A long weekend in Munich: beer gardens, mountain trip, and museums.

I am standing in line at the reservation centre in Duisburg Central Railway Station, Germany. What is supposed to be a simple change of train with plenty of time for breakfast is turning into an exercise in frustration.

It all started earlier in the morning, shortly after boarding our Munich bound train in Amsterdam. Our tickets were checked and I was told that our Eurail passes were no good as I neglected to validate them before using them. I sheepishly admitted my mistake asking the attendant to validate them on the spot for me ( the passes were all paid for after all ) and was told in a very stern voice that it would cost 50 euros per person. Maybe it was the sight of my jaw dropping or the dread of entering an argument with Mr T, but she ended up telling me to go to the ticket window at the next station and validate our passes there to avoid further fines.

So, here we are in Duisburg. Behind the customer service counter, are 2 staff for a queue of a dozen travellers including me. Our connection for Munich is in 50 minutes and I calculate that it is doable as long they don’t spend more than 5min per person. Of course, that’s counting without the lady who decided to organise a multi-ticket trip and wants advice, some guy who wants a refund, or the young girl who just missed her connection and wants to know when the next train for wherever is…We all grow nervous in the queue, worried that we’ll miss our respective trains. It is Good Friday, our Deutchbahn officers on duty act as if they drew the short straw being here on a public holiday and subject the rest of us to the worst display of inefficiency: double checking of tickets and passport details, slow handwriting, refilling of ink pads, paper shuffling….Thanks to the really nice guy ahead of me letting me have his spot, we make our train with 5 min to spare. The remaining of the journey is much more pleasant, made so by the smiling train attendant handing out Easter chocolates every hour.

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By the time we arrive in Munich, we can’t wait to get to our hotel, the King’s First Class. Because we are joined by Marc who is flying in from Sydney, I have booked separate rooms and arranged for him to check in ahead of us. Ours is to be a Junior Suite and the children’s a standard double room. The former is very impressive: located in what was once an attic, it overlooks the city’s rooftops. It is a massive area with wood panelled walls, tons of space, a canopied king bed in one room, spacious lounge, dining area and a kitchenette in another room. It is large enough to accommodate another 2 people if needed but that option isn’t available. In contrast, the kids have a much smaller double bedroom, barely large enough to swing a cat. They end up spending every morning and evening in our suite, where we have breakfast bought by Marc daily since he is up early with jetlag and shops at the nearby Aldi. The boy is thrifty!

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Last time I was in Munich, I was 7 years old with my parents, so basically I don’t remember a thing. The others have never been, so they rely on me to show them around which is a challenge as I have pretty much decided to wing it for most of the time.

It starts with finding somewhere to dine on our first night. The King’s First Class is very conveniently located close to the main railway station, in Dachauerstrasse. It’s an interesting neighborhood, where Middle Eastern, Asian and South American eateries are plenty, except they are all closed on this Good Friday evening. Not keen to wander too far, Mr T spots a small bar across the road called Bufet.

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I think the name lured him in, thinking there would actually be a buffet. Instead it is a small establishment that specialises in serving freshly brewed and unpasteurised beer that is kept in steel tanks. Choices are limited to helles ( light lager ) or dunkel ( dark lager )  but that seems to be enough for Mr T. I am more interested in the food menu which also offers a succinct selection of wursts ( sausages ), vegan tartar, eingelegter kase ( pickled camembert ) and bacon marmelade.

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It is all very simple and nothing like the Munich beer-hall experience I anticipated, but we really enjoy the light fare and the quiet atmosphere at the end of a long day of travel.

Next morning is day 1, an eye opener and a taste of things to come.
We walk to Marientzplatz, the main square of Munich, for a bit of sightseeing. Shops, restaurants and many historical buildings line the perimeter but the main attractions seems to be the Old Town Hall, the New Town Hall, the column of St Mary and the Marientplatz clock, Glockenspiel.

