We were sad to leave Lake Como and all of it’s beauty, but I had been hoping since we’d moved to France that we would make our way over to it’s less-than- popular-among-the-French next door neighbor, Germany. For obvious reasons, there isn’t much love lost between these 2 countries and if you live in France long enough, you might be talked out of visiting Germany. We have all talked multiple times about how we haven’t heard much German spoken at all both in Clermont and throughout our travels elsewhere in France. Likewise, we hadn’t talked to many French that were frequent visitors of Germany.
I, on the otherhand, have always been fascinated with Germany. My father’s side of the family was German, and we grew up hearing lots about our German heritage, eating my great aunt’s German potato salad… As weird as it may be, I have always looooved saurkraut. I was always asking my parents to take me out for German food, though there was only 1 good German restaurant a few towns over from where I grew up and it was always such a treat when we would go. Wiener schnitzel, kraut, black forest cake…. when Chuck and I took that trip to Europe at the end of college, we visited Munich and I still remember the big square with the huge clocktowers, the biergartens, the food. The food. So I was sooooo excited to come back and see it again as an adult, but also to bring the boys here to experience this culture that is really quite different from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, all of the other countries that we had visited.
After visiting Normandy earlier this spring and learning about Germany from a World War II perspective, it seemed to be a good time to visit Germany itself and learn more about where and how it all started. But to also see what Germany is like today, and just how far they have distanced themselves from such a horrific past.
We arrived late into the evening after a long day of driving, but by far the most beautiful drive we have done during our time in Europe.
The most incredible part about our journey was that the route from Lake Como to Munich would include driving through not one, not two, but 5 countries in one day. FIVE!
We left Italy and quickly entered Switzerland within 20 minutes or so
When we were looking at the map and discovered all the countries we’d be passing through, it was a must to stop and check out Liechtenstein, the sixth tiniest (and wealthiest!) countries in the world tucked up in the Alps between Switzerland and Austria.
This tiny principality (still ruled by a monarchy with a reigning prince!) was actually originally a German small state which has been able to keep rights to its own sovereignty. It’s only 62 sq miles wide!
Though most people probably haven’t even heard of Liechtenstein, it’s older than the US! They just celebrated 300 years since its origination as a principality.
We parked in Vaduz, the capital and walked to have lunch. The official language is German, and they use the Swiss franc as their currency, not euros!
It was such a pretty little downtown, very clean and modern! We stopped in the visitor’s center on our way back to the car, and they were offering to stamp passports.
The night we arrived, it was late when we headed out to dinner and a quick scan of nearby restaurants included Mexican, which of course is always a novelty for us. So to La Taqueria we went…
For bunch of tired, hungry travelers, it was sooo good. The fresh tacos with shredded beef and pumpkin seed sauce, grilled chicken salad with fresh veggies and lemon-zucchini dressing, quesadillas and chips/guac totally hit the spot! It always amazes me how we can go to any city, any country this far from Mexico to find food that almost always scratches our itch! (Besides Clermont, that is, where there is only 1 Mexican restaurant. ONE. And the owner is kind of a jerk.) After dinner, the boys tried german gelato (eh) and then we walked back to our hotel- Wells and I to our room, the boys and Chuck to theirs – all the way on the other side of the hotel!
The next morning, we had a bike tour booked, and on our way, we walked through Marienplatz, the big square in the center of Münich. We stopped to see the Glockenspiel, the famous clock with little wooden people in traditional dress that spin and dance when the clock chimes on the hour. It was almost 10am. Perfect timing! We waited and waited, but no movement. No chime.
We later discovered that the clock only chimes at 11, noon, 5:00 and 9:00pm. We’d have to make sure to come back!
We met up at Fat Tire Tours with Thor, our tour guide for the morning. The bikes were still a bit on the big side for W, so he ended up tacking onto the back of Chuck’s and off we went!
Our bikes had names… Charlie’s was “Adventures of Galaxy Rangers”, Owen was “Minnie Mouse”, I was “Dracula”, and this was Chuck’s, named “Alf”… It was the only one in the whole fleet with this cute little bee attached to the front..
We learned sooo much on our tour. Thor started by telling us that when we talk about Münich, we are talking about Bavaria- the largest German state, of which Münich is the capital and largest city.
