Since leaving NZ last year, Richard and I have had so many adventures in new countries. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to travel like we do and have been eagerly hopping to as many countries as we can. Coming up to 1 year into our journey, we’re starting to revisit countries to explore different cities. Cities have their own unique characteristics that can conform with your view of a country or totally break the mold. Probably the best part of travelling is to gain an insight into how different, and how similar, some places can be.
The first of our ‘we’re back for more’ trips was to Munich; a fun weekend involving a dash of history, a generous portion of cars and recurring incidences of delicious roast pork.
Germany is a large country in multiple ways; geographically it covers 357,000 square kilometres (about 1.5 times the size of the UK), it has a population of around 81.5 million people, and is the largest economy in Europe. Given its size and history, regional areas of Germany have different subcultures that are noticeably distinct from one another. Munich is the capital of Bavaria and is a hub of technological, financial, and cultural activity. Where Berlin was a little rough around the edges, Munich was confident and polished. Over the course of our weekend there, we saw history and tradition alongside modern architecture and technology. Both Richard and I found ourselves enjoying Munich more than Berlin. Our instincts were not unfounded; in 2015, Munich is the highest ranked city in Germany for quality of life, and ranked fourth worldwide. I think German cities lose out to more flamboyant destinations in France and Italy, but be assured that Munich is worth checking out
On arrival in Munich, we purchased day passes for the train that included our journey into the city from the airport. We had to walk quite a bit to our hotel because we got off at the wrong stop and hunger was making me quite irritable, but we soon fixed that at Viktualienmarkt. The market covers an expansive area, offering a variety of gourmet goods six days a week. We enjoyed pork knuckle and sausages inside excellent bread rolls. It started to drizzle so we hovered under the yellow awning of a honey shop to enjoy our lunch. A central seating area was completely full despite the rain. A lot of people were wearing football jerseys and scarves, most supporting the local team (Bayern Munich) who were playing that evening. It turns out that Bayern Munich is the only football team I have any interest. Unfortunately tickets are quickly taken up by local subscribers and what is left tends to be ridiculously expensive. In the end we didn’t go to the game, although I’m happy to report that Bayern Munich won 3-0 later that day.
We wandered through the market after eating and even purchased another roll! After all that meat and bread, we paid too much for some water and bought a large punnet of strawberries to share. Marionplatz and Neues Rathaus are just around the corner from the market so we ventured into the bustling tourist-filled square. Neues Rathaus is the town hall currently occupied by the local council. The front of the building faces the Marionplatz square and runs about 100 meters along. It was built in the late 19th to early 20th century and the style is most certainly gothic. Through the entrance is a small courtyard where there is a restaurant and some kind of haunted house tour type of thing. The detailed sculptures which decorate the building are what make the gothic style so attractive to me.
Our next stop was a small church built in the 18th century that is pretty astounding. Asam church is mostly off-limits; you can only stand in the entrance and look with awe at the lavish sculptures inside. The rococo technique was employed to create a marvelous array of colourful decorations on the walls, ceiling and banisters. It was really quite unlike anything I have seen so far. It only takes a few minutes to check out so I would highly recommend having a nosy.
The end of the street where Asam Church is located marks the southern border of Munich’s historical old town area. There is a gate there called Sendlinger Tor which was built some time between 1285 and 1337. The following day, we also went to see Karlstor Gate which was previously part of the city wall and used to act as a major point of defence and a checkpoint for entry into the city. Of course now, it is a significant shopping area and merely marks the point after which your wallet is in danger of being completely pillaged.
Since we were on a historical bent, we headed towards the Munich Residence. This was the palace where Bavarian royalty from the House of Wittelsbach lived. It is more a group of buildings rather than a single sprawling palace.
Inside the residence, we saw suites and state apartments which had a surprising variety of styles. Some of the earlier rooms were quite sparsely decorated while others were much more ornate and what you might expect at a palace. When I say “sparsely decorated” here, I mean in the context of a royal palace! It was more a matter of understated elegance rather than over-the-top opulence. For only €7, it is good value to see.
Fortunately, the rain had cleared over the course of the day. Blue skies were out and the sun was shining when we made our way to the garden behind the palace. Some flowers were poking through, confirming that spring has arrived. A violinist was playing in the centre of the park, providing suitably tranquil background music to the afternoon.
On Saturday evening we wandered for some time in the general direction of the Deutsch museum, taking photos and hoping to find somewhere to have dinner. We chose the wrong place to go because there were almost no restaurants there. We returned to where the Residenz is, stopping at a Mercedes shop on the way. Hunger was momentarily forgotten as Richard admired some fine vehicles on display. Afterwards we ate at a delightful restaurant which proved that Bavarian food from Bavaria is better than the Bavarian food we had in Berlin.