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When we arrive mid morning, the place is packed to the rafters with people, mostly tourists from what I can gather. This is where the majority of tours start from, so we have entire groups congregating and looking up to the Glockenspiel. There are motorised figurines located within the clock tower and It turns out that on the 11th hour the figurines are supposed to turn around. And sure enough, when the bells ring, everyone goes “Awwwww!!! “, the figurines dance, joust and twirl around, while everyone takes photos included myself. The performance ends with a cuckoo bird coming out, which Mr T and the kids think is a big joke, poking fun at me for dragging them to the most touristy destination in Munich.

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So we cut our losses ( or so I think ) and head south towards the Viktualien market, which is undoubtedly the second most touristy destination in Munich. Food stalls abound. Cheesemongers, butchers, fish shops, fresh fruits and vegetables…they are all there, as well as beer gardens of course. Being Easter Saturday and soccer game day, the square is filled with tourists and Bayern Munich soccer fans alike, recognisable by their red and white jerseys.

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We decide it is too early and too crowded to have lunch yet and walk around the city centre for a while. Unlike Amsterdam and its boho style streets and lopsided houses, Munich feels very orderly and grand, with its mixes of palaces and squarish official buildings, wide avenues and footpaths. Traffic catches our attention, not so much for its volume ( it is heavy traffic!) but because 90% of the cars are german and the streets feel like parks filled with a who’s who list of luxury vehicles. Marc cannot get over the fact that the police drive BMW cars!

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We stop for drinks at Tambosi, a cafe/bar situated on the edge of the Court Gardens and looking over Odeonsplatz. Sitting outside it is perfect for people watching on this unusually warm day. The boys try to be smart and ask the waitress for a beer recommendation only to be told “I don’t drink beer, I only like wine! They all taste the same to me”. I love this woman already!

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We follow this with a quest for a late lunch at one of the pubs and beerhaus, poking our noses in Hofbrauhaus, probably the most famous in Munich. There are so many rooms with various degrees of hugeness, all filled to the brim with what seems to be busloads of tourists gazing at the pile of meat and sauerkraut on their plates. The noise is deafening, I feel like I am back in my high school dinner hall and we all agree to find the closest exit for a quieter place.

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We end up at the Weisses Brauhaus, a few blocks further south of the centre. Owned by the Schneider family since the 1800’s, the building used to be a brewery and suffered significant damage during WW2. Refurbished several times since, it is a bit of a maze. We walk thru the main hall and find a table upstairs in one of the many intimate dining rooms. The ambience is surprisingly quiet, with only a few tables occupied by what appears to be locals.

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The people sitting next to us are amused listening to us trying to decipher the menu and speak german. When I mention I want to try the old fashioned “Voressen” ( a sweet and sour offal soup, made of calf’s lung, tripe and veal sweetbread served with pretzel dumpling ) they turn their nose and say not many like it! Even the waitress is intrigued, as most tourists go for the usual Pork knuckle and sausages!

 

A few wines and beers later, we’re all engaged in friendly banter, sharing a few laughs with the waitresses and getting visiting tips from our table neighbours. As for the food, it meets all expectations in terms of deliciousness and quantity. We’re all full and happy !
Wandering thru the Viktualien market again on the way back, we pick up some cheese, cold meats and bread for a potential picnic diner in our suite which never happens.

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We wake up on day 2 to the sound of church bells.

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It is Sunday and we have plans to embark on a road trip to Neuschanwstein to wing a visit to Germany’s most popular castle. It all starts well as we pick up our rental car for the 2 hour drive south. The weather is wonderfully warm, we stop along the way to take silly photos in a meadow ( it’s a thing, according to Anne !), Mr T enjoying the fast and smooth drive along these german autobahns.

 

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Then, 500meters before the car park, outside Fussen, traffic comes to a standstill. After remaining stuck for 30min and not progressing forward we worry that if this is the queue to park the car, what will it be like to queue for tickets into the castle. Fearing a repeat of the Keukenohf drama, we decide to cut our losses and cross the border, 10 km away, to have lunch in Austria instead.