Our first stop was Königsplatz- “King’s Square”, a large beautiful square built in 19th century neoclassical style that was previously the site of Hitler’s 3rd Reich rallies. Modeled after the Acropolis in Athens, there is a very Greek feel to it. During WW2, it went through quite a transition- trees and grass were removed and replaced by granite, which allowed for loud clicking of soldier’s boots as they marched, producing a more dramatic, war-rallying effect.
The Brown house, Hitler’s Nazi national headquarters, was located immediately next to the square.
According to Thor, many of the critically important buildings in the square were preserved during overhead bombing raids because the Nazis built large constructs covered with tree-camouflaged canopies that appeared as forest from up above and hid these buildings from being targeted or destroyed.
We also learned about the 2 Honor Temples, memorials of the 16 Nazis killed during Hitler’s initial attempt at a coup/overthrow in 1923, the Beer Hall Putsch. They were worshipped as martyrs by the Nazi movement, having been the first to sacrifice their lives for the cause. After the war, the memorials were leveled by Allied Forces in an effort to remove any and all evidence of Nazi presence. The remnants which still remain are now grown over with trees/forest and are difficult to see.
The square was eventually remodeled and is home to Münich’s gallery and museum quarter, including Glyptothek, Münich’s archeological museum.
We stopped at Alte Pinakothek, one of oldest museums in the world and home to some very ancient art (14th-18th centuries) that was ordered to be built by King Ludwig I of Bavaria to house his expensive, expansive art collection. It was badly damaged during WW2 and repaired/rebuilt with red brick which clearly shows the delineation between old and new.
There are also the Neue Pinakothek (19th century art) and Pinakothek der Moderne (Museum of Modern Art).
One of the most interesting parts of the tour was to learn about Georg Elser- a courageous German carpenter who adamantly opposed Hitler and conspired to assassinate him and his high military officials in 1939 by building a bomb and hiding it at a beer cellar in Munich where Hitler frequently met with his military leaders and comrades and gave speeches- the same beer cellar where the initial Beer Hall Putsch (his first coup plot) was launched in 1923. On the evening of November 8, 1939 Hitler ended up having to leave earlier than usual to take a train to Berlin because his flight to Berlin had been cancelled related to heavy thunderstorms in the area. The bomb detonated at 9:20 pm November 8 killing 8 people and injuring over 60, but Hitler was obviously spared and went on to become a massively powerful world figure, ultimately killing millions. Elser escaped and was stopped at the Swiss border and brought back to Munich and imprisoned at Dachau concentration camp. Unfortunately he was executed there just a month short of the Nazi’s surrender, marking the end of WW2. Every night at 9:20, this lighted memorial alluminates as a reminder of Elser’s courageous effort to put an early end to Hitler’s horrific reign.
There were more stories of other courageous men who opposed Hitler and used peaceful measures to build support for the opposition- Sophie and Hans Scholl, twin brothers who dispersed anti-Nazi propaganda to students by creating pamphlets at the University, caught and charged with high treason and public execution in 1943.
These exact replicas of the pamphlets are part of the stonework outside the University.
Another wonderful part of the tour was biking through the English gardens…
These gardens are the absolute gem of the entire city of Münich. As the oldest and biggest public park in Europe and one of the largest urban parks in the world, it is over 900 acres in size, bigger than central park! This massive, beautiful greenspace is full of hundreds of paths, trees and lush green fields filled with people sunning, reading, picnic-ing, bike riding…
and since the 60s it’s been legal to sunbathe naked 🙂 (Though when we were riding through, I only saw one guy bathing in the nude, other than that, everyone was clothed, at least in bathing suits…)
This beautiful park has been around since the late 1700s and was actually created by an American-born English-men, Sir Benjamin Thompson, the army minister of Bavaria at that time. Formerly a royal hunting ground, Thompson made the suggestion to Carl Theodor (who was the ruler of Münich at that time) as a productive way for soldiers to spend time during peace time- landscaping, gardening, etc. to unite the citizens by giving them a place to gather. It is modeled after other big parks in the world, including Hyde Park.
There are sculptures throughout and also a beer garden in this big park, including this one, Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm), 25 meters hight that sits in a big beautiful, shady beer garden that is one of the most famous…
So many beautiful chestnut trees, you are literally sitting amongst hundreds of tables in a forest! This particular one seats up to 7,000 people!
