Backpacking through Europe: Munich

When we first began this journey more than four weeks ago, I felt like the days were long and every place we visited was for just the right amount of time. By the time we arrived in Austria, I had occasional moments of homesickness but still woke every morning grateful to be here. Ten days ago we arrived in Munich, Germany and within one day, some of that changed. I'm of course still grateful for this experience, but I'm no longer homesick, because Germany felt like a place I could easily call home. And no amount of time could be quite enough. In only six days, we traveled to three different German cities, each very different from the last, and the days, though longer in daylight, were no longer quite long enough. 

We spent two full days in Munich, and easily could have spent a third or fourth (or forever!). The city is not only enormous and sprawling, but there is so much to do and see. We spent our first day exploring the older part of town, the main town square, and stopping at almost every beer garden we passed. Our first lunch was at a packed Augustinian Brewery just minutes from the main train station. We shared frankfurters, a baked potato, and a refreshing, giant mug of their Weisse Bier. From there, we loaded our packs on our backs, and headed forty minutes across town to our next AirBNB apartment. It may have been a bit of a hike from the square and station, but it was a lovely walk past the largest park on the continent (the English Gardens), multiple monuments to famous composers and Greek mythological creatures, and breathtaking skyscraper-high cathedrals. After we checked in and dropped off our bags, we headed back toward the main square and treated our tired selves to another beer garden in the town market - we shared a locally brewed tall light beer and the largest, softest, best pretzel either of us have ever had! After several more hours of walking, we decided to check out the Munich subway, which got us excited for New York's transportation all over again, and headed back to our apartment rental. 

The apartment host generously left two bikes for us to use, so we layered for the ride, and the following morning, rode back to the town square to attend mass at St. Michael's Cathedral, locally known as having one of the best choirs in town. The locals were certainly right, because while we didn't understand any of the sermon, the music throughout the service was lovely! After church, we followed half the congregation across the street for local coffee and breakfast at a small, completely packed bakery and once we had finished our German cream-filled pastries, we headed to St. Peter's Church and climbed to the top of the tower. We've climbed multiple towers and staircases at this point in the trip, but this was by far the tightest climb and makes for an excellent skinny test! You start in a very narrow, white tunnel for about 10 steps and then it opens into an ever-skyward narrow wooden staircase. There is only one path up and down, and the squeeze to allow people past was a bit close for comfort, but the view at the top is worth it! If you're scared of heights or get vertigo, be wary because the walkway around the top of the spire is also narrow and there is only a thin, metal railing between you and the edge. Making your way around the top made for more uncomfortable pushing past strangers - the church should really limit the number of tourists pushing out onto that walkway and up those stairs. We squeezed our way back down, past the crowds and noisy schoolchildren, and tracked down our locked up bikes back at the first church. From there, we pedaled to a nearby large, rowdy beer hall and enjoyed pints of their locally brewed beer, sausages and another giant pretzel. After our hearty, filling lunch, we biked about fifteen minutes on the bike-lane marked sidewalks to the museum area of town. On Sundays, all their art museums are only one euro, so we spent the next several hours at the Modern Art Museum enjoying their collection of modern furnishings and accessories (mainly me), paintings and artists' compositions, and the photo exhibits and experimental short films (mainly Keith). 

We planned to bike through the sprawling English Gardens next, but the too tall bike I was riding was starting to cause me knee issues. I kept overextending to reach the pedals, guess I'm abnormally short by German standards, so we returned the bikes to our apartment rental and headed back out on foot. The rest of that late afternoon and early evening were spent walking miles through the most gorgeous park either of us had ever seen - there is a river winding through the park, past trees, benches, food vendors and perfect-picnic-spots. As you enter the park, local surfers have taken advantage of a wave-producing small dam and bridge to practice their moves, and the area is always crowded with onlookers. I recommend stopping to watch for several minutes, and once you've seen all their moves, continue on into the park. There are lovely wide walkways, but watch out for the bicyclists zooming by, and keep an eye out for a spot to lay in the grass to relax with a good book and large mug of beer. We took too many pictures to include them all here, stopped for a while to dance along with a drum circle that included a saxophone player, and then continued on the path to our favorite beer garden in Munich. The beer garden is just off the park walkway, with a tall Asian-inspired tower in the center of picnic tables with food and drink stations nearby. A polka band was set up on the second floor of the tower and played to loud, boisterous, almost drunken crowds while we bought a Radler (half lemonade/half beer - actually tasty!), stecklerfisch (whole fish on stick cooked over charcoal), pommes frites and a large salad to share. We probably could have stayed there all night, but the stars slowly came out, the band finished their set, and we walked hand-in-hand back to our apartment to get some rest before the following long day. 

Keith and I have been looking forward to making the trek to the Andechs Monastery just outside Munich, since I first read about it in a Rick Steves book 6+ months ago. If you asked me before this trip what I was most excited about, it was probably one of the many things I mentioned. Well we finally got there! On our last day in Munich, we took the subway to the main train station and picked up our Hertz car rental for the day, a silver Fiat. Keith agreed to drive, and after about fifteen minutes of dealing with aggressive drivers and honking horns, we left Munich behind and headed west toward Andechs. The monastery is typically reached by foot from the town of Herrsching, which was our original plan, but when we got there and couldn't find any parking and were told our rental car would be towed if we parked in the wrong spot, we decided to continue on by car. We were surprised to find that the monastery is actually in the small town of Andechs, we were kind of expecting it in the middle of farmland, but parked our car at the bottom of a small hill and hiked up to the monastery. The buildings are beautiful, the views amazing, and the setting, though different than we expected, were perfect. It's surrounded by the small town one side, rolling pastures on the other, and trees the rest of it. We spent some time sitting in the church pews, looked at the relic of a thorn from Jesus' crown stored on the altar, hiked down the trail for a bit through the woods we planned to originally hike up, and then once we were truly ready, we headed to the main outdoor eating area to enjoy the beer we've anticipated trying for months now. Thankfully it fully lived up to our expectations! Their Doppelback, famous across Germany and even Europe, was the best we've ever had and Keith even said it may have moved him out of his IPA drinking phase he's been in for the past 2+ years. We relaxed on their porch, sharing a pork knuckle and potato salad, enjoying the views, and savoring each sip of our beer for an hour or so until the twelve-year old school group smoking next to us couldn't be ignored any longer and we made our way back to our car. 

From Andechs, we headed north for a more somber afternoon at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. It was the first concentration camp in Germany, has a very thorough, well designed museum that explains how Hitler came into power, everything that led up to WWII and detailed images and stories from Dachau and many of its prisoners. The memorial does not recommend children under twelve visiting, and I completely agree, as most of the museums' images were haunting and disturbing. Mainly though, I fear that the purpose behind the memorial would be lost on someone too young to fully grasp the atrocities that took place there. Thankfully, we only saw one small child being led through, and most visitors respected the requests for low voices. It was a deeply moving experience, and out of respect, I will only share this one image from our time there. It's a sculpture by Nandor Glid and serves as a reminder of this time and all that was lost in the holocaust. A plaque beside it reads "Never Again." 

I originally planned to write one long post on all of Germany, but I'm hoping to post my recap on  Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Lubeck tomorrow. We just arrived in Stockholm late yesterday and I can't wait to tell you later all about the crazy experience of getting to Denmark!