As we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant following roast pork round 2, we came across a group of street performers. The quartet was called Honest Talk and they performed jazzy acoustic songs. We stopped along with a growing number of people to watch. I thought they were really entertaining! There are a couple of videos of them on YouTube including one in the same location where we saw them.
On Sunday morning we ventured out into the rain to Cafe Neuhaus for breakfast. I ordered a latte which came with a straw (!) and had too much milk. The rest of our breakfast was great though, and we had a lot of bread to share. Back out in the rain, we returned to our hotel to check out and make our way to the BMW museum.
The BMW museum covers the history of the company from its foundation until today. Across the road is the BMW Welt which is a showroom for the BMW Group (including Mini and Rolls-Royce). After purchasing tickets at the BMW museum, we had 50 minutes before our tour began so we went to have a look at the Welt. A circular structure contained a futuristic display of the inspiration and technology behind BWM’s vehicles and motorbikes. The whole space felt very futuristic.
The main building of the Welt is a huge showroom with an arrange of vehicles on display. There are engines and interactive exhibitions to engage visitors in the technology behind vehicle engineering that would bore most people. I think the layout and contents of the Welt means that anyone can find something of interest there, even people who are not that interested in cars.
There is also a significant portion of space dedicated to a merchandise shop, and a whole section on the M series vehicles – Richard’s own little slice of heaven.
I was surprised to learn quite a few things during the museum tour. For instance, I wasn’t previously aware that BMW is actually from the Bavarian region, and that it’s full name is Bayerische Motoren Werke. The colours of the state of Bavaria are white and blue which is why they feature in the logo (which hasn’t changed much at all over time). The company has weathered many storms and difficult times including restrictions on manufacturing in Germany post WWII (where they made aluminium pots to stay in business!).
We happened to be visiting in the year of their centenary celebrations that included a special exhibition called ‘100 Masterpieces’. The masterpieces aren’t merely items produced by the company but also include key decisions and defining moments in the history of the company. We were able to see numerous classic vehicles, some made for mass production and others that never made it onto the mainstream market. We also got a look at the i8 concept car and other future-thinking ideas.
I was particularly charmed by the iconic Isetta. The BMW version of this adorable car first appeared in April 1955 and quickly became the most popular single-cylinder vehicle in the world. It looks utterly ridiculous to us now but at the time of release, it opened up a whole new world of travel opportunities for everyday people and their families; suddenly there was an affordable vehicle which could take you for a weekend away.
Half of the museum is housed on a ‘bowl’ building with a winding ramp which is meant to representing a race track. This was one of the main features that created a great atmosphere in the museum. BMW obviously has a lot of pride (and resources) invested in their racing activities. Both motorbikes and vehicles were given the spotlight across the various exhibitions. I found the museum to be interesting and effective at portraying the evident pride Munich, and Germany, have in this brand. When you visit a place like this with five floors of displays and interactive exhibits, it’s hard not to feel a sense of respect for the brand. Both Richard and I are fond of BMW vehicles so I suppose we weren’t in need to converting! Even so, I would recommend it to anyone. We ended up spending most of the day there and at mid afternoon, finally stopped for cake at the museum cafe (the kitchen was already closed so no lunch for us).
One of the observations we made during our weekend was the very trusting public transport system. Tickets are purchased at machines located in all train stations (at least all the stations we went to) and then you hop onto a train. There is no ‘tap on, tap off’ system (I still catch myself saying ‘tag on, tag off’!) or gates to bar entry should you not have a ticket. We have been to other cities with this kind of system but those places usually had people on board the trains checking tickets. Not once did we ever see anyone on board trains checking tickets. Despite this, people lined up at the machines to purchase their tickets and I would like to think the system generally works.
The other thing to note about Munich is that everyone makes reservations so it can be worthwhile making your own if you have specific places you want to eat. Every restaurant and cafe we went to asked if we had a reservation and when we didn’t, we were provided a table for an hour or so before the people who reserved it were due to arrive. Amazingly, this included the breakfast cafe. Coming from Auckland and London where restaurants are increasingly moving towards no-reservation policies, it was nice to see a place that appreciates forward planning!
And just like that, the weekend was over. We made our way to the airport where we had a sandwich before heading back to London. We have been told that Berlin is the fun part of Germany with its growing hipster population and rising cultural scene, but I found Munich to be more agreeable (perhaps because I’m not a hipster!). Munich felt more prosperous, family-oriented and more organised. In some ways, it seemed like the stereotypical German city with its public transport that just works and the clean streets. Far from being stereotypically bland and stern however, the people we came across in Munich were mostly warm and friendly. I have a mental list of places that I would like to return to if I can and Munich has made it onto that list.