I love München and visit often!
It has all the positive trappings of a big city; plenty of shops, markets, galleries, entertainment, year round cultural activities and festivals; the most famous being the Oktoberfest and the Christmas markets, as well as an abundance of good restaurants and of course it’s famous Biergärten (“beer gardens”). Not surprisingly it also has an efficient and easy to navigate public transport network including the U-Bahn (Underground) and Trams. However despite being Germany’s third largest city with a population of just under 1.3 million, with it’s wide leafy suburban streets, attractive Baroque architecture, lush green parklands, peaceful river walks and relaxed Bavarian culture, Munich easily lends itself to the ambience of a subdued and tranquil country town, making it a comfortable and friendly place to wander alone.
However, I am fortunate enough to have friends who live in Munich, which is why I visit often. Flights from Manchester are reasonable and I can take a train straight to the Airport from Kendal. I love that I can wake up at home in the morning and by early evening I am in Europe sitting around the table in Denise and Jan’s kitchen or in a crowded Beer Garden eating German sausage and drinking Bavarian beer!
I met Denise many years ago when we both worked at The Revere Hotel in Jersey in the Channel Islands and when she moved to London and I to the Lake District we kept in touch and often visited each other – I would go to London for a fix of city life and Denise would visit me for an escape from the rat race! Originally from a small village near Dresden and the Czech Republic border it was not surprising however, that eventually Denise’s homeland beckoned her to return and she has now settled in Munich. Discovering quickly that it is almost as easy to travel between the Lake District and Munich as London with not a huge difference in cost we quickly resumed our regular visits.
One of the things I can be sure of when visiting Denise is that we will have an action packed and exciting time. She has an inquisitive and energetic passion for life and a natural ability to research and pull together a great itinerary, taking into account factors such as the weather, what festival or event is on and our fitness level, which despite our best efforts fluctuates as often as the seasons! And of course, being German, the precision and detail of the schedule ensures our days are planned well with a comfortable balance between exploring, enjoying great food and simply chilling out together avoiding time wasting procrastination deciding what to do next! So when she suggested I visit her and her partner Jan for Easter and this being the first Easter I haven’t worked in a hotel for decades I jumped at the chance, delighted to be finally joining the much coveted “Going Away For Easter Jetset”!!
Normally when I visit, it’s for a short weekend break I fly to Munich with EasyJet on a Friday and come home on Monday. This fits in well with Denise and Jan’s work schedule and the times and prices of the flights work well for me. However, for Easter we planned that I would go on Thursday and return to Kendal on Tuesday making the most of the four day Easter break. This caused a slight problem as Easy Jet doesn’t fly between Munich and Manchester on a Tuesday. Nonetheless, determined not to be thwarted by this small detail we put our heads together and solved the problem by booking the return flight with Ryanair out of Nuremburg, an easy one hour train journey from Munich and just as cost effective.
When Denise and I get together we become hyperactive, cackling like a pair of hens as we try and cram every bit of catch up news and stories into the first hours of meeting again. You would think Armageddon is looming and it is our mission to tell each other everything that we have thought, done and experienced since our last meeting in order to cleanse our souls and repent our sins in time for the impending apocalypse!
So on our first night together, ever the gentleman, Jan patiently topped up our frequently emptied wine glasses, rolling his eyes occasionally at our dribble and babble, while we excitedly talked nonstop and grazed over the delicious Brotzeit; an antipasti style selection of meats, sausages, cheeses, tomatoes, pickles and bread which Denise had lovingly prepared for us – and true to form she had already put a few ideas together for our weekend with plenty of wiggle room for my ideas and adaptations to suit the weather.
The following morning I was awoken from a deep and restful sleep by the mighty bells of St Benno’s Catholic Church, which towers magnificently over the blocks of apartments where Denise and Jan live. The ferocious velocity of the deep bells rips through the otherwise quiet neighbourhood with monotonous frequency beginning at 7am and striking every quarter hour until it finally rests at 10pm daily. On Sundays and other times of mass and celebrations its endless booming insistently calls worshipers to action. While the bells never fail to startle me to begin with, I quickly become accustomed to them as they pale into a pleasant, familiar and distinctive European background ambience.
Denise and Jan are “foodies.” They just love eating good food and are passionate about cooking so they always put a lot of thought, effort and care into food preparation whatever the meal time. They also know how much I love German breakfasts, so it was no surprise that for breakfast this morning they had bought some delicious Weisswurstfrühstück, a traditional Bavarian white sausage, made of veal and pork back bacon and seasoned with ingredients such as parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger and cardamom. Simply boiled in salted water the destiny of one sausage to be the “sacrifice,” cut up and boiled in the water as a means of stock for added flavour. These simple but flavoursome sausages are then served with sweet mustard and Bavarian pretzel bread.
There is a Traditional Bavarian saying that Weisswurstfrüstück “should not hear the sound of the midday church bells” presumably because they have no preservatives and in the days before refrigerators would have quickly spoiled.
