I haven’t been able to post in the past few weeks, as I’ve been busy soaking in the sights and sounds of Europe! I finally had a chance to relax a bit now that I’m in sunny Croatia, so here goes my recap of Munich!
Munich was my first real impression of Germany. Even though I flew into Frankfurt, I took a bus down to Munich shortly after I landed in order to make it for the last weekend of Fruhlingsfest.
First impressions of Germany after travelling in India for two months? Clean and Efficient! I marveled at the rolling green fields that dotted the countryside and the massive windmills used to generate electricity. The sky was clean of smog and the sun was shining, albeit the temperature was a lot colder than what I was used to. I dug my NorthFace fleece from the bottom of my bag and that along with a pair of jeans I bought in Delhi before leaving India became my constant wardrobe over the next few weeks as I waited for the warm Spring weather to finally arrive Europe. I was able to cross off another “bucket-list” item by riding on the Autobahn and clocking in at over 200 km (120 miles) and hour, when I was riding with a friend of a friend. I was offered a chance behind the wheel, but as I never learned how to drive manually, I had to regrettably decline.
I spent 5 days in Munich and I really enjoyed the city and the Bavaria region as a whole. The weather was mixed- a few days were sunny and beautiful, while others were cold and rainy. You can’t win them all I guess. The highlight of my time there was attending one day of the Fruhlingsfest. I’m always interested in events that involve drinking liters of beer, singing and dancing on tables and all around having a good time. There were a few other highlights and interesting things to do in Munich and the surrounding area that I would like to share here.
One of the events most ingrained in my brain from my history classes as a child was World War II and the Holocaust. I think all schoolchildren are familiar with Hitler’s rise to power and his determination to exterminate Germany and Greater Europe from the Jews and other “less desirable” groups of people. Dachau, located just outside of Munich, is one of the more famous concentration camps, along with Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Treblinka. I couldn’t pass this opportunity up to see firsthand the brutal living conditions that so many people were forced to endure. Dachau is easily accessible by public transportation from Munich.
Free to enter to the public, an audio guide only cost $3.50, and was well worth every cent. It provided a lot of useful information, as I wandered through the former camp. As I stepped through the gates, I paused at the inscription etched into them: “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which translates to “Work shall set you free”. The statement really struck to me the brutality that was imposed on the people and how they were forced into servitude.
Only a few of the barracks were still remaining (and these had been rebuilt), but the insides were set up to show how the conditions were back then. I couldn’t believe how many people were expected to live in such cramped conditions, as well as the deplorable state of the “bathroom”. The guard towers added a foreboding feeling to the premises. It was easy for me to imagine being imprisoned within the walls and being looked down upon by the guards with their rifles.
Last but not least of the buildings that were open for viewing were the incinerator and cremation buildings. Near the end of the war, people were dying so often, that it was not possible to burn all of the bodies in time that a second building had to be opened for the purpose. It was very chilling walking around these buildings.
There was also an informational museum and a short video that helped to provide insight into life at Dachau and in concentration camps in general. While the visit was not a pleasant one overall, I’m really glad that I got to tour one firsthand, as it helped me to better understand the horrid conditions during that time period. I highly recommend touring one either in Germany or Eastern Europe if one ever gets a chance, as it is the least one can do to pay their respects to the over 6 million people who lost their lives during that period.
After touring Dachau, I was in need of a “pick-me-up”. As luck would have it, one of my friends from high school, Luca, happened to be Munich at the same time! He was visiting a friend that he met from previous travels, Alex, and we went to her nearby hometown of Augsburg, where we were shown around the city by her and capped it off with a visit to an authentic biergarten!
I had heard of people visiting this castle back when I studied abroad in London a few years ago, and I was interested in seeing it as well. It is often referred to as Walt Disney’s inspiration for the castle from “Beauty and the Beast”. The castle began construction on the behest of King Ludwig II in 1868, and he only lived in the castle for 172 days before his death in 1886. The castle was opened to the public shortly thereafter Unfortunately, the day that we planned to go wasn’t one of the nicer ones, but it didn’t deter us! (Us being myself and Sebastian, my CouchSurfing host). Neuschwanstein castle is located a bit further outside of the city, normally an hour and a half drive. Having access to a car is recommended, as it is more direct, but it is also possible to get there via regional trains.
When we arrived, a thick fog hung in the air, adding to the mystique of the castle. Visiting this castle is extremely popular, although entrance is only admissible via a guided tour that only lasts around 35 minutes. There was a long line to purchase tickets, but we were able to snag one for an English tour that started only a couple hours later. (If you plan ahead, unlike me, it is possible to buy a ticket online. However, it must be done over 48 hours prior to the scheduled tour time).
As the castle is located up on a hill, it was about a 30 minute walk up. Other options to the top include a bus or a horse-drawn carriage, although I would suggest the walk, if only that it is free and allows you to have some exercise. It also would provide some excellent (I think) views of the surrounding area if the sky is clear.
The tour itself was indeed very brief. It was forbidden to take pictures of the inside of the castle, as to encourage people to buy photos at the gift shop. I will say that it was worth a visit if you make the journey all the way out there.
When most people think of Germany, “beer”, “pretzels”, “efficient”, or “Hitler” comes to mind. For car fanatics, they think “BMW”. I definitely fall in the former category and am not a car fanatic at all, even though I’m from Detroit, arguable the car capital of the world. As such, I did not find the idea of touring a museum about the history of BMW to be very appealing, but I definitely made a stop to the gift shop and exposition area where they had a bevy of cars and motorcycles on display. Having the opportunity to look at nice cars up close is something that I think everyone can appreciate!
Said to be one of the more famous museums in Munich and Germany, I was a bit disappointed in its offerings. I can appreciate a good museum, but I had a hard time piquing my interest in the manufacturing and industrial-heavy exhibits, although walking around the mining one was pretty cool. I do wish that more of the exhibits had English translations (especially the mining ones), as it would have greatly enhanced my experience.
After leaving the land of India, and its plentiful curries, creamy lassies, and other various vegetarian dishes, I was happy to be back in a land where meat is plentiful and delicious! A popular food market is the Viktualienmarkt, not far from Marienplatz, which offers a wide variety of cheap (and tasty) foods! Bratwurst stands line the city and are very affordable, costing only $1 or $2. Pretzels here definitely put those in America to shame (sorry Philly), and beer is delicious and cheap! Schnitzel is also widely available in many different types of meat, including chicken, turkey, and veal. The many bakeries also offered a wide assortment of freshly baked breads and pastries.
Well there you have it! If the other cities in Germany were to be even half as good as Munich, I knew that I would enjoy spending time in this wonderful country!