing in the middle, and palace on the left’.
Big yellow church is the Theatinerkirche, a grand Italianate church built in the 1600s.
Weird Romanesque thing is the Feldherrnhalle, a loggia modelled after one in Florence. Sadly I am standing in the way of the main statue, commemorating the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war… which for some inexplicable reason, I featured heavily in my dissertation.
Now, the Franco-Prussian war is a fairly dull war in terms of excitement and political intrigue, but it’s an important one. I won’t bore you with the details, but it led to the unification of Germany. The statue at the Feldherrnhalle commemorates this. Then, Hitler’s aforementioned 1923 coup was supposed to march on the Feldherrnhalle, but the Nazis got embroiled in a gun battle with the police, and 16 Nazis were killed (good). After Hitler took power in 1933, the Feldherrnhalle became strangely sacred to the Nazis, who presumably viewed it as a site where those killed in the gun battle had been martyred. Passersby were supposed to hail the monument with the Nazi salute, but a small alleyway just behind it allowed objectors to walk past it without doing the salute. Take THAT, Nazis!
On the left of the Odeonsplatz is the gardens of the Residenz palace, which were in bloom at this time of year. It felt as if we’d walked into a peaceful Parisian garden, as we strolled under the pavilion to the sound of violins, our path lined with pansies.
If you keep going, it takes you to the Bavarian State Chancellery (which vaguely resembles the Reichstag in Berlin, a mix of neoclassical stonework and shiny new glass).
From Paris, to England. Munich is famous for its ‘Englischer Garten’, one of the world’s biggest parks. It’s called the English Garden, because apparently we’re known for our gardening skillz. Unlike other countries, the English style tends to be more based on nature, rather than symmetry. I suppose that’s what makes it good for large-scale parks – the environment feels more natural, so people can play about and explore the gardens more comfortably. It also allows room for greater variety. I don’t really know, but Alan Titchmarsh probably would.
The Englischer Garten was the only thing I’d seen in Munich before, and it is lovely, but it is basically just a big old park. Kofo and I had planned to hire bikes and cycle round it, but to our dismay the bike hire place was closed, rather scuppering our plans. Never mind – we still saw the Eisbach stream with some adorable geese babies (what are they called? Geeselings?) in it, some nice flowers, and even a bit of the Berlin Wall. So not a wasted trek, by any stretch of the imagination.
Not sure how this got here from Berlin, but it’s important and very cool to see.
By now, though, we were getting hangry. Time for more food – but not German food. At least, not German savoury food. I’m vegetarian and I hate cabbage, so that pretty much puts all Deutsche dishes out of my reach. I’m sorry. I’ll try harder to like it next time, promise.
Thankfully, Germany is quite similar to the UK in that we recognise our food is terrible, so we’re open to other cultures bringing their tasty goodies in. We decided on Japanese food in the end, as it’s *vaguely* healthy, filling, and veggie-friendly. Plus, Kofo had never tried ramen, and there’s a first time for everything.
Bellies full, we crossed the Marienplatz again to go up the Rathaus tower. Thankfully, there were no stairs to conquer – you just have to change lifts a couple of times, and you’re at the best viewpoint in the city. You can see all Munich, from the city centre, to the Olympiapark, the BMW district, and even the snow-capped Alps in the distance. It was truly a sight to behold.
On the left, St. Peter’s church. On the right, Frauenkirche. Very different architecture, but same religion, same city.
Coquettishly pretending I’m not low-key afraid of heights, and wasn’t clinging to the bars because I felt a bit shaky…
I needed alcohol after my terrifying experience at the top (I exaggerate, I’m just a wimp). A colleague had recommended the Hofbrauhaus, and though I explained that neither me nor Kofo liked beer, he insisted it was still worth the visit, so off we went. I thought the Bavarian beer purity laws might mean that the beer might taste better here than the rubbish we have at home. How wrong I was.
To be fair, for a glorified pub, it is very beautiful. And famous… so why not. We went in.
We went about 4pm, and it was very quiet and chilled. Not many tourists at all at that time – mostly Germans having an afternoon brew. And no, I don’t mean tea, but that would have been good at that time…
The menu is very expansive, and there’s a lot of beer on offer, as you’d expect.
Despite it being a beer hall, Kofo finally satisfied her craving for warm apple strudel.