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I can’t describe how beautiful the scenery is as you drive thru the German Alps and onto the Tirol region: the mountains peak at about 2400mts and the road leading to the Fernpass winds thru a series of lakes and quaint villages, all as postcard perfect as ever. We’re inadvertently “helped” by our car GPS that somehow selects every back roads available rather than main highways.

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Mr T complains about the extra distance travelled and the distinct possibility that we may be lost, but I am in heaven, as we drive thru small traditional hamlets, most of them sleepy after the winter skiing season. My plans to stop for lunch in picturesque restaurants along the way however are spoiled by the thousands of people ( tourists and locals alike ) who of course decided to do exactly the same thing on this Easter Sunday. On 3 occasions, the venues are either booked out or closed and it isn’t until we reach the pass at 3pm that we manage to find a small cafe willing to serve us snacks and a coffee.

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Back to Munich for dinner, we wing it again and after enjoying yesterday’s lunch at the Weisse Brauhaus we decide to try another inn on the main shopping drag, Zum Augustiner.

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The place is massive, rather noisy and service is efficient. The food is disappointing though: Mr T decides to eat “light” and orders wurst salat ( sausage salad ) and sauerkraut, both kids go for chicken schnitzels while I try the mixed meat platter of pork knuckle, roast pork and roast chicken with dumpling.

The salad dressings are overly sour, the meats are dry and the dumplings chewy. We’re not fans, which is a shame because the venue is beautiful with its historical halls and inner courtyard.

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I go to bed vowing to do some homework next time. 😂

No fairy tale and pretty scenery for our 3rd and final day. It is a heavy day of studies, starting with a morning at Dachau Museum and Memorial site followed by a visit to the BMW museum.

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The former is a request from Anne who is studying WW2 at school. We arrive mid-morning after a short drive from the city and are surprised to find the site so close to residential areas. Dachau was the first nazi concentration camp built in 1933. Originally set up for political prisoners it served as a model for subsequent camps in Germany and other countries in Europe. Until American troops liberated the camp in April 1945, over 200,000 people were imprisoned there and 41500 were killed. In 1965, the site became an official memorial on the initiative of the former prisoners who had joined together to form the Comite International de Dachau.

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Entry is free and guided tours and/or audio guides are available for a small fee, taking visitors thru “the path of rememberance” and the most important stations. While educational it is also depressing knowing how some human beings can behave with such cruelty towards others. The site has drawn on many historical testimonies and the circumstances leading to the rise of the 3rd Reich and the ensuing horrors of WW2 are well documented.

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For me, who grew up learning about it in French high school, it was quite confronting to see the barracks and crematorium in real life. Never forget, they say. Never again I hope.

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Change of pace in the afternoon, with the visit of Munich’s home car builder’s museum. BMW started to build aircraft engines in 1913 and switched to motorbike manufacturing in 1918 then automobiles and the rest is history. There are 2 BMW venues:The “museum” showcases old cars while the “welt” displays the latest models . We stick to the old, having pastry and coffee at the M1 BMW cafe, feeling nostalgic seeing some of Mr T’s motorbikes and reading the company’s plans ( propaganda ?) on the new mobility services of the future. All I can say is that I wish I had an engineer brain and enough forward thinking to tackle issues such as mega cities, carbon emissions or automated driving!

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Since this is our last night, I do my research for dinner. Starting with surveying the family who says “ no more German sausages or dumplings” and agrees to visit the local Italian restaurant, ViVadi Rustico.

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A place where customers and staff speak Italian has to be good, and indeed it is. The Italian waiter quickly realises we’re not locals and patiently talks us thru the menu, even taking the time to sit down with recommendations. The kids order pasta ( 4 cheeses & carbonara ), Terry has pizza with anchovies ( that is pretty much the only italian food he likes ), I pick carpaccio and salad.

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It’s all divine and so refreshing from the heavier knuckle 😂 we even fit in a chocolate cake and tiramisu for desserts!!

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Our waiter farewells us with a “See you tomorrow” and a wave, the friendliest of greetings we had all weekend !

 

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