It started with a cheese covered giant pretzel at Munich International airport, reward for clocking off another mind-numbing, leg-aching, sleep-depriving trek across the globe. Then, if you discount a few anomalies involving fruit and yogurt and water, the remainder of my time in the Bavarian capital involved a BP diet…bread, beer, pretzels, pork.
Can there be anything wurst for the health than a Bavarian diet? In a way, as much as there is left that I could see and do, I am glad I am moving on after just a few days to, hopefully, something involving more vegetables and less pork. To be fair, you can obviously get other foods here, but I’ve been craving a German feast ever since I didn’t get one in the Barossa Valley. And the beer, on 30 degree days, under the shady trees of verdant parkland, is pretty much irresistible. Everyone seems to be at it, and my seven glasses over three days are but a drop in the ocean.
So, it was not like I was staggering around Munich in a drunken ramble. After arriving into the city, a first relaxed glass of weisbier was enough to make me amiably content in the splendour of a European summer in the Alter Botanischer Gardens. I always marvel in the trees when first arriving, the green, broad-leafed providers of cool shade that you don’t get in such a way down under. Such a simple thing, but such a delight.
Fuelled up I ambled into the Aldstadt – the old town – for the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening. This, of course, is the pedestrianised bit, full of shutters and window boxes, fountains and gargoyles, churches and cafes. So, for the place name aficionados, in kind of chronological order there was the suitably imposing Palace of Justice, the cool spray waters around the appropriately named Karlsplatz, the Michaelskirche, the double-domed Frauenkirche and the gothic fairytale towers around Marienplatz, with Neues Rathaus at its centre (and in that building’s centre, a courtyard restaurant and spot serving beer). Food and drink at the heart of the city indeed.
There seemed a bit of a Friday night feel around, even though it was Thursday – that could be the beer but I can think of no better complement for a city centre. Sunshine and people frolicking in the fountains, ice creams and beers, camera posers and classical buskers. Fruit stalls dotted around serving delicious ripe berries and stone fruits, a much better-sounding option for my own dinner than a McDonalds, Starbucks or, especially, a long thin sausage from somewhere called Esspunkt.
I ventured into and around Aldstadt the next morning, milling around the Viktualienmarkt which had all sorts of nice looking fruits and cheeses and meats and mushrooms and plants. Disconcertingly (I think), the outdoor beer garden was already fairly bustling at around 10:30. I opted for a fresh grapefruit juice, thinking that a beer would not help me up hundreds of steps to the belltower of St Peterskirche. And clear vision was helpful to soak up the 360 degree view across the city and afar to the Alps in the south.
Well, ain’t I just a saintly vision of wholesomeness, not drinking beer and going to church and all. In fact it took me until 12:20pm to be supping on a frothy lager in the middle of the giant Englischer Garden. It was hard earned, as the gardens are the size of a small English county and just as lovely and leafy. Water runs through the park, an obvious lure to Germans to strip off and plunge into a torrent or, in one spot, kind of surf, with boards and wetsuits too. The other thing the water provides is another luscious setting for another shady waterfront beer garden. This was possibly my favourite beer moment as it accompanied a lazy browse through a copy of The Times that I picked up on my flight. All rather civilised and ever so relaxing.
By contrast, an evening visit to the Hofbrauhaus was a different kind of affair. This is the most famous and hence most touristy beer hall, so busy that I didn’t even have one. There were wenches and an oompah loompah band and off course lashings of Weisswurst and Sauerkraut, but no empty tables. So instead, I returned to the site of my first beer in the Alter Botanischer Garden and engaged in something known as currywurst. Yes, it looks as good as it sounds. Basically a sausage with chips and curry sauce. I mean, is this not perfect beer garnish?
All this conviviality is well and good, but I was keen the next day to visit Dachau. This was one of the first concentration camps created by the Nazis. Sure, it doesn’t sound like a holiday kind of thing to do, but I was due some seriousness. It’s such a huge part of the world’s history and one that should not be forgotten, especially as we seem to be eternally selfish and greedy and seemingly superior in our position to immigrants and foreigners and boatpeople and anyone who might just want to get on with the same basic rights and welfare as us even though they were not born in our country. Oh, the horror, the (lack of) humanity! Anyway, due to engineering works and incomprehensible replacement bus services it was not accessible, so you’ll be spared anything too confronting.
I was disappointed, but happened to find myself near a site of great ostentation where rich people obviously got very rich and wanted to boast about it – Schloss Nymphemburg. Here sat a palace in the midst of a country park, with more rambling ornamental gardens, dense green woodland and meadows. It was rather lovely albeit all a bit identical to yesterday, without the added bonus of beer gardens.
A few stops away on the tram I did find a great ice cream place – my first ice cream in nearly 48 hours here. It was lush and left me wondering why it had been so long, but then I remembered…beer had taken its place and was much easier to come across.
The ice cream was in some inner suburb and it was nice just to soak up a few minutes in the square watching people go about their normal Saturday chores. Just off the square was a station for the U-Bahn subway which had the bonus of being operational at least. It was quite a funky ride, through a mix of stations that are either deliberately stylised retro or just plain damn retro. So, huge coloured industrial lights, 3D metallic squares, blocks of orange and brown, sleek steel railings and trundling blue train carriages took me to the height of slightly daggy 70s urban development – the Munich 1972 Olympic Park. At its heart a concrete tower provided an overlook of the stadium and rather compact parkland setting; a tower which also did its best to look like the Telstra Tower in Canberra.
More bling was the BMW display centre around the corner which calls itself BMW World but is really just a big fancy showroom with some gizmos. There are cars that people can look at to get a hardon, motorbikes for straddling, and video racing games to demonstrate just how much of an awesome person you are. For some inexplicable reason someone roams around the centre on a motorbike doing wheelies. Meanwhile, in the corner the Rolls Royce and Minis sparkle on rotating displays, expertly placed for teary-eyed Brits to lament the decline of our great country.
And so, time in Munich was coming to a close, but I couldn’t let it end on such a sour note for us Pommies could I? Turns out the same U-Bahn train stops quite close to those old Englischer Gardens (see, they love us really) and a certain shady waterfront beer garden. Here there is garnish too, like the sausage medley and potato salad and pretzel that I had. A late lunch before a rest and a later dinner of pork knuckle, washed down with another drink. This in a beer hall attached to a brewery with genuine old-fashioned serving wenches. One was even called Helga, I kid you not, and she was blonde (or peroxide covering grey I would think).
I’m sure Helga would say that it’s always good to go out with a bang, and Munich obliged. Sampling the Aldstadt at night, parts lit up like a fairytale, others dark and dingy like another Grimm fairytale, lightning streaked across the sky. The rumbling intensified and rain began to fall in huge droplets, more forks of lightning shattering down as if they were almost going to hit the towers of Marienplatz like it was 1955 and we had to get back to the year 1985 or something, but only with the help of a bit of rock and roll. People dodged the rain, sheltering under alcoves and colonnades, disappearing into subways, lingering in shops. Hard as nails beer-toting chain-smoking German bikers were suddenly shrieking like girlies. And through this all I embraced a bit of rain, cooling and refreshing and hopefully just cleansing a little bit of the BP from my body.