While the U-Bahn network is excellent Denise and Jan live in Maxvorstadt, a central suburb which has great walking access to Munich’s centre and attractions along lovely tree-lined footpaths and streets. So after we’d had our fill Denise and I headed out on foot to Nymphenburger Schloss where the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Exhibition, on tour from London’s Natural History Museum, was on display. Jan electing to stay at home to catch up with some chores giving us “girlie time.”
The Nymphenburger Schloss, (“Nymphenburg Palace”), situated in the west of Munich, was historically the summer residence of Bavarian Monarchs dating back as far as 1664, but is now one of Munich’s most visited Tourist sites. Nestled in 200 hectares of beautiful parkland with colourful flower gardens and majestic water fountains, its magnificent Baroque facades spread some 700 metres in width. It has numerous attractions to captivate the interest of visitors including the Naturkundemuseum Mensch und Natur (“Museum of Man and Nature”) and the Porzellanmuseum (“Porcelain Museum”) and one could easily spend a whole day exploring.
We hadn’t known what to expect from the Exhibition but weren’t disappointed as we wandered around taking in the clever and breath taking images of wildlife captured from all around the world by photographers young and old, professional and amateur. This exhibition is touring around sixty worldwide venues and is definitely worth taking the time to visit.
The following morning we enjoyed the more common German breakfast of meats, cheeses, spreads, jams and breads; a very social and relaxed way of beginning the day as one grazes at leisure over the smorgasbord of lovely flavours and chats about the day ahead and life in general.
Again, Denise and I took off on foot, this time heading into Munich centre calling in at the five star Rocco Forte Charles Hotel on the way. Jan’s Mother and Grandmother were coming to visit in a few days’ time and Denise wanted to organise some last minute arrangements with the hotel. With our hospitality background we were both particularly interested to see inside the hotel and as we entered, the Receptionist’s immediate warm welcome was not lost on us. After Denise made her arrangements we were pleased to be offered a personal viewing of the hotel by the Public Relations Manager who quickly switched from speaking German to English when she realised that Denise was translating for me.
The entire hotel is tastefully designed by Hon Olga Polizzi; the daughter of the late Lord Forte who established the well known UK hotel group Forte (later to become Trust House Forte) and sister of Sir Rocco Forte. Hon Olga Polizzi is also the Mother of Alex Polizzi who is the well-known presenter of the UK series “The Hotel Inspector” and “Alex Polizzi’s Secret Italy” to name a few.
Sophia’s Restaurant and Bar had recently been refurbished and as Denise and Jan were to join Jan’s family for breakfast during their stay at a cost of around €40 each we were particularly interested to see what was on offer for that price. As soon as we perused the extensive and extravagant buffet of exotic fresh fruits, breads, meats, cheeses, cereals, juices and so much more including Eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and glasses of prosecco, we could see that they were going to get great value for money and a German Breakfast experience to surpass all breakfasts!
The Spa area looked relaxing and inviting and the bedrooms were spacious and comfortable with views over either the city or the old botanical gardens. The bedroom seating area consisted of an arm chair and settee and the bathroom was opulent with both a walk in shower and bath. Small touches included petit fours and fruit and Denise was more than happy that Jan’s family would be comfortable during their stay.
After our glimpse of the opulent, but friendly and unpretentious five star experience, we carried on our way to the town centre. Originally a medieval walled city, three of the magnificent city gates, Isartor with its elaborate frescos and a common site around Munich, Karlstor, and Sendlinger Tor still stand, remaining a landmark to the entrance of Munich’s centre.
We entered through Karlstor, to Karls Platz, a bustling pedestrian mall and along Neuhauser Strasse and Kaufingerstrasse, the main shopping streets to Marienplatz; Munich’s central square which is dominated by the incredible Neues Rathaus (“New City Hall”) with Munich’s famous Glockenspiel housed in its main tower.
A magical sight, the Glockenspiel has 43 bells and 32 life sized figures and plays at 11am and 12 noon daily and again at 5pm in the summer months. As the top half rotates to the music, it tells the story of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm (The founder of Munich’s world famous Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Loarraine followed by the bottom half playing the Schäfflertanz (“coopers dance”) depicting the coopers dancing through the streets of Munich in the year of the plague 1517 to “bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions.” Apparently the dance is performed in real life every seven years at the Fasching Festival (carnival), the next one being 2019.
I visited Munich on my very first backpacking trip around Europe in 1980 and the only two clear memories I have are of the Glockenspiel and the Hofbräuhaus; Germany’s most famous brewery and “Beer Palace” and I still enjoy seeing them both.