One essential element to a beer garden are the big chestnut trees because the quality of shade that they offer. In earlier times, people would sit outside a beer cellar on a nice day and drink off a keg with a cellar owner, the idea of drinking beer outside become more and more appealing because a nice shady spot under a tree allowed being outside even in the heat of summer with a break from the sun. Chestnut trees offer wide, thick foliage and their root systems are not as thick and disruptive as those of other types of trees…
I kept reminding Chuck about the beer garden in the forest that I still remember from 22 years ago… the big mugs of Radler (lemonade and beer together) and the warm soft pretzels and beer cheese…
and here we were!
There were all kinds of food stalls serving sausages and all kinds of roasted meat and in all kinds of sauces, potatoes in every form, kraut, and pretzels- big and small. Charlie tried the ribs and they were fantastic!
The beer was being poured into mugs faster than ever. You literally just walk up and grab what you want. When paying, they give you a token that you can bring back with your mugs at the end for a 1Euro refund.
Many people go jump in surrounding creeks for a cold swim after a few beers on a hot summer day.
There are lakes, ponds to swim in, paddle boat on, streams to wade in…. water is definitely a big part of the English gardens and plays a central role in daily life to many citizens of Münich… Thor told us about a guy who swims to work each day!
Flowing directly from the Alps (only an hour away!), the water in Münich’s rivers and streams is so clean and clear. As we walked, ran and biked along paths during our stay in Münich, one thing we found unique is how fast the water flows in the rivers and streams in some areas.
Other areas, there are huge sandbars in the rivers that people sit out on, even build campfires and spend the night on!
But perhaps the most unusual and incredible thing to watch in the English gardens is the Eisbach wave river surfing. A small channel on the Isar River that runs through the center of Münich is the most challenging and popular of 3 different sites to river surf in Münich.
People come in crowds to watch these skilled surfers in wetsuits (both local and pros from around the world!) that cue up with their boards and patiently take turns hopping on the waves, one at a time, it’s like a show!
When city engineers dropped cement blocks in an effort to slow the rivers flow, it created waves with a unique “break” that was not initially consistently stable or ideal for surfing, but a group of devoted surfers took matters into their own hands by disguising themselves as city workers and overnight they drilled long planks into the cement walls down under waves to make them more solid, smooth, consistent “U-waves”, perfect for surfing.
There are obvious variations to the waves depending on rainfall, season, etc. but the water is always around 12-15 degrees Celcius (COLD!) so almost all wear wet suits but people can be seen surfing the waves 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! There are some local surf groups that hang lamps on the bridge and surf mostly at night:)
Thor tells us safety-wise, there have never been any known casualties, but the narrow space between the 2 banks along with rapids between makes it appear as though it could be dangerous… I read that it was actually illegal until 2010, but not sure this was actually “enforced”.
A few other stops..
The Angel of Peace Obelisk- erected to mark 25 years of peace throughout Europe in the late 1800s.. supposedly a great spot to watch the sunset…
The German parliament which was badly damaged in WW2… there are bullet holes still visible on the columns that remained intact but later a massive addition made of glass was added, the choice of glass was criticized by many, the workings inside a government building so visible to all? To which they were told it would demonstrate the “transparency of politics”… lol
There are 6 brewers in Münich that make up the “Great 6”. All the beer gardens contract with only one of the 6, except Viktualienmarkt, situated next to Münich’s central food market, that we visited late one afternoon. It is the only one that rotates out beer each day from one of the 6 breweries. We were lucky that day to be served Augustiner, which was Thor’s favorite!
We learned some pretty crazy statistics about Oktoberfest, Münich’s massive folk festival that lasts 16 days from late September to early October… Every year, over 6 million visitors flock into the city for the festival- 4 times the 1.5 million residents that live in Münich!
Every year, there are over 8 million liters of beer consumed, so much that beer is trucked in all night every night to and emptied into tanks under the grounds! These people seriously love their beer! Depending on the type of beer you like, most would agree that this is the best beer in the world!