Neither of us could manage a litre of beer (that’s about 2 pints in one go! We’re only little!), so I opted for the only 500ml one they served. Kofo went a step further and ordered a non-alcoholic beer. In a way, it’s awesome they serve it, because it means my Muslim and non-drinking pals can revel in the traditional, chilled atmosphere of a Bavarian beer hall without feeling like they stick out too much.
Here goes nothing…
It’s just a shame it tastes like shite. My brother, Ross, had once compared non-alcoholic beer to “liquefied bread”. If only Kofo’s bevvy had tasted that nice. It was bitter and it did NOT go down easily. Mine was still gross to me because I dislike beer intensely, but it was a bit better, plus I had the benefit of the boozy buzz at the end of it. But you know what? The Hofbrauhaus was an experience, and an enjoyable place to just be.
I think you had to be there to appreciate how we felt about the beer, but here’s the exact moment I rediscovered my distaste for beer.
After sending my German aunt some slightly beer-induced greetings, it was time for a long walk to burn off the beer. I’d spotted the Maximilianeum, a palatial building at the end of a long boulevard, earlier on in the day, and thought it might be worth a look. We strolled along Maximilianstrasse, a fancy shopping street named after Maximilian II of Bavaria. In search of a dress I saw in an advert and fell in love with, we dared to pop into Louis Vuitton. Felt judged (and broke). Walked out again. It’s probably for the best – it cost £3,500. But I did buy something nice in Zara for £50, so who’s laughing now?
Capitalism. Capitalism is laughing now. I still lost money.
After crossing the river Isar (which is insanely clean as Munich isn’t far from the mountains), we reached the Maximilianeum, and it was indeed beautiful. It was built as a sort of free university college for extremely gifted (but poor) students, and remains home to seriously clever people today. But, selfishly, I was sad we couldn’t go inside. My university was a castle and we had no security – any old fart/castle fan could walk in! Damn you German efficiency!
Satisfied that we’d seen everything on our Munich list, we traipsed home – an even longer walk, as the Maximilianeum is pretty much as far away from the Hauptbahnhof as your feet will carry you. There was only one thing left to do – grab a final dinner in the city, before our early departure.
The Persian restaurant literally next to the hotel seemed like a good bet, plus I’d not tried Persian food before. It looked rather unassuming from the outside, but when we descended the stairs adorned with pictures of Persian celebrities and movie stars, a hidden gem gleamed back at us. The restaurant – Pars, I think it was called – was beautifully decorated, completely decked out in Islamic-style lamps, gorgeous tiling, Persian carpets, and a fountain filled with fresh flowers.
Damn blurry photo doesn’t do it justice, but the owners had put real care into the decor. The trickling fountain helped create ambience, and the fresh flowers were the icing on the watery cake.
We sat down in our lovely booth, and poured over the menu. It was extremely reasonably priced, and I wanted to eat ALL. OF. IT.
The menu was only in German, but Kofo has this clever app on her phone that reads foreign languages and translates them into English. Technology is marvellous, but I still wanted to take a stab at German, because I’m old fashioned and stubborn like that.
As we munched on the free olives, peppers and bread, we worked out what to order. Kofo ordered mirza ghassemi, which is like an eggy and auberginey dip. I went for a gheimeh bademjan, which is an aubergine, tomato and yellow split pea stew. Topped with chips. Because the Persians, as well as possessing one of the most powerful empires in history, are CULINARY GENIUSES.
My dreams of chips finally came true. But somehow, the food was even better than my wildest dreams.
So, I guess Persian food is my new favourite. I’ll be trawling Tripadvisor to find good, local Persian places for the next few weeks.
Though we had eaten so much we might explode, there’s always room for a tea, so we opted for the ‘Persian tea’. As far as I can tell, it’s similar to Turkish tea, but it was still a stimulating end to the meal, the day, and our time in Munich.
For a travelling soul, Munich is a great place for a city break. There’s a lot of youthful energy, much to see and do, a range of peoples, and excellent transport links. If history is what you’re into, then Munich has plenty of it – but make sure to read up on it before you go, don’t be dumb like us, because there’s a lot more to this place than meets the eye.
And there’s lots of good food. Don’t forget to eat your way around the city. You won’t regret it… but perhaps your waistline will. Auf wiedersehen, München!