However, on this trip, we were only passing through on our way to Viktualienmarkt (From the Latin word Victuals meaning food) a lively and colourful daily food market with a history that dates back as far as 1807. I love visiting the Viktualienmarkt simply for its atmosphere, its 140 stalls, spread over 22,000 metres offer a huge array of every produce imaginable from flowers and plants, exotic and unusual fruits and vegetables, venison and fowl, even horse meat, eggs and cheeses, locally sourced honey, fish, sausages of all shapes, sizes and flavours, cured meats in abundance, herbs and spices, freshly picked wild mushrooms and occasionally truffles; in cold weather Glühwein is served to warm you up while shopping. On this occasion it was white asparagus season and stalls were stacked high with vibrant freshly cut asparagus stalks.
It is a popular market with tourists and locals alike and as we meandered along its crowded walkways perusing the produce our senses were assaulted; everyone seemed animated, caught up in the market hype and mayhem: stall holders loudly touting their produce in a bid to outdo their neighbours while customers jostled to inspect the displays of wares. People gathered at hot food stalls, drawn in by the tantalising aromas; friends gathering around tall wooden tables, eating hot snacks of bread with Leberkäse and mustard or pickle, a kind of meatloaf specialty of the region, sipping glasses of wine or beer while they chatted; families crowded around the Easter stalls of painted eggs, candied Gingerbread and brightly coloured Easter decorations and the overall atmosphere was happy and vibrant.
Later that evening back at home, Jan prepared a favourite meal for us; Wiener Schnitzel with white asparagus and hollandaise sauce. Wiener Schnitzel is a national dish of Austria but also very popular in Germany and can be prepared using veal or pork. On this occasion Jan used veal and carefully cooked the Schnitzel to perfection, the simple combination of schnitzel, boiled potatoes, asparagus and hollandaise marries together incredibly well, particularly when washed down with a nicely chilled Austrian Welschriesling!
Asparagus is a good antioxidant and especially good for cleansing the kidneys and liver but I can never get over just how efficient white asparagus is at this cleansing process as it expeditiously manifests itself into incredibly stinky wee! And so before our dinner had barely digested and as each of us visited the loo we would emerge from the bathroom, exclaiming in disgust at the smell of our own wee!
Back out on foot again the following day, umbrella’s in hand as a slight drizzle began, we headed to Praterinsel, an island venue situated on Prater Island in the middle of the River Isar. Praterinsel; once a spirits distillery, this historical building and its island setting is now a popular venue for all sorts of events.
Today we were visiting the Markt der Sinne (“The Market of Scenses”) an indoor market of crafts and foods, including small producers making infused olive oils, honey, chutneys, pestos, cured meats, cheeses, wines, liqueurs and schnapps to name a few. Another foodie experience which kept us occupied for hours as we immersed ourselves in a tasting frenzy of so many different flavours!
Later, as the weather deteriorated and weary from wandering around we made for the Friesische Teestube an enchanting little tearoom that Denise had previously stumbled upon by chance. This tiny tearoom, decorated in an eclectic “Victorian Front Parlour” theme, was just the best place to relax and wile away the time while it rained outside, idly chatting, having finally eased up on our Armageddon pace, we sipped refreshing tea, chosen from an extensive tea menu, served in china pots, cups and saucers. A little gem!
This evening we met up with Jan at the Augustiner Keller, Munichs third largest Beer Garden and Hall which has 5000 seats and dates back to 1812. While the Beer Garden only opens in good weather, you can expect either the Hall or the Garden to be always crowded to capacity and tonight was no exception. As one would expect traditional Bavarian food and beers are served and I am never ceased to be amazed by the extravagance of the oversized plates of pork knuckles and other huge chunks of meat, dumplings and Sauerkraut being consumed and washed down with plenty of beer!
While Munich itself has a lot to offer, so does the surrounding area and we often jump on a train or drive out to the surrounding countryside, sometimes hiking in the Alps only an hour away or visiting the small villages around the area. Jan and Denise also spend a lot of time skiing during the winter months or zipping along country roads on their motorbikes in summer.
So on the last day of our weekend we took a short drive out to the small village of Abensberg passing fields of bright yellow rapeseed and young hop vines crawling up rows of trellises to visit Kuchlbauer’s Bierwelt (Beer world) and Tower, an extraordinary looking Brewery, Museum and Tower complex inspired by the Hundertwasser style of architecture created by the visionary Architect and Artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
By now the weather had become really miserable so after a short visit and refreshing beer and cake in the brewery cafe, we returned to Munich for a much needed rest and dinner of Denise’s Kohlrouladen (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) spending our final evening together reflecting on our wonderful weekend of laughter, adventure and warm friendship.
All too soon Easter in Munich had come to an end and the following morning as my train pulled out of the Hauptbahnhof, Munich’s Central Station, heading towards Nuremburg I watched the unseasonal snow blizzard turn Germany temporarily back into a Winter Wonderland.
The dreary sleet drizzling down the train´s windows seemed to refect my own gloomy mood. However, sad as I was to be leaving my friends I looked forward with excitement and a little trepidation, knowing I´d soon be returning to Munich on the first leg of my impending two month trip around Europe.