The last stop we visited was Odeonsplatz square, the site of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler’s first attempt at a coup d’etat in 1923 where he attempted to takeover Munich to use as a military base. 2000 Nazis marched into the square and clashed with police which resulted in 16 Nazi deaths and 4 police men. In the square, there is a monument known as Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshall’s museum) which is modeled after a similar monument in Florence).
When Hitler later rose to power, this was made a national landmark which became an important symbol to Nazism complete with a shrine (candles, guards) to honor the 16 “martyrs”. All citizens were required to give the Nazi salute when walking past it.
Those that refused to do quickly figured out how to circumvent the Feldherrnhalle by using the alley behind it, known as Viscardigasse. Unfortunately as this act was recognized by the Nazis, those that did so were charged with treason for their refusal to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause, and being charged with treason by the Nazis rarely ended well. Eventually, it ironically was nicknamed “Cowards Alley” and today there is a path of gold-painted bricks passing through to commemorate the bravery of these men/women. (sources: atlas obscura and wikipedia)
A rainy day, we headed to the BMW Museum, one of the most frequented museums in Germany.
Home to both temporary and permanant exhibitions, we got to see all kinds of cool BMWs…
but we also got to see all the cool and innovative ways that BMW is working to reduce energy expenditure and their carbon footprint!
And one of my favorite parts, the vintage Mini…
The boys loved climbing up onto the different motorcycles..
After the museum, we walked around the Schwabing neighborhood and found a Patagonia store too!
For dinner, we went to Alte Simpl, an old pub in Maxvorstadt, the university district, who’s name refers to the satirical newspaper, Simplicissimus (which was ultimately banned by the Nazis during WW2) and has always been a popular gathering place for artists and intellectuals, including Adolf Hitler in his earlier years when he was striving to become an artist, which obviously and unfortunately didn’t pan out for him..
Thor had highly suggested it, mentioning that the food was very traditional, delicious, the staff very friendly, cool ambience and owing to it’s location in the student district, more on the affordable side.
My dinner- Schweinbraten, potato dumpling and Bavarian coleslaw (no mayonnaise of course!)
Chuck had Munich- style pork stuffed with ham, horseradish and roasted potatoes..
Today, a quick detox from all the rich German food with a visit to Wagner’s, a vegan juice/smoothie bar that we tried to visit yesterday but there wasn’t a seat in the house! Today, we woke up on the early side just to get seats! Even Cornelius, the slightly gruff owner who runs the café didn’t keep us from this breakfast!
It was so worth it. Owen could barely wait for me to take a pic before diving in. And he ate every.single.bite.
The clean eating movement has definitely started to creep into France, but it hasn’t hit Clermont yet and so places like this are such treats for us.
We definitely enjoyed some great coffee/breakfast spots too while we were in Münich.
And the last morning, we finally made it back to the glockenspiel at 11am.
We had to take the boys to the Hofbrauhaus, an absolutely huge world-famous beer hall that brews Hofbrau, once a royal brewery in Bavaria that was opened in the late 1500s.
There was loud traditional brass music playing when we walked in and waiters/waitresses in traditional clothing known as Lederhosen carrying huge glass steins of beer and selling these giant pretzels..
Sitting outside surrounded by tables and tables of people savoring the most traditional German food there is! It is as gastronomically authentic as you can get when it comes to German food and I was in heaven.
Soooo happy to be surrounded by my favorite German foods…
German potato salad, like my great aunt used to make, Saurkraut, and Obazda, a Bavarian cheese spread made with camembert, butter, beer, paprika, caraway, chives and onions that is only made awesome-r by spreading it on giant soft pretzels like these! I’ve literally waited 22 years for this again!
Once again, Charlie had ribs and Wells ordered potatoes au gratin and loved them! Something new for him 🙂
Owen would have preferred to join everyone else in the beer garden and have a giant mug of beer, but instead settled for a big soft pretzel with butter.
It is really unbelievable how much beer is consumed here. The standard size of beer served off the menu comes in 1 Liter mugs. And they go through a LOT of mugs! There is a whole entire room dedicated just to mug washing!
That afternoon, we wanted to go swim in the river, but we were so exhausted, a nap seemed like a better option…
We hung out in our super relaxing hotel lobby for the evening and knowing we had a loooong day of travel awaiting us the next day, we organized our suitcases and went to bed. Goodbye Münich! I can’t wait